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- Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation and spelling in the original document has been preserved. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected in this text. For a complete list, please see the end of this document. -
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SCOTTISH GHOST STORIES
AUTHOR OF "SOME HAUNTED HOUSES OF ENGLAND AND WALES" "HAUNTED HOUSES OF LONDON" "GHOSTLY PHENOMENA" "TRUE GHOST STORIES" "DREAMS AND THEIR MEANINGS" ETC. ETC.
LONDON: KEGAN PAUL, TRENCH, TRUeBNER & CO. LTD. 1911
CASE PAGE I. THE DEATH BOGLE OF THE CROSS ROADS, AND THE INEXTINGUISHABLE CANDLE OF THE OLD WHITE HOUSE, PITLOCHRY 1
II. THE TOP ATTIC IN PRINGLE'S MANSION, EDINBURGH 25
III. THE BOUNDING FIGURE OF "—— HOUSE," NEAR BUCKINGHAM TERRACE, EDINBURGH 41
IV. JANE OF GEORGE STREET, EDINBURGH 55
V. THE SALLOW-FACED WOMAN OF NO. — FORREST ROAD, EDINBURGH 69
VI. THE PHANTOM REGIMENT OF KILLIECRANKIE 91
VII. "PEARLIN' JEAN" OF ALLANBANK 105
VIII. THE DRUMMER OF CORTACHY 117
IX. THE ROOM BEYOND. AN ACCOUNT OF THE HAUNTINGS OF HENNERSLEY, NEAR AYR 135
X. "—— HOUSE," NEAR BLYTHSWOOD SQUARE, GLASGOW. THE HAUNTED BATH 159
XI. THE CHOKING GHOST OF "—— HOUSE," NEAR SANDYFORD PLACE, GLASGOW 173
XII. THE GREY PIPER AND THE HEAVY COACH OF DONALDGOWERIE HOUSE, PERTH 189
XIII. THE FLOATING HEAD OF THE BENRACHETT INN, NEAR THE PERTH ROAD, DUNDEE 211
XIV. THE HAUNTINGS OF "—— HOUSE," IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD OF THE GREAT WESTERN ROAD, ABERDEEN 225
XV. THE WHITE LADY OF ROWNAM AVENUE, NEAR STIRLING 237
XVI. THE GHOST OF THE HINDOO CHILD, OR THE HAUNTINGS OF THE WHITE DOVE HOTEL, NEAR ST. SWITHIN'S STREET, ABERDEEN 251
XVII. GLAMIS CASTLE 263
THE DEATH BOGLE OF THE CROSS ROADS, AND THE INEXTINGUISHABLE CANDLE OF THE OLD WHITE HOUSE, PITLOCHRY
Several years ago, bent on revisiting Perthshire, a locality which had great attractions for me as a boy, I answered an advertisement in a popular ladies' weekly. As far as I can recollect, it was somewhat to this effect: "Comfortable home offered to a gentleman (a bachelor) at moderate terms in an elderly Highland lady's house at Pitlochry. Must be a strict teetotaller and non-smoker. F.M., Box so-and-so."
The naivete and originality of the advertisement pleased me. The idea of obtaining as a boarder a young man combining such virtues as abstinence from alcohol and tobacco amused me vastly. And then a bachelor, too! Did she mean to make love to him herself? The sly old thing! She took care to insert the epithet "elderly," in order to avoid suspicion; and there was no doubt about it—she thirsted for matrimony. Being "tabooed" by all the men who had even as much as caught a passing glimpse of her, this was her last resource—she would entrap some unwary stranger, a man with money of course, and inveigle him into marrying her. And there rose up before me visions of a tall, angular, forty-year-old Scottish spinster, with high cheek-bones, virulent, sandy hair, and brawny arms—the sort of woman that ought not to have been a woman at all—the sort that sets all my teeth on edge. Yet it was Pitlochry, heavenly Pitlochry, and there was no one else advertising in that town. That I should suit her in every respect but the matrimonial, I did not doubt. I can pass muster in any company as a teetotaller; I abominate tobacco (leastways it abominates me, which amounts to much about the same thing), and I am, or rather I can be, tolerably amenable, if my surroundings are not positively infernal, and there are no County Council children within shooting distance.
But for once my instincts were all wrong. The advertiser—a Miss Flora Macdonald of "Donald Murray House"—did not resemble my preconception of her in any respect. She was of medium height, and dainty build—a fairy-like creature clad in rustling silks, with wavy, white hair, bright, blue eyes, straight, delicate features, and hands, the shape and slenderness of which at once pronounced her a psychic. She greeted me with all the stately courtesy of the Old School; my portmanteau was taken upstairs by a solemn-eyed lad in the Macdonald tartan; and the tea bell rang me down to a most appetising repast of strawberries and cream, scones, and delicious buttered toast. I fell in love with my hostess—it would be sheer sacrilege to designate such a divine creature by the vulgar term of "landlady"—at once. When one's impressions of a place are at first exalted, they are often, later on, apt to become equally abased. In this case, however, it was otherwise. My appreciation both of Miss Flora Macdonald and of her house daily increased. The food was all that could be desired, and my bedroom, sweet with the perfume of jasmine and roses, presented such a picture of dainty cleanliness, as awakened in me feelings of shame, that it should be defiled by all my dusty, travel-worn accoutrements. I flatter myself that Miss Macdonald liked me also. That she did not regard me altogether as one of the common herd was doubtless, in some degree, due to the fact that she was a Jacobite; and in a discussion on the associations of her romantic namesake, "Flora Macdonald," with Perthshire, it leaked out that our respective ancestors had commanded battalions in Louis XIV.'s far-famed Scottish and Irish Brigades. That discovery bridged gulfs. We were no longer payer and paid—we were friends—friends for life.
A lump comes into my throat as I pen these words, for it is only a short time since I heard of her death.
A week or so after I had settled in her home, I took, at her suggestion, a rest (and, I quite agree with her, it was a very necessary rest) from my writing, and spent the day on Loch Tay, leaving again for "Donald Murray House" at seven o'clock in the evening. It was a brilliant, moonlight night. Not a cloud in the sky, and the landscape stood out almost as clearly as in the daytime. I cycled, and after a hard but thoroughly enjoyable spell of pedalling, eventually came to a standstill on the high road, a mile or two from the first lights of Pitlochry. I halted, not through fatigue, for I was almost as fresh as when I started, but because I was entranced with the delightful atmosphere, and wanted to draw in a few really deep draughts of it before turning into bed. My halting-place was on a triangular plot of grass at the junction of four roads. I propped my machine against a hedge, and stood with my back leaning against a sign-post, and my face in the direction whence I had come. I remained in this attitude for some minutes, probably ten, and was about to remount my bicycle, when I suddenly became icy cold, and a frightful, hideous terror seized and gripped me so hard, that the machine, slipping from my palsied hands, fell to the ground with a crash. The next instant something—for the life of me I knew not what, its outline was so blurred and indefinite—alighted on the open space in front of me with a soft thud, and remained standing as bolt upright as a cylindrical pillar. From afar off, there then came the low rumble of wheels, which momentarily grew in intensity, until there thundered into view a waggon, weighed down beneath a monstrous stack of hay, on the top of which sat a man in a wide-brimmed straw hat, engaged in a deep confabulation with a boy in corduroys who sprawled beside him. The horse, catching sight of the motionless "thing" opposite me, at once stood still and snorted violently. The man cried out, "Hey! hey! What's the matter with ye, beast?" And then in an hysterical kind of screech, "Great God! What's yon figure that I see? What's yon figure, Tammas?"
The boy immediately raised himself into a kneeling position, and, clutching hold of the man's arm, screamed, "I dinna ken, I dinna ken, Matthew; but take heed, mon, it does na touch me. It's me it's come after, na ye."
