Reading A Murder of Quality by John le Carré, I came across the following remark by Mrs. Hecht, a detestable upper-class Englishwoman (emphasis mine):
"Though, of course, the Midlands are different, aren't they? Only about three good families between Ipswich and Newcastle. Where did you say you came from, dear?"
"How nice. I went to tea with Stella once. Milk in first and Indian. So different."
I can't even begin to parse "Milk in first and Indian," even to the point of determining what the subject of the sentence is. To my 21st-century American eyes, "first and Indian" looks like a street intersection, but that can't be right. Why is "first" lowercased? What are the implied missing words? What is "Indian" modifying? Does "milk" refer to actual milk, or to something else? So many questions!
While this might be considered a question involving literary interpretation, I contend that John le Carré, who wrote popular novels, would not have put words in his characters' mouths that were not intended to be plainly understood by the majority of his readership. So I put it to you, the ELU community: What does "Milk in first and Indian" mean? How would the average reader circa 1962 have interpreted this phrase?