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The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang online

The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang


"To get a better hold I had taken a turn over my head (or perhaps simply to hide), when suddenly I felt a pressure outside on my body, and a movement like fingers--they gradually approached my head. Mad with fear I chucked off the blanket, grasped a Hand, gazed on it for one moment in silent horror, and threw it away! No wonder, it was attached to no arm or body, it was hairy and dark coloured, the fingers were short, blunt, with long, claw-like nails, and it was minus a thumb! Too frightened to get up I had to stop in bed, and, I suppose, fell to sleep again, after fresh vain attempts to awaken Bolter. Next morning I told him about it. He said several men who had thus passed the night with him had seen this hand. 'But,' added he, 'it's lucky you didn't have the big black dogs also.' Tableau!

"I was to have slept again with him next night to look further into the matter, but a friend of his came from --- that day, so I could not renew the experiment, as I had fully determined to do. By-the-bye, I was troubled for months after by the same feeling that the clothes were being pulled off the bed.

"And that's the yarn of the Black Dogs and the Thumbless Hand."

"I think," said I, "that you did no harm in telling Bolter's young woman."

"I never thought of it when I told her, or of her interest in the kennel; but, by George, she soon broke off her engagement."

"Did you know Manning, the Pakeha Maori, the fellow who wrote Old New Zealand?"

"No, what about him?"

"He did not put it in his book, but he told the same yarn, without the dogs, as having happened to himself. He saw the whole arm, and _the hand was leprous_."

"Ugh!" said the Beach-comber.

"Next morning he was obliged to view the body of an old Maori, who had been murdered in his garden the night before. That old man's hand was the hand he saw. I know a room in an old house in England where plucking off the bed-clothes goes on, every now and then, and has gone on as long as the present occupants have been there. But I only heard lately, and _they_ only heard from me, that the same thing used to occur, in the same room and no other, in the last generation, when another family lived there."

"Anybody see anything?"

"No, only footsteps are heard creeping up, before the twitches come off."

"And what do the people do?"

"Nothing! We set a camera once to photograph the spook. He did not sit."

"It's rum!" said the Beach-comber. "But mind you, as to spooks, I don't believe a word of it." {299}


The idiot Scotch laird in the story would not let the dentist put his fingers into his mouth, "for I'm feared ye'll bite me". The following anecdote proves that a ghost may entertain a better founded alarm on this score. A correspondent of Notes and Queries (3rd Sept., 1864) is responsible for the narrative, given "almost verbatim from the lips of the lady herself," a person of tried veracity.

"Emma S---, one of seven children, was sleeping alone, with her face towards the west, at a large house near C---, in the Staffordshire moorlands. As she had given orders to her maid to call her at an early hour, she was not surprised at being awakened between three and four on a fine August morning in 1840 by a sharp tapping at her door, when in spite of a "thank you, I hear," to the first and second raps, with the third came a rush of wind, which caused the curtains to be drawn up in the centre of the bed. She became annoyed, and sitting up called out, "Marie, what are you about?"

Instead, however, of her servant, she was astonished to see the face of an aunt by marriage peering above and between the curtains, and at the same moment--whether unconsciously she threw forward her arms, or whether they were drawn forward, as it were, in a vortex of air, she cannot be sure--one of her thumbs was sensibly pressed between the teeth of the apparition, though no mark afterwards remained on it. All this notwithstanding, she remained collected and unalarmed; but instantly arose, dressed, and went downstairs, where she found not a creature stirring. Her father, on coming down shortly afterwards, naturally asked what had made her rise so early; rallied her on the cause, and soon afterwards went on to his sister-in-law's house, where he found that she had just unexpectedly died. Coming back again, and not noticing his daughter's presence in the room, in consequence of her being behind a screen near the fire, he suddenly announced the event to his wife, as being of so remarkable a character that he could in no way account for it. As may be anticipated, Emma, overhearing this unlooked-for denouement of her dream, at once fell to the ground in a fainting condition.

_On one of the thumbs of the corpse was found a mark as if it had been bitten in the death agony_. {300}

We have now followed the "ghostly" from its germs in dreams, and momentary hallucinations of eye or ear, up to the most prodigious narratives which popular invention has built on bases probably very slight. Where facts and experience, whether real or hallucinatory experience, end, where the mythopoeic fancy comes in, readers may decide for themselves.

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