Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 3
- Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 1
- Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 2
- Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 3
- Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 4 – Finale
The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor: Part Three
Regaining his composure, Chris went on, his nose red and color rose in his neck and cheeks. “A stranger knocked on the door in the middle of the night, in a storm no less, and you let him in?”
“I know it sounds ridiculous. But it turned out to be Edward, Hilary’s farmhand. He’s an old man,” I said. “You should have seen him, bedraggled and soaked to the bone, he looked worse than what the cat dragged in.” I laughed, feeling a bit defensive. “What should I have done? I couldn’t very well have left him outside in the storm. He looked positively cadaverous,” I said, not admitting that I considered doing just that.
“The Ed I know is young. Big, brawny guy. An no talker, that one. A bit daft in the head,” Chris said.
“Well, maybe this was a different Ed. They have more than one farmhand named Ed,” I said, not entirely sure this was true. “It was a judgement call,” I said, feeling chastised. As I looked out the window, I recalled the wretched sight of Edward in the vestibule.
“You’re too trusting, Caroline,” Chris said, mollified. “You need to be careful. In Scotland, tramps are still known to roam the countryside.”
I guffawed. “Tramps?”
But Chris was not deterred. “Scoundrels, or whatever you want to call them. Men up to no good gadding about knocking on doors, taking advantage of lonely widows like yourself.” Chris made a sharp left at the roundabout in New Bigging.
“I’m not lonely!” I said, a bit too defensively.
Chris glanced in the rearview mirror. “Look, I’m not trying to scare you but you should know,” he said uncomfortably. “Several years ago, there was a woman, Elspeth not much younger than you, who disappeared one night. She was from America, like you, staying in a cottage just down the road from Lanark Manor.”
“That sounds ominous,” I chortled. “What happened to her?”
He shook his head. “Don’t know. They never found her. She left her passport and belongings behind. No one remembers a thing. It’s like she disappeared into thin air.”
“You trying to scare me? She probably got swallowed up by one your bogs,” I scoffed.
“You think I’m kidding you,” he glanced at me, shaking his head. “I’m not,” he said. “Look, I’m telling you the Lowlands are known for people disappearing under… mysterious circumstances.”
“Mysterious circumstances. What does that even mean? Heathcliff is going to come and carry me off across the moors?” I looked at him, trying to detect a sly smile but Chris’s face was serious, his eyes hard and narrow. “Besides, it was the ghost of Catherine that came for Heathcliff, not the other way around.”
“The independent woman,” he chided. “You Americans think you’re invincible. Can’t believe in anything that doesn’t have a rational explanation.”
“Tramps, maybe,” I said. “But mysterious ghosts? I doubt Americans are the only skeptics in the world. You don’t really believe in all that, do you?”
Chris huffed under his breath noncommittally.
“Well, even if there are ghosts, Edward wasn’t one of them,” I went on. “He was very real. We had a very nice conversation by the fire. Actually, I was worried for his well-being. He could have died from hypothermia.”
Chris shook his head again, and adjusted his grip on the steering wheel. “I don’t know, the whole thing sounds weird to me,” he said, muttering something about tricksters and evil spirits. “Farmhand, in the middle of the night? Ed’s a big galoot, one of those disabled fellows from Karolcare House outside Dolphington—over bloody five miles away. He’s not going to be walking to Lanark Manor in the middle of the night, much less having a wee chat by the fireside. The man sounds a bit dodgy, if you ask me.”
Chris admonished me the rest of the way to Biggar, urging me to call Hilary. “I think she’d want to know about the horses and this business with Ed or whoever it was.”
Tired of his own diatribe, he said, “Caroline, promise me you won’t open the door to someone you don’t know. You need to be more cautious.”
Chris dropped me off in the parking lot of the Co-op, promising to pick me at Aroma Cafe in an hour. My ankle was throbbing, and I was eager to purchase more anti-inflammatories.
Since I was leaving on Sunday, I only needed enough food for another two days, I picked out two ready-made pizzas and another bottle of red wine, stuffing them in my small backpack.
I was already at the coffee shop sipping a flat white, when Chris texted asking if it would be all right if he was delayed another hour or so. He had a last-minute hire to Carstairs railway station, and he would text when he was on his way to Biggar.
