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Scottish Ghost Stories (Elliott O'Donnell) online
CASE XVII - GLAMIS CASTLE
"I will take my chance of that!" Mr. Vance laughed. "You see, being a hard-headed cockney, I am not superstitious. It is only you Highlanders, and your first cousins the Irish, who believe nowadays in bogles, omens, and such-like"; and, packing the hand carefully in his knapsack, Mr. Vance bid the strange-looking creature good morning, and went on his way.
For the rest of the day the hand was uppermost in his thoughts--nothing had ever fascinated him so much. He sat pondering over it the whole evening, and bedtime found him still examining it--examining it upstairs in his room by candlelight. He had a hazy recollection that some clock had struck twelve, and he was beginning to feel that it was about time to retire, when, in the mirror opposite him, he caught sight of the door--it was open.
"By Jove! that's odd!" he said to himself. "I could have sworn I shut and bolted it." To make sure, he turned round--the door was closed. "An optical delusion," he murmured; "I will try again."
He looked into the mirror--the door reflected in it was--open. Utterly at a loss to know how to explain the phenomenon, he leaned forward in his seat to examine the glass more carefully, and as he did so he gave a start. On the threshold of the doorway was a shadow--black and bulbous. A cold shiver ran down Mr. Vance's spine, and just for a moment he felt afraid, terribly afraid; but he quickly composed himself--it was nothing but an illusion--there was no shadow there in reality--he had only to turn round, and the thing would be gone. It was amusing--entertaining. He would wait and see what happened.
The shadow moved. It moved slowly through the air like some huge spider, or odd-shaped bird. He would not acknowledge that there was anything sinister about it--only something droll--excruciatingly droll. Yet it did not make him laugh. When it had drawn a little nearer, he tried to diagnose it, to discover its material counterpart in one of the objects around him; but he was obliged to acknowledge his attempts were failures--there was nothing in the room in the least degree like it. A vague feeling of uneasiness gradually crept over him--was the thing the shadow of something with which he was familiar, but could not just then recall to mind--something he feared--something that was sinister? He struggled against the idea, he dismissed it as absurd; but it returned--returned, and took deeper root as the shadow drew nearer. He wished the house was not quite so silent--that he could hear some indication of life--anything--anything for companionship, and to rid him of the oppressive, the very oppressive, sense of loneliness and isolation.
Again a thrill of terror ran through him.
"Look here!" he exclaimed aloud, glad to hear the sound of his own voice. "Look here! if this goes on much longer I shall begin to think I'm going mad. I have had enough, and more than enough, of magic mirrors for one night--it's high time I got into bed." He strove to rise from his chair--to move; he was unable to do either; some strange, tyrannical force held him a prisoner.
A change now took place in the shadow; the blurr dissipated, and the clearly defined outlines of an object--an object that made Mr. Vance perfectly sick with apprehension--slowly disclosed themselves. His suspicions were verified--it was the HAND!--the hand--no longer skeleton, but covered with green, mouldering flesh--feeling its way slyly and stealthily towards him--towards the back of his chair! He noted the murderous twitching of its short, flat finger-tips, the monstrous muscles of its hideous thumb, and the great, clumsy hollows of its clammy palm. It closed in upon him; its cold, slimy, detestable skin touched his coat--his shoulder--his neck--his head! It pressed him down, squashed, suffocated him! He saw it all in the glass--and then an extraordinary thing happened. Mr. Vance suddenly became animated. He got up and peeped furtively round. Chairs, bed, wardrobe, had all disappeared--so had the bedroom--and he found himself in a small, bare, comfortless, queerly constructed apartment without a door, and with only a narrow slit of a window somewhere near the ceiling.
He had in one of his hands a knife with a long, keen blade, and his whole mind was bent on murder. Creeping stealthily forward, he approached a corner of the room, where he now saw, for the first time--a mattress--a mattress on which lay a huddled-up form. What the Thing was--whether human or animal--Mr. Vance did not know--did not care--all he felt was that it was there for him to kill--that he loathed and hated it--hated it with a hatred such as nothing else could have produced. Tiptoeing gently up to it, he bent down, and, lifting his knife high above his head, plunged it into the Thing's body with all the force he could command.
* * * * *
He recrossed the room, and found himself once more in his apartment at the inn. He looked for the skeleton hand--it was not where he had left it--it had vanished. Then he glanced at the mirror, and on its brilliantly polished surface saw--not his own face--but the face of the gardener, the man who had given him the hand! Features, colour, hair--all--all were identical--wonderfully, hideously identical--and as the eyes met his, they smiled--devilishly.
* * * * *
Early the next day, Mr. Vance set out for the spinney and cottage; they were not to be found--nobody had ever heard of them. He continued his travels, and some months later, at a loan collection of pictures in a gallery in Edinburgh, he came to an abrupt--a very abrupt--halt, before the portrait of a gentleman in ancient costume. The face seemed strangely familiar--the huge head with thick, red hair--the hawk-like features--the thin and tightly compressed lips. Then, in a trice, it all came back to him: the face he looked at was that of the uncouth gardener--the man who had given him the hand. And to clinch the matter, the eyes--leered.