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The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang online

The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang



A lady very well known to myself, and in literary society, lived as a girl with an antiquarian father in an old house dear to an antiquary. It was haunted, among other things, by footsteps. The old oak staircase had two creaking steps, numbers seventeen and eighteen from the top. The girl would sit on the stair, stretching out her arms, and count the steps as they passed her, one, two, three, and so on to seventeen and eighteen, _which always creaked_. {190} In this case rats and similar causes were excluded, though we may allow for "expectant attention". But this does not generally work. When people sit up on purpose to look out for the ghost, he rarely comes; in the case of the "Lady in Black," which we give later, when purposely waited for, she was never seen at all.

Discounting imposture, which is sometimes found, and sometimes merely fabled (as in the Tedworth story), there remains one curious circumstance. Specially ghostly noises are attributed to the living but absent.


A man of letters was born in a small Scotch town, where his father was the intimate friend of a tradesman whom we shall call the grocer. Almost every day the grocer would come to have a chat with Mr. Mackay, and the visitor, alone of the natives, had the habit of knocking at the door before entering. One day Mr. Mackay said to his daughter, "There's Mr. Macwilliam's knock. Open the door." But there was no Mr. Macwilliam! He was just leaving his house at the other end of the street. From that day Mr. Mackay always heard the grocer's knock "a little previous," accompanied by the grocer's cough, which was peculiar. Then all the family heard it, including the son who later became learned. He, when he had left his village for Glasgow, reasoned himself out of the opinion that the grocer's knock did herald and precede the grocer. But when he went home for a visit he found that he heard it just as of old. Possibly some local Sentimental Tommy watched for the grocer, played the trick and ran away. This explanation presents no difficulty, but the boy was never detected. {191}

Such anecdotes somehow do not commend themselves to the belief even of people who can believe a good deal.

But "the spirits of the living," as the Highlanders say, have surely as good a chance to knock, or appear at a distance, as the spirits of the dead. To be sure, the living do not know (unless they are making a scientific experiment) what trouble they are giving on these occasions, but one can only infer, like St. Augustine, that probably the dead don't know it either.



Fishing in Sutherland, I had a charming companion in the gillie. He was well educated, a great reader, the best of salmon fishers, and I never heard a man curse William, Duke of Cumberland, with more enthusiasm. His father, still alive, was second-sighted, and so, to a moderate extent and without theory, was my friend. Among other anecdotes (confirmed in writing by the old gentleman) was this:--

The father had a friend who died in the house which they both occupied. The clothes of the deceased hung on pegs in the bedroom. One night the father awoke, and saw a stranger examining and handling the clothes of the defunct. Then came a letter from the dead man's brother, inquiring about the effects. He followed later, and was the stranger seen by my gillie's father.