A Tale of Adam Maxwell- Farquhar
By mark p
I listened raptly to my father’s
stentorian voice as he regaled me with tales from Dr James’ leather bound tome
of ghost stories. I shivered at the thought of the malevolent spirits of long
deceased children running and capering in the dark corridors of Danby Hall.
The candle flickered momentarily in the draught as Father indicated that he would read one more tale then we would retire for the night, it was late October and night brought the chill air to our humble abode, the rectory of St Jude’s Episcopal Church, Auchiel, in rural Aberdeenshire.
Mrs McHardy , our housekeeper always had the coal fire well maintained in the study, so it was forever warm for Father writing his sermons or studying scripture. As you may have guessed, my father was a man of the cloth, a minister of religion, an upholder of the Christian faith, a bastion of all that was good. On the Sabbath he would preach his fire and brimstone sermons from the pulpit up above, hectoring and urging the congregation that Hell awaited those who did not unfeignedly believe in the Good Lord. He was well respected in our small town parish and a pillar of the community, his reputation had spread as far as the so –called ‘Granite City ‘of Aberdeen.
By night, he would write his dark tales in the study, Mrs McHardy had often whispered below stairs about his preoccupation with the nature of evil and the occult, and the fact that his ‘supernatural tales’, as he liked to call them, were every bit as good as those written by Dr James or Mr Hope -Hodgson, whose works ‘would scare the very devil himself’, in her opinion. I was intrigued by this, but never sought to broach the subject with him.
My mother had departed this mortal coil in childbirth, some eight years before, along with my stillborn sister Jane; my father embroiled himself in parish matters and his study of the religious scriptures in hope of finding some comfort and succour. I missed my mother desperately, although as I was almost eighteen and becoming a man, I missed the comfort her soothing voice brought me in times of trouble. I visited her grave with Father on the anniversary of her death, and offered up a prayer for her in Heaven.
I never knew Jane, but I often found myself wandering the rectory grounds musing on what she might have looked like, my imaginings would sometime run wild and I would behold a golden haired girl in a black dress running along the forest path that backed on to the rectory’s garden. I would chase after her sometimes but she would always run deeper into the forest and become lost to view. I would walk sadly back to the rectory, wondering if what I had seen was real or just a fantasy my mind had conjured up.
My father had described me as ‘a young man of substantial intellect and imagination’ and I was encouraged to read from his extensive library. I enjoyed the works of Mr Dickens , particularly ‘Oliver Twist’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’, and I was acquiring a taste of authors from nearer home like Sir Walter Scott and Mr Robert Stevenson , I enjoyed the stories of these gentlemen and harboured an ambition to write once I had been to University. Father had plans for me to follow in his footsteps, to study at the new theological college at Coates Hall in Edinburgh and preach the Gospel to the great unwashed, but I had other ideas.
As a clergyman, Father often had miscreants and vagabonds begging at the rectory door, they gravitated towards him because of his Christian charity and were always glad to exchange a folk tale or ballad for something to eat from Mrs McHardy’s kitchen. You would hear them singing in their rough Doric accents what were known as ‘Bothy Ballads’ about ploughboys dying and tales of ghosts returned to haunt their loved ones. I was familiar with some of these ballads from my fiddle playing and from Fathers collection of tunes and ballads , which in some quarters was said to rival that of Dr Francis Child of America or that of Sir Walter Scott.
One of the vagabonds had regaled us with tales of this mysterious writer from the Granite City who was hopelessly addicted to laudanum and whisky, one Adam Maxwell- Farquhar.
He passed Father a manuscript from his overcoat; a wrinkled parchment written in scrawly script bearing the title ‘The Body of The House’.
‘Its no’ a story, Faither, I bed in that hoose fur ae nicht, and a’ wis feart oot o’ ma wits’, the Waa’s were breathin’
Neither Father nor I had met this Maxwell- Farquhar, but we both read the story and were shocked by its content, admittedly this man was in thrall to laudanum and alcohol, but where did these ideas come from, the very Devil himself?
I will read you an extract from the tale to see what you think:
I lay awake for many hour thinking about my story ‘The Body of the House,’ in which a young man inherits a house from a distant relative, only to find that the house is a living thing- a living entity- with a heart.
Home is where the heart is, after all...
I was somewhat isolated from the world outside, life had passed me by and I lay in in my lonely garret listening to the carriages rattling by outside as I concocted my supernatural tales.
Most of the time, I wrote them when I was intoxicated and they always seemed to be what I believed to be as good as the Americans Lovecraft, and Poe or that brilliant Oxford don, M. R. James.
In the cold light of day however, they revealed themselves for what they were, rambling imaginings of a social outcast whose grip on reality was slipping.
One evening, in the grip of my addiction, having mixed the last of my supply of laudanum with a quantity of uisqua beatha, which makes my life such as it is bearable, I sat in the silent solitude of my garret room and listened to the peace, the quietude of the four walls and imagined that “The Body of the House,” was taking place within my own surroundings.
I heard a noise, an insistent tattoo, which I first took to be the sound coming through the floorboards from the room below.
Owned by a young woman, who entertained callers all the hours of the day and night, there always seemed to some noise or other!
On closer listening, I discerned that it was somewhat akin to the sound of a heartbeat, a pulse, emanating from the floorboards.
I put my ear to the floor and listened attentively.
In addition to this, there was also a rasping, asthmatic breathing.
