Horror in the Glen 1.5
by, 30th April 2008 at 03:19 PM (184 Views)
They met on Thursday, Dec. 31 at the hotel restaurant and discussed what they’d learned.
“I spent most of the night at the jail,” Smith told Willows.
“What?” the man replied.
“No no no, as a guest,” Smith said.
“Oh,” Willows replied.
Smith related what he’d learned from Sgt. Lorimer, telling them that McLeod thought he’d entered the house, woken something that was there, and it took its rage out on the other man. He told them McLeod had been looking for a treasure but wouldn’t say what it was. He noted that the local reverend and the local doctor were giving evidence that they thought the youth had killed the man.
“The reverend thinks he was possessed by the Devil,” Smith said.
He told them the condition of the body as well. When Willows asked, he told the man that McLeod was a small man and that the boy said he fell asleep and there had been a ferocious wind that night.
“A wind?” Willows said.
“A wind,” Smith replied.
Willows wondered how the people could believe the boy had been possessed and not believe a ghost itself might have done it. Smith explained that people were only going to be superstitious enough to take the easiest path. When he told Willows what McLeod had cried out in his sleep, Willows asked if the boy had gone into the place with another man. Smith said he didn’t say that but Willows said from the sound of his dream, the boy hadn’t been alone.
“From lessons learned in the past, just because it’s a priest and a doctor ...” Willows said. “I’ve been awfully suspicious since Blackwell.”
“You said the whole town was in on it,” Mathers said.
“All the major heads of the town,” Willows replied.
Smith related his own questions to the youth of why the ghost hadn’t attacked him and noted that the boy had shut up about that time. Willows said that something might have possessed the youth. Smith said that they wouldn’t be able to save him then but Willows pointed out that some kind of weapons had been used.
“Probably claws,” Mathers said. “Look at some of the things we’ve dealt with lately.”
Willows disagreed, noting that people would tell a sword cut from a claw. They discussed it for a few moments with Smith closely describing the mauled condition of the body again. He also related that Inspector Sinclair had no murder weapon.
“Maybe he’s a werewolf,” Mathers said.
“More than likely, this is like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” Willows said. “The only thing that disturbs me is that wind. The last time we had wind come up on us was that damn thing down in that city.”
They looked at each other.
“I really hope to God it’s not that,” Willows said.
They talked of investigating the priest and the doctor and the manor. Willows related he’d had no luck at the library and didn’t even know the name of the house to research it.
They rented an automobile that day and drove down the road to Strathmorn. The town only lay a very few miles from Inverness.
The tiny village consisted of a few homes that straddled the road west of Inverness. A small river flowed through the town and was crossed near the Strathmorn Hotel by a narrow bridge. More houses lay north of the bridge. To the south, set away from the village, was a large stone building with trees growing around it. The area appeared overgrown and they guessed that was MacMorn Manor.
The Scottish hotel was little more than an English coaching inn would have been and they were quick to meet Mrs. Maureen MacPherson, a 50-ish lady wearing all black. She ran the inn and told the men she only had the three rooms, just right for their number. One room was a double and the other two had twin beds. They paid for the rooms and put their luggage away before they chatted with the lady in the taproom. She talked about her children, Iain and Douglas.
“Like most other young Highlanders, they found few opportunities for work at home an’ so got as much education as possible and emigrated,” she said. “Iain is a doctor in Melbourne, and Douglas an engineer in Toronto.”
“Canada?” Smith said.
“Aye,” Mrs. MacPherson replied. “I’m worried abou’ the number of young people leavin’ the Highlands for big cities or the colonies. Did ye know the population of Strathmorn is 20 percent less than it was a mere hundred years ago?”
“It’s a shame,” Smith said.
“It’s so sad, it’s so sad, we have such a beautiful town,” Mrs. MacPherson said.
“They lose the old way o’ life ye know,” Smith replied.
“Yes. We do get a lot o’ English tourists in the summer and that seems t’ help the economy,” she said. “How wicked is it that all o’ that good land tha’ Earl Cawdor has is given over to deer and grouse rather than providin’ work for farmers like it did in m’ grandfather’s time; and how slothsome the men of the village are on account of their drinking half the distillery’s output before it ever gets bottled.”
“I thought that drinking was illegal,” Smith said. “Due to prohibition or something.”
“The Temperance Movement?” Mrs. MacPherson said. “It’s allowed at the hotels. We had a great party that night when Douglas McColl was taken.”
“Ye were at a party that night then?” Smith said.
“Aye, the party was here,” Mrs. MacPherson said. “It was in honor of my 50th birthday.”
“Was it then?” Smith said.
