told me all about it in her letters. Thereâs a large native village, quite colorful, with fascinating shops, and then up above the village is the military garrison. A little bit of home, she calls it, nice English houses, English gardens, even a polo field. The local rajah has his palace less than a mile away. Itâs something to see, Dollie wrote. He frequently entertains the English there, gives lavish garden parties.â
âIâve never been to a garden party.â
âYouâll go to one in Dahlkari,â I promised. âIâIâm sure youâll have all the enlisted men vying for the privilege of taking you. Youâre going to set them on their heels.â
âI imagine I will,â Sally said frankly. âI imagine youâll find a beau, too. You may pretend not to be interested, but you are. Youâre not quite the cool bluestocking you pretend to be.â
I made no reply, knowing all too well the truth in Sallyâs statement. Try though I might to suppress it, there was an infuriatingly romantic streak in my nature. Proud as I was of my mind, my scholarship, my ability to read Latin and Greek and discuss philosophy and ancient cultures, I nevertheless consumed florid, flamboyant romantic novels featuring adventuresome heroines and dark, dashing heroes who were usually rogues of the first water. How many such books had I read? How many times had I imagined myself in the arms of a man such as those I read about? Cool and prim in the classroom, translating the Aeneid of Vergil, writing dissertations about Socrates, I had burned the midnight oil night after night, consuming the sensational novels I took from the lending library by the score, keeping them carefully hidden from the other girls. Who would have imagined that the oh so poised, ever so erudite Lauren Gray had a fantasy life featuring swashbuckling pirates, highwaymen with gypsy blood, noblemen as reckless as they were handsome? The novels were my secret addiction, and no matter how many times I tried to cure myself of them, I always returned to the lending library for yet another batch. I wondered if Sally had discovered some of the books in the bottom of my wardrobe back in Bath.
âYouâre very beautiful, you know,â she continued. âThose marvelous patrician features, cheekbones ever so high and elegant, hair such a glossy silver brown. I wish I looked like that.â
âNonsense. Youâre very fetching.â
âI have something men like,â Sally admitted, âbut Iâll always be a hoyden at heart. No oneâll ever take me for a lady. Guess I wouldnât want to be taken for one, come to think of it. I have ever so much more fun the way I am. Iâm not having much fun at the moment, though.â
âDo you want to stop for a while, Sally?â
âIâI reckon weâd better keep walking as long as we can,â she replied grimly. âWe canât afford to pamper ourselves. Weâve got to endure.â
Endure we did, no longer talking, no longer making any attempts to cheer each other up with inconsequential chatter. The heat grew worse, and we grew tired, yet still we walked, both of us wrapped up in our thoughts and trying to ignore parched throats and aching bones and sore feet, trying not to think about the man or men who might come riding back with a yellow rumal to finish us off. We finally stopped for lunch, moving into the jungle and sitting under a tree to devour the fruit. It didnât taste so good this time, nor did it do as much to alleviate our thirst. I wondered what we were going to do if we didnât find a well soon.
We rested for an hour under the shade of a tall banyan tree, and then we resumed our journey, trudging over the sand, silent, skirts dusty and ragged at the hems, hair damp and tangled, bodies covered with perspiration. This evening, when we stopped, we would have to search for a stream in the jungle.
Jan Scarbrough, Maddie James, Magdalena Scott, Amie Denman, Jennifer Anderson, Constance Phillips, Jennifer Johnson