The moonlight was so strong that the faces of the speakers were revealed to me with extraordinary vividness, and their horrified expressions were even more startling than was the silent, ghastly figure of the Unknown. The scene comes back to me, here, in my little room in Norwood, with its every detail as clearly marked as on the night it was first enacted. The long range of cone-shaped mountains, darkly silhouetted against the silvery sky, and seemingly hushed in gaping expectancy; the shining, scaly surface of some far-off tarn or river, perceptible only at intervals, owing to the thick clusters of gently nodding pines; the white-washed walls of cottages, glistening amid the dark green denseness of the thickly leaved box trees, and the light, feathery foliage of the golden laburnum; the undulating meadows, besprinkled with gorse and grotesquely moulded crags of granite; the white, the dazzling white roads, saturated with moonbeams; all—all were overwhelmed with stillness—the stillness that belongs, and belongs only, to the mountains, and trees, and plains—the stillness of shadowland. I even counted the buttons, the horn buttons, on the rustics' coats—one was missing from the man's, two from the boy's; and I even noted the sweat-stains under the armpits of Matthew's shirt, and the dents and tears in Tammas's soft wideawake. I observed all these trivialities and more besides. I saw the abrupt rising and falling of the man's chest as his breath came in sharp jerks; the stream of dirty saliva that oozed from between his blackberry-stained lips and dribbled down his chin; I saw their hands—the man's, square-fingered, black-nailed, big-veined, shining with perspiration and clutching grimly at the reins; the boy's, smaller, and if anything rather more grimy—the one pressed flat down on the hay, the other extended in front of him, the palm stretched outwards and all the fingers widely apart.
And while these minute particulars were being driven into my soul, the cause of it all—the indefinable, esoteric column—stood silent and motionless over-against the hedge, a baleful glow emanating from it.
The horse suddenly broke the spell. Dashing its head forward, it broke off at a gallop, and, tearing frantically past the phantasm, went helter-skelter down the road to my left. I then saw Tammas turning a somersault, miraculously saved from falling head first on to the road, by rebounding from the pitchfork which had been wedged upright in the hay, whilst the figure, which followed in their wake with prodigious bounds, was apparently trying to get at him with its spidery arms. But whether it succeeded or not I cannot say, for I was so uncontrollably fearful lest it should return to me, that I mounted my bicycle and rode as I had never ridden before and have never ridden since.
I described the incident to Miss Macdonald on my return. She looked very serious.
"It was stupid of me not to have warned you," she said. "That that particular spot in the road has always—at least ever since I can remember—borne the reputation of being haunted. None of the peasants round here will venture within a mile of it after twilight, so the carters you saw must have been strangers. No one has ever seen the ghost except in the misty form in which it appeared to you. It does not frequent the place every night; it only appears periodically; and its method never varies. It leaps over a wall or hedge, remains stationary till some one approaches, and then pursues them with monstrous springs. The person it touches invariably dies within a year. I well recollect when I was in my teens, on just such a night as this, driving home with my father from Lady Colin Ferner's croquet party at Blair Atholl. When we got to the spot you name, the horse shied, and before I could realise what had happened, we were racing home at a terrific pace. My father and I sat in front, and the groom, a Highland boy from the valley of Ben-y-gloe, behind. Never having seen my father frightened, his agitation now alarmed me horribly, and the more so as my instinct told me it was caused by something other than the mere bolting of the horse. I was soon enlightened. A gigantic figure, with leaps and bounds, suddenly overtook us, and, thrusting out its long, thin arms, touched my father lightly on the hand, and then with a harsh cry, more like that of some strange animal than that of a human being, disappeared. Neither of us spoke till we reached home,—I did not live here then, but in a house on the other side of Pitlochry,—when my father, who was still as white as a sheet, took me aside and whispered, 'Whatever you do, Flora, don't breathe a word of what has happened to your mother, and never let her go along that road at night. It was the death bogle. I shall die within twelve months.' And he did."
Miss Macdonald paused. A brief silence ensued, and she then went on with all her customary briskness: "I cannot describe the thing any more than you can, except that it gave me the impression it had no eyes. But what it was, whether the ghost of a man, woman, or some peculiar beast, I could not, for the life of me, tell. Now, Mr. O'Donnell, have you had enough horrors for one evening, or would you like to hear just one more?"
Knowing that sleep was utterly out of the question, and that one or two more thrills would make very little difference to my already shattered nerves, I replied that I would listen eagerly to anything she could tell me, however horrible. My permission thus gained—and gained so readily—Miss Macdonald, not without, I noticed, one or two apprehensive glances at the slightly rustling curtains, began her narrative, which ran, as nearly as I can remember, as follows:—
"After my father's death, I told my mother about our adventure the night we drove home from Lady Colin Ferner's party, and asked her if she remembered ever having heard anything that could possibly account for the phenomenon. After a few moments' reflection, this is the story she told me:—
THE INEXTINGUISHABLE CANDLE OF THE OLD WHITE HOUSE
There was once a house, known as "The Old White House," that used to stand by the side of the road, close to where you say the horse first took fright. Some people of the name of Holkitt, relations of dear old Sir Arthur Holkitt, and great friends of ours, used to live there. The house, it was popularly believed, had been built on the site of an ancient burial-ground. Every one used to say it was haunted, and the Holkitts had great trouble in getting servants. The appearance of the haunted house did not belie its reputation, for its grey walls, sombre garden, gloomy hall, dark passages and staircase, and sinister-looking attics could not have been more thoroughly suggestive of all kinds of ghostly phenomena. Moreover, the whole atmosphere of the place, no matter how hot and bright the sun, was cold and dreary, and it was a constant source of wonder to every one how Lady Holkitt could live there. She was, however, always cheerful, and used to tell me that nothing would induce her to leave a spot dear to so many generations of her family, and associated with the happiest recollections in her life. She was very fond of company, and there was scarcely a week in the year in which she had not some one staying with her. I can only remember her as widow, her husband, a major in the Gordon Highlanders, having died in India before I was born. She had two daughters, Margaret and Alice, both considered very handsome, but some years older than I. This difference in age, however, did not prevent our being on very friendly terms, and I was constantly invited to their house—in the summer to croquet and archery, in the winter to balls. Like most elderly ladies of that period, Lady Holkitt was very fond of cards, and she and my mother used frequently to play bezique and cribbage, whilst the girls and I indulged in something rather more frivolous. On those occasions the carriage always came for us at ten, since my mother, for some reason or other—I had a shrewd suspicion it was on account of the alleged haunting—would never return home after that time. When she accepted an invitation to a ball, it was always conditionally that Lady Holkitt would put us both up for the night, and the carriage used, then, to come for us the following day, after one o'clock luncheon. I shall never forget the last time I went to a dance at "The Old White House," though it is now rather more than fifty years ago. My mother had not been very well for some weeks, having, so she thought, taken cold internally. She had not had a doctor, partly because she did not feel ill enough, and partly because the only medical man near us was an apothecary, of whose skill she had a very poor opinion. My mother had quite made up her mind to accompany me to the ball, but at the last moment, the weather being appalling, she yielded to advice, and my aunt Norah, who happened to be staying with us at the time, chaperoned me instead. It was snowing when we set out, and as it snowed all through the night and most of the next day, the roads were completely blocked, and we had to remain at "The Old White House" from Monday evening till the following Thursday. Aunt Norah and I occupied separate bedrooms, and mine was at the end of a long passage away from everybody else's. Prior to this my mother and I had always shared a room—the only really pleasant one, so I thought, in the house—overlooking the front lawn. But on this occasion there being a number of visitors, belated like ourselves, we had to squeeze in wherever we could; and as my aunt and I were to have separate rooms (my aunt liking a room to herself), it was natural that she should be allotted the largest and most comfortable. Consequently, she was domiciled in the wing where all the other visitors slept, whilst I was forced to retreat to a passage on the other side of the house, where, with the exception of my apartment, there were none other but lumber-rooms. All went smoothly and happily, and nothing interrupted the harmony of our visit, till the night before we returned home. We had had supper—our meals were differently arranged in those days—and Margaret and I were ascending the staircase on our way to bed, when Alice, who had run upstairs ahead of us, met us with a scared face.
"Oh, do come to my room!" she cried. "Something has happened to Mary." (Mary was one of the housemaids.)
We both accompanied her, and, on entering her room, found Mary seated on a chair, sobbing hysterically. One only had to glance at the girl to see that she was suffering from some very severe shock. Though normally red-cheeked and placid, in short, a very healthy, stolid creature, and the last person to be easily perturbed, she was now without a vestige of colour, whilst the pupils of her eyes were dilated with terror, and her entire body, from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet, shook as if with ague. I was immeasurably shocked to see her.
"Why, Mary," Margaret exclaimed, "whatever is the matter? What has happened?"
"It's the candle, miss," the girl gasped, "the candle in Miss Trevor's room. I can't put it out."
"You can't put it out, why, what nonsense!" Margaret said. "Are you mad?"
"It is as true as I sit here, miss," Mary panted. "I put the candle on the mantelpiece while I set the room to rights, and when I had finished and came to blow it out, I couldn't. I blew, and blew, and blew, but it hadn't any effect, and then I grew afraid, miss, horribly afraid," and here she buried her face in her hands, and shuddered. "I've never been frightened like this before, miss," she returned slowly, "and I've come away and left the candle burning."
