The Alleged Haunting of B[allechin] House
The following is from The Alleged Haunting of B[allechin] House:
On The Trail of a Ghost
To the Editor of "The Times"
"SIR,--In your issue of the 8th, under the above heading, 'A Correspondent' tries at some length to describe what he calls a most impudent imposture. I having lived at B[allechin] for three months in the autumn of last year as butler to the house, I thought perhaps my experience of the ghost of B[allechin] might be of interest to many of your readers, and as the story has now become public property, I shall not be doing any one an injury by telling what I know of the mystery.
"On July 15, 1896, I was sent by Mr. H----, with two maidservants, to take charge of B[allechin] from Mr. S----'s agents. I was there three days before the arrival of any one of the family, and during that time I heard nothing to disturb me in any way; but on the morning after the arrival of two of the family, Master and Miss H----, they came down with long faces, giving accounts of ghostly noises they had heard during the night, but I tried to dissuade them from such nonsense, as I then considered it to be; but on the following two or three nights the same kind of noises were heard by them, and also by the maidservants, who slept in the rooms above, and they all became positively frightened. I heard nothing whatever, though the noises, as they described them, would have been enough to wake any one much farther away than where I slept, for the noises they heard were made immediately over my room. I suggested the hot-water pipes or the twigs of ivy knocking against the windows, but no--nothing would persuade them but that the house was haunted; but as the noises continued to be heard nightly, I suggested that I should sit up alone, and without a light, outside their bedroom doors, where the footsteps and other rustling noises were heard. I think one other member of the family, or two young gentlemen, had arrived at this time, and they had also heard the noises. I told them of my intention to sit up alone, for as one of them had a revolver I did not want to run the risk of being shot for a ghost. However, I took my post on the landing at 11.30 and kept watch, I am certain, until half-past one; then I must have fallen asleep, for about two o'clock Master H----, hearing the knocking as usual, came out of his room to hear if I had seen or heard anything, but found me fast asleep on the floor, which gave him a greater fright than the knocking, for he supposed for the moment that I had been slain by the ghost.
"This kind of thing went on nightly, and for three weeks I heard nothing, although nearly every one in the house heard these noises except myself; but my turn had yet to come, although I firmly held the opinion during that time that it was the hot-water pipes, and I only laughed at the others for their absurd nonsense, as I then considered it to be; but my first experience was that of being awakened three successive nights, or rather mornings, at about 3.30. I heard nothing, but seemed to be wide awake in an instant, as though some one had touched me. I would stay awake for some little time and then go to sleep again; but on the fourth night, on being awakened as before, and lying awake for perhaps two minutes, I heard tremendous thumping just outside my door. I jumped out of bed quickly, and opened my door, and called out in a loud voice, 'Who is there?' but got no answer. I ascended the stairs and listened for a few minutes, but heard no further knocking. I then went back to my room, but did not sleep againthat morning.
"I may mention that my room was the one described by 'A Correspondent' as the butler's room under No. 3, the room where most noises were heard, and the staircase was the service one, and as there is a door at the top, if any one had come there to make the noise I should certainly have heard them beating a retreat.
"The same thing happened with variations almost nightly for the succeeding two months that I was there, and every visitor that came to the house was disturbed in the same manner. One gentleman (a colonel) told me he was awakened on several occasions with the feeling that some one was pulling the bedclothes off him; sometimes heavy footsteps were heard, at others like the rustling of a lady's dress; and sometimes groans were heard, but nearly always accompanied with heavy knocking; sometimes the whole house would be aroused. One night I remember five gentlemen meeting at the top of the stairs in their night-suits, some with sticks or pokers, one had a revolver, vowing vengeance on the disturbers of their sleep. During the two months after I first heard the noises I kept watch altogether about twelve times in various parts of the house, mostly unknown to others (at the time), and have heard the noises in the wing as well as other parts.
"When watching I always experienced a peculiar sensation a few minutes before hearing any noise. I can only describe it as like suddenly entering an ice-house, and a feeling that some one was present and about to speak to me. On three different nights I was awakened by my bedclothes being pulled off my feet. But the worst night I had at B[allechin] was one night about the second week in September, and I shall never forget it as long as I live. I had been keeping watch with two gentlemen--one a visitor, the other one of the house. We were sitting in room No. 2, and heard the noises that I have described about half-past two. Both gentlemen were very much alarmed; but we searched everywhere, but could not find any trace of the ghost or cause of the noises, although they came this time from an unoccupied room. (I may mention that the noises were never heard in the daytime, as stated by 'A Correspondent,' but always between twelve, midnight, and four in the morning, generally between two and four o'clock.) After a thorough search the two gentlemen went to bed sadder, but not wiser men, for we had discovered nothing. I then went to my room, but not to bed, for I was not satisfied, and decided to continue the watch alone. So I seated myself on the service stairs, close to where the water-pipes passed up the wall, so as to decide once and for all if the sounds came in any way from the water-pipes.