“That’s right. With the hotel being the only legal, convenient source of alcohol, we can serve it here, and as such the social center of the village, everyone was invited and everyone came, even Reverend McCallan who officially frowns on the consumption of the Devil’s brew. The only absence was McLeod who, he was supposed t’ be lookin’ after a flock of sheep belonging to Mr. McIntyre, but he wasn’t apparently. And then Donald McColl left the party early for some reason and that was the last anyone ever saw of him ... until his body was found the following mornin’ by a group of villagers on their way to the kirk to repent for the night’s debauchery.”
“So, does McColl have any relatives here in the village?” Smith asked.
“Well, there’s Jean McColl, that’s his wife,” Mrs. MacPherson said, lowering her voice. “Ye know, he beat her when he was drunk, tha’s what I heard tell. She lives just the other side of the River Morn.”
She pointed vaguely to what they guessed was the north.
“You seem to be knowledgeable about this town,” Smith said.
“I have lived here for many a year, even after my husband died,” she said.
“What about the legend of the treasure in that house on the hill?” Smith asked.
“Well,” she said. “MacMorn Manor’s been deserted for over a hundred years since the last laird died withou’ heirs. Rumor has it, it’s haunted by ghosts of the family who protect the family treasure. No one hereabouts goes anywhere near and besides, Reverend McCallan has forbidden us to do so lest we become possessed by the Devil. As far as I’m concerned, being possessed by the Devil is the only possible explanation for McLeod having committing the murder. He’s always been a nice, polite boy if a little unreliable on account o’ him being given to daydreamin’. Also, he’s forever pokin’ his nose into places where noses oughtened t’ be poked.”
“So only the reverend goes up to the house you say?” Smith said.
“No no, the reverend doesn’t go up to the house,” she replied.
“Oh, I thought—”
“He says no one is to go up there.”
“I thought you said nobody except him is to go up to the house.”
“No no no.”
“He forbids everybody,” Willows said.
“Everyone is forbidden to go up to the house because they could be possessed by the Devil,” Mrs. MacPherson said.
“Right,” Smith replied. “So why doesn’t he go up and drive the Devil out of the house then?”
She thought about that for a moment.
“Well, I don’t know,” she finally said. “Perhaps he can’t. Perhaps he’s already tried. I don’t know. He just warns us off.”
“Why don’t ye just burn it down?” Smith said.
“Well it’s not ours, is it?” she replied.
“Who does it belong to?” Smith asked.
“Well ... I don’t rightly know,” Mrs. MacPherson said.
“You said there was no family.”
“No, no, but somebody has to own it.”
“Burn it,” Mathers said.
“That would be against the law,” Mrs. MacPherson said to the man.
“So the victim left the party early you say?” Smith said.
“Aye, tha’s right,” Mrs. MacPherson said.
“He get a telegram or a telephone call or something like that?” Smith asked.
“I don’t know,” Mrs. MacPherson said.
“I don’t think so.”
“Did he say anything before he left?”
“No. It was quite a party. I don’t think anyone even noticed him leavin’ perhaps.”
They thought on that.
“Ye know, my family’s lived in this village for as long as I can remember,” Mrs. MacPherson went on. “My grandfather, Archie McPhee was the minister at the time the manor was last occupied. I believe he wrote a diary of some sort, but what happened to tha’, I do not know. It was probably burned on account of it tellin’ of the evil doin’s of the MacMorn family. Not tha’ I know what evil they might have done, except that it concerned Africa. But, they must have been evil if they come back from the grave to haunt the manor.”
“What’s that?” Smith asked. “The MacMorn’s were evil?”
“They must be if they’re hauntin’ the manor, killin’ people,” Mrs. MacPherson said.
“You said they did somethin’ in Africa?” Smith asked.
“That’s a long way; how did a Scotsman get down to Africa and back up here?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know.”
They talked for a few moments about the distance to Africa and the length of time it would have taken a hundred years before.
“You folks better be careful,” Mrs. MacPherson said. “The people of Strathmorn don’t like talkin’ to foreigners. And Reverend McCallan ... well ... ye ask an awful lot about MacMorn Manor. Ye’re not goin’ up there, are ye?”
“I don’t know,” Smith said.
“Well, I wouldn’t,” she said. “Reverend McCallan is likely t’ be against it.”
“We’re not here cause any problems,” Willows said.
“Well, that’s good,” she said.
“That’s right,” Smith said.
“Well, I know about everyone around here so ...” she said.
“We’re just here to help, hopefully, stop an innocent man from being punished,” Mathers said.
“What denomination is the church?” Willows asked.
“Presbyterian,” Mrs. MacPherson replied. “Woe betide any villager who fails to turn up at the kirk on Sunday.”
