Baron Olshevri Vampires

In the year 1912 Russian vampire literature saw the arrival of a mysterious author known only as Baron Olshevri. The book has never been translated into English before and the copyright has long expired. It is the story where Aztec and Indian gods vie for power, where pearl necklaces come to live in the night and where the most dangerous creature on earth is a beautiful woman.

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14. XVIII

Eighteenth letter.

 

Three days had passed since I mailed you my last letter, Alf. I am still in the city, and I could not bring myself to face Rita. If you were here, we could have come up with a solution, and everything would have been easier. Do you know that I have a wonderful forest house here, it is quite close to the village, and though it lies at the foot of the castle’s rock, one cannot reach it except by making a long detour?

Don’t you think that such a place could make an ideal retreat for a scientist, such as yourself?

No one will disturb you there. I will strictly forbid the servants from setting a foot in the forest house and will arrange for a peaceful horse to be left at your disposal.

What do you think?

You can spend whole days digging in your books, I will also leave you in peace, I will only write to you. The knowledge that you are here will give me moral support.

Alf, you are the closest thing to family that I have.

Do come.

 

Nineteenth letter.

 

I was so horrified by Doctor’s tale that I forgot the very reason that had brought me to his door. And yet I did not even know what the true horror was until I went back to him today.

Everything that happened before is a trifle, comparing to this.

Let me tell you.

Today, when I arrived at old man’s house I told him the reason that I came to see him for,- that Rita, my fiancé, isn’t, as much as sick, as she is seized with unusual melancholy and weakness.

He jumped from his chair as if something had stung him:

 

“Your fiancé is sick, she is listless, pale, and does she have a wound on her neck?”- he screamed at me.

 

I felt my legs grow weak. I couldn’t get a single word out.

 

“Answer me! Has she a wound? Why did you tell me that you never touched your parent’s coffins? Liar! You’ve released ‘it’”, the old man screamed in my face, and grabbed my shoulders shaking me. I had no idea he had so much strength.

Suddenly I came to my senses:

 

“Doctor, wait a minute, since my return no one had died at the castle. No one has even fallen ill.”, I mumbled finally.

 

“And the village?”

 

“No deaths. I swear to you I never found new crypt, let alone opened it”, I replied, trying to sound as grave as I could.

 

Doctor calmed down a little and murmured to himself:

 

“Thank God, maybe I am wrong. Maybe you are right and our climate is not suited to a southern girl, like your Rita. Go home. In three days time I will follow you.

 

Introduce me to her as an old family friend. Only arrange for me to see her neck”.

 

“It wouldn’t be hard, Doctor. Rita loves open dresses. She knows that her neck is magnificent.”

 

Once I got back to my room, I remembered the incident with the pink carnelian pin.

 

What if?

Alf, I fear to write this down, but what if all of this is true? Save us, oh God.

And I am such a fool, to be sitting here, while Rita may be in danger back home. Do come, Alf.

Yours

D.

 

 

Twentieth Letter.

 

I have no words with which to express my gratitude. You will come. Thank God, I am no longer afraid.

I have some good news. Everything here is calm and well. Though Rita is still pale and weak, she no longer complains about her health.

Doctor kept his word and arrived at the castle.

Rita was sweet and charming to him.

While making small talk, he skilfully asked her how she is feeling, whether she is sleeping well, whether she feels heaviness on her chest or has breathing trouble or if she has strange dreams.

Her answers were calm and normal.

The only trouble is that I was unable to get him to see her neck. She started to wear lace neckerchiefs or strange, fantastical bows and ribbons.

 

When I asked her to take it off and let me see her beautiful neck, she sighed and said sadly:

 

“I could never afford such things before, let me wear them now”

 

What can I do then?

When I asked her whether her wound had healed, she nervously shrugged her shoulders and answered reluctantly:

 

“Of course, it was nothing”.

 

She postponed our wedding.

Forest house is ready for you. Goodbye and safe travel.

Yours,

D

 

 

The letters are finished.

The guests are quiet, and most don’t want to admit that they are hiding an uneasy feeling.

