THE GREAT TAMASHA COOKBOOK AND FAMILY
The Wheel of Fate Turns
Dr Little sat in the library of Ma Maison, his wide, ruddy face looking both embarrassed and worried, and cleared his throat.
“Just tell it!” ordered Ponsonby crossly. “If Indira is ill, I wish to know!”
“Uh—not that, Gil. Well, that too,” he admitted.
“Get on with it!”
“Uh—yes. Well, as you know she ain’t been well lately. That bout of fever she had during the rains knocked her back.”
“Yes,” he said tightly.
The doctor looked at him sympathetically. “Aye. Uh—” He scratched his chin. “Nothing specifically wrong with her as far as I can tell, Gil. But she ain’t strong. Doesn’t seem to be doing much. Seems to be leaving the direction of the household to that neighbour woman—or that Miss Morgan, half the time.”
“Uh—who? I don’t think I’ve heard of any Morgans.”
The doctor coughed. “Oh, ain’t you met her, Gil? Well, I dare say it’s a moot point whether she’s any right to the name, but calls herself that. Chee-chee female. Scrawny little hag. Yaller as a Chinee, hideous birthmark on the face, poor thing. Well, God knows I’ve seen all sorts, in my profession, but she’s the sort of female it’s hard to look in the eye. Bad limp, too. Run over by a bullock cart when she was a brat, think that’s the story. Bit crooked—y’know? Seems to be popping in pretty often. Dare say she ain’t got many friends. At any rate, I spoke to the neighbour—well, managing matron, if there was anything wrong about the poor little hag she’d’ve sniffed it out, hey? Seems to approve of her. Says she's been doing a lot for Indira. Teaching the little girls, too.”
“Teaching them what?”
“English, I think. Well, uh, she’s fluent enough, if it’s all in a chee-chee sing-song, but then, if they have to live in the country, Gil—”
“Yes. Well, if Indira doesn’t object I certainly don’t mind.”
“No, she seems to like her. Just as well, because as I say, she doesn’t seem to be up to doing much for herself.”
Ponsonby frowned. “I’ve tried to persuade her to get away up to Patapore in the heat this year, but she won’t go! Says it’s for feringhees—uh, the English.”
“Feringhees’ll do,” said the doctor drily. “I did suggest she might like to come up to my bungalow—well, put it to her she could act as housekeeper, but I wouldn’t expect her to do anything much, Gil, my bhais can get off their bums, they’re always pleased to get away from the city in the heat; but that wouldn’t wash, neither.”
“Thank you,” he said, sighing.
“Um—used all her life to the way her people do things, y’know, old man,” said the doctor on an awkward note.
|"My little Indira, 1814"|
Watercolour, 1814, mounted on brown card
Signed "G.P.", assumed to be by Gilbert Ponsonby
From the Widdop family papers
“I know,” he said, smiling at him. “Thanks, Doctor.”
“Call me George, for the Lord’s sake, Gil, how long have we known each other?”
“Sorry—habit! George, of course.”
“Um, there was something else,” the doctor ventured.
“The children?” he said sharply.
“No, no, old man! Perfectly healthy little pair! No, well, two things, really.”
Sighing, Ponsonby got up, opened a drawer and produced a box of cigars. “Go on.”
The doctor lit up gratefully, and blew out a long stream of blue smoke. “That’s better! Um, well, one of my bhais had it from Mrs Doolittle’s cook. His cousin, I think. Seems he—the cook, I mean—was late getting back from the market one morning—or late getting back from wherever he’d spent the night, dare say—anyroad, to cut a long story short, was coming down their road and saw Miss Josie taking a walk with some little brats and a fat ayah.”
“The Dalziel children. Nothing in it—No?”
The doctor removed the cigar, and grimaced. “No. They were escorted by d— Charlie Hatton. I interrogated my bhai pretty sharpish, Gil, and there’s no mistake, the cook’s Mrs Hatton’s old ayah’s brother-in-law, known Master Hatton all his life.”
“George, are you absolutely sure? The man wasn’t just saying what he thought you wished to hear, was he? Because she has been escorted by Lord Freddy Dewhurst on several of the expeditions with the children, and he’s a young, fair-haired fellow, too.”
“Uh—well, I’m as sure as I can be with me d— servants, Gil.”
“I’ll look into it,” he said grimly. “That’s the last thing we want. Mind you, when last seen in his company she was sniggering at him, told him she’d dance with him when she was an old India widow but she wasn’t yet reduced to those straits, and Hatton was mighty—” He broke off.
“Piqued?” suggested the doctor, again removing the cigar and making a sour face.
“I was going to say discomforted, but it’ll do. Thank you, George, I shall most definitely look into it!”
“I would,” he agreed.
Ponsonby grimaced and admitted: “Josie has been in a mood—well, she genuinely likes the children, but when she isn’t with them she’s in a mood—because Welling hasn’t turned up after all.”
“Hey?” replied the doctor blankly.
“Oh—uh—well, a belted lord, George,” he said with a silly smile. “She met him when the girls were in London; then he turned up at Tamasha and, well, paid his court, I suppose, though the expression’s too strong to describe anything Welling might do—No, no!” he said with a laugh as Dr Little waggled his eyebrow interrogatively at him. “The fellow strikes as essentially characterless, is all!”
He sniffed. “Dare say he’d suit her quite well, then.”
There were, of course, no flies on Little. “Er—mm. We heard that he was coming out here—that would have been not long after we got back after our trip to the hills—um, not this last trip, unfortunately: the previous one. He would have been due... well, we thought, from the gossip at Government House, well before the rains.”
Dr Little whistled.
“Quite. Well, she has had various distractions, of course—and I’m glad to say did not sulk throughout her sisters’ weddings!—but since we came back to find he still hasn’t turned up she's been getting sourer and sourer about it.”
The doctor scratched his chin. “Due before the rains?”
“There was a ship come, with a party for Government House.”
“Yes, but he wasn’t on it!”
The doctor’s eyes began to twinkle. “No, but it had been to Bombay first off, old man. Did anybody think to enquire whether he might have got off there?”
“Uh—no. But our informant assured us—Oh, Hell. Miss Partridge,” he muttered.
“As a matter of fact, if he did come—and it seemed definite he was coming—he might have got off anywhere, because our informant was a scatty spinster, and her tale was all mixed up with delightful tea parties and toad-eating her grand relations, and—and dinner at the Deanery!” he ended wildly.
“There y’are, then,” said Little blandly.
Ponsonby began to lose control of his mouth. “Added to which I’d take me dying oath that Welling’s grasp of geography is somewhat shaky! What’s the betting someone said: ‘This is India, old chap,’ and he said: ‘Right-ho!’ and got off?”
Dr Little collapsed in splutters. “Sounds more than likely,” he admitted, mopping his eyes.
