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The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang online

The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang


Haunted Houses. Antiquity of Haunted Houses. Savage Cases. Ancient Egyptian Cases. Persistence in Modern Times. Impostures. Imaginary Noises. Nature of Noises. The Creaking Stair. Ghostly Effects produced by the Living but Absent. The Grocer's Cough. Difficulty of Belief. My Gillie's Father's Story. "Silverton Abbey." The Dream that Opened the Door. Abbotsford Noises. Legitimate Haunting by the Dead. The Girl in Pink. The Dog in the Haunted Room. The Lady in Black. Dogs Alarmed. The Dead Seldom Recognised. Glamis. A Border Castle. Another Class of Hauntings. A Russian Case. The Dancing Devil. The Little Hands.

Haunted houses have been familiar to man ever since he has owned a roof to cover his head. The Australian blacks possessed only shelters or "leans-to," so in Australia the spirits do their rapping on the tree trunks; a native illustrated this by whacking a table with a book. The perched-up houses of the Dyaks are haunted by noisy routing agencies. We find them in monasteries, palaces, and crofters' cottages all through the Middle Ages. On an ancient Egyptian papyrus we find the husband of the Lady Onkhari protesting against her habit of haunting his house, and exclaiming: "What wrong have I done," exactly in the spirit of the "Hymn of Donald Ban," who was "sair hadden down by a bodach" (noisy bogle) after Culloden. {188a}

The husband of Onkhari does not say _how_ she disturbed him, but the manners of Egyptian haunters, just what they remain at present, may be gathered from a magical papyrus, written in Greek. Spirits "wail and groan, or laugh dreadfully"; they cause bad dreams, terror and madness; finally, they "practice stealthy theft," and rap and knock. The "theft" (by making objects disappear mysteriously) is often illustrated in the following tales, as are the groaning and knocking. {188b} St. Augustine speaks of hauntings as familiar occurrences, and we have a chain of similar cases from ancient Egypt to 1896. Several houses in that year were so disturbed that the inhabitants were obliged to leave them. The newspapers were full of correspondence on the subject.

The usual annoyances are apparitions (rare), flying about of objects (not very common), noises of every kind (extremely frequent), groans, screams, footsteps and fire-raising. Imposture has either been proved or made very probable in ten out of eleven cases of volatile objects between 1883 and 1895. {188c} Moreover, it is certain that the noises of haunted houses are not equally audible by all persons present, even when the sounds are at their loudest. Thus Lord St. Vincent, the great admiral, heard nothing during his stay at the house of his sister, Mrs. Ricketts, while that lady endured terrible things. After his departure she was obliged to recall him. He arrived, and slept peacefully. Next day his sister told him about the disturbances, after which he heard them as much as his neighbours, and was as unsuccessful in discovering their cause. {189}

Of course this looks as if these noises were unreal, children of the imagination. Noises being the staple of haunted houses, a few words may be devoted to them. They are usually the frou-frou or rustling sweep of a gown, footsteps, raps, thumps, groans, a sound as if all the heavy furniture was being knocked about, crashing of crockery and jingling of money. Of course, as to footsteps, people _may_ be walking about, and most of the other noises are either easily imitated, or easily produced by rats, water pipes, cracks in furniture (which the Aztecs thought ominous of death), and other natural causes. The explanation is rather more difficult when the steps pace a gallery, passing and repassing among curious inquirers, or in this instance.