THE GREAT TAMASHA COOKBOOK AND FAMILY
Ponsonby Comes Home
Heat a cup of milk but do not allow it to boil. Stir in 2 teaspoons of honey and serve sprinkled with ground elaychee seeds [cardamom]. This may be drunk warm as a nourishing daytime drink or nightcap. In the hot weather it is refreshing served cold.
From the unfinished MS., circa 1899: Our India Days
Chapter 5: How Ponsonby Sahib Came Home.
Come and sit down, Antoinette, and let us see your notes. Goodness, you have been busy! Ah, you have put “elaychee”. Small, bell-like pointed pods of a soft oatmeal or pale green shade, dear one, enclosing tiny irregular dark seeds of the most extraordinary sweet and aromatic flavour—though Tonie is quite correct in claiming the seeds when chewed have also a bitter undertaste. No, well, that is India: the harsh along with the sweet… Alas, no, we have never seen it in England, and could not order up a glass of our elaychee milk without your Uncle Henry’s parcels from India. Just warm milk and honey flavoured with the elaychee.
Of course we shall tell you about Ponsonby sahib’s homecoming, if you wish, but perhaps without the younger ones, they would not find it exciting. Perhaps tomorrow morning, if your Mamma is to be busy paying calls. Mr Thomas and Madeleine? Yes, certainly they may come, if you think they will be interested, but are you sure a young man would not rather be out fishing or shooting rabbits? –He what? Antoinette, did he actually offer to help with your notes, or did you suggest it? Or suggest that his sister suggest it? Very well, dear, if you say so. No, of course we are not doubting your word, dearest girl. But it never does when a woman pushes a man, you know. An example? Er, well, the Reverend and Mrs Frimpton, dear. Yes, it does make one think, does it not?
(The following day.) The elaychee milk was Antoinette’s notion, Mr Thomas: we do not customarily have it at this hour of the morning, and you must not think we are trying to convert you to our Indian ways! It is extraordinary, Madeleine, dear, is it not? Yes, we think it preferable to cinnamon, too, though a plate of cinnamon toast can never come amiss on a chilly English day! Well, now: Ponsonby sahib’s homecoming!
Had our sweet-natured stepmamma lived, the fates of we Lucas sisters might have been very different. But, alas, she did not survive Papa by a full three months. It was almost more of a shock than Papa’s death had been: for after all, he was elderly. But dearest Mamma was not old! And what would Tess, Tonie, Josie and Tiddy baba do now? Become the wards of the black-visaged Gilbert Ponsonby and, in the case of one, his wife? It now seemed, alas, all too likely.
Sir James Allenby, tutting very much, graciously allowed the late Mr Lucas’s lawyer to say his piece after the reading of Mrs Lucas’s very short will, and then noted with some annoyance that he, James Allenby, would never have dreamed that his sister would have so little to leave; that he might have known that his brother, Colonel Allenby, would have made a mess of the dashed settlements, for he had never had a head for figures; and, in short, that little else was to be expected from a dashed cit. And he would be obliged if Hodgkins would go over the salient points of the fellow’s will.
Mr Hodgkins painstakingly went over the main points of Mr Lucas’s will. Sir James then, very angrily, wanted to know where the Devil this d— Ponsonby fellow was, but all Mr Hodgkins was able to reply was that he had an Indian address for him, to which he had of course written. And, if he might say so, Sir James, the matter of the will had been gone into in some detail during Mrs Lucas’s lifetime, and—with a cough—there was no possibility of its being broken. Sir James then swore at him.
During the following week considerable discussion took place, in the which we unmarried Lucas sisters were not invited to participate. Our two older married sisters and their husbands agreed with Sir James and Lady Allenby that we girls could not stay on unchaperoned at our home, Tamasha: it was not to be heard of. Further discussion resulted in our brothers-in-law withdrawing entirely from the thing and taking themselves and their wives back to their homes. Our stepmamma had left only keepsakes to the older girls, and her very small estate was to be equally divided amongst Tess, Tonie, Josie and Tiddy baba. The annuity which was to have been paid to her during her lifetime had of course ceased. The which meant, according to the angry Sir James Allenby, that there was now not enough income to support the house in Kent. Tamasha must be closed up, we girls must come to him and Mary, and Hodgkins must without delay get hold of that Ponsonby fellow!
“What he means,” said Tiddy angrily to Josie as we four girls oversaw the packing of our clothes, “is that one of us must come and be affianced to that noddy Peter Allenby, while Uncle James forces another of us, and my betting is that it will be Tess, as she is the eldest, into agreeing to take Johnny Jullerbees Ponsonby!”
Although she was not much in the habit of agreeing with anything her full sister said, Josie nodded angrily, noting: “Nothing on earth would persuade me to have Peter Allenby: he is the dullest country clod imaginable, and will only be a baronet!”
“Quite. Whereas with your looks,” said Tiddy dulcetly, “you might be a countess. Or at the very least a viscountess.”
Josie’s pink-cheeked, golden-haired, blue-eyed beauty had come into lovely bloom over the last few years, and she had, in the wake of a Season in London with Aunt Mary Allenby, a score of fribbles of the high-neckclothed, splendidly waistcoated variety at her dainty feet. All of whom she had alternately encouraged and spurned for the entire Season, leaving them scarce knowing whether they were on their head or their heels, a most satisfactory state of affairs indeed.
|"Josie with Roses"|
Said to be a study for a portrait of Joséphine Lucas,
Pastel, circa 1825; attrib. to Frederick Greenstreet; formerly attrib. to Thomas Lawrence.
Formerly in the Welling Collection. Courtesy of the Maunsleigh Collection
She put her straight little nose in the air. “You think you are funning, Tiddy Lucas, but let me tell you, Viscount Welling evinced the greatest interest in me, and sent five posies, and tried to book me for all the dances at the Gratton-Gordon ball!”
“I thought you said he was an imbecile?”
“That cannot signify: he is very good-looking, though I admit I prefer a dark man to a fair, and was utterly at my feet.”
“And would have proposed immediate, only it was not certain that you would inherit a large slice of Papa’s fortune.”
Josie shrugged. “You think that is witty, but as a matter of fact, I dare say it is true. It would hardly be sensible of him not to look for a young woman with a certain fortune.”
“I see. A mercenary imbecile,” she said, nodding.
Josie shrugged again. “You are the merest child, Tiddy. –Do not pack that faded print: Aunt Mary will never let you wear it, I can assure you.”
Tiddy sighed, but left the faded print aside.
Life in Aunt Mary’s house proved very different from life at Tamasha. Not in material things, of course: the Allenbys lived in circumstances of the greatest comfort and saw to it that we were treated like daughters of the house. The fly in the ointment was that Allenby daughters were expected to form eligible connections where their parents indicated they might, and not elsewhere. The three older ones had expected very little else after their London Season with Aunt Mary; but Tiddy, though believing she was mentally prepared, found herself in a continual state of angry rebellion, and continually at loggerheads with the well-meaning Lady Allenby. It was not that she herself was destined for the arms of Peter Allenby: no. That fate was clearly to be Tonie’s.