 

What is the meaning of this?

 

“Is there no more letters, Karl Ivanovich?” asked Harry “no explanation?”

 

“This bundle has no more letters, Sir” replied the librarian.

 

“Gentlemen, what do you think? Is it a hoax, a record of one man’s descent into madness? Or is it an actual account of real events?” asked one of the guests.

 

“Judging by the description of the castle, and several other, smaller details, it seems to be your castle, Harry. Are we to believe that once it was inhabited by vampires?”

 

Harry is silent.

 

“And why not? Maybe it is still inhabited, if you believe in their existence!” mockingly replied one of the guests in Harry’s place.

 

“How dare you! ‘If you believe in their existence’ who do you take me for, Sir!”

 

And a fight is about to break out.

 

Captain Wright, knowing the hot temper of both men, spoke quickly:

 

“Wait a minute. I’ve never visited the crypt, but James did. And Harry as well, if I am not mistaken. Did you happen to see a large stone coffin with in inscription ‘Returned from America’?”

 

“No, I haven’t” replied Harry “but we do have a church entry confirming that the body of an old Count was brought from America and buried in the family crypt”.

 

“Well, I bet you that he wasn’t the only aristocrat brought back home for a burial. It is quite common these days”, added Doctor.

 

“It is a silly idea to think that this castle is the one described in the letters. Not a single letter mentions the name of the castle. And the signature D, could mean anything. And, finally, the missing coffin is the best confirmation of you can have”, finished Doctor.

 

“Pity there is no more letters, otherwise, we could have found a key to this mystery”, said Harry softly.

 

Doctor wasn’t giving up:

 

“What nonsense. I personally see no mystery. As far as I am concerned, the letters are a clever trick to get your best friend to come to your wedding. It was all one big joke, I bet”.

 

“It doesn’t sound like a joke”, remarked James.

 

“So what do you suggest? That we must believe in existence of vampires, even in the times long past? No thank you, Sir” laughed Doctor, bowing theatrically in James’ direction.

 

“Goodnight, gentlemen. I wish for each and every one of you to encounter a blood sucking countess in your dreams. As for me, I am off to bed”, said Doctor and gathering up a pile of today’s newspapers left for his room.

 

Part 2

 

I done with him

There are others waiting

To live

I need blood.

 

(Vampire bride)

 

 

I

 

Time had passed.

The evenings grew dark.

It’s been a while since Harry, his friends and guests left the Hunting Lodge and moved into the castle.

 

No expenses were spared in transforming it. In the place of dust and cobwebs, windows and doors were hung with expensive lace curtains and silk drapes. 

Parquet floor in the reception room and the great hallway shone like a mirror, and several times younger guests rehearsed their waltz steps with an imaginary lady in their arms.

In other rooms, the floor vanished entirely beneath luxurious eastern carpets.

 

Desks, tables and shelves were filled with expensive and beautiful objects, most of them absolutely without any function, except to form a necessary part of a wealthy household.

Flowers and indoor plants brightened the rooms.

 

Electricity lit up the entire building, from the basement to the attic. Everything was filled with light and spoke of comfort and joy of living.

 

Even the old family portraits, with their new coats of varnish, seemed to come to life and look a little more cheerfully out of their frames. Beautiful lady in the Catherine de Medici collar was smiling from the wall as if alive and about to join the youngsters in their dance practice.

 

Expensive grand piano, new billiard table and variety of games and amusements filled the day.

 

Piles of new books and magazines from every corner of the world lay unopened.

 

Life, full of fun and void of worries sprung like a fountain. Every night the castle was ablaze with light and the wines were flowing like a river.

Guests, who had fled before, returned.

Viscount Reno’s death was forgotten. Unpleasant aftertaste, left by the letters of mysterious D was relegated into the realm of the fairytales and no longer remembered.

Everybody was in high spirits.

 

Even Captain Wright seems to have left his bad mood back at the Hunting Lodge. On the contrary, he proved himself a good conversationalist and an interesting storyteller. His hunting stories and adventures with women had everyone spellbound.

