By Yoshay Lama Lindblom
March 15th 1905
My Dear Kate,
I have landed safely on the Indian soil and now, I shall be headed on towards the craggy mountains in the North eastern hemisphere of the country. My work requires me to deliver certain important papers to my employer's contact and I should be staying at the Argyll House for a few days before I make my journey south bound. I should be back in Edinburgh in early May. Please take care of yourself for me. My heart aches as I recall your lovely face my dear sweet Kate. The imprint of your kiss on my handkerchief still carries your perfume and each time I miss you, I kiss it.
I will be back before you start missing me.
Yours most affectionately
Since my arrival here at the Argyll house, I had not been able to appreciate the sights and scenes of the surroundings as the weather had been dark and foggy, casting me perpetually into a white fluffy limbo. I had made a long journey from Edinburgh Scotland, all the way to this remote corner of Indian himalayas upon the sole request of my most respected employer Mr Myers, an advocate by profession. Since an ample amount of significance and secrecy were attached to the papers, Mr Myers could trust none but me, his ardent young assistant. I had already been to India once on a missionary mission and I knew what to expect. However, what met me now in the folds of these jagged pointed hills was entirely beyond my rational expectation.
I was received by an elderly woman who smiled with a wide welcoming smile that left deep gorges of lines folding in layers all the way from her cheeks up to her temples. My luggage was carried upstairs by a young boy dressed in Khaki shirts and shorts. I noticed that he was slightly hunched and was barefoot. I was led upstairs into the guest room, facing the front of the house, where my luggage was already waiting, and where the warmth of a newly built fire was slowly beginning to ease away the mouldy smell that still hung around. I opened my window to breathe some fresh air and a gush of milky white mist rolled in almost choking me. "I think keeping the windows closed would be a good idea" came a voice behind and I swerved in time to see Mr Collins the caretaker standing on the doorway. "Good God! Mr. Collins you had me there!" I gasped and went ahead to greet him. "Apologies Mr Baxter, I didn't mean to startle you but you see the fog is best kept at bay". He smiled as he took my proffered hand and proceeded on to explain the itinerary of my stay. It was a relief to talk to a native English speaker for a change, and I realised that I had been missing it since I left Calcutta. Mr. Collins explained that the house has been awaiting decision based on its ownership upon Lord Argyll's demise and they all wished that the new owner made his way soon from England to inhabit the house once again. Who the next owner would be and when he would come down to India, all stood in the veritable documents inside the sealed envelope that now lay in the safe recess of my suitcase, and which, would be delivered to Lord Argyll's local lawyer Mr. Fitzpatrick for perusal and documentation. After having explained my itinerary, Mr. Collins left me with a promise to come and pick me up the next morning for Mr Fitzpatrick's office in town.
Dinner was served by the same woman who had greeted me at the door and her warm smile lit up the room once more as I came down to the dining hall. Argyll house was a big Edwardian house but it was hardly imposing with wooden interior. It's stone exterior might have looked somewhat sinister standing solemnly against the fog but I would have to find that out later. The dining room was long and a rather narrow one, with a fire crackling in the grate. A huge mummified head of a stag with black beaded eyes and a network of antlers spreading much farther than the stone hearth, dominated the somewhat stark room. The light from numerous candles that illuminated the room, flickered and reflected in the concave bulge of those dark staring eyes and a movement startled me for a while, for they seemed to come alive for a moment. Realising the optical error, I smiled to myself and sat down brushing the thought aside. After a sumptuous meal of roasted chicken, toasted potatoes and mint sauce I was offered whisky by the same woman who continued smiling as widely as she could, and with the combination of light cast from a about a dozen candles and, of the thick shadows that crawled in places where light failed to reach, the wide smile unsettled and it seemed to jangle my composure. I retired to bed as soon as I drank the glass of whisky offered to me.
Tired from my long journey, I thought I would sleep like a log but never in my life have I been plagued by such nightmarish occurrences that night at the Argyll house. I suddenly found myself standing in front of the wide open window, wet from head to toe with my own sweat. My eyes were transfixed to the darkness that churned slowly outside. Somewhere far away, I heard a cry of either a jackal or a wolf I could not really fathom at that point, but a voice in my head said that the cry really was a human cry; a cry of a woman in agony. I stood planted in front of the window unable to move and as the chill of the air hit my face, I awoke just in time to see long thin fingers of pale white fog stretching from outside towards me. I waved my hands to disturb the diaphanous formation, intending for the fog to disintegrate like smoke, but it slithered like a snake on my shoulder, knitting its way to the back of my head. The icy chill seemed to freeze my head until I heard myself howl.
