David had to travel on business, so he didn’t call on Lillian for nearly two weeks. She was getting anxious to see him. He sent her letters, sometimes twice in a day. However, she had no address to send him one in return. His last one said that he might be home on Saturday, and able to visit her by Monday at the latest. She put the letter in her desk and went to make her supper. Just as she sat down, there was a knock at the door.
“It’s too early for David,” she thought and went to the door. She opened it to find a small figure wrapped in layers of clothing with a man and various baskets and trunks behind her.
“Aya!” Lillian cried as she hugged the other woman. “Come inside,” she said. After seating Aya on a chair in the parlor, she directed the man to bring the stuff into the hallway. She paid him and then went back into the parlor. She pulled a chair up to Aya’s and held her hand.
“It’s so good to see you!” Lillian said.
“And good to see you too, Beti,” Aya said.
“Oh, it sounds so good to hear your voice. I’ve missed you so,” said Lillian.
“Now tell me all that has happened and why you have such a grand house but no servants,” said Aya.
“Let’s makes some tea. I was just about to eat when you knocked on the door. I have more than enough for you and me,” said Lillian. She lead Aya to the kitchen and the two of them ate and chatted. Lillian told her all about David.
After dinner the two of them brought Aya’s trunks and boxes to a small bedroom down the hall from the kitchen. It was meant to house the butler or cook.
“Oh Beti, this room is ever so big for just me,” Aya said.
“No Aya. It is just fine for you. It has a fireplace and you will have the morning sun just like in Jaipur,” said Lillian.
“Fine, fine. However, you must get Saahab David to pay for another servant. A maid for the kitchen. You are a fine lady, a patni, and should have help,” said Aya.
“No, I am an upapatni,” said Lillian. “A mistress not a wife.”
“Still, you should have servants. I will cook for you and take care of you, but we must have a girl to do the hard work. Look at your hands!” exclaimed Aya.
“I was nervous. Worried that a maid would talk,” said Lillian.
“What about this bhaabhi of David’s? Wouldn’t she know who to trust?” asked Aya.
“I didn’t think of it Aya. Thank you! I will write Elsa a note and send it off first thing in the morning. David has certainly given me enough money for the household. I have lived very carefully and there is always money left over,” said Lillian.
“Good! Now look at what I have brought you,” said Aya. She opened a trunk and inside were saris. Silk and fine cotton in all colors. The one on top was a deep red silk sari with gold embroidery on it. A wedding sari. Petticoats and embroidered choli tops, waist chains and jewelry were in another small trunk.
“Oh Aya!” said Lillian overcome by the love of the other woman. Aya had brought her the equivalent of a dowry in clothing. “How did you ever afford all of this?” she asked.
“It is very easy when you start saving the day your beti, your daughter is born,” said Aya. “Your parents were also very generous when you left and I saved what I needed and bought clothes for you. I knew you would send for me. How could you not?”
“Oh Aya, I love you so,” said Lillian.
“As I love you Beti,” said Aya. “Now, when will your Saahab David be home?”
“His letter said Saturday or as late as Monday. He will write and let me know,” said Lillian.
“Good! We will have just enough time to prepare you for your sanam, David,” said Aya. “I have mehendi to make you beautiful.” Aya held up the henna powder and the stylus that would held her draw beautiful designs on Lillian’s skin. A Hindu bride had her hands and feet painted with mehendi before the wedding.
Lillian smiled and giggled like the young woman she was. She had always dreamed of a Hindu styled wedding. They were so much more beautiful than English weddings. While she may not have the full ceremony, she would have the clothing, food and small rituals that would make her feel as if she were at home.
Lillian’s letter to Elsa had an unexpected effect. Lillian and Aya had been folding and storing the saris when there was a knock on the door. Lillian went to the door and found Elsa and a young woman standing on her front step. Lillian invited them inside and into the parlor.
“Ah Lillian, I’m so glad I caught you home. I didn’t want to take the time to write you a note. I couldn’t believe that David had been daft enough to not hire servants,” said Elsa.