Willows asked about the distillery and learned that McColl was a worker there and didn’t own it. They asked the woman if there was a library in the town.
“Well, there’s the kirk,” Mrs. MacPherson said. “There might be books there. Dr. McBride has some books I believe. But, we don’t have ... actually, the kirk would have a registry of births and deaths and that sort of thing.”
“How do we find out who owns the house?” Smith said.
She didn’t know and told them that though she thought they might have that information at the kirk. They discussed looking at the kirk and Willows pointed out that the minister probably wouldn’t talk to foreigners though Mrs. MacPherson told them that Reverend McCallan was an educated man. When Smith asked if there was a constable in town, she told him there wasn’t one.
They decided to talk to the reverend and found the church locked up tight. However, the small building next door had similar architecture and a small plaque on the door read “Reverend Thomas McCallan.” Smith knocked and soon the door was answered by a dour looking thin man.
“Yes,” he said. “Can I help ye?”
“We’ve come down to the village and lookin’ around but ye seem t’ be the man we’re want t’ be talkin’ to,” Smith said.
Reverend McCallan just grunted.
“We understand with a crime of this nature tha’ ye might be kind of sensitive and if nothin’ else, I’m hopin’, even if ye dinna want to talk t’ us, ye at least let us have access to some of the books in ye’re library,” Smith said.
“I see,” McCallan replied.
“Get a little history of the place, if ye know what I mean,” Smith said.
“Of Strathmorn?” the reverend replied.
“Well, if everyone, including the police, and according the reports you and a few other people want to accuse this of the supernatural—” Smith said.
“That’s right! It was the Devil!”
“And I’m a great believer in Satan, I know that he does terrible things on this Earth.”
“As soon as I learned that that lad spent the night in the manor, I knew he must’ve been possessed by a demon and could thus have been capable of doin’ anything.”
“So is he free of the demon now though?”
“It doesn’t matter. Murder’s murder according to the law.”
“But if ye believe he was possessed by legion ...”
“Well, he shouldn’a have gone up t’ tha’ house. I told him not to. I told ‘em all not to. The MacMorn house is an abode of Satan! I’ve forbidden anyone in the village from enterin’ it! Or even going beyond the protection of tha’ ring o’ trees up there. Ye see.”
“Why are the trees protectin’ it?”
“They were planted to protect us from the manor. That’s all I know and that’s all I need t’ know.”
“You stay away from tha’ place.”
“Have you yourself tried to exorcise the demon?”
“I dinna go there either. Because I dinna preach wha’ I dinna practice.”
The three men looked at the minister for a moment.
“Well again, I understand yer passion about this,” Smith finally said. “But if the boy didna do it, then he deserves any opportunity and if there is an evil force, don’t ye as a man of God feel obligated to drive i’ away from ye’re community?”
The minister glared at him.
“I dinna know how,” he finally said. “It’s as simple as that. So I’m protectin’ my community by keepin’ them away.”
“He’s not Catholic,” Mathers said, matter-of-factly.
“That’s right I’m not,” the minister replied.
“Catholic priests are the one that study exorcisms,” Mathers went on.
“All men of God fight Satan,” Smith said.
“Aye, I done that,” McCallan said. “But whatever’s in tha’ house, is beyond any abilities of mine.”
“Why dinna ye destroy the house?” Smith asked.
“Because it’s no’ ours,” McCallan said. “It does no’ belong t’ me.”
“Do ye know who owns it?” Smith asked.
“No I don’t.”
“Do ye know where I could find out?”
“No, I don’t. I dinna know. I dinna care. I’m trying to protect my flock as best I can, and I dinna need people coming inta this town and stirrin’ up something and havin’ more people get killed.”
“We’re not here to cause any problems,” Willows piped up.
“Then ye stay away from tha’ place,” Reverend McCallan said.
“Well, I’ll tell ye what—” Smith started.
“Ye stay away,” McCallan said again.
“—If we knew more information than jus’ a cryptic warnin’,” Smith said. “D’ye have a book?”
“If I had more information do ye think I wouldna give it to ye!?!” the reverend almost yelled.
“I don’t know,” Smith replied.
“I don’t think you would give it to us,” Mathers said.
“Pfft! Bloody Americans, ye think ye know everything!” Reverend McCallan yelled, eyes blazing, at Mathers. “Everything! And ye come inta this town and ye say ‘Oh, I think ye’re a bloody liar.’ Well sair, ye can take yer accusations and ye can taken ‘em back to America ‘cause that’s the only place they’re gonna be welcome!”
He slammed the door in their faces.