"How absurd of you," Margaret scolded. "We must go and put it out at once. I have a good mind to make you come with us, Mary—but there! Stay where you are, and for goodness' sake stop crying, or every one in the house will hear you."
So saying, Margaret hurried off,—Alice and I accompanying her,—and on arriving outside my room, the door of which was wide open, we perceived the lighted candle standing in the position Mary had described. I looked at the girls, and perceived, in spite of my endeavours not to perceive it, the unmistakable signs of a great fear—fear of something they suspected but dared not name—lurking in the corners of their eyes.
"Who will go first?" Margaret demanded. No one spoke.
"Well then," she continued, "I will," and, suiting the action to the word, she stepped over the threshold. The moment she did so, the door began to close. "This is curious!" she cried. "Push!"
We did; we all three pushed; but, despite our efforts, the door came resolutely to, and we were shut out. Then before we had time to recover from our astonishment, it flew open; but before we could cross the threshold, it came violently to in the same manner as before. Some unseen force held it against us.
"Let us make one more effort," Margaret said, "and if we don't succeed, we will call for help."
Obeying her instructions, we once again pushed. I was nearest the handle, and in some manner,—how, none of us could ever explain,—just as the door opened of its own accord, I slipped and fell inside. The door then closed immediately with a bang, and, to my unmitigated horror, I found myself alone in the room. For some seconds I was spellbound, and could not even collect my thoughts sufficiently to frame a reply to the piteous entreaties of the Holkitts, who kept banging on the door, and imploring me to tell them what was happening. Never in the hideous excitement of nightmare had I experienced such a terror as the terror that room conveyed to my mind. Though nothing was to be seen, nothing but the candle, the light of which was peculiarly white and vibrating, I felt the presence of something inexpressibly menacing and horrible. It was in the light, the atmosphere, the furniture, everywhere. On all sides it surrounded me, on all sides I was threatened—threatened in a manner that was strange and deadly. Something suggesting to me that the source of evil originated in the candle, and that if I could succeed in extinguishing the light I should free myself from the ghostly presence, I advanced towards the mantelpiece, and, drawing in a deep breath, blew—blew with the energy born of desperation. It had no effect. I repeated my efforts; I blew frantically, madly, but all to no purpose; the candle still burned—burned softly and mockingly. Then a fearful terror seized me, and, flying to the opposite side of the room, I buried my face against the wall, and waited for what the sickly beatings of my heart warned me was coming. Constrained to look, I slightly, only very, very slightly, moved round, and there, there, floating stealthily towards me through the air, came the candle, the vibrating, glowing, baleful candle. I hid my face again, and prayed God to let me faint. Nearer and nearer drew the light; wilder and wilder the wrenches at the door. Closer and closer I pressed myself to the wall. And then, then when the final throes of agony were more than human heart and brain could stand, there came the suspicion, the suggestion of a touch—of a touch so horrid that my prayers were at last answered, and I fainted. When I recovered, I was in Margaret's room, and half a dozen well-known forms were gathered round me. It appears that with the collapse of my body on the floor, the door, that had so effectually resisted every effort to turn the handle, immediately flew open, and I was discovered lying on the ground with the candle—still alight—on the ground beside me. My aunt experienced no difficulty in blowing out the refractory candle, and I was carried with the greatest tenderness into the other wing of the house, where I slept that night. Little was said about the incident next day, but all who knew of it expressed in their faces the utmost anxiety—an anxiety which, now that I had recovered, greatly puzzled me. On our return home, another shock awaited me; we found to our dismay that my mother was seriously ill, and that the doctor, who had been sent for from Perth the previous evening, just about the time of my adventure with the candle, had stated that she might not survive the day. His warning was fulfilled—she died at sunset. Her death, of course, may have had nothing at all to do with the candle episode, yet it struck me then as an odd coincidence, and seems all the more strange to me after hearing your account of the bogle that touched your dear father in the road, so near the spot where the Holkitts' house once stood. I could never discover whether Lady Holkitt or her daughters ever saw anything of a superphysical nature in their house; after my experience they were always very reticent on that subject, and naturally I did not like to press it. On Lady Holkitt's death, Margaret and Alice sold the house, which was eventually pulled down, as no one would live in it, and I believe the ground on which it stood is now a turnip field. That, my dear, is all I can tell you.
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"Now, Mr. O'Donnell," Miss Macdonald added, "having heard our experiences, my mother's and mine, what is your opinion? Do you think the phenomenon of the candle was in any way connected with the bogle both you and I have seen, or are the hauntings of 'The Old White House' entirely separate from those of the road?"
THE TOP ATTIC IN PRINGLE'S MANSION, EDINBURGH
A charming lady, Miss South, informs me that no house interested her more, as a child, than Pringle's Mansion, Edinburgh. Pringle's Mansion, by the bye, is not the real name of the house, nor is the original building still standing—the fact is, my friend has been obliged to disguise the locality for fear of an action for slander of title, such as happened in the Egham Case of 1904-7.
Miss South never saw—save in a picture—the house that so fascinated her; but through repeatedly hearing about it from her old nurse, she felt that she knew it by heart, and used to amuse herself hour after hour in the nursery, drawing diagrams of the rooms and passages, which, to make quite realistic, she named and numbered.
There was the Admiral's room, Madame's room, Miss Ophelia's room, Master Gregory's room, Letty's (the nurse's) room, the cook's room, the butler's room, the housemaid's room—and—the Haunted Room.
The house was very old—probably the sixteenth century—and was concealed from the thoroughfare by a high wall that enclosed it on all sides. It had no garden, only a large yard, covered with faded yellow paving-stones, and containing a well with an old-fashioned roller and bucket.
When the well was cleaned out, an event which took place periodically on a certain date, every utensil in the house was called into requisition for ladling out the water, and the Admiral, himself supervising, made every servant in the establishment take an active part in the proceedings. On one of these occasions, the Admiral announced his intention of going down the well in the bucket. That was a rare moment in Letty's life, for when the Admiral had been let down in the bucket, the rope broke!
Indeed, the thought of what the Laird would say when he came up, almost resulted in his not coming up at all. However, some one, rather bolder than the rest, retained sufficient presence of mind to effect a rescue, and the timid ones, thankful enough to survive the explosion, had to be content on "half-rations till further orders."
But in spite of its association with such a martinet, and in spite of her ghostly experiences in it, Letty loved the house, and was never tired of singing its praises.
It was a two-storeyed mansion, with roomy cellars but no basement. There were four reception-rooms—all oak-panelled—on the ground floor; numerous kitchen offices, including a cosy housekeeper's room; and a capacious entrance hall, in the centre of which stood a broad oak staircase. The cellars, three in number, and chiefly used as lumber-rooms, were deep down and dank and horrid.
On the first floor eight bedrooms opened on to a gallery overlooking the hall, and the top storey, where the servants slept, consisted solely of attics connected with one another by dark, narrow passages. It was one of these attics that was haunted, although, as a matter of fact, the ghost had been seen in all parts of the house.
When Letty entered the Admiral's service she was but a bairn, and had never even heard of ghosts; nor did the other servants apprise her of the hauntings, having received strict injunctions not to do so from the Laird.
But Letty's home, humble though it was, had been very bright and cheerful, and the dark precincts of the mansion filled her with dismay. Without exactly knowing why she was afraid, she shrank in terror from descending into the cellars, and felt anything but pleased at the prospect of sleeping alone in an attic. Still nothing occurred to really alarm her till about a month after her arrival. It was early in the evening, soon after twilight, and she had gone down into one of the cellars to look for a boot-jack, which the Admiral swore by all that was holy must be found before supper. Placing the light she had brought with her on a packing-case, she was groping about among the boxes, when she perceived, to her astonishment, that the flame of the candle had suddenly turned blue. She then felt icy cold, and was much startled on hearing a loud clatter as of some metal instrument on the stone floor in the far-off corner of the cellar. Glancing in the direction of the noise, she saw, looking at her, two eyes—two obliquely set, lurid, light eyes, full of the utmost devilry. Sick with terror and utterly unable to account for what she beheld, she stood stock-still, her limbs refusing to move, her throat parched, her tongue tied. The clanging was repeated, and a shadowy form began slowly to crawl towards her. She dared not afterwards surmise what would have happened to her, had not the Laird himself come down at this moment. At the sound of his stentorian voice the phantasm vanished. But the shock had been too much for Letty; she fainted, and the Admiral, carrying her upstairs as carefully as if she had been his own daughter, gave peremptory orders that she should never again be allowed to go into the cellar alone.
