Olivia in India
Part 1 out of 3
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OLIVIA IN INDIA
"_When one discovers a happy look it is one's duty to tell one's
friends about it_."
JAMES DOUGLAS in _The Star_.
OLIVIA IN INDIA. By O. DOUGLAS
"Happy books are not very plentiful, and when one discovers a happy
book it is one's duty to tell one's friends about it, so that it makes
them happy too. My happy book is called 'Olivia.' It is by a certain
young woman who calls herself O. Douglas, though I suspect that it's
a pen-name.... Olivia can write the most fascinating letters you ever
read."--JAMES DOUGLAS in the _Star_. "Extremely interesting. To have
read this book is to have met an extremely likeable personality in the
PENNY PLAIN. By O. DOUGLAS
"Penny Plain" is a story of life in a little town on the banks of the
Tweed. Jean Jardine, the heroine--who looks after her brothers in
their queer old house, "The Rigs," and is in turn looked after by
the old servant, Mrs. McCosh (from Glasgow), and Peter, the
fox-terrier--describes herself and her life as "penny plain," but with
the coming of Pamela Reston and her brother (who was what Mrs. McCosh
called "a Lord--no less"), everything is changed. There is love in the
book and laughter. "A very able and delightful book."--_The Times_.
"A delicious novel ... a triumphant success."--"A MAN OF KENT" in the
THE SETONS. By O. DOUGLAS
"Portrayed with the humour and insight of a deep affection."--_The
Times_. "Elizabeth is a delightful creature who radiates the
pages."--_Glasgow Herald_. "To the reading public at large it
will prove a sheer delight."--_Glasgow Times_. "Full of
charm."--_Spectator_. "A delightful romance."--_Aberdeen Journal_.
OLIVIA IN INDIA
AUTHOR OF "THE SETONS" "PENNY PLAIN" ETC.
THROUGH THE GATES OF THE EAST
FLESHPOTS OF CALCUTTA
THE SUNBURNED EARTH
THE LAND OF REGRETS
THROUGH THE GATES OF THE EAST
_S.S. Scotia, Oct_. 19, 19--.
... This is a line to send off with the pilot. There is nothing to say
except "Good-bye" again.
We have had luncheon, and I have been poking things out of my cabin
trunk, and furtively surveying one--there are two, but the other seems
to be lost at present--of my cabin companions. She has fair hair and a
blue motor-veil, and looks quiet and subdued, but then, I dare say, so
I hope you are thinking of your friend going down to the sea in a
I feel, somehow, very small and lonely.
_S.S. Scotia, Oct_. 21. (_In pencil_.)
... Whatever you do, whatever folly you commit, never, never be
tempted to take a sea voyage. It is quite the nastiest thing you can
take--I have had three days of it now, so I know.
When I wrote to you on Saturday I had an uneasy feeling that in the
near future all would not be well with me, but I went in to dinner and
afterwards walked up and down the deck trying to feel brave. Sunday
morning dawned rain-washed and tempestuous, and the way the ship
heaved was not encouraging, but I rose, or rather I descended from
my perch--did I tell you I had an upper berth?--and walked with an
undulating motion towards my bath. Some people would have remained in
bed, or at least gone unbathed, but, as I say, I rose--mark, please,
the rugged grandeur of the Scots character--and such is the force of
example the fair-haired girl rose also. Before I go any further I must
tell you about this girl. Her name is Hilton, Geraldine Hilton, but as
that is too long a name and already we are great friends, I call her
G. She is very pretty, with the kind of prettiness that becomes more
so the more you look--and if you don't know what I mean I can't stop
to explain--with masses of yellow hair, such blue eyes and pink cheeks
and white teeth that I am convinced I am sharing a cabin with the
original Hans Andersen's Snow Queen. She is very big and most healthy,
and delightful to look at; even sea-sickness does not make her look
plain, and that, you will admit, is a severe test; and what is more,
her nature is as healthy and sweet as her face. You will laugh and say
it is like me to know all about anyone in three days, but two sea-sick
and home-sick people shut up in a tiny cabin can exhibit quite a lot
of traits, pleasant and otherwise, in three days.
Well, we dressed, and reaching the saloon, sank into our seats only to
leave again hurriedly when a steward approached to know if we would
have porridge or kippered herring! I know you are never sea-sick,
unlovable creature that you are, so you won't sympathize with us as
we lay limp and wretched in our deck-chairs on the damp and draughty
deck. Even the fact that our deck-chairs were brand-new, and had our
names boldly painted in handsome black letters across the back,
failed to give us a thrill of pleasure. At last it became too utterly
miserable to be borne. The sight of the deck-steward bringing round
cups of half-cold beef-tea with grease spots floating on the top
proved the last straw, so, with a graceful, wavering flight like a
woodcock, we zigzagged to our bunks, where we have remained ever
I don't know where we are. I expect Ushant has slammed the door on us
long ago. Our little world is bounded by the four walls of the cabin.
All day we lie and listen to the swish of the waves as they tumble
past, and watch our dressing-gowns hanging on the door swing backwards
and forwards with the motion. At intervals the stewardess comes in, a
nice Scotswoman,--Corrie, she tells me, is her home-place,--and brings
the menu of breakfast--luncheon--dinner, and we turn away our heads
and say, "Nothing--nothing!" Our steward is a funny little man, very
small and thin, with pale yellow hair; he reminds me of a moulting
canary, and his voice cheeps and is rather canary-like too. He is
really a very kind little steward and trots about most diligently on
our errands, and tries to cheer us by tales of the people he has known
who have died of sea-sickness: "Strained their 'earts, Miss, that's
wot they done!" It isn't very cheerful lying here, looking out through
the port-hole, now at the sky, next at the sea, but what it would have
been without G. I dare not think. We have certainly helped each other
through this time of trial. It is a wonderful blessing, a companion in
But where, you may ask, is the third occupant of the cabin? Would it
not have been fearful if she, too, had been stretched on a couch of
languishing? Happily she is a good sailor, though she doesn't look it.
She is a little woman with a pale green complexion and a lot of sleek
black hair, and somehow gives one the impression of having a great
many more teeth than is usual. Her name is Mrs. Murray, and she is
going to India to rejoin her husband, who rejoices in the name of
Albert. Sometimes I feel a little sorry for Albert, but perhaps, after
all, he deserves what he has got. She has very assertive manners. I
think she regards G. and me as two young women who want keeping in
their places, though I am sure we are humble enough now whatever we
may be in a state of rude health. Happily she has friends on board,
so she rarely comes to the cabin except to tidy up before meals, and
afterwards to tell us exactly everything she has eaten. She seems to
have a good appetite and to choose the things that sound nastiest when
one is seedy.
No--I don't like Mrs. Murray much; but I dislike her hat-box more. It
is large and square and black, and it has no business in the cabin,
it ought to be in the baggage-room. Lying up here I am freed from its
tyranny, but on Saturday, when I was unpacking, it made my life a
burden. It blocks up the floor under my hooks, and when I hang things
up I fall over it backwards, when I sit on the floor, which I have to
do every time I pull out my trunk, it hits me savagely on the spine,
and once, when I tried balancing it on a small chest of drawers, it
promptly fell down on my head and I have still a large and painful
bump as a memento.
I wonder if you will be able to make this letter out? I am writing it
a little bit at a time, to keep myself from getting too dreadfully
down-hearted. G. and I have both very damp handkerchiefs under our
pillows to testify to the depressed state of our minds. "When I was at
home I was in a better place, but travellers must be content."
I don't even care to read any of the books I brought with me, except
now and then a page or two of _Memories and Portraits_. It comforts me
to read of such steady, quiet places as the Pentland Hills and of the
decent men who do their herding there.
Is it really only three days since I left you all, and you envied me
going out into the sunshine? Oh! you warm, comfortable people, how I,
in this heaving uncertain horror of a ship, envy you!
(_Still in pencil_.)
You mustn't think I have been lying here all the time. On Tuesday we
managed to get on deck, and on Wednesday it was warm and sunny, and we
began to enjoy life again and to congratulate ourselves on having got
our sea-legs. But we got them only to lose them, for yesterday the
wind got up, the ship rolled, we became every minute more thoughtful,
until about tea-time we retired in disorder. It didn't need the little
steward's shocked remark, "Oh my! You never 'ave gone back to bed
again!" to make us feel ashamed.
However, we reach Marseilles to-day at noon, and, glorious thought,
the ship will stand still for twenty-four hours. Also there will be
This isn't a letter so much as a wail.
Don't scoff. I know I'm a coward.
_S.S.Scotia, Oct. 27_.
... A fountain-pen is really a great comfort. I am writing with my new
one, so this letter won't, I hope, be such a puzzle to decipher as my
We are off again, but now the sun shines from a cloudless sky on a sea
of sapphire, and the passengers are sunning themselves on deck like
snails after a shower. I'm glad, after all, I didn't go back from
Marseilles by train.
When we reached Marseilles the rain was pouring, but that didn't
prevent us ("us" means G. and myself) from bounding on shore. We found
a dilapidated _fiacre_ driven by a still more dilapidated _cocher_,
who, for the sum of six francs, drove us to the town. I don't know
whether, ordinarily, Marseilles is a beautiful town or an ugly one.
Few people, I expect, would have seen anything attractive in it this
dark, rainy October afternoon, but to us it was a sort of Paradise
regained. We had tea at a cafe, real French tea tasting of hay-seed
and lukewarm water, and real French cakes; we wandered through the
streets, stopping to stare in at every shop window; we bought violets
to adorn ourselves, and picture-postcards, and sheets of foreign
stamps for Peter, and all the time the rain poured and the street
lamps were cheerily reflected in the wet pavements, and it was so
damp, and dark, and dirty, and home-like, we sloppered joyfully
through the mud and were happy for the first time for a whole week.
The thought of letters was the only thing that tempted us back to the
I heard from all the home people, even Peter wrote, a most
characteristic epistle with only about half the words wrongly spelt,
and finishing with a spirited drawing of the _Scotia_ attacked by
pirates, an abject figure crouching in the bows being labelled "You!"
How I miss that young brother of mine! I ache to see his nubbly
features ("nubbly" is a portmanteau word and exactly describes them)
and the hair that no brush can persuade to lie straight, and to hear
the broad accent--a legacy from a nurse who hailed from a mining
village in Lithgow--which is such a trial to his relatives I have no
illusions about Peter's looks any more than he has himself. A too
candid relative commenting once on his excessive plainness in his
presence, he replied, "Yes, I know, but I've a nice good face." I
sometimes feel that if Peter turns out badly it will be greatly my
fault. Mother was so busy with many things that I naturally, as the
big sister, did most of the training, and it wasn't easy. When I read
to him on Sunday _Tales of the Covenanters_, he at once made up his
mind that he much preferred Claverhouse to John Brown of Priesthill,
an unheard-of heresy, and yawning vigorously, announced that he was as
dull as a bull and as sick as a daisy. One night when I went to hear
him say his prayers, he said:
"I'm not going to say any prayers,"
"Oh, Peter," I said, "why?"
"'Cos I've prayed for a whole year it would be snow on Christmas and
it wasn't--just rain."
"Then," I said very gravely, "God won't take care of you through the
"Put me in my bed," said the little ruffian, "and I'll see;" and I was
awakened at break of day by a small figure in pyjamas dancing at my
bedside, shouting with unholy joy, "I'm here, you see, I'm here," and
it was weeks before I could bring him to a better state of mind.
