It was the week before Christmas and snow had fallen for most of the day. The Fort lay blanketed under nine inches of heavy flakes. But in the evening the snow ceased and it turned the surface of the snow crisp.
I had had a long slippery drive from the West Coast and as I reached the Fort shortly before 10pm, it was welcoming to see the single sentry at his post outside the South Sally Port entrance. He recognized my car and waved me past. The Depot was due to close for Christmas leave and only a skeleton staff of volunteers was to remain on duty. Their turn for leave would come over the New Year.
I drove up the tunnel through the ramparts and as I drove past the Ravelin Guard Room the light shone down on the night guard formed up for evening Staff Parade. They stood silent in their greatcoats, the drummer ready to sound Last Post, the piper clenching his fingers against the cold.
With a dram and sandwiches inside me, the miseries of a long drive were quickly forgotten. Although Christmas leave had started there were still three or four officers in the mess with last minute parties and shoots to attend. Tales of flighting and hind shooting were being told over a decanter of port and with no parade next day there was no hurry to leave a cheerful fireside and deep leather arm chairs.
I forgot how the conversation turned to ghosts; possibly because Andrew was there, an infinite source of stories and a well practiced raconteur. We felt a cold prickling on the backs of our necks as he told of the wraith that had appeared once on the North Rampart and had foretold to a Highland soldier the death of his mother. Of course the ‘Headless Piper’ had to follow. We heard how the old field officer well oiled with port, had looked out of the window as Staff Parade fell in. The light fixture on the rampart had shone so that the piper on parade with the guard was lit up from his shoulders downwards but his head remained in the shadow. “Good God,” the old field officer had said, “that piper is headless”. A legend had been started. And so, in cheerful mood, we all went off to bed.
There was no more snow in the night and next day it was time to pack up and go home for Christmas. Andrew had volunteered to remain on duty with the “Headless Piper” for company. After a good breakfast I loaded my car and drove slowly over the hard packed snow towards the gate. With so few soldiers in barracks the snow was largely undisturbed apart from the few vehicle routes.
As I passed the Ravelin gate I remembered Andrew’s tale of how the light had shone on the piper and out of curiosity I paused to see if the light bracket was still there. But there was no light bracket of any sort on the wall. Puzzled, I remembered passing the night guard formed up on that very spot the previous evening. They had been well illuminated and I had even noticed the piper clenching his fingers against the cold.
But the tingling feeling had returned to the back of my neck. The snow was completely undisturbed. On the spot where my night guard had stood, the snow lay deep and crisp and even