The answer to my last article was quite overwhelming, and I wish to thank the surprising number of gentlemen who wrote to me. A great many invited me to stay with them while my fortunes get better and the house gets back to its former glory. But Farnsworth Mansion, dilapidated as it may be, is my home, and I could not leave the library and the badgers behind; so I must thank these gentlemen, and decline. I must apologize to those I have not replied to; but I am sure they will understand that the extraordinary events that unfolded recently have prevented me from engaging in any correspondence, and kindly forgive me.
Summer was glorious, and the garden had grown lush: the mansion grounds were now an endless source of botanical marvels. During sultry afternoons Pemsi and I made long forays into the depths of the garden; we often returned only at dusk, covered in grass stains. Other days, Pemsi observed in childish delight while the badgers trained outside. They were becoming quite apt at jumping off the miniature seesaw I had built for them and arranging themselves into a pyramid; and I was quite excited at the prospect of giving a demonstration of their talents during the next party organised by your magazine.
Alas! Our felicity was not to last. The first harbinger of darker days came soon after the equinox. I was in the conservatory – I like to dream on the chaise longue there, surrounded by the stuffed parrot collection that belonged my aunt – when I was rudely awakened from my opium daze by frenzied shrieks. When I finally reached the window, the sight was so odd that I was quite sure I was still under the influence of the dragon. Our postman was running towards the main gate in a state of complete dishevelment, the legs of his ill-fitting trousers flapping in the wind of his flight and the contents of his satchel strewn all over the gravel path. After a few days and no sign of our Mercury, I called the local sorting office. I was informed that the poor fellow, obviously deranged, maintained he had been attacked by something furry and scowling, and that he would have been mauled had he not fled. It also became painfully apparent that no amount of bribing or threats could bring any mail back to our door. I cursed the influence of drink over the working classes, but I must admit that the appearance of the house must have played some part in the poor man’s delusions.
Even I was starting to feel a little uneasy at the sight of our curious jungle. In the last few weeks, the surrounding fence had gradually disappeared from view, as if devoured by a green evil. The eager tendrils of mysterious climbing plants reached ever closer towards the house, and eerie cries could sometimes be heard from within the shrubbery.
Pemsi was growing nervous too. In the evening, as he sat by my feet in the library, I could see he was not as attentive as usual to his needlework; and at night he slept fitfully, in prey to nightmares. Sometimes, awoken by shouts, I went to his alcove and saw him thrash as in a trance; but I dared not wake him, as I sensed that what was at work then was beyond the realm of the Cartesian. My grasp of his language is still limited, and communication between us is still mainly physical; but what I understood was enough to chill me. My manservant was haunted by visions of a mythical Tibetan beast, and, in his sleep, was feverishly begging the protection of his Gods.
Pemsi started practising with an Indonesian blowpipe he found in the library. I must admit that I too started fencing with more assiduity; and as I practiced my croisés and counter-parries every night in the ballroom, I could hear the regular thud of Pemsi’s darts hitting the mounted moose head he used as his target. I was now more likely to be woken up by the sounds of his fashioning spears out of the balcony’s railing than by a morning massage from his skilful hands. Incense burned in the house night and day.
Confident as I was in our diverging mammal-repelling methods, I still prayed for winter to come, and be harsh; but the air turned muggier. Often, at dusk, I thought I could see a shape in the shadows, feeding; and I tried to put it down to an impressionable nature I did not know I had. I was increasingly reluctant to attempt outings to the tailor’s, or even to the bookshop. In the evenings, the badgers grew restless. During the day, topiary threatened.
And so it was that, late one night, as Pemsi and I were performing our evening routine – him chanting to the Nepali Gods, me fencing in the ballroom – a sudden cry chilled my heart. I rushed out the main door, Pemsi by my side, and as we burst out into the darkness I saw the uncertain shape of a human being dragged into the bushes by a hideous beast. What happened next is a blur. All I remember is being thrown to the ground, the feel of my blade piercing the animal’s eye, and Pemsi’s cry; then the monster retreated, howling in pain.
Having dragged both men back inside, I assessed the situation behind the safety of the oak door. My shirt was ruined; in one corner was Pemsi, twisting in pain and clutching a horrendously gashed thigh that would certainly prevent him from serving me for weeks; and in the other was a deathly pale, flaxen-locked ephebe. The poor boy must have fainted, as I could find nothing wrong with him, save for the shallow teeth-marks of the beast in his flank. Even then he was still clutching something in such a desperate grip that I had the greatest difficulty prising it from his fingers. It was a flower, astounding, tumescent, purple and thick-veined, one petal a little stained with blood, a pearl of white sap still hesitating at its tip. It could only have come from the deepest, darkest recesses of the garden. After leaving the youth to rest in the conservatory, placing on his chest the blossom he had taken such risks to steal, I took care of my poor Pemsi, who had by now fallen unconscious too.