"I had not long to wait (about twenty minutes) when the knocking recommenced from the same direction as before, but much louder than before, followed, after a very short interval, by two distinct groans, which certainly made me feel very uncomfortable, for it sounded like some one being stabbed and then falling to the floor. That was enough for me. I went and asked the two gentlemen who had just gone to bed if they had heard anything. One said he had heard five knocks and two groans, the same as I had; while the other (whose room was much nearer to where the sounds came from) said he had heard nothing. I then retired to my bed, but not to sleep, for I had not been in bed three minutes before I experienced the sensation as before, but instead of being followed by knocking, my bedclothes were lifted up and let fall again--first at the foot of my bed, but gradually coming towards my head. I held the clothes around my neck with my hands, but they were gently lifted in spite of my efforts to hold them. I then reached around me with my hand, but could feel nothing. This was immediately followed by my being fanned as though some bird was flying around my head, and I could distinctly hear and feel something breathing on me. I then tried to reach some matches that were on a chair by my bedside, but my hand was held back as if by some invisible power. Then the thing seemed to retire to the foot of my bed. Then I suddenly found the foot of my bed lifted up and carried around towards the window for about three or four feet, then replaced to its former position. All this did not take, I should think, more than two or three minutes, although at the time it seemed hours to me. Just then the clock struck four, and, being tired out with my long night's watching, I fell asleep. This, Mr. Editor, is some of my experiences while at B[allechin].
"As to 'A Correspondent's' interviews with local people:--
"As to the old caretaker, she is an old woman, very deaf, and she always occupied a room on the ground floor, where, during the three months that I was there, nothing whatever was heard, as my two footmen slept there, and they did not hear any noises. As to the intelligent gardener, if it is the same one that was there when I was there, he, surely, has not forgotten the night he spent with me in my room; he was nearly frightened out of his wits, and declared he would not spend another night in my room for any money--a fact that the factor or steward and others well know.
"There are many other incidents in my experience with the mystery of B[allechin], but I hope this is sufficient for the purpose I intend it--namely, for the truth to be known, for I have no other motive in writing this letter; for I have left the service of the house some months now. But as to your correspondent's statement that some of the house were doing it, it is simply absurd; for in turn they were all away from B[allechin] for a week or fortnight, and still these noises were heard. Another thing; is it possible for any one to keep up a joke like that for three months? or, if any one had been doing it, I should certainly have caught them; and I can assure you that the house were very much annoyed with it, not only for themselves, but for their visitors, for I have sat up all night with some of them, who were afraid to go to their beds: and I think that if 'A Correspondent' had stayed as long in B[allechin] as I did, and had had some of my experiences, he would have a very different tale to tell, although up to my going to B[allechin] I would laugh at any one who told me there were such things as ghosts; and even now I am not quite convinced; but of one thing I am certain--that is, that there is something supernatural in the noises and things that I heard and experienced at B[allechin]. Thanking you, dear sir, in anticipation of your inserting this letter, I remain your obedient servant,
The passage in The Times article is as follows:--
"An intelligent gardener whom I questioned told me that he had kept watch in the house on two separate occasions, abstaining from sleep until daylight appeared at seven o'clock, but without hearing a sound. A caretaker, who had spent months in the house, and who had to keep a stove alight all night, never heard a sound, probably because there was no one to make any."
The gardener's evidence on this point will be found on p. 218.
Without admitting, for one moment, the theory that a servant's evidence may not be of equal value with that of the so-called educated classes, it was thought desirable, before admitting that of Sanders, to make some inquiries as to his character, intelligence, and capacity for observation. His employer spoke well of him, and Colonel Taylor had the advantage of a personal interview with him, which he thus describes:--
"July 18th, 1897--I went to Coventry yesterday, and saw Sanders the butler. He is a slight, dark young man, and, as far as I could judge, quite honest and serious over the B[allechin] affair. He assured me that he had written the letter to The Times without any advice or assistance, and that all he wrote was absolutely true. I gathered from him, indirectly, that before his B[allechin] experience he knew nothing of ghosts, spiritualism, or any occult matter, and does not now. He was much astonished when I told him that the feeling which he describes as like walking into an ice-house was a common one under the circumstances. He said he omitted in his letter many small personal matters, such as the following:-- During the manifestation in his room, when his bed was shifted, and when he felt as if some one was making 'passes' over him, and breathing in his face, he made the sign of the Cross, on which the 'influence' receded from him, but approached again almost at once. After repeating this a few times with the same result, he crossed his arms over his chest, and holding the bedclothes close up to his chin, went to sleep. He was at no time afraid. He said things were more active during the stay of Father 'I.' than at any other time, and that one of the young H----s had seen a veiled lady pass through his room."