“Well, I’ve done alright, but Aya said I should have at least one and there is no stopping her. So, I wrote you as I had no one else to ask. If I asked my parents, they would send a spy and know that I had lied to them,” said Lillian.
“I understand dear, that is why I brought Betsy with me,” she said. The girl standing next to Elsa’s chair bobbed a curtsy to Lillian when her name was mentioned.
“Oh thank you Elsa,” said Lillian.
“Betsy can start today and she is most trustworthy. She’s been an undermaid in my household for a few years. Now, is this Aya here?” asked Elsa.
“Yes! Come upstairs,” said Lillian. “She brought me the most beautiful clothing and we were putting it away when you knocked.”
“Show Betsy the kitchen and she can start cleaning. Then we can go upstairs,” said Elsa.
Lillian nodded. They showed Betsy the kitchen, pantry and the small bedroom she would use. Then they went upstairs to Lillian’s room. Aya was standing by the fire, a small exotic looking woman with dark hair and eyes to match. She had a red dot on her forehead and wore a dark sari.
“Elsa, this is Aya. She was my nanny when I was a baby and is more my mother than my birth mother ever was,” said Lillian trying to figure out how to describe the relationship.
“Very nice to meet you Aya. I understand about nannies and nurses. Some parents are literally there only to turn out children and never raise them. I had a nurse to help, but never abandoned my children to her. Not that I am accusing Lillian’s parents of doing that, but it does happen,” said Elsa.
“Oh, you are very right on how Beti’s parents were with her. They were far too busy telling everyone how they should worship their god to deal with their sons or daughters. Therefore when Lillian, my beti was born, I decided I would raise her as my daughter. I was right to do so and now I am here with her,” said Aya.
Elsa smiled. “I like you Aya,” she said. “Now, show me these beautiful saris that Lillian was going on about.”
Aya and Lillian pulled out the wedding sari and Aya draped it on Lillian. Elsa was amazed at the beautiful cloth.
“Oh Lillian, you simply must wear this for when he is next here,” Elsa said.
“I plan to. Aya and I will do the mehendi, the henna paint on my hands like a bride starting tonight and I will wait upstairs where he can’t see me to surprise him,” said Lillian.
Elsa and Lillian giggled like young girls as they made plans. Aya nodded and smiled. It was good to be home with her Beti.
David wrote the last letter and posted it on Saturday. He would be in Chelsea on Monday night. He had to figure out a way to let Lillian send him letters. It was driving him crazy that he couldn’t. If she was ill or gone to visit her parents, he’d never know.
Millicent greeted him at the door with a peck on the cheek and James bounded into his arms. He barely got in the door before she disappeared.
“Papa! Did you bring me a present?” James asked.
“Of course I did. How is school?” David asked as he carried his son upstairs to the nursery.
“Fabulous Papa! My cousins George, Martin and Martha are there too,” James said.
“That’s good, because I brought you a book,” said David and handed James a paper wrapped children’s book. James opened it, kissed his father and then curled up in bed to read it.
David smiled and headed for Millicent’s bedroom.
“Hello dear,” he said as he leaned against the door frame. Millicent was in bed with her high necked nightdress on and a shawl around her shoulders. She looked up from her book when David entered the room. “Would you like some company tonight?” he asked.
“Oh! No. That would be um… well, It’s that time,” Millicent said as she blushed. She couldn’t even tell her husband that she was on her cycle without being embarrassed.
“Ah. Almost over or just starting?” he asked.
“Just… just starting. Mustn’t…” she floundered.
David walked over, gave her a kiss on the cheek and said his good nights. He walked off to his room where Henry was unpacking his portmanteau.
“All well Henry?” David asked.
“As ever sir. Will you be going out tomorrow?” Henry asked.
“Yes, I will. Please put those packages where I can find them tomorrow. I’ll deliver them to Elsa and Paul on the morrow,” said David.
“Yes sir,” Henry said with a smile. He gathered up the dirty clothes and left.
David watched him go. “I wonder if he suspects?” David thought.