The three men looked at each other and then wandered back into the street to discuss who to question next. They decided to try Jean McColl and started to walk north. Mathers loitered on the road. Willows and Smith returned to him and enjoyed him to leave the minister alone.
“Don’t be breaking in either!” Smith said. “It’s a church.”
“I’m not breaking in, I am going to watch,” Mathers replied. “That’s all I’m going to do.”
Willows and Smith went to the general store where they met Gordon McPhee. The man learned they had talked to Mrs. MacPherson and told them he was related to the lady. He bragged that he was the grandchild of the former minister, Archie McPhee. When he found out that they had already talked to Mrs. MacPherson of Archie McPhee, he confirmed what she had told them about the man.
“So, ye been talkin’ to Mrs. MacPherson about my grandfather have ye?” he said.
Smith confirmed it.
“Aye, did she tell ye about his diary?” the man asked.
“She mentioned it,” Willows said. “She didn’t know where it had gotten to.”
“Ye know, I think I know what happened to it,” Gordon McPhee said.
“And that would be?” Willows asked.
“Oh,” Gordon said. “Apparently, some of Archie McPhee’s books were given away to the Inverness Library as a result of a clause in his will. I believe that the diary might have been amongst them.”
“Makes sense,” Willows said.
“My wife is the local schoolteacher, ye know,” he continued.
“Would your wife, being the educated one, or yerse’lf there, does anyone have a book about the MacMorn family?” Smith asked.
“Oh, she might know somethin’ about them,” Gordon replied. “But I stay away from that place because it’s haunted.”
Smith assured him that they had no plans at present to even go near the house but just wanted to learn about it as no one would talk of it. Gordon told them that his wife would be back that evening if they wanted to talk to her. Smith asked about the Widow McColl and Gordon told them her house was the only one on the left past the river.
“Poor, poor Jean,” he said. “Poor Jean. Poor Jean. Although she’s probably better off now.”
“Now why would ye be sayin’ that man?” Smith said.
“Because he drank, ye know,” Gordon said. “And he would beat her when he was drunk.” He lowered his voice. “And he was drunk all the time.”
“We heard that a little bit but we didn’t know if it was right,” Smith said.
“Well, he also spent many nights away poaching,” Gordon went on and lowered his voice. “Or, what I heard, investigatin’ MacMorn Manor. That’s what I heard.”
“Was his body found on the grounds of the manor?” Smith asked.
“No, it was on the road,” Gordon said.
“So it was found outside the circle of trees?” Smith asked.
“Aye,” Gordon said. “But from what I could understand, he was always having his wages docked for fallin’ asleep at work too.”
“Was he good friends with the shepherd?” Willows asked.
“The who?” Gordon replied. “McLeod?”
“Yes,” Willows said.
“I dinna think so,” Gordon said.
“Who did this shepherd boy spend time with anyway?” Willows asked.
“I don’t rightly know,” Gordon said. “I didn’t know him myself.”
“How about his parents?” Smith asked.
He told them that he thought McLeod came to the area looking for work and when Smith asked who he was taking care of the sheep for, the man told him Farmer McIntyre.
“Farmer McIntyre?” Smith said.
“He lives just up this path past my shop,” Gordon said. “Across the stream.”
“Right,” Smith said.
He remembered seeing the farm a little way from the village down the lane past the general store and post office.
* * *
Mathers had wandered up the hill towards the ring of trees and looked at the area from afar. The trees looked strange. They were tall, black, and leafless, the like of which he’d never seen before. He guessed they were alive. He could see the old manor house amidst the circle of trees.
He walked back to the hotel.
* * *
Smith and Willows left the shop and headed north on the road, seeing Mathers enter the hotel, and then crossed the narrow river before going to the McColl house. They introduced themselves to the Widow McColl and told her they were looking into the death of her husband. She invited the men in for tea and then sat down with them in the small sitting room. She confirmed that her husband poached and spent many a night out to the wee hours, often having his pay docked for falling asleep at work. When Smith asked if he had any friends, she said that Willie Stewart was a good friend of his and told them his house was right across the road on the south side of the road to the distillery.
“What do you know about the MacMorn house yerself?” Smith asked her.
“Just that it’s haunted and we’re not supposed to go there because that’ll stir it up.”
“Well, we thank you for your time ma’am,” Smith said. “Again, allow me to pay my respects and express my condolences.”
She thanked the man and he told her if she needed anything, they’d be at the hotel.
She saw them out.
They discussed who to talk to next. Willows mentioned they still needed to talk to the doctor and Smith said he was putting it off as he didn’t expect to get a much better reception than the minister had given them.
They noticed a half-dozen children playing near the general store and wandered over. Smith mentioned that children liked ghost stories and they spoke to them.
“Good day to ye,” Smith said to the children.
