THE DEAD HAND.
"I 've seen it--I've seen it !" exclaimed a young woman, pale with terror, approaching with much haste the door of a cottage, around which were gathered several of the miners' wives inhabiting the adjoining dwellings.
"God's mercy be with the chield !" replied the oldest woman of the group, with very great seriousness.
"Aunt Alice," asked one of the youngest women, "and do 'e b'lieve any harm will come o' seeing it ?"
"Mary Doble saw it and pined; Jinny Trestrail was never the same woman after she seed the hand in Wheal Jewel; and I knows ever so many more; but let us hope, by the blessing o' the Lord, no evil will come on Mary."
Mary was evidently impressed with a sense of some heavy trouble. She sighed deeply, and pressed her hand to her side, as if to still the beating of her heart. The thoughtless faith of the old woman promised to work out a fulfilment of her fears in producing mental distress and corporeal suffering in the younger one.
While this was passing in the little village, a group of men were gathered around a deserted shaft, which existed in too dangerous proximity with the abodes of the miners. They were earnestly discussing the question of the reality of the appearance of the dead hand--those who had not seen it expressing a doubt of its reality, while others declared most emphatically, "that in that very shaft they had seed un with a lighted candle in his hand, moving up and down upon the ladders, as though he was carried by a living man."
It appears that some time previously to the abandonment of the mine, an unfortunate miner was ascending from his subterranean labours, carrying his candle in his hand. He was probably seized with giddiness, but from that or some other cause, he fell away from the ladders, and was found by his comrades a bleeding corpse at the bottom. The character of this man was not of the best; and after his burial, it was stated by the people that he had been seen. From a vague rumour of his spectral appearance on the surface, the tale eventually settled itself into that of the dead hand moving up and down in the shaft.
By the spectral light of the candle, the hand had been distinctly visible to many, and the irregular motion of the light proved that the candle was held in the usual manner between the thumb and finger in its ball of clay, while the fingers were employed in grasping stave after stave of the ladder. The belief in the evil attendant on being unfortunate enough to see this spectral hand, prevailed very generally amongst the mining population about twenty years since. The dead hand was not, however, confined to one shaft or mine. Similar narrations have been met with in several districts.