God in Heaven help me, the walls were breathing!.
My imaginings were becoming reality -- was this what those residing in Bedlam suffered, those who the Doctors labelled as mad?
I wondered what manner of evil had taken over the building.
As the months passed, I became convinced that I was perhaps losing my mind.
Each night at the same hour, I would hear the same sounds; the heartbeat becoming gradually faster, followed by the asthmatic wheeze.
I noticed that a patch on the wall had become stained—a blood red colour, just a thin stripe, but nevertheless blood red.
I wiped at it with my finger and licked it.
It was blood -- that sickening coppery taste, but coming from a wall in my garret room?
I had not cut myself recently, had I?
The stained patch had become a huge blister, like an air pocket in the wallpaper, albeit an air pocket that was expanding by the minute - a swollen pregnant belly, ready for birth.
Dumbfounded, I rose from my chair and staggered towards the bookcase.
As I picked a leather bound tome up, something fell from it, a slip of paper or something like that?
It was a photograph, which at first glance, appeared to be of me. Balding head, rimless spectacles, beard bearing traces of grey.
The photograph visibly transformed in my hands, changing colour into a sepia washed image- this was Maxwell Farquhar himself-- the enigmatic writer -- my doppelganger, myself?
These thoughts and many others raged in torrents inside my head, as the blister on the wall burst, sending spouts of thin blood splashing all over the place.
Sodden layers of wallpaper fell away to reveal the body of the house- fleshy and pulsating.
That rasping asthmatic wheezing, closer and closer, closer and. closer.
It was then that the “walls” began to close in on me as the pounding of the house’s heart became deafening and all else was blotted out.
Neither of us said any more about the story for a while and we went about our lives in the country parish, attending Morning Mass and Evensong each Sunday, with my dividing study time between the study of the Pentateuch ,that is the first five books of the Old Testament , and Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ , the latter of which Father had forbidden me to read, but which I read when he was out on pastoral visits. I found this disapproval odd considering his evident predeliction for stories of a macabre and frightening nature.
In a moment of daydreaming , I wondered if I should ask Mrs McHardy more about Father’s ‘supernatural tales’ which he kept secret. Maybe I should just forget my curiosity and return to my studies, it would probably be unseemly for a clergyman to be writing supernatural tales that dealt with evil , especially in a country parish like ours where everyone knew one another and their business.
One day in November , Father received word from Bishop Campbell that his presence was required in Aberdeen to perform an exorcism on a lodging house building in the fishing community of Torry in the Granite City.
Father was the appointed exorcist in the diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney and had only once been called on to perform an exorcism , in that case, on a poor soul who claimed to be possessed by the Devil. He often spoke to me about his vocation as a minister , but he never mentioned that incident to me , although I could see it had shaken him somewhat.
He read the letter from the Bishop out to me . The lodging house in Torry had been the home of a hopeless addict and alcoholic who claimed visions of evil visiting him at all hours , the neighbours had been complaining of noises emanating from the top floor garret. The occupant had not been seen for days but there was something within that garret room.
Father was assigned the task of this exorcism.
He would be in Aberdeen for a day or two, depending on the availability of a carriage.
He had Mrs McHardy pack his Bible , some Holy Water and the Book of Occasional Services, that is a book used in the business of exorcism.
He left first thing on the morning on a carriage bound for Aberdeen.
The date was November 5th 1893. I never saw my father again .
Mrs McHardy kept running the house with her customary aplomb and I contacted the Bishop to ascertain if there was any information about my father’s disappearance. We were told that he had perished in a fire which had taken place in a lodging house in Victoria Road. This was apparently where the exorcism was to be performed.
The church was taken over by a young priest somewhat lacking in fervour, no fire and brimstone about him. His sermons did not inspire me in the slightest , I was convinced with all my studies , I could do better and would indeed go and study at Coates Hall to be an Episcopal priest. I intended on applying in the autumn of the following year , and I had high hopes that my application would be successful. I think I felt at that time that this was my calling.
The Bishop who had been a good friend officiated at Father’s funeral , I even managed to practice ‘Tullochgorum’ on the fiddle and played it through on the day as a tribute to Father who loved the music and poetry of Dean John Skinner.
Mrs McHardy and I mourned for some months before we went through his personal papers on the premise of finding a will which we would take to the lawyer, Mr Gillan in Aberdeen.
We searched Father’s study high and low and eventually we found a will locked away in a drawer in his desk.
In an envelope were several manuscripts which were written in a similar scrawl to that the story the vagabond had shown us months before, signed at the bottom of each page as ‘AMF’ with various years written next to them.
God in Heaven, I couldn’t believe this , was my Father was Adam Maxwell – Farquhar, an addict and madman?.
Either that or he had collected his work and had known about him all the time.
It was like Stevenson’s shilling shocker come true, my father was Jekyll and Hyde also.
The will was unsigned , so was deemed invalid by Mr Gillan our solicitor.
I would never know the truth.
The year of Our Lord 1896
A year after my father’s death , Mrs McHardy our housekeeper died also, and left me a considerable sum of money. I was able to study to become an Episcopalian priest at Coates Hall in Edinburgh , by day I studied Theology and the Holy Scriptures , by night I roamed the taverns and observed the common people, the misfits and vagabonds looking for inspiration for my supernatural tales.
I was recently ordained as a priest and I commence at my first church , that of St Peter’s , Victoria Road , Torry, not far from the house in which my father , if he was my father died.