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By The Shrine Of Saint Cuthbert

Scary Books: Border Ghost Stories

The bells were ringing to evensong in the great cathedral dedicated to

Saint Cuthbert, that stands like a fortress on its rock above the

murmuring Wear--

'Half house of God, half castle 'gainst the Scot'--

in the windy dusk of a November evening.

The people of the saint, however--the 'Haliwer folc,' the 'folk of the

Holy Man'--were few in attendance that afternoon, and the
reat nave

seemed very empty as I sat down in a seat in front of the 'Galilee'

beside the north door of entry.

I looked about me and admired the mighty Norman pillars diapered and

fluted with exceeding skill by the great master builders of old, who

built to, even as their great duke swore by, the 'Splendour of God.' My

eye wandered upward and rested upon the great chevrons resembling

sword-cuts that seemed deep-hacked within the rounded arches of the

Triforium. Thence onward my gaze fluttered like a butterfly, and rested

upon a leering corbel, which seemed to scoff at priest and priest-craft

with protruding tongue. The mighty stone roof soaring aloft--a ship's

keel upturned--drew my eye eastward to the choir; there on the great

east window, rose-shaped and many-coloured, the invading dusk gathered

like water-drops upon the panes, and wove its dun mantle over them. The

anthem now pealed along the roof, lapping capitals, corbels, and pillars

in a tide of sound that swept unresisted through the wide spaces of the


As the echoing song grew fainter, and ebbed away into the twilight

shadows, my gaze returned to my immediate surroundings, and rested

unconcernedly upon a man sitting a seat or two in front of me, beside

one of the massive piers. He seemed to be in a most distressed and

nervous condition, for he peered about him with an evident alarm, which

was pitiful to witness. As he turned his face about I saw it was haggard

with fear and sorrow, or remorse; his hair was matted, and beads of

sweat were thick upon his brow.

It was as if he were terrified of impending danger. Yet what could he be

afraid of in the great calm of the solemn cathedral? The benediction had

been given, and the sparse congregation had now risen and was slowly

departing, yet he rose not, but seemed to be hiding from view as he

crouched behind the form in front of him, and edged his way slowly

within the shadow of the heavy pier to his left hand.

I sat on listening to the voluntary, and it held me by its strangeness.

I knew that the Dean and Chapter's organist was away on holiday, and I

wondered who the strange player might be who was setting forth his own

soul in the notes of the pealing organ. He sang of fellowship, of

comradeship in ancient days through stress of adventure and deadly

combat; then with organ sobs that shook the heart, of death and the

infinite loneliness of death, and of the inappeasable sorrow of the

survivor lamenting his Jonathan. A pause of black silence. Then brokenly

a little sough of life began to re-arise--a growth of hope--the fierce

determination of revenge--quickening with flame--breaking into triumph.

And now as the lights were being turned out, and gloom came rushing in

upon the empty spaces of the cathedral I saw the unhappy figure shift

indecisively as he rose from his seat in front of me, glance hurriedly

about as if for a way of escape, then moving unsteadily round the pier,

to my surprise he shuffled off in the direction of the organ. The music

seemed to fascinate him, to paralyse his will, even as the sphex

paralyses its victim with its sting.

The organist was now engaged upon the coda of his fugue; the former

motifs were rehearsed--love, sorrow, and revenge. Triumph resounded from

the loft when I heard above the quickening notes a sudden patter of

heels across the nave; then a pitiful drumming of fists upon the barred

door that led into the east corner of the cloisters. Knowing that escape

that way was now impossible for the distracted man, and feeling pity for

him, I crossed the nave and followed after him in the gloom. As I drew

near I heard him flee again--down the south aisle to the other door of

the cloisters. Here once more he shook unavailingly upon the latch, and

drummed pitifully with his fists. There was a scrabbling with nails on

the oaken door--then a cry of anguish smote on my ear. An awful terror

evidently had him in grip.

He rushed wildly on again--on--on to the only remaining door of escape

into the northern close. Suddenly the music stopped on a throb of joy.

The shock caused me to halt. As I started again to walk towards the door

I heard no longer the miserable patter of feet in front of me. I was

just about to reach out a hand to feel for the latch in the darkness

when I stumbled over an obstacle on the pavement. I knelt down and felt

about with my hands: I found a man's body lying inert at my feet.

God in Heaven! The darkness seemed to buffet me upon the ears. I heard a

vague cry escape my lips, for the fugitive's hand had dropped from mine

with a thud upon the stone. The man was dead.