 

Harry was also very cheerful, promising many new amusements.

 

Everybody was taken with an idea of hosting a masked ball.

All that was needed was a permission of the representatives of the city and neighbours, which didn’t pose any difficulties, since Harry promised to make return visits after the ball and later invite the authorities to an even bigger housewarming party.

 

The idea of the masked ball injected new life into Harry’s guests.

Costumes were discussed and tailors called in. Everyday post and telegraph brought new requests and orders.

 

It was agreed that the ball would have an Indian theme. Of course, no one but Harry could be the Rajah, an Indian prince.

Doctor wanted to dress up as a Brahmin, the ‘twice born’, and demanded a thick gold cord as a mark of his status.

James agreed to portray one of the heroes of the Ramayana.

 

“And Captain Wright?” asked Georges.

 

“I think that he would make a very good Thugee, the worshipper of goddess Bhowani “, said Doctor.

 

Most of the guests have never heard the name of Bhowani before, and asked questions. Bhowani, or Kali is a consort of Lord Shiva who is a third member of the Hindu trinity (trimutri). Shiva is a destroyer god and the altars dedicated to his wife must always be steaming with human blood. A secret underground sect of Thugees or the stranglers is tasked with finding the victims.

 

“Come on! A Goddess, whose altars are steaming with human blood? This is pure nonsense. You are fooling us!” someone laughed.

 

“Yes, but many paid with their heads for this nonsense” replied Doctor seriously “you can ask Captain Wright. He and Jamie can tall you quite a story”

 

“Captain Wright, you had an adventure that nearly cost you your life and you are keeping it from us?”

 

“All right, I am game”, replied Wright, “only one condition. Don’t ask me what it was. A dream, hypnosis, hallucination? I don’t know myself”

 

“I know. It was the truth” interrupted James.

 

Wright began his story:

 

Captain Wright’s story.

 

In the early part of the year **** when our division was stationed near Delhi- as you can see the setting is in India- we were quartered in an old abandoned temple belonging to a local deity, surrounded by a lush garden.

The garden itself was wonderful, filled with welcome shade and exotic flowers. Tropical trees, palms and cinares, overgrown with creeping wines, formed a part of a small jungle where snakes and monkeys lived undisturbed by our presence.

 

Our colonel lived in a small bungalow and the officers were stationed in the temple itself. We had no grounds to complain.

 

Walls of thick stone kept out the heat and narrow windows admitted enough of cool air.

 

Soft mattresses and mosquito nets promised peaceful evenings.

Rich table and plentiful, excellent wines completed our comforts.

 

And yet we were unhappy. Boredom, all pervading boredom was getting our spirits down.

 

Complete lack of entertainment, books, and more importantly- women was depressing us.

 

Delhi, with its pleasures was close, but because of the uncertain situation at the time, it was all but impossible to get there. Leave was granted very reluctantly, only with our commander’s personal permission, and for a short time.

We were bored.

 

Uncommon heat, combined with over drinking and unlimited gambling frayed our nerves.

Tall tales, told by our comrades reached such heights that one was left with no choice but to shut up and listen.

Just as our boredom was about to reach an unbearable point we were visited by one of the members of the ‘old guard’, a former officer, now an owner of a prosperous plantation and a son-in-law to a local prince.

 

He came to our commander on some sort of business, but the officers liked his company so much, they begged him to stay on for one more day and share a friendly dinner, to which he finally agreed.

By the nightfall, main room of the temple was ready for a feast.

 

Even if the table wasn’t breaking under the weight of silverware and crystal, the magical atmosphere made up for the lack of fancy cutlery.

The walls were decorated with paintings of most fantastical creatures. Giant elephants, striped tigers, writhing green serpents and, among them, beautiful women, their bodies in the most erotic of poses, surrounded by tropical plants and flowers, most of them lotuses.

 

The paint was bright and colours fresh and in the uneven light of the candles the images seemed to shimmer and come alive.

 

The illusion of movement was heightened by the fact that some of them were painted on flat walls, while others were hiding in the niches or stood out on the pillars that were supporting the temple roof.

