St. Andrews Ghost Stories/A Very Peculiar House

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3072087St. Andrews Ghost Stories — A Very Peculiar HouseWilliam Thomas Linskill

A Very Peculiar House.

Last time I visited Cambridge I was invited by a friend to meet a party of merry undergraduates. They had all nicknames, and what their real names were I cannot remember. There was Mike, and Whiffle, Toddie, Bulger, the Infant, Eddie Smith from Ramsgate, and the Coal Scuttle. We had a most sumptuous repast, as only can be supplied by first-class Cambridge kitchens, and to which we did ample justice. We were smoking after lunch when they informed me that they had taken the liberty of making an engagement for me to go to tea with such a dear old lady called Sister Elfreda at a house in Bridge Street, opposite St Clement's Church, on the following day at 4.30, as she wished to tell me some ghostly experiences she had had at St Andrews. Of course I said I would very gladly go. They asked me before I went if I could take them behind the scenes that night at the Cambridge Theatre. This I had to flatly refuse, as no undergraduates are allowed within the sacred precincts of the stage door. Next day was a damp, raw, typical Cambridge day. I wended my way to Bridge Street, and easily found the house I was going to, as I had once lodged there. The rooms were kept by two old women who might be called decayed gentlewomen. Their name was Monkswood, and they had been nicknamed "The Cruets," namely, "Pepper" and "Vinegar." Very different from them was their niece, a lovely young actress, who was known on the stage as Patricia Glencluse, who was quite the rage in musical comedy, and who, it was rumoured abroad, would soon become a Duchess. The door was opened by Patricia herself, who said, "Oh, I thought it might be you. Sister Elfreda told me you were coming to tea. You will like her, she is such a darling—just like the "Belle of New York," only grown older. If you write anything about what she tells you, mind you send it to me, to the Whittington Company, —— Theatre, Birmingham." "Of course I will," I said, "and I will put you in it." "Now come along upstairs and I will introduce you to her," she said. She tapped at a door and then opened it, and ushered me into the presence of the Sister. "Look here, Sister," said Patricia, "I have brought the ghost man from St Andrews to see you. Here he is." "Very good of you," said the Sister as she shook hands with me warmly. "You know," she said, "I have read all your ghost tales." She then told Patricia to run downstairs and send the servant up with tea. Then we seated ourselves down to tea and muffins, and the old lady related her story. She said:—"I wanted very much to tell you of a little experience I had some months ago. I was asked to come up for a short time to look after an invalid lady who lived at St Andrews. Well, I arrived safely there, and went from the station to the house in a 'bus. It was an old house, and when I entered I felt a queer sort of creepy sensation come over me such as I had never experienced before. I was ushered into the presence of my host and hostess and the invalid lady. He was a splendid example of an old British soldier, and his wife was a pretty, fragile-looking old piece of china. The invalid lady I found only suffered from nerves, and very little wonder, I thought, in such a peculiar house. I had always a fancy that some other human being resided in the house; but if so, it only remained a feeling. The name of the cook was Timbletoss, the butler was Corncockle, and oddly enough they both came from Cambridge." "What curious names there are here," I said to the Sister; "when I first went to Cambridge I thought the names over the shops must be some gigantic joke—a man once suggested to me that someone must have been specially engaged to come to Cambridge and invent those wonderful names." "Well," continued the Sister, "it really was a most extraordinary house. I had never seen anything out of the common before, and I have never seen anything like that house since. The servants told me most remarkable tales—how the bed-clothes were twitched off the bed in the night by unseen hands, and how the tables and chairs rattled about over the floor, and the knives and forks flew off the table. Curious little coloured flames known there as "Burbilangs' used to float about in the air at night, and Corncockle, the butler, said the beer taps in the cellar were constantly turned on and the gas turned off. The servants had to have their wages considerably raised to keep them in the house. At luncheon on several occasions the lady used to jump up and run out of the room in great haste, and did not reappear till dinner, when she looked very white and shaky. On two occasions I was ordered to go at once to my room and lock the door and remain there until the old Squire sounded the hall gong. They seemed very much perturbed when I got down again. I will only mention one or two curious things I saw. One was a quaint creature called the 'Mutilated Football,' which stotted downstairs in front of me, and when it reached the lobby a head and a pair of arms and legs appeared, and it pattered off down the cellar stairs at a breakneck speed. The story goes that this creature was once a great athlete and football player, and when he got old and fat would insist on still playing, though warned