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The Major's Lease






A curious little story was told the other day in a certain Civil Court
in British India.



A certain military officer, let us call him Major Brown, rented a house
in one of the big Cantonment stations where he had been recently
transferred with his regiment.

This gentleman had just arrived from England with his wife. He was the
son of a rich man at home and so he could afford to have a large house.
This was the first time he had come out to India and was consequently
rather unacquainted with the manners and customs of this country.

[Illustration: This is a rough plan, the original of which was probably
in the Major's handwriting.]

Major Brown took this house on a long lease and thought he had made a
bargain. The house was large and stood in the centre of a very spacious
compound. There was a garden which appeared to have been carefully laid
out once, but as the house had no tenant for a long time the garden
looked more like a wilderness. There were two very well kept lawn tennis
courts and these were a great attraction to the Major, who was very keen
on tennis. The stablings and out-houses were commodious and the Major,
who was thinking of keeping a few polo ponies, found the whole thing
very satisfactory. Over and above everything he found the landlord very
obliging. He had heard on board the steamer on his way out that Indian
landlords were the worst class of human beings one could come across on
the face of this earth (and that is very true), but this particular
landlord looked like an exception to the general rule.

He consented to make at his own expense all the alterations that the
Major wanted him to do, and these alterations were carried out to Major
and Mrs. Brown's entire satisfaction.

On his arrival in this station Major Brown had put up at an hotel and
after some alterations had been made he ordered the house to be
furnished. This was done in three or four days and then he moved in.

Annexed is a rough sketch of the house in question. The house was a very
large one and there was a number of rooms, but we have nothing to do
with all of them. The spots marked "C" and "E" represent the doors.

Now what happened in Court was this:

After he had occupied the house for not over three weeks the Major and
his wife cleared out and took shelter again in the hotel from which they
had come. The landlord demanded rent for the entire period stipulated
for in the lease and the Major refused to pay. The matter went to Court.
The presiding Judge, who was an Indian gentleman, was one of the
cleverest men in the service, and he thought it was a very simple case.

When the case was called on the plaintiff's pleader said that he would
begin by proving the lease. Major Brown, the defendant, who appeared in
person, said that he would admit it. The Judge who was a very kind
hearted gentleman asked the defendant why he had vacated the house.

"I could not stay," said the Major "I had every intention of living in
the house, I got it furnished and spent two thousand rupees over it, I
was laying out a garden...."

"But what do you mean by saying that you could not stay?"

"If your Honour passed a night in that house, you would understand what
I meant," said the Major.

"You take the oath and make a statement," said the Judge. Major Brown
then made the following statement on oath in open Court.

"When I came to the station I saw the house and my wife liked it. We
asked the landlord whether he would make a few alterations and he
consented. After the alterations had been carried out I executed the
lease and ordered the house to be furnished. A week after the execution
of the lease we moved in. The house is very large."

Here followed a description of the building; but to make matters clear
and short I have copied out the rough pencil sketch which is still on
the record of the case and marked the doors and rooms, as the Major had
done, with letters.

"I do not dine at the mess. I have an early dinner at home with my wife
and retire early. My wife and I sleep in the same bedroom (the room
marked "G" in the plan), and we are generally in bed at about 11 o'clock
at night. The servants all go away to the out-houses which are at a
distance of about 40 yards from the main building, only one Jamadar
(porter) remains in the front verandah. This Jamadar also keeps an eye
on the whole main building, besides I have got a good, faithful watch
dog which I brought out from home. He stays outside with the Jamadar.

"For the first fifteen days we were quite comfortable, then the trouble
began.

"One night before dinner my wife was reading a story, a detective story,
of a particularly interesting nature. There were only a few more pages
left and so we thought that she would finish them before we put out the
reading lamp. We were in the bedroom. But it took her much longer than
she had expected it would, and so it was actually half an hour after
midnight when we put out the big sixteen candle power reading lamp which
stood on a teapoy near the head of the beds. Only a small bedroom lamp
remained.

"But though we put out the light we did not fall asleep. We were
discussing the cleverness of the detective and the folly of the thief
who had left a clue behind, and it was actually two o'clock when we
pulled our rugs up to our necks and closed our eyes.

