BYWAYS OF GHOST-LAND
BYWAYS OF GHOST-LAND
"SOME HAUNTED HOUSES OF ENGLAND AND WALES," "HAUNTED HOUSES OF LONDON," "GHOSTLY PHENOMENA," "DREAMS AND THEIR MEANINGS," "SCOTTISH GHOST TALES," "TRUE GHOST TALES," ETC., ETC.
WILLIAM RIDER AND SON, LIMITED 164 Aldersgate St., London, E.C. 1911
1. THE UNKNOWN BRAIN 1
2. THE OCCULT IN SHADOWS 21
3. OBSESSION, POSSESSION 28
4. OCCULT HOOLIGANS 47
5. SYLVAN HORRORS 56
6. COMPLEX HAUNTINGS AND OCCULT BESTIALITIES 80
7. VAMPIRES, WERE-WOLVES, FOX-WOMEN, ETC. 110
8. DEATH-WARNINGS AND FAMILY GHOSTS 132
9. SUPERSTITIONS AND FORTUNES 153
10. THE HAND OF GLORY; THE BLOODY HAND OF ULSTER; THE SEVENTH SON; BIRTH-MARKS; NATURE'S DEVIL SIGNALS; PRE-EXISTENCE; THE FUTURE; PROJECTION; TELEPATHY; ETC. 176
11. OCCULT INHABITANTS OF THE SEA AND RIVERS 198
12. BUDDHAS AND BOGGLE CHAIRS 210
BYWAYS OF GHOST-LAND
THE UNKNOWN BRAIN
Whether all that constitutes man's spiritual nature, that is to say, ALL his mind, is inseparably amalgamated with the whitish mass of soft matter enclosed in his cranium and called his brain, is a question that must, one supposes, be ever open to debate.
One knows that this whitish substance is the centre of the nervous system and the seat of consciousness and volition, and, from the constant study of character by type or by phrenology, one may even go on to deduce with reason that in this protoplasmic substance—in each of the numerous cells into which it is divided and subdivided—are located the human faculties. Hence, it would seem that one may rationally conclude, that all man's vital force, all that comprises his mind—i.e. the power in him that conceives, remembers, reasons, wills—is so wrapped up in the actual matter of his cerebrum as to be incapable of existing apart from it; and that as a natural sequence thereto, on the dissolution of the brain, the mind and everything pertaining to the mind dies with it—there is no future life because there is nothing left to survive.
Such a condition, if complete annihilation can be so named, is the one and only conclusion to the doctrine that mind—crude, undiagnosed mind—is dependent on matter, a doctrine confirmed by the apparent facts that injury to the cranium is accompanied by unconsciousness and protracted loss of memory, and that the sanity of the individual is entirely contingent upon the state of his cerebral matter—a clot of blood in one of the cerebral veins, or the unhealthy condition of a cell, being in itself sufficient to bring about a complete mental metamorphose, and, in common parlance, to produce madness.
In the deepest of sleeps, too, when there is less blood in the cerebral veins, and the muscles are generally relaxed, and the pulse is slower, and the respiratory movements are fewer in number, consciousness departs, and man apparently lapses into a state of absolute nothingness which materialists, not unreasonably, presume must be akin to death. It would appear, then, that our mental faculties are entirely regulated by, and consequently, entirely dependent on, the material within our brain cells, and that, granted certain conditions of that material, we have consciousness, and that, without those conditions, we have no consciousness—in other words, "our minds cease to exist." Hence, there is no such thing as separate spiritual existence; mind is merely an eventuality of matter, and, when the latter perishes, the former perishes too. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that can exist apart from the physical.
This is an assertion—unquestionably dogmatic—that exponents of materialism hold to be logically unassailable. To disprove it may not be an easy task at present; but I am, nevertheless, convinced there is a world apart from matter—a superphysical plane with which part of us, at least, is in some way connected, and I discredit the materialist's dogma, partly because something in my nature compels me to an opposite conclusion, and partly because certain phenomena I have experienced, cannot, I am certain, have been produced by any physical agency.
In support of my theory that we are not solely material, but partly physical and partly superphysical, I maintain that consciousness is never wholly lost; that even in swoons and dreams, when all sensations would seem to be swallowed up in the blackness of darkness, there is SOME consciousness left—the consciousness of existence, of impression. We recover from a faint, or awake from the most profound of slumbers, and remember not that we have dreamed. Yet, if we think with sufficient concentration, our memory suddenly returns to us, and we recollect that, during the swoon or sleep, ALL thought was not obliterated, but, that we were conscious of being somewhere and of experiencing SOMETHING.
It is only in our lighter sleeps, when the spirit traverses superphysical planes more closely connected with the material, that we remember ALL that occurred. Most of us will agree that there are two distinct forms of mental existence—the one in which we are conscious of the purely superphysical, and the one wherein we are only cognisant of the physical. In the first-named of these two mental existences— i.e. in swoons, sleep, and even death, consciousness is never entirely lost; we still think—we think with our spiritual or unknown brain; and when in the last-named state, i.e. in our physical wakefulness and life, we think with our material or known brain.
Unknown brains exist on all sides of us. Many of them are the earth-bound spirits of those whose spiritual or unknown brains, when on the earth, were starved to feed their material or known brains; or, in other words, the earth-bound spirits of those whose cravings, when in carnal form, were entirely animal. It is they, together with a variety of elementary forms of superphysical life (i.e. phantasms that have never inhabited any kind of earthly body), that constantly surround us, and, with their occult brains, suggest to our known brains every kind of base and impure thought.
Something, it is difficult to say what, usually warns me of the presence of these occult brains, and at certain times (and in certain places) I can feel, with my superphysical mind, their subtle hypnotic influences.
It is the unknown brain that produces those manifestations usually attributed to ghosts, and it is, more often than not, the possessors of the unknown brain in constant activity, i.e. the denizens of the superphysical world, who convey to our organs of hearing, either by suggestion or actual presentation, the sensations of uncanny knocks, crashes, shrieks, etc.; and to our organs of sight, all kinds of uncanny, visual phenomena.
All the phenomena we see are not objective; but the agents who "will" that we should see them are objective—they are the unknown brains. It is a mistake to think that these unknown brains can only exert their influence on a few of us. We are all subject to them, though we do not all see their manifestations. Were it not for the lower order of spirit brains, there would be comparatively few drunkards, gamblers, adulterers, fornicators, murderers, and suicides. It is they who excite man's animal senses, by conjuring up alluring pictures of drink, and gold, and sexual happiness. By the aid of the higher type of spirit brains (who, contending for ever with the lower forms of spirit brains, are indeed our "guardian angels") I have been enabled to perceive the atmosphere surrounding drinking-dens and brothels full of all kinds of bestial influences, from elementals, who allure men by presenting to their minds all kinds of attractive tableaux, to the earth-bound spirits of drunkards and libertines, transformed into horrors of the sub-human, sub-animal order of phantasms—things with bloated, nude bodies and pigs' faces, shaggy bears with fulsome, watery eyes; mangy dogs, etc. I have watched these things that still possess—and possess in a far greater degree—all the passions of their life incarnate, sniffing the foul and vitiated atmosphere of the public-houses and brothels, and chafing in the most hideous manner at their inability to gratify their lustful cravings in a more substantial way. A man advances along the road at a swinging pace, with no thought, as yet, of deviating from his course and entering a public-house. He comes within the radius of the sinister influences, which I can see and feel hanging around the saloon. Their shadowy, silent brain power at once comes into play and gains ascendancy over his weaker will. He halts because he is "willed" to do so. A tempting tableau of drink rises before him and he at once imagines he is thirsty. Soft and fascinating elemental hands close over his and draw him gently aside. A look of beastly satisfaction suffuses his eyes. He smacks his lips, hastens his steps, the bar-room door closes behind him, and, for the remaining hours of the day, he wallows in drink.
But the unknown brain does not confine itself to the neighbourhood of a public-house—it may be anywhere. I have, intuitively, felt its presence on the deserted moors of Cornwall, between St Ives and the Land's End; in the grey Cornish churches and chapels (very much in the latter); around the cold and dismal mouths of disused mine-shafts; all along the rocky North Cornish coast; on the sea; at various spots on different railway lines, both in the United Kingdom and abroad; and, of course, in multitudinous places in London.
A year or so ago, I called on Mrs de B——, a well-known society lady, at that time residing in Cadogan Gardens. The moment I entered her drawing-room, I became aware of an occult presence that seemed to be hovering around her. Wherever she moved, it moved with her, and I FELT that its strange, fathomless, enigmatical eyes were fixed on her, noting and guiding her innermost thoughts and her every action with inexorable persistence.
