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Scottish Ghost Stories (Elliott O'Donnell) online
CASE VIII - THE DRUMMER OF CORTACHY
Providentially for me, I had pitched head first into a furze bush which broke the fall, otherwise I must have met with serious injury. As it was, when I recovered my momentary loss of consciousness, I found that I had sustained no worse harm than a severe shaking, scratches galore, and the utter demolition of my clothes! I picked myself up with difficulty, and spent some time searching for my hat and stick--which I at length discovered, lodged, of course, where one would least have thought of looking for them. I then took close stock of my surroundings, and found them even grimmer than I had anticipated. Though the trees were packed closely together, and there was much undergrowth, the moonbeams were so powerful and so fully concentrated on the spinney, that I could see no inconsiderable distance ahead of me. Over everything hung a solemn and preternatural hush. I saw shadows everywhere--shadows that defied analysis and had no material counterparts. A sudden crashing of brushwood brought me to a standstill, and sent the blood in columns to my heart. Then I laughed loudly--it was only a hare, the prettiest and pertest thing imaginable. I went on. Something whizzed past my face. I drew back in horror--it was a bat, merely a bat. My nerves were out of order, the fall had unsteadied them; I must pull myself together. I did so, and continued to advance. A shadow, long, narrow, and grotesque, fell across my path, and sent a thousand and one icy shivers down my back. In an agony of terror I shut my eyes and plunged madly on. Something struck me in the face and hurled me back. My eyes opened involuntarily, and I saw a tree that, either out of pique or sheer obstinacy, had planted itself half-way across the path. I examined its branches to make sure they _were_ branches, and continued my march. A score more paces, a sudden bend, and I was in an open space, brilliantly illuminated by moonbeams and peopled with countless, moving shadows. One would have to go far to find a wilder, weirder, and more grimly suggestive spot. As I stood gazing at the scene in awestruck wonder, a slight breeze rocked the tops of the pine trees, and moaning through their long and gloomy aisles reverberated like thunder. The sounds, suggesting slightly, ever so slightly, a tattoo, brought with them vivid pictures of the Drummer, too vivid just then to be pleasant, and I turned to go. To my unmitigated horror, a white and lurid object barred my way. My heart ceased to beat, my blood turned to ice; I was sick, absolutely sick, with terror. Besides this, the figure held me spellbound--I could neither move nor utter a sound. It had a white, absolutely white face, a tall, thin, perpendicular frame, and a small, glittering, rotund head. For some seconds it remained stationary, and then, with a gliding motion, left the path and vanished in the shadows.
Again a breeze rustled through the tops of the pine trees, moaned through their long and gloomy aisles, and reverberated like thunder; rat-tat, tat, rat-tat, tat--and with this sound beating in my ears, reaction set in, and I never ceased running till I had reached my hotel.