A few of them piped up with pleasant “hellos.”
“What are ye playin’?” Smith asked.
“That’s hopscotch,” one little girl said. “Don’t ye know hopscotch? What’s the matter with ye?”
Smith noticed that they had drawn a rough hopscotch in the dirt.
“Don’t ye know hopscotch?” the girl asked again.
“It’s been a long time,” Smith replied.
“He can’t even count to 10 I bet,” the girl said.
“Well, I can get all the way to nine and a half,” Smith retorted. “If I’ve a mind to.”
“That’s better than little Tommy,” the girl said.
“You be quiet!” a tow-headed little boy of probably less than four shouted. “T’is not!”
The girl looked back at Smith.
“Your friend doesn’t talk at all?” the girl said.
“Who me?” Willows said.
“Oh!” the girl exclaimed. “What’s wrong wi’ his voice?”
“I don’t know,” another boy said.
“He’s an American,” Smith said.
“Eww,” the boy said.
“He’s not tha’ bad though,” Smith said.
“There’s bears in the colonies isn’t there?” another boy piped up.
“Lots of them,” Willows said.
“I knew it!” the boy said. “I learned tha’ in school.”
“Right, there’s some bears over there,” Smith said offhandedly. “I want t’ ask ye somethin’ now and I don’t mean t’ be frightenin’ ye and I don’t want t’ upset ye at all—”
“Nothin’ frightens me!” one of the boys was quick to say.
“Well, the thing is we’re tryin’ t’ find out somethin’ about the MacMorn house and no one wants to talk t’ us, none o’ the grown ups anyway,” Smith said. “We were wondering if ye would?”
“Bad children,” one girl said. “If ye are a bad child, if ye misbehave, ye have t’ be careful. Ye’ll be caught by the ghosts o’ the evil MacMorns and the Devils they brought back from Africa.”
Smith and Willows looked at each other.
“Right, so ye’ve got t’ behave or they’ll punish ye then?” Smith said.
“That’s right, the ghosts are bad,” the child said. “And their devils are worse.”
“Does anyone ever go to that house?” Willows asked.
The girl looked at him like he was daft.
“No,” she simply said.
“Do ye know—” Smith said.
“I wouldn’t go t’ tha’ house,” the girl said. She turned to another girl. “Would ye go t’ tha’ house?”
“No, I wouldn’t,” the other girl said.
“I’d go t’ tha’ house,” the tow-headed boy said.
“Did Mr. McColl—”
“But I’m not gonna,” the tow-headed boy said. “‘Cause I don’t wanna.”
“Did Mr. McColl ever go to the house?” Smith asked.
The girl shrugged her shoulders.
“We dinna go there,” one of the girls said. “I’m a girl and girls dinna go t’ haunted houses ever.”
“Really?” Smith said.
“We go t’ parties and have tea and crumpets and see the Queen,” the girl said.
“Did you go to the party the other week?” Willows asked.
“No, tha’ t’was a grown-up party,” another girl said.
“You telling me you never snuck a peek?” Willows said.
“No,” the girl said. “It was at the hotel.”
Smith asked who was watching the children if the grown ups were at the party.
“Well, I watched him,” one girl said, pointing to the little tow-headed boy who was scratching at the dirt with a rock. “He’s my brother.”
“I watched myself,” another little boy said.
“I slept,” yet another girl mumbled.
“So what do you think happened to Mr. McColl?” Willows asked.
“He was murdered dead!” the first girl said.
“By ghosts you think?” Willows asked. “You don’t think the shepherd boy did it?”
“Well, preacher says—” the girl said.
“He was possessed,” Willows said.
“The Devil was in ‘im,” the girl continued after giving Willows a glare.
“Did you know this shepherd boy very well?” Willows asked.
“No, but he must have done it if preacher says he did it,” the girl said.
“I supposed that’s logical,” Willows replied.
“And preacher says don’t lie,” the girl went on. “And preacher says don’t steal. Uh ... uh ... And um ...”
Smith asked how long the minister had been there, noting he seemed like a young man.
“Not long,” the girl replied.
“Hundred years!” the tow-headed boy shouted.
“No, he’s no’ been here a hundred years!” the girl shouted at the child. “You’re so stupid, you’re a boy!”
“Could’ve been a hundred years,” the little boy muttered.
The two men talked to the children a little while longer before continuing down the road.
“What now?” Smith asked.
“Well, there’s the doctor,” Willows said. “Do we want to get two doors slammed in our face today or do we only want one?”
“Let’s go,” Smith said.
“Do you know where he lives?” Willows asked.
