St. Andrews Ghost Stories/A Haunted Manor House and the Duel at St Andrews

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2963765St. Andrews Ghost Stories — A Haunted Manor House and the Duel at St Andrews1921W. T. Linskill

A Haunted Manor House and the Duel at St Andrews;


The Old Brown Witch.

This can hardly be termed a St Andrews ghost story, but it is so remarkably strange and weird that I have been specially requested to add it to the series, and there is an allusion to St Andrews in it after all.

Several years ago we had in the Golf Club at Cambridge a Russian Prince who took up golf, and the questions of spirits, bogies, witches, banshees, death warnings, and the like, equally strongly. He was a firm disbeliever in all of them, and belonged to a Phantasmalogical Research Society to inquire into and expose all such things. I frequently have long letters from him from all sorts of remote parts of the world where he is investigating tales of haunted houses, churchyards, and so on; but from this, his last letter, he seems to have contrived to meet a genuine and very unpleasant sort of spectre. Of course I suppress all names.

"X————x Manor,
Feb.——, 1905.

Dear W. T. L.,—Well, here I am, actually in a really haunted manor house at last, and I have had a most horribly, weird, and uncanny experience of a most loathsome appearance. I have been here a fortnight now—such a queer, great old house, all turrets and towers, and damp wings covered with ivy and creepers, and such small, narrow windows. It is on a slight elevation, and has in bygone days had a moat around it. It is surrounded by dense woods, and there is a black-looking lake at the back. The staircases are all stone and very narrow, and there is an old chapel and a coffin room in the house. In the garden, in a yew avenue, is a vault and a tombstone, and thereby hangs my curious tale.

It seems that centuries ago a very unpleasant old widow lady, and a very unpleasant son, had the old house. She was a very ugly and eccentric creature, and a miser, and was nicknamed by the village folk "The Brown Witch." The tales about her ongoings told to this day are most remarkable. It seems her son, who, according to all accounts, was a shocking bad lot, was killed in a duel, and the old lady died shortly afterwards a raving maniac.

She seems to have left a very curious will. I deal with only two details in it. One was that the chamber in which she lived and died was for ever to be left untouched and undisturbed, but unlocked, or the disturber would be cursed with instant blindness and ultimately death. The second was that she was to be buried in the vault in the yew avenue that she had specially made for her remains; that she was to be dressed in her usual clothes and bonnet, and that she must be placed in a tightly-sealed glass coffin, so as to be visible to any intruder. My host told me the chamber or the vault in the grounds had never been interfered with, but that her appearances had been very frequent to most credible witnesses, and that such appearances all portended some dire calamity to some one.

She had appeared and terrified many visitors, both in the house and in the grounds. She had also been seen by the village pastor and by the servants. He had never seen her himself, but he had taken every measure he could think of to unravel the mystery, but in vain. The outdoor servants were terrified, and would never remain, and one lady visitor had been nearly driven mad by seeing her peering in at the window at dusk.

Of course, I laughed the tale to scorn, and also the story of the alarm bell which tolled at intervals without any apparent or human agency. Not even the bravest would dare to walk down the yew avenue after nightfall.

Well, I had been ten days in the house before anything happened. I must say, the wind and the rats, and owls and bats, and the tapping noise of the ivy on the old windows at night were rather creepy, but nothing really out of the common happened till the other night.

My room was in a long, narrow, old gallery. After cards and billiards, and at about 12.30, I was going off to my well earned rest, and was getting near my door in the gallery, when I saw a faint light coming towards me round a corner. I went into my room and waited to see who was wandering about so late at night. Then a figure stopped at my door, evidently carrying a lighted old lantern. I raised my candle to have an inspection, and then, oh! horror!—I staggered back for a moment, for before me clearly stood the horrible figure of the old "Brown Witch," A cold sweat broke out all over me.

Far, far worse than the description. I saw her brown robe and the poke bonnet, the horrible face, the huge black sockets of the eyes without eyeballs, the nose gone, and, worst of all, that fearful grin, the cruel grin of a maniac, a wicked, terrible face.

I opened my drawer and seized my always loaded revolver. I shouted loudly, and fired once, twice, thrice. She never moved; only the horrible mocking smile grew wider and more devilish. I rushed forward, slammed my door to shut out the awful sight, and then collapsed back into a chair.

I must have hit it each time for certain. An offensive charnel house smell pervaded the air. Then the door flew open, and my host and several men and servants rushed into the room, anxiously asking what was the matter, and why I fired? I told them everything. We found the three bullet shots in the wall opposite my door. They must have passed through that abominable horror.