True, Tonie had, during that London Season, attracted the notice of a most respectable man: a Dr Walsingham-Smyth, in Holy Orders, and said to be destined for a splendid career in the Church. According to Josie, Dr Walsingham-Smyth was a dry stick with a face like a fiddle and it was a gross piece of impertinence for such a man even to imagine he had a chance with Miss Antonia Lucas, who might not be as pretty as she herself, but was certainly a most attractive young woman who could expect to inherit a substantial fortune, and who might, with the exercise of a certain effort, attract the attention of a landed gentleman. There was now, however, no sign of Dr Walsingham-Smyth, even though Aunt Mary was a close friend of one of his married sisters. She had intimated to Tonie, with a sort of cool kindliness all the more chilling because it was clear that she was incapable of any real sympathy with the topic, that any gentleman, during what she would not scruple to call the hothouse atmosphere of the London Season, might indicate a preference which would not prove to outlast his sojourn in the great metropolis. Tonie became very grim and silent during the months with the Allenbys.
It was some three months after Mrs Lucas’s death that a note was at last received from Lieutenant-Colonel Ponsonby. Sir James read it in silence, frowning.
“Well, my dear?” ventured Lady Allenby.
“He’s reached England, it appears. Seen the lawyers. Don’t appear to be making any move to do anything, though.”
“Should we open up Tamasha?” ventured her Ladyship.
“At our own expense, I collect you mean? The d— fellow’s will only provided for its upkeep during my sister’s lifetime!” he reminded her angrily. “If we open it up, we shall be forced to go cap-in-hand to that d— lawyer fellow: you realise the entire disposition of the income is at his discretion until this d— Ponsonby deigns to make up his mind?”
“Order him to provide sufficient to run the house, my dear,” she suggested calmly.
“The fellow had a d— impertinent look in his eye…” Sir James strode up and down the salon, scowling horribly. “If we have the promise of a decent dowry for Tonie, then we may borrow on Peter’s expectations. If not, Fyshe will sell the whole of the Little Meadows estate to the first fellow who makes him a reasonable bid, mark my words; and then God knows what sort of riffraff we may expect to see infesting the district for the foreseeable future!”
“It is not to be thought of, my dear, I agree. Er—is there no other way of managing it?’
“I will not mortgage one acre of my lands!” he shouted.
“No, of course not, my dear: unthinkable. But then, the thing is very nearly accomplished, for if Colonel Ponsonby has come home, he must intention marrying one of them.”
Sir James’s lips tightened. “Aye. And let us say all of ’em come down with a fatal fever or some such before the knot can be tied?”
“Well, they are healthy young women, but I take your point, my dear,” she murmured.
“Or he does,” he noted grimly. “In the which case, they get virtually nothing!”
Sir James strode up and down, muttering about the foolishness and short-sightedness of Mr Lucas’s will, finally coming to a stop and saying: “Very well. We’ll open the d— house for the summer: I suppose it would not look well not to. Have you spoken to Tess?”
“Not in so many words,” she said placidly. “If it would not discommode you, my dear, I shall speak to her once we reach Tamasha.”
It was doubtless a vision of the journey to Kent shut up in a carriage with—not one, but four, for would not the sisters inevitably take the girl’s side?—with four sulking maidens which then caused Sir James to open his mouth, close it, and finally concede: “Very well. But immediately we arrive, if you please, Mary.”
That is verbatim, more or less, Mr Thomas, yes, though none of us were present on that occasion, but, well, there was a convenient bush outside the windows of that salon and Tiddy jus happened to be—Oh, dear! We should not laugh, it is not so funny as all that, and at the time Tess and Tonie reproved her for it, we promise you! –She spoke to Tess as planned, Madeleine: women such as Lady Allenby always carry through their plans.
“Well?” demanded Tiddy, bursting into the little upstairs sitting-room which had always been our own room at Tamasha.
Tonie patted Tess’s hand. “Leave it, if you please, Tiddy.”
Tess tried to smile. “No, Tonie; she has a right to know. All of our futures will be affected, you know. Aunt Mary reminded me of my duty, Tiddy. –Do not look like that, my dear; she has our welfare at heart, you know.”
“Rubbish!” cried Tiddy. “She has the advancement of her idiot son at heart! She will marry you off to Johnny Jullerbees Ponsonby an he be the most vicious monster that ever walked, and see Tonie’s share of Papa’s fortune in Peter’s pocket ere the cat can lick her ear!”
“Hush, Tiddy. Our aunt has been very kind,” said Miss Lucas wanly, “and if she is mindful of her son’s advancement, that is merely natural.”
“Merely grasping and greedy!” corrected Tiddy crossly. “Why, they have acres and acres of splendid arable land, and I don’t know how many prosperous tenant farmers, and besides that Uncle James own blocks of frightful slums in the town, out of which he is reputed to squeeze every groat! They cannot possibly need Tonie’s share of Papa’s fortune!”
“How much is it, anyway?” asked Josie slowly.
“There is no need to be vulgar, thank you,” said Tonie promptly.
Angrily Josie retorted: “I am neither a child nor an imbecile, and I have a right to know!”
“That’s very sensible,” approved Tiddy. Ignoring Tonie’s snort, she added: “Papa was a nabob, you know. Do you remember that long talk that Mr Hodgkins had with Mamma, about ten days after Papa’s death? I listened; I thought one of us had best know the facts.”
“Really, Tiddy, that was quite beyond the pale,” said Miss Lucas faintly.
“Pooh! Just you wait! The income we can each expect if one of us marries Ponsonby will amount to ten thousand pounds a year!”
All three of her sisters gasped and Josie cried: “What? But—but that is an immense sum! Miss Carew, whom all the fortune-hunters of London were chasing, was rumoured to have but five thousand!”
“Yes. She caught Lord Flyte, in the end,” said Tonie limply. “Even though her mother was said to have been a tradesman’s daughter.”
“Mm, well, three of us,” noted Tiddy pointedly, “will be free to catch something even better than a Flyte. What sort of lord was he, anyway?”
“A baron,” said Josie promptly. “And she was a positive antidote.”
“I thought she was a very pleasant young woman,” objected Tess.
“Pooh! –She was sadly freckled, Tiddy, and no presence at all,” explained Josie.
“Then it was just as well she had the five thousand pounds, was it not?”
There was a short silence. Tonie chewed on her lip and Tess twisted her handkerchief.
“How old is Ponsonby?” demanded Josie tightly.
“How old and how ugly, is it not?” returned Tiddy cordially. “Not a day less than forty-seven. And the general consensus is, you may recall, black as your hat.”
“You may find you like him once you have met him, Josie,” offered Tonie weakly.
