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Scottish Ghost Stories (Elliott O'Donnell) online

Scottish Ghost Stories

CASE III - THE BOUNDING FIGURE OF "---- HOUSE," NEAR BUCKINGHAM TERRACE, EDINBURGH

There was now an intermission of the disturbances, and no further demonstration occurred for about a month. Diana was then sleeping in her mother's room, Mrs. Gordon being away on a visit to Lady Voss, who was entertaining a party of friends at her shooting-box in Argyle. One evening, as Diana was going into her bedroom to prepare for dinner, she saw the door suddenly swing open, and something, she could not tell what--it was so blurred and indistinct--come out with a bound. Tearing past her on to the landing, it rushed up the stairs with so much clatter that Diana imagined, though she could see nothing, that it must have on its feet, heavy lumbering boots. Filled with an irresistible curiosity, in spite of her alarm, Diana ran after it, and, on reaching the upper storey, heard it making a terrific racket in the room above the one in which she now slept. Nothing daunted, however, she boldly approached, and, flinging open the door, perceived its filmy outline standing before a shadowy and very antique eight-day clock, which apparently it was in the habit of winding. A great fear now fell on Diana. What was the thing? And supposing it should turn round and face her, what should she see? She was entirely isolated from her sisters, and the servants--alone--the light fading--in a big, gloomy room full of strange old furniture which suggested hiding-places for all sorts of grim possibilities. She was assured now that the thing she had followed was nothing human, neither was it a delusion, for when she shut her eyes and opened them, it was still there--and, oddly enough, it was now more distinct than it was when she had seen it downstairs. A curious feeling of helplessness stole over Diana; the power of speech forsook her; and her limbs grew rigid. She was so fearful, too, of attracting the notice of the mysterious thing that she hardly dare breathe, and each pulsation of her heart sent cold chills of apprehension down her spine. Once she endured agonies through a mad desire to sneeze, and once her lips opened to scream as something suspiciously like the antennŠ of a huge beetle, and which she subsequently discovered was a "devil's coach-horse," tickled the calf of her leg. She fancied, too, that all sorts of queer shapes lurked in the passage behind her, and that innumerable unseen eyes were malignantly rejoicing in her terror. At last, the climax to her suspense seemed at hand. The unknown thing, until now too busy with the clock to take heed of her, paused for a moment or so, as if undecided what to do next, and then slowly began to veer round. But the faint echo of a voice below, calling her by name, broke the hypnotic spell that bound Diana to the floor, and with a frantic spring she cleared the threshold of the room. She then tore madly downstairs, never halting till she reached the dining-room, where she sank on a sofa, and, more dead than alive, panted out to her amazed sisters a full account of all that had transpired.

That night she shared her sister's bedroom, but neither she nor her sister slept.

From this time till the return of Mrs. Gordon, nothing happened. It was one evening after she came back, when she was preparing to get into bed, that the door of her own room unexpectedly opened, and she saw standing, on the threshold, the unmistakable figure of a man, short and broad, with a great width of shoulders, and very long arms. He was clad in a peajacket, blue serge trousers, and jack-boots. He had a big, round, brutal head, covered with a tangled mass of yellow hair, but where his face ought to have been there was only a blotch, underlying which Mrs. Gordon detected the semblance to something fiendishly vindictive and immeasurably nasty. But, in spite of the horror his appearance produced, her curiosity was aroused with regard to the two objects he carried in his hands, one of which looked like a very bizarre bundle of red and white rags, and the other a small bladder of lard. Whilst she was staring at them in dumb awe, he swung round, and, hitching them savagely under his armpits, rushed across the landing, and, with a series of apish bounds, sprang up the staircase and disappeared in the gloom.

This was the climax; Mrs. Gordon felt another such encounter would kill her. So, in spite of the fact that she had taken the flat for a year, and had only just commenced her tenancy, she packed up her goods and left the very next day. The report that the building was haunted spread rapidly, and Mrs. Gordon had many indignant letters from the landlord. She naturally made inquiries as to the early history of the house, but of the many tales she listened to, only one, the authenticity of which she could not guarantee, seemed to suggest any clue to the haunting.

It was said that a retired Captain in the Merchant Service, many years previously, had rented the rooms she had occupied.

He was an extraordinary individual, and, despite the fact that he had lived so far inland, would never wear any but nautical clothes--blue jersey and trousers, reefer coat and jack-boots. But this was not his only peculiarity. His love of grog eventually brought on delirium tremens, and his excessive irritability in the interval between each attack was a source of anxiety to all who came in contact with him. At that time there happened to be a baby in the rooms overhead, whose crying so annoyed the Captain that he savagely informed its mother that if she did not keep it quiet, he would not be answerable for the consequences. His warnings having no effect, he flew upstairs one day, when she was temporarily absent, and, snatching up the bread knife from the table, decapitated the infant. He then stuffed both its head and body into a grandfather's clock which stood in one corner of the room, and, retiring to his own quarters, drank till he was insensible.

He was, of course, arrested on a charge of murder, but being found "insane" he was committed during His Majesty's pleasure to a lunatic asylum.

He eventually committed suicide by opening an artery in his leg with one of his finger-nails.

As the details of this tragedy filled in so well with the phenomena they had witnessed, the Gordons could not help regarding the story as a very probable explanation of the hauntings. But, remember, its authenticity is dubious.

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