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The Drummer Of Cortachy
What ancient Scottish or Irish family has not its Fam...

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The Drummer Of Cortachy






What ancient Scottish or Irish family has not its Family Ghost? A
banshee--the heritage of Niall of the Nine Hostages--is still the
unenviable possession of his descendants, the O'Donnells, and I, who
am a member of the clan, have both seen and heard it several times. As
it appears to me, it resembles the decapitated head of a prehistoric
woman, and I shall never forget my feelings one night, when, aroused
from slumber by its ghastly wailing, I stumbled frantically out of
bed, and, groping my way upstairs in the dark, without venturing to
look to the left or right lest I should see something horrible, found
every inmate of the house huddled together on the landing, paralysed
with fear. I did not see it on that occasion, but on the following
morning, as I had anticipated, I received the news that a near and
dear relative had died.

Possessing such an heirloom myself, I can therefore readily sympathise
with those who own a similar treasure--such, for example, as the
famous, or rather infamous, Drummer of Cortachy Castle, who is
invariably heard beating a tattoo before the death of a member of the
clan of Ogilvie.

Mrs. Crowe, in her Night Side of Nature, referring to the haunting,
says:--

Miss D., a relative of the present Lady C., who had been staying some
time with the Earl and Countess at their seat, near Dundee, was
invited to spend a few days at Cortachy Castle, with the Earl and
Countess of Airlie. She went, and whilst she was dressing for dinner
the first evening of her arrival, she heard a strain of music under
her window, which finally resolved itself into a well-defined sound of
a drum. When her maid came upstairs, she made some inquiries about the
drummer that was playing near the house; but the maid knew nothing on
the subject. For the moment the circumstance passed from Miss D.'s
mind, but, recurring to her again during the dinner, she said,
addressing Lord Airlie, 'My lord, who is your drummer?' Upon which his
lordship turned pale, Lady Airlie looked distressed, and several of
the company, who all heard the question, embarrassed; whilst the lady,
perceiving that she had made some unpleasant allusion, although she
knew not to what their feelings referred, forebore further inquiry
till she reached the drawing-room; when, having mentioned the
circumstance again to a member of the family, she was answered, 'What,
have you never heard of the drummer boy?' 'No,' replied Miss D.; 'who
in the world is he?' 'Why,' replied the other, 'he is a person who
goes about the house playing his drum, whenever there is a death
impending in the family. The last time he was heard was shortly before
the death of the last Countess (the Earl's former wife); and that is
why Lord Airlie became so pale when you mentioned it. The drummer boy
is a very unpleasant subject in this family, I assure you.'

Miss D. was naturally much concerned, and indeed not a little
frightened at this explanation, and her alarm being augmented by
hearing the sounds on the following day, she took her departure from
Cortachy Castle, and returned to Lord C.'s, where she related this
strange circumstance to the family, through whom the information
reached me.

This affair was very generally known in the north, and we awaited the
event with interest. The melancholy death of the Countess about five
or six months afterwards, at Brighton, sadly verified the
prognostications. I have heard that a paper was found in her desk
after her death, declaring her conviction that the drum was for her.

Mrs. Crowe goes on to explain the origin of the phenomenon. According
to legend, she says, there was once at Cortachy a drummer, who,
incurring the jealousy of the then Lord Airlie, was thrust into his
own drum and flung from a window of the tower (in which, by the way,
Miss D. slept). Before being put to death thus, the drummer is stated
to have said he would for ever after haunt the Airlie family--a threat
he has obviously been permitted to fulfil.

During one of my visits to Scotland, I stayed some days in Forfarshire
not far from Cortachy. Among the visitors at my hotel was a very old
gentleman of the name of Porter, who informed me that, when a boy, he
used to visit some relatives who, at that time, lived within easy
walking distance of Cortachy. One of these relatives was a lad of
about fourteen, named Alec, with whom he had always been the closest
of friends. The recollection of their many adventures evidently
afforded Mr. Porter infinite amusement, and one of these adventures,
in particular, he told me, was as fresh in his mind as if it had
happened yesterday.

Looking back upon it now, he said, with a far-away look in his eyes,
it certainly was a strange coincidence, and if you are interested in
the hauntings of Cortachy, Mr. O'Donnell, you may, perhaps, like to
hear the account of my ghostly experiences in that neighbourhood.

Of course I replied that nothing would give me greater pleasure, and
Mr. Porter forthwith began his story.

One misty night in October, my friend Alec and I, both being keen on
rabbiting, determined to visit a spinney adjoining the Cortachy
estate, in pursuit of our quarry. Alec had chosen this particular
night, thinking, under cover of the mist, to escape the vigilance of
the keepers, who had more than once threatened to take him before the
laird for trespassing.