But now that Letty herself had witnessed a manifestation, the other servants no longer felt bound to secrecy, and soon poured into her ears endless accounts of the hauntings.
Every one, they informed her, except Master Gregory and Perkins (the butler) had seen one or other of the ghosts, and the cellar apparition was quite familiar to them all. They also declared that there were other parts of the house quite as badly haunted as the cellar, and it might have been partly owing to these gruesome stories that poor Letty always felt scared, when crossing the passages leading to the attics. As she was hastening down one of them, early one morning, she heard some one running after her. Thinking it was one of the other servants, she turned round, pleased to think that some one else was up early too, and saw to her horror a dreadful-looking object, that seemed to be partly human and partly animal. The body was quite small, and its face bloated, and covered with yellow spots. It had an enormous animal mouth, the lips of which, moving furiously without emitting any sound, showed that the creature was endeavouring to speak but could not. The moment Letty screamed for help the phantasm vanished.
But her worst experience was yet to come. The spare attic which she was told was so badly haunted that no one would sleep in it, was the room next to hers. It was a room Letty could well believe was haunted, for she had never seen another equally gloomy. The ceiling was low and sloping, the window tiny, and the walls exhibited all sorts of odd nooks and crannies. A bed, antique and worm-eaten, stood in one recess, a black oak chest in another, and at right angles with the door, in another recess, stood a wardrobe that used to creak and groan alarmingly every time Letty walked a long the passage. Once she heard a chuckle, a low, diabolical chuckle, which she fancied came from the chest; and once, when the door of the room was open, she caught the glitter of a pair of eyes—the same pale, malevolent eyes that had so frightened her in the cellar. From her earliest childhood Letty had been periodically given to somnambulism, and one night, just about a year after she went into service, she got out of bed, and walked, in her sleep, into the Haunted Room. She awoke to find herself standing, cold and shivering, in the middle of the floor, and it was some seconds before she realised where she was. Her horror, when she did discover where she was, is not easily described. The room was bathed in moonlight, and the beams, falling with noticeable brilliancy on each piece of furniture the room contained, at once riveted Letty's attention, and so fascinated her that she found herself utterly unable to move. A terrible and most unusual silence predominated everywhere, and although Letty's senses were wonderfully and painfully on the alert, she could not catch the slightest sound from any of the rooms on the landing.
The night was absolutely still, no breath of wind, no rustle of leaves, no flapping of ivy against the window; yet the door suddenly swung back on its hinges and slammed furiously. Letty felt that this was the work of some supernatural agency, and, fully expecting that the noise had awakened the cook, who was a light sleeper (or pretended she was), listened in a fever of excitement to hear her get out of bed and call out. The slightest noise and the spell that held her prisoner would, Letty felt sure, be broken. But the same unbroken silence prevailed. A sudden rustling made Letty glance fearfully at the bed; and she perceived, to her terror, the valance swaying violently, to and fro. Sick with fear, she was now constrained to stare in abject helplessness. Presently there was a slight, very slight movement on the mattress, the white dust cover rose, and, under it, Letty saw the outlines of what she took to be a human figure, gradually take shape. Hoping, praying, that she was mistaken, and that what appeared to be on the bed was but a trick of her imagination, she continued staring in an agony of anticipation. But the figure remained—extended at full length like a corpse. The minutes slowly passed, a church clock boomed two, and the body moved. Letty's jaw fell, her eyes almost bulged from her head, whilst her fingers closed convulsively on the folds of her night-dress. The unmistakable sound of breathing now issued from the region of the bed, and the dust-cover commenced slowly to slip aside. Inch by inch it moved, until first of all Letty saw a few wisps of dark hair, then a few more, then a thick cluster; then something white and shining—a protruding forehead; then dark, very dark brows; then two eyelids, yellow, swollen, and fortunately tightly closed; then—a purple conglomeration of Letty knew not what—of anything but what was human. The sight was so monstrous it appalled her; and she was overcome with a species of awe and repulsion, for which the language of mortality has no sufficiently energetic expression. She momentarily forgot that what she looked on was merely superphysical, but regarded it as something alive, something that ought to have been a child, comely and healthy as herself—and she hated it. It was an outrage on maternity, a blot on nature, a filthy discredit to the house, a blight, a sore, a gangrene. It turned over in its sleep, the cover was hurled aside, and a grotesque object, round, pulpy, webbed, and of leprous whiteness—an object which Letty could hardly associate with a hand—came grovelling out. Letty's stomach heaved; the thing was beastly, indecent, vile, it ought not to live! And the idea of killing flashed through her mind. Boiling over with indignation and absurdly forgetful of her surroundings, she turned round and groped for a stone to smash it. The moonlight on her naked toes brought her to her senses—the thing in the bed was a devil! Though brought up a member of the Free Church, with an abhorrence of anything that could in any way be contorted into Papist practices, Letty crossed herself. As she did so, a noise in the passage outside augmented her terror. She strained her ears painfully, and the sound developed into a footstep, soft, light, and surreptitious. It came gently towards the door; it paused outside, and Letty intuitively felt that it was listening. Her suspense was now so intolerable, that it was almost with a feeling of relief that she beheld the door slowly—very slowly—begin to open. A little wider—a little wider—and yet a little wider; but still nothing came. Ah! Letty's heart turned to ice. Another inch, and a shadowy something slipped through and began to wriggle itself stealthily over the floor. Letty tried to divert her gaze, but could not—an irresistible, magnetic attraction kept her eyes glued to the gradually approaching horror. When within a few feet of her it halted; and again Letty felt it was listening—listening to the breathing on the bed, which was heavy and bestial. Then it twisted round, and Letty watched it crawl into the wardrobe. After this there was a long and anxious wait. Then Letty saw the wardrobe door slyly open, and the eyes of the cellar—inexpressibly baleful, and glittering like burnished steel in the strong phosphorescent glow of the moon, peep out,—not at her but through her,—at the object lying on the bed. There were not only eyes, this time, but a form,—vague, misty, and irregular, but still with sufficient shape to enable Letty to identify it as that of a woman, tall and thin, and with a total absence of hair, which was emphasised in the most lurid and ghastly fashion. With a snakelike movement, the evil thing slithered out of the wardrobe, and, gliding past Letty, approached the bed. Letty was obliged to follow every proceeding. She saw the thing deftly snatch the bolster from under the sleeping head; noted the gleam of hellish satisfaction in its eyes as it pressed the bolster down; and watched the murdered creature's contortions grow fainter, and fainter, until they finally ceased. The eyes then left the room; and from afar off, away below, in the abysmal cellars of the house, came the sound of digging—faint, very faint, but unquestionably digging. This terminated the grim, phantasmal drama for that night at least, and Letty, chilled to the bone, but thoroughly alert, escaped to her room. She spent her few remaining hours of rest wide-awake, determining never to go to bed again without fastening one of her arms to the iron staples.
With regard the history of the house, Letty never learned anything more remarkable than that, long ago, an idiot child was supposed to have been murdered in the haunted attic—by whom, tradition did not say. The Admiral and his family left Pringle's Mansion the year Letty became Miss South's nurse, and as no one would stay in the house, presumably on account of the hauntings, it was pulled down, and an inexcusably inartistic edifice was erected in its place.
THE BOUNDING FIGURE OF "—— HOUSE," NEAR BUCKINGHAM TERRACE, EDINBURGH
No one is more interested in Psychical Investigation Work than Miss Torfrida Vincent, one of the three beautiful daughters of Mrs. H. de B. Vincent, who is, herself, still in the heyday of life, and one of the loveliest of the society women I have met. Though I have known her sisters several years, I only met Torfrida for the first time a few months ago, when she was superintending the nursing of her mother, who had just undergone an operation for appendicitis. One day, when I was visiting my convalescent friend, Torfrida informed me that she knew of a haunted house in Edinburgh, a case which she felt sure would arouse my interest and enthusiasm. "It is unfortunate," she added somewhat regretfully, "that I cannot tell you the number of the house, but as I have given my word of honour to disclose it to no one, I feel sure you will excuse me. Indeed, my friends the Gordons, who extracted the promise from me, have got into sad trouble with their landlord for leaving the house under the pretext that it was haunted, and he has threatened to prosecute them for slander of title."
