Indian Ghost Stories by S. Mukerji
THE STARVING MILLIONAIRE.
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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.
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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 £100 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.