I have only read the following story in a single source—C.B. Colby’s 1988 collection WORLD’S BEST “TRUE” GHOST STORIES, itself reprints from two of his earlier books—but I love it because it reminds me, a bit, of “The Mezzotint“, a literary ghost story by the great M.R. James. Both stories begin with bizarre behavior from painted/etched pictures of old houses.
A man from Ontario one day visited a small, dusty antiques shop. Among the wares offered for sale was a painting of a castle. It had a large number of windows, but every one was dark, as if shuttered, except a single one high in one of the towers. That one was a square of bright yellow, startling against the general darkness and bleakness of the rest of the painting.
He asked the storekeeper about the picture, but the man could only tell him that the castle was a real one, on a hilltop in Scotland. There was no date and no signature on the painting.
Fascinated by the work, the man bought it, took it home, and cleaned it gently. He found, to his surprise, some Latin words painted in one of its corners. He was not a Latin scholar, so he called on a friend who was. The words, in English, turned out to be “Every century, it will be dark.”
He thought the words meaningless until one night, when he was showing off his acquisition to some friends, he found that the single window was now darkened like the others. Moreover, the paint was not yellow; it was a deep black, as if the yellow had never been there.
Puzzle though he might, the owner could not figure out how, all at once, that square of brilliant yellow had been so thoroughly blacked out. He put the matter out of his mind, though, until he looked at the painting the next day—only to stare in utter bewilderment at the flash of yellow, like a flame, now visible again against the dark tower.
Only then did he remember the Latin inscription painted in the corner of the picture: “Every century, it will be dark.” Could that have some meaning?
Indeed it could. Research revealed that the Scots castle, several hundred years old, was once owned by a wicked man who had two sons. He hated the elder, his son and rightful heir, for reasons no one ever understood, and wanted to leave all his property to his younger, favored son. To that end, the evil laird locked his older son in the tower and left him to starve.
The boy died one night, alone, with no light save a single candle. Later, some artist, who knew the story, anonymously painted the castle with that single bright spot on the tower wall in his memory, and solemnly added the words in the corner. The night the painting went dark marked the five hundredth anniversary of the boy’s death.
Colby’s account of the strange painting dates from sometime before 1950. If the painting is still in existence, in about another forty years, another owner, somewhere, has an odd commemoration to look forward to.