Some six months later, I met Lady D——, a friend in common, and in answer to my inquiries concerning Mrs de B——, was informed that she had just been divorced. "Dorothy" (i.e. Mrs de B——), Lady D—— went on to explain, "had been all right till she took up spiritualism, but directly she began to attend seances everything seemed to go wrong with her. At last she quarrelled with her husband, the climax being reached when she became violently infatuated with an officer in the Guards. The result was a decree nisi with heavy costs." I exhibited, perhaps, more surprise than I felt. But the fact of Mrs de B—— having attended seances explained everything. She was obviously a woman with a naturally weak will, and had fallen under the influence of one of the lowest, and most dangerous types of earth-bound spirits, the type that so often attends seances. This occult brain had attached itself to her, and, accompanying her home, had deliberately wrecked her domestic happiness. It would doubtless remain with her now ad infinitum. Indeed, it is next to impossible to shake off these superphysical cerebrums. They cling to one with such leech-like tenacity, and can rarely be made to depart till they have accomplished their purposes.
Burial-grounds appear to have great attractions for this class of spirit. A man, whom I once met at Boulogne, told me a remarkable story, the veracity of which I have no reason to doubt.
"I have," he began, "undergone an experience which, though, unfortunately, by no means unique, is one that is rarer nowadays than formerly. I was once all but buried alive. It happened at a little village, a most charming spot, near Maestel in the valley of the Rhone. I had been stopping at the only inn the place possessed, and, cycling out one morning, met with an accident—my machine skidded violently as I was descending a steep hill, with the result that I was pitched head first against a brick wall. The latter being considerably harder than my skull, concussion followed. Some villagers picked me up insensible, I was taken to the inn, and the nearest doctor—an uncertificated wretch—was summoned. He knew little of trepanning; besides, I was a foreigner, a German, and it did not matter. He bled me, it is true, and performed other of the ordinary means of relief; but these producing no apparent effect, he pronounced me dead, and preparations were at once made for my burial. As strangers kept coming to the inn and the accommodation was strictly limited, the landlord was considerably incensed at having to waste a room on a corpse. Accordingly, he had me screwed down in my coffin without delay, and placed in the cemetery among the tombs, till the public gravedigger could conveniently spare a few minutes to inter me. The shaking I received during my transit (for the yokels were exceedingly rough and clumsy), together with the cold night air which, luckily for me, found an easy means of access through the innumerable chinks and cracks in the ill-fitting coffin-lid, acting like a restorative tonic, I gradually revived, and the horror I felt in realising my position is better, perhaps, imagined than described. When consciousness first began to reassert itself, I simply fancied I was awakening from a particularly deep sleep. I then struggled hard to remember where I was and what had taken place. At first nothing came back to me, all was blank and void; but as I continued to persevere, gradually, very gradually, a recollection of my accident and of the subsequent events returned to me. I remembered with the utmost distinctness striking my head against the wall, and of SEEING myself carried, head first, by two rustics—the one with a shock head of red hair, the other swarthy as a Dago—to the inn. I recollected seeing the almost humorous look of horror in the chambermaid's face, as she rushed to inform the landlord, and the consternation of one and all during the discussion as to what ought to be done. The landlady suggested one thing, her husband another, the chambermaid another; and they all united in ransacking my pockets—much to my dismay—to see if they could discover a card-case or letter that might give them a clue as to my home address. I saw them do all this; and it seemed as if I were standing beside by own body, looking down at it, and that on all sides of me, and apparently invisible to the rest of the company, were strange, inscrutable pale eyes, set in the midst of grey, shapeless, shadowy substances.
"Then the doctor—a little slim, narrow-chested man, with a pointed beard and big ears—came and held a mirror to my mouth, and opened one of my veins, and talked a great deal of gibberish, whilst he made countless covert sheep's eyes at the pretty chambermaid, who had taken advantage of his arrival to overhaul my knapsack and help herself from my purse. I distinctly heard the arrangements made for my funeral, and the voice of the landlord saying: 'Yes, of course, doctor, that is only fair; you have taken no end of trouble with him. I will keep his watch' (the watch was of solid gold, and cost me L25) 'and clothes to defray the expenses of the funeral and pay for his recent board' (I had only settled my account with him that morning). And the shrill voice of the landlady echoed: 'Yes, that is only fair, only right!' Then they all left the room, and I remained alone with my body. What followed was more or less blurred. The innumerable and ever-watchful grey eyes impressed me most. I recollected, however, the advent of the men—the same two who had brought me to the inn—to take me away in my coffin, and I had vivid recollections of tramping along the dark and silent road beside them, and wishing I could liberate my body. Then we halted at the iron gate leading into the cemetery, the coffin was dropped on the ground with a bang, and—the rest was a blank. Nothing, nothing came back to me. At first I was inclined to attribute my memory to a dream. 'Absurd!' I said to myself. 'Such things cannot have occurred. I am in bed; I know I am!' Then I endeavoured to move my arms to feel the counterpane; I could not; my arms were bound, tightly bound to my side. A cold sweat burst out all over me. Good God! was it true? I tried again; and the same thing happened—I could not stir. Again and again I tried, straining and tugging at my sides till the muscles on my arms were on the verge of bursting, and I had to desist through utter exhaustion. I lay still and listened to the beating of my heart. Then, I clenched my toes and tried to kick. I could not; my feet were ruthlessly fastened together.
"Death garments! A winding-sheet! I could feel it clinging to me all over. It compressed the air in my lungs, it retarded the circulation, and gave me the most excruciating cramp, and pins and needles. My sufferings were so acute that I groaned, and, on attempting to stretch my jaws, found that they were encased in tight, clammy bandages. By prodigious efforts I eventually managed to gain a certain amount of liberty for my head, and this gave me the consolation that if I could do nothing else I could at least howl—howl! How utterly futile, for who, in God's name, would hear me? The thought of all there was above me, of all the piles of earth and grass—for the idea that I was not actually buried never entered my mind—filled me with the most abject sorrow and despair. The utter helplessness of my position came home to me with damning force. Rescue was absolutely out of the question, because the only persons, who knew where I was, believed me dead. To my friends and relations, my fate would ever remain a mystery. The knowledge that they would, at once, have come to my assistance, had I only been able to communicate with them, was cruel in the extreme; and tears of mortification poured down my cheeks when I realised how blissfully unconscious they were of my fate. The most vivid and alluring visions of home, of my parents, and brothers, and sisters, flitted tantalisingly before me. I saw them all sitting on their accustomary seats, in the parlour, my father smoking his meerschaum, my mother knitting, my eldest sister describing an opera she had been to that afternoon, my youngest sister listening to her with mouth half open and absorbing interest in her blue eyes, my brother examining the works of a clockwork engine which he had just taken to pieces; whilst from the room overhead, inhabited by a Count, a veteran who had won distinction in the campaigns of '64 and '66, came strains of 'The Watch on the Rhine.' Every now and then my mother would lean back in her chair and close her eyes, and I knew intuitively she was thinking of me. Mein Gott! If she had only known the truth. These tableaux faded away, and the gruesome awfulness of my surroundings thrust themselves upon me. A damp, foetid smell, suggestive of the rottenness of decay, assailed my nostrils and made me sneeze. I choked; the saliva streamed in torrents down my chin and throat! My recumbent position and ligaments made it difficult for me to recover my breath; I grew black in the face; I imagined I was dying. I abruptly, miraculously recovered, and all was silent as before. Silent! Good heavens! There is no silence compared with that of the grave.
"I longed for a sound, for any sound, the creaking of a board, the snapping of a twig, the ticking of an insect—there was none—the silence was the silence of stone. I thought of worms; I imagined countless legions of them making their way to me from the surrounding mouldering coffins. Every now and then I uttered a shriek as something cold and slimy touched my skin, and my stomach heaved within me as a whiff of something particularly offensive fanned my face.