Close to the northern wall stood empty pedestal, once occupied by a statue of a god.

 

The feast, started with liberal drinking, was now nearing its end.

Our guest, who spent most of it busying himself with pates, marinades and wines, suddenly paused and for the first time looked up at the temple walls.

He paled and remained silent for a moment.

 

“Colonel, have any of your men ever gone missing?”

 

The question seemed odd.

 

“We have lost three people. Two were carried away by the tigers, and the third, we think, may have drowned”, replied Colonel.

 

“This is merciful”, - said our guest softly, as if speaking to himself.

 

The dinner, or should I say, bacchanalia carried on. Soon the wine loosened everyone’s tongue, including our guest’s.

 

“Gentlemen, have you any idea where we are feasting?” he asked suddenly.

 

“This is the temple of the Goddess Bhowani” he continued “the most bloodthirsty goddess of India. She is most beautiful woman that anyone could imagine, and yet her altar must always be covered with steaming blood, whether this blood belongs to a foreigner or her own devotee is of no difference. Not so long ago these walls bore witness to monstrous orgies. While the sacrificed victim lay bleeding at the feet of the goddess, devadasis, the temple maidens, with naked bodies covered only with lotus flowers and their own long hair, formed a human wreath around the pedestal.

They would move very slowly, shifting and twisting, winding and unwinding their live chain of naked flesh. Soft, passionate melody, played by unseen hand guided them. The music would not drown out the moans of the victim, instead it accompanied them, amid the intoxicating blue-grey clouds if incense.

Soon the victim would let out his last breath, and the tempo of the music would increase triumphantly. Devadasis dance becomes wild and uncontrollable. The lights go out, everything is swallowed by chaos”.

 

Our guest was speaking softly, while looking with blank eyes at some unseen point far away, as if completely unaware of our presence.

Suddenly he grew silent.

For a moment no one spoke, as if the ghosts of the past victims were present among us.

 

But then the spell was broken and our guest was assailed with questions:

 

“How do you know that this is Bhowani temple? Were you present at her mysteries?” And so on.

 

Our guest reached for a glass of Seltzer water and drank deeply. He seemed to sober up almost instantly, and, with a forced smile, he answered everyone at once:

 

“Gentlemen, do remember that after your wonderful wine, all that is left to do is to sing the old ditty ‘Lie, lie, but know your measure’”.

 

The hall echoed with robust laughter.

 

The conversation turned to the cult of Bhowani. Another member of India’s ‘old guard’ confirmed the existence of the cult:

 

“All I know is that the main ceremonies always take place beneath the temple, and the brotherhood of Thugees or the stranglers as they are also known, is entrusted with procurement of victims. I also heard of enormous underground prisons where spare victims are kept for months on end. And, once the need arises they are taken out and slain at the feet of the goddess”

 

“Yes, all of India’s temples have subterranean chambers, known only to the priests, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them served as prisons,” added one of the officers.

 

“Who cares for the underground chambers, or for the bloody goddess, I wouldn’t mind making an acquaintance with two dozens devadasis, especially if they are wearing only lotus flowers!” said young Warrant Officer.

 

“You can always get the goods, if you have the gold,” observed one of the older guests.

 

“Well, Captain Wright, you are the wealthiest man here, how much would you be prepared to pay?” shouted drunken Warrant Officer.

 

I pulled out a small bag, filled with gold coins and waving it in the air, laughed: “For a couple of devadasis, any other bids, gentlemen?”

 

The sight of money brought cards to mind, the table was cleared and the gambling began.

 

James and I declined and left for the garden. Standing under the temple’s ancient colonnade, we waited for a servant to bring us cigars, and both lit up.

 

“Captain, there is something odd about these cigars”, remarked James. 

 

He is right. I can taste the pleasant aroma. And strangely, after each drag, I feel the blood rush to my head, and I know that I want something, but what, I cannot tell... Women? Passion? Adventure? I don’t know myself. I could feel my own pulse echo in my ears.

