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More Haunted Houses

Categories: Modern Hauntings
Scary Books: The Book Of Dreams And Ghosts
: Andrew Lang

A physician, as we have seen, got the better of the demon in Mrs.

Shchapoff's case, at least while the lady was under his care. Really

these disturbances appear to demand the attention of medical men. If

the whole phenomena are caused by imposture, the actors, or actresses,

display a wonderful similarity of symptoms and an alarming taste for

fire-raising. Professor William James, the well-known psychologist,

ten cases whose resemblances "suggest a natural type," and we

ask, is it a type of hysterical disease? {229} He chooses, among

others, an instance in Dr. Nevius's book on Demon Possession in China,

and there is another in Peru. He also mentions The Great Amherst

Mystery, which we give, and the Rerrick case in Scotland (1696),

related by Telfer, who prints, on his margins, the names of the

attesting witnesses of each event, lairds, clergymen, and farmers. At

Rerrick, as in Russia, the _little hand_ was seen by Telfer himself,

and the fire-raising was endless. At Amherst too, as in a pair of

recent Russian cases and others, there was plenty of fire-raising. By

a lucky chance an English case occurred at Wem, in Shropshire, in

November, 1883. It began at a farm called the Woods, some ten miles

from Shrewsbury. First a saucepan full of eggs "jumped" off the fire

in the kitchen, and the tea-things, leaping from the table, were

broken. Cinders "were thrown out of the fire," and set some clothes

in a blaze. A globe leaped off a lamp. A farmer, Mr. Lea, saw all

the windows of the upper story "as it were on fire," but it was no

such matter. The nurse-maid ran out in a fright, to a neighbour's,

and her dress spontaneously combusted as she ran. The people

attributed these and similar events, to something in the coal, or in

the air, or to electricity. When the nurse-girl, Emma Davies, sat on

the lap of the school mistress, Miss Maddox, her boots kept flying

off, like the boot laces in The Daemon of Spraiton.

All this was printed in the London papers, and, on 15th November, The

Daily Telegraph and Daily News published Emma's confession that she

wrought by sleight of hand and foot. On 17th November, Mr. Hughes

went from Cambridge to investigate. For some reason investigation

never begins till the fun is over. On the 9th the girl, now in a very

nervous state (no wonder!) had been put under the care of a Dr.

Mackey. This gentleman and Miss Turner said that things had occurred

since Emma came, for which they could not account. On 13th November,

however, Miss Turner, looking out of a window, spotted Emma throwing a

brick, and pretending that the flight of the brick was automatic.

Next day Emma confessed to her tricks, but steadfastly denied that she

had cheated at Woods Farm, and Weston Lullingfield, where she had also

been. Her evidence to this effect was so far confirmed by Mrs.

Hampson of Woods Farm, and her servant, Priscilla Evans, when examined

by Mr. Hughes. Both were "quite certain" that they saw crockery rise

by itself into air off the kitchen table, when Emma was at a

neighbouring farm, Mr. Lea's. Priscilla also saw crockery come out of

a cupboard, in detachments, and fly between her and Emma, usually in a

slanting direction, while Emma stood by with her arms folded. Yet

Priscilla was not on good terms with Emma. Unless, then, Mrs. Hampson

and Priscilla fabled, it is difficult to see how Emma could move

objects when she was "standing at some considerable distance,

standing, in fact, in quite another farm".

Similar evidence was given and signed by Miss Maddox, the

schoolmistress, and Mr. and Mrs. Lea. On the other hand Mrs. Hampson

and Priscilla believed that Emma managed the fire-raising herself.

The flames were "very high and white, and the articles were very

little singed". This occurred also at Rerrick, in 1696, but Mr.

Hughes attributes it to Emma's use of paraffin, which does not apply

to the Rerrick case. Paraffin smells a good deal--nothing is said

about a smell of paraffin.

Only one thing is certain: Emma was at last caught in a cheat. This

discredits her, but a man who cheats at cards _may_ hold a good hand

by accident. In the same way, if such wonders can happen (as so much

world-wide evidence declares), they _may_ have happened at Woods Farm,

and Emma, "in a very nervous state," _may_ have feigned then, or

rather did feign them later.

The question for the medical faculty is: Does a decided taste for

wilful fire-raising often accompany exhibitions of dancing furniture

and crockery, gratuitously given by patients of hysterical

temperament? This is quite a normal inquiry. Is there a nervous

malady of which the symptoms are domestic arson, and amateur leger-de-

main? The complaint, if it exists, is of very old standing and wide

prevalence, including Russia, Scotland, New England, France, Iceland,

Germany, China and Peru.

As a proof of the identity of symptoms in this malady, we give a

Chinese case. The Chinese, as to diabolical possession, are precisely

of the same opinion as the inspired authors of the Gospels. People

are "possessed," and, like the woman having a spirit of divination in

the Acts of the Apostles, make a good thing out of it. Thus Mrs. Ku

was approached by a native Christian. She became rigid and her demon,

speaking through her, acknowledged the Catholic verity, and said that

if Mrs. Ku were converted he would have to leave. On recovering her

everyday consciousness, Mrs. Ku asked what Tsehwa, her demon, had

said. The Christian told her, and perhaps she would have deserted her

erroneous courses, but her fellow-villagers implored her to pay homage

to the demon. They were in the habit of resorting to it for medical

advice (as people do to Mrs. Piper's demon in the United States), so

Mrs. Ku decided to remain in the business. {232} The parallel to the

case in the Acts is interesting.