James returned to the Kitchen to find that Mrs Ponsomby had breakfast well underway.
The smells of the sausages and bacon sizzling in the pan made his stomach rumble. It was one of his favourite aromas.
Jennifer was helping Mrs Ponsomby by beating the eggs with a little milk.
“Go and Wash your hands, James, you’re all covered in grime and cobwebs from that cellar” Jennifer chided automatically falling back into her role as the bossy younger sister. Since growing up in the orphanage, they’d always been close but the last couple of years they had led separate lives. He worked in the City as a bank clerk and Jennifer was a teaching assistant at a Primary school in the suburbs. They both had their separate little dingy flats and led separate lives, meeting up occasionally. It was funny how being back together they had reverted. He was once again the protective older brother.
Obediently he went upstairs and cleaned himself up, then returned to the dining room and set the table.
It was several months after they had parted that she received his first letter.
She had been annoyed at his sudden departure. They had been engaged to be married and yet he had developed a sudden passion to travel and see the world. Outwardly, it had been an amicable parting, but inside she still seethed with feelings of rejection.
She lounged on the silk tasselled settee in her salon and gazed at the photograph of her ex-fiancé.
Arthur was dressed smartly in a dark suit, looking every bit the Victorian gentleman. Under his nose, he sported a large bushy moustache that he was most proud of. She thought it looked like a stuffed weasel. Despite that, he was from noble stock, his father was a Baronet and his uncle was Bishop of Leeds. A good match for the youngest daughter of a silk merchant. Her family had money, but they lacked social status and a marriage to the son of a Baronet was just what they needed. She did rather like him, despite the weasely moustache. Until, of course, he became gripped with his insatiable desire to visit India.
Queen Victoria had just been crowned Empress of India and this had sparked an explosion of interest in all things Indian. To her, India was just where her father imported his silks from, but to many people, it had become an exotic land of adventure.
The letter began rather formally, as was fit and proper.
“My Dear Miss Florence,
I hope this letter finds you well and recovered from our last little contretemps. I know you did not understand my compulsion to visit India, but I hope you will forgive my mea culpa. This land is indeed a land of colour and vibrancy. The smells and odours that assault the nostrils in every street are totally different from anything you could experience in England.
I have now made it as far as Bombay, which is a bustling city but almost every other face you see in the street is an English one. I want to see the real India, not this rather Anglified version.
I have been speaking to several people who have promised to take me to see some authentic Indian culture. They are going to hire a caravan that will be travelling to some of the more remote villages.
The caravan is made up of Elephants! I can’t wait to have my first ride on an Elephant.
I keep your handkerchief, the one you hand embroidered for me with my initials, next to my heart. It is my talisman. With it, I have no fear. I know that I will one day return to you.
I hope that when I do, you will have forgiven me for leaving and consent again to become my wife.
With Sincere Regards
Arthur Worthington. “
He had given his address as the Bombay Star Hotel and so she decided to write back. Looking at the date of his letter, it had taken three weeks to reach her. “So much for modern Victorian efficiency!” She thought to herself.
Picking up her pen she began to write.
“My Dear Arthur,
Why, I was very surprised to have received your letter and the words of affection that you had expressed in it. I had been given to understand that you were not happy at the prospect of marrying me and as such wanted to get as far away from me as possible.
It is with that understanding in mind that I have begun seeing Freddy Armitage, who, I am sure you remember is a man of the most steady and reliable nature.
However, if you should decide to return before I have entered into any firm relationship with Freddy, I will, of course, consider your proposal.
I would not be at all disappointed to hear again from you. It is interesting to hear of your adventures and I would very much like to know that you have gotten your fascination of that country out of your system and have decided to return home.
Miss Florence Clegg”
She walked to the post box and posted her letter. Coincidentally, Freddy Armitage walked past and nodded to her. He had just begun walking out with her Sister Isabel. She blushed to think of the liberties she had taken with his name, in her letter. She hoped her sister would never find out.
Nearly two months passed before she heard anything more. The house was in a great upheaval planning for Isabel and Freddy’s wedding in the front Parlour in a fortnight’s time.
She took the bulky letter from the tray in the hall and ran upstairs to her salon to read it.
She did not recognise the writing on the envelope.
She began to read.
“Dear Miss Florence Clegg.
I hope you do not mind my taking this liberty of writing to you concerning a great mystery.
Our patrols recently found this handkerchief and a letter from you, both of which I have enclosed.
I would not distress you by describing in too much detail, the circumstances with which these items were discovered, but I regret to inform you that the bearer of these is now, deceased.
I would be grateful if you could let me know the details of his next of kin, to which I will in future write to spare you any further distress.
Captain George Pengelly-Jones.”
Grasping the handkerchief in her hands, it was only when she cried out his name, “Arthur” and began sobbing inconsolably that she realised that she had loved him very much.