“Mm. Well, the G.-G.’s party is due back from Delhi quite soon, I think. Mayhap he’ll have had the nous to join up with them.”
“Hope so, for the sake of peace and harmony in your house, Gil. –What sort of lord is he?”
“Eh? Oh, a viscount, George. Why? Don’t you think that’s grand enough for Josie?”
“Depends. Good-looking fellow, is he? Young?”
“Well, yes, Both.”
“He’ll do!” said the doctor robustly. “Well, beats out anything else in the offing, hey? Lacey’s a nonentity and I dare say not averse to her fortune, but I’d doubt he’s serious, and little Dewhurst is negligible.”
“Uh-huh. And the Jeffcott boy?”
“The pa’s only a baronet, Gil. I’d back him to place, merely.”
“You’re right. Let’s pray Welling does turn up, and soon, because d— Charlie Hatton working his charms on Josie is the last thing we want!”
Dr Little would have said, rather, that Hatton working his charms on Tiddy was the last thing Gil wanted, but he held his peace.
“Thanks, Gil,” he grunted, as Ponsonby filled his glass. “Um, there was something else. Me d— syce, this time. Saw Tiddy in the bazaar at crack of dawn t’other day.”
Ponsonby passed a hand over his forehead. “She’d have had an ayah with her.”
“Um, yes, think so. Well, his description wasn’t polite, but it’d amount to that. Um, well, just so long as you know, old man,” he said awkwardly.
“It’s harmless. They buy stuff for the kitchen,” said Ponsonby heavily. “If I come the stern guardian and forbid it she’ll probably get up to something a dashed sight worse!”
“Aye, dare say. Well, that explains the tarbouz, no doubt. My fellow offered to carry it, but Tiddy claimed she could manage.” He drained his glass and heaved himself up. “I’d best take me leave, dear fellow. Promised Lyndhurst I’d beat him hollow at chess at the club.”
“Come back for dinner, George,” said Ponsonby with a smile.
The doctor beamed. “Don’t mind if I do! –Hoy, just don’t serve up the tarbouz with dessert! Don’t fancy it, too watery, unless it’s a very hot day!” Chuckling, he went on his way.
Ponsonby sat down again very slowly. Tarbouz? But they had not had water melon lately: most of the family also found it too watery. Oh, well, presumably it had been eaten in the kitchen, or...
After a few moments he rang the bell. Ram shot in, bowing.
Gil Ponsonby at this point descended to using the man’s Bengalee dialect so as there could be no mistake, and asked for a slice of water melon if there was any such in the house. Naturally the reply was that it would be there on the instant and the sahib was his father and his mother.
An interval ensued. Then a procession entered. Several trays, one of silver, one of polished brass, one of enamelled brass, one of wood inlaid with mother-of-pearl—
Right. Three different sorts and sizes of banana, a bowl of unpeeled oranges, a pretty little green bowl filled with pink-blushed rose apples, which would not keep, and a pretty little red bowl filled with golden tipparee, removed from their gauzy capes, ditto for those.
Possibly the pièce de résistance was the large platter smothered in yellow flowers, supporting a ripe ananas which some fool had sliced up, it would have to be eaten today; a large ripe mango, cut open with its stone removed, feringhee-style—Ponsonby sahib was very fond of am, and knew that the household knew it; a large white amrood—though there were several more on another platter, the pink and the white, to judge by those which had been cut open—this one peeled and enticingly displayed: they also knew that unlike most feringhees he very much liked the gritty texture of guavas; a yellow papita, cut open—it would have to be eaten today, too; a bowl of chunks of gunna—they knew perfectly well that sugarcane was not generally served in an English house, but also knew that he and Tiddy both adored it; and, last but not least, a beautiful fat slice of orange melon.
No, well, not least, there were several more, in shades of yellow and pale green... Plus several small dishes of multicoloured barfees and assorted nuts, with flowers of various kinds here, there and everywhere. A feast for the eyes as well as the stomach—quite.
Ranjit in person brought up the rear of the procession, holding a special small silver salver more commonly seen supporting visiting cards in the front hall, on which reposed a silver bowl, holding in its turn a green coconut with a narrow tube of bamboo inserted. And a small spray of flowers.
“Humblest apologies, huzzoor, no tarbouz today,” the burra khitmagar pronounced, bowing deeply and proffering his salver. “Narial juice very most refreshing, humble but almost better than tarbouz. Many other fruit for the sahib’s pleasure.”
“Thank you, Ranjit, it all looks delicious. However, one person can hardly get through all this. Let me see—you may leave me the cut am and those two cut amrood, and a few of the jamoon and tipparee. –Thank you, Ram,” he said as the bearer, beaming and bowing terrifically, handed him a bowl with his fruit in it. Oh—thank you, Krishna,” he added as another bearer, ditto and ditto, offered him a fingerbowl filled with water, and a small towel. “Put those on the table, here. –Please serve the rest at dinner, Ranjit. Oh—Dr Little will be dining with us.”
“Certainly, sahib. Thank you, sahib,” bowed Ranjit. He cast a mere glance at the others and the procession duly exited, Ranjit again bringing up the rear, dignified as ever.
Ponsonby sahib sat down in his big armchair and ate the fruit slowly. The rose apples were presumably off the trees in the garden: they were very fresh and completely unbruised.
The trees bore profusely but the fruit, though it would make a pleasant jelly, was generally only eaten by children, as it bruised easily and did not last when picked. As always when he ate the scented little fruits, he thought of the old story of the monkey and the crocodile, and smiled a little.
Extract from a letter from Madeleine Thomas to her sister Adelaide
....Today as we were chatting on the terrace with the old ladies, Ponsonby sahib, as we are agreed I shall call him, came and joined us again. He is keeping very well, I am happy to say. The Tamasha orchards have done well this year, tho’ some of the early plums were spoiled by rain. We were favoured with a basket of delightful mixed plums and greengages, and some of the earlier apples and pears. Ponsonby sahib cut up some of the fruit for us with his very own fruit knife. I admit our dear brother could have done as much, but did not think of it in time, and so looked on mumchance, as it were, when the dear old gentleman peeled and sliced a pear for Antoinette! I am sure he does favour her, dearest, and she reciprocates. However, pray do not breathe a word of it, for Mamma has no inkling of it as yet, and as you know, she will have a considerable sum on her marriage, for her papa is a wealthy man. Just between you and me, I fear Mamma might push our dear brother at her on that account, if she knew of his interest.