So much younger than any of us--the other boys were at Oxford when he
was in his first knickerbockers--he was a lonely little soul and lived
in a world of his own, peopled by the creatures of his own imaginings.
His great friend was Mr. Bathboth of Bathboth--don't you like the
name?--and he would come in from a walk with his nurse, fling down his
cap and remark, "I've been seeing Mr. Bathboth in his own house--oh! a
lovely house. It's a _public-house_!"
I'm afraid he was a very low character this Mr. Bathboth. According to
Peter, "he smoked, and he swored, and he put his fingers to his nose
when his mother said he wasn't to," so we weren't surprised to hear of
his end. He was pulled up to heaven by a crane for bathing in the sea
on Sunday. Another of Peter's creatures was a bogle called "Windy
Wallops" who lived in the garrets and could only be repulsed with
hairbrushes. "Whippetie Stoowrie," on the other hand, was a kindly
creature inhabiting the nursery chimney, and given to laying small
offerings such as a pistol and caps or a sugar mouse on the fender. A
strange fancy once took Peter to dig graves for us all in the garden.
It wasn't that he disliked us; on the contrary, he considered he was
doing us an honour. My grave was suggestively near the rubbish-heap,
but he pointed out that it was because the lily-of-the-valley grew
there. One day he came in earthy but determined-looking. "Dodo didn't
send me anything for my birthday," he announced, "so I've _filled up
Now Peter has gone to school and has put away childish things, and the
desire to be a knight like Launcelot. He no longer babbles to himself
in such a way as to make strangers doubt of his sanity; and he
confided to me lately that when he grew up he hoped to lead a Double
Life. He who was brought up in Camelot, he who wept when Roland
at Roncesvalles blew his horn for the last time, now devours
blood-curdling detective stories, vile things in paper covers, which
he keeps concealed about his person, and whips out at odd moments.
What he hates is a book with the slightest hint of a love affair. I
found him disgustedly punching a book with his fist and muttering
(evidently to the hero), "I know you, I know you, you're in love with
her," in tones of bitter scorn. When I begin to speak about Peter I
can't stop, and forget how tiresome it must be for people to listen. I
apologize, but please bear with me when I enlarge upon this brother of
mine; I simply must, sometimes.
How good of you to write such a long letter! Of course I shall write
often and at length, but you must promise not to be bored, or expect
too much. I fear you won't get anything very wise or witty from
me. You know how limited I am. The fairies, when they came to my
christening, might have come better provided with gifts. But then, I
expect they have only a certain number of gifts for each family, so
I don't in the least blame them for giving the boys the brains and
giving me--what? At the moment I can't think of anything they did give
me except a heart that keeps on the windy side of care, as Beatrice
puts it; and hair that curls naturally. I have no grudge against the
fairies. If they had given me straight hair and brains I might have
been a Suffragist and shamed my kin by biting a policeman; and _that_
would have been a pity.
G. and I are crouched in a corner, very awed and sad. A poor man died
suddenly yesterday from heart failure, and the funeral is just over. I
do hope I shall never again see a burial at sea. It was terrible. The
bell tolled and the ship slowed down and almost stopped, while the
body, wrapped in a Union Jack, was slipped into the water, committed
to the deep in sure and certain hope of a blessed resurrection. In a
minute it was all over.
The people are laughing and talking again; the dressing-bugle has
sounded; things go on as if nothing had happened. We are steaming
ahead, leaving the body--such a little speck it looked on the great
It is the utter loneliness of it that makes me cry!
_S.S. Scotia, Oct. 29_.
... This won't be a tidy letter, for I am sitting close beside the
rail--has it a nautical name? I don't know--and every few minutes the
spray comes over and wets the paper and incidentally myself. _And_
the fountain-pen! I greatly fear it leaks, for my middle finger is
blackened beyond hope of cleansing, and though not ten minutes ago Mr.
Brand inked himself very comprehensively filling it for me, already it
requires frequent shakings to make it write at all. I thought it would
be a blessing, it threatens to become a curse. I foresee that very
shortly I shall descend again to a pencil, or write my letters with
the aid of scratchy pens and fat, respectable ink-pots in the stuffy
You will have two letters from Port Said. The one I wrote you two days
ago finished in deep melancholy, but to-day it is so good to be alive
I could shout with joy. I woke this morning with a jump of delight,
and even Mrs. Albert Murray--she of the hat-box and the many
teeth--could not irritate me, and you can't think how many irritating
ways the woman has. It is 10 a.m. and we have just come up from
breakfast, and have got our deck-chairs placed where they will catch
every breeze (and some salt water), and, with a pile of books and two
boxes of chocolate, are comfortably settled for the day.
You ask about the passengers.
We have all sorts and conditions. Quiet people who read and work
all day; rowdy people who never seem happy unless they are throwing
cushions or pulling one another downstairs by the feet; painfully
enterprising people who get up sports, sweeps, concerts, and dances,
and are full of a tiresome, misplaced energy; bridge-loving people who
play from morning till night; flirtatious people who frequent dark
corners; happy people who laugh; sad people who sniff; and one man who
can't be classed with anyone else, a sad gentleman, his hair standing
fiercely on end, a Greek Testament his constant and only companion.
We pine to know who and what he is and where he is going. Yesterday I
found myself beside him at tea. I might not have existed for all the
notice he took of me. "Speak to him," said G. in my ear. "You don't
Of course after that I had to, so pinching G's arm to give myself
courage, I said in a small voice, "Are you enjoying the voyage?"
He turned, regarded me with his sad prominent eyes. "Do I look as if
I enjoyed it?" asked this Monsieur Melancholy, and went back to his
bread-and-butter. G. choked, and I finished my tea hurriedly and in
Nearly everyone on board seems nice and willing to be pleasant. I
am on smiling terms with most and speaking terms with many, but one
really sees very little of the people outside one's own little set. It
is odd how people drift together and make cliques. There are eight in
our particular set. Colonel and Mrs. Crawley, Major and Mrs. Wilmot;
Captain Gordon, Mr. Brand, G., and myself. The Crawleys, the Wilmots,
and Captain Gordon are going back after furlough; Mr. Brand and G. and
I are going only for pleasure and the cold weather. Our table is much
the merriest in the saloon. Mrs. Crawley is a fascinating woman; I
never tire watching her. Very pretty, very smart with a pretty wit,
she has the most delightfully gay, infectious laugh, which contrasts
oddly with her curiously sad, unsmiling eyes, Mrs. Wilmot has a
Madonna face. I don't mean one of those silly, fat-faced Madonnas one
sees in the Louvre and elsewhere, but one's own idea of the Madonna;
the kind of face, as someone puts it, that God must love.
She isn't pretty and she isn't in the least smart, but she is just a
kind, sweet, wise woman. Her husband is a cheery soul, very big and
boyish and always in uproarious spirits. Captain Gordon makes a good
listener. Mr. Brand, although he must have left school quite ten years
ago, is still very reminiscent of Eton and has a school-boyish taste
in silly rhymes and riddles. Colonel Crawley, a stern and somewhat
awe-inspiring man, a distinguished soldier, I am told, hates
_passionately_ being asked riddles, and we make him frantic at table
repeating Mr. Brand's witticisms. He sits with a patient, disgusted
face while we repeat,
"Owen More had run away
Owin' more than he could pay;
Owen More came back one day
and when he can bear it no longer leaves the table remarking
_Titbits_. He had his revenge the other day, when the ship was rolling
more than a little. We had ventured to the saloon for tea and were
surveying uncertainly some dry toast, when Colonel Crawley came in.
"Ah!" he said, "Steward! Pork chops for these ladies." The mere
thought proved the thing too much, we fled to the fresh air--tealess.
I meant this to be a very long letter, but this pen, faint yet
pursuing, shows signs of giving out. I have to shake it every second
The bugle has gone for lunch, and G. who has been sound asleep for the
last hour, is uncoiling herself preparatory to going down.
_S.S. Scotia, Nov. 1_.
... All day we have glided through the Canal. Imagine a shining band
of silver water, a band of deepest blue sky, and in between a bar of
fine gold which is the desert--and you have some idea of what I am
looking at. Sometimes an Arab passes riding on a camel, and I can't
get away from the feeling that I am a child again looking at a highly
coloured Bible picture-book on Sabbath afternoons.
We landed at Port Said yesterday morning. People told us it was a
dirty place, an uninteresting place, a horribly dull place, not worth
leaving the ship to see, but it was our first glimpse of the East and
we were enchanted. The narrow streets, the white domes and minarets
against the blue sky, the flat roofs of the houses, the queer shops
with the Arabs shouting to draw attention to their wares, and, above
all, the new strange smell of the East, were, to us, wonderful and
When we got ashore the sun was shining with a directness hitherto
unknown to us, making the backs of our unprotected heads feel somewhat
insecure, so we went first to a shop where we spied exposed to sale a
rich profusion of topis. In case you don't know, a topi is a sun-hat,
a white thing, large and saucer-like, lined with green, with cork
about it somewhere, rather suggestive of a lifebelt; horribly
unbecoming but quite necessary.
A very polite man bowed us inside, and we proceeded on our quixotic
search for a topi not entirely hideous. Half an hour later we came out
of the shop, the shopman more obsequious than ever, not only wearing
topis, but laden with boxes of Turkish Delight, ostrich-feather fans,
tinsel scarves, and a string of pink beads which he swore were coral,
but I greatly doubt it. We had an uneasy feeling as we bought the
things that perhaps we were foolish virgins, but before the afternoon
was very old we were sure of it. You wouldn't believe how heavy
Turkish Delight becomes when you carry half a dozen boxes for some
hours under a blazing sun, and I had a carved book-rest under one arm,
and G. had four parcels and a green umbrella. To complete our disgust,
after weltering under our purchases for some time we saw in a shop
exactly the same things much cheaper. G. pointed a wrathful finger,
letting two parcels fall to do it. "Look at that," she said. "I'm
going straight back to tell the man he's cheated us." With difficulty
I persuaded her it wasn't worth while, and tired and dusty we
sank--no, we didn't sink, they were iron chairs--we sat down hard on
chairs outside a big hotel and demanded tea immediately. Some of the
ship people were also having tea at little tables, and a party of
evil-looking Frenchmen were twanging guitars and singing sentimental
songs for pennies. While we were waiting a man--an Arab, I
think--crouched beside us and begged us to let him read our hands
for half a crown, and we were weak enough to permit it. You may be
interested to know that I am to be married "soon already" to a high
official with gold in his teeth. It sounds ideal. G. was rather awed
by the varied career he sketched for her. After tea, which was long in
coming and when it came disappointing, we had still some time, so we
hailed a man driving a depressed-looking horse attached to a carriage
of sorts, and told him to drive us all round. He looked a very wicked
man, but it may have been the effect of his only having one eye, for
he certainly had a refined taste in sights. When we suggested that we
would like to see the Arab bazaar he shook his head violently, and
instead drove us along dull roads, stopping now and again to wave a
vague whip towards some building, remarking in most melancholy tones
as he did so, "The English Church"--"The American Mission."
