Hugo Fall's diary
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My name is Hugo Fall. I'm one of many Englishmen who were able to get rich through the East India company, to take part in the suppression of the sepoy rebellion and earn the favor of the Queen. But my story is different from others. I'd like to see this manuscript in hands of my descendants warning them of the danger that lurks in this house. After all, they have me to blame for its appearance.
Now I'm 71. I was seriously ill and going to leave this world for a better place soon. No one will mourn me at my deathbed. But before I die, I have to tell the truth to those who will own this mansion after me. Whether it's my family or someone else, whatever. They will need to know about the horrific, fatal events that happened to me when I was a British army officer and was in the service under the hot sun of India.
I had already described my trip to India during the sepoy rebellion in my diary. But I was genuine and never wrote the truth of what had happened during my journey. So, we arrived in Calcutta, and then left for Meerut.
Enfield rifle... did it really cause the rebellion? Or was it the final nail in the coffin of patience of not only the sepoys, but all the natives of India? The East India company did not hesitate to forcibly expand its influence on the local population to force European ideas to the savages”... A lot of it was done without the knowledge and permission of the Queen. However, it was the Enfield rifle and the new bullets that set the sepoys to the riot.
There was a long way for us - from Calcutta to Meerut traveling on elephants. Large and strong animals, they were a slow but reliable transport. I've always liked these trips, but my friend, officer Robert Grantham, for some reason didn't love these strong and wise animals and was always nervous, when he had to travel on the elephant’s back.
There is one important fact that should be mentioned. My father died when I was 16 years old. His death was sudden, unexplained and painful. Mother was not able to endure this grief. She also had gone six months after his death... Before he died, father called me over, put something in my hand and asked to take care of this thing as if it was the most precious thing in my life.
The item was strange. Steel flat triangle looked like an unusual throwing dagger. However, its sides were not sharpened, but covered with unusual notches as the stem of the key. The top side of it was decorated with flat opal framed with silver monograms.
My father didn’t say what it was. But I realized that this thing was very precious to him. I asked one craftsman to make a small ring on the monograms, put a lace through it and began to wear father’s gift as an amulet. I didn’t leave it anywhere for a single day, so, when I travelled to India my amulet was with me.
So, we headed to the town of Meerut. Grantham and I had to "share" one elephant. Our road, or rather trail, was very bumpy, full of pits, stones and other obstacles. Our elephant’s controlled pace was interrupted by a little accident. There was a bee on the road that started flying right before elephant’s eyes. Giant animal was scared; it stopped sharply and started swinging trying to get rid of the pesky insect. The platform we were sitting at began to shake and I suddenly started falling down.
I saw the elephant in horror moving his legs, thick as pillars. One more second — and I will fall under these pillars, and will be crushed, destroyed, because of a small insect... I closed my eyes, not ready to accept such a stupid fate...
And suddenly my fall was stopped, and I felt a sharp pain burning my neck. I opened my eyes and saw myself hanging on the elephant’s side. My father's amulet fell off from under my uniform, and Grantham managed to catch the lace and stop me from falling. Robert held the amulet looking at it in deep amazement. I had to call him with voice hoarse from the pressure of the lace. My friend looked away from the amulet and helped me to climb back on the elephant. Obviously he was as shocked as me.
The riot in Meerut began suddenly. The sepoys attacked the British on all sides - civilian and officers. The revolt began on the local market, and before we could react, several houses were set on fire. We arrived in time to restrain violent rebels from further destruction. However, our forces were insufficient to suppress the rebellion completely. Meerut was like an oil soaked torch. One spark and the riots will flare up again.
We tried to keep the defense in the town fortress, where officers' wives, their children and other civilians have taken shelter. It was not easy, because there were much more sepoys than the British in Meerut, and several British officers were killed during the first wave of riots. Even our backup failed to tip the scales. We tried not only to recapture the city, but also to save as many people as possible.
During one of the raids I went to the house where a family of the British officer supposed to hide. But when I cross the threshold, the torch was thrown in the room through the rickety window and then another and more. The house caught fire immediately, and the exit was closed. I tried to get out, but there were flames everywhere. Smoke made me choke and I would have fainted, but the Hindu appeared. I don’t know if he was hiding in the house or got there after the fire started. He covered me with a blanket and pulled out of the hut.
