The Unlikely Association of Meg and Harry
Jennifer Keogh Armstrong
Edgy in Edinburgh
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he port was busy with activity. Tall ships lined the quay and natives scurried around loading and unloading goods. On one particular ship, bales of silk were being taken down into the hold. James Henlock, standing on the quay, watched with satisfaction.
These silks would be the talk of London. It was no wonder that Suryapur was known as the City of Kubera, the God of Wealth. And this shipload would surely make him wealthy. It's true that Bombay was rapidly becoming the centre of British activity in India, but James Henlock still preferred to do his trading in Suryapur. It reminded him of older days, days of risk and adventure when the Dutch were still the supreme traders in the region.
But the East India Tea Company didn't need him anymore. They were settled into the routine of dull respectability. Though they had started with just spices and pepper, now they had a monopoly over the tea, the opium, the silks and cottons, and the indigo-dyes as well. It was such an established institution now that everyone just called it John Company.
Now he was an old man, going home. Going home to peace and tranquillity in a ship whose cargo would secure his future back in Scotland. Ah, Edinburgh! How long had it been since he had seen his parents and his sister? He had been a young man when he had left home. As a second son, he had expected to inherit nothing. The family estate would go to his oldest brother, Eoin. Except that his brother had died in 1709. His passion for tracking the deer of Scotland had resulted in him contracting pneumonia after a chilly all-day hunt in Dunkeld. Such a thing would have never happened to James. In Edinburgh he didn't like to go any further than the Lothians.
The news of his brother's death had taken nearly a year to reach him here in India. He still couldn't believe he was the Laird of Laircassle.
How wonderful it would be to go home!
Did Laircassle still have the same cook? He remembered many winter afternoons by the fire in the kitchen, eating oatcakes while Cook told him tales of the ghosts that had walked the lonely Orkney Islands of her youth. And young James had believed every one of her stories.
But James Henlock didn't realize he had his own ghost aboard the ship.
am so into this place,” I say, looking around.
Harry and I are on Princes Street in Edinburgh.
This place is happening. On one side of the street are public gardens, on the other side all these amazing old buildings. The young people hurrying along, going into stores and coming out of cafés, have style. There's a coolness in the air and I love the way the Scots – male and female – wear their winter scarves casually tossed around their shoulders. Heavy sweaters and jeans are all that's needed to keep out the chill. When you think of Scotland, you think of plaid, but what I'm seeing in the shop windows are a lot of blacks, greys, and browns. My favourite colours. My long red hair is the only colour I need.
It's a misty spring morning in Scotland and Harry and I are finally in a place that we can both agree on.
We're here because we're investigators. We've solved three cases so far, so I think I can say that with a certain confidence.
I just got into this whole thing because I didn't have any money for college. Dad's got a bit of a gambling problem. (OK, OK, he actually got on a plane and moved to Reno leaving Mom and I behind in Toronto.) I want to be a cop, the investigative kind, but with no college money, that may never happen. But as it turns out, Harry and I are really good at doing this on our own.
Of course, Harry, fanatical Christian that he is, gives God all the credit for our success. He seems to consider himself God's agent on earth, going around helping people to choose the correct devotional to read and telling them that their pain is really God's way of talking to them, that sort of thing.
I'll say this for him though, he doesn’t push his religion on me. So that's a good thing.
We're in Scotland to do a job for a family back in Toronto. Their name is MacGrath, they're stinkin’ rich and they want to get back to their Gaelic roots by purchasing a small castle just outside of Edinburgh.
The only problem is, there's a ghost in the castle. Or so the story goes. Since they don't want to wake up to the sound of rattling chains in the night, they've sent us out to investigate.
Get this; the plan is for us to stay in Laircassle for a month. If we don't see any ghosts, the MacGraths will buy the place. The current owners have rented it to them and are thrilled that they're considering purchasing the old place.
Am I nervous? Maybe a little. But Harry and I have survived Antarctica together. We faced some seriously bad guys in New York City. And on our first case, we solved it by sheer luck. So I think we have some things going in our favour.
We're back to travelling light. Harry and I both just have our knapsacks on our backs. The castle is supposed to be modernized, although Mrs. MacGrath was somewhat vague on that point. Harry says the Modern Age began right after the Middle Ages so we really shouldn't expect too much.
Although we'd love to start exploring Edinburgh right away, we have to get settled in at Laircassle. To get there we have to take a short bus ride to the north end of Edinburgh. And that means finding the bus station. But we're prepared. We have a guidebook to the whole area that Harry found in a second-hand bookstore back home and so we know that the bus station seems to be next to something called St. James Centre.
“I think we keep going down here and then turn onto St. Andrew Street,” says Harry examining the map of the Edinburgh city core. “From there, we get on the bus to Leith. Leith is located right on the North Sea. So we'll get to see ships and docks and maybe even a museum . . .”
I keep walking. Harry's like that. He gets excited about the strangest things. In fact, when I turn around, he's still standing there with the guidebook open.
“The Scottish National Portrait Gallery is around here somewhere. It has Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Rodin . . .”
“I don't know any of those people, Harry,” I say.
“Then we could go to the National Gallery of Modern Art,” says Harry, turning a page. “It has Matisse, Picasso, Dali . . .”
“Harry, we don't even like art,” I say.
“I know,” says Harry, looking up. “I'm not really into it when we're at home. But here, it seems different. Europe always has that effect on me. I want to go to museums and galleries and cathedrals and castles. I don't really know why.”
“I'm sure a therapist would help you work that out,” I say.
“We can’t do anything now, though,” says Harry, catching up with me. “We have to find Laircassle, and then we'll be tourists for the next month. All Mrs. MacGrath is worried about are the nights. We can do whatever we want during the day. I, for one, can't wait to go up to that castle there.” Harry glances over to the castle on the hill that sits above Edinburgh. No surprise, it's called Edinburgh Castle.
We start walking again.
“Why do ghosts only haunt things at night?”
“I think they haunt things during the day too, but people aren't so worried about it then.”
After a few wrong turns down side streets, we are at last standing in line for the next bus to Leith. A kind older Scottish lady had helped us get to the right spot, directing us to Leith Walk and had also pointed out the nearby statue of Sherlock Holmes. (Harry made me take a photo with his cell phone of him by it.)
The bus ride is short but scenic. We're still in Edinburgh so our head's are twisting and turning to take it all in, the old and the new, the familiar and the unfamiliar. All around us, people are talking English, but with their rich Scottish accents.
When we arrive in Leith, our heads keep swivelling. While there are a lot of old buildings, it also has a lot of upscale recent development. Food won't be a problem. The cobbled street we're standing on is full of restaurants and pubs.
“I can't wait to check out the whole port,” says Harry looking longingly in the direction of the water. “The guidebook says they used to build ships here. Not anymore, though. But it's still a busy port.”
As if to illustrate his longing, he pulls out his cell phone and takes a picture of the distant water.
“Could you use that phone to call whoever we're supposed to call and tell them we're here?” I say.
Harry pulls a piece of paper out of one of the pockets of his knapsack.
“I think it's a real-estate agent,” he says as he calls the number.
Harry identifies himself and tells whoever is on the other end where we are.
When he ends the call he tells me we're only two blocks away from the agency. With a bit of help from our guidebook, we manage to arrive at a new and sparkling building that has all sorts of businesses, including the real-estate agent that is handling Laircassle.
We go through the glass doors and are greeted by a smiling woman in her late 20's with long blonde hair, a woollen sweater and an ankle-skimming tweedy skirt who says, “You must be Harry and Meg!” She introduces herself as Shona Oliver.
“I like that name, Shona,” says Harry. “Is it Gaelic?”
“Thank you, Harry. Yes, it means, God is gracious.”
“Really? That's great!”
“Are you a Christian, Harry?”
“Yes, I am. Are you?”
They look at each other with a smile and a kind of understanding seems to pass between them.
“Let me just grab my keys and I'll take you out to Laircassle,” she says, opening a drawer and hunting around. Then, after locking up the front, she takes us out a back door to a tiny alleyway. In the tiny alleyway is a tiny car. It's a good thing we don't have any suitcases because they would have had to go on the roof.
“Now, I'm going to take you to Leith Manor first,” she says to us, once we're out of the alley and driving down the narrow road. I'm in the back with the knapsacks. Harry's in the passenger seat. “The reason is Leith Hall and Laircassle were both built around the same time, 1600, or so. But when James Henlock died in 1711, Laircassle was allowed to run down. But I want to give you an idea of its original state.”
We move away from the centre of town and are in the countryside.
“This whole area is referred to as the Lothians. Now, I understand that you're expected to stay at Laircassle for a month and if it is to your liking, the MacGrath family will purchase it?”
“They've sent the rent for the month, I hope.”
“Aye, that they have. But I should warn you, the place is only modernized in a tiny section. In fact, just enough for a caretaker to live in.”
“Don't the pipes freeze in winter?” says Harry.
“Aye, that they do. But the pipes haven't been modernized since the days of James Henlock.”
“Why is that, exactly?” asks Harry.
“I'll be totally candid. After his death, it was said that his ghost haunted the hallways and only his sister was willing to stay there alone. After she died, there was no heir. I don't know the history of the place from that point except that anyone who purchased Laircassle tended not to live in it after they bought it.”
“The ghost of James Henlock?”
“How did James Henlock die? Was he murdered?”
“That's what some people said. For the simple reason that people who die in their sleep don't generally haunt houses. A ghost is a person who has unfinished business.”
“Looking for justice?”
“That sort of thing, yes.”
“Maybe if we can give James Henlock his justice, then he'll rest in peace,” says Harry.
“Harry!” I say, leaning forward. “You don't really believe this, do you?”
“Well . . . to quote Shakespeare, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Shona smiles her appreciation at his literary knowledge. I'm disgusted. Harry believes in ghosts. And this smiling Scotswoman beside him seems to share his lunacy.
“Now, here we are,” says Shona, pulling over to the side of the road. There are new homes on one side of the road, but on the other side is a long green lawn. In the distance we can see a large manor. Even from here you can tell that it is a solid stone home, a mini-castle really, with turrets and long several-story windows.
“Now this bonnie place is Leith Manor and as you can see, it is well-kept,” says Shona. “It even has its own little kirk in the back.”
“Kirk?” says Harry.
“Church,” explains Shona. “There is a kirk at Laircassle too but it is probably so rundown you could mistake it for a gardening shed. When you see Laircassle, I think you'll agree with me that they were probably designed and built by the same architect. I wanted you to see this first so that you would be aware of the possibilities for Laircassle.”
She starts the engine and we're back on the road. Our destination is only ten minutes away.
I can see why Shona wanted to show us Leith Manor first. We turn down a long driveway and can tell right away that this property is neglected. Leith Manor had giant stone urns on either side of the driveway entrance. Laircassle has a fallen tree off to one side. Leith Manor had stones all the way down the driveway. Laircassle might have had them at one time, but now it's dirt. Leith Manor had an elegant smooth exterior. Laircassle looks chipped, as if parts of it have fallen off.
“Well, here we are,” announces Shona. She's brave enough to bring her little car right up to the front of the door. One of the turrets on Laircassle looks wobbly, as if might fall on her car and crush us all. But at least there's some gravel around the front of the house. Unless it's just fallen masonry.
“How do we get back to civilization?” I ask, meaning Edinburgh. I'm looking all around. The area around this property is built up with subdivisions, but it doesn't have the feeling of Edinburgh or even Leith. We didn't pass any restaurants or stores between Leith Manor and Laircassle and to make me feel even more isolated, the property itself is huge. Let's just say that if we see any ghosts in the night and start screaming our heads off, no one will come to our rescue.
“Not to worry,” says Shona. “A bus runs right by here which will take you back to the centre of Leith and then from there, you can catch the bus that will take you right into Edinburgh. Theoretically, we are still in Edinburgh. For a while, Leith was its own borough, but in 1920 we were joined into Edinburgh.”
“I guess around here that's recent history.”
“Aye, that it is,” agrees Shona. “Now, let's go have a look, shall we?”
She starts heading for one side of the house where there is a modern-looking door. One of the keys in her purse opens the lock and we're inside.
It's almost like being in a motel room, but a little more rustic. There are two single beds with a dresser between them, a small kitchen in the corner and a tiny bathroom that only has room for a toilet and a shower, no sink.
“Is there a regular caretaker?” asks Harry. “Are we taking his room?”
“No,” says Shona, shaking her head. “He left a while back.”
“Saw the ghost, did he?” says Harry.
“That's what he says. But he also had a bit of a gambling problem and had to leave the area to avoid facing the people he owed money to.”
I hope that's not a bad omen. My dad has a bit of a gambling problem.
“Did he say he saw the ghost in here?” asks Harry, putting his knapsack on one of the beds.
“Yes, I'm afraid so.”
“How do we get to the main house?” I ask.
Shona opens a door. I thought it led to a closet, but now I can see that it opens up to a foyer. A huge foyer. There's a murky brown look to everything, probably because everything is wooden and dusty. Shona shuts the door.
“Now, there is nothing that is off-limits to you. Look the house all over.”
“We will,” says Harry.
Myself, I'm starting to feel nervous. I don't mind telling you, I'm majorly relieved that Harry and I will be sleeping in the same room. And it has nothing to do with his good looks. If I'm going to face a ghost, I don't want to do it alone.
“Well, I should be getting back,” says Shona, glancing at her watch. “I hate to leave you here without supplies. If you like, I can come back later and take you to a market to do a little shopping . . .”
“I'm sure we'll be fine,” says Harry. He walks over to a phone and picks it up. “Great! This is working!”
“We'll call for a taxi,” explains Harry.
“Are you sure?” says Shona. She's at the doorway, but she's hesitating.
“Absolutely,” says Harry. “We're good at this sort of thing.”
He gives me a grin.
“Well, I'll be back tomorrow to show you around the place a bit, if you like,” says Shona.
“Can I just ask you one question?” says Harry.
“Have you ever seen the ghost?”
Shona shakes her head.
“That's not to say I don't believe in it. But, no, I've never encountered anything strange here. I don't mind admitting the house is a bit spooky when you're all alone, but nothing supernatural has ever happened.”
Shona gives us a final smile and is gone.
