A LETTER FROM NOTHERLAND
It was another dull morning – the yellow sun had just dawned with the first shreds of light revealing an azure sky, driving away the darkness of the night. Strong winds blew away the pink curtains that overlapped the windows of my room. It made a sound that woke me who had been in a sleep, however light. The rays of the sun fell in a golden haze over the red tiles of the floor.
The winds were cold; my teeth clattered a little. I rose from the bed which was covered with a yellow bed sheet designed with flowers of various kinds. My feet moved slowly towards the windows; I was still in the mood for sleep – seldom in life had I got up so early – and in my sleep, the windows seemed far – but actually it was not, only some five feet movements would have had me to them but now it seemed many.
I slowly drew the curtains aside – they were plain, devoid of any designs. Looking outside, I saw the snowy grounds that lay outside and a small white hedge that circled my house. Huge pine trees grew beyond but on the right I could see traces of a small road, now covered with snow. In the distance, from between the trees, I could see several houses, some two miles by road from the place where I stood just now.
The weather was dull and dreary; it wasn't snowing now but it had, all the night, from the look of it. A sudden chill passed down my spine as another cold wind blew on my face. I suddenly felt the need to stay indoors; I was not able to withstand the cold weather. In fact, I had just moved in – maybe a fortnight had passed since then. I had come here on business. The small bungalow where I presently stayed was a property of the organisation for which I worked – the organisation dealt with providing business solutions for other enterprises – somewhat like a consultant. I had come here on an official tour - to consult with a Mr. Redmond who owned a construction company that was based in this city. During the fortnight, I had worked with him day and night, consulting with him and providing him solutions for the expansion of his business and on various other marketing and financial aspects. And all the fortnight, I detested the cold weather. I could not accustom myself to it – in the last two days, I was nearly struck down by cold and a light fever. I felt weak and rather pallid. I was not made for this kind of weather – what I really liked was a warm and humid climate; such as you find near the shores of the sea – refreshing and salty.
The sea had always been a fascination for me – its mysterious deep waters, its twinkling surface, and its foaming waves. The beaches were my favourite resorts; but sadly those that were near the metropolis were polluted and their beauty spoiled. I had always been on such social groups – online and offline – that spoke against such spoilage and pollution; but it was actually to no avail – for people never minded breaking the rules; if any were put forward by the municipal corporations that looked after the cities; the fines were paid however high – thanks to ever rising salaries and the posh style of living which made people so careless enough to destroy the beauty of nature that would have endeared them.
The winds still blew cold despite the rising sun. I closed the windows and brought down the shutters to a close but as I did so, I heard or thought I heard a small knock on the door. I first thought the knock was just some weird sound that sometimes people hear during early mornings and was about to sleep again – I found that I was already beside my bed - my feet had carried me to the bed at double the speed at which I had moved when I went to close down the windows. But I heard the knock again, this time a little louder.
I left my small room which had nothing save the bed and a small escritoire with a table lamp on it. I came into the living room after being on my way through a dining hall. The living room had a neat and small sofa and in front of it was a television with an antenna beside it. The brown door faced towards the south as did the windows in my room.
I slowly turned the knob, half-angry and half-sleepy. The door opened up with a lightly heard creak, only to show a tall, thin man on the doorstep. The man was of a cadaverous complexion, with a black beard with slowly greying strands of hair and wore a blue shirt and a black trouser. There was also a golden yellow epaulette on him and he had a pair of espadrille under his feet. He I had been introduced to a fortnight ago when I moved into this house. He was Mr. Kohler who looked after this house and had done so since a decade, if the records be true. He was an old man, somewhere in the late fifties but despite his complexion, he was a healthy old chap who sometimes when in his mood, was very good at his stories. He stayed in the outhouse yonder but in the lands that lay just a few feet away from the hedge. A pale lamp shone nearby showing where he lived. But as soon as I looked on it, someone switched off the lamp as the light of the sun pierced its round windows.
In his hands, he held a letter which was covered with an orange envelope marked with the requisite stamps. On it was written "URGENT". He handed it over to me and wished me a good morning. I nodded my head in a not so lively fashion. He guessed knowingly and with a wave of his pale hands, strode away to the gates where there was a small wooden shed; its roof covered with snow, as white as ever.
I shut the door slowly as I watched his figure withdraw into the shed. I wondered what the letter contained and what it was doing in the hands of so old a man in that early hour of this dull day. A postman had not been seen since five or six days; and if ever he had arrived in the past three days, he had not heard the bells. A postman, when he did come, used to come on a bicycle of Ranger Fame, always ringing the bells when he was at the gate.
