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Scottish Ghost Stories (Elliott O'Donnell) online
CASE XII - THE GREY PIPER AND THE HEAVY COACH OF DONALDGOWERIE HOUSE, PERTH
September came, their first September in Donaldgowerie, and the family welcomed with joy Ernest and his youthful bride.
The latter was not, as they had fondly hoped (and roundly announced in Perth), the daughter of a Peer, but of a wealthy Bristol draper, the owner of a house near the Downs, whose son had been one of Ernest's many friends at Oxford. The coming of the newly-married pair to Donaldgowerie brought with it a burst of bird-like gaiety. All sorts of entertainments--musical "at homes," dinners, dances, tennis and garden parties, in fact, every variety that accorded with the family's idea of good taste--were given; and with praiseworthy "push," for which the Whittingens had fast become noted, all the County was invited. This splendid display of wealth and hospitality was not disinterested; I fear, it might be not only accounted a "send off" for the immaculately-clad curate and his wife, but also a determined effort on the part of Mr. and Mrs. Whittingen to attract the right sort of lover for their girls. It was during the progress of one of their alfresco entertainments that the scepticism of certain of the Whittingens with regard to the supernatural received a rude blow. Martha, Mary, and two eligible young men, friends of Harvey's, having finished a somewhat spirited game of croquet, were refreshing themselves with lemonade, whilst they continued their flirtation. Presently Mary, whose partner declared how much he should like to see some photographs she had recently had taken of herself, with a well-affected giggle of embarrassment set off to the house to fetch her album. The minutes passed, and, as she did not return, Martha went in search of her. The album, she knew, was in their boudoir, which was situated at the end of the long and rather gloomy corridor of the upper storey. Highly incensed at her sister's slowness, she was hastening along the corridor, when, to her supreme astonishment, she suddenly saw the figure of a man in kilts, with a bagpipe under his arm, emerge through the half-open door of the boudoir, and with a peculiar gliding motion advance towards her. A curious feeling, with which she was totally unfamiliar, compelled her to remain mute and motionless; and in this condition she awaited the approach of the stranger. Who was he? she asked herself, and how on earth had he got there, and what was he doing? As he drew nearer, she perceived that his face was all one hue,--a ghastly, livid grey,--and that his eyes, which were all the time fixed on hers, were lurid and menacing,--so terrible, in fact, that she turned cold with fear, and felt the very hair on her head beginning to rise on end. She opened her mouth to shriek, but found she could not ejaculate a syllable; neither could she, even with the most desperate efforts, tear her feet from the floor. On came the figure, and, without swerving either to the right or left, it glided right up to and through her; and, as she involuntarily turned round, she saw it disappear through a half-open staircase window, at least twenty feet above the ground outside. Shaking all over with terror, and not understanding in the slightest what to make of it, Martha ran to the boudoir, where her heart almost sprang out of her body at the spectacle of her sister Mary stretched at full length on the floor, her cheeks ashy pale, her lips blue. Martha at once made a frantic rush to the bell, and, in a few minutes, half the establishment, headed by Mr. Whittingen, poured into the room. With the aid of a little cold water, Mary speedily recovered, and, in reply to the anxious inquiries of her sympathetic rescuers as to what had happened, indignantly demanded why such a horrible looking creature as "that" piper had been allowed not merely to enter the house but to come up to her room, and half frighten her to death. "I had just got my album," she added, "when, feeling some one was in the room, I turned round--and there (she indicated a spot on the carpet) was the piper, not ten paces away from me, regarding me with the most awful look imaginable. I was too taken aback with surprise to say anything, nor--for some unaccountable reason--could I escape, before he touched me on the shoulder with one of his icy cold hands, and then commenced playing. Up and down the floor he paced, backwards and forwards, never taking his hateful glance off my face and ever piping the same dismal dirge. At last, unable to stand the strain of it any longer, and convinced he was a madman, bent on murdering me--for who but a lunatic would behave in such a way?--I gave way to a violent fit of hysterics, and fainted. Now tell me who he was, and why he was permitted to frighten me in this manner?" And Mary stamped her feet and grew vicious, as only her class will when they are at all vexed. Her speech was followed by a silence that exasperated her. She repeated her inquiries with crimson cheeks, and then, as again no one responded, she signalled out the head footman and raved at him. Up to this point Mr. Whittingen had been dumb with amazement. The idea of a strange piper having the twofold effrontery to enter his house and proceed to the private and chaste sanctuary of his highly respectable daughters, almost deprived him of breath. He could scarcely believe his ears. "What--what in the name of--what does it all mean?" he at length stammered, addressing the unfortunate footman. "A piper! and without any invitation from me, how dare you let him in?"