 

James and I are sitting in deep comfortable chairs; in front of us is an impenetrable wall of trees and vegetation. I could sense that someone or something is watching me.

“Maybe it’s a tiger”, a though flashes through my mind and, after a moment, leaves. There is a movement and a man appears in front of us. He is skeletally thin, with bronze skin stretched over his gaunt frame, his entire wardrobe consisting of a single cotton cloth wound around his hips. His face is stony, expressionless and only his dark eyes are filled with strange glinting fire, as if his entire life force resides in them.

 

“Wallet, Devadasis, secret” he whispers, leaning close to me. Nonetheless James hears him, jumps from his chair and grabbing my arm says: “Let’s go”

 

In an instant, my wallet exchanges hands with the tempter. He puts his finger to his lips and motions for us to follow.

We dive into the narrow opening between the temple wall and the undergrowth surrounding it and enter the temple through a side passage. Form here we could hear muffled voices of our friends and in the bad light we guess that we are behind the inner colonnade of the temple.

Our guide presses invisible lever and the trunk of the carved elephant lifts silently. Behind it is a dark space and steep staircase that leads downwards. The steps wind lower and lower. We are in a dark corridor. Somewhere far away we could see a tiny glimmer of light.

                                                                  

“Quiet” whispers our guide and we move as silently as ghosts.

 

“Wait”, he murmurs again and vanishes. We are alone. The air of the underground room is filled with pleasant smell of incense and I feel my head begin to spin.

The time drags on and we grow impatient. And the tiny light ahead seems to beckon us.

 

“Straight ahead” I say and we move forward. The passageway seems endless, but eventually we find ourselves in a dark hallway. It is so large that no matter how hard we peer into the darkness, we cannot see its walls; the endless forest of dark granite pillars, decorated with gold ornament stretches in front of us.

We move on and stop before a large velvet drape, its gold material solid as a wall. Above our heads, we see a circular opening in the fabric, the light that we saw in the passage is streaming through it, barely lighting the hallway.

 

“Go on!” we push past the drape and stand blinded.

The walls of the new room are made of rose-coloured carnelian, and from them, or rather through them amber and pink light travels in waves. Blue clouds of ether drift down from the ceiling and mixing in with light from the walls give the room magical appearance.

I feel as if I am dreaming. Beneath our feet, the petals of freshly picked white lotus flowers lie scattered on a silk carpet.

 

In front of us is a low pedestal and standing on it we see a woman of otherworldly beauty.

She is completely nude.

Her rich black hair is pulled high on her head and divided into four thick braids. The first two frame her face with the ends resting on her high breasts; the other two hang down her back. On her head is a jewelled crown and her necklace and a low belt slung across her hips are also studded with precious gems.

Emerald and sapphire serpents encircle her calves, with their heads resting on her feet.

She holds a sky blue lotus in her hand.

Her jewels glitter and sparkle and yet they seem dead when compared to her huge black eyes. Red lips are closed, and her entire body and face are so perfect, so faultlessly pure.

 

“Who are you, beautiful one? Whether you are an angel or a demon, we are yours” and under the influence of drink and drugs we drop to our knees.

She smiled and came closer, as if gliding across the floor. She lifted her hand and touched each one of us on the left shoulder with her blue lotus.

At that same moment, we both lost consciousness.

 

We were brought back by the hellish cacophony of howls, screams and yelps. We were back in the pillared hall, and when I tried to move, I realised that I was bound. All around us wild-haired half naked Thugees, with faces contorted by religious ecstasy jumped and leaped in their savage dance. Surrounded by clouds of smoke they seemed to me to have come straight out of the pits of hell.

 

“Goddess is defiled, she needs to be washed with the blood of the unclean!”, I could barely make out these words amid the howls and screams.

We are lifted and dragged somewhere. Everything is in total darkness.

Soon we see the flickering of torches in the distance, the light grows brighter and we are able to see ahead, but what we see paralyzes us with horror.

Before our eyes stands the dreaded goddess Bhowani...there is no doubt of her identity.

