Spirits in the Night
The cold October wind blowing over the heather covered land didn’t seem to be bothering Agnes one bit – although that may have more to do with the multiple layers she had on under her father’s great coat than her upbringing around the town of Pitlochry. With her father away fighting, it had fallen to the seventeen year old to manage the sheep on their small farm, while her mother dealt with the vegetables they grew to sell at the local market.
Looking out over the hills, she smiled as she thought once more about how lucky she was. In the bright sunlight, the hills looked so peaceful, a million miles away from the war she heard about on the radio.
“Agnes! Agnes McLaughlin!!”
She turned and smiled as she saw Charlie walking over the fields towards her, taking care to not put too much pressure on his bad leg. He had been flown back from Africa after his injury, with the grateful thanks of a monarch, and was now helping his family on the next farm over.
“Good afternoon to you Agnes – how are the sheep today?”
“They’re sheep Charlie,” Agnes said in her soft brogue, “they look after themselves, but there are no problems to speak of. What brings you over here?”
“Well – it is a little embarrassing,” Charlie said as he took his cap off, “but I was wondering if you would go with me to the Kirk social on Saturday night?”
“Are you asking me out, Charlie Crawford?”
“Well, I might be – if you’re willing?”
“I tell you what, Charlie,” Agnes said with a smile, “I’ll go with ye if you agree to mend the roof on our barn – it’s got a leak on it.”
“Deal – I’ll come round tomorrow and look at…”
The two of them stopped and watched as the Spitfire flew overhead.
“They’re surely not scrambling now, are they?”
“Looks like it – better we head back. I’ll see you and your mother tomorrow Agnes.”
Agnes waved as the young man went over the heathland, while she patted her dog’s head.
“All right Sandy,” she said quietly, “let’s get them penned in and we can head home. On you go boy.” A low whistle sent the dog running as he started to gather in the scattered flock.
“That you Agnes,” Mary McLaughlin said as she looked over from the stove. She was wearing an old white sweater with a shawl over her shoulders, thick trousers and long thick white socks under her slippers.
“Ay – that smells good,” her daughter said as she stripped off her coat and scarf, revealing a brown Arran sweater and corduroy pants. “What is it?”
“Mutton stew – warm yourself by the fire and I’ll bring some over.”
Agnes sat down and stretched her hands out, only to look up as a plane flew low overhead.
“That one was close,” Mary said as she listened to the noise fading in the distance.
“Yeah – wonder what it was,” Agnes said as a bright light suddenly lit up the sky outside the window.
“Oh lord,” Mary said quietly, “those poor men…”
“May they rest in peace,” Agnes whispered as she crossed herself, and then stroked Sandy. “I met Charlie out on the moor today – he invited me to go with him to the social on Saturday.”
“Did he now?” Mary looked over, smiling as she said “I trust you said yes?”
“I said I would if he fixed the barn roof – so I will be.”
“You are a cunning little vixen, Agnes McLaughlin,” Mary said as she picked up a bowl and used a ladle to fill the bowl. “Here – get that inside you.”
“Thanks mum,” Agnes said as she took the bowl and started to eat, her mother sitting at the table beside her.
“It’s a rough night – the wind is picking up. The sort of night the clansman walks about…”
“That old legend? Come on mother, surely you don’t believe in that?”
Mary just smiled and said “These old heathlands hide a lot of secrets, lass – you should know that by now.”
“Aye, I suppose they – what is it boy?”
Sandy had suddenly raised his head, growling softly as he looked at the door. Getting up onto his four legs, he walked over to the back door and sniffed for a moment, before he started barking loudly.
“What is it boy,” Agnes said as she walked over to the door, “can you hear something?”
Sandy just kept barking, so Agnes opened the door and said “Go on boy – go and catch it.” She watched from the doorway as Sandy ran out, barking loudly, until he disappeared into the dark night.
“Tha’s no like him,” Mary whispered as she went to a cupboard, bringing out a shotgun and loading it.