"Suddenly I saw eyes—the same grey, inscrutable eyes that I had seen before—immediately above my own. I tried to fathom them, to discover some trace of expression. I could not—they were insoluble. I instinctively felt there was a subtle brain behind them, a brain that was stealthily analysing me, and I tried to assure myself its intentions were not hostile. Above, and on either side of the eyes, I saw the shadow of something white, soft, and spongy, in which I fancied I could detect a distinct likeness to a human brain, only on a large scale. There were the cerebral lobes, or largest part of the forebrain, enormously developed and overhanging the cerebellum, or great lobe of the hindbrain, and completely covering the lobes of the midbrain. On the cerebrum I even thought I could detect—for I have a smattering of anatomy—the usual convolutions, and the grooves dividing the cerebrum into two hemispheres. But there was something I had never seen before, and which I could not account for—two things like antennae, one on either side of the cerebrum. As I gazed at them, they lengthened and shortened in such quick succession that I grew giddy and had to remove my eyes. What they were I cannot think; but then, of course the brain, being occult, doubtless possessed properties of a nature wholly unsuspected by me. The moment I averted my glance, I experienced—this time on my forehead—the same cold, slimy sensation I had felt before, and I at once associated it with the cerebral tentacles. Soon after this I was touched in a similar manner on my right thigh, then on my left, and simultaneously on both legs; then in a half a dozen places at the same time. I looked out of the corner of my eyes, first on one side of me and then the other, and encountered the shadowy semblance to brains in each direction. I was therefore forced to conclude that the atmosphere in the coffin was literally impregnated with psychic cerebrums, and that every internal organ I possessed was being subjected to the most minute inspection. My mind rapidly became filled with every vile and lustful desire, and I cried aloud to be permitted five minutes' freedom to put into operation the basest and filthiest of actions. My thoughts were thus occupied when, to my amazement, I suddenly heard the sound of voices—human voices. At first I listened with incredulity, thinking that it must be merely a trick of my imagination or some further ingenious, devilish device, on the part of the ghostly brains, to torture me. But the voices continued, and drew nearer and nearer, until I could at length distinguish what they were saying. The speakers were two men, Francois and Jacques, and they were discussing the task that brought them thither—the task of burying me. Burying me! So, then, I was not yet under the earth! The revulsion of my feelings on discovering that there was still a spark of hope is indescribable; the blood surged through my veins in waves of fire, my eyes danced, my heart thumped, and—I laughed! Laughed! There was no stopping me—peal followed peal, louder and louder, until cobblestones and tombstones reverberated and thundered back the sound.
"The effect on Francois and Jacques was the reverse of what I wished. When first they heard me, they became suddenly and deathly silent. Then their pent-up feelings of horror could stand it no longer, and with the wildest of yells they dropped their pick and shovel, and fled. My laughter ceased, and, half drowned in tears of anguish, I listened to their sabots pounding along the gravel walk and on to the hard highroad, till the noises ceased and there was, once again, universal and awe-inspiring silence. Again the eyes and tentacles, again the yearnings for base and shameful deeds, and again—oh, blissful interruption! the sound of human voices—Francois and Jacques returning with a crowd of people, all greatly excited, all talking at once.
"'I call God as my witness I heard it, and Jacques too. Isn't that so, Jacques?' a voice, which I identified as that of Francois, shrieked. And Jacques, doubtless as eager to be heard—for it was not once in a lifetime anyone in his position had such an opportunity for notoriety—as he was to come to his companion's rescue, bawled out; 'Ay! There was no mistaking the sounds. May I never live to eat my supper again if it was not laughter. Listen!' And everyone, at once, grew quiet.
"Now was my opportunity—my only opportunity. A single sound, however slight, however trivial, and I should be saved! A cry rose in my throat; another instant and it would have escaped my lips, when a dozen tentacles shot forward and I was silent. Despair, such as no soul experienced more acutely, even when on the threshold of hell, now seized me, and bid me make my last, convulsive effort. Collecting, nay, even dragging together every atom of will-power that still remained within my enfeebled frame, I swelled my lungs to their utmost. A kind of rusty, vibratory movement ran through my parched tongue; my jaws creaked, creaked and strained on their hinges, my lips puffed and assumed the dimensions of bladders and—that was all. No sound came. A weight, soft, sticky, pungent, and overwhelming, cloaked my brain, and spreading weed-like, with numbing coldness, stifled the cry ere it left the precincts of my larynx. Hope died within me—I was irretrievably lost. A babel of voices now arose together. Francois, Jacques, the village cure, gendarme, doctor, chambermaid, mine host and hostess, and others, whose tones I did not recognise, clamoured to be heard. Some, foremost amongst whom were Francois, Jacques, and a boy, were in favour of the coffin being opened; whilst others, notably the doctor and chambermaid (who pertly declared she had seen quite enough of my ugly face), ridiculed the notion and said the sooner I was buried the better it would be. The weather had been more than usually hot that day, and the corpse, which was very much swollen—for, like all gourmands, I had had chronic disease of the liver—had, in their opinion, already become insanitary. The boy then burst out crying. It had always been the height of his ambition, he said, to see someone dead, and he thought it a dastardly shame on the part of the doctor and chambermaid to wish to deny him this opportunity.
"The gendarme thinking, no doubt, he ought to have a say in the matter, muttered something to the effect that children were a great deal too forward nowadays, and that it would be time enough for the boy to see a corpse when he broke his mother's heart—which, following the precedence of all spoilt boys, he was certain to do sooner or later; and this opinion found ready endorsement. The boy suppressed, my case began to look hopeless, and the poignancy of my suspense became such that I thought I should have gone mad. Francois was already persuaded into setting to work with his pick, and, I should most certainly have been speedily interred, had it not been for the timely arrival of a village wag, who, planking himself unobserved behind a tombstone close to my coffin, burst out laughing in the most sepulchral fashion. The effect on the company was electrical; the majority, including the women, fled precipitately, and the rest, overcoming the feeble protests of the doctor, wrenched off the lid of the coffin. The spell, cast over me by the occult brains, was now by a merciful Providence broken, and I was able to explain my condition to the flabbergasted faces around me.
"I need only say, in conclusion, that the discomfiture of the doctor was complete, and that I took good care to express my opinion of him everywhere I went. Doubtless, many poor wretches have been less fortunate than I, and, being pronounced dead by unskilled physicians, have been prematurely interred. Apart from all the agony consequent to asphyxiation, they must have suffered hellish tortures through the agency of spirit brains."
This is the anecdote as related to me, and it serves as an illustration of my theory that the unknown brain is objective, and that it can, under given circumstances—i.e. when physical life is, so to speak, in abeyance—be both seen and felt by the known brain. At birth, and more particularly at death, the presence of the unknown brain is most marked. And here it may not be inappropriate to remark that, in my experience at least, the hour of midnight is by no means the time most favourable to occult phenomena. I have seen far more manifestations at twilight, and between two and four a.m., than at any other period of the day—times, I think, according with those when human vitality is at its lowest and death most frequently takes place. It is, doubtless, the ebb of human vitality and the possibility of death that attracts the earth-bound brains and other varying types of elemental harpies. They scent death with ten times the acuteness of sharks and vultures, and hie with all haste to the spot, so as to be there in good time to get their final suck, vampire fashion, at the spiritual brain of the dying; substituting in the place of what they extract, substance—in the shape of foul and lustful thoughts—for the material or known brain to feed upon. The food they have stolen, these vampires vainly imagine will enable them to rise to a higher spiritual plane.
In connection with this subject of the two brains, the question arises: What forms the connecting link between the material or known brain, and the spiritual or unknown brain? If the unknown brain has a separate existence, and can detach itself at times (as in "projection"), why must it wait for death to set it entirely free? My answer to that question is: That the connecting link consists of a magnetic force, at present indefinable, the scope, or pale, of which varies according to the relative dimensions of the two brains. In a case, for example, where the physical or known brain is far more developed than the spiritual or unknown brain, the radius of attraction would be limited and the connecting link strong; on the other hand, in a case where the spiritual or unknown brain is more developed than the physical or known brain, the magnetic pale is proportionately wide, and the connecting link would be weak.
Thus, in the swoon or profound sleep of a person possessing a greater preponderance of physical than spiritual brain, the conscious self would still be concerned with purely material matters, such as eating and drinking, petty disputes, money, sexual desires, etc., though, owing to the lack of concentration, which is a marked feature of those who possess the grossly material brain, little or nothing of this conscious self would be remembered. But in the swoon, or deep sleep of a person possessing the spiritual brain in excess, the unknown brain is partially freed from the known brain, and the conscious self is consequently far away from the material body, on the confines of an entirely spiritual plane. Of course, the experiences of this conscious self may or may not be remembered, but there is, in its case, always the possibility, owing to the capacity for concentration which is invariably the property of all who have developed their spiritual or unknown brain, of subsequent recollection.