“Pooh! An ugly old man, old enough to be my father? Why, Lord Benny Gratton-Gordon told me my eyes were like stars and he dreams of me every night! And he is six foot tall and the son of a marquis, with the most ravishing black curls!”
“Eighth in line for the title, I believe,” noted Tonie drily. “Added to which, he is even more of an imbecile than Lord Welling.”
“Viscount Welling is very good-looking and quite out of the top drawer, and all you could attract was that boring Reverend Walsingham-Smyth!” retorted Josie. “And a clergyman is nothing, if he does have a Roman nose and an uncle who is a bishop!”
Tonie was very flushed, but she did not retort in kind.
Josie thought about it, pouting. Eventually she conceded sourly: “I dare say one could live very well on that sort of income, and if Ponsonby was an antidote, one need not see very much of him.”
“Well, a belted earl may offer for you before he can, but I think we can conclude you have not quite ruled yourself out of the running,” concluded Tiddy. “Tonie?”
Tonie’s hands had clenched into fists and her mouth was very tight.
“Tiddy, my dear—” began Tess.
“Hush. The fact that you are the eldest does not necessarily mean that you must be the willing sacrifice. Tonie must make up her mind for herself.”
Tonie took a deep breath. “If he turns out to be a respectable man, and I am sure Mamma’s word may be relied upon in such a matter, then I dare say it may not be so distasteful.”
“Well, that gives Ponsonby three candidates, and if you cannot stomach it, Tess, I am sure he does not need you as well!” said Tiddy airily.
“Tiddy,” said Tess very faintly, “you are turning this into a game.”
“I am not; on the contrary, I am looking at it coldly and rationally,” she said calmly.
“Actually, I think she is,” admitted Tonie reluctantly.
Sighing, Tess said: “In the end, it must be up to him to—to express a preference.”
“Oh, pooh!” cried Tiddy. “Only in the first instance! If the person on whom his preference falls should be unavailable, then I venture to suggest it will be up to us to put forward our own candidate! And I think we should decide on the order of sacrifice.”
“Tiddy, please,” said Tess with a sigh.
“No, Tess, she is right in a way,” said Tonie grimly. “We had best be prepared. And I confess, I cannot care for Cousin Peter. Perhaps this Mr Ponsonby may be preferable.”
“Lieutenant-Colonel Ponsonby,” corrected Tess feebly.
“Lieutenant-Colonel? Ho!” cried Tiddy on a triumphant note.
“What is that supposed to mean, pray?” demanded Josie loftily.
“Have you forgotten? That is the point at which the ones who will get no further always stick! That last big step up to full colonel is the crucial one!”
Josie raised the perfectly shaped eyebrows and gave a smothered titter. “Given that we left India when you were twelve years old—”
“Girls, please!” cried Tonie angrily. “Let us discuss this rationally or not at all!”
“I am,” said Tiddy grimly. “He must be fairly negligible if he did not get the step-up, and I dare say a determined woman could wind him round her little finger.”
“You, for instance?” sneered Josie.
“She is certainly determined enough,” admitted Tess.
Tiddy looked smug. “Well, shall we discuss precedence? Tess, are your affections fixed on Dr Goodenough?” she demanded baldly.
Tears starting to her eyes, Tess stumbled up and ran out of the room.
“I think that settles that,” concluded Tiddy.
“He is a pauper!” protested Josie.
“More to the point, he called once after Papa died,” noted Tonie grimly.
Tiddy gave her a scornful glance. “That is because that frightful mother of his got it out of Mamma that none of us will get a fortune if one of us does not take Ponsonby. She will have ordered him to sheer off, mark my words.” She shrugged. “But if Tess wants him, why not?”
“Tiddy, she would live under the frightful woman’s thumb!” protested Tonie.
“True. But then, she is the stuff of which doormats are made.”
Josie’s jaw had dropped. “I thought you loved her?” she croaked.
Tiddy gave her an impatient look. “I do, silly. That does not mean I am blind. Well, do we agree that Tess shall not be the sacrifice, if we can help it?”
Josie scowled and shrugged. Eventually Tonie said reluctantly: “If she wishes to tie herself up to a spineless country doctor… The fortune will smooth the way with his mother. But I do not wish to put myself forward as a candidate for Mrs Ponsonby in her place, thank you.”
“Tiddy,” said Josie, leaning forward eagerly, her eyes open very wide: “don’t you think that you had best have him? For it would be a positive crime were I to throw myself away on an ugly old lieutenant-colonel! Lord Welling was utterly at my feet last year!”
|"Study for Vernon, Viscount Welling, as a Young Man"|
Oil; attrib. to Frederick Greenstreet, circa 1822.
Formerly in the Welling Collection. Courtesy of the Maunsleigh Collection
“He is not a poor man,” noted Tonie, “but his mother is certainly reported to be looking for a fortune for him.”
“So would he come up to scratch,” asked Tiddy, “if Josie were to have her fortune?”
“Yes,” said Josie instantly, her nose in the air.
“Possibly he would,” admitted Tonie.
“Well, good. In that case, if you decide you do not want Ponsonby, Josie, you will most certainly have other options left open to you,” said Tiddy kindly.
“Decide— You are not implying she is to have first choice?” gasped Tonie.
“Tonie,” said Tiddy heavily: “look at her. Don’t you think, if you were a man who had spent the last twenty years skulking around on spying expeditions in the mofussil, hardly setting eyes on an Englishman let alone an English rose like her, she would be your first choice?”
Tonie looked at the now smirking Josie. The golden curls, the huge blue eyes, and the rose-petal complexion… “Um, yes,” she admitted reluctantly.
“Yes. One must be realistic,” said Tiddy on a firm note. “But if she does not want him, do you want to have next refusal?”
Tonie gnawed on her lip. “I could not contemplate it, if I found I could not like or respect him.”
“No, no: that is what I mean! Do you wish to have the chance of saying you cannot like or respect him, before it is too late?”
“Too late?” she said uncertainly.
“I see what she means!” gasped Josie. “For one of us must take him! But if you put yourself last on the list, Tonie, and we both turn him down, then you have no choice!”
“Yes,” said Tiddy calmly, as Tonie’s jaw dropped. “That is it, precisely, Tonie. One of the four of us must have him, and as I think we three can admit that none of us possesses a fraction of Tess’s sensibility, logically it must be you, or Josie, or me. You see? Two of us will have the chance to refuse.”
“We could still refuse, even if we were the last,” said Tonie, grim-mouthed.
“No!” cried Josie angrily. “For then the rest of us would get nothing!”
“Mm. One could still refuse, but not with honour,” said Tiddy drily. “So, do you want to be second on the list, Tonie?”
“Yes,” she said frankly. “But that leaves you with no option but to take him, Tiddy.”
“Not at all. That leaves me with the likelihood that one of you will grab him before Tamasha can come to me. But it also gives me two chances out of three of not having to marry him. See?”
“I suppose there is no fairer way of doing it,” she admitted.