not to do so. He got such a severe kick that his ribs were broken, and he died on the field. I never heard the true story of the 'Animated Hairpin,' but I saw it once seated in an armchair in the dining-room. It looked as if it had on black tights and close-fitting black jersey. It had a very long white face, with great round eyes like an owl's and black hair standing on end to a great height. When it saw me it got up quickly from the chair, bowed very low till its head nearly touched the ground, and then walked in a most stately manner out of the room. Then I saw 'The Green Lady'—a tall, beautiful girl with very long hair and a rustling green brocaded dress. She glided along as if on wheels. That this was no imagination of mine may be drawn from the fact that one day when I had a little girl to tea she suddenly clutched my arm and asked me who that beautiful lady in green with the long hair was, who had gone past the door on roller skates. I will not enlarge now on the bangings, crashes, thumpings, and tappings that resounded through the rooms at all times of day and night, sometimes on the ceilings, sometimes on the walls, and sometimes on the floors. The doors and windows, too, had a nasty habit of suddenly opening without any visible cause; and another very curious thing was that one might be sitting by a very bright fire when, without any apparent cause, it would suddenly go out, and leave nothing but inky blackness. The first night I slept in my room in this peculiar house I examined it most thoroughly, but there was nothing out of the common to be seen. My door, which I most carefully locked, flew open with a bang, though the bolt still remained out. I again closed and re-locked the door, and put a chair against it, but to my astonishment the door once more flew open and hurled the chair across the room. After that I decided to leave the door wide open and see what would happen next. I got quite accustomed to the 'Burbilangs' or flying lights—they were like pretty fireworks. Nothing more happened to me for several days, till one morning I awoke about two o'clock to find a youngish-looking monk seated in an armchair. 'Fear not,' he said, 'Sister Elfreda, I left this earth many years ago. In life my name was Walter Desmond, but when I became a monk at St Anthony I was known as Brother Stanilaus. As a rule I am invisible, but can assume my bodily shape if necessary. In life I was at St Andrews, Durham, and Cambridge.' 'When in Cambridge,' I asked, 'did you know the writer of St Andrews ghost stories?' 'No, I only knew him by sight. I was very young then, and was somewhat afraid of him, as I heard when getting on the Links he used to become very violent if he missed a putt, topped a drive, foozled an iron shot, or got into any of the numerous ditches which intersect the Cambridge links. But I came specially to see you to-night to tell you how to rid this house of the evil influence there is over it. I have here a manuscript regarding it which I took from a foreign library, and which I wish you to read and act upon, and so purify this house and render it habitable, but I must impose the strictest secrecy on you in regard to what you read; reveal it to no one.' 'But how will you get that paper back?' I asked the brother. 'Oh, time and space are nothing to us—I got this paper from that distant library only a few seconds ago, and when you have digested it, it will be immediately replaced from whence it came; only follow all the directions carefully, or my visit will have been of no avail.' We read the paper over together most carefully, but of that I may say no more' Having told you what to do,' said the monk, 'I fear I must hie hence. I have much to do to-night after replacing the paper.' 'I will fulfill all that you have asked me brother,' I said, 'and hope that it will make this house less fearsome. But before you go, brother,' I said, 'as you are a Cambridge man, why do you not pay a visit to the author of St Andrews Ghost Stories?' 'He would not see me because I would not materialise myself there, I could only appear as a puff of smoke, or, as it were, a light fog.' ('Thanks, Sister,' I said, 'do not ask any nasty damp fogs to come and call on me.' She laughed.) The monk, in vanishing, said, 'Remember, Sister, no bolts, locks, or bars can keep us from going where we choose.'"

I got up and thanked her, and proceeded to put on a great-coat. "I never wear greatcoats," I said, "in Scotland, but I am afraid of the Cambridge damp, so I borrowed this topcoat from Colonel Churchtimber."

"You have dropped something out of the pocket," said the Sister.

"Hullo," I said, "this is a piece of classical music which must belong to Macbeth Churchtimber, the Colonel's son. Now, good-night, and many thanks, Sister Elfreda."

I descended the stairs and said good-night to the Cruets and Patricia. As I wandered down the street to the theatre in the damp foggy evening I pondered over what Sister Elfreda had told me, and as I lit my pipe I kept thinking of those people—"The Mutilated Football," "The Animated Hairpin," and the "Monk Brother Stanilaus," to whom locks, bolts and bars were as nothing, and who had the nasty habit of appearing to his friends as a damp cloud—a habit, I think, not to be encouraged.


Sister Elfreda now informs me that the peculiar house is now quite "normal," and that all the "bogies" have vanished into thin air.