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Scottish Ghost Stories (Elliott O'Donnell) online
CASE VIII - THE DRUMMER OF CORTACHY
What ancient Scottish or Irish family has not its Family Ghost? A banshee--the heritage of Niall of the Nine Hostages--is still the unenviable possession of his descendants, the O'Donnells, and I, who am a member of the clan, have both seen and heard it several times. As it appears to me, it resembles the decapitated head of a prehistoric woman, and I shall never forget my feelings one night, when, aroused from slumber by its ghastly wailing, I stumbled frantically out of bed, and, groping my way upstairs in the dark, without venturing to look to the left or right lest I should see something horrible, found every inmate of the house huddled together on the landing, paralysed with fear. I did not see it on that occasion, but on the following morning, as I had anticipated, I received the news that a near and dear relative had died.
Possessing such an heirloom myself, I can therefore readily sympathise with those who own a similar treasure--such, for example, as the famous, or rather infamous, Drummer of Cortachy Castle, who is invariably heard beating a tattoo before the death of a member of the clan of Ogilvie.
Mrs. Crowe, in her _Night Side of Nature_, referring to the haunting, says:--
"Miss D., a relative of the present Lady C., who had been staying some time with the Earl and Countess at their seat, near Dundee, was invited to spend a few days at Cortachy Castle, with the Earl and Countess of Airlie. She went, and whilst she was dressing for dinner the first evening of her arrival, she heard a strain of music under her window, which finally resolved itself into a well-defined sound of a drum. When her maid came upstairs, she made some inquiries about the drummer that was playing near the house; but the maid knew nothing on the subject. For the moment the circumstance passed from Miss D.'s mind, but, recurring to her again during the dinner, she said, addressing Lord Airlie, 'My lord, who is your drummer?' Upon which his lordship turned pale, Lady Airlie looked distressed, and several of the company, who all heard the question, embarrassed; whilst the lady, perceiving that she had made some unpleasant allusion, although she knew not to what their feelings referred, forebore further inquiry till she reached the drawing-room; when, having mentioned the circumstance again to a member of the family, she was answered, 'What, have you never heard of the drummer boy?' 'No,' replied Miss D.; 'who in the world is he?' 'Why,' replied the other, 'he is a person who goes about the house playing his drum, whenever there is a death impending in the family. The last time he was heard was shortly before the death of the last Countess (the Earl's former wife); and that is why Lord Airlie became so pale when you mentioned it. The drummer boy is a very unpleasant subject in this family, I assure you.'
"Miss D. was naturally much concerned, and indeed not a little frightened at this explanation, and her alarm being augmented by hearing the sounds on the following day, she took her departure from Cortachy Castle, and returned to Lord C.'s, where she related this strange circumstance to the family, through whom the information reached me.
"This affair was very generally known in the north, and we awaited the event with interest. The melancholy death of the Countess about five or six months afterwards, at Brighton, sadly verified the prognostications. I have heard that a paper was found in her desk after her death, declaring her conviction that the drum was for her."