“Spooky,” I say, when the door is shut and we're alone. I sit down on my bed. “That's a good word for it.”
But Harry's already on the phone calling information and asking for a taxi to be sent out to Laircassle. Something the person says on the other end makes him raise his eyebrows.
“It's broad daylight!” he says. But the other person is not convinced.
Harry hangs up the phone and tells me that the taxi will pick us up here, but we will have to meet it at the end of the driveway. It will not drive up to the door.
“No way!” I say. “They really believe this ghost stuff around here, don't they?”
“We might as well start walking,” he says. “We'll be lucky
if we get to the end of the driveway by the time the taxi's here.”
he taxi driver is incredulous that we are actually going to stay in Laircassle for a whole month.
“Don't ye know about the ghost?” he asks.
He's driving us to the nearest grocery store.
We nod and explain that that's why we're there. To investigate the ghost.
He's very interested to know that there is another potential buyer for Laircassle, but he assures us that we will not last a month there.
“Do you know anyone who's seen the ghost?” asks Harry, leaning forward from the back seat.
“Aye, man. That I do.”
“Would he talk to us?”
“Aye, I do believe he would. If you buy him a pint or two.”
The drive to the grocery store is short. It's not a huge store. Shona described it best when she said 'market.' But while our driver waits outside, we go in and discover it has everything we need.
If I'm going to face a ghost, I want lots of comfort food, even if it’s all Scottish comfort food. Custard creams, lemon puffs, ginger crunch creams, digestive biscuits, shortbread and lots and lots of tea. To this, Harry adds instant coffee, bread, bologna, mustard, cheese slices, 2 dozen eggs, bags of chips ('crisps' they call them here), a few apples and oranges just to prevent scurvy, and a big bottle of ginger ale. We grab some milk and a bag of sugar for the tea and coffee. I love the look of the British magazines at the checkout so I add some of them to our supplies. Then we're set.
Our driver says we can put our purchases in the boot, which turns out to be the trunk.
When we get back to Laircassle he says he would be happy to be our taxi service for our stay here, so long as he never, ever has to go down that driveway.
I'm thinking of all those groceries that we're going to have to haul. But Harry agrees, especially since Lenny (that's his name) agrees to take us to the pub some night to meet the man who has seen the ghost.
“Just out of curiosity,” says Harry, as we're getting out. “Why don't you want to drive down there? I mean, it's daylight . . .”
“Doesn't matter,” says Lenny, at least getting out to help us get things out of the trunk, I mean boot. “Just going on the property puts you in danger of the ghost.”
“What do you mean?” I say, now with two heavy bags in each hand.
“It's the whole spirit of the place,” says Lenny vaguely, getting back into his taxi. “You know my number. Bye-bye.”
“What on earth?” I say, looking at him drive away. “I mean, he's a grown man.” We start walking down the driveway. “I admit. I'm a bit spooked. It's just the look of the place, all run down. But I don't really believe in ghosts, do you?”
“Well,” says Harry. “I don't believe in them in the conventional sense. But I do believe in a spirit world so I'm willing to accept that supernatural events may be happening here.”
“Supernatural events?” I say.
“Things we don't understand, or things we can't see.”
“I suppose it's all in the Bible,” I say, sarcastically.
“Yes and no,” says Harry, shifting some of the bags around. He has the heavy milk. “The Bible definitely indicates there are angels and demons and beings that we can't see unless they show themselves to us. But it's surprising how little we know about them.”
“So are you scared?” I say.
“I'm like you, I think it's spooky. I think it's possible we might have to face something supernatural.”
“Holy cow,” I say, shaking my head. We're halfway there now. I'm glad I have on hiking boots. “It would be a lot easier on me if I knew you thought this was a whole lot of baloney.”
“Meg, that isn't logical. What if I say, I don't believe in ghosts, that I don't believe in anything beyond this life? How is that reassuring if it's not true?”
“Holy moley,” I grumble to myself. It's not just Harry. The handles of the plastic bags are digging into my hands. “You don't make it easy, do you?”
On our last case, we were in Antarctica and the sun never set. It was daylight for 24 hours because it's summer there now. I wish that were the way it was here.
But even now, I can see the sun setting over the tree tops that are around the perimeter of the estate. I know we can turn on all the lights in our room, but somehow it's not the same.
When we finally make it back, Harry puts a battered old kettle on the stove and makes us some tea. We slap together some bologna sandwiches and finish off with almost the whole package of ginger crunch creams.
Then there is the awkwardness of getting ready for bed.
We've never shared a room together before. Harry, being the saint that he is, always booked us two rooms. I don't even know if Harry wears pyjamas. Myself, I just have leggings and an oversized t-shirt. Turns out Harry has plaid pyjama bottoms and a white cotton t-shirt. We both take turns changing in the bathroom and brushing our teeth and all that. Then we climb into our respective beds.
“Don't you say bedtime prayers, or something?” I say after a few minutes of silence.
“Do you want me to?” says Harry. “I said most of them in my head.”
“No, go ahead,” I say. “Don't let me interfere with your routine.”
I would tell no one this, but I kind of think if we're going to sleep with a ghost maybe a bedtime prayer isn't such a bad idea.
“OK,” says Harry yawning. “Well, I’ve got one left. Now we will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone make us to dwell in safety. Amen.”
“That's it?” I demand, looking over at him.
“I think it covers a lot of ground,” says Harry, rolling over so his back is to me. Apparently his prayer works because in a few minutes I can actually hear steady breathing.
We turned the light off while we were both still awake. That was OK while we were both awake. But now I'm lying flat on my back, staring at the ceiling and the room is looking very shadowy. Plus, there's that door. I lift my head up slightly to look at the door that leads to the rest of the house.
Maybe I should turn a lamp on. I look around in the dark.
But there is no lamp. I don't remember seeing a lamp. There was only the overhead light and if I switch that on, Harry will wake up and know that I'm lying here petrified.
I would give anything, anything, to be able to go and climb into bed with Harry. I just want to be next to him. Never mind that he's attractive and tall and has that really easygoing grin . . . Never mind that. I just want to be beside him. To feel him next to me. And to be within grasp of him if I see anything.
And to add to my discomfort, I have to go to the bathroom. I spent the evening drinking tea to comfort myself and now I'm going to have to do the bravest thing I've ever done in my whole life. I'm going to have to get up and go to the bathroom.
I think about putting my leg over the side of the bed. And I can't do it.
The longer I lie there, the more I have to go. And the more terrified I become.
I want to wake up Harry, but I can't wake him up to take me to the bathroom. It would be ridiculous. We're equal in this arrangement. I'm an investigator, for crying out loud. If I wake him up and tell him I don't even have the guts to go to the bathroom then I am not worthy of this whole arrangement Harry and I have.
With that thought to propel me, I get up in the darkness and grope for the bathroom.
“I'm tough, I'm tough, I'm tough,” I chant over and over to myself as I go to the toilet, and as I go all the way back to my bed in the blackness. I collapse and pull the sheets almost over my head.
Dear God. That's over.
The terror has worn me out. I fall asleep almost immediately.
“We didn't see a ghost!” I say, sitting straight up.
“I know,” says Harry, smiling at me from the stove where he's making scrambled eggs and coffee.
I'm so relieved! I hop out of bed and come over to the stove. I feel positively cheerful.
I help myself to coffee, getting the milk out of the fridge and pouring it into the mug.
Harry puts some scrambled eggs and bread on plates and we eat on our beds. There's no other place to sit.
“What are we going to do today?” I ask.
“Maybe we should call Shona,” says Harry, casually.
I look up sharply. I thought we were done with Shona.
“Why? How’s she going to help?” I say.
“Stories,” he says. He's just eating his scrambled eggs and seems indifferent to the tone in my voice. “Stories about the ghost of Laircassle. Or at least, she could tell us where to look. I'd like to know the whole history of this place.”
I look down at my plate. Am I actually losing my appetite at the thought of seeing Shona again? She's in her late 20's! Harry's only 19. It's crazy. Or is it . . . ?
“I'll call her,” Harry says.
“Yeah,” I say. “Call her. She's probably busy but maybe she wouldn't mind pointing us in the right direction.”
After he's washed up his plate, he picks up the phone on the dresser. I'm still working on my breakfast.
I'm surprised that she's at the office this early. I glance at my watch. It's actually after 8. I didn't realize I'd had such a sleep-in. And Shona does answer.
Harry identifies himself and there's friendly recognition on the other end. A bit of small talk. Yes, we made it to the market OK. Just having some coffee and breakfast. Nope, no sign of the ghost. But we'd like to look into it further. Would there be any records about the house that we could look at?
When he finally hangs up he says Shona recommends the local library.
“The local library?” I say. “That's her best suggestion?”
“She figures there might be books about the ghost. It's a very popular local story.”
“Where's the library?”
“I guess we'll be calling Lenny,” says Harry, going through his pockets for the taxi driver's number.
Lenny is more than happy to drive us to the Leith library. He can pick us up at the end of the driveway in half an hour.
The Leith library is a small antiquated building near the water-front. Being visitors, Lenny says we won't be able to take anything out. If we don't find what we need, he can always take us into Edinburgh proper.
“Of course, if you're looking for stories of the ghost, you'll find them in our library,” says Lenny. “The people of Edinburgh have their own stories.”
He says to call him when we're done.
We go up the stone steps and through the dark doors to find ourselves in a small dim room. But there are plenty of comfortable chairs and tables with reading lamps. The librarian looks up and smiles as we enter but then returns to her work.
Harry, unlike most men, doesn't mind asking for help. He goes right up to the front desk and tells the librarian that we're researching the ghost of Laircassle. She looks interested.
“But you're not from around here. Is it for a newspaper article?”
“No,” says Harry. “We're staying there right now. A family in Canada is considering buying it.”
“Really?” says the librarian. “And have you seen the ghost yet?”
Everybody around here talks as if the thing exists. It would be a lot more comforting if just one person would dismiss it as the product of delusional minds.
“No,” says Harry. “But we've only been there one night.”
The librarian nods as she stands up.
“There's some that see it, and some that do not. We do have some books here, histories of the area.” She leads us away from the main desk through to the shelves and shelves of books. I'm glad we asked her for help because even though everything is labelled it would have taken us forever to figure out where to find the local history. The librarian pulls out about five books from various places and hands them to Harry.
“If that isn't enough, I'll try to get something from the microfiche,” she says before returning to her desk.
Harry and I take the books to a table and start going through them.
I reach for the book that looks the most interesting, the one about local ghost stories. I'm such a hypocrite. Last night, I was terrified of meeting one.
Harry is going through a book about old homes of Leith.
We read for a bit before Harry breaks the silence.
“James Henlock was with the East India Company,” he says. “This is just a summary, but basically, they were the ones who traded teas and silks and spices. It says here that as time went on, it evolved into something called Company Rule which then turned into the British ruling over India.”
“So he spent most of his life in India?”
“That's the strange part. He left home when he was about 20 and didn't come back till he was in his 60's. When he got home he was dead within a year.”
“Well, he was old,” I say.
“Well, that's the strange part,” says Harry. “His doctor said that he was in excellent health when he arrived home from India. It goes on and on a bit about the effect of India on British health. A lot of men came home sick and tired and recovering from malaria. But James Henlock was not one of them.”
“Maybe it was the damp Scottish weather that killed him,” I say.
“Could be,” says Harry. “But listen to this, the same doctor who gave him a check-up when he returned home was shocked when he saw his dead body. He said it was like seeing a totally different man. He died of extreme exhaustion. His sister gave the doctor permission to examine the dead body. The doctor said that it was as if he had lived a life of hard labour. His hands were calloused. His skin ragged. When he did an autopsy his organs were severely strained.”
“That doesn't make sense considering that he probably didn't do much when he got home.”
“Exactly,” says Harry. “They had servants. Once he got home, he didn't have to do any physical labour. His sister said that he had just started rapidly deteriorating to the point that he couldn't get out of bed. The doctor said he had never seen anything like it. It wasn't contagious and yet it completely ate away at him, whatever it was.”
“And then afterward the haunting started. James Henlock's sister never actually experienced it. But other people who stayed in the house did. They would run from the house screaming. Pretty soon, his sister was left alone there. No servants would go near the place. No friends would visit.”
“It's no wonder the place ran down.”
Harry nods as he closes the book.
“That's all it says about Laircassle in here.”
I skim through my book. I had gotten sidetracked with a story about some phantom ship that used to haunt the Leith harbour.
“Ah, here we are,” I say, reading. “The Ghost of Laircassle. Most locals say the ghost of Laircassle is James Henlock, second son of a wealthy Leith family who went off to join the East India Company in the 17th century. His elder brother died and he returned home as Laird of Laircassle. In addition to his family wealth waiting for him, he arrived home with a shipload of silk. The unusual patterns were sought by all the fashionable people of Edinburgh and the silks were sold as far away as London, making James Henlock an even more wealthy man. Unfortunately, he did not live long to enjoy it. His health rapidly deteriorated and in 1711 he died of an unknown cause.”
I look up.
“That's it,” I say.
“Hmmm,” says Harry. “It says there that most locals say that the ghost is James Henlock. I wonder what the others think.”
But the other three books don't tell us anything new. When we return the books to the librarian, Harry asks her if there is any more information about the ghost itself. Is it indeed James Henlock?”
“Aye,” says the librarian. “I've always been told it was. I didn't realize there were others who thought differently. I've been looking through the microfiche. I'm afraid there's very little there.”
“Well, thanks anyway,” says Harry as we turn and leave.
We're on the waterfront so we take a walk and look at the boats. Most of them are small, personal crafts, many of them brightly coloured, which contrasts with the stately stone buildings that run along the road on the water. Harry snaps a few photos. There are plenty of restaurants and cafés. Despite the chill, we choose an outdoor seat in one of the cafés. We order tea and sandwiches and watch the people passing by. A lot of them are tourists like us, although some of them are business people on their lunch.
“Hey! It's Shona!” says Harry, pointing. Shona is on the other side of the road, right by the water, hurrying along. I'm seriously hoping that she'll just give us a quick wave and keep on moving, but she actually comes over and joins us at the table.
“And how was the library?” she asks. “Did you find anything?”
Harry summarizes what we learned about James Henlock while Shona nods attentively.
