The Long Twilight of Rhea Silva

She coughed, twice. A small sound but it echoed with denied pain around the walls of the attic room.

"I should call Dr Pascoe," Peter said uncertainly, fingers not quite touching the door knob.

A hand raised from the blanket long enough to wave him away. "I don't need a doctor to tell me what's wrong. Your father died of the same thing."

"Stop being morbid, Mother."

A determined look set into her face. "Just being practical. I grew up here and I'll die here when the time is right. I'm not having some country quack cart me off to vegetate in a hospital bed."

"Who said anything about—"

"My will is quite clear on who inherits. You won't get your hands on Carn Brea by locking me away."

"You always bring up money," he said angrily. "It's not about money. And I don't give a damn about the house."

She looked at him from the lace pillow with an expression bordering on surprise. "I do believe you're growing up Peter. It's only taken forty years."

The door slammed. She sighed and turned her head to regard her grandson sitting wide-eyed on the wicker chair. "Your father will be the death of me."


"Never mind, dear. You were telling me about your friend Jack…?"

The boy bent forward to whisper conspiratorially in her ear. "He's from Outer Space." His face flushed with illicit excitement. "He fights monsters and saves beautiful princes from their evil wives."

She knew the type from her days on the stage. "Does he have a big gun?"

"A huge one." Then sadly: "but he's not let me see it yet."

As she closed her eyes listening to the sound of sedge warblers fighting in the trees outside the window she thought that was probably for the best.


"Your Grandmother is being impossible again!" Peter exclaimed to a crack in the ceiling, pouring a large medicinal brandy for himself. "Ever since Father died she's been leading up the pig-headed branch of the family."

"As opposed to your sober rationality?"

He snorted. "Leave the clever wit at college, Maddy. It's not impressing anyone."

The girl pulled a glass stopper from his hand and replaced it in the waiting decanter. "Anyone of course, meaning first person singular."

"I'm only worried about her health."

"That's good to hear." Maddy threw herself back on the sofa and picked up a dog-eared Agatha Christie she'd been attempting to finish. "This morning the only thing you cared about were Grandpa's missing watercolours. And whether the auctioneer had robbed her."

"I've fathered a viper," Peter said, rolling his eyes heavenward. "You know there are times I see Mother in you." He took a large swig from the tumbler.

"There are times," Maddy mimicked, refusing to look up, "when I see Hercule Poirot in you."


"One day all this will be yours," Nan was telling Philip. "Your father never cared for the cottage but it's been in our family for generations."

Philip cocked his head. "Why is it called a cottage? Jack says it's big enough to billet a regiment."

"I suppose it's quaint English understatement. There was a much larger house here once but it burned to the ground during the Civil War." She wondered aloud if 'Jack' had come up with them from St Serf's.

"Don't be silly Nan. Jack doesn't need a car. He's got a vortex manipulator."

Of course he had. "I tell you what, tomorrow you and I can go for a short walk along the shore and I'll hear all about his adventures."

"Goodnight Nan," Philip said dutifully, planting a kiss in the centre of her forehead. "I'd better ask him if he's free."


Breakfast the next day consisted of four hard boiled eggs and an undercurrent of resentment. Philip didn't care much for hard boiled eggs - or for the lumpy porridge his father said he'd have to eat if he complained once more about the food. The kitchen was draughty, even with the sunlight streaming through the uneven glass of the window, and the old wooden chair uncompromisingly uncomfortable. He let his legs dangle in the air then swung them to and fro to break the boredom.

"Stop that, Philip."

Pulling a face the boy looked around the walls for a source of interest. "Nan. Wasn't that photograph in the drawing room last year?"

His grandmother pushed herself out of her seat and using a pair of canes hobbled over to the picture in question. "Ah. Dear Johnny. He loves his Shakespeare." The picture was proudly tapped with an ivory handle. "That's the night he was arrested for cottaging. We gave him a standing ovation afterwards."

There was a moment of silence as the news was digested with growing horror on Peter's side, and badly stifled laughter from Maddy. "This is hardly a suitable topic of conversation for the children to hear, Mother."

Sensing an impending argument and feeling he was missing something Philip said "Jack's favourite Shakespeare is A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Maddy groaned. "Here we go again. Imaginary playmates." To emphasise her displeasure she decapitated her egg with one swift strike.

Unpeturbed Philip continued. "He says he's a big Bottom fan."

