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Scottish Ghost Stories (Elliott O'Donnell) online
CASE II - THE TOP ATTIC IN PRINGLE'S MANSION, EDINBURGH
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.