“That’s right, though Aunt Mary will doubtless force Tess to take him,” noted Josie. She got up. “I expect that he will not suit me at all. But remark, there would be no chance of either of you capturing him, should I indicate a preference!” She gave a light laugh, and drifted out.
“Insufferable,” said Tonie tightly.
“Yes, but an insufferable English rose, Tonie,” Tiddy reminded her.
“Mm. Er, look, Tiddy,” she said uneasily, “there is every chance that Tess will insist on sacrificing herself. And I am very sure Aunt Mary will put her forward, as the oldest.”
“She must refuse, and we must support her,” she said firmly.
Tonie could see very clearly that if Tess was to disobey Aunt Mary’s wishes—an unlikely event in itself—then she, as the next sister, would inevitably be put forward as the sacrifice. “She is not as strong-minded as you. I cannot imagine that she will stand up to Aunt Mary.”
Tiddy's pointed jaw hardened. “In that case, I shall speak to Ponsonby sahib myself, and tell him her heart is given to another.”
“Er—ye-es…” Tonie looked dubiously at Tiddy’s slight figure, at her crumpled print gown, and at the light brown bird’s nest which even several months under Aunt Mary’s roof had not managed to reduce to anything resembling a hairdo.
Tiddy’s grey-green eyes narrowed. “I shall make it,” she said evilly, “a point of honour.” She have a nasty chuckle. Tonie blenched, in spite of herself. “Ponsonby sahib would never do anything that smacked of the dishonourable, Tonie, mark my words!”
“You were the merest child when we left India; how can you possibly know that?” said Tonie uneasily. The more so, as she could clearly see Ponsonby, like Aunt Mary, falling back on the next sister if Tess were out of the running.
Tiddy gave her a dry look. “I manipulated him pretty well for the first twelve years of my life, that is how.”
“Tiddy, just because he used to bring you packets of sweetmeats—”
“Tonie, I can promise you that I know him as well as I know any creature under the sun. Listen: remember those six months the holy man sat under the vine?”
“What?” she said blankly.
“Our last year in India. You cannot have forgotten!”
“Er—yes, I suppose there was a— Well, he was a beggar, Tiddy: only the servants would think of him as holy man.”
“I dare say. Do you remember the funeral service they held for Ponsonby sahib?”
“Tiddy, what is this nonsense? The man has just written Uncle James a letter!”
“You really did go about the whole time with your head full of nothing but beaux, music lessons, and silly sketching, didn’t you?” she said affably. “Less than a year before we left India, they had a memorial service for Ponsonby sahib because he was said to be drowned up the country,” she said slowly and clearly. Her sister continued to look blank. “Colonel Langford was there with most of his REGIMENT!” shouted Tiddy.
“Oh, of course: Colonel Langford!” she smiled. “Such a pleasant gentleman.”
“I thought so,” muttered Tiddy, sotto voce. “The Carrutherses and Mr Feathers came round to the house afterwards,” she said loudly, “and Mr Feathers had to mop his eyes, even though he had never knowingly met Ponsonby sahib. We were all on the verandah.”
|"The side verandah, Ma Maison, Calcutta, 1926"|
Photograph from the Widdop family papers
“Er—I vaguely remember,” she said dubiously.
“It was some little time after that, that the holy man turned up under our vine. You may remember that you wanted to have him chased off but Papa said that the house would acquire merit if we let him stay. And when that did not convince you, he said that the servants would believe it would, and it would undoubtedly improve the quality of their service, whereas to chase him off would multiply—”
“I remember,” said Tonie in a stifled voice. “Multiply their ineptitudes. Oh, dear: I can just hear him saying it!”
“Yes.” Tiddy eyed her drily. “The holy man was Ponsonby.”
Tonie’s jaw sagged.
“Only Papa and I knew. And Ranjit Singh, of course—he knew everything.”
Tonie took a deep breath. “Tiddy, dear—” she began very kindly.
Tiddy got up, shrugging. “Well and good, don’t believe me. But I know Ponsonby sahib through and through. If he is told that Tess’s heart is given to another, believe you me, he will never press his suit, even though she be the last of the four of us!”
“Whistle a fortune down the wind? Nonsense! –Tiddy, come back here!” she cried angrily.
But Tiddy, shrugging, had gone out.
Tiddy retired early to her room that night and consulted with the devoted Nandinee, who had been ayah to the two younger Lucas girls. Since Nandinee Ayah came from a culture in which arranged marriages were the norm, she of course agreed fervently that Tiddy baba’s marrying Ponsonby sahib and that Tiddy’s son’s inheriting Ma Maison, Tamasha, and a large slice of the burra-sahib’s fortune would be highly desirable: highly desirable indeed!
Tiddy nodded grimly, seating herself at the dressing-table. “And then, a man of honour, and one who remembered to bring papers of jullerbees for scruffy brats when he called on their Papa, cannot possibly be all bad, can he?” Ignoring Nandinee’s excited ratification of this remark, she grasped the bird’s nest on her head firmly and lifted it up, to see whether that would improve the view. We-ell… the added height possibly made her face seem less youthfully round; but then, according to Josie, “everyone” was wearing side-curls this year, and the Grecian look was utterly outmoded. Tiddy stuck her tongue out at the reflection in the glass, ignoring Nandinee Ayah’s protests. “Hopeless. He will never look twice at me,” she said glumly, “when there are Tess’s sweet docility and conformable brown curls on the one hand, Tonie’s handsome profile and lovely grey-blue eyes on another, and Josie’s masses of gold and speedwell blue lakes on yet another!”
Nandinee Ayah broke into an involved speech in reply, in which loyal protest, reproof, and the suggestion that Tiddy baba take her own advice on the subject of hair and dress all mingled nicely, but Tiddy ignored her.
“I shall manage it,” she said grimly. “Josie doesn’t want him, and Tess is in love with that spineless Dr Goodenough, and Tonie does not wish for an arranged marriage. I don’t think any of them has done the requisite arithmetic: but he gets a whole third of Papa’s estate, and for what? Merely being a male! It is the most unjust thing ever! Whereas we get, at the most, one sixth each! I shall never forgive Papa—never! I shall turn myself into a fine lady, whom dashed Ponsonby will find irresistible. –Do you remember Forbes memsahib? All frills and parasols, and that awful cooing voice! The gentlemen adored her. The very thing!”
The ayah held her hands up and broke into a well-ratified speech of protest, but Tiddy ignored her. “Mrs Forbes,” she said grimly. “I shall do it, or perish in the attempt!”
—She was very young: none of us are very wise, and few of us are charitable-hearted, at that age. And one must remember she had lately lost her dear Papa and Mamma. A tray of tea would be most welcome at this point, yes, Mr Thomas: would you ring? Thank you so much. …Most refreshing! Lucas & Pointer’s tea, as our dear little Matt would say! That boy is growing up with such a look of his Great-Grandpapa! No, well, there is plenty of time for him to decide on what he wishes to do with his life. Where we? Oh, yes: Ponsonby sahib’s arrival at Tamasha! Much of this we had from the dear man himself, many y[ears later].