My savior's name was Murugan. He was badly burned; I only avoided that fate because of the blanket he had covered me with. Thin, short young man, he told me: “Sahib, I want to serve you. I am against the rebellion against the sepoys". He saved my life, so I hired him.
Murugan was a great servant. He fearlessly stood beside me during the battle, carried the ammunition and other things. It was evident that he came from a poor family, and I became a salvation for him.
Here, in the rebellious city, on the streets washed with blood, under the merciless rays of hot Indian sun, I met her. That day I was walking down the deserted street of Meerut, Murugan was following me. Suddenly we heard a woman screaming and crying in the half-ruined hut. We immediately rushed there...
The sight was unpleasant. Three sepoys were standing around a beautiful young girl lying on the floor. Her face was suffused with tears, clothes were stained and torn, cut lip was bleeding... One of the sepoys held a knife to her throat, the other was holding her hands. Their intentions were clear. I called Murugan, and we immediately engaged them in battle.
I was already an experienced officer and a tough fighter in my 35 years. Therefore, all three sepoys died by my hand. Murugan was a rookie in the fight, so I had to protect both him and the girl. When it was over, we helped the poor girl up. I asked her name, and she, without raising his eyes, whispered: "Lakshmi..." Then, she ran away pretty quickly. There was something very attractive in her appearance, in her eyes, in a gentle voice. I stood and watched her bright clothes fading in the distance, until Murugan called me out.
We were still in Meerut fighting the sepoys. I was not lucky: one of the rebels shot at me and hit right in the chest. I would have died in terrible agony, if not for the amulet. The bullet hit right in the middle of the opal, splitting it. But apart from that the amulet remained unharmed. Murugan was looking at it in surprise while applying a compress to the huge bruise on my chest. I was amused by his surprise. But secretly I trembled with admiration: the amulet has saved my life twice.
We stayed in Meerut for quite a long time. But then it was suggested that British soldiers and officers with their families would leave the town, and find shelter with the local Nawab in Rampur. Food and water supply were exhausted, and we knew that our powers were not enough to defeat the sepoys. So we packed up and left town.
Regiment of natives followed us to Rampur. It was good because nobody knew if the rebel troops would attack us on our retreat. We had to stop to find food and to draw water from rivers and streams. During one of these stops I decided to cool off in the cold river. Murugan stayed in the camp. Climbing into the river, I enjoyed the coolness and energy surge. Then, starting to get out of the water, I saw Robert.
He was standing on a hill by the river, staring at me. I thought it was strange. I got dressed, returned to the camp, and when I met Grantham there, asked him why he was following me. He said that he was walking along the shore, and then he noticed me in the water. "It seemed to me that a sepoy was watching you from the bushes on the bank. I stopped and began to peer there, but there were no movement. Either the rascal fled, seeing me, either it was the wind". Grantham's explanation was reasonable, but why did his voice tremble so much during our conversation?
Finally we arrived in Rampur. After a grueling battle in Meerut, a long and arduous journey, the palace of the Nawab was like an oasis in the desert. One day I went to the balcony of the Palace and saw a young girl in the street. She was carrying a basket of fruit. Her slender figure, bright clothes, light movement reminded me of the saved Lakshmi. I was surprised that I still remembered her. What was so unusual in that Indian girl that she would not leave my head? This question tormented me for a long time.
Nawabs' palaces are famous for their size. They are full of hidden corners, places hidden from prying eyes! One day Robert took me to one of these corners, saying that he needs to tell me something important. I was angered by such behavior: is unworthy of an officer to hide in the corners like a rat. Not paying attention to this fact, Grantham said that I should not trust Murugan, he could be dangerous for me. When I asked to explain exactly what he meant, Robert just repeated his words and left me.
Sir Longstock asked to accompany sir Greensmith in England. I did not go into details, because the officer in the British army should not interfere in politics. But I felt very relieved to know that I will step my foot on the British soil again! At parting Longstock handed me a box that I decided not to open until I return home.
We left Rampur and without incident made it to Calcutta. It turned out that our ship won't leave earlier than in a few days. A welcome departure had to be postponed for a while. I had only one desire: to leave this hot, dangerous land.
The next day after our return to Calcutta Grantham was gone! He left in the morning after breakfast, but did not return in the evening. The next morning our ship was to sail, but how could I leave Calcutta without knowing about the fate of Grantham? I couldn't stop thinking about where he was. Maybe he was kidnapped and executed by sepoys? I sent a group of soldiers to look for him.
