With amorous intent
“Trust in God”, says an old Arab proverb, “but tie up your camel”. It was some such thinking, no doubt, that led the 13th century Crusaders to invent the chastity belt. I am always reminded of it when we receive a card from two of our dearest friends, an old colleague and his wife, who live in Dorset, England.
My memory goes back to the second year of World War II when as a bachelor and very junior assistant, I was ordered to proceed from Cawnpore (a spelling still dear to me) to a place called Dalsingserai in the wilds of north Bihar.
At the time of which I write D’serai was what was known as a “flag station” on the Oudh-Tirhut Railway, also known as the “Old Twerps’ Rly”. This meant that unless previously arranged with the railway authorities, no mail or express train stopped there.
My company owned some plantations in the region with a “leaf” (tobacco) depot at D’Serai attached to which was a large and comfortable bungalow, once owned by His Highness of Darbhanga, with its own generator, tennis court and swimming pool. The “outposts of the Empire” men certainly knew how to make themselves comfortable!
Anyway, the Bihar earthquake a few years earlier having demolished our sales branch in Patna we had been given temporary accommodation in this oasis and the reason for my transfer was that the British manager, without an assistant owing to the exigencies of the war, was required to do a month’s training with the Auxillary Force of India. I was there to hold the fort in his absence.
I had been told by my boss at Cawnpore that the man I was going to replace had recently got married to an “absolute stunner”, Being young and normal in every respect, I looked forward with mounting excitement to being left alone in the company’s bungalow while her husband went soldiering.
Early one morning in October I alighted from the Samastipur Express at D’Serai and walked across the railway lines to the manager’s bungalow. I was greeted by an Englishman in his mid-30’s, slightly thin on top, but good-looking and well-built. He greeted me cordially though he had never shared a house with an Indian before. His wife didn’t appear till lunchtime She was a “stunner” alright and bore a strong resemblance to one of my favourite film stars, Myrna Loy.
The three of us got on extremely well, playing tennis in the afternoon and scrabble at night. The only discordant note in the set-up was a large tabby cat called Sheba, much loved by my hostess and greatly feared and disliked by me.
On the night before my host’s departure for his camp we were sitting on the verandah sipping our drinks when the husband said to me, “I say, I do hope you won’t mind looking after her while I’m away”.
“Good heavens, no!” I said trying hard to keep the eagerness out of my voice. “After all, she’s your wife”.
“Wife?” ejaculated the man, sounding greatly puzzled. “Margaret is going to stay with some friends in Muzaffarpur. I’m talking about Sheba.” My heart sank in my boots, not to speak of the embarrassment.