Back on the ship again, sitting on deck in the soft darkness, watching
the lights of the town and hearing a faint echo of the life there, I
realized with something of a shock that it was Hallow-e'en. Does that
convey nothing to your mind? To me it brings back memories of
cold, fast-shortening days, and myself jumping long-legged over
cabbage-stalks in the kitchen-garden, chanting--
"This is the nicht o' Hallow-e'en
When a' the witches will be seen--"
in fearful hope of seeing a witch, not mounted on a broomstick, but on
the respectable household cat, changed for that night into a flying
fury; finally, along with my brothers, being captured, washed, and
dressed, to join with other spirits worse than ourselves in "dooking"
for apples and eating mashed potatoes in momentary expectation of
swallowing a threepenny-bit or a thimble. To-night, far from the other
spirits, far from the chill winds and the cabbage-stalks, I have been
watching the sunset on the desert making the world a glory of rose and
gold and amethyst. Now it is dark; the lights are lit all over the
ship; the floor of heaven is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold...
"In such a night did young Lorenzo ..."
_Nov. 2, 11.30 a.m_.
Our fellow-passengers derive much amusement from the way we sit and
scribble, and one man asked me if I were writing a book! All this time
I haven't mentioned the Port Said letters. We got them before we left
the ship, and, determined for once to show myself a well-balanced,
sensible young person, I took mine to the cabin and locked them firmly
in a trunk, telling myself how nice it would be to read them in peace
on my return. The spirit was willing, but--I found I must rush down to
take just a peep to see if everyone was well, and the game ended with
me sitting uncomfortably on the knobby edge of Mrs. Albert Murray's
bunk, breathlessly tearing open envelopes.
They were all delightful, and I have read them many times. I have
yours beside me now, and to make it like a real talk I shall answer
each point as it comes.
You say the sun hasn't shone since I left.
Are you by any chance paying me a compliment? Or are you merely
stating a fact? As Pet Marjorie would say, I am primmed up with
majestic pride because of the compliments I receive. One lady, whose
baby I held for a little this morning, told me I had such a sweet,
unspoiled disposition! But what really pleased me and made me feel
inches taller was that Captain Gordon told someone who told me that he
thought I had great stability of character. It is odd how one loves
to be told one has what one hasn't! I, who have no more stability of
character than a pussy-cat, felt warm with gratitude. Only--I should
like to make my exit now before he discovers how mistaken he is!
Yes, I wish you were sitting by my side racing through the waves.
Indeed, I wish all my dear people were here.
Are you really feeling lonely, you popular young man of many
engagements? Lonely and dissatisfied are your words. But why? Why?
Surely no one ever had less reason to feel dissatisfied. There are
very many people, my friend, who wouldn't mind being you. And yet you
aren't thankful! Not thankful for the interesting life you have, the
plays you see, the dinners you eat, the charming women you talk to,
the balls you dance at, the clubs you frequent--though what a man does
at his clubs beyond escaping for a brief season from his womenkind
I never quite know. Think how nice to be a man and not have to look
pleased when one is really bored to extinction! If you are bored you
have only to slip away to your most comfortable rooms. Did I tell you
how much I liked your rooms that day Margie and I went to tea with
you? or were we too busy talking about other things? Now don't be like
Peter. He was grumbling about something and I told him to go away and
count his blessings. He went obediently, and returned triumphant.
"I've done it!" he said, "and I've six things to be thankful for and
nine to be unthankful for--"
One thing for which I think you might feel "unthankful" is your
lamentable lack of near relations. It is hard to be quite alone in
the world; for, I agree, aunts don't count for much. Weighed in the
balance they are generally found woefully wanting.
I remember once, when we were laughing over some escapade of our
childhood you said you had no very pleasant recollection of your
childish days, that you didn't look forward to holidays and that your
happiest time was at school, because then you had companions.
I feel quite sad when I think what you missed. We were very lucky,
four of us growing up together, and I sometimes wonder if other
children had the same full, splendid time we had, and if they employed
it getting into as many scrapes. The village people, shaking their
heads over us and our probable end, used to say, "They're a' bad, but
the lassie (meaning me) is the verra deil." We were bad, but we were
also extraordinarily happy. I treasure up all sorts of memories, some
of them very trivial and absurd, store them away in lavender, and
when I feel dreary I take them out and refresh myself with them. One
episode I specially remember, though why I should tell you about it I
don't quite know, for it is a small thing and "silly sooth." We were
staying at the time with our grandmother, the grandmother I am called
for, a very stern and stately lady--the only person I have ever really
stood in awe of. We had been wandering all day, led by John, searching
for hidden treasure at the rainbow's foot, climbing high hills to
see if the world came to an end at the other side, or some equally
fantastic quest. It was dark and almost supper-time and we had
committed the heinous crime of not appearing for tea, so, when we were
told to go at once to see our grandmother, and stumbled just as we
were, tired and dusty, hair on end and stockings at our ankles into
the quiet room where she sat knitting fleecy white things by the table
with the lamp, we expected nothing better than to be sent straight to
bed, probably supperless. Our grandmother laid down her knitting, took
off her spectacles, and instead of the rebuke we expected and deserved
said, "Bairns, come away in. I'm sure you must be tired." It had been
an unsuccessful day; we had found no treasure, not even the World's
End; the night had fallen damp, with an eerily sighing wind which
depressed us vaguely as we trudged homewards; but now, the black night
shut out, there was the fire-light and the lamp-light, the kind old
voice, and the delicious sense of having come home.
All things considered, you are a young man greatly to be envied,
also at the present moment to be scolded. How can you possibly allow
yourself to think such silly things? You must have a most exaggerated
idea of my charms if you think every man on board must be in love with
me. Men aren't so impressionable. Did you think that when my well-nigh
unearthly beauty burst on them they would fall on their knees and
with one voice exclaim, "Be mine!" I assure you no one has ever even
thought of doing anything of the kind, and if they had _I wouldn't
tell you_. I know you are only chaffing, but I do so hate all that
sort of thing, and to hear people talk of their "conquests" is
revolting. One of the nicest things about G. is that she doesn't care
a bit to philander about with men. She and I are much happier talking
to each other, a fact which people seem to find hard to believe.
My attention is being diverted from my writing by a lady sitting a few
yards away--the Candle we call her because so many silly young moths
hover round. She is a buxom person, with very golden hair growing
darker towards the roots, hard blue eyes, and a powdery white face. G.
and I are intensely interested to know what is the attraction about
her, for no one can deny there is one. She isn't young; the gods have
not made her fair, and I doubt of her honesty; yet from the first she
has been surrounded by men--most of them, I grant you, unfinished
youths bound to offices in Calcutta, but still men. I thought it might
be her brilliant conversation, but for the last half-hour I have
listened,--indeed we have no choice but to listen, the voices are so
strident,--and it can't be that, because it isn't brilliant or even
amusing, unless to call men names like Pyjamas, or Fatty, or Tubby,
and slap them playfully at intervals is amusing. A few minutes ago
Mrs. Crawley came to sit with us looking so fresh in a white linen
dress. I don't know why it is--she wears the simplest clothes, and yet
she manages to make all the other women look dowdy. She has the gift,
too, of knowing the right thing to wear on every occasion. At Port
Said, for instance, the costumes were varied. The Candle flopped on
shore in a trailing white lace dress and an enormous hat; some broiled
in serge coats and skirts; Mrs. Crawley in a soft green muslin and
rose-wreathed hat was a cool and dainty vision. Well, to return. As
Mrs. Crawley shook up her chintz cushions, she looked across at the
Candle--a long look that took in the elaborate golden hair, the much
too smart blouse, the abbreviated skirt showing the high-heeled
slippers, the crowd of callow youths--and then, smiling slightly
to herself, settled down in her chair. I grew hot all over for the
Candle. I don't suppose I need trouble myself. I expect she is used to
having women look at her like that, and doesn't mind. Does she really
like silly boys so much and other women so little, I wonder! There is
generally something rather nasty about a woman who declares she can't
get on with other women and whom other women don't like. Men have an
absurd notion that we can't admire another woman or admit her good
points. It isn't so. We admire a pretty woman just as much as you do.
The only difference is you men think that if a woman has a lovely
face it follows, as the night the day, that she must have a lovely
disposition. We know better that's all.
The poor Candle! I feel so mean and guilty writing about her under her
very eyes, so to speak. She looked at me just now quite kindly. I have
a good mind to tear this up, but after all what does it matter? My
silly little observations won't make any impression on your masculine
mind. Only don't say "Spiteful little cat," because I don't mean to
This is much the longest letter I ever wrote. You will have to read a
page at a time and then take a long breath and try again.
Mr. Brand has just come up to ask us why a sculptor dies a horrible
death? Do you know?
_S.S. Scotia, Nov. 6_.
No one unendowed with the temper of an angel and the patience of a Job
should attempt the voyage to India. Mrs. Albert Murray has neither of
these qualifications any more than I have, and for two days she hasn't
deigned to address a remark to G. or me, all because of a lost pair of
stockings; a loss which we treated with unseemly levity. However, the
chill haughtiness of our cabin companion is something of a relief in
this terrible heat. For it _is_ hot. I am writing in the cabin, and in
spite of the fact that there are two electric fans buzzing on either
side of me, I am hotter than I can say, and deplorably ill-tempered.
Four times this morning, trying to keep out of Mrs. Albert Murray's
way, I have fallen over that wretched hat-box, still here despite our
hints about the baggage-room, and now in revenge I am sitting on it,
though what the owner would say, if she came in suddenly and found to
what base uses I had put her treasure, I dare not let myself think. G.
has a bad headache, and it is dull for her to be alone, so that is
the reason why I am in the cabin at all. To be honest, it is most
unpleasant on deck, rainy with a damp, hot wind blowing, and the
music-room is crowded and stuffy beyond words, or I might not be
unselfish enough to remain with G. I did go up, and a fat person,
whose nurse was ill, gave me her baby to hold, a poor white-faced,
fretful baby, who pulled down all my hair, and I have had the
unpleasant task of doing it up again. If you have ever stood in a very
hot greenhouse with the door shut, and wrestled with something above
your head, you will know what I felt.
We passed Aden yesterday and stopped for a few hours to coal. That
was the limit. The sun beating down on the deck, the absence of the
slightest breeze, coal-dust sifting into everything--ouf! Aden's
barren rocks reminded me rather of the Skye Coolin. I wonder if they
are climbable. I haven't troubled you much, have I, with accounts
of the entertainments on board? but I think I must tell you about a
whistling competition we had the other day. You must know that we had
each a partner, and the women sat at one end of the deck and the men
stood at the other and were told the tune they had to whistle, when
they rushed to us and each whistled his tune to his partner, who had
to write the name on a piece of paper and hand it back, and the man
who got back to the umpire first won--at least his partner did. Do you
understand? Well, as you know, I haven't much ear for music, and I
hoped I would get an easy tune; but when my partner, a long, thin,
earnest man, with a stutter, burst on me and whistled wildly in my
face, I had the hopeless feeling that I had never heard the tune
before. In his earnestness he came nearer and nearer, his contortions
every moment becoming more extraordinary, his whistling more piercing;
and I, by this time convulsed by awful, helpless laughter, could only
shrink farther back in my seat and gasp feebly, "Please don't."
Mrs. Crawley was not much better. In my own misery I was aware of
her voice saying politely, "I have no idea what the tune is, but you
whistle beautifully--quite like a gramophone."