The following paragraph in the letter of The Times correspondent called forth the subjoined letter from Mr. H---- himself, the tenant of B[allechin]:--
"The only mystery in the matter seems to be the mode in which a prosaic and ordinary dwelling was endowed with so evil a reputation. I was assured in London that it had had this reputation for twenty or thirty years. The family lawyer in P---- asserted most positively that there had never been a whisper of such a thing until the house was let for last year's shooting season to a family, whom I may call the H----s. I was told the same thing in equally positive terms by the minister of the parish, a level-headed man from B----shire, who has lived in the place for twenty years. He told me that some of the younger members of the H---- family had indulged in practical jokes, and boasted of them. One of their pranks was to drop or throw a weight upon the floor, and to draw it back by means of a string. Another seems to have been to thump on bedroom doors with a boot-heel, the unmistakable marks of which remain to this day, and were pointed out to me by our hostess. If there are really any noises not referable to ordinary domestic causes, it is not improbable that these practical jokers made a confidant of some one about the estate, who amuses himself by occasionally--it is only occasionally that the more remarkable noises are said to be heard--repeating their tricks. The steward or factor on the estate concurs with the lawyer and the minister in denying that the house had any reputation for being haunted before the advent of the H---- family. Yet he is a Highlander, and not without superstition; for he gave it as his opinion that if there was anything in these noises, they must be due to Black Art. Asked what Black Art might be, he said he could not tell, but he had often heard about it, and had been told that when once set going it would go on without the assistance of its authors. He was quite clear, however that if there is Black Art, it came in with the H---- family."
Mr. H----'s rejoinder, which appeared in The Times, was dated June 10th:--
To the Editor of "The Times"
"SIR,--I must ask you to be good enough to publish, on behalf of the tenant of B[allechin], a few remarks on the article that appeared in your paper of the 8th inst. with the heading 'On the Trail of a Ghost.' The writer of that article finds a very easy solution to the mystery by attacking a private family who happened to be tenants of B[allechin] for a short time, and making them a 'scapegoat' for his argument. I do not quite understand if your correspondent pretends to assert that the place had not the reputation of being haunted previous to my tenancy for three months last year; probably he does not charge me with originating such reports, as he mentions a story of the visit of a Catholic Archbishop to the house to exorcise the ghost. This must have happened some time ago, and proves that the house was then supposed to be haunted. What your correspondent does state as a fact is, that the younger members of my family played practical jokes, which have given rise to Lord Bute's investigations. My object in writing to you is to deny most emphatically this statement. The principal proof that is brought forward to corroborate this slander is, that the doors are marked by the blows struck to produce the noises heard. Surely no one could be frightened after the cause and reason of the noises were once ascertained by the boot-marks! But there were no such marks on the doors when we left B[allechin]. Some of our guests were with us until very shortly before my family left, and can testify to this, for the good reason that in the endeavour to localise the extraordinary noises, all doors and other parts of the house were constantly examined up to the very last. When I went to B[allechin] at the beginning of August, my family had already been there a few days, and at once they told me they had found out the house was supposed to be haunted, and that they had heard most unaccountable noises. I had the greatest difficulty to persuade all my people to stay in the place, and after all, we left Scotland about the end of September, two months earlier than usual. I personally did not give any importance to the rumours that B[allechin] House is haunted, and attributed the very remarkable noises heard to the hot-water pipes and the peculiar way in which the house is built. In fact, I have to confess I cannot believe in ghosts, and, consequently, I did my best to persuade everybody that B[allechin] was not haunted, but I am afraid I was not always successful. I hope you will forgive me for taking up so much valuable space in your paper, but I had to do so in self-defence against a false accusation--Yours faithfully, H----."
It is believed that, in consequence of this letter, Mr. H---- was threatened with legal proceedings, which, however, have not yet been initiated.
The following is the account given of the same period by Miss "B.," a lady of some position in the literary world:--
"... We arrived there on Wednesday the 25th August, the house being then tenanted by Mr. J.R. H---- of K---- Court, C----, G----shire. The household consisted of Mr. and Mrs. H----, three sons, Miss H----, my sister and I, and two other guests, Colonel A---- and Major B----.
"We had rooms in the wing on the ground floor of the house, opening off the main hall, divided from the rest of the house by a long passage, and shut off by a swing-door. Our rooms opened off each other, and the inner room opened off a little sitting-room, which had a door with glass panels leading into the passage. The only other person who slept in that wing of the house was Mr. Willie H----, whose room was exactly opposite the door of our room.
"We heard a great deal of discussion about the 'ghost' when we arrived, and so that night my sister made me sleep in the inner room with her. We heard nothing that night. The next night I slept in the outer room, and neither of us heard anything. The third night, my sister being still a little nervous, I slept in the inner room with her. The door of the outer room was locked, the door between the rooms was locked, and there was a wardrobe placed against the door leading into the sitting-room. We both, having taken these precautions, fell sound asleep.
"I wakened suddenly in the middle of the night, and noticed how quiet the house was. Then I heard the clock strike two, and a few minutes later there came a crashing, vibrating batter against the door of the outer room. My sister was sleeping very soundly, but she started up in a moment at the noise, wide awake.
"'Some one must have done that,' she said; 'such a noise could never have been made by a ghost!'