The talk was all of the fruit, and the old ladies began to tell us of the strange, exotic fruits they sampled in India. The roses are in glorious bloom and so the curious fruits called “rose apples” came to mind, tho’ they have also an odd Indian name, something like “jumboos”, which dear “Tiddy baba” claimed none of us were pronouncing aright, try as we might. The children had been playing in the gazebo again, I think it was merely a fort today, not an elephant, and when they joined us Ponsonby sahib was urged to tell the story of the monkey who loved rose apples. Not like an apple, dearest sister, very much smaller, about the size of a cherry, and ranging in colour from a waxy pale yellow through a blushed pink to quite a bright shade. Well, I suppose we have many kinds and colours of plums, do we not? So why should they not have many kinds of “jumboos”? Here is the story, and you need not hesitate to tell it to little Tommy and Meggie, for little Tessa waxed very fierce indeed on hearing there was a crocodile in it, far from being nervous, and said she would shoot it with her big crocodile gun!
I give it, dear sister, in his very words, as near as I can recall them.
The Story of the Wily Monkey and the Crocodile,
as Told by Ponsonby Sahib *
Once upon a time, a clever monkey lived by a river in a tree that bore juicy pink rose apples. He was very happy. One fine day a crocodile swam up to the tree and told the monkey that he had travelled a long distance and was very hungry. The kind monkey offered him a few rose apples, for he believed in the old wise saying:
By honouring the guests who come
Wayworn from some far-distant home
To share the sacrifice, you go
The noblest way that mortals know.
Mughal art, late 16th century
(from a portfolio of mounted Eastern miniatures, Maunsleigh Library)
Courtesy of the Maunsleigh Collection
The crocodile enjoyed the rose apples very much and asked whether he could come again for some more fruit. The generous monkey happily agreed.
The crocodile returned the next day. And the next, and the one after. Soon the two became very good friends. They discussed their lives and families, as all friends do. The crocodile told the monkey that he had a wife and that they lived on the other side of the river. So the kind monkey offered him some extra rose apples to take home to his wife. She loved the rose apples and made her husband promise to get her some every day.
So the crocodile and the monkey spent more and more time together, and as a consequence their friendship deepened.
The crocodile’s wife became jealous: he was spending more time with the monkey than with her! So she pretended that she could not believe that her husband could be friends with a mere monkey. The crocodile tried to convince her that he and the monkey shared a true friendship, but to no avail. His wife remained jealous, and one day she thought to herself that if the monkey lived on a diet of rose apples, his flesh would be very sweet. Mmm! So she asked the crocodile to invite him home.
The crocodile knew his wife very well, and he was not happy about this. He tried to make the excuse that it would be difficult to get the monkey across the river. But his wife was determined to eat the monkey's flesh. So she thought of a plan. One day she pretended to be very ill and told the crocodile that the doctor said that she would only recover if she ate a monkey’s heart. If her husband wanted to save her life, he must bring her his friend’s heart!
The crocodile was aghast. He was in a dilemma. On the one hand, he loved his friend. On the other, he could not possibly let his wife die. Unhappily he told over to himself the old adage:
To give us birth, we need a mother;
For second birth we need another:
And friendship's brothers seem by far
More dear than natural brothers are.
Eventually he went to the rose apple tree and invited the monkey to come home to meet his wife. Of course the monkey could not swim like a crocodile, so the crocodile said he would give him a ride across the river on his back. The monkey happily agreed. As they reached the middle of the river, the crocodile began to sink. The frightened monkey cried out: “What are you doing?” Sadly the crocodile explained why he would have to kill him to save his wife's life.
|"Monkey riding on Crocodile's back - dance, performed Cawnpore, '15"|
Photograph, 1915, from the Widdop family papers
Quickly the clever monkey told him that he would gladly give up his heart to save the life of the crocodile’s wife, but if she liked the taste of rose apples, he had a much sweeter second heart that he had left behind in the rose apple tree. He asked the crocodile to make haste and turn back so that he could fetch the sweeter heart from the tree.
The silly crocodile quickly swam back to the rose apple tree, and the monkey scampered up the tree to safety. “Oh, crocodile!” he called. “No-one has two hearts! Tell your wicked wife that she is married to the biggest fool in the world!”
Never trust a faithless friend
Nor twice in him believe,
For he will lead you to your end
As sure as night stalks eve.
* Another story from the Panchatantra. -Julie Darling.
We suspect, though we have no proof, that at some stage Ponsonby sahib read the Panchatantra, or perhaps had someone read it to him. Certainly the stories have been told for centuries in various versions throughout the Indian subcontinent. This one differs slightly according to the geographical location of the teller. In coastal regions the monkey lives by the sea - and it would be a salt-water croc. The “rose apple” in India is commonly called jamun (which is the word for “rose”) or jambu (strictly speaking the water or watery rose apple). Sometimes in the versions of the stories it is translated as the Indian “blackberry”, which is a different species (see below).
“Rose apple”, sometimes “roseapple” in fact is the most common English name for species of Syzygium, a member of the myrtle family, Myrtaceae. Various sources define the true rose apple as Syzygium jambos and distinguish it from the water apple or watery rose apple, (Syzygium aqueum), the water berry (S. cordatum), the jambolan plum, Java plum, Portuguese plum, Malabar plum, black plum, purple plum, damson plum, or Indian blackberry (S. cumini), the water pear (S. guineense), the Malay apple (S. malaccense), the Java apple (S. samarangense) and the Australian blue lilly pilly (S. coolminianum). However in popular speech you will find many of these species just called rose apples. In Australia the native varieties of Syzygium are usually referred to as lilly pillies. They were used by the early settlers for jam and are still a popular hedging plant. The fruit is not sold commercially for the same reasons as in Ponsonby’s day. –K.W.
Doubtless, Ponsonby sahib reflected, embarking on the tipparee, these were also from the garden: very ripe. How many of them would have had their little capes torn off and been discarded because they were not ripe enough for the sahib’s pleasure? Oh, dear. One could only hope that some provident hand was saving them in the kitchen for tipparee jam, which, in despite of the fact that the things tasted quite sickening when underripe, was completely delicious. **
This is a preserve which it is well to make in small quantities. Pot it up in your smallest jars or it is suitable for pretty glasses. Husk the fruit & prick each berry. Use a mixture of ripe and underripe fruit. Do not add too much water, as the fruit is very juicy. Cook until fruit is tender. For every cup of fruit allow 1 cup of sugar. Cook rapidly & not too much at a time. It finishes up very quickly.
** The English for tipparee (modern spelling tipare) is “cape gooseberry” Rather touchingly, Ponsonby sahib in his letter to Lord Sleyven clearly could not recall it! The conventional claim is that they are thus named because they came originally from the Cape of Good Hope, in South Africa, but as that little gauzy cape that shields the fruit is so distinctive we find this very hard to believe! They were a popular fruit of the Empire in the 19th century but these days are generally treated like weeds in both Australia and New Zealand, except for the ornamental varieties, for which ludicrous sums are charged by up-market florists. Ponsonby sahib is right about the jam, it is incredibly delicious. The recipe given here is one of the very many from Our India Days which we have not used yet in the text. Incidentally, if you are lucky enough to have them growing, they are only ripe when the little cape opens of its own accord. Grab them quickly before the birds or the kids do! –K.W. and C.B.
