The Top Attic In Pringle's Mansion Edinburgh





A charming lady, Miss South, informs me that no house interested her

more, as a child, than Pringle's Mansion, Edinburgh. Pringle's

Mansion, by the bye, is not the real name of the house, nor is the

original building still standing--the fact is, my friend has been

obliged to disguise the locality for fear of an action for slander of

title, such as happened in the Egham Case of 1904-7.



Miss South never saw--save in a picture--the house that so fascinated

her; but through repeatedly hearing about it from her old nurse, she

felt that she knew it by heart, and used to amuse herself hour after

hour in the nursery, drawing diagrams of the rooms and passages,

which, to make quite realistic, she named and numbered.



There was the Admiral's room, Madame's room, Miss Ophelia's room,

Master Gregory's room, Letty's (the nurse's) room, the cook's room,

the butler's room, the housemaid's room--and--the Haunted Room.



The house was very old--probably the sixteenth century--and was

concealed from the thoroughfare by a high wall that enclosed it on all

sides. It had no garden, only a large yard, covered with faded yellow

paving-stones, and containing a well with an old-fashioned roller and

bucket.



When the well was cleaned out, an event which took place periodically

on a certain date, every utensil in the house was called into

requisition for ladling out the water, and the Admiral, himself

supervising, made every servant in the establishment take an active

part in the proceedings. On one of these occasions, the Admiral

announced his intention of going down the well in the bucket. That was

a rare moment in Letty's life, for when the Admiral had been let down

in the bucket, the rope broke!



Indeed, the thought of what the Laird would say when he came up,

almost resulted in his not coming up at all. However, some one,

rather bolder than the rest, retained sufficient presence of mind to

effect a rescue, and the timid ones, thankful enough to survive the

explosion, had to be content on half-rations till further orders.



But in spite of its association with such a martinet, and in spite of

her ghostly experiences in it, Letty loved the house, and was never

tired of singing its praises.



It was a two-storeyed mansion, with roomy cellars but no basement.

There were four reception-rooms--all oak-panelled--on the ground

floor; numerous kitchen offices, including a cosy housekeeper's room;

and a capacious entrance hall, in the centre of which stood a broad

oak staircase. The cellars, three in number, and chiefly used as

lumber-rooms, were deep down and dank and horrid.



On the first floor eight bedrooms opened on to a gallery overlooking

the hall, and the top storey, where the servants slept, consisted

solely of attics connected with one another by dark, narrow passages.

It was one of these attics that was haunted, although, as a matter of

fact, the ghost had been seen in all parts of the house.



When Letty entered the Admiral's service she was but a bairn, and had

never even heard of ghosts; nor did the other servants apprise her of

the hauntings, having received strict injunctions not to do so from

the Laird.



But Letty's home, humble though it was, had been very bright and

cheerful, and the dark precincts of the mansion filled her with

dismay. Without exactly knowing why she was afraid, she shrank in

terror from descending into the cellars, and felt anything but pleased

at the prospect of sleeping alone in an attic. Still nothing occurred

to really alarm her till about a month after her arrival. It was early

in the evening, soon after twilight, and she had gone down into one of

the cellars to look for a boot-jack, which the Admiral swore by all

that was holy must be found before supper. Placing the light she had

brought with her on a packing-case, she was groping about among the

boxes, when she perceived, to her astonishment, that the flame of the

candle had suddenly turned blue. She then felt icy cold, and was much

startled on hearing a loud clatter as of some metal instrument on the

stone floor in the far-off corner of the cellar. Glancing in the

direction of the noise, she saw, looking at her, two eyes--two

obliquely set, lurid, light eyes, full of the utmost devilry. Sick

with terror and utterly unable to account for what she beheld, she

stood stock-still, her limbs refusing to move, her throat parched, her

tongue tied. The clanging was repeated, and a shadowy form began

slowly to crawl towards her. She dared not afterwards surmise what

would have happened to her, had not the Laird himself come down at

this moment. At the sound of his stentorian voice the phantasm

vanished. But the shock had been too much for Letty; she fainted, and

the Admiral, carrying her upstairs as carefully as if she had been his

own daughter, gave peremptory orders that she should never again be

allowed to go into the cellar alone.



