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What Uncle Saw






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.



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--"

"What would come in Uncle--what?" we asked.

But uncle had fainted.

The doctor was called in. He arrived at about ten in the morning. He
said it was high fever--due to what he could not say. All the same he
prescribed a medicine.

The medicine had the effect of reducing the temperature, and at about 6
in the evening consciousness returned. Still he was in a very weak
condition. Some medicine was given to induce sleep and he passed the
night well. We nursed him by turns at night. The next morning we had all
the satisfaction of seeing him all right. He walked from the bed-room,
though still very weak and came to the Central Baithak where he had tea
with us. It was then that we asked what he had seen and what he had
meant by "It would come in."

Oh how we wish, we had never asked him the question, at least then.

This was what he said:--

"After I had gone to bed I found that there were a few mosquitoes and so
I could not sleep well. It was about midnight when they gradually
disappeared and then I began to fall asleep. But just as I was dozing
off I heard somebody strike the bars of the windows thrice. It was like
three distinct strokes with a cane on the gratings outside. 'Who is
there?' I asked; but no reply. The striking stopped. Again I closed my
eyes and again the same strokes were repeated. This time I nearly lost
my temper; I thought it was some urchin of the neighbourhood in a
mischievous mood. 'Who is there?' I again shouted--again no reply. The
striking however stopped. But after a time it commenced afresh. This
time I lost my temper completely and opened the window, determined to
thrash anybody whom I found there--forgetting that the windows were
barred and fully 6 feet above the ground. Well in the darkness I saw, I
saw--."

Here uncle had a fit of shivering and panting, and within a minute he
lost all consciousness. The fever was again high. The doctor was
summoned but this time his medicines did no good. Uncle never regained
consciousness. In fact after 24 hours he died of heart failure the next
morning, leaving his story unfinished and without in any way giving us
an idea of what that terrible thing was which he had seen beyond the
window. The whole thing remains a deep mystery and unfortunately the
mystery will never be solved.

Nobody has ventured to pass a night in the side-room since then. If I
had not been a married man with a very young wife I might have tried.

One thing however remains and it is this that though uncle got all the
fright in the world in that room, he neither came out of that room nor
called for help.

One cry for help and the whole house-hold would have been awake. In fact
there was a servant within 30 yards of the window which uncle had
opened; and this man says he heard uncle open the window and close and
bolt it again, though he had not heard uncle's shouts of "Who is there?"

Only this morning I read this funny advertisement in the Morning Post.

"_Haunted Houses._--Man and wife, cultured and travelled, gentle
people--having lost fortune ready to act as care-takers and to
investigate in view of removing trouble--."

Well--in a haunted house these gentle people expect to see something.
Let us hope they will not see what our Uncle saw or what the Major saw.

This advertisement clearly shows that even in countries like England
haunted houses do exist, or at least houses exist which are believed to
be haunted.

If what we see really depends on what we think or what we believe, no
wonder that there are so many more haunted houses in India than in
England. This reminds me of a very old incident of my early school days.
A boy was really caught by a Ghost and then there was trouble. We shall
not forget the thrashing we received from our teacher in the school; and
the fellow who was actually caught by the Ghost--if Ghost it was, will
never say in future that Ghosts don't exist.

In this connection it may not be out of place to narrate another
incident, though it does not fall within the same category with the main
story that heads this chapter. The only reason why I do so is that the
facts tally in one respect, though in one respect only, and that is that
the person who knew would tell nothing.

This was a friend of mine who was a widower. We were in the same office
together and he occupied a chair and a table next but one to mine. This
gentleman was in our office for only six months after narrating the
story. If he had stayed longer we might have got out his secret, but
unfortunately he went away; he has gone so far from us that probably we
shall not meet again for the next 10 years.

It was in connection with the "Smith's dead wife's photograph"
controversy that one day one of my fellow clerks told me that a visit
from a dead wife was nothing very wonderful, as our friend Haralal could
testify.

I always took of a lot of interest in ghosts and their stories. So I was
generally at Haralal's desk cross-examining him about this affair; at
first the gentleman was very uncommunicative but when he saw I would
give him no rest he made a statement which I have every reason to
believe is true. This is more or less what he says.

"It was about ten years ago that I joined this office. I have been a
widower ever since I left college--in fact I married the daughter of a
neighbour when I was at college and she died about 3 years afterwards,
when I was just thinking of beginning life in right earnest. She has
been dead these 10 years and I shall never marry again, (a young widower
in good circumstances, in Bengal, is as rare as a blue rose).

"I have a suite of bachelor rooms in Calcutta, but I go to my suburban
home on every Saturday afternoon and stay there till Monday morning,
that is, I pass my Saturday night and the whole of Sunday in my village
home every week.

"On this particular occasion nearly eight years ago, that is, about a
year and a half after the death of my young wife I went home by an
evening train. There is any number of trains in the evening and there is
no certainty by which train I go, so if I am late, generally everybody
goes to bed with the exception of my mother.

"On this particular night I reached home rather late. It was the month
of September and there had been a heavy shower in the town and all
tram-car services had been suspended.

"When I reached the Railway Station I found that the trains were not
running to time either. I was given to understand that a tree had been
blown down against the telegraph wire, and so the signals were not going
through; and as it was rather dark the trains were only running on the
report of _a motor trolly_ that the line was clear. Thus I reached home
at about eleven instead of eight in the evening.

"I found my father also sitting up for me though he had had his dinner.
He wanted to learn the particulars of the storm at Calcutta.

"Within ten minutes of my arrival he went to bed and within an hour I
finished my dinner and retired for the night.

"It was rather stuffy and the bed was damp as I was perspiring freely;
and consequently I was not feeling inclined to sleep.

"A little after midnight I felt that there was somebody else in the
room.

"I looked at the closed door--yes there was no mistake about it, it was
my wife, my wife who had been dead these eighteen months.

"At first I was--well you can guess my feeling--then she spoke:

"'There is a cool bed-mat under the bedstead; it is rather dusty, but it
will make you comfortable.

"I got up and looked under the bedstead--yes the cool bed-mat was there
right enough and it was dusty too. I took it outside and I cleaned it by
giving it a few jerks. Yes, I had to pass through the door at which she
was standing within six inches of her,--don't put any questions; Let me
tell you as much as I like; you will get nothing out of me if you
interrupt--yes, I passed a comfortable night. She was in that room for a
long time, telling me lots of things. The next morning my mother
enquired with whom I was talking and I told her a lie. I said I was
reading my novel aloud. They all know it at home now. She comes and
passes two nights with me in the week when I am at home. She does not
come to Calcutta. She talks about various matters and she is
happy--don't ask me how I know that. I shall not tell you whether I have
touched her body because that will give rise to further questions.

"Everybody at home has seen her, and they all know what I have told you,
but nobody has spoken to her. They all respect and love her--nobody is
afraid. In fact she never comes except on Saturday and Sunday evenings
and that when I am at home."

No amount of cross-examination, coaxing or inducement made my friend
Haralal say anything further.

This story in itself would not probably have been believed; but after
the incident of "His dead wife's picture" nobody disbelieved it, and
there is no reason why anybody should. Haralal is not a man who would
tell yarns, and then I have made enquiries at Haralal's village where
several persons know this much; that his dead wife pays him a visit
twice every week.

Now that Haralal is 500 miles from his village home I do not know how
things stand; but I am told that this story reached the ears of the
_Bara Saheb_ and he asked Haralal if he would object to a transfer and
Haralal told him that he would not.

I shall leave the reader to draw his own conclusions.





Next: The Boy Who Was Caught

Previous: The Open Door



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