At death, and at death only, the magnetic link is actually broken. The unknown brain is then entirely freed from the known brain, and the latter, together with the rest of the material body, perishes from natural decay; whilst the former, no longer restricted within the limits of its earthly pale, is at liberty to soar ad infinitum.
THE OCCULT IN SHADOWS
Many of the shadows, I have seen, have not had material counterparts. They have invariably proved themselves to be superphysical danger signals, the sure indicators of the presence of those grey, inscrutable, inhuman cerebrums to which I have alluded; of phantasms of the dead and of elementals of all kinds. There is an indescribable something about them, that at once distinguishes them from ordinary shadows, and puts me on my guard. I have seen them in houses that to all appearances are the least likely to be haunted—houses full of sunshine and the gladness of human voices. In the midst of merriment, they have darkened the wall opposite me like the mystic writing in Nebuchadnezzar's palace. They have suddenly appeared by my side, as I have been standing on rich, new carpeting or sun-kissed swards. They have floated into my presence with both sunbeams and moonbeams, through windows, doors, and curtains, and their advent has invariably been followed by some form or other of occult demonstration. I spent some weeks this summer at Worthing, and, walking one afternoon to the Downs, selected a bright and secluded spot for a comfortable snooze. I revel in snatching naps in the open sunshine, and this was a place that struck me as being perfectly ideal for that purpose. It was on the brow of a diminutive hillock covered with fresh, lovely grass of a particularly vivid green. In the rear and on either side of it, the ground rose and fell in pleasing alternation for an almost interminable distance, whilst in front of it there was a gentle declivity (up which I had clambered) terminating in the broad, level road leading to Worthing. Here, on this broad expanse of the Downs, was a fairyland of soft sea air, sunshine and rest—rest from mankind, from the shrill, unmusical voices of the crude and rude product of the County Council schools.
I sat down; I never for one moment thought of phantasms; I fell asleep. I awoke; the hot floodgates of the cloudless heaven were still open, the air translucent over and around me, when straight in front of me, on a gloriously gilded patch of grass, there fell a shadow—a shadow from no apparent substance, for both air and ground were void of obstacles, and, apart from myself, there was no living object in the near landscape. Yet it was a shadow; a shadow that I could not diagnose; a waving, fluctuating shadow, unpleasantly suggestive of something subtle and horrid. It was, I instinctively knew, the shadow of the occult; a few moments more, and a development would, in all probability, take place. The blue sky, the golden sea, the tiny trails of smoke creeping up lazily from the myriads of chimney-pots, the white house-tops, the red house-tops, the church spire, the railway line, the puffing, humming, shuffling goods-train, the glistening white roads, the breathing, busy figures, and the bright and smiling mile upon mile of emerald turf rose in rebellion against the likelihood of ghosts—yet, there was the shadow. I looked away from it, and, as I did so, an icy touch fell on my shoulder. I dared not turn; I sat motionless, petrified, frozen. The touch passed to my forehead and from thence to my chin, my head swung round forcibly, and I saw—nothing—only the shadow; but how different, for out of the chaotic blotches there now appeared a well—a remarkably well—defined outline, the outline of a head and hand, the head of a fantastic beast, a repulsive beast, and the hand of a man. A flock of swallows swirled overhead, a grasshopper chirped, a linnet sang, and, with this sudden awakening of nature, the touch and shadow vanished simultaneously. But the hillock had lost its attractions for me, and, rising hastily, I dashed down the decline and hurried homewards. I discovered no reason other than solitude, and the possible burial-place of prehistoric man, for the presence of the occult; but the next time I visited the spot, the same thing happened. I have been there twice since, and the same, always the same thing—first the shadow, then the touch, then the shadow, then the arrival of some form or other of joyous animal life, and the abrupt disappearance of the Unknown.
I was once practising bowls on the lawn of a very old house, the other inhabitants of which were all occupied indoors. I had taken up a bowl, and was in the act of throwing it, when, suddenly, on the empty space in front of me I saw a shadow, a nodding, waving, impenetrable, undecipherable shadow. I looked around, but there was nothing visible that could in any way account for it. I threw down the bowl and turned to go indoors. As I did so, something touched me lightly in the face. I threw out my hand and touched a cold, clammy substance strangely suggestive of the leafy branch of a tree. Yet nothing was to be seen. I felt again, and my fingers wandered to a broader expanse of something gnarled and uneven. I kept on exploring, and my grasp closed over something painfully prickly. I drew my hand smartly back, and, as I did so, distinctly heard the loud and angry rustling of leaves. Just then one of my friends called out to me from a window. I veered round to reply, and the shadow had vanished. I never saw it again, though I often had the curious sensation that it was there. I did not mention my experience to my friends, as they were pronounced disbelievers in the superphysical, but tactful inquiry led to my gleaning the information that on the identical spot, where I had felt the phenomena, had once stood a horse-chestnut tree, which had been cut down owing to the strong aversion the family had taken to it, partly on account of a strange growth on the trunk, unpleasantly suggestive of cancer, and partly because a tramp had hanged himself on one of the branches.
All sorts of extraordinary shadows have come to me in the Parks, the Twopenny Tube, and along the Thames Embankment. At ten o'clock, on the morning of 1st April 1899, I entered Hyde Park by one of the side gates of the Marble Arch, and crossing to the island, sat down on an empty bench. The sky was grey, the weather ominous, and occasional heavy drops of rain made me rejoice in the possession of an umbrella. On such a day, the park does not appear at its best. The Arch exhibited a dull, dirty, yellowish-grey exterior; every seat was bespattered with mud; whilst, to render the general aspect still more unprepossessing, the trees had not yet donned their mantles of green, but stood dejectedly drooping their leafless branches as if overcome with embarrassment at their nakedness. On the benches around me sat, or lay, London's homeless—wretched-looking men in long, tattered overcoats, baggy, buttonless trousers, cracked and laceless boots, and shapeless bowlers, too weak from want of food and rest even to think of work, almost incapable, indeed, of thought at all—breathing corpses, nothing more, with premature signs of decomposition in their filthy smell. And the women—the women were, if possible, ranker—feebly pulsating, feebly throbbing, foully stinking, rotten, living deaths. No amount of soap, food, or warmth could reclaim them now. Nature's implacable law—the survival of the fittest, the weakest to the wall—was here exhibited in all its brutal force, and, as I gazed at the weakest, my heart turned sick within me.
Time advanced; one by one the army of tatterdemalions crawled away, God alone knew how, God alone knew where. In all probability God did not care. Why should He? He created Nature and Nature's laws.
A different type of humanity replaced this garbage: neat and dapper girls on their way to business; black-bowlered, spotless-leathered, a-guinea-a-week clerks, casting longing glances at the pale grass and countless trees (their only reminiscence of the country), as they hastened their pace, lest they should be a minute late for their hateful servitude; a policeman with the characteristic stride and swinging arms; a brisk and short-stepped postman; an apoplectic-looking, second-hand-clothes-man; an emaciated widow; a typical charwoman; two mechanics; the usual brutal-faced labourer; one of the idle rich in shiny hat, high collar, cutaway coat, prancing past on a coal-black horse; and a bevy of nursemaids.
To show my mind was not centred on the occult,—bootlaces, collar-studs, the two buttons on the back of ladies' coats, dyed hair, servants' feet, and a dozen and one other subjects, quite other than the superphysical, successively occupied my thoughts. Imagine, then, my surprise and the shock I received, when, on glancing at the gravel in front of me, I saw two shadows—two enigmatical shadows. A dog came shambling along the path, showed its teeth, snarled, sprang on one side, and, with bristling hair, fled for its life. I examined the plot of ground behind me; there was nothing that could in any way account for the shadows, nothing like them. Something rubbed against my leg. I involuntarily put down my hand; it was a foot—a clammy lump of ice, but, unmistakably, a foot. Yet of what? I saw nothing, only the shadows. I did not want to discover more; my very soul shrank within me at the bare idea of what there might be, what there was. But, as is always the case, the superphysical gave me no choice; my hand, moving involuntarily forward, rested on something flat, round, grotesque, horrid, something I took for a face, but a face which I knew could not be human. Then I understood the shadows. Uniting, they formed the outline of something lithe and tall, the outline of a monstrosity with a growth even as I had felt it—flat, round, grotesque, and horrid. Was it the phantasm of one of those poor waifs and strays, having all their bestialities and diseases magnified; or was it the spirit of a tree of some unusually noxious nature?
I could not divine, and so I came away unsatisfied. But I believe the shadow is still there, for I saw it only the last time I was in the Park.