This was the final straw. Maddy bent forward with a hysterical whoop and buried her head in her hands. "He sounds just like one of your crowd, Nan."

A cane whacked the table in front of her making her jump. "Don't snigger, Madeleine. It's not becoming in a young lady." The old woman was extremely cross. "Is that the behaviour they teach at Haddoes' now?

"This is all too much," Peter announced to the world in general, pushing his chair back with a screech and standing up. He blinked twice. "I'm going into town. I many not come back."

"You, young Maddy," Nan addressed her with the wobbling end of a stick as her son walked out of the room, "can made amends by braiding my hair. Philip and I are going for a promenade later along the green."


"There will not be a Dundonald St Clair on the stage in my lifetime," her father pronounced tugging his pointed beard as was his wont went he was furious. "I won't have our family name linked to music hall vagrants." His shoes clicked angrily on the hall tiles as he stalked up and down its length trying to contain his temper. "An actress. An actress! The shame of it."

"Then I'll change it," the young woman said defiantly. She looked no older than seventeen.

"Aye. That you will." He put his hand on the Holy Bible he kept by the fireplace. "How about 'Messalina Magdalene'? Whores and harlots to a woman…"

The woman flushed but kept her voice icily level. "So it's perfectly acceptable for you to gamble away our Inverness estate on cards and horses but it's morally reprehensible of me to want to go into the theatre?"

"Damn your impudence, child. I am your father and you'll do as you're told."

"And what, pray, would your father say? To find the silver spoon he gave you tarnished and pawned?"

For a moment he looked as if he was going to throw his book at her until he realised he was about to commit an act of blasphemy. "Wicked child. Look what you nearly made me do." He patted the tome with reverence. "Perhaps I should get the priest to find a convent for you."

"I shouldn't bother, Papa. They'd probably expect an annuity."


"What do you think, Nan?" Maddy asked, watching her mirror image twiddle with a necklace of wooden beads. "Cocktails on the lawn?"

Winter had come with the afternoon shadows, blowing in over the lawn from the sea. Though the sky was still mainly clear of clouds the waves had taken on a steely glint. Neptune's swords, her husband had always said. She missed him more, lately, when the cough she fought hard to ignore stopped her in her tracks and the harsh sound echoed forlornly around the empty house. Recently she had taken to talking to the grave marker hidden at the edge of the woods as if it were his resting place and not Dante's.


Her reverie receded into the distance with the speed of a departing borzoi. "I'm sorry my dear?"

"The dress. For cocktails isn't it?"

The silk had faded from the original peacock blue to a shade less startling. It was a copy of something she'd worn in Lahore over half a lifetime ago to bedazzle the officers. Of course the monsoon rains and humidity had done for the first dress over the course of the season. On Maddy's slender frame it shimmered as she turned. "Yes dear. But that's not a necklace you're wearing, it's a rosary."

"Oh." Embarrassed the girl made to remove it but her grandmother's hand stopped her.

"Leave it on. The village priest isn't here to see it and neither your father nor I care much for that kind of thing."

Maddy acquiesced, still transfixed by her image in the mirror. "I can just imagine you turning all your fellow actors' heads wearing this."

"Soldiers," the old woman said, sharing a mischievous smile with her granddaughter. "Mainly." For a moment a sharp eye appraised the girl. "There's something missing." She rummaged in a nearby drawer. "There. Knew I still had it."

Something small and cold was pressed into a young hand. "Pin it on." It was a regimental cap badge.


A soft laugh. "Oh no dear. This is a trophy from earlier days." It was clear to the girl what was meant.

She found a spot on the dress already pierced and with a small square of backing material behind it to support the weight. The silver metal complimented the fabric's shifting light. "Then who?"

His name had been Jonas. A Canadian-born young Captain with perfect skin and a smile like the sun. She'd been part of an acting company sent over to entertain the troops, and as the most famous member she'd scandalised her Company and half of London for refusing to return to England after the repertoire had finished. Instead of demurely boarding the ship for the long sail back she'd dug her heels in, rented a house near the Governor's and spent most nights knocking back sundowners on the terrace of the Mess watching the occasional monkey scampering across the maidan.

Jonas had — like her — been the best catch around.

At least, that's how it had started out.

"How did it end?" Maddy asked gently.


"Have you been drinking?" Maddy asked her father accusingly as he sat down heavily on the kitchen seat and removed his hat.