When my disgusted and exhausted partner ceased trying to emulate a
steam-engine and began to look human again, I timidly inquired what he
had been whistling. "The tune," he replied very stiffly, "was 'Rule,
"Dear me," I replied meekly, "I thought at least it was something
from _Die Meistersinger_;" but he deigned no reply and walked away,
evidently hating me quite bitterly. I shan't play that game again, and
I can't believe the silly man really whistled "Rule, Britannia,"
for it is a simple tune and one with which I am entirely at home,
whereas--but no matter!
G. won by guessing "Annie Laurie." She is splendid at all games, and
did I tell you how well she sings? In the cabin, when we are alone,
she sings to me snatches of all sorts of songs, grave and gay, but she
won't sing in the saloon, where every other woman on board with
the smallest pretensions to a voice carols nightly. She is a most
attractive person this G., with quaint little whimsical ways that make
her very lovable. We are together every minute of the day, and yet we
never tire of one another's company. I rather think I do most of the
talking. If it is true that to be slow in words is a woman's only
virtue, then, indeed, is my state pitiable, for talk I must, and G. is
a delightful person to talk to. She listens to my tales of Peter
and the others, and asks for more, and shouts with laughter at the
smallest joke. I pass as a wit with G., and have a great success. She
is going to stay with a married sister for the cold weather. Quite
like me, only I'm going to an unmarried brother. I think we are both
getting slightly impertinent to our elders. They tease us so at meals
in the saloon we have to answer back in self-defence, and it is very
difficult to help trying to be smart; sometimes, at least with me,
it degenerates into rudeness. I told you about all the people at our
table, but I forgot one--a very aged man with a long white beard,
rather like the evil magician in the fairy tales, but most harmless.
"Old Sir Thomas Erpingham," I call him, for I am sure a good soft
pillow for that good grey head were better than the churlish turf of
India. He is very kind, and calls us Sunshine and Brightness, and pays
us the most involved Early Victorian compliments, which we, talking
and laughing all the time, seldom ever hear, and it is left to kind
Mrs. Wilmot to respond.
Last night we had an excitement. We got into a thick fog and had to
stand still and hoot, while something--a homeward-bound steamer, they
say--nearly ran us down. The people sleeping on deck said it was
most awesome, but I slept peacefully through it until awakened by an
American female running down the corridor and remarking at the top of
a singularly piercing voice, "Wal, I am scared!"
To-day it is beautifully calm and bright; the nasty, hot, damp wind
has gone; and we are sitting in our own little corner of the deck,
Mrs. Crawley, Mrs. Wilmot, G., and I, sometimes reading, sometimes
writing, very often talking. It is luck for us to have two such
charming women to talk to. Mrs. Crawley is supposed to be my chaperon,
I believe I forgot to tell you that. Boggley, who is a great friend of
hers, wrote and asked her to look after me. How clever of him to fix
on one in every way so desirable! Suppose he had asked the Candle!
We have such splendid talks about books. Mrs. Wilmot has, I think,
read everything that has been written, also she is very keen about
poetry and has my gift--or is it a vice?--of being able to say great
pieces by heart, so between us G. is sometimes just a little bored.
You see, G. hasn't been brought up in a bookish atmosphere and that
makes such a difference. The other night she was brushing her hair,
unusually silent and evidently thinking deeply. At last she looked up
at me in my bunk, with the brush in her hand and all her hair swept
over one shoulder, and said in the most puzzled way, "What was that
nasty thing Mrs. Wilmot was saying all about dead women?" and do you
know what she objected to?
"Dear dead women, with such hair, too--
What's become of all the gold
Used to hang and brush their bosoms? I
Feel chilly and grown old."
We are very much worried by people planting themselves beside us and
favouring us with their views on life in general. One woman--rather a
tiresome person, a spinster with a curiously horse-like face and large
teeth--sometimes stays for hours at a time and leaves us limp. Even
gentle Mrs. Wilmot approaches, as nearly as it is possible for her to
approach, unkindness in her comments on her. She has such playful,
girlish manners, and an irritating way of giving vent to the most
utter platitudes with the air of having just discovered a new truth.
She has been with us this morning and mentioned that her father was
four times removed from a peerage. I stifled a childish desire to ask
who had removed him, while Mrs. Wilmot murmured, "How interesting!" As
she minced away Mrs. Crawley said meditatively, "The Rocking Horse
Fly," and with a squeal of delight I realized that that was what she
had always vaguely reminded me of. You remember the insect, don't you,
in _Through the Looking-Glass_? It lived on sawdust. One lesson one
has every opportunity of learning on board ship is to suffer fools,
if not gladly, at least with patience. The curious people who stray
across one's path! One woman came on at Port Said--a globe-trotter,
globe-trotting alone. Can you imagine anything more ghastly? She is
very tall, dark and mysterious-looking, and last night when G. and I
were in the music saloon before dinner, she sat down beside us and
began to talk of spiritualism and other weird things. To bring her to
homelier subjects I asked if she liked games. "Games" she said, "what
sort of games? I can ride anything that has four legs and I can hold
my own with a sword." She looked so fierce that if the bugle hadn't
sounded at that moment I think I should have crept under a table.
"Quite mad," said G. placidly as we left her.
We are going to have a dance to-night.
_S.S. Scotia, Nov. 11_.
... Now we approach a conclusion. We have passed Colombo, and in three
or four days ought to reach Calcutta.
Colombo was rather nice, warm and green and moist; but I failed to
detect the spicy breeze blowing soft o'er Ceylon's isle, that the hymn
led me to expect. The shops are good and full of interesting things,
like small ivory elephants, silver ornaments, bangles, kimonos, and
moonstones. We bought various things, and as we staggered with our
purchases into the cabin, which now resembles nothing so much as an
overcrowded pawnshop, Mrs. Murray remarked (we are on speaking terms
again) "I suppose you thought the cabin looked rather empty that you
bought so much rubbish to fill it up."
We were dumb under the deserved rebuke. We had bought her a fan as a
peace-offering, rather a pretty one too, but she thanked us with no
In Colombo we got rickshaws and drove out to the Galle Face Hotel, a
beautiful place with the surf thundering on the beach outside. If I
were rich I would always ride in a rickshaw. It is a delightful way of
getting about, and as we were trotted along a fine broad road, small
brown boys ran alongside and pelted us with big waxy, sweet-smelling
blossoms. We did enjoy it so. At the Galle Face, in a cool and lofty
dining-hall, we had an excellent and varied breakfast, and ate real
proper Eastern curry for the first time. Another new experience! I
don't like curry at home, curry as English cooks know it--a greasy
make-up of cold joint served with sodden rice; but this was different.
First, rice was handed round, every particle firm and separate and
white, and then a rich brown mixture with prawns and other interesting
ingredients, which was the curry. You mix the curry with the rice,
when a whole trayful of condiments is offered to eat with it, things
like very thin water biscuits, Bombay duck--all sorts of chutney, and
when you have mixed everything up together the result is one of the
nicest dishes it has been my lot to taste. Note also, you eat it with
a fork and spoon, not with a fork alone as mere provincials do!
I begin to feel so excited about seeing Boggley. It is two years since
he was home last. Will he have changed much, I wonder? There was a
letter from him at Colombo, and he hadn't left Darjeeling and had no
house to take me to in Calcutta, so it would appear that when I do
land my lodging will be the cold ground. It sounds as if he were still
the same casual old Boggley. Who began that name? John, I think. He
had two names for him--"Lo-the-poor-Indian" and "Boggley-Wallah"--and
in time we all slipped into calling him Boggley. I like to think you
two men were such friends at Oxford. Long before I knew you I had
heard many tales of your doings, and I think that was one reason why,
when we did meet, we liked each other and became friends, because we
were both so fond of Boggley. I am filled with qualms as to whether he
will be glad to see me. It must be rather a nuisance in lots of ways
to have a sister to look after, but he was so keen that I should come
that surely he won't think me a bother. Besides, when you think of it,
it was really very good of me to leave my home and all my friends and
brave the perils of the deep, to visit a brother in exile.
I wish I knew exactly when we shall arrive; this suspense is wearing.
One man told me we would be in on Wednesday, another said we would
miss the tide and not be in till Saturday. I asked the captain, but he
directed me to the barber, who, he said, knew everything--and indeed
there are very few things he doesn't know. He is a dignified figure
with a shiny curl on his forehead, and a rich Cockney accent, full
of information, generally, I must admit, strikingly inaccurate, but
bestowed with such an air. "I do believe him though I know he lies."
We are in the Hooghly and shall be in Kidderpore Dock to-morrow
morning early. Actually the voyage is at an end. I may as well finish
this letter and send it with the mail which leaves Calcutta to-morrow.
We can't pack, because Mrs. Albert Murray is occupying all the cabin
and most of the passage. We shall creep down when she is quite done
and put our belongings together.
Everyone is flying about writing luggage labels, and getting their
boxes up from the hold, and counting things. Curiously enough, I
am feeling rather depressed; the end of anything is horrid, even a
loathed sea-voyage. After all, it isn't a bad old ship, and the people
have been nice. To-night I am filled with kindness to everyone. Even
Mrs. Albert Murray seems to swim in a rosy and golden haze, and I am
conscious of quite an affection for her, though I expect, when in a
little I go down to the cabin and find her fussing and accusing us of
losing her things, I shall dislike her again with some intensity. We
have all laughed and played and groaned together, and now we part. No,
I _shan't_ say "Ships that pass in the night." Several people--mothers
whose babies I have held and others--have given me their cards and a
cordial invitation to go and stay with them for as long as I like.
They mean it now, I know, but in a month's time shall we even remember
each other's names?
It will be a real grief to part to-morrow from Mrs. Crawley and
Mrs. Wilmot. The dear women! I wish they had been going to stay in
Calcutta, but they go straight away up country. Are there, I wonder,
many such charming women in India? It seems improbable. I shall miss
all the people at our table: we have been such a gay company. Major
Wilmot says G. and I have kept them all amused and made the voyage
pleasant, but that is only his kind way. It is quite true, though,
what Mrs. Crawley says of G. She is like a great rosy apple,
refreshing and sweet and wholesome.
What is really depressing me is the thought that wherever I am
to-morrow night there will be no G. to say:
"Good-night, my dear. Sleep well."
And I shan't be able to drop my head over my bunk and reply:
"Good-night, my dear old G."
It will seem so odd and lonely without her.
The ship has stopped--we are to anchor here till daylight.
FLESHPOTS OF CALCUTTA
_Calcutta, Nov. 18_.
_In India_. I don't think I have quite realized myself or my
surroundings yet, but one thing I know. Boggley has been better than
his word, for we are not camping in a corner of the Maidan, but have a
decent roof to cover us.
But I shall go back to where I left off on Wednesday night.
We spent a hot, breathless night in the river. Towards morning I fell
asleep and dreamed that the ship was sinking in a quicksand and that
I, in trying to save myself, had stuck fast in the port-hole. I
wakened cold with fright, to find it was grey dawn and they were
getting up the anchor.
Of course we were up at an unearthly hour, all our belongings
carefully packed and labelled, ourselves clad in clean white dresses
and topis to face the burning, shining face of India. There was little
to see and nothing to do, and we walked about getting hungrier and
hungrier, and yet when breakfast-time did come we found we were too
excited to eat.
When we got into the dock we saw all the people who had come to meet
us penned like sheep into enclosures, and we leaned over the side
trying to make out the faces of friends. Presently they were allowed
to come on board, and I, eagerly watching, spied Boggley bounding up
the ladder, and the next moment we were clutching each other wildly.
