THE GREAT TAMASHA COOKBOOK AND FAMILY
Tamasha Receives Callers
Mrs Beeton’s Queen Cakes, A Recipe from 1861
1 lb. of flour, 1/2 lb. of butter, 1/2 lb. of pounded loaf sugar, 3 eggs, 1 teacupful of cream, 1/2 lb. of currants, 1 teaspoonful of carbonate of soda, essence of lemon or almonds to taste.
Mode: Work the butter to a cream; dredge in the flour, add the sugar and currants, and mix the ingredients well together. Whisk the eggs, mix with the cream and flavouring, and stir these to the flour; add the carbonate of soda, beat the paste well for 10 minutes, put it into small buttered pans, and bake the cakes from 1/4 to 1/2 hour. Grated lemon-rind may be substituted for the lemon and almond flavouring, which will make the cakes equally nice.
From the unfinished MS., circa 1899: Our India Days
Chapter 6: The Summer with Ponsonby Sahib at Tamasha
No, no cakes today, children. If you do not care for cucumber sandwiches you may leave them. Who told you of the honey and milk drink, Matt? –Oh. Well, yes, it is delicious but your mammas have said that you children do not need it, in the afternoon. Nor for supper, either, Tessa, dear. Now, as we are just going to tell Madeleine, Mr Thomas and Antoinette of some of the unsuitable beaux by whom your old great-aunties were pursued when we were young ladies, you little ones had best run along and play. And it is a beautiful fine day! Off you go! –Matt, dearest boy, you will become bored. You wish to know? Very well, dear one, but if you lose interest, just slip out quietly. –Thank you, Mr Thomas; the little ones are so forgetful about closing the French windows. Now, as you might imagine, word had got about and so we were not left long in peace at Tamasha after Ponsonby sahib came home…
A Beau Calls at Tamasha, & His Reception Thereat
Tiddy went into the study, scowling, and reported that Dr Goodenough had called. Ponsonby sahib laid down his pen. “Oh? Is someone ill, Tiddy?”
“A social call, then.” She continued to scowl, so he rose and said: “Do you wish me to come and see him?”
“Not right away,” she admitted, still scowling.
Sighing, he sat down again and said: “Tiddy, if you do not tell me what the matter be, I fear I cannot act appropriately.”
“No. Well, the thing is, I’m not sure how to put it.”
“Ah… you have possibly forgotten, over the years, but I don’t think I was ever precisely slow on the uptake, was I?” he murmured.
“Not about the sorts of things you had to know about for your profession, no. But this is about young ladies.”
“In that case,” he said, unsmiling, “you had best explain it all to me very clearly, for that is most certainly a topic about which I know nothing whatsoever.”
“He admires Tess. –Don’t interrupt!” she ordered sharply as he opened his mouth.
Ponsonby subsided, looking meek, and Tiddy continued grimly: “And we know she affects him. I taxed her with it not long since and she burst into tears and ran out of the room.”
“Would this taxing have been in connection with the terms of your father’s will?” he ventured cautiously.
“Yes. Josie thinks Tess ought to take you, since she is the eldest, but although she will not admit it, she doesn’t wish to.”
Very mildly he replied: “I see. Is there more?”
“Yes. Before Papa died, Dr Goodenough seemed quite keen, and although his duties keep him busy, would come to call at least once a week. And his mother was—I suppose you could almost say,” she said, narrowing the grey-green eyes, “that she was encouraging it. At all events, she would sometimes call, and toad-eat Mamma whilst endeavouring to winkle out of her exactly how much Tess’s dowry would be. –Don’t interrupt!” she snapped. “After Papa died, Dr Goodenough called once. We have not seen him since.”
“You were away with your aunt and uncle for a time,” he reminded her cautiously.
Tiddy gave him a scornful look. “He called the week after Papa’s funeral. Shortly after that his mother called and got out of Mamma exactly how things had been left, and since then we have not seen hair nor hide of the pair of them! Is that clear enough for you?”
“Quite. Hanging fire until they see which way the wind blows. I’ll get rid of him,” he said, rising to his feet.
“NO!” she shouted.
Ponsonby blinked at her.
“I knew you wouldn’t understand!”
“Go on,” he sighed, sinking back into his chair.
“I don’t want you to get rid of him, because although he is a spineless nincompoop and completely under his mother’s thumb, he is not positively venal. He does do a lot of good in the neighbourhood, and looks after the cottagers for almost no remuneration. Well, the occasional half-dozen eggs, that sort of thing. And Tess wants him.”
“Tiddy, the man does not sound at all the sort one would wish to see your sister marry.”
“You really know nothing, do you? I entirely agree that none of us would wish to see her marry him, but the point is, she cares for him, not for any worthier object! And she has been mooning after him ever since he came into the district!” Tiddy counted on her fingers. She made a horrible grimace. “It must be over two years, because one of the reasons Mamma sent her away to London for a Season with Aunt Mary was to see if she would find someone more suitable. But she didn’t, you see, though apparently there were plenty of them.”
“So you wish me to encourage this spineless, not positively venal fortune-hunter?”
“Yes. Well, to do him justice, I think the fortune would not weigh so much with him if he were left to himself, but he is completely under his mother’s thumb. –He's very good-looking, in a soft sort of way. Do you remember Charlie Hatton’s papa? A bit like him.”
“I see. I wouldn’t have said Hatton was particularly soft.”
Tiddy eyed him drily. “He never did anything that she wouldn’t like, though, did he? Multiply that about an hundred times, and that is James Goodenough.”
—Indeed, Antoinette, dearest, the comparison with the Reverend and Mrs Frimpton does spring to mind. Er—perhaps we should not have mentioned— Oh, you agree, Mr Thomas? Quite, Madeleine, dear: one cannot help but remark it. No, of course he was not good enough for our dearest Tess, Mr Thomas, if he was Goodenough! But as you will hear, Ponsonby sahib agreed he might call. Giving the fellow enough rope, Mr Thomas? Quite!
Ponsonby sighed. “I collect I am to receive him with complaisance, then, Tiddy?”
“Yes. Only, please give them some time to be together. –I stopped Josie from joining them,” she noted proudly.
“Yes, is it not shocking?” said Tiddy cheerfully.
“Not wholly, no,” he said coolly. “But where is Mlle Dupont?”
