St. Andrews Ghost Stories/The Monk of St Rule's Tower

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
3071932St. Andrews Ghost Stories — The Monk of St Rule's TowerWilliam Thomas Linskill

The Monk of St Rule's Tower.

Some years ago I was perfectly surrounded with crowds of bonny children in the St Albans Holborn district of London. I fancy they belonged to some guild or other, and they enacted the part of imps, fairies, statues, &c., in various pantomimes in neighbouring theatres.

I had been invited there to amuse the kiddies with songs and imitations, and now they were all shrieking and yelling at the top of their voices for a ghost story. "It's getting near Christmas," they all shouted, "and we all want to hear about ghosts, real creepy ghosts." I pointed out the fact that most ghost stories were bunkum, and that such tales were very apt to keep wee laddies and lassies awake at night; but, bless you, they wouldn't listen to that one bit. They wanted ghosts, and ghosts they would have.

Well, in about an hour I had yarned off most of my best bogey stories. I had used up most of my tales regarding Scottish, English, and Continental Castles, and the banshees, water kelpies, wraiths, &c., connected therewith; but still those children, like Oliver Twist, demanded more. I really was fairly stumped, when, all of a sudden, my mind flew back to when a strange story was told me by Captain Chester in the Coursal grounds at beautiful Baden-Baden. I first fell in with this dear old warrior in Rome, and we became firm friends, and travelled together for many cheery weeks. He told me his queer tale in the very strongest of military language, which I must omit. The language would be suitable to use in bunkers, but not on paper. It was a sultry day. So were his remarks.

It would seem that many years before, he had visited Scotland and England to try and see a ghost or two. He had been to Cumnor Hurst in order to investigate the appearances of ill-fated Amy Robsart. He went to Rainham Hall to interview the famous Brown Lady, and he journeyed to Hampton Court to hear the Shrieking Ghost, and also went to Church Strelton to see if he could fix the ghost at the Copper Hole. In Scotland he followed the scent of various ghosts, and finally landed in St Andrews.

"By Jove, sir," he said, "that's the place for ghosts. Every blessed corner is full of them—bang full. Look at those fellows in the Castle dungeons, and Beaton and Sharpe and the men that got hanged and burned, and the old dev———I mean witches. I saw my ghost there. Years and years ago I took an old house in St Andrews, which was a small place then. Very little golf was played, and there was very little to do. But, gad, sir, the ghosts were thick, and the quaint old bodies in the town were full of them. They could spin yarns for hours about phantom coaches, death knells, corpse candles, people going about in winding sheets, phantom hearses, and Lord knows what else. I loved it, it took me quite back to the middle ages."

So I told these children Captain Chester's tale, as nearly as possible in his own words, minus the forcible epithets. I managed to hit off his voice and manner, and this in particular seemed to amuse the bairns. "Egad, sir," he said, "it was a curious time. Of all the tales I heard, the one that pleased and fascinated me most was the legend of the monk that looks over St Regulus's Tower on moonlight nights. I went thither every night, and constantly fancied I saw a figure peering over the edge, but was not certain. Then I got hold of a very old man, who related to me the old legend. It seems that years ago there was a good Prior of St Andrews named Robert de Montrose. He ruled well, gently, and wisely, but among the monks there was one who was always in hot water, and whom Prior Robert had often to haul over the coals. He played practical jokes, often absented himself from the daily and nightly offices of Holy Kirk, and otherwise upset the rules and discipline. Finally, when Earl Douglas and his retinue came to St Andrews to present to the Cathedral a costly statue, long known as the Douglas Lady, this monk made desperate love to one of the waiting women of Lady Douglas. For this he was imprisoned in the Priory Dungeon for some days. It was the custom of Robert de Montrose almost every fine night to ascend the tower of St Rule and admire the view. The summit was reached in those days by means of ladders and wooden landings—not, as it is now, by a stair. In those days, too, the apse and part of the nave were still standing, and the summit of the solemn old tower was crowned by a small spire. One evening just before Yuletide, when the Prior, as usual, was on the top of the tower, the contumacious monk slyly followed him up the ladders, stabbed him in the back with a small dagger, and flung him over the north side of the old tower."

"I thought, Captain Chester," I said, "that the murder took place on the Dormitory stairs."

"Gad, Zooks, and Oddbodkins, sir, I am telling you what I was told, and what I can prove, sir."

"All right," I replied, "please fire away."

"Well," continued Chester, "they told me the Prior had often been seen since peeping over the tower, and at times he was seen to fall, as he did years ago, from the summit. By the bye, his assassin was starved to death and buried in some old midden. One moonlight night as my brother and I were standing on the Kirkhill, to our horror and amazement we saw a figure appear suddenly on the top of the tower, leap on to the parapet, and deliberately jump over. Zounds, sir, my blood ran cold."

"We did not hesitate long, but jumped the low wall of the Cathedral. It was easily done in those days, and we were young and active, and hurried to the grim old tower. Just as we neared it, a monk passed us in the Augustinian habit, his cowl was thrown back, and for just one second we had a view of his pallid, handsome face and keen penetrating eyes. Then he disappeared as suddenly as he had appeared. We were alone in the moonlight, nothing stirring."

"That is very odd," I said.

"Zooks! sir, I have odder things still to tell you. We went home to the old house, had supper, and retired to bed thoughtfully. I woke about 2 a.m. The blinds were up and it was as clear as day with the moonlight. Imagine my blank astonishment when I clearly perceived, leaning up against the mantelpiece, the pallid monk I had seen a few hours before near the Square Tower. He leaned on his elbow and was gazing intently at me, while in his hand he held some object that had a blue glitter in the moonbeams.

"He smiled. 'Fear not, brother,' he said, 'I am Prior Robert of Montrose who quitted this earth many years syne, and of whom you have been talking and thinking so much of late days. I saw you to-night in our cruelly ruined Abbey Kirk. Alas! alas! but I come from ayont the distant hills and have far to go to-night.'

"'What do you want, Holy Father?' I said, 'and what of your murder?'

"'That is forgiven and forgotten long syne,' he said, 'and I love to revisit, at times, my old haunts, and so does he. You have in your regiment, methinks, one named Montrose, a scion of our family.'

"'Yes,' I said, 'I know Bob Montrose well.'

"'See you this dagger I hold,' said Prior Robert, 'it was with this I lost my life on this earth many years syne on the tower of blessed St Rule. They buried it with me in my stone kist; I will leave it here with you to give to my kinsman, for it will prove of use to him e'er he pass hence—mark my words.'

"He raised his hand as in act of blessing, and melted away. I fell back in a sleep or in a faint. When I woke the morning sun was streaming into my bedroom. At first I thought I had eaten too much supper and had a nightmare, but there on the table by my bed lay an old dagger of curious workmanship—the dagger that slew the Prior years and years ago. I faithfully fulfilled my vow, and my friend, Major Bob Montrose, has now got his monkish ancestor's dagger."

"That's all Captain Chester told me, dear children. Goodbye, don't forget me, and do not forget old St Andrews Ghosts, the Tower of St Rule, and the Spectre of Prior Robert of Montrose."

Then a modern hansom whirled me away to King's Cross.