Smith admitted that he hadn’t seen a sign for a doctor so they crossed the river again but found that all of the houses north of it appeared to be residences. They returned to McFee’s shop and he told them that the doctor’s house was on the south side of the village near the golf course. They quickly found the place and saw that the small sign next to the door read merely “Dr. McBride.” Smith knocked on the door and it was opened a few moments later by a man in his mid to late 30s with a mustache.
“Yes, canna help ye?” the man asked.
“I dinna know,” Smith replied. “My name is Smith and I’m a private inquiry agent.”
“We’re looking into the matter of the death of Mr. McColl.”
“Oh yes. Poor Mr. McColl.”
Dr. McBride invited them into a good-sized sitting room. After a little small talk from the courteous man, they talked about the McColl death. Dr. McBride admitted he knew very little about it.
“I’ve just got a few general questions and since you’re probably the most educated man in the town, you and the pastor,” Smith said. “For instance, I’m not sure how t’ go about this, but Inspector Sinclair, whom I talked to, he commented specifically tha’ you and the reverend both would give testimony that you could provide some kind of motive for the killing or say that perhaps the boy—”
“Well ...” Dr. McBride said.
“—was able t’ do it besides circumstantial evidence,” Smith finished.
“I’m convinced of his guilt,” Dr. McBride said. “He was the only one who was out who could have done it.”
Smith suggested a passer-by, noting that Inverness was just up the road.
“Yes yes yes yes yes,” the doctor said. “But McLeod was very given to daydreamin’ an’ other signs of maladjustment an’ I think that’s what I’m going to be testifying to.”
“So, because he daydreams, he’s a killer?” Smith asked.
“There are some other signs but—”
“Such as what?”
“Well, he was always going where he was not supposed to go and doing wha’ he was not supposed to do.”
“Such as what?”
“Maybe he got caught by Mr. McColl.”
“I dinna know.”
“Sounds like he did plenty.”
“I dinna know. I just think that ...”
“Where did he go that he wasn’t supposed to go that everybody knows and nobody tells me?”
“Where did go that ... everyone says he went places he wasn’t supposed to but no one—”
“Well, he sticks his nose into business that isn’t his business. I mean, every person’s allowed his own business.”
“Ye dinna stick yer nose into other people’s business necessarily.”
“I understand that. He was a nosy boy then?”
“Aye. That he was.”
“Did he have any relations around these parts?” Willows asked.
“No, he came here lookin’ for work,” Dr. McBride replied.
“And he jus’ kept t’ himself?” Willows asked.
“Aye, he lived down in Inverness I believe,” Dr. McBride said.
“I’m still kind of curious what kind of nosiness would someone, this is a small town,” Smith said. “People share pretty openly here. What could he have done that would have offended so many people?”
“People have their secrets,” the doctor replied. “People have things tha’ they wan’ to keep private and there’s nothin’ wrong with that.”
“Right,” Smith said.
“He liked findin’ out things that were private to people, I think,” Dr. McBride went on. “That’s how it seemed to me.”
“You mentioned the minister,” Willows said. “How long has he been in town.”
“You mentioned th’ minister,” Dr. McBride said to him.
“I mentioned it, not him,” Smith said.
“He’s only been here for a few years, but though he’s not well-read, he knows wha’ he’s heard and this seems to be proof t’ him tha’ something evil’s up in that house up there,” Dr. McBride said.
“What do ye know of the MacMorn house?” Smith asked. “As a man of science.”
“It was built in the 17th century, I believe, when Scotland was politically unstable,” Dr. McBride said. “There was a quite a bit of warfare between the clans so it’s built defensively, of sorts.”
“So, it’s a keep then?” Smith asked.
“Aye, a small one,” the doctor went on. “That’s wha’ I’ve read at least. Other than that, the history is mostly lost.”
Smith and Willows had both noticed there were an unusual number of books on the shelves in the room. Many of them dealt with genealogy.
“Any of those books have something in them about the MacMorn family?” Smith asked.
“Oh no no no no no,” Dr. McBride replied.
“Oh, all right,” Smith said.
“I just ... I was born in England of Scots descent,” Dr. McBride said. “I was hoping to trace my ancestors who I believed lived, they lived I believe near St. Andrews. I’ve been doing some research on it.”
“Was there anything in there about the McPhee family?” Smith asked.
“McPhee?” Dr. McBride said.
“Apparently they were a prominent family ...” Smith said.
“He was the minister here for some time but no, I really haven’t paid any attention,” Dr. McBride said.
“Oh, all right,” Smith replied.
“I mean, it’s not wha’ I’m lookin’ for,” McBride said.
“So, ye know it’s a 17th century keep built during the clan warfare?” Smith said.
“Well, why did the family die off? What happened there?”
