‘The worst of it is that one can’t be certain of anything,’ said Papa, pulling his moustache. ‘The letters in themselves are excellent, and the terms are moderate enough.’

‘The worst of it is that the children will grow up away from me,’ thought Mamma; but she did not say it aloud.

‘We are only one case among hundreds,’ said Papa bitterly. ‘You shall go Home again in five years, dear.’

‘Punch will be ten then—and Judy eight. Oh, how long and long and long the time will be! And we have to leave them among strangers.’

‘Punch is a cheery little chap. He’s sure to make friends wherever he goes.’

‘And who could help loving my Ju?’

They were standing over the cots in the nursery late at night, and I think that Mamma was crying softly. After Papa had gone away, she knelt down by the side of Judy’s cot. The ayah saw her and put up a prayer that the memsahib might never find the love of her children taken away from her and given to a stranger.

Mamma’s own prayer was a slightly illogical one. Summarised it ran: ‘Let strangers love my children and be as good to them as I should be, but let me preserve their love and their confidence for ever and ever. Amen.’ Punch scratched himself in his sleep, and Judy moaned a little.

Next day they all went down to the sea, and there was a scene at the Apollo Bunder when Punch discovered that Meeta could not come too, and Judy learned that the ayah must be left behind. But Punch found a thousand fascinating things in the rope, block, and steam-pipe line on the big P. and O. Steamer long before Meeta and the ayah had dried their tears.

‘Come back, Punch-baba,’ said the ayah.

‘Come back,’ said Meeta, ‘and be a Burra Sahib’ (a big man).

‘Yes,’ said Punch, lifted up in his father’s arms to wave good-bye. ‘Yes, I will come back, and I will be a Burra Sahib Bahadur!’ (a very big man indeed).

At the end of the first day Punch demanded to be set down in England, which he was certain must be close at hand. Next day there was a merry breeze, and Punch was very sick. ‘When I come back to Bombay,’ said Punch on his recovery, ‘I will come by the road—in a broom-gharri. This is a very naughty ship.’

The Swedish boatswain consoled him, and he modified his opinions as the voyage went on. There was so much to see and to handle and ask questions about that Punch nearly forgot the ayah and Meeta and the hamal, and with difficulty remembered a few words of the Hindustani once his second-speech.

But Judy was much worse. The day before the steamer reached Southampton, Mamma asked her if she would not like to see the ayah again. Judy’s blue eyes turned to the stretch of sea that had swallowed all her tiny past, and she said: ‘Ayah! What ayah?’

Mamma cried over her and Punch marvelled. It was then that he heard for the first time Mamma’s passionate appeal to him never to let Judy forget Mamma. Seeing that Judy was young, ridiculously young, and that Mamma, every evening for four weeks past, had come into the cabin to sing her and Punch to sleep with a mysterious rune that he called ‘Sonny, my soul,’ Punch could not understand what Mamma meant. But he strove to do his duty; for, the moment Mamma left the cabin, he said to Judy: ‘Ju, you bemember Mamma?’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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