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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. II


228 OLD AND NEW EDINBURGH, [High Street. ? arms, and took her by boat across the loch that rippled at the foot of the slope. In Drummond of Hawthornden?s poems, published by the Maitland Club, there is an epigram on Mary King?s ? pest : ?- ? Turn, citizens, to God 5 repent, repent, And pray your bedlam frenzies may relent ; Think not rebellion a trifling thmg, This plague doth fight for Mu& and the King.?? An old gentleman, says Wilson, has often described to us his visits to Mary King?s Close, along with his companions, when a schoolboy. The most courageous of them would approach these dread abodes of mystery, and at-ter shouting through the keyhole or broken window-shutter, they would run off with palpitatiflg hearts; the popular superstition being, that if these longdeserted abodes were opened, the deadly pest imprisoned there would once more burst forth and desolate the land. Mr. George Sinclair, Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Glasgow, and afterwards minister of Eastwood in Renfrewshire, by the publication, in 1685, of his work, ?Satan?s Invisible World Discovered,? did much to add to the terrors of Mary King?s Close, by his account of apparitions seen therein, and recorded ?? by witnesses of undoubted veracity ?-a work long hawked about the streets by the itinerant sellers of gingerbread The last, or northern portion of the close, with its massive vaulted lower storeys, was an open ruin in 1845 ; the south, or upper, had fallen into ruin after a fire in 1750, and was in that condition when a portion of the site was required for the west side of the Royal Exchange, three years after. It would appear from the Professor?s narrative, that Mr. Thomas Coltheart, a respectable law agent, whose legal business had begun to flourish, took a better style of house in AIary King?s Close. Their maid-servant was, of course, duly warned by obliging neighbours that the house was haunted, and in terror she gave up her situation and fled, leaving Mr. and Mrs. Coltheart, to face whatever they might see, alone. Accordingly, it came to pass that, when the lady had seated herself by the bedside of her gudeman, who, being slightly indisposed on the Sunday afternoon, had lain down to rest, while she read the Scriptures, chancing to look up, she saw to her intense dismay a human head, apparently that of an old man, with a grey floating beard, suspended in mid-air, at a little distance, and gazing intently at her with elvish eyes. She swooned at this terrible sight, and remained insensible till the neighbours returned from church. Her husband strove to reason her out of her credulity, and the evening passed without further trouble ; but they had not been long in bed when he himself espied the same phantom head by the fire-light, floating in mid-air, and eyeing him with ghostly eyes. He lighted a candle, and betook him to prayer, but with little effect, for in about an hour the bodyless phantom was joined by that of a child, also suspended in mid-air, and this was followed by an arm, naked from the elbow, which, in defiance of all Coltheart?s prayers and pious interjections, seemed bent on shaking hands with him and his wife ! In the most solemn way the luckless lawyer conjured these phantoms to entrust him with the story of any wrongs they wished righted ; but all to no purpose. The old tenants evidently regarded the new as intruders, and others came to their aid, for the naked arm was joined by a spectral dog, which curled itself up in a chair, and went to sleep ; and then came a cat, and many other creatures, but of grotesque and monstrous forms, till the whole room swarmed with them, so that the honest couple were compelled to kneel on their bed, there being no standing room on the floor ; till suddenly, with a deep and awful groan, as of a strong man dying in agony, the whole vanished, and Mr. and Mrs. Coltheart found themselves alone. In those days of superstition, Mr. Coltheart-if we are to believe Professor Sinclair-must have been a man of more than ordinary courage, for he continued to reside in this terrible house till the day of his death, without further molestation ; but when that day came, it would seem not to have been unaccompanied by the supernatural. At the moment he expired, a gentleman, whose friend and law agent he was, while asleep in bed beside his wife, at Tranent, ten miles distant, was roused by the nurse, who had been terrified ? by something like a cloud moving about the room.? Starting up with the first instinct of a Scot in those days, he seized his sword to defend himself, when ? the something ? gradually assumed the form and face of a man, who looked at him pale and ghastly, and in whom he recognised his friend Thomas Coltheart. ?( Are you dead, and if so, what is your errand? he demanded, despite his fears, on which the apparition shook its head twice and melted away. Proceeding at once to Edinburgh, the ghost-seer went direct to the house of his friend in Mary King?s Close, and found the wife of the former in tears for the recent death of her husband, This ac
Volume 2 Page 228
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