Chapter Three: We Get a Letter
In the early evenings, when we can, we take our dinners with the rest of our Prince's entourage. There are some porters, and some elephant handlers, and even Prince Hakim's personal cook, Mihara. We are so glad that Mihara came along to London, or else we'd probably starve to death. Much of the English food is dreadful and bland, quite unpalatable.
They are all staying in the servant's quarters, which are in the lower section of the Jones house. Down here reminds us quite a bit of a spooky cave, and we must always remember to bring candles.
We feast on buttered lamb curry with rice, and goat simmered in walnut and apricot glaze. There are fresh dates with yoghurt and cups of lassi to cleanse our palate when we are finished. Mihara prepares a plate for us to take upstairs to Prince Hakim. Usually, he eats dinner with the Joneses, but we think he only eats enough to not be rude, because when we bring him an after dinner snack, he's still quite hungry!
As we're walking in the hallway, we pass a door which is slightly ajar. It appears to lead to a kitchen. We peek inside, carefully, and see two women rolling out large sections of dough. They have their backs to us, and seem to be gossiping.
"That room! It smells horrible. Who knows what they are cooking in there. The old Indian woman, she said it was 'curry'. My goodness, eating something that smells so strong would put your stomach into a knot!"
"I say. Have you seen those girls who attend to Prince Hakim?"
"My goodness, yes. Quite. Quite. Aren't they frightful looking? I can't believe we've sent so many of our men to a land where women dress so indecently!"
"I heard that Miss Alister took them shopping a few days back. Can you even imagine?"
"Oh, you know, Colin Jones' new governess. That poor boy. All that crying. Can't keep a governess."
We carefully pull the kitchen door shut, and head upstairs. We can't keep our Prince waiting! He's surely hungry. And he's probably stressed out from having to sit in one of those straight-backed English chairs. We'll give him a massage and feed him dates. That will help.
Our Prince has a surprise for us when we arrive. Mail has come from India, and we've received a letter from Rani Madhuri. He teases us a bit, and tells us that we can't have it. He puts it down his shirt and lays on a pile of pillows on his stomach. We must dance for our reward while he eats!
We are so glad to see our Prince in such good spirits, playful as he used to be, and not so dreadfully melancholy, that we do a scarf-dance, one of our Prince's favorites. It tells the story of a warrior-Prince who had to fight a mad elephant to save his land. But, the elephant turned out to be the goddess Dhumavati, who was merely trying to warn the warrior-Prince that an enemy force was coming to kill his family. It's a wonderful tale, and a fun dance to perform.
When we finish, Prince Hakim gives us our letter. We all crowd around to read it, and Prince Hakim throws dates at our heads, and laughs. He pouts and says that we love Rani Madhuri more than we love him, but he knows it's not true. She's just very important to us.
Rani Madhuri took us in when we were young. Our fathers were all very low-ranked royalty, and when they died, our mothers undertook the beautiful sacrifice of sati, to show how much our fathers meant to them. Although sati is illegal in most of India now, some women still do this, so they do not have to live as outcasts, and are instead venerated at temples and shrines. Rani Madhuri was so moved by our mothers' actions, she took us into her care, knowing that we would be strong and faithful women like our mothers.
Rani Madhuri, herself, is one of Prince Hakim's aunts. But, she never married, due to the terrible disfiguring scars she received when she tried to protect the Maharajah from an assassin when she was a young woman. So, even though she is unmarried, Rani Madhuri is a very beloved and trusted member of the family.
Rani Madhuri taught us as if we were her own daughters. We were never wanting for anything, but we were not spoiled. We had to work hard to please our Rani. She had special instructors come to teach us dance and music. We learned massage and food-tasting, how to ride, and how to take down someone who wished to do our Prince harm. Rani Madhuri even taught us how to read and write. We had to learn all the good things which would be of use to the great Prince to whom we would soon belong.
When we were about eight years of age, the Maharajah's new palace was built, and the palace at Jaipur was given to Prince Hakim. It is good, you see, for the royalty to live apart, so that their enemies can not attack them all at once. Not that we think anyone wants to kill our Rajah, but there is always a possibility.
In order that Prince Hakim should not be quite as sad about being separated from his family, we four, and Rani Madhuri, moved into the palace at Jaipur. Before this, Prince Hakim had lived with his mother at the Ladies' Palace some miles south of Panipat.
At first, we worried about what sort of boy our Rajah might be. We did not know if he would like us, or even keep us. But, we were determined to keep Prince Hakim as happy as we could, so long as we were allowed.
But, it turned out that our Rajah was not disagreeable at all. Sometimes, he did become sad, and often seemed lonely, but he had a clever mind and a regal kindness. Sometimes, he could very much be a trickster, but his pranks were never malicious. We came to feel very attached and protective of our Rajah, who is special to us like no other.