“Mother, what do you think you’re…”
Agnes didn’t finish her sentence, as she was grabbed from behind and she felt a cold metal disc pressed against her forehead. She watched as her mother looked at her, and then slowly placed the gun down, raising her arms as a man in what looked like a flight suit came past and picked the gun up, holding it and pointing the shotgun at Mary.
“Just do what they say, Agnes,” Mary said as she looked at her daughter, while the stranger pulled out a chair and motioned to Mary to sit down. As she did so, he placed the shotgun against the wall and pulled some sort of cord from a pocket. He then pulled her mother’s arms around the chair and started to bind her wrists together with the cord, Mary trying to stay calm as they were secured to each other, and then to the chair back.
“Who are you,” Agnes whispered, but the man just looked at her, and then pulled a second chair away from the table, placing it next to her mother and pointing to it as she was pushed forward.
As she slowly sat down, she saw the man that had been holding her. Like the first one, he was wearing a flight suit, but as her own arms were pulled behind her back he came closer, and she saw the insignia on his breast pocket.
“Oh no – Germans?”
“Aye lass – that must have been their plane we heard coming down,” Mary said as the man knelt in front of her, pulled more cords from his pocket and started to bind their ankles together. As he did this, the second man pulled some old ropes off a hook on the wall and lashed them round Agnes, pulling her firmly against the chair back.
As she watched her mother being secured, the first man picked up two tea towels, and wound them into tight bands before he held one in front of Agnes. Knowing what was coming, she opened her mouth and allowed him to tie the cloth in her mouth, taking it around her cheeks before he tied it under her hair. Mary was gagged in the same way, before the two men helped themselves to the remains of the mutton stew.
As they talked in low voices, the two women looked at each other, unable to move or talk, both wondering what was going to happen next. The two men seemed to be planning something, but what exactly was difficult to tell.
That was when Agnes saw the lights moving in the distance through the window, and looked at her mother. Mary looked in that direction and nodded, hoping the two men would not see what she presumed was a search party.
Her hopes were dashed as one of the men looked at them, and then stood and looked out of the window. Motioning to his colleague, they both looked out at the lights, and then put out the oil lamps that had been illuminating the house, plunging them into near total darkness. One of them then picked up the shotgun and watched, as the lights seemed to come closer.
Agnes could feel the fear growing in her gut as she wondered if the search party got closer, wondering what their two captors would do. She tried to look at her mother as the lights got closer, and then turned, heading in a different direction.
The two men seemed to relax before a much brighter light appeared in the window, filling the room with an eerie off white glow. The two men scrambled back and stood next to Agnes and Mary, watching as the light moved and then filled the edges of the doorway, before it suddenly opened inwards.
Agnes opened her eyes wide as a figure came into the room – a clansman, in kilt and wild red beard, staring at all four of them. He then raised the claymore in his hand, as the intruder fired both barrels of the shotgun at him.
The shot seemed to pass right through him, as his mouth twisted into a snarl.
“Mein Gott - ein Gespenst, ein Phantom” one of them screamed as the clansman rushed towards them, his mouth opened in a silent scream as both women closed their eyes…
“Agnes, Mrs McLaughlin? Over here – you need to see this!”
Agnes opened her eyes to see Charlie standing in the doorway, shining a torch into the room as two soldiers appeared behind him.
“Cut them free,” one of the soldiers said as they came in, Agnes looking to her side to see one of their captors lying on the floor, his face contorted in fear, the flying cap next to him as she looked at his white hair.
“What happened, Agnes,” Charlie said as she rubbed her wrists.
“They’re German airmen – they came in, tied us up, and then – what happened mother?”
“The clansman,” Mary said quietly, “he appeared to us.”
“Black Tom McLaughlin himself? Man he must have scared the life out of them.”
“You know the legend?”
“Ay Mrs McLaughlin, and I saw the light coming to the farm – that’s why I brought the soldiers with me from the search party. Come on – let’s get you down to the Manse. You don’t want to be here on your own tonight.”
“He’s at my place. Come on – let’s get you to safety.”