"At that moment we heard the footsteps of a number of persons walking
along the corridor. The corridor runs the whole length of the house as
will appear from the rough sketch. This corridor was well carpeted
still we heard the tread of a number of feet. We looked at the door "C."
This door was closed but not bolted from inside. Slowly it was pushed
open, and, horror of horrors, three shadowy forms walked into the room.
One was distinctly the form of a white man in European night attire,
another the form of a white woman, also in night attire, and the third
was the form of a black woman, probably an Indian nurse or ayah.

"We remained dumb with horror, as we could see clearly that these
unwelcome visitors were not of this world. We could not move.

"The three figures passed right round the beds as if searching for
something. They looked into every nook and corner of the bed-room and
then passed into the dressing room. Within half a minute they returned
and passed out into the corridor in the same order in which they had
come in, namely, the man first, the white woman next, and the black
woman last of all.

"We lay as if dead. We could hear them in the corridor and in the
bedroom adjoining, with the door "E", and in the dressing room attached
to that bedroom. They again returned and passed into the corridor ...
and then we could hear them no more.

"It must have taken me at least five minutes to collect my senses and
to bring my limbs under control. When I got up I found that my wife had
fainted. I hurried out of the room, rushed along the corridor, opened
the front door and called the servants. The servants were all
approaching the house across the land which separated the servants'
quarters from the main building. Then I went into the dining room, and
procuring some brandy, gave it to my wife. It was with some difficulty
that I could make her swallow it, but it revived her and she looked at
me with a bewildered smile on her face.

"The servants had in the meantime arrived and were in the corridor.
Their presence had the effect of giving us some courage. Leaving my wife
in bed I went out and related to the servants what I had seen. The
Chaukidar (the night watchman) who was an old resident of the compound
(in fact he had been in charge of the house when it was vacant, before I
rented it) gave me the history of the ghost, which my Jamadar
interpreted to me. I have brought the Chaukidar and shall produce him as
my witness."

This was the statement of the Major. Then there was the statement of
Jokhi Passi, Chaukidar, defendant's witness.

The statement of this witness as recorded was as follows:

"My age is 60 years. At the time of the Indian Mutiny I was a full-grown
young man. This house was built at that time. I mean two or three years
after the Mutiny. I have always been in charge. After the Mutiny one
Judge came to live in the house. He was called Judge Parson (probably
Pearson). The Judge had to try a young Muhammadan charged with murder
and he sentenced the youth to death. The aged parents of the young man
vowed vengeance against the good Judge. On the night following the
morning on which the execution took place it appeared that certain
undesirable characters were prowling about the compound. I was then the
watchman in charge as I am now. I woke up the Indian nurse who slept
with the Judge's baby in a bed-room adjoining the one in which the Judge
himself slept. On waking up she found that the baby was not in its cot.
She rushed out of the bed-room and informed the Judge and his wife. Then
a feverish search began for the baby, but it was never found. The police
were communicated with and they arrived at about four in the morning.
The police enquiry lasted for about half an hour and then the officers
went away promising to come again. At last the Judge, his wife, and
nurse all retired to their respective beds where they were found lying
dead later in the morning. Another police enquiry took place, and it was
found that death was due to snake-bite. There were two small punctures
on one of the legs of each victim. How a snake got in and killed each
victim in turn, especially when two slept in one room and the third in
another, and finally got out, has remained a mystery. But the Judge, his
wife, and the nurse are still seen on every Friday night looking for the
missing baby. One rainy season the servants' quarters were being
re-roofed. I had then an occasion to sleep in the corridor; and thus I
saw the ghosts. At that time I was as afraid as the Major Saheb is
to-day, but then I soon found out that the ghosts were quite harmless."

This was the story as recorded in Court. The Judge was a very sensible
man (I had the pleasure and honour of being introduced to him about 20
years after this incident), and with a number of people, he decided to
pass one Friday night in the haunted house. He did so. What he saw does
not appear from the record; for he left no inspection notes and
probably he never made any. He delivered judgment on Monday following.
It is a very short judgment.