"But neither of us had the courage to go out into the passage! The noise lasted, I should say, for only two or three seconds, and ceased as suddenly as it had begun. We lay awake till the light came in, but the house was quite quiet. I may mention, as against the 'supernatural' origin of the sound, that it came against the outer door, did not pass in to the inner one, and avoided the glass-panelled door of the sitting-room, which would certainly have been shivered by the application of force sufficient to produce such noise. Another very curious thing was, that on the nights when it came to our door (we only heard it once, but other visitors heard it often) Willie H---- heard nothing; whereas on the nights when he was disturbed, we heard nothing, yet the rooms were close together.
"The following night my sister and Miss H---- and two of her brothers sat up all night in the morning-room, which opened off the main hall. We sat with the door open and in the dark, but neither heard or saw anything; the house was absolutely still.
"The next night my sister and I stayed in Miss H----'s room, watching with her. It was on the third storey of the house, and on a line with the specially haunted room, then occupied by Colonel A----. Two of the men sat up downstairs.
"After 2.30 Mr. Eustace H---- came and told his sister we need not sit up later, as everything was so quiet, and the noises seldom came after that hour. He went to his room then, but his door was scarcely closed when we all heard a loud knocking at Colonel A----'s door. We ran out, without waiting a moment, into the passage, where the lamps were still burning brightly, but it was absolutely empty and quiet. We heard it several times that night in distant parts of the house, and once we heard a scream, which seemed to come from overhead. We stayed six daysin the house after this, but heard nothing more ourselves, though every one else in the house was disturbed nightly."
The Major B---- mentioned in the above statement has been good enough to furnish the following note as to his personal impressions:--
"On 22nd August 1896 I arrived at B[allechin], and remained there until the 2nd September. During this period I slept in the room on the first floor, which is at the end of a short corridor running from the top of the back stairs to my room [No. 1].
"Colonel A---- occupied the room next to me [No. 3]. It was a double room, connected by a door, and was situated just at the top of the back stair.
"August 24th, about 3.30 A.M., I heard very loud knocking, apparently on Colonel A----'s door, about nine raps in all--three raps quickly, one after the other, then three more the same, and three more the same. It was as if some one was hitting the door with his fist as hard as he could hit. I left my room at once, but could find nothing to account for the noise. It was broad daylight at the time. I heard the same noises on the 28th and 30th August at about the same hour, viz. between 3 and 4 A.M."
The following, which adds somewhat to the above, was contained in a private letter written in January 1897 from Major B---- to the Hon. E---- F----:--
"Between two and four in the morning there used to be noises on the door (of Colonel A----'s room), as if a very strong man were hitting the panels as hard as ever he could hit, three times in quick succession--a pause, and then three times again in quick succession, and perhaps another go. It was so loud that I thought it was on the door of his dressing-room, but he said he thought it was on his bedroom door. One theory is, that it was the hot water in the pipes getting cold, which, I am told, would make a loud throbbing noise. I tripped out pretty quick the first time I heard it, but could see nothing. Of course it is broad daylight in Scotland then.
"The same banging was, I believe, heard on one of the bedroom doors down the passage, in the wing on the ground floor, and on investigation I found there were hot-water pipes just outside that door as well. There were yarns innumerable while I was there about shrieks and footsteps heard, and bedclothes torn off. But I did not experience these.... I don't think the noises were done by a practical joker, as there were too many people on the alert...."
The Hon. E---- F---- wrote to Miss Freer on March 4th:--
"... [Major] B---- is now in London, and I have seen him twice. He says (1) the hot-water pipe theory is not his own, but was suggested by an engineer friend. He should not himself have thought that hot-water pipes could make so big a noise. Besides, Colonel A---- described the noise as a banging either against the door itself, or against the door of the wardrobe inside the room.... (2) He, B----, heard the noise himself several times and bolted out into the passage at once, but saw nothing. The noise sounded like a very loud banging at A----'s door.... (3) He confirms the story about A---- being unable to sleep, and says he used to go to sleep on the moor in consequence."
During Colonel Taylor's tenancy similar noises were heard, both when the water was totally cut off and when, from some defect in the apparatus, it never reached a high temperature.
The Colonel A---- referred to, corroborates this account, as follows, in a letter to Major B----:
"MY DEAR B----, You write asking me about B[allechin] House and its spook. Well, I never saw anything, and what I heard was what you heard, a terrific banging at one's bedroom door, generally about from 2 to 3 A.M., about two nights out of three. Of course there were other yarns of things heard, &c., but I personally never heard or experienced anything else than this banging at the door, which I never could account for...."
Before passing from the subject of Colonel A----, it is as well to mention that after leaving B[allechin] he went to stay at another country house, and the butler there spoke to him of the haunting of B[allechin], where he himself was a servant some years before. This butler was asked for further information, but sent only the following reply:--
"Your note to hand regarding B[allechin]. I am afraid what I saw or heard would be of little value to your book, therefore I would rather say nothing."
It will be observed that, so far from denying the facts, he admits that he saw and heard certain things, which he refuses to describe;but as this evidence is circumstantial rather than direct, it is inserted here rather than in the place to which, chronologically, it would, if fuller, properly have belonged.
