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Scottish Ghost Stories
Chapter IX.



To me Hennersley is what the Transformation Scene at a Pantomime was to the imaginative child—the dreamy child of long ago — a floral paradise full of the most delightful surprises. Here, at Hennersley, from out the quite recently ice-bound earth, softened and moistened now by spring rain, there rises up row upon row of snowdrops, hyacinths and lilies, of such* surpassing sweetness and beauty that I hold my breath in astonishment, and ecstatically chant a Te Deum to. the fairies for sending such white-clad loveliness.

And then—then, ere my wonder has had time to fade, it is summer. The ground opens, and there springs up, on all sides, a veritable sea of vivid, variegated colour,—scarlet, pink, and white geraniums; red, white and yellow roses; golden honeysuckle; bright-hued marigolds; purple pansies; pale forget-me-nots; wallflowers; sweet peas; many-tinted azaleas; showy hydrangeas; giant rhododendrons; foxgloves, buttercups, daisies, hollyhocks, and heliotropes; a floral host too varied to enumerate.

Overcome with admiration, bewildered with happiness, I kneel on the soft carpet of grass, and, burying my face extravagantly, in alternate laps of luxurious, downy, scent-laden petals, fill iny lungs with soul-inspiring nectar.

My intoxication has barely worn off before my eyes are dimly conscious that the soil all around me is generously besprinkled with the remains of my floral friends. I spring hurriedly to my feet, and, gazing anxiously about me, suddenly perceive the gaily nodding heads of new arrivals — dahlias, sunflowers, anemones, chrysanthemums. As I continue gazing, the aromatic odour of mellow apples from the Hennersley orchards reaches my nostrils; I turn round, and there, there in front of me, I see row upon row of richly-laden fruit trees, their leaves a brilliant copper in the scintillating rays of the ruddy autumn sun. I gasp for breath—the beauty of tint and tone surpasses all that I have hitherto seen—it is sublime, the grand climax of transformation. As the curtain falls with the approach of winter, I hurry to my Edinburgh home and pray for the prompt return of early spring.

For many years my aged relatives, the Misses Amelia and Deborah Har-bordeens, lived at Hennersley. Rarest and kindest of old ladies, they were the human prototypes of the flowers both they and I loved. Miss Amelia, with her beautiful complexion, rounded form and regal mien, suggested to my childish mind more, much more, than the mere semblance of a rose, whilst Miss Deborah, with her sprightly grace and golden hair, was only masquerading as a woman—she was in reality a daffodil.

Unlike so many of the fair sex who go in for gardening, my aunts were essentially dainty. Their figures were shapely and elegant, their hands slim and soft. I never saw them working without gloves, and I have good reason to believe they anointed their fingers every night with a special preparation to keep them smooth and white. They were not—decidedly not—“brainy,” neither were they accomplished, never having made any special study of the higher arts; but they evinced nevertheless the keenest appreciation of painting, music, and literature. Their library—a large one—boasted a delightful harbourage of such writers as Jane Austen, Miss Mitford, and Maria Edgeworth. And in their drawing-room, on the walls of which art was represented by the old as well as modern masters, might be seen and sometimes heard — for the Misses Harbordeens often entertained—a well-tuned Broadwood, and a Bucksen harpsichord. I will describe this old-world abode, not as I first saw it, for when I first visited my aunts Amelia and Deborah, I was only one year old, but as I first remember it—a house with the glamour of a many-gabled roof and diamond window-panes.

The house stood by the side of the turnpike road—that broad, white, interminable road, originating from goodness knows where in the north, and passing through Ayr—the nearest town of any importance—to goodness knows where in the south. A shady avenue, entered by a wooden swing gate bearing the superscription “Hennersley” in neat, white letters, led by a circuitous route to it, and not a vestige of it could be seen from the road. In front of it stretched a spacious lawn, flanked on either side and at the farthest extremity by a thick growth of chestnuts, beeches, poplars, and evergreens.

The house itself was curiously built. It consisted of two storeys, and formed a main building and one wing, which gave it a peculiarly lop-sided appearance that reminded me somewhat ludicrously of Chanticleer, with a solitary, scant, and clipped appendage.