He left the am until last: underripe guavas were disappointing but the mango was clearly very ripe. But in the event the guava was also ripe. He finished the mango and washed his hands very, very slowly, frowning. There was probably nothing in it. But even for the Ma Maison servants, the thing seemed excessive. Was there any point in asking Tiddy what had happened to the water melon? Well, no. If there was anything there that she did not want him to know she would lie. Well, perhaps they had done something stupid with it—crushed it for the juice to make a sharbut, or, uh, what sort of a receet could one possibly concoct from a water melon? No, well, the most likely solution to the mystery of the tarbouz was that they had eaten it in the kitchen without first offering it to the sahib-log.
He was, he concluded with a shrug, becoming over-suspicious in his old age. Or perhaps it was the worry about Indira which was affecting his judgment.
Extract from a further letter written by Madeleine Thomas to her sister Adelaide, very soon after the previous
...Both Ponsonby sahib and the dear great-aunts appearing rather tired, we had agreed to break the little party up, when dear Antoinette cried in disappointment: “But are we to hear no more of horrid Hatton?” At which we all realized in some dismay that we had forgotten, in our pleasurable appreciation of the tale told for the children, that there was still that fly in the ointment threatening to mar the memory of those far-off, halcyon India days. So it was settled that that should be for tomorrow, or perhaps the following day, for the children have determined on an Indian-style picknick if the weather holds tomorrow, the Indian part consisting of nothing very much save little Gil’s head being wound up in a “turban” and the two older boys and Tessa wearing wooden swords through their belts. With perhaps some contributions from the Tamasha kitchen in the way of sujee cakes and the funny sev “worms” which the children love so much—not, we older ones suspect, because of their strange savoury taste, but rather more because of that intriguing appellation! And, with the smiling reminder from Ponsonby sahib that it had best be soon, for the day after tomorrow David Widdop is due and he did not fancy that he would want to sit on the terrace consuming tea and gossip (!), our little party broke up.
(Two days later)
This morning, Mr Widdop not yet being due, Antoinette and I were sitting with the old ladies and telling them of Papa’s suggestion that our dearest brother go into the Church. They approved it as a most acceptable profession for a young man, if he be that way inclined. Antoinette then—incautiously, I fear—broached the notion of his becoming a missionary and our going out to India with him. They were very much taken aback—especially as at first they assumed she meant we two girls alone. But their further reaction was not quite what I expected—nor, I am sure, dearest Adelaide, what you, yourself, might guess at. They said, in these very words, that we should pause to consider that the Indians have their own religions, which they believe in just as devoutly as any Christian, and we should do well to respect the fact! I was very glad that Mamma was not there to hear that! They then added, like the most conventional great-aunts in the world, that it would not be proper for Antoinette to accompany us unless there were an older person in the party. And warned us that it was all speculation, and a man must be allowed to make up his own mind about his profession, or he will never be happy in himself. I was not capable of more than a nod, but Antoinette cried out, did they not think that it would be so pleasant to teach the little brown babies about our Lord Jesus Christ? (The which we had privily agreed.) At which, I am afraid, dear “Tiddy baba” said: “All the little brown babies I ever knew would rather hear about Ganesh, the elephant-headed god, or the Baby Krishner.” Neither of us was capable of enquiring whose baby the last-named was: we just looked at each other limply. I am sure you will not breathe a word of it, my dearest sister, but I just had to tell someone!
Ponsonby sahib then coming down, a tray of “tiffin”, as he calls it, was ordered up immediate, the dear old gentleman not forbearing to laugh a little and remark, the door having closed behind the footman, that it was not so unlike being “home” in India! For the tray held an unrequested dish of Queen cakes, which, as I may have mentioned, are a great favourite of his!
He in fact did not partake at that early hour, and nor did the elderly ladies, but Antoinette and I did, and, oh, dear! They were well powdered with soft sugar and I fear I had some on my face. I am sure I do not know how grand ladies manage, do they not in fact eat cakes at all in company? The sugar all over my hands, too, and indeed, it seemed as if I were surrounded by a positive cloud of it, when Mr Widdop was shown in! My dear sister, I was ready to sink! Ponsonby sahib however came to my rescue, he is the most gallant of elderly gentlemen, and quietly passed me a napkin, and did not interrupt the cries of greeting and welcome, &c., until I had managed to wipe my face and hands, and, I blush to relate, dust off my bosom, too. Then he quietly introduced his great-nephew. My dearest sister, you will never guess! He looks so exactly like that delightful miniature which Mrs Tess Widdop has in her room of the late Collector Widdop!!! His grandfather, you see. But in tasteful modern dress, of course. Most gentlemanly indeed, the kindest smile, and quite seemed to overlook, nay, not to notice, my struggles with the bothersome sugar! Far from objecting to our “tea & gossip” he sat down most amiably and partook of all, urging his grandmother and the dear old great-aunts to tell more, and deferring to his great-uncle in the pleasantest way—not as if he were an elderly person, I mean. Well, I cannot describe it, dear sister, one would have had to be there! He must, it occurs to me now, have heard the story several times over, but there was not a sign of boredom nor impatience, and listened as eagerly and urged them to proceed fully as much as A. or I!
I did not like to accept an invitation to dine this evening, although A. urged it, not wishing to intrude on the family, but they kindly overrode my objections, and only guess! Mr Widdop himself escorted me home and said he would come to fetch me! Tho’ as our dear James was also invited I did not, truly, need an escort. But he came, and chatted most amiably with our brother, drawing him out on his plans in the kindliest way. It is hard to describe it, but all I can say is, he looks at one with such a kind smile in his eyes.
Sketch, charcoal, artist unknown, circa 1875,
From the Widdop family papers
I have it! He never patronises one, young or old! That is it! The dinner quite delicious, as usual at Tamasha, but rather more elaborate, on account of his homecoming. Both a white soup, very fine, an old family recipe, which I shall not describe to Mamma tomorrow, for she is so disappointed with Cook’s efforts, plus also a clear beef consommé, very fine. The main course a noble roast of beef, his favourite dish, surrounded by innumerable vegetable dishes, too many to describe, but must just add that the way the Tamasha cook has of doing young leeks in a buttery white sauce makes them taste quite exquisite. In addition, several side dishes, kidneys in a wine sauce, lamb cutlets à l’Anglaise, &c., at which Tiddy baba frowned and said it was extravagant, but Mrs Tonie Harper smiled and shushed her, for after all it was his first day home at their dear Tamasha! Three fruit tarts followed, with a jelly which they must have pre-prepared, for the day was very warm and I doubt if they could have attained a set had they not started upon it until his arrival, and the most exquisite of creams, I am sure I do not know how many eggs & gills of cream must have gone into it! The whole moulded most beautifully, sitting on a bed of a cold raspberry sauce, a most unusual & intriguing notion which made the dish look so charming, in especial as they had put roses round the platter! Ponsonby sahib smiling and saying again: “So like home!”
