Diana let herself in by the front door, picked up the letters and without a care skipped down to the kitchen where Miss Simms was clucking and fussing as she normally did. The chopping board was red with chicken blood and feathers were strewn around the floor. Aga Jhan had become useful in the kitchen and though they all communicated in different tongues they managed to understand what was needed. He was sweeping and he knew that he would surprise the Colonel today.

‘Oh Miss Simms, I am gasping for a tea, the electric was on the blink this morning,’ Diana exhaled, ‘be a dear, oh please?’

‘Course m’dear,’ Miss Simms replied, bustling past Aga Jhan to get the milk. The kitchen was warm and smelt of cooking, a breakfast tray remained in the sink and Diana made herself comfortable in the chair and started on the mail, slipping her finger across the brown envelopes. Her heart skipped a beat as she held the last one, it was white and in Henry’s neat writing addressed to her. She felt the coming sense of rejection again that she knew, her time was up and so put the unopened letter in her pocket.

‘What was that again Aga, sorry I was miles away.’ she said without noticing that he was standing close to her wittering in half English and half Hindi, ‘oh yes the Colonel’s surprise.’

Leaving the tea to cool she followed Aga Jhan outside to the stable where in a large cage were two rather scruffy terriers. They looked young, dirty and untrained no doubt. Aga Jhan had tried to spend his earnings on these scampering bundles having asked at the Three Horseshoes. It was the first time he had visited such an establishment and in the end the landlord had refused any money, happy to deplete his brood of unwanted puppies. Diana knelt down and allowed their pink tongues to explore her ears all the time her fingers scrambled around their necks. They attached new collars and leads and trooped back to the kitchen. Miss Simms shooed them away, she knew of the surprise and they made their way up to the morning room where the Colonel would be at his work or the paper.

They knocked and the dogs, straining at this stage pulled Diana and Aga Jhan in. Henry stood up, in his hand a picture frame of Maud, he looked tearful.

‘Oh, oh my goodness’ he said and dropped to his knees and let the puppies climb and nibble and Diana noticed he was trying not to be too emotional, he sniffed and blew his nose that only agitated them more.

‘Let them go Aga!’

‘Happy Birthday Sir’ he replied and left. Diana shifted awkwardly and started for the door. ‘No Diana, what do you think?’ he said, getting up, and she saw he had a flower in his lapel.

‘Well, oh Happy Birthday Henry I suppose that I can hope for a reference?’

Henry looked crestfallen and she remembered the letter in her pocket, this was the moment. She reached for the letter opener, ivory and slit the top open. She read and read it again, her eyes misting over.

‘Of course I will, I will,’ she said and reaching over to him put her arms around him and it seemed only natural to kiss. They held each other for some time, lost in each other their tears mingling and she remembered that her tea was getting cold.

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