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The Bounding Figure Of House Near Buckingham Terrace Edinburgh






No one is more interested in Psychical Investigation Work than Miss
Torfrida Vincent, one of the three beautiful daughters of Mrs. H. de
B. Vincent, who is, herself, still in the heyday of life, and one of
the loveliest of the society women I have met. Though I have known her
sisters several years, I only met Torfrida for the first time a few
months ago, when she was superintending the nursing of her mother, who
had just undergone an operation for appendicitis. One day, when I was
visiting my convalescent friend, Torfrida informed me that she knew of
a haunted house in Edinburgh, a case which she felt sure would arouse
my interest and enthusiasm. It is unfortunate, she added somewhat
regretfully, that I cannot tell you the number of the house, but as
I have given my word of honour to disclose it to no one, I feel sure
you will excuse me. Indeed, my friends the Gordons, who extracted the
promise from me, have got into sad trouble with their landlord for
leaving the house under the pretext that it was haunted, and he has
threatened to prosecute them for slander of title.

The house in question has no claim to antiquity. It may be eighty years
old--perhaps a little older--and was, at the time of which I speak, let
out in flats. The Gordons occupied the second storey; the one above
them was untenanted, and used as a storage place for furniture; the
first floor and ground floor were divided into chambers and offices.
They had not been in their new quarters more than a week, when Mrs.
Gordon asked the night porter who it was that made such a noise, racing
up their stairs between two and three in the morning. It had awakened
her every night, she told him, and she would be glad if the disturbance
were discontinued. I am sorry, Madam, but I cannot imagine who it can
be, the man replied. Of course, it may be some one next door, sounds
are so often deceptive; no one inhabits the rooms above you. But Mrs.
Gordon was not at all convinced, and made up her mind to complain to
the landlord should it occur again. That night nothing happened, but
the night after she was roused from her sleep at two o'clock, by a
feeling that something dreadful, some dire catastrophe, was about to
take place. The house was very still, and beyond the far-away echoes of
a policeman's patrol on the hard pavement outside, nothing, absolutely
nothing, broke the universal, and as it seemed to her, unnatural
silence. Generally at night-time there are sounds one likes to assure
oneself are too trivial to be heard during the day--the creaking of
boards, stairs (nearly always stairs), and the tapping of some leaf (of
course some leaf) at the windows. Who has not heard such sounds, and
who in his heart of hearts has not been only too well aware that they
are nocturnal, exclusively nocturnal. The shadows of evening bring with
them visitors; prying, curious visitors; grim and ghastly visitors;
grey, esoteric visitors; visitors from a world seemingly inconsequent,
wholly incomprehensible. Mrs. Gordon did not believe in ghosts. She
scoffed at the idea of ghosts, and, like so many would-be wits,
unreasonably brave by day, and the reverse by night, had hitherto
attributed banshees and the like to cats and other animals. But
now,--now when all was dark,--pitch dark and hushed, and she, for aught
she knew to the contrary, the only one, in that great rambling
building, awake, she reviewed again and again, in her mind, that
rushing up the stairs. The wind! It could not have been the wind. The
wind shuts doors, and rattles windows, and moans, and sighs, and howls
and screeches, but it does not walk the house in boots. Neither do
rats! And if she had imagined the noises, why did she not imagine other
things; why, for example, did she not see tables dance, and tea-urns
walk? All that would be fancy, unblushing, genuine fancy, and if she
conjured up one absurdity, why not another! That was a conundrum for
any sceptic. Thus did she argue, naturally and logically, in the quite
sensible fashion of a lawyer, or a scientist; yet, all the while, her
senses told her that the atmosphere of the house had undergone some
profoundly subtle and unaccountable change,--a change that brought with
it a presence, at once sinister and hostile. She longed to strike a
light and awake one of her daughters--Diana, by preference; since Diana
was the least likely to mind being disturbed, and had the strongest
nerves. She made a start, and, loosening the bedclothes that she always
liked tightly tucked round her, thrust out a quivering toe. The next
instant she drew it back with a tiny gasp of terror. The cold darkness
without had suggested to her mind a great, horny hand, mal-shaped and
murderous, that was lying in wait to seize her. A deadly sickness
overcame her, and she lay back on the pillow, her heart beating with
outrageous irregularity and loudness. Very slowly she recovered, and,
holding her breath, sidled to the far edge of the bed, and with a
dexterous movement, engendered by the desperation of fear, made a
lightning-like dab in the direction of the electric bell. Her soft,
pink finger missed the mark, and coming in violent contact with the
wall, bent the carefully polished nail. She bit her lips to stop a cry
of pain, and shrinking back within the folds of her dainty lace
embroidered nightdress, abandoned herself to despair. Her consciousness
of the Unknown Presence increased, and she instinctively felt the thing
pass through the closed door, down on to the landing outside, when it
dashed upstairs with a loud clatter, and, entering the lumber-room
immediately overhead, began bounding as if its feet were tied together,
backwards and forwards across the floor. After continuing for fully
half an hour, the noises abruptly ceased and the house resumed its
accustomed quiet. At breakfast, Mrs. Gordon asked her daughters if they
had heard anything in the night, and they laughingly said No, not even
a mouse!