Clocks, Chests and Mummies
As I have already remarked, spirit or unknown brains are frequently present at births. The brains of infants are very susceptible to impressions, and, in them, the thought-germs of the occult brains find snug billets. As time goes on, these germs develop and become generally known as "tastes," "cranks," and "manias."
It is an error to think that men of genius are especially prone to manias. On the contrary, the occult brains have the greatest difficulty in selecting thought-germs sufficiently subtle to lodge in the brain-cells of a child of genius. Practically, any germ of carnal thought will be sure of reception in the protoplasmic brain-cells of a child, who is destined to become a doctor, solicitor, soldier, shopkeeper, labourer, or worker in any ordinary occupation; but the thought-germ that will find entrance to the brain-cells of a future painter, writer, actor, or musician, must represent some propensity of a more or less extraordinary nature.
We all harbour these occult missiles, we are all to a certain extent mad: the proud mamma who puts her only son into the Church or makes a lawyer of him, and placidly watches him develop a scarlet face, double chin, and prodigious paunch, would flounce out a hundred and one indignant denials if anyone suggested he had a mania, but it would be true; gluttony would be his mania, and one every whit as prohibitive to his chances of reaching the spiritual plane, as drink, or sexual passion. Love of eating is, indeed, quite the commonest form of obsession, and one that develops soonest. Nine out of ten children—particularly present-day children, whose doting parents encourage their every desire—are fonder of cramming their bellies than of playing cricket or skipping; games soon weary them, but buns and chocolates never. The truth is, buns and chocolate have obsessed them. They think of them all day, and dream of them all night. It is buns and chocolates! wherever and whenever they turn or look—buns and chocolates! This greed soon develops, as the occult brain intended it should; enforced physical labour, or athletics, or even sedentary work may dwarf its growth for a time, but at middle and old age it comes on again, and the buns and chocolates are become so many coursed luncheons and dinners. Their world is one of menus, nothing but menus; their only mental exertion the study of menus, and I have no doubt that "tuck" shops and restaurants are besieged by the ever-hungry spirit of the earth-bound glutton. Though the drink-germ is usually developed later (and its later growth is invariably accelerated with seas of alcohol), it not infrequently feeds its initial growth with copious streams of ginger beer and lemon kali.
Manual labourers—i.e. navvies, coal-heavers, miners, etc.—are naturally more or less brutal. Their brain-cells at birth offered so little resistance to the evil occult influences that they received, in full, all the lower germs of thought inoculated by the occult brains. Drink, gluttony, cruelty, all came to their infant cerebrums cotemporaneously. The cruelty germ develops first, and cats, dogs, donkeys, smaller brothers, and even babies are made to feel the superior physical strength of the early wearer of hobnails. He is obsessed with a mania for hurting something, and with his strongly innate instinct of self-preservation, invariably chooses something that cannot harm him. Daily he looks around for fresh victims, and finally decides that the weedy offspring of the hated superior classes are the easiest prey. In company with others of his species, he annihilates the boy in Etons on his way to and from school, and the after recollections of the weakling's bloody nose and teardrops are as nectar to him. The cruelty germ develops apace. The bloody noses of the well-dressed classes are his mania now. He sees them at every turn and even dreams of them. He grows to manhood, and either digs in the road or plies the pick and shovel underground. The mechanical, monotonous exercise and the sordidness of his home surroundings foster the germ, and his leisure moments are occupied with the memory of those glorious times when he was hitting out at someone, and he feels he would give anything just to have one more blow. Curse the police! If it were not for them he could indulge his hobby to the utmost. But the stalwart, officious man in blue is ever on the scene, and the thrashing of a puny cleric or sawbones is scarcely compensation for a month's hard labour. Yet his mania must be satisfied somehow—it worries him to pieces. He must either smash someone's nose or go mad; there is no alternative, and he chooses the former. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals prevents him skinning a cat; the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children will be down on him at once if he strikes a child, and so he has no other resource left but his wife—he can knock out all her teeth, bash in her ribs, and jump on her head to his heart's content. She will never dare prosecute him, and, if she does, some Humanitarian Society will be sure to see that he is not legally punished. He thus finds safe scope for the indulgence of his crank, and when there is nothing left of his own wife, he turns his unattractive and pusillanimous attentions to someone else's.
But occult thought-germs of this elementary type only thrive where the infant's spiritual or unknown brain is wholly undeveloped. Where the spiritual or unknown brain of an infant is partially developed, the germ-thought to be lodged in it (especially if it be a germ-thought of cruelty) must be of a more subtle and refined nature.
I have traced the growth of cruelty obsession in children one would not suspect of any great tendency to animalism. A refined love of making others suffer has led them to vent inquisitionary tortures on insects, and the mania for pulling off the legs of flies and roasting beetles under spyglasses has been gradually extended to drowning mice in cages and seeing pigs killed. Time develops the germ; the cruel boy becomes the callous doctor or "sharp-practising" attorney, and the cruel girl becomes the cruel mother and often the frail divorcee. Drink and cards are an obsession with some; cruelty is just as much a matter of obsession with others. But the ingenuity of the occult brain rises to higher things; it rises to the subtlest form of invention when dealing with the artistic and literary temperament. I have been intimately acquainted with authors—well-known in the popular sense of the word—who have been obsessed in the oddest and often most painful ways.
The constant going back to turn door-handles, the sitting in grotesque and untoward positions, the fondness for fingering any smooth and shiny objects, such as mother-of-pearl, develop into manias for change—change of scenery, of occupation, of affections, of people—change that inevitably necessitates misery; for breaking—breaking promises, contracts, family ties, furniture—but breaking, always breaking; for sensuality—sensuality sometimes venial, but often of the most gross and unpardonable nature.
I knew a musician who was obsessed in a peculiarly loathsome manner. Few knew of his misfortune, and none abominated it more than himself. He sang divinely, had the most charming personality, was all that could be desired as a husband and father, and yet was, in secret, a monomaniac of the most degrading and unusual order. In the daytime, when all was bright and cheerful, his mania was forgotten; but the moment twilight came, and he saw the shadows of night stealing stealthily towards him, his craze returned, and, if alone, he would steal surreptitiously out of the house and, with the utmost perseverance, seek an opportunity of carrying into effect his bestial practices. I have known him tie himself to the table, surround himself with Bibles, and resort to every imaginable device to divert his mind from his passion, but all to no purpose; the knowledge that outside all was darkness and shadows proved irresistible. With a beating heart he put on his coat and hat, and, furtively opening the door, slunk out to gratify his hateful lust. Heaven knows! he went through hell.
I once watched a woman obsessed with an unnatural and wholly monstrous mania for her dog. She took it with her wherever she went, to the theatre, the shops, church, in railway carriages, on board ship. She dressed it in the richest silks and furs, decorated it with bangles, presented it with a watch, hugged, kissed, and fondled it, took it to bed with her, dreamed of it. When it died, she went into heavy mourning for it, and in an incredibly short space of time pined away. I saw her a few days before her death, and I was shocked; her gestures, mannerisms, and expression had become absolutely canine, and when she smiled—smiled in a forced and unnatural manner—I could have sworn I saw Launcelot, her pet!
There was also a man, a brilliant writer, who from a boy had been obsessed with a craze for all sorts of glossy things, more especially buttons. The mania grew; he spent all his time running after girls who were manicured, or who wore shining buttons, and, when he married, he besought his wife to sew buttons on every article of her apparel. In the end, he is said to have swallowed a button, merely to enjoy the sensation of its smooth surface on the coats of his stomach.
This somewhat exaggerated instance of obsession serves to show that, no matter how extraordinary the thought-germ, it may enter one's mind and finally become a passion.
That the majority of people are obsessed, though in a varying degree, is a generally accepted fact; but that furniture can be possessed by occult brains, though not a generally accepted fact, is, I believe, equally true.
In a former work, entitled Some Haunted Houses of England and Wales, published by Mr Eveleigh Nash, I described how a bog-oak grandfather's clock was possessed by a peculiar type of elemental, which I subsequently classified as a vagrarian, or kind of grotesque spirit that inhabits wild and lonely places, and, not infrequently, spots where there are the remains of prehistoric (and even latter-day) man and beast. In another volume called The Haunted Houses of London, I narrated the haunting of a house in Portman Square by a grandfather's clock, the spirit in possession causing it to foretell death by striking certain times; and I have since heard of hauntings by phenomena of a more or less similar nature.
