“If a man harbors any sort of fear, it percolates through all his thinking, damages his personality, makes him landlord to a ghost” – Lloyd Douglas
Love affairs with the living are complicated. Love affairs with the dead are a little tougher. Put away the wood chipper, you psycho. Scottish Laird Sir Robert Stewart, 1st Baronet of Allanbank (1643-1707) learned this the hard way. His ill-advised and youthful dalliances with a Parisian Sister of Charity named Jean would come back to bite him in the ass in a famous case of haunted homewrecking.
Sir Robert Stewart was the seventh (note that I can’t find genealogical records suggesting he was the seventh son of a seventh son, but I’m mighty suspicious) and youngest son of Sir James Stewart of Kirkfield and Coltness, Lord Provost of Edinburgh, and as a lad was sent to tour the Continent, where he met a young and beautiful French nun named Jean (some say he had a daughter by), with whom he had a torrid and extended romantic entanglement after inducing her to leave the convent. This alone seems like it might be tempting fate, but what good is being a Laird if it doesn’t get you chicks. I guess there’s the whole money, power, and prestige thing, but I’m told that can’t buy happiness. Not sure whether that’s because love is the only true joy or happiness is simply unaffordable.
At length, Sir Robert was ordered by his father to return to Scotland, primarily because his family had found a suitable bride appropriate to his social and political station in the form of the daughter of Sir John Gilmour of Craigmillar, a prominent Scottish judge and later, Lord President of the Court of Session. This lady was coincidentally also named Jean. Sir Robert rather abruptly ended his relationship with Sister Jean, and returned home for his engagement. Sister Jean, having forsaken her vocation for Sir Robert wasn’t about to go down without a fight, and attempted to prevent him from leaving by stepping in front of his departing carriage. Stewart demanded his driver carry on, she slipped beneath the carriage, and the wheels crushed her forehead. Her last words to Sir Robert were said to be, “I’ll be in Scotland afore ye”!
Sir Robert returned to the family manor at Allanbank in the Fall to meet his new fiancé, but it turns out Sister Jean’s prophetic words were fulfilled, much to his aristocratic dismay.
The hauntings began that autumn. Mr. Stewart, as was only fit and proper, being the first to witness the phenomenon. Returning home from a drive one evening, he perceived to his surprise the dark outlines of a human figure perched on the arched gateway of his house. Wondering who it could be, he leaned forward to inspect it closer. The figure moved, an icy current of air ran through him, and he saw to his horror the livid countenance of the dead Jean. There she was, staring down at him with lurid, glassy eyes; her cheeks startlingly white, her hair fluttering in the wind, her neck and forehead bathed in blood. Paralyzed with terror, Mr. Stewart could not remove his gaze, and it was not until one of the menials opened the carriage door to assist him down, that the spell was broken and he was able to speak and move. He then flew into the house, and spent the rest of the night in the most abject fear. After this he had no peace. Allanbank was constantly haunted. The great oak doors opened and shut of their own accord at night with loud clanging and bangs, and the rustling of silks and pattering of high-heeled shoes were heard in the oak-paneled bedrooms and along the many dark and winding passages (O’Donnell, 1911, p109-110).
Thereafter, many a servant at and visitor to Allanbank encountered the angry apparition of Jean, who came to be referred to as “Pearlin’ Jean”, as a tribute to the particular type of lace the ghost wore. Sir Robert called in seven ministers of the Church of the Reformed Faith to put his former lover to rest, but the phantom Jean was not amenable to their ministrations. The haunting continued. Sir Robert came up with a novel plan to appease the ghost. His solution obviously reflected his fear of the angry dead than a concern for matrimonial bliss, as it no doubt annoyed his current bride, Lady Stewart.
All that man could do, Sir Robert did, to rid himself of the accusing spirit. He had had her portrait painted in those days when she was still his beautiful divinity, and this, to pacify her, he hung on the wall between a picture of himself and one of his lawful lady. Scarcely pleasant for Lady Stewart, perhaps, and that may have been the reason why it was moved, and the slight increase of peace that had reigned while the portrait hung in the place of honour, gave way to an increase of horrors that made the haunted man start at every little bush of white blossom in the gloaming, and break into a cold sweat when his dog walked across the hall after darkening (Lang, 1913, p271).
Sir Robert’s first wife died before him, and oddly he wedded yet another woman named Jean, daughter of Sir Alexander Cockburn, of Langton. I’m sensing a self-destructive pattern. After Sir Robert’s death in 1707, Pearlin’ Jean continued to be sighted loitering about Allanbank although her fury was considerably muted as the object of her phantasmagoric shenanigans has himself shuffled off the mortal coil. In1800 the house was demolished. Yet, even as late as the 20th Century, prospective buyers have tended to balk at purchasing the land when told about the history of Pearlin’Jean.
Many a ghost emerges to remind us of our past transgressions, and two of the biggest culprits seem to be love and murder. Perhaps our memories are such that were phantoms proven not to exist, we would inevitably have to recreate them in order to once again signal the boundaries of civilized behavior and alert us to the fact that we are more emotional than rational creatures, although emotions are little more than tangible ghosts themselves, immaterial specters that nonetheless have repercussions in the day lit world of our waking hours. As 19th Century author George William Curtis said, “Romance like a ghost escapes touching; it is always where you are not, not where you are. The interview or conversation was prose at the time, but it is poetry in the memory.”
Lang, Jeanie. North and South of Tweed: Stories And Legends of the Borders. London: T. C. & E. C. Jack, 1913.
O’Donnell, Elliott, 1872-1965. Scottish Ghost Stories. London: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner & co., ltd., 1911.