“She and Tonie have gone to pay a call on Miss Partridge. Tonie is much keener on calling since you revealed that Lord Sleyven is our Colonel Wynton. She thinks that an invitation to Maunsleigh might be forthcoming, if she butters—”
“That will do, I think.”
“—butters both yourself and Miss Partridge up enough,” finished Tiddy calmly.
“There is really no need to dot positively all the I’s!” he noted crossly.
Unmoved, Tiddy replied: “I’ll call you when it’s time for you to go in there, shall I?”
“No. If he’s still here in ten minutes’ time, I shall go in, and if he ain’t it will possibly indicate that there was no need for this conversation, after all.”
“Pooh!” she said scornfully, going out.
Ponsonby duly went into the pretty downstairs sitting-room. Dr Goodenough was a brown-haired young man, where Major Hatton, like his children, was fair, with blue eyes. But Tiddy was not wrong, nevertheless: there was the same plumpness about the chin, the same sort of undistinguished nose, and the same very pleasant smile. And, indeed, the same air of easygoing charm. It was very clear that Miss Lucas, though her behaviour was entirely proper, could not take her eyes off him. And it was pretty clear to the experienced Ponsonby that the young man knew it. It was nothing so definite as vanity: more an almost instinctive knowledge, that doubtless had been his since his cradle, that he was an attractive fellow who could not fail to please.
The doctor left with a low bow over Miss Lucas’s hand and the promise—with the smile that crinkled his eyes in a way that reminded Ponsonby very much of Hatton doing the pretty to Mrs General Hayworth or other sakht burra mems of her ilk—that his Mamma would call.
“We’ll look forward to that, then,” he noted as Tiddy appeared in the doorway.
“Tiddy, my dear, why did you not come in to speak to our guest? Dr Goodenough must have thought it odd of you,” murmured Miss Lucas.
“The whole neighbourhood thinks I’m odd,” replied Tiddy indifferently. “Did you see his trap?” she demanded of Ponsonby.
|"Driving the trap"|
Pen & ink, artist unknown, circa 1830.
Courtesy of the Maunsleigh Collection
“He drives a cob in it. It ain’t much, but it’s in decent condition.”
“That must speak well of him, then. Though a country doctor needs a reliable horse.”
“Yes; but do you know,” said Tiddy, opening her eyes very wide at him, “the same sort of caveat must obtain, whatever good thing one may find to say of him!”
“Really, Tiddy!” protested her sister, going very red. “How can you say such a thing?”
“Well,” said Tiddy, commencing to tick off points on her fingers, “he is generally very well liked. But then, his person and manners are such as must generally please, so why would he not be?”
Ponsonby got up. “I thought he seemed very pleasant indeed,” he said mildly. “Tiddy, come with me, if you please.” He had thought she might dig her toes in, but she shrugged, and accompanied him to the study. “Remarks such as that,” he said drily, closing the door, “will not persuade your sister that the doctor is not worthy of her affections.”
“No. I was being over-optimistic,” she admitted. “Though I suppose if she is impelled to spring to his defence, it must demonstrate she affects him.”
“I wouldn’t call it springing.” He lounged over to the window and looked out blankly at the spreading green lawns of Tamasha. “On the other hand, I doubt that springing is in Miss Lucas’s nature.”
“Um, well, that’s true,” said Tiddy weakly.
He smiled, just a little. “Mm. –I think it’s going to rain. I’d forgotten how much it rains in England. Let’s hope the doctor gets home dry.”
Tiddy gave a rich snort. “If it starts to pour, he will stop off with Mrs Richards, mark my words! –The Richards cottage is conveniently situate midway between Tamasha and the village. Mr Richards is Sir William Hathaway’s head forester, and Mrs Richards is a buxom, comely person who, rumour has it, is not averse to sending for Dr Goodenough for nothing but a scratched finger.”
Ponsonby turned slowly. “Oh? And he?”
“Only too glad—so rumour has it—to step in and partake of her hot muffins or whatever else may be offering.”
“I should probably say that you should not have said that. Does Tess know of this?”
“No. Miss Partridge tried to drop a hint—a well-meaning hint, to give her her due—but it was so delicately phrased that Tess didn’t understand it. I tried to persuade Mamma that she ought to tell her, but she was too soft-hearted. And Tonie doesn’t know: she is so very straight-laced that people hesitate before repeating such tidbids to her.”
“What makes you imagine that she’s interested?” responded Josie’s full sister drily.
He winced. “I see. Are you implying that I should be the one to enlighten Miss Lucas?”
Tiddy gave him a look of dislike. “No. I’m not accustomed to imply things. I thought it was only fair that you should have the full picture. I know that Tess is of age, but nevertheless you are still the guardian of her fortune, are you not? Added to which she’s so proper that she would never dream of marrying where you disapproved.”
He rubbed his chin. “Isn’t this an exaggeration? Surely, if she cared deeply for a fellow?”
“Ponsonby sahib, you understand nothing—less than nothing,” said Tiddy with a deep sigh. “Did I not say? This is a matter of young ladies!”
“Er—now, listen, Tiddy. The correct behaviour for young ladies is one thing, but the human passions can be a—an extremely strong motivating factor.”
“I do know that. But she is the sort of person whose passions would inspire her not to disobedience but to an intense suffering in the wake of the obedience.”
Ponsonby thought it over, frowning. “Ugh. Charming. –I’m not arguing with you!” he added hastily as she began to glare. “So—er—I suppose the next step is to receive the dashed mother with complaisance, is it?”
“Yes. I might as well warn you now, that you will perceive immediately that she is the sort who will continue to rule her son’s life when he marries, and probably do her best to make her daughter-in-law’s life a misery.”
He groaned. “This is not what you truly want for your sister, is it, Tiddy?”
“NO!” she shouted. “She wants it!”
She made for the door, but Ponsonby was before her, barring her way. “Sit down, Tiddy.”
Scowling, Tiddy flung herself into a chair.
He came and perched on the edge of the desk. “You will not rope me into any plot to marry off your sisters and grab my third of Henry’s estate for yourself.”
“No such thing!” cried Tiddy, very red. “Tess truly wants him!”
“Mm. I could see that, actually.”
“Then why accuse me of plotting?” she cried indignantly.
Ponsonby eyed her drily. “Because I can see that the one don’t negate the other, Tiddy.”
Tiddy again went very red.
