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The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang online

The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang


"Have the natives the custom of walking through fire?" said my friend the Beach-comber, in answer to a question of mine. "Not that I know of. In fact the soles of their feet are so thick-skinned that they would think nothing of it."

"Then have they any spiritualistic games, like the Burmans and Maories? I have a lot of yarns about them."

"They are too jolly well frightened of bush spirits to invite them to tea," said the Beach-comber. "I knew a fellow who got a bit of land merely by whistling up and down in it at nightfall. {292} They think spirits whistle. No, I don't fancy they go in for seances. But we once had some, we white men, in one of the islands. Not the Oui-ouis" (native name for the French), "real white men. And that led to Bolter's row with me."

"What about?"

"Oh, about his young woman. I told her the story; it was thoughtless, and yet I don't know that I was wrong. After all, Bolter could not have been a comfortable fellow to marry."

In this opinion readers of the Beach-comber's narrative will probably agree, I fancy.

"Bad moral character?"

"Not that I know of. Queer fish; kept queer company. Even if she was ever so fond of dogs, I don't think a girl would have cared for Bolter's kennel. Not in her bedroom anyway."

"But she could surely have got him to keep them outside, however doggy he was?"

"He was not doggy a bit. I don't know that Bolter ever saw the black dogs himself. He certainly never told me so. It is that beastly Thumbless Hand, no woman could have stood it, not to mention the chance of catching cold when it pulled the blankets off."

"What on earth are you talking about? I can understand a man attended by black dogs that nobody sees but himself. The Catholics tell it of John Knox, and of another Reformer, a fellow called Smeaton. Moreover, it is common in delirium tremens. But you say Bolter didn't see the dogs?"

"No, not so far as he told me, but I did, and other fellows, when with Bolter. Bolter was asleep; he didn't see anything. Also the Hand, which was a good deal worse. I don't know if he ever saw it. But he was jolly nervous, and he had heard of it."

The habits of the Beach-comber are absolutely temperate, otherwise my astonishment would have been less, and I should have regarded all these phenomena as subjective.

"Tell me about it all, old cock," I said.

"I'm sure I told you last time I was at home."

"Never; my memory for yarns is only too good. I hate a chestnut."

"Well, here goes! Mind you I don't profess to explain the thing; only I don't think I did wrong in telling the young woman, for, however you account for it, it was not nice."

"A good many years ago there came to the island, as a clerk, un nomme Bolter, English or Jew."

"His name is not Jewish."

"No, and I really don't know about his breed. The most curious thing about his appearance was his eyes: they were large, black, and had a peculiar dull dead lustre."

"Did they shine in the dark? I knew a fellow at Oxford whose eyes did. Chairs ran after him."

"I never noticed; I don't remember. 'Psychically,' as you superstitious muffs call it, Bolter was still more queer. At that time we were all gone on spirit-rapping. Bolter turned out a great acquisition, 'medium,' or what not. Mind you, I'm not saying Bolter was straight. In the dark he'd tell you what you had in your hand, exact time of your watch, and so on. I didn't take stock in this, and one night brought some photographs with me, and asked for a description of them. This he gave correctly, winding up by saying, 'The one nearest your body is that of ---'"