I had half a mind to go out and ask Mr. Kohler about the letter but sleep overcame me. I was already weak although I was recovering from the cold which had embattled me for two days. I placed the letter – little did I recall the urgency – on the wooden table that lay in a corner to the west.
In two minutes, I already was on my bed, eyelids closing on my eyes and then I saw no more for another two hours.
After two hours, I felt strangely awoken – I know not if it was by instinct. I stood myself on my feet that still wavered a little and after rubbing my eyes a little, I rushed to the bathrooms. The bathroom was tiled with small pieces of marble – yellow hued. The tiles were shaped like a rhombus having small circles at the centre. A huge bath tub lay at the extreme end and near it was a small wash basin of Vitreous make. I washed myself and looked into a small mirror that lay just above the wash sink. I looked how thin and drawn I had become since I had come here. The food and weather – both alike – had not gone down well with me and I knew I had still much time to abide by here – maybe ten more dull days. But then, that would be decided upon the successful completion of my business.
Then a thought brought me the knowledge of a letter. I suddenly remembered it. At first, actually speaking, I thought it was just a dream. But on the sight of the letter that was placed on a table, I found that it was real (I had rushed into the living room as soon as the thought of the letter entered my mind). I pinched myself hard to bring me to my full senses.
I picked up the envelope and tore it at its ends. There was a small letter; written in a ruled page – maybe of a small book. On it was written many letters with an elegant hand. The handwriting was beautiful yet so familiar. The letters were so cursively written upon the white page that in many cases it was entwined in a manner of the Vivaldi font of MS WORD.
I unfolded the letter slowly and looked for the name of the sender – for no trace of his/her name could be seen on the envelope. I soon found it – the sender's name was Mr. Notherland.
I then thought why the handwriting had looked familiar to me. It was of my old school chum, a Frederick Notherland. He was a short and burly guy at the time when we had cruised through ten levels of the school. We had been friendly throughout the years – I still remember them; they were such golden and happy years; I still remember the fun we had; the trips we had gone to; the studies we had done together; the dinners we ate together. He was always and probably is, still an introvert.
But it was quite a time since I had contact with him – to be precise, I would think forty years at least and that would mean it was my graduation day when I had met him last, though once in a while we did contact each other on the telephone which is actually a wonderful invention. But this letter had come after so many days and I now wondered how he would be and what cause he had to send this letter. But soon doubt took me; questions that had many answers assailed me. How did he find me? How did he know that I was here? I had not a talk with him for days and especially the news of this official tour was not known to him. Then how did he know where I was? But to that I found no answers. Slowly, I drew up a conclusion that had the highest probability – that he had contacted my place of work and found that I was here.
The letters "URGENT" had a more visible effect on me. I had seen it also in the early morning – but then, I was sleepy and nothing urgent would deter me from my sleep. I thought I better read the letter at once.
But anyway, the letter read thus –
I know you are delighted to have this letter after so long a time. We have not contacted each other for a long while and ever since the day of our convocation, we have not met. But I deem that it is time to do so.
You were my best friend during school days and ever are and ever will be. And due to that credit, you know me well. So, you know also of what nature I am and from that nature, I believe you shall gather that I have not many acquaintances. Of the few that I have, you are the only one I could trust.
I have no family and so, I am alone. I have not wed myself to anyone and so am alone. But now, I wish to have you at my side for an urgent danger assails me. Therefore, I kindly request you to embark upon a small journey to my house which is just a few miles away from the place where you currently stay. Notwithstanding the danger, I would love to see you once more before the dangers beset me to their full might. Let not any doubts assail you or questions linger in your mind. Although I know you are also unwell for I know that you do not like the cold and dreary winds of the snowy winters, and also that you are busy in your work, I still make a humble request to you to be at my house at latest by today night. I hope that you grace me with your presence.
Thanking you, dear friend.
Mr. Frederick Notherland
25, East Lane, Leewich
The urgency of the letter drove a sharp sting into my mind. I looked at the time that was written on the letter – it said 4 AM and I had got the letter just some two hours back.
I ran to another room which was of the same size as of mine; opened the cupboard with a small key that I had and dressed myself with a red T-shirt and a dark blue jean. I then locked the cupboard and the house after taking necessary things along with the letter. I then sat in my car – it was a Mercedes C-Class. The engine revved up and I put it on a reverse gear. After slowly accelerating, I turned towards the left and then turned towards the gate.