“I gather,” he said, at his mildest, “that over the last few years the only person who came near to matching those wits of yours was your father. And I don’t imagine there were many occasions on which you felt a need to deceive him: the two of you were always the best of friends, weren’t you? Don’t waste your energies playing off your tricks with me. I’ve known you since the day you were born.”
“Are you going to support me over this, or not?” she choked.
He slid off the desk and went over to the door. “Possibly. If I think that Tess may be happier married to him than not. You may go; unless you have any further tidbids to impart?”
Tiddy went over to the door, scowling horribly.
“Don’t fight me, Tiddy,” he said very, very mildly. “You have not a hope of winning, you know.”
Scowling, Tiddy stamped out.
Ponsonby sahib shut the door slowly and returned to his desk, looking very thoughtful.
There is no need to apologise for laughing, Madeleine, dear: as you see, Tiddy baba had more than met her match in Ponsonby sahib—though as yet she had not nearly acknowledged as much to herself! The Thomas family never knew our dearest Tess’s late husband, but no, Goodenough of course is not her surname now—but then, much may happen in life, may it not? You and your brother will just have to possess your souls in patience as the story unfolds! But to the callers at Tamasha! The Goodenoughs were not the last, by no means!
Some Elegant Persons Pay Calls at Tamasha
|"Paying calls in the barouche"|
Mezzotint, hand-coloured, artist unknown, circa 1826
Courtesy of the Maunsleigh Collection
Graciously Lady Gordon-Smythe accepted tea. Graciously she praised its quality. Graciously she accepted cake, urging Miss Gordon-Smythe and Miss Mary to partake of it…
“The next step,” noted Tiddy evilly as her Ladyship’s barouche rattled away, “will be for the noddies of sons to call, posies in hand. The only question being, will the posies be for Tonie, Josie, or me?”
“That will do, Tiddy,” said Mlle Dupont calmly.
“Mlle Dupont, it is clearly all round the neighbourhood that Ponsonby sahib is come home to marry Tess and endow the rest of us with our fortunes!”
“I dare say it is. A lady, however,” said the little former governess, unmoved, “would not remark upon the point. Come along, my dear: the remainder of the afternoon may be spent most profitably in practising your stitchery. Josie, my dear, I suggest you practise the new piece that Miss Mary so kindly brought you: her Ladyship will expect to hear it, in the event she invites you all to a quiet dinner en famille as she intimated.”
Josie pouted, but went out, and the scowling Tiddy glumly followed the little Frenchwoman.
“Is she not wonderful?” said Ponsonby to Miss Lucas and Miss Tonie with a twinkle in his eye.
“Er—she was certainly a very competent governess, in her day, sir,” replied Miss Lucas. “And of course we are very fond of her: she was Josie’s and Tiddy’s mamma’s friend.”
“She is certainly capable of handling both of them, if that be wonderful,” conceded Miss Tonie grimly.
He got up, concealing a sigh. “Something like that. Er—how old are the Gordon-Smythe boys?” he added without hope.
The young ladies were not perfectly sure, but Mr George had just come down from the university and Mr Gordon-Smythe was a year or two his elder. He nodded, did not bother to say that in that case the posies would be for Josie and Tiddy, and retreated to his study.
Exactly! Manners have not changed so very much in the last thirty or forty years, have they? Though the personalities have, thank goodness, and it is so delightful to have your Mamma and Papa as neighbours, Madeleine, dear! No, well, your Papa would know better than we, Mr Thomas, but the Mountfoot Place property was broken up quite some time since, when we were still in India. But in those days it was still a large estate, and Hathaway Hall still had Hathaways in it. In fact they were the next to call.
More Callers at Tamasha
Dear Mrs Elliott and Sir William Hathaway having so kindly taken Miss Bartlett up in their barouche—the implication was that any other landed baronet and his sister would have driven straight past her, dashing dust in her face—they had all come calling in a bunch!
Mlle Dupont, unmoved, agreed that so they had. And it was delightful to see them. And she was quite sure they would like to meet Colonel Ponsonby—
“What?” he groaned as the footman appeared with the message. “Not more?”
“Yessir,” agreed the sympathetic footman. “Dunno when we had two lots of visitors in two days afore this, at Tamasha. Miss Bartlett, she’s brung a basket of eggs. Dunno why, acos we got the finest hens for miles around, at Tamasha.”
“Very well, Alfred, I’m coming.”
“Yessir,” he agreed sympathetically. “Er—beg pardon, sir, but Sir William, he’s a very grand gentleman.”
“I am sure he is, but you see, my other coat is even worse than this one,” said Ponsonby sweetly.
Alfred had turned purple, so there was no doubt that was what he had meant. Generously Ponsonby forbore to ask him if he thought that Sir William would be able to advise him how to go about getting a suitable English valet.
Sir William was a florid-faced, hearty man in his mid-years. With a large head, a large nose, and a hearty, commanding manner which verged on the bullying. He clearly admired Miss Lucas. Mrs Elliott was plump and somewhat vague in manner: the sort much given to trailing scarves and wraps, which continually require readjusting on the person, and who habitually manages to drop her fan, reticule, or smelling salts. Miss Bartlett was a gaunt, horse-faced woman who was an eager gusher.
Sir William managed successfully to patronise Ponsonby, indicating on the one hand that he was a pretty poor sort of a fellow, and on the other that he was a lucky fellow to be handed a fortune on a plate. Not quite voicing the latter in so many words. Nor did he voice in so many words the point that Ponsonby would be well advised to take Miss Tonie, but as he was making a dead-set at Miss Lucas he possibly felt he did not need to. Mrs Elliott was all fawning, if vague, complaisance to Miss Lucas and Miss Tonie, but did not bother to address Mlle Dupont at all. Ponsonby she treated with a sort of faded, less than half-interested coquetry that indicated she had once been some sort of a belle. Miss Bartlett gushed eagerly at everybody in the room, even Tiddy.
Mlle Dupont’s manners were faultless: it was impossible to determine what she thought of the trio. Miss Lucas was polite but obviously both disliked Sir William and was a little afraid of him. Miss Tonie was coldly polite to all of the callers. Josie pouted throughout except for the one or two instants when Mlle Dupont managed to catch her eye. Tiddy was astoundingly meek.
“Apkee-wastees,” she concluded, dropping the meekness, when at last the ordeal was over. “But Miss Bartlett’s interesting, isn’t she?”
“I cannot conceive how you come to that conclusion, Tiddy, mon ange,” returned Mlle Dupont lightly.