Ponsonby Sahib’s Arrival at Tamasha
[Here several pages of Our India Days are missing. This section is a reconstruction. –K.W.]
The house’s name was Mr Lucas’s idea of a joke, for “tamasha” means “spectacle.” And, according to his description of it, it was that, all right: guaranteed to set its genteel neighbours in a flurry. Ponsonby sahib was relieved to see that in spite of its late master’s joking claims for it, Tamasha was not over-grand at all: a pretty house, very much in the modern style, with a portico featuring white Classical pillars.
|"Tamasha in the early 1930s"|
Photograph, circa 1932, from the Widdop family papers
—Though the entrance hall certainly featured a grand white marble staircase and a mantelpiece taller than entire dwellings he had lived in.
Sir James and Lady Allenby were waiting for him in the morning-room and received him most graciously. The experienced Gil Ponsonby eyed them with a certain dryness which he was careful not to allow to become apparent, and concluded, as they urged him to a seat and continued to chat graciously, that Allenby was not half the man his brother, the Colonel, was, and that his wife, a discontented-looking plump, fair woman, over-dressed in an elaborate black gown with violet ribbons, was possibly as snobbish and greedy as most of her kind and was not in fact out of the elevated drawer which her manner indicated she would like one to suppose. In short, a not uncommon type.
After not very long at all Sir James announced he would not beat about the bush, forthwith stating that he supposed Colonel Ponsonby had come home to take up his inheritance.
“Something like that,” murmured Ponsonby.
Eyeing him suspiciously, Sir James noted that it was an unfortunate circumstance that his sister, Mrs Lucas, should have died just at this juncture, but that of course he and Lady Allenby were doing their duty by the girls.
Did he expect to be offered remuneration out of the Lucas estate? Er—on second thoughts, it was not unlikely. Ponsonby sahib did not apologise for his remissness in not having attended at Mrs Lucas’s deathbed, but merely said flatly that he thought he must have been on the high seas at the time, and that he was grateful for Sir James for having looked after his wards. Using, alas, the last expression intentionally.
“Wards!” said Sir James, puffing up his large frame like a particularly unpleasant bullfrog. “Yes, well, I dare say!”
“As I understand it,” said Ponsonby detachedly, “they must fall to my charge whether or no I marry one of them during what remains of the five years following Henry’s death. Though in the event I do not, I shall have no chaperone for them.”
“Good God, man, you must have a sister or some such who can do it!” said Sir James on an annoyed note. This was not the turn he had envisaged the conversation’s taking, at all.
“Well, yes. Two. But Jessica has no taste, in either fashions or men, and will attempt to trick ’em all out in something unbecoming, not to say redecorate Tamasha unfortunately, the meantime thrusting them into the arms of unacceptables, and Catherine, who is a widow with two hopeful sons, will attempt to force ’em upon them, on the assumption that I intend marrying one of them and helping the rest to a fortune,” he said mildly.
Sir James and his spouse were now both rather red. However, Lady Allenby ventured on a firm note: “It can only be to the young woman’s advantage, Colonel Ponsonby, should you marry one of them: I think you must be aware of that?”
“And to your own, man!” said Sir James testily.
“Oh, quite,” he murmured.
“Well?” demanded Sir James angrily. “What are your intentions, sir?”
It was not the sort of “sir” which a man might use to his colonel; quite the reverse. More the sort which Ponsonby’s own colonel, in those far-off days when he had been Sub-Lieutenant Ponsonby and thought himself too good for the box-wallah, Lucas, had been used to address to dim young subalterns who had got themselves into hot water in the town. Ponsonby eyed him in some amusement. Clearly Sir James had been betrayed into a mode of speech which temperate reflection must suggest was not, at this point, at all tactful.
“I suppose my intentions amount to no more than getting to know the Miss Lucases,” he said, very mildly indeed.
In spite of this mildness the Allenbys’ eyes were seen to brighten. And Lady Allenby went so far as to say: “You will find that Theresa, Miss Lucas, is a most conformable young woman with a praiseworthy sense of her duty, Colonel.”
This sort of statement was, true, no more than Ponsonby had expected. Nevertheless he felt himself experiencing a kind of wild disbelief as it proceeded from her mouth.
“Yes,” he said on a dubious note. “That would be Tess, would it? I vaguely remember her as a tall girl, with brown curls.”
|"Tess Lucas as a Girl"|
Gouache, artist unknown, circa 1815?
From the Widdop family papers
“She has developed,” said Lady Allenby on a note of finality, “into a most attractive young woman. I am sure you will care to meet her.” Forthwith she rang the bell and asked for Miss Lucas to be sent in.
“This,” said Tonie flatly, after the footman, all agog, had panted into the little upstairs sitting-room with his message and been dismissed, “must be it.”
“Obviously,” noted Josie, trying vainly for a note of bravado.
“Do not let him offer, Tess,” warned Tiddy.
Tess tried to smile. “He will not do that, when he has scarce set foot in the house.”
“Why not? He might as well get it over with.”
“Stop that, Tiddy,” warned Tonie.
Tiddy shrugged. “That horse he rode up on was nothing very much: he has not changed since India, one must collect.”
“Tiddy, stop it instantly,” ordered Tonie, opening the door. “Shall I come down with you?” she said in a low voice to Tess.
“She has not sent for you, dearest: I think it would be ill-advised.”
“Good luck, Tess,” said Josie uncertainly.
Tess smiled a little. “Thank you, my dear. I don’t think I shall need it just yet, however.”
Considerately Tiddy waited until the door had closed after her before noting: “Not much! I would not put it beyond Aunt Mary to order him instantly to propose.”
No-one responded, not even Tonie.
After moment Tiddy said with a wobble in her voice: “I wish it could all be like it was in India. Do you remember? How cosy we were on the side verandah, with Mamma’s big swing, and the awnings half down, and the punkah-wallah fanning—”
“Be silent!” said Tonie fiercely.
“—fanning us,” ended Tiddy mournfully.
“Pooh, it was all heat and flies,” said Josie uncertainly.
“Be silent!” shouted Tonie.
The younger girls were silent, scowling.
Ponsonby saw at once that Miss Lucas did remember him, that she was not attracted by him, and that underneath the good manners she was a very unhappy young woman. Whether or not the unhappiness was due only to the fact that her aunt was attempting to force her into marriage with himself remained to be seen. Well, there was the stepmother’s death, too, of course, following so soon upon her Papa’s. He spoke kindly but not too emphatically to her about her parents and then asked Lady Allenby if he might meet the sisters. Very, very obviously this had not been on the Allenbys’ agenda for the morning, but she acceded to the suggestion with a good enough grace, and had them sent for.