Mr. and Mrs. "G." were also guests at B[allechin] during the occupation of the H----s. Mrs. "G." published an account of her experiences in a magazine article, of course with fictitious names; but she affirms that she has in no sense "written up" the story, which, indeed, is entirely corroborated by other evidence:--
"October 9th, 1896--Some friends of mine took the place this year for the shooting, and, relying on the glowing description they had received, took it on trust, and in July last took possession of it without having previously seen it. For a few days all went well; the family established themselves in the old part of the house, leaving a new wing for their guests. The haunted room (for so I may justly call it) was inhabited by two or three persons in succession, who were so alarmed and disturbed by the violent knockings, shrieks, and groans which they heard every night, and which were also heard by many others along the same corridor, that they refused to sleep there after the first few nights. Those who serve under her Majesty's colours are proverbially brave; they will gladly die for their country, with sword in hand and face to the foe. For this reason a distinguished officer [Colonel A----, above quoted] was the next occupant of the haunted chamber, and was told nothing of its antecedents. The morning after his arrival he came down refreshed, and keen for the day's sport. I may here mention, no one is ever disturbed the first night of their stay. During the succeeding nights, however, he was continually roused from his slumbers by the most terrific noises, and want of sleep would cause him to become drowsy when out shooting on the moor, and would tempt him to make a bed of the purple heather and fragrant myrtle.
"A friend of mine, a man of great nerve and courage, next inhabited the room, and went through the same experiences. He took every possible means to discover the cause of the sounds, and failed in accounting for them in any way. He said the blows on the door were so violent he often looked, expecting to see it shattered to atoms. Since he left no one has been put into this room, but the noises continue, and are heard throughout the house. Even the dogs cannot be coaxed into this room, and if forced into it, they crouch with marked signs of fear.
"The disturbances take place between 12 and 4.30, and never at any other time. A young lady, of by no means timid disposition, and possessed of great presence of mind, has often heard the swing-door pushed open and footsteps coming along the corridor, pausing at the door. She has frequently looked out and seen nothing. The footsteps she has also heard in her room, and going round her bed. Many persons have had the same experiences, and many have heard the wild unearthly shriek which has rung through the house in the stillness of the night.
"I will now give my own experience. I arrived with my husband and daughter on September 17, having been duly warned by my friends of the nocturnal disturbances. We were put in rooms adjoining, at the end of the new wing. I kept a light in my room, but the first night all was still. Next night, about 2 A.M., a succession of thundering knocks came from the end of our passage, re-echoing through the house, where it was heard by many others. About half-an-hour afterwards my husband heard a piercing shriek; then all was still, save for the hooting of the owls in the neighbouring trees. When the grey dawn stole in it was welcome; so was the cheery sound of the bagpipes, as the kilted piper took his daily round in the early morning. The next night and succeeding ones we heard loud single knocks at different doors along our passage. The last night but one before we left I was roused from sleep by hearing the clock strike one, and immediately it had ceased six violent blows shook our own door on its hinges, and came with frightful rapidity, followed by deep groans. After this sleep was impossible. The next night, our last in Scotland, my husband and others watched in our passage all night, and though the sounds were again heard in different directions, nothing was to be seen. As I write, at the commencement of October, the house on the lonely hillside is deserted; the tenants have gone southwards; an old caretaker (too deaf to hear the weird sounds which nightly awaken the echoes) is the sole occupant. Even she closes up all before dusk, and retires into her quarters below; though she hears not, her sight is unimpaired, and she perhaps dreads to meet the hunchback figure which is said to glide up the stairs, or the shadowy form of a grey lady who paces with noiseless footfall the lonely corridor, and has been seen to pass through the door of one of the rooms. Within the last two months a man with bronzed complexion and bent figure has been seen by two gentlemen, friends of mine. They both describe him as having come through the door and passed through the room in which they were about three in the morning. I have tried to give a faithful and accurate account of these strange events. I leave it to each and all to form their own opinion on the matter."
Some passages in private letters to Miss Freer and Lord Bute written by Mrs. "G.," should be quoted as bearing upon some points in the above:--
"February 9th--I am going to ask you if you do go there [B[allechin] House] if you would let me know if you see or hear anything. I am immensely interested in it, as we stayed there in the autumn with some friends who took it, and anything more horribly haunted could not be. I never should have believed it if I had not been there."
After the appearance of The Times correspondent's accusation against the H---- family, Mrs. "G." wrote as follows to Lord Bute:--
"June 10th--If the noises complained of by nearly all who have stayed at B[allechin] were the result of practical jokes perpetrated by the H----s, how is it that not only were they heard by guests who stayed there years ago, but are admitted by members of the S---- family to have been heard by themselves? Miss Freer also has told me, that the same noises were heard at all hours day and night by herself and her guests for months after the H---- family and their servants had left Scotland. This so completely exonerates them from the absurd charge, that I should hardly have mentioned it, had not Miss Freer seemed quite under the impression that practical jokes had been played during the tenancy of the H----s; and as a proof of this, she told me that the doors, especially of two of the rooms, were marked with nailed boots, and the panels even split through, and this damage was attributed by her to the younger members of the H---- family. I am happy to say I was able to disabuse her mind of this idea, as we were staying at B[allechin] within a few days of their leaving Scotland, and I had most carefully examined the doors especially of the two rooms specified, one of which was our own room. There was not a scratch, nor the smallest mark or indentation; others can also vouch for this fact. The H----s had all left B[allechin] for good at that time, except the eldest son, and Miss Freer agreed with me that whatever damage was done to the doors, must therefore have been done after the H----s left, and before her party came in.... The hot-water pipe theory revived by the writer of the article in The Times is disproved by Miss Freer, who told me that the hot-water apparatus was not used for some time, and that the disturbances continued just the same.... The stories told in connection with B[allechin] were not circulated or started by the H---- family. They were told to them by persons living around B[allechin]."