The table positively groaning with the dessert course, they must have denuded the orchard of everything that was ripe! The fruit dishes quite exquisite, I think it is a Worcester service. Blue encircled, with gloriously delicate flower sprays, the edges gilded. Some might claim it is old-fashioned but for myself I would give my eye-teeth, as they say, to own one like it! And a positive tower of nuts and raisins—only guess, dear sister! There were some of the odd greenish nuts that composed the curious “barfee” sweetmeats we had heard of earlier: they had been saving them for his arrival, for they came in a special parcel from India. And Mr Widdop put some aside in person for the children, was that not so sweet and thoughtful?
He walked us home after, not that dear James was not there, of course, but again so kind and thoughtful. And said he hopes to see more of me during his stay! Do you think it was just his good manners? I shall pray it was not!
Oh, dear, it is very late and I have reached the end of another sheet and have not told you the next part of the India story! It will have to be for another day.
Take care of yourself, my dearest sister, and write very soon to
Your loving sister,
P.S. Dear Mrs Tonie says the curious “tipparry” jam mentioned in my last is like any jam recipe & has never seen them here. But will write it if desired.
Josie was still in a mood, Tiddy was still vanishing marketwards in the early morning, and Ponsonby was dividing his time between Indira’s bungalow, as she was still very weak and the children were fretting over her, and, alas, his study, with the door firmly closed against Josie’s perpetual sulks. Truth to tell, he was glad that Tiddy did take off with the ayahs in the mornings, because it enabled him to get off to see Indira without being remarked. Well, the servants all knew he went out, of course, but he was quite sure that none of them would mention it to either Mlle Dupont or Josie. Possibly they did tell Tiddy baba—he rather thought they told her everything—but she never brought the subject up and so, in return, he refrained from criticising her continual absences. The more so as Mademoiselle had taken it into her head that as Josie seemed definitively to have tired of young Alan Jeffcott, Tiddy should have him. Dim though he was.
He did speak to Mrs Dalziel about making sure Josie was not escorted by d— Hatton on her walks with the little ones, receiving her assurance that Ayah would be ordered to report most strictly. But she did not think that there was anything to worry about, for on the occasion to which she thought he must be referring, Josie reported indignantly: “You will never guess, dear Mrs Dalziel: we saw Charlie Hatton on our walk and he had the impertinence to tell me I looked very fetching in my new hat! Really! After his shocking behaviour in Darjeeling, which I am sure the whole of India is laughing over? I shall never wear it again!” Words to that effect, as Ponsonby wrote to Lord Sleyven. The inevitable consequence of this consultation was that the fat Dalziel ayah, beaming and panting, turned up at Ma Maison with Miss Joséphine after their next expedition and poured out a horridly detailed account of the whole thing. –Uneventful, was what it amounted to.
The ayah then became a regular caller, so much so that she, Ponsonby sahib, Tiddy baba if at home, their own Nandinee Ayah if at home, and Mr Ferdinand Gupta Maltravers generally partook of tiffin together in the study of a morning. Ma Maison’s servants, thank all the gods, appearing quite happy to offer the caller relays of food and drink. Whether Josie and Mlle Dupont genteelly took tea in the morning room at this time Ponsonby sahib did not, alas, enquire.
He eventually met Miss Morgan: she came in one morning when he was sitting with Indira, and seemed quite overcome, pulling her saree well across her face—which did, indeed, appear to be marred by a large purplish birthmark, poor little creature—and was barely able to express herself, in the usual chee-chee sing-song, most honoured to meet Colonel Ponsonby. He naturally expressed his gratitude for her kind offices towards his wife, at which she gave a strangled giggle, pulling the saree even further across her face and bowing to the sahib as she did so, in the native fashion. Kindly he refrained from looking straight at her. She said very little during the visit but Indira appeared very pleased to see her, and as she had brought some bananas, oranges and mangoes, so did the two little girls.
Ponsonby had, in fact, on thinking over the doctor’s report, been a little suspicious of this strange Miss Morgan: after all there had been cases of odd spinsters poisoning the person for whom they were ostensibly caring, had there not? And not only spinsters: John Widdop had a shocking tale of some demented grandmother in one of the villages in his District, who had systematically poisoned, first her mother-in-law, largely for gain, as the elderly widow had left her son what in their terms was a large amount of money, but then two harmless neighbours of about the same age, apparently for no other reason than that she enjoyed feeling her power over them. First plying them, as she had the mother-in-law, with endless gifts of food—largely sweetmeats, in her case. She was, in fact, renowned for her hospitality in the village. It was not until she made her fourth attempt, on some other relative—the son’s aunt, was it?—anyway, not until then that the villagers became suspicious and the authorities were called in. Miss Morgan certainly struck one as harmless, but then presumably so had John’s poisoner. So Ponsonby asked Indira, the children and the neighbour, as tactfully as he might, just what Miss Morgan brought. Apparently it was only fruit. Little Parvati, who was just twelve years of age, and still very childish, revealed, beaming, that it was often bananas or chiku! Helpfully Kamala, who at thirteen was now a lot taller and already wearing, over the pyjama-kurta favoured by the local girls, a long gauzy scarf veiling the neck and bosom, added the alternative name of the latter: “Sobeda. She likes them.”
“Takes after me, then!” he said with a laugh, and Parvati beamed more than ever. “Er, does she never bring your mother sweetmeats or—well, other things to eat, girls?”
“No,” said Kamala definitely, “it’s always fruit, Father.”
That sounded all right.
“One day she took us for a walk and bought some barfees for us,” offered Parvati, eyeing him uncertainly.
“That was very kind of her,” he approved. “But, er, well, try not to let her spend her money on you, my dears. I don’t think she has much.”
“She never wears jewellery,” noted Kamala.
Er—no. Well, their mother was apt to wear far too much—if she had it, it was worn, kind of thing. True, it impressed the neighbours!
“She’s a spinster, and a mem, though,” objected Parvati.
“She’s not a mem!” cried her sister scornfully.
“Is she, Father?” asked his younger daughter immediately.
“Chee-chee,” explained Kamala before he could speak.
“Yes, she is half-caste,” he agreed mildly. “But then, she isn’t the only one, is she?”
There was a short silence. Parvati was looking smug, presumably taking this as a reproof to her sister, and Kamala was looking sulky.
Finally Kamala said on a defiant note: “Mr Anthony Maltravers would marry me, and he is most respectable, and works for John Company!”
