For the next two days I both savored Hogg Heaven as I made my fair wells. It had always been taken for granted I would go to India. There was a question of the other boys. But no one questioned my going. It was, to use a Uncle Hogg expression, a ‘done deal’.
Uncle Hogg was pulling strings to have me posted at the Frontier. The Frontier was now the North West Punjab. There was no question about that either. Uncle Hogg and his brothers were businessmen in Calcutta. That was were the money was. Everyone said ‘John, you are going to India to restore your family’s fortune’ but a military officer, even if he could snag a post as a political officer, was not exactly the reaper of fabulous wealth. My brothers thought of Clive and Hastings and other notorious nabobs but the reality was India was the graveyard of soldiers and nowadays honorable soldiers did not make 60 million pounds — at least not honorably. An officer might hope to save hundred pounds a year perhaps. A lowly soldier might hope to save ten pounds a year. An officer might hope to pay off the family home’s mortgage. A lowly soldier might hope to sent some desperately needed pounds home to his poor mother in a croft in a tiny village perhaps. But it was a gamble too because India was the graveyard of solders. The mortality rate was three times that of soldiering in any other part of the Queen’s Empire. Few lived to come home. Those that did come home were more likely than not either ravished by ill health or else doomed to die in the workhouse. Younger sons who became officers might hope to save enough to have a fairly comfortable retirement if they survived as long as it was not lavish. But that was a big ‘but’.
The unspoken assumption for every mother sending her son to India was not honorable wealth but dishonorable wealth. India naturally invented the word: Loot. Soldiers and their officers and their mothers waiting back home in Britain hoped for loot. Could the lucky soldier survive the right sort of battle to be able to loot, and by hopeless accident or chance or fate or sheer good luck get the opportunity to loot jewels or gold or a cache or some other booty by means fair or foul? That is frankly what it all came down to. Loot.
I was going to India to restore my family’s fortune but by any objective criteria that was an ludicrous proposition. Uncle Hogg and Mother Hogg would make sure Mother would not starve in a work house as an indigent widow and even Mary was promised as dowery of sorts to marry if she could. There was no reason for me to risk my life in India on the Frontier as an Political Officer. Nevertheless that was where I was going. It was my destiny. It was my fate. It was a ‘done deal’. But not even the wisest of prophets could explain it.
I made my goodbyes because deep in my bony guts my Hogg Second Sight told me India was going to be my graveyard. It was a paranormal ‘done deal’. I was not dismayed. Everyone dies. I discouraged my brothers of course from thinking about India. Just because it was a ‘done deal’ for me that did not mean it had to be a ‘done deal’ for them. At the very least I told them to ask Mother Hogg to ask Uncle Hogg to pull strings at ‘John Company’ at India House to get them Calcutta jobs in business where you could actually make a killing without being killed. More ideally they should ask for jobs in London at India House. That would be a really smart move. But it was hard to guess what they would do. Alex felt pressured to make money fast. Willie was a dreamer. Charlie just wanted to play cricket all of his life.
I knocked on Mother’s bedroom door and entered. Mother was in bed. She had pretty much taken to her bed. She was aging prematurely and already looked withered. Her black hair was greying. Both the anger and the vitality had gone out of her dark eyes. But she still found some reserves to glare at me. “Read your bible every day!”
“I will try Mother. I came to say goodbye.” I held out my hand but she did not shake it. I gestured to kiss her but she turned her face away. She held her bible to her chest like a beloved child. It was a gesture I could not remember ever receiving from her. I pecked her cheek with a half hearted kiss. “I forgive you Mother and I hope you will pray for me in India.”
“I pray every day John — for your soul.”
I left and I visited each of my brothers and finally Mary. Her door was closed and locked. I knocked. She opened it a tad and we talked through the crack in the mostly closed door. “Goodbye Mary. Take care of the boys. As always. You always have and I know you always will.”
Mary held the door firmly at only a crack. “I will make up my difference with you John. I will let you …..” she said stiffly. Then Mary threw open the door and she threw herself at me embracing me tightly. “I will allow you to declare a truce!” Then she rushed into her bedroom and slammed the door and locked it so I could not see her cry.
I then visited Downstairs and hugged Maeve and then said goodbye to everyone. Maeve gave me a box of turkish delight and a lucky charm of Saint Christopher the Protector of Travelers. Then I said goodbye to Grandmother. She hugged me warmly, her body stout and soft, her arms gentle as she hugged me and kissed my face. “Goodbye dear one! You will meet yourself there. In India.” She stroked my face. “And remember to always offer the golden bridge”
“You mean the golden handshake don’t you Mother Hogg?”
“Oh! What did I say? I don’t know! But you will know John! Do the right thing!”
“If I do the right thing then I should not loot and then how do I restore my family’s fortune?”
“Perhaps it is to restore the family’s honor? I don’t know. Dear one. Be good. Be brave. And don’t miss the opportunity when it momentarily lands in your hand!”
I took the train and then the ferry before picking up the train to London. I was used to trains by now. Grandmother Hogg gave me enough funds to go first class and enjoy a private carriage. I enjoyed being by myself — which was fortunate I suppose because my life from then on was mostly being by myself. It was 1839 and I was about to face my destiny —- in India.