The next day Uncle Hogg reappeared in a rich carriage with a small lorry in tow. “Sister! You are moving! Today! This very minute! Now!” he bellowed from the street as the upper story window opened for Mother to stare down on her brother in utter horror. “Onward men! Into this house! Don’t pack a thing but personal possessions and clothes! Everyone pack! Now! Charge!”
We promptly emerged already packed but Mother bewailed her fate for another hour before packing. We were transported in Uncle Hogg’s carriage across town to the best part of town. ‘Hogg Heaven’ as Uncle Hogg called the fine home he bought for his mother, was located on Seymour Street, a fine street of late Georgian townhouses, white, framed by black wrought iron railings, encircling a private park, on a street lined with towering chestnut trees. Everything was scrubbed and white and immaculate. The servants were all dressed in white and black uniforms and they were immaculate. The house was immaculate. Everything inside and outside was immaculate. Mother wept. We could not understand why? It was just out of Charles Dickens! Why wasn’t she happy?
Mrs Hogg, our Grandmother, was the perfect incarnation of a happy soul. She wore a dated but oversized bonnet of lace and frills and was stout and bustling. She hugged each of us. It was such a novel experience I savored it. I hugged her stout waist as if I feared letting go and waking up back at Gallstone School. She kissed my unruly hair and patted my cheek. Then she ushered us all into her drawing room which was light and bright. Grandmother tended to live as if it was 1810 so the room was Georgian and Regency with bright white muslim curtains that let the light pour into the room. The furniture was antique, light, graceful, uncluttered. Instead of dark wallpaper the walls were painted pale blue with cream wooden trim and touches of molding instead of mold. The scent of bowls of big fresh flowers instead of mildew filled the air. It was as close to heaven as I had ever known.
Each of us was given our own bedroom! And Uncle Hogg was paying plumbers to install a brand new ‘bathroom’ in the back of the house on each floor boasting the latest wonders of technology in running water. Instead of chamber pots or the communal latrine outside the back door we had a ‘commode’. It was a chamber pot set in a wooden throne in a well ventilated room which had a maid to police it. Full time. As in her only job was to keep it clean and ready to receive! We had come to paradise!
Seeing our clothes, still funeral black, Uncle Hogg and Grandmother ordered a tailor to come to take our measurements for new clothes immediately. ‘Immediately’ appeared to be Uncle Hogg’s favorite word. I was promptly introduced to my tutor who was an retired Indian named Ranjit Sahib. “Son,” Uncle Hogg told me, “You are the head of your family now and will be expected to make the family fortune. My mother told me the same! And I did! I made the Hogg fortune there! So can you! But John! You must work hard to prepare for India for India is not forgiving! Griffins, that is novices, griffins are expected to hit the ground running! Youngsters, both male and female, who arrive are given one year to prove their mettle! Or else they are stale goods left on the shelf too long.” Uncle Hogg tapped one side of his nose as he said this. “Business term. India is business! All business! And you are expected, as a member of ‘John Company’ to protect India for business! So will you be as plucky in learning as you were plucky last night?”
“Yes Sir. I can already read the Iliad Sir!”
“Not exactly what is needed in India John” Uncle Hogg replied.
“And some Sanscrit! And Indian history and geography and I know Indian stories too. I had a friend at Gallstone School name George Singh Taylor.” I beamed as Uncle Hogg nodded. “That is better! Languages my boy! Languages are the key to India! India has 100 languages and dialects! But if you can learn to speak and read the five top languages then you will be deemed essential!” So even before my new clothes came I commenced my study with my tutor Ranjit Sahib.
Mother continued to wilt in this paradise. We could not understand why. The place was shining. Grandmother was wonderful. The sound of little children filled the hallways as childish laughter filled the air. “Where are the children?” we asked
Grandmother laughed. “All around you! The air is full of sweet, childish laughter.”
“Yes but we have not seen them yet?” Mary asked.
“And you won’t” Grandmother replied casually.
“Why?” Mary asked more carefully.
“Because they are ghosts” Grandmother laughed as Mary closed her eyes and I stood stoic. At that moment the sound of sweet laughter filled the air as little pattering feet ran down the hallway. There was a momentary sound of tiny bells and the smell of flowers. Mary, very stiffly went to the door of the morning room and peered down the hallway. The hallway was sunny and perfectly empty. Then Mary very stiffly sat back down with a profoundly lemony face.
“It is not my fault! I am no responsible!” I bellowed at Mary as she kicked my shins under the table. I kicked her right back.
“Children! Children!” Grandmother said. “My son bought this townhouse for a song to use a business term. It was haunted so he got it half price. When he heard the other townhouse was haunted too he bought that! And indeed when he moved me in along with my then unmarried daughters, including your mother, we did hear the soft weeping of children. My son, being clever, checked the deeds and discovered these two townhouses were once a singled joined great house for a happy family. But later the house was sold and deemed too big, was partitioned into two townhouses. By chance then, the happy ghosts of the happy original inhabitants were cut off from each other. Some ghosts were on this side of the wall and some ghosts were trapped on that side of the wall. Once we knocked down the partition walls in our remodel then the ghosts of the happy children were once again free to run willy-nilly to their heart’s content and now all you will hear are the pattering feet and happy laughter of happy ghosts.”
“And the tiny tinkle of silver bells and flowers” I added as Mary closed her eyes and assumed a lemon face as she shook her head.
Grandmother Hogg nodded. “Indeed! But it is a rare soul who can hear the silver bells and smell the flowers. Why John? I declare! I think ….oh Neil! I do declare! I think John here has the Hogg Second Sight! What do you think?”
Grandmother beamed as Uncle Hogg nodded as he smoked his pipe. “Indeed Mother! I do believe you are right! Congratulations John! Let me shake your hand! Second Sight! Hogg Second Sight!” We shook hands as Mary’s kicked me under the table.
“Dates back to 1234!” Grandmother exclaimed cheerfully.
“How do you know?” I asked.
“That was when Hoggs first appeared in the official records!” Uncle Hogg beamed.
“In the church archives!” Grandmother added proudly. “‘Burned as a witch! Hogg! Bertha! And daughters!’” Grandmother patted her chest proudly as if patting a metal of valor.
“In all 53 Hoggs have been burned at the stake or otherwise murdered for having the famous Hogg Second Sight” Uncle Hogg added gayly. Mary rubbed her brow as if she had a headache.
“Do you have a headache dear? What some lavender?” Grandmother purred.