The Lyon Sleeps Tonight – Elizabeth Ellen Carter

OPAL JONES WAS in Mumbai once again. It was a dream she had often, but less so the longer she spent in London. In her slumber, she experienced the smell and sounds of her former home. Here, she was seven years old once more, reliving what had been one of the most terrifying days of her young life. She found herself in the markets close to the compound where the families of the British officers lived. She had been drawn by the reedy notes from the pungi, a wooden flute, bulbous at one end and carved with the image of a cobra along the length of the twin tubes. The scaly head of a cobra peeked out over the wicker basket. There! There was another one! Two snakes. Opal had been long warned by both her parents and her ayah, her nanny, to keep her distance from these creatures. They were deadly but, oh my, they were fascinating… She glanced away from the spectacle. Children from the barracks in their blue and white uniforms were easy to spot. And there was her ayah in a pale pink saree with a group of other children from the barracks. As long as she kept them in sight, she would be not be lost… The snake-charmer flicked his hand toward the basket. Instantly, the snakes’ hoods flared out. They followed the movement of the pungi as the charmer swayed back and forth.

Opal dropped a coin into his shallow basket. It clinked among the other coppers. The musician caught her eye. He smiled his thanks around the mouthpiece and continued to play. A crowd started to gather. A press of people – women in vibrantly colored sarees and men in soft white linen dhoti – made the bright sunny spring day even hotter, their closeness stealing whatever breeze there was in the large market square. Opal pulled her little silk embroidered purse close to her. She turned and saw only legs and colorful fabric, but none of the little uniforms of the English children. Opal took a breath to halt a sob of alarm. Ayah! Where was her ayah? She pushed through the crowd, away from the snake charmer, and into the center of the street, running to where she’d last seen her nanny and the other children.

They had been at the fruit seller’s stall with its pile of kodkkapuli, spiral-shaped green and pink pods that contained a thick, sweet pulp. They were not there. Perhaps they went inside, out of the fiercely hot sun. Cooler under the shade of the market’s bamboo roof, she could breathe better. She looked along the rows of basketed goods, looking for Ayah. Was that her over there? Opal followed the white head scarf to the end of the row. No, it was not. It was a dream she had often, but less so the longer she spent in London. In her slumber, she experienced the smell and sounds of her former home. Here, she was seven years old once more, She found herself in the markets close to the compound where the families of the British officers a wooden flute, bulbous at one end and , her nanny, to keep her distance from She glanced away from the spectacle.

Children from the barracks in their blue and white uniforms with a group of other children from The snake-charmer flicked his hand toward the basket. Instantly, the snakes’ hoods flared out. They followed the movement of the pungi as the charmer swayed back and forth. Opal dropped a coin into his shallow basket. It clinked among the other coppers. The musician caught her eye. He smiled A crowd started to gather. A press of people – women in vibrantly colored sarees and men in soft – made the bright sunny spring day even hotter, their closeness stealing whatever Opal pulled her little silk embroidered purse close to her. She turned and saw only legs and colorful fabric, but none of the little uniforms of the English children. Opal took a breath to halt a sob She pushed through the crowd, away from the snake charmer, and into the center of the street, running to where she’d last seen her nanny and the other children.

They had been at the fruit seller’s , spiral-shaped green and pink pods that contained a thick, sweet pulp. Cooler under the shade of the market’s bamboo roof, she could breathe better. She looked along What should she do? Should she keep looking for Ayah? Surely her nurse would see she was missing and look for her? Tears pricked her eyes. Please, please, someone find her! “Opal!” Over the cries of the stall holders, their rapid-fire haggling with their customers, the sounds of performers, the cacophony of animals being herded through thoroughfares, she heard the sound of her own name as though it were the only voice in the world. “Peter! Peter! I’m over here!” She stood on tiptoes looking for Peter Ravenshaw, older and taller than her with golden blond hair that shone like a sovereign in the sun. There he was! He pushed his way through the throng, shaking off hands that touched his hair as he passed, making his way toward her. She ran to him and threw herself into his arms. “You’ve made Ayah worry, Opal. Where did you go?” “I went nowhere. I turned around and everyone was gone!” Peter shrugged out of her embrace.

He didn’t look best pleased. He frowned. “You’re too silly and too little to be out on your own.” The rebuke stung, but the worst of it was eased when he took her hand and led her through the gap between the fruit shop and the tobacco seller, away from the center of the market square to the outer edges that were makeshift pens for donkeys, horses, even a couple of elephants. “Do you know what might have happened to Ayah if something happened to you?” She stared at him, confused. “Why would anything happen to Ayah?” “Because you are her responsibility.” “Something bad?” The boy nodded tightly. Opal fought against tears once again. She loved her nanny. The very thought of her being punished for something that was not her fault was truly dreadful.

The sight of two vilayati – foreign – children on their own, away from the vigilant eyes of their fellow countrymen or their local servants, was enough to attract the attention of some young men who were talking and nodding toward them. Peter gripped her hand tightly and pulled her down another path. She saw his lips drawn in a tight line; a frown puckered his brow. She felt the tension in their connected hands and suddenly understood the danger they were in. She trusted Peter completely and let him lead without complaint. The sun was now at its full height in the sapphire blue sky. She felt the pricks of salty sweat on her skin. They should have been on their way back to the compound and the bungalows, enjoying the shade of the frangipani trees and the sweet scent of their glossy white and yellow flowers. Peter broke into a run. Opal stumbled as she looked behind her.

