Chapter 4, Pt 3 of 4
DOMESTIC HELP AND MISSES PERRY
One Wednesday afternoon, as I passed through the wooden gates of St Benets and went round to the back door (I had now become intimate enough with the Misses Perry to use that door), I noticed an elderly gentleman pottering about in Miss Alice’s vegetable garden. “Who can this fellow be?” I wondered. “Miss Alice has never engaged a gardener before. Besides, the chap does not look like a jobbing gardener. She must know he is here. Perhaps he is a friend, may be a gentleman friend of Miss Alice.” I must have looked rather amused when my teacher opened the door to me. She escorted me into the living room where I saw Miss Alice standing in front of the French windows and looking out towards her vegetable garden; there was a broad smile on her face.
“Have you noticed that we have an addition to our family Mrs Chowdhary?” she blurted out.
“Yes, I did notice a young man (it was impolite to say old man) in your garden,” I said. Alice was quick enough to sense my curiosity and amusement. She giggled.
“I believe Mrs Chowdhary thinks he is my gentleman friend, Helen. Do I look like a person who would bring men friends home at my age?”
Miss Helen burst out laughing over that, and she looked radiant. “He is our elder brother, Henry,” she said, after controlling her laughter.
“I never knew you had a brother,” I said.
“No, we never talked about him. To tell the truth, we ourselves did not know until the other day whether he was dead or alive. We had not seen or heard from him for nearly 40 years.”
“How strange,” I said.
“Yes, and it was such a surprise—almost a shock—when he came and knocked at our door last Sunday. Alice went to answer it, and not recognising him, was really rude to him. She thought he was an impostor and a trickster, and nearly drove him away. ‘I would like to see Miss Helen,’ he pleaded to her, ‘she and I were great pals in those days; she is bound to know me. Please tell her it is Henry, her own brother, at the door.’
“Alice then called me, and really, I myself would not be sure that it was Henry, he had changed so much. He was old, grey-haired and slightly bent. But I recognised his voice that had not changed very much. I let him in, we had tea together and then he told us all the things we used to do together as children. He even showed us his birthmark at the back of his neck. There was no doubt that he was our own brother Henry.”
“What did you do then?” I asked, laughing. “Did you kiss his forehead and embrace him like we generally do to our brothers?”
“No, I did not,” replied my tutor, grinning all over her face. “I just patted his hand and made him feel at home.”
Having those English lessons from Miss Helen Perry did help me in my everyday routine, in taking messages and so on. One or two amusing incidents happened at that time also.
One day when I went to answer the doorbell, I found two middle-aged ladies outside. One of them held a baby in her arms that seemed to be covered all over so that I could not see its face. The lady patted the bundle and kept saying: “Poor Peter, poor Peter.”
“Could we see the doctor, please?” her companion asked.
I let them wait in the consulting room and told Sheel about it. He went and attended to the baby. “You know what it was?” he said to me after he had finished. “It was a cat and they wanted me to put it to sleep by giving it chloroform.”
I was amazed. “No wonder they did not let me see its face.”
Then a man brought a huge Alsatian to the door. “I wonder whether doctor would be good enough to see him. He has injured his leg and would probably need stitches.”
I had to let them in. Sheel did not, or could not, put any stitches in him. He simply dressed the wound, and bandaged his leg up and hoped for the best. He told me afterwards that the patient recovered completely and he had never forgotten that incident. He had an extra soft spot for his family doctor ever since.