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The Englishman

A young woman learns about discrimination.


"I'm eighteen years old and should be able to make up my own mind." Margaret stood in front of her mirror speaking out loud to herself. "If I knew what I wanted I might be able to do just that." 

The reflection gazing back at her was that of a young woman. She could accent or neutralize the Indian blood richly flowing through her veins simply by the make-up she wore. Her eyes were her father's, but not so much that the correct make-up couldn't transform them into the sultry, mysterious woman she felt like at moments like this.

Everything was simple for her father. "I'm Indian and proud of it. The English can go to blazes if they don't like it," he was known to say publicly.

"Father is such a strong man," she said looking into the mirror. "And when you're strong, things seem to come easier. With him, either it's right, or it's wrong. There is very little in-between.” She turned slightly sideways to accent her figure.

"Mother, on the other hand, is so very different. She is actually Scottish. But in this land, the difference seems to go unnoticed. It is interesting that when in the homelands, the English and the Scots care very little for each other. But when it is them together against the Indians, things are different.

"I truly believe the two bloods flowing through my veins are conducting their own private war. On one hand, I am proud to be Scottish. But on the other, I am not ashamed to be Indian. But life would be easier if both parents were of the same race. Love is great and all, but it's always the children who pay the price. I can say I know this from experience.

"What is so grand about attending the dance?" she asked the reflection in the mirror. "Do I really want to go? Is it worth the effort to fit in?" There were no answers forthcoming, so she turned from the mirror and left the room.

"I don't really want to go to the dance, Mother," Margaret announced to her mother as she entered the parlor.

"If you're going to meet the correct people you have to attend these parties," her mother responded.

"What if they laugh at me?" The last minute jitters were clouding the young woman's thoughts.

"Why would they do that?" Vivian's nose flared slightly at the thought of someone laughing at her daughter. It had been years since she had fallen in love with and married Arnav. How could anyone remember? She knew her husband would be most displeased with his daughter attending a dance at the English club. Vivian hated to go behind his back but if Margaret was ever to," she thought when Margaret interrupted her thoughts

"I've heard stories," Margaret said.

"In case you haven't noticed, you don't look one bit Indian." Vivian knew what she had just said was not completely truthful, but she only meant to encourage her daughter.

"Mother! I have no desire to hide my father's nationality from anyone." Vivian flashed back in her mind to the time when she had met Arnav. She foolishly thought love would overcome the hatred held on to by the English. She had gone to India on assignment with the London Shipping Company. Almost two uneventful years had past before Arnav came into her life. He owned his own ship and subcontracted with LSC.

When Vivian Moore first laid eyes on him, a spark of magic had blinded her to the problems such a union would create. He said all the correct things and knew how to make her happy. Six months later they married. One day later she lost all of her friends. It wasn't that she was still bitter. She had overcome that years ago and now only felt pity for them.

"Why do I have to mix with the English?" Margaret was whirling as if dancing.

"I hate to see you suffer as I did."

Margaret noticed the far off look in her mother's face that always came when she spoke of the past.

"If I meet someone, he'll find out soon enough."

"One problem at a time." Arnav was often out at sea for months at a time. Things could be arranged in his absence. Could I do this to him? Vivian thought. A flood of guilt swept over her like a wave at the seashore. "You don't have to go if you don't want."

"It might be fun," Margaret answered, still vacillating.

Margaret first noticed Spencer St. Claire at the street market. He was new to India and appeared somewhat lost. Without thinking, she had befriended him by acting as his guide. They spent the day together and were just parting when he asked her to attend the dance with him.

She didn't want him collecting her at her father's house so agreed to meet at the dance. New to India and not yet infected with the snobbish hatred, he apparently didn't notice the hint of Indian in her face. Then again, he probably didn’t know what to look for.

She had a love-hate desire to attend at least one of the season's dances. To be safe, she had not mentioned her father to Spencer. The thought of Judas passed through her mind. She eased her conscience by remembering that her father was gone most of the time and spent little time with her when he was home.

Margaret knew her mother did her best to remain loyal to her father's people. At the same time, however, she wanted her daughter to have the best opportunities available. She would like to visit the United Kingdom some day and learn for herself the hold that country had on her mother's soul.

From several city blocks away Margaret could hear the music. Her mother had offered to hire a coach for her, but she enjoyed walking. To ride would have shortened the time of anticipation.

The homes she walked by were clearly those owned by English residents. It seemed the English were like an island in the middle of the sea made up of Indian existences. There, but untouched. Once in a while, a wave would wash up onto land. A servant would enter the tradesman's entrance to a home he or she would not normally be allowed in.

Spencer was at the meeting hall door waiting. He looked elegant in his white dinner jacket and black slacks. A young man of nineteen, he already cut a handsome figure. Margaret had often been told she was pretty. She hoped it were true tonight. The handsome couple walked through the door arm in arm. The evening promised to be one to remember.

Each dance was more thrilling than the previous one. In the hour since her arrival, she had danced with at least five young men. Spencer was being a good sport, but she knew the next several dances had best be on her card. The music started again as he took her by the hand. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a bit of confusion starting between an older man and one who could easily be his son. They seemed to argue briefly before something the older man said ended the conversation. The older man turned his back on the son and headed straight for where she and Spencer were dancing.

He stopped directly in front of them and raised his hand. The band stopped playing. "Do you know who I am?" the man bellowed.

Spencer tried to be polite. "No, Sir."

