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The Dancing Devil

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

On 16th November, 1870, Mr. Shchapoff, a Russian squire, the narrator,

came home from a visit to a country town, Iletski, and found his

family in some disarray. There lived with him his mother and his

wife's mother, ladies of about sixty-nine, his wife, aged twenty, and

his baby daughter. The ladies had been a good deal disturbed. On the

night of the 14th, the baby was fractious, and the cook, Maria, danced

and play
d the harmonica to divert her. The baby fell asleep, the

wife and Mr. Shchapoff's miller's lady were engaged in conversation,

when a shadow crossed the blind on the outside. They were about to go

out and see who was passing, when they heard a double shuffle being

executed with energy in the loft overhead. They thought Maria, the

cook, was making a night of it, but found her asleep in the kitchen.

The dancing went on but nobody could be found in the loft. Then raps

began on the window panes, and so the miller and gardener patrolled

outside. Nobody!

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


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.

The family now moved to their town house, and the inquest continued,

though the raps were only heard near the lady. A Dr. Dubinsky vowed

that she made them herself, with her tongue; then, with her pulse.

The doctor assailed, and finally shook the faith of Mr. Akutin, who

was to furnish a report. "He bribed a servant boy to say that his

mistress made the sounds herself, and then pretended that he had

caught her trying to deceive us by throwing things." Finally Mr.

Akutin reported that the whole affair was a hysterical imposition by

Mrs. Shchapoff. Dr. Dubinsky attended her, her health and spirits

improved, and the disturbances ceased. But poor Mr. Shchapoff

received an official warning not to do it again, from the governor of

his province. That way lies Siberia.

"Imagine, then," exclaims Mr. Shchapoff, "our horror, when, on our

return to the country in March, the unknown force at once set to work

again. And now even my wife's presence was not essential. Thus, one

day, I saw with my own eyes a heavy sofa jump off all four legs (three

or four times in fact), and this when my aged mother was lying on it."

The same thing occurred to Nancy Wesley's bed, on which she was

sitting while playing cards in 1717. The picture of a lady of

seventy, sitting tight to a bucking sofa, appeals to the brave.

Then the fire-raising began. A blue spark flew out of a wash-stand,

into Mrs. Shchapoff's bedroom. Luckily she was absent, and her

mother, rushing forward with a water-jug, extinguished a flaming

cotton dress. Bright red globular meteors now danced in the veranda.

Mr. Portnoff next takes up the tale as follows, Mr. Shchapoff having

been absent from home on the occasion described.

"I was sitting playing the guitar. The miller got up to leave, and

was followed by Mrs. Shchapoff. Hardly had she shut the door, when I

heard, as though from far off, a deep drawn wail. The voice seemed

familiar to me. Overcome with an unaccountable horror I rushed to the

door, and there in the passage I saw a literal pillar of fire, in the

middle of which, draped in flame, stood Mrs. Shchapoff. . . . I rushed

to put it out with my hands, but I found it burned them badly, as if

they were sticking to burning pitch. A sort of cracking noise came

from beneath the floor, which also shook and vibrated violently." Mr.

Portnoff and the miller "carried off the unconscious victim".

Mr. Shchapoff also saw a small pink hand, like a child's, spring from

the floor, and play with Mrs. Shchapoff's coverlet, in bed. These

things were too much; the Shchapoffs fled to a cottage, and took a new

country house. They had no more disturbances. Mrs. Shchapoff died in

child-bed, in 1878, "a healthy, religious, quiet, affectionate woman".