The soldiers searched all night and the next day, but all in vain. Late at night on the second day after his disappearance, Robert has returned. He looked awful: dirty, torn uniform, the face and neck painted with bruises, disordered hair... He said that he was kidnapped by a group of sepoys, and had to be executed, but he managed to trick them and escape. I wanted to believe him, but... It all looked very strange, and his words were hesitant, as if invented right there and then...
We were unable to set sail the next day after Grantham's return: the weather suddenly turned bad. A few days later, when Robert recovered, and I was beginning to lose patience, he asked me to walk to the Kali temple, which was located on the outskirts of the city. There was nothing to do, and since Calcutta was safe from rebels, we could not worry about something ruining our walk. Robert asked me not to take Murugan with us, and I did so, though I didn't like it. But I knew that in any case, I would be able to protect myself.
As soon as I got under the arches of the Kalighat, I felt a sense of danger and impending doom. It was like the bright colors and patterns were hiding evil from eyes of the mortals, like the sweet smell of incense hid the stench of rotting bodies... the Soul of Kalighat was evil and heavy... I stopped, looking at the temple. Then I felt someone watching me. I turned and saw a statue of the Kali goddess.
Kali was looking at me from a two-feet-wide pedestal, naked woman with blue skin, obscenely long tongue protruding between the scornfully curved lips. In one of her four hands she was holding a sword, a hammer in the other, a sickle in the third and in the last one... there was a man's severed head. Of course, it was only a fake, but the entire appearance of the goddess was terrifying. She looked alive.
I stopped near the statue hypnotized by the look of her eyes. Don't know how long I stood there. It seemed that her breasts were about to begin to rise from the breath, her four hands were about to move... Grantham was there, saying something, but I didn't hear him. I looked into Kali's eyes and saw the darkness. Someone's cool touch pulled me out of this trance.
I looked up from the statue and turned to the intruder of my peace. Beside me there was a wrinkled old Hindu. Half of his face was covered with horrible burn marks, the other - dotted with deep wrinkles. The stranger looked pitiful and very poor. He leaned toward me, and the scarf on his belt rang strangely, as if it was sewn with coins.
The old man gave me a sly look of his one good eye and whispered something. "She chose you..." those were his words? Or did I imagine them? I couldn't move, everything happening seemed so unreal... Robert, hearing the hiss of the old man, grabbed him by the shoulder and dragged him from me. Then he started to argue with him. I felt annoyed and headed for the exit.
Grantham caught me at the exit of the Temple. He said not to worry about this incident, crazy fanatics were often trying to scare the British. Despite the fact that I have not heard his conversation with the Hindu, it seemed to me that they knew each other. But Robert told me it was the first time he saw this man. Still, I couldn't stop wondering: what happened to Grantham? What's he playing at? I wished I took Murugan with me. Perhaps he could explain what the old madman wanted from me.
The weather turned better, and the next day we finally had to leave the Indian shore. My heart was breaking, but not because of parting with this wild and violent country. Murugan begged me to take him to England, but I refused. Our separation was hard for him; it meant that he had to return to the old poor and hungry life. But there was nothing I could do.
Returning to England, first I accompanied sir Greensmith where he has long been expected. The Queen was very grateful to me for faithful service in India. And I was extremely happy to finally be rid of the constant presence of Robert Grantham. He was still my friend, and I always respected him as a brilliant officer, but lately his behavior was inexplicable, mysterious and was only arousing my hostility and irritation.
The real surprise awaited me when I returned home. When I finally recovered from the long road, I suddenly remembered about the mysterious box that sir Longstock had given to me. Its content still remained a mystery to me. I got the box from my luggage and found inside a bill in in name from the East Indian company that made me a very wealthy man.
There were also papers in that box that denounced some persons, who were possibly standing behind the sepoy mutiny. I knew immediately who I needed to deliver these papers, and what action they would take. Looking through the contents of the box, i was happy. I knew then, these papers would change my life forever.
Then I was young and dreamed about starting a family. I wanted to create a family estate, a home for generations of Falls. I had even seed this house in my dreams. Shortly after returning I found out that someone was selling an old mansion in the middle of nowhere, standing far from the busy city life on the edge of the forest... it seemed to me that this house could make my family estate. When I bought it and first came under his dusty roof I had the feeling that I was back home...
