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The rain drops are Lakshmi’s tears. That is what Lalida had said—tears of pity wept by Vishnu’s consort at the sad state of mankind. From the sheltered veranda, Priscilla watched sheets of rain sweep relentlessly across the land. The silver curtain alternately hid and revealed the shapes of the green hills rising in the distance.
Priscilla swallowed the last of her biscuit and leaned back in the rattan chair, drawing her shawl around her shoulders. She knew, from the past week’s experience, that the downpour would end in a few hours. The lush wet bushes would sparkle in the sun, as though someone had scattered handfuls of jewels over their leaves. For now, the muted hues of the landscape matched her mood.
“More tea, Madam?” Lalida stole up behind her on bare feet, her orange sari like a streak of fire in the grey morning.
“Not for me, but please bring a fresh pot for Mr. Archer.”
“Yes, Madam.” The maid hurried away, leaving Priscilla alone again with her reveries.
Had it really been only a month ago that they had arrived in India? It seemed like a lifetime. She could barely remember the streets of London, the bustle and the noise, the clatter of hooves on the pavement, the horns and the backfiring engines of the autos vying with the carriages for space. It was so quiet here on the plantation. All she could hear was the hiss of the rain sluicing down.
The first week she had been busy, working with Lalida and a few of the village girls to clean up her father-in-law’s bungalow and sort through the untidiness of two decades of bachelor living. She’d met Jonathan’s father only once, at the wedding six years ago. Her confused recollection was of a jovial, but somewhat distracted man with eyes younger than one would expect from his seventy four years. He had travelled five weeks to see his only son married, yet he stayed in London only four days.
India was his home, he’d told her. He couldn’t bear to be away for long.
Once the house was in order, Priscilla had little to occupy her. Jonathan’s days were full, managing the plantation and trying to figure out his father’s tangled affairs. He had little time for her. Not that this was so different from her life in London, but there she had friends and diversions. Here she had no one to talk to but Lalida whose English was hardly adequate for a conversation of any depth.
The door hinges squeaked. Priscilla turned, expecting the servant, but instead she saw the trim, erect figure of her husband.
“Good morning, Jon. Did you sleep well?”
“Well enough. I hope that my tossing and turning didn’t disturb you.”
“Not at all.” Priscilla couldn’t tell him the truth. Often she lay awake for hours, staring at the pale mosquito netting looped above their bed, listening to his muttering, wanting but not daring to wake him. Dying for him to touch her. “Sit down and have some breakfast. Lalida’s coming with a fresh pot.”
“I’m really not hungry. I’ll take a flask of tea with me. I want to get out to the north slope as soon as I can and see how the plucking is coming along. Suresh told me that normally the second flush harvest should be completed before the rains begin. The longer we take, the poorer the quality will be.”
“Please, sit down for just a minute. Have a biscuit. These days I hardly see you!”
Jonathan rested his hand on her shoulder. He brushed his lips across her ginger curls. The brief touch made Priscilla shiver with delight. “I’m sorry, Pru. I know that this must be hard on you. As soon as the harvest is finished, we’ll start looking for a buyer. We’ll be back in England before Christmas, I promise.”
He straightened up, a resolute look hardening his youthful features. “Right now, though, I’m facing something of an emergency. I hope that you can understand. Lalida, put that in a Thermos for me. I’ll be back for lunch, around one.” He reached for the oilcloth raincoat hanging by the door post.