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The Floating Head Of The Benrachett Inn Near The Perth Road Dundee

Scary Books: Scottish Ghost Stories

Some years ago, when I was engaged in collecting cases for a book I

contemplated publishing, on Haunted Houses in England and Wales, I

was introduced to an Irish clergyman, whose name I have forgotten, and

whom I have never met since. Had the incident he related taken place

in England or Wales, I should have noted it down carefully, but as it

occurred in Scotland (and I had no intention then of bringing out a

volume on
Scottish phantasms), I did not do so.

My memory, however, I can assure my readers, in spite of the many

ghost tales committed to it,--for scarcely a day passes that I do not

hear one,--seldom fails, and the Irish clergyman's story, which I am

about to relate, comes back to me now with startling vividness.

One summer evening, early in the eighties, Mr. Murphy--the name by

which I will designate the originator of this story--and his wife

arrived in Dundee. The town was utterly unknown to them, and they were

touring Scotland for the first time. Not knowing where to put up for

the night, and knowing no one to whom they could apply for

information, they consulted a local paper, and from the long list of

hotels and boarding-houses advertised therein selected the Benrachett

Inn, near the Perth Road, as being the one most likely to meet their

modest requirements. They were certainly not disappointed with the

exterior of the hotel they had chosen, for as soon as they saw it they

exclaimed simultaneously, What a delightful old place! And old it

certainly was, for the many-gabled, oaken structure and projecting

windows unquestionably indicated the sixteenth century, whilst, to

enhance the effect and give it a true touch in detail of ye ancient

times, a huge antique lantern was hung over the entrance. Nor did the

interior impress them less favourably. The rooms were large, and low,

the ceilings, walls, floors, and staircase all of oak. The

diamond-lattice windows, and narrow, tortuous passages, and

innumerable nooks and crannies and cupboards, created an atmosphere of

combined quaintness and comfort that irresistibly appealed to the

Murphys. Viewed under the searching rays of the sun, and cheered by

the voices of the visitors, the interior of the house, for artistic

taste and cheerfulness, would indeed be hard to beat; but, as Mrs.

Murphy's eyes wandered up the stairs and down the corridors, she was

filled with misgivings as to how the place would strike her at night.

Though not nervous naturally, and by no means superstitious, at night,

when the house was dark and silent, and the moon called forth the

shadows, she was not without that feeling of uneasiness which most

people--even avowed sceptics, experience when passing the night in

strange and novel quarters.

The room they engaged--I cannot say selected, as, the hotel being

full, they had Hobson's choice--was at the end of a very long

passage, at the back of the house, and overlooking the yard. It was a

large apartment, and in one of its several recesses stood the bed, a

gigantic, ebony four-poster, with spotlessly clean valance, and, what

was of even greater importance, well-aired sheets. The other furniture

in the room, being of the same sort as that in the majority of

old-fashioned hostels, needs no description; but a fixture in the

shape of a cupboard, a deep, dark cupboard, let into the wall facing

the bed, instantly attracted Mrs. Murphy's attention. There is always

something interesting in cupboards, particularly old and roomy

cupboards, when it is night-time and one is about to get into bed. It

is then that they suggest all manner of fascinating possibilities.

It was to this cupboard, then, that Mrs. Murphy paid the greatest

attention, before commencing to undress prior to getting into bed. She

poked about in it for some moments, and then, apparently satisfied

that no one was hidden there, continued her investigation of the room.

Mr. Murphy did not assist--he pleaded fatigue, and sat on the corner

of the bed munching a gingerbread and reading the Dundee Advertiser

till the operation was over. He then helped Mrs. Murphy unpack their

portmanteau, and, during the process, whiled away so much time in

conversation, that they were both startled when a clock from some

adjacent church solemnly boomed twelve. They were then seized with

something approaching a panic, and hastened to disrobe.

I wish we had a night-light, John, Mrs. Murphy said, as she got up

from her prayers. I suppose it wouldn't do to keep one of the candles

burning. I am not exactly afraid, only I don't fancy being left in the

dark. I had a curious sensation when I was in the cupboard just now--I

can't exactly explain it--but I feel now that I would like the light

left burning.