He scarcely remembered Miss Tonie at all, though he had a vague recollection of another tall, brown-haired girl. The curls were lighter and the big grey-blue eyes much more attractive than he had recalled, and, all in all, she had developed into a handsome enough piece, if on the prim side. She greeted him very properly, but Gil Ponsonby did not think he was imagining the way her eyes flickered disapprovingly over his rather worn breeches and boots and the awful brown coat from the fell hand of Mr Mookerjee of Calcutta.
He had recalled little Josie baba as a very pretty, very vain, and very silly little doll. The which the instant recoil at the sight of his unassuming self more or less confirmed she still was. Why had he had the mad hope that she might have grown into something as graciously kind as she was beautiful? It was not the habit of silly little dolls to do so, even with stepmammas as kind, sensible and caring as had been the late Mrs Lucas. Her older sisters were dressed in simple black gowns, but Miss Joséphine was in a black-dotted white muslin, becomingly trimmed with bunches of ribbon which might have been black but had nothing mournful in their aspect at all.
“And this,” said Lady Allenby on a grim note, “is the youngest, Angèle. They call her Tiddy, in the family. You must excuse her appearance, Colonel. I had no notion that gown was in her wardrobe.”
Ponsonby looked at Miss Angèle Lucas and, accustomed though he was to keeping his countenance in situations fraught with far more danger than was the pretty morning-room of Tamasha, had much ado not to laugh. The thick brown hair with the amber lights, which had used to have been worn in a tangle down her back, was up in the most sophisticated of coiffures, and the gown was a frightening affair of narrow black and white stripes, edged and tasselled in white. On a woman of thirty the outfit would have been stunning. On pretty little Tiddy the effect was of a child who had dressed in her mother’s clothes.
“How do you do, Colonel Ponsonby?” she said with a gracious smile, holding out her hand in a practised gesture. “I dare say you don’t remember me, but I remember you quite well!”
No doubt he was meant to bow over the hand. Ponsonby resisted the impulse to shake it firmly instead, produced a bow of the temperate sort, and said with a grin: “Hullo, little Tiddy. Of course I remember you. Addicted to jullerbees, wasn’t it?”
She went very red, snatched her hand back and glared impotently, while the blonde, blue-eyed Josie collapsed in giggles.
“Er—yes. Tiddy often mentions those jullerbees,” said Tess faintly.
“Mm, well, they’re mostly stomach at that age, are they not, Miss Lucas?” he said mildly. “Please, won’t you all sit down? Do you still have pets? I remember there always used to be singing birds, and puppies and ponies galore at your father’s house in Calcutta.”
Miss Lucas and Miss Antonia responded properly to this gambit, but the blonde Miss Joséphine merely pouted sulkily and little Tiddy continued to glare.
All in all, concluded Gil Ponsonby silently, the situation was pretty much what he had expected. Poor girls: what a mess. And what, for God’s sake, had been the intention behind Henry Lucas’s mad will? He, of all people, must have been capable of seeing his younger daughters as individual human beings, with minds of their own. Preserving the property was all very well, and it was understandable he should not wish to see the girls’ inheritance thrown away by the first unsuitable scoundrel or imbecile on whom their fancies should alight. But if the man was that worried about their inheritance, could he not just have appointed him as a trustee, and left it at that? No, well, he had been over it all a thousand times, and there was no fathoming it. They must all just make the best of it.
It took Gil Ponsonby just a week to get the Allenbys, père, mère et fils, out of Tamasha. He could have done it in a day, but held back until, on Miss Lucas’s advice, a Mlle Dupont had arrived from nearby Folkestone to chaperone his wards and, on his own, Mr Hodgkins had managed to get down from London. In the event, Ponsonby did not need the lawyer’s verbal backing to make it quite clear to Sir James that the responsibility for the four Lucas daughters was now legally his. There was some huffing and puffing about expenses, but Ponsonby, unmoved, merely required the baronet to render Mr Hodgkins a statement of his expenditure to date. And that was that. Well, they were clearly very angry, but what could they do? None of the girls was in fact related to them, and Sir James had not been mentioned in any capacity in either their stepmother’s or their father’s wills. Ponsonby of course did not neglect to thank them for their care of the girls, but all concerned were aware that this was a mere form. Possibly he should have assured them that they would hope to see them again later in the summer but as it was pretty clear none of their step-nieces desired that, he did not bother with any such assurance. And off they went, Sir James very red and haughty, Lady Allenby over-gracious to the last, and Mr Peter very sulky indeed.
Ponsonby gave the girls two days to settle down a little, and then called a meeting in the library.
|"The Library at Tamasha - Winter"|
Pen & ink, circa 1820? Unsigned. From the Widdop family papers.
He now knew that in Henry Lucas’s day no-one had used this room, much: the nabob had spent his working hours in his study, and although Ponsonby had sensibly taken it over, he was not so heartless as to call the girls into the room they must associate with their adored father.
Miss Lucas entered the room looking wan and red-eyed. She had been red-eyed every day since Ponsonby had arrived. Well, it was natural the girls should be missing their parents, and far be it from him to dictate to another human being when the period of true mourning should cease. Poor dashed girl. In a way it was a pity she was so ladylike, or he could put her out of at least some of her misery by informing her straitly that he had no more wish to marry her than she, apparently, to marry him. Miss Antonia looked coldly bored. Since she was even more ladylike than the sister it could not have been said she appeared precisely sulky—no. Bored and, under the coolness, resentful, was about it. Josie looked sulky and defiant as well as bored, which was what he had expected from that particular little piece of baroque beauty. And little Tiddy looked extremely defiant and ready to burst out at him the minute he put a foot wrong. Or quite possibly even if he did not.
He saw them all seated and then said calmly: “I’m not used to dealing with girls, so I hope you will not mind if I conduct this meeting along the lines of a briefing of my men.”
“I thought you were used to work alone?” retorted Tiddy promptly, glaring suspiciously.
“On the contrary, I had quite a large body of fellows under my command. In the field I often worked alone, when the mission required it, however. –Mlle Dupont, are you quite comfortable there?” He rose, smiling, and adjusted the curtains so that the direct sun did not fall on the little Frenchwoman’s face.
“You all know the terms of your father’s will, so I shall not go over them,” he said mildly. “I will just say this, that we have over four years before any final decisions need be made, and I think we should all take the time to get to know one another and consider our options.”
The older girls nodded and smiled gratefully, and even Josie nodded the yellow curls; but Tiddy glared, and sticking out her pointed little chin, noted: “We have considered our options, and we have none. What difference can three or four years make?”
“We shall all be older, for one thing,” replied Ponsonby meanly.
Predictably, Josie went into a fit of giggles, and he was almost sorry he had said it.
“I am not a child,” said Tiddy through her teeth.
“No, but you are not positively elderly, either, and that brings me to my first point. Dress.”
