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Scottish Ghost Stories (Elliott O'Donnell) online
CASE XIII - THE FLOATING HEAD OF THE BENRACHETT INN, NEAR THE PERTH ROAD, DUNDEE
Some years ago, when I was engaged in collecting cases for a book I contemplated publishing, on _Haunted Houses in England and Wales_, I was introduced to an Irish clergyman, whose name I have forgotten, and whom I have never met since. Had the incident he related taken place in England or Wales, I should have noted it down carefully, but as it occurred in Scotland (and I had no intention then of bringing out a volume on Scottish phantasms), I did not do so.
My memory, however, I can assure my readers, in spite of the many ghost tales committed to it,--for scarcely a day passes that I do not hear one,--seldom fails, and the Irish clergyman's story, which I am about to relate, comes back to me now with startling vividness.
One summer evening, early in the eighties, Mr. Murphy--the name by which I will designate the originator of this story--and his wife arrived in Dundee. The town was utterly unknown to them, and they were touring Scotland for the first time. Not knowing where to put up for the night, and knowing no one to whom they could apply for information, they consulted a local paper, and from the long list of hotels and boarding-houses advertised therein selected the Benrachett Inn, near the Perth Road, as being the one most likely to meet their modest requirements. They were certainly not disappointed with the exterior of the hotel they had chosen, for as soon as they saw it they exclaimed simultaneously, "What a delightful old place!" And old it certainly was, for the many-gabled, oaken structure and projecting windows unquestionably indicated the sixteenth century, whilst, to enhance the effect and give it a true touch in detail of "ye ancient times," a huge antique lantern was hung over the entrance. Nor did the interior impress them less favourably. The rooms were large, and low, the ceilings, walls, floors, and staircase all of oak. The diamond-lattice windows, and narrow, tortuous passages, and innumerable nooks and crannies and cupboards, created an atmosphere of combined quaintness and comfort that irresistibly appealed to the Murphys. Viewed under the searching rays of the sun, and cheered by the voices of the visitors, the interior of the house, for artistic taste and cheerfulness, would indeed be hard to beat; but, as Mrs. Murphy's eyes wandered up the stairs and down the corridors, she was filled with misgivings as to how the place would strike her at night.
Though not nervous naturally, and by no means superstitious, at night, when the house was dark and silent, and the moon called forth the shadows, she was not without that feeling of uneasiness which most people--even avowed sceptics, experience when passing the night in strange and novel quarters.
The room they engaged--I cannot say selected, as, the hotel being full, they had "Hobson's choice"--was at the end of a very long passage, at the back of the house, and overlooking the yard. It was a large apartment, and in one of its several recesses stood the bed, a gigantic, ebony four-poster, with spotlessly clean valance, and, what was of even greater importance, well-aired sheets. The other furniture in the room, being of the same sort as that in the majority of old-fashioned hostels, needs no description; but a fixture in the shape of a cupboard, a deep, dark cupboard, let into the wall facing the bed, instantly attracted Mrs. Murphy's attention. There is always something interesting in cupboards, particularly old and roomy cupboards, when it is night-time and one is about to get into bed. It is then that they suggest all manner of fascinating possibilities.