The following is an example. A very dear friend of mine was taken ill shortly before Christmas. No one at the time suspected there was anything serious the matter with her, although her health of late had been far from good. I happened to be staying in the house just then, and found, that for some reason or other, I could not sleep. I do not often suffer from insomnia, so that the occurrence struck me as somewhat extraordinary. My bedroom opened on to a large, dark landing. In one corner of it stood a very old grandfather's clock, the ticking of which I could distinctly hear when the house was quiet. For the first two or three nights of my visit the clock was as usual, but, the night before my friend was taken ill, its ticking became strangely irregular. At one moment it sounded faint, at the next moment, the reverse; now it was slow, now quick; until at length, in a paroxysm of curiosity and fear, I cautiously opened my door and peeped out. It was a light night, and the glass face of the clock flashed back the moonbeams with startling brilliancy. A grim and subdued hush hung over the staircases and landings. The ticking was now low; but as I listened intently, it gradually grew louder and louder, until, to my horror, the colossal frame swayed violently backwards and forwards. Unable to stand the sight of it any longer, and fearful of what I might see next, I retreated into my room, and, carefully locking the door, lit the gas, and got into bed. At three o'clock the ticking once again became normal. The following night the same thing occurred, and I discovered that certain other members of the household had also heard it. My friend rapidly grew worse, and the irregularities of the clock became more and more pronounced, more and more disturbing. Then there came a morning, when, between two and three o'clock, unable to lie in bed and listen to the ticking any longer, I got up. An irresistible attraction dragged me to the door. I peeped out, and there, with the moonlight concentrated on its face as before, swayed the clock, backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, slowly and solemnly; and with each movement there issued from within it a hollow, agonised voice, the counterpart of that of my sick friend, exclaiming, "Oh dear! Oh dear! It is coming! It is coming!"
I was so fascinated, so frightened, that I could not remove my gaze, but was constrained to stand still and stare at it; and all the while there was a dull, mechanical repetition of the words: "Oh dear! Oh dear! It is coming, it is coming!" Half an hour passed in this manner, and the hands indicated five minutes to three, when a creak on the staircase made me look round. My heart turned to ice—there, half-way down the stairs, was a tall, black figure, its polished ebony skin shining in the moonbeams. I saw only its body at first, for I was far too surprised even to glance at its face. As it glided noiselessly towards me, however, obeying an uncontrollable impulse, I looked. There was no face at all, only two eyes—two long, oblique, half-open eyes—grey and sinister, inexpressibly, hellishly sinister—and, as they met my gaze, they smiled gleefully. They passed on, the door of the clock swung open, and the figure stepped inside and vanished! I was now able to move, and re-entering my room, I locked myself in, turned on the gas, and buried myself under the bedclothes.
I left the house next day, and shortly afterwards received the melancholy tidings of the death of my dear friend. For the time being, at least, the clock had been possessed by an elemental spirit of death.
I know an instance, too, in which a long, protracted whine, like the whine of a dog, proceeded from a grandfather's clock, prior to any catastrophe in a certain family; another instance, in which loud thumps were heard in a grandfather's clock before a death; and still another instance in which a hooded face used occasionally to be seen in lieu of the clock's face.
In all these cases, the clocks were undoubtedly temporarily possessed by the same type of spirit—the type I have classified "Clanogrian" or Family Ghost—occult phenomena that, having attached themselves in bygone ages to certain families, sometimes cling to furniture (often not inappropriately to clocks) that belonged to those families; and, still clinging, in its various removals, to the piece they have "possessed," continue to perform their original grizzly function of foretelling death.
Of course, these charnel prophets are not the only phantasms that "possess" furniture. For example, I once heard of a case of "possession" by a non-prophetic phantasm in connection with a chest—an antique oak chest which, I believe, claimed to be a native of Limerick. After experiencing many vicissitudes in its career, the chest fell into the hands of a Mrs MacNeill, who bought it at a rather exorbitant price from a second-hand dealer in Cork.
The chest, placed in the dining-room of its new home, was the recipient of much premature adulation. The awakening came one afternoon soon after its arrival, when Mrs MacNeill was alone in the dining-room at twilight. She had spent a very tiring morning shopping in Tralee, her nearest market-town, and consequently fell asleep in an arm-chair in front of the fire, directly after luncheon. She awoke with a sensation of extreme chilliness, and thinking the window could not have been shut properly, she got up to close it, when her attention was attracted by something white protruding from under the lid of the chest. She went up to inspect it, but she recoiled in horror. It was a long finger, with a very protuberant knuckle-bone, but no sign of a nail. She was so shocked that for some seconds she could only stand staring at it, mute and helpless; but the sound of approaching carriage-wheels breaking the spell, she rushed to the fireplace and pulled the bell vigorously. As she did so, there came a loud chuckle from the chest, and all the walls of the room seemed to shake with laughter.
Of course everyone laughed when Mrs MacNeill related what had happened. The chest was minutely examined, and as it was found to contain nothing but some mats that had been stored away in it the previous day, the finger was forthwith declared to have been an optical illusion, and Mrs MacNeill was, for the time being, ridiculed into believing it was so herself. For the next two or three days nothing occurred; nothing, in fact, until one night when Mrs MacNeill and her daughters heard the queerest of noises downstairs, proceeding apparently from the dining-room—heavy, flopping footsteps, bumps as if a body was being dragged backwards and forwards across the floor, crashes as if all the crockery in the house had been piled in a mass on the floor, loud peals of malevolent laughter, and then—silence.
The following night, the disturbances being repeated, Mrs MacNeill summoned up courage to go downstairs and peep into the room. The noises were still going on when she arrived at the door, but, the moment she opened it, they ceased and there was nothing to be seen. A day or two afterwards, when she was again alone in the dining-room and the evening shadows were beginning to make their appearance, she glanced anxiously at the chest, and—there was the finger. Losing her self-possession at once, and yielding to a paroxysm of the wildest, the most ungovernable terror, she opened her mouth to shriek. Not a sound came; the cry that had been generated in her lungs died away ere it reached her larynx, and she relapsed into a kind of cataleptic condition, in which all her faculties were acutely alert but her limbs and organs of speech palsied.
She expected every instant that the chest-lid would fly open and that the baleful thing lurking within would spring upon her. The torture she suffered from such anticipations was little short of hell, and was rendered all the more maddening by occasional quiverings of the lid, which brought all her expectations to a climax. Now, now at any rate, she assured herself, the moment had come when the acme of horrordom would be bounced upon her and she would either die or go mad. But no; her agonies were again and again borne anew, and her prognostications unfulfilled. At last the creakings abruptly ceased—nothing was to be heard save the shaking of the trees, the distant yelping of a dog, and the far-away footfall of one of the servants. Having somewhat recovered from the shock, Mrs MacNeill was busy speculating as to the appearance of the hidden horror, when she heard a breathing, the subtle, stealthy breathing of the secreted pouncer. Again she was spellbound. The evening advanced, and from every nook and cranny of the room, from behind chairs, sofa, sideboard, and table, from window-sill and curtains, stole the shadows, all sorts of curious shadows, that brought with them an atmosphere of the barren, wind-swept cliffs and dark, deserted mountains, an atmosphere that added fresh terrors to Mrs MacNeill's already more than distraught mind.
The room was now full of occult possibilities, drawn from all quarters, and doubtless attracted thither by the chest, which acted as a physical magnet. It grew late; still no one came to her rescue; and still more shadows, and more, and more, and more, until the room was full of them. She actually saw them gliding towards the house, in shoals, across the moon-kissed lawn and carriage-drive. Shadows of all sorts—some, unmistakable phantasms of the dead, with skinless faces and glassy eyes, their bodies either wrapped in shrouds covered with the black slime of bogs or dripping with water; some, whole and lank and bony; some with an arm or leg missing; some with no limbs or body, only heads—shrunken, bloodless heads with wide-open, staring eyes—yellow, ichorous eyes—gleaming, devilish eyes. Elementals of all sorts—some, tall and thin, with rotund heads and meaningless features; some, with rectangular, fleshy heads; some, with animal heads. On they came in countless legions, on, on, and on, one after another, each vying with the other in ghastly horridness.
The series of terrific shocks Mrs MacNeill experienced during the advance of this long and seemingly interminable procession of every conceivable ghoulish abortion, at length wore her out. The pulsations of her naturally strong heart temporarily failed, and, as her pent-up feelings found vent in one gasping scream for help, she fell insensible to the ground.