But our greeting--what it is to be Scots!--was merely "Hallo! there
you are!" I need not have worried about what I would say when I met
him--yes, I was silly enough to do that--for he is just the same dear
old Boggley, hair as red, eyes as blue and as short-sighted, mouth as
wide as ever. I think his legs are even longer. The first thing he did
when he came on board was to fall over someone's dressing-bag, and
that made us both laugh helplessly like silly children. I introduced
him to G. and the others, and by this time G. had found her sister,
and soon they were all talking together, so G. and I slipped away to
look out for people in whom we were interested. Very specially did we
want, to see Mr. Albert Murray, and when we did see him he was almost
exactly what we had expected--small, sandy-haired, his topi making
his head look out of all proportion, and with a trodden-on look. We
noticed the little man wandering aimlessly about, when a voice from
the music-room door saying "Albert" made him start visibly, and
turning, he sidled up to our cabin companion, who kissed him severely,
while he murmured, "Well, m' dear, how are you?" Seeing us standing
near she said, "Well, good-bye, girls. I hope you'll have a good time
and behave yourselves;" and then, turning to her husband, by way of an
introduction, she added, "These are the girls who shared my cabin."
Mr. Albert shuffled his topi and looked at us with kind, blinking
eyes, but attempted no remark. The last we saw of him he was tugging
the hat-box in the wake of his managing wife. G. looked at me
solemnly. "We had little to complain of," she said; "we weren't
married to her."
The husband of the Candle was the greatest surprise. I had
imagined--why, I don't know--that that lady's husband would be tall
and red-faced, with a large moustache and loud voice and manner,
someone who would match well with the Candle. Instead, we beheld a
dark, thin-faced man with a stoop, a man who looked like a scholar and
spoke with a delightful, quiet voice. He addressed the Candle as Jane.
_Jane!_ If it had been Fluffy, or Trixie, or Chippy, or even Dolly,
but, with that hair, that complexion, that voice, that troop of
attendant swains, to be called Jane! The thing was out of all reason.
I wonder all the widespread family of Janes, with their meek eyes
and smoothly braided hair, don't rise up and call her anything but
blessed. Oh, I know there was no thought of pleasing me when she was
christened, but still--Jane!
It was rather sweet to watch the little family groups, the mother
assuring a bored, indifferent infant that this was its own daddy, and
the proud father beaming on both.
The self-conscious bridegrooms sidling up to their blushing brides
afforded us much amusement. Some had not seen each other for five
years. I wonder if one or two didn't rue their bargains! It seems to
me a terrible risk!
I could have gone on watching the people for a long time, but Boggley
was anxious to be off; so after tearful farewells and many promises to
write had been exchanged, we departed.
The special Providence that looks after casual people has guided
Boggley to quite a nice house in a nice part of the town. Many
Government people who are in Calcutta only for the cold weather--I
mean those of them who are burdened not with wealth but
women-folk--find it cheaper and more convenient to live in a
boarding-house. Does that conjure up to you a vision of Bloomsbury,
and tall grey houses, and dirty maid-servants, and the Passing of
Third Floor Backs? It isn't one bit like that. This boarding-house
consists, oddly enough, of four big houses all standing a little
distance apart in a compound. They are let out in suites of rooms, and
the occupants can either all feed together in the public dining-room
or in lonely splendour in their own apartments. We have five rooms on
the ground floor. Of the two sitting-rooms one is almost quite dark,
and is inhabited by a suite of furniture, three marble-topped tables
on which Boggley had set out the few photographs and trifles which he
hasn't yet lost, and a sad-looking cabinet; the other opens into
the garden, and is a nice cheerful room. The dark room we have made
Boggley's study; as he only uses it at night, it doesn't matter about
the want of light, and there is a fine large writing-table which holds
stacks of papers. We got the marble-topped tables carried into the
cheery room and covered them with tablecloths from a shop in Park
Street, bought rugs for the floor and hangings for the doors, and with
a few cushions and palms and flowers the room is quite pretty and
home-like. I like the chairs, enormous cane things with long wooden
arms which Boggley says are meant for putting one's feet on, and most
Boggley's bedroom is next his study, but I have to take a walk before
I come to mine, out of the window,--or door, I'm never sure which it
is,--down some steps, then along a garden-walk, round a corner, and
up some more steps, where I reach first a small ante-room and then my
bedroom. Like the other rooms, it is whitewashed and has a very high
ceiling. Some confiding sparrows have built a nest in a hole in the
wall, and--and this is really upsetting--there are _ten_ different
ways of entering the room, doors and windows, and half of them I can't
lock or bar or fasten up in any way. What I should do if a Mutiny
occurred I can't think! My bed with its mosquito-curtains stands like
a little island in a vast sea of matting, and there are two large
wardrobes, what they call _almirahs_, a dressing-table, and two
chairs. It is empty and airy, and that is all that is required of a
The four houses, as I told you, stand in a compound. It isn't exactly
a garden, for there are lots of things in it that we would consider
quite superfluous in a self-respecting garden. There is a good tennis
lawn, plots of flowers, trimly-kept walks bordered with poinsettias,
and trees with white, heavily-scented flowers, and opposite my bedroom
is a little stone-paved enclosure where two cows and two calves lead
a calm and meditative existence! And further, there are funny little
huts scattered about where one catches glimpses of natives at their
devotions or slumbering peacefully. Imagine in the middle of a garden
at home coming on a cowhouse or a shanty! But this is India.
Boggley conducted me round, both of us talking hard all the time. He
had so many questions to ask and I had so much to tell: all the home
news and silly little home jokes--Peter's latest sayings--things that
are so amusing to tell and to hear but lose all their flavour written.
You remember Boggley's wild bursts of laughter? He laughs just the
same now, throws his head back and shouts in the most whole-hearted
way. We talked from 11 a.m. till tea-time without a break--talked
ourselves hoarse and thirsty. After tea we drove on the Maidan, up
and down the Red Road in an unending stream of carriages and motors,
shabby _tikka-gharries_ and smart little dogcarts (called here
tum-tums)--all Calcutta taking the air. One might almost have imagined
oneself in the Park, if it had not been that now and again a strange
equipage would pass filled with natives, men and boys gorgeous in
purple and scarlet and gold, or closed carriages like boxes on wheels,
in which sat dark-skinned women demurely veiled. From the Red Road we
drove to the Strand, a carriage-way by the river where the great
ships lie, and watched the sun set and the spars and masts become
silhouetted against the red sky. Then darkness fell almost at once.
My mind was a chaos when I went to bed after my first day in India,
and I slept so soundly that when I woke I had no idea where I was. All
re-collections of the voyage and arrival were wiped from my memory and
I was filled first with vague astonishment and then with horror to
find myself surrounded by filmy white stuff through which peered a
black face. It was only my _ayah_, a quaint, small person, wrapped
in a white _sari_, with demure, sly eyes and teeth stained red with
chewing betel-nut, looking through the mosquito-curtains to see if the
Miss Sahib was awake and would like _chota-hazri_. She embarrasses
me greatly slipping about with her bare feet, appearing when I least
expect her or squatting on the floor staring at me fixedly. I know
no Hindustani and she knows perhaps three English words, so our
conversation is limited. The silence gets so on my nerves that I drop
hairbrushes and things to make a little disturbance, and it gives her
something to do to pick them up. I must at once learn some Hindustani
words such as pink, blue, and green, and then I shall be able to tell
Bella what dress to lay out, and her place won't be such a sinecure. I
call her Bella because it is the nearest I can get to her name and it
has a homely sound.
The rest of my impressions I shall keep for my next letter. I have
written this much to give you an idea of my surroundings, and you see
I have taken your interest for granted. Are you bored? Of course you
will say you are not, but if I could see your face I should know.
The home mail arrives here on Sunday, when people are having what
they call a "Europe morning," and have time to read and enjoy their
letters. When you wrote you had just had my mail from Marseilles.
How far behind you are! It was too bad of me to write such pitiful
letters, but I think I was too miserable to pretend. Now I am very
well off, and no one could be more utterly thoughtful and kind than
old Boggley. I am sure I shall never regret coming to India, and
it will be something to dream about when I am a douce
You speak of rain and mud and fog, and it all seems very far away from
this afternoon land. The winter will soon pass, and, as you nicely put
it, I shall return with the spring.
_Calcutta, Nov. 21_.
It is the witching hour of 10 a.m. and I am sitting in my little
ante-room--boudoir, call it what you will--immersed in correspondence,
Boggley, hard-worked man that he is, has departed for his office
followed by a _kitmutgar_ carrying some sandwiches and a bottle of
soda-water, which is his modest lunch. Really a Government servant's
life is no easy one. He is up every morning by six o'clock, and gets a
couple of hours' work done before breakfast. His office receives him
at ten and keeps him till four, when he comes home and has tea, after
which we ride or drive or play tennis somewhere. A look in at the Club
for a game of billiards, more work, dinner, and, if we are not going
to a dance or any frivolity, a quiet talk, a smoke, a few more
papers gone through, bed, and the long Indian day is over. All day
_chuprassis_, like attendant angels, flit in and out bearing piles of
documents marked Urgent, which they heap on his writing-table. I begin
greatly to dislike the sight of them.
So you see I have of necessity many hours alone, at least I have some,
and I would have more if G. didn't live within a few minutes' walk,
and every morning, armed with a large green-lined parasol and
protected by her faithful topi, come round to pass the time of day
with me. Her sister, Mrs. Townley, is a very nice woman and kindness
itself to me. I can say, like the Psalmist, that goodness and mercy
follow me. I started from London knowing no one, yet in twenty-four
hours I was fast friends with G. and afterwards with quite a lot of
people on board. I thought when I landed in Calcutta I would be a
stranger in a strange land and have no one but Boggley, "instead of
which" I have G. quite near, and Mrs. Townley says I must come to them
any minute of the day I want to; and there are others equally kind.
You don't want me to give you a detailed account of Calcutta, do
you? It wouldn't interest you to read it, and it certainly wouldn't
interest me to write it. When my friends go wandering and write me
home long descriptions of the places of interest (falsely so called)
which they visit, I read them--oh! I read them faithfully--but I am
sadly bored. Somehow people interest me more than places. That being
so, I shall only inflict on you a little of Calcutta. I like it
immensely. They laugh at me for saying it is pretty, but I do think it
is quite beautiful. It is so much greener than I expected, and I like
the broad streets of pillared houses standing in their palm-shaded
compounds. The principal street is called Chowringhee, and it has some
fine buildings and really excellent shops, where one can buy quite as
pretty things as in London, only, of course, they are of necessity
more expensive; it costs a lot to bring them out. The Clubs are in
this street, the Bengal Club, and the United Service where my brother
would even now be leading a comfortable bachelor existence if he
hadn't had a bothering sister to provide a habitation for.
Chowringhee faces the Maidan, a very large park containing among other
things a race-course, and cricket and football grounds. The word
Maidan is Arabic and Persian and Hindustani for an open space, and I
hope you like the superior way I explain things to you. You, who
can be silent in so many languages, will probably know what Maidan
means--but no matter.