The house in question has no claim to antiquity. It may be eighty years old—perhaps a little older—and was, at the time of which I speak, let out in flats. The Gordons occupied the second storey; the one above them was untenanted, and used as a storage place for furniture; the first floor and ground floor were divided into chambers and offices. They had not been in their new quarters more than a week, when Mrs. Gordon asked the night porter who it was that made such a noise, racing up their stairs between two and three in the morning. It had awakened her every night, she told him, and she would be glad if the disturbance were discontinued. "I am sorry, Madam, but I cannot imagine who it can be," the man replied. "Of course, it may be some one next door, sounds are so often deceptive; no one inhabits the rooms above you." But Mrs. Gordon was not at all convinced, and made up her mind to complain to the landlord should it occur again. That night nothing happened, but the night after she was roused from her sleep at two o'clock, by a feeling that something dreadful, some dire catastrophe, was about to take place. The house was very still, and beyond the far-away echoes of a policeman's patrol on the hard pavement outside, nothing, absolutely nothing, broke the universal, and as it seemed to her, unnatural silence. Generally at night-time there are sounds one likes to assure oneself are too trivial to be heard during the day—the creaking of boards, stairs (nearly always stairs), and the tapping of some leaf (of course some leaf) at the windows. Who has not heard such sounds, and who in his heart of hearts has not been only too well aware that they are nocturnal, exclusively nocturnal. The shadows of evening bring with them visitors; prying, curious visitors; grim and ghastly visitors; grey, esoteric visitors; visitors from a world seemingly inconsequent, wholly incomprehensible. Mrs. Gordon did not believe in ghosts. She scoffed at the idea of ghosts, and, like so many would-be wits, unreasonably brave by day, and the reverse by night, had hitherto attributed banshees and the like to cats and other animals. But now,—now when all was dark,—pitch dark and hushed, and she, for aught she knew to the contrary, the only one, in that great rambling building, awake, she reviewed again and again, in her mind, that rushing up the stairs. The wind! It could not have been the wind. The wind shuts doors, and rattles windows, and moans, and sighs, and howls and screeches, but it does not walk the house in boots. Neither do rats! And if she had imagined the noises, why did she not imagine other things; why, for example, did she not see tables dance, and tea-urns walk? All that would be fancy, unblushing, genuine fancy, and if she conjured up one absurdity, why not another! That was a conundrum for any sceptic. Thus did she argue, naturally and logically, in the quite sensible fashion of a lawyer, or a scientist; yet, all the while, her senses told her that the atmosphere of the house had undergone some profoundly subtle and unaccountable change,—a change that brought with it a presence, at once sinister and hostile. She longed to strike a light and awake one of her daughters—Diana, by preference; since Diana was the least likely to mind being disturbed, and had the strongest nerves. She made a start, and, loosening the bedclothes that she always liked tightly tucked round her, thrust out a quivering toe. The next instant she drew it back with a tiny gasp of terror. The cold darkness without had suggested to her mind a great, horny hand, mal-shaped and murderous, that was lying in wait to seize her. A deadly sickness overcame her, and she lay back on the pillow, her heart beating with outrageous irregularity and loudness. Very slowly she recovered, and, holding her breath, sidled to the far edge of the bed, and with a dexterous movement, engendered by the desperation of fear, made a lightning-like dab in the direction of the electric bell. Her soft, pink finger missed the mark, and coming in violent contact with the wall, bent the carefully polished nail. She bit her lips to stop a cry of pain, and shrinking back within the folds of her dainty lace embroidered nightdress, abandoned herself to despair. Her consciousness of the Unknown Presence increased, and she instinctively felt the thing pass through the closed door, down on to the landing outside, when it dashed upstairs with a loud clatter, and, entering the lumber-room immediately overhead, began bounding as if its feet were tied together, backwards and forwards across the floor. After continuing for fully half an hour, the noises abruptly ceased and the house resumed its accustomed quiet. At breakfast, Mrs. Gordon asked her daughters if they had heard anything in the night, and they laughingly said "No, not even a mouse!"
There was now an intermission of the disturbances, and no further demonstration occurred for about a month. Diana was then sleeping in her mother's room, Mrs. Gordon being away on a visit to Lady Voss, who was entertaining a party of friends at her shooting-box in Argyle. One evening, as Diana was going into her bedroom to prepare for dinner, she saw the door suddenly swing open, and something, she could not tell what—it was so blurred and indistinct—come out with a bound. Tearing past her on to the landing, it rushed up the stairs with so much clatter that Diana imagined, though she could see nothing, that it must have on its feet, heavy lumbering boots. Filled with an irresistible curiosity, in spite of her alarm, Diana ran after it, and, on reaching the upper storey, heard it making a terrific racket in the room above the one in which she now slept. Nothing daunted, however, she boldly approached, and, flinging open the door, perceived its filmy outline standing before a shadowy and very antique eight-day clock, which apparently it was in the habit of winding. A great fear now fell on Diana. What was the thing? And supposing it should turn round and face her, what should she see? She was entirely isolated from her sisters, and the servants—alone—the light fading—in a big, gloomy room full of strange old furniture which suggested hiding-places for all sorts of grim possibilities. She was assured now that the thing she had followed was nothing human, neither was it a delusion, for when she shut her eyes and opened them, it was still there—and, oddly enough, it was now more distinct than it was when she had seen it downstairs. A curious feeling of helplessness stole over Diana; the power of speech forsook her; and her limbs grew rigid. She was so fearful, too, of attracting the notice of the mysterious thing that she hardly dare breathe, and each pulsation of her heart sent cold chills of apprehension down her spine. Once she endured agonies through a mad desire to sneeze, and once her lips opened to scream as something suspiciously like the antennae of a huge beetle, and which she subsequently discovered was a "devil's coach-horse," tickled the calf of her leg. She fancied, too, that all sorts of queer shapes lurked in the passage behind her, and that innumerable unseen eyes were malignantly rejoicing in her terror. At last, the climax to her suspense seemed at hand. The unknown thing, until now too busy with the clock to take heed of her, paused for a moment or so, as if undecided what to do next, and then slowly began to veer round. But the faint echo of a voice below, calling her by name, broke the hypnotic spell that bound Diana to the floor, and with a frantic spring she cleared the threshold of the room. She then tore madly downstairs, never halting till she reached the dining-room, where she sank on a sofa, and, more dead than alive, panted out to her amazed sisters a full account of all that had transpired.
That night she shared her sister's bedroom, but neither she nor her sister slept.
From this time till the return of Mrs. Gordon, nothing happened. It was one evening after she came back, when she was preparing to get into bed, that the door of her own room unexpectedly opened, and she saw standing, on the threshold, the unmistakable figure of a man, short and broad, with a great width of shoulders, and very long arms. He was clad in a peajacket, blue serge trousers, and jack-boots. He had a big, round, brutal head, covered with a tangled mass of yellow hair, but where his face ought to have been there was only a blotch, underlying which Mrs. Gordon detected the semblance to something fiendishly vindictive and immeasurably nasty. But, in spite of the horror his appearance produced, her curiosity was aroused with regard to the two objects he carried in his hands, one of which looked like a very bizarre bundle of red and white rags, and the other a small bladder of lard. Whilst she was staring at them in dumb awe, he swung round, and, hitching them savagely under his armpits, rushed across the landing, and, with a series of apish bounds, sprang up the staircase and disappeared in the gloom.
This was the climax; Mrs. Gordon felt another such encounter would kill her. So, in spite of the fact that she had taken the flat for a year, and had only just commenced her tenancy, she packed up her goods and left the very next day. The report that the building was haunted spread rapidly, and Mrs. Gordon had many indignant letters from the landlord. She naturally made inquiries as to the early history of the house, but of the many tales she listened to, only one, the authenticity of which she could not guarantee, seemed to suggest any clue to the haunting.
It was said that a retired Captain in the Merchant Service, many years previously, had rented the rooms she had occupied.
He was an extraordinary individual, and, despite the fact that he had lived so far inland, would never wear any but nautical clothes—blue jersey and trousers, reefer coat and jack-boots. But this was not his only peculiarity. His love of grog eventually brought on delirium tremens, and his excessive irritability in the interval between each attack was a source of anxiety to all who came in contact with him. At that time there happened to be a baby in the rooms overhead, whose crying so annoyed the Captain that he savagely informed its mother that if she did not keep it quiet, he would not be answerable for the consequences. His warnings having no effect, he flew upstairs one day, when she was temporarily absent, and, snatching up the bread knife from the table, decapitated the infant. He then stuffed both its head and body into a grandfather's clock which stood in one corner of the room, and, retiring to his own quarters, drank till he was insensible.
