Mr. August Huxley sat in his study with all the authority of a king. A slim man dressed in a tweed suit, his hair and sideburns uniformly grey but still thick and wavy, he was nearing fifty years, and while he did indeed look his age, it suited him well enough. Seated in his high-backed winged armchair, puffing on his pipe, he was surrounded by modern Western comforts: a gramophone crooning a peaceful waltz on the table beside him, an Oriental rug under his feet, a fire in the mahogany grate, a crystal decanter of sherry, a mantle clock chiming four in the afternoon. The settee, sofa, and ottoman were richly upholstered with velvet. A portrait of a lady, an engagement portrait in oils, hung over the mantle.
The strictly Victorian, civilized interior of the bungalow was a palpable protest to the barbaric disarray of the densely packed trees and curtains of creepers outside, the riotous flora of the Indian jungle. The music muffled the sigh of the breeze through the leaves, and the occasional faraway screech of a langur monkey. Outside, the shadowy forest enveloped all, even shrouded the bungalow from view unless it was continuously fought back by pruning shears—but inside, the Anglo-Saxon had firmly stamped himself in defiance.
Clearly, Mr. Huxley was a man of means, seemingly with complete control over every aspect of his existence, just as an Indian colonial ought to be—the very picture of the virile Englishman. He even had the final qualification for this role: a wife, sitting on the settee opposite him, embroidering serenely; a lovely, creamy-complexioned girl of nineteen, soft waves of brown hair piled on her head, angelic in her lacy white dress that suited the soft curves of her figure.
But, if an onlooker were observant enough, he or she would only be able to conclude that Mr. Huxley was not the gruff, Imperialist Englishman he appeared to be. To begin with, there were no guns in the house save the revolver he kept locked safely in his desk drawer in case of a burglar; no stuffed tiger heads or deer antlers adorned the walls to testify to his hunting prolificacy, as in his friends' houses; in fact, August Huxley, though ashamed to own to the fact, hated the idea of killing anything for sport. He had never joined the army because he could not bear weapons, did not relish violence—was, in fact, a gentle soul.
As to his wife—every so often he cast a swift glance at her, without any hint of businesslike appreciation (as if she were a fine specimen he had caught), that may have been expected of other men of his position. In his gaze was only tender concern, lingering on the shadows under his wife's eyes, and awkwardly expressed affection. And when he withdrew his glance, his eyes became downcast, and written unmistakably in his countenance was the feeling of inadequacy. He did not think his wife lucky to have him, nor did he feel entitled to her; he felt extraordinarily and fabulously blessed by the saints that she was in his study, with his ring encompassing her finger.
Mrs. Josephine Huxley seemed mainly oblivious to his scrutiny, lost in her daydreams. When once their eyes met, she smiled at him and continued her needlework. She was an unassuming girl, quietly aware of her beauty at times but seeming to disregard this fact as relevant. She also seemed blind to—or discounting of—the fears of her husband, the discrepancies between them, and regarded their love as perfectly natural and expected. Humming softly under her breath to the gramophone's melody, she seemed perfectly content to sit deep in thought, her fingers absently cross-stitching, inhaling the pleasant aroma of her husband's tobacco, in this small drop of Western civilization surrounded by lush Indian rainforest. To her, this was just a quiet, pleasant afternoon like any other.
But her husband grimaced silently in guilt. A lady like her ought to be enjoying society, dancing at balls, showing off her newest gown at the opera, having tea with friends—not wasting away in a God-forsaken jungle with a husband twice her age! He was selfish to have married her, no matter how much he loved her. But Josephine had never given any hint of complaint. Still, he felt responsible for every restless tap of her feet, the circles under her eyes, the occasionally pensive look on her face.
Finally, he sighed and shifted forward in his seat. "Josephine, darling," he began uncertainly.
"Are you…are you feeling quite alright?"
She looked up at him in mild surprise. "Of course I am, dear, why shouldn't I be?"
He chewed on the end of his pipe anxiously. "I don't know…I've just been worried about you of late. You seem rather drawn."
She blinked a few times. "I don't know what you mean. I'm not ill, if that's what you're worried about."
He exhaled deeply. "It just isn't right, keeping you cooped up in here all the time—I feel like I'm keeping you prisoner here. You hardly leave the bungalow at all."
Her smile had a touch of sadness to it. "I am here by choice, you know, August."
"I know, I know—I just wish there were more young ladies here for you to talk to."
"Well now, that's hardly your fault," she said with an enchanting laugh. "In fact, I should be more concerned if you made it your business to supply the region with young ladies."
He chuckled at her joke, relieved that she did not seem to reproach him for the current predicament, but still not completely untroubled.