A waitress comes and Shona orders a salad and some mineral water.
She and Harry continue talking about the ghost.
“Now that is a mystery,” she says, when Harry tells her that there are some people who don't think it's the ghost of James Henlock. “I've always understood it to be him.”
“What do people say they see?” asks Harry.
“Aye, that's a good question,” says Shona, thinking. Her salad and water arrive. “To be honest, Harry, I never really asked anyone.”
“Something to look into,” I say to Harry. I wish he could see how useless she is to us. “Didn't Lenny say that we could meet someone who'd seen the ghost?”
“Lenny?” says Shona, managing to eat salad and not talk with her mouth full.
“Our taxi cab driver,” says Harry. “Did you know he won't even come to the front door? We have to meet him out at the end of the driveway.”
Shona shakes her head.
“I can call around and get someone better for you,” she says.
“We like Lenny,” I say firmly. “He's useful for this case.”
After that, we don't talk much. Actually, I don't talk much. Harry and Shona talk about the boats and how lovely everything is. Harry asks Shona a bit about her business. She runs the real-estate office on her own.
“Thank God for mobile phones!” she laughs. “I'm out of my office so much of the day that I don't know why I bother with the rent.”
“Are all your places like Laircassle?” asks Harry.
“No, although some of them are as big,” she says. “But I have a feeling I'll have Laircassle on my hands for quite some time.”
“We didn't see a ghost,” Harry points out.
“You may never see a ghost,” says Shona, sipping her water. “Some folks don't. But if the MacGrath's do, that house will go right back on the market.”
Although she's dressed in a sturdy brown suit, her pale skin and her long blonde hair make her look delicate, almost fragile. I note with irritation that Harry is just staring at her.
When we had to hang out with his ex, Karen, he went out of his way not to look at her.
“Well,” says Shona, smiling philosophically. “One day at a time. Speaking of which, tomorrow's my day off. Would you like me to show you around a bit of Edinburgh?”
“That would be great!” says Harry, immediately.
“How about we do the Royal Mile?” says Shona. “It runs for a mile between Holyrood and Edinburgh Castle. Then, if we still have energy, we can look around the castle.”
“Why is it called the Royal Mile?” asks Harry.
“Because at one end is the castle and the other end is the Queen's home while she is in Edinburgh, the Palace of Holyrood House.”
“I can't wait to see both!” says Harry.
“It's the oldest part of the city,” explains Shona. “You see, the Castle would have been built first and then everything around it. Now it's full of restaurants and shops as well as all sorts of historical houses and monuments. You can't come to Edinburgh without walking the Royal Mile!”
That settles it!
I feign a yawn.
“I think I'll give it a miss,” I say. “I'd prefer to explore Laircassle a little bit more.”
I can't believe I just said that. Me! The one who was afraid to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. But I just can't take it. I'm not going to spend a day with Shona leading us around showing us all the historical buildings and Harry looking all lovesick.
“But Meg!” says Harry. “We don't have to get to it right away . . .”
“Oh I know,” I say airily. “But what we read today got me interested. I really want to investigate this thing. You go on tomorrow, I'll be fine.”
“Are you sure?” says Harry.
“Really, Harry!” I say, trying to sound offended. “We're adults!”
“I know,” he says. “But I hate to leave you alone . . .”
I force a laugh.
“I'm not afraid of this ghost, you know. I don't even believe it exists.”
Harry and Shona look at each other.
“Perhaps some other time . . .” says Shona.
“No!” I say talking only to Harry. “I insist! You wanted to see the castle and everything. I'll be fine.”
“Well, OK,” says Harry, reluctantly, but he and Shona still go ahead and make plans to get together the next day.
What have I done?
ou can still come with us,” says Harry, the next morning.
“Nah, that's OK,” I say. I'm terrified but there's no way I'm letting Harry know.
We've spent another ghost-free night here. Last night I stopped after one cup of tea and spent the whole night under my covers.
We're in the middle of another breakfast of scrambled eggs and Shona is expected to arrive in half an hour.
“Well, if you feel creeped out, just take a walk, OK? You don't have to stay in the house.”
“But Harry,” I say. “The whole point is to stay in the house. I want to explore. If we're going to figure this out, we have to look around this place.”
“But I wish you'd do it when I was here. The house could be dangerous . . .”
“Harry, I'm sure there are no loose floor boards or anything like that. And I'm absolutely certain there are no ghosts. This isn't a movie, I'll be fine.”
The minute Harry leaves I'll be back under my covers.
In fact, my legs can barely hold me up as I wave good-bye to him and Shona from the doorway. I tell myself that the first thing I'm going to do is go open that door to the main house. And I'm going to look around. And when Harry comes back, I'm going to tell him all the things I've discovered. Maybe I'll even have solved the whole thing. I take a deep breath.
But I can't do it. I can't even walk over to that door. I manage to make it to my bed and sit down.
I stare at the door. But even that makes me nervous. What if the thing opens? Shona said people have seen the ghost in this very room! Did it come through that door? Or did it come through a wall? Or did it just appear?
Stop it! I tell myself.
I'm tough, I tell myself. I even say it out loud. But while it was enough to get me through a trip to the bathroom it is not enough to get me through that door.
This is crazy!
Maybe I could just stay in bed, or go for a walk, and then when Harry gets back, tell him I looked the whole place over. But somehow he would find out that I didn't and then I'd look like an idiot.
So I just sit there and stare at the door. I don't know for how long. I'm just sitting in this room. There's no ghost. Only me and my fear.
An hour could have passed. I really have no awareness of time. But I do know that Harry could come back and find me still staring at that door if I don't do something.
And then a plan comes to me.
It's a crazy plan.
But it's worked in the past.
I could pray.
I've prayed before and it worked.
This time it's really important (actually, it was really important last time too) but this time I have the luxury of time. I actually get down on my knees by my bed, just like a little kid. And I say it out loud.
“Dear God, I'm scared and I have to look around this place. I don't believe in ghosts but I'm too scared to do this. Please help me not to be scared.” I pause. “Thank you.”
I get up and I walk straight to the door and I open it.
Let me just say at this point, it wasn't some lightning bolt from heaven that took my fear away. It was more of a feeling of, let's just do it! And I did.
And I found myself in an old English manor. Dark, because the windows are grimy. Dusty, of course. Old. But not really spooky.
I go forward.
I'm in a foyer. Wood-panelled. The main door is here. To the left of the door is a large room with windows that go from the floor to the ceiling. It looks brighter than the other rooms so I head for it.
I don't know much about old homes, but I know this floor is valuable. It's a rich and solid wood with a geometric pattern. I can imagine that there must have been dancing in this room. There's enough room for a full orchestra in here. Mentally, I label this room the ballroom.
But the room is completely empty. It occurs to me that I should go around taping the walls and seeing if there's a hollow space behind any of the panels. You know, in case this is like a Nancy Drew novel where someone is haunting the place for his own reasons. I decide that any taping on the walls can be done when Harry's with me.
Just do it!
The little voice isn't exactly my own but it comes from within. And it gives me the strength to tackle some of the dimmer rooms. The room across from the ballroom is the same size, but more like a sitting room. There's no furniture, I can only determine it by the way it has cheerful yellow walls and a white Victorian-looking fireplace. Clearly, the place has been renovated since the days of James Henlock and his sister, but not too recently.
It takes a little more bravery to head down a hallway. The walls are close together and there are little doorways that I don't bother to check out. I keep walking until I come to a large kitchen. It has a huge fireplace. I can imagine big pots of soup hanging over it. For that matter, I can imagine them roasting a deer over it, it's big enough.
The appliances in the kitchen are all antique. The refrigerator looks more like an icebox. The oven looks like it requires firewood. And the sink has water, but it's a pump, like the kind you see in the books about the pioneers.
There's even a long and extremely heavy-looking table in one corner.
I walk over to the door in the corner and open it to look out onto a long stretch of grass with forest in the distance. When I shut it and turn back I notice there's a small room that runs off of the kitchen. It has dusty wooden shelves that are completely empty. Probably the pantry.
As I peek in, astoundingly, I realize I'm not terrified. It's more curiosity now.
I could give into the fear.
I could start thinking about what I'm doing and run screaming back to my room and under the covers. But there's this calm. It's like, I can go with the calm if I want to. It’s my choice. I can keep listening to the voice that says, just do it.
So I take a deep breath and go on.
Back down the hallway.
Now it's time for the main stairs that will take me to the second floor.
I waver. I could stop here. I've done a lot. But I haven't really learned anything.
Up I go. The floorboards creak, but they're as solid as the floor in the ballroom.
If the house were furnished, it would take a lot longer to look at. But each of the upstairs rooms is empty. All the doors are ajar. And there's absolutely nothing left in any of them. No trunks. No old bookshelves with a diary tucked away between the volumes. Nothing hanging on the walls. Each room has a fireplace but none of them have had a fire in them anytime recently.
At any moment, I could panic. But every time that the terror starts to assert itself, I take a deep breath and choose the calm feeling.
Then I go back downstairs to my little room.
When Harry comes back, I'm eating lemon puffs, drinking tea and reading an article about Princess Eugenie.
“Oh, hi!” I say casually, turning a page as he comes through the door. “How was your day?”
“Fine,” he says, looking at me. “How was yours?”
“OK,” I shrug. “Not that I can say I solved our mystery.” I close the magazine. “I looked the place over. It's completely empty. No clues left.”
Harry shakes his head and sits down on his bed.
“Meg, you're the bravest girl I know. I don't think I could have even done that by myself.”
I don't know what to say. Finally I settle on, “So tell me about this Royal Mile.”
“Lots of history,” he says. “Here, I bought you something.”
He hands me a black woollen scarf, very long and with fringes.
“Harry! I love it!” I say, taking it and looking it over. “It's beautiful! It's so soft!”
“I hope you like it,” says Harry.
“I do!” A thought occurs to me. “Shona didn't pick this out, did she?”
“Of course not,” says Harry, going over to the fridge and looking inside. “She doesn't know you like I do. Are you hungry?”
“A little bit,” I say. “Want a cookie?”
Harry takes a lemon puff and joins me on the bed.
“Shona wanted to go out for dinner, but I told her I wanted to get back to you.”
I never know what to say when he says things like that.
“How about we have some Indian takeaway?” says Harry.
“Indian takeaway?” I say.
“Yes, Shona says we have to have Indian takeaway while we're here.”
“Is that like Chinese takeout?” I say.
“Yeah, I think so,” says Harry, picking up the phone. “I'll call information and see if there's one in Leith.”
And Harry's on the phone ordering all sorts of things -- chicken vindaloo, papadoms, lamb tandoori, vegetable massala, chicken taba . . . Shona must have recommended all of these dishes. Since the takeaway doesn't deliver, we then have to call Lenny to go get our dinner. This means, once again, we’re out at the end of the driveway an hour later, shivering in the cool night air waiting for the cab to come. At least I have my new scarf.
Lenny arrives and we pay him for the dinner and the cab fare.
“Hey kids!” he says. “I can take you to the pub tomorrow night for a real pub meal, if you want.”
“Great!” says Harry. “We'll see you then?”
“I'll honk when I'm ready,” Lenny promises.
Our food is still hot by the time we've hiked back to our room.
And speaking of hot, this food is seriously spicy. Harry and I finish off the entire 2 litre bottle of ginger ale while we eat it.
“Well, that was good,” says Harry leaning back. We've eaten till we're stuffed but we still have loads of leftovers for the fridge.
There's no TV or radio in the room, so we do what we always do when we're roughing it. We play cards till we’re tired and bored. Harry suggests we explore the house together tomorrow. There's respect in his voice. I'm an old pro.
I have to admit, it's easier to be brave when Harry's beside me. But I still have that calm voice inside of me and whenever I start to feel panicky, I concentrate on that peace.
We check out all the doors in the hallway of the main floor. Just empty cupboards.
All Harry and I end up doing is confirming my findings. There's absolutely nothing in this house. It's empty. No furniture. No clues. No ghosts.
When we're back in the room we discuss this.
“Obviously some people have seen things,” says Harry. “We'll have to find out what it is they saw. Because we're just not seeing it!”
We even tried tapping on walls looking for hollow spots, but nothing. In fact, we spent so much time in the house that it's time to get ready for the pub. We're so dusty that we need showers before we go anywhere civilized. The water pressure is pretty low and the temperature doesn't go above warm but it does the job. We're ready when we hear the honking at the end of our driveway.
The sun is on its way down and I guess some people would say this place is spooky, but I'm starting to like it. It's got atmosphere. Even a bit of dignity. It needs some cleaning, a lot of cleaning, but this wouldn't be a bad place to live . . .
I wonder if the MacGrath's will like it here.
Lenny is in awe of us. He can't believe that we just stroll down the driveway without ghosts chasing at our heels.
“That's nothing,” says Harry as we get into the cab. “This girl,” he jerks his thumb toward me, “explored the whole place on her own while I was visiting Edinburgh Castle.”
“Is this true, lassie?” Lenny asks as he does a wild u-turn from the gravel side back onto the main road.
“Aye, it is,” I say. Harry and I both snicker. “There's nothing there, Lenny. Just a lot of dust.”
“Nay, that's where you're wrong, girl!” cries Lenny. “You'll meet Old Peter tonight. He'll set you straight! He's seen the ghost of Laircassle. It will turn your blood cold. You won't be able to sleep there again . . .” He carries on like this for most of the drive.
The pub is warm after the evening chill. Lenny is well-known there and immediately introduces us as the kids staying at Laircassle. I receive special attention when the folks are told that I explored the place all by myself.
“Well, it wasn't in the middle of the night,” I say modestly. This cements my reputation for being insanely brave and Harry and I have people buying us pints all night. (It's a good thing Harry can hold his alcohol. Me, I have to rely on sipping really slowly.) Over fish-and-chips, we meet Old Peter. Everyone gathers around our table to hear Old Peter's story.
“Aye,” he says, “I've seen the ghost of Laircassle.” He looks about 102 and he smokes a pipe while he nods slowly. “It was when that American family wanted to buy it.”
“Fifty years back it was, wasn't it?” someone called out.
Old Peter nods.
