I always ask him if he has seen a ghost since we met last.
* * * * *
In this connection it will not be out of place to mention two simple stories one from my own experience and another told by a friend.
I shall tell my friend's story first, in his own words.
"I used to go for a bath in the Ganges early every morning. I used to start from home at 4 o'clock in the morning and walked down to the Ganges which was about 3 miles from my house. The bath took about an hour and then I used to come back in my carriage which went for me at about six in the morning.
"On this eventful morning when I awoke it was brilliant moonlight and so I thought it was dawn.
"I started from home without looking at the clock and when I was about a mile and a half from home and about the same distance from the river I realized that I was rather early. The policeman under the railway bridge told me that it was only 2 o'clock. I knew that I should have to cross the small maidan through which the road ran and I remembered that there was a rumour that a ghost had sometimes been seen in the maidan and on the road. This however did not make me nervous, because I really did not believe in ghosts; but all the same I wished I could have gone back. But then in going back I should have to pass the policeman and he would think that I was afraid; so I decided to go on.
"When I entered the maidan a creepy sensation came over me. My first idea was that I was being followed, but I did not dare look back, all the same I went on with quick steps.
"My next idea was that a gust of wind swept past me, and then I thought that a huge form was passing over the trees which lined the road.
"By this time I was in the middle of the maidan about half a mile from the nearest human being.
"And then, horror of horrors, the huge form came down from the trees and stood in the middle of the road about a hundred yards ahead of me, barring my way.
"I instinctively moved to the side—but did not stop. By the time I reached the spot, I had left the metalled portion of the road and was actually passing under the road-side trees allowing their thick trunks to intervene between me and the huge form standing in the middle of the road. I did not look at it, but I was sure it was extending a gigantic arm towards me. It could not, however, catch me and I walked on with vigorous strides. After I had passed the figure I nearly ran under the trees, my heart beating like a sledge hammer within me.
"After a couple of minutes I saw two glaring eyes in front of me. This I thought was the end. The eyes were advancing towards me at a rapid pace and then I heard a shout like that of a cow in distress. I stopped where I was. I hoped the ghost would pass along the road overlooking me. But when the ghost was within say fifty yards of me it gave another howl and I knew that it had seen me. A cry for help escaped my lips and I fainted.
"When I regained consciousness I found myself on the grassy foot-path by the side of the road, about 4 or 5 human beings hovering about me and a motor car standing near.
"Then the whole mystery became clear as day-light. The eyes that I had seen were the headlights of the 24 H.P. Silent Knight Minerva of Captain ——. He had gone on a pleasure-trip to the next station and was returning home with two friends and his wife in his motor car when in that part of the road he saw something like a man standing in the middle of the road and sounded his horn. As the figure in the middle of the road would not move aside he slowed down and then heard my cry.
"The rest the reader may guess. The figure that had loomed so large with out-stretched arm was only a municipal danger signal erected in the middle of the road. A red lamp had been placed on the top of the erection but it had been blown out."
This was the whole story of my friend. It shows how even our prosaic but overwrought imagination sometimes gives to airy nothings a local habitation and a name. My own personal experience which I shall describe now will also, I am sure, be interesting.
It was on a brilliant moon-light night in the month of June that we were sleeping in the open court-yard of our house.
Of course, the court-yard had a wall all round with a partition in the middle; on one side of the partition slept three girls of the family and on the other were the younger male members, four in number.
It was our custom to have a long chat after dinner and before retiring to bed.
On this particular night the talk had been about ghosts. Of course, the girls are always ready to believe everything and so when we left them we knew that they would not sleep very comfortably that night. We retired to our part of the court-yard, but we could overhear the conversation of the girls. One was trying to convince the other two that ghosts did not exist and if they did exist they never came into contact with human beings.
Then we fell asleep.
How long we had slept we did not know, but a sudden cry from, one of the girls awoke us and within three seconds we were across the low partition wall, and with her. She was sitting up in bed pointing with her fingers. Following the direction we saw in the clear moonlight the figure of a short woman standing in the corner of the court-yard about 20 yards from us pointing her finger at something (not towards us).
We looked in that direction bub could see nothing peculiar there.
Our first idea was that it was one of the maid-servants, who had heard our after-dinner conversation, playing the ghost. But this particular ghostly lady was very short, much shorter than any servant in the establishment. After some, hesitation all (four) of us advanced towards the ghost. I remember how my heart throbbed as I advanced with the other three boys.
Then we laughed loud and long.
What do you think it was?
It was only the Lawn Tennis net wrapped round the pole standing against the wall. The handle of the ratchet arrangement looked like an extending finger.
But from a distance in the moon-light it looked exactly like a short woman draped in white.
This story again shows what trick our imagination plays with us at times.
* * * * *
Talking of ghosts reminds me of a very funny story told by a friend of my grand-father—a famous medical man of Calcutta.
This famous doctor was once sent for to treat a gentleman at Agra. This gentleman was a rich Marwari who was suffering from indigestion. When the doctor reached Agra he was lodged in very comfortable quarters and a number of horses and carriages was placed at his disposal.
He was informed that the patient had been treated by all the local and provincial practitioners but without any result.
The doctor who was as clever a man of the world as of medicine, at once saw that there was really nothing the matter with the patient. He was really suffering from a curious malady which could in a phrase be called—"want of physical exercise."
Agra, the city after which the Province is named, abounds in old magnificent buildings which it takes the tourist a considerable time to see, and the Doctor, of course, was enjoying all the sights in the meantime.
He also prescribed a number of medicines which proved of no avail. The Doctor had anticipated it, and so he had decided what medicine he would prescribe next.
During the sight-seeing excursions into the environs of the city the doctor had discovered a large pukka well not far from a main street and at a distance of 3 miles from his patient's house.
This was a very old disused well and it was generally rumoured that a ghost dwelt in it. So nobody would go near the well at night. Of course, there was a lot of stories as to what the ghost looked like and how he came out at times and stood on the brink and all that,—but the doctor really did not believe any of these. He, however, believed that this ghost, (whether there really was any or not in that well) would cure his patient.
So one morning when he saw his patient he said "Lalla Saheb—I have found out the real cause of your trouble—it is a ghost whom you have got to propitiate and unless you do that you will never get well—and no medicine will help you and your digestion will never improve."
"A Ghost?" asked the patient.
"A Ghost!" exclaimed the people around.
"A Ghost" said the doctor sagely.
"What shall I have to do?" inquired the patient, anxiously—
"You will have to go every morning to that well (indicating the one mentioned above), and throw a basketful of flowers in" said the doctor.
"I shall do that every day" said the patient.
"Then we shall begin from to-morrow" said the doctor.
The next morning everybody had been ready to start long before the doctor was out of bed. He came at last and all got up to start. Then a big landau and pair drew up to take the doctor and the patient to the abode of the ghost in the well. Just as the patient was thinking of getting in the doctor said "We don't require a carriage Lalla Saheb—we shall all have to walk—and bare-footed too, and between you and me we shall have to carry the basket of flowers also."
The patient was really troubled. Never indeed in his life had he walked a mile—not to say of three—and that, bare-footed and carrying a basket of flowers in his hands. However he had to do it. It was a goodly procession. The big millionaire—the big doctor with a large number of followers walking bare-footed—caused amazement and amusement to all who saw them.
It took them a full hour and a half to reach the well—and there the doctor pronounced the mantra in Sanskrit and the flowers were thrown in. The mantra (charm) was in Sanskrit, the doctor who knew a little of the language had taken great pains to compose it the night before and even then it was not grammatically quite correct.
At last the party returned, but not on foot. The journey back was performed in the carriages that had followed the patient and his doctor. From that day the practice was followed regularly. The patient's health began to improve and he began to regain his power of digestion fast. In a month he was all right; but he never discontinued the practice of going to the well and throwing in a basketful of flowers with his own hands. He had also learnt the mantra (the mystic charm) by heart; but the doctor had sworn him to secrecy and he told it to nobody. Shoes with felt sole were soon procured from England (it being 40 years before any Indian Rope Sole Shoe Factory came into existence) and thus the inconvenience of walking this distance bare-footed was easily obviated.
After a month's further stay the doctor came away from Agra having earned a fabulous fee, and he always received occasional letters and presents from his patient who never discontinued the practice of visiting the well till his death about 17 years later.
"The three-mile walk is all that he requires" said the doctor to his friends (among whom evidently my grand-father was one) on his return from Agra, "and since he has got used to it now he won't discontinue even if he comes to know of the deception I have practised on him—and I have cured his indigestion after all."
