As Helen lay dying, Fleming chased his rival to the banks of the River Kirtle and pierced him with a sword. Fleming fled to France, but could not dismiss Helen's ghostly cry. Heartbroken, he returned to die draped across her grave and was buried beside her. The tragic event was later recounted in a poem by Sir Walter Scott. Its final verse:
I wish I were where Helen lies
Night and day on me she cries,
And I am weary of the skies,
For her sake that died for me.
After Bell's death, Blacket House was passed down to subsequent generations, but not without angst. Every resident since has reported the presence of Richard's evil ghost, which is generally credited with orchestrating family misfortune, from lost love to financial failure.
Today, Blacket House is recognized as the Bell family seat because it was the home of the clan's last recognized chief, William (Redcloak) Bell.
Near the village of Eaglesfield, the tower is all that remains of the original L-shaped Blacket House. Situated on 13 acres of lawn, garden and woodland bounded on the east by the River Kirtle, the surviving tower stretches to four floors, its walls and stairs intact, its topmost window an ideal lookout.
May cautions that the owners of the adjacent manor house, constructed last century, dislike cameras and prying eyes. But even as she speaks, she eases off the road onto the Blacket House driveway.
Parking in front of the tower, she urges, "While I'm chatting with the family, photograph everything you can. The pictures you snap could be the last taken here by a Bell descendant for many years."
Heeding May's advice, I photograph the grounds while she converses animatedly with the owner of the house. I am sitting serenely in the car when she slips into the driver's seat and fires the engine.
"That confirms it," she announces. "Bells are banned from the property except by advance appointment." She winks broadly. "Of course, I didn't say a word about your Bell connection."
Later, warmed by May's dinner of local roast lamb, herbed vegetables and lemon pudding, we anticipate a restful sleep.
Since Scottish nights are notably damp and brisk, we close our bedroom windows to avoid lighting the gas heater. Snuggled beneath the down quilt, I nod off, unaware that Boyd's fresh-air fanaticism is at work.
Halfway into a dream, I hear a crash. Then a faint cry for help.
Still groggy, I follow the voice into the bathroom. Boyd is standing spread-eagle on the windowsill. How did he get there, I wonder, and why is he gripping the upper half of the window?
Only after I climb up beside him do I grasp the true picture: In search of fresh air he rose to open the window. But the upper half of the casement fell parallel to the lower, wedging his fingers between.
Help arrives in the form of our vigilant hosts, who pry the heavy frame off Boyd's fingers.
Sir Charles surveys the window, shaking his head. "I can't imagine why the cable broke," he mutters, jaw clenched. Then May speaks, her voice joking, I think. "It's the Bell ghost! He was watching from the tower. He does mischief to declare himself the last proven chief of the Bell clan."
Boyd and I exchange glances. Who are we to dispute Scottish ken?
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
GUIDEBOOK: Borders Music
Getting there: American, British Air, United, Air New Zealand, Virgin Atlantic and Delta fly nonstop from LAX to London. Northwest and Continental fly direct, with one change of planes. Lowest round-trip, advance-purchase fares start at about $860.
BritRail leaves London's Kings Cross station for Lockerbie, Scotland, several times a day; journey takes about 5 1/2 hours one way. Round-trip fares start at about $155. For schedule information, call BritRail at (212) 575-2667.
Where to stay: Balcary Bay Hotel, Shore Road, Auchencairn, Dumfrieshire, near Castle Douglas. Country house, built in 1625, in garden setting with golf, hiking, bird-watching; rates about $80 per person, per night, including breakfast; tel. 011-44-1556-640217, fax 011-44-1556-640272.
Dryfesdale Hotel, Lockerbie, Dumfriesshire, Scotland; 15 rooms, fine dining; rates $85 per person, per room, including breakfast; tel. 011-44-1576-202427, fax 011-44-1576-204187.
Forte Posthouse, Carlisle, England; 93 rooms, swimming pool, exercise gym, restaurant; rates $135; (800) 225-5843.
Magdalene House, Lochmaben, near Dumfries; rates about $40 per person, per night, including breakfast; dinner $25 per person, including wine. Genealogical tours available to groups; tel. 011-44-1387-810439.
For more information: British Tourist Authority, 551 Fifth Ave., Suite 701, New York, NY 10176-0799; tel. (800) 462-2748 or (212) 986-2200; fax (212) 986-1188.