A certain man called Angus lived near the stage road that connected two large villages, which were about fourteen miles apart. His home was situated nearly midway between them, and about a mile from a grove of trees that was reputed to be haunted. Angus was an educated man who subscribed to several Montreal newspapers, so he went two or three times a week to the post-office late in the afternoon, when the passing stagecoach delivered a big leather mailbag.
The post-office was in a farmhouse, and to reach it he walked through the haunted hollow wherein the grove of trees grew. It was just about half an acre of thinly wooded land, the trees being so far apart that you could easily get glimpses and peeps of the country beyond.
One autumn afternoon, Angus was making his way home with his newspapers, when he heard the sound of someone chopping down a tree in the grove on his right. He stopped, interested at once. The grove belonged to a neighbor and cousin of his own, and it had been for very many years left undisturbed, so he was surprised to hear someone cutting down of a tree there. Angus went to the fence to have a look. The chopping continued, though he saw no one, and he moved along the fence, expecting every moment to see man and axe. Finally, he shouted. To his intense astonishment there was no reply, although it was incredible that he was unheard by a person in so near vicinity. As the echo of his shout died away, the chopping, which for a moment or two had been suspended, began again. A curious horror crept over the listener. Angus looked no more, but made haste up the hill, and turning the corner was soon at home.
Angus said nothing about the matter on this first occasion, but a few days later was again on the road returning from the same errand, when he heard the same chop, chop, chopping. In his heart, he thought it must be a death omen. He thought sadly of his worldly affairs and wondered if things were in good shape for him to leave wife and little ones, for from that hour he expected death to come for him before another spring.
He stood long listening, and when at last he went home, he related the whole circumstance to his wife. Together they recounted it to their friends, who went in parties and singly to the haunted grove, but they heard nothing. They also thoroughly searched the little wood, arguing that chopping must leave signs behind in the shape of chips and disfigured trunks. But no, there was no mark of any kind in any part of the grove.
Angus was earnestly counseled to cancel his newspapers and stay home, but he refused to abandon his one recreational pursuit. So, his friends bade him, if he heard the warning again, to pursue his way as if he did not hear it, looking neither to the right nor left. This advice he followed.
Angus continued to walk to and from the post-office twice a week. When alone, he never failed to hear the mysterious axe at work in the wood. He never heard it unless alone, and it was never heard by anyone else. Although the conviction that his death would happen took firm hold of his mind, yet in time he became so accustomed to the sound of an axe, wielded by invisible hands that he went about his usual occupations without experiencing agitation.
Weeks sped on and brought winter, and an unusual fall of snow. The stage-road became blocked, and vehicles left the highway to make a new track through the fields. For several months that winter the real road through the hollow was not used, and the snow, which drifted high in it, covered the dikes on each side. Temporary roads and footpaths made winding lines over the white plains on every hand. Angus followed one of these roads, which ran parallel to the real highway until he reached the grove, when he would walk directly through the trees, aiming for his own house, and thus greatly shortening his walk. The trees protected the place from wind, so there was no drifting, and walking was easy.
At home, Angus said with grim humor that the Man in the Bush seemed pleased that he was walking directly through the grove that winter, for his chopping was louder than ever before. His wife repeated her counsel earnestly, telling Angus to only look only straight before him, and never stop, nor answer any sound in that unholy place. Angus took the advice to heart, and each time he went to the post office for his newspapers, he strode steadily through the haunted grove, looking straight down at the trail before him. On each journey, the sound of the phantom axe grew louder.
One day, the owner of the grove and his sons went over to chop down one particular tree that appeared to them to merit destruction. It was late in the afternoon when they began to chop, and one said with a laugh, “Do you think we are taking the tree that poor Angus’ ghost has been working at so long?” Perhaps the invisible Man in the Bush heard them, for the phantom chop-chop-chopping was not heard that evening.
Their task was nearly complete when Angus turned into the path through the haunted grove with his newspapers tucked under his arm. Hearing the familiar chopping sounds, Angus kept his gaze fixed on the track, not realizing that the current source of the sound was his owner of the grove and his sons. Above the snowy trail, the tree was swaying and shivering, ready to fall. Angus knew the sound of the final stroke that parted the tree from its stump, but he thought it was another trick of the Man in the Bush, beguiling him into turning his head.
Suddenly, the chopping sound ceased. Angus’ blood froze when he heard his own name shouted in tones of horror. He quickened his path, looking neither right nor left and his path took him directly underneath the swaying behemoth. Crashing branches and pounding feet mingled with shouts of warning as the enormous tree toppled to the ground, crushing Angus beneath it.
When the heavy tree was removed, and Angus’ poor crushed body borne home, the neighbors who remained behind heard inhuman laughter among the trees and knew that the Man in the Bush had lured poor Angus to his doom.
Citation: “The Haunted Grove.” The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. VI. July-September. 1893. No. XXII.