"I don't like your insinuations, young lady," Peter said. "I merely popped into the Chestnut Tree to speak to Mr Trevelyan and had a small snifter to keep the cold out for the walk home."

"The men in our family were always on the weak side."

"That's completely untoward, Mother," Maddy's father replied tersely. "Given your cousin's a fruit basket."

"Lydia's as sane as me."

"She thinks she's a rabbit! Every full moon she runs out of the house into the vegetable garden and tries to pull up carrots with her teeth."



"Hare. Not rabbit."

The distinction was lost on her son.

"Hare's course," the old woman said as if it explained everything.

"She's still the front contender for the funny farm."

"I dare say there's method in her madness."

"How so?" Maddy enquired curiosity prompting her to join an adult conversation she'd normally have felt safer avoiding.

"Your Uncle Quentin's not left her yet."

"Are you suggesting," Peter asked wide-eyed, "that she only acts that way to stop him running off with that young floozy of his?"

"It's worked so far."

"It runs contrary to all reason."

Perhaps. But her own experience had taught her reason wasn't always the best judge of which path to walk down.


"Ummm," said Jonas, the flush leaching out of his cheeks. "I…"

She hoped he wasn't going to disappoint her further by attempting to explain. He shrugged, then self-consciously wiped something away from the corner of his mouth.

His companion however was less composed and made a half-hearted attempt to pull the remaining sheets over his head to hide. The boy — it was difficult to judge age without a face — whimpered something in Hindi and spread a pair of large hands over his chest as if it made him invisible. He was shaking badly, obviously close to panic.

"You're home early."

It was such an inappropriate comment under the circumstances she had to stifle a fit of sudden giggles.


She'd never seen a naked Indian before. At least not one older than a child. For some reason she found his moist pink extremity quite startling. Against the darker bulk of his manhood it was almost comically bright.

"Jesus, Maddie, just say something."

"Should he have ointment for that? It looks terribly raw." If he was expecting her to fall into a heap of womanly weeping he didn't know her very well.

The owner of said equipment pulled his knees up sharply and tried to curl up into an even smaller space.. His legs were as hirsute as his stomach had been.

"Alright Mowgli," she said pulling firmly at the edge of the white linen ball. "Chop Chop. Before mem-sahib loses her temper."

Jonas glared at her with an superiority she felt he'd no right to adopt. "You're frightening him." Careless of his own nakedness he put an arm around what must have been a pair of shoulders and slowly prised the bedclothes from numb fingers. "It's okay Mohinder. Nothing's going to happen to you."

Slowly a mop of hair emerged, followed by a pair of tearful eyes. It hadn't just been about sex, she realised with an absolute shock, he genuinely cared for the boy. "You can get dressed in the other room," she said. "Then just go. I don't want to see you in here again."

She watched Jonas intently as his eyes followed the boy's naked buttocks out through the doorway. "You can go after him if you want. I shan't make a scene."

"I never lied to you," Jonas said, getting out of bed. "I told you I wasn't for conventions."

His earlier tumescence was fading. It was a shame she'd never see him naked again. He was by far the most accomplished lover she'd taken, and the only one in India to make the grade. "Oh," she put the same tone into her voice she used for Medea, "I was prepared for the occasional act of charity with a stage hand or two. No one in the troupe would have batted so much as an eyelid." I know, indeed, the evil of that I purpose; but my inclination gets the better of my judgment.

"But a sepoy, Jonas? If that got out my career would be over. I'd be ruined overnight."

If he had said anything, if he had berated her for her ambition she'd have finally broken down, swooned into his arms like Juliette, and allowed him to dictate the course of her future. One word, a single gesture, and she would have willingly forsaken everything for him. But his pride was almost as strong as hers.

He strapped on the leather wristband that never left his side. The smell in the room was feral. She longed for the cooling monsoon but it was still several weeks away and now she'd be firmly on the passage back to England before it arrived to wash the animal stench of sex into the street.

Should I burn these sheets too? she asked herself distantly as for the last time she drank in the play of his muscles over his back.


A sudden high pitched scream interrupted her reading on the verandah. Irritated she folded up the newspaper on the table and went over to the edge of railing intent on scolding one of the servants. The sound was emanating from the mouth of the railway clerk's mongoloid child. It had obviously been sitting out under the open sun and burnt itself. The clerk's wife, a ruddy-faced creature from Lancashire, was attempting to cool it by flapping a towel ineffectually at its face. "Having a spot of bother are we?"