The patient, of course, never discovered the fraud. He never gave the matter his serious consideration. His friends, who were as ignorant and prejudiced as he himself was, believed in the ghost as much as he did himself. The medical practitioners of Agra who probably were in the Doctor's secret never told him anything—and if they had told him anything they would probably have heard language from Our patient that could not well be described as quite parliamentary, for they had all tried to cure him and failed.
This series of stories will prove how much "imagination" works upon the external organs of a human being.
If a person goes about with the idea that there is a ghost somewhere about he will probably see the ghost in everything.
But has it ever struck the reader that sometimes horses and dogs do not quite enjoy going to a place which is reputed to be haunted?
In a village in Bengal not far from my home there is a big Jack-fruit tree which is said to be haunted.
I visited this place once—the local zamindar had sent me his elephant. The Gomashta (estate manager) who knew that I had come to see the haunted tree, told me that I should probably see nothing during the day, but the elephant would not go near the tree.
I passed the tree. It was about 3 miles from the Railway Station. There was nothing extraordinary about it. This was about 11 o'clock in the morning. Then I went to the Shooting Box (usually called the Cutchery or Court house—where the zamindars and their servants put up when they pay a visit to this part of their possessions) to have my bath and breakfast most hospitably provided by my generous host. I ordered the elephant to be put under this tree, and this was done though the people there told me that the elephant would not remain there long.
At about 2 P.M. I heard an extraordinary noise from the tree.
It was only the elephant. It was wailing and was looking as bad as it possibly could.
We all went there but found nothing. The elephant was not ill.
I ordered it to be taken away from under the tree. As soon as the chain was removed from the animal's foot it rushed away like a race horse and would not stop within 200 yards of the tree. I was vastly amused. I had never seen an elephant running before. But under the tree we found nothing. What made the elephant so afraid has remained a secret.
The servants told me (what I had heard before) that it was only elephants, horses and dogs that did not stay long under that tree. No human eyes have ever seen anything supernatural or fearful there.
THE STARVING MILLIONAIRE.
This story was also in the papers. It created a sensation at the time, now it has been almost forgotten. The story shows that black art with all its mysteries is not a thing of the past.
This was what happened.
* * * * *
There was a certain rich European Contractor in the Central Provinces in India.
Let us call him Anderson. He used to supply stone ballast to the Railway Companies and had been doing this business for over a quarter of a century. He had accumulated wealth and was a multi-millionaire and one of the richest men in his part of the country. The district which he made his head quarters was a large one. It was a second class military station and there were two European regiments and one Indian regiment in that station. Necessarily there was a number of European military officers besides a number of civil and executive officers in that station.
On a certain June morning, which is a very hot month in India, an Indian Fakir came into the compound of Mr. Anderson begging for alms. Mr. Anderson and his wife were sitting in the verandah drinking their morning tea. It had been a very hot night and there being no electricity in this particular station, Mr. Anderson had to depend on the sleepy punkha coolie. The punkha coolie on this particular night was more sleepy than usual, and so Mr. Anderson had passed a very sleepless night indeed. He was in a very bad temper. A whole life passed among Indian workmen does not generally make a man good-tempered and a hot June in the Indian plains is not particularly conducive to sweet temper either. When this beggar came in Mr. Anderson was in a very bad mood. As the man walked fearlessly up to the verandah Mr. Anderson's temper became worse. He asked the beggar what he wanted. The beggar answered he wanted food. Of course, Mr. Anderson said he had nothing to give. The beggar replied that he would accept some money and buy the food. Mr. Anderson was not in the habit of being contradicted. He lost his temper—abused the beggar and ordered his servants to turn the man out. The servants obeyed. Before his departure the beggar turned to Mr. Anderson and told him that very soon he would know how painful it was to be hungry.
When the beggar was gone Mr. Anderson thought of his last remark and laughed. He was a well-known rich man and a good paymaster. An order for a L100 on a dirty slip of paper would be honoured by his banker without hesitation. Naturally he laughed. He forgot that men had committed suicide by drowning to avoid death from thirst. Well, there it was.
The bell announcing breakfast rang punctually at 10 o'clock in the morning. Mr. Anderson joined his wife in the drawing-room and they went to the dining-room together. The smell of eggs and bacon and coffee greeted them and Mr. Anderson forgot all about the Indian beggar when he took his seat. But he received a rude shock. There was a big live caterpillar in the fish. Mr. Anderson called the servant and ordered him to take away the fish and serve with eyes open the next time. The servant who had been in Mr. Anderson's service a long time stared open-mouthed. Only a minute before there was nothing but fish on the plate. Whence came this ugly creature? Well, the plate was removed and another put in its place for the next dish.
When the next dish came another surprise awaited everybody.
As the cover was removed it was found that the whole contents were covered with a thin layer of sweepings. The Khansama (the servant who serves at the table) looked at Mr. Anderson and Mr. Anderson at the Khansama "with a wild surmise"; the cover was replaced and the dish taken away. Nothing was said this time.
After about 5 minutes of waiting a third covered dish was brought.
When the cover was removed the contents were found mixed with stable sweepings. The smell was horrible, the dish was at once removed.
This was about the limit.
No man can eat after that. Mr. Anderson left the table and went to his office—without breakfast.
It was the habit of Mr. Anderson to have his lunch in his office. A Khansama used to take a tiffin basket to the office and there in his private room Mr. Anderson ate his lunch punctually at 2 P.M. Today he expected his tiffin early. He thought, that though he had left no instructions himself the Khansama would have the sense to remember that he had gone to office without breakfast. And so Mr. Anderson expected a lunch heavier than usual and earlier too.
But it was two o'clock and the servant had not arrived. Mr. Anderson was a man of particularly regular habits. He was very hungry. The thought of the beggar in the morning made him angry too. He shouted to his punkha coolie to pull harder.
It was a quarter after two and still the Khansama would not arrive. It was probably the first time in 20 years that the fellow was late. Mr. Anderson sent his chaprasi (peon) to look for the Khansama at about half past two. A couple of minutes after the chaprasi's departure, Mr. Atkins, the Collector of the district, was announced (A Collector is generally a District Magistrate also, and in the Central Provinces he is called the Deputy Commissioner). He is one of the principal officers in the district. In this particular district of which I am speaking there were two principal government officers. The Divisional Judge was the head of the Civil Administration as well as the person who tried the murderers and all other big offenders who deserved more than seven years imprisonment. He was a Bengal Brahman. Mr. Atkins was the Collector or rather the Deputy Commissioner. He was the executive head of the district. He was also the District Magistrate. Mr. Atkins came in and thus explained a sad accident which Mr. Anderson's Khansama had met with:
"As I was passing along the road in my motor car, your man came in the way and was knocked down. The man is hurt but not badly. He had been carrying a tiffin basket which was also knocked down, as a matter of course; and the car having passed over it everything the basket contained in the shape of china was smashed up. The man has been taken to the hospital by myself in an unconscious condition, but the doctor says there is nothing very serious, and he will be all right in a couple of days."
Now Mr. Atkins was a great friend of Mr. Anderson. They had known each other ever since Mr. Atkins's arrival in India as a young member of the Civil Service. That was over 20 years ago. He had at first been in that district for over 7 years as an Assistant Commissioner and this time he was there for over 3 years as a Deputy Commissioner. But Mr. Anderson was very hungry. The story of Mr. Atkins had given him the second shock since the morning. He, therefore, used language which no gentleman should have done; and with great vehemence threatened to prosecute Mr. Atkins for rash driving, etc.
Mr. Atkins was a very good-natured man. He knew the temper of Mr. Anderson; but he had never been Anderson so angry before. He therefore beat a hasty retreat, wondering whether Anderson had not gone mad. He would not have told anybody what happened in Anderson's offices if he had known the starving condition of the millionaire, but as it happened he repeated the fine language that Anderson had used, in the club that same evening. Everybody who heard his story opined at he time that Anderson was clearly off his head.
Mr. Anderson and his wife were expected at the club, but they did not turn up.
When Mr. Atkins went home he got a letter from Anderson in which the latter had apologised for what he had said in the office that afternoon.
In the letter there was a sentence which was rather enigmatic:
"If you know what I am suffering from, Atkins, you will be sorry for me, not angry with me—I pray to God you may not suffer such—." The letter had evidently been written in great haste and had not been revised. Mr. Atkins did not quite understand the matter; and he intended to look up Anderson the first thing next morning. Mr. Atkins thought that Anderson had lost some of his money. He knew that Anderson never speculated. Still he might have suffered a heavy loss in one of his contracts. He telephoned to Mr. Anderson at his house, but was informed by one of the servants that the master had gone out in his motor car at six in the evening and was not back till then.
Now let us see what happened to Mr. Anderson after he had left his office at about four in the afternoon.