After reciting the facts the judgment proceeds: "I have recorded the
statements of the defendant and a witness produced by him. I have also
made a local inspection. I find that the landlord, (the plaintiff) knew
that for certain reasons the house was practically uninhabitable, and he
concealed that fact from his tenant. He, therefore, could not recover.
The suit is dismissed with costs."

The haunted house remained untenanted for a long time. The proprietor
subsequently made a gift of it to a charitable institution. The founders
of this institution, who were Hindus and firm believers in charms and
exorcisms, had some religious ceremony performed on the premises.
Afterwards the house was pulled down and on its site now stands one of
the grandest buildings in the station, that cost fully ten thousand
pounds. Only this morning I received a visit from a gentleman who lives
in the building, referred to above, but evidently he has not even heard
of the ghosts of the Judge, his wife, and his Indian ayah.

It is now nearly fifty years; but the missing baby has not been heard
of. If it is alive it has grown into a fully developed man. But does he
know the fate of his parents and his nurse?

In this connection it will not be out of place to mention a fact that
appeared in the papers some years ago.

A certain European gentleman was posted to a district in the Madras
Presidency as a Government servant in the Financial Department.

When this gentleman reached the station to which he had been posted he
put up at the Club, as they usually do, and began to look out for a
house, when he was informed that there was a haunted house in the
neighbourhood. Being rather sceptical he decided to take this house,
ghost or no ghost. He was given to understand by the members of the Club
that this house was a bit out of the way and was infested at night with
thieves and robbers who came to divide their booty in that house; and to
guard against its being occupied by a tenant it had been given a bad
reputation. The proprietor being a wealthy old native of the old school
did not care to investigate. So our friend, whom we shall, for the
purposes of this story, call Mr. Hunter, took the house at a fair rent.

The house was in charge of a Chaukidar (care-taker, porter or watchman)
when it was vacant. Mr. Hunter engaged the same man as a night watchman
for this house. This Chaukidar informed Mr. Hunter that the ghost
appeared only one day in the year, namely, the 21st of September, and
added that if Mr. Hunter kept out of the house on that night there would
be no trouble.

"I always keep away on the night of the 21st September," said the
watchman.

"And what kind of ghost is it?" asked Mr. Hunter.

"It is a European lady dressed in white," said the man. "What does she
do?" asked Mr. Hunter.

"Oh! she comes out of the room and calls you and asks you to follow
her," said the man.

"Has anybody ever followed her?"

"Nobody that I know of, Sir," said the man. "The man who was here before
me saw her and died from fear."

"Most wonderful! But why do not people follow her in a body?" asked Mr.
Hunter.

"It is very easy to say that, Sir, but when you see her you will not
like to follow her yourself. I have been in this house for over 20
years, lots of times European soldiers have passed the night of the
21st September, intending to follow her but when she actually comes
nobody has ever ventured."

"Most wonderful! I shall follow her this time," said Mr. Hunter.

"As you please Sir," said the man and retired.

It was one of the duties of Mr. Hunter to distribute the pensions of all
retired Government servants.

In this connection Mr. Hunter used to come in contact with a number of
very old men in the station who attended his office to receive their
pensions from him.

By questioning them Mr. Hunter got so far that the house had at one time
been occupied by a European officer.

This officer had a young wife who fell in love with a certain Captain
Leslie. One night when the husband was out on tour (and not expected to
return within a week) his wife was entertaining Captain Leslie. The
gentleman returned unexpectedly and found his wife in the arms of the
Captain.

He lost his self-control and attacked the couple with a meat
chopper--the first weapon that came handy.

Captain Leslie moved away and then cleared out leaving the unfortunate
wife at the mercy of the infuriated husband. He aimed a blow at her head
which she warded off with her hand. But so severe was the blow that the
hand was cut off and the woman fell down on the ground quite
unconscious. The sight of blood made the husband mad. Subsequently the
servants came up and called a doctor, but by the time the doctor arrived
the woman was dead.

