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The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang online

The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang


A Question for Physicians. Professor William James's Opinion. Hysterical Disease? Little Hands. Domestic Arson. The Wem Case. "The Saucepan began it." The Nurse-maid. Boots Fly Off. Investigation. Emma's Partial Confession. Corroborative Evidence. Question of Disease Repeated. Chinese Cases. Haunted Mrs. Chang. Mr. Niu's Female Slave. The Great Amherst Mystery. Run as a Show. Failure. Later Miracles. The Fire-raiser Arrested. Parallels. A Highland Case. A Hero of the Forty-Five. Donald na Bocan. Donald's Hymn. Icelandic Cases. The Devil of Hjalta-stad. The Ghost at Garpsdal.


A physician, as we have seen, got the better of the demon in Mrs. Shchapoff's case, at least while the lady was under his care. Really these disturbances appear to demand the attention of medical men. If the whole phenomena are caused by imposture, the actors, or actresses, display a wonderful similarity of symptoms and an alarming taste for fire-raising. Professor William James, the well-known psychologist, mentions ten cases whose resemblances "suggest a natural type," and we ask, is it a type of hysterical disease? {229} He chooses, among others, an instance in Dr. Nevius's book on Demon Possession in China, and there is another in Peru. He also mentions The Great Amherst Mystery, which we give, and the Rerrick case in Scotland (1696), related by Telfer, who prints, on his margins, the names of the attesting witnesses of each event, lairds, clergymen, and farmers. At Rerrick, as in Russia, the _little hand_ was seen by Telfer himself, and the fire-raising was endless. At Amherst too, as in a pair of recent Russian cases and others, there was plenty of fire-raising. By a lucky chance an English case occurred at Wem, in Shropshire, in November, 1883. It began at a farm called the Woods, some ten miles from Shrewsbury. First a saucepan full of eggs "jumped" off the fire in the kitchen, and the tea-things, leaping from the table, were broken. Cinders "were thrown out of the fire," and set some clothes in a blaze. A globe leaped off a lamp. A farmer, Mr. Lea, saw all the windows of the upper story "as it were on fire," but it was no such matter. The nurse-maid ran out in a fright, to a neighbour's, and her dress spontaneously combusted as she ran. The people attributed these and similar events, to something in the coal, or in the air, or to electricity. When the nurse-girl, Emma Davies, sat on the lap of the school mistress, Miss Maddox, her boots kept flying off, like the boot laces in The Daemon of Spraiton.

All this was printed in the London papers, and, on 15th November, The Daily Telegraph and Daily News published Emma's confession that she wrought by sleight of hand and foot. On 17th November, Mr. Hughes went from Cambridge to investigate. For some reason investigation never begins till the fun is over. On the 9th the girl, now in a very nervous state (no wonder!) had been put under the care of a Dr. Mackey. This gentleman and Miss Turner said that things had occurred since Emma came, for which they could not account. On 13th November, however, Miss Turner, looking out of a window, spotted Emma throwing a brick, and pretending that the flight of the brick was automatic. Next day Emma confessed to her tricks, but steadfastly denied that she had cheated at Woods Farm, and Weston Lullingfield, where she had also been. Her evidence to this effect was so far confirmed by Mrs. Hampson of Woods Farm, and her servant, Priscilla Evans, when examined by Mr. Hughes. Both were "quite certain" that they saw crockery rise by itself into air off the kitchen table, when Emma was at a neighbouring farm, Mr. Lea's. Priscilla also saw crockery come out of a cupboard, in detachments, and fly between her and Emma, usually in a slanting direction, while Emma stood by with her arms folded. Yet Priscilla was not on good terms with Emma. Unless, then, Mrs. Hampson and Priscilla fabled, it is difficult to see how Emma could move objects when she was "standing at some considerable distance, standing, in fact, in quite another farm".