He went home and expected some tea, but no tea arrived, though it was six. The Khansama was in the hospital; the cook was called and he humbly offered the following explanation: "As soon as Hazoor (Your Honour) came back I ordered the khidmatgar (the cook's assistant) to put the kettle on the fire. (This is the ordinary duty of the khidmatgar). There was a bright coal fire in the stove, and the khidmatgar put the kettle upon it. The kettle should have boiled within five minutes, but it did not; your humble servant went to investigate the cause and found that there was no water in the kettle. We put in some, but the kettle had in the meantime become nearly red-hot. As soon as it came into contact with the cold water it burst like a bomb. Fortunately nobody was hurt. There was, of course, a saucepan to heat some water in, but the cold water had got into the stove and extinguished it." It would be another half an hour before tea was ready, he added. Mr. Anderson now realised that it was not the fault of the servants but the curse of the Indian Fakir. So with a sad smile he ordered his motor car and thought that he and his wife had better try the Railway refreshment rooms. When his chauffeur was going to start the engine Mr. Anderson expected that there would be a backfire and the chauffeur would have a dislocated wrist. But there was no accident. The engine started as smoothly as it had never done before. Mr. and Mrs. Anderson went to the Railway refreshment rooms. There they were informed that no tea was available. A dead rat had been found under one of the tables in the first class refreshment room, and as plague cases had been reported earlier in the week, the station master had ordered the rooms to be closed till they had been thoroughly disinfected. The whole staff of waiters with all the preserved meat and oilman's stores had been sent by special train to the next station so that the railway passengers might not be inconvenienced. The next station was eight miles off and there was no road for a motor car.
"I had expected as much" said Mr. Anderson bitterly, as he left the Railway Station.
"I would go to Captain Fraser and beg for some dinner. He is the only man who has got a family here and will be able to accommodate us" said he to his wife, and so off they started for a five mile run to the Cantonments. There was some trouble with the car on the way and they were detained for about an hour, and it was actually 8-30 in the evening when the Andersons reached Captain Fraser's place. Why, instead of going home from the Railway Station, Mr. Anderson went to Captain Fraser's place he himself could not tell.
When the Andersons reached Captain Fraser's place at half past eight in the evening, Mr. and Mrs. Fraser had not come back from the club. But they were expected every minute. It was in fact nine when the Captain and his wife turned up in a Hackney Carriage. They were surprised to see the Andersons. They had heard the story told by Atkins at the club. Anderson gave them his version. Of course, Captain Fraser asked them to stay to dinner. He said "I am very sorry I am late, but it could not be helped. When returning from the club my horse was alarmed at something. The coachman lost control and there was a disaster. But, thank God, nobody is seriously hurt."
Their carriage had, however, been so badly damaged that they had to get a hackney carriage to bring them home.
In India, specially in June, they are not particular about the dress. So Captain Fraser said they would sit down to dinner at once and, at a quarter after nine they all went in to dine. The Khansama stared at the uninvited guests. He knew that something had gone wrong with Anderson Saheb.
The soup was the first thing brought in and the trouble began as soon as it came. Captain Fraser's Khansama was an old hand at his business, but somehow he made a mess of things. He got so nervous about what he himself could not explain that he upset a full plate of soup that he had brought for Mr. Anderson not exactly on his head, but on his left ear.
Well the reader would understand the situation. There was a plateful of hot soup on Mr. Anderson's left ear. The soup should have got cold, because it had waited long for the Captain's return from the club, but the cook had very prudently warmed it up again and it had become very warm indeed. Mr. Anderson shouted and the Khansama let go the plate. It fell on the table in front of Mr. Anderson on its edge and rolled on. Next to Mr. Anderson was Mrs. Fraser, and there was a glass of iced-water in front of her. The rolling soup plate upset the glass, and the water and the glass and the plate all came down on Mrs. Fraser's lap, the iced-water making her wet through and through. She was putting on a muslin gown. She had to go and change. Mrs. Anderson at this point got up and said that they would not spoil the Frasers' dinner by their presence. She said that the curse of the Indian Fakir was on them and if they stayed the Frasers would have to go without dinner. Naturally she anticipated that some further difficulty would arise there when the next dish was brought in. The Frasers protested loudly but she dragged Mr. Anderson away. She had forgotten that she had had her lunch and her husband had not.
While going in their motor car from Mr. Fraser's house to their own they had to pass a bazaar on the way. In the bazar there was a sweetmeat shop. Mr. Anderson, whose condition could be better imagined than described asked his chauffeur to stop at the sweetmeat shop. It was a native shop with a fat native proprietor sitting without any covering upon his body on a low stool. As soon as he saw Mr. Anderson and his wife he rushed out of his shop with joined palms to enquire what the gentleman wanted. Mr. Anderson was evidently very popular with the native tradesmen and shop-keepers.
This shop-keeper had special reason to know Mr. Anderson, as it was the latter's custom to give a dinner to all his native workmen on Her Majesty's birthday, and this particular sweetmeat vendor used to get the contract for the catering. The birthday used to be observed in India on the 24th May and it was hardly a fortnight that this man had received a cheque for a pretty large amount from Mr. Anderson, for having supplied Mr. Anderson's native workmen with sweets.
Naturally he rushed out of his shop in that humble attitude. But in doing so he upset a whole dishful of sweets, and the big dish with the sweets went into the road-side drain. All the same the man came up and wanted to know the pleasure of the Saheb. Mr. Anderson told him that he was very hungry and wanted something to eat. "Certainly, Huzoor" said the Halwai (Indian Confectioner) and fussily rushed in. He brought out some native sweets in a "dona" (cup made of leaves) but as misfortune would have it Mr. Anderson could not eat anything.
There was any amount of petroleum in the sweets. How it got in there was a mystery. Mr. Anderson asked his chauffeur to proceed. For fear of hurting the feeling of this kind old Halwai Mr. Anderson did not do anything then; but scarcely had the car gone 200 yards when the "dona" with its contents untouched was on the road.
Mr. Anderson reached home at about half past ten. He expected to find no dinner at home. But he was relieved to hear from his bearer that dinner was ready. He rushed into his bath-room, had a cold bath and within five minutes was ready for dinner in the dining-room.
But the dinner would not come. After waiting for about 15 minutes the bearer (butler and foot man combined) was dispatched to the kitchen to enquire what the matter was. The cook came with a sad look upon his face and informed him that the dinner had been ready since 8-30 as usual, but as the Saheb had not returned he had kept the food in the kitchen and come out leaving the kitchen-door open. Unfortunately Mr. Anderson's dogs had finished the dinner in his absence, probably thinking that the master was dining out. In a case like this the cook, who had been in Mr. Anderson's service for a long time, expected to hear some hard words; but Mr. Anderson only laughed loud and long. The cook suggested that he should prepare another dinner, but Mr. Anderson said that it would not be necessary that night. The chauffeur subsequently informed the cook that the master and his wife had dined at Captain Fraser's, and finished with sweets at Gopal Halwai's shop. This explained the master's mirth to the cook's satisfaction.
What happened the next day to Mr. Anderson need not be told. It is too painful and too dirty a story. The fact remains that Mr. Anderson had no solid food the next day either. He thought he should die of starvation. He did not know how much longer the curse was going to last, or what else was in store for him.
On the morning of the third day the bearer came and reported that a certain Indian Fakir had invited Mr. Anderson to go and breakfast with him. How eagerly husband and wife went! The Fakir lived in a miserable hut on the bank of the river. He invited the couple inside his hut and gave them bread and water. Here was clean healthy looking bread after all, and Mr. Anderson never counted how many loaves he ate. But he had never eaten food with greater relish and pleasure in his life before. After the meal the Fakir who evidently knew Mr. Anderson said: "Saheb, you are a great man and a good man too. You are rich and you think that riches can purchase everything. You are wrong. The Giver of all things may turn gold into dust and gold may, by His order, lose all its purchasing capacity. This you have seen during the last two days. You have annoyed a man who has no gold but who has power. You think that the Deputy Commissioner has power—but he has not. The Deputy Commissioner gets his power from the King. The man whom you have offended got his power from the King of Kings.
"It is His pleasure that you should leave the station. The sooner you leave this place Saheb the better for you or you will starve. You can stay as long as you like here—but you will eat no food outside this hut of mine—you can try.
"You can go now and come back for your dinner when you require it—."
Mr. Anderson came back to the Fakir's cottage for his dinner, with his wife at nine in the evening.
Early, the next morning, he left the station and never came back.
Within a month he left India for good. The hospitable gentlemen of the station who had asked Mr. and Mrs. Anderson to have a meal with them will never forget the occasion.
This story, though it reads like a fairy tale, is nevertheless true.
