There is also a large class of stories of this sort, where various secrets of Chemistry, of Acoustics, Ventriloquism, or other arts, have been either employed to dupe the spectators, or have tended to do so through mere accident and coincidence. Of these it is scarce necessary to quote instances ; but the following may be told as a tale recounted by a foreign nobleman, known to me nearly thirty years ago, whose life, lost in the service of his sovereign, proved too short for his friends and his native "land.
At a certain old castle on the confines of Hungary, the lord to whom it belonged had determined upon giving an entertainment worthy of his own rank, and of the magnificence of the antique mansion which he inhabited. The guests of course were numerous, and among them was a veteran officer of Hussars, remarkable for his bravery. When the arrangements for the night were made, this officer was informed that there would be difficulty in accommodating the company in the castle, large as it was, unless some one would take the risk of sleeping in a room supposed to be haunted ; and that as he was known to be above such prejudices, the apartment was, in the first place, proposed for his occupation, as the person least likely to suffer a bad night's rest from such a cause. The Major thankfully accepted the preference, and having shared the festivity of the evening, retired after midnight, having denounced vengeance against any one who should presume by any trick to disturb his repose ; a threat which his habits would, it was supposed, render him sufficiently ready to execute. Somewhat contrary to the custom in these cases, the Major went to bed, having left his candle burning, and laid his trusty pistols carefully loaded on the table by his bedside.
He had not slept an hour when he was awakened by a solemn strain of music—he looked out. Three ladies, fantastically dressed in green, were seen in the lower end of the apartment, who sung a solemn requiem. The Major listened for some time with delight; at length he tired—"Ladies," he said, "this is very well, but somewhat monotonous—will you be so kind as to change the tune ? The ladies continued singing; he expostulated, but the music was not interrupted. The Major began to grow angry ; " Ladies," he said, " I must consider this as a trick for the purpose of terrifying me, and as I regard it as an impertinence, I shall take a rough mode of stopping it." With that he began to handle his pistols. The ladies sung on. He then got seriously angry—" I will but wait five minutes," he said, " and then fire without hesitation." The song was uninterrupted—the five minutes were expired—" I still give you law, ladies," he said, " while I count twenty." This produced as little effect as his former threats. He counted one, two, three, accordingly ; but on approaching the end of the number, and repeating more than once his determination to fire, the last numbers, seventeen—eighteen—nineteen, were pronounced with considerable pauses between, and an assurance that the pistols were cocked. The ladies sung on. As he pronounced the word twenty he fired both pistols against the musical damsels ;—but the ladies sung on ! The Major was overcome by the unexpected inefficacy of his violence, and had an illness which lasted more than three weeks. The trick put upon him may be shortly described by the fact, that the female choristers were placed in an adjoining room, and that he only fired at their reflection thrown forward into that in which he slept by the effect of a concave mirror.
Other stories of the same kind are numerous and well known. The apparition of the Brocken mountain, after having occasioned great admiration and some fear, is now ascertained by philosophers to be a gigantic reflection, which makes the traveller's shadow, represented upon the misty clouds, appear a colossal figure of almost immeasurable size. By a similar deception, men have been induced, in "Westmoreland and other mountainous countries, to imagine they saw troops of horse and armies marching and countermarching, which were in fact only the reflection of horses pasturing upon an opposite height, or of the forms of peaceful travellers.
A very curious case of this kind was communicated to me by the son of the lady principally concerned, and tends to show out of what mean materials a venerable apparition may be sometimes formed. In youth this lady resided with her father, a man of sense and resolution. Their house was situated in the principal street of a town of some size. The back part of the house ran at right angles to an Anabaptist chapel, divided from it by a small cabbage-garden. The young lady used sometimes to indulge the romantic love of solitude, by sitting in her own apartment in the evening till twilight, and even darkness, was approaching. One evening while she was thus placed, she was surprised, to see a gleamy figure, as of some aerial being, hovering, as it were, against the arched window in the end of the Anabaptist chapel. Its head was surrounded by that halo which painters give to the Catholic saints ; and, while the young lady's attention was fixed on an object so extraordinary, the figure bent gracefully towards her more than once, as if intimating a sense of her presence, and then disappeared. The seer of this striking vision descended to her family, so much discomposed as to call her father's attention. He obtained an account of the cause of her disturbance, and expressed his intention to watch in the apartment next night. He sat, accordingly, in his daughter's chamber, where she also attended him. Twilight came, and nothing appeared ; but as the grey light faded into darkness, the same female figure was seen hovering on the window ; the same shadowy form; the same pale light around the head ; the same inclinations, as the evening before. "What do you think of this ? said the daughter to the astonished father.—"Any thing, my dear," said the father, " rather than allow that we look upon what is supernatural."—A strict research established a natural cause for the appearance on the window. It was the custom of an old woman, to whom the garden beneath was rented, to go out at night to gather cabbages. The lantern she carried in her hand threw up the refracted reflection of her form on the chapel window. As she stooped to gather her cabbages, the reflection appeared to bend forward ; and that was the whole matter.