Before driving out, I stopped by the shed.
Mr. Kohler came out and nodded his head.
"Mr. Kohler, Could you tell me how you came by the letter at so early an hour and with the postman being unheard of in the past few days?"
"I do not rightly know, sire. I just saw the letter at my desk as I woke up. As it was marked urgent, I deemed it fit to deliver it as soon as possible. I thought it was the right thing to do."
"Yes, it was the right thing. But you heard no sound? No ringing bells?"
"I swear to you that I heard no sound. Nor any ringing bells. The postman does not wake so early."
I found that questions still assailed me. But for answering them, I had no time. I was already excited.
"Ok, Mr. Kohler. I will be out for a few days, for two days at the most. I want you to take care of the house till I return and find one who could go down to Mr. Redmond and convey to him the same."
"That will do, sire. I shall send my son this very hour."
"Good. Farewell, Mr. Kohler."
"Farewell! Have a nice trip sire." And he waved his pale hands again.
I nodded and drove away into the pine woods.
After a three hours drive on the snowy highways, I reached the town of Leewich. Leewich was a small town that had become a trade centre in the recent past and all knew that the huge benefits were reaped because of my friend, Mr. Notherland.
East Lane was not hard to find nor was the house numbered 25. It only took a small deal of enquiry. But I found that I was greeted with a strange tone whenever I mentioned 25 East Lane to someone. The tones were laced with sadness and I did not like it. A strange foreboding passed in my heart that there was something amiss with my friend. Some parts of my heart yelled to turn back – back to my home – but by that, only my curiosity hardened.
I found the house numbered 25. It was not a house but a huge mansion. A five feet high wall encompassed the mansion and the entrance was through a single gate. That gate stood open today. No sound was heard nor was there any gate warden greeting me. All was silent but for the noise of my car's engine.
I could see that there was a garden dotted with many trees that would have grown many a fruit in decent weather. There were apple trees, pine trees and there were many grape orchards. But now, all was covered with snow. The mansion stood in the middle of all. A white concrete road led from the gate to the arches of the mansion. By the look of the mansion, I gathered that my friend had not suffered from any monetary weakness. The mansion was so rich in colours and the spirits rose within me. I wondered at the richly carved arches, under which there was a small patch of road between the stony pillars and the door steps.
I parked my car on that small patch in a corner. No servant – I wonder if he had any – came forward to greet me. Though the richness of the mansion raised my spirits within, I distrusted the silence.
The steps were stony and covered with a red carpet – I could see that it was of a Persian make. I slowly climbed up the steps which led on to a huge platform before which there was a huge red door of rosewood make. The door was plain, just plain and there were no signs upon it. There was a small handle in the centre and a little away from it was a small bell. I rang the bell twice but received no answers from inside. A golden knob presented itself just below the handle.
An urge from within beckoned to me to turn the knob. I turned the knob towards the right and the door gave way. A small passage lit with many lamps led to a huge hall beyond. In between the lamps there were several escutcheons placed – marvellous ones at that. I walked down the passage and came to the hall.
The hall was huge – it was more of like a palace or some mighty place of kings. The flooring was of Maplewood and the walls bearing a richness of hue. Huge curtains dotted many places in the wall covering the huge window panes that were now closed. A huge table was at the centre surrounded by as many as eight chairs, placed distantly apart. These chairs had elegant and comfortable cushions. There was also a L-shaped sofa, black in colour, that was placed on my right hand side. On my left hand side, I could see three more passages that led inside to some unknown rooms.
I wondered at the emptiness of so huge a house. No servants, no maids, no chefs and most of all, no sign of my childhood friend.
When I was busy wondering about the emptiness, I heard a coughing on the floors above. The house was not empty after all. I heaved a sigh.
I saw that the floors were accessed by a small marbled spiral staircase. I climbed up faster with my heart beating more than usual. An earnest desire to see my old friend came upon me and I ran more than walked.
The coughing came from a small room on the first floor – there were two above it. I walked down a small passage before I found the room. Its door was open and I knocked on it.
"Come in" said a hoarse voice.
I walked in as fast I could and after so many years, came face to face with my old chum. He was ghastly white and his hair was greying faster. A lot of rashes were upon his face and he had a red towel always upon his mouth, constantly coughing.
His eyes were bent towards the ground and he never once looked upwards.
"Oh! My dear friend! What have you brought yourself two?"I shouted.