This, then, is the European Calcutta, clean and spacious and pleasant,
but not nearly so interesting as the native part. Turn down a side
street, walk a little way and you are in a nest of mean streets,
unpaved, dirty, smelling vilely, lined with open booths, where squat
half-naked men selling lumps of sticky sweetmeats and piles of things
that look like unbaked scones and other strange eatables; and little
naked babies tumble in the dust with goats and puppies. It seems to
me that I go about asking "Why?" all day and no one gives me a
satisfactory answer to anything. Why, for example, should we require a
troop of servants living, as we do, in a kind of hotel? And yet there
they are--Boggley's bearer and my _ayah_--I can see some reason for
their presence--a _kitmutgar_ to wait on us at table and bring tea in
the afternoon, another young assistant _kitmutgar_ who scurries like a
frightened rabbit at my approach, a delightful small boy who rejoices
in the name of _pani-wallah_, whose sole duty is to carry water for
the baths, the _dhobi_ who washes our clothes by beating them between
two large--and I should say, judging by the state of the clothes,
sharp--stones, losing most of them in the process, and a _syce_ or
groom for each pony. Seated, as one sometimes sees them, in rows on
the steps, augmented by a _chuprassi_ or two, brilliant in uniform
they make a sufficiently imposing spectacle. I have few words, but I
look at them in as pleasant a way as I know how, partly because I like
to be friends with servants, and partly because I'm rather afraid of
them and don't want to rouse them to Mutiny or do anything desperate,
but Boggley discouraged me at the outset. "You needn't grin at them
so affably," he remarked, "they will only think you are weak in the
head." They quite evidently regard me as a poor creature, even Bella,
though she humours me and condescends to say "pretty pretty," or
"nicey nicey" when I am dressed in the evening. I think she must once
have nursed children, for the words she knows are baby words; she
always calls me "poor Missy baba" and strokes me! The _pani-wallah_
finds amusement in practising his English on me. When he sees G. come
through the compound, he bounds to my room, holds up the _chick_ and
announcing "Mees come," retires, stiff with pride at his knowledge of
I have learned a few useful Hindustani words. _Qui hai_ means roughly,
"Is anyone there?" and you cry that instead of ringing a bell, and it
brings the instant response "_Huzoor_," and a servant springs from
nowhere to do your bidding. _Lao_ means "bring" and _jao_ "go." You
never say "please," and you learn the words in a cross tone--that is,
if you want to be really Anglo-Indian. Radical M.P.s of course will
learn "please" at once, if there is such a word in the language,
which I doubt. One nice globe-trotting old lady, anxious, like me, to
conciliate the natives, was having a cup of chocolate at Peliti's, and
she insisted on sending out to see if the _tikka-gharry wallah_ would
like a cup!
A _tikka-gharry_ is a thing like a victoria, hired by the hour. There
are first, second, and third class _tikka-gharries_. The first class
have two horses, the second one horse, and the third is closed, and,
having no springs, is a terrible vehicle indeed. The drivers of these
carriages have, as a rule, long whiskers, and are dressed in khaki.
They have bags of provender for the horses tied behind the conveyance,
where also precariously hangs another man who might be the
twin-brother of the driver. I don't know why he is there, but there he
G. and I love to set out in a _tikka-gharry_ and practise our
Hindustani. Starting early when it is fairly cool--Indian cold weather
mornings are the most wonderful things, so fresh and so bright and so
blue--G. starts us off at a mad gallop by shouting _Juldi jao_, which
I have to calm down with _Asti asti_ (slower). When we reach Peliti's
we cry _Roko_ (stop), and get out to buy caramels, chocolates, and
cakes for tea. Peliti has a peculiarly delicious kind of chocolate
cake, the recipe for which I wish he would confide to Fuller or
Buszard. But it isn't the European shops, good as they are, that
occupy our mornings. Much more fascinating haunts await us, the New
Market and the China Bazaar. The former is a kind of arcade which
contains everything that any reasonable person could require; fragrant
fruit and flowers, fresh-smelling vegetables, and the wares of butcher
and baker and candlestick-maker, all laid out on booths and stalls for
the world to choose from.
There, very early in the morning, come the _khansamahs_ of the
various Mem-sahibs and buy all that is needed for the day, while
the Mem-sahibs are cosy in bed, needing not to worry about house,
visitors, or forthcoming dinner-parties. Housekeeping is easy in
India. Boggley thought we had better ask some people to dinner, so we
did, though I pointed out that we had no silver or anything to make
the table decent; and the boarding-house things are none too dainty.
"It'll be all right," said Boggley, "leave it to the servants;" so I
engaged the private dining-room--and left it. I rather trembled when
the evening came and our party walked in, but I needn't have. The
servants were worthy of their trust. The table looked charming, and,
as I had never seen any of the things before, I had a more interesting
time than usually falls to the hostess. What I sincerely hoped was
that none of the guests had seen any of the things before either, but
if they had they possessed great control of their countenances.
Eatables, however, are by no means the only things to be found in
the New Market. Silks, muslins, chicon-work, silver ornaments,
and jewellery keep us breathless, while the pleasant shopman in a
frock-coat and turban offers them at what he calls "killin'" prices.
The China Bazaar is much farther into the city, quite in the native
quarter. It is a real adventure to make an expedition there, and the
owners allow us to poke in back rooms from which we unearth wondrous
treasures in the way of old brass vases; queer, slender-necked
scent-bottles still faintly smelling of roses; old lacquer boxes, and
bits of rich embroidery. I am becoming a Shylock in the way I beat
down prices. I shouldn't wonder a bit when I go home and am ruffling
it once more in Bond Street if, when told the price of a thing is a
guinea, I laugh in a jocular way and say, "Oh! come now, I'll give you
But to return to Hindustani. I haven't told you all I know. I can ask
for _tunda_ beef, which is cold beef, just as _tunda pani_ is cold
water, _gurrum pani_ being hot! I can order what I want at meals. At
first when I wanted boiled eggs and heard Boggley order _unda bile_, I
remonstrated, "Not under-boiled, hard-boiled," until it was explained
to me that _unda_ meant egg. The native can't say any word beginning
with s without putting a _y_ before it, thus--y-spice beef, y-street.
When men come to see us I cry, "_Qui hai?_" and, when the servant
appears, order "_Peg lao--cheroot lao_," and feel intensely
Anglo-Indian and rather fast. One trait the language has which appeals
greatly to me is that one can spell it almost any way one likes, but
that is enough about Hindustani for one letter.
I have come in from a ride with Boggley. The proper time to ride is
early morning, but I am too lazy and too timid to go when the place is
crowded, and so we ride in the cool of the evening, when we have the
race-course almost to ourselves. I ride one of Boggley's polo ponies,
Solomon by name. Boggley says he is as quiet as a lamb, but I am not
sure that he is speaking the strict truth; he has some nasty little
ways, it seems to me. He bites for one thing. We were riding with a
man the other night and quite suddenly his pony got up in the air and
nearly threw him. _Solomon had bitten him_. The man looked at me as
if it were my fault, and I regret to say I laughed. He has also an
ungentlemanly way of trying to rub me off against the railings, and
then again, for no apparent reason, he suddenly scurries wildly across
the Maidan while I pull desperately, but impotently, with fingers weak
from fright. Boggley coming behind convulsed with laughter, merely
remarks that I am a _funk-stick_--which, I take it, means the worst
kind of coward.
Think where I have been for the last three days!
Down the river in a launch. That kind Mrs. Townley was taking G. and
asked Boggley if I might go. We had to leave on Saturday morning
before seven to catch the tide, so I warned Bella that she must bring
my _chota-hazri_ before six; but I woke and found it was after six,
and there were no signs of the perfidious little black Bella. I wasn't
nearly ready when G. rushed in, but I threw on garments and we
fled, while Boggley, in his dressing-gown, followed with a parting
benediction of Peliti's cake as a substitute for tea and toast. We
found the launch delightfully comfortable, not to say luxurious. It
had been done up for some of the royalties who were out here. There
were only we three on board and three young sailor men, so it was a
blessedly peaceful three days. We lay on deck and watched the life
of the river, all the ships a-sailing, big ships from Dundee and
Greenock, German ships, French ships, every kind and nationality of
ships down to the curious native craft. Sometimes we passed a little
village on the river-bank with a temple and an idol on a mound. When
we anchored in the afternoon two of the officers went on shore to
shoot, and the sailors let down a net and caught delicious fish for
dinner. I did wish Peter had been there. He would have felt like
Robinson Crusoe and rejoiced in it all. At dinner the young men told
us wonderful stories of their adventures with snakes and tigers. One
man said that he was having his bath one morning when a snake came
up the pipe. When it saw him it went down again, but as it was
disappearing he pulled it back by its tail. Again it tried to go down
and again he pulled it back, and then the snake took a look at him and
went down tail first.
I believed every word, but when I came home and related the amazing
tales to Boggley he received them with derisive shouts of laughter,
and said they had been spinning us sailors' yarns.
The mail was waiting here when I came back yesterday. Thanks so much
for your letter. I am immensely interested in all your news, but I
have left myself no time to answer you properly, as this must be
_N.B_.--The two queerest things I have noticed in Calcutta up to now
(_a_) That when a man goes out to tennis and stays to dinner his
bearer carries his dress-clothes _wrapped in a towel_.
(_b_) Kippered herrings come to the table _rolled up in paper_.
_Calcutta, Dec. 2_.
I don't think I like this casting of bread upon the water; I never
know which loaf it is I am receiving again. You reply to things I had
forgotten I had written, and it is rather bewildering.
When you get this you will be settled down in Germany. I am sorry you
have left London for one reason, and that a purely selfish one. I
shan't be able to imagine you in your new surroundings, and in London
I knew pretty well what you would be doing every minute of the day.
Knowing, as we do, many of the same people, when you wrote "I have
been dining with the Maxwell-Tempests to meet the So-and-sos," I could
picture it all even to little Mrs. Maxwell-Tempest's attitudes. I
was only in Germany once for three days, and I came away with an
impression of a country weird as to food, feathery as to beds, and
crammed full of soldiers; but I dare say it is a very good place to
write a book. And now--my heartiest congratulations on having a book
to write. It sounds--pardon me for saying it--a very dull subject, but
if I were a little wiser I expect I should see how important it
is, and anyway I have enough sense to perceive that it is a great
compliment to be asked to write it. What fun to be a man and have a
career! In my more exalted moments it is sometimes borne in on me that
I should have been a man and a diplomatist. I feel, though I admit
with no grounds to speak of, that I might have been a great success in
that most interesting profession. One never knows, and by putting my
foot in it very conscientiously all round, I might have earned for
myself a reputation of Machiavellian cunning!
What do you think I met at dinner last night? A Travelling Radical
Member of Parliament!
Of course I had read of them--often--and knew exactly what sort of
creatures they are--fearful wild fowl who come to India for six
"Comprehend in half a mo'
What it takes a man ten years or so
To know that he will never know,"
tell the native they want to be a brother to him, and go home to write
a book about the way India is misgoverned.
I was delighted at the prospect of seeing one quite close at hand. I
pictured a strong still man with a beard, soft fat hands, and a sob
in his voice that, at election times, would touch the great, deep
throbbing Heart of the People. Instead, I beheld a small, thin man,
with eyes as tired as any of the poor sun-dried bureaucrats, and a
wide mouth with a humorous twitch at the corners; a man one couldn't
imagine wanting to touch anything so silly as the Heart of the People.
He talked, I noticed, very little during dinner, but the men were
unusually long in joining us afterwards, and as Boggley clambered
after me into the _tikka-gharry_ that was to take us home: "That's a
ripping fellow!" said Boggley.