It only took me one day to deliver all my belongings in the new house. Late in the afternoon when the last carriage with my luggage arrived, I was standing outside, near the porch looking up at the sky. It was getting dark, and I didn't see the driver. Once he stopped and dismounted, suddenly it seemed to me that someone else has jumped from the back of the carriage. I walked around the cart and looked behind it but saw no one. Then I thought it was just my imagination.
It was a row of long, busy days. I had to furnish my new home and at the same time attend balls and dinner parties of high society. On one of these noisy, crowded and unspeakably pompous events, I met the love of my life. Beautiful, fragile, delicate, Miss Sarah Harlow has won my heart in a blink of an eye.
I have long admired her at a ball before dared to ask for a dance. She looked up at me with her kind eyes, golden like the honey of May, and smiled, accepting the invitation. We were dancing and I was so confused that I couldn't say a word. She noticed it and said laughingly, "Ah, Mr. Fall, do not forget to breathe!" And I immediately felt easy, as if the shackles of formalities and conventions fell off me. That was the beginning of the beautiful friendship.
She was the only and beloved daughter of Charles Harlow, owner of a substantial share in the East India company and the tea production in India. I knew him before. After information was published about the crimes of other shareholders of the company, he found out that I had a hand in this, and thanked me personally when we met at the ball. He said that he had never supported the idea of impact on aboriginal people. "It was a bold move, Mr. Fall!" - said Harlow.
Sometimes I felt like someone was following me. Especially in the evenings when I was reading by the fireplace in the living room. I looked at the window, but there was no one there. Then I asked the watchman to walk around the yard and house, but the rounds never ended with the capture of the stranger. And one day I woke up and felt the faint smell of curry in my room. I was going to get dogs and hire detectives, but then Harlows appeared in my life and Sarah had got all my attention.
Mr. Harlow invited me to dine at his estate. I was grateful to him, because it was an opportunity to see Sarah again! How sweet and charming was she at that dinner. And her father said that I must organize my own production in India. After that dinner there was another one and another. Soon I became a frequent and most welcome guest in the Harlow's house.
One day Grantham decided to pay me a visit. The memoirs of his deeds in India have faded, and I was glad to meet an old friend. We had lunch, drank brandy, remembering the old days. Then suddenly he started talking about my father. I was surprised that Robert knew him. It turned out that my father was a friend of his father, who's already deceased too. Robert said that he knew that the amulet that I wear on the chest was an heirloom from my father. He called it a "key". "Why are you carrying it? Do you know what this key opens?" - asked Grantham.
These questions seemed odd to me. What did he know about my father's gift? Grantham had hinted that the key was too important and valuable thing, and that I needed to hide it and not to carry on my neck carelessly. I was outraged and start demanding answers, but he said he had no right to talk about it, apologized and left quickly.
The sepoy mutiny lasted more than two years. But, in the end, it was suppressed. The East Indian company has lost a substantial part of their authority in India. Now our Queen controlled the Indian lands as well. It seemed that once the rebellion was suppressed, all the troubles were gone. But for me, they had just begun.
I invited Mr. and Miss Harlow to my mansion for the weekend. Together we wanted to celebrate the end of conflict in India. When Sarah entered the hallway, she looked around in amazement then turned her eyes at me and exclaimed, "Mr. Fall! I feel like I have come home, not paying a visit!" Charles and I were taken aback by such a blatant and sudden statement. Sarah herself didn't expect it to be said out loud. She was very embarrassed, blushing... But these words have born hope in my heart, and i wished them to be prophetic.
I was afraid this day would come. And it happened. By order of the Queen I was sent back to India. I was entrusted with an important task: to evaluate the strategic advantages of the location chosen for the construction of the railway. At that time the railway transport in India started developing very fast. But the construction of the most railroads had been kept under tight military control. Despite the honor and importance of the task I didn't want to go back there.
A couple of days before leaving England I found out that Robert Grantham was also sent to India on the same ship with me. I didn't know if it was a coincidence or he planned this. But doubts of his sincerity and kindness to me have already firmly rooted in my soul, and I decided to limit our communication.
Come to be under the scorching sun again, surrounded by savages, each of whom is willing to sell you for a few rupees or stab you in the back... No, I didn't want to return to India... Suddenly the key that I kept in the desk drawer now has caught my eye. I took it and weirdly felt better. I put it on again and promised myself to never turn leave it anymore. And stay away from Grantham and his mad ideas.