“They hired me to fix the place up. Make it a little nicer before they moved in. I was a handyman in those days. No doubt about it, the house was spooky, but I'd seen the world and I wasn't afraid. I shook hands with a Zulu warrior once.”
“Old Peter went out to South Africa when he was just a lad,” explains Larry. “Wanted to find diamonds. Never did, of course.”
“Aye, those were some wild days,” says Old Peter, shaking his head. “Wild indeed. It would take a lot to frighten me, the things I've seen. But I tell ye this bairns, the ghost of Laircassle frightened me. And I haven't gone back there since.”
I feel amusement more than I do fear.
“Tell us more,” says Harry. “What room were you in?”
“The grand ballroom,” says Old Peter.
So I was right. It is a ballroom.
“Just minding my business. Sure, the house was eerie. But I was ignoring it. I had to kill a rabid dog with a knife once. I wasn't afraid of a ghost. And then I heard it . . .”
Everyone leans forward.
“A wailing sound. A groan. It was as if a thousand souls were moaning in agony.”
There's a murmur in the pub. I'm sure they've all heard this a hundred times before, but they seem to enjoy being terrified by it.
“Aye,” Old Peter nods. “You've heard that the hair on the back of your neck stands on end when you’re terrified? Well, it's true. For the very hairs on the back of my head were straight out. I was paralyzed. I could not move. And then . . . I saw . . . It.”
The pub is quieter than the library was.
“A face. More of an apparition, really, for it was not flesh and bone. A face of agony. A face that had lived a thousand lives and each of those lives was misery.”
People in the pub have almost stopped breathing.
“And that,” says Old Peter, “is when I ran. I ran from that place and I have never returned. And I would not return for all the gold in Africa, though Lord knows, I looked for gold in Africa too.”
Old Peter leans back in his seat and puffs on his pipe. Someone calls for a refill for his empty glass. He thanks him with a nod of his head.
Now we can get back to our fish-and-chips. Not that it wasn't a riveting story. I'm just hoping that a miracle will happen and we'll be able to make sense of it all.
“What do you think?” I say to Harry when we're back in our room and finishing off the evening with a cup of tea.
“I think that that really happened to him,” says Harry. The tea is partly to warm us up. There's a small heater in the corner but no matter how we turn the dial, it doesn't seem to come on. At least there are a lot of blankets on the beds. “But I don't know what it means.”
“Was the face of agony James Henlock?”
“It sounds like it. It fits with his death, the whole idea of his body rapidly deteriorating. I get the idea his death was an agony.”
“We were told that we were going to investigate a murder. A three-hundred year-old murder. So some people must think he was murdered.”
“That would explain the ghost,” agrees Harry. “Ghosts are usually associated with unfinished business.”
“Would solving his murder make the ghost go away?” I ask.
“Who was there to murder him?”
“Good question. His only family was his sister. It couldn't have been her because she was never bothered by the ghost.”
“And he had spent most of his life in India. So he wouldn't have had too many enemies here,” I say.
“What we need to do is talk to a historian,” says Harry. “Someone who has studied more things than just the books in the library . . .”
“I know what you mean. There have to be stories that were passed down by word of mouth that didn't make it into the books . . .”
“That's a good idea!” says Harry. “I was just thinking of official records. But we should go back to the pub and get more people talking. Maybe somebody's grandmother knows something. We'll interview as many people as we can. And I can talk to Shona . . .”
I make a face.
Harry looks at me, but he's grinning.
“Why do I get the feeling you don't like Shona?”
“What's not to like about her?” I say with sickening sincerity. “She's lovely.”
“That she is,” agrees Harry.
“And she's a Christian,” I add. I can't help it.
Harry looks at me thoughtfully.
“You know,” he says. “Just because she's a Christian doesn't mean we're going to fall instantly in love and start procreating.”
I turn bright red. I hate myself.
“She's nice. She's pretty,” Harry continues. “But I really think God has other plans for me.”
He just keeps looking at me.
I have no idea what to say! And to make it worse, if it's possible, I turn even redder.
“So,” says Harry, mercifully talking a sip from his mug of tea. “As I was saying, I think I'll talk to Shona and ask her if she knows any local historian.”
“Good idea,” I say, just barely managing to sound normal.
ilsa MacNab is happy to talk to us.
She's in her 80's and has lived in Leith all her life. Her university degree, earned late in life, came from the University of Edinburgh, “just down the road,” as she puts it.
Shona hooked us up with her. They go to the same church.
She is delighted to hear that we are staying in Laircassle and that we haven't seen the ghost.
“And you won't,” she promises us. “People don't last for more than a day there before seeing it. First night is the only night. They never go back afterward.”
That's good news. No one's mentioned that before.
“Why do you think some people see it and some people don't?” Harry asks, leaning forward.
Ailsa MacNab lives on her own and has invited us to talk in her apartment. So we're sitting in a tiny cozy living room with floral couches and lots of crocheted doilies and wooden end tables. The walls are covered with framed photos of people and scenes in Scotland, even newspaper clippings. Ailsa MacNab has had a full life, judging from her walls.
“I'll be candid with you,” says Ailsa, her eyes sparkling. “It's the nice folks who don't see the ghost.”
“Really?” we both say at the same time.
“Aye. It's the truth. I've never seen it myself.”
We all laugh.
“I would have said I never saw the ghost because I'm a Christian,” says Harry. He glances at me. “But Meg isn't affected by it and she's not a Christian.”
“I know of a man who goes to church every week and thought he had nothing to fear from Laircassle. But he came out of the place babbling like a baby and had to be sedated by a doctor before he calmed down.”
“Wow,” says Harry.
“Now,” says Ailsa. “That's not to say there isn't an element of faith involved. I myself believe in a good God and that all souls are equal in His sight. I went into the place feeling some trepidation, but I spent an afternoon there and never saw anything but the four dusty walls.”
“Why did you go?” I ask.
“I was a bit younger then,” says Ailsa. “In fact, I did a paper on the place when I did my university training. I became a historian after I raised my bairns. And I was drawn to the two identical homes here.”
“Leith Manor and Laircassle,” says Harry.
“Identical in every way, except one is well-kept and ghost free. What I did was, I studied the complete structure of Leith Manor, and then there was no getting around it, I had to look Laircassle over too. No one would go with me. Even my bairns told me I was crazy and should stay away from the place. I chose a bright sunny day to go there.” Ailsa laughs merrily. “As if that would make a difference to a ghost!”
“That's right,” says Ailsa. “Like you, I found nothing. Only a lot of dust. God be good, I even had the courage to go down into the cellar, but it was just dirt, entirely like the one at Leith Manor. There would be an attic too, of course, but I never looked for it.”
“Maybe that's what we should look for!” I say, turning to Harry. “An attic!”
“I never thought about that,” says Harry nodding.
“It's basic Nancy Drew,” I say, grinning. “The trunk in the attic, that sort of thing.”
“Aye,” says Ailsa nodding. She's clearly enjoying this conversation. “The old diaries of James Henlock himself?”
“You'll be the first to know if we find them,” promises Harry.
We all laugh. It's a bit silly. But at least it's a next step.
We say bye to Ailsa, promising that we'll come see her again before we leave Scotland.
Lenny drives us back to our driveway and we have a lunch of cheese and bologna sandwiches before going through the door into the main house and up to the second floor.
“I guess an attic door has to be around here somewhere?” I say, looking up as we wander down the hallway.
Harry points. It was right there in front of us. An opening cut into the ceiling at the end of the hallway. There's a tiny gold loop to grasp onto, once you're up at ceiling level.
“OK, we need a table or a ladder, even a chair,” says Harry, appraising it. He's tall so a chair would probably be enough. But there isn't a chair in the whole house. We finally end up phoning Lenny to ask him if he could buy us a ladder and we'll reimburse him at the end of the driveway. When he hears that we'll be going up into the attic he is both thrilled and terrified. He says he'll be right over. We hike out to the end of the driveway and find Lenny already there. He's brought his own personal ladder and says we can use it on the condition that we come to the pub tonight and tell everybody what we find up there.
“What if we find just cobwebs?” says Harry.
“Well, try to make it interesting.” He says he'll see us tonight.
It's just a stepladder so it's not too heavy.
Soon we're back at the bottom of the attic door and Harry is climbing up the ladder to pull it down. The thing hasn't been touched for quite some time because as soon as it comes down we are covered in dust and are coughing in a cloud.
We climb up the creaky steps. The attic has light from two windows cut out on either side.
And I'm not scared. I'm excited. If the dust was that intense then maybe no one's been up here in three hundred years.
“We'll have to be careful,” says Harry when we're up there. “I don't know how solid these floorboards are.”
I nod, as I look around. My eyes are adjusting to the dim corners. At first I think the room is empty, like all the others. But then I see that there are the occasional items. An old chair with a broken seat. Someone probably intended to fix it and never got around to it. Considering that most people didn't survive a day in this place, maybe it was James Henlock's sister!
“Something over here,” says Harry.
It's a pile of old magazines. They're all from the year 1870. We go through them carefully. They're all knitting or crocheting magazines. Probably worth a lot on eBay though.
There are also some old picture frames nearby. No pictures though. They're big enough that I can imagine them around painted portraits of the members of the Henlock family.
We leave them and cover the whole attic. There's nothing else. No trunk. No diaries. No clues.
“I guess this place was cleaned up over the years,” I say.
“Probably by the people who never saw anything,” says Harry. “People like us could be hired over the years to clean the place up a bit. And then people who considered moving in probably saw the ghost before they even had a chance to get their furniture in the door.”
“People like us,” I repeat. “But what's so special about us?”
“I know, eh?” he says. “In this case, I'm glad you're not a Christian because that helps us know that it's not a spiritual warfare thing. See, I've heard that when you face an evil spirit, if you're a Christian you can rebuke it in the name of Jesus.”
“That's Christian lingo, eh?” I say.
“But this is different,” says Harry. “Only certain people see it. And certain people don't.”
“I think I know what you mean,” I say, taking one last look around before we gingerly climb down the old steps. “It's not a case of everyone facing it and some people lick it and some people don't.”
We push the door back up and return to our room with the stepladder. We thought we were dusty last night but now we just look at each other and laugh. Our hair is grey with dust and there are dust balls all over our clothing.
We shower and wait for the honk.
Lenny is greatly disappointed that we didn't see anything up there but he does express his admiration for our bravery.
“I wonder if we could jazz the story up a bit,” he says as we pull into a parking space in front of the pub.
“Well, we could really go on and on about that broken chair,” I say sarcastically. “And there's nothing scarier than old knitting magazines.”
Lenny gives me a bemused look.
But nobody in the pub minds that we didn't find anything in the attic. They're just impressed that we went up there.
Old Peter isn't around tonight, but a younger man sits down with us and introduces himself as Sean. He says for what it's worth, his father did some caretaking work around the old Laircassle place for a number of years. He even stayed in the room we're in.
“Never saw a thing,” says Sean. “Worked there sixteen years until he passed on. Mum died, you see, and after that he was at a loss as to what to do. So he took the job there.”
“It must have paid well,” I say.
“Aye, that it did,” says Sean. “But he didn't need the money. There was only me and I was a grown man. He just gave the money away. Kept enough for his keep and gave the rest to those in need.”
“Aye! That I remember about your father,” calls a man from another table. “Anyone with a need knew where to go for help. Your father was a good man, Sean.”
Sean nods his acknowledgment of this tribute to his father.
“Have you been there yourself?” I ask.
“To Laircassle? Nay! I used to meet my father here for a drink every night. I wouldn't go near the place!”
Everyone who's listening laughs.
“What about the stories that James Henlock was murdered?” says Harry. “Any truth to that?”
The owners of the pub, an older married couple, surprise us by announcing that they're remotely related to the Henlocks. Not through James since he didn't have any children. Nor did his brother or sister. But the pub-owner is a descendant of James' mother's cousin.
“Does that mean you get the money if the place sells?” asks Harry.
“Nay,” the older man with the ruddy face shakes his head as he polishes a glass with a towel. “That house passed out of Henlock hands and all those related when Bessie Henlock died. An American family owns it now but seeing as they saw the ghost, they're not interested in living there.”
“The whole family saw the ghost?” I say.
“Aye,” nods the man. “That they did. A father, a mother and a lassie of about thirteen. Didn't last a night in the place until they were flying down the driveway hollering about spooks and spirits. The police had to come and someone had to be sent to retrieve their clothing and what-nots. They were still in their night-wear.”
“Did the person who went back see the ghost?” asks Harry.
The pub-owner thinks back and then appeals to the patrons of the pub. A pub is almost like having someone over to drink beer in your living room. Everyone here just calls out to one another and treats each other like family.
“It was old Bert that went back,” says an elderly lady from the corner. “In those days, it was only Bert who could go into that place.”
“That's right,” nods the pub-owner. “That was before Sean's father. Sean's father was hired to look after the place by the Americans, was he not?”
“Bert was on the police force,” explains the pub-owner. “He's passed on now. But he was the one sent in to retrieve what the American's left behind. Lucky it was for him, that they had only been sleeping on cots and that the rest of their furniture wasn't due to arrive from America for another few days.”
“What was Bert like?” I ask.
“A family man. A good man. Quiet. Honest.”
Everyone in the pub nods their agreement.
Harry steers the conversation back to the idea of who might have murdered James Henlock.
“Some people think he was murdered,” nods the pub-owner.
“The way we see it, though,” says Harry. “Who could have wanted to murder him?”
“Aye,” agrees the owner. “It would have been different if he had lived in these parts all his life and made enemies. I'll tell you this, laddie, many people say the man was murdered, but not a single blessed soul can come up with a name of a man who might have done it.”
“Aye, that is true,” calls out the elderly lady from the corner.
“His only heir was his sister and by all accounts, she was a quiet God-fearing woman who spent the rest of her days there never seeing the ghost. She gained nothing by his death except the loss of his company.”
“It's an old mystery,” says Harry.
“Aye, that it is,” agrees the pub-owner.
And that seems to be the conclusion of the matter.
'm getting the impression that this mystery really revolves around the type of people who see the ghost and the type of people who don't,” I say.
“I know,” says Harry. “But it still leaves a lot unexplained.”
We're having fried egg and bologna sandwiches for breakfast.
After breakfast, we agree that we should visit Ailsa and tell her about the attic.