"I'm sorry for disturbing you, Miss Silva," a flustered voice shouted back. "But it's Henry. He's gone and got himself too hot again."

The child's arms and neck looked exceptionally red. "You should try some chilled yoghurt on the skin. It's very good at dissipating heat."

"And for tenderising meat," a pair of lips murmured by her ear. She felt a hand move aside a strap from her dress and kiss a bare shoulder.

"You have wandering hands, Captain." The commotion over the fence was forgotten. "And a complete lack of discretion."

He smiled his Cheshire Cat smile that made the world around him disappear. For some reason he was as pleased as Punch. "So which appeals to you more, Maddie?" Of all the sundry inhabitants of Lahore he alone seemed immune to perspiration, even under the noon sky.

She poured him a G&T, then called back into the house for more ice. "You have the same look Papa has when he thinks he's onto a winner."

A houseboy came out with a bowl on a silver platter, bowed briefly as he put it onto the table, then, with a very strange glance at Jonas, vanished into the shadowy recesses of the house as quietly as he appeared.

"See the effect you have on the servants with your wanton manners." His smile had become somewhat crooked and she surmised her admonishment had hit home. "Now what brings you over at this hour and why were you grinning from ear to ear like a loon when you arrived?"

He sipped his drink carefully. "I'm going up to the hills this weekend as a guest of the Nawab. Come with me. It'll be fun."

"Is he the one who's got all those elephants?"

"That's him. All made of precious metals and jewels." A glint of Mammon came to his eyes. "They say there's a room in his palace where half the gold of India is kept."

The General had often spoken highly of the Nawab. As a founder member of the All-India Muslim League he was good a keeping the nationalists from Congress in check but more than that he was Eton-educated and a staunch Anglophile. If only the other princely states in the north would toe the line quite as easily.

But no. She'd made other arrangements and declined his offer. "Your Miss Silva is about to appear in a film as Cleopatra." She explained how some newspaper impresario had sent someone out to India to make a recording of life in the Jewel of the Empire. It seemed the light in the subcontinent was ideal for the moving image. "It's a shame they won't be able to hear my diction."

He kissed her farewell on the forehead. "That's the third time you've jawaub'd me this month."

Sometime he was too much. "Leaving already? One of these days you'll meet yourself coming in the opposite direction." He still hadn't told her exactly why a lowly captain should be invited to stay with a rich maharajah. Mind you, if it hadn't been for Jonas she'd have been bored rigid by the social monotony. After all, there were only so many occasions she could be invited to recite a soliloquy after dinner before the nuances of the applause turned from warm appreciation to that of the merely polite.

He gave a half wave just as a second scream came from the other side of the garden wall. Oh dear Lord, she thought, watching the poor malformed child stagger around with foxed arms, the stupid woman's used tandoor paste. India was no place to start a family. Was it even possible for a white woman to give birth to a healthy child in this climate? She herself had gone to her local ayah at the first sign, thankfully before anything had started to show. No one had noticed, apart from the ancient gardner who'd wondered at her tending of a brazier late in the afternoon, and the maid who'd been asked to bring a fresh sheet for the bed.

It had been easy to withdraw for forty-eight hours complaining of a stomach ache. It hadn't been too far from the truth.

The railway clerk's wife was still chasing her mewling offspring around the lawn, looking at her wit's end. Maddie sighed, feeling she ought to do something practical to help to situation before the woman died of exhaustion. "I say," she cried in the direction of the hubub, "I have this fantastic recipe for clotted cream and crab apples which is excellent for cheering people up."


The breeze on the quayside threatened to steal her hat for the god of the sea. The SS Camberona cast a long shadow over the wharfs and offices alongside. It wasn't due to sail for another four days but she'd already said goodbye to the General in Lahore and rented a small apartment in Watson's Hotel for the remaining time. It was unlikely she'd ever return so her final embarkation was being put off till the last moment. It was far cooler on the coast than in Lahore but being a port town Bombay was never silent.

"Out on your own, Maddie? Whatever would your father say?"

Was his presence purely down to coincidence or had he followed her? "The last letter I had from Papa," she said staring out at the glittering horizon, "described you as a 'two-way tommy'." It hadn't been until three weeks ago she'd realised what he had meant.