The three youths had followed and were gaining. “Run faster!” Peter demanded. A flash of red off to one side and Peter dragged her abruptly in that direction, pulling her toward Over the cries of the stall holders, their rapid-fire haggling with their customers, the sounds of performers, the cacophony of animals being herded through thoroughfares, she heard the sound of her She stood on tiptoes looking for Peter Ravenshaw, older and taller than her with golden blond He pushed his way through the throng, shaking off hands that touched his hair as he passed, making The rebuke stung, but the worst of it was eased when he took her hand and led her through the gap between the fruit shop and the tobacco seller, away from the center of the market square to the outer Opal fought against tears once again. She loved her nanny. The very thought of her being punished – foreign – children on their own, away from the vigilant eyes of their fellow countrymen or their local servants, was enough to attract the attention of some young men who Peter gripped her hand tightly and pulled her down another path. She saw his lips drawn in a tight line; a frown puckered his brow. She felt the tension in their connected hands and suddenly The sun was now at its full height in the sapphire blue sky. She felt the pricks of salty sweat on her skin. They should have been on their way back to the compound and the bungalows, enjoying the Peter broke into a run. Opal stumbled as she looked behind her.

The three youths had followed A flash of red off to one side and Peter dragged her abruptly in that direction, pulling her toward the two British soldiers on horseback who watched the markets from a distance. Her arm ached from the wrenching violence of the movement, but she did not complain. “Master Peter! Miss Opal!” And there, with the other children, was Ayah. She sounded angry. Opal didn’t care. She would accept her punishment without complaint. She was safe. Behind them, the youths who’d followed had spotted the soldiers now taking an interest in their party. The young men receded into the seething throng and disappeared. Ayah remonstrated with her and Peter in a mix of English and Hindi, which Opal understood only too well.

The middle-aged woman turned on Peter and slapped him hard on the arm, telling him he was older and ought to know better than to lead a young girl away from protection. Peter refused to defend himself. Opal couldn’t let her friend do that. Ayah would surely tell his father, Colonel Ravenshaw, and his punishment would be more severe, especially when the report was confirmed by the two soldiers now approaching. “No, no, Ayah!” Opal pleaded. “It was me, it was my fault, not Peter’s. Don’t punish him, please. I beg you, please.” She burst into tears and threw herself into her nanny’s arms. “Is there anything amiss here?” asked one of the soldiers.

Opal pulled herself from her guardian’s skirts and dried her eyes. She looked up at the woman with a silent plea. A twist of the woman’s mouth told her that she was well aware of her ploy but had elected not to call her out on it today. “No, sir,” she answered the soldier. “The children are tired after their excursion, and it is time for them to go home.” The five British children, along with Opal’s ayah and another younger nurse, climbed into the open-topped landau. The soldiers escorted them back to their compound. Opal made sure she sat next to Peter. She reached for his hand. “Thank you,” she whispered.

He squeezed her hand once in return. “I won’t always be there to protect you, you know,” he said. “I know… but you did today, and I’m glad.” He smiled and let go of her hand. Her heart sang. He was her Prince Charming, handsome and brave. And he would marry her one day. Opal Jones vowed that she would love Peter Ravenshaw forever. the two British soldiers on horseback who watched the markets from a distance. Her arm ached from the wrenching violence of the movement, but she did not complain.

“Master Peter! Miss Opal!” And there, with the other children, was Ayah. She sounded angry. Opal didn’t care. She would accept her punishment without complaint. She was safe. Behind them, the youths who’d followed had spotted the soldiers now taking an interest in their party. The young men receded into the seething throng and disappeared. Ayah remonstrated with her and Peter in a mix of English and Hindi, which Opal understood only too well. The middle-aged woman turned on Peter and slapped him hard on the arm, telling him he was older and ought to know better than to lead a young girl away from protection. Peter refused to defend himself.

Opal couldn’t let her friend do that. Ayah would surely tell his father, Colonel Ravenshaw, and his punishment would be more severe, especially when the report was confirmed by the two soldiers now approaching. “No, no, Ayah!” Opal pleaded. “It was me, it was my fault, not Peter’s. Don’t punish him, please. I beg you, please.” She burst into tears and threw herself into her nanny’s arms. “Is there anything amiss here?” asked one of the soldiers. Opal pulled herself from her guardian’s skirts and dried her eyes. She looked up at the woman with a silent plea.

A twist of the woman’s mouth told her that she was well aware of her ploy but had elected not to call her out on it today. “No, sir,” she answered the soldier. “The children are tired after their excursion, and it is time for them to go home.” The five British children, along with Opal’s ayah and another younger nurse, climbed into the open-topped landau. The soldiers escorted them back to their compound. Opal made sure she sat next to Peter. She reached for his hand. “Thank you,” she whispered. He squeezed her hand once in return. “I won’t always be there to protect you, you know,” he said.

“I know… but you did today, and I’m glad.” He smiled and let go of her hand. Her heart sang. He was her Prince Charming, handsome and brave. And he would marry her one day. Opal Jones vowed that she would love Peter Ravenshaw forever.

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