Ignoring Josie’s gleeful spluttering fit, Tiddy replied: “Well, she gushes, of course. But occasionally you notice that underneath it she is quite a common-sensical, hearty sort of person. I think she must have learned over the years that gushing is the only approach that works with the gentry. When I go to tea at her cottage by myself she’s much more sensible.”
“Possibly she is not in awe of you, Tiddy,” said Mlle Dupont.
“No, but it’s more than that. –Sir William’s horrid, isn’t he?” she said detachedly.
“A lady does not say horrid,” replied Mlle Dupont calmly. “Though I concede he struck me as the sort of man who would bully his servants and his dependants.”
“That is certainly the reputation he has in the neighbourhood,” agreed Tonie grimly.
“Yes,” said Tiddy with satisfaction. “And of course it was not apparent from a mere afternoon visit, but I feel I must warn you—”
“I think not,” said Mlle Dupont firmly. “If you must, you may tell me in private.”
“But Mademoiselle, both you and Ponsonby sahib need to know: it would be ridiculous to tell you both in private!”
Trying not to laugh, Ponsonby got up. “Very possibly; but on the other hand, we don’t need you sullying Miss Lucas’s sitting-room with whatever it is. Come into the study, if you please. –You too, Mademoiselle, if you would.”
“But I want to hear, too!” cried Josie.
“I am very sure that whatever it is, you already know,” replied her guardian, hard-heartedly closing the door in her face.
“Go on, get it over with,” he said heavily, once they were in the study.
“It’s the truth, so don’t—”
“Yes! Just say it, Tiddy!”
“Mrs Elliott tells lies.”
“Mm. Significant ones?” he murmured.
Tiddy looked dubious. “She tells them in order to escape the consequences of her own actions, and in order to get people whom she does not like into trouble. Is that significant?”
“Yes. Thank you, Tiddy. We shall be warned.”
“Um, she tells them about everybody. Well, what I mean is, no-one likes Sir William, but all the same they don’t believe half of her hints about him.”
“We see, my dear. High and low,” said the little Frenchwoman brightly.
“Yes. It’s really extraordinary, isn’t it, in a person of her comfortable position in life?” she said eagerly.
“Oh, certainement. But possibly the brother bullies her; you see? And the lies, whether or no she intends it, are her revenge.”
“Yes, that’s it,” said Tiddy, nodding pleasedly. “May I go?”
“Yes. Oh, and if they call again, you may absent yourself,” said Ponsonby kindly.
This generosity misfired. She eyed him warily. “Why?”
“Well, because I don’t think they are pleasant people for you to know, Tiddy.”
“No-o… They’re interesting, in their way. I don’t require to be sheltered from them, Ponsonby sahib.”
He passed his hand over his forehead. “Just do not say I haven’t given you the choice.”
Nodding, Tiddy disappeared.
Ponsonby looked at the meek, composed features of the little retired governess, and sighed.
“The late Mrs Lucas managed her quite well,” said Mlle Dupont calmly. “Of course, Tiddy was fond of her, and so that inclined her to do her bidding. But it was perhaps a tactical error to allow her to stay in the schoolroom quite so long.”
“Mm. Though I think she was not yet seventeen, when the other girls went to London? Yes,” he said, as she nodded.
“She is being particularly difficult, I am afraid, monsieur, because she vairy much resents the disposition of her father’s property.”
Far from showing any evidence of offence at this remark, Ponsonby looked at her with considerable approval. “Aye. But that’s not the whole of it, is it?”
“No. She also resents having to grow up, poor little Tiddy,” she said with a sigh.
“Mlle Dupont, there is no need for her to grow up just yet. You may spare her the dashed tea parties,” he said heavily.
“I think I have not made myself quite clear, monsieur. You see, it is the fact of her papa’s will which is forcing her to grow up. Forcing her to see herself as a grown woman and also, bien entendu, to take stock of her options.”
He grimaced. “I see. Well, I’ve told them we have the four years—but I take your point.”
“Of course, she is vairy bright.”
So, very obviously, was Marie-Louise Dupont. Ponsonby eyed the prim, self-possessed little figure drily. “The which, as far as my poor observation goes, don’t make life easier; the reverse, if anything.”
Mlle Dupont nodded approvingly. “That is so right, monsieur!”
He passed his hand over his forehead again. “Do your best for her, Mademoiselle, won’t you?”
“But naturally,” she said politely, rising.
“And thank you once again for coming to our rescue.”
“I could do no less, monsieur: Tiddy’s and Josie’s maman was a vairy dear friend.”
“Yes.” Ponsonby smiled at her, and got up and opened the door for her.
“I expect there will be more callers. Possibly,” said Mademoiselle, her face calm but the beady little brown eyes speculative, “from further afield than just the immediate neighbourhood. Eugh—and if you will forgive me, mon colonel, it did not seem to me that Lady Gordon-Smythe, the other day, had brought Miss Gordon-Smythe entirely on the girls’ account.”
He winced. “I had thought of that, but thank you for the warning.”
Inclining her head and murmuring: “Je vous en prie, monsieur,” Mademoiselle trotted off.
Ponsonby retreated to his desk, sat down, and began grimly telling over the list of his relatives who knew of his unexpected inheritance, of those persons whom Sir James and Lady Allenby might have told, of those who might now have had time to hear of it from friends or relatives in India…
No, no, pray do laugh, Mr Thomas! We hoped it would amuse you! –You do not think those people were funny, Matt? Er, if you are becoming bored—No, very well, stay if you wish. No, thank you, no-one else wants that last cucumber sandwich: eat it up by all means, dear boy, and then you may ring the bell, they may remove the tray. You wish to know what happened to Tiddy baba? But dearest boy, she is right here! –No, no, you are not stupid, Matt, and we apologise for implying it! When she was a girl—of course. You will just have to possess your soul in patience. Yes, we all went back to India, but we are not telling of that this afternoon. You see, we must tell it in sequence, for Antoinette wishes to write it all down. –Let him see, Antoinette. ...There! Now you see, don’t you? One thing follows the other. It is like a history book, Matt, yes, for it is our very own history! Pray let him write the next heading, that’s a good girl! The next thing that happened is that some of Ponsonby sahib’s acquaintances arrived at Tamasha, so perhaps you might put that.