Lenny drives us to her small apartment, or flat, as they call it here.
Ailsa is interested in the knitting and crocheting magazines. Although she's disappointed that we didn't find anything significant, she's glad to know that the house has been looked over thoroughly now.
“But we don't know where to go from here,” says Harry. “We agree with you. It seems that some nice people don't see the ghost. But we can't get any further than that.”
“Have you been to the museum yet?” asks Ailsa.
We shake our heads.
“They might be able to help. It's mostly maritime items. But they have items of local interest. They even have a sample of the silk brought back by James Henlock on his final journey home. It's not out on display, but I've seen it in storage when I was doing my paper on Laircassle.”
“We'll check it out,” says Harry. “Do we know much about James Henlock's life out in India? Maybe he made some enemies out there. The way he died makes me think he might have been poisoned by some foreign substance that the doctor didn't recognize.”
“That's a theory,” says Ailsa nodding. “Some sort of drug found only in India, some sort of native plant perhaps.”
“A former associate from India could have come and visited and poisoned his food and no one would have known.”
“His sister would have suspected something though,” I say. “And said something to the doctor.”
“Perhaps,” says Ailsa. “Or perhaps not. Not if the associate came as a friend and the poison had a delayed effect.”
“Of course, without a diary of James or his sister to refer to, it's entirely conjuncture,” I say.
“Based on what we know of James's symptoms, perhaps a doctor could tell us what he thinks it might have been,” says Harry.
Ailsa leans forward, her eyes sparkling.
“My son is a doctor. We'll talk to him!”
She and Harry really like this theory.
We're invited to come back to Ailsa's for dinner.
Ailsa's son is a middle-aged, tired-looking family doctor. But he has his mother's smile.
“I never pass up a chance to eat Mother's cooking,” he says. Ailsa, despite her age, has made a feast of shepherd's pie, bean salad and something called Piccalilli relish. It's delicious and we concentrate entirely on the meal until afterward when there is a pot of tea and lemon squares for dessert, which we have in the living room.
“Ah, yes,” says Dr. MacNab, smiling. “The Laircassle mystery. My mother has been interested in that for years. And now you brave people are taking it on.”
“It's easy to be brave when you don't see the ghost, dear,” says Ailsa, pouring her son some more tea.
“Aye, that it is,” agrees Dr. MacNab. “I'd prefer not to risk it. But Mother says you want my professional opinion.”
“The doctor who examined James Henlock said he died of extreme exhaustion, as if he had lived a life of hard labour. His hands were even calloused and the book said his skin was ragged. When he did an autopsy the doctor found his organs were severely strained.”
Dr. MacNab thinks about this while he sips his tea.
“If it were a case of organs appearing to be strained, I could suggest something. The external conditions of his skin and hands would suggest something else though. I can't think of anything that would put the two together. Extreme exhaustion is a good way of describing it. But, of course, am I to understand that the doctor was baffled?”
“So he had no reason to believe that James Henlock had overexerted himself.”
“What about poison?” says Ailsa eagerly.
“Now Mother, you know that's not my area of expertise. Because I think by poison you mean not just something common like arsenic or cyanide?”
“Exactly,” says Ailsa. “Something from India, perhaps. Something that the doctor at the time would not have been familiar with.”
“Well, you have to think about this logically,” says Dr. MacNab. His eyes sparkle like his mother's. “I could name you any number of poisons today that could have had that effect on a man. We have invented some nasty ways to kill people since the first war. However, they were not in existence at the time of James Henlock. If it were some unknown Indian poison, then it is quite possible it is still unknown today, except in the remote villages of the continent. In this case, you are dealing entirely with an unknown.”
“I know,” says Harry, nodding. “It was a long shot. It would be easier if we had the body and could do an autopsy on it.”
Dr. MacNab nods.
“Even then, if you are talking about some obscure Indian potion, we would only be able to make an educated guess. But if it happened today, you would be able to interview people. Who had contact with the deceased? Who made him his meals? Did he have any unusual guests or visitors? Knowing these things would enable us to rule out certain things.”
“I'm afraid we're back to where we started, children,” says Ailsa.
“You said that it would help to know who cooked his meals,” I say. “Well, it would have been a cook since they were wealthy. And his sister would have eaten the same things.”
“Most likely,” agrees the doctor. “So you can rule out anyone putting poison into the communal pot. Unless you suspect the sister, that is.”
“We don't,” I say. “She was never bothered by the ghost and that would suggest that she hadn't done anything to contribute to James Henlock's death.”
“The cook could still be a suspect if he prepared certain dishes that only James Henlock liked,” says Doctor MacNab.
“But what would he gain?” asks Harry.
Doctor MacNab shrugs.
“Again, this is where it would be ideal to be there at the time. Did James Henlock show improper attention to the cook's daughter? Knowing the people at the time would give you a better sense of motive.”
“So true,” I say, sighing. “It's hopeless, isn't it? They only solve three-hundred year-old mysteries in books, don't they?” I pour myself some tea and reach for another lemon bar.
“Why exactly are you staying at Laircassle?” asks Dr. MacNab.
“A Scottish family in Canada is considering buying it,” says Harry.
Dr. MacNab nods.
“Aye, it would be a bargain indeed for the person who can live there. Am I to understand they hired you to stay there to see if you meet a ghost?”
“But you haven't seen anything,” he says, smiling. “So you can recommend it with good conscience.”
“I think we should solve the mystery first,” says Harry. “Maybe they won't see the ghost, but what happens when they have friends over from Canada and they run screaming out of the house in the middle of the night?”
Dr. MacNab laughs.
“Aye, I guess you have to consider all angles of it. And if there is a ghost, solving the mystery might make it able to rest in peace. But what makes you think there really is a ghost?”
“My first inclination when Mrs. MacGrath told me the story was to think it was a prank,” says Harry. “But since the haunting has gone on for three hundred years, I rule that out. We talked to a man named Peter who saw the ghost and it definitely sounded supernatural. I'd like to talk to more people. Just to compare the stories.”
The doctor nods.
“I might be able to help you there,” he says. “There was an article in the Scottish Medical Journal. Some young folks from the university heard about the ghost and there was some kind of a dare to spend the night in the house. You know how kids are when they drink . . . ?”
“The article interested me because of the four students who were dared, three had to be hospitalized in order to recover from their fright.”
“You didn't tell me this!” says his mother.
“It's recent, Mother,” says Doctor MacNab. “I only got this Journal last week. I was interested in it from the medical angle. The doctor said he had never seen people so scared in his life. Their nervous systems simply couldn't handle what they saw.”
“What did they see?” I ask.
“The article didn't go into that,” says the doctor. “It was strictly the medical physiology of it. Acute terror, that sort of thing. We don't see it very often here because we don't have situations to bring it on. But it happens in places where the country is run by lawless soldiers. People have to face terrors they don't up here. Soldiers breaking into their homes, that sort of thing.”
“Did it give the names of the students?” asks Harry.
The doctor shakes his head.
“Only first names. But it did say they were all first-year students and they were all doing Celtic studies.”
“It's a pretty big university, isn't it?” says Harry.
“Aye, that it is,” nods Dr. MacNab.
Harry and I look at each other. Up until now we've only talked to older people. Now it's time to talk to some younger ones.
e're on the bus that takes us to the centre of Edinburgh. Harry has his guidebook out.
“There are 13 000 students at the University of Edinburgh,” he announces.
“Oh well,” I say, watching the old buildings and the busy streets. I like the tiny shops mixed with the modern department stores.
“Celtic studies,” says Harry, closing the guidebook. “At least that's a start.”
When we've disembarked from the bus, we try to use the guidebook to navigate to the university. It doesn't help and we end up stopping and asking someone who looks like a student where the university is.
“It's all around you,” he says.
“Ah,” says Harry. “Sort of mixed in with things?”
“What about Celtic studies?” I say.
“George Square, I think” he says before hurrying off.
“OK, I get it,” says Harry, looking at his map again. “Only the individual buildings are labelled. The university must be all spread out. That's Holyrood Park over there . . .”
He's turning the guidebook all around.
“George Square, George Square . . .”
“Excuse me,” I say to another student-looking person. She doesn't seem to be in such a great hurry. “We're looking for George Square.”
Unlike Shona, this girl has short red hair and looks very solid. I like her.
“You're here,” she says, pointing to a spot on the map. “And you want to be here.” She stabs another spot.
“Thanks!” I say. Impulsively, I decide to ask her if she knows about the students who saw the Laircassle ghost.
“I did hear something about that,” she says, nodding. “So that's what you're looking for? Ghosts?”
“We were told that the people who saw the ghost were in Celtic studies,” I say.
“Ah,” she says. “So that's why you want George Square. But what you really want is to go here . . .” She points to another spot on the map, near George Square.
“It's the café where all the Celtic students hangout. Very Gaelic. The woman there refuses to speak anything but. So they all go there and try to outdo themselves by ordering croissants in Gaelic. I only went there once, myself. Couldn't order a bloody thing. Had to point for everything.”
“Still, that's the place you want,” says the girl. “It's called Binnie's. Don't ask me why.”
We thank her and start following the map. Since her finger covered a large area on the map, we have to ask two more people en route how to get to Binnie's. Thankfully, the last person actually points it out to us because the writing on the sign is completely foreign to us and Binnie's is only written in tiny letters on the door itself. Probably a concession to language laws.
Inside the café is like being in a completely different world. No one is speaking English. The signs are all in Gaelic.
Apart from that, it's cozy and friendly with round wooden tables and matching chairs, shelves of jams and relishes and boxes of tea. The counter is stocked with all sorts of sweets and pies and sandwiches. Everyone is drinking coffee or pots of tea but I can see what that girl meant. The chalkboard with the items and prices is all in Gaelic. We're going to have to point to get what want.
This is confirmed when the lady behind the counter gives Harry a blank look. He's ordered two pies and two coffees . . . in English. She only responds when he points. Obviously it's a matter of principle with her. I hope the students are a little more lenient.
We take our food to a small corner table. Beside us, is a table of laughing students, but all the jokes are in Gaelic.
“Oh, what the hell,” I say, leaning forward to talk to them. “Per favore. S'il vous plait?”
They look at me like I'm crazy but at least they're listening.
“We're looking for those guys who saw the Laircassle ghost. Any idea where we might find them?”
It's a mixed crowd, three guys and two girls. They start talking in Gaelic to one another. Then one of them calls over to another table and the two tables are now talking in Gaelic to one another. Soon the whole café is talking to one another, and looking at us.
Finally, a young man comes over and joins us.
He speaks in Gaelic.
“Min fudlik,” says Harry. “Ma tuhkee Gaelic. Engleezi seulement.”
I look at him.
“Arabic and French,” he explains.
We both laugh.
Even the young man laughs.
“Can't talk English in this place,” he whispers, looking around. “How 'bout we move on to a pub?”
Harry and I gulp down our pies and our coffee and in five minutes are back out on the street.
“I'm Ciaran,” he says. We introduce ourselves. He nods to a pub on the other side of the road and we dash across.
We order a round of pints.
“So you're interested in the Laircassle ghost?” he says.
“We understand that some Celtic students here saw it.”
“Aye,” he says. “They did. One of them was my brother.”
“Really?” we both say at the same time. Saying 'Really?' at the same time is becoming a trademark of ours.
“But I don't think he'll want to speak to you about it. He's pretty shook up still and it happened months ago. I don't think he would have been able to carry on here if the doctor hadn't given him some pills to settle his nerves. Why are you guys interested?”
“We're staying there . . .” Harry begins.
“You are?” Ciaran is incredulous. “And you haven't seen it?”
“That's right,” says Harry. “Some people in Canada want to buy it but they wanted us to stay there first.”
“They don't sound like decent people, then,” says Ciaran, shaking his head. “Still, you haven't seen it?”
“From what we can tell, not everyone does.”
“That's true,” nods Ciaran. “Patrick didn't. He says he was baffled when the others started screaming. Though at first, they just turned white and looked like they would drop dead on the spot. Patrick was looking all around, trying to figure it out but he couldn't see a thing. When the others ran out screaming he just went out with them because he didn't know what else to do.”
“What's Patrick like?” I ask.
“Irish,” says Ciaran, as if that explains Patrick.
“Is he nice?” I ask.
“Oh, yes. Not a care in the world. Always the first to buy you a pint. Good fellow.”
“What did your brother say he saw?” says Harry.
“Well, it was hard to get him to talk about it. I only know because my mother insisted on getting to the bottom of it. She sat him down with a pot of tea and forced it out of him. He says it was too horrible for words. Like something from another world.”
Ciaran shakes his head.
“You should have heard my mother! She was saying all sorts of prayers over him but nothing worked. Only the doctor's pills.”
“Did he say anything else?” says Harry.
“No, not really. Just kept saying how awful it was. Like from another world. Mother was at her wit's end. She just kept praying and he kept staring at the four walls saying how awful it was.”
“What about the others?” I say. “Did they say anything?”
“Only Eileen could really speak about it. Daniel Fraser said he never wanted to talk about it again. But Eileen goes to a therapist and the therapist put her under some kind of hypnosis. Normally we wouldn't know anything about it but when my mother sets her mind on something, there's no stopping her. She talked to all the kids. Interviewed them, really. She wanted to know exactly what happened to Donnan. That's my brother, Donnan. She treats him like he's still the baby of the family.”
“Eileen was willing to talk to my mother although she was pretty trembly about it. She says they were all standing in an empty room. They had come into the house all scared, but it was a giddy kind of scared. None of them really believed in the ghost, but the place was still creepy. They picked a room that was yellow . . .”
“Sort of a large sitting room,” I say. “With a white fireplace?”
“That's the one. They had brought some food and blankets in their knapsacks and they were just starting to settle in when Eileen says there was a noise. A sort of moaning. She said it was like a cry of the heart. What was really terrifying about it was it was like a mirror to her own heart, she said. You know when you have these moments of feeling alone and feeling scared, maybe they're memories from childhood, I don't know . . .”
“I think I know what you mean,” says Harry. “It's like when we stop being busy and realize how truly alone we are.”
“Something like that,” says Ciaran. “And even worse, because Eileen says it was the cry of a terrified child, a person completely helpless and out of her mind with fear.”
