The Christmas Spook

Published in Chalet Club News Letter 17, December 1967.

It all began with a pouring wet Saturday when no one could venture out and Mother gave them permission to go and rout in one of the attics where junk was pushed out of the way and which was seldom disturbed. They, by the way, were Alastair, Gregor, Jean and Fiona.

The two boys were fourteen and twelve. The girls were twins of eleven.

Having seen them racing upstairs, Mother went off to the kitchen and Mrs. Morgan, the daily help, to attend to Christmas cooking. Meanwhile, the four were busy investigating sundry trunks and cases. The girls discovered ostrich feathers and a box of artifical flowers, most useful for dressing-up; dresses some of which dated back to the early years of the century; and a magnificent evening cloak with a huge collar of swansdown, soiled, but still useful. Everything had been put away with handfuls of mothballs and by the time the trunk was emptied, the attic reeked of mothballs.

Gregor pounced delightedly on two ancient tennis rackets and a net of tennis balls which were almost bounceless. Alastair found a big stamp-album which had belonged to his great-grandfather and was settled for most of the afternoon. Stamps were his hobby. But the find of the day was a small case of trinkets of every kind.

"I wonder if Mother knows about these?" said Jean holding up a brooch glittering with red stones. "Look, Ally! Could they be rubies?"

Alastair grinned as he glanced up from his stamps. "Glass more probably! Have a bit of sense. Is it likely anyone would park a ruby brooch in this hole?"

Sadly, Jean agreed that it was most unlikely. "All the same, they'll be super for our theatricals," she added, brightening up.

"You'd better ask Mum before you snaffle them." Alastair said as he fished in a pocket for his magnifying-glass to examine a stamp closely.

In fact, a good time was had by all until the growing darkness made Alastair shut up his book. There was no electricity in the attics and Mother had forbidden candles. He grinned as he look round. The girls were decked out in the weirdest clothes and Fiona was almost swamped in a huge hat with ostrich feathers dripping from its brim.

"Coo! What crummy sights you look!" he ejaculated. "I wonder who wore them?" Fiona giggled. "Must have been queer shapes! And look at all the bones in the top! Ghastly uncomfy!"

Gregor had been rummaging in a dark corner at the back of the room and now appeared with a weird-looking contraption.

"What's this, Ally?" he asked.

"Not a notion," Alastair said after a brief glance at it. "Best put it back where you found it. Time we were shifting. Look how dark it's getting! Clear up that mess, you girls, and you clear up yours, young Greg."

"Family!" came Mother's voice from the foot of the stairs. "Tea! Hurry up! Wash first!"

"I small hot spice cake!" exclaimed Fiona, pushing things back into the trunk at top speed. Mother was a poppet but she was nuts on punctuality at meals.

They turned to at once and no one noticed that Gregor had vanished with his latest find. They cleared up the attic and then raced for the bathroom where Gregor was washing his hands, leaving handsome tidemarks round the wrists. Later on, when tea was over, he disappeared again and was not seen until bedtime. In fact, for the next few days he was frequently missing from the family party; but that was not surprising at Christmas time.

On Christmas Eve they went shopping in the morning and in the afternoon were packed off to lie down as they all wanted to go to the midnight service. Tea and supper were rolled into one and though Gregor vanished according to custom, he turned up in plenty of time to join the rest. He was grinning broadly to himself, but no one really noticed it until they had come home again and were eating a late night snack before going to bed.

"Oh, I'm so sleepy!" yawned Jean. "Wake me if you're first in the morning, anyone."

But they didn't have to wait for that. It was just after six and pitch dark when everyone was aroused by a most eerie wail coming from the nearby barn. It woke the whole house, including big Dougal, the deerhound, who slept in the hall on a mat by the radiator and who howled most alarmingly in response to the wail.

Another wail and another, and Fiona, startled out of a sound sleep, uttered a yell and disappeared under the bed clothes with a shriek of, "It's a spook! It's a spook!"

Joan, equally startled, screamed at the top of her voice, and what with that, Dougal's howls and the repeated wails from the barn, the house was like bedlam let loose. Even Father and Mother were too stunned at first to recognise it, though Father quickly did so and bounded out of bed demanding, "Where's that young monkey of a Gregor?"

Mother hurriedly pulled on her dressing-gown and went to calm the twins, though she was a good deal shaken by the weird sounds that were finally traced to the barn by Father. The entire family were downstairs, clustered round the radiator in the hall when Father appeared, leading Gregory by an ear, while in his other hand was the thing that young man had found in the attic when they had been rummaging.

"All right!" he called. "Nothing to be afraid of. It's only Gregor and your great-uncle Greg's old bagpipes! Now stand there and tell me where you unearthed those-and when."

He finally dug out the whole story. Gregor had discovered what the contraption was, had decided to give the family a shock and had been practising secretly when-ever he had a chance, though no one could have called the noise he made a tune.

"Oh!" gasped Jean thankfully. "I thought it was a spook come to haunt us!"

"A solid kind of spook!" Father said, giving Gregor a slight shake. "And one who doesn't deserve any presents after giving us all such a shock."

It was lucky it was Christmas Day or Gregor might not have got off so easily. But Mother and the girls rallied round and begged him off so earnestly that Father finally relented, though he took the pipes away and forbade Gregor to touch them again for at least two years. But, as Alastair said when they went to bed that night, it had been a goodish joke, and would be a fine yarn for the other chaps when they went back to school. After all, it wasn't everyone who could boast of being wakened by a spook on Christmas morning!