Happy Halloween, my pretties!!! Bwahahahahahaha–
When I began choosing stories for this year’s 31 Days of Halloween, I wanted to save the scariest for the very last one, and I think I have succeeded. This story, told for true by Ian Fellowes-Gordon in John Cannings’ 50 Strange Stories of the Supernatural (1974), reads more like a Scots folktale than a ghost story–but it about scared the pee out of me!
It begins in the seaside town of St. Andrews, better known now as the home of the world’s most venerable golf course, in the early part of the eighteenth century, with a shoemaker named Rabbie (a Scots diminutive for Robert) Henspeckle. He’s a small man, who says, without bragging, that he’s the finest cobbler in Scotland, and yet isn’t a tenth the equal of his father who taught him. He’s working at his cobbler’s bench, putting the last stitches into the finest piece of shoe leather he’s ever sewn, when a man walks in off the street–
and things go downhill from there.
Rabbie Henspeckle had been working since six o’clock that morning, and he was putting the last stitches around the fine silver buckle on the first of a pair of shoes when a shadow fell over his work. It was still barely dawn, and he wouldn’t be opening the shop for custom for another hour.
He looked up at the strangest man he’d ever seen: remarkably tall, skeletally thin, wearing an oversized and dusty black coat and the ugliest, most weatherbeaten pair of shoes Rabbie had ever laid eyes on.
The stranger made polite conversation for a few minutes before he got down to business: “Is that shoe you’re making now–is it already sold?”
“Nae,” Rabbie said cautiously. He was sure that something about this man was “no’ canny”, as the Scots say, although he couldn’t have said, then, what made him sure. “It’s only the first o’ the pair, and when the twin’s done, the pair will be put in the window for sale.”
“I want to buy the pair. I’ll pay you now, take this shoe with me, and come back for the other when it’s done. That will be–”
“Tomorrow. Four o’clock, say. But you haven’t even–”
“Oh, they’ll fit. I know they will.” To demonstrate, he took the just-finished shoe from Rabbie’s hand and, kicking off one of his old brown shoes, worn and filthy, put it on. “See? A perfect fit.”
So, after a few more expostulations and protests on Rabbie’s part, the stranger paid for the pair–eight shillings, the most Rabbie had ever charged for a pair of shoes–and left, promising to return the next afternoon for the other shoe. He walked out, stuffing the one old shoe into a pocket of his capacious coat and wearing the new one. Rabbie heard him on the cobblestones outside, with a strange limping clop. . .clop. . . to his gait, for the new shoe’s sole was thicker than the old brown one on his other foot.
Curiosity got the better of the little shoemaker; he wanted to see where the man went, with that shoe–over which Rabbie was already mentally kicking himself; he probably wouldn’t be back tomorrow to collect the other, and Rabbie would be left with half a fine pair of shoes and no leather to make another mate.
So he grabbed his coat and his green and black cap–for the wind in off the sea was very cold that morning–and followed the man.
He led Rabbie–
to the kirkyard.
And there, the stranger walked over to an open grave, jumped in, and began to rake the dirt in over himself. Rabbie saw the whole thing from behind a tombstone.
Rabbie was positive there was deviltry abroad. His instinct, that the stranger was “no’ canny”, had been dead on. And also, he had a totally unworthy and greedy idea. He wanted that shoe back, since the idea now possessed him that the stranger–being a dead man–would not be back for the other.
He summoned friends to come with him to the kirkyard, telling them to bring shovels. They were forced to believe the otherwise mad story he told them, that the dead man in that grave had buried himself; he was sitting half-upright, uncoffined, and he was wearing one old scuffed filthy shoe and one fine new one.
Rabbie told the men the stranger had stolen that shoe from him, and he wanted it back.
And so, he removed the new shoe from the dead foot; the grave was refilled; and Rabbie went home with the new shoe. He told his wife that he’d made a good sale to explain the fancy supper and fine ale he treated her to that night.
He was up fresh as a daisy and at work by six in the morning, as always, while his wife, a little hung over, stayed in bed until midday.
She was up, although still feeling far from well, and about at four PM, when she heard a horrible scream from Rabbie’s workshop downstairs.
She stumbled downstairs and found Rabbie was gone, and the fine shoe he’d been working on with him.
It took awhile for the frightened woman to find any of Rabbie’s friends, who told her the story of the grave they’d dug up the day before and the shoe Rabbie had sworn was stolen by the dead man, the shoe the man had been wearing. She hysterically insisted that they go to the kirkyard immediately, to see if they could find any trace of Rabbie there.
They dug up the grave again; it was covered as if it had never been open at all.
There in the grave lay the stranger, dead and cold and stiff. In his hands they found the only trace they ever found of Rabbie Henspeckle: his green and black cap.
And on the dead man’s feet were both the fine shoes Rabbie Henspeckle had made.
The finest pair, he would have said, he had ever made.
And so ends Fair’s 3rd Annual 31 Days of Halloween.
Sweet dreams, my pretties– 😉