All the European gentlemen of J—— knew it and if anyone of them happens to read these pages he will be able to certify that every detail is correct.
* * * * *
In this connection it will not be out of place to mention some of the strange doings of the once famous Hasan Khan, the black artist of Calcutta. Fifty years ago there was not an adult in Calcutta who did not know his name and had not seen or at least heard of his marvellous feats.
I have heard any number of wonderful stories but I shall mention only two here which, though evidently not free from exaggeration, will give an idea of what the people came to regard him as capable of achieving, and also of the powers and attributes which he used to arrogate to himself.
What happened was this.
There was a big reception in Government House at Calcutta. Now a native of Calcutta of those days knew what such a reception meant.
All public roads within half a mile of Government House were closed to wheeled and fast traffic.
The large compound was decorated with lamps and Chinese Lanterns in a manner that baffled description. Thousands of these Chinese Lanterns hung from the trees and twinkled among the foliage like so many coloured fire-flies. The drives from the gates to the building had rows of these coloured lanterns on both sides; besides, there were coloured flags and Union Jacks flying from the tops of the poles, round which were coiled wreaths of flowers, and which also served to support the ropes or wires from which these lanterns were suspended.
The main building itself was illuminated with hundreds of thousands of candles or lamps and looked from a distance like a house on fire. From close quarters you could read "Long live the Queen" written in letters of fire on the parapets of the building, and could see the procession of carriages that passed up and down the drives so artistically decorated, and wonder that the spirited horses did not bolt or shy or kick over the traces when entering those lanes of fire.
There were no electric lights then in Calcutta or in any part of India, no motor cars and no rubber-tyred carriages.
On a reception night lots of people come to watch the decorations of Government House. Now-a-days Government House is illuminated with electricity; but I am told by my elders that in those days when tallow candles and tiny glass lamps were the only means of illumination the thing looked more beautiful and gorgeous.
The people who come to see the illumination pass along the road and are not allowed to stop. The law is that they must walk on and if a young child stops for more than half a minute his guardian, friend, nurse or companion is at once reminded by the policeman on duty that he or she must walk on; and these policemen of Calcutta, unlike the policemen of London, are not at all courteous in their manner or speech.
So it happened on a certain reception night that Hasan Khan the black artist went to see the decorations and while lingering on the road was rudely told by the policeman on duty to get away.
Ordinarily Hasan Khan was a man of placid disposition and polite manners. He told the policeman that he should not have been rude to a rate-payer who had only come to enjoy the glorious sight and meant no harm. He also dropped a hint that if the head of the police department knew that a subordinate of his was insulting Hasan Khan it would go hard with that subordinate.
This infuriated the policeman who blew his whistle which had the effect of bringing half a dozen other constables on the spot. They then gave poor Hasan Khan a thrashing and reported him to the Inspector on duty. As chance would have it this Inspector had not heard of Hasan Khan before. So he ordered that he should be detained in custody and charged next morning with having assaulted a public officer in the discharge of his duty.
The Inspector also received a warning but he did not listen to it. Then Hasan Khan took out a piece of paper and a pencil from his pocket and wrote down the number of each of the six or seven policemen who had taken part in beating him; and he assured everybody (a large number of persons had gathered now) present that the constables and the Inspector would be dismissed from Government service within the next one hour.
Most of the people had not seen him before and not knowing who he was, laughed. The Inspector and the constables laughed too. After the mirth had subsided Hasan Khan was ordered to be handcuffed and removed. When the handcuffs had been clapped on he smiled serenely and said "I order that all the lights within half a mile of where we are standing be put out at once." Within a couple of seconds the whole place was in darkness.
The entire Government House Compound which was a mass of fire only a minute before was in total darkness and the street lamps had gone out too. The only light that remained was on the street lamp-post under which our friends were.
The commotion at the reception could be more easily imagined than described.
There was total darkness everywhere. The guests were treading literally on each other's toes and the accidents that happened to the carriages and horses were innumerable.
As good luck would have it another Police Inspector who was also on duty and was on horse-back came up to the only light within a circle of half a mile radius.
To him Hasan Khan said "Go and tell your Commissioner of Police that his subordinates have ill-treated Hasan Khan and tell him that I order him to come here at once."
Some laughed others scoffed but the Inspector on horse-back went and within ten minutes the Commissioner of the Calcutta Police came along with half a dozen other high officials enquiring what the trouble was about.
To them Hasan Khan told the story of the thrashing he had received and pointed out the assailants. He then told the Commissioner that if those constables and the Inspector who had ordered him to be handcuffed were dismissed, on the spot, from Government service, the lamps would be lighted without human assistance. To the utter surprise of everybody present (including the high officials who had come out with the Commissioner of Police) an order dismissing the constables and the Inspector was passed and signed by the Commissioner in the dim light shed by that isolated lamp; and within one second of the order the entire compound of Government House was lighted up again, as if some one had switched on a thousand electric lamps controlled by a single button.
Everybody who was present there enjoyed the whole thing excessively, with the exception of the police officers who had been dismissed from service.
It appeared that the Commissioner of Police knew a lot about Hasan Khan and his black art. How he had come to know of Hasan Khan's powers will now be related.
* * * * *
Most of my readers have heard the name of Messrs. Hamilton and Co., Jewellers of Calcutta. They are the oldest and most respectable firm of Jewellers probably in the whole of India.
One day Hasan Khan walked into their shop and asked to see some rings.
He was shown a number of rings but he particularly approved a cheap ring set with a single ruby. The price demanded for this ring was too much for poor honest Hasan Khan's purse, so he proposed that the Jewellers should let him have the ring on loan for a month.
This, of course, the Jewellers refused to do and in a most un-Englishman-like and unbusiness-like manner a young shop assistant asked him to clear out.
He promptly walked out of the shop promising to come again the next day. Before going out of the shop, however, he told one of the managers that the young shop assistant had been very rude to him and would not let him have the ring for a month.
The next day there was a slight commotion in Hamilton's shop. The ring was missing. Of course, nobody could suspect Hasan Khan because the ring had been seen by everybody in the shop after his departure. The police were communicated with and were soon on the spot. They were examining the room and the locks and recording statements when Hasan Khan walked in with the missing ring on his finger.
He was at once arrested, charged with theft and taken to the police station and locked up.
At about midday he was produced before the Magistrate. When he appeared in court he was found wearing ten rings, one on each finger. He was remanded and taken back to his cell in the jail.
The next morning when the door of his cell was opened it was found that one of the big almirahs in which some gold and silver articles were kept in Hamilton's shop was standing in his cell. Everybody gazed at it dumbfounded. The almirah with its contents must have weighed 50 stones. How it got into the cell was beyond comprehension.
All the big officers of Government came to see the fun and asked Hasan Khan how he had managed it.
"How did you manage to get the show-case in your drawing-room?" inquired Hasan Khan of each officer in reply to the question.
And everybody thought that the fellow was mad. But as each officer reached home he found that one show-case (evidently from Hamilton's shop) with all its contents was standing in his drawing room.
The next morning Hasan Khan gave out in clear terms that unless Messrs. Hamilton and Co. withdrew the charge against him at once they would find their safe in which were kept the extra valuable articles, at the bottom of the Bay of Bengal.
The Jewellers thought that prudence was the best part of valour and the case against Hasan Khan was withdrawn and he was acquitted of all charges and set at liberty.
Then arose the big question of compensating him for the incarceration he had suffered; and the ring with the single ruby which he had fancied so much and which had caused all this trouble was presented to him.
Of course, Messrs. Hamilton and Co. the Jewellers, had to spend a lot of money in carting back the show-cases that had so mysteriously walked away from their shop, but they were not sorry, because they could not have advertised their ware better, and everybody was anxious to possess something or other from among the contents of these peculiar show-cases.
It was in connection with this case that Hasan Khan became known to most of the European Government officials of Calcutta at that time.
THE BRIDAL PARTY.
In Benares, the sacred city of the Hindus, situated in the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, there is a house which is famed pretty far and wide. It is said that the house is haunted and that no human being can pass a night in that house.
* * * * *
Once there was a large Bridal party.
In India the custom is that the bridegroom goes to the house of the bride with great pomp and show with a number of friends and followers and the ceremony of "Kanya Dan" (giving away the girl) takes place at the bride's house.
The number of the people who go with the bridegroom depends largely upon the means of the bride's party, because the guests who come with the groom are to be fed and entertained in right regal style. It is this feeding and entertaining the guests that makes a daughter's marriage so costly in India, to a certain extent.
