Story suggested by Keith Struwig 8 March Monday
The little boys at our boarding school, juniors ranging in age from seven to twelve, lived in Overdale House. They were under the care of a young Scotsman who was diligent but strict in his exercise of care.
Each morning the prefect awoke the boys with a little bell. No lolling in bed was permitted. All faces were to be washed in cold water (there was no hot); shoes polished, hair brushed, beds made before breakfast. Their appearance and clothes trunks were inspected. Then they were marched off to breakfast.
The housemaster ensured that the senior boys allowed them to get some food at meal times, but like all boys, they were always ravenous.
Every second night they were marched to Duncan House for a bath. On the intervening day grubbiness and dirt were to be removed under the cold water tap at the back, in the shade of the oak trees.
Lights out was at nine o’clock, with only the prefect’s light left on until later. The toilet was an outhouse, under the oak trees and it was very dark out there. But little boys were well aware of the horrible embarrassment and miserable disgrace awaiting those who wet their beds… so braved the dark.
Unfortunately, an idle, wicked prefect, who shall remain nameless, was struck by a brainwave. He knew how to stop the littlest boys waking him in the middle of the night to take them to the loo, which he was under instruction to do.
One winter night, just before lights out, he idly inquired if anyone had heard anything the previous night, like tapping on the window. No-one had. He admonished them all not to investigate if they ever did hear it.
It could be “the hand” that was tapping….
He said he had been told by Sikwini, the Head Waiter, that many years ago, a man had slipped and fallen into the saw pit and his left hand had been sliced off. He was rushed to hospital but bled to death on the way. His hand had been forgotten in the panic and it is thought that Fly the school dog had stolen it.
Now, it was said, usually at full moon the hand came to find its owner….
Boys were dumbstruck and everyone of them slept with their head under the blankets. No-one woke the prefect.
Over the following days, any visits to the outhouse after dark were done before lights out, in company of at least two others, who took turns to wait outside while business was completed. Nobody moved after lights out.
Inevitably there was a sudden increase in incidents of bed-wetting, surprisingly including one or two older boys.
The canny young Scotsman conferred with the Matron (soon to become his wife) and she spoke to some of the younger boys. She soon extracted the legend of “the hand”, which had now become green and “scrabbled at the tops of windows and would strangle anyone who saw it and they would become ghosts of Overdale too…. “
Once such terrifying seeds have been planted, they grow unchecked and become rooted, despite pronouncements from the housemaster and the matron and a recant by the demoted prefect.
That is why, until Overdale was no longer a dormitory, chamber pots were used at night.
Everyone who was a boarder at St Marks knows the story and the duty monitors who fetched the cocoa at night always gave Overdale a wide berth, especially around full moon.