That very night the chest was ruthlessly cremated, and Mrs MacNeill's dining-room ceased to be a meeting-place for spooks.
Whenever I see an old chest now, I always view it with suspicion—especially if it should happen to be a bog-oak chest. The fact is, the latter is more likely than not to be "possessed" by elementals, which need scarcely be a matter of surprise when one remembers that bogs—particularly Irish bogs—have been haunted, from time immemorial, by the most uncouth and fantastic type of spirits.
But mummies, mummies even more often than clocks and chests, are "possessed" by denizens of the occult world. Of course, everyone has heard of the "unlucky" mummy, the painted case of which, only, is in the Oriental department of the British Museum, and the story connected with it is so well known that it would be superfluous to expatiate on it here. I will therefore pass on to instances of other mummies "possessed" in a more or less similar manner.
During one of my sojourns in Paris, I met a Frenchman who, he informed me, had just returned from the East. I asked him if he had brought back any curios, such as vases, funeral urns, weapons, or amulets. "Yes, lots," he replied, "two cases full. But no mummies! Mon Dieu! No mummies! You ask me why? Ah! Therein hangs a tale. If you will have patience, I will tell it you."
The following is the gist of his narrative:—
"Some seasons ago I travelled up the Nile as far as Assiut, and when there, managed to pay a brief visit to the grand ruins of Thebes. Among the various treasures I brought away with me, of no great archaeological value, was a mummy. I found it lying in an enormous lidless sarcophagus, close to a mutilated statue of Anubis. On my return to Assiut, I had the mummy placed in my tent, and thought no more of it till something awoke me with a startling suddenness in the night. Then, obeying a peculiar impulse, I turned over on my side and looked in the direction of my treasure.
"The nights in the Soudan at this time of year are brilliant; one can even see to read, and every object in the desert is almost as clearly visible as by day. But I was quite startled by the whiteness of the glow that rested on the mummy, the face of which was immediately opposite mine. The remains—those of Met-Om-Karema, lady of the College of the god Amen-ra—were swathed in bandages, some of which had worn away in parts or become loose; and the figure, plainly discernible, was that of a shapely woman with elegant bust, well-formed limbs, rounded arms and small hands. The thumbs were slender, and the fingers, each of which were separately bandaged, long and tapering. The neck was full, the cranium rather long, the nose aquiline, the chin firm. Imitation eyes, brows, and lips were painted on the wrappings, and the effect thus produced, and in the phosphorescent glare of the moonbeams, was very weird. I was quite alone in the tent, the only other European, who had accompanied me to Assiut, having stayed in the town by preference, and my servants being encamped at some hundred or so yards from me on the ground.
"Sound travels far in the desert, but the silence now was absolute, and although I listened attentively, I could not detect the slightest noise—man, beast, and insect were abnormally still. There was something in the air, too, that struck me as unusual; an odd, clammy coldness that reminded me at once of the catacombs in Paris. I had hardly, however, conceived the resemblance, when a sob—low, gentle, but very distinct—sent a thrill of terror through me. It was ridiculous, absurd! It could not be, and I fought against the idea as to whence the sound had proceeded, as something too utterly fantastic, too utterly impossible! I tried to occupy my mind with other thoughts—the frivolities of Cairo, the casinos of Nice; but all to no purpose; and soon on my eager, throbbing ear there again fell that sound, that low and gentle sob. My hair stood on end; this time there was no doubt, no possible manner of doubt—the mummy lived! I looked at it aghast. I strained my vision to detect any movement in its limbs, but none was perceptible. Yet the noise had come from it, it had breathed—breathed— and even as I hissed the word unconsciously through my clenched lips, the bosom of the mummy rose and fell.
"A frightful terror seized me. I tried to shriek to my servants; I could not ejaculate a syllable. I tried to close my eyelids, but they were held open as in a vice. Again there came a sob that was immediately succeeded by a sigh; and a tremor ran through the figure from head to foot. One of its hands then began to move, the fingers clutched the air convulsively, then grew rigid, then curled slowly into the palms, then suddenly straightened. The bandages concealing them from view then fell off, and to my agonised sight were disclosed objects that struck me as strangely familiar. There is something about fingers, a marked individuality, I never forget. No two persons' hands are alike. And in these fingers, in their excessive whiteness, round knuckles, and blue veins, in their tapering formation and perfect filbert nails, I read a likeness whose prototype, struggle how I would, I could not recall. Gradually the hand moved upwards, and, reaching the throat, the fingers set to work, at once, to remove the wrappings. My terror was now sublime! I dare not imagine, I dare not for one instant think, what I should see! And there was no getting away from it; I could not stir an inch, not the fraction of an inch, and the ghastly revelation would take place within a yard of my face.
"One by one the bandages came off. A glimmer of skin, pallid as marble; the beginning of the nose, the whole nose; the upper lip, exquisitely, delicately cut; the teeth, white and even on the whole, but here and there a shining gold filling; the under-lip, soft and gentle; a mouth I knew, but—God!—where? In my dreams, in the wild fantasies that had oft-times visited my pillow at night—in delirium, in reality, where? Mon Dieu! WHERE?
"The uncasing continued. The chin came next, a chin that was purely feminine, purely classical; then the upper part of the head—the hair long, black, luxuriant—the forehead low and white—the brows black, finely pencilled; and, last of all, the eyes!—and as they met my frenzied gaze and smiled, smiled right down into the depths of my livid soul, I recognised them—they were the eyes of my mother, my mother who had died in my boyhood! Seized with a madness that knew no bounds, I sprang to my feet. The figure rose and confronted me. I flung open my arms to embrace her, the woman of all women in the world I loved best, the only woman I had loved. Shrinking from my touch, she cowered against the side of the tent. I fell on my knees before her and kissed—what? Not the feet of my mother, but that of the long unburied dead. Sick with repulsion and fear I looked up, and there, bending over and peering into my eyes was the face, the fleshless, mouldering face of a foul and barely recognisable corpse! With a shriek of horror I rolled backwards, and, springing to my feet, prepared to fly. I glanced at the mummy. It was lying on the ground, stiff and still, every bandage in its place; whilst standing over it, a look of fiendish glee in its light, doglike eyes, was the figure of Anubis, lurid and menacing.
"The voices of my servants, assuring me they were coming, broke the silence, and in an instant the apparition vanished.
"I had had enough of the tent, however, at least for that night, and, seeking refuge in the town, I whiled away the hours till morning with a fragrant cigar and novel. Directly I had breakfasted, I took the mummy back to Thebes and left it there. No, thank you, Mr O'Donnell, I collect many kinds of curios, but—no more mummies!"
Deducing from my own and other people's experiences, there exists a distinct type of occult phenomenon whose sole occupation is in boisterous orgies and in making manifestations purely for the sake of causing annoyance. To this phantasm the Germans have given the name POLTERGEIST, whilst in former of my works I have classified it as a Vagrarian Order of ELEMENTAL. It is this form of the superphysical, perhaps, that up to the present time has gained the greatest credence—it has been known in all ages and in all countries. Who, for example, has not heard of the famous Stockwell ghost that caused such a sensation in 1772, and of which Mrs Crowe gives a detailed account in her Night Side of Nature; or again, of "The Black Lion Lane, Bayswater Ghost," referred to many years ago in The Morning Post; or, of the "Epworth Ghost," that so unceasingly tormented the Wesley family; or, of the "Demon of Tedworth" that gave John Mompesson and his family no peace, and of countless other well-authenticated and recorded instances of this same type of occult phenomenon? The poltergeists in the above-mentioned cases were never seen, only felt and heard; but in what a disagreeable and often painful manner! The Demon of Tedworth, for example, awoke everyone at night by thumping on doors and imitating the beatings of a drum. It rattled bedsteads, scratched on the floor and wall as if possessing iron talons, groaned, and uttered loud cries of "A witch! A witch!" Nor was it content with these auditory demonstrations, for it resorted to far more energetic methods of physical violence. Furniture was moved out of its place and upset; the children's shoes were taken off their feet and thrown over their heads; their hair was tweaked and their clothes pulled; one little boy was even hit on a sore place on his heel; the servants were lifted bodily out of their beds and let fall; whilst several members of the household were stripped of all they had on, forcibly held down, and pelted with shoes. Nor were the proceedings at Stockwell, Black Lion Lane, and Epworth, though rather more bizarre, any less violent.