“A female?” I say. “Is the ghost a female?”
“That's how Eileen described it. But she's a female, so maybe she interpreted the ghost that way.”
“We heard that, except for Patrick, your brother and Daniel and Eileen ended up in the hospital as a result.”
“That's right,” nods Ciaran. “Donnan couldn't even walk on his own. The doctor says his nerves weren't functioning.”
“You mean, his legs were like jelly?” I say.
“Exactly,” says Ciaran. “He didn't even want to eat. They all had IV tubes in them for about a week before they could start eating again. Even then, Mother had to practically spoon-feed Donnan.” Ciaran shakes his head. “I'm telling you, if it weren't for those little blue pills of the doctor, he would just lie in bed all day.”
“Did Eileen see anything?” I ask.
“Aye, she did,” nods Ciaran. “And the face seemed to match the moan. It was the face of sorrow and suffering, but it was more of an impression than it was an actual face. Eileen said it could have been one face or it could have been hundreds. It was as if she could see the soul of suffering.”
“Wow,” I say, looking at Harry. “It's really serious . . .”
“It's almost profound,” says Harry, more to himself. “As if it's an insight into something . . .”
“I think I know what you mean,” says Ciaran. “Eileen's therapist told her that she had seen something that went beyond just a mere disgruntled spirit.”
“Was that supposed to be comforting?” I say.
“No,” says Ciaran. “But I think that somehow by understanding it she's supposed to be able to learn to handle her fear. I don't really go in for the therapy and all that. But I'll say this, my mother's prayers haven't been having much effect either.”
By this time we're ready for another round of pints and Ciaran says we should try the grub at this pub. Grub is food. And he recommends the Forfar Bridies, which turns out to be pastries filled with savoury beef and onion.
We pick up the tab for the pub meal and thank Ciaran. Meeting him has saved us a lot of work. He wishes us all the best with our investigation.
We meander through the streets, knowing we're sort of lost, but as long as you can see the castle on the hill, you're never really disoriented in Edinburgh.
“Well, we got lucky finding Ciaran like that,” I say, glancing in the window of a sweets shop. They have candies here that I've never seen in North America.
“I don't think it was luck,” says Harry.
“I know, I know,” I say. “It's God's will.” But I don't say it with the hostility that I used to. Maybe if there really are ghosts than maybe there's really a God. My limited experience would say that he even answers prayers.
“I wonder if James Henlock believed in God,” I say, stopping in front of a bookstore window. It's interesting to look at the book display. If we were in Canada, there would be biographies about Canadian celebrities and politicians. Here it's British ones, a lot of people I haven't even heard of.
“That's a good question,” says Harry. “And how did India affect him? Did he hold onto his British values or did he pick up things from the culture there?” We're both talking in front of the window.
“Why don't we go in?” says Harry, as if he's suddenly had an idea.
The front of the store looks narrow, but the store goes far back and has a second story. We find out that the second story is all used books, most of them older.
“What are we looking for?” I ask.
“I dunno,” says Harry, scanning the shelves. Most of these second-hand books don't have jackets. Just the writing on the spine. “Maybe something about the East India Company. Something about Laircassle. Anything that would take us back to that time . . .”
His eyes are going across and up and down the shelves and I
join him in the search for any little thing that could help us understand James
e come out with two books, one about the history of the East India Company, another about ghosts of Scotland. Both are thick.
We were in the bookstore for so long that the sun is low in the sky and it's time to head back to Leith and Laircassle.
Lenny isn't available to come get us when we call the taxi company from a phone box in Leith. The dispatch sends out another driver.
“So you're the kids I've heard so much about!” says the man when he pulls up in front of the red phone booth. He looks like he's in his early thirties, with messy red hair and a freckled face underneath the beard and moustache.
“Are you brave enough to drive us right to our front door?” says Harry, grinning as we climb in.
“Aye! That I am! I'm not afraid of any ghost,” says the man.
He tells us his name is Andrew and that he's just moved here from up north. Thought Edinburgh might provide him with a better chance of making a decent living.
“We have ghosts up there too, you know,” he says, talking over his shoulder. “But I think it's just a lot of feeble-minded people who can't control their fears. I'm not saying I'd want to spend the night in a graveyard, mind ye, but I'm not afraid of old houses . . .”
Andrew goes on and on as we ride back to Laircassle.
He tells us about his brother back home who's happy to eat oats for breakfast everyday and take care of their old mum.
Andrew shakes his head.
“I'm for seeing the world,” he says. “Making my way.”
Unlike Lenny, he turns down the driveway and parks right in front of the main door.
Harry pays him but to our surprise, he gets out of the car with us.
“Don't mind if I have a look around, do you?” he says.
The sun is almost down so I don't know what he expects to see.
“Could I just take a peek in the house?” he asks. “You know, for bragging purposes down at the pub?”
Harry looks uncomfortable.
“I don't know,” he says. “Some people really do see something. And what they see is pretty awful.”
“Have you kids seen anything?” he asks.
“No,” says Harry, “but I've got a really bad feeling . . .”
Andrew is walking ahead of us.
“. . . that you might,” finishes Harry. But Andrew doesn't hear.
“So this is your wee home?” he says when Harry unlocks the side door. “And how would you get to the main house?”
“Right through this door,” I say, opening it slightly.
But I have to admit, my heart is beating. I'm not afraid for myself, but I'm nervous for Andrew.
Andrew steps into the foyer.
Harry puts our books down and is right behind him.
I'm right behind Harry.
“Dear God,” I say.
Harry turns and looks at me in surprise.
“Do you see something?” he says.
“No,” I say. “Sometimes I pray, OK?”
He nods and turns back to Andrew.
Andrew keeps walking across the foyer to the ballroom. With the sun going down, it's only dimly lit. I'm used to the dusty old place, but I don't know how Andrew can charge ahead like that. He obviously doesn't believe in ghosts.
He's in the ballroom looking around. There's enough light from the windows to see that there's nothing to look at.
Harry points this out to him.
“Just an old house,” says Harry. “No big deal. C'mon! Let's go!”
We turn to go and are back in the foyer when we realize that Andrew is not behind us.
“Where is he?” says Harry, sounding annoyed.
We go back to the ballroom to see Andrew standing exactly where we left him, a look of white terror on his face.
Harry and I look around. Absolutely nothing has changed in the room.
“Oh my God!” Andrew suddenly screams, covering his ears. The look on his face is one of tortured pain. “Make it stop! Make it stop! I've never heard anything like it!” He's sobbing and screaming.
Harry and I are looking around in bewilderment. All we can hear is Andrew screaming. But there is no sense of evil. No sense of any presence. I feel as safe as I've ever been. Harry is the same. He's as puzzled as me.
Andrew has collapsed on the floor. It's as if he has no strength.
“C'mon,” says Harry, trying to pull him up. But he can't. Andrew won’t stand. So Harry drags him along the floor. Andrew's just gone all limp so it's like pulling a dead body.
Andrew's no better back in our room. He's lying on the ground, moaning in terror. There's no relief for him here. He'd be screaming if he had any energy left. I've never seen eyes so wide with horror and fear.
“We'd better get him outside,” Harry decides.
I open the door and Harry hauls him out to the gravel.
It's only then that Andrew experiences some slight easing of the terror. But he's completely unable to move on his own and he's certainly not going to be able to drive away.
“I'll call an ambulance,” I say.
Andrew doesn't say anything to this. He's just whimpering to himself.
“Good idea,” says Harry.
I go back inside and dial 911 and discover that it's not a universal emergency number because nothing happens. So I dial information who says to call 999.
I feel silly explaining that a man saw a ghost and seems to be having a nervous breakdown but when I tell them that I'm at Laircassle, they understand. I don't even have to give my address.
“They're on their way,” I say, going back outside and bringing one of our blankets to cover the shivering Andrew.
The ambulance is brave enough to come down to the end of the driveway. The police arrive shortly after and want to talk to us.
“Would you like to talk inside?” Harry asks and then hesitates when he realizes where that will take us.
“Uhhh.” The two officers look at one another. “We can talk out here, if you don't mind.”
“I think I'll just go get my scarf,” I say. It's gotten cold. It would be a lot more sensible to talk inside but I don't think we're going to convince anyone of that.
“Now,” says the police officer, when I'm back. “Tell us exactly what happened.”
We explain how Andrew was our taxi driver and wanted to take a peek around the house. We were in one of the rooms when he suddenly started screaming, “Make it stop!” Since we couldn't see or hear anything, all we could do was get him out of the house.
“Not a thing?” says one of the officers. “You didn't see a flash of light or any kind of movement?”
“No,” says Harry.
“And no noise whatsoever?”
“Only the noise Andrew was making,” says Harry.
They look at me for confirmation. I nod.
“It's similar to other people's experiences,” says one of them.
“Are you sure you want to stay here?” says the other one, looking apprehensively at the house.
“Meg and I are fine here,” says Harry, confidently.
“I take my hat off to you two,” says the first one.
Before they go, I point out to them that Andrew's taxi cab is still here. So one of officers gets into the front seat and says he'll return it to the cab company.
I doubt Andrew will be using it again soon.
fter finishing up a breakfast of cheese omelettes, we want to go to the market. We're out of milk, eggs and cheese.
When we call Lenny he sounds hesitant about picking us up. And when he does come, he's actually parked down the road so that he's not in front of the house. It looks like the new pattern is going to be a hike down the long driveway and then another hike down the road. That'll be even more fun with groceries.
Word is out all over town about Andrew.
He's in the hospital. His face is a blank mask although occasionally he mutters to himself. He can't eat or drink except intravenously. All his vital organs are functioning but he simply has no ability to get out of bed on his own.
Lenny's determined it won't happen to him.
He drives us to the market and waits outside.
“What shall we try today?” says Harry, scanning the deli meat section. “Do you like turkey?”
I nod, so Harry gets some turkey slices. We pick out some more bread and eggs and milk. Ginger ale. I try some different biscuits. Chocolate butter biscuits. Rich tea finger creams. Something called Jaffa cakes.
Harry throws some ramen noodle soups into the cart. The kind you just add hot water to. They call them Pot Noodle and they have about ten different kinds.
When Lenny drops us off he invites us to the pub.
“Everybody will want to talk to you tonight,” he says. He has parked us in front of the subdivision beside Laircassle. At least ramen noodles are light.
“Sounds ominous,” I say. “It wasn't our fault, you know. Harry tried to warn him . . .”
“Oh no,” says Lenny, reassuringly. “No one's upset. We didn't know Andrew well, you see. Folks will just be curious.”
“Lenny,” I say. “If you honk from here, we won't be able to hear you.”
“Good point,” says Lenny. “I'll call first.”
That leaves us all day to read the books we bought yesterday.
Harry says he'll take the one about the East India Company, that is, if I don't mind.
“Not at all,” I say, turning to the index in the ghost book and looking for Laircassle. It has three whole pages devoted to this place. Pretty good considering how big Scotland is.
“Do we have ghosts in Canada?” I ask Harry.
“I think so,” says Harry, opening up his book. “When my dad was a boy he said he saw a ghost in the basement of William Lyon Mackenzie's house.”
“Who's William Lyon Mackenzie?” I ask.
Harry shakes his head, amused.
“Did you sleep through Canadian history?”
“William Lyon Mackenzie was the first mayor of Toronto. He led a rebellion against the British in 1837. A really famous one called the Upper Canada Rebellion.”
“Couldn't have been too famous,” I mutter, turning to the pages about Laircassle. “You say your Dad saw this guy's ghost?”
“Yep,” says Harry. “He and a bunch of boys were looking into the basement of his house. It's in downtown Toronto. I didn't get the details but they saw something spooky that made them all run away.”
“The guy was probably Scottish,” I say. “I mean, look at the thickness of this book! Apparently the Scots like to haunt old houses.”
“With a name like Mackenzie, he probably was,” agrees Harry.
We read for a while until I break the silence.
“Good book?” I say.
“It's a fascinating time. British adventurers going off to make their fortunes in India. Not that it was easy. They had to compete with the Dutch who were already there. That's all I've read so far.”
I nod, as I'm skimming the pages for Laircassle. I had gotten a wee bit distracted on my way to these pages – some Scottish woman’s ghost who gathered heather at night. The night before she was supposed to get married, her fiancé had been killed by an English Marquess.
There's a sketch of Laircassle in better days. More like that first place Shona showed us. It gives a history of the house starting with it being built by the Henlock family in 1592.
“1592!” I say out loud, looking around. “That's when this place was built! How did they do it! This place is still standing!”
“I think stone is pretty durable,” says Harry. “They have all these castles over here that are still standing too.”
“Yeah, I guess you're right.”
The book says that the house had no history of the supernatural until James Henlock returned home from India. Starting with his mysterious death in 1711, the house has been a source of supernatural activity ever since. Unlike the benevolent ghosts of some Scottish homes, this one has consistently driven people almost insane with fear. This ghost does not engage in opening and closing doors or in rearranging furniture or any of the other activities associated with ghostly behaviour. For those who do not encounter the spirit, the house is as ordinary as any house. No strange sounds in the night. No mysterious occurrences. Thus far, nobody has been able to predict who will be affected by the spirit and who will not.
I look up.
“This book says that nobody can predict who will be affected by the spirit,” I say. “But you had a feeling Andrew would.”
“Yeah, I did. I couldn't really put my finger on it. But I thought, he's probably going to see it.”
“I know what you mean,” I say. “When he said he wanted to look around, I was terrified. Not for myself, but for him.”
“That's how I felt,” agrees Harry.
“Ailsa said nice people don't see it,” I say. “But I don't think that's entirely true. I'm not a nice person, but I didn't see it. And I can't say it was because I was fearless, I wasn't.”
“And Andrew had no fear, but he saw it,” says Harry.
“Exactly,” I say. “But you and I both had a feeling he'd see it.”
I turn back to the book.
Over the years many people attempted to live in the house. Interestingly, since James Henlock's sister died, no one has actually been able to live in the house. Many people have purchased the house only to experience the ghost on their first day or night there. So the house ended up being taken care of by hired help. Many of the hired help were also frightened away, but the ones who weren't, were able to stay on for years without experiencing any supernatural happenings.
“All I've learned is that no one has lived in this place since James Henlock's sister. Only caretakers.”
