I really couldn’t think of a better title, which is ironic really, given my imagination. Anyways, it has been another century since I posted some more of that sorry, so I hereby promise to post a little bit at least twice a week. You saw it here first.
Evelyn was still uncertain as to why she had kept hold of the letter, but as she assumed that no-one else was supposed to read it but her, it would have felt like a betrayal to throw it away, so it got locked into the secrets drawer in her desk, and occasionally Evelyn would take it out, read it and feel a pang of sorrow that her favourite governess was gone.
At fifteen, most girls have a number of secrets which they would rather keep hidden – their diaries full of their innermost thoughts and feelings, the love letter from the boy who never stood a chance, a necklace from an admirer, or perhaps even a ring stolen from right under the shopkeeper’s nose for a dare from a friend.
But how do you get a love letter when you don’t know any boys; how can you have an admirer when you have to have a chaperone to go out, that is, if you even go out, and how can you steal a ring with a friend when you know only one girl your age, and she is in much a similar position as yours?
The answer, quite simply, is you can’t. To be sure, Evelyn had tried keeping a diary, but after a few weeks when all she could write about was the monotony of her lessons and the chapter of her book she was reading, she gave up. Not having ever gone to school, she had nothing interesting to write about, and the visits to the town were few and far between, being deemed far too dirty and noisy and simply barbaric by her pitaa.
“Honestly, my dear,” he had said to her when she had asked about the markets, “The crush of dirty bodies would make something as delicate as you into mincemeat within seconds, and the stench is foul enough to make one retch. To talk about it is quite bad enough, but to be there is simply hell.”
The Mayfair household should have been a large one. There should have been a memsahib, and at least two children (two sons and two daughters preferably) running about the place, causing havoc and fun wherever they went. There should have always been guests and visitors, relatives and friends who would stay for luncheon and then dinner, only leaving once there was nothing left to talk about. There should have been dozens of servants rushing about downstairs, gossiping and cursing as they dropped a jug of milk on the pies for tea, all getting flustered whenever a young man arrived at the house who looked their age.
But there was not. When the Sahib (Evelyn’s pitaa) married the memsahib, their wedding gift was the house, already equipped with staff aplenty and, optimistically, a wet nurse and nanny.
But slowly the household broke up, and when the memsahib left after having miscarried a baby boy, servants began to give in their notice, finding that there were not enough jobs for them to do, as guests began to decline and the number of visitors to the house started to dwindle.
And now, as he sat at the head of the long dining table and looked at his only child, the Sahib (or Lord John Mayfair, as he was known to those who spoke English) felt a keen sense of loss, and not for the first time, he wondered how his demise had come about so quickly. Fourteen years prior, he was at the peak of his life, with one child in the nursery and another one on the way, and his status as a high-earning, wealthy merchant and purveyor of fine Indian goods undisputed.
It must have been the war, he kept telling himself, but fourteen years ago, the war wasn’t due for another good four years, and so once again he came to the conclusion that it was the baby. That’s what it always came back to: the baby, or rather, loss of it. The child had been miscarried, and although the babe had only been the size of a runty piglet, it was well formed enough to be able to tell that it was a boy. His son, his long-anticipated son and heir, was gone, and just like that, John’s dreams and hopes, all his aspirations for a bountiful future were also gone, carried away like the baby and buried in that tiny coffin. All there was now was a stone cross, marking the spot where, under five feet (one for every month of happy anticipation) of dusty Indian soil, not only the foetus of his son, but of his joyful years, lay at rest, forever more.
Why, of course he had told himself that he and the memsahib were still young, and there was still time to conceive another boy, but after the miscarriage of her son, Adelaide had not let him lie with her again, and left half a year later. And he had seen neither hide nor hair of his once-beloved wife, not had a single letter explaining anything, and she had not even said goodbye. What did he care anyway? He had given up caring about Adelaide, the love of his life, the one he once would have swam the seven oceans to please. She was probably dead, and certainly dead to him. After Adelaide’s departure, a part of John’s heart had frozen over, like a river in the dead of winter. But he could not say that it had turned to stone, because there was one person, his saving grace, who could thaw that ice and make him a man again. She could make him a father again. Evelyn Grace Patricia Mayfair.