To gain access to the spinney we had to climb a granite wall and drop
on the other side--the drop, in addition to being steep, being
rendered all the more precarious by reason of the man-traps the
keepers were in the habit of setting. When I got astride the wall and
peered into the well-like darkness at our feet, and heard the grim
rustling of the wind through the giant pines ahead of me, I would have
given all I possessed to have found myself snug and warm in bed; but
Alec was of a different 'kidney'--he had come prepared for excitement,
and he meant to have it. For some seconds, we both waited on the wall
in breathless silence, and then Alec, with a reckless disregard of
what might be in store for him, gently let himself drop, and I,
fearing more, if anything, than the present danger, to be for ever
after branded as a coward if I held back, timidly followed suit. By a
great stroke of luck we alighted in safety on a soft carpeting of
moss. Not a word was spoken, but, falling on hands and knees, and
guiding ourselves by means of a dark lantern Alec had bought
second-hand from the village blacksmith, we crept on all-fours along a
tiny bramble-covered path, that after innumerable windings eventually
brought us into a broad glade shut in on all sides by lofty trees.
Alec prospected the spot first of all to see no keepers were about,
and we then crawled into it, and, approaching the nearest burrows, set
to work at once with our ferrets. Three rabbits were captured in this
fashion, and we were eagerly anticipating the taking of more, when a
sensation of icy coldness suddenly stole over us, and, on looking
round, we perceived, to our utmost consternation, a very tall keeper
standing only a few yards away from us. For once in a way, Alec was
nonplussed, and a deathly silence ensued. It was too dark for us to
see the figure of the keeper very distinctly, and we could only
distinguish a gleaming white face set on a very slight and
perpendicular frame, and a round, glittering something that puzzled us
both exceedingly. Then, a feeling that, perhaps, it was not a keeper
gradually stole over me, and in a paroxysm of ungovernable terror I
caught hold of Alec, who was trembling from head to foot as if he had
the ague. The figure remained absolutely still for about a minute,
during which time neither Alec nor I could move a muscle, and then,
turning round with an abrupt movement, came towards us.

Half-dead with fright, but only too thankful to find that we had now
regained the use of our limbs, we left our spoil and ran for our lives
in the direction of the wall.

We dared not look back, but we knew the figure followed us, for we
heard its footsteps close at our heels; and never to my dying day
shall I forget the sound--rat-tat, tat, rat-tat, tat--for all the
world like the beat of a muffled drum.

How we ever managed to reach the wall I could never tell, but as we
scrambled over it, regardless of man-traps and bruises, and plunged
into the heather on the other side, we heard the weird footsteps
receding in the direction of the castle, and, ere we had reached home,
the rat-tat, tat, rat-tat, tat, had completely died away.

We told no one a word of what had happened, and a few days after,
simultaneously with the death of one of the Airlies, we learned, for
the first time, the story of the Phantom Drummer.

I have little doubt, Mr. Porter added, in conclusion, that the
figure we took to be a keeper was the prophetic Drummer, for I can
assure you there was no possibility of hoaxers, especially in such
ill-omened guise, anywhere near the Cortachy estate.

