Indian Ghost Stories by S. Mukerji
WHAT UNCLE SAW.
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This story need not have been written. It is too sad and too mysterious, but since reference has been made to it in this book, it is only right that readers should know this sad account.
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Uncle was a very strong and powerful man and used to boast a good deal of his strength. He was employed in a Government Office in Calcutta. He used to come to his village home during the holidays. He was a widower with one or two children, who stayed with his brother's family in the village.
Uncle has had no bed-room of his own since his wife's death. Whenever he paid us a visit one of us used to place his bed-room at uncle's disposal. It is a custom in Bengal to sleep with one's wife and children in the same bed-room. So whenever Uncle turned up I used to give my bed-room to him as I was the only person without children. On such occasions I slept in one of the "Baithaks" (drawing-rooms). A Baithak is a drawing-room and guest-room combined.
In rich Bengal families of the orthodox style the "Baithak" or "Baithak khana" is a very large room generally devoid of all furniture, having a thick rich carpet on the floor with a clean sheet upon it and big _takias_ (pillows) all around the wall. The elderly people would sit on the ground and lean against the _takias_; while we, the younger lot, sat upon the takias and leaned against the wall which in the case of the particular room in our house was covered with some kind of yellow paint which did not come off on the clothes.
Sometimes a _takia_ would burst and the cotton stuffing inside would come out; and then the old servant (his status is that of an English butler, his duty to prepare the hookah for the master) would give us a chase with a _lathi_ (stick) and the offender would run away, and not return until all incriminating evidence had been removed and the old servant's wrath had subsided.
Well, when Uncle used to come I slept in the "Baithak" and my wife slept somewhere in the zenana, I never inquired where.
On this particular occasion Uncle missed the train by which he usually came. It was the month of October and he should have arrived at 8 P.M. My bed had been made in the Baithak. But the 8 P.M. train came and stopped and passed on and Uncle did not turn up.
So we thought he had been detained for the night. It was the Durgapooja season and some presents for the children at home had to be purchased and, we thought, that was what was detaining him. And so at about 10 P.M. we all retired to bed. The bed that had been made for me in the "Baithak" remained there for Uncle in case he turned up by the 11 P.M. train. As a matter of fact we did not expect him till the next morning.
But as misfortune would have it Uncle did arrive by the 11 o'clock train.
All the house-hold had retired, and though the old servant suggested that I should be waked up, Uncle would not hear of it. He would sleep in the bed originally made for me, he said.
The bed was in the central Baithak or hall. My Uncle was very fond of sleeping in side-rooms. I do not know why. Anyhow he ordered the servant to remove his bed to one of the side-rooms. Accordingly the bed was taken to one of them. One side of that room had two windows opening on the garden. The garden was more a park-like place, rather neglected, but still well wooded abounding in jack fruit trees. It used to be quite shady and dark during the day there. On this particular night it must have been very dark. I do not remember now whether there was a moon or not.
Well, Uncle went to sleep and so did the servants. It was about 8 o'clock the next morning, when we thought that Uncle had slept long enough, that we went to wake him up.
The door connecting the side-room with the main Baithak was closed, but not bolted from inside; so we pushed the door open and went in.
Uncle lay in bed panting. He stared at us with eyes that saw but did not perceive. We at once knew that something was wrong. On touching his body we found that he had high fever. We opened the windows, and it was then that Uncle spoke "Don't open or it would come in--"