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The Black Dog And The Thumbless Hand

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

[Some years ago I published in a volume of tales called The Wrong

Paradise, a paper styled "My Friend the Beach-comber". This contained

genuine adventures of a kinsman, my oldest and most intimate friend,

who has passed much of his life in the Pacific, mainly in a foreign

colony, and in the wild New Hebrides. My friend is a man of

education, an artist, and a student of anthropology and ethnology.

Engaged on a work of
scientific research, he has not committed any of

his innumerable adventures, warlike or wandering, to print. The

following "yarn" he sent to me lately, in a letter on some points of

native customs. Of course the description of the Beach-comber, in the

book referred to, is purely fictitious. The yarn of "The Thumbless

Hand" is here cast in a dialogue, but the whole of the strange

experience described is given in the words of the narrator. It should

be added that, though my friend was present at some amateur seances,

in a remote isle of the sea, he is not a spiritualist, never was one,

and has no theory to account for what occurred, and no belief in

"spooks" of any description. His faith is plighted to the theories of

Mr. Darwin, and that is his only superstition. The name of the

principal character in the yarn is, of course, fictitious. The real

name is an old but not a noble one in England.]

"Have the natives the custom of walking through fire?" said my friend

the Beach-comber, in answer to a question of mine. "Not that I know

of. In fact the soles of their feet are so thick-skinned that they

would think nothing of it."

"Then have they any spiritualistic games, like the Burmans and

Maories? I have a lot of yarns about them."

"They are too jolly well frightened of bush spirits to invite them to

tea," said the Beach-comber. "I knew a fellow who got a bit of land

merely by whistling up and down in it at nightfall. {292} They think

spirits whistle. No, I don't fancy they go in for seances. But we

once had some, we white men, in one of the islands. Not the Oui-ouis"

(native name for the French), "real white men. And that led to

Bolter's row with me."

"What about?"

"Oh, about his young woman. I told her the story; it was thoughtless,

and yet I don't know that I was wrong. After all, Bolter could not

have been a comfortable fellow to marry."

In this opinion readers of the Beach-comber's narrative will probably

agree, I fancy.

"Bad moral character?"

"Not that I know of. Queer fish; kept queer company. Even if she was

ever so fond of dogs, I don't think a girl would have cared for

Bolter's kennel. Not in her bedroom anyway."

"But she could surely have got him to keep them outside, however doggy

he was?"

"He was not doggy a bit. I don't know that Bolter ever saw the black

dogs himself. He certainly never told me so. It is that beastly

Thumbless Hand, no woman could have stood it, not to mention the

chance of catching cold when it pulled the blankets off."

"What on earth are you talking about? I can understand a man attended

by black dogs that nobody sees but himself. The Catholics tell it of

John Knox, and of another Reformer, a fellow called Smeaton.

Moreover, it is common in delirium tremens. But you say Bolter didn't

see the dogs?"

"No, not so far as he told me, but I did, and other fellows, when with

Bolter. Bolter was asleep; he didn't see anything. Also the Hand,

which was a good deal worse. I don't know if he ever saw it. But he

was jolly nervous, and he had heard of it."

The habits of the Beach-comber are absolutely temperate, otherwise my

astonishment would have been less, and I should have regarded all

these phenomena as subjective.

"Tell me about it all, old cock," I said.

"I'm sure I told you last time I was at home."

"Never; my memory for yarns is only too good. I hate a chestnut."

"Well, here goes! Mind you I don't profess to explain the thing; only

I don't think I did wrong in telling the young woman, for, however you

account for it, it was not nice."

"A good many years ago there came to the island, as a clerk, un nomme

Bolter, English or Jew."

"His name is not Jewish."

"No, and I really don't know about his breed. The most curious thing

about his appearance was his eyes: they were large, black, and had a

peculiar dull dead lustre."

"Did they shine in the dark? I knew a fellow at Oxford whose eyes

did. Chairs ran after him."

"I never noticed; I don't remember. 'Psychically,' as you

superstitious muffs call it, Bolter was still more queer. At that

time we were all gone on spirit-rapping. Bolter turned out a great

acquisition, 'medium,' or what not. Mind you, I'm not saying Bolter

was straight. In the dark he'd tell you what you had in your hand,

exact time of your watch, and so on. I didn't take stock in this, and

one night brought some photographs with me, and asked for a

description of them. This he gave correctly, winding up by saying,

'The one nearest your body is that of ---'"

Here my friend named a person well known to both of us, whose name I

prefer not to introduce here. This person, I may add, had never been

in or near the island, and was totally unknown to Bolter.

"Of course," my friend went on, "the photographs were all the time

inside my pocket. Now, really, Bolter had some mystic power of seeing

in the dark."

"Hyperaesthesia!" said I.

"Hypercriticism!" said the Beach-comber.

"What happened next _might_ be hyperaesthesia--I suppose you mean

abnormal intensity of the senses--but how could hyperaesthesia see

through a tweed coat and lining?"

"Well, what happened next?"