To quote another instance of this kind of haunting, Professor Schuppart at Gressen, in Upper Hesse, was for six years persecuted by a poltergeist in the most unpleasant manner; stones were sent whizzing through closed rooms in all directions, breaking windows but hurting no one; his books were torn to pieces; the lamp by which he was reading was removed to a distant corner of the room, and his cheeks were slapped, and slapped so incessantly that he could get no sleep.
According to Mrs Crowe, there was a case of a similar nature at Mr Chave's, in Devonshire, in 1910, where affidavits were made before the magistrate attesting the facts, and large rewards offered for discovery; but in vain, the phenomena continued, and the spiritual agent was frequently seen in the form of some strange animal.
There seems to be little limit, short of grievous bodily injury—and even that limit has occasionally been overstepped—to poltergeist hooliganism. Last summer the Rev. Henry Hacon, M.A., of Searly Vicarage, North Kelsey Moor, very kindly sent me an original manuscript dealing with poltergeist disturbances of a very peculiar nature, at the old Syderstone Parsonage near Fakenham. I published the account ad verbum in a work of mine that appeared the ensuing autumn, entitled Ghostly Phenomena, and the interest it created encourages me to refer to other cases dealing with the same kind of phenomena.
There is a parsonage in the South of England where not only noises have been heard, but articles have been mysteriously whisked away and not returned. A lady assures me that when a gentleman, with whom she was intimately acquainted, was alone in one of the reception rooms one day, he placed some coins to the value, I believe, of fifteen shillings, on the table beside him, and chancing to have his attention directed to the fire, which had burned low, was surprised on looking again to discover the coins had gone; nor did he ever recover them. Other things, too, for the most part trivial, were also taken in the same incomprehensible manner, and apparently by the same mischievous unseen agency. It is true that one of the former inhabitants of the house had, during the latter portion of his life, been heavily in debt, and that his borrowing propensities may have accompanied him to the occult world; but though such an explanation is quite feasible, I am rather inclined to attribute the disappearances to the pranks of some mischievous vagrarian.
I have myself over and over again experienced a similar kind of thing. For example, in a certain house in Norwood, I remember losing in rapid succession two stylograph pens, a knife, and a sash. I remembered, in each case, laying the article on a table, then having my attention called away by some rather unusual sound in a far corner of the room, and then, on returning to the table, finding the article had vanished. There was no one else in the house, so that ordinary theft was out of the question. Yet where did these articles go, and of what use would they be to a poltergeist? On one occasion, only, I caught a glimpse of the miscreant. It was about eight o'clock on a warm evening in June, and I was sitting reading in my study. The room is slightly below the level of the road, and in summer, the trees outside, whilst acting as an effective screen against the sun's rays, cast their shadows somewhat too thickly on the floor and walls, burying the angles in heavy gloom. In the daytime one rather welcomes this darkness; but in the afternoon it becomes a trifle oppressive, and at twilight one sometimes wishes it was not there. It is at twilight that the nature of the shadows usually undergoes a change, and there amalgamates, with them, that Something, that peculiar, indefinable Something that I can only associate with the superphysical. Here, in my library, I often watch it creep in with the fading of the sunlight, or, postponing its advent till later—steal in through the window with the moonbeams, and I feel its presence just as assuredly and instinctively as I can feel and detect the presence of hostility in an audience or individual. I cannot describe how; I can only say I do, and that my discernment is seldom misleading. On the evening in question I was alone in the house. I had noticed, amid the shadows that lay in clusters on the floor and walls, this enigmatical Something. It was there most markedly; but I did not associate it with anything particularly terrifying or antagonistic. Perhaps that was because the book I was reading interested me most profoundly—it was a translation from Heine, and I am devoted to Heine. Let me quote an extract. It is from Florentine Nights, and runs: "But is it not folly to wish to sound the inner meaning of any phenomenon outside us, when we cannot even solve the enigma of our own souls? We hardly know even whether outside phenomena really exist! We are often unable to distinguish reality from mere dream-faces. Was it a shape of my fancy, or was it horrible reality that I heard and saw on that night? I know not. I only remember that, as the wildest thoughts were flowing through my heart, a singular sound came to my ear." I had got so far, absorbingly, spiritually interested, when I heard a laugh, a long, low chuckle, that seemed to come from the darkest and most remote corner of the room. A cold paroxysm froze my body, the book slid from my hands, and I sat upright in my chair, every faculty within me acutely alert and active. The laugh was repeated, this time from behind a writing-table in quite another part of the room. Something which sounded like a shower of tintacks then fell into the grate; after which there was a long pause, and then a terrific bump, as if some heavy body had fallen from a great height on to the floor immediately in front of me. I even heard the hissing and whizzing the body made in its descent as it cut its passage through the air. Again there came an interval of tranquillity broken only by the sounds of people in the road, the hurrying footsteps of a girl, the clattering of a man in hobnails, the quick, sharp tread of the lamplighter, and the scampering patter of a bevy of children. Then there came a series of knockings on the ceiling, and then the sound of something falling into a gaping abyss which I intuitively felt had surreptitiously opened at my feet.
For many seconds I listened to the reverberations of the object as it dashed against the sides of the unknown chasm; at length there was a splash, succeeded by hollow echoes. Shaking in every limb, I shrank back as far as I possibly could in my chair and clutched the arms. A draught, cold and dank, as if coming from an almost interminable distance, blew upwards and fanned my nostrils. Then there came the most appalling, the most blood-curdling chuckle, and I saw a hand—a lurid grey hand with long, knotted fingers and black, curved nails—feeling its way towards me, through the subtle darkness, like some enormous, unsavoury insect. Nearer, nearer, and nearer it drew, its fingers waving in the air, antennae fashion. For a moment it paused, and then, with lightning rapidity, snatched the book from my knees and disappeared. Directly afterwards I heard the sound of a latchkey inserted in the front door, whilst the voice of my wife inquiring why the house was in darkness broke the superphysical spell. Obeying her summons, I ascended the staircase, and the first object that greeted my vision in the hall was the volume of Heine that had been so unceremoniously taken from me! Assuredly this was the doings of a poltergeist! A poltergeist that up to the present had confined its attentions to me, no one else in the house having either heard or seen it.
In my study there is a deep recess concealed in the winter-time by heavy curtains drawn across it; and often when I am writing something makes me look up, and a cold horror falls upon me as I perceive the curtains rustle, rustle as though they were laughing, laughing in conjunction with some hidden occult monstrosity; some grey—the bulk of the phantasms that come to me are grey—and glittering monstrosity who was enjoying a rich jest at my expense. Occasionally, to emphasise its presence, this poltergeist has scratched the wall, or thumped, or thrown an invisible missile over my head, or sighed, or groaned, or gurgled, and I have been frightened, horribly, ghastly frightened. Then something has happened—my wife has called out, or someone has rung a bell, or the postman has given one of his whole-hearted smashes with the knocker, and the poltergeist has "cleared off," and I have not been disturbed by it again for the remainder of the evening.
I am not the only person whom poltergeists visit. Judging from my correspondence and the accounts I see in the letters of various psychical research magazines, they patronise many people. Their modus operandi, covering a wide range, is always boisterous. Undoubtedly they have been badly brought up—their home influence and their educational training must have been sadly lacking in discipline. Or is it the reverse? Are their crude devices and mad, tomboyish pranks merely reactionary, and the only means they have of finding vent for their naturally high spirits? If so, I devoutly wish they would choose some locality other than my study for their playground. Yet they interest me, and although I quake horribly when they are present, I derive endless amusement at other times, in speculating on their raison d'etre, and curious—perhaps complex—constitutions. I do not believe they have ever inhabited any earthly body, either human or animal. I think it likely that they may be survivals of early experiments in animal and vegetable life in this planet, prior to the selection of any definite types; spirits that have never been anything else but spirits, and which have, no doubt, often envied man his carnal body and the possibilities that have been permitted him of eventually reaching a higher spiritual plane. It is envy, perhaps, that has made them mischievous, and generated in them an insatiable thirst to torment and frighten man. Another probable explanation of them is, that they may be inhabitants of one of the other planets that have the power granted, under certain conditions at present unknown to us, of making themselves seen and heard by certain dwellers on the earth; and it is, of course, possible that they are but one of many types of spirits inhabiting a superphysical sphere that encloses or infringes on our own. They may be only another form of life, a form that is neither carnal nor immortal, but which has to depend for its existence on a superphysical food. They may be born in a fashion that, apart from its peculiarity and extravagance, bears some resemblance to the generation of physical animal life; and they may die, too, as man dies, and their death may be but the passing from one stage to another, or it may be for eternity.