Tuesday, 15 March 2016

The Acquaintance

- Himangshu Boruah.


It was in the fall of 1885. I had just been reassigned to Plymouth and was not yet sure if this was another of those dreary places my colleagues complained about. I arrived at the station by the nine o’ clock shuttle and if I remember correctly, there was no one on the platform other than a clerk and a cleaner. My vague recollection of the morning lands me at the time when I stood outside the station waiting for a hansom for about an hour. I did not get one but the cleaner did call me a nincompoop.

I had already wired the Sutton Inn the previous day and as a result did not find it too difficult to settle into a room. The manager had given me a raised eyebrow gazing at my drab three piece suit with a cravat and bowler hat. They were certainly not familiar with modernity at this part of the world. The room I was provided had an ancient aura to it. Hung on the walls were portraits of kings like Henry VIII, James I and II etcetera. All in all it was a great place for respite and relaxation before venturing out on the errands.

Reminiscences of the mid morning coerce me to describe the man who entered my room that day at around eleven o’ clock. He was a tall lad, about six feet tall and wore a gray suit with thin stripes that I remember till this day. The attire looked extremely outdated. The pince-nez on his nose did little to shield his electric blue eyes; a sharp contrast to his demeanor. He said he had been waiting for his afternoon train to Lancashire and had decided to drop by. I hope I have penned down the following conversation fairly accurately.

‘Morning. I hope I have not bothered you in any way by dropping in this way.’ He asked with a heavy accent.

‘None at all.’ I offered him a chair.

‘I am Arthur Stanley, descendent of the Lancashire Stanleys.’ There has been a sudden tragedy in life and I had to go through a midlife crisis.’

‘Sorry to hear that. Would like to tell me your story?’

‘Well, my father had amassed a great fortune in the west. It was a long time ago but he was one of the richest men in the area and had moved to this particular town. I got the news about his death last week and rushed over since I was the only living heir. But then another predicament had presented itself; someone had already inherited the fortune. It must have been an impostor so I collected as much information about him as I could and learnt that he was staying in this Inn. It was last night when I lay in wait. Having already collected details of his features, I recognized him at once and tried to apprehend him. But he had this great long knife which he waved frantically and managed to get away.’

‘Well, it was quite a night.’

‘I hope I will be able to get him someday-’

Suddenly the man stiffened and gazed lifelessly through his blue eyes. The next moment saw him running to the door, wrenching it open and sprinting down the corridor.

Astonished and curious at the same time as to what had happened to the perfectly normal man just moments ago, I made a dash right after him. But as I emerged into the entrance hall, there was no sign of the man. He had literally vanished. Giving up the futile attempt I returned to the reception desk and asked the manager if he had seen a man run out a few moments ago. He replied no one had crossed the doorway for an hour. This seemed strange. Even if the man had been staying at the Inn, he would have gone out through the door, unless there was some other exit. I asked the manager if he knew an Arthur Stanley.

‘Why, of course, sir. I do.’ He replied enthusiastically.

‘It was he who had run out just now.’Said I.

There was a look of confusion on his face.

‘Sir, we know Sir Arthur because he was one of the most popular lords of Plymouth. But it is impossible that he ran out just now.’

‘Why?’ I asked naively.

He pointed to the portrait behind him. There was no mistaking the electric blue eyes.

‘Sir Arthur Stanley has been dead for over fifty years.’