The little former governess and the four young women gaped at him. No wonder: today he was in yet another pair of his shabby breeches, with a truly extraordinary effort on his back, one of Mookerjee’s best: greenish-brown, possibly intended as a riding coat but quite horridly frocked, the lapels positively enormous, and the whole thing, after years of wear under the burning Indian sun, faded unevenly. It gave the impression that it had been made for a slightly larger man, but then, Mookerjee’s coats often did. And Ponsonby was no slighter than he had been the year it had been made for him, the which had coincided with the glorious battle of Waterloo.
“I should prefer to see Tiddy,” he said mildly, “in the simple muslins and prints befitting her age, Mlle Dupont. Her dresses are very lovely, but, permit me to say, too old for her.”
“I told you so!” cried Josie triumphantly. “She has been wearing some of Mamma’s, sir.”
“I do not want to wear namby-pamby prints and muslins,” stated Tiddy, glaring at Josie’s frilled and flounced muslin.
|"Fashionable walking dress"|
Fashion plate, circa 1827. From the Widdop family papera
Ponsonby refrained from either smiling or frowning. “I do not stipulate namby-pamby; merely, something appropriate.” Since Josie was now sniggering unkindly he allowed himself to add: “And I should also be grateful, Mlle Dupont, if you would see to it that Miss Josie adorns her gowns with rather fewer bows and, er, bunches. Never mind if they be black, grey or lilac, I cannot think them appropriate during the period of her mourning for Mrs Lucas.”
“Sir,” said Tonie, biting her lip, as poor Josie crimsoned furiously, “Josie was truly fond of Mamma.”
“I am sure, and I did not mean to imply otherwise. I am merely thinking of what the neighbouring cats will say. That is,” he said, lifting his brows, “if the neighbourhood be composed of the kind of cats we had in India?”
“Of course it is!” said Tiddy on a scornful note. “Why, Lady Gordon-Smythe does not even call, because Papa was in trade!”
“That is unjust, Tiddy,” said Tess in a low voice. “She was very kind when Mamma passed away.”
“Yes, well, it is a pity that she could not have given her the recognition during her lifetime which she afforded her at her death,” said Tiddy in a hard voice, “for it might have done some good, then!”
“Not, I think, unless you wish to take Mr Gordon-Smythe or Mr George Gordon-Smythe, Tiddy, ma chère, and since I have heard you times innumerable refer to them as a pair of noddies, I think the least said the soonest mended, no?” said Mlle Dupont brightly.
Tiddy subsided, glaring.
“Good, well, those are two of my main points,” said Ponsonby at his mildest. “For the rest, I desire you to go on just as you always have. Er—no dancing, of course.”
“We do not wish to dance, and if we did there is no-one who wishes to dance with us, for our neighbours hate us! But who cares?” cried Tiddy vividly.
Josie noted with a sideways look at her new guardian: “Sir William Hathaway does not hate us. At least, he does not hate Tess!”
“No,” agreed Tiddy immediately, “that is true. And of course Mr Gordon-Smythe and Mr George do not loathe yourself. But can they count, in that their Papa is but a knight?”
“That’ll do, Tiddy,” said Ponsonby in a bored tone.
Tiddy subsided, bright red.
“It is true, I suppose, Colonel Ponsonby, that we have only acquaintances, and no real friends in the neighbourhood,” said Tonie valiantly. “Though Miss Gordon-Smythe and Miss Mary would be friends, if they were allowed. And Mrs Elliott, who is the widowed sister of Sir William Hathaway, has been very kind.”
“So have dear Miss Bartlett and Mr and Miss Partridge,” murmured Tess.
“Pooh!” cried Josie. “Village odd-bodies!”
“Partridge?” said Ponsonby on an odd note.
“They are brother and sister, sir,” explained Miss Lucas politely. “They own a charming half-timbered little house called Little Froissart. Er, the spelling is F,R,O,I,S,S,A,R,T, though the pronunciation is ‘Freshet.’”
He cleared his throat. “Er—yes. I think, in that case, they must be the Partridges who are connections of Lord Sleyven?”
“Why, yes,” agreed Miss Lucas. “Miss Partridge has mentioned the connexion.”
“Mentioned!” said Josie with a scornful crack of laughter. “She never stops! Though fortunately she is so busy dashing off to London to be with her august cousin, or dashing off to his huge country seat to count his china and silver for him, that she is not home very much.” She eyed Ponsonby from under her lashes. “However, we shall continue to socialise with them, if you desire it, sir, of course.”
“Well, yes, I rather think I do desire it,” he said mildly. “Given that Jarvis Wynton was my Colonel, for years. –The Partridges might have mentioned that the family name is Wynton?”
“Innumerable times!” said Josie with a pettish shrug.
“Er—there was a man of that name in Calcutta, for a while,” said Tess. “You remember, Tonie.”
“I think so. His regiment was sent north, was that it?”
“Our Colonel Wynton,” said Tiddy gruffly. “Ignore those noddies, Ponsonby sahib.”
“Yes,” he said with a great sigh. “Our Colonel Wynton, Tiddy baba.”
“Do not ask how they could have forgotten,” warned Tiddy, “for the world could have fallen down around their ears and they would not have noticed, so long as they had their painting and their piano and their silly little German songs and their picknicks with inane young gentlemen.”
“Uh—yes. Do you remember that time the holy man sat for months opposite the verandah?” he ventured, almost sure that little Tiddy was coming round, at last.
She gave him a look of unutterable scorn. “Of course!”
“I’m sorry; I don’t understand, Colonel,” ventured Tess. “I do remember that Papa let a saddhoo live under the pergola, yes. It must have been our last year in Calcutta. Er—but I think Colonel Wynton had long since left the district.”
“I remember a Colonel Langford: a delightful gentleman,” said Tonie, eyeing Tiddy uncertainly, and wondering if her ridiculous claim that Lieutenant-Colonel Ponsonby himself had been the holy man had any foundation.
“Not half the man Colonel Wynton was, you noddy,” said Tiddy in a hard voice.
“Tiddy, my dear, you are getting above yourself,” warned Miss Lucas limply.
“But wait!” gasped Josie. “Colonel Wynton? I am sure Miss Partridge— You cannot mean that your Colonel Wynton is the Earl of Sleyven, sir, surely?”
Ponsonby had been wondering when it would sink in. “Mm,” he said on a wry note, not unaware that her older sisters were now exchanging glances. Tiddy looked bored, but it was beyond his poor powers to tell whether she was feigning it or no. Well—the lack of interest in belted earls was genuine, he was pretty sure. But the little Tiddy he remembered from India days would have been all agog at the idea that she might see their Colonel again.
“May I ask, have you been to Maunsleigh, sir?” asked Tonie politely.
“Well, yes: I spent a few days there on my arrival in England.”
|"Maunsleigh, View from the Deer Park"|
Mezzotint, hand-coloured, circa 1810.
Courtesy of the Maunsleigh Collection
“Maunsleigh!” gasped Josie, clasping her hands together. And apparently overlooking her earlier slighting reference to huge country seats. “Shall you take us there, dear sir?”