He was, of course, arrested on a charge of murder, but being found "insane" he was committed during His Majesty's pleasure to a lunatic asylum.
He eventually committed suicide by opening an artery in his leg with one of his finger-nails.
As the details of this tragedy filled in so well with the phenomena they had witnessed, the Gordons could not help regarding the story as a very probable explanation of the hauntings. But, remember, its authenticity is dubious.
JANE OF GEORGE STREET, EDINBURGH
"The news that, for several years at any rate, George Street, Edinburgh, was haunted," wrote a correspondent of mine some short time ago, "might cause no little surprise to many of its inhabitants." And my friend proceeded to relate his experience of the haunting, which I will reproduce as nearly as possible in his own words. I quote from memory, having foolishly destroyed the letter.
* * * * *
I was walking in a leisurely way along George Street the other day, towards Strunalls, where I get my cigars, and had arrived opposite No. —, when I suddenly noticed, just ahead of me, a tall lady of remarkably graceful figure, clad in a costume which, even to an ignoramus in fashions like myself, seemed extraordinarily out of date. In my untechnical language it consisted of a dark blue coat and skirt, trimmed with black braid. The coat had a very high collar, turned over to show a facing of blue velvet, its sleeves were very full at the shoulders, and a band of blue velvet drew it tightly in at the waist. Moreover, unlike every other lady I saw, she wore a small hat, which I subsequently learned was a toque, with one white and one blue plume placed moderately high at the side. The only other conspicuous items of her dress, the effect of which was, on the whole, quiet, were white glace gloves,—over which dangled gold curb bracelets with innumerable pendants,—shoes, which were of patent leather with silver buckles and rather high Louis heels, and fine, blue silk openwork stockings. So much for her dress. Now for her herself. She was a strikingly fair woman with very pale yellow hair and a startlingly white complexion; and this latter peculiarity so impressed me that I hastened my steps, determining to get a full view of her. Passing her with rapid strides, I looked back, and as I did so a cold chill ran through me,—what I looked at was—the face of the dead. I slowed down and allowed her to take the lead.
I now observed that, startling as she was, no one else seemed to notice her. One or two people obviously, though probably unconsciously, possessing the germs of psychism, shivered when they passed her, but as they neither slackened their pace nor turned to steal a second look, I concluded they had not seen her. Without glancing either to the right or left, she moved steadily on, past Molton's the confectioner's, past Perrin's the hatter's. Once, I thought she was coming to a halt, and that she intended crossing the road, but no—on, on, on, till we came to D—— Street. There we were preparing to cross over, when an elderly gentleman walked deliberately into her. I half expected to hear him apologise, but naturally nothing of the sort happened; she was only too obviously a phantom, and, in accordance with the nature of a phantom, she passed right through him. A few yards farther on, she came to an abrupt pause, and then, with a slight inclination of her head as if meaning me to follow, she glided into a chemist's shop. She was certainly not more than six feet ahead of me when she passed through the door, and I was even nearer than that to her when she suddenly disappeared as she stood before the counter. I asked the chemist if he could tell me anything about the lady who had just entered his shop, but he merely turned away and laughed.
"Lady!" he said; "what are you talking about? You're a bit out of your reckoning. This isn't the first of April. Come, what do you want?"
I bought a bottle of formamints, and reluctantly and regretfully turned away. That night I dreamed I again saw the ghost. I followed her up George Street just as I had done in reality; but when she came to the chemist's shop, she turned swiftly round. "I'm Jane!" she said in a hollow voice. "Jane! Only Jane!" and with that name ringing in my ears I awoke.
Some days elapsed before I was in George Street again. The weather had in the meanwhile undergone one of those sudden and violent changes, so characteristic of the Scottish climate. The lock-gates of heaven had been opened and the rain was descending in cataracts. The few pedestrians I encountered were enveloped in mackintoshes, and carried huge umbrellas, through which the rain was soaking, and pouring off from every point. Everything was wet—everywhere was mud. The water, splashing upwards, saturated the tops of my boots and converted my trousers into sodden sacks. Some weather isn't fit for dogs, but this weather wasn't good enough for tadpoles—even fish would have kicked at it and kept in their holes. Imagine, then, the anomaly! Amidst all this aqueous inferno, this slippery-sloppery, filth-bespattering inferno, a spotlessly clean apparition in blue without either waterproof or umbrella. I refer to Jane. She suddenly appeared, as I was passing The Ladies' Tea Association Rooms, walking in front of me. She looked just the same as when I last saw her—spick and span, and—dry. I repeat the word—dry—for that is what attracted my attention most. Despite the deluge, not a single raindrop touched her—the plumes on her toque were splendidly erect and curly, her shoe-buckles sparkled, her patent leathers were spotless, whilst the cloth of her coat and skirt looked as sheeny as if they had but just come from Keeley's.
Anxious to get another look at her face, I quickened my pace, and, darting past her, gazed straight into her countenance. The result was a severe shock. The terror of what I saw—the ghastly horror of her dead white face—sent me reeling across the pavement. I let her pass me, and, impelled by a sickly fascination, followed in her wake.
Outside a jeweller's stood a hansom—quite a curiosity in these days of motors—and, as Jane glided past, the horse shied. I have never seen an animal so terrified. We went on, and at the next crossing halted. A policeman had his hand up checking the traffic. His glance fell on Jane—the effect was electrical. His eyes bulged, his cheeks whitened, his chest heaved, his hand dropped, and he would undoubtedly have fallen had not a good Samaritan, in the guise of a non-psychical public-house loafer, held him up. Jane was now close to the chemist's, and it was with a sigh of relief that I saw her glide in and disappear.
Had there been any doubt at all, after my first encounter with Jane, as to her being superphysical, there was certainly none now. The policeman's paroxysm of fear and the horse's fit of shying were facts. What had produced them? I alone knew—and I knew for certain—it was Jane. Both man and animal saw what I saw. Hence the phantom was not subjective; it was not illusionary; it was a bona fide spirit manifestation—a visitant from the other world—the world of earthbound souls. Jane fascinated me. I made endless researches in connection with her, and, in answer to one of my inquiries, I was informed that eighteen years ago—that is to say, about the time Jane's dress was in fashion—the chemist's shop had been occupied by a dressmaker of the name of Bosworth. I hunted up Miss Bosworth's address and called on her. She had retired from business and was living in St. Michael's Road, Bournemouth. I came to the point straight.
"Can you give me any information," I asked, "about a lady whose Christian name was Jane?"
"That sounds vague!" Miss Bosworth said. "I've met a good many Janes in my time."
"But not Janes with pale yellow hair, and white eyebrows and eyelashes!" And I described her in detail.
"How do you come to know about her?" Miss Bosworth said, after a long pause.
"Because," I replied with a certain slowness and deliberation characteristic of me, "because I've seen her ghost!"
Of course I knew Miss Bosworth was no sceptic—the moment my eyes rested on her I saw she was psychic, and that the superphysical was often at her elbow. Accordingly, I was not in the least surprised at her look of horror.
"What!" she exclaimed, "is she still there? I thought she would surely be at rest now!"
"Who was she?" I inquired. "Come—you need not be afraid of me. I have come here solely because the occult has always interested me. Who was Jane, and why should her ghost haunt George Street?"
"It happened a good many years ago," Miss Bosworth replied, "in 1892. In answer to an advertisement I saw in one of the daily papers, I called on a Miss Jane Vernelt—Mademoiselle Vernelt she called herself—who ran a costumier's business in George Street, in the very building, in fact now occupied by the chemist you have mentioned. The business was for sale, and Miss Vernelt wanted a big sum for it. However, as her books showed a very satisfactory annual increase in receipts and her clientele included a duchess and other society leaders, I considered the bargain a tolerably safe one, and we came to terms. Within a week I was running the business, and, exactly a month after I had taken it over, I was greatly astonished to receive a visit from Miss Vernelt. She came into the shop quite beside herself with agitation. 'It's all a mistake!' she screamed. 'I didn't want to sell it. I can't do anything with my capital. Let me buy it back.' I listened to her politely, and then informed her that as I had gone to all the trouble of taking over the business and had already succeeded in extending it, I most certainly had no intention of selling it—at least not for some time. Well, she behaved like a lunatic, and in the end created such a disturbance that I had to summon my assistants and actually turn her out. After that I had no peace for six weeks. She came every day, at any and all times, and I was at last obliged to take legal proceedings. I then discovered that her mind was really unhinged, and that she had been suffering from softening of the brain for many months. Her medical advisers had, it appeared, warned her to give up business and place herself in the hands of trustworthy friends or relations, who would see that her money was properly invested, but she had delayed doing so; and when, at last, she did make up her mind to retire, the excitement, resulting from so great a change in her mode of living, accelerated the disease, and, exactly three weeks after the sale of her business, she became a victim to the delusion that she was ruined. This delusion grew more and more pronounced as her malady increased, and amidst her wildest ravings she clamoured to be taken back to George Street. The hauntings, indeed, began before she died; and I frequently saw her—when I knew her material body to be under restraint—just as you describe, gliding in and out the show-rooms.
