(Spoiler Alert! This post discusses plot points of the story, “The Horse of the Invisible”. If you have not read the story, you can do so here.)
The forth chronologically published Carnacki story, “The Horse of the Invisible”, remains a popular story in the canon. First published in The Idler in April, 1910, it has been republished several times. Most notably in Hugh Greene’s collection TheRivals of Sherlock Holmes: Early Detective Stories which most likely led to this story being adapted for by Thames Television in 1971 as part of “The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes” television series. This adaptation starred actor Donald Pleaseance as Carnacki and supports quick pleasing production values. This episode is currently on YouTube and can be seen via this link.
Upon arriving at Carnacki’s home after the usual dinner invitation, the narrator notices that Carnacki shows signs of bruising and injury. Obviously, his latest case has provided some danger! While waiting for the others to arrive, Carnacki hands over a series of photographs which the narrator discovers to be of a young, beautiful woman in various darkened rooms. But, in one, there is a picture of her looking upward at a large horse’s hoof that is bearing down on her.
Carnacki tells his friends that he has just returned from a trip up North to East Lancashire. A Captain Hisgins has asked him to investigate a family curse. Carnacki claims to have had knowledge of this curse but considered it to be little more than a folk tale. In the Hisgins family, the curse states that if a woman is ever the first born, she shall be killed by a ghostly horse if she ever becomes engaged.
For the past seven generations, the first born have all been men so this has not been a problem but the Captain’s first born is a girl, Mary, who has just become engaged to a fellow named Beaumont, a young Naval Officer. On the night of the announcement of the engagement, both Beaumont and Mary were attacked in a darkened corridor and Beaumont dealt such a mighty blow that his arm was broken.
Investigating the history, Carnacki finds that previously there had five first-born girls who had all come to tragic ends after announcing their engagements.
“Each of these girls grew up to maidenhood and each became engaged, and each one died during the period of engagement, two by suicide, one by falling from a window, one from a “broken heart” (presumably heart failure, owing to sudden shock through fright). The fifth girl was killed one evening in the park round the house; but just how, there seemed to be no EXACT knowledge; only that there was an impression that she had been kicked by a horse. She was dead when found.”
Still, Carnacki feels that there is something less than supernatural at work.
In the days before Carnacki’s arrival, both Beaumont and Mary report having heard the sounds of a horse galloping in the house. The previous evening, another incident had occurred. Beaumont and Mary had been relaxing in the boudoir when they heard the sound of a horse in the hallway outside. Beaumont, cautioning Mary to stay inside, went into the hall to investigate. In the darkened corridor, doors swing shut behind Beaumont, cutting him off from the others. He then fancies he hears Mary blowing him a kiss which he returns until he realizes that Mary is still in the boudoir! Certain that something has tried to trap him, Beaumont strikes some matches but there is nothing there save the sound of a horse galloping down the empty drive.
Beaumont gives the story to Carnacki the night of his arrival as they play billiards with Mary in the room. Carnacki cautions them that such sounds could have natural explanations but, when they leave the billiard room, they all hear the sound of a horse galloping around the room they have just left.
Carnacki and Beaumont decide to investigate the sound and arm themselves while Mary runs for safety but then:
“All this time there had not been a sound, but abruptly when we were within perhaps a couple of yards of the door we heard the sudden clumping of a hoof on the solid parquet floor of the billiard room. In the instant afterward it seemed to me that the whole place shook beneath the ponderous hoof falls of some huge thing, coming towards the door. Both Beaumont and I gave back a pace or two, and then realized and hung on to our courage, as you might say, and waited. The great tread came right up to the door and then stopped and there was an instant of absolute silence, except that so far as I was concerned, the pulsing in my throat and temples almost deafened me.”
Even more amazing, the men hear the sound of the hoofs pass through the door and between them before carrying on further down the hall.
Certain that the spirit is after Mary, the two sprint down the corridor to find her surrounded by the servants of the house and her father, armed with a cutlass.
The sounds apparently gone, Mary retires to her room where Carnacki later comes and constructs an electric pentacle around her bed. Carnacki stations Mary’s parents in the room to act as guards while he takes position outside the bedroom door along with Beaumont. Certain that Beaumont is perhaps in even more danger than the girl, Carnacki constructs a pentagram around him as well.
The next morning, Carnacki learns that Mary’s cousin, Harry Parsket, is coming from London to help fight the ghost. With no additional incidents, Mary and Beaumont take a walk around the grounds before dusk. By now the cousin has arrived and proves skeptical about the entire matter but Carnacki takes a liking to the fellow’s “tremendous amount of pluck, and the particular kind of man I like to have with me in a bad case like the one I was on.”
While Parsket goes to unpack, the Captain asks Carnacki to have a talk about the extraordinary events. Carnacki’s advice is that the couple should marry immediately in the hope that this would quell any supernatural danger and the Captain agrees. Just as they are discussing the prospect, a cry comes up that Mary has been heard screaming from the great lawn, now enveloped by the dark.
Quickly, everyone makes for the lawn as they can hear shots being fired. Coming up on the couple, Carnacki finds Mary stretched out on the lawn with Beaumont protecting her from some unseen evil. Beaumont has a deep gash on his forehead and explains that they had been chased by the ghostly horse and that he had fired his gun towards the sound to no avail.
With the couple safely inside, Carnacki and the other men make a search of the grounds but finds nothing.
