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Scottish Ghost Stories (Elliott O'Donnell) online
CASE V - THE SALLOW-FACED WOMAN OF NO. -- FORREST ROAD, EDINBURGH
It was short and squat, and appeared to be partly clad in a loose, flowing garment, that was not long enough to conceal the glistening extremities of its limbs. From its general contour and the tangled mass of hair that fell about its neck and shoulders, Lady Adela concluded it was the phantasm of a woman. Its head being kept bent, she was unable to see the face in full, but every instant she expected the revelation would take place, and with each separate movement of the phantasm her suspense became more and more intolerable. At last it stood on the floor of the cellar, a broad, ungainly, horribly ungainly figure, that glided up to and past her into the far cellar. There it halted, as nearly as she could judge on the new tiles, and remained standing. As she gazed at it, too fascinated to remove her eyes, there was a loud, reverberating crash, a hideous sound of wrenching and tearing, and the whole of the ceiling of the inner chamber came down with an appalling roar. Lady Adela thinks that she must then have fainted, for she distinctly remembers falling--falling into what seemed to her a black, interminable abyss. When she recovered consciousness, she was lying on the tiles, and all around was still and normal. She got up, found and lighted her candle, and spent the rest of the evening, without further adventure, in the drawing-room.
All the week Lady Adela struggled hard to master a disinclination to spend another evening alone in the house, and when Friday came she succumbed to her fears. The servants were poor, foolish things, but it was nice to feel that there was something in the house besides ghosts. She sat reading in the drawing-room till late that night, and when she lolled out of the window to take a farewell look at the sky and stars before retiring to rest, the sounds of traffic had completely ceased and the whole city lay bathed in a refreshing silence. It was very heavenly to stand there and feel the cool, soft air--unaccompanied, for the first time during the day, by the rattling rumbling sounds of locomotion and the jarring discordant murmurs of unmusical voices--fanning her neck and face.
Lady Adela, used as she was to the privacy of her yacht, and the freedom of her big country mansion, where all sounds were regulated at her will, chafed at the near proximity of her present habitation to the noisy thoroughfare, and vaguely looked forward to the hours when shops and theatres were closed, and all screeching, harsh-voiced products of the gutter were in bed. To her the nights in Waterloo Place were all too short; the days too long, too long for anything. The heavy, lumbering steps of a policeman at last broke her reverie. She had no desire to arouse his curiosity; besides, her costume had become somewhat disordered, and she had the strictest sense of propriety, at least in the presence of the lower orders. Retiring, therefore, with a sigh of vexation, she sought her bedroom, and, after the most scrupulous attention to her toilet, put out the lights and got into bed. It was just one when she fell asleep, and three when she awoke with a violent start. Why she started puzzled her. She did not recollect experiencing any very dreadful dream, in fact no dream at all, and there seemed nothing in the hush--the apparently unbroken hush--that could in any way account for her action. Why, then, had she started? She lay still and wondered. Surely everything was just as it was when she went to sleep! And yet! When she ventured on a diagnosis, there was something different, something new; she did not think it was actually in the atmosphere, nor in the silence; she did not know where it was until she opened her eyes--and then she _knew_. Bending over her, within a few inches of her face, was another face, the ghastly caricature of a human face. It was on a larger scale than that of any mortal Lady Adela had ever seen; it was long in proportion to its width--indeed, she could not make out where the cranium terminated at the back, as the hinder portion of it was lost in a mist. The forehead, which was very receding, was partly covered with a mass of lank, black hair, that fell straight down into space; there were no neck nor shoulders, at least none had materialised; the skin was leaden-hued, and the emaciation so extreme that the raw cheek-bones had burst through in places; the size of the eye sockets which appeared monstrous, was emphasised by the fact that the eyes were considerably sunken; the lips were curled downwards and tightly shut, and the whole expression of the withered mouth, as indeed that of the entire face, was one of bestial, diabolical malignity. Lady Adela's heart momentarily stopped, her blood ran cold, she was petrified; and as she stared helplessly at the dark eyes pressed close to hers, she saw them suddenly suffuse with fiendish glee. The most frightful change then took place: the upper lip writhed away from a few greenish yellow stumps; the lower jaw fell with a metallic click, leaving the mouth widely open, and disclosing to Lady Adela's shocked vision a black and bloated tongue; the eyeballs rolled up and entirely disappeared, whilst their places were immediately filled with the foulest and most loathsome indications of advanced decay. A strong, vibratory movement suddenly made all the bones in the head rattle and the tongue wag, whilst from the jaws, as if belched up from some deep-down well, came a gust of wind, putrescent with the ravages of the tomb, and yet, at the same time, tainted with the same sweet, sickly odour with which Lady Adela had latterly become so familiar. This was the culminating act; the head then receded, and, growing fainter and fainter, gradually disappeared altogether. Lady Adela was now more than satisfied,--there was not a house more horribly haunted in Scotland,--and nothing on earth would induce her to remain in it another night.
However, being anxious, naturally, to discover something that might, in some degree, account for the apparitions, Lady Adela made endless inquiries concerning the history of former occupants of the house; but, failing to find out anything remarkable in this direction, she was eventually obliged to content herself with the following tradition: It was said that on the site of No. -- Forrest Road there had once stood a cottage occupied by two sisters (both nurses), and that one was suspected of poisoning the other; and that the cottage, moreover, having through their parsimonious habits got into a very bad state of repair, was blown down during a violent storm, the surviving sister perishing in the ruins. Granted that this story is correct, it was in all probability the ghost of this latter sister that appeared to Lady Adela. Her ladyship is, of course, anxious to let No. -- Forrest Road, and as only about one in a thousand people seem to possess the faculty of seeing psychic phenomena, she hopes she may one day succeed in getting a permanent tenant. In the meanwhile, she is doing her level best to suppress the rumour that the house is haunted.