With my errands done, I was not in a hurry to return to an empty house. I had always wanted to visit the local museum and texted Chris to pick me up there instead.
The Biggar and Upper Clydesdale Museum was a cozy building with limited, but well-designed exhibits on the history of the area. An hour passed quickly, absorbed in reading about the Thankerton Man and excavated Bronze-aged cairn fields and stone cists along the River Clyde. The docent was a friendly elderly woman named Ardyce, and as I was the only visitor that day, she was generous with her time and very knowledgeable about the area.
We were still chatting as I browsed the small gift shop, when I came across Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights next to two titles: Scottish Ghost Stories and Weird Ghosts and other Spirits of Lanarkshire. I picked up Wuthering Heights and the book on weird ghosts, and began thumbing through them with some interest.
“Books on ghosts are always popular,” Ardyce said in a creaky voice, sidling up next to me. “Poor Catherine Earnshaw. She was so lonely, wasn’t she, doomed to roam those dreary moors by herself for eternity?” Ardyce asked wistfully, her rheumy eyes blinking behind a pair of gold-rimmed glasses.
“Funny, I was just talking about Wuthering Heights this morning,” I said, and we spoke of other famous literary ghosts for a moment. Then, I told her of the woman in the woods, and wondered if I hallucinated the whole thing.
“Oh, you can see all sorts of strangeness on a walkabout. Being alone, coupled with gloomy weather can do that to people. We Scots are always going on about ghosts and strange happenings,” she said, chuckling. “You’re up at Lanark Manor, you say? You wouldn’t be the first to have stories about that place,” she said but did not elaborate.
“Do you know anything about an American woman who disappeared several years back? Close to the Lanark estate?”
“Hmm, can’t say I do,” she said, shaking her head slowly. However, I got the impression Ardyce knew more than she was telling me.
“No one actually believes in these weird ghosts, do they?” I asked, pressing, reading the back copy.
Ardyce shrugged and smiled cryptically. “Well, ghosts have been around as long as people. Everyone I know has a story. Unexplained bumps in the night. Mysterious visitations. Like your woman in the woods. There are loads of anecdotes like that. To hear people talk, you would think Lanarkshire is positively crowded with wandering ghosts, unhappy spirits lurking in every bog and behind every rock cairn. For every person who goes missing on the moors there’s some preternatural theory.”
Ardyce smiled wanly. There was something in her manner that led me to believe she knew more than she was letting on.
Laughing uneasily, I set the books back on the shelf. I began relating my conversation with Chris, and wound up telling her the whole story about the storm and Edward from last night. For some reason, the episode seemed distant and incredulous as a dream. Chris had unsettled me so it was comforting to talk to someone who might be more receptive. For some reason I had not texted Hilary, and I think I wanted Ardyce to reassure me that I had done the right thing.
Ardyce’s eyes widened and her brows furrowed, as I reeled out the details of Edward’s visit. She fidgeted with her collar, and adjusted her glasses as if she didn’t know what to say. I could see the wheels in her head turning as she imagined herself answering the door to a stranger in the middle of a stormy night.
“Of course. I nearly didn’t go to the door at all. But he was so old,” I said, finding myself on the defensive again. We spoke a few more minutes about storms and tricky horses.
But Ardyce left me with the impression that she, too, like Chris, thought the incident dodgy and worrisome. “Well, it looks like everything worked out. Although, I would be careful who you open your door to, dear,” she said, echoing what Chris had said.
A note of warning underscored her words, and despite her outward skepticism, I suspected she was alluding to something more.
As I was about to leave, hoping to lighten the mood, I asked, “So, what exactly is a weird ghost as opposed to a regular ghost? Weird, as in, out of the ordinary?”
“Witches. A weird ghost is a ghost witch,” Ardyce said knowingly. “A ghost witch not only comes to haunt you,” she said, pausing to straighten the books on the shelf. Then she turned, looking at me over the rim of her glasses.
“They come to take you with them.”
