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The Phantom Regiment Of Killiecrankie






Many are the stories that have from time to time been circulated with
regard to the haunting of the Pass of Killiecrankie by phantom
soldiers, but I do not think there is any stranger story than that
related to me, some years ago, by a lady who declared she had actually
witnessed the phenomena. Her account of it I shall reproduce as far as
possible in her own words:--

* * * * *

Let me commence by stating that I am not a spiritualist, and that I
have the greatest possible aversion to convoking the earthbound souls
of the dead. Neither do I lay any claim to mediumistic powers (indeed
I have always regarded the term medium with the gravest suspicion).
I am, on the contrary, a plain, practical, matter-of-fact woman, and
with the exception of this one occasion, never witnessed any psychic
phenomena.

The incident I am about to relate took place the autumn before last. I
was on a cycle tour in Scotland, and, making Pitlochry my temporary
headquarters, rode over one evening to view the historic Pass of
Killiecrankie. It was late when I arrived there, and the western sky
was one great splash of crimson and gold--such vivid colouring I had
never seen before and never have seen since. Indeed, I was so
entranced at the sublimity of the spectacle, that I perched myself on
a rock at the foot of one of the great cliffs that form the walls of
the Pass, and, throwing my head back, imagined myself in fairyland.
Lost, thus, in a delicious luxury, I paid no heed to the time, nor did
I think of stirring, until the dark shadows of the night fell across
my face. I then started up in a panic, and was about to pedal off in
hot haste, when a strange notion suddenly seized me: I had a latchkey,
plenty of sandwiches, a warm cape, why should I not camp out there
till early morning--I had long yearned to spend a night in the open,
now was my opportunity. The idea was no sooner conceived than put
into operation. Selecting the most comfortable-looking boulder I could
see, I scrambled on to the top of it, and, with my cloak drawn tightly
over my back and shoulders, commenced my vigil. The cold mountain air,
sweet with the perfume of gorse and heather, intoxicated me, and I
gradually sank into a heavenly torpor, from which I was abruptly
aroused by a dull boom, that I at once associated with distant
musketry. All was then still, still as the grave, and, on glancing at
the watch I wore strapped on my wrist, I saw it was two o'clock. A
species of nervous dread now laid hold of me, and a thousand and one
vague fancies, all the more distressing because of their vagueness,
oppressed and disconcerted me. Moreover, I was impressed for the first
time with the extraordinary solitude--solitude that seemed to belong
to a period far other than the present, and, as I glanced around at
the solitary pines and gleaming boulders, I more than half expected to
see the wild, ferocious face of some robber chief--some fierce yet
fascinating hero of Sir Walter Scott's--peering at me from behind
them. This feeling at length became so acute, that, in a panic of
fear--ridiculous, puerile fear, I forcibly withdrew my gaze and
concentrated it abstractedly on the ground at my feet. I then
listened, and in the rustling of a leaf, the humming of some night
insect, the whizzing of a bat, the whispering of the wind as it moaned
softly past me, I fancied--nay, I felt sure I detected something that
was not ordinary. I blew my nose, and had barely ceased marvelling at
the loudness of its reverberations, before the piercing, ghoulish
shriek of an owl sent the blood in torrents to my heart. I then
laughed, and my blood froze as I heard a chorus, of what I tried to
persuade myself could only be echoes, proceed from every crag and rock
in the valley. For some seconds after this I sat still, hardly daring
to breathe, and pretending to be extremely angry with myself for being
such a fool. With a stupendous effort I turned my attention to the
most material of things. One of the skirt buttons on my hip--they were
much in vogue then--being loose, I endeavoured to occupy myself in
tightening it, and when I could no longer derive any employment from
that, I set to work on my shoes, and tied knots in the laces, merely
to enjoy the task of untying them. But this, too, ceasing at last to
attract me, I was desperately racking my mind for some other device,
when there came again the queer, booming noise I had heard before, but
which I could now no longer doubt was the report of firearms. I looked
in the direction of the sound--and--my heart almost stopped. Racing
towards me--as if not merely for his life, but his soul--came the
figure of a Highlander. The wind rustling through his long dishevelled
hair, blew it completely over his forehead, narrowly missing his eyes,
which were fixed ahead of him in a ghastly, agonised stare. He had not
a vestige of colour, and, in the powerful glow of the moonbeams, his
skin shone livid. He ran with huge bounds, and, what added to my
terror and made me double aware he was nothing mortal, was that each
time his feet struck the hard, smooth road, upon which I could well
see there was no sign of a stone, there came the sound, the
unmistakable sound of the scattering of gravel. On, on he came, with
cyclonic swiftness; his bare sweating elbows pressed into his panting
sides; his great, dirty, coarse, hairy fists screwed up in bony
bunches in front of him; the foam-flakes thick on his clenched,
grinning lips; the blood-drops oozing down his sweating thighs. It was
all real, infernally, hideously real, even to the most minute details:
the flying up and down of his kilt, sporan, and swordless scabbard;
the bursting of the seam of his coat, near the shoulder; and the
absence of one of his clumsy shoe-buckles. I tried hard to shut my
eyes, but was compelled to keep them open, and follow his every
movement as, darting past me, he left the roadway, and, leaping
several of the smaller obstacles that barred his way, finally