 

Roughly hewn she-idol of dark marble, her black throat encircled by a necklace of human skulls, her belt is decorated with tassels of human arms and legs. The limbs are white, brown and black, all of them small, probably belonging to women and children. And all of them are fresh without even a slightest hint of decomposition.

Underneath the giant foot of the goddess I see a severed head, which I recognise as the head of our missing soldier, the one that we thought was carried away by a tiger. Twitching slightly, his mutilated body is still bleeding, with thin red trickle dripping onto the pedestal of the bloodthirsty idol.

 

“Kill them! Kill them!” we hear the shouts all around us and in a moment we are stripped naked.

Death is inevitable.

But what death? Shameful and inglorious at the feet of the revolting idol, by the knife of a fanatic!

Fate.

We are lying side by side. I chew on my long- dead cigar and Jamie is silent.

Tall thin Brahmin approaches us. His forehead is encircled by a gold band; his white loose robes are gathered at the waist and tied with a thick woven cord. In his hands he carries a broads sacrificial dagger.

 

I close my eyes.

Suddenly everything grows deathly quiet. The priest, with his hand clutching the blade raised above his head is frozen, his face blank in surprise. A moment later the knife falls, it’s metal ringing on the marble floor. The priest falls to his knees, followed by the rest.

 

“Chosen, they are chosen” someone cries and we are lifted from the floor. Someone cuts our binds and wraps us in the delicate silk robes, and the crowd carries us away. We find ourselves on a soft bed, sprinkled with perfume and freshly cut flowers, surrounded by thick clouds of aromatic incense.

Somewhere invisible hands play music.

Before our eyes is the beautiful lady that we saw in the room with carnelian walls, only now, in the flickering of the lamps we realise that she isn’t a living woman, but a statue.

All around her, we see throngs of dancing devadasis. Their wrists and ankles are adorned with bangles that chime melodiously as they dance. They are dressed in thin brightly coloured gauze robes that enhance the appearance of nudity.

 

They dance, coming closer and closer, offering us amber encrusted cups with an unfamiliar drink. It is so refreshing, so pleasant. “Maybe it is Ambrosia” a thought rushes through my head. They circle us, caressing us, pulling us into their dance. Someone offers me wine again and I feel a girl kissing me...

 

“Captain, Sir!”

I open my eyes and see the figure of the dispatcher.

 

“Captain, an urgent order from the commander”, he says, handing me an envelope.

 

Still unsure, I sit up in my bed.

 

The sun is bright, I am in my bedroom. Across the room, I see James’ hammock, he is sleeping peacefully. I tear open the envelope. Inside is an order to move within few hours.

Finally I realise that is was all a dream.

 

I shake my friend awake:

 

“James, get up, we have to leave”.

 

James jumps up, looking at me with total surprise.

 

“Damn it, it was just a dream”, he says finally “those cigars yesterday must have had opium in them and played quite a trick on me!”

I question him and James begins to tell me “my” dream. And when I interrupt him in the middle and continue his tale, he stares open mouthed and asks me how I can possibly know “his” dream!

 

Little by little, we realise that we both saw an identical dream, down to the minute details.

How is this possible?

 

I hastily pass the order unto my subordinate and together with James; we rush to inspect the wall of the temple, looking for the hidden passage. But the wall is completely smooth without as much as a slight crack.

 

Puzzled, we went inside the temple and searched behind the row of pillars. Nothing.

 

“And your wallet, Captain?” asks James.

 

I search in my pockets and on the table and cannot find it. Finally, I ask the batman and he hands me my empty wallet that was discovered in the dinning hall by one of the servants.

Soon we heard the call to move and were forced to leave the temple, which had become quite a mystery to us both.

 

Captain Wright fell silent.

 

“And that’s all?” asked one of the guests, disappointed.

 

“Almost” replied Wright “It was only one month later when we were both swimming in the sea, that James and I saw that we both had this...” Wright took off his jacket and rolled up the sleeve of his shirt.

 

Glowing tattoo of a lotus flower stood out brightly against the pale skin of Wright’s left shoulder.

