The Ink Chase
A Serial in eight parts
“Scrota Deek,” I repeated in disbelief. Who didn’t know him? He was the most notorious prisoner on the isles—a miscreant, a radical, and a suspected sympathizer of the freedom fighters. To free him would be high treason. And even then, I was not going to trade in another man, howsoever debased, for my life. “Never—upon my life, and honor,” I exclaimed.
“There—that settles it,” Chedipe said, smiling wickedly.
“Look,” Harlow whispered to me. “ We’re just gaining time—I don’t really need him. I’ll figure out a way to help him escape, later. And worse, if I can’t, then you know the British Empire will only be one rogue short.”
He made sense. If I had time, even I could find a way out of this. “Alright then,” I moved away and addressed Chedipe. “But on one condition then—I go out only with the permanent cure for the spell you have cast on Diane. And don’t tell me I have your word—I have obvious reason to believe you will not keep it. ‘Tis better we end this now, than prolong her misery.”
“You’re hardly in a position to dictate terms to me, Mr. Barry,” she said, scorn flashing in her eyes.
“Have it your way then. As I see it, I’m only getting in the way of a lover’s tiff; it were better I was gone, and you could get back to your nitpicking.”
“You promise to bring this man to us?” she relented finally. She longed to be alone with her mad scientist, her savior, of that I was sure. And she was keen to make a good impression, for all she might deny.
“Upon my word.”
She threw another vial at me. “Let her stand barefoot in a wet bed of barley sprouts, face the moon and swallow it in one go. The spell will go. And now leave, I must account for this man’s deeds,” she said and turned to Harlow who’d walked up the steps to her throne and kneeled by her side. As I was leaving, her hand had slowly and hesitatingly moved to Harlow’s head, and begun to caress his tousled locks.
* * *
After I’d administered the dose to a panic-stricken and sleepless Diane, who’d dashed search parties after me, we sat out in the verandah, once the lights had been put out on the grounds, and calm had set in once more over the large house.
“Give me a minute,” I squeezed Diane’s hand and walked into my study. The head clerk usually sent over the day’s unfinished Dak for me to go over at home. I searched among the pile of papers and found Scrota Deek’s parole prayer.
My hands were firm when I picked out a ‘REJECTED’ stamp from the drawer, and wetting it on the inkpad, firmly put it on his application. I poured a stiff scotch for myself and walked back out.
“How would you like to settle down on the islands for a while,” I asked. Chedipe had said her ink didn’t work on water.
“Really?” Diane squealed and hugged me tightly. “Oh my god, I was really terribly lonely here. And I hated the idea of my baby growing up among servants only, with no one of its own age to play with!”
“I have arranged for the first ferry to take us out at dawn. You may send for your stuff later.”
* * *
Life on the islands was indeed happening, as Diane had said, surrounded as she always was by a doting drove of friends and flibbertigibbets. Three months later, she gave birth to a perfectly healthy baby girl.
A week later we had a visitor, standing nervously at the jetty. The small boat on which he’d rowed over was tethered to a rock close by. It was Harlow, all spruced up, and clean behind the ears, shyly clutching a huge bouquet of brilliant swamp flowers.
“ I see you still keep at the same address. Well, how are things?” I thumped him on his back and we strolled along the craggy shoreline.
“They’re getting better. She steps out in the sun now, only briefly though.”
“Has she taken it badly—my not sending your apprentice over?”
“No. She says she always knew it was a trick. We never needed anyone else in our life anyway. She sends her greetings.”
“Oh, really,” I said, relieved. “Are you happy?”
He grinned from ear to ear. “Never more,” he said. We walked some more and then it was time for him to leave, before the tide got nasty.
He paused just as he was about to shove off the boat. “ I was wondering…do you have the powers to officiate weddings,” he asked, blushing crimson. “I guess no church would have us—for obvious reasons. It was her idea.”
“Gladly,” I said, as he rowed away, happily. Anything was possible on the colonies.
Nidhi studied English Literature at Delhi University. She has a number of novels and miscellany published in India. Her short stories have appeared in various magazines such as, Fabula Argentea, Romance Magazine, Under the Bed and Nebula Rift. She lives near the sea in Kutch, India.