“Uh—is this Mr Ferdinand Maltravers’s relation?” he asked cautiously.
“Yes of course, Father, his younger brother, and you can’t say he isn’t respectable, for he works for you, doesn’t he?”
“Yes. He’s most respectable, and an excellent worker,”—if he breathed the slightest word of criticism of earnest Mr F. Gupta Maltravers it would get back to him in a highly spiced and garbled version—“but do you want to marry his brother, my dear? Do you even like him?”
Kamala looked dubious. “I suppose I like him.”
“He has a big red nose like an Englishman!” choked Parvati, suddenly going into a fit of giggles, so that she sounded rather like a little plump pigeon cooing madly in the morning.
Ponsonby sahib felt his nose in fright and Kamala immediately collapsed in giggles also. Gasping: “Not—you—Father!”
“Mrs Ashby likes him,” Parvati then revealed.
This was the kindly chee-chee neighbour. The husband was very dark but very proud of his name, to which he had some sort of right, as certainly his grandfather, a corporal in the Indian Army in the days when the troops were encouraged to marry locally in the hopes it would settle them down, had been born in Sussex. The wife was a lot lighter, which was, alas, why he had married her. But as she was a good-natured woman who was an excellent cook he had nothing to complain of. Though he did complain of everything, he was a chronic complainer.
Ponsonby sahib was aware that Mrs Ashby didn't want either of his girls to marry her own sons, Peter and Martin, who were now young men in their twenties. Whether this was because she thought the girls had no expectations, since he wasn't living permanently with their mother, or because she had her eye on a couple of Anglo-Indian girls who were (a) very pale, (b) possessed of large dowries, and (c) fluent English-speakers, he wasn’t sure. Both, quite possibly. Certainly these last were far from unusual criteria, in her little circle. And his dear little girls were both quite brown. Which didn’t mean he wished either of them to marry anyone merely for the sake of an establishment.
“You’re too young to marry yet, Kamala, but if you truly love the man I won’t be against it, in five or six years’ time.”
“But Pauline Murgatroyd is only a year older than me, and she’s getting married!” she cried.
That explained it, then. “Well, she shouldn’t be,” he said flatly.
“How old was Mother when you married her?” she demanded.
“My dear, you know the circumstances,” he said with a sigh. “Her age was not in question.”
“That’s right, Kamala,” urged Parvati.
“Mm. Now, there's no more to be said—What is it? Do you fancy yourself in love with the fellow?” he said as Kamala was observed to be on the brink of tears.
“No!” she gulped. “Buh-but if Mother dies what’s to become of us?”
“Mr Anthony Maltravers did say he’d look after us both if he was married to Kamala,” said Parvati on a very dubious note.
Gil Ponsonby had to take a very deep breath. “That was very generous of him. But if Indira dies, you will come and live with me in my house, my darling girls.”
“In your English house?” gasped Parvati, gaping, while Kamala merely gaped.
“Yes,” he said steadily. “Of course. So I’m very glad that Miss Morgan is teaching you English. And in any case it can only stand you in good stead.”
“Mr Ashby says we’ll never get decent husbands if we can’t speak it,” admitted Parvati.
“He's a mean old beast!” flashed Kamala.
“Yes, but Mrs Ashby agrees with him.”
“There you are, then,” said Ponsonby firmly. “Now, no more tears, it’s quite settled.”
“But we’ve never seen your house, Father,” faltered Parvati.
“No—well, your mother doesn’t wish for it. But if she dies—and we must pray she doesn’t—then you will come to me, no question.”
Kamala wiped her eyes with her sleeve. “Mr Anthony Maltravers says it’s full of English mems, though. They’ll despise us.”
“No, they won’t. I did have four young ladies under my care, yes. Two of them got married earlier this year—they’re years older than you,” he added hurriedly. “So now I only have two girls under my care. They’re about ten years older than you.”
“Good, then they’ll be getting married soon, too!” smiled Parvati.
“Er—yes. Well, it’s irrelevant. Whether they do or they don't, if your mother dies you will come to me. Do you both understand?”
They both did.
“Good. Now I think we’d best speak English,” he added, switching to that language.
His daughters looked at him in horror,
“Go on, say something,” he said mildly.
Eventually Parvati squeaked: “Good morning, sir. How pleasant to meet you!” and Kamala collapsed in giggles, hiding her face in her scarf.
“Very good, Parvati. Good morning: it’s most pleasant to meet you, too,” he agreed.
Kamala took her scarf away from her face. “I can say it! Good morning, sir. How pleasant to meet you.”
“Good morning, Kamala,” replied her father gravely. “I’m very pleased to meet you, also.”
The girls beamed, and suddenly Parvati volunteered: “Miss Morgan, she is bringing... tarbouz,” she ended weakly.
It appeared the unfortunate Miss Morgan had something in common with Tiddy, then. Or possibly water melons were currently cheap at the market—one or t’other!
“Water melon,” he said slowly. “Tarbouz means water melon.”
“Watery melon,” said Parvati carefully.
“Not quite, my dear. Water—melon.”
“Water melon!” said Kamala quickly. “Miss Morgan, she is bringing water melon!” She paused. “Beeg water melon!” she said triumphantly.
“The water melon, it is very beeg,” agreed Parvati.
“Excellent! There, you have both learned a new word, mm? Water melon!” Or two words. “Er, is Miss Morgan also teaching you to read and write in English, my darlings?”
The two girls eyed each other uneasily. Finally Parvati burst out, reverting to the local Bengalee dialect: “It’s too hard, Father!”
“We can write some words,” said Kamala cautiously.
He gave in and said in the language to which they were used: “Well, that's progress.”
“She wrote ‘linen draper’ for us, Father, and it wasn’t what the shop sign said, at all!” cried Parvati aggrievedly.
“No, and then she said there are two sorts of letters in English!” added Kamala.
“Uh—oh. Did she write this?” He outed with his pocketbook and wrote: “linen draper”. “Linen—draper,” he read, pointing.
“Um, I think so,” admitted Kamala.
“Mm. And does the shop sign say this?” He printed: “LINEN DRAPER.”
“Linen draper!” they cried.
Oh, dear. “Yes. They are what is called capital letters, my dears—er, the sorts of letters that are used for shop signs. And... Um—wait.” Underneath the “linen draper”, which was in his best handwriting, he printed “linen draper.”
“That looks more like it, Kamala!” urged Parvati.
Ponsonby sahib bit his lip. “This is the sort of writing that is used in books, my dears—‘printing’ we call it, in English. And that is how one would normally write, er, with a pen.”
“That makes three sorts,” said Kamala dazedly.
“That’s quite right, my darling.”
“We'll never learn!” she decided in despair.
“Never mind; if you just stick to the sort of writing that you see in books, that’ll be fine. Oh—and tell Miss Morgan to use it, too.”