Some of Ponsonby Sahib’s Acquaintances Arrive at Tamasha (Matt’s heading)
Ponsonby sahib’s money would have been on his sister Catherine: after all, she had the two boys to establish, and though he had not written her that he had become the Lucas girls’ guardian, he had written it to his elder brother. Plus, somewhat reluctantly, the fact that he himself got a third of Lucas’s estate outright: as George was the head of the family, he supposed he had a right to know. But Catherine Ponsonby Wells was not first past the post.
“Miss Partridge has called, sir,” said the Tamasha butler, bowing.
Ponsonby laid down his pen. “Oh—er, well, I think Mlle Dupont and the young ladies are in the downstairs sitting-room, Harker. Er—perhaps you could let me know when they have tiffin—I mean the tea-tray. I’ll join them then.”
“Indeed, sir,” agreed Harker smoothly. “But I thought you might care to be apprised that she has another lady with her, today, and two young gentlemen.”
“I would, indeed. Who are they? Her nephews?”
Harker cleared his throat. “Mr Junius Brutus Partridge is certainly one, sir. He is accompanied by his friend from the university, a Mr Adrian Forbes.”
“That sounds harmless enough,” said Ponsonby with a sigh.
“And by the latter’s mother, sir. A Mrs Forbes,” said Harker in a terrifically neutral voice.
“She would be Mrs— Wait. A Mrs Forbes?”
“Harker, come in, if you please, and close that door behind you,” said Ponsonby levelly. The butler having done so, he said on a grim note: “Let us get this quite clear, please, before I set my foot into any snare that may now be being laid in the sitting-room. Is this Mrs Forbes a woman of middle age, covered in frills and furbelows, and with the manner of a girl half her age? In short, a walking mantrap?”
“I would not venture to put it so, sir,” said his butler politely. “However, if I may permit myself the expression, you have described the lady to a T. She happened to mention that she knew you in India, Colonel.”
“I'll be bound she happened to! My God, Forbes memsahib! –What the Devil is she doing in England?” he muttered to himself. “Er—never mind, Harker; thank you so very much for warning me. I shall go in there with me bundook in me hand.”
Whether or not Harker understood this precise expression was not clear—though as he had been Henry John Lucas’s butler for five years there was every possibility that he did. But he clearly understood its intent. He bowed smoothly. “Of course, sir. May I ask whether you intend changing your coat?”
Ponsonby looked down at himself. Mookerjee’s brown rag, today. Fitted even worse than the greenish thing. “No, I do not!” he said with emphasis.
Harker bowed, a distinct twinkle in his eye. “Very good, sir,” he murmured, holding the door for him.
It was her, all right. The curls amazingly yaller and amazingly curled, the voice as horridly cooing as ever, the frills and furbelows a cheerful lilac, even to the wrap, which featured into the bargain silken tassels and God-knew-what. She was carrying a fan, which also had a silken tassel attached. True, it was now June, and quite warm, for an English summer’s day, but the woman was used to the searing heat of India! She was, of course, thrilled to see him, and managed to intimate this whilst expressing a cooingly sweet sympathy for the shockingly dreadful news of the deaths of dear Mr and Mrs Lucas. And was it not such a coincidence, dearest Adrian’s being up at the same college as dear Miss Partridge’s most favourite nephew, and the best of friends? And when he had said he thought he might spend a few days with him at his aunt’s place in Kent near to Tamasha, she at once recognised the name— Etcetera, etcetera.
|"Portrait of Mrs Forbes"|
Miniature, artist unknown, circa 1830
(Formerly in the Harbourne Collection)
Courtesy of the Maunsleigh Collection
When the noise died away Mr Adrian Forbes cleared his throat and admitted: “Me and Brute ain’t actually at the same college, sir.”
“No, indeed, Junius Brutus is at Wadham, as his dear Papa was before him!” fluted Miss Partridge, beaming upon him.
“I see. Classical scholar, is he, Partridge?” said Ponsonby without smiling.
The fresh-faced young man grinned at him. “Aye, that’s it, sir! Me brothers are even worse. One of t’little ones got ‘Horatius Quintus’. We call him Horry Quinny, in the family.”
Ponsonby choked, and Mr Junius Brutus Partridge grinned more than ever.
“I’m at Christ Church,” admitted Mr Adrian Forbes. “Grandfather come good, Colonel. Don’t know if you’d remember him?”
Ponsonby certainly did remember old Forbes, and if he had come good to that extent, he could not imagine that young Mr Forbes needed the Lucas girls’ fortunes!
“Was that old Mr Forbes from Delhi?” asked Tiddy. “We heard that he had died.”
“Eh? Lor’, no, Miss Tiddy! Well, he were me grandfather, out of course. No, he didn’t approve of a fellow aping his betters, as he used to put it. Was rabid when Mamma insisted I go home to school, y’know.”
Tiddy nodded brightly. “I remember when you left.”
“Do you really? Years ago,” he said, grinning at her. “Don’t hardly remember much of India, no more. No, it was my maternal grandfather what sent me to school, and then to the university: his own old college. Never thought for an instant he would. Tell you the truth, he didn’t at all care for dearest Mamma’s marrying Papa.”
“Adrian, darling boy!” she cooed. “All this ancient history!” She fluttered her eyelashes terrifically in Ponsonby’s general direction. “I am quite sure our dear Miss Tiddy does not wish to hear all that!”
“Yes, I do, Mrs Forbes,” said Tiddy stolidly. “It’s interesting. Has he got over your parents’ marriage, then, Mr Forbes?”
“Wouldn’t say that,” he said judiciously. “Made it a condition, y’see, that if he sent me to school, I weren’t to go out to India again. Been quite decent to Mamma since she came home, though.”
“Oh, well, yes, one is received again!” said Mrs Forbes with a loud giggle worthy of a maiden half her years.
Ponsonby eyed her drily. “Mm. Don’t your respected Papa have any idea what your late father-in-law was worth, ma’am?”
She pouted and shrugged terrifically. “My dear Colonel, he does not care!”
“All box-wallahs to him, y’see,” explained Mr Forbes helpfully. “So Grandpa Forbes left the lot to Uncle Josiah. Knew he would,” he admitted cheerfully. “Thing is, he was rabid when I wrote I didn’t wish to go back to India and join the firm.”
“Do you mean,” said Tiddy incredulously, “you chose to go to the university instead?”
“Aye, that’s it, Miss Tiddy!” he said cheerfully.
“Doolally,” said Tiddy, not quite under her breath.