Upon hearing me, he looked up and a thrill went inside him so he was full of joy. But in that excitement, a great weakness hailed him from his insides and fell down from his bed where he was sitting.
I felt pity for him and sympathy. I saw that he was suffering from a terrible disease and so had written a letter for me – for I guessed that he wanted to see me before his end, before the inevitable strikes him.
I slowly raised him up but in that moment, his towel fell to the ground. I sat him on the bed which was covered with a white bed sheet. I bent down to pick up the towel that had fallen. But I found to my horror that it was a white towel made red by his blood. Then a thought occurred to me – that he had been coughing blood all along.
I suddenly found his left hand on my shoulders. And then he spoke, albeit feebly.
"Welcome, friend. I knew in my heart that you would respond in a manner you would deem right. And so far, you have. I brought you here on a sole purpose. That I would have you do ere I see the world no more."
I cried in my heart; tears welled up in my eyes.
"Do not cry, O friend of mine! For tears are of no use. It will only bring you grief and sadness and it would be my wish that you should not be so during whatever life is left to you. I guess that in this you shall abide."
I wiped off my tears and nodded my head.
"Are you unwell?"He asked.
I nodded his head.
"I hope you get well soon. Let it be my boon to you. But now, I must get back to the topic that is near at hand. I shall be dead soon; for this disease kills me. "he coughed again.
"I am alone, you know that. I have neither kith nor kin and I have not yet been betrothed to any. In this wide world, you are the only one I can trust and hold dear and by you only shall this deed be performed."
"What deed?"I asked.
He raised his hand slowly. "In the next room you shall find a charred body along with a shovel. With the shovel and the body, go to the garden and dig deep. A few men shall come to help you as you do. Then you must bury this body in the trench that you would have dug. And then cover the trench with what best you may find. I would prefer the soils of the earth. And then leave this land, my friend. Do not come back here for I shall be long gone."
I had to obey his last wish. I sensed how uncomfortable he had become. He coughed again, this time louder than before.
"Quick, friend. There is so little time."
I embraced him one last time and walked fast out of the room with one last look at him. He saw me with tears dropping out of his eyes.
I found myself crying as I entered the room next to his. I found the charred body. Just looking at it gave me the creeps. I wonder who it was and what he had to do with Mr. Notherland. Doubts assailed me. Questions arose within me – how did man come to be so burned? To that I found no answers and grief within me was deep.
I found the shovel also at a corner. Then I wrapped a small towel on my hands and dragged the charred body out of the room.
After much toil, I reached the garden. There I found a suitable place in between two apple orchards. I began to dig when I heard voices coming towards me. There were two men who came by, chatting with each other, laughing gaily.
"I was told you would come, sire. Let us dig for you. Then you shall cast the body deep and offer your last prayers. Your car is already at the Gate and you shall drive away the happier. Hand me the shovel, sire."
They quickly moved the snow and dug the ground deep with a speed that I marvelled at. And then, I cast the body deep into the ground and covered it with the soils of the earth and then over it, the snow that had been moved.
I turned back towards the mansion but soon, I let out a cry. The mansion burst out with fire, charring it and slowly only remains of it stood on the ashen ground.
My eyes widened with fear, grief and shock. My heart beat slowly. My breath became deeper.
Then a man said to me, "O sire, do not wonder! Go away from here and forget the grief that has laid itself on you. For your friend, Mr. Notherland, passed away two weeks ago. A great fire took him and the entire household. None were left alive."
"What rubbish? I just met him."
"It cannot be sire. He is dead. The fire took him. And the mansion has remained charred since then. You went inside, didn't you sire? Did not any distrust assail you? Did not you feel unwholesome inside? The silence has long been distrusted and misconstrued. The person whom you just buried just now – was Mr. Notherland, sire."
Surprise and shock took me. I gaped.
"Yes, sir. But now you should go as he wished."
"How did you know I would come?"
"Dreams summoned us, sire. Often of late, it has been coming. And now it will stop. He wanted a family member to bury him and for him, it was you. Think of it and be happy, sir. Drive away from this sad place and let the lamps of joy be lit in your heart for whatever time is left to you. That is what he would have wanted and what we want. Will you not go to your car now?"
"I shall."I felt satisfied and happy somewhat. I turned my back towards the mansion and I let out a cry again. The voices seemed to have come from nowhere and the men had disappeared.
I bowed my head once more, got in my car and drove out of 25 East Lane.