It was often on the tip of my tongue to ask my relatives the reason of this singular disparity; whether it was the result of a mere whim on the part of the architect, or whether it had been caused by some catastrophe; but my curiosity was always held in check by a strange feeling that my relatives would not like to be approached on the subject. My aunts Amelia and Deborah belonged to that class of people, unhappily rare, who possess a power of generating in others an instinctive knowledge of “dangerous ground”—a power which enabled them to avert, both from themselves and the might-be offender, many a painful situation. To proceed—the nakedness of the walls of Hennersley was veiled—who shall say it was not designedly veiled—by a thick covering of clematis and ivy, and in the latter innumerable specimens of the feathered tribe found a sure and safe retreat.

On entering the house, one stepped at once into a large hall. A gallery ran round it, and from the centre rose a broad oak staircase. The rooms, with one or two exceptions, opened into one another, and were large, and low and long in shape ; the walls and floors were of oak and the ceilings were crossed by ponderous oak beams.

The fireplaces, too, were of the oldest fashion; and in their comfortable ingle-nook my aunts—in the winter—loved to read or knit.

When the warm weather came, they made similar use of the deep-set windowsills, over which they indulgently permitted me to scramble on to the lawn.

The sunlight was a special feature of Hennersley. Forcing its way through the trellised panes, it illuminated the house with a radiancy, a soft golden radiancy I have never seen elsewhere.

My relatives seemed to possess some phenomenal attraction for the sunlight, for, no matter where they sat, a beam brighter than the rest always shone on them; and, when they got up, I noticed that it always followed them, accompanying them from room to room and along the corridors.

But this was only one of the many pleasant mysteries that added to the joy of my visits to Hennersley. I felt sure that the house was enchanted—that it was under the control of some benevolent being who took a kindly interest in the welfare of my relatives.

I remember once, on the occasion of my customary good-morning to Miss Amelia, who invariably breakfasted in bed, I inhaled the most delicious odour of heliotrope. It was wafted towards me, in a cool current of air, as I approached her bed, and seemed, to my childish fancy, to be the friendly greeting of a sparkling sunbeam that rested on Miss Amelia’s pillow.

I was so charmed with the scent, that, alas ! forgetful of my manners, I gave a loud sniff, and with a rapturous smile ejaculated, “Oh! Auntie! Cherry pie!” Miss Amelia started. “Dear me, child!” she exclaimed, “how quietly you entered. I had no idea you were in the room. Heliotrope is the name of the scent, my dear, but please do not allude to it again. Your Aunt Deborah and I are very fond of it ”— here she sighed—“but for certain reasons —reasons you would not understand—we do not like to hear the word heliotrope mentioned. Kiss me, dear, and run away to your breakfast.”

For the first time in my life, perhaps, I was greatly puzzled. I could not see why I should be forbidden to refer to such a pleasant and harmless subject—a subject that, looked at from no matter what point of view, did not appear to me to be in the slightest degree indelicate. The more I thought over it, the more convinced I became that there was some association between the scent and the sunbeam, and in that association I felt sure much of the mystery lay.

The house was haunted — agreeably, delightfully haunted by a golden light, a perfumed radiant light that could only have in my mind one origin, one creator— Titania—Titania, queen of the fairies, the guardian angel of my aged, my extremely aged relatives.

“Aunt Deborah,” I said one morning, as I found her seated in the embrasure of the breakfast room window crocheting, “Aunt Deborah! You love the sunlight, do you not?”

She turned on me a startled face. “What makes you ask such strange questions, child?” she said. “Of course I like the— sun. Most people do. It is no uncommon thing, especially at my age.”

“But the sunbeams do not follow every one, auntie, do they?” I persisted.

Miss Deborah’s crochet fell into her lap. “How queerly you talk,” she said, with a curious trembling of her lips. “How can the sunbeams follow one?”

“But they do, auntie, they do indeed!” I cried. “I have often watched a bright beam of golden light follow Aunt Amelia and you, in different parts of the room. And it has settled on your lace collar now.”

Miss Deborah looked at me very seriously; but the moistening of her eyes I attributed to the strong light. “Esther,” she said, laying one of her soft hands on my forehead, “there are things God does not want little girls to understand—question me no more.”

I obeyed, but henceforth I felt more than ever assured that my aunts, consciously or unconsciously, shared their charming abode with some capricious genii, of whose presence in their midst I had become accidentally aware; and to find out the enchanted neighbourhood of its mysterious retreat was to me now a matter of all-absorbing importance. I spent hour after hour roaming through the corridors, the copses, and my beloved flower gardens, in eager search of some spot I could unhesitatingly affirm was the home of the genii. Most ardently I then hoped that the sunbeams would follow me, and that the breeze charged with cool heliotrope would greet me as it did Aunt Deborah.