“Tiddy, mon ange, I have not a notion what that means, but I think that is enough,” said Mlle Dupont on a firm note. “Why do you not take the young gentlemen out to see the garden? Show them the artificial waterfall: it is so vairy clever, I think they will like it.”
Eagerly the young gentlemen agreed they would like it. Eagerly Mr Forbes suggested that perhaps Miss Josie would care to accompany them, too? Eagerly Josie got up, taking the proffered arm. As the quartet disappeared through the French windows her voice could be heard asking coyly—in his Mamma’s very tones—exactly who his respected grandpapa was?
“That woman,” said Tonie tightly, when it was all over, at long, long last, “has foisted herself upon poor Miss Partridge uninvited, it sticks out a mile!”
“Oh, pooh!” cried Josie. “Miss Partridge is the greatest snob that ever walked! She will have leapt at the chance to house her! Why, her papa is Lord Harbourne!”
“Only a baron,” noted Ponsonby drily, rising. “Though admittedly high enough in the instep for seven belted earls. –Excuse me, ladies, I need to walk it off.” He went out through the French windows and walked quickly away over the spreading lawns of Tamasha. Not so quickly, however, that he did not hear Tiddy gasping: “She means to capture him! Forbes memsahib! Poor old Johnny Jullerbees! I never saw anything so fuh-huh-hunny! Ow!” And collapsing in gales of laughter.
There! Did we not say were some very funny episodes in our story? What a disastrous woman Forbes memsahib was, to be sure! Though to give her her due, in Mr Forbes’s lifetime she made him a dutiful wife, and indeed assisted his business affairs greatly with the right sort of dinner party. –Inviting people with whom he might do business or who might have influence with those who would put business his way, girls. It might seem calculating, Antoinette, but that is the way the world wags, and a hostess should bear these things in mind. Yes, doubtless your Mamma invited Mr and Mrs Jameson because of his brother’s position in the government: the connection can only do your Papa good.
Good gracious, is that the time? We had best leave it there, for this afternoon, then. But as Mr Thomas and Madeleine are so kindly coming to assist Antoinette in keeping us old fogies company at dinner tomorrow while the children’s parents are dining out, we might tell you a little more of our callers then. –Matt, dearest, pray do not cry out like that. No, your Mamma does not wish you to come down to dinner. But once Antoinette has written it, you may read it, if you do not want to miss out on anything. ...“Call it”, dear boy? Oh! Well, it will just be about our visitors, and if we get that far, about the arrival of Ponsonby sahib’s relatives at Tamasha. Let him write a title down if he wishes, Antoinette, after all it is his family history, too, and it is so good to see a younger person of your generation taking an interest!
More Visitors Come to Tamasha (Matt’s heading)
Mrs Goodenough called, and was overpoweringly gracious to both Ponsonby and Mlle Dupont. Tess she treated with a mixture of kindly condescension and outright toad-eating. Perhaps fortunately, the other girls were not home on this occasion. Tiddy’s prediction that she would not call again within the week came true, but she called within the fortnight. Possibly she had used the interval to ascertain precisely what Ponsonby’s situation was? Certainly she sympathised graciously with him over the responsibility for four young ladies. And managed to inquire what changes he expected to make at Tamasha? He returned the grim answer that he did not anticipate making any, the which seemed to please her very well. Tiddy was once again absent but a trifle unfortunately Josie was present and spent the entire visit glaring sulkily at the woman.
Her third visit, or so she claimed, was but a flying one, in order to give dear Miss Lucas the receet for which she had asked. Tess’s blank but polite acceptance of it did not precisely indicate she was expecting it. Just as the flying visitor was about to leave Forbes memsahib arrived, complete with fluttering ribbons and trailing scarves—sea-green, this afternoon, a striking sight in an English sitting-room in the depths of the country—accompanied by young Adrian Forbes. The two ladies took stock of each other. After which Mrs Goodenough went on her way smiling airily, and Forbes memsahib sat down smiling even more airily and proceeded to outstay her welcome.
Mrs Goodenough’s Excellent Receet for a Pickle of Blackberries
To be made when the blackberries are abundant in the hedgerows. Gather your berries & to every quart put 1 1/2 lb. sugar in a bowl. The next day a pint of vinegar for each qt. of the berries is brought to the boil. To this add the berries with their sugar & boil all together for an hour. It must be cooled when you mix in the spices in the amounts 1/2 oz. of ginger & 3 times as much allspice for each qt. of berries. Boil again for 10 minutes. A wooden spoon to be used. Pot up in your small pickle jars. A good pickle to hand with a ham or a haunch of roast meat as you might a redcurrant jelly, also goes well with cold meats.
Extracts from Gilbert Ponsonby’s letters written in the year 1828
to Jarvis Wynton, Fifth Earl of Sleyven:
Extract (1). Letter dated “Tamasha, June 1828”
...On Mrs Goodenough’s next visit she was accompanied—not unexpectedly, no—by her son. He almost immediately monopolised Miss Lucas, so pretty clearly he was under orders. When Mrs Forbes and her son arrived, the Goodenoughs were thus in a very good position. Dug in, you could say. Bayonets fixed and the guns primed. Something very like that.
Volleys were fired on both sides, the maternal and even paternal grandfather of Mr Forbes being mentioned. However, this light fire was nothing very much and it was pretty clear by the end of the visit that Mrs Goodenough has realised that all she has to fear from Mrs Forbes is that she will capture my humble self and very possibly persuade me to forbid Miss Lucas’s so much as looking at Dr Goodenough, and Mrs Forbes has very clearly realised that all she has to fear from Mrs Goodenough is that her son will capture Miss Lucas, thus removing the administration of her share of the family fortune from my hands and very possibly placing Mrs Goodenough in a position of power within the Tamasha camp… Hey, day!
Tiddy kindly advised me to avoid the sitting-room when they call. But oddly enough, I don’t intend strolling into the encampment to find all me men weltering in their blood, as I promptly informed her. Gratifyingly, she collapsed in giggles—I think, as I wrote in my last, she is coming round—and even Mlle Dupont whisked out a handkerchief and clapped it to her mouth, her thin little shoulders shaking. Miss Lucas, however, did not smile, and Miss Tonie said on a reproving note: “Colonel, permit me to say that is scarcely amusing. And certainly exaggerated.” Josie, of course, merely looked bored.