Need I say I spent a wretched night? In fact, I sat up and never went to bed at all. I resolved to leave next day early, but before doing that I determined at all hazards, to go into that vault and see what it contained, and also to carefully investigate the "Brown Witch's" chamber without disturbing anything in it. I told my host next day at breakfast what I proposed doing, and he offered no objection whatever, but declined absolutely to go near the vault or chamber himself, or to let any of his household do so.

"Oh! by-the-by, did you ring the alarm bell in the tower last night?" he asked me. "It was the sound of your shots and the great bell ringing immediately afterwards that brought me along so quickly to your room. We all heard it."

I told him I knew nothing of it and never even heard the bell.

"I thought that," he said, "for you were nearly off in a faint when we all came in, and hardly knew us for a bit."

"I can't make out the bell," said my host, "or what on earth can make it ring so. It has no rope, and it cannot possibly be the wind. I must have it removed. Last time it rung loudly like that, my old housekeeper was found dead in her bed in the morning."

To make a long story short, the next thing I did was to get a couple of labourers to shovel away the earth and find the lid of the old vault in the yew avenue. This was soon done, and we quickly descended into the place with lights. We found ourselves in a large-built, clammy chamber, and on the floor lay a tattered and broken old lantern. At first we thought the chamber was empty, but all of a sudden we noticed a niche at one end and at once went forward to it. In this singular alcove was a large glass box, or coffin, standing on its end, and in it and standing upright was the horrible eyeless mummy (still arrayed in the brown robe and poke bonnet) of the terrible creature I had seen in the gallery, and with the same mocking, grinning mouth and the huge ugly teeth. The same smell I have told you of before pervaded the whole place.

She was hermetically sealed up in this ghastly glass coffin and preserved. We were all very glad to leave that charnel-house and cover it up out of sight, but not out of memory. That would be perfectly impossible to any of us. I can't get that smell out of my nose yet. It would sicken you.

Next, I went to the chamber with a friend and my bicycle lantern to investigate. It was up a long, narrow stone stair. The old oak door (it was unlocked, as I said before) soon yielded to our combined efforts and creaked open, and we stood in a room of the middle ages. The old shutters were tightly closed. The ceiling, which had once been handsomely painted, was rapidly falling away, and the tapestry was rotting off the walls. It had evidently once been a splendid apartment, but now it was given up to rats and moths and spiders and damp. It chilled one to the very marrow, and it had that same horrible smell. There was a four-poster bed in one corner with rags and shreds of curtains, probably where the old creature had died. The tables and chairs were covered with the dust of ages. There was no carpet of any kind. An old spinet stood against the wall; and papers were lying all over the place inches deep in dust. A few charred logs of wood lay in the gaping old fireplace with its old-time chimney corners, and there seemed to be bits of valuable old china and bric-a-brac about the place. Many pictures had fallen off the walls, but a few faded pencil drawings were still in their places. Just guess my surprise and astonishment when I found they were Scottish views—one of Edinburgh, one of Crail Church, and three of St Andrews, including the old College and Chapel, the Castle, and St Leonards College, with date 1676. Here was another most curious thing I determined to ask about before I left. However, I touched nothing in the room, as I had promised my host, and besides—you will laugh—I had no wish to be stricken with the "Brown Witch's" promised curse of blindness and ultimate death to any intruder who touched her things. I dreaded her far too much since I had seen her in the gallery and in her tomb, and heard of her bewitched alarm bell, which protended death to some one.

Before I left, I mentioned the Scottish drawings in the witch's room to my host, and asked him if he could throw any light on how they came there.

Briefly, it seems that she (the witch) sent her son far away in those old days to a Scottish University, and St Andrews was her choice. It seems he was very quarrelsome in his cups, and frequently fought duels, and generally proved the victor. One of the last he fought at Sauchope Stone, near Crail, with a nephew of the Laird of Balcomie Castle, and they fought with broadsword and buckler, and again the "witch's" son killed his man. His last duel was fought on St Andrews sands with rapiers, and he was run through the heart—a good job.

Now I must conclude. I am determined to investigate further the whole most mysterious affair. If you ever visit this place, my host, Mr ———, says he will let you explore the vault in the yew avenue, and see the coffin and the old witch, and you may also go and look at the chamber. If you ever do, take the advice of an old friend and do not dare to touch anything therein.

Your Friend to Command.