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Scottish Ghost Stories (Elliott O'Donnell) online
CASE III - THE BOUNDING FIGURE OF "---- HOUSE," NEAR BUCKINGHAM TERRACE, EDINBURGH
No one is more interested in Psychical Investigation Work than Miss Torfrida Vincent, one of the three beautiful daughters of Mrs. H. de B. Vincent, who is, herself, still in the heyday of life, and one of the loveliest of the society women I have met. Though I have known her sisters several years, I only met Torfrida for the first time a few months ago, when she was superintending the nursing of her mother, who had just undergone an operation for appendicitis. One day, when I was visiting my convalescent friend, Torfrida informed me that she knew of a haunted house in Edinburgh, a case which she felt sure would arouse my interest and enthusiasm. "It is unfortunate," she added somewhat regretfully, "that I cannot tell you the number of the house, but as I have given my word of honour to disclose it to no one, I feel sure you will excuse me. Indeed, my friends the Gordons, who extracted the promise from me, have got into sad trouble with their landlord for leaving the house under the pretext that it was haunted, and he has threatened to prosecute them for slander of title."
The house in question has no claim to antiquity. It may be eighty years old--perhaps a little older--and was, at the time of which I speak, let out in flats. The Gordons occupied the second storey; the one above them was untenanted, and used as a storage place for furniture; the first floor and ground floor were divided into chambers and offices. They had not been in their new quarters more than a week, when Mrs. Gordon asked the night porter who it was that made such a noise, racing up their stairs between two and three in the morning. It had awakened her every night, she told him, and she would be glad if the disturbance were discontinued. "I am sorry, Madam, but I cannot imagine who it can be," the man replied. "Of course, it may be some one next door, sounds are so often deceptive; no one inhabits the rooms above you." But Mrs. Gordon was not at all convinced, and made up her mind to complain to the landlord should it occur again. That night nothing happened, but the night after she was roused from her sleep at two o'clock, by a feeling that something dreadful, some dire catastrophe, was about to take place. The house was very still, and beyond the far-away echoes of a policeman's patrol on the hard pavement outside, nothing, absolutely nothing, broke the universal, and as it seemed to her, unnatural silence. Generally at night-time there are sounds one likes to assure oneself are too trivial to be heard during the day--the creaking of boards, stairs (nearly always stairs), and the tapping of some leaf (of course some leaf) at the windows. Who has not heard such sounds, and who in his heart of hearts has not been only too well aware that they are nocturnal, exclusively nocturnal. The shadows of evening bring with them visitors; prying, curious visitors; grim and ghastly visitors; grey, esoteric visitors; visitors from a world seemingly inconsequent, wholly incomprehensible. Mrs. Gordon did not believe in ghosts. She scoffed at the idea of ghosts, and, like so many would-be wits, unreasonably brave by day, and the reverse by night, had hitherto attributed banshees and the like to cats and other animals. But now,--now when all was dark,--pitch dark and hushed, and she, for aught she knew to the contrary, the only one, in that great rambling building, awake, she reviewed again and again, in her mind, that rushing up the stairs. The wind! It could not have been the wind. The wind shuts doors, and rattles windows, and moans, and sighs, and howls and screeches, but it does not walk the house in boots. Neither do rats! And if she had imagined the noises, why did she not imagine other things; why, for example, did she not see tables dance, and tea-urns walk? All that would be fancy, unblushing, genuine fancy, and if she conjured up one absurdity, why not another! That was a conundrum for any sceptic. Thus did she argue, naturally and logically, in the quite sensible fashion of a lawyer, or a scientist; yet, all the while, her senses told her that the atmosphere of the house had undergone some profoundly subtle and unaccountable change,--a change that brought with it a presence, at once sinister and hostile. She longed to strike a light and awake one of her daughters--Diana, by preference; since Diana was the least likely to mind being disturbed, and had the strongest nerves. She made a start, and, loosening the bedclothes that she always liked tightly tucked round her, thrust out a quivering toe. The next instant she drew it back with a tiny gasp of terror. The cold darkness without had suggested to her mind a great, horny hand, mal-shaped and murderous, that was lying in wait to seize her. A deadly sickness overcame her, and she lay back on the pillow, her heart beating with outrageous irregularity and loudness. Very slowly she recovered, and, holding her breath, sidled to the far edge of the bed, and with a dexterous movement, engendered by the desperation of fear, made a lightning-like dab in the direction of the electric bell. Her soft, pink finger missed the mark, and coming in violent contact with the wall, bent the carefully polished nail. She bit her lips to stop a cry of pain, and shrinking back within the folds of her dainty lace embroidered nightdress, abandoned herself to despair. Her consciousness of the Unknown Presence increased, and she instinctively felt the thing pass through the closed door, down on to the landing outside, when it dashed upstairs with a loud clatter, and, entering the lumber-room immediately overhead, began bounding as if its feet were tied together, backwards and forwards across the floor. After continuing for fully half an hour, the noises abruptly ceased and the house resumed its accustomed quiet. At breakfast, Mrs. Gordon asked her daughters if they had heard anything in the night, and they laughingly said "No, not even a mouse!"