“I’m not sure exactly but it was in the 1800s.”
“Most of the history’s been lost. I just know a little bit from what I’ve read.”
“Do ye have any kind of physical evidence that really convinced ye, besides the idea of the daydreamin’ and bein’ a nosy person? I know a lot of daydreamers who are nosy and none of ‘em are ... uh ... killers.”
“Well, there’s case histories, and I’ve found many, that even a small man can inflict ... when the mentally disturbed are involved, they can do much more than their strength would seem to indicate—”
“Right. So ye examined the body then, did ye?”
“I looked at it a little bit but the police were doing most of the investigatin’.”
“I saw that it was pretty badly ...”
Dr. McBride repeated that he’d seen case histories where a mentally unbalanced person gained a great strength. He said he wasn’t as much a believer in the “devils” the reverend talked about but it was the same basic theory.
“Well, what d’ ye know about this McColl man?” Smith asked.
“McColl,” Dr. McBride asked. “He was—”
“No one seems to be mournin’ the man is dead,” Smith said.
“Well, we’re all mournin’ his death.”
“Ye know what I mean sir. The drinkin’? I heard he was a violent man.”
“Well, aye, that’s what they say. He did beat his wife when he’d been drinkin’ and he was a poacher—”
“So not very well-liked then?”
“Well, poachin’ is an accepted way o’ life around here.”
“It’s nothin’ t’ be concerned about.”
“Unless ye’re the landowner.”
“Well, even the landowner.”
“He wasna a bad man. I didna know him too well but, there are always — ye’re goin’ t’ hear rumors, so ...”
“Have ye treated anyone else in the town for the problems with the daydreamin’ or nightmares or things of tha’ nature?”
“No, most of the people here are fairly sturdy, steady folk. Good folk. Ye might find ‘em a bit standoffish.”
“Right, but if I was home in Ireland and a stranger showed up, I wouldna talk to them.”
The doctor thanked them for stopping and told Smith if he had any other questions to let him know. Smith said that if the doctor knew of anything that might help them, they’d be at the hotel for a few days. They took their leave of the doctor.
Smith apologized to Willows for his lack of progress and Willows told the man it was no problem. Smith said he was unsure if the doctor was sincere or not. He noted that on Monhegan Island, the people had seemed mysterious but he’d felt bad for them. Willows pointed out that Blackwell had been worse: the people who were nice were petrified to open their mouths, and the ones who weren’t nice welcomed them like the minister.
“Well, he might just be sincerely scared about somethin’,” Smith said.
“Right, but he’s been here for such a short amount of time but developed such a ...” Willows said.
“Such a contempt for the house,” Smith said.
“Right,” Willows replied.
Smith said they had to find out about the house. They had stopped and were talking near McPhee’s shop when Mathers came out of the inn. He walked over and told them that the trees around MacMorn Manor were unlike any he’d seen before. Though there were no leaves on them, they looked very much alive. He said that he’d been looking through the book Willows had leant him about druidic rings and though he didn’t find out much, the trees looked to be a couple of hundred years old to him. He admitted he was guessing.
“They weren’t recently planted, let’s put it that way,” he said.
Willows told him they were planning on returning to the library in Inverness and the three men got into the rental car and returned to the city. They began looking for information on MacMorn Manor, Strathmorn, and the McPhee diary.
They found the Archie McPhee diary after only an hour’s search and the help of a librarian. They spent the rest of the day looking through it and found several entries that seemed to relate to what they were dealing with:
June 2nd, 1810 - Great rejoicing. Young Master Alex hath at last returned from his travels to foreign parts. Widely indeed hath he sailed, even as far as the Dark Continent of Africa, whence he hath brought back a real Black Man. Most Devilish the fellow looks too, all the more so for his barbarous tongue, which can but make gross travesty of our language. Master Alex hath also brought with him many treasures of that forbidden land, and a large number of trees, which he intends to plant around the manor. He is accompanied by one Douglas, a sailor who had been his servant for much of his travels.
June 14, 1810 - Am deeply worried concerning the young MacMorn. Since of his return, the young Master Alex hath refused steadfast to enter the kirk, and this despite the constant urgings of the Laird and of myself. Master Gordon is as good a God-fearing man as ever walked this Earth, and the Lord knows we did our best to rear the boy in the knowledge of God. Yet his sojourns in foreign parts fair seem to have tainted his mind such that the very sight of the House of God fills him with a deep loathing and fear. There will be no good of this ere long.