"How wonderfully Victorian of him." He wasn't wearing his uniform any more, which didn't surprise her. The ill-fitting suit made him look like a minor government functionary. Or a shopkeeper.

"There are huge gaps in my education I wasn't aware of until I met you." She put a hand on her hat as another strong gust blew up around them. "How is Mowgli?"

"His name is Mohinder; I've not seen him since that day," Jonas said simply. "And you'll never keep your Empire unless you and your lot learn to respect other races and other cultures."

"'Your lot'? Didn't you take the King's shilling, Captain?" She made the word sound obscene. Or a lie. "Did you not swear your allegiance to God, King and Country?"

He didn't answer her immediately but looked out over the same seascape she'd been contemplating a moment ago. "How very English of you."

That stung. He knew her father was a Scottish baron. "Oh, I'm about as English as you are Canadian, Captain."

The look of shock on his face was worth a thousand confrontations.

"It's easy to find out things if people assume you're a dizzy actress." And she'd played that part admirably in messes and kala juggahs from Lahore to Madrass following leads and rumours. The Nawab had been extremely helpful given a favourite pair of his beloved elephants had gone missing around the time of Captain Jonas' visit.

Someone onboard the Camberona pulled on the horn and a great bellow boomed out, echoing between the low dockside buildings startling them both.

"I'm sorry about Mohinder," she found herself saying with surprised honesty. "Was he special?"

Jonas, or whatever his name was, gave a wintery smile at the ocean. "It took me weeks persuading him I wasn't just another soldier out for a quick roger. First time I asked if I could lick the hairs on his chest he locked himself in the dressing room and refused to leave for an hour and a half." A pause. "He was sweet and caring, and he didn't resent me as a Westerner."

She held out her right hand, and he shook it tentatively as if had been a live grenade. "Goodbye Captain Jonas."

"Goodbye Lady Madeleine."


"Is that Grandpa's grave?" Philip asked, nodding at the small square stone roughly framed with grass, and with a boy’s round-eyed wonder at death.

"Heaven’s no, child. Your grandfather is buried in the family vault at the chapel. This is Dante's resting place. Our dog." She shifted her weight from one stick to another as a fit of coughing came on. "I think of the two Dante was the better listener."

"Are you alright, Nan?"

The old woman smiled. "Old bones, dear. Old bones."


Someone had wound the gramophone up and had put on some minor opus by Vaughn Williams. It was soothing enough to the ears but had caused the dancers to retreat to the bar for a breather.  Her queue of admirers rushed off to get her a cooling brandy on ice.

Algernon was lounging on a chaise longue, one arm draped casually over its back, and blowing cigar smoke in the direction of the Indian bartender. He hadn't bothered removing his makeup and in the heat it had started to run in places. An antimacassar had been carefully placed behind his bobbing head to catch any drops that might fall onto the fabric.  "Teasing our privates, m'dear?"

She ignored him for as long as she felt proper. "You look like Banquo's ghost."

A cloud of noxious smoke formed a ring in front of her face. "That little tart Simeon used the last of my cold cream to pleasure himself during the interval." He liked trying to shock her. "Now I'm stuck looking like this with no prospect of my own nocturnal relief."

She muttered a few words of distant gratitude as a young lieutenant handed her a glass tumbler before creeping back to join his jostling friends at the far end of the room. "You need to raise your game, Algie." The ice took the nip out of the alcohol as she sipped.

"That's not a nice thing to say after I've gone to the trouble of finding you a man."

"Are you pimping for me now?"

"Heaven forefend, m'dear!" He pretended to be shocked. "He's a nice eligible captain with good skin and impeccable manners."

"If he's so nice how do you know him?"

"I stood next to him at the urinal after the show last night. He complimented me on my part." He must have noticed her studied lack of attention. "M'dear he has a phallus like a drainpipe and absolutely no interest in sharing it with me."

"Well, thank you, Algie. I think…" She decided to slip away before anyone overheard and caused a scene. "I really must—"

"He's coming over later to meet you," Aglernon cried with suppressed glee. "I've told him all about our Rhea."


" Jack will be here in a minute. He's been held up chasing Sontarans around Mars."