If the bride and the bridegroom live in the same town or village then the bridegroom's party goes to the bride's house in the evening, the marriage is performed at night and they all come away the same night or early the next morning. If, however, the places of residence of the bride and the bridegroom are say 500 miles apart as is generally the case, the bridegroom with his party goes a day or two earlier and stays a day or two after the marriage. The bride's people have to find accommodation, food and entertainment for the whole period, which in the case of rich people extends over a week.
Now I had the pleasure of joining such a bridal party as mentioned last, going to Benares.
We were about thirty young men, besides a number of elderly people.
Since the young men could not be merry in the presence of their elders the bride's father, who was a very rich man, had made arrangements to put up the thirty of us in a separate house.
This house was within a few yards of the famed haunted house.
We reached Benares at about ten in the morning and it was about three in the afternoon that we were informed that the celebrated haunted house was close by. Naturally some of us decided that we should occupy that house rather than the one in which we were. I myself was not very keen on shifting but a few others were. Our host protested but we insisted, and so the host had to give way.
The house was empty and the owner was a local gentleman, a resident of Benares.
To procure his permission and the key was the work of a few minutes and we took actual possession of the house at about six in the evening. It was a very large house with big rooms and halls (rather poorly furnished) but some furniture was brought in from the house which we had occupied on our arrival.
There was a very big and well-ventilated hall and in this we decided to sleep. Carpet upon carpet was piled on the floor and there we decided to sleep (on the ground) in right Oriental style. Lamps were brought and the house was lighted up.
At about 9 P.M. our dinner was announced. The Oriental dinner is conducted as follows:—
The guests all sit on the floor and a big plate of metal (say 20" in diameter) is placed in front of each guest. Then the service commences and the plates are filled with dainties. Each guest generally gets thrice as much as he can eat. Then the host who does not himself join stands with joined hands and requests the guests to do full justice, and the dinner begins. Very little is eaten in fact, and whatever is left goes to the poor. That is probably the only consolation. Now on this particular occasion the bride's father, who was our host and who was an elderly gentleman had withdrawn, leaving two of his sons to look after us. He himself, we understood, was looking after his more elderly guests who had been lodged in a different house.
The hall in which we sat down to dine was a large one and very well lighted.
Adjoining it was the hall in which our beds had been made. The sons of mine host with a number of others were serving. I always was rather unconventional. So I asked my fellow guests whether I could fall to, and without waiting for permission I commenced eating, a very good thing I did, as would appear hereafter.
In about 20 minutes the serving was over and we were asked to begin. As a matter of fact I was nearly half through at that time. And then the trouble began.
With a click all the lights went out and the whole house was in total darkness.
Of course, the reader can guess what followed.
"Who has put out the lights?" shouted Jagat, who was sitting next but one to me on the left.
"The ghost" shouted another in reply.
"I shall kill him if I can catch him" shouted Jagat.
The whole place was in darkness, we could not see anything but we could hear that Jagat was trying to get up.
Then he received what was a stunning blow on his back. We could hear the thump.
"Oh" shouted Jagat "who is that?"
He sat down again and gave the man on his right a blow like the one he had received. The man on the right protested. Then Jagat turned to the man on his left. The man on Jagat's left evidently resisted and Jagat had the worst of it.
Then Narain, another one of us shouted out.
"What is the matter with you?" asked his neighbour.
"Why did you pull my hair" shouted Narain.
"I did not pull" shouted the neighbour.
Then a servant was seen approaching with a lamp and things became quiet.
But the servant did not reach the hall. He stumbled against something and fell headlong on the ground, the lamp went out, and our trouble began again.
One of the party received a slap on the back of his head which sent his cap rolling and in his attempt to recover it he upset a glass of water that was near his right hand.
Matters went on in this fashion till a lamp came. The whole thing must have taken about 4 minutes. When the lamp came we found that all the dishes were clean.
The eatables had mysteriously disappeared.
The sons of mine host looked stupidly at us and we looked stupidly at them and at each other. But there it was, there was not a particle of solid food left.
We had therefore no alternative but to adjourn to the nearest confectioner's shop and eat some sweets there. That the night would not pass in peace we were sure; but nobody dared suggest that we should not pass the night in the haunted house. Once having defied the Ghost we had to stand to our guns for one night at least.
It was well after 11 o'clock at night when we came back and went to bed. We went to bed but not to sleep.
The room in which we all slept was a big one as I have said already, and there were two wall lamps in it. We lowered the lamps and—
Then the lamps went out, and we began to anticipate trouble. Our hosts had all gone home leaving us to the tender mercies of the Ghost.
Shortly afterwards we began to feel as if we were lying on a public road and horses passing along the road within a yard of us. We also imagined we could hear men passing close to us whispering. Sleeping was impossible. We all remained awake talking about different things, till a horse came very near. And thus the night passed away. At about four in the morning one of us got up and wanted to go out.
We shouted for the servant called Kallu and within a minute Kallu came with a lantern. One of our fellow guests got up and went out of the room followed by Kallu.
We could hear him going along the dining hall to the head of the stairs. Then we heard him shriek. We all rushed out. The lighted lantern was there at the head of the stairs and our fellow guest at the bottom. Kallu had vanished.
We rushed down, picked up our friend and carried him upstairs. He said that Kallu had given him a push and he had fallen down. Fortunately he was not hurt. We called the servants and they all came, Kallu among them. He denied having come with a lantern or having pushed our friend down the stairs. The other servants corroborated his statement. They assured us that Kallu had never left the room in which they all were.
We were satisfied that this was also a ghostly trick.
At about seven in the morning when our hosts came we were glad to bid good-bye to the haunted house with our bones whole.
The funniest thing was that only those of my fellow guests had the worst of it who had denied the existence of Ghosts. Those of us who had kept respectfully silent had not been touched.
Those who had received a blow or two averred that the blows could not have been given by invisible hands inasmuch as the blows were too substantial. But all of us were certain that it was no trick played by a human being.
The passing horses and the whispering passers-by had given us a queer creepy sensation.
* * * * *
In this connection may be mentioned a few haunted houses in other parts of India. There are one or two very well-known haunted houses in Calcutta.
The "Hastings House" is one of them. It is situated at Alipore in the Southern suburb of Calcutta. This is a big palatial building now owned by the Government of Bengal. At one time it was the private residence of the Governor-General of India whose name it bears. At present it is used as the "State Guest House" in which the Indian Chiefs are put up when they come to pay official visits to His Excellency in Calcutta. It appears that in a lane not very far from this house was fought the celebrated duel between Warren Hastings, the first Governor-General of India and Sir Philip Francis, a Member of his Council and the reputed author of the "Letters of Junius."
While living in this house Warren Hastings married Baroness Imhoff sometime during the first fortnight of August about 140 years ago. "The event was celebrated by great festivities"; and, as expected, the bride came home in a splendid equipage. It is said that this scene is re-enacted on the anniversary of the wedding by supernatural agency and a ghostly carriage duly enters the gate in the evening once every year. The clatter of hoofs and the rattle of iron-tyred wheels are distinctly heard advancing up to the portico; then there is the sound of the opening and closing of the carriage door, and lastly the carriage proceeds onwards, but it does not come out from under the porch. It vanishes mysteriously.
To-day is the 15th of August and this famous equipage must have glided in and out to the utter bewilderment of watchful eyes and ears within the last fortnight.
* * * * *
There is another well-known ghostly house in Calcutta in which the only trouble is that its windows in the first floor bedrooms open at night spontaneously.
People have slept at night for a reward in this house closing the windows with their own hands and have waked up at night shivering with cold to find all the windows open.
Once a body of soldiers went to pass a night in this house with a view to solve the mystery. They all sat in a room fully determined not to sleep but see what happened; and thus went on chatting till it was about midnight. There was a big lamp burning on a table around which they were seated. All of a sudden there was a loud click—the lamp went out and all the windows opened simultaneously. The next minute the lamp was alight again. The occupants of the room looked at their watches; it was about 1 A.M. The next night they sat up again and one of them with a revolver. At about one in the morning this particular individual pointed his revolver at one of the windows. As soon as the lamp went out this man pulled the trigger five times and there were five reports. The windows, however, opened and the lamp was alight again as on the previous night. They all rushed to the window to see if any damage had been done by the bullets.
The five bullets were found in the room but from their appearance it seemed as if they had struck nothing, evidently the bullets would have been changed in shape if they had impinged upon any hard substance. But then this was another enigma. How did the bullets come back? No man could have put the bullets there from before, (for they were still hot when discovered) or could have guessed the bore of the revolver that was going to be used.
On the third night to make assurance doubly sure, these soldiers were again present in the room, but on this occasion they had loaded their revolver with marked bullets.
As it neared one o'clock, one of them pointed the revolver at the window. He had decided to pull the trigger as soon as the lamp would go out. But he could not. As soon as the lamp went out this soldier received a sharp cut on his wrist with a cane and the revolver fell clattering on the floor. The invisible hand had left its mark behind which his companions saw after the lamp was alight again.