In a letter to Miss Freer, dated June 12th, Mrs. "G." writes, in reference to the charge of practical joking:--
"They are the most unlikely family to do such a thing; and besides, if further proof were wanted, the young men of the family were away from B[allechin] when we stayed there ten days, and there was only one night when we did not hear the noises."
Miss Freer of course entirely accepts Mrs. "G.'s" statement, and that of Mr. H---- as published in The Times. She had been led to her earlier conclusions as to the marks of a boot-heel on the upper panels of the doors by the statements of interested persons.
A suggestive point in this connection is the fact, to which Miss "G." has herself testified, that while Mr. and Mrs. "G." were disturbed to the utmost degree, their daughter, who slept in a room communicating with that of her mother, heard nothing whatever; from which it would appear that the noises heard by them were subjective, and that the alleged evidence of the boot-heel, even were it credible, would be, in fact, irrelevant.
The mention of the hallucinatory nature of such phenomena suggests attention to the intellectual acumen displayed by The Times correspondent in saying that "Lord Bute ought to have employed a
couple of intelligent detectives" for the purpose of catching subjective hallucinations. On the same principle, he ought to offer to his learned friend, Sir James Crichton-Browne, well known as an alienist, some advice as to the best mode of securing morbid hallucinations in strait-waistcoats. Is he prepared to propose to take photographs of a dream, to put thoughts under lock and key, or to advocate the supply of hot and cold water on every floor of a castle in the air?
One of the guests at B[allechin] during Colonel Taylor's tenancy wrote after his return to London to Miss Freer as follows:--
"March 24th--I went to call the other day on the 'G.'s' who chanced to be still in town.... I begin chronologically, and give you what Iwas told in all seriousness.... The H----s knew nothing about any stories of haunting when they took the place, and Miss H---- and one of the sons went up, most innocently, to prepare for the arrival of the others. As soon as they entered it the son said to his sister that he couldn't explain why, but he had a conviction that the house was haunted. That night, however, nothing happened. But the second night the bangings began. An old Spanish nurse was in the haunted room, and was greatly disturbed by the noise upon her door, which seemed as if it were going to be burst open. She didn't seem to be alarmed in the least however, and later took steps to secure its remaining shut by stuffing a towel under the chink (why this should secure it I rather fail to see, still that was her view). Apparently the ghost resented this, and one night did actually burst the door open, with such violence that the towel was precipitated into the middle of the room. The longer they stayed in the house, the worse things got. The noises were all over the house more or less, and were by no means confined to bangings. Miss H---- slept in room No. 8, where the ghost limped round her bed. She was so alarmed that she fetched her brother in, and he slept on the sofa. The limping began again, and she asked him if he heard anything, and he at once agreed that somebody was walking round the bed. In his own room--I forget which--he twice saw the ghost, once in the shape of an indeterminate mist, once in the shape of a man, who came in by the door and vanished in the wall. Mrs. 'G.'* now appears on the scene, and slept in No. 1 (I think). [* See her own account, p. 64. The account here given, as will be seen, is not quite accurate as to the precise rooms. Mrs. "G." slept in the wing.] She heard only the bangings, which she declares were indescribably loud. They were mostly at the door of the haunted room. Traps were laid to catch unwary jesters; the door, or the surrounding floor, I forget which, was covered with flour, and wires were stretched across the door; and if I had the proper mind of a ghost-story narrator, I should say that the bangings were as bad as ever, and the flour and the wires were found undisturbed.
"But as a matter of fact she didn't say that, though doubtless she intended to, but jumped on to something else. Mr. "G.," who was there some weeks after his wife, was put down in the wing--I don't know which room--and had visitations. He heard steps approach down the passage, followed by a heavy body flinging itself against his door. He also heard screams, which seemed to him to recede as though the screamer was passing through the walls. (I couldn't quite understand this effect, but that was how he described it.) Their chaplain, who was put into the haunted room, was also greatly worried, and both he and the Spanish nurse and Colonel A---- all had the sensation that their bedclothes were being pulled off, and they had to hold on to them to prevent their departure. The most interesting part of the story is that Mrs. S---- later admitted to Mrs. "G." that it was quite true the house was supposed to be haunted, that she had lived there for twenty years, and at various times there had been outbreaks of this kind of thing of greater or less duration, but that the outbreaks had not been often enough for them to think it worth while mentioning the fact to incoming tenants. It appears also that the story of the bangings on the table in the daylight on the occasion of the last interview between the late Mr. S---- and the land-steward, came from one of the young S----s. It was also said that one of the young S----s used to sleep in the dressing-room between No. 1 and the haunted room, and used to complain that somebody kept pulling his bedclothes off.