Another illusion shattered!
I hasten to set your mind at rest on one point. I have a chaperon, and
a very nice, though entirely unnecessary, one. Her name is Mrs. Victor
Ormonde, and she knows my people at home; that is why she bothers with
me. She is a most attractive woman to look at, tall, dark and slender,
with the dearest little turned-up nose, which makes her look rather
impertinent, and she is a little inclined to be sniffy to some people;
she considers Calcutta women suburban! Her husband is quite different,
friends with everyone, a cheerful soul and as Irish as he can be. He
is very fond of chaffing his exclusive wife. "Now do be affable," he
implored her the other night, before they went to a large and somewhat
mixed gathering. "And was she affable?" I asked next morning. "Oh!
rollin' about on the floor," was the obviously untrue reply.
You ask how I like the Anglo-Indian women, and I don't know quite what
to say. It is the old story. When they are nice they are very, very
nice, but when they are nasty they are _horrid_. Some of them I simply
hate. They give me such nasty little stabs the while they smile and
pretend to be pleasant!
I am quite capable of giving back as good as I get, but it isn't worth
while, because if one does yield to the temptation, afterwards one
feels such a worm. There is no doubt it is more difficult in India
than at home to obey the command of one's childhood: "to behave pretty
and be a lady." What is a lady exactly? I used to be told that a
lady was one who always said "please" when asking for more
bread-and-butter, and who never bit the fingers of her gloves. That
was simple. "And what'll I be if I'm not a lady?" I asked. "You'll be
common," said the nurse severely, and then and there, because snatched
bread-and-butter was sweet and gloves chewed in secret pleasant, I
registered a vow that common I would be. A dear little lady I met
the other day, talking about her sister Mem-sahibs, said airily, "Of
course we very soon lose complexions, manners, and morals." She could
afford to say so, it being so obviously untrue in her case. I think it
is just this, that the women who are pure gold grow more charming, but
the pinch-beck wears off very soon. The Eastern sun reveals blemishes,
moral and physical, that would pass unnoticed in the murkier
atmosphere of England. The wonder to me is that anyone keeps nice when
one thinks of the provocation there is to deteriorate. The climate,
the lack of any serious occupation to take up their days, the constant
round of gaieties indulged in partly, I believe, to keep themselves
from thinking, the ever-present anxiety about the children at
home--oh! there is much one could say if one held a brief for the
Calcutta society is made up of Government people, Army people,
and business people who are called, for some unknown reason,
_box-wallahs_. It seems very strange that there should be such a
desire to go one better than one's neighbour, to have better horses, a
smarter carriage, a larger house, smarter gowns, because, at least in
the case of the Civil Service people, their income is known down to
the last rupee.
Everybody in India is, more or less, somebody. It must be a very sad
change to go home to England and be (comparatively) poor and shabby,
and certainly obscure, to have people remark vaguely they suppose
you are "something in India." I suppose we are all snobs at heart.
Snobbery, sir, doth walk about the orb like the sun, it shines
everywhere. A good lady talked to me quite seriously lately about what
the Best People in Calcutta did. It has become a light table joke with
us, and when I plant my elbows on the table and hum a tune while we
are waiting for the next course at dinner, Boggley mildly inquires,
"Do the Best People do that?"
It is a subject I never gave much attention to, but now awful doubts
assail me. Am I the Best People? One thing is certain: I am of very
little importance. I am only a _chota_ Miss Sahib and my _chota_-ness
is my great protection. No one is going to bother much what I do, or
trouble to pull my clothes and my conduct to pieces, and I can creep
along unnoticed to a great extent; I watch the game and find it vastly
It grieves me to say that I am one of the class who ought to remain
in England. There I am quite a nice person up to my lights, fairly
unselfish, loving my neighbour as myself. But I have proved myself
pinchbeck. No, you needn't say I'm sweet, I'm not. I find myself
saying the most detestable things about people. Oblivious of the beam
in my own eye, I stare fixedly and reprovingly at the mote in my
neighbour's. Could anything be more unlovable?
I get no encouragement to be a cat from Boggley. Everyone is his very
"Mrs. Wright called to-day," I remark at tea.
"Did she?" says Boggley. "She's a nice little woman; you'll like her."
"She makes up," I say, "and she had on a most ridiculous hat. Mrs.
Brodie says she's a dreadful flirt."
"Rubbish!" says Boggley; "she's a very good sort and devoted to her
"Mrs. Brodie says," I continue, "that she is horrid to other women and
tries to take away their husbands. It _is_ odd how fond Anglo-Indian
women are of other people's husbands."
"Much odder," Boggley retorts, "that you should have become such a
little backbiting cat! You'll soon be as bad as old Mother Brodie, and
_she's_ the worst in Calcutta."
This is the Christmas mail, and I have written sixteen letters, but
I can't send presents except to Mother and some girls, for I haven't
seen a single thing suitable for a man. Poor Peter wailed for a monkey
or a mongoose, but I told him to wait till I came home and I would do
my best to bring one or both.
I can only send you greetings from a far country.
You know you will never be better than I wish you.
_Calcutta, Dec. 10_.
Dear Mr. Oliver Twist,--I really don't think I can write longer
letters. They seem to me very long indeed. I am not ashamed of their
length, but I am ashamed, especially when I read yours, of their
dullness and of the poverty-stricken attempt at description. How is it
that you can make your little German town fascinating, when I can only
make this vast, stupefying India sound dull? It wouldn't sound dull if
I were telling you about it by word of mouth. I could make you see it
then; but what can a poor uninspired one do with a pen, some ink, and
a sheet of paper?
I have been employing a shining hour by paying calls. You must know
that in India the new arrival does not sit and wait to be called
on, she up and calls first. It is quite simple. You call your
carriage--or, if you haven't aspired to a carriage, the humble, useful
_tikka-gharry_--and drive away to the first house on the list, where
you ask the _durwan_ at the gate for _bokkus_. If the lady is not
receiving, he brings out a wooden box with the inscription "Mrs.
What's-her-name Not at home," you drop in your cards, and drive on to
the next. If the box is not out, then the _durwan_, taking the cards,
goes in to ask if his mistress is receiving, and comes back with her
salaams, and that means that one has to go in for a few minutes, but
it doesn't often happen. The funny part of it is one may have hundreds
of people on one's visiting list and not know half of them by sight,
because of the convenient system of the "Not-at-home" box.
The men's calling-time is Sunday between twelve and two. Such a
ridiculous time! One is certainly not at one's best at that hour.
Isn't it the Irish R.M. who talks of that blank time of day when
breakfast has died within one and lunch is not yet? I find it, on the
whole, entertaining, though somewhat trying; for Boggley, you see, has
to be out paying calls on his own account, and so I have to receive my
visitors alone. It is quite like a game.
A servant comes in and presents me with a card inscribed with a name
unfamiliar, and I, saying something that sounds like "Salaam do," wait
breathless for what may appear. A man comes in. We converse.
I begin: "Where will you sit?" (As there are only four chairs in the
room, the choice is not extensive.)
THE MAN _(seated and twirling his hat)_: "You have just come out?"
MYSELF: "Yes, in the _Scotia_." Remarks follow about the voyage.
THE MAN: "What do you think of India?"
MYSELF: "Oh, rather nice, don't you think?"
THE MAN: "Oh, quite a decent place--what?"
Again the servant appears, this time with two cards. Again I murmur
the Open Sesame, and two more men appear. No. 1 gets up to go,
shakes hands with me in a detached way, and departs, and the same
conversation begins again with the new-comers, until they, in their
turn, leave when someone else comes in. It seems to be etiquette to go
away whenever another visitor arrives. I didn't understand this, and
when a man came whom I knew well in my childhood's days and, after a
few minutes' stay, got up to depart, I grabbed his hand and said, "Oh,
won't you stay and have a talk?" He, very nicely, stayed on, and we
did have a delightful talk; but Victor Ormonde, who happened to be
present, has never ceased to chaff me about it. When we dine with
them and get up to go he says in thrilling accents, with an absurdly
sentimental air, "Oh! _won't_ you stay and have a talk?"
I do think India makes very nice men. Almost every man I have met
has been delightful in his own way.... I had just written that last
sentence when a servant brought in a card inscribed "Colonel Simpson."
I got my sunshade and walked round to my sitting-room, where I found a
tall, pensive-looking man. Thinking he must be a friend of Boggley's,
I held out my hand frankly, and having shaken it, the man went on
Like Captain Hook, I murmured to myself, "This is unusual," but I
tried to conceal my astonishment, and we sat down together on the
sofa. Then he began to _feel my pulse_. By this time I had made up my
mind he must be a lunatic, and I had a wild idea of snatching away my
hand and making a bound for the window; but feeling that my legs were
too weak with fright to be of any real use to me, I remained seated.
"Are you sick?" he asked.
"Not in the least, thank you," I stammered.
A doubtful look flickered over his pensive countenance.
"Are you not my patient?" he asked.
"No," I answered truthfully.
"But--I was sent for to a Mrs. Woodward; this was the address, and I
was shown in here."
He was so upset that I hastened to assure him it did not matter in the
least; that Mrs. Woodward lived above us, and it was quite, quite all
right. But my comforting protestations profited nothing, and the poor
man retired in great confusion, murmuring incoherently. If I had seen
"doctor" on his card I might have been prepared, but who would expect
a Colonel to be a doctor? This confusing India!
This has been a queer day! Nothing but alarums and excursions. G. came
to tea and suggested that afterwards we should go for a drive in a
_tikka-gharry_, it being a more amusing mode of conveyance in G's eyes
than her sister's elegant carriage. So we drove up and down the Red
Road and along the Strand until the darkness came. It rained this
morning--the first rain I have seen in this dusty land--making the
roads quite muddy and the air damp and cold.
"It's like an evening in England," said G. "Let's get out and walk
home." So we told the driver to _roko_, and G., who had the money to
pay him in her hand, got out first; at least I thought she was out,
but she had paused, balanced on the step, and my slight push knocked
her headlong. How she did it I don't know, but her feet remained in
the _gharry_, while her head was in close conjunction to the horses'
hoofs. I suppose astonishment at this feat must have numbed my finer
feelings, for G. insists I bounded over her prostrate form, grabbed
the money from her hand, and paid the man before I even inquired if
she were killed. When I had time to look at her I was glad it was
getting dark, and that we were in an unfrequented road. Her white
serge costume was mud from head to foot, her hat was squashed out of
shape, and even her poor face bore traces of contact with the Red
Road. At first she couldn't rise, not because she was hurt, but
because she was helpless with laughter. When I did get her on her
feet, I found the only injury was a slight cut on the wrist, and great
was my relief.
It was a blessing that no native reporters were near, or to-morrow
morning we would see in large letters: SHOCKING AFFAIR IN THE RED
ROAD. ONE EUROPEAN LADY ATTACKS ANOTHER.
My only fear was tetanus. We have been told such tales of a slight cut
causing death that I hurried G. along until we burst breathless into
a chemist's shop in Park Street and demanded "something to keep away
The chemist gave us some permanganate of potash, and for the last hour
I have been bathing the wrist, assisted by Bella, who has ruined two
of my best handkerchiefs in the process. The damaged G. has just
departed, and I do hope won't be much the worse. Such awful things
happen here. You meet people well and strong one day and hear of their
death the next. Death seems appallingly near. One isn't given time to
be ill. Either you are quite well or else you are dead.