“That's interesting,” says Harry, looking up from his book. “Because I imagine for a large house it's probably a real bargain.”
“Maybe we should buy it,” I say absently. Then I blush.
“Not a bad idea. But I don't think either of us really want to settle down as Laird and Lady of the Manor.”
Does he say these things to see my face go even more red?
“I know,” I say trying to sound normal. “We've gotten pretty good at investigating things.”
“Exactly!” says Harry. “I love this!”
“Me too,” I say.
We smile at each other and then Harry goes back to the East India Company and I go back to ghosts of Scotland, except that I've already read about Laircassle and I don't really want to read about more ghosts. As far as I'm concerned, we can just leave this book for the next caretaker.
I wouldn't be able to read anyway. My mind is wandering.
Harry's right. I'm loving this too.
I've stopped thinking about being a cop. It's still there at the back of my mind, but more like a memory. Going to college doesn't seem so important now. We're getting good at this just by doing it.
I'm doing what I want, what I've always wanted to do. I just didn't do it the way I expected to.
An outrageous idea occurs to me.
Is it a miracle?
Harry is always saying that he's praying that I'll see the hand of God in our cases. But maybe the hand of God is that I'm doing what I've always wanted and it hasn't been with Dad's help, it's been with God's help.
Crazy idea, I know. But we've been through enough crazy stuff that it's been kind of changing how I look at things.
“It's amazing how the things that we take for granted now were so exotic then,” says Harry, interrupting my thoughts. “These men are sailing in ships to the Indies to get things like pepper and cinnamon.”
“Really?” I say.
“And tea,” says Harry. “Isn't it strange to think that there was a time when the English didn't drink tea?”
“I wonder what they had with their scones and jam?”
Harry and I laugh.
“It's interesting to read the whole evolution of the company. They started off just doing business there and then to protect their profits they got more involved with the politics of India. It was called Company Rule. Then because it was important to British interests in general, Britain took over entirely.”
“How could that happen?” I say. “I mean, there are American companies in Canada but they don't end up taking over the whole country.”
“Well,” says Harry. “Here it says that in 1647 they already had 23 factories in India. The factories ended up becoming walled forts.”
“I guess it was all about protecting the money.”
“I think so,” Harry nods. “And it sounds like they made a lot of it too. With the money they made in India, British men would return home and buy up estates here in the UK. Because they had a vested interest in the success of the company, some of them got involved in the politics here in order to protect the trade there.”
“I can see how that would just keep the whole thing going,” I say.
“And then the military got involved. Any time an independent ruler protested at the British intrusion into India, the East India Company actually had an army to fight him. Since India was under a lot of different rulers, it was easy to make treaties with them if they were co-operative or fight them if they weren't. Some of the rulers put up a stiff fight and it says here that it wasn't until 1799 that the Company had a solid hold on most of India.”
“So everybody just settled down and lived with it after that?” I say.
Harry shakes his head.
“They had an uprising in 1857. Pretty bloody. A lot of British were killed. But the British government stepped in and suppressed it. After that, it wasn't Company Rule anymore. It was British Rule.”
“What did Gandhi have to do with it all?” I ask.
“He came about a hundred years later and led a peaceful protest against the British. More of a stubborn resistance to them. Hunger strikes. Refusing to co-operate with them, that sort of thing. I didn't get that from the book though. I saw the movie. He's the one who got the British out of India.”
“Why would peaceful protest work?” I ask.
“I think it's because it forced the British to beat people who weren't fighting back. They just sat there and took it. And it made the British feel like monsters.”
“Yeah, I guess it's a lot easier to fight people when they're shooting at you. Makes you feel like they deserve it.”
For lunch, we have Pot Noodle. Harry's is called Bombay Bad Boy. Mine is Original Curry.
“I guess there's a lot of Indian influence still here,” says Harry looking at our Pot Noodles.
“I know what you mean,” I say. “Curry-flavoured noodles. Indian takeaway. We don't have that in Canada. I mean, I've seen Indian restaurants, but it's not like there's one in every town.”
Harry spends the afternoon reading his book and telling me interesting tidbits about life in the British Raj, as it was called. All this is past James Henlock's time so he's just reading it for fun. I play Solitaire on my bed while he talks.
It's so relaxing that I actually jump when the phone rings.
Time for the pub.
e're surrounded by people.
Everyone wants to know about Andrew. He's the most recent person to see the ghost. No one seems to know about the students from Edinburgh. I guess they never passed through the pub on their way to or from Laircassle.
Andrew is still in the hospital. His doctor doesn't know what to do with him. He seems to have lost the will to live and yet everything about him functions. They figure the only thing to do is send him home to the north and let his family nurse him back to health. Staying here may only remind him of the horror of Laircassle.
Harry has to tell the story of Andrew's excursion to Laircassle every time someone new comes in. And he gets a fresh pint every time he does.
No can understands how we can be so brave and stay there.
“It's nothing,” says Harry, shrugging. “We haven't seen it. So we probably won't. Everyone who does see it, sees it nearly right away.”
“Aye! The lad's right,” says Old Peter, who's there that night. “Not a single person who sees the ghost lasts for twelve hours in that place. If you can make it there for a day, you can make it for the rest of your life. The bairns will be fine.”
“Have you considered visiting Andrew in the hospital?” says Harry to Old Peter. “It might help.”
“Nay.” Old Peter shakes his head. “It would not help the man. The ghost of Laircassle is something a man must face for himself. I cannot explain it any better than this. It is a lonely feeling, the ghost of Laircassle. A feeling of despair and isolation. No person could bring ye comfort in such a situation. A man must face it alone.”
There's respectful silence.
“It's like death,” says Old Peter. “No one can hold your hand when ye pass over.”
The sober moment in the pub is broken when someone else comes in and wants to hear all about Andrew.
Harry's sleeping soundly in his bed.
I'm not surprised. All the beer the locals forced on him. He practically fell asleep walking down the driveway.
I'm wide awake and staring at the ceiling.
This time I'm not afraid. And I've gone to the bathroom twice without having to chant anything.
I just can't sleep.
It's that idea of being alone.
That seems to be what people are facing when they see the ghost. Or part of it, anyhow. They're forced to deal with something that we can ignore in everyday life.
I think that's why people are so quick to get into relationships, even with people they don't love. I didn't really love my boyfriend in high school but it was easier to be with him than to be alone.
I look over at Harry. I think I actually love the guy. Is it love when you know someone really well and still like being around them? Because that's how I feel about Harry. I don't mind that he prays. I don't mind that he'd rather read than watch TV. I don't mind that he talks to strangers.
But then . . . there's what Old Peter said about death. No one can hold your hand when ye pass over.
I love Harry, but it's not enough.
Andrew was a mess after facing that ghost. No one could get through to him. And he was tough.
If I had gone through that, I would have been in the same state and Harry wouldn't have been able to get through to me.
God knows why I haven't seen anything.
I certainly don't.
God know . . .
The phrase runs through my mind as I drift off to sleep.
“Didn't Ailsa mention something about a museum?” I say from my bed where I'm eating breakfast.
We're having turkey omelettes.
“I was thinking the same thing,” says Harry, at the small counter stirring sugar into his tea. “It sounds interesting. I love maritime stuff. I bet James Henlock sailed right here to Leith when he came home.”
“With all his silk,” I nod.
“That's right,” Harry says, as he comes to sit on his bed with his breakfast. “I almost forgot about that silk. Hopefully they'll let us have a look at it.”
“I wonder if they have records of who arrived in Leith. You know, passenger lists.” I say. “Maybe we could find something from 1711 that tells us a gentleman from India arrived . . .”
“. . . carrying a strange vial of some unidentifiable liquid and asking for directions to Laircassle,” says Harry grinning.
“Yeah, something like that.”
“Actually, it’s a good idea,” says Harry. “We could find out if they kept records of the boats that arrived. If a boat came from India that year it would at least open up the possibility of an old associate showing up here.”
Harry dials the number for the cab service and I'm relieved when Lenny is available. I doubt the cab service will want to risk another driver on us.
The Leith Museum is down by the harbour, one of the buildings we passed that day we ate in the café with Shona. It's small so Lenny predicts we won't be there long but Harry says we'll make a day of it and probably ring him up in the late afternoon, if that works for him.
“Aye, that it does,” he says. “But I hope you'll understand if you have to wait a little while. With Andrew gone, I'm a lot busier.”
We're partly to blame for that so we really understand.
We go up the steps to the museum, through the wooden doors and pay our admission at a small front desk manned by an older lady.
The museum is small but has several stories with three or four rooms in each one. The bottom floor is devoted to maritime items. We wander around and look at a giant anchor, some displays about life aboard a 16th century ship, a 17th century ship and an 18th century ship. There's lots of paraphernalia related to boats at the time of James Henlock, but nothing specific about him or the East India Company.
The second floor has a room about Mary Queen of Scots. She visited Leith in 1561. But that's too early on to be helpful.
Another room on the second floor is devoted to something called The Siege of Leith. But since that happened in 1559, we pass through that room quickly too.
The final room on the second floor is about how the American navy tried to attack Leith during their War of Independence. Of course, this is much later than James Henlock's life, but it's interesting enough that we read all the displays.
The third and final floor is about Twentieth-century Leith. In a display about trade, there's some information about India, but nothing to help us. There's a room about Leith and its relationship to Edinburgh and how the two merged in 1920.
“I guess we'll have to talk to that lady about the silk, if we want to see it,” I say.
“Yes, let's see if we can talk to the curator.”
The lady at the front desk is handling a large group of tourists when we go back downstairs so we have to wait until she's done.
Harry introduces us and says that we're staying at Laircassle.
The woman's eyebrows go up.
“We're trying to find out as much as we can about the life of James Henlock.”
“You'll be wanting to talk to the curator then?” she says.
“Yes, that would be great.”
The lady hurries down a hallway.
“I almost said, Aye, that I do,” says Harry.
The lady returns with a middle-aged man wearing a tweed suit and glasses. Our reputation has preceded us because he tells us he's always been interested in local ghost stories. He introduces himself as Dr. Ian Owen.
“That's why we're staying there,” says Harry. “We want to know more if we can.”
“But you haven't actually seen anything?” says Dr. Owen.
“No, we haven't,” says Harry. “Although a few days ago, we had a visitor to the place who did see something.”
Up go the lady's eyebrows again, but she has to handle a museum visitor.
Dr. Owen invites us to a small staff room in the back of the museum. There he offers us tea and biscuits which we accept with gratitude. It's probably around lunchtime now.
In this business, we've found that in order to obtain information, you usually have to dish out a lot first. So that's what Harry does.
He tells the whole story, starting with the MacGraths and ending with Andrew.
Dr. Owen listens with complete interest.
“Very interesting, indeed!” he says, when we're done. “And I commend you for your courage!”
“Thank you, sir,” says Harry. “But it's easy to be brave when you haven't seen anything.”
“Nonetheless, I know folks who don't even like to drive by the place. And I personally would not risk a visit to the house. But I would love to know more about the place.”
“We think if we could learn more about James Henlock we could learn more about this ghost,” says Harry.
“That's very logical,” says Dr. Owen, nodding.
“Do you have records from the time?” I ask. “Boats that arrived here and all that?”
“No.” Dr. Owen shakes his head. “For that you would have to go the National Archives of Scotland. We have no records here, only artifacts. But I do believe we have a sample of the silk that James Henlock brought back with him.”
“Ailsa MacNab mentioned that,” says Harry.
“Come, I'll show you,” says Dr. Owen.
We quickly finish our tea and wash our hands and then follow him into a large backroom with rows and rows of drawers. Not ordinary drawers. But drawers that are wide and flat. He walks to one in the corner and pulls it out.
The silk is preserved under a thin layer of glass.
The colours are remarkably bright considering how old the sample is. It's a dark red silk with a black pattern. There are flowers and diamonds and borders and it all sort of mixes together into one harmonious whole.
“Lovely, isn't it?” says Dr. Owen.
“It is,” agrees Harry. “It would all be done by hand, of course?”
“In those days, yes.”
We look at it respectfully and then Dr. Owen starts rolling it back in the drawer.
“Wait a sec,” I say.
Dr. Owen pauses.
“What's that there?” I ask.
“Where?” says Dr. Owen.
Along the bottom is something that blends in with the pattern but is definitely not part of it.
Dr. Owen adjusts his glasses and takes a closer look.
“It looks like writing,” he says. “Hindi, maybe. I've never noticed that before.”
“Do you understand it?” says Harry.
“No, India was never really my thing,” says Dr. Owen. “If it were Pictish, I'd have no problem. I studied Pre-Indo European languages.”
“Is it usual for there to be an inscription at the bottom of this kind of silk?”
Dr. Owen shakes his head.
“It wasn't the type of thing you see, no. People used this silk for their clothing or to decorate with. I'm sure they wouldn't have wanted this inscription there. It could be the name of the manufacturer, for all I know.”
“You mean the name of the factory where it was made?” says Harry.
“It's too long for that,” I say, looking down. “Unless the factory had a really long name.”
“It's quite beautiful,” says Dr. Owen staring at the writing. “It's a lovely script. Almost musical.”
“Is there anyone who could read it for us?” asks Harry.
Dr. Owen shakes his head.
“Not that I know of. But I could call the University. Someone there may be willing to help. If they were, would you like to come back and find out what it says?”
“Sure,” we both say.
We thank Dr. Owen for showing us the silk and we give him our number at Laircassle, as well as the number of Harry's cell phone. He shows us to the front door and we all shake hands and say good-bye.
“That's our last lead,” says Harry, sighing.
“The museum?” I say.
“Well, there's the silk,” I say.
“Yeah, we'll see about that.”
It's an aimless moment as we just stand there looking around.
“Let's have lunch,” says Harry. “How 'bout fish-and-chips at a pub?”
“Sounds good,” I say.
“We could stop into Shona's office and see if she wants to join us.”
He grins at the expression on my face and then I realize he's joking.
We find a pub along the waterfront. Over lunch we talk about the American Revolution. Neither of us knew it had made it this far. Then we talk about when we were in Halifax and had learned a bit about the British chasing an American privateer into Mahone Bay. That's where the Young Teazer blew herself up rather than be captured by the British.
