‘There’s someone in my room!’ Stifled yawns of ‘not her again!’ spread through the small group breakfasting in the tourist Lodge that chilly February morning. ‘I was just opening the door and heard someone moving around.’ Alicia Thwaite’s plump hands were trembling. Her husband took the keys; they watched him make his way grudgingly to the set of rooms neatly landscaped up a slope overhung by scanty pine trees. Ronald Thwaite was annoyed.
Here they were, all 15 of them with their tour leader, Mr Singh (‘No, I am not a Sikh, I just have the surname Singh’). He was patient with the group, though beginning to fray half-way through their three-week tour of Rajasthan.
‘So many forts, or what are they called, “gahrs”?’ sighed Elizabeth Paignton.
‘So many temples!’ added Peter Baker.
‘But think of Ranakpur, built at the same time as the dome of Florence Cathedral…’ Mr. Thwaite’s rapid return interrupted Christine Wentworth’s attempt to steer the comments towards more stirring cultural comparisons. A waiter rushed over to the flustered guest.
‘Quick! There’s something in her bed!’ and tossed over the keys to the hapless waiter who disappeared muttering, ‘Monkeys, just monkeys. ‘
There were whole tribes of them in the pine trees, unnervingly surveying the people below. As Christine’s late husband had proposed to her under a tree in the park at Chatsworth, she knew how disconcerting it can be to have a peacock perching on a branch above; she was greatly concerned about unsolicited messages from the sky. Words floated into her mind, ‘Thank God, cows don’t fly!’ as a sort of justification for the ways of creation.
‘Mr. Singh, Mr. Singh, please go and have a look too,” the Thwaites shrilled.
‘But I am come to inform you that the Land Rovers are ready to depart,’ he persisted, frowning at what he considered was a request beyond his remit. ‘Lodge people deal with your room, Mr. Thwaite,’ he explained.