St. Andrews Ghost Stories/The Apparition of the Prior of Pittenweem

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3070424St. Andrews Ghost Stories — The Apparition of the Prior of Pittenweem1921W. T. Linskill

The Apparition of the Prior of Pittenweem.

It was in September 1875 that I first met dear old Captain Chester (now gone to his rest); and it was very many years before that date that he rented his fearsomely haunted old house in St Andrews.

I was a Cambridge boy when I met him—how the undergraduates scorn that term "boy." He told me the following queer tales in the Poppledorf Avenue at Bonn when I was on holiday.

The house he rented at St Andrews, from his accounts, must have been a most unpleasant and eerie dwelling. Rappings and hammerings were heard all over the house after nightfall, trembling of the walls, quiverings. Heavy falls and ear-piercing shrieks were also part of the nightly programme.

I suggested bats, rats, owls, and smugglers as the cause, which made the old man perfectly wild with rage, and caused him to use most unparliamentary language.

I pointed out that such language would probably have scared away any respectable ghost. However, let me tell the story in his own peculiar way.

"My brother and I took the house, sir," he said, "and we had a nephew and some nieces with us. There were also three middle-aged English servants at the time; and, gadsooth, sir, they had strange names. The cook possessed the extraordinary name of Maria Trombone, the housemaid was called Jemima Podge, and the other old cat was called Teresa Shadbolt.

"One evening I was sitting smoking in my study, when the door flew open with a bang and Maria rushed in.

"'Zounds! Mrs Trombone,' I said, 'how dare you come into my room like this?'

"'Well, sir,' she said, 'there are hawful things going on to-night. I'm frighted to death. I was washing hup, please sir, when something rushed passed me with a rustle, and I got a great smack on the cheek with a damp, cold hand, and then the place shook, and all the things clattered like anything.'

"'Nonsense, Trombone,' I said, 'you were asleep, or have you been drinking, eh?'

"'Lor' bless you, sir, no! never a drop; but last night, sir, Teresa Shadbolt had all the bedclothes pulled off her bed twice, sir, and Jane said a tall old man in a queer dressing-gown came into her room and brushed his white beard over her face, and, lor', sir, didn't you hear her a-screamin'?'

"'No, I'm hanged if I did. You must all be stark, staring mad, you know.'

"'Not a bit of us, master,' continued Mrs Trombone. 'There is something wrong about this blessed house—locked doors and windows fly wide open, and the bells keep ringin' at all hours of the night, and we hear steps on the stairs when everyone is in bed, and knocks, and crashes, and screams. Then the tables and things go moving about. No Christian could put up with it, please sir. We must all leave.'

"Well, I got all those women up, and they told me deuced queer things, but I squared them up at last."

"How?" I inquired.

"I doubled their wages, sir, and I told them they might all sleep in one room upstairs together, and I promised them a real good blow-out at Christmas, and so on.

"Next my nephew and little nieces saw the old man with the long white beard at various times in the passages and on the stairs. Oddly enough, my little nieces got quite accustomed to see the aged man with the grey beard, and were not a bit timid. They said he was just like the pictures of old Father Christmas, and he looked kind.

"I never saw him," continued Chester, "till one All Hallows Night, or Hallowe'en as they termed it in St Andrews; but I will speak of that later on."

"Go on," I said, "it is very interesting indeed to me."

"The servants all saw him at times, and that old arch fiend, Trombone, was constantly getting frightened, and breaking things and fainting. I was myself annoyed by strange unearthly sounds when sitting smoking at night late. There were curious rollings and rumblings under the house, like enormous stone balls being bowled along, then a heavy thud followed by intolerable silence. Then there was a curious sound like muffled blinds being quickly drawn up and down; that and a sort of flapping and rustling seemed to pervade the air.

"This perplexed me, and I got in a detective; but he found out nothing at all. After much trouble and research I learned of the legend of the Prior of Pittenweem and his connection with the old house.

"It seems when Moray and his gang of plunderers shut up St Monance Church and the old Priory of Pittenweem, the last Prior (not Forman or Rowles), a very old man, was cut adrift, and for some months lay hidden at Newark Castle, food being brought him by some former monks. Newark Castle was burned, and this old Prior fled to Balcomie Castle. From there he went to Kinkell Cave near St Andrews.

"I know all those, places well," I said.

"After some weeks, and when winter came, he took refuge in the very old house in which I lived. He seems to have been among both friends and foes there, and brawls were quite common things within those walls.