That night, Carnacki constructs the same defenses, certain that the danger is close. The night passes without incident.
The next morning, Carnacki rises to find that the family has decided to have the wedding immediately and Beaumont heads to London for a special permit. During the day, Carnacki keeps Mary close to him and he has her pose for him in several rooms of the house. “Sometimes the camera sees things that would seem very strange to normal human eyesight.”
Carnacki brings Mary down to the basement for more pictures along with Parsket and the Captain. Several pictures are taken without any problems but, when Carnacki attempts another room, he hears the galloping just as he snaps the picture and sees Mary looking upward.
Sensing danger, Carnacki shouts to the men to get Mary clear. Carnacki shuts and locks the door behind him, making the First and Eight sign of the SaaaMaaa Ritual. Parsket and the Captain bring Mary upstairs and come back with guns and lanterns. Frightened, they open the door only to find the room empty. Unnerved, Carnacki locks the door and makes the Ritual signs again.
Later, when Carnacki and Parsket develop the photos, they find that only one has anything odd. On that one, taken in the last basement room, they see the spectral hoof of a horse hanging above Mary’s head. Carnacki tells Parsket not to mention anything to Mary but tells the Captain as a warning.
That night, with Beaumont still in London, Carnacki takes the same precautions and Parsket stands guard with him outside Mary’s door. Thankfully, nothing happens and the house settles down to sleep with the dawn.
Later that day, Beaumont sends word that he will be arriving by four and that the Rector had been sent for to perform the ceremony post-haste. Beaumont’s train is delayed and he arrives late but the Rector never appears. He has been called away on an urgent matter and will not arrive until the following day.
Certain that the entity will make a final attempt, Carnacki stations everyone as previously but also rigs up a cord to ring for the butler and the gamekeepers who he warns to be vigilant. That night, as the dark deepens, Parsket gets nervous and takes to walking up and down the hall to calm himself. Carnacki joins him but trips over the rigged up cord.
Parsket points out to him that, even though Carnacki tripped over the cord, the bell did not ring. Concerned, Parsket goes to check the wire. Just after Parsket leaves, Beaumont hears the galloping from the far end of the hall.
“Perhaps two minutes passed, full of what seemed like an almost unearthly quiet. And then, suddenly, down the corridor at the lighted end there sounded the clumping of a great hoof and instantly the lamp was thrown with a tremendous crash and we were in the dark. I tugged hard on the cord and blew the whistle; then I raised my snapshot and fired the flashlight. The corridor blazed into brilliant light, but there was nothing, and then the darkness fell like thunder. I heard the Captain at the bedroom-door and shouted to him to bring out a lamp, quick; but instead something started to kick the door and I heard the Captain shouting within the bedroom and then the screaming of the women. I had a sudden horrible fear that the monster had got into the bedroom, but in the same instant from up the corridor there came abruptly the vile, gobbling neighing that we had heard in the park and the cellar. I blew the whistle again and groped blindly for the bell-cord, shouting to Beaumont to stay in the Pentacle, whatever happened. I yelled again to the Captain to bring out a lamp and there came a smashing sound against the bedroom door. Then I had my matches in my hand, to get some light before that incredible, unseen Monster was upon us.”
Carnacki strikes a match and whirls around to see a monstrous horse-head near Beaumont. The match snuffs out as both Beaumont and Carnacki fire their guns. The result is a chaos of sounds and struggles as Carnacki hears Beaumont fighting with something in the dark. Carnacki joins in and grabs what he thinks is an ear before being something falls on him and he loses consciousness.
Upon awakening, Carnacki finds that the Captain has captured the ‘thing’ which proves to be a man wearing a large horse-head as disguise with hoof like pads upon his hands. When they remove the head, they are stunned to discover that it has been Parsket all along! “And you know, I had grown so to like him.”
As everyone begins to recover, they hear again the sound of the ghostly hooves coming down the hall. Terrified, Parsket refutes that it is him and the hoof beats come closer to Mary’s door. Bravely, Parsket puts himself between the door and the spectral horse which decides to move away down the hall and away. Parsket collapses and is quite dead.
The next day, the Rector performs the marriage and, according to Carnacki, no further ghostly incidents have been recorded. It is discovered that Parsket had been madly in love with his cousin and sought to scare Beaumont off through the use of the ‘curse’. When that didn’t work, he sought more violent means. But, even Carnacki cannot lay claim that all of the apparitions where done by Parsket for there is the matter of that photograph and that one last spectral scene in the corridor.
This is a unique Carnacki story in that it combines both the detective and supernatural explanations. Some of the hauntings were obviously done by Parsket but the final one appears to have been genuine. Hodgson leaves the reader wondering which ones were real?
Mention is again made of the “Black Veil” case in which young Aster died because he refused the protection of the electric pentacle. Another case is mentioned but not identified by the statement; “I was inclined to parallel the case with that one of Harford’s where the hand of the child kept materialising within the pentacle and patting the floor. As you will remember, that was a hideous business.” The SaaaMaaa Ritual is made use of again but in a limited way.
In this case, we see more of Carnacki’s personality. He is often scared and almost petrified by the cases he sees as when, during Parsket’s final attack, he nearly does not come to Beaumont’s aid. He is also not the “know-it-all” that Sherlock Holmes is admitting early in the case that he has “no idea” what the haunting is.
“The Horse of the Invisible” is one of the more successful of Hodgson’s Carnacki stories and it is easy to see why it has remained so popular through the years.