The Cold Hand
[Jerome Cardan, the famous physician, tells the following anecdote in
his De Rerum Varietate, lib. x., 93. Jerome only once heard a rapping
himself, at the time of the death of a friend at a distance. He was
in a terrible fright, and dared not leave his room all day.]
A story which my father used often to tell: "I was brought up," he
said, "in the house of Joannes Resta, and therein taught Latin to his
three sons; when I left them I supported myself on my own means. It
chanced that one of these lads, while I was studying medicine, fell
deadly sick, he being now a young man grown, and I was called in to be
with the youth, partly for my knowledge of medicine, partly for old
friendship's sake. The master of the house happened to be absent; the
patient slept in an upper chamber, one of his brothers and I in a
lower room, the third brother, Isidore, was not at home. Each of the
rooms was next to a turret; turrets being common in that city. When
we went to bed on the first night of my visit, I heard a constant
knocking on the wall of the room.
"'What is that?' I said.
"'Don't be afraid, it is only a familiar spirit,' said my companion.
'They call them follets; it is harmless enough, and seldom so
troublesome as it is now: I don't know what can be the matter with
"The young fellow went to sleep, but I was kept awake for a while,
wondering and observing. After half an hour of stillness I felt a
thumb press on my head, and a sense of cold. I kept watching; the
forefinger, the middle finger, and the rest of the hand were next laid
on, the little finger nearly reaching my forehead. The hand was like
that of a boy of ten, to guess by the size, and so cold that it was
extremely unpleasant. Meantime I was chuckling over my luck in such
an opportunity of witnessing a wonder, and I listened eagerly.
"The hand stole with the ring finger foremost over my face and down my
nose, it was slipping into my mouth, and two finger-tips had entered,
when I threw it off with my right hand, thinking it was uncanny, and
not relishing it inside my body. Silence followed and I lay awake,
distrusting the spectre more or less. In about half an hour it
returned and repeated its former conduct, touching me very lightly,
yet very chilly. When it reached my mouth I again drove it away.
Though my lips were tightly closed, I felt an extreme icy cold in my
teeth. I now got out of bed, thinking this might be a friendly visit
from the ghost of the sick lad upstairs, who must have died.
"As I went to the door, the thing passed before me, rapping on the
walls. When I was got to the door it knocked outside; when I opened
the door, it began to knock on the turret. The moon was shining; I
went on to see what would happen, but it beat on the other sides of
the tower, and, as it always evaded me, I went up to see how my
patient was. He was alive, but very weak.
"As I was speaking to those who stood about his bed, we heard a noise
as if the house was falling. In rushed my bedfellow, the brother of
the sick lad, half dead with terror.
"'When you got up,' he said, 'I felt a cold hand on my back. I
thought it was you who wanted to waken me and take me to see my
brother, so I pretended to be asleep and lay quiet, supposing that you
would go alone when you found me so sound asleep. But when I did not
feel you get up, and the cold hand grew to be more than I could bear,
I hit out to push your hand away, and felt your place empty--but warm.
Then I remembered the follet, and ran upstairs as hard as I could put
my feet to the ground: never was I in such a fright!'
"The sick lad died on the following night."
Here Carden the elder stopped, and Jerome, his son, philosophised on
Miss Dendy, on the authority of Mr. Elijah Cope, an itinerant
preacher, gives this anecdote of similar familiarity with a follet in
"Fairies! I went into a farmhouse to stay a night, and in the evening
there came a knocking in the room as if some one had struck the table.
I jumped up. My hostess got up and 'Good-night,' says she, 'I'm off'.
'But what was it?' says I. 'Just a poor old fairy,' says she; 'Old
Nancy. She's a poor old thing; been here ever so long; lost her
husband and her children; it's bad to be left like that, all alone. I
leave a bit o' cake on the table for her, and sometimes she fetches
it, and sometimes she don't."
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