Extract (2). Letter dated “Tamasha, June 20 1828”
...Tamasha, it seems, is not to be spared my own relatives this summer. My sister Catherine Ponsonby Wells has arrived with Graham Arthur Bernard George Ponsonby Wells and Edward Wilton Gilbert Ponsonby Wells in tow. “Gab” (from the initials) and “Ned”, to their contemporaries. Catherine failed signally during the period of her husband’s lifetime to force him to tack the “Ponsonby” onto his own name, but it is now on her card. I received the same in an enfeebled hand, barely able to croak: “She sent in her card? My sister?”
The butler in person had brought it in. Clearly a man with a strong sense of where his duty lay. “Yes, Colonel. Naturally I have shown her into the sitting-room. I apprehend the lady is a widow?” he said kindly.
Catherine has been a widow for over fifteen years. Limply I looked at the black-edged card, and conceded that was correct. And asked whether Miss Lucas and Mlle Dupont were in the sitting-room. They were not: they and Miss Tonie had driven out to pay calls. Miss Josie and Miss Tiddy were in there—my God! I shot to my feet, barely remembering that tea ought to be ordered up for the visitors. Smoothly Harker, holding the door for me, informed me that he had already ordered it up. Well, he ain’t so wonderful as your impressive, Bates, Jarvis, he lacks the second sight—but d— nearly!
I more or less got in there in time. Tiddy was just sympathising, in the very coo of Forbes memsahib herself, with Catherine’s widowed state. The words “Fifteen years? As much as that?” were just dying on the air as I shot in.
I of course have not seen Catherine for years: as you know, I only came back to England the once in all my years in India. That was the visit when Mamma had a row of simpering, pudding-faced provincial Misses lined up for me. She died about eighteen months after that, and so there was no reason for me to return. I remember Catherine as a slender girl of middle height, the same dark hair as myself, and with the same sallow skin and slightly hooked nose. Rather apt to feel herself injured and to complain of anything and everything with no very good reason to do so. I had to blink. The hair, which was always very curly, is now pure white. It was dressed very fashionably indeed under a huge black silk hat adorned with a wisp of a black veil, and the limp muslins and cottons I recall from her girlhood were replaced by black silk. She is now gaunt rather than thin, the face fined down to a remarkably distinguished look. She could pass for a duchess of the most intimidating variety—and has most certainly acquired the manner of one!
“Well, Gil!” she greeted me. “You are looking as well as might have been expected.” She proffered her cheek.
Feebly I pecked it, greeting her in return and owning that she was not only looking remarkably well, but remarkably like Grandmother Ponsonby. I dare say you will not recall this, Jarvis, but Grandmother Ponsonby was the daughter of an earl and never let anyone in our obscure little district forget it. Her grandchildren without exception hated and feared her. Catherine, believe me or believe me not, smirked and thanked me! It was foolish of me to hope for something better—yes. The character generally becomes more fixed with age, does it not? She then looked me up and down, saying coolly: “India wear, is it?”—One of Mookerjee’s awful efforts, out of course.—“I think we can do better than that: it is just as well I am here.”
She then reminded me of “the boys’” names and we shook hands. They are, in fact, not so young as all that. Graham, whom I just remember as a damp-bottomed object presented for inspection and quickly banished to its nursery, must be all of thirty years of age. And Ned, therefore, must be twenty-five. Over my years in India Catherine forced them to write duty-letters, presumably prompted by her sense of the proprieties, since to the family’s knowledge I had no expectations at all, so I know something of their history: school, cricket, that sort of thing. The letters ceased when they grew up, but Catherine has kept me apprised, in great detail, of all the family’s doings. Their elder sister, Mary, has long since been married off to a fellow with suitable expectations. Barbara, the younger sister, and not so pretty, was awarded to a country parson. Actually I hear quite often from Barbara, who is as dutiful as her mother but sounds much sweeter-natured: she seems entirely happy in her life with the parson and her letters are always full of accounts of jam-making, the experiments in their orchard with beekeeping and the cross-breeding of apples, and the doings of little Johnny, Sidney, and Babs.
I thought that Graham at one stage was engaged, so I asked if he had not got married? You will appreciate his reply, Jarvis: “No, actually, Uncle Gil,” he said with a superior smile that was the twin of his mother’s. “You have it wrong. An engagement was mooted, but the young woman’s parents could not reach an accommodation with Mamma and myself.”
Tiddy was mercifully silent throughout our exchange but at this she asked with innocent interest: “Was it the dowry? Was it not enough, sir?”
At which I was constrained to inform her that that was rude, and we might safely conclude it was: there was no need to remark on the point. Luckily she did not break down in giggles, and Josie is neither bright enough nor interested enough in the conversation of other persons to have taken my point.
My nephews then taking their seats, Mr Ned looking subdued, if sulky with it, and Mr Wells looking annoyed—the which did not stop the both of them leering admiringly at Josie, I might add—we were enabled to enjoy the gracious condescension of all three Wellses until the tea-tray arrived.
“We were quite astonished,” Catherine remarked over the teacups, “to hear that you had consented to come home at last, Gil, dear. –He was always quite an eccentric, my dears,” she said graciously to the two girls, “and at one stage our poor late mother declared she washed her hands of him.”
“This was probably after I’d refused to look at the pudding-faces she’d lined up for my delectation on a visit home,” I added cordially.
Josie, for once, was paying attention, and more than rose to the occasion. She simpered. “Oh, one cannot blame you, dear sir!” She tossed her golden curls and added graciously to my sister: “The well-meaning efforts of one’s relatives can become so tedious! Even dearest Mamma for some time kept suggesting that Mr This or Mr That from the district might do: but really! They were nobodies! But she was doing her best, you know. But then, when my aunt, Lady Allenby, kindly gave me a Season in London, I did rather better for myself, and I shall not scruple to confide in you, dear ma’am, that Viscount Welling was positively at my feet!”
I would not have said she had it in her! I could have awarded her a medal on the spot!
Our India Days, Chapter 6
More Visitors Come to Tamasha (continued)
“Josie,” concluded Tiddy in awe when the Wellses had at last gone off to the rooms that would be theirs for their stay at Tamasha, “you were positively wonderful!”
“Thank you!” she said with an angry laugh, tossing the curls, the blue eyes sparking fire. “I felt quite inspired, I must confess, for the sight of those two noddies sitting there looking at us smugly, quite as if it were an understood thing, was more than I could support!”
“Indeed!” Tiddy gave Ponsonby a steely look. “It had better not be an understood thing.”