O, the joy of giving yourself body and soul! I spent days barely sleeping or eating, tenderly caring for my patients. I found some medical manuals in the library; and while looking for old clothes I could tear into bandages, I also discovered an old nurse’s uniform in my grandmother’s wardrobe, which I was at a loss to explain. Although the uniform was rather tight, it was still a welcome relief from the gentlemen’s outfits I usually wore, since it did not require any breast-binding by my servant boy; and it seemed to infuse me with the spirit of care of all good nurses. When I bandaged the youth’s flank, my fingers brushing against the soft, barely hairy chest, I had to keep reminding myself of the task at hand, and refrain from experimenting with some of the more interesting techniques detailed in the manuals.
Pemsi was the first to recover: as much, I suspect, due to my ministrations as to a burning desire for vengeance. He soon took to keeping a vigil on the roof, grunting in pain as he limped on the turrets and scanned the gardens in the moonlight. Every night at dusk he took his post in his crow’s nest at the top of the house, and stayed there until morning with the determination of Captain Ahab waiting for Moby Dick. I had never seen a man so driven, and his fierce profile, impervious against the stars, caused the strangest stirrings in me. In the afternoons, the rhythm of Pemsi’s blowpipe practice was like the ineluctable heartbeat of a slow, formidably angry heart, counting down the hours until his white whale would appear again.
The youth, however, after two weeks in the conservatory, was still lost in a sleep I could not wake him from. He seemed to be in perfect health, save for a slight temperature that flushed his cheeks, and I must admit I was flummoxed. I tried all I could to bring him back to his senses, including flagellation with bamboo twigs as was prescribed by the manuals’ hand-written notes; alas, nothing worked. Sometimes, when I was massaging the youth vigorously, trying to get the blood to return to his lifeless limbs, he would stir, and moan, and it seemed to me that he was awake; but his twitching eyelids would not open, and his cries always died after a last spasm of his body. In fact, so severe were his fits that I had to resort to tying him down, lest he should hurt himself.
I whiled away the days by caring for my stranger, and, during bouts of ennui, read letters from the postman’s discarded satchel; and so it was that my days shifted between the sublime and the shameful. After I had read all of them, I started to amuse myself with thoughts of what the youth could wear once he had recovered; and I was on my way to take my patient’s old clothes to the laundry when I passed the badgers’ enclosure again for the first time. I must admit that it is only then that I realised I had quite neglected the animals during the previous weeks; as when I opened the door, they were so elated to see me that in their eager greetings they almost threw me to the ground.
It is rather unfortunate that this was the exact time chosen for the delusional postman to return, having taken advantage of a particularly bright day to reclaim his satchel. When he was ushered into the badger pen by a surly, hobbling Pemsi, I am afraid his first impression was the unruliness I had allowed my pets to descend into, startlingly illustrated by their merry tearing into the remnants of the youth’s bloodied shirt. I gather the sight must have been cause for some alarm, since the postman fled in haste and stumbled into the conservatory. There he caught a glimpse of the youth tied up by scarves on the divan amid the lifeless parrots, naked save for one of Pemsi’s doilies; and I am very sorry that he ran away again before I had time to apologize for the state of the house.
This probably goes some way towards explaining the angry mob that invaded the grounds the next night, armed with pitchforks. I must say it is quite difficult to reason with a horde of locals and explain that there has been a misunderstanding when you are frantically looking for your father’s old ordnance revolver behind a bolted door in the flickering light of torches. One thing that further added to the confusion and made my pleas quite difficult to believe was the fact that the youth had inexplicably been found spread-eagled against the trunk of a birch tree, pinned by a hundred darts, and looking very much like a painting of Saint Sebastian. Stones were landing on the carpet in a shower of broken glass with increasing frequency, the garden shed was already on fire and the situation seemed quite desperate, when the crowd suddenly gasped. I ventured a look outside, and froze. Pemsi, terrible and snarling in the moonlight, was stood upon a small hillock, an army of badgers at his feet.
He let out a terrifying cry, and I thought at first that he was directing the badgers towards the suddenly hushed crowd; but in one swift movement he turned and threw his harpoon towards a black mass concealed at the edge of the undergrowth. Something howled, and oceans of blood darker than the night poured out. Then the badgers swarmed, and feasted in Dionysian relish upon the dark form. The mob, struck with terror, started retreating pell-mell; but a few brave souls stopped long enough to take the youth down from his Golgotha. I was loath to let him go, as, seeing him against the tree, my heart had leapt out in joy at the idea of nursing him some more; but, for his own sake, I let the villagers carry him away.
It took weeks before the badgers fell back into rank through a strict regimen of drills; but I am fonder of them than ever, in spite, or because perhaps, of the savagery they displayed while saving the mansion. I was also in two minds about punishing Pemsi; but I decided that to whip him once against the birch would be punishment enough, and, as colder days returned and the vegetation subsided, so did memories of that night.
I found the flower in the conservatory a few days after the incident, next to the severed scarves that had held the young man’s wrists. I still caress the withered petals sometimes, thinking of the boy. I never knew his name.
But your readers will be happy to know that postal service has been resumed. A postman’s satchel is a chronicle of the human comedy; and, thanks to a few telephone calls detailing my newfound knowledge about those of my neighbours who also work at the post office, it was fairly straightforward to get the mailman back on his way to our door. I am afraid many of the letters have been lost, though, and I do apologize if some gentlemen have been left wanting for an answer.