His father is cramped and frozen with the chill cares of office; his mother is deadened by the gloomy routine of economy and fashion; custom lies upon her with a weight heavy as frost and deep almost as life; the fountains of natural fancy and mirth are frozen over; so Baby lisps his dawn pæans in soft Oriental accents, wakening harmonious echoes amongst those impulsive and impressionable children of Nature that masque themselves in the black slough of Bearers and Ayahs; and Baby blubbers in Hindustani.
In the Hills these are more usually baby's size, because children who come up weakened and sick from the Plains often succumb to the effects of the Rains in the Hills or get pneumonia from their ayahs taking them through damp pine-woods after the sun has set. In Cantonments, of course, the man's size is more in request; these arrangements varying with the climate and population.
As the girls sat lazily, after their morning's outlook, in the pleasant saloon, amid a group of ladies and children, listening to the cheerful chatter going on about them, and laughing at the antics of the little tots playing about in charge of their gaily-turbaned Indian ayahs, or nurses, Dwight came in, all excitement, and cried, "Come, girls, we're going to have an exhibition.
'I know nothing of illness, said Mrs. Hauksbee to the Doctor. 'Only tell me what to do, and I'll do it. 'Keep that crazy woman from kissing the child, and let her have as little to do with the nursing as you possibly can, said the Doctor; 'I'd turn her out of the sick-room, but that I honestly believe she'd die of anxiety. She is less than no good, and I depend on you and the ayahs, remember.
On each side are small chocolate-colored heathens, in a sort of short chemises, silver-bangled as to their wrists and ankles, and already with the caste-mark on the foreheads of some of them, shy, demure younglings, just learning all the awful significance of the word Sahib, who have been brought from mysterious homes by fond ayahs, and smuggled in through back-stairs influence, or boldly introduced by the durwan under the glorifying patronage of that terrible Hastings Clive.
There were a good many children and English nursemaids; three or four military-looking men, dressed in loose garments of grey and nankeen colour; several ladies, all more or less sunburnt; a couple of ayahs; three men-servants; and an aristocratic-looking man of about fifty-five, dressed, unlike the rest of the travellers, in fine broadcloth, with a black-satin cravat, a gold pin, a carefully brushed hat, and varnished boots.
We lay and listened, and we lay and listened, but the padding footsteps didn't come back; and then I suppose we must have fallen asleep, for the next thing we knew was that the ayahs were standing beside us with tea, and the miserable night was past. G. and I looked at each other rather shamefacedly. "Did we dream it?" I asked, G. was rubbing her arm where I had gripped it.
She and her father would discuss Indian scenery as if they had been only absent from it a year, she envied Gilbert his return thither, but owned that it was the next thing to going herself, and was already beginning to amass a hoard of English gifts for the old ayahs and bearers who still lived in her recollection, in preparation for the visit which on his first holiday her brother must pay to her birthplace and first home.
Morris, an exceedingly fine lady, with grown-up children, with very young children also, with ayahs, with native servants, with English servants, with a list of acquaintances such as one may read of in the papers the day after a Queen's drawing-room, took possession of the Uninhabited House, and, for about three months, peace reigned in our dominions.
"English ayahs do, and I'm going to be your ayah, you know." Fay considered Meg for a minute. "No," she said, shaking her head. "No." "Have another sponge-finger," Jan suggested diplomatically, handing the dish to her niece, and the danger was averted. They played games with the children after tea and all went well till bed-time.