But now that Letty herself had witnessed a manifestation, the other

servants no longer felt bound to secrecy, and soon poured into her

ears endless accounts of the hauntings.



Every one, they informed her, except Master Gregory and Perkins (the

butler) had seen one or other of the ghosts, and the cellar

apparition was quite familiar to them all. They also declared that

there were other parts of the house quite as badly haunted as the

cellar, and it might have been partly owing to these gruesome stories

that poor Letty always felt scared, when crossing the passages leading

to the attics. As she was hastening down one of them, early one

morning, she heard some one running after her. Thinking it was one of

the other servants, she turned round, pleased to think that some one

else was up early too, and saw to her horror a dreadful-looking

object, that seemed to be partly human and partly animal. The body was

quite small, and its face bloated, and covered with yellow spots. It

had an enormous animal mouth, the lips of which, moving furiously

without emitting any sound, showed that the creature was endeavouring

to speak but could not. The moment Letty screamed for help the

phantasm vanished.



But her worst experience was yet to come. The spare attic which she

was told was so badly haunted that no one would sleep in it, was the

room next to hers. It was a room Letty could well believe was

haunted, for she had never seen another equally gloomy. The ceiling

was low and sloping, the window tiny, and the walls exhibited all

sorts of odd nooks and crannies. A bed, antique and worm-eaten, stood

in one recess, a black oak chest in another, and at right angles with

the door, in another recess, stood a wardrobe that used to creak and

groan alarmingly every time Letty walked a long the passage. Once she

heard a chuckle, a low, diabolical chuckle, which she fancied came

from the chest; and once, when the door of the room was open, she

caught the glitter of a pair of eyes--the same pale, malevolent eyes

that had so frightened her in the cellar. From her earliest childhood

Letty had been periodically given to somnambulism, and one night, just

about a year after she went into service, she got out of bed, and

walked, in her sleep, into the Haunted Room. She awoke to find herself

standing, cold and shivering, in the middle of the floor, and it was

some seconds before she realised where she was. Her horror, when she

did discover where she was, is not easily described. The room was

bathed in moonlight, and the beams, falling with noticeable

brilliancy on each piece of furniture the room contained, at once

riveted Letty's attention, and so fascinated her that she found

herself utterly unable to move. A terrible and most unusual silence

predominated everywhere, and although Letty's senses were wonderfully

and painfully on the alert, she could not catch the slightest sound

from any of the rooms on the landing.



The night was absolutely still, no breath of wind, no rustle of

leaves, no flapping of ivy against the window; yet the door suddenly

swung back on its hinges and slammed furiously. Letty felt that this

was the work of some supernatural agency, and, fully expecting that

the noise had awakened the cook, who was a light sleeper (or pretended

she was), listened in a fever of excitement to hear her get out of bed

and call out. The slightest noise and the spell that held her prisoner

would, Letty felt sure, be broken. But the same unbroken silence

prevailed. A sudden rustling made Letty glance fearfully at the bed;

and she perceived, to her terror, the valance swaying violently, to

and fro. Sick with fear, she was now constrained to stare in abject

helplessness. Presently there was a slight, very slight movement on

the mattress, the white dust cover rose, and, under it, Letty saw the

outlines of what she took to be a human figure, gradually take shape.

Hoping, praying, that she was mistaken, and that what appeared to be

on the bed was but a trick of her imagination, she continued staring

in an agony of anticipation. But the figure remained--extended at full

length like a corpse. The minutes slowly passed, a church clock boomed

two, and the body moved. Letty's jaw fell, her eyes almost bulged from

her head, whilst her fingers closed convulsively on the folds of her

night-dress. The unmistakable sound of breathing now issued from the

region of the bed, and the dust-cover commenced slowly to slip aside.