"Let's find us a seat, shall we?" She indicated the corner of the lawn nearest the sea. A sycamore sheltered an old wooden bench from the worst of the breeze and it afforded a good view of the sea. Out of sight of the cottage they sat for a moment watching the glinting waves . In the bay, thrown up by the receding tide, a dark leviathan pierced the winter air. "I was on that ship once." All alone, returning in failure from Bombay in a first-class prison. It had been requisitioned during the war,  pressed into service as a troop carrier, then left to drift into a mine one quiet October night.

Philip wasn't listening, his head was turned back to the forest.

Sweet children and their imagination. "If that's your friend tell him to introduce himself."  What was that transport gadget her grandson had spoken of before? A vortex manipulator? "Hello Philip's friend Jack."

"Hello Maddie."


"Do you really have to stay, Miss?" Simeon asked, his hair as unkempt as usual but bleached blond by the sun. "You're the only one who ever says thank you to me." His expression was forlorn. "The rest of them just think I'm a tyke."

"Isn't Algie good to you?" Idly she picked at a flower on the lawn. "He's always buying you presents."

"He spends half the day shouting up to the rafters how he wants to bum me," a sigh. "Then by curtain fall he's usually too tired to do anything."

One by one the petals came off the bloom.

"How's your captain, Miss?"

She looked up from the bare stem and gave a small smile. "Living up to expectations."

Simeon giggled knowingly.


"Nan's name is Rhea." Philip cocked his head quizzically. "My sister's Maddy."

"Madeleine Louisa Mary Dundonald St Clair-Trent," said the shadow with a voice out of history.

She closed her eyes and willed the furious bird inside her chest to quell its flapping wings. "Your father made a big show of naming your sister after me." Slow now. Deep breaths. "I suppose I ought to have been flattered," Eyelids open, unbelieving, "but at the time I just accused him of being Oedipal." The shape before her was no less impossible than before.

"You're babbling," said the illusion, now back in military dress. "It's out of character for you."

She tried to stand but found her hands trembling too much to hold the canes. "There are three possibilities.  One, I'm dead—"

"You're not going to die today."

"Two," she said firmly, "I've gone gaga like Lydia."(She ignored Philip's 'Is Aunt Lydia really mad?') "And three: you're actually Count St Germain and have discovered the secret of eternal youth." But no, even silhouetted against the sparkling sea she could tell he looked older. Not significantly older, perhaps a year or two. Enough for fresh wrinkles to set in around the eyes.

"Or four – I can time travel."

"Are you an angel, Jonas Hall?


Oh my word, she thought, between gasps, I had no idea that was even possible. Gently she pulled his head up towards her lips. "You have the tongue of an angel, my Captain."

His lips as they closed on her tasted of forbidden fruit. "All part of the service, my Lady."

Flushed with carnality she found herself actively returning the favour, much to his surprised delight.


"For goodness sake, Maddy, pour your Grandmother a brandy," said Peter, helping his mother into a chair. Her face was ashen but calm. "You should never have gone out. It's too cold."

"Nan hit Jack."

Maddy stopped midway to the decanter and stared hard at her younger brother. "You mean he's real?"

"No, he's not real. And neither am I," a voice deepened by years of cigarettes said. "I'm just an old woman who's been very silly." A tumbler was pressed into her grasp. For a moment she stared at the light reflected from the cut crystal and the way the rainbow colours fell over her swollen knuckles and veined fingers. Then a shade of the old Rhea Silva returned and the glass was firmly placed on top of the table. "I'd prefer tea."

"Maddy, put the kettle on, please. I think we all need a cuppa." Absently Peter's hand curled around the unwanted brandy. "A nice strong tea."

Philip watched as the alcohol disappeared in a single gulp.

"Oh Peter," the old woman said sadly. "I'm sorry she left you."


"Come here often?" a strange accent asked as it toyed with a long amber drink.

She accepted his offer of a fresh G&T. "Actually I'm hiding. It's complicated." She glanced down the end of the bar towards the entranceway nervously. "American?"

"Canadian, if you please." He had blue eyes that at times looked darker than the ocean. "English?"

"Scottish, if you please," she said firmly. Then laughed. "Touché"

The stripes on his cuff said captain but she didn't recognise the regimental badge.  "Jonas Hall."

"Madeleine Dundonald St Clair." She took the proffered hand. "But I answer to Miss Silva."

He sipped his drink slowly. "Ah the actress lady. I met one of your company yesterday." His smile when it came was unexpectedly full. "An effulgent peacock in a humbug-striped jacket."