"Bolter's firm used to get sheep by every mail from ---, and send them

regularly to their station, six miles off. One time they landed late

in the afternoon, and yet were foolishly sent off, Bolter in charge.

I said at the time he would lose half the lot, as it would be dark

long before he could reach the station. He didn't lose them!

"Next day I met one of the niggers who was sent to lend him a hand,

and asked results.

"'Master,' said the nigger, 'Bolter is a devil! He sees at night.

When the sheep ran away to right or left in the dark, he told us where

to follow.'"

"He _heard_ them, I suppose," said I.

"Maybe, but you must be sharp to have sharper senses than these

niggers. Anyhow, that was not Bolter's account of it. When I saw him

and spoke to him he said simply, 'Yes, that when excited or interested

to seek or find anything in obscurity the object became covered with a

dim glow of light, which rendered it visible'. 'But things in a

pocket.' 'That also,' said he. 'Curious isn't it? Probably the

Rontgen rays are implicated therein, eh?'"

"Did you ever read Dr. Gregory's Letters on Animal Magnetism?"

"The cove that invented Gregory's Mixture?"


"Beast he must have been. No, I never read him."

"He says that Major Buckley's hypnotised subjects saw hidden objects

in a blue light--mottoes inside a nut, for example."

"Rontgen rays, for a fiver! But Bolter said nothing about seeing

_blue_ light. Well, after three or four seances Bolter used to be

very nervous and unwilling to sleep alone, so I once went with him to

his one-roomed hut. We turned into the same bed. I was awakened

later by a noise and movement in the room. Found the door open; the

full moon streaming in, making light like day, and the place full of

great big black dogs--well, anyhow there were four or five! They were

romping about, seemingly playing. One jumped on the bed, another

rubbed his muzzle on mine! (the bed was low, and I slept outside).

Now I never had anything but love for dogs of any kind, and as--n'est-

ce pas?--love casts out fear, I simply got up, turned them all out,

shut the door, and turned in again myself. Of course my idea was that

they were flesh and blood, and I allude to physical fear.

"I slept, but was anew awakened by a ghastly feeling that the blanket

was being dragged and creeping off the bed. I pulled it up again, but

anew began the slow movement of descent.

"Rather surprised, I pulled it up afresh and held it, and must have

dozed off, as I suppose. Awoke, to feel it being pulled again; it was

slipping, slipping, and then with a sudden, violent jerk it was thrown

on the floor. Il faut dire that during all this I had glanced several

times at Bolter, who seemed profoundly asleep. But now alarmed I

tried to wake him. In vain, he slept like the dead; his face, always

a pasty white, now like marble in the moonlight. After some

hesitation I put the blanket back on the bed and held it fast. The

pulling at once began and increased in strength, and I, by this time

thoroughly alarmed, put all my strength against it, and hung on like

grim death.

"To get a better hold I had taken a turn over my head (or perhaps

simply to hide), when suddenly I felt a pressure outside on my body,

and a movement like fingers--they gradually approached my head. Mad

with fear I chucked off the blanket, grasped a Hand, gazed on it for

one moment in silent horror, and threw it away! No wonder, it was

attached to no arm or body, it was hairy and dark coloured, the

fingers were short, blunt, with long, claw-like nails, and it was

minus a thumb! Too frightened to get up I had to stop in bed, and, I

suppose, fell to sleep again, after fresh vain attempts to awaken

Bolter. Next morning I told him about it. He said several men who

had thus passed the night with him had seen this hand. 'But,' added

he, 'it's lucky you didn't have the big black dogs also.' Tableau!

"I was to have slept again with him next night to look further into

the matter, but a friend of his came from --- that day, so I could not

renew the experiment, as I had fully determined to do. By-the-bye, I

was troubled for months after by the same feeling that the clothes

were being pulled off the bed.

"And that's the yarn of the Black Dogs and the Thumbless Hand."

"I think," said I, "that you did no harm in telling Bolter's young


"I never thought of it when I told her, or of her interest in the

kennel; but, by George, she soon broke off her engagement."

"Did you know Manning, the Pakeha Maori, the fellow who wrote Old New


"No, what about him?"

"He did not put it in his book, but he told the same yarn, without the

dogs, as having happened to himself. He saw the whole arm, and _the

hand was leprous_."

"Ugh!" said the Beach-comber.

"Next morning he was obliged to view the body of an old Maori, who had

been murdered in his garden the night before. That old man's hand was

the hand he saw. I know a room in an old house in England where

plucking off the bed-clothes goes on, every now and then, and has gone

on as long as the present occupants have been there. But I only heard

lately, and _they_ only heard from me, that the same thing used to

occur, in the same room and no other, in the last generation, when

another family lived there."

"Anybody see anything?"

"No, only footsteps are heard creeping up, before the twitches come


"And what do the people do?"

"Nothing! We set a camera once to photograph the spook. He did not


"It's rum!" said the Beach-comber. "But mind you, as to spooks, I

don't believe a word of it." {299}