"For several weeks after her death, the manifestations continued—they then ceased, and I have never heard of her again until now."
If I remember rightly the account of the George Street ghost here terminated; but my friend referred to it again at the close of his letter.
"Since my return to Scotland," he wrote, "I have frequently visited George Street, almost daily, but I have not seen 'Jane.' I only hope that her poor distracted spirit has at last found rest." And with this kindly sentiment my correspondent concluded.
THE SALLOW-FACED WOMAN OF NO. — FORREST ROAD, EDINBURGH
The Public unfortunately includes a certain set of people, of the middle class very "middlish," who are ever on the look-out for some opportunity, however slight and seemingly remote, of bettering themselves socially; and, learning that those in a higher strata of society are interested in the supernatural, they think that they may possibly get in touch with them by working up a little local reputation for psychical research. I have often had letters from this type of "pusher" (letters from genuine believers in the Occult I always welcome) stating that they have been greatly interested in my books—would I be so very kind as to grant them a brief interview, or permit them to accompany me to a haunted house, or give them certain information with regard to Lady So-and-so, whom they have long wanted to know? Occasionally, I have been so taken in as to give permission to the writer to call on me, and almost always I have bitterly repented. The wily one—no matter how wily—cannot conceal the cloven hoof for long, and he has either tried to thrust himself into the bosom of my family, or has written to my neighbours declaring himself to be my dearest friend; and when, in desperation, I have shown him the cold shoulder, he has attacked me virulently in some "rag" of a local paper, the proprietor, editor, or office-boy of which happens to be one of his own clique. I have even known an instance where this type of person has, through trickery, actually gained access to some notoriously haunted house, and from its owners—the family he has long had his eyes on, from a motive anything but psychic—has ferreted out the secret and private history of the haunting. Then, when he has been "found out" and forced to see that his friendship is not wanted, he has, in revenge for the slight, unblushingly revealed the facts that were only entrusted to him in the strictest confidence; and, through influence with the lower stratum of the Press, caused a most glaring and sensational account of the ghost to be published.
With such a case in view, I cannot be surprised that possessors of family ghosts and haunted houses should show the greatest reluctance to be approached on the subject, save by those they feel assured will treat it with the utmost delicacy.
But I have quoted the above breach of confidence merely to give another reason for my constant use of fictitious names with regard to people and places, and having done so (I hope to some purpose), I will proceed with the following story:—
Miss Dulcie Vincent, some of whose reminiscences appeared in my book of Ghostly Phenomena last year, is nearly connected with Lady Adela Minkon, who owns a considerable amount of house property, including No. — Forrest Road, in Edinburgh, and whose yacht at Cowes is the envy of all who have cruised in her. Three years ago, Lady Adela stayed at No. — Forrest Road. She had heard that the house was haunted, and was anxious to put it to the test. Lady Adela was perfectly open-minded. She had never experienced any occult phenomena herself, but, very rationally, she did not consider that her non-acquaintance with the superphysical in any way negatived the evidence of those who declare that they have witnessed manifestations; their statements, she reasoned, were just as worthy of credence as hers. She thus commenced her occupation of the house with a perfectly unbiased mind, resolved to stay there for at least a year, so as to give it a fair trial. The hauntings, she was told, were at their height in the late summer and early autumn. It is, I think, unnecessary to enter into any detailed description of her house. In appearance, it differed very little, if at all, from those adjoining it; in construction, it was if anything a trifle larger. The basement, which included the usual kitchen offices and cellars, was very dark, and the atmosphere—after sunset on Fridays, only on Fridays—was tainted with a smell of damp earth, shockingly damp earth, and of a sweet and nauseating something that greatly puzzled Lady Adela. All the rooms in the house were of fair dimensions, and cheerful, excepting on this particular evening of the week; a distinct gloom settled on them then, and the strangest of shadows were seen playing about the passages and on the landings.
"It may be fancy," Lady Adela said to herself, "merely fancy! And, after all, if I encounter nothing worse than a weekly menu of aromatic smells and easily digested shadows, I shall not suffer any harm"; but it was early summer then—the psychic season had yet to come. As the weeks went by, the shadows and the smell grew more and more pronounced, and by the arrival of August had become so emphatic that Lady Adela could not help thinking that they were both hostile and aggressive.
About eight o'clock on the evening of the second Friday in the month, Lady Adela was purposely alone in the basement of the house. The servants especially irritated her; like the majority of present-day domestics, products of the County Council schools, they were so intensely supercilious and silly, and Lady Adela felt that their presence in the house minimised her chances of seeing the ghost. No apparition with the smallest amount of self-respect could risk coming in contact with such inane creatures, so she sent them all out for a motor drive, and, for once, rejoiced in the house to herself. A curious proceeding for a lady! True! but then, Lady Adela was a lady, and, being a lady, was not afraid of being thought anything else; and so acted just as unconventionally as she chose. But stay a moment; she was not alone in the house, for she had three of her dogs with her—three beautiful boarhounds, trophies of her last trip to the Baltic. With such colossal and perfectly trained companions Lady Adela felt absolutely safe, and ready—as she acknowledged afterwards—to face a whole army of spooks. She did not even shiver when the front door of the basement closed, and she heard the sonorous birring of the motor, drowning the giddy voices of the servants, grow fainter and fainter until it finally ceased altogether.
When the last echoes of the vehicle had died away in the distance, Lady Adela made a tour of the premises. The housekeeper's room pleased her immensely—at least she persuaded herself it did. "Why, it is quite as nice as any of the rooms upstairs," she said aloud, as she stood with her face to the failing sunbeams and rested her strong white hand on the edge of the table. "Quite as nice. Karl and Max, come here!"
But the boarhounds for once in their lives did not obey her with a good grace. There was something in the room they did not like, and they showed how strong was their resentment by slinking unwillingly through the doorway.
"I wonder why that is?" Lady Adela mused; "I have never known them do it before." Then her eyes wandered round the walls, and struggled in vain to reach the remoter angles of the room, which had suddenly grown dark. She tried to assure herself that this was but the natural effect of the departing daylight, and that, had she watched in other houses at this particular time, she would have noticed the same thing. To show how little she minded the gloom, she went up to the darkest corner and prodded the walls with her riding-whip. She laughed—there was nothing there, nothing whatsoever to be afraid of, only shadows. With a careless shrug of her shoulders, she strutted into the passage, and, whistling to Karl and Max who, contrary to their custom, would not keep to heel, made another inspection of the kitchens. At the top of the cellar steps she halted. The darkness had now set in everywhere, and she argued that it would be foolish to venture into such dungeon-like places without a light. She soon found one, and, armed with candle and matches, began her descent. There were several cellars, and they presented such a dismal, dark appearance, that she instinctively drew her skirts tightly round her, and exchanged the slender riding-whip for a poker. She whistled again to her dogs. They did not answer, so she called them both by name angrily. But for some reason (some quite unaccountable reason, she told herself) they would not come.
She ransacked her mind to recall some popular operatic air, and although she knew scores she could not remember one. Indeed, the only air that filtered back to her was one she detested—a Vaudeville tune she had heard three nights in succession, when she was staying with a student friend in the Latin Quarter in Paris. She hummed it loudly, however, and, holding the lighted candle high above her head, walked down the steps. At the bottom she stood still and listened. From high above her came noises which sounded like the rumbling of distant thunder, but which, on analysis, proved to be the rattling of window-frames. Reassured that she had no cause for alarm, Lady Adela advanced. Something black scudded across the red-tiled floor, and she made a dash at it with her poker. The concussion awoke countless echoes in the cellars, and called into existence legions of other black things that darted hither and thither in all directions. She burst out laughing—they were only beetles! Facing her she now perceived an inner cellar, which was far gloomier than the one in which she stood. The ceiling was very low, and appeared to be crushed down beneath the burden of a stupendous weight; and as she advanced beneath it she half expected that it would "cave in" and bury her.