The unfortunate husband who had become raving mad was sent to a lunatic
asylum and thence taken away to England. The body of the woman was in
the local cemetery; but what had become of the severed hand was not
known. The missing limb had never been found. All this was 50 years ago,
that is, immediately after the Indian Mutiny.

This was what Mr. Hunter gathered.

The 21st September was not very far off. Mr. Hunter decided to meet the
ghost.

The night in question arrived, and Mr. Hunter sat in his bed-room with
his magazine. The lamp was burning brightly.

The servants had all retired, and Mr. Hunter knew that if he called for
help nobody would hear him, and even if anybody did hear, he too would
not come.

He was, however, a very bold man and sat there awaiting developments.

At one in the morning he heard footsteps approaching the bed-room from
the direction of the dining-room.

He could distinctly hear the rustle of the skirts. Gradually the door
between the two rooms began to open wide. Then the curtain began to
move. Mr. Hunter sat with straining eyes and beating heart.

At last she came in. The Englishwoman in flowing white robes. Mr. Hunter
sat panting unable to move. She looked at him for about a minute and
beckoned him to follow her. It was then that Mr. Hunter observed that
she had only one hand.

He got up and followed her. She went back to the dining-room and he
followed her there. There was no light in the dining-room but he could
see her faintly in the dark. She went right across the dining-room to
the door on the other side which opened on the verandah. Mr. Hunter
could not see what she was doing at the door, but he knew she was
opening it.

When the door opened she passed out and Mr. Hunter followed. Then she
walked across the verandah down the steps and stood upon the lawn. Mr.
Hunter was on the lawn in a moment. His fears had now completely
vanished. She next proceeded along the lawn in the direction of a hedge.
Mr. Hunter also reached the hedge and found that under the hedge were
concealed two spades. The gardener must have been working with them and
left them there after the day's work.

The lady made a sign to him and he took up one of the spades. Then again
she proceeded and he followed.

They had reached some distance in the garden when the lady with her foot
indicated a spot and Mr. Hunter inferred that she wanted him to dig
there. Of course, Mr. Hunter knew that he was not going to discover a
treasure-trove, but he was sure he was going to find something very
interesting. So he began digging with all his vigour. Only about 18
inches below the surface the blade struck against some hard substance.
Mr. Hunter looked up.

The apparition had vanished. Mr. Hunter dug on and discovered that the
hard substance was a human hand with the fingers and everything intact.
Of course, the flesh had gone, only the bones remained. Mr. Hunter
picked up the bones and knew exactly what to do.

He returned to the house, dressed himself up in his cycling costume and
rode away with the bones and the spade to the cemetery. He waked the
night watchman, got the gate opened, found out the tomb of the murdered
woman and close to it interred the bones, that he had found in such a
mysterious fashion, reciting as much of the service as he could
remember. Then he paid some _buksheesh_ (reward) to the night watchman
and came home.

He put back the spade in its old place and retired. A few days after he
paid a visit to the cemetery in the day-time and found that grass had
grown on the spot which he had dug up. The bones had evidently not been
disturbed.

The next year on the 21st September Mr. Hunter kept up the whole night,
but he had no visit from the ghostly lady.

The house is now in the occupation of another European gentleman who
took it after Mr. Hunter's transfer from the station and this new tenant
had no visit from the ghost either. Let us hope that "_she_" now rests
in peace.



The following extract from a Bengal newspaper that appeared in September
1913, is very interesting and instructive.

"The following extraordinary phenomenon took place at the Hooghly Police
Club Building, Chinsurah, at about midnight on last Saturday.

"At this late hour of the night some peculiar sounds of agony on the
roof of the house aroused the resident members of the Club, who at once
proceeded to the roof with lamps and found to their entire surprise a
lady clad in white jumping from the roof to the ground (about a hundred
feet in height) followed by a man with a dagger in his hands. But
eventually no trace of it could be found on the ground. This is not the
first occasion that such beings are found to visit this house and it is
heard from a reliable source that long ago a woman committed suicide by
hanging and it is believed that her spirit loiters round the building.
As these incidents have made a deep impression upon the members, they
have decided to remove the Club from the said buildings."





Next: The Open Door

Previous: His Dead Wife's Photograph



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