This follows from The Colonel (part 1).

The house that Colonel Henry inherited was just north of Harrogate in the village of Killinghall. A rather apt name he thought. The lawyer had sent instructions on who should arrange handover, the bank balances and information about the decision to employ a Miss Simms who had been working in the Three Horseshoes. She would start as a house-keeper. Henry took his time packing. His case, dry and cracked still seemed empty even after folding his best tweeds, some ties and smalls, the various photographs and service dress shirts. He had nothing else but remembered to include the case of his medals.

In his briefcase were the documents of title to the house, deeds for the living of the Church, three car log books and a bunch of keys. They would, it appeared open any of the innumerable doors of the house that he was to live in. He had a rather faded picture that came with the inheritance. It certainly looked large and barely changed since his great Aunt had bought it in 1920.

He had thought about handing the bungalow over to Aga Jhan his gardener and servant, but when the old man’s eyes flooded and tears drew over his dark creased cheeks Henry knew that Aga Jhan would be coming too. Together they covered the furniture with sheets, closed the shutters, swept the rooms, rolled up the rugs and hung them from the ceiling like giant cigars so as to avoid pests and rot. Henry made sure that the family who lived in the small huts at the end of the overgrown and rhododendron thick garden had funds for a year. They stood in awe at the bundle of rupees, blessed him and put a red puja mark on his forehead. He now knew the house would be safe, and he would be coming back.

The taxi pulled away, an extravagance that he felt good about and turning round on the smooth seat he saw the bungalow disappear into the evening mist. He wished he could pack and take the smells of the damp brown earth, the noisy screech of monkeys, the soothing memory of chatter of women as they cooked on open fires, smiling, showing tomb white teeth, giggling and busy. Aga Jhan sat in the front. He had rarely been in a car and looked wide eyed and clutched the window winder as the rusty and bashed Austin spluttered and bounced towards the station to drop them for the night mail train to Bombay.

The night mail was heard before it arrived. A deep hoot broke the evening and scattered the roosting birds and the single track rail seemed to move and sway as in the distance the bright light of the steam locomotive punched through the gloom. On the platform humanity lived out their lives. They were sellers of everything, gaudy coloured books, fierce spiced chapatis, sweets, flower garlands, candles, string beads and fruits. naked children ran and chased stray dogs that snapped and then slunk away to sleep under benches. The station master seeing Colonel Henry swished the begging hands away and cleared a way for him so that as the hissing and panting train slide into sight Henry might alight at the correct place, the first-class sleeper carriage. Aga Jhan had a third class ticket but was just happy to be on the adventure.

Standing on the step, Henry pulled himself into the train. He was on his way to Harrogate, the Colonel from India. His hand trembled as he sat in the cabin, damp grey sheets on the bunk. The steward had prepared a peg of whisky. Henry took out a cigarette from a silver case adorned with his Regimental crest, presented to him by his long dead friends in the Mess when he had won his Military Cross. He tapped the tobacco tight and lit the tube, drawing in heavily.

For the first time in months he smiled.

2 thoughts on “The Colonel (part 2)

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