Many people have subsequently tried to solve the mystery but never succeeded.
The house remained untenanted for a long time and finally it was rented by an Australian horse dealer who however did not venture to occupy the building itself, and contented himself with erecting his stables and offices in the compound where he is not molested by the unearthly visitors.
There is another ghostly house and it is in the United Provinces. The name of the town has been intentionally omitted. Various people saw numerous things in that house but a correct report never came. Once a friend of mine passed a night in that house. He told me what he had seen. Most wonderful! And I have no reason to disbelieve him.
"I went to pass a night in that house and I had only a comfortable chair, a small table and a few magazines besides a loaded revolver. I had taken care to load that revolver myself so that there might be no trick and I had given everybody to understand that.
"I began well. The night was cool and pleasant. The lamp bright—the chair comfortable and the magazine which I took up—interesting.
"But at about midnight I began to feel rather uneasy.
"At one in the morning I should probably have left the place if I had not been afraid of friends whose servants I knew were watching the house and its front door.
"At half past one I heard a peculiar sigh of pain in the next room. 'This is rather interesting,' I thought. To face something tangible is comparatively easy; to wait for the unknown is much more difficult. I took out the revolver from my pocket and examined it. It looked quite all right—this small piece of metal which could have killed six men in half a minute. Then I waited—for what—well.
"A couple of minutes of suspense and the sigh was repeated. I went to the door dividing the two rooms and pushed it open. A long thick ray of light at once penetrated the darkness, and I walked into the other room. It was only partially light. But after a minute I could see all the corners. There was nothing in that room.
"I waited for a minute or two. Then I heard the sigh in the room which I had left. I came back,—stopped—rubbed my eyes—.
"Sitting in the chair which I had vacated not two minutes ago was a young girl calm, fair, beautiful with that painful expression on her face which could be more easily imagined than described. I had heard of her. So many others who had came to pass a night in that house had seen her and described her (and I had disbelieved).
"Well—there she sat, calm, sad, beautiful, in my chair. If I had come in five minutes later I might have found her reading the magazine which I had left open, face downwards. When I was well within the room she stood up facing me and I stopped. The revolver fell from my hand. She smiled a sad sweet smile. How beautiful she was!
"Then she spoke. A modern ghost speaking like Hamlet's father, just think of that!
"'You will probably wonder why I am here—I shall tell you, I was murdered—by my own father.... I was a young widow living in this house which belonged to my father I became unchaste and to save his own name he poisoned me when I was enceinte—another week and I should have become a mother; but he poisoned me and my innocent child died too—it would have been such a beautiful baby—and you would probably want to kiss it'
and horror of horrors, she took out the child from her womb and showed it to me. She began to move in my direction with the child in her arms saying—'You will like to kiss it.'
"I don't know whether I shouted—but I fainted.
"When I recovered consciousness it was broad day-light, and I was lying on the floor, with the revolver by my side. I picked it up and slowly walked out of the house with as much dignity as I could command. At the door I met one of my friends to whom I told a lie that I had seen nothing.—It is the first time that I have told you what I saw at the place.
"The Ghostly woman spoke the language of the part of the country in which the Ghostly house is situate."
The friend who told me this story is a responsible Government official and will not make a wrong statement. What has been written above has been confirmed by others—who had passed nights in that Ghostly house; but they had generally shouted for help and fainted at the sight of the ghost, and so they had not heard her story from her lips as reproduced here.
The house still exists, but it is now a dilapidated old affair, and the roof and the doors and windows are so bad that people don't care to go and pass a night there.
There is also a haunted house in Assam. In this house a certain gentleman committed suicide by cutting his own throat with a razor.
You often see him sitting on a cot in the verandah heaving deep sighs.
Mention of this house has been made in a book called "Tales from the Tiger Land" published in England. The Author says he has passed a night in the house in question and testifies to the accuracy of all the rumours that are current.
* * * * *
Talking about haunted houses reminds me of a haunted tank. I was visiting a friend of mine in the interior of Bengal during our annual summer holidays when I was yet a student. This friend of mine was the son of a rich man and in the village had a large ancestral house where his people usually resided. It was the first week of June when I reached my friend's house. I was informed that among other things of interest, which were, however, very few in that particular part of the country, there was a large Pukka tank belonging to my friend's people which was haunted.
What kind of Ghost lived in the tank or near it nobody could say, but what everybody knew was this, that on Jaistha Shukla Ekadashi (that is on the eleventh day after the new moon in the month of Jaistha) that occurs about the middle of June, the Ghost comes to bathe in the tank at about midnight.
Of course, Jaistha Shukla Ekadashi was only 3 days off, and I decided to prolong my stay at my friend's place, so that I too might have a look at the Ghost's bath.
On the eventful day I resolved to pass the night with my friend and two other intrepid souls, near the tank.
After a rather late dinner, we started with a bedding and a Hookah and a pack of cards and a big lamp. We made the bed (a mattress and a sheet) on a platform on the bank. There were six steps, with risers about 9" each, leading from the platform to the water. Thus we were about 41/2 feet from the water level; and from this coign of vantage we could command a full view of the tank, which covered an area of about four acres. Then we began our game of cards. There was a servant with us who was preparing our Hookah.
At midnight we felt we could play no longer.
The strain was too great; the interest too intense.
We sat smoking and chatting and asked the servant to remove the lamp as a lot of insects was coming near attracted by the light. As a matter of fact we did not require any light because there was a brilliant moon. At one o'clock in the morning there was a noise as of rushing wind—we looked round and found that not a leaf was moving but still the whizzing noise as of a strong wind continued. Then we found something advancing towards the tank from the opposite bank. There was a number of cocoanut trees on the bank on the other side, and in the moonlight we could not see clearly what it really was. It looked like a huge white elephant. It approached the tank at a rapid pace—say the pace of a fast trotting horse. From the bank it took a long leap and with a tremendous splash fell into the water. The plunge made the water rise on our side and it rose as high as 41/2 feet because we got wet through and through.
The mattress and the sheet and all our clothes were wet. In the confusion we forgot to keep our eyes on the Ghost or white elephant or whatever it was and when we again looked in that direction everything was quiet. The apparition had vanished.
The most wonderful thing was the rise in the water level. For the water to rise 41/2 feet would have been impossible under ordinary circumstances even if a thousand elephants had got into the water.
We were all wide awake—We went home immediately because we required a change of clothes.
The old man (my friend's father) was waiting for us. "Well you are wet" he said.
"Yes" said we.
"Rightly served" said the old man.
He did not ask what had happened. We were told subsequently that he had got wet like us a number of times when he was a youngster himself.
 Since the publication of the first edition "Hasting House" has been converted into an Indian Rugby for the benefit of the cadets of the rich families in Bengal.
A STRANGE INCIDENT.
When I was at college there happened what was a most inexplicable incident.
The matter attracted some attention at that time, but has now been forgotten as it was really not so very extraordinary. The police in fact, when called in, explained the matter or at least thought they had done so, to everybody's satisfaction. I was, however, not satisfied with the explanation given by the police. This was what actually happened.
* * * * *
The college was a very big one with a large boarding-house attached to it. The boarding-house was a building separate from the college situated at a distance of about 100 yards from the college building. It was in the form of a quadrangle with a lawn in the centre. The area of this lawn must have been 2,500 square yards. Of course it was surrounded on all sides by buildings, that is, by a row of single rooms on each side.
In the boarding-house there was a common room for the amusement of the students. There were all sorts of indoor games including a miniature billiard table in this common room. I was a regular visitor there. I did not care for any other indoor game than chess. Of course chess meant keeping out of bed, till late at night.
On this particular occasion, I think it was in November, a certain gentleman, who was an ex-student of the college, was paying us a visit. He was staying with us in the boarding-house. He had himself passed 4 years in that boarding-house and naturally had a love for it. In his time he was very popular with the other boarders and with the Superintendent. Dr. M.N., an English gentleman who was also an inmate of the Boarding-House. With the permission of the learned Doctor, the Superintendent, we decided to make a night of it, and so we all assembled in the common room after dinner. I can picture to myself the cheerful faces of all the students present on that occasion in the well lighted Hall. So far as I know only one of that group is now dead. He was the most jovial and the best beloved of all. May he rest in peace!
Now to return from this mournful digression. I could see old Mathura sitting next to me with a Hookah with a very long stem, directing the moves of the chessmen. There was old Birju at the miniature billiard table poking at everybody with his cue who laughed when he missed an easy shot.
