AA- Book 1 – PRE1

the Indian Civil Service in Calcutta and he had to make the even longer journey with ever other Government official to the summer capital of India in Simla. She had received a letter from him two weeks before, saying among other things, which had made her blush, that he was very much looking forward to meeting her again, and she had felt her heart make a little jump of joy when she read it. Her husband, James, Captain in the 1st Berkshire regiment of foot, was on his way back to the regiments headquarters in Lahore from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. The war had ended a couple of years before but there regular small insurgencies which had to be dealt with before they got out of hand and Companies of the Regiment continued to be assigned tours of duty there. There were likely to be no awards or medals, dealing with these outbreaks which were a hard grind, but the 1st Berkshire were renown for their  battle hardened courage, so the high command continued to send them but mindful of the situation on the border, there was fairly regular rotation and Captain Ecclestone at the head of his troupe, was looking forward to getting back to his adored wife and the apple of his eye his daughter, Amelia. She was a very pretty girl with sparkling eyes and a winning smile and at 12 year’s of age it would not be long before she started to fill out into a young woman. On every occasion it had been proposed that Amelia be sent off to England to ‘be educated’ he had refused to consider it. She was being educated well enough in India with an English governess and, as James had repeated endlessly, the education she was getting from her exposure as a child to Indian culture was invaluable if she were to marry a serving soldier, or even high ranking official in Government. The common feeling in Government were that Indians were savages who did not accept what was obviously good for them. The British Army kept the peace in India and allowed it to function (to the most obvious benefit of Great Britain). India was riven with division, between castes, between Hindus, Muslims and numerous minorities and between rich and poor and the members of the Raj sat majestically above them all. Amelia, as James had noted, had absorbed this huge diversity as though by osmosis in her wanderings through the highways and byways of Lahore and Simla.

Rebecca Ecclestone was feeling very uncomfortable. Even though she was sitting on a cushion, the swaying gait of the bullocks pulling the cart and the potholes in the road that  made the journey very different from the smooth carriage rides she was used to and the cushion she sat on had ceased some time ago to take the shock and vibration of the wooden bench underneath. On these interminable journeys they took every year from Lahore to Simla she consoled herself with thoughts of the cooler, bracing climate of Simla, compared with the stifling heat of mid-summer she was leaving behind. As the bullocks plodded their way up the long slope, she could almost feel the oppressive heat of the plain falling away to be replaced by the fresher air of the hills.

But Rebecca had a secret. Last year she had met a young widower in Simla. He worked for

The said Amelia, baptised Amelia Imogen after her richest two great aunts, who had already shown their appreciation by settling a fair sum on her when she attained her majority, was working her way back down the great train of bullock carts, donkeys other beasts of burden, horses and people. She cheeked the cart drivers and the donkey handlers and flashed smiles at all the white ladies and gentlemen in their carts. The gentlemen acknowledged her with a returning smile but the ladies clucked their disapproval that an English girl would dress and behave in such an outrageous way. Fortunately for Amelia, she did not notice the disapproving looks because the faces were all hidden from view behind veils, necessary to shield delicate skin from the rays of the sun and the endless dust. It seemed that the whole of Lahore was decamping to Simla, which in effect it was, if ‘the whole’ was meant to be the members of the Raj and their entourages. The bulk of the army was left behind to suffer the heat and discomfort of a summer on the Indian plain.

Rebecca glanced up at the sun which was getting high in the sky and knew that they would be stopping soon for lunch and a rest out of the worst of the middle of the day. She was playing out pleasurable fantasies in her head, imagining what she would do when she met Algernon, her widower. James, she knew would take a couple of weeks to reach Simla. He would be disappointed that she had not waited for him in Lahore, but he would understand why she had wished to travel with the main contingent. That was the trouble with James, she thought, he always understood. It was infuriating at times and honestly very, very boring. Algernon on the other hand was exciting. He could be infuriating at times, arranging to meet then not turning up for instance, but when he did come he had made up for it and the ‘you  know’ was something she had never experience in her life before. He was so thoughtful and considerate, making sure that he pleasured her as much as he pleasured himself. It crossed her mind from time to time to ask him how he had accumulated such experience, but he was dashing and handsome in his immaculate clothes, with his wonderful smile an easy laid back manner. He made her feel that she was the love of his life, he was definitely her’s.

A sudden jolt of the cart brought her back to reality. She realised that she had not seen Amelia for sometime and looked round for her. She espied her coming down the line of carts. Less like an English lady she could not imagine. Well it was her own fault, or rather it was James’s fault. It was he who had insisted that she stayed and was educated in India. If she Rebecca did not insist very soon that she went back to England to complete her education as a lady, it would be too late. As Amelia approached Rebecca thought that it may already be too late. “Amelia,” she called “just what have you done to your dress?”

Amelia turned on her winning smile, but knew she had been caught out. As soon as she was out of sight of her parents she was in the habit of pulling up the skirt of her dress from the back, pulling it between her legs and tucking it into her waist band, so that it looked like the garment worn by Indian men. She also removed her shoes so from the waist down with her spindly brown legs she looked every inch an Indian. Usually before she came insight of the house she would ‘adjust her dress’ but this time she had forgotten. “Sorry mummy” was all she could muster.

“Tidy yourself up and put on your shoes. How many times have I said that if you go without shoes you are likely to be bitten by a scorpion or a snake?”

“Yes mummy” Amelia replied putting on her shoes. “Mummy. I looked a long way up an down the line but I couldn’t find Stuart. Is he not with us? I thought you said he would be coming to Simla with us.”

“Cynthia did say they would be coming with us in this train but perhaps she was not ready in time.” Rebecca had always kept from Amelia the fact that Stuart’s mother was an alcoholic, and affliction that many a wife slipped into during the many months of waiting for her husband to return from some war or other. Bernard Hawthorne was a Captain in the 1st Berks with James. Twice he had gone missing after fighting with tribesmen and believed lost, but eventually he had turned up alive. On the second occasion it had happened Cynthia went to pieces with the worry and took to the bottle, an addiction she appeared unable to break. Rebecca had spent many hours looking after Stuart as well as Amelia shielding both of them from the shocking truth. Stuart was about 18 months older than Amelia and she looked up to him in adoration. As long as she had been aware that men married women, she knew that she would one day become Stuart’s wife. In her mind it was he and no one else.

The carts were beginning to pull off the road into a clearing and after much to-ing and frow-ing they all sat down to lunch under some trees and afterwards, everything fell quiet as one by one people dropped of to sleep until the heat left the sun and they could resume their journey.