When Prince Hakim decided to go to school in England, we were both excited and distraught. He would be so far from us, and we wondered if he would change so much that he would become a different person, or even not want us anymore. But, our Prince must have noticed, because he came to us in our room one night, and sat us all down. He said to us:
"Now I must go, and I can not bring you with me. It is important for me to learn the ways of the English, so that in the future we may continue to have good relations with them, and keep our country prosperous. I wish for you to stay here, and to take care of my palace, so that when I come home, it shall be as if I never left."
We took this very much to heart. When our Rajah left for England, we wanted to weep and confine ourselves to our rooms, but we knew that we could not. We had important things to do. Even though our Prince hadn't said it specifically, we knew that we needed to keep our eyes and ears open, and to send news to our Prince often of the happenings in our country. We secretly learned a little English, so that we could understand more what visitors might be saying. We took it on ourselves to learn geography, and to acquaint ourselves with the happenings of the world. One spring, we left the care of the palace to Rani Madhuri, and undertook a tour of our country, so that we should know what the people were doing and thinking. All of this, we decided, was the best way we could help our Prince come back to his place, and be the man that he wanted most to be.
We sent him letters often, every week. We did not expect him to answer them, for we knew that his schooling kept him very busy. But, a few times he did write home, and his letters were always cause for great celebration. We still have those letters, and they are our greatest treasure, even more important to us than our favorite elephant, Pajmun.
When it came time for Prince Hakim to return to India, we were quite excited. We knew that he must go first to the palace of the Maharajah and greet his father, and then perhaps go to spend some time with his mother. We wished so much to speed to his side, but we knew we could not. When his procession finally made its way to Jaipur, we put on our very best sarees and jewelry, and went out to greet him.
At first, we did not even recognize him! He was dressed in the foreign manner, and we thought he might be some acquaintance of our Prince's come to help him continue his studies. How amazing he looked in his grey suit and shiny black shoes! He had grown slightly, and certainly had filled out to a manlier frame. And his eyes... Those eyes... They were wiser and they had seen much of the world, we could tell.
Prince Hakim greeted our Rani, and then he greeted us. One by one, he took us each by the hand, and kissed our fingers in the way the Englishmen do. Then he said to us, "You have done well. I thank you."
We have never been as swollen with pride as we were at that moment.
We hope that we shall be forever able to serve our Prince, and to help him accomplish his goals.
Our Prince has gone out visiting with Mr. William Jones, and shall be away for a whole three days. We keep hoping that perhaps Prince Hakim will see a woman who replaces the longing in his heart that Miss Emma left, but as of yet, he has not. We wonder if we should write, in secret, to Rani Madhuri and ask for her advice. But, if the letter should fall into the wrong hands, it would be of great embarrassment to Prince Hakim, so we do not.
Our new tea service arrived some time ago, and we decide to put it to good use. We arrange our room into the best semblance of an English parlor that we can, and sit down to write our invitation.
"These English letters..."
"How strange our names look..."
"The pen smudged!"
"Hmmm!" We all crowd around. It takes several tries before we make an invitation which looks good, by our estimation. We hold it up and read it back.
"Miss Betsy Alister. Please coming tea by utmost pleasure of our hosting, this Tuesday, teatimes. Also gentle Colin for sweets bring also. R.S.V.P."
We don't know what R.S.V.P means, but we've seen it on several invitations sent to Prince Hakim. We looked at old invitations to make ours, so we know it's right. We send it off to Miss Alister's room by way of one of the Jones servants.
It isn't long before there is a knock at our door, and a little servant girl has a note for us on a silver platter. We take it, excitedly, and decipher the English words with much enthusiasm.
"Good Misses, Miss Alister would be most honored to accept your gracious invitation. Colin Jones shall be in attendance, as well. We look forward to seeing you on Tuesday for tea."
We are so excited!
Our first English-type tea with our new friend, Miss Alister.
Prince Hakim would be so proud of us.
In Our Next Chapter: The Indian ladies prepare and host a tea. They learn a little more about Miss Alister, and learn more Jones' house gossip.
Lassi - Sweet drink made with curd.
Sati - The traditional Hindu practice of a widow immolating herself on her husband's funeral pyre. A woman, at the time, had worth only in relation to a man. This practice so outraged the English that they made the practice illegal. Unfortunately, it continued for many years despite the law. Women who performed sati were often raised to the elevation of cherished demigoddesses at temples, in reverence of their sacrifices and dedication.
Rani - The female version of "Rajah". In essence, this makes her "Princess Madhuri".
Special thanks to all reviewers! I'm glad you are enjoying this story. So, thank you to: Ahnkitomi, imayb1, Firebreeze, Ouatic-7, Sybel Sayrah, and Artemis Obscure.