Chandrataal 5: In the dead of the night

Hello everyone,

No apologies no excuses. I had just given up on writing for a long time. Had invested so much in my book and the deal with the publishers fell through.  😦 But I am back. now ready to go my own way with my stories :-). So here is an update on the stories, completed and forthcoming.

  1. Those missing ‘It could happen this way’ should check out ‘Don’t Fall in Love’ soon to be released by Juggernaut. 😉
  2. Dust of Ages – renamed 1857, A romance is my pet project. It soon to be released – by the end of May. Hope you guys would enjoy it. Will keep you updated on it here and on twitter (@Indiaincolours)
  3. Regarding Chandrataal, here is the next installment. The much-awaited entry is here. The rest to follow soon

 

It was eerie  to see the glow of the moon against rain lashing against the window pane. Khushi pulled the blanket closer around her and tried to concentrate on the book she was trying to read. It wasn’t easy. The night was disturbing, to say the least.  Another thunderclap reverberated through the house.  The room looked alien in the flash of lightening.  Khushi slid down and closed her eyes. The lull between the thunderclaps magnified the silence in the mansion making her aware of her isolation. Apart from Sheetal and her mother downstairs, there was no one in the mansion. Raghav and some other servants were in the quarters some way off. She was the only one on this floor in this wing. Perhaps she would ask Anjili to move her downstairs, somewhere near Sheetal’s room. Even if they weren’t friendly, she could draw some comfort from the presence of the other.

If only she could sleep. Things would be back to normal in the morning.

Half an hour later, she was hovering somewhere between sleep and wakefulness when a sound pierced through the drowsy senses. The storm had abated. It was only the dull thud of rain now against which came the faint sound of knocking. It wasn’t her door. Somewhere downstairs, she thought as lethargy fled and the senses became alert. The sound of the door opening –the main door of the hallway – it’s heavy brass hinges made that peculiar sound – some muffled voices, footsteps, something tapping on the floor and silence again.

Khushi checked the watch on her table stand. 2 am. Who was it in the dead of the night? Someone must have opened the door. Sheetal? Whom had she opened the door to?

There were sounds downstairs. Someone was moving around – someone dragging a chair and switch being flicked.

Khushi threw the dressing gown over the short night dress and headed out. A faint bulb lit the corridor, leading to the staircase. Barefoot, she tiptoed down towards the living room where the sounds were coming from. There was a streak of dim light under the door.

‘Are you comfortable? Kuch khaya aapne?’ It was Raghav, the handyman at Chandrataal. He lived in his quarter behind the mansion. Why was he here? And who was he talking to?

‘Yes. And turn the heater here, near my leg.’  The voice was new – low and rough.

‘Coffee lenge,’ Raghav asked.

‘Nahi.’ There were some muffled sounds, once again some tapping on the floor. ‘Not coffee. Get me  a Brandy and just see if the room is ready.’

‘Theek hai.’

Khushi heard the footsteps. Raghav must have gone to pour the drink from the small bar she had noticed in the corner of the living room.  It must be an important guest. Raghav sounded so attentive.  She stood outside wondering if she should go in or go back to her room and meet the intruding guest in the morning.

She drew her gown closer wondering if she should return. The floor was cold against her feet. The chilly rain-laden air seeped in through the cracks in the windows. But the thunder had mellowed down in a dull monotonous drizzle

Khushi was about to  leave when Raghav’s words stopped her.

‘Lijiye, Arnav Bhaiyaa. If you are comfortable here, I’ll get the room ready now.’

‘Hmm.’

Arnav. Arnav Singh Raizada, Arvind Malick’s adopted son who coming to Chandrataal after 3 years. No wonder Raghav sounded to attentive. Everyone, Anjili, Sheetal, the servants, the house itself had been waiting for him. The return of the prodigal.

Her curiosity got better of her and Khushi pushed the door open.

 

The room was dark, its warm air inviting after the chill of the stairway. A lamp glowed softly near the sofa on which sat a man, his long legs up on the ottoman, holding a glass of brandy. Besides him, stood Raghav with a look of surprise on his face.

‘Khushi madam. You are awake.’

‘Yes. I heard the noise and I just…’ Khushi felt the dark eyes on her and pulled the dressing gown closer. The fabric was somewhat translucent and light from the corridor behind her did not help. She felt uncomfortable.

‘Oh. Did we wake you up? Maaf kijiyega.’ Raghav apologized.

‘No…I wasn’t asleep.’ Khushi murmured, aware of the man and his silent scrutiny. He neither got up nor made any effort to introduce himself. How rude– that smirk that moved from her to Raghav and back. Khushi shuffled, backing out of the room.

‘I am sorry er….Ms. Khushi, right?’ He took a lazy sip from the glass in his hand. ‘For coming to my own house and disturbing you while…you are…doing exactly what in this house?’

The raised brow and the mocking tone made them uncomfortable. ‘Er…Khushi madam is here for the paintings….repairing them. I will get the room ready.’

‘Restoring them,’ Khushi answered in clipped tones. She stood on the doorway feeling like an errant child caught out of bed. He could invite her in and offer a seat at least. But he did neither. Leaning back on his chair he took another sip, and eyed her lazily, waiting for her to continue. ‘I am the art restorer,’ She said.

‘Jee, an art restorer. Khushi madam and this is Chottey sahib, Arnav bhiyaa.’  Raghav stammered clearly not knowing what to make of the situation. ‘I will get the room ready.’ He hurried out.

‘So the paintings. Baba’s treasure which he stowed away and never cared to return to. Now we must put it all well together.’ He shrugged and the mouth pursed as if the subject was distasteful to him. ‘So you are the member of Anjili’s restoration team. You have done wonders for this old place.’

‘Not me. My friends who have left. I am the only one working on the paintings.’

‘Only one? Are you sure? You don’t look experienced enough. The paintings are valuable, Ms. Khushi….er…’

‘Gupta.’ Khushi felt irritation rising. How could he make such assumptions and that too when neither he nor his father had ever cared about the paintings.   ‘I haven’t touched any paintings except one. You can see my work and decide. I have worked on several project before this, Mr. Raizada and Anjili is quite satisfied with the work. You can ask…’

‘How touchy you are, Ms. Gupta,’ he chuckled her again. Khushi could feel  a hot flush rise on her face. He was baiting her, enjoying her discomfiture. ‘But I am sorry,’ he mocked. ‘I don’t really feel up to all that now if you’d excuse me. It was a bad night to travel. Perhaps it’s time you returned to your lonely bed too.’

He dismissed her abruptly. Yet the eyes remained fastened on her not relieving her for a second. ‘Yes..er. Good night.’ Khushi backed out and closed the room but not before she heard another mocking snigger.

 

As she settled in her room, Khushi heard Raghav a few doors away. So Mr. Raizada was going to be in the same wing. Anjili had mentioned his room was also in the West Wing. It was a relief to have someone in a room nearby. But did it make her feel safe? Khushi remembered the dark look in the intense eyes. She walked back to the door and much to her relief there was a key in the lock.  She turned it and climbed into the bed. Half an hour later, once again on the verge of sleep, she heard footsteps and that sound of tapping once again. It paused in front of her door before moving on, along the corridor.  Khushi slipped away into darkness.