“I think she does. –Wait,” said Parvati, bouncing up and rushing out.
She returned with a small book which revealed itself to be a kind of album or scrapbook composed of pages stitched together which contained pictures cut out from various sources or drawn crudely by hand. Each was duly labelled with its name, thus “pot”, “carriage”, or “woman”—this last a picture from what he would have taken his dying oath was an old copy of La belle assemblée. He blinked. Well, presumably there were ancient copies of it floating around Calcutta! Miss Morgan had printed the words in a laboriously neat hand, rather large: “pot”, “carriage”, “woman”, and so forth. Smiling a little, he got out a pencil and printed: “Pot, POT”, “Carriage, CARRIAGE”—etcetera, then in handwriting, “pot, Pot,”—etcetera.
“I see,” said Kamala with a huge sigh. “There are three but those ones mix them up. It’s silly, though,” she added defiantly.
“Yes, I agree, it is silly, when you think about it,” he agreed tranquilly.
They goggled at him.
“Well, would you like to read me the words from the book, my dears?”
They would, and settled down happily to do so. The mind boggled, Ponsonby concluded, at the rationale behind the woman’s approach! For if some of the pictures showed ordinary items the girls would see every day, some were really odd! There was a drawing, very bad, of a mongoose, for instance! He had never seen a mongoose in the city. Though “snake” was perhaps more justified, you saw snake charmers on the streets often enough. Er—no, well, possibly the concept “snake” had led inevitably to the concept “mongoose!” Smiling, he got out his pencil again and corrected the drawing.
|Sketch of a mongoose|
Pencil, circa 1830? Possibly by Gilbert Ponsonby.
From the Widdop family papers
He did speak to Mrs Ashby after this but she confirmed what the girls had said. Miss Morgan only brought fruit, and sometimes took the girls for walks and bought them something from a stall. She didn’t think—with a sniff—that the woman could cook; but she seemed well-meaning. The poor little thing was probably lonely. Oh—and once she and her maid had taken the girls to a temple, was that all right?
He was quite certain their mother wouldn’t mind. Indira had been brought up in the Hindoo faith but apart from observing fast-days and feast-days, had never practised it since their marriage. Mr Ashby was a fervent Christian but Mrs Ashby, to Ponsonby’s certain knowledge, though dutifully accompanying him to church on Sundays, made frequent visits to a nearby Hindoo temple behind his back, when he was at his work.
“Yes, of course that’s all right.”
“She makes a puja to Ganesh,” she reported.
The elephant-headed god. Shades of Tiddy, again! “That’s good. He is the remover of obstacles, after all,” he said mildly.
Looking very pleased, Mrs Ashby adjusted her large collection of bangles, and said airily in her careful sing-song: “I am very glad you approve, sir. Maybe I go with them, next time, to keeping an eye on young girls, Colonel.”
Heroically he did not laugh, just smiled very nicely and said that that would be lovely.
She then offered the opinion that Indira was very weak. He had seen this for himself. His jaw hardened and he nodded silently. Mrs Ashby put a hot, kind hand over his and said: “If it happens, I am sending message to you immediate, sir. And not to worry: I am not leaving girls and Indira alone.”
“Good. I can’t thank you enough, Mrs Ashby,” he said with difficulty. “I—I’m afraid I just cannot spend more time with them, I have other responsibilities.”
What she thought of this—or of him—was not apparent. She just nodded, patted his hand again, and got up to fetch him a cup of good tea. It was good, all right: ferociously sweet, horribly strong, and the milk well boiled. He drank it gratefully and favoured her with the receet for the sweet Kashmiri tea that he had had in the high hills. She was most interested, though noting that Ashby did not drink his tea native-style, and begged him to write it down. He did so, smiling a little. Doubtless the tea would be drunk behind Mr Ashby’s back!
It was a few days after this that, lo and behold! Welling finally turned up. At crack of dawn, incidentally. Ponsonby was up, working in his study with a pot of coffee beside him, and Tiddy had already got off to the market with Nandinee Ayah, but no-one else was yet stirring. Welling’s watch was wrong—right, very clear! So what had gone wrong when he got off the ship in Bombay? The ship’s compass, perchance?
“No, ah, well, tell you the truth, Colonel, they said it was India, so I thought you must be near, and I'd had enough of the dashed ship, as a matter of fact. Only turns out it ain’t near. But they were very decent to me at the Governor’s house, said of course I must stay with them, wouldn't hear of an hotel. And then when they said the G.-G. and his party were heading that way very soon and would go back to Calcutta after they'd nipped over to Delhi, thought I might as well tag along with them, y’see. Only it all took longer than what I'd thought. Still, here I am at last, sir! –Miss Josie keeping well, is she?”
“Very well,” he said drily, “and I dare say you will glad to hear that she is not promised to any other fellow.”
“That’s good news, all right, sir!” he beamed unaffectedly. “I did think it might be all right—know that Lacey fellow, do you? –Right, well, he said she didn’t seem to fancy any of ’em specially, though they was all at her feet, out of course. And yourself, Colonel? Not leg-shackled yet?”
Ponsonby sahib had been smiling at him but at this he suddenly frowned. “No. Any rumour you may have had from the G.-G.’s party to that effect was incorrect—I am sorry to disappoint you, Welling. Tess and Tonie have married very good fellows, and oddly enough I haven’t offered for Tiddy in order to get my hands on a large slice of her father’s fortune.”
“Never thought you had, sir!” he gasped. “Only, thing is, me mother said—well, um, what it amounted to was, I wasn’t to offer for Miss Josie unless you had, because what she'd heard, the girls wouldn’t get their full shares until you did marry one of them. Well, I would have said it was nonsense, meself, only she had it off this dame what knows young Brute Partridge’s aunt, and she’s a friend from your village, ain’t she?”
“So I told her if she thought I’d dashed well offer for any girl for that sort of reason she could dashed well think again, and what is more, she could whistle for the gelt for a special coffin for dashed Coriolanus!” he ended, very flushed.
“Good for you,” replied Ponsonby somewhat limply. “Er—Coriolanus?” he added weakly.
“One of her dogs: ill-natured thing, had to wear boots any time I was near the creature. Bit the Vicar, too. Had to cough up to get the dashed church tower repaired, for that.”
“I see,” he said limply.
“Thing, is, sir, we ain’t badly off but she’s always crying poverty, y’see. Well, largely in the hopes of getting something out of m’Cousin Giles,” he admitted glumly.
“Er—oh! The Marquis of Rockingham? –Mm. Well, he certainly has one of the largest fortunes in England,” he murmured.
Welling was again very flushed. “Dare say. But that don’t mean we’re entitled! And I said to her, Stop hoping, he’s got two stout little boys now, and old Jerningham’s before me in the line, anyway—well, not sure, sir, might have that wrong—but in any case, I told her I ain't going to inherit the title! Thought I’d be driven to remind her that in the nature of things she’s bound to go before Cousin Giles, only I didn’t have to, thank the Lord.”