Algernon. She groaned. "I hope you'll find we're not all as gauche." The bartender refilled her glass. "What did he say?"

"I think his first words were 'My God, man, is that thing for real?'"

She choked.


"How was the Nawab?"

"Regal," Jonas said, slipping into the rattan chair. "I've never seen so much opulence. But charming. Totally charming." He reached over the table to kiss her hand like a maharajah. "And how was filming?"

"Boring, if truth be told. We had to stop every five minutes because the camera was overheating. I expect I will be relegated to a few seconds of screen time only." Not that she cared much: without the feedback from a live audience the event had been a short-lived novelty. "Any nice young princesses?"

"Only one — she was kept far away from us. We did meet some entertaining eunuchs."

Perhaps she could ship one back for Algernon to parade around the West End. "How does a eunuch entertain a handsome young soldier?"

"Very badly." He got up. "I feel in need of a long bath."

She wished he'd stay put for once without rushing off. "Dinner later?"

"Sure." He kissed her. "Any hand cream I can borrow?"

"There's some on the dressing table. Whatever do you want it for?"

"Got to keep this skin baby smooth for all those kind actresses in town." He winked at her. "Later."


Peter let the weight of the glass pull his hand back down to the table top. "What an odd thing to say."

His mother pulled her shawl tighter around her neck, shaking her shoulders as if to throw off cobwebs. "I know it's not been easy for you."

"I just need to know you're okay in this big house by yourself."

"I have hot meals twice a day when Mrs Penhaligon is here. If anything else needs doing Mr Fisher or his Scouts are on hand to help. They're all very generous with their time."

From the kitchen came the sound of a small hand trying to sneak into the biscuit tin and a large hand smacking its brother's away. "I'd be happier if you let Dr Pascoe take a look at you."

"All right, Peter. I'll make a deal with you. I'll see that quack if you promise to lay off the alcohol."

Her son looked back at her with the expression of a wrongly-accused man about to hang. "Whatever you say."

"Just make sure he stays away until Saturday."


"It's Jack now. Captain Jack."

And no, she knew he was no angel. A Hindu avatar perhaps. Ganesha? God of fun, and mischief, and wisdom.  And Philip was the mouse at his feet.  "Do you truly fly around outer space?"

"Is it more difficult to believe than time travel?"

Half a world away and more than half a lifetime ago she'd have silenced his counter questions with a kiss and quietly unbuttoned his tunic. Now, now her body was too ancient even to contemplate the memories and all that had been lost in the intervening years. She let the honeyed tones of his voice wash over her and bring solace from the regrets. "Why are you here, Jack-Jonas. Why this day of all others?"

To anyone else his briefest of hesitations would have passed unnoticed. "There was an article about you in The Times.  All your good works, your support of Indian independence." White teeth flashed brighter than the marine sunlight. "That one surprised me."

Philip tugged on her stick. "I didn't see that Nan. Why didn't you tell me you were in the newspaper?"

"Oh. Friday's Times," Jack-Jonas said. "It's not been written yet."

Then his appearance meshed; his words ('You're not going to die today') and his soft accent an unguent to ease her passing.

"You've got a bloody nerve," she said simply, and whacked him hard on the shins with the edge of her cane.

"Nan!" exclaimed Philip horrified.

"Come on, dear. There are things which need finishing." With that she hobbled off at a speed the boy marvelled at.

"Goodbye Jack," he waved, hopping to keep up with his grandmother.

Behind them a figure bent double, nursing a pair of wounded legs. "Goodbye Philip."

And as the waves crashed against the rusting hulk of the Camberona the wind brought a final eulogy to her ears: "Goodbye too, Rhea Silva."




Carn Brea. Cornish for "stone pile".The cottage should not be identified with the Cornwall town of the same name.
Maidan. Open field.
Sepoy. Indian Soldier.
Nawab. Urdu term given to a Muslim ruler of a State.
Jawaub. An Anglo-Indian colloqualism used to refer to a lady's refusal of an offer (esp marriage).
Ayah. Nursemaid/Grandmother (wise woman).
Clotted cream & crab apples. Purportedly the dish that caused a fatal bout of dysentry in the Empress Dowager of China. As the Empress had died only a few years earlier Rhea would have been fully aware of the connotations.
Kala Juggah. A darkened area in a bar or dance hall used for flirtation.