disappeared behind some of the bigger boulders. I then heard the loud
rat-tat of drums, accompanied by the shrill voices of fifes and
flutes, and at the farther end of the Pass, their arms glittering
brightly in the silvery moonbeams, appeared a regiment of scarlet-clad
soldiers. At the head rode a mounted officer, after him came the
band, and then, four abreast, a long line of warriors; in their centre
two ensigns, and on their flanks, officers and non-commissioned
officers with swords and pikes; more mounted men bringing up the rear.
On they came, the fifes and flutes ringing out with a weird clearness
in the hushed mountain air. I could hear the ground vibrate, the
gravel crunch and scatter, as they steadily and mechanically
advanced--tall men, enormously tall men, with set, white faces and
livid eyes. Every instant I expected they would see me, and I became
sick with terror at the thought of meeting all those pale, flashing
eyes. But from this I was happily saved; no one appeared to notice me,
and they all passed me by without as much as a twist or turn of the
head, their feet keeping time to one everlasting and monotonous tramp,
tramp, tramp. I got up and watched until the last of them had turned
the bend of the Pass, and the sheen of his weapons and trappings could
no longer be seen; then I remounted my boulder and wondered if
anything further would happen. It was now half-past two, and blended
with the moonbeams was a peculiar whiteness, which rendered the whole
aspect of my surroundings indescribably dreary and ghostly. Feeling
cold and hungry, I set to work on my beef sandwiches, and was
religiously separating the fat from the lean, for I am one of those
foolish people who detest fat, when a loud rustling made me look up.
Confronting me, on the opposite side of the road, was a tree, an ash,
and to my surprise, despite the fact that the breeze had fallen and
there was scarcely a breath of wind, the tree swayed violently to and
fro, whilst there proceeded from it the most dreadful moanings and
groanings. I was so terrified that I caught hold of my bicycle and
tried to mount, but I was obliged to desist as I had not a particle of
strength in my limbs. Then to assure myself the moving of the tree was
not an illusion, I rubbed my eyes, pinched myself, called aloud; but
it made no difference--the rustling, bending, and tossing still
continued. Summing up courage, I stepped into the road to get a closer
view, when to my horror my feet kicked against something, and, on
looking down, I perceived the body of an English soldier, with a
ghastly wound in his chest. I gazed around, and there, on all sides of
me, from one end of the valley to the other, lay dozens of
bodies,--bodies of men and horses,--Highlanders and English,
white-cheeked, lurid eyes, and bloody-browed,--a hotch-potch of livid,
gory awfulness. Here was the writhing, wriggling figure of an officer
with half his face shot away; and there, a horse with no head; and
there--but I cannot dwell on such horrors, the very memory of which
makes me feel sick and faint. The air, that beautiful, fresh mountain
air, resounded with their moanings and groanings, and reeked with the
smell of their blood. As I stood rooted to the ground with horror, not
knowing which way to look or turn, I suddenly saw drop from the ash,
the form of a woman, a Highland girl, with bold, handsome features,
raven black hair, and the whitest of arms and feet. In one hand she
carried a wicker basket, in the other a knife, a broad-bladed,
sharp-edged, horn-handled knife. A gleam of avarice and cruelty came
into her large dark eyes, as, wandering around her, they rested on the
rich facings of the English officers' uniforms. I knew what was in
her mind, and--forgetting she was but a ghost--that they were all
ghosts--I moved heaven and earth to stop her. I could not. Making
straight for a wounded officer that lay moaning piteously on the
ground, some ten feet away from me, she spurned with her slender,
graceful feet, the bodies of the dead and dying English that came in
her way. Then, snatching the officer's sword and pistol from him, she
knelt down, and, with a look of devilish glee in her glorious eyes,
calmly plunged her knife into his heart, working the blade backwards
and forwards to assure herself she had made a thorough job of it.
Anything more hellish I could not have imagined, and yet it fascinated
me--the girl was so fair, so wickedly fair and shapely. Her act of
cruelty over, she spoiled her victim of his rings, epaulets, buttons
and gold lacing, and, having placed them in her basket, proceeded
elsewhere. In some cases, unable to remove the rings easily, she
chopped off the fingers, and popped them, just as they were, into her
basket. Neither was her mode of dispatch always the same, for while
she put some men out of their misery in the manner I have described,
she cut the throats of others with as great a nonchalance as if she
had been killing fowls, whilst others again she settled with the
butt-ends of their guns or pistols. In all she murdered a full
half-score, and was decamping with her booty when her gloating eyes
suddenly encountered mine, and with a shrill scream of rage she rushed
towards me. I was an easy victim, for strain and pray how I would, I
could not move an inch. Raising her flashing blade high over her head,
an expression of fiendish glee in her staring eyes, she made ready to
strike me. This was the climax, my overstrained nerves could stand no
more, and ere the blow had time to descend, I pitched heavily forward
and fell at her feet. When I recovered, every phantom had vanished,
and the Pass glowed with all the cheerful freshness of the early
morning sun. Not a whit the worse for my venture, I cycled swiftly
home, and ate as only one can eat who has spent the night amid the
banks and braes of bonnie Scotland.





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Previous: The Sallow-faced Woman Of No Forrest Road Edinburgh



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