As Chris drew near the farm, the backdoor to the vestibule was ajar. I thanked Chris for the ride, and we bid each other a pleasant evening. The inside of the house was cold, and dead leaves were scattered across the floor. I latched the door behind me, this time securing it with twine I found in a kitchen drawer.
I spent an uneventful evening reading by the fire, but found myself restless and on edge. Each time I went into the kitchen, my eyes would involuntary check the backdoor in anticipation of some knock or unexpected visitor.
But more than my jittery nerves, I was overshadowed by a sadness, almost as intense a suffering as had ever felt. Long after I had gone upstairs, I watched the heavens from my bedroom window, seeking comfort in some unusual beauty of the night sky. In the depths of the great purple dome, I was plagued by an inkling of dread about leaving. Instead of my friend or visions of the gaiety of Paris, I found myself thinking of Edward, wishing to see him again.
I woke to sunshine pouring through the windows. The sky was a glorious dazzling blue and the sheep frolicked playfully in the pasture. The melancholy from last night was gone, and I felt unusually energized. I called Hilary just after nine o’clock. But instead of telling her about the storm or the horses, I found myself asking if she minded if I stayed on a bit longer.
“Just for a few more weeks,” I said, thinking how lovely November would be here on the estate with the flock of pheasants that pecked on the front lawn, and the riot of fall colors dotting the hillsides. There would still be time to visit Roberta before I had to be in Paris for December.
“You can stay as long as you like,” Hilary said. “We could sure use the extra time in Dumfries to wrap up the renovation.”
Hilary sounded relieved and we briefly chatted about other matters. Finally, she said, “Good. This is good, Caroline. I will let KarolCare House know we need Ed for a bit longer.”
“Oh, by the way, I met him the other day. He said you have a tricky mare,” I said, but for some reason did not tell her about letting him in the house.
“What’s that you say?” she asked, sounding distracted by a loud voice in the background. “Carey! The electrician is here,” she yelled, muffling the receiver. “Sorry, Caroline, I’ve got to ring off. Thanks again and we’ll be in touch. Bye-bye!”
The outside beckoned, and I left the house dreamily, going for a long walk plodding merrily on my crutches and boot. The air was crisp and filled with the mature scents of dill, sage and wild onion. Sheep bells tinkled faintly as two hawks circled lazily.
Following an old railway bed east along the South Medwin, I walked further than I intended. By the time I turned to head back, clouds had begun to gather south over the hills and I felt the first drops of rain.
I cannot say what came over me, whether it was the exhilaration of the walk or the effects of the sun and the wind, but I was giddy with anticipation. I knew rain was coming, and eagerly made my way back to the house. But this time, there was not a feeling of dread or loneliness, but expectant, as if I were looking forward to some party or friendly gathering.
By the time I reached the main house, I was not surprised to see Edward emerge from the barn next to the caretaker’s cottage. It was as if I had been expecting him.
The sun was already disappearing behind the clouds, and a chill had penetrated my clothes. But I warmed immediately at the sight of him. “Hullo!” I called gaily, waving to him with one of my crutches.
There was a high color in his cheeks, and in the graying light of late afternoon, he seemed years younger than he had the other night. Without his rain hood, his head now filled with a thick mane of gray hair that curled about his neck and shoulders. He still wore the tattered long black overcoat, and the same dark weathered boots but his shoulders no longer hunched, and his general countenance was vigorous and robust.
I was weirdly pleased that he now appeared much younger (decades younger, I thought), any evidence of frailty gone.
“Good day to ye,” he said, seeming equally pleased to see me. Even his voice held a deeper, stronger tenor than the thin papery voice the night of the storm.
“Look at you,” I said. “You recover quickly. I wasn’t sure you’d make it the other night. You slipped out before I could offer you breakfast.”
Edward did not answer but a boyish smile played on his lips. “That I did,” he said.
Rain pelted my face, and the sky darkened. “Looks like we’re in for more rain this evening.” A hawk screeched, swooping above us in a long gray furrow.
Edward looked up at the darkening sky, a shadow seemed to pass through his features. “Aye. ‘Tis the season for it.”
Possessed with some strange energy, I asked impulsively, “Have you had supper?”
“Are ye asking me to supper? I won’t say no,” he said with a peculiar smile, already following me to the backdoor.