There was now an intermission of the disturbances, and no further
demonstration occurred for about a month. Diana was then sleeping in
her mother's room, Mrs. Gordon being away on a visit to Lady Voss, who
was entertaining a party of friends at her shooting-box in Argyle. One
evening, as Diana was going into her bedroom to prepare for dinner,
she saw the door suddenly swing open, and something, she could not
tell what--it was so blurred and indistinct--come out with a bound.
Tearing past her on to the landing, it rushed up the stairs with so
much clatter that Diana imagined, though she could see nothing, that
it must have on its feet, heavy lumbering boots. Filled with an
irresistible curiosity, in spite of her alarm, Diana ran after it,
and, on reaching the upper storey, heard it making a terrific racket
in the room above the one in which she now slept. Nothing daunted,
however, she boldly approached, and, flinging open the door, perceived
its filmy outline standing before a shadowy and very antique eight-day
clock, which apparently it was in the habit of winding. A great fear
now fell on Diana. What was the thing? And supposing it should turn
round and face her, what should she see? She was entirely isolated
from her sisters, and the servants--alone--the light fading--in a big,
gloomy room full of strange old furniture which suggested
hiding-places for all sorts of grim possibilities. She was assured now
that the thing she had followed was nothing human, neither was it a
delusion, for when she shut her eyes and opened them, it was still
there--and, oddly enough, it was now more distinct than it was when
she had seen it downstairs. A curious feeling of helplessness stole
over Diana; the power of speech forsook her; and her limbs grew rigid.
She was so fearful, too, of attracting the notice of the mysterious
thing that she hardly dare breathe, and each pulsation of her heart
sent cold chills of apprehension down her spine. Once she endured
agonies through a mad desire to sneeze, and once her lips opened to
scream as something suspiciously like the antennae of a huge beetle,
and which she subsequently discovered was a devil's coach-horse,
tickled the calf of her leg. She fancied, too, that all sorts of queer
shapes lurked in the passage behind her, and that innumerable unseen
eyes were malignantly rejoicing in her terror. At last, the climax to
her suspense seemed at hand. The unknown thing, until now too busy
with the clock to take heed of her, paused for a moment or so, as if
undecided what to do next, and then slowly began to veer round. But
the faint echo of a voice below, calling her by name, broke the
hypnotic spell that bound Diana to the floor, and with a frantic
spring she cleared the threshold of the room. She then tore madly
downstairs, never halting till she reached the dining-room, where she
sank on a sofa, and, more dead than alive, panted out to her amazed
sisters a full account of all that had transpired.

That night she shared her sister's bedroom, but neither she nor her
sister slept.

From this time till the return of Mrs. Gordon, nothing happened. It
was one evening after she came back, when she was preparing to get
into bed, that the door of her own room unexpectedly opened, and she
saw standing, on the threshold, the unmistakable figure of a man,
short and broad, with a great width of shoulders, and very long arms.
He was clad in a peajacket, blue serge trousers, and jack-boots. He
had a big, round, brutal head, covered with a tangled mass of yellow
hair, but where his face ought to have been there was only a blotch,
underlying which Mrs. Gordon detected the semblance to something
fiendishly vindictive and immeasurably nasty. But, in spite of the
horror his appearance produced, her curiosity was aroused with regard
to the two objects he carried in his hands, one of which looked like
a very bizarre bundle of red and white rags, and the other a small
bladder of lard. Whilst she was staring at them in dumb awe, he swung
round, and, hitching them savagely under his armpits, rushed across
the landing, and, with a series of apish bounds, sprang up the
staircase and disappeared in the gloom.

This was the climax; Mrs. Gordon felt another such encounter would
kill her. So, in spite of the fact that she had taken the flat for a
year, and had only just commenced her tenancy, she packed up her goods
and left the very next day. The report that the building was haunted
spread rapidly, and Mrs. Gordon had many indignant letters from the
landlord. She naturally made inquiries as to the early history of the
house, but of the many tales she listened to, only one, the
authenticity of which she could not guarantee, seemed to suggest any
clue to the haunting.

It was said that a retired Captain in the Merchant Service, many years
previously, had rented the rooms she had occupied.

He was an extraordinary individual, and, despite the fact that he had
lived so far inland, would never wear any but nautical clothes--blue
jersey and trousers, reefer coat and jack-boots. But this was not his
only peculiarity. His love of grog eventually brought on delirium
tremens, and his excessive irritability in the interval between each
attack was a source of anxiety to all who came in contact with him. At
that time there happened to be a baby in the rooms overhead, whose
crying so annoyed the Captain that he savagely informed its mother
that if she did not keep it quiet, he would not be answerable for the
consequences. His warnings having no effect, he flew upstairs one day,
when she was temporarily absent, and, snatching up the bread knife
from the table, decapitated the infant. He then stuffed both its head
and body into a grandfather's clock which stood in one corner of the
room, and, retiring to his own quarters, drank till he was insensible.

He was, of course, arrested on a charge of murder, but being found
insane he was committed during His Majesty's pleasure to a lunatic
asylum.

He eventually committed suicide by opening an artery in his leg with
one of his finger-nails.

As the details of this tragedy filled in so well with the phenomena
they had witnessed, the Gordons could not help regarding the story as
a very probable explanation of the hauntings. But, remember, its
authenticity is dubious.





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