A couple of days after her arrival in our quarters, she summoned me from the bedroom in which I had been trying to patch a pair of Charles’s breeches with a scrap of green baize.
“The wee man wants you, missie,” she announced “and he looks unco’ downcast.”
Toddy-Bob stood in the doorway wringing wet, rain streaming down his face and dripping from his clothing to form a pool on the earthen floor. His face was alarmingly pale.
“What is it, Tod? Are you not well?” I asked.
“Not ill, miss,” he managed to say huskily. “Bad news, miss! It’s the Guv’nor. He must be dead!”
“No! Oh, no!”
For a moment I was too shocked to question his assertion, but stood still and watched with curious concentration the tears trickle down his cheeks and join the drops of rain on his wet face.
” ‘E must be, miss! ‘E . . . ‘e went in to General Wheeler’s entrenchment in Cawnpore!”
“He joined General Wheeler? Why should he? And anyway, how can you know, Toddy?”
“I just seen Ungud, miss. ‘E came in last night with a message. He told me, he told me, miss, that `e knew the Guv’nor had gone into the General’s entrenchment, an’ if ‘e done that, ‘e’s dead. miss. There’s none of ‘em could have lived after what the Nana did to ‘em.”
“The Nana? What do you mean. Toddy?”
‘E done for ‘em, miss, the lyin’ bastard. ‘E done for ‘em all. ‘E’d agreed to let ‘em go out of the entrenchment, peaceful like, lays on elephants and boats to take ‘em downriver to Allahabad, then when they’d all got into the boats—thatched boats they was—’is blasted pandies opened fire ! The thatch caught straight away—oh, miss, it must ‘ave been ‘ell on earth, with all them nippers and women and wounded . . . The men they slaughtered, and as many ladies and nippers as they could. before the Nana says to bring them ashore—but not the men. Ungud says ‘e ‘eard one boat got away and the pandies got it lower down. There ain’t no chance for ‘im, miss.”
“How did Ungud know all this?” The voice was Kate’s. “And who is Ungud, anyway?”
“He’s a pensioner from Hassanganj. He was one of the men who came in response to Sir Henry’s call in May. Oliver used to employ him as a . . . a messenger.”
“That’s right, miss,” confirmed Toddy huskily. “Sir ‘Enry sent him out before Chinhat to keep a eye on the Nana, like. ‘E ‘ears all the gossip in the native lines. They sits around the fires in the evenings, the sepoys do, and they talks and tells tales. One of ‘em, that Ungud ‘eard yarnin’ with ‘is pals. said as ‘ow ‘e’d seen a big Pathan with light eyes carryin’ a wounded woman to one of the boats and ‘angin’ about in the water afterwards. Then another chimes in and says as ‘ow ‘e’d seen the big Pathan too, and it weren’t no Pathan but the Sirkar of ‘Assanganj. ‘Is family were from ‘Assanganj. and ‘e knew the looks of LatSahib Erskine, turban or not, as well as ‘e knew the looks of ‘is own pa. It were the Guv’nor all right, miss.”
I MUST have behaved with a laudable calm as we ate our meal, and sat for a while trying to talk. No one could have guessed from my appearance or manner that I had a right to feel more than a decent amount of regret. Neither Charles nor Kate could guess all I had learned to feel for Oliver, and part of my mind was already shrinking from the knowledge that I would have to bear my grief without sympathy. The whitewashed rooms were never cl2aner or neater than during the days that followed.
Sometimes I washed the mud floors three times in a day: I polished our cooking pots with wads of grass and wet ashes as the village women did: I mended every rag in our possession with beautiful, precise stitches, then washed them with suds made from boiled gram, our soap being hoarded for Pearl. When all other methods of occupying myself failed. I turned to wickmaking—pulling threads from petticoats and plaiting them together until the strand assumed a sufficient thickness to glow without burning up when placed in an earthenware saucer of thick, smelly tallow. Check out other useful methods on http://www.angekesseministries.com/. I think I would have sold my soul for a single book. In the past I had always managed to assuage my ills by reading.