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Scottish Ghost Stories (Elliott O'Donnell) online
CASE V - THE SALLOW-FACED WOMAN OF NO. -- FORREST ROAD, EDINBURGH
"It may be fancy," Lady Adela said to herself, "merely fancy! And, after all, if I encounter nothing worse than a weekly menu of aromatic smells and easily digested shadows, I shall not suffer any harm"; but it was early summer then--the psychic season had yet to come. As the weeks went by, the shadows and the smell grew more and more pronounced, and by the arrival of August had become so emphatic that Lady Adela could not help thinking that they were both hostile and aggressive.
About eight o'clock on the evening of the second Friday in the month, Lady Adela was purposely alone in the basement of the house. The servants especially irritated her; like the majority of present-day domestics, products of the County Council schools, they were so intensely supercilious and silly, and Lady Adela felt that their presence in the house minimised her chances of seeing the ghost. No apparition with the smallest amount of self-respect could risk coming in contact with such inane creatures, so she sent them all out for a motor drive, and, for once, rejoiced in the house to herself. A curious proceeding for a lady! True! but then, Lady Adela was a lady, and, being a lady, was not afraid of being thought anything else; and so acted just as unconventionally as she chose. But stay a moment; she was not alone in the house, for she had three of her dogs with her--three beautiful boarhounds, trophies of her last trip to the Baltic. With such colossal and perfectly trained companions Lady Adela felt absolutely safe, and ready--as she acknowledged afterwards--to face a whole army of spooks. She did not even shiver when the front door of the basement closed, and she heard the sonorous birring of the motor, drowning the giddy voices of the servants, grow fainter and fainter until it finally ceased altogether.
When the last echoes of the vehicle had died away in the distance, Lady Adela made a tour of the premises. The housekeeper's room pleased her immensely--at least she persuaded herself it did. "Why, it is quite as nice as any of the rooms upstairs," she said aloud, as she stood with her face to the failing sunbeams and rested her strong white hand on the edge of the table. "Quite as nice. Karl and Max, come here!"
But the boarhounds for once in their lives did not obey her with a good grace. There was something in the room they did not like, and they showed how strong was their resentment by slinking unwillingly through the doorway.
"I wonder why that is?" Lady Adela mused; "I have never known them do it before." Then her eyes wandered round the walls, and struggled in vain to reach the remoter angles of the room, which had suddenly grown dark. She tried to assure herself that this was but the natural effect of the departing daylight, and that, had she watched in other houses at this particular time, she would have noticed the same thing. To show how little she minded the gloom, she went up to the darkest corner and prodded the walls with her riding-whip. She laughed--there was nothing there, nothing whatsoever to be afraid of, only shadows. With a careless shrug of her shoulders, she strutted into the passage, and, whistling to Karl and Max who, contrary to their custom, would not keep to heel, made another inspection of the kitchens. At the top of the cellar steps she halted. The darkness had now set in everywhere, and she argued that it would be foolish to venture into such dungeon-like places without a light. She soon found one, and, armed with candle and matches, began her descent. There were several cellars, and they presented such a dismal, dark appearance, that she instinctively drew her skirts tightly round her, and exchanged the slender riding-whip for a poker. She whistled again to her dogs. They did not answer, so she called them both by name angrily. But for some reason (some quite unaccountable reason, she told herself) they would not come.