“Right! That’s all very clear, Welling: thank you for telling me!” said Ponsonby with a laugh. “Now, can I offer you some chota huzzree? Oh—sorry—that means—”
“Know that one, sir!” he said proudly. “They had it in Bombay, too! Thanks all the same, but I don't fancy that dried fish stuff—when they said duck I thought it’d be duck—well, any fellow would,” he noted glumly.
Ponsonby sahib gulped. What imbecile had got hold of the wrong end of the stick and offered the poor idiot Bombay duck—which was nauseating, he’d tried it once, never again—to his breakfast?
“Er, no, we don't have it in Calcutta,” he said kindly. “In fact here chota huzzree is quite varied and can be anything one fancies, really. The kitchen is making cocoanut pancakes this morning, I think: I frequently have them. Sometimes with curd, chutney and a dish of dal.”
A favourite breakfast dish.
To 2 cups of rice flour take 2 cups of finely grated fresh cocoanut. Grind with 1 inch of fresh ginger and 2 chopped green chillies, if liked. Then add water gradually to mix to a smooth paste. Fry 1 or 2 finely chopped onions until golden & stir into the paste with 1 dessertspoonful of chopped fresh dhania [coriander leaves], a few curry leaves and 1 teaspoonful of salt. Add enough water to make a thick batter. Heat the tava [or heavy frying pan], wipe with ghee & fry 2 spoonfuls of batter at a time as you would an English pancake.
May be served with chutney, curd, & a simple dal curry.
“Er, whatever you think, thanks, sir. Don’t think we had any of that, in Bombay.”
No, well, looking at the size of Welling—He rang the bell and ordered up more coffee, a stack of narial dosah, the mildest mango chutney, a bowl of dahee and a dish of dal, ekdum! And if there was no dal ready, they would skip it. The huzzoor was assured that there was plenty of dal and he was his father and his mother.
It did all actually eventuate within the next fifteen minutes, so for once it hadn’t been a gross exaggeration. True, it was accompanied by a bowl of unrequested fruit and a plate of unrequested laddoo besan. The latter were sweetmeats, sweetened balls of pea flour, and he had specifically not asked for pea-flour dosahs, of which he himself was very fond, because many Europeans greatly disliked the taste of besan! Was it a hint, a reproach, or merely a treat for the sahib?
The chota huzzree had been eaten and they were chatting peacefully, when a huge ruckus arose in the direction of the front hall. Sounded like Tiddy shouting at Ranjit—what on earth—? Ponsonby excused himself and hurried out there.
But it certainly wasn’t Tiddy.
“Miss Morgan!” he gasped, taking a step backwards. “My God—is it Indira?”
“No—” she began.
“Sahib, begging pardons, am telling this person that we not wanting silly tales, not seeing the sahib in our house!” burst out Ranjit.
“This lady is Miss Morgan. I know her,” he said flatly. “What is it, Miss Morgan?”
She hesitated, which unfortunately gave his burra khitmagar time to interpolate: “Sahib, this per—lady has silly tales of Missy Josie, we not wanting hear such—”
“Is true!” she cried.
“I see. –Be silent, if you please, Ranjit. Go on, Miss Morgan.”
Pulling the faded saree firmly over her face, and not looking up at him at all, she said: “I am seeing Missy Josie get into carriage with young man with yellow hair, sir, so I am coming here immediate, Colonel.”
“This morning? Ranjit, is Miss Josie out?”
Bowing, the man assured him that he had not seen Miss Josie go out.
“Send someone to her room, ekdum,” he ordered. “—I was not aware, Miss Morgan, that you knew Miss Josie by sight,” he added.
“Begging your pardon, Colonel Ponsonby, I have seen the young lady in church with you on a Sunday, sir.”
“And—er—how do you know her name?”
“I am seeing her again with ayah, sir, and another day same ayah is with another young lady, so I ask when Missy is talking with shopkeeper, and she tells me that today is Miss Tiddy, and the pretty young lady with the yellow curls and most beautiful hat is Miss Josie.”
“That seems clear. How long ago did you see Miss Josie get into this carriage?” he asked grimly. –He was aware that a person who had grown up in the country, no matter how much she prided herself on her English, might not have a very good grasp of time.
But she said: “Only five minutes since, sir: I am hurry here ekd—immediate, Colonel. Begging your pardon, but did not seem appropriate for young lady.”
“No, it certainly does not. –She is not in her room, I suppose?” he said as Ram and Nandinee Ayah both hurried downstairs. “No. –Silence! Enough! BUS!”
Grimly he asked Miss Morgan for further details. She told him, adding: “If it is help, sir, Miss Josie is calling the young man ‘Charlie.’”
“WHAT?” shouted a voice from behind Ponsonby’s right shoulder, and he jumped. Welling must have followed him out, rather like, he could not help reflecting in the midst of his disturbance, a large over-attached dog of the floppy variety.
“It’s d— Charlie Hatton, Welling,” he said grimly.
“But sir, the gossip I heard, they was all laughing—No, well, he did strike me forcibly as the type that nothing could knock back, the miserable, fortune-hunting little rat!”
“Quite. Though it may be some harmless expedition. I’ll get after them.”
“Right! Take my carriage, then, shall we?”
“Uh—I doubt it will have waited for you.”
“Well, it’s one of the G.-G.’s, sir, dare say it’ll be there!”
Er—yes. Welling was staying at Government House? Almost any other chap under the sun would have dropped at least a strong hint to this effect long since. He smiled at him with considerable liking. “It’s very good of you, Lord Welling, but you don’t need to involve yourself. Josie is not a child and she must be aware that her conduct in going anywhere alone with Hatton, on however harmless an expedition, is beyond the pale.”
“Don’t count, sir,” he replied, his pleasant mouth firming so that the resemblance to a large, not very bright retriever noticeably diminished. “Hatton’s a rat to take her anywhere alone. Of course I’m coming.”
“Good lad. Come on, then.” They headed outside, only to find that little Miss Morgan had come, too. “Miss Morgan, I can’t thank you enough for warning me. But you really don’t need to come,” said Ponsonby weakly. “I would not wish to interrupt your morning.”
She hesitated. “Is true I was intending see Mrs Indira and little girls, sir.”
“Then I think you’d best carry on with that,” he said, doing his best to smile at the poor little creature. “–Just wait a moment, please. Ranjit!” The major-domo hurried down the steps, and Ponsonby ordered him to have a carriage brought ekdum for Miss Morgan, to take her anywhere she pleased, wait, and take her on wherever she said. Ranjit looked stunned but bowed obediently. Miss Morgan demurred, but was overborne, and they were off.