The sound of my own voice woke me up and once more, I found myself sitting upright on the bed with silence wrapped tightly around me. Drugged with sleep that stole me away from the present state of mind, I turned around and sunk my head on the pillow and tried to surrender myself to its promising embrace. I was just about to settle into the deepest of slumber when something moved beside me and caused me to shoot my eyes open. There beside me, draped in perfect light of perhaps moonlight or what I could not say, lay a woman with her back turned towards me, resplendent and inviting in all its bareness. I bent lower to see if it indeed was a woman or just a figment that had been detached from my afflicted mind. It was undoubtedly a woman lying beside me and the way the outlines of her bare body rose and fell, seemed oddly familiar to me. What was strange, was that the silhouette of her bare body seemed to be emanating a pale glow from within. Filled with an aching desire to touch her once, I stretched my hands. For a single moment my mind fleeted back to Kate my dear love whose shape so accurately befitted the one that lay next to me now. I edged closer and circled my arms around her waist, most certain, that I was lying close to the woman I had desired most in my life. My own Kate. Her soft supple skin awoke a desire in me that I could not restrain and before I knew, she was turning towards me. "My dear Kate!" I whispered as her full lips rose against mine, sending shudders of wanton desire down through my spine and before I could gather my senses, I lay on her heaving breasts limp like a rag doll thoroughly sapped out of all vitality that had been pent up within me for so long a time.
I shot up once more again to find myself alone in a strange bed. Fading whispers and moans of pleasure penetrated the silence around me, reminding me of the sweet lament I had triumphed in coveting a while ago. Filled with a longing for more, I pushed away the covers and planted my feet on the cold wooden floor, groping in the dark for a match to light the lamp. As I did so, all I saw was the evidence of a tumultuous intimacy from a while ago. The bed sheet was crumpled revealing the quilted white mattress below, pillows lay haphazardly on the floor, but she was nowhere to be seen. I stepped out of bed, holding the lamp in my hand walked to the door, drew it slightly open and peered outside. Turgid silence hung in the air, dense, and mingling with caliginosity of the night. "Is anyone there?" I shouted but the black silence devoured my voice in no time.
Beyond the walls of the house I could hear the sound of wind unsettling the leaves of the trees and bushes and an occasional cry of perhaps, some kind of animal, broke through. Suddenly there was a sound of muffled giggle echoing downstairs and I swung my lamp to the direction of the sound. "Who's there?" I shouted again from the top of the stairs. In response I heard another series of chortles in a woman's voice. I was overwhelmed by the familiarity of the sound and realising that it belonged to the luscious throat I had so desirably kissed a while ago, I flew downstairs like a moth drawn to the flame. Bursting with excitement for yet another great moment of licentious rendezvous, I ran downstairs. I glided from dining hall to the living room, that spread further along into a room fringed by heavy dark drapes all around, and it was there I sensed a movement in the corner. "Are you in here?" I whispered, my eyes strained, my ears, too well tuned in anticipation of a response. Slowly, I felt a pair of hands sliding up my chest from behind, the chill from it freezing my very bones. However the pleasure of the object of my want standing behind me, wrapping me in her embrace was far greater than the dull ache that spread in my ribcage. Laborious breaths escaped me as I no longer wanted to wait.
I turned around with the lamp still in my hand and when the warm glow of light hit the face of my nightly seducer, my jaws dropped, but not a single gasp escaped. I staggered behind but her long thing arms stretched like elastic cradling my fall. Inches from my face was a face of a fetid corpse with dark holes in place of eyes and nose. What was a pair of luscious lips that I had kissed with such impassioned rage a while ago, were now replaced by a lipless gaping hole with crumbling teeth. An odour so rancid now emanated from her that the acrid smell smothered my senses as she pulled me closer. I had no choice but to abandon the little strength I had in my legs, and I hung limp in her embrace. She closed her face on to mine as I gazed back paralysed by stark cold fear. My eyes would not shut and a scream failed to escape me. My night suit was ripped apart in one swift movement and I felt my very life seeping out of me; felt my heart held in an icy grip and my soul devoured, as she mounted my stiff cold body, moaning like a cat in heat, there on the floor, in a room surrounded by heavily draped windows.
The drapes in the bedroom were drawn by the housekeeper letting the light of the day bathe me but I cringed as soon as sunlight was thrown across my aching body. "Please!" I groaned and the nervous housekeeper drew back the heavy drapes. I was immediately soothed by the dark dank feeling that surrounded me at once. Suddenly remembering my meeting with Mr. Collins, I clambered out of bed and splashed ice cold water in my face, to my neck and to my hair. When I glanced in the mirror, to my horror I saw a deathly pallid face looking back at me with eyes sunken beyond recognition. The stubbles I had shaved away the day before had regrown over the span of a single night. It required one single allusion to the night before and my knees gave way. Succeeding in forcing the thought away for a single moment, I tried to shave the stubbles away but my fingers gave way and I managed to slice away the tip of an unsuspecting bulge on my chin. Annoyed and exhausted, I tore out a piece of paper as I often did with a shave injury and stuck it to the cut to stop it from bleeding.