Then came in the Superintendent, Dr. M.N. and in a hurry to conceal his Hookah (Indians never smoke in the presence of their elders and superiors) old Mathura nearly upset the table on which the chessmen were; and the mirth went on with redoubled vigour as the Doctor was one of the loudest and merriest of the whole lot on such occasions.
Thus we went on till nearly one in the morning when the Doctor ordered everybody to go to bed. Of course we were glad to retire but we were destined to be soon disturbed.
Earlier the same evening we had been playing a friendly Hockey match, and one of the players, let us call him Ram Gholam, had been slightly hurt. As a matter of fact he always got hurt whenever he played.
During the evening the hurt had been forgotten but as soon as he was in bed it was found that he could not sleep. The matter was reported to the Superintendent who finding that there was really nothing the matter with him suggested that the affected parts should be washed with hot water and finally wrapped in heated castor leaves and bandaged over with flannel. (This is the best medicine for gouty pain—not for hurt caused by a hockey stick).
There was a castor tree in the compound and a servant was despatched to bring the leaves. In the meantime a few of us went to the kitchen, made a fire and boiled some water. While thus engaged we heard a noise and a cry for help. We rushed out and ran along the verandah (corridor) to the place whence the cry came. It was coming from the room of Prayag, one of the boarders. We pushed the door but found that it was bolted from inside, we shouted to him to open but he would not. The door had four glass panes on the top and we discovered that the upper bolt only had been used; as a matter of fact the lower bolts had all been removed, because on closing the door from outside, once it had been found that a bolt at the bottom had dropped into its socket and the door had to be broken before it could be opened.
Prayag's room was in darkness. There was a curtain inside and so we could see nothing from outside. We could hear Prayag groaning. The Superintendent came up. To break the glass pane nearest to the bolt was the work of a minute. The door was opened and we all rushed in. It was a room 14'x12'; many of us could not, therefore, come in. When we went in we took a light with us. It was one of the hurricane lanterns—the one we had taken to the kitchen. The lamp suddenly went out. At the same time a brickbat came rattling down from the roof and fell near my feet, thus I could feel it with my feet and tell what it was. And Prayag groaned again. Dr. M.N. came in, and we helped Prayag out of his bed and took him out on the verandah. Then we saw another brickbat come from the roof of the verandah, and fell in front of Prayag a few inches from his feet. We took him to the central lawn and stood in the middle of it. This time a whole solid brick came from the sky. It fell a few inches from my feet and remained standing on its edge. If it had toppled over it would have fallen on my toes.
By this time all the boarders had come up. Prayag stood in the middle of the group shivering and sweating. A few more brickbats came but not one of us was hurt. Then the trouble ceased. We removed Prayag to the Superintendent's room and put him in the Doctor's bed. There were a reading lamp on a stool near the head of the bed and a Holy Bible on it. The learned Doctor must have been reading it when he was disturbed. Another bed was brought in and the Doctor passed the night in it.
In the morning came the police.
They found a goodly heap of brickbats and bones in Prayag's room and on the lawn. There was an investigation, but nothing came out of it. The police however explained the matter as follows:—
There were some people living in the two-storied houses in the neighbourhood. The brickbats and the bones must have come from there. As a matter of fact the police discovered that the Boarding House students and the people who lived in these houses were not on good terms. Those people had organized a music party and the students had objected to it. The matter had been reported to the Magistrate and had ended in a decision in favour of the students. Hence the strained relations. This was the most natural explanation and the only explanation. But this explanation did not satisfy me for several reasons.
The first reason was that the college compound contained another well kept lawn that stood between the Hostel buildings and those two-storied houses. There were no brickbats on this lawn. If brickbats had been thrown from those houses some at least would have fallen upon the lawn.
Then as regarded the brickbats that were in the room, they had all dropped from the ceiling; but in the morning we found the tiles of the roof intact. Thirdly, in the middle of the central lawn there was at least one whole brick. The nearest building from which a brick might have been thrown was at a distance of 100 yards and to throw a whole brick 9"x41/2"x3" such a distance would require a machine of some kind or other and none was found in the house.
The last thing that created doubts in my mind was this that not one brickbat had hit anybody. There were so many of us there and there was such an abundance of brickbats still not one of us was hit, and it is well known that brickbats hurled by Ghostly hands do not hit anybody. In fact the whole brick that came and stood on edge within 3 inches of my toe would have hurt me if it had only toppled over.
* * * * *
It is known to most of the readers that Sutteeism was the practice of burning the widows on the funeral pyre of their dead husbands. This practice was prevalent in Bengal down to the year 1828 when a law forbidding the aiding and abetting of Sutteeism was passed. Before the Act, of course, many women were, in a way, forced to become Suttees. The public opinion against a widow's surviving was so great that she preferred to die rather than live after her husband's death.
The law has, however, changed the custom and the public opinion too.
Still, every now and then there are found cases of determined Sutteeism among all classes in India who profess Hinduism. Frequent instances are found in Bengal; and whenever a case comes to the notice of the public the newspapers report it in a manner which shows that respect for the Suttee is not yet dead.
Sometimes a verdict of "Suicide during temporary insanity" is returned, but, of course, whoever reads the report understands how matters stand.
I know of a recent case in which a gentleman who was in Government service died leaving a young widow.
When the husband's dead body was being removed the wife looked so jolly that nobody suspected that anything was wrong with her.
But when all the male members of the family had gone away with the bier the young widow quietly procured a tin of Kerosine oil and a few bed sheets. She soaked the bed sheets well in the oil and then wrapped them securely round her person and further secured them by means of a rope. She then shut all the doors of her room and set the clothes on fire. By the time the doors were forced open (there were only ladies in the house at that time) she was dead.
Of course this was a case of suicide pure and simple and there was the usual verdict of suicide during temporary insanity, but I personally doubt the temporary insanity very much. This case, however, is too painful.
The one that I am now going to relate is more interesting and more mysterious, and probably more instructive.
Babu Bhagwan Prasad, now the late Babu Bhagwan Prasad, was a clerk in the —— office in the United Provinces. He was a grown-up man of 45 when the incident happened.
He had an attack of cold which subsequently developed into pneumonia and after a lingering illness of 8 days he died at about 8 o'clock one morning.
He had, of course, a wife and a number of children.
Babu Bhagwan Prasad was a well paid officer and maintained a large family consisting of brothers—their wives and their children.
At the time of his death, in fact, when the doctor went away in the morning giving his opinion that it was a question of minutes, his wife seemed the least affected of all. While all the members of the family were collected round the bed of their dying relative the lady withdrew to her room saying that she was going to dress for the journey. Of course nobody took any notice of her at the time. She retired to her room and dressed herself in the most elaborate style, and marked her forehead with a large quantity of "Sindur" for the last time.
["Sindur" is red oxide of mercury or lead used by orthodox Hindu women in some parts of India whose husbands are alive; widows do not use it.]
After dressing she came back to the room where her dying husband was and approached the bed. Those who were there made way for her in surprise. She sat down on the bed and finally lay down by her dying husband's side. This demonstration of sentimentalism could not be tolerated in a family where the Purda is strictly observed and one or two elderly ladies tried to remonstrate.
But on touching her they found that she was dead. The husband was dead too. They had both died simultaneously. When the doctor arrived he found the lady dead, but he could not ascertain the cause of her death.
Everybody thought she had taken poison but nothing could be discovered by post mortem examination.
There was not a trace of any kind of poison in the body.
The funeral of the husband and the wife took place that afternoon and they were cremated on the same pyre.
The stomach and some portions of the intestines of the deceased lady were sent to the chemical examiner and his report (which arrived a week later) did not disclose anything.
The matter remains a mystery.
It will never be found out what force killed the lady at such a critical moment. Probably it was the strong will of the Suttee that would not allow her body to be separated from that of her husband even in death.
* * * * *
Another very strange incident is reported from a place near Agra in the United Provinces.
There were two respectable residents of the town who were close neighbours. For the convenience of the readers we shall call them Smith and Jones.
Smith and Jones, as has been said already, were close neighbours and the best of friends. Each had his wife and children living with him.
Now Mr. Smith got fever, on a certain very hot day in June. The fever would not leave him and on the tenth day it was discovered that it was typhoid fever of the worst type.
Now typhoid fever is in itself very dangerous, but more so in the case of a person who gets it in June. So poor Smith had no chance of recovery. Of course Jones knew it. Mrs. Smith was a rather uneducated elderly lady and the children were too young. So the medical treatment as well as the general management of Mr. Smith's affairs was left entirely in the hands of Mr. Jones.
Mr. Jones did his best. He procured the best medical advice. He got the best medicines prescribed by the doctors and engaged the best nurse available. But his efforts were of no avail. On a certain Thursday afternoon Smith began to sink fast and at about eight in the evening he died.
