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Scottish Ghost Stories (Elliott O'Donnell) online
CASE XV - THE WHITE LADY OF ROWNAM AVENUE, NEAR STIRLING
The loneliness got on my nerves; at first I grew afraid, only afraid, and then my fears turned into a panic, a wild, mad panic, consisting in the one desire to get where there were human beings--creatures I knew and understood. With this end in view I emerged from my retreat, and was preparing to fly through the wood, when, from afar off, there suddenly came the sound of a voice, the harsh, grating voice of a man. Convinced this time that I had been discovered by a keeper, I jumped back into the tree, and, swarming up the inside of the trunk, peeped cautiously out. What I saw nearly made me jump out of my skin. Advancing along the avenue was the thing I had always longed to see, and for which I had risked so much: the mysterious, far-famed "Lady in White,"--a ghost, an actual, _bona fide_ ghost! How every nerve in my body thrilled with excitement, and my heart thumped--till it seemed on the verge of bursting through my ribs! "The Lady in White!" Why, it would be the talk of the whole countryside! Some one had _really_--no hearsay evidence--seen the notorious apparition at last. How all my schoolfellows would envy me, and how bitterly they would chide themselves for being too cowardly to accompany me! I looked at her closely, and noticed that she was entirely luminous, emitting a strong phosphorescent glow like the glow of a glow-worm, saving that it was in a perpetual state of motion. She wore a quantity of white drapery swathed round her in a manner that perplexed me sorely, until I suddenly realised with a creeping of my flesh that it must be a winding-sheet, that burial accessary so often minutely described to me by the son of the village undertaker. Though interesting, I did not think it at all becoming, and would have preferred to see any other style of garment. Streaming over her neck and shoulders were thick masses of long, wavy, golden hair, which was ruffled, but only slightly ruffled, by the gentle summer breeze. Her face, though terrifying by reason of its unearthly pallor, was so beautiful, that, had not some restraining influence compelled me to remain in hiding, I would have descended from my perch to obtain a nearer view of it. Indeed, I only once caught a glimpse of her full face, for, with a persistence that was most annoying, she kept it turned from me; but in that brief second the lustre of her long, blue eyes won my very soul, and boy as I was I felt, like the hero in song, that I would, for my bonnie ghost, in very deed, "lay me doon and dee."
Her eyes are still firmly impressed on my memory; I shall never forget them, any more than I shall forget the dainty curves of her full red lips and the snowy whiteness of her perfect teeth. Nothing, I thought, either on earth or in heaven could have been half so lovely, and I was so enraptured that it was not until she was directly beneath me that I perceived she was not alone, that walking by her side, with one arm round her waist, his face and figure illuminated with the light from her body, was Sir E.C. But how changed! Gone were the deep black scowl, the savage tightening of the jaws, and the intensely disagreeable expression that had earned for him the nickname of "The laird deil," and in their stead I saw _love_--nothing but blind, infatuated, soul-devouring _love_--love for which no words can find an adequate description.
Throwing discretion to the wind--for my excitement and curiosity had risen to the highest pitch--I now thrust more than half my body out of the hole in the trunk. The next instant, with a cry of dismay, I pitched head first on to the ground.
It would seem that boys, like cats, cannot in ordinary circumstances be killed, and, instead of breaking my neck, I merely suffered that most immaterial injury--immaterial, at least, in my case--a temporary disendowment of the senses. On regaining the few wits I could lay claim to, I fully expected to find myself in the hands of the irate laird, who would seize me by the scruff of the neck and belabour me to pieces. Consequently, too frightened to move, I lay absolutely still with my eyes shut. But as the minutes glided by and nothing happened, I picked myself up. All was quiet and pitch dark--not a vestige of the "Lady in White"--not a vestige of Sir E.C.
It did not take me very long to get out of the wood and home. I ran all the way, and as it was still early--far too early for any of the household to be astir, I crept up to my bedroom unobserved. But not to sleep, oh dear me, no! not to sleep, for the moment I blew the candle out and got into bed, reaction set in, and I suffered agonies of fear!
When I went to school in the morning, my equilibrium restored, and, bubbling over with excitement to tell the boys what had happened, I received another shock--before I could ejaculate a word of my experiences, I was told--told with a roar and shout that almost broke the drum of my ears, that "the auld laird deil" was dead! His body had been found stretched on the ground, a few feet from the hollow oak, in the avenue shortly after sunrise. He had died from syncope, so the doctor said, that had probably been caused by a shock--some severe mental shock.
I did not tell my companions of my night's adventure after all. My eagerness to do so had departed when I heard of "the auld laird's" death.