Inch by inch it moved, until first of all Letty saw a few wisps of

dark hair, then a few more, then a thick cluster; then something white

and shining--a protruding forehead; then dark, very dark brows; then

two eyelids, yellow, swollen, and fortunately tightly closed; then--a

purple conglomeration of Letty knew not what--of anything but what

was human. The sight was so monstrous it appalled her; and she was

overcome with a species of awe and repulsion, for which the language

of mortality has no sufficiently energetic expression. She momentarily

forgot that what she looked on was merely superphysical, but regarded

it as something alive, something that ought to have been a child,

comely and healthy as herself--and she hated it. It was an outrage on

maternity, a blot on nature, a filthy discredit to the house, a

blight, a sore, a gangrene. It turned over in its sleep, the cover was

hurled aside, and a grotesque object, round, pulpy, webbed, and of

leprous whiteness--an object which Letty could hardly associate with a

hand--came grovelling out. Letty's stomach heaved; the thing was

beastly, indecent, vile, it ought not to live! And the idea of killing

flashed through her mind. Boiling over with indignation and absurdly

forgetful of her surroundings, she turned round and groped for a stone

to smash it. The moonlight on her naked toes brought her to her

senses--the thing in the bed was a devil! Though brought up a member

of the Free Church, with an abhorrence of anything that could in any

way be contorted into Papist practices, Letty crossed herself. As she

did so, a noise in the passage outside augmented her terror. She

strained her ears painfully, and the sound developed into a footstep,

soft, light, and surreptitious. It came gently towards the door; it

paused outside, and Letty intuitively felt that it was listening. Her

suspense was now so intolerable, that it was almost with a feeling of

relief that she beheld the door slowly--very slowly--begin to open. A

little wider--a little wider--and yet a little wider; but still

nothing came. Ah! Letty's heart turned to ice. Another inch, and a

shadowy something slipped through and began to wriggle itself

stealthily over the floor. Letty tried to divert her gaze, but could

not--an irresistible, magnetic attraction kept her eyes glued to the

gradually approaching horror. When within a few feet of her it halted;

and again Letty felt it was listening--listening to the breathing on

the bed, which was heavy and bestial. Then it twisted round, and Letty

watched it crawl into the wardrobe. After this there was a long and

anxious wait. Then Letty saw the wardrobe door slyly open, and the

eyes of the cellar--inexpressibly baleful, and glittering like

burnished steel in the strong phosphorescent glow of the moon, peep

out,--not at her but through her,--at the object lying on the bed.

There were not only eyes, this time, but a form,--vague, misty, and

irregular, but still with sufficient shape to enable Letty to identify

it as that of a woman, tall and thin, and with a total absence of

hair, which was emphasised in the most lurid and ghastly fashion. With

a snakelike movement, the evil thing slithered out of the wardrobe,

and, gliding past Letty, approached the bed. Letty was obliged to

follow every proceeding. She saw the thing deftly snatch the bolster

from under the sleeping head; noted the gleam of hellish satisfaction

in its eyes as it pressed the bolster down; and watched the murdered

creature's contortions grow fainter, and fainter, until they finally

ceased. The eyes then left the room; and from afar off, away below, in

the abysmal cellars of the house, came the sound of digging--faint,

very faint, but unquestionably digging. This terminated the grim,

phantasmal drama for that night at least, and Letty, chilled to the

bone, but thoroughly alert, escaped to her room. She spent her few

remaining hours of rest wide-awake, determining never to go to bed

again without fastening one of her arms to the iron staples.



With regard the history of the house, Letty never learned anything

more remarkable than that, long ago, an idiot child was supposed to

have been murdered in the haunted attic--by whom, tradition did not

say. The Admiral and his family left Pringle's Mansion the year Letty

became Miss South's nurse, and as no one would stay in the house,

presumably on account of the hauntings, it was pulled down, and an

inexcusably inartistic edifice was erected in its place.





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