 

The breathtaking cobalt colour of the flower was faultless.

 

“Are you playing some kind of a trick on us, Captain?” asked one of the elderly guests.

 

“Remember my condition? Don’t ask for explanation.” Wright cut off dryly, stopping any further questions

 

II

The day of the masked ball is finally here.

 

Everybody has been up since dawn. Both guests and servants have their hands full with preparations.

 

Though the full moon promises for a bright night, the garden is festooned with strings of lights and the pathways are lit with little flat lamps. The hallways, already bright and festive, are hung with green wreaths. Dark oak leaves contrast beautifully with bright electric light.

 

Many of the rooms have indoor plants, and little cosy spots are arranged beneath palms and magnolia trees. The buffet table threatens to collapse under the weight of the exquisite delicacies and wines.

 

Little kiosks, shaped like pagodas, with champagne, fruit and cool drinks are scattered everywhere.

 

Huge American flag, with its stars embroidered in real gold thread is suspended above the main ladies’ buffet.

 

On Harry’s orders, the winter garden is left in semidarkness and all the windows are left wide open to provide a welcome cool breeze.

 

Smith and Miller are flying up and down the stairs with the latest orders for the servants and musicians.

 

The kitchens are full of waiters, cooks and helpers.

 

The guests are also agitated; everyone is occupied with his costume. One of the men complains that his outfit has failed to arrive; the other has found out that his boots are way to narrow. Doctor Weiss is grumbling that his golden cord of the “twice born” isn’t sufficiently thick.

 

Barbers and tailors are buried under a heap of requests; they are being almost torn limb from limb by demanding guests.

 

Harry is also worried. He is trying on his Rajah outfit. Wright is sitting in front of him in a high chair smoking a cigar while James is busy helping Harry adjust his costume:

 

“Perfect, you look like a real Rajah. All that is missing right now is about a dozen Nautch girls!” he exclaims.

 

“I think you could do with a bit more diamonds and coloured stones on your jacket and turban”, disagreed Wright

 

“You’re right,” agreed Harry “But where can I get them, at this hour?”

 

“Wait a minute, Harry, you haven’t had the chance to look in that jewel box, the one that you’ve found inside the wardrobe, remember? The one we saw on our first day in the Hunting Lodge?” asked James “It felt quite heavy and I’d bet you the jewellery is still inside”

 

“You’re right, Jamie, call for Smith”.

 

James left the room to get Smith and half an hour later, the jewel box is in Harry’s hands. It is a great testament to the carver’s craft, with its delicate mother of pearl birds and trees. But Harry has no time to admire the artist’s skill; he turns the box impatiently, trying to open it. He can find no visible lock and the lid refuses to budge:

 

“It’s a pity I haven’t though about it earlier and called in a master locksmith,” he says with regret.

 

“Not that the locksmith would have been much help, since there is no sign of the lock itself,” adds Wright, taking the box from Harry.

 

“Wait, let me try!” interrupts James.

 

He takes the box, turns it on the side, presses on something and the lid springs open with a melodious sound.

 

Both Harry and Wright were too exited to notice the ease with which James opened the lid, and neither though of asking him how he knew the secret.

 

James himself only frowned slightly, which, with him, was a sure sign of a troubling thought.

 

Inside the box, several removable compartments are filled with jewellery of fine antique workmanship; rings, bracelets, earrings and necklaces, all neatly resting in individual velvet lined depressions

 

One of the middle compartments is bare and appears to have been once occupied by a necklace or beads. All that is left is a deep groove with circular indentations. The bottom tray is also empty. It is hard to tell what was kept there. Possibly a large ladies’ comb. In its place lies a thin notebook, filled with writing in delicate, neat hand.

Friends flip through it unable to understand the language.

 

“Looks Italian,” decides James.

 

“I will give it to Karl Ivanovich. Maybe he can make something of it, but right now, let’s choose the jewellery,” says Harry impatiently, shoving the notebook back in its compartment.

 

The jewels are selected and Rajah’s costume is finally complete, leaving Harry looking like a living glittering idol.

 

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