rowan tree blossom

From the new novel. Melisande is trying to decide what to do.

“What do I decide, Usha? What should I do? I don’t want to leave India, it’s my home.”

Usha’s large dark eyes were liquid bright but she shed no tears. “I know. But you must go with your men. Plan, you need money. Money makes freedom. Have you money, Little Missy?”

Melisande wrinkled her nose, puzzled, but did some reckoning in her head. “I have some.”

“And jewellery? Valuable enough to sell?”

“I think so. Why, Usha?”

“My first family here, the memsahib was later wife. She had her babies and his two big daughters. Sahib’s grown daughters but not hers.”

“Oh, I think I….”

“Hush, Little Missy, you listen. They wanted to be home, never wanted to come to India. Their Mama’s family, in Ireland, was home. Sahib Papa said ‘No.’

Usha rubbed the soles of Melisande’s feet. “I hear about the young man Papa did not approve, and young man’s welcoming family in Ireland. The daughters took jewellery, sold it, used allowance money, ran off to ship and Ireland.”

Melisande blinked, watched her ayah’s smile hidden in her eyes. “Did you help, Usha?”

Usha lowered her head, wouldn’t answer, but she patted Melisande’s feet again. “You make a secret place for your money. Keep some good jewels. Then you have ship ticket home.” She smiled, gave a swift glance at Melisande. “We Indian wives do that, guard our family’s money, wear our savings.” She jangled her gold bracelets and anklets, touched her earrings and nose stud.

“Sahib Richard, good kind man. But he wants exciting life, with your brother, seek adventure, find fortune.”

“But what about me?” Melisande tried not to wail. She was not a child but the descriptions of Australia and New Zealand had little to recommend them compared to India. One was mainly hot dry desert with weird animals, the other cold and wet with sheep. Talk of gold and farming land did not impress her, although their new idea of supplying so much chilled meat to Europe sounded fascinating. The men who came to India encouraging half pay officers to take up land grants in New Zealand were full of the chiller technology and the farming opportunities, gold even, available to find in streams.