"Nevertheless," he insisted, "you have seemed melancholy. Any man or woman in your position would surely be lonely."
For the first time, her composure seemed to have deflated. She bit her lip miserably.
"My friends in London haven't written me in months," she admitted. "I suppose they all have their own lives to attend to—and when one doesn't see a person in such a long time, it's easy to forget…"
The space between her eyebrows had crumpled, as if she were made of some fragile material. He opened his mouth, wanting desperately to give her some words of comfort—tenderness for her was swelling in him, but he had no inkling of how best to express it at the moment. Blast it all, why don't they ever teach men how to convey sympathy, he wondered angrily? Thankfully, he was saved by the entrance of Martin, the butler, with a handful of letters that must have come in with the cargo ships this afternoon.
"A letter for you, Jo," August smiled. Then he deflated a bit at the return address. "It's from your mother."
But a letter from her mother was better than nothing, it seemed, for she tore the envelope open eagerly enough and perused the letter. August sorted through his five or six letters without interest—business, mostly, dealing with the shipment of indigo, which was his industry.
But one letter had not come from England, but had simply been sent over from another side of the town. The lower classes swapped gossip in the tavern, but Mr. Huxley did not frequent that particular haunt. He opened the letter curiously.
His eyebrows rose steadily.
"It's from Hugo Gaunt," he said, naming a respectable acquaintance of theirs.
"What does Mr. Gaunt have to say?"
"His niece is coming over from the motherland," he said in surprise. "A young girl named Mary, his brother's daughter—it seems both her parents died in a railway accident, and now she has no one. Hugo is her only surviving relative, and she is coming to live with him."
"India is hardly a place to raise a little girl," Josephine frowned disapprovingly. "I mean, if she were coming here with the protection of both her parents, that would be one thing—but as it is…"
"Yes, I agree with you, dear, but he says he simply cannot run his plantation from Devon, nor can he leave the girl with anyone else."
"I suppose that is difficult, then," she conceded.
"What of the letter from your mother?" he asked.
She went on to recount all of the news and gossip her mother had included in the letter, the latest fashions, the current scandal brewing in their circle, who had recently been married—and for the rest of the afternoon, the two engaged in a deep discussion trying to get to the facts: her mother had been known to inject her own prejudices into her "news" before. The pleasant chatter lasted throughout teatime, and August breathed a sigh of relief for his wife's lighter spirits.
***Author's Note: I usually start beating myself up for having started a whole new story with all my unfinished works to be dealing with, but I actually have been working on this one a while and have pretty high hopes for it. I think it's a little something different, anyhow, and I'm growing attached to it enough that I might just finish it. I know where it's going, too, which is always good. Just some middle chunks to work out. Unfortunately, one of those chunks is chapter two, so we'll see if this motivates me to smooth out that little snag so I can keep posting.
Usually vampire fiction has focused on European legends, so it's less well known that there are vampire legends in countless cultures spread pretty far geographically. This story just happens to focus on the Hindu demon called the Rakshasa, which bears some curious similarities to the European vampire—though of course for simplicity and continuity, I made that similarity more pronounced, so I hope any Hindu readers won't be offended if I made it a more fictionalized version than one that necessarily dovetails with their religion.
Also, while I have done hours of research regarding India's past, Hinduism, and British colonialism, I feel there are lots of little details that history books neglect to talk about, so I had to BS some smaller things. I hope no one will be offended by that either. I live half a world away from Asia and practice a different faith, so there are probably some things I just don't know about. If you note a gross inconsistency with reality that I didn't catch, and if I didn't do it on purpose for some literary reason, then please let me know and I can make the necessary changes so as to be as accurate as I can.
I think the Colonial India period is often neglected, both in historical fiction and in nonfiction, so perhaps my fanciful tale will draw a little more attention to the idea. While this story is hardly meant to be a "problem novel" serving to stir up a reaction to a particular injustice, I hope I never gloss over the problems of Social Darwinism and British Imperialism. The Indians were being brainwashed to discount their own culture, despite the vast knowledge and rich culture India possessed, because Western civilization taught them that their way was better. I hope I do not over-romanticize India or in any other way insult the country and its people, because that is far from my intent. On the other hand, I do not want this story to be ABOUT all the injustices that occurred, just as not every story that takes place during the 1960s can be about Civil Rights, even as they shouldn't shove it under the rug. This is supposed to be a supernatural romance, not an Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Whew. That's my big long introduction. Basically, I don't want to misrepresent the past, but at the same time I want you to enjoy this story. I hope you like it. Any comments, questions, ideas, and critiques are very welcome.