"I may add that it is quite clear that the people about the place--some of whom, on my leaving, I vainly tried to draw--have been threatened not to talk about the ghost. There was no mystery about it whatever last year, the station officials being exceedingly loquacious and full of information...."
The above are the circumstances which The Times correspondent thus describes:--
"Lord Bute's confidence has been grossly abused by some one. It was represented to him by some one that he was taking the 'most haunted house in Scotland,' a house with an old and established reputation for mysterious if not supernatural disturbances. What he has got is a house with no reputation whatever of that kind, with no history, with nothing germane to his purpose beyond a cloud of baseless rumours produced during the last twelve-month. Who is responsible for the imposture it is not my business to know or to inquire, but that it is an imposture of the most shallow and impudent kind there can be no manner of doubt. I interviewed in P---- a man who has the district at his finger-tips, and was ready to enumerate in order all the shooting properties in the valley. He had never heard until the moment I spoke to him of B[allechin] possessing any reputation, ancient or modern, for being haunted, although he is familiar with the estate, and has slept in the house. It has no local reputation of the kind even now beyond the parish it stands in. The whole thing has been fudged up in London upon the basis of some distorted account of the practical jokes of the H----s."
As the writer in question obtained his admission to the house as a guest by Sir James Crichton-Browne's solicitation through Sir William Huggins and Lord Bute, it might naturally have been supposed that the real facts were known to him, at least so far as they were concerned. It appears, however, that he cherished a voluntary ignorance upon the subject, to judge from the phrase, "it is not my business to know or to inquire." Of such a writer, and of such statements, the reader will now form his own opinion; but that the correspondent in question should continue to cling to his journalistic anonymity, is little to be wondered at.
Colonel Taylor served in the Bedfordshire Regiment. He was afterwards Professor of Tactics at Sandhurst, and retired in 1894. Possessed of means, leisure, and intelligence, he chose to make the study of psychic subjects his particular occupation. He is one of the seven fundamental members who, in 1895, signed the Articles of Association of the London Spiritualist Alliance, holds office in the Society for Psychical Research, and has rendered very valuable services in investigation of various kinds. Having made the investigation of houses alleged to be haunted his special province, he may be fairly considered to be somewhat of an expert in this matter. It may, or may not, be regarded as a drawback to his usefulness in this direction, that he is so peculiarly insensitive to subjective impressions, that a man who is colour-blind would be almost as useful a witness as to shades of colour as Colonel Taylor upon hallucinations, local or otherwise; but, as will be seen, he is fertile in expedients, experienced in research, and careful and observant of the phenomena experienced by others.
Lord Bute, who takes some interest in scientific matters, has been accustomed not infrequently to defray the cost of scientific work which he is unable to undertake himself, and he offered to meet the expense of the lease of B[allechin] if Colonel Taylor would take the house, a proposal which he accepted.
This is what The Times correspondent of June 8, 1897, thought proper to describe in the words, "for reasons which are differently stated in London and in Perth, where the agent for the proprietor is to be found, Lord Bute did not take the house in his own name, but in that of Colonel Taylor."
It would have been equally true to say of the Coptic texts, published at Lord Bute's expense by Mr. Budge of the British Museum, that Lord Bute wrote and published these books under the name of Budge.
Had Colonel Taylor been prevented by circumstances from becoming tenant of B[allechin] House, Sir William Crookes, the present President of the British Association and of the Society for Psychical Research, or Mr. Arthur Smith, Treasurer of the S.P.R., was willing to take the lease.
Having thus agreed to Lord Bute's proposal, Colonel Taylor at once proceeded to make himself acquainted with the history of B[allechin] House. He naturally placed himself in communication with the late tenant, assuming that that gentleman would be willing to assist in investigating the phenomena by which his family and guests had been annoyed. But the only information which Mr. H---- seemed disposed to give was an admission that some members of his family had heard noises, and that the house was locally reported to be haunted.
However, other sources of information as to the experiences of the H---- establishment were fortunately available.
Captain S----'s agents made no scruple about letting the house to the well-known expert. The Edinburgh agents, Messrs. Speedy, indeed mentioned the haunting, and expressed the hope that Colonel Taylor would not make it the subject of complaint, as had been done by the H---- family, and they received the assurance that this was not a score upon which he would give trouble. In regard to the letters of Messrs. R.H. Moncrieff & Co., dated June 12, 1897, which appeared in The Times, it can only be said that the impression which they were likely to convey was, that Colonel Taylor was an imaginary being like John Doe or Richard Roe. Their scepticism must have been of recent origin, since none was manifested on receiving his rent. Their position is in any case unfortunate, since, even if unclouded by doubt as to the Colonel's personality, they appear to wish the public to believe that they seriously thought that one well known as a Spiritualist in England and America, a retired Professor of Military Tactics, with a comfortable house at Cheltenham, a member of the Junior United Service Club in London, a man who neither shoots nor fishes, had been suddenly seized in his mature years with a desire to hire an isolated country house in Perthshire, in the depths of winter, for the purpose of trying his 'prentice hand upon rabbit-shooting on a small scale.