“Only if invited to do so, Miss Josie,” he replied, looking very dry. “Though I certainly have no objection to your telling Miss Partridge that your guardian was treated very kindly by her cousin and his wife. I think this discussion started with my saying I would like you all to feel that you may continue on with your usual occupations.”
“China painting, embroidery, and learning up easy little pieces for the pianoforte in order to impress the odd viscount or so,” noted Tiddy sourly.
“That’ll do,” said Ponsonby in a bored tone, just as Tonie and Mlle Dupont were both opening their mouths.
“Er, the reference is to a Lord Welling, sir,” said Tess limply. “We met him in London.”
“I see. Which one did he favour, Josie or Tiddy?” asked Ponsonby, straight-faced.
Josie gave a titter, and tossed her curls. “Me, of course! You do not imagine that Tiddy came up to London, surely? Why, she was not even turned seventeen!”
“I see. Well, if he turns up at Tamasha, refer him to me. Likewise any other fellow who comes for any of the rest of you,” said Ponsonby without any evidence of interest in his tone. “Apart from socialising with the local mixture of sakht burra mems and apkee wastees—I beg your pardon, Mlle Dupont: that is, more or less, grandes dames and toad-eaters—what do you all do? How do you spend your time?”
There was a blank silence in the library of Tamasha.
“Young ladies,” explained Tiddy kindly, “do not do anything, as such. It is as I said: china painting, embroidery, and playing the pianoforte.”
“Perhaps the young ladies would care to speak for themselves,” said Ponsonby mildly.
There was another short silence and then Tonie offered: “I have my painting, sir, as Tiddy mentioned: I am very fond of sketching in general, but I have lately taken up china painting as an especial interest. Papa was most supportive of me, and we had plans for an entire dinner set, once I had perfectly mastered the art. He had arranged to have the pieces fired for me by a most careful manufactory, which I believe supplies one of the paternal aunts of the Marquis of Rockingham with her pieces. Tess has her music, of course, and she also does very fine embroidery. You must ask the housekeeper to show you the cover she embroidered for the chaise longue in Mamma’s boudoir. I think it is generally conceded that her work is of the highest calibre. Josie plays the piano very prettily. And we all ride, a little. And Tess and I are hoping to continue Mamma’s habit of visiting the workhouse once a week.”
“She used to take them things to eat, and bandages and bottles of tonic,” explained Tiddy. “Tess and Tonie sometimes went with her. And also to several people in the village.”
“Tiddy, they are hardly in the same case,” murmured Tess.
“No, well, they are not precisely in need but they are not as well off as we are,” explained Tiddy. “Tonie often drives the trap, and if the weather is not too wet and cold we all take a constitutional. It’s not like India, you don’t have to have a bearer or a syce with you.”
Considerably to Ponsonby’s regret, this indication of possible softening towards himself was immediately squashed by her eldest sister. “Tiddy, my dear, you are thinking of the life you led as a child,” she said with a smothered sigh. “But I suppose those are certainly are our normal occupations, Colonel Ponsonby.”
“Boring, are they not?” said Tiddy brightly.
“Entirely suited to young ladies,” he responded calmly. “Well, if there is any question of needing a new pony, or some such, please do not hesitate to ask me.”
“Our stables are bursting with ponies and horses, thank you. But you might usefully take up where Papa left off in the matter of the firing of Tonie’s china,” said Tiddy helpfully.
Quite possibly Tonie had intended making this request herself. She gave her a coldly annoyed look and said: “There is no need for you to bother with such trivia, Colonel.”
“No, no: that is precisely the sort of thing I need to know, Miss Tonie,” he said with a smile. “Tell me about it, if you please.”
“Er, well, usually we would wait until I had a little collection to be done,” she said on a limp note. “I am sorry; I do not know exactly how Papa arranged it.”
“I shall find out,” he said mildly, wondering what, precisely, it took to raise a smile from Miss Antonia Lucas. “Now, is there anything at all you feel I should know? Or anything any of you wish to ask me?”
There was dead silence in the charming library of Tamasha.
“I shall continue your accustomed allowances,” he murmured.
“Thank you, Colonel Ponsonby,” responded Miss Lucas politely.
“Is there enough money for that?” asked Tiddy, her brow furrowing.
“Tiddy, mon ange, that will absolutely do,” said Mlle Dupont on a brisk note, rising. “I think you should all thank Colonel Ponsonby for consulting you, my dears.”
Tiddy began mutinously: “I wouldn’t call it consult—” And subsided, having caught the little Frenchwoman’s eye.
“Yes,” said Miss Lucas, still wan, rising. “You are very kind, Colonel.”
“Indeed,” agreed Miss Tonie, still unsmiling, rising. “We have to thank you for your consideration, Colonel. I am sure you have many things to see to: we should not trespass further on your time. Come along, Josie.”
Josie got up, looking uncertainly from her sisters to her new guardian.
“She wishes to ask you,” said Tiddy on a scornful note, “whether her pin money might be increased, since she has thrown away all that was left of the last quarter’s on those hideous bows and bunches you have forbidden her to wear. And the reason that she is hesitating is not that she is ashamed of her greed or her extravagance—”
“That’ll do,” said Ponsonby, two seconds ahead of Mlle Dupont.
“But because she fears to betray herself!” shouted Tiddy furiously, turning scarlet. “And it was a reasonable enquiry, and we KNOW there is not any money, and we do not want YOURS!” Forthwith she hurled open the library door and rushed out like a whirlwind.
“Do not apologise for her, Mlle Dupont,” said Ponsonby hurriedly as the little Frenchwoman broke into speech.
“I think perhaps we should all apologise for her, sir,” said Tonie stiffly.
“Indeed,” agreed Tess in a stifled voice, pressing her handkerchief to her mouth.
“No,” he said tiredly. “You have all had very much to bear. Run along, then.”
Uncertainly the young ladies allowed Mlle Dupont to shepherd them out.
Ponsonby sank back down onto his chair with a sigh. He supposed he could have made a greater mull of all that. Though at the precise moment, it was hard to see how. …And to think, of all of them, it had been sensible, intelligent little Tiddy whom he had expected to have as his natural ally! What a dashed pity that girls had to grow into—well, girls, thought Ponsonby dully, staring unseeingly at the fine Persian rug which adorned the late Henry John Lucas’s library floor.
After quite some time he became aware that he was experiencing a very odd sense of familiarity. He blinked, and looked again at the rug. Yes, it was: the very same rug that had once adorned the wide polished floor of the big, dim library in Calcutta, where Tiddy and her little friends had been used to mount guard under the huge old library table…
Ponsonby found that his eyes had filled with tears. “D— fool,” he muttered under his breath, dashing them away with the back of his hand. The essence of life, after all, was change, was it not? One could not go back—and there was, indeed, nothing to go back to. His career was over, so he had better make the best of what he had. And get on with it. He did not, however, get on with it immediately, but sat there for quite some time, staring at the big Persian rug of the Tamasha library.