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The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang online

The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang


Raps and dancing lasted through most of the night and began again at ten in the morning. The ladies were incommoded and complained of broken sleep. Mr. Shchapoff, hearing all this, examined the miller, who admitted the facts, but attributed them to a pigeon's nest, which he had found under the cornice. Satisfied with this rather elementary hypothesis, Mr. Shchapoff sat down to read Livingstone's African Travels. Presently the double shuffle sounded in the loft. Mrs. Shchapoff was asleep in her bedroom, but was awakened by loud raps. The window was tapped at, deafening thumps were dealt at the outer wall, and the whole house thrilled. Mr. Shchapoff rushed out with dogs and a gun, there were no footsteps in the snow, the air was still, the full moon rode in a serene sky. Mr. Shchapoff came back, and the double shuffle was sounding merrily in the empty loft. Next day was no better, but the noises abated and ceased gradually.

Alas, Mr. Shchapoff could not leave well alone. On 20th December, to amuse a friend, he asked Maria to dance and play. Raps, in tune, began on the window panes. Next night they returned, while boots, slippers, and other objects, flew about with a hissing noise. A piece of stuff would fly up and fall with a heavy hard thud, while hard bodies fell soundless as a feather. The performances slowly died away.

On Old Year's Night Maria danced to please them; raps began, people watching on either side of a wall heard the raps on the other side. On 8th January, Mrs. Shchapoff fainted when a large, luminous ball floated, increasing in size, from under her bed. The raps now followed her about by day, as in the case of John Wesley's sisters. On these occasions she felt weak and somnolent. Finally Mr. Shchapoff carried his family to his town house for much-needed change of air.

Science, in the form of Dr. Shustoff, now hinted that electricity or magnetic force was at the bottom of the annoyances, a great comfort to the household, who conceived that the devil was concerned. The doctor accompanied his friends to their country house for a night, Maria was invited to oblige with a dance, and only a few taps on windows followed. The family returned to town till 21st January. No sooner was Mrs. Shchapoff in bed than knives and forks came out of a closed cupboard and flew about, occasionally sticking in the walls.

On 24th January the doctor abandoned the hypothesis of electricity, because the noises kept time to profane but not to sacred music. A Tartar hymn by a Tartar servant, an Islamite, had no accompaniment, but the Freischutz was warmly encored.

This went beyond the most intelligent spontaneous exercises of electricity. Questions were asked of the agencies, and to the interrogation, "Are you a devil?" a most deafening knock replied. "We all jumped backwards."

Now comes a curious point. In the Wesley and Tedworth cases, the masters of the houses, like the cure of Cideville (1851), were at odds with local "cunning men".

Mr. Shchapoff's fiend now averred that he was "set on" by the servant of a neighbouring miller, with whom Mr. Shchapoff had a dispute about a mill pond. This man had previously said, "It will be worse; they will drag you by the hair". And, indeed, Mrs. Shchapoff was found in tears, because her hair had been pulled. {205}

Science again intervened. A section of the Imperial Geographical Society sent Dr. Shustoff, Mr. Akutin (a Government civil engineer), and a literary gentleman, as a committee of inquiry appointed by the governor of the province. They made a number of experiments with Leyden jars, magnets, and so forth, with only negative results. Things flew about, both _from_, and _towards_ Mrs. Shchapoff. Nothing volatile was ever seen to _begin_ its motion, though, in March, 1883, objects were seen, by a policeman and six other witnesses, to fly up from a bin and out of a closed cupboard, in a house at Worksop. {206} Mr. Akutin, in Mrs. Shchapoff's bedroom, found the noises answer questions in French and German, on contemporary politics, of which the lady of the house knew nothing. Lassalle was said to be alive, Mr. Shchapoff remarked, "What nonsense!" but Mr. Akutin corrected him. The bogey was better informed. The success of the French in the great war was predicted.