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Scottish Ghost Stories (Elliott O'Donnell) online
CASE VIII - THE DRUMMER OF CORTACHY
"Half-dead with fright, but only too thankful to find that we had now regained the use of our limbs, we left our spoil and ran for our lives in the direction of the wall.
"We dared not look back, but we knew the figure followed us, for we heard its footsteps close at our heels; and never to my dying day shall I forget the sound--rat-tat, tat, rat-tat, tat--for all the world like the beat of a muffled drum.
"How we ever managed to reach the wall I could never tell, but as we scrambled over it, regardless of man-traps and bruises, and plunged into the heather on the other side, we heard the weird footsteps receding in the direction of the castle, and, ere we had reached home, the rat-tat, tat, rat-tat, tat, had completely died away.
"We told no one a word of what had happened, and a few days after, simultaneously with the death of one of the Airlies, we learned, for the first time, the story of the Phantom Drummer.
"I have little doubt," Mr. Porter added, in conclusion, "that the figure we took to be a keeper was the prophetic Drummer, for I can assure you there was no possibility of hoaxers, especially in such ill-omened guise, anywhere near the Cortachy estate."
Poor old Mr. Porter! He did not long survive our _rencontre_. When I next visited the hotel, some months later, I was genuinely grieved to hear of his decease. His story had greatly fascinated me, for I love the solitude of the pines, and have myself from time to time witnessed many remarkable occult phenomena under the shadow of their lofty summits. One night, during this second visit of mine to the hotel, the mood to ramble came upon me, and, unable to resist the seductive thought of a midnight stroll across the bracken-covered hills, I borrowed a latchkey, and, armed with a flask of whisky and a thick stick, plunged into the moonlit night. The keen, heather-scented air acted like a tonic--I felt younger and stronger than I had felt for years, and I congratulated myself that my friends would hardly know me if they saw me now, as I swung along with the resuscitated stride of twenty years ago. The landscape for miles around stood out with startling clearness in the moonshine, and I stopped every now and then to drink in the beauties of the glittering mountain-ranges and silent, glimmering tarns. Not a soul was about, and I found myself, as I loved to be, the only human element in the midst of nature. Every now and then a dark patch fluttered across the shining road, and with a weird and plaintive cry, a night bird dashed abruptly from hedge to hedge, and seemingly melted into nothingness. I quitted the main road on the brow of a low hill, and embarked upon a wild expanse of moor, lavishly covered with bracken and white heather, intermingled with which were the silvery surfaces of many a pool of water. For some seconds I stood still, lost in contemplating the scenery,--its utter abandonment and grand sense of isolation; and inhaling at the same time long and deep draughts of the delicious moorland air, unmistakably impregnated now with breaths of ozone. My eyes wandering to the horizon, I detected, on the very margin of the moorland, a dense clump of trees, which I instantly associated with the spinney in my old friend Mr. Porter's story, and, determining that the renowned spinney should be my goal, I at once aimed for it, vigorously striking out along the path which I thought would be most likely to lead to it. Half an hour's brisk walking brought me to my destination, and I found myself standing opposite a granite wall which my imagination had no difficulty in identifying with the wall so well described by Mr. Porter. Removing the briars and gorse prickles which left little of my stockings whole, I went up to the wall, and, measuring it with my body, found it was a good foot taller than I. This would mean rather more climbing than I had bargained for. But the pines--the grim silence of their slender frames and gently swaying summits--fascinated me. They spoke of possibilities few could see or appreciate as I could; possibilities of a sylvan phantasmagoria enhanced by the soft and mystic radiance of the moon. An owl hooted, and the rustling of brushwood told me of the near proximity of some fur-coated burrower in the ground. High above this animal life, remoter even than the tops of my beloved trees or the mountain-ranges, etched on the dark firmament, shone multitudinous stars, even the rings round Saturn being plainly discernible. From the Milky Way my eyes at length wandered to the pines, and a puff of air laden with the odour of their resin and decaying brushwood decided me. I took a few preliminary sips of whisky, stretched my rusty limbs, and, placing one foot in a jagged crevice of the wall, swarmed painfully up. How slow and how hazardous was the process! I scratched my fingers, inured to the pen but a stranger to any rougher substance; I ruined my box-calf boots, I split my trousers at the knees, and I felt that my hat had parted with its shape for ever; and yet I continued the ascent. The end came all too suddenly. When within an ace of victory, I yielded to impulse, and with an energy the desperate condition of my skin and clothes alone could account for, I swung up, and--the outer edge of the wall melted beneath me, my hands frantically clutched at nothingness, a hideous sensation of falling surged through my brain, my ears and eyes filled to bursting, and with a terrific crash that seemed to drive my head and spine right through my stomach, I met the black, uprising earth, and lost consciousness.