It certainly is rather a gloomy room, Mr. Murphy remarked, raising

his eyes to the black oak ceiling, and then allowing them to dwell in

turn on each of the angles and recesses. And I agree with you it

would be nice if we had a night-light, or, better still, gas. But as

we haven't, my dear, and we shall be on our feet a good deal

to-morrow, I think we ought to try and get to sleep as soon as


He blew out the candle as he spoke, and quickly scrambled into bed. A

long hush followed, broken only by the sound of breathing, and an

occasional ticking as of some long-legged creature on the wall and

window-blind. Mrs. Murphy could never remember if she actually went to

sleep, but she is sure her husband did, as she distinctly heard him

snore--and the sound, so detestable to her as a rule, was so welcome

to her then. She was lying listening to it, and wishing with all her

soul she could get to sleep, when she suddenly became aware of a

smell--a most offensive, pungent odour, that blew across the room and

crept up her nostrils. The cold perspiration of fear at once broke out

on her forehead. Nasty as the smell was, it suggested something more

horrible, something she dared not attempt to analyse. She thought

several times of rousing her husband, but, remembering how tired he

had been, she desisted, and, with all her faculties abnormally on the

alert, she lay awake and listened. A deathlike hush hung over the

house, interrupted at intervals by the surreptitious noises peculiar

to the night--enigmatical creaks and footsteps, rustlings as of

drapery, sighs and whisperings--all very faint, all very subtle, and

all possibly, just possibly, attributable to natural causes. Mrs.

Murphy caught herself--why, she could not say--waiting for some

definite auditory manifestation of what she instinctively felt was

near at hand. At present, however, she could not locate it, she could

only speculate on its whereabouts--it was somewhere in the direction

of the cupboard. And each time the stench came to her, the conviction

that its origin was in the cupboard grew. At last, unable to sustain

the suspense any longer, and urged on by an irresistible fascination,

she got softly out of bed, and, creeping stealthily forward, found her

way with surprisingly little difficulty (considering it was pitch dark

and the room was unfamiliar to her) to the cupboard.

With every step she took the stink increased, and by the time she had

reached the cupboard she was almost suffocated. For some seconds she

toyed irresolutely with the door handle, longing to be back again in

bed, but unable to tear herself away from the cupboard. At last,

yielding to the demands of some pitilessly exacting unknown influence,

she held her breath and swung open the door. The moment she did so the

room filled with the faint, phosphorescent glow of decay, and she

saw, exactly opposite her, a head--a human head--floating in mid-air.

Petrified with terror, she lost every atom of strength, and, entirely

bereft of the power to move or articulate a sound, she stood

stock-still staring at it. That it was the head of a man, she could

only guess from the matted crop of short red hair that fell in a

disordered entanglement over the upper part of the forehead and ears.

All else was lost in a loathsome, disgusting mass of detestable

decomposition, too utterly vile and foul to describe. On the abnormal

thing beginning to move forward, the spell that bound Mrs. Murphy to

the floor was broken, and, with a cry of horror, she fled to the bed

and awoke her husband.

The head was by this time close to them, and had not Mrs. Murphy

dragged her husband forcibly out of its way, it would have touched


His terror was even greater than hers; but for the moment neither

could speak. They stood clutching one another in an awful silence.

Mrs. Murphy at length gasped out, Pray, John, pray! Command the thing

in the name of God to depart. Mr. Murphy made a desperate effort to

do so, but not a syllable would come. The head now veered round and

was moving swiftly towards them, its awful stench causing them both to

retch and vomit. Mr. Murphy, seizing his stick, lashed at it with all

his might. The result was one they might well have expected. The stick

met with no resistance, and the head continued to advance. Both Mr.

and Mrs. Murphy then made a frantic attempt to find the door, the head

still pursuing them, and, tripping over something in their wild haste,

fell together on the floor. There was now no hope, the head had caught

them up; it hovered immediately above them, and, descending lower,

lower, and lower, finally passed right through them, through the

floor, and out of sight. It was long ere either of them could

sufficiently recover to stir from the floor, and when they did move,

it was only to totter to their bed, and to lie with the bedclothes

well over their heads, quivering and quaking till the morning.

The hot morning sun dissipating their fears, they got up, and,

hurrying downstairs, demanded an interview with their landlord. It was

in vain the latter argued it was all a nightmare they showed the

absurdity of such a theory by vehemently attesting they had both

simultaneously experienced the phenomena. They were about to take

their departure, when the landlord, retracting all he had said,

offered them another room and any terms they liked, if only they

would stay and hold their tongues.

I know every word of what you say is true, he said, in such

submissive tones that the tender hearts of Mr. and Mrs. Murphy

instantly relented, and they promised to remain. But what am I to do?

I cannot shut up a house which I have taken on a twenty years' lease,

because one room in it is haunted--and, after all, there is only one

visitor in twenty who is disturbed by the apparition. What is the

history of the head? Why, it is said to be that of a pedlar who was

murdered here over a hundred years ago. The body was hidden behind the

wainscoting, and his head under the cupboard floor. The miscreants

were never caught; they are supposed to have gone down in a ship that

sailed from this port just about that time and was never heard of


This is the gist of the story the clergyman told me, and, believing

it as I undoubtedly do to be true, there is every reason to suppose

that the inn, to which I have, of course, given a fictitious name, if

still in existence, is still haunted.