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