Indian Ghost Stories by S. Mukerji
THE MESSENGER OF DEATH.
Now what I have just mentioned was the custom of the particular house-hold referred to above.
One night a peculiar groan was heard issuing from the temple. All the inmates of the house came to see what the matter was. The key of the temple was with the family priest who was not present. He had probably gone to some other person's house to have a smoke and a chat, and it was an hour before the key could be procured and the door of the temple opened.
Everything was just as it had been left 3 or 4 hours previously. The cause or origin of the groans was never traced or discovered.
The next morning one of the members of the family was suddenly taken ill and died before medical aid could be obtained from Calcutta.
This was about fifty years ago. Since then the members of this family have become rather accustomed to these groans.
If there is a case of real Asiatic cholera or a case of double pneumonia they don't call in a doctor though there is a very capable and learned medical man within a mile.
But if once the groans are heard the person, who gets the smallest pin-prick the next morning, dies; and no medical science has ever done any good.
"The most terrible thing in this connection is the suspense" said one of the members of that family to me once. "As a rule you hear the groans at night and then you have to wait till the morning to ascertain whose turn it is. Generally however you find long before sunrise that somebody has become very ill. If not, you have to wire to all the absent members of the family in the morning to enquire--what you can guess. And you have to await the replies to the telegrams. How the minutes pass between the hearing of the groans till it is actually ascertained who is going to die--need not be described."
"You must have been having an exciting time of it" I asked this young man.
"Generally not, because we find that somebody is ill from before and then we know what is going to happen" said my informant.
"But during your experience of 25 years you must have been very nervous about these groans yourself at times," I asked.
"On two occasions only we had to be nervous because nobody was ill beforehand; but in each case that person died who was the most afraid. I was not nervous on these occasions myself, for some reason or other."
These uncanny groans of the messenger of death have remained a mystery for the last fifty years.
* * * * *
I know another family in which the death of the head of the family is predicted in a very peculiar manner.
There is a big picture of the Goddess Kali in the family. On the night of the _Shyama pooja_ (_Dewali_) which occurs about the middle of November, this picture is brought out and worshipped.
The picture is a big oil painting of the old Indian School and has a massive solid gold frame. The picture is a beauty--a thing worth seeing.
All the year round it hangs on the eastern wall of the room occupied by the head of the family.
Now the peculiar thing with this family is that no male member of the family dies out of his turn. The eldest male member dies leaving behind everybody else. The next man then becomes the eldest and dies afterwards and so on.
But before the death of the head of the family the warning comes in a peculiar way.
The picture of the goddess is found hanging upside down. One morning when the head of the family comes out of his bed-room and the youngsters go in to make the room tidy, as they call it, (though they generally make the room more untidy and finally leave it to the servants) they find the famous family picture hanging literally topsyturvy (that is with head downwards) and they at once sound the alarm. Then they all know that the head of the family is doomed and will die within a week.
But this fact does not disturb the normal quiet of the family. Because the _pater familias_ is generally very old and infirm and more generally quite prepared to die.
But the fact remains that so long as the warning does not come in this peculiar fashion every member of the house-hold knows that there is no immediate danger.
For instance it is only when this warning comes that all the children who are out of the station are wired for.
Every reader must admit that this is rather weird.