August 3rd, 1810 - Alas! Our Laird hath passed his way to the Bosom of Christ, and in a manner most queer too. Brodie, the Master’s manservant, did summon me from my slumber at 4 o’ the clock this morning and bid me hasten to the manor, and make all speed lest the Devil catch me. Then he hasted back hi’self without waiting, stopping only to peer back at me puffing along behind and yell “the Master is dying” as if the words themselves could lend youth to may ageing legs. Well, in troth, I ran faster than I am able, and have wheezed mightily all day therefrom, but alas ‘twas all for nought for, by the time I had arrived, Master Gordon was already beyond the mortal sod and in the arms of his Maker.
Of the manner of his passing, there is great mystery as he was in fine fettle the night before, as I saw myself. Yet in the early morning, as Brodie reports, screaming, coughing blood and saying that the very Devil were in his stomach and burning his way out. I have no reason to doubt this, as the maids were still clearing of his noxious spew when I arrived, and his poor face was contorted in the most awful fashion, so he clearly died in the most dreadful pain. None other in the house was affected, nor any other who had eaten of the Laird’s table the night past, and I am at a loss to explain what strange ague could have taken a man so fit so sudden.
August 4th, 1810 - Great Consternation. The Young Laird - for Master Alex hath now assumed the title - behaves in a manner e’en more strange than before. He hath forbidden a public ceremony of burial for his father, insisting that I bury the late Laird at the manor direct into the vault, and refusing to attend e’en this simple ceremony himself, so great is his hatred of the Works of God. Yet not content with this affront to the village, and presumably refusing to lead them in worship, for he had ne’r once set foot inside the kirk since his return from the Dark Land, he has summarily ordered all of the late Master’s servants and workmen out of the manor forthwith, leaving only the dour-looking sailor, Douglas, and the Black Man, both of whom returned with him from his travels. It is already a common whisper in the village that Master Alex has poisoned his father, yet I cannot understand why a man should kill for an inheritance and then straightaway sacrifice all respect and prestige that it brings by such callous and improper acts.
Christmas Day 1810 - O Lord, what poison is it that affects our young Laird’s mind so? Have I not prayed, day and night, than on this Great Day You might send some miracle that might cause him to repent his past deeds and return to the Bosom of Your Church? And yet there is still no sign of him. He hides away in the manor all day, seeing naught of his fellow men, and only infrequently sending the sour Douglas to the village or to Inverness to buy food and wine. Some of the village hath a rumour that the Master is killed, most probably at the hand of the Black Devil, yet Angus McCallan and five strong men paid call at the manor today to deliver gifts and saw the Laird, for all that he sent them packing with foul words and curses. Perhaps, Lord, I am old and foolish to pray for his soul, for ‘tis plain he hath lost it already.
May 23rd, 1811 - A strange even. Two men came all the way from Edinburgh with a carriage containing strange parcels for the Laird. Staying the night at MacPherson’s hostel, they drank greedily, saying they knew not what was in the packages but that it smelt foul and gave them such awful fears they had driven the horses near to death to be the quicker rid of it. I asked them after the Laird, and they reported him pale and haggard but as foul mouthed as ever.
There were further references to strange deliveries from Edinburgh scatted through the diary over the next year or so. Then all references to Alex MacMorn ceased until an entry in 1815:
November 15th, 1815 - Angus McCallan came to me today with a strange thought. “Is’t not,” he asked, “by two weeks past now that is made the large delivery of foul parcels from Edinburgh sufficient to tide the evil Laird and his Devilish crew over the winter? In troth, I think there may be doings afoot at the manor, for t’is hard to mind me of when I last saw lights burning there o’er night as they used.” Nor could I make quarrel with this. Angus sayth he will take a group of men and keep watch to see if aught stirs.
November 20th, 1815 - Five days now Angus McCallan and his men have kept watch on the manor and naught have they seen of Master Alex and his companions. Village talk has it that they are all dead or fled the region, yet no man is brave enough to venture beyond those trees for fear of what evil things may lurk there. Were I more mindful of my duties, I should perhaps send to Inverness to seek word of Master Alex’s Aunt Moira, yet since she sinfully eloped with the merchant from Aberdeen, not one word has she sent to anyone of the village, nor her brother or nephew, these 12 years long. Besides, I mind me of what e’er misfortune has fallen on the house of MacMorn be best left undisturbed lest that same evil that possessed Master Alex be loosed upon other men.
That last paragraph had been ringed in pencil, fairly recently by the look of it. They found no other mention of the elopement of Moira MacMorn and asked one of the librarians about the diary. They learned that a Dr. McBride had visited the library a few months before and requested to see certain old collections, one of which held the diary, though the library staff didn’t know if he had looked at it.
The only other entries in the diary were a few odd mentions of sheep being taken by wolves. The diary ended in 1816.
They took their leave of the library near dusk and drove back to Strathmorn.