A few feet from the centre of this cellar she stopped; and, bending down, examined the floor carefully. The tiles were unmistakably newer here than elsewhere, and presented the appearance of having been put in at no very distant date. The dampness of the atmosphere was intense; a fact which struck Lady Adela as somewhat odd, since the floor and walls looked singularly dry. To find out if this were the case, she ran her fingers over the walls, and, on removing them, found they showed no signs of moisture. Then she rapped the floor and walls, and could discover no indications of hollowness. She sniffed the air, and a great wave of something sweet and sickly half choked her. She drew out her handkerchief and beat the air vigorously with it; but the smell remained, and she could not in any way account for it. She turned to leave the cellar, and the flame of her candle burned blue. Then for the first time that evening—almost, indeed, for the first time in her life—she felt afraid, so afraid that she made no attempt to diagnose her fear; she understood the dogs' feelings now, and caught herself wondering how much they knew.
She whistled to them again, not because she thought they would respond,—she knew only too well they would not,—but because she wanted company, even the company of her own voice; and she had some faint hope, too, that whatever might be with her in the cellar, would not so readily disclose itself if she made a noise. The one cellar was passed, and she was nearly across the floor of the other when she heard a crash. The candle dropped from her hand, and all the blood in her body rushed to her heart. She could never have imagined it was so terrible to be frightened. She tried to pull herself together and be calm, but she was no longer mistress of her limbs. Her knees knocked together and her hands shook. "It was only the dogs," she feebly told herself, "I will call them"; but when she opened her mouth, she found her throat was paralysed—not a syllable would come. She knew, too, that she had lied, and that the hounds could not have been responsible for the noise. It was like nothing she had ever heard, nothing she could imagine; and although she struggled hard against the idea, she could not help associating the sound with the cause of the candle burning blue, and the sweet, sickly smell. Incapable of moving a step, she was forced to listen in breathless expectancy for a recurrence of the crash. Her thoughts become ghastly. The inky sea of darkness that hemmed her in on every side suggested every sort of ghoulish possibility, and with each pulsation of her overstrained heart her flesh crawled. Another sound—this time not a crash, nothing half so loud or definite—drew her eyes in the direction of the steps. An object was now standing at the top of them, and something lurid, like the faint, phosphorescent glow of decay, emanated from all over it; but what it was, she could not for the life of her tell. It might have been the figure of a man, or a woman, or a beast, or of anything that was inexpressibly antagonistic and nasty. She would have given her soul to have looked elsewhere, but her eyes were fixed—she could neither turn nor shut them. For some seconds the shape remained motionless, and then with a sly, subtle motion it lowered its head, and came stealing stealthily down the stairs towards her. She followed its approach like one in a hideous dream—her heart ready to burst, her brain on the verge of madness. Another step, another, yet another; till there were only three left between her and it; and she was at length enabled to form some idea of what the thing was like.
It was short and squat, and appeared to be partly clad in a loose, flowing garment, that was not long enough to conceal the glistening extremities of its limbs. From its general contour and the tangled mass of hair that fell about its neck and shoulders, Lady Adela concluded it was the phantasm of a woman. Its head being kept bent, she was unable to see the face in full, but every instant she expected the revelation would take place, and with each separate movement of the phantasm her suspense became more and more intolerable. At last it stood on the floor of the cellar, a broad, ungainly, horribly ungainly figure, that glided up to and past her into the far cellar. There it halted, as nearly as she could judge on the new tiles, and remained standing. As she gazed at it, too fascinated to remove her eyes, there was a loud, reverberating crash, a hideous sound of wrenching and tearing, and the whole of the ceiling of the inner chamber came down with an appalling roar. Lady Adela thinks that she must then have fainted, for she distinctly remembers falling—falling into what seemed to her a black, interminable abyss. When she recovered consciousness, she was lying on the tiles, and all around was still and normal. She got up, found and lighted her candle, and spent the rest of the evening, without further adventure, in the drawing-room.
All the week Lady Adela struggled hard to master a disinclination to spend another evening alone in the house, and when Friday came she succumbed to her fears. The servants were poor, foolish things, but it was nice to feel that there was something in the house besides ghosts. She sat reading in the drawing-room till late that night, and when she lolled out of the window to take a farewell look at the sky and stars before retiring to rest, the sounds of traffic had completely ceased and the whole city lay bathed in a refreshing silence. It was very heavenly to stand there and feel the cool, soft air—unaccompanied, for the first time during the day, by the rattling rumbling sounds of locomotion and the jarring discordant murmurs of unmusical voices—fanning her neck and face.
Lady Adela, used as she was to the privacy of her yacht, and the freedom of her big country mansion, where all sounds were regulated at her will, chafed at the near proximity of her present habitation to the noisy thoroughfare, and vaguely looked forward to the hours when shops and theatres were closed, and all screeching, harsh-voiced products of the gutter were in bed. To her the nights in Waterloo Place were all too short; the days too long, too long for anything. The heavy, lumbering steps of a policeman at last broke her reverie. She had no desire to arouse his curiosity; besides, her costume had become somewhat disordered, and she had the strictest sense of propriety, at least in the presence of the lower orders. Retiring, therefore, with a sigh of vexation, she sought her bedroom, and, after the most scrupulous attention to her toilet, put out the lights and got into bed. It was just one when she fell asleep, and three when she awoke with a violent start. Why she started puzzled her. She did not recollect experiencing any very dreadful dream, in fact no dream at all, and there seemed nothing in the hush—the apparently unbroken hush—that could in any way account for her action. Why, then, had she started? She lay still and wondered. Surely everything was just as it was when she went to sleep! And yet! When she ventured on a diagnosis, there was something different, something new; she did not think it was actually in the atmosphere, nor in the silence; she did not know where it was until she opened her eyes—and then she knew. Bending over her, within a few inches of her face, was another face, the ghastly caricature of a human face. It was on a larger scale than that of any mortal Lady Adela had ever seen; it was long in proportion to its width—indeed, she could not make out where the cranium terminated at the back, as the hinder portion of it was lost in a mist. The forehead, which was very receding, was partly covered with a mass of lank, black hair, that fell straight down into space; there were no neck nor shoulders, at least none had materialised; the skin was leaden-hued, and the emaciation so extreme that the raw cheek-bones had burst through in places; the size of the eye sockets which appeared monstrous, was emphasised by the fact that the eyes were considerably sunken; the lips were curled downwards and tightly shut, and the whole expression of the withered mouth, as indeed that of the entire face, was one of bestial, diabolical malignity. Lady Adela's heart momentarily stopped, her blood ran cold, she was petrified; and as she stared helplessly at the dark eyes pressed close to hers, she saw them suddenly suffuse with fiendish glee. The most frightful change then took place: the upper lip writhed away from a few greenish yellow stumps; the lower jaw fell with a metallic click, leaving the mouth widely open, and disclosing to Lady Adela's shocked vision a black and bloated tongue; the eyeballs rolled up and entirely disappeared, whilst their places were immediately filled with the foulest and most loathsome indications of advanced decay. A strong, vibratory movement suddenly made all the bones in the head rattle and the tongue wag, whilst from the jaws, as if belched up from some deep-down well, came a gust of wind, putrescent with the ravages of the tomb, and yet, at the same time, tainted with the same sweet, sickly odour with which Lady Adela had latterly become so familiar. This was the culminating act; the head then receded, and, growing fainter and fainter, gradually disappeared altogether. Lady Adela was now more than satisfied,—there was not a house more horribly haunted in Scotland,—and nothing on earth would induce her to remain in it another night.
However, being anxious, naturally, to discover something that might, in some degree, account for the apparitions, Lady Adela made endless inquiries concerning the history of former occupants of the house; but, failing to find out anything remarkable in this direction, she was eventually obliged to content herself with the following tradition: It was said that on the site of No. — Forrest Road there had once stood a cottage occupied by two sisters (both nurses), and that one was suspected of poisoning the other; and that the cottage, moreover, having through their parsimonious habits got into a very bad state of repair, was blown down during a violent storm, the surviving sister perishing in the ruins. Granted that this story is correct, it was in all probability the ghost of this latter sister that appeared to Lady Adela. Her ladyship is, of course, anxious to let No. — Forrest Road, and as only about one in a thousand people seem to possess the faculty of seeing psychic phenomena, she hopes she may one day succeed in getting a permanent tenant. In the meanwhile, she is doing her level best to suppress the rumour that the house is haunted.