Poor old Mr. Porter! He did not long survive our rencontre. When I
next visited the hotel, some months later, I was genuinely grieved to
hear of his decease. His story had greatly fascinated me, for I love
the solitude of the pines, and have myself from time to time witnessed
many remarkable occult phenomena under the shadow of their lofty
summits. One night, during this second visit of mine to the hotel, the
mood to ramble came upon me, and, unable to resist the seductive
thought of a midnight stroll across the bracken-covered hills, I
borrowed a latchkey, and, armed with a flask of whisky and a thick
stick, plunged into the moonlit night. The keen, heather-scented air
acted like a tonic--I felt younger and stronger than I had felt for
years, and I congratulated myself that my friends would hardly know me
if they saw me now, as I swung along with the resuscitated stride of
twenty years ago. The landscape for miles around stood out with
startling clearness in the moonshine, and I stopped every now and then
to drink in the beauties of the glittering mountain-ranges and silent,
glimmering tarns. Not a soul was about, and I found myself, as I loved
to be, the only human element in the midst of nature. Every now and
then a dark patch fluttered across the shining road, and with a weird
and plaintive cry, a night bird dashed abruptly from hedge to hedge,
and seemingly melted into nothingness. I quitted the main road on the
brow of a low hill, and embarked upon a wild expanse of moor, lavishly
covered with bracken and white heather, intermingled with which were
the silvery surfaces of many a pool of water. For some seconds I stood
still, lost in contemplating the scenery,--its utter abandonment and
grand sense of isolation; and inhaling at the same time long and deep
draughts of the delicious moorland air, unmistakably impregnated now
with breaths of ozone. My eyes wandering to the horizon, I detected,
on the very margin of the moorland, a dense clump of trees, which I
instantly associated with the spinney in my old friend Mr. Porter's
story, and, determining that the renowned spinney should be my goal, I
at once aimed for it, vigorously striking out along the path which I
thought would be most likely to lead to it. Half an hour's brisk
walking brought me to my destination, and I found myself standing
opposite a granite wall which my imagination had no difficulty in
identifying with the wall so well described by Mr. Porter. Removing
the briars and gorse prickles which left little of my stockings whole,
I went up to the wall, and, measuring it with my body, found it was a
good foot taller than I. This would mean rather more climbing than I
had bargained for. But the pines--the grim silence of their slender
frames and gently swaying summits--fascinated me. They spoke of
possibilities few could see or appreciate as I could; possibilities of
a sylvan phantasmagoria enhanced by the soft and mystic radiance of
the moon. An owl hooted, and the rustling of brushwood told me of the
near proximity of some fur-coated burrower in the ground. High above
this animal life, remoter even than the tops of my beloved trees or
the mountain-ranges, etched on the dark firmament, shone multitudinous
stars, even the rings round Saturn being plainly discernible. From the
Milky Way my eyes at length wandered to the pines, and a puff of air
laden with the odour of their resin and decaying brushwood decided me.
I took a few preliminary sips of whisky, stretched my rusty limbs,
and, placing one foot in a jagged crevice of the wall, swarmed
painfully up. How slow and how hazardous was the process! I scratched
my fingers, inured to the pen but a stranger to any rougher substance;
I ruined my box-calf boots, I split my trousers at the knees, and I
felt that my hat had parted with its shape for ever; and yet I
continued the ascent. The end came all too suddenly. When within an
ace of victory, I yielded to impulse, and with an energy the desperate
condition of my skin and clothes alone could account for, I swung up,
and--the outer edge of the wall melted beneath me, my hands
frantically clutched at nothingness, a hideous sensation of falling
surged through my brain, my ears and eyes filled to bursting, and with
a terrific crash that seemed to drive my head and spine right through
my stomach, I met the black, uprising earth, and lost consciousness.

Providentially for me, I had pitched head first into a furze bush
which broke the fall, otherwise I must have met with serious injury.
As it was, when I recovered my momentary loss of consciousness, I
found that I had sustained no worse harm than a severe shaking,
scratches galore, and the utter demolition of my clothes! I picked
myself up with difficulty, and spent some time searching for my hat
and stick--which I at length discovered, lodged, of course, where one
would least have thought of looking for them. I then took close stock
of my surroundings, and found them even grimmer than I had
anticipated. Though the trees were packed closely together, and there
was much undergrowth, the moonbeams were so powerful and so fully
concentrated on the spinney, that I could see no inconsiderable
distance ahead of me. Over everything hung a solemn and preternatural
hush. I saw shadows everywhere--shadows that defied analysis and had
no material counterparts. A sudden crashing of brushwood brought me to
a standstill, and sent the blood in columns to my heart. Then I
laughed loudly--it was only a hare, the prettiest and pertest thing
imaginable. I went on. Something whizzed past my face. I drew back in
horror--it was a bat, merely a bat. My nerves were out of order, the
fall had unsteadied them; I must pull myself together. I did so, and
continued to advance. A shadow, long, narrow, and grotesque, fell
across my path, and sent a thousand and one icy shivers down my back.
In an agony of terror I shut my eyes and plunged madly on. Something
struck me in the face and hurled me back. My eyes opened
involuntarily, and I saw a tree that, either out of pique or sheer
obstinacy, had planted itself half-way across the path. I examined its
branches to make sure they were branches, and continued my march. A
score more paces, a sudden bend, and I was in an open space,
brilliantly illuminated by moonbeams and peopled with countless,
moving shadows. One would have to go far to find a wilder, weirder,
and more grimly suggestive spot. As I stood gazing at the scene in
awestruck wonder, a slight breeze rocked the tops of the pine trees,
and moaning through their long and gloomy aisles reverberated like
thunder. The sounds, suggesting slightly, ever so slightly, a tattoo,
brought with them vivid pictures of the Drummer, too vivid just then
to be pleasant, and I turned to go. To my unmitigated horror, a white
and lurid object barred my way. My heart ceased to beat, my blood
turned to ice; I was sick, absolutely sick, with terror. Besides this,
the figure held me spellbound--I could neither move nor utter a sound.
It had a white, absolutely white face, a tall, thin, perpendicular
frame, and a small, glittering, rotund head. For some seconds it
remained stationary, and then, with a gliding motion, left the path
and vanished in the shadows.

Again a breeze rustled through the tops of the pine trees, moaned
through their long and gloomy aisles, and reverberated like thunder;
rat-tat, tat, rat-tat, tat--and with this sound beating in my ears,
reaction set in, and I never ceased running till I had reached my
hotel.





Next: The Room Beyond An Account Of The Hauntings At Hennersley Near Ayr

Previous: Pearlin' Jean Of Allanbank



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