Now I must stop and go and dress, I see Bella fidgeting. When this
reaches you the Old Year will be very near its end. I hate to let
it go: it has been such a good old year. Is it that I forget the
unpleasant parts? Perhaps, but in looking back I seem to remember only
sunny days and pleasant things.
To you, my friend, I send every possible good wish for the New Year.
May it be the best you have ever had. May it bring you health, wealth,
and, above all, happiness.
"The world is so full of a number of things,
I am sure we should all be as happy as kings."
Isn't that a lovable sentiment?
I am trying to take an interest in Germany and the Germans for your
sake, but, as I told you before, Germany is a place I know little or
nothing about. France--that noble, fine land--I know and love well.
Italy I should like better if there were not so many Madonnas and
Children (or ought I to say Madonnas and Childs?) to look at;
Switzerland is my darling own place, but Germany I have hitherto only
associated with Goethe whom as a poet I dislike, large sausages, and
theological doubts. Your description makes me feel that I may have
misjudged the country and the people; in fact, your little town sounds
a most attractive place to live in. No, I don't think I would expect
you to make friends easily. I think you are the sort of man to have
hosts of acquaintances and only one or two real friends. You know, you
rather scare people. I think it is partly your manner and greatly your
monocle; you have such a detached air, and often I have noticed you
very unresponsive when people were trying to be amusing. Oh, I don't
mean you are ever rude, but you are sometimes chilling. If I hadn't
known from Boggley that you were, as he puts it, a perfect jewel, I
think I should have shrunk away from before you that first day we met
and sat next each other at lunch. I remember I talked a great deal of
nonsense, partly, I think, because I was rather afraid of you; and
somehow or other we have always gone on talking nonsense to each other
since. It has become a habit.
But you don't really want to have a great crowd of friends, do you? It
is only weak-minded people like myself who flop on any stranger's neck
with protestations of undying affection. It is the easiest thing in
the world for any Douglas that ever was to make friends: I think
because we are always willing to laugh at the feeblest jest. Nothing
endears one so quickly to one's fellow-beings as laughing at their
jokes. We have a way, too, of making friends with any casual stranger
we may meet in trains, or coach, or steamer. You superior people,
who, ignoring your fellow-passengers, sit in a corner and read _The
Spectator_, don't know what you miss. The thrilling stories I have
listened to! Once I heard a circumstantial story of a wreck in the
South Seas told by the plucky little wife of the captain, who had
stayed by her husband's side--"Papa" she called him--while the ship
slowly sank on a coral reef, and then drifted about in an open boat
for days before they were rescued.
It is Mother, however, who meets with the oddest adventures
travelling. One day last summer I saw her off in the Scotch Express
from Euston, comfortably seated in a corner with books and papers,
expecting she would have a nice quiet day. The occupant of the other
corner was a Russian lady, and the friend who saw her off asked Mother
if she would see she had lunch all right, for she knew no English.
This Mother readily promised, and the train started. Mother tried
once or twice to speak to the creature, but, receiving only grunts in
reply, began a book. She hadn't read the first chapter when the old
gentleman opposite said sternly, "Your friend is fainting," and
turning, Mother was just in time to catch the Russian as she slid
to the floor. She wrestled with her for an hour, reviving her with
smelling-salts, and making her comfortable with her air-cushion and
rug, distracted all the time by the yelling of young infants somewhere
near. As soon as she could leave her she went to see what was wrong,
and found twin-babies making day hideous with their din, while their
poor mother lay stretched on a seat, too ill to cope with them.
She was a missionary's wife, it turned out, on her way home, with no
nurse and much malaria, so, of course, Mother had to stay and nurse
the twins until luncheon was ready, when another Good Samaritan came
and took a turn. While having luncheon she was hailed by a friend,
lately left a widow, who insisted on Mother accompanying her to her
compartment, where she wept on her shoulder while telling her all the
details of her husband's last illness; then back again to nurse the
Russian and the babies until the journey's end, when she emerged
almost as hot, and crumpled, and exhausted as if she had run behind
all the way.
How heartily, my friend, I agree with you about the tiresomeness of
balls. I think it must be old age approaching, but I can't see any use
in going off at the hour when, under happier circumstances, I would
be thinking of bed, to a hot, crowded ballroom; and just at present
Calcutta is simply congested with balls. I don't like things that cost
a lot; simple little pleasures please me much more. To drive out to
Tollygunge of an afternoon, have tea and a game of croquet, look at
the picture papers, and come quietly home again, is to me the height
Tollygunge is a club, some miles out of Calcutta, with a race-course,
golf-links, croquet-lawns--a very delectable spot. The correct thing
is to drive out on Sunday morning and have breakfast out in the open
air. Then one sees everyone one knows, and it is very gay; but I think
it is much pleasanter to drive out quietly in the afternoon.
The road to Tollygunge lies partly through the jungle, past clusters
of native huts where little chocolate-coloured babies roll and chatter
in the sunlit dust. You know, the jungle is quite near Calcutta.
When I lie at nights and listen to the jackals howling, I remember
Kipling's story, and wonder if we were driven out and the jungle were
let in, how long it would be before Calcutta became a habitation for
the beasts of the field.
Yesterday I drove out with Mrs. Townley and G., and three tired people
we were, too tired even to play the gentle game of croquet; glad to
sit still in comfortable chairs on the greensward and steep ourselves
in the peace and quietness.
At tea, Chil the kite, hovering in mid-air, watched us jealously.
Suddenly there was a swoop, a dark flutter of wings, a startled squeak
from G., and our cake was gone. That's India!
Tea finished, while we still sat loath to leave, a curious odour
forced itself upon our attention. G. sniffed. _I_ sniffed. "Whatever
is it?" asked G. Mrs. Townley pointed riverwards to where a thin
column of blue-grey smoke rose and hung like a cloud in the hot, still
"It's a burning ghat," she said. "They are burning a body."
And _that_ is India!
When one is feeling fairly peaceful and secure, something ghastly,
like the smell of burning Hindoo, recalls to one the uncertainty of
all things. We rose to go home, feeling depressed, the smell pursuing
I have two pieces of news for this letter.
First, Boggley can take a few days' holiday at Christmas, so he means
to take me to Darjeeling to see if we can catch a glimpse of the
snows. We shall only be there from Saturday afternoon till Monday at
noon, and Boggley says that Kangchenjunga is often cloud-covered for
weeks, so it is a mere chance whether we shall see it. But surely,
surely Kangchenjunga won't be coy with me. I came to India, of course,
in the first place to see Boggley, but in the second place to see the
snows, and I can't believe that the gods will be so unkind as to deny
a humble worshipper of great mountains a sight of the vision glorious.
The other piece of news is quite important.
Boggley has got a new billet. What it is I shan't try to explain,
for I don't understand the game of General Post which is played so
frequently among Government officials, but it means that he will have
to go on a tour of inspection all over everywhere, and, what is more,
I shall go too. Isn't it fine?
Boggley actually hesitated about accepting, because he thought I
should so hate to leave Calcutta and its gaieties to wander in the
jungle. It isn't that I don't enjoy Calcutta; I do, and I am most
grateful to the people who have given me such a good time; but I pine
to see something of the real India. Calcutta might be a suburb of
London. I want to see the native of India, not the fat babu; I want to
live in tents and be a gipsy; I want to have Boggley all to myself. We
have hardly time at present to pass the time of day with each other.
Boggley tries to frighten me with tales of dak-bungalows and jungly
cooking, but I won't be frightened; I am looking forward to it all too
We don't go till the beginning of January, so I shall be able to
attend the Drawing-Room and a few other _tamashas_ before we depart.
This will have to do for a letter this week. I must clean some gloves
now. That is the only useful thing I do, clean G.'s gloves and my own.
We dirty so many pairs of long white gloves, and it is cheaper to
clean them at home. You do it with petrol and a small piece of
flannel, and the result isn't bad, though somewhat streaky. G's part
is to sit on my bed and watch me do it, assisted by Bella on the
floor. It reminds me of the inhabitants of the Scilly Islands, who,
it is said, earn a precarious livelihood by taking in each other's
_Calcutta, Dec. 26_.
When Kipling wrote his _Christmas in India_ I think he must have been
in a dak-bungalow down with fever, otherwise he would hardly have
painted such a very gloomy picture. I, at least, didn't find it a
mocking Christmas--but then India isn't my grim stepmother, as
Victor Ormonde pointed out to me the other night, I can afford to be
home-sick, can afford to let myself think of the "black dividing sea
and alien plain," because here I have no continuing city. It is the
real exiles, "shackled in a lifelong tether," who may not think, but
must go doggedly through their day's darg.
I found it an agreeable day, from the morning when I got my presents
and various offerings of flowers, to the evening, when we dined with
some very kind people, and had an amusing time playing childish games.
I have often seen pictures headed "Christmas in the Tropics," and
looked with sentimental eyes at the people grouped among palm-trees on
a verandah, while the girl at the piano sang what was evidently a song
about "the dear homeland," to judge from the far-away look in the eyes
of all present. It seems a pity to disillusion you, but it isn't at
all like that. To begin with, it was quite chilly, and we were very
glad of the big fire burning in the grate, and we did not look pensive
or far-away, but ate our dinner with great content. I think, perhaps,
Christmas fare is even more uninteresting in India than at home;
turkey tastes more like white flannel, and plum-pudding is stodgier,
and there are no white and scarlet berries or robins; but otherwise it
is really a nicer day than in England.
Of course I thought a lot about the home people. I imagined Peter
waking and groping for his stocking. Oh, _have_ you forgotten what
it felt like to waken up and remember it was Christmas morning? I
sometimes wish I could still hang up my stocking. There is nothing in
Grown-up Land that equals the thrill the delicious bulginess of the
stocking, gripped in the darkness, gave one.
I think they would miss me a little at home. I know Mother would often
say, "I wonder what Olivia is doing now!"
And what kind of Christmas had you? A very festive one, I hope.
Very many thanks for the book you sent me. You couldn't possibly have
given me anything I like better. Somehow, I have never possessed a
copy of _A Child's Garden of Verses_, and this one, so exquisitely,
specially bound, will be a great treasure. I like, too, your reason
for choosing it. It is nice of you to like my childish reminiscences,
but it is rash to say you wish you had known us then. Looking at us
now, so quiet, so well-behaved, _such_ ornaments to society, you would
be surprised what villains we once were--at least on week-days! We had
what R.L.S. calls a "covenanting childhood." Looking back, it seems
to me that our childhood was a queer mixture of Calvinism and fairy
tales. Calvinism, even now, I associate with ham and eggs--I suppose
because Sabbath morning was the only time we ever tasted that
delicacy. Between bustling Saturday night, when we wistfully watched
our toys being locked away, and cheery Monday morning, when things
began again, there was a great gulf fixed, and that was the Sabbath
Day. What strenuous Sabbath Days we had! First there was worship and
the Catechism. (The only time I ever wished to be English was when
I thought I might have dallied with "What is your name?" instead of
wrestling with such deep things as "What is man's chief end?") After
worship was over we were allowed to walk in the garden till it was
time for the morning service. That was the Forenoon Diet of Worship,
then came the Afternoon Diet of Worship. Having sat like rocks through
them both, we proceeded to the Sabbath School, and then went home to
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