The day was clear and the sun shone with all its might. The fog from the day before seemed to have have receded into oblivion. As I emerged from the house, I saw Mr. Collins standing by the carriage and his eyes grew wide with horror as he laid his eyes upon me. "My dear God! Whatever on earth has happened to you my man?" he said as he rushed forward to help me into the carriage. The brightness of the day seemed to sear my eyes and I gasped with the sudden stinging sensation. I struggled into the carriage with Mr. Collins behind me. "I'm sorry I'm not feeling too well Mr. Collins" I mumbled as I rested my feverish head on my arms that remained folded on my knees. Ashamed of acquainting Mr. Collins to the details of my my most gruesome experience from the night before, I kept quiet. "I haven't slept well, that is all sir", I said as we made our way to the office of Lord Argyll's local lawyer. By the time we reached the small town of Kurseong, and by the time I struggled out of the carriage, I was wracked with cold sweat and a violent shiver overcame me. Unable to exchange more than few words with Mr Fitzpatrick the lawyer, who was alarmed at my state of health, he merely nodded his head when Mr Collins pressed him not to allow me to talk further. I feebly handed the letter and upon doing so, I was gently eased back into the carriage. There inside the carriage, to a very worry strewn countenance of Mr. Collins, I pleaded. "Please dear sir, don't let me spend another night in that house! That ghastly house! I will not last another night." Mr Collins held my hand and said, "Now, now, my dear young man, don't you worry. Nothing shall happen to you as long as I am here; and no, I shan't let you spend another night in that dreadful house." After that, a kind of lull crept over me and I seemed to have settled into a deep sleep. I was woken up by the carriage jolting into a halt, and as I attempted to raise myself, I staggered and fell. A few of the servants rushed to help me out of the carriage leading me into Mr. Collins' home.
What time it was, or how long I slept, I knew not for I was lost in the crevasses of such deep slumber that I only felt myself shudder when a low giggle echoed somewhere in the remote depths of something like a cave. I fluttered my eyes open to find myself plastered on to a medium-sized bed in a room with low wooden ceiling. The white laced curtain kept dancing on the open window, chided by the breeze from outside and Mr. Collins looked up from his book as he heard me move a little. "My dear Mr. Baxter do lie still! Thank God you've come back to us! How are you feeling?" All of this erupted out of him as he rushed to my bedside and I nodded my head delicately asking for some water. "You have been sleeping restlessly for three days now and I had just begun to fear that you might not return from wherever it is that you have been to." I tried to smile to reassure him that I was back for good. It took me a week to recover fully from the trauma I had suffered, and my journey to Calcutta and beyond was delayed by a week. However, Mr. Collins' constant care and vigilance, together with replenishing food and drink, I was fit enough to travel in one week, except for a fading blue bite mark in the middle of my chest that spread a dull ache from time to time.
When the day came, I bid earnest goodbyes as I slowly climbed the carriage to be led to the train station in town. I specially thanked Mr. Collins, for having taken care of me with such warmth and concern. With a promise to keep in touch I left him standing and waving in front of his house. Before the big bend swallowed the Argyll house away forever, I turned around and looked back at the house one final time. Fog was racing fast from below, rolling, stumbling, over the profusion of green tea bush heads, as if it had wanted to say goodbye, but as it raced up from below, for a moment, it looked like long bone-thin arms stretched up to embrace me. I shut my eyes tightly for a second, and opened them to find the house standing quietly and sadly on that lonely hill, unsuspecting of a fact that it harboured a resident most foul.
Here I was, alive, and although not unscathed, only too relieved to be journeying homewards, to my beloved Kate. There, somewhere in England the young Lord Argyll was making preparations to come to claim, if not forever, his rightful place, the master of Argyll house. No one would believe me even if I meant to forewarn him, so I resolved to remain quiet. The train slowly chugged out of the station and took up pace once it left the disheveled little hamlet called Kurseong. I placed my hand on my chest and gently touched the spot that had been blue black a week ago. Unwillingly, I had looked at it again this morning and found that it had healed into a yellow fading ring. The scar will disappear of course by the time I reach home, but my soul I am afraid is forever scarred. I am most certain that no matter how hard I may endeavour, I may never be the vibrant young man I used to be, for I left the man I used to be within the walls of an old stately house in the roll and rise of the Himalayas. The person who is homewards bound now, is only a dark shadow of a man I used to be. God knows, how many more men have yet to leave the Argyll house as mere shadows of men they used to be.