St. Andrews Ghost Stories/A Spiritualistic Seance

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

A Spiritualistic Seance.

The M'Whiskers, whom I met at Oban, were very jolly old people. Papa M'Whisker had made a big fortune teaplanting in Ceylon, and had bought, and added to Dramdotty Castle in the far, far north. They were perfectly full of ghosts and spiritualism, and at Dramdotty they seemed to have a ghost for every day in the week. On Monday there was the "Spotted Nun," on Tuesday the "Floating Infant," on Wednesday the "Headless Dwarf," on Thursday the "Vanishing Nigger," on Friday the "Burnt Lady," and on Saturday the "Human Balloon," and on Sunday the whole lot attended on them, and, I daresay, went to the kirk with them.

M'Whisker himself was a jovial soul, fond of his toddy, and very much resembled the Dougal Cratur in "Rob Roy." My friend, John Clyde, should have seen him. He had a furious red head of hair and beard of the same colour, and the street boys used to call after him the song, "The folks all call me Carroty, What, what, what, oh! Carroty," etc. Mrs M'Whisker was a stout lady with eyes like small tomatoes and a gimlet nose. They had a son, a boy of ten, called Fernando M'Whisker, because he was born in Spain. When they came to St Andrews they had purchased a number of my "Ghost Books." (These ghosts at present chiefly haunt the Citizen Warehouse, book-sellers' shops, and the railway bookstall.) That is the reason perhaps that the M'Whiskers invited me to a spiritualistic seance at their house in South Street. They generally came to St Andrews for the winter, partly to get away from the cold of their northern home, and partly because they thought the history and atmosphere of St Andrews lent itself to an all-pervading presence of ghosts, spooks, and spirits. I had only been to two such shows before—one at Helensburgh and one at Cambridge—and was, and still am, very doubtful of the genuineness of spiritualism. On the day appointed I went to the M'Whiskers' house in South Street, and was shown in by a Highlander in the M'Whisker tartan. It was early in the afternoon, but I found the shutters in the large room all shut, and a few dim lights only were burning. On a sideboard in the corner stood plenty of refreshments and everything else to comfort the inner man. In the centre of the room there was a round table covered with a M'Whisker tartan tablecloth, which touched the floor all round: this in itself was suspicious to my mind. I was introduced to the chief medium, one Mr Peter Fancourt, who looked as if he had been buried and dug up again. He was in tight, sleek black clothes, and resembled in every way "Uriah Heep" in "David Copperfield." The other medium was a Mrs Flyflap Corncockle. They were supposed not to know each other, but I am as certain that they were accomplices as that the Bell Rock is near St Andrews Bay. A number of chairs encircled the table. We had all to seat ourselves on these chairs, with our thumbs and little fingers touching round the edge of the table. The thing that happened was a kind of "squish," and then a huge bouquet of flowers descended on the table from somewhere. It was a clever trick, but the flowers were of the commonest sort, and what I had seen in all the greengrocers' shops that morning. The lights were now turned very low, and a spirit arm and hand appeared floating about, which shone a good deal. It hovered about from the ceiling to above our heads, and when I got a chance I jumped on a chair and seized it with both hands. It seemed to shrink up, and was torn through my hands very forcibly, and in such a material manner that I was forced to let go. I don't know where the hand and arm went to, but it was simply a juggling trick. After this "Mr Heep" (I beg his pardon, Mr Fancourt) said that there was an unbeliever present, and as I was that unbeliever I was relegated to an armchair by the fireplace with one of M'Whisker's muckle cigars. From that point of vantage I watched the whole affair, and they assured me they would tell me all that was going on. The next very curious thing was that they suddenly all took their hands off the table, and their eyes slowly followed something ceilingwards. It was funny to see them all lying back staring up at the roof. Then very slowly their heads and eyes resumed their normal position. "Did you see that?" said the M'Whisker triumphantly. "I saw nothing whatever," I remarked. "What! did you not see the table float up to the ceiling? It remained there quite half a second, and then came down as lightly as a feather." "I was watching the table the whole time," I said, "and it never moved an inch from its place." "Oh! you are an unbeliever," said Mrs M'Whisker sadly, "but later on when it is darker you will see Mr Fancourt float out of one of the windows and come in at the other." I fervently hoped if he did anything of the kind he would come a cropper on the pavement below and break some of his ribs. The table then started to dance about and move along, but this, I am certain, was simply engineered by those two mediums.

After some tomfoolery of this kind they all agreed that "Ouija" should be brought out. A large oblong yellow board was then produced and laid on the table. On it were the letters of the alphabet and a number of figures, also the sun, moon, and stars, and some other fantastic symbols. On this board was placed a small table with a round body and round head, it had three hind legs and a front, which was the pointer. These legs had little red velvet boots on. The two mediums then placed their hands on each side of this curious table, which immediately began to run about to the letters and figures, spelling out things and fixing dates in answer to questions asked. It was not the least like a planchette, which is on wheels. The first thing they informed me it had said was that a spirit called Clarissa was present, and for many years she had lain a-dying in that room. She maintained that she was some distant relation of the White Lady of the Haunted Tower. It then rushed into poetry. Its first effort was the "Legend of Purple James and his Girl," a comic thing which reminded me of the "Bab Ballads." They afterwards gave me a copy of this poem, which I still possess. Next the spirit gave us a Scotch poem about a haggis, and then one called "Edward and the Hard-Boiled Egg." It then devoted its attention to me, whom it characterised as the "Unbeliever." It stated that if the Antiquarian Society would dig a pit four feet square by six feet deep between the two dungeons in the Kitchen Tower of the Castle, and if the rock were cut through, a cave would be found full of casks of good red wine. On no condition whatever would I, on such evidence recommend the Society to strike a pick in there. The next spirit that turned up was one Jaspar Codlever. He alluded to me as "the Cambridge man in the chair with the cigar." He said that if excavation were made between the two last trees in Lawpark Wood a stone cist would be found full of Pictish ornaments. Again he told us that within a cave on the cliffs there was a chalice of great value placed there by Isabella the Nun, who still guarded it by night and day, and was very dangerous to approach. This spirit then went away, and his place was taken by a monk named Rudolph, who informed us that the entrance to the Crypt or sub-Chapel was between two of the pillars in the Priory. As there are a lot of pillars there, it is impossible to know which he meant. He said this entrance was near Roger's tomb. Who Roger may be I know not. He then told us about this Crypt. He said there was something so horrible in it that it turned him sick. Curiously enough, some thought-reading people told us the same story in the Town Hall some years ago, but they said the underground Chapel was at the east end of the Cathedral. The monk then went on to tell us of this place in the Priory. He said it had Purbeck marble pillars, a well of clear water, and three small costly altars, and a number of books of the Vincentian Canons. There was a short interval now, and the lights were turned up. I was anxious to get away, but they implored me to stay and see the cabinet and the spirits therein. I told them in my most dramatic fashion that I was late already, and I had a meeting on. M'Whisker then begged me, if I would not stay to see the spirits, to taste some, and he mixed me an excellent whisky-and-soda, which he called a "Blairgowrie." I then made my adieu, and was very glad to get once more into the street and also into a world of sense. The M'Whiskers informed me some days afterwards that they were very sorry at my leaving, as, after I had gone, Fancourt had floated out of the window, and numerous wonderful spirits had appeared in the cabinet. I am glad I went when I did, as I should certainly have taken a poker to that cabinet.