That was around the time of the War of 1812, not the War of Independence, but it's all sort of the same thing. And it makes me feel like Harry and I have been through a lot together that we can sit and reminisce about the past over lunch.
We're both lounging around in our room the next day, literally hanging upside down off our beds and wondering what to do next. We could probably just sit around and play Rummy until the month is up, but the mystery would be unsolved and it would feel like a failure.
“Isn't there supposed to be another building on this property?” I say, sitting up. I feel dizzy.
“A kirk,” says Harry, nodding, his head still upside down.
“I wonder if it contains any clues.” I say.
“I imagine any old family Bibles have long since rotted away,” says Harry, sitting up. “Still, it wouldn't hurt to look.”
“So a kirk is like a small church?” I say, as I wrap my scarf around my neck and we head outside.
In Drumheller, Alberta, we saw the world's smallest church. I'm wondering how this will compare.
“A chapel, I think,” says Harry. We go around the side of the house. I've already seen the back of the house through the kitchen door, but we've never actually taken a walk around the property.
The grass is overgrown but we can still see the remains of a flower garden in the back. There are some stones laid-out, like a patio, right behind the house. It must have been beautiful back here when it was kept up.
It takes us awhile to figure out where the kirk is. We have to walk along the entire length of the backyard until we come to the forest.
“We could get lost in here!” I say, looking at it. The forest is dense.
“I know,” says Harry. “It's like Sherwood Forest, back here. They could have gone boar-hunting and things like that. And you always hear about fox-hunting over here.”
“You don't think there are wild animals back here?” I say nervously.
“Meg Carmichael,” says Harry, shaking his head and smiling. “Not afraid of the ghost of Laircassle. Afraid of seeing a fox.”
I redeem myself by finding a little pathway, overgrown, but still recognizable.
We follow it and sure enough, the kirk is in a little clearing.
“This is really nice!” I say, looking all around. The trees are so old that they're high up. It blocks out a lot of the sun but it gives a feeling of being in an enchanted place far away from civilization.
The kirk is made of stone, so it's not as rundown as I would have thought for something buried away in a forgotten forest.
The wooden door creaks when Harry pushes it open.
The forest is dim to begin with and the kirk is even darker inside. There are small holes cut out of the walls for windows. Did they even have glass in the 17th century or was it always open like this?
Harry's walking ahead of me. If this place is so open to the outside, I'm thinking some animal could be hiding in the corners. From behind Harry, my eyes search each corner. But there isn't anything animal-like. Just a lot of grime. Fungus? Mould? I'm not really sure. It could be moss, for all I know.
There are stone benches instead of pews. I sit down on one. It's cold and damp now but I imagine in the summer it's warmer and dryer.
Harry walks up to examine something at the front. Just a simple stand made of solid wood. If it weren't so solid, it probably would have rotted away. Harry reports that there's nothing on it anymore, though he figures it could have held a Bible or a communion service.
He joins me on the bench.
“Well, that's it,” he says.
“I wonder if the ghost ever comes out here.” I say.
“We'll never know,” says Harry. “And I'm not dragging anyone out here to find out. I still feel bad about Andrew.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” I say. “It was entirely his fault and if he'd just had a little scare it wouldn't have been so bad, but . . .”
“I know,” says Harry. “He may never recover.”
“I don't think we could have stopped him,” I say.
There's something so peaceful about the little kirk in the forest that neither of us wants to go. I sit and think about Andrew, but it's not Andrew I'm really thinking about. Why did he see it and I didn't?
I find myself leaning against Harry and I notice he doesn't move away. There are other benches in the kirk. We don't even have to sit on the same one.
I'm out here in Scotland in the middle of the forest with Harry Phillips, son of my mother's boss. Easily better looking than any guy I could have dreamed of working with.
But it's not enough!
Like that voice in me that said Just do it! Now I have a voice saying It’s not enough!
don't know how long we sit in the kirk.
Harry seems to have a lot to think about too.
We return to our room and another meal of Pot Noodle. Sweet and Spicy for both of us. I'm still chilled from the stone bench and go into the bathroom for a warm shower.
When I come out, Harry has some news. Dr. Owen called. He's contacted an expert on Indian languages who is willing to come out and look at the silk inscription. He'll be stopping by the museum at around 1:00 the next day.
So at least we have plans for the next day.
Harry returns to his East India Company book. I pick up one of the magazines I bought at the market. It's mostly about celebrities I don't know and I get bored quickly. I go through a whole article about some British actress and her six adopted children and by the end of it I have no idea what I just read.
I don't want to read the ghost book and I don't feel like Solitaire.
“Harry, do you have anything to read?” I ask him.
He looks up.
“I have my Bible,” he says, half-joking.
“Sure,” I say. “I'll look it over.”
He looks surprised but he unzips the outside pocket of his knapsack and tosses it over to me.
I'll give him credit. He doesn't go on and on about it.
He returns to his book and I pick up his Bible.
There's something kind of personal about looking at Harry's Bible. He has some things underlined and even some handwritten comments in the margins.
Where to start?
I guess I could just start at the beginning. That's what I would do with anything else.
I open it up.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
I guess I'm OK with that.
The earth was without form and void and darkness was over the face of the deep water. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the water.
Interesting. Again, no problem, really.
And God said, 'Let there be light' and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.
That's kind of interesting.
I end up reading most of the first book, Genesis. It's not bad. I've heard of Adam and Eve, but I didn't really know much about them. Then there's all this stuff about a flood. That fits with what Dan Shepherd was talking about when we were in Antarctica. After that, it's all about this guy Abraham and all his kids and it's really fascinating. God talks to him and he and his wife have a baby even though they're really old. I could go on and on. Some cities get destroyed. A guy named Joseph gets sold into slavery by his own brothers. Now some woman is trying to seduce him.
Anyway, Harry's the one who says we should be thinking about dinner.
“Sure,” I say, closing the Bible and handing it back to him.
“You can borrow it anytime you want,” he says. I guess he can't resist.
“Thanks Harry,” I say.
“Should we phone for pizza?” he says. “They'd probably deliver. I hate to bug Lenny this late.”
“Good idea,” I say. “Maybe they'll even come to our door.”
But as it turns out, they know all about Laircassle and don't want anything to do with us until Harry says we'll wait for it at the end of the driveway.
So we huddle together in the cool evening at the end of the driveway, waiting for our pizza.
I start to laugh.
“What?” says Harry, looking down at me.
“It's just the situation,” I say. “We're staying in a haunted house. We can't get anyone to actually come to our door. So we're out here shivering waiting for a pizza.”
It strikes Harry as funny too and he starts laughing.
Maybe it's just the cold and the fact that we're already shivering, but soon we're shaking with laughter. When the pizza guy comes, he looks at us like we're lunatics (we are at the moment), quickly gives us the pizza and accepts the money from Harry without giving any change. He's out of there in about five seconds.
“That was a pretty generous tip,” says Harry and we start laughing again. By the time we get back to our room we're weak from shivering and laughing.
We collapse on our beds and break into the pizza.
“I have more fun with you than I've had with anybody else,” he says.
“Really?” I say, forgetting that my mouth is full.
He nods as he takes a huge bite out of his piece.
“But you must have been with so many girls . . .” I say.
It's not a statement of jealousy. I'm actually kind of bewildered.
He could be with anyone. And he's not with me, anyhow. We just work together. For me to be jealous is irrational.
“But you tell me exactly what you're thinking,” he say. “Not all girls do. Most just play games.”
I think about this.
I guess I'm the only one who's ever told him to shut up.
“Did you ever date a Christian girl?” I ask.
“I did some things with the singles there, yeah,” says Harry. “But I couldn't really get into it. It was all new to me and I was pretty excited about being a Christian. It was all I wanted to talk about. But the girls I went out with were into the same things everybody else thinks about – careers, boyfriends, celebrities. They were just sticking God into it all.”
“What do you mean?” I say.
“Well,” says Harry, thinking as he chews. “They were using God to make their dreams come true. They would pray about their career and who they would marry. Not that that’s a bad thing. But it made me uncomfortable that they liked the fact that I came from a rich family.”
I nod. Being good-looking AND rich can’t be easy. I’m not even being sarcastic.
“But when I became a Christian, I had this feeling that none of that stuff mattered anymore,” continues Harry. “I don't pray about things that I used to care about. I just pray every day that I'll be doing exactly what God wants me to do.”
“That makes sense,” I say, swallowing and nodding.
“Does it?” he says. “Because I couldn't get anyone there to understand it.”
“Well, I don't know much about it,” I say. “But it sounds right to me. It's like this whole ghost thing. Some people don't see it and some people do. There's no mixing the two. Either you're on one side or you're on the other. Maybe it's like that with Christians. You're either into God or you're either into doing things yourself. But you shouldn't mix the two.”
Harry nods emphatically.
“That's how I felt. As a Christian, I didn't want to go back to the world. I'd crossed over from that to a different place. I didn't want to just Christianize my life and start praying about my career.”
“Yeah, because then you'd still be doing what you want to do,” I say. “You wanted to do what God wanted you to do.”
“Exactly,” says Harry. “You're the only person who really gets it.”
“I just understand it because we've been hanging out. I can see it in you.”
“Thanks Meg,” he says.
I don't have to ask him what the thanks is for. I sort of know.
Understanding him is one thing. Having him know that I understand him is another. I look at him now and it's hard not to want to reach out to him and get closer.
But there's still that voice in me. It's not enough!
Lenny drives us to the museum the next morning. We sit and drink tea with Dr. Owen until the expert from the University of Edinburgh arrives. Then we all go into the backroom where the drawer with the silk is opened once again.
“Is it Hindi?” Dr. Owen asks the tall, olive-skinned man. His name is Dr. Gupta and although he speaks English with an Edinburgh accent, it's obvious that he chose to study Indian languages due to his ancestry.
Dr. Gupta shakes his head.
“Middle Gujarati, actually.”
He gives us the impression that we're crowding him so Dr. Owen, Harry and I move back, more to the middle of the room.
Dr. Owen tells us how fortunate we are to have Dr. Gupta here. Normally his schedule is too full for something like this, but some seminar was postponed and that freed up his time today.
Dr. Gupta is muttering to himself and copying the inscription down in a notebook. He works for about ten minutes while we stand in respectful silence.
Then he turns around.
“It seems to be a prayer, a curse really. A request for a curse, actually.”
We raise our eyebrows and look at one another.
“It's not an unusual thing in the East,” says Dr. Gupta. “A curse is taken seriously in the East.”
“Is it just a general curse?” asks Dr. Owen.
“No, not really,” says Dr. Gupta. “The curse is that the man who buys the silk will suffer like the people who made it.”
“Wow!” I say as Harry and look at each other. “That would be James Henlock!”
“There's more,” says Dr. Gupta, looking at his notebook. “The curse continues. In fact, it's more of a prayer here. And the prayer is that terror will come upon all who love money more than human souls.”
We take this in. It gives me a shiver down my arms.
“That sounds exactly like what's happening at Laircassle!” I say.
“I think so too!” says Harry turning to me. “In fact, that's the connection! It's not about being nice! It's about money! The people who see the ghost love money. The people, who don't see it, don't care about money.”
Dr. Owen is nodding.
“Except that it's not really a ghost,” I say. “It's more of a feeling of terror.”
“So what people see isn't the ghost of James Henlock!” says Harry excitedly. “They're seeing the spirit that destroyed him!”
“And the people who continue to see it are the people who love money more than other people!”
It's all coming together.
“I suppose so,” says Dr. Gupta absently, going back to stare at the silk.
“Is it a prayer to Vishnu, or some Indian god of justice?” asks Harry.
“No,” says the man slowly, examining the silk with his magnifying glass. “It's not.”
He continues to read the Gujarati along the border.
“It's a prayer to the god of their oppressors. The God of the Christians.”
or a moment we don't say anything.
“Is it possible?” I ask, turning to Harry. “Could God do that?”
Harry looks stunned.
“I don't know. God is a god of justice. I guess it is possible. It must be since it's happening.”
Dr. Gupta shakes his head.
“A lot of superstition, I'm inclined to think. We people are susceptible creatures. We hear a place is haunted and every noise then startles us.”
Harry and I don't say anything. The pieces of the puzzle have all come together. People who love money see the spirits of the people who were forced to make silk for the foreign trade. Who knows what conditions they had to work in and how they were exploited? Going by the experiences people have had in Laircassle, it was a miserable life.
People who don't love money don't see anything because they haven't been cursed.
Dr. Owen doesn't say anything. I think he believes the curse but doesn't want to offend Dr. Gupta. In fact, he thanks him profusely and together we all see him to the door of the museum.
We all thank him again there.
“Well, kids,” says Dr. Owen when Dr. Gupta is gone. “I think we solved the mystery of Laircassle.”
“It's a lot to think about,” I say. “It kind of leaves me feeling, I dunno, serious about things. Human suffering. I mean, just for some stupid silk . . .”
“Yes,” agrees Dr. Owen. “I have a lot to think about too.”
We agree that we'll keep in touch and he promises to call us before we leave and maybe we can have lunch and talk about this some more.
“I never really thought about it before,” I say, when Harry and I are outside and strolling along the waterfront. It's a vague statement but Harry picks up on it.
“About loving money, you mean?”
“Funny that we would end up being the same on that. I mean, you've got it, but you don't love it. I don't have it, but I don't really care. All my life, all I've ever cared about is investigating things, you know, being a cop, like those shows my dad and I used to watch together. But I've never wanted to become a cop to get rich.”
“I know,” he says. “I have money so I think I go out of my way not to spend it because I hate what money does to people. But with you, if you had money, you'd just spend it and not care.”
I nod. That pretty much sums me up.
“But I think my dad would see the ghost of Laircassle,” I say, thinking of him in Reno trying to win the big one.
“Mine too,” says Harry.
“What about the MacGrath's?”
“I'm going to strongly recommend that the MacGrath's don't buy Laircassle,” says Harry.
“They love money, eh?”
“Big time. Mr. MacGrath owns a clothing company. Does a lot of outsourcing. Mexico, China . . . India.”
“No kidding. He wouldn't last a minute in that place.”
“I think that's the right decision,” I say nodding.
We walk along in comfortable silence.