"One night those long dead and forgotten old-world inhabitants were startled from their slumbers by shots, the clashing of arms, and wild yells. To make a long tale short, that old Prior of Pittenweem was never seen by human eyes after that fearful night.

"Many suspected foul play, but in those times it was deemed best to keep one's mouth shut tight, and what mattered it if an old Prior disappeared?

"They were awful times those," I said. "Glad we live in these days."

"Well, now," said the Captain, "I must come to the night of All Hallows E'en, or Holy Even, when the spirits of the night are said to wander abroad, We dined early in those days, and after dinner I walked down to an old Clubhouse in Golf Place, of which I was an hon. member, to play cards. It was a perfect night, and a few flakes of snow had begun to fall, and the wind was keen and sharp. When I left the Club later the ground was well covered with snow, but the storm had ceased, and the moon and stars were shining bright in a clear sky. By Jove, sir, it was like fairyland, and all the church towers and house tops were glittering in the moonbeams.

"I wandered about the old place for fully an hour. It was lovely. I was reluctant to go indoors. Gad, sir, I got quite sad and poetical. I thought of my poor sister who died long ago and is buried in Stefano Rodundo at Rome, and lots of other things. Then I thought of St Andrews as it is and what it might have been. I thought of all its holy temples, erected by our pious forefathers, and its altars and statues lying desolate, ruined and profaned.

"At last I arrived at my own door, and entered—in a thoughtful mood. I went to my study and put on my slippers and dressing gown. I had just sat down and commenced reading when there came a most tremendous shivering crash. I involuntarily cowered down. I thought the roof had fallen—at least, gad, sir, I was flabbergasted. It woke everyone. The crash was followed by a roaring sound."

"It must have been an earthquake, Captain Chester," I said.

"Zounds, sir, I don't know what it was. I thought I was killed. Then my nephew and I got a lamp and examined the house.

"Everything was right—nothing to account for the fearful noise. Finally, we went downstairs to the vaulted kitchens. Zounds, sir, all of a sudden my nephew gripped my arm, and with a cry of abject terror pointed to the open kitchen door. 'Oh, look there, look there!' he almost screamed.

"I looked, and, gad, I got a queer turn. There facing us in the open doorway was a very tall, shaven-headed old man with a long grey beard. He had a white robe or cassock on, a linen rocket, and, above all, an almuce or cloak of black hue lined with ermine—The Augustinian Habit. In one hand he held a very large rosary, and he lent on a stout cudgel.

"As I advanced he retreated backwards, always beckoning to me—and I followed lamp in hand. I had to follow—could not help myself. Do you know the way a serpent can fascin or hypnotise its prey before it devours them?

"Yes," I said, "I have seen the snakes at the Zoo do that trick."

"Well, sir, I was hypnotised like that—precisely like that. He beckoned and I followed.

"Suddenly I saw a little door in the corner of the kitchen standing open—a door I had never noticed before. The shadowy vision backed towards it. Still I followed. Then he entered its portals. As I advanced he grew more and more transparent, and finally melted away, and the heavy door shut upon him with a tremendous crash and rattle. The lamp fell from my trembling hand and was shattered to fragments on the stone floor. I was in pitch darkness—silence reigned—I don't remember how I got out to the light again.

"Next morning early I got in some workmen and took them down to the kitchen, direct to the corner where the door was through which the apparition vanished the previous night.

"Zounds, sir, there was no door there—only the white plastered wall. I was dumbfoundered. 'Mrs Trombone,' I said to the cook, 'where the devil is that door gone?'"

"'The door, sir,' said the cook, 'there ain't no door there that I ever saw.'

"'Trombone,' I replied, 'don't tell falsehoods—you're a fool.'

"I made the men set to work and tear down the plaster and stuff, and, egad, sir, in an hour we found the door—a thick oak, nail studded, iron clamped old door. It took some time to force it open, and then down three steps we found ourselves in a chamber with mighty thick walls and with a flagged floor, about six feet square, lit by a small slit of a window.

"'Tear up the flags,' I said.

"They did so, and there was only earth below.

"'Dig down,' I said, 'dig like thunder,'

"In about an hour we came to a huge flag with a ring in it. Up it came, and below it was a dryly-built bottle-shaped well.

"We went down with lights. What do you think we found at the bottom of it?

"Perhaps water," I suggested.

"Water be d———," said Captain Chester, "we found the mouldering skeleton of a very tall man in a sitting posture. Beside him lay a large rosary and a stout oak cudgel—the rosary and cudgel I had seen in the phantom's hands the previous night. My friend, I had solved the problem—that was the skeleton of the old Prior of Pittenweem who vanished in that house hundreds of years ago."