Colonel Taylor, who is a widower without a daughter, was at this time much occupied by the illness and death of a near relative, and was unable for the moment to take up residence at B[allechin] House. Lord Bute accordingly expressed a hope that Miss Freer would undertake to conduct the investigation. Mr. Myers also wrote urgently to her, saying, "If you don't get phenomena, probably no one will." She was abroad at the time, but at considerable personal inconvenience consented to return, and on December 26th she wrote to Lord Bute, stating that she could reach Ballechin on February 2nd, and adding--
"I have been reflecting further on the question of the personality of investigators. I think the names you suggest, and some others which occur to me, divide naturally into three classes (assuming, and I think you agree with me, that it does not follow that every one can discover a ghost because it is there, nor that their failure to discover it is any proof that it is not there). (1) Those who have personal experience of phenomena, and may be expected to be susceptible to psychic influences; (2) those who have no personal powers in that line, but are open-minded and sympathetic; and (3) those who are passively open to conviction. A fourth class, those who come to look for evidence against the phenomena, but will accept none for it, should, I think, be left until we have some demonstrable evidence to show.... Mr. Myers proposes himself for April 14-21.... I should suggest the keeping of a diary, in which every one willing to do so should make entries, negative or affirmative."
The Times Correspondent further criticised the method of inquiry employed at B[allechin].
"Lord Bute's original idea was a good one, but it was never properly carried out. Observing that the S.P.R. had made many investigations in a perfunctory and absurd manner by sending somebody to a haunted house for a couple of nights and then writing an utterly worthless report, he desired in this case a continuous investigation extending over a considerable period. He ought, therefore, to have employed a couple of intelligent detectives for the whole term, and thus secured real continuity. As things are, the only continuity is to be found in the presence--itself not entirely continuous--of the lady just mentioned. But simply because she is a lady, and because she had her duties as hostess to attend to, she is unfit to carry out the actual work of investigating the phenomena in question. Some of her assistants sat up all night, with loaded guns, in a condition of abject fright; others, there is reason to suspect, manufactured phenomena for themselves; and nearly all seem to have begun by assuming supernatural interference, instead of leaving it for the final explanation of whatever might be clearly proved to be otherwise inexplicable."
It is hardly necessary to repudiate such a condition of mind on the part of the guests at B[allechin], but it may be well to remark that the writer of this sapient paragraph seems to be under the impression that every result of certain forces at present imperfectly understood is supernatural. The assertion that any one who was in the house during Colonel Taylor's tenancy believed in the possibility of the existence of anything supernatural is, so far as the present editors are aware, a pure fabrication, having no foundation whatever. In their own belief all things which exist, or can exist, are, ipso facto, natural, although their nature may not belong to the plane of being in which we are normally accustomed to move.
In this connection may be usefully quoted the following passages from Miss Freer's article in The Nineteenth Century, August 1897:--
"Some of my friends asked me how I proposed to organise a haunted house research, to which I could only reply that I didn't propose to do anything of the sort. It seemed to me that among several things to be avoided was self-consciousness of any kind, that the natural thing to do was to settle down to a country-house life, make it as pleasant as possible, and await events.... The subject of the 'haunting' was never accentuated, and we always tried to prevent talking it over with new-comers.... As to the guests, for the most part they came on no special principle of selection.... Several of our visitors had more or less special interest in the inquiry, but others merely came for a country-house visit or for sport, and some knew nothing whatever till after their arrival of any special interest alleged to attach to the house.... Analysing our list of guests, I find that there were eleven ladies, twenty-one gentlemen, and The Times Correspondent. Of the gentlemen, three were soldiers, three lawyers, two were men of letters, one an artist, two were in business, four were clergy, one a physician, ... and five, men of leisure."
It would be unnecessary to quote all the preliminary correspondence; but the following passages from Lord Bute's letters to Miss Freer help to explain the situation, and the relation of those concerned:--
"December 20th-- ... I am afraid I shall encroach even further upon your kindness. Myers has all the papers, but I fancy you would rather know as little as possible, so as not to be influenced by expectation. It is no case of roughing it. B[allechin] House is, I believe, a luxurious country house, ample, though not too large, in a beautiful neighbourhood...."
A letter of December 22nd refers to a suggestion that the phenomena were produced by trickery, a fact which is mentioned to show that the possibility was kept in view from the first.
On January 23rd, "Not a day should be lost in beginning the observation, which ought to be continuous. Such a chance has never occurred before, and may never occur again. Orders have been given to get the house ready for immediate occupation."
Miss Freer, accompanied by her friend Miss Constance Moore (a daughter of the late Rev. Daniel Moore, Prebendary of St. Paul's and Chaplain, to the Queen), arrived at B[allechin] House on February 3, 1897.