In the daytime, all Hennersley was sunshine and flowers, and, stray where I would, I never felt lonely or afraid; but as the light waned I saw and felt a subtle change creep over everything. The long aisles of trees that in the morning only struck me as enchantingly peaceful and shady, gradually filled with strangely terrifying shadows; the hue of the broad swards deepened into a darkness I did not dare interpret, whilst in the house, in its every passage, nook, and corner, a gloom arose that, seeming to come from the very bowels of the earth, brought with it every possible suggestion of bogey.

I never spoke of these things to my relatives, partly because I was ashamed of my cowardice, and partly because I dreaded a fresh rebuke. How I suffered! and how I ridiculed my sufferings in the mornings, when every trace of darkness was obliterated, and amid the radiant bloom of the trees I thought only of heliotrope and sunbeams.

One afternoon my search for the abode of the genii, led me to the wingless side of the house, a side I rarely visited. At the foot of the ivy-covered walls and straight in their centre was laid a wide bed of flowers, every one of which was white. But why white? Again and again I asked myself this question, but I dared not broach it to my relatives. A garden all white was assuredly an enigma—and to every enigma there is undoubtedly a key. Was this garden, which was all white, in any way connected with the sunbeams and heliotrope? Was it another of the mysteries God concealed from little girls? Could this be the home of the genii? This latter idea had no sooner entered my head than it became a conviction. Of course! There was no doubt whatever— it was the home of the genii.

The white petals were now a source of peculiar interest to me. I was fascinated : the minutes sped by and still I was there. It was not until the sun had disappeared in the far-distant horizon, and the grim shadows of twilight were creeping out upon me from the neighbouring trees and bushes, that I awoke from my reverie— and fled!

That night—unable to sleep through the excitement caused by my discovery of the home of the genii—I lay awake, my whole thoughts concentrated in one soul-absorbing desire, the passionate desire to see the fairy of Hennersley — I had never heard of ghosts—and hear its story. My bedroom was half-way down the corridor leading from the head of the main staircase to the extremity of the wing.

After I said good-night I did not see my aunts again till the morning—they never by any chance visited me after I was in bed. Hence I knew, when I had retired for the night, I should not see a human face nor hear a human voice for nearly twelve hours. This—when I thought of the genii with its golden beams of light and scent of heliotrope—did not trouble me; it was only when my thoughts would not run in this channel that I felt any fear, and that fear was not of the darkness itself, but of what the darkness suggested.

On this particular night, for the first few hours, I was sublimely happy, and then a strange restlessness seized me. I was obsessed with a wish to see the flower-garden. For some minutes, stimulated by a dread of what my aunts would think of such a violation of conventionality on the part of a child, I combated furiously with the desire ; but at length the longing was so great, so utterly and wholly irresistible, that I succumbed, and, getting quietly out of bed, made my way noiselessly into the corridor.

All was dark and still—stiller than I had ever known it before. Without any hesitation I plunged forward, in the direction of the wingless side of the house, where there was a long, narrow, stained window that commanded an immediate prospect of the white garden.

I had seldom looked out of it, as up to the present this side of the house had little attraction for me; but all was changed now; and, as I felt my way cautiously along the corridor, a thousand and one fanciful notions of what I might see surged through my brain.

I came to the end of the corridor, I descended half a dozen stairs, I got to the middle of the gallery overlooking the large entrance hall—below me, above me, on all sides of me, was Stygian darkness. I stopped, and there suddenly rang out, apparently from close at hand, a loud, clear, most appallingly clear, blood-curdling cry, which, beginning in a low key, ended in a shriek so horrid, harsh, and piercing, that I felt my heart shrivel up within me, and in sheer desperation I buried my fingers in my ears to deaden the sound.

I was now too frightened to move one way or the other. All the strength departed from my limbs, and when I endeavoured to move my feet, I could not— they appeared to be fastened to the ground with lead weights.

I felt, I intuitively felt that the author of the disturbance was regarding my terror with grim satisfaction, and that it was merely postponing further action in order to enjoy my suspense. To block out the sight of this dreadful creature, I clenched my eyelids tightly together, at the same time earnestly imploring God to help me.

Suddenly I heard the low wail begin again, and then the echo of a far-off silvery voice came softly to me through the gloom: “It’s an owl—only an owl! ”

With lightning-like rapidity the truth then dawned on me, and as I withdrew my clammy finger-tips from my ears, the faint fluttering of wings reached me, through an open skylight. Once again I moved on; the gallery was left behind, and I was well on my way down the tortuous passage leading to my goal, when a luminous object, of vast height and cylindrical shape, suddenly barred my progress.