"My name, young man, is Jonathan Hysmith!" Spencer had heard the name mentioned by his own father several times since their arrival. Hysmith was nobody to be trifled with, especially if one wished to maintain their post. "Do you realize Sir," he said with sarcasm, "that you have brought an Indian," his voice dripping with hatred, "into our presence?"

Spencer St.Clair was speechless. He had just committed one of the worst social blunders imaginable. "I didn't realize...," he said stammering.

"Get this tramp out of here. There is nothing worse than one of them trying to pass themselves off as one of us."

Margaret had already turned several shades of red before the tears started to fall. Spencer looked at her for a brief moment before turning away. Margaret could tell he wanted to come to her rescue, but his English blood was clogging his thinking. She turned and ran from the room not even bothering to collect her coat.

It was a week before Margaret consented to come out of her room. Devastated would be a suitable word for her condition. Vivian was filled with guilt knowing it was she who was actually responsible for her daughter's state of mind. "What was I thinking of?" she confided to her one true friend.

The Indian woman thought for a moment before responding. "I know it's hard to stand by and watch it happen, but she needs to learn the way things are."

"I could have just told her."

"This way she'll remember."

In the three months following the dance Margaret stayed close to home. Most of her time was spent reading in her bedroom. She just couldn't face the world feeling like a second class citizen. It was on a sunny afternoon when she heard the voice of her father in the parlor. She was about to come out of her room but stopped to listen to their conversation.

"How could you have let this happen?”' Her father was angry.

"I'm so sorry, Arnav."

He ranted for several minutes before stopping. Finally, he spoke. "What's done is done. How is she now?"

"She stays in her room much of the time," Vivian answered.

"Then I know the perfect cure for what ails her. She'll go to sea with me. As we speak, the ship is being loaded with cargo bound for America. That will give her plenty of time to forget."

"Do you think it's wise?"

"It will be an adventure that I think will be good for her."

Arnav's ship was loaded and ready to hoist anchor. The first mate came aboard and went directly to the captain's quarters. "If you wish it, Captain, I can arrange for a passenger. He is English and willing to pay whatever you ask."

"Why is he in such a hurry to leave India?"

"Normally I do not pry into the affairs of other men but, this time, I, by chance, have heard he was drinking and killed a man with his car."

"Why leave the country over that?"

"The dead man, who is Indian, was very rich and has many brothers. They seek his blood. Even the English government would not be able to protect him."

"So he flies the coup?"

"And willing to pay handsomely."

"Make the arrangements. He'll have to stay in one of the equipment rooms. Margaret will be occupying the passenger quarters."

"He might object to a woman having the better quarters."

"Then tell him to make other arrangements."

Margaret was pleased she had joined her father. The few times she sailed with him had given her an appreciation for the sea. Besides indulging her feelings, she was glad to leave India behind for awhile. The Englishman sailing with them seemed strange because he never showed his face. He insisted on taking his meals in private and came on deck only in the dead of night when she was fast asleep.

Her curious nature finally got the best of her, and she laid in wait for his midnight walk. She heard his footsteps, at least, a minute before she could make out his face in the moonlight. Standing near her was the very man who had humiliated her at the dance.

"Are you sure it was him?" her father asked after she related her story.

"I will never forget that face." she answered with tears in her eyes.

"Put this man out of your mind, my daughter. I will take care of it in the morning."

Arnav instructed his first mate to bring the Englishman on deck the following morning The mate pounded on Hysmith's door several times before the man called out, "What do you want?"

"The Captain wishes to speak with you."

"Tell him I send my apologies but I cannot come at the moment."

The Captain's reply was to instruct his mate to break in the door and haul the man on deck. Two of the larger hands were selected for the task. It would have been amusing for Margaret to witness the transformation of the lion at the dance to the sheep going to slaughter. His protests were ignored by the two Indian deckhands with steel vices for hands.

"I am the captain of this vessel," Arnav paused for a moment, "and when I wish to speak to someone aboard my ship, I am not in the habit of waiting, Mr. Hysmith."

"I had not yet..."

"What I wish to discuss," Arnav interrupted, "is the fact that you are English."

"And bloody well proud of it, I might add." Hysmith retorted, temporarily forgetting the company he was in.

"We have a rule on this vessel, Mr. Hysmith. It simply states that no English are allowed on board when we are out to sea,” he paused for a moment, “especially when my daughter is aboard." Hysmith caught a glimpse of Margaret out of the corner of his eye. He didn't recognize her.

"I told your First Mate..."

"Rules are rules, Mr. Hysmith."

"Then I gather you'll have to put me off at the first available port."

"Very well put." The captain nodded his head slightly. The two hands standing next to the Englishman took him by the arms and lifted him several inches off the floor.

"What do you think you're doing?" he demanded.

"You were most correct in one thing you said to my daughter, Mr. Hysmith. Rules are rules. No Indian tramps in your precious English, social club and no Englishmen on Indian vessels."

Hysmith looked wild-eyed at the young woman now standing next to her father. This time, he recognized her. The two seamen were strong and had no problem taking him out on deck as he kicked and screamed.

"Sharks have to eat, too, Mr. Hysmith," Arnav called after them.

The first mate cut the ropes holding the dinghy to the side of the ship. It splashed when it landed in the water seconds before Hysmith was thrown overboard.

"Throw him an oar and a skin of water," Arnav called out to the first mate. "Perhaps even he will know what to do with them."

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