Mr. Jones on his return from his office that day at about four in the afternoon had been informed that Mr. Smith's condition was very bad, and he had at once gone over to see what he could do.
He had sent for half a dozen doctors, but they on their arrival had found that the case was hopeless. Three of the doctors had accordingly gone away, but the other three had stayed behind.
When however Smith was dead, and these three doctors had satisfied themselves that life was quite extinct, they too went away with Mr. Jones leaving the dead body in charge of the mourning members of the family of the deceased.
Mr. Jones at once set about making arrangements for the funeral early the next morning; and it was well after eleven at night that he returned to a very late dinner at his own house. It was a particularly hot night and after smoking his last cigar for the day Mr. Jones went to bed, but not to sleep, after midnight. The death of his old friend and neighbour had made him very sad and thoughtful. The bed had been made on the open roof on the top of the house which was a two storied building and Mr. Jones lay watching the stars and thinking.
At about one in the morning there was a loud knock at the front door. Mr. Jones who was wide awake thought it was one of the servants returning home late and so he did not take any notice of it.
After a few moments the knock was repeated at the door which opened on the stairs leading to the roof of the second storey on which Mr. Jones was sleeping. [The visitor had evidently passed through the front door]. This time Mr. Jones knew it was no servant. His first impression was that it was one of the mutual friends who had heard of Smith's death and was coming to make enquiries. So he shouted out "Who is there?"
"It is I,—Smith" was the reply.
"Smith—Smith is dead" stammered Mr. Jones.
"I want to speak to you, Jones—open the door or I shall come and kill you" said the voice of Smith from beyond the door. A cold sweat stood on Mr. Jones's forehead. It was Smith speaking, there was no doubt of that,—Smith, whom he had seen expire before his very eyes five hours ago. Mr. Jones began to look for a weapon to defend himself.
There was nothing available except a rather heavy hammer which had been brought up an hour earlier that very night to fix a nail in the wall for hanging a lamp. Mr. Jones took this up and waited for the spirit of Smith at the head of the stairs.
The spirit passed through this closed door also. Though the staircase was in total darkness still Mr. Jones could see Smith coming up step by step.
Up and up came Smith and breathlessly Jones waited with the hammer in his hand. Now only three steps divided them.
"I shall kill you" hissed Smith. Mr. Jones aimed a blow with the hammer and hit Smith between the eyes. With a groan Smith fell down. Mr. Jones fainted.
A couple of hours later there was a great commotion at the house of Mr. Smith. The dead body had mysteriously disappeared.
The first thing they could think of was to go and inform Mr. Jones.
So one of the young sons of Smith came to Mr. Jones's house. The servant admitted him and told him where to find the master.
Young Smith knocked at the door leading to the staircase but got no reply. "After his watchful nights he is sleeping soundly" thought young Smith.
But then Jones must be awakened.
The whole household woke up but not Mr. Jones. One of the servants then procured a ladder and got upon the roof. Mr. Jones was not upon his bed nor under it either. The servant thought he would open the door leading to the staircase and admit the people who were standing outside beyond the door at the bottom of the stairs. There was a number of persons now at the door including Mrs. Jones, her children, servants and young Smith.
The servant stumbled upon something. It was dark but he knew it was the body of his master. He passed on but then he stumbled again. There was another human being in the way. "Who is this other?—probably a thief" thought the servant.
He opened the door and admitted the people who were outside. They had lights with them. As they came in it was found that the second body on the stairs two or three steps below the landing was the dead body of Smith while the body on the landing was the unconscious form of Mr. Jones.
Restoratives were applied and Jones came to his senses and then related the story that has been recorded above. A doctor was summoned and he found the wound caused by Jones's hammer on Smith's head. There was a deep cut but no blood had come out, therefore, it appeared that the wound must have been caused at least two or three hours after death.
The doctors never investigated whether death could have been caused by the blow given by the hammer. They thought there was no need of an investigation either, because they had left Smith quite dead at eight in the evening.
How Smith's dead body was spirited away and came to Jones's house has been a mystery which will probably never be solved.
* * * * *
Thinking over the matter recorded above the writer has come to the conclusion that probably a natural explanation might be given of the affair.
Taking however all the facts of the case as given above to be true (and there is no reason to suppose that they are not) the only explanation that could be given and in fact that was given by some of the sceptical minds of Agra at that time was as follows:—
"Smith was dead. Jones was a very old friend of his. He was rather seriously affected. He must have, in an unconscious state of mind like a somnambulist, carried the dead body of Smith to his own house without being detected in the act. Then his own fevered imagination endowed Smith with the faculty of speech, dead though the latter was; and in a moment of—well—call it temporary insanity, if you please—he inflicted the wound on the forehead of Smith's dead body."
This was the only plausible explanation that could be given of the affair; but regard being had to the fact that Smith's dead body was lying in an upper storey of the house and that there was a number of servants between the death chamber and the main entrance to the house, the act of removing the dead body without their knowing it was a difficult task, nay utterly impracticable.
Over and above this it was not feasible to carry away even at night, the dead body along the road, which is a well frequented thoroughfare, without being observed by anybody.
Then there is the third fact that Jones was really not such a strong person that he could carry alone Smith's body that distance with ease.
Smith's dead body as recovered in Jones' house had bare feet; whether there was any dust on the feet, had not been observed by anybody; otherwise some light might have been thrown on this apparently miraculous incident.
WHAT THE PROFESSOR SAW.
This story is not so painful as the one entitled "What Uncle Saw." How we wish that uncle had seen something else, but all the same how glad we are that uncle did not see what the professor saw. The professor is an M.A. of the University of Calcutta, in Chemistry, and is a Lecturer in a big college. This, of course, I only mention to show that this is not the invention of a foolish person.
I shall now tell the story as I heard it from the professor.
* * * * *
"I was a professor of chemistry in a Calcutta college in the year 18—. One morning I received a letter from home informing me that my eldest brother was ill. It was a case of fever due to cold. Of course, a man does sometimes catch cold and get fever too. There was nothing extraordinary about that.
"In the evening I did not receive any further news. This meant that my brother was better, because in any other case they would have written.
"A number of friends came to my diggings in the evening and invited me to join their party then going to a theatre. They had reserved some seat but one of the party for whom a seat had been reserved was unavoidably detained and hence a vacant seat. The news of my brother's illness had made me a little sad, the theatre, I thought, would cheer me up. So I joined.
"We left the theatre at about one in the morning. Coming to my house along the now deserted but well-lighted "College Street" of Calcutta I saw from a distance a tall man walking to and fro on the pavement in front of the Senate Hall. When I approached nearer I found that it was my brother of whose illness I had heard in the morning. I was surprised.
"'What are you doing here—brother.' I asked.
"'I came to tell you something.'
"'But you were ill—I heard this morning—by what train did you come?' I asked.
"'I did not come by train—never mind—I went to your "Basa" (lodgings) and found you were out—gone to the theatre, so I waited for you here as I thought you would prefer walking home instead of taking a hackney carriage—'
"'Very fortunate I did not take one—'
"'In that case I would have seen you at your quarters.'
"'Then come along with me—' I said.
"'No' he said 'I shall stay where I am—what I have come to tell you is this, that after I am gone you will take care of the mother and see that she has everything she wants—'
"'But where are you going—' I asked puzzled.
"'Never mind where I am going—but will you promise—'
"'Promise what—?' I asked.
"'That you will see that the mother has everything she wants.'
"'Certainly—but where on earth are you going—' I asked again.
"'I can depend upon your promise then' he said and vanished.
"He vanished mysteriously. In what direction he went I could not say. There was no bye-lane near. It was a very well-lighted part of the city. He vanished into the thin air. I rubbed my eyes and looked round.
"A policeman was coming along. He was about 50 feet away.
"I inquired him if he had seen the gentleman who was talking to me.
"'Did you see the other gentleman, officer?' I asked.
"'Yes' he said looking around 'there were two of you—where is the other—has he robbed you of all you had—these pickpockets have a mysterious way of disappearing—'
"'He was my brother' I said 'and no pickpocket.'
"The policeman looked puzzled too.
"I shouted aloud calling my brother by name but received no reply. I took out my gold watch. It was half past one. I walked home at a brisk pace.
"At home I was informed by the servant that my brother had come to look for me an hour ago but on being informed that I was out, had gone away.
"Whenever he came to Calcutta from the suburbs he put up with a friend of his instead of with me. So I decided to look him up at his friend's house in the morning. But I was not destined to carry out that plan.
"Early the next morning I received a telegram that my brother was dead. The telegram had been sent at 1.20 A.M. He must have died an hour before. Well—there it was.