“No, for I have not set eyes on the woman for nigh on thirty years. And did not care for her then,” he replied coolly. “And I quite share your opinion: well done, Josie, my dear, I shall mention you in dispatches.”
Josie giggled, smirked, and nodded. And Tiddy noted, smiling grimly: “Good! And if you do not wholly object, Colonel, I propose we encourage them to form misplaced hopes.”
Josie looked eager, but glanced fearfully at Ponsonby.
“Encourage them with my good will. One collects that Graham is not the sort to let his emotions interfere with his prospects: I do not think his heart will be in any danger.”
“What about t’other?” asked Tiddy.
“You know him almost as well as I. Try him in the fire, by all means: if he be not as greedy and self-serving as his brother, I shall confess myself surprised but pleased.”
He went out, looking grim, and the two sisters looked at each other speculatively.
“He dislikes them as much as we do, do you think?” ventured Josie.
“More. I think he is both disgusted and disappointed. –Did you ever see anything so smug as the look on Mr Edward’s face?”
“Never. Well, he is good-looking, if one likes those dark curls and a pout in a man, which I confess, I do not!”
|"Mr Edward W.G.P. Wells, upon the occasion of his marriage to|
Miss Juliana Higginbotham"
Oil, 1832, by Frederick Greenstreet
Courtesy of the Higginbotham Trust, Leeds
“But does he not remind you a little of Mr Feathers? You remember, Josie: the Carruthers boy’s tutor, back in India! You and Emily Carruthers were frantically in love with him.”
“I was thirteen—fourteen at the most!” protested Josie indignantly.
“Nevertheless, Edward Wells has very similar looks, and, I rather think, is similarly vain.”
“Was Feathers vain? Perhaps you are right. But he was only a servant, Tiddy.”
Tiddy sighed. “And to think I thought you were a brand from the burning, for a moment!”
“Never mind. Which do you wish to torture?”
“The elder, for if he is not so good-looking, I am sure his Mamma will expect him to take me, as I am older and prettier than you. You must take the younger.”
“But can the mere I possibly attract as good-looking a young man as Mr Edward Wells?”
“No,” said Josie drily. “But your expectations most certainly may.”
—Quite, Mr Thomas: it is most certainly the way of the world. Do not look like that, Antoinette, you goose! It was neither sad nor shocking, but wholly expectable! If you wish to have Ponsonby sahib’s private reactions, fetch the portfolio of letters from the study marked “Letters to & from Indian Friends.” The one we have in mind is one he wrote to his friend Dr Little: Ponsonby sahib’s letters to him came back to him, on the doctor’s death.
Gilbert Ponsonby’s letter to Dr Little dated “Tamasha, June 30”
It is going on pretty much as anticipated, here, since Forbes memsahib was sighted. Catherine is as bad in her different way. It has been a bloody series of skirmishes, with honours about even. Catherine can offer nothing except Grandmother Ponsonby to counter the Harbourne connection, but nonetheless brings her up whenever a big gun is called for. She had nothing at all to counter old Forbes, and was about to retreat in fair order, but young Forbes cheerfully let out the fact that he ain’t got a penny from him, so it was his mother who beat a tactful retreat that day. Adrian Forbes and the elder of my greedy nephews have been laying siege to Josie, and she is duly encouraging both. Ned Wells is pursuing Tiddy, tho’ from the look in his eye he would prefer it to be Josie. Tiddy is so far managing to give a convincing impersonation of a simpering young Miss, but the Lord alone knows how long she can keep it up. Young J.B. Partridge also seems interested there, tho’ to give him his due it does not seem to be at anyone’s prompting. I did point out to her that when ones lays traps for tigers it can be the innocent gazelle what tumbles into them, but Miss Tiddy replied with an nasty gleam in her eye that all was fair in love, war, and the shikar. And that if the odd gazelle or ape could not sniff out the trap, that was its bad luck. Rather a pity, as Junius Brutus, if not the brightest of the bright, is a pleasant enough boy.
Goodenough is now definitely pursuing Tess, and we are favoured by incessant visits from his mother. Tess is definitely flattered—no, to be more precise, she is fluttered by him—but nevertheless, unless I am mistaken, which I freely admit I may well be, is not positively encouraging the fellow. Possibly she may feel it is too soon after her parents’ deaths?
Sir William Hathaway is also in attendance far too often and the fact that Tess does not encourage him at all does not, alas, seem a deterrent factor.
We thought that Messrs. Gordon-Smythe and George G.-S. were intended by their Mamma for Josie and Tiddy, but she seems to have ordered the elder to switch his attentions to the martyred Tonie. She does not receive them with anything approaching complaisance, but nevertheless he persists. Tiddy, alas, is encouraging young George, who has not a brain in his head, to believe himself a rival to my fool of a nephew. The latter, incidentally, took it upon himself t’other day to explain, after Tiddy had appeared in the sitting-room dishevelled and muddy from an expedition to the stream, the sort of comportment that one would naturally expect from one’s wife. Tiddy received the homily with maidenly flutterings of the eyelashes and cooing gratitude. One almost feels sorry for the poor fool.
Forbes memsahib is still laying siege to yours truly, and if you don’t mind, I shall draw a veil.
To sum it up, we are surrounded, but as our foes are definitely not worth the waste of good shot, shall employ less direct means, possibly in the nature of an ambush or two, to rid ourselves of them. Seriously, I would be only too grateful if a handful of decent fellows who could make the girls happy would appear, but alas, there are none of those in this part of peaceful, rural England.
I was very glad to have your report of Indira and the girls, and tho’ I know you do not care to be thanked, shall reiterate my gratitude. I shall stick it out here for the rest of the year, but if things have not improved very much by next spring I think I shall not offer the girls a Season in London as Miss Josie has already instructed me is my duty. Had a very kind letter from Lady Sleyven offering to take them under her wing, but— Well, I shall think about it. Certainly Jarvis Wynton is more than capable of protecting them from all the d— fortune-hunters of London, but I should not dream of leaving him to do so. And I must get back to India early next year. The best thing, unless some decent fellows do turn up, may be to take the girls with me: offer them at least a change of scene. Sorry I cannot be more definite at this stage.
Yours, with thanks,
P.S. Let me assure the doctor sahib that any sure-fire weapon which would rid me of Forbes memsahib for good and all would be received with humblest gratitude, so pray do not hesitate to suggest one! G.P.