Rained lashed the windows, and wind battered the roof. Edward and I barely noticed, so ensconced by the fire with two large snifters of brandy. Edward’s nose was bright cherry red from the drink, and his eyes glinted, catching the warm reds and yellows from the flames.
I laughed uproariously at a bawdy joke, feeling the blush creep up my neck and face, and tears fill my eyes.
We both sipped our brandy, and lapsed into companionable silence and a pleasant feeling of contentment overcame me. A kind of rapture, not of exultation exactly, but of a kind of uplift of spirit. I did not have romantic feelings of desire for Edward, but there was a sense of intimacy, an instant connection I had felt the first night we met. We “got on” as Chris said. Edward and I clicked. It is my only explanation.
The dusk deepened. The earth tilted. A turning-away from the sun, the day turning into night and chilling slowly, gradually, half a degree at a time. Shadows lengthened, creeping down out of the hills and across the shieling.
Through the sitting room window, the sky was a thick gray-white mantle. And cold. I shivered almost uncontrollably in a thick sweater and slippers. Leaves fell in slants to the ground, and a murder of crows cackled somewhere in the choke of trees in the distance.
I cupped both hands around my coffee, my head fuzzy. The bottle of Triple Barrells sat empty on the table in front of me. Vaguely, I recollected Edward coming over every night this week, spending evening gabbling by the fireside.
Next to me, my iPhone rang, rattling me out of my fugue-like state. I picked it up, answering in a kind of wonderment.
I cleared my throat. “Hello?”
“Caroline! I’ve been trying to call you for ages,” Roberta said, “But I can barely hear you,” Roberta said. “Can you speak up?”
Roberta peppered me with questions, and I was finding it difficult to concentrate on the conversation.
“I’m doing fine,” I said dismissively, ignoring her questions. I drained my coffee, now cold, and massaged my temples. As I ran my fingers through my hair, several gray strands floated aimlessly to the floor. What had begun as a mild hangover was now a full on knocking behind my skull. I begged off, lying about having to be somewhere. “I’ll call you soon, I promise,” I said, hanging up before Roberta could get a word in edge-wise.
In the kitchen, I groped through the drawers for Paracetamol, swallowing several tabs with tap water. The fridge was empty, dirty dishes were stacked in the sink, and a rotted food smell emanated from the garbage pail. As I was about to sit, a knock on the back door shattered the quiet.
“Hullo? Caroline? Are you there?” Hilary called out, cupping her hand to the backdoor and peering in.
I hobbled to the door, stepping gingerly onto the cold hard brick inside the vestibule.
“Hilary! I was about to call you,” I lied, opening the door and letting her inside.
“Caroline,” she said, looking me up and down sorrowfully. “You’re not answering your phone! Everything all right? Are you ill?”
“No, no. Just a little hungover,” I said, embarrassed, feeling as though I had been caught out.
“I was worried you’d taken a tumble down the stairs and hit your head,” she said, earnestly. Her nose crinkled as she sniffed the air, peering into the kitchen behind me. “Are you sure everything’s all right?”
“I’m fine, really,” I said, my hand instinctively going to my head. I brushed an errant swath of hair from my eyes, and tugged the sleeves of my sweater. “Sorry about the missed calls. The service has been spotty since the storm last week.”
She nodded, but eyed me skeptically. “Are you sure we can’t get you anything before we head back to Dumfries tonight?”
“No, no,” I shook my head. “Thank you. And sorry… for all the trouble.”
A gust of wind scattered a bed of leaves, and the peacock cried shrilly. Hilary shifted her weight, and glanced at the sky. A slate of dark pewter clouds hung oppressively.
Hesitantly, she said, “Caroline, if you don’t mind me saying so, you don’t look so good. Are you sure you’re well? I can tell you’ve lost weight… you’re practically swimming in your clothes. Do you have enough to eat? Chris said you haven’t texted for a ride for weeks.”
Weeks? What was she talking about? “I’m fine,” I said, with a sudden flash of annoyance. “Look, I need to go,” I said, glancing behind me as if some urgent task awaited me.
Hilary nodded reluctantly, and even before she turned to go, I shut the door and latched it.