Overcome by a deadly sickness, I sank on the floor, and, burying my face in my hands, quite made up my mind that my last moments had come.

How long I remained in this position I cannot say, to me it seemed eternity. I was eventually freed from it by the echo of a gentle laugh, so kind, and gay, and girlish, that my terror at once departed, and, on raising my head, I perceived that the cause of my panic was nothing more than a broad beam of moonlight on a particularly prominent angle of the wall.

Heartily ashamed at my cowardice, I got up, and, stepping briskly forward, soon reached the stained-glass window.

Pressing my face against the pane, I peered through it, and there immediately beneath me lay the flowers, glorified into dazzling gold by the yellow colour of the glass. The sight thrilled me with joy— it was sublime. My instinct had not deceived me, this was indeed the long-looked-for home of the genii.

The temperature, which had been high, abnormally so for June, now underwent an abrupt change, and a chill current of air, sweeping down on me from the rear, made my teeth chatter. I involuntarily shrank back from the window, and, as I did so, to my utter astonishment it disappeared, and I saw, in its place, a room.

It was a long, low room, and opposite to me, at the farthest extremity, was a large bay window, through which I could see the nodding tops of the trees. The furniture was all green and of a lighter, daintier make than any I had hitherto seen. The walls were covered with pictures, the mantelshelf with flowers. Whilst I was busily employed noting all these details, the door of the room opened, and the threshold was gorgeously illuminated by a brilliant sunbeam, from which suddenly evolved the figure of a young and lovely girl.

I can see her now as I saw her then— tall, and slender, with masses of golden hair, waved artistically aside from a low forehead of snowy white; finely-pencilled brows, and long eyes of the most lustrous violet; a straight, delicately-moulded nose, a firm, beautifully-proportioned chin, and a bewitching mouth. At her bosom was a bunch of heliotrope, which, deftly undoing, she raised to her nose and then laughingly held out to me. I was charmed; I took a step forward towards her. The instant I did so, a wild look of terror distorted her face, she waved me back, something jarred against my knee, and, in the place of the room, I saw only the blurred outline of trees through the yellow window-panes.

Bitterly disappointed, but absolutely sure that what I had seen was objective, I retraced my steps to my bedroom and passed the remainder of the night in sound sleep.

After breakfast, however, unable to restrain my curiosity longer, I sought Miss Amelia, who was easier to approach than her sister, and, managing after several efforts to screw up courage, blurted out the story of my nocturnal escapade.

My aunt listened in silence. She was always gentle, but on this occasion she surpassed herself.

“I am not going to scold you, Esther,” she said, smoothing out my curls. “After what you have seen it is useless to conceal the truth from you. God perhaps intends you to know all. Years ago, Esther, this house was not as you see it now. It had two wings, and, in the one that no longer exists was the bedroom you saw in your vision. We called it the Green Room because everything in it was {green, your Aunt Alicia—an aunt you have never heard of — who slept there, having a peculiar fancy for that colour.

“Alicia was our youngest sister, and we all loved her dearly. She was just as you describe her—beautiful as a fairy, with golden hair, and violet eyes, and she always wore a bunch of heliotrope in her dress.

“One night, Esther, one lovely, calm, midsummer night, forty years ago, this house was broken into by burglars. They got in through the Green Room window, which was always left open during the warm weather. We—my mother, your Aunt Deborah, and I—were awakened by a loud shriek for help. Recognising Alicia’s voice, we instantly flew out of bed, and, summoning the servants, tore to the Green Room as fast as we could.

“To our horror, Esther, the door was locked, and before we could break the lock the ruffians had murdered her! They escaped through the window and were never caught. My mother, your greatgrandmother, had that part of the house pulled down, and on the site of it she planted the white garden.

“Though Alicia’s earthly body died, and was taken from us, her beautiful spirit remains with us here. It follows us about in the daytime in the form of a sunbeam, whilst occasionally, at night, it assumes her earthly shape. The house is what is generally termed haunted, and, no doubt, some people would be afraid to live in it. But that, Esther, is because they do not understand spirits—your Aunt Deborah and I do.”

“Do you think, auntie,” I asked with a thrill of joy, “do you think it at all likely that I shall see Aunt Alicia again to-night?”

Aunt Amelia shook her head gently. “No, my dear,” she said slowly, “I think it will be impossible, because you are going home this afternoon.”

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