Olivia in India
Part 2 out of 3
tea, and cake, and jam, and an evening filled with bound volumes of
_The Christian Treasury_, where we wrestled with tales of religious
bigotry and persecution until we seemed to breathe the very atmosphere
of dark and mouldy cells; and became daringly familiar with the
thumb-screw and the rack, the Inquisition and other devildoms of
Spain. I used to wonder pitifully why it had never occurred to the
poor victims to say their prayers in bed, and thus save themselves
such fiery trials.
I wonder why I pretend we found our Sundays a trial. Looking back, I
love every minute of them. Father could make any day delightful; and
what a through-the-week Father he was! Sometimes he came to tea with
us in the nursery and made believe there was a fairy called Annabel
Lee in the teapot, carrying on conversations with her that sent eerie
thrills down our several spines. Afterwards he would read out of a
little green and gold book that contained for us all the romance of
the ages between its elegant covers. From Father we heard of Angus the
Subtle, Morag of the Misty Way, and the King of Errin, who rides and
rides and whose road is to the End of Days. Sometimes, laying books
aside, he told us old tales that he had heard from his mother, who in
turn had heard them from hers--of the Red Etain of Ireland who lived
in Belligand, and who stole the King's daughter, the King of fair
Scotland; and the pathetic tale of the bannock that went to see the
world, with its cynical end: "Ah, well! We'll all be in the tod's hole
in less than a hunner years."
It was Father who gave us first a love for books, and taught us the
magic of lovely words. And it was Father who tried to place our
stumbling little childish feet in the Narrow Way, and to turn our eyes
ever towards a better country--"that is an heavenly!" I suppose it
was the dimly-understood talk of the better country that gave John and
me the idea of our Kingdom.
It was a great secret once, but now I may tell without breaking faith.
Boggley and the Bird were prosaic people, caring more for bird-nesting
and Red Indian hunting than games of make-believe, so they never knew.
It was part of the sunny old garden, our Kingdom, and was called
Nontland because it was ruled by one Nont. He had once been a common
ninepin, but having had a hole bored through his middle with a red-hot
wire he became possessed of a mystic power and personality. Even
we--his creators, so to speak--stood somewhat in awe of him.
The River Beulah flowed through Nontland, and it was bounded on the
north by the Celestial Mountains; on the south by the red brick wall,
where the big pears grew; on the west by the Rose of Sharon tree; and
on the east by the pig-sty. That last sounds something of a descent,
but it wasn't really a pig-sty, and I can't think why it was called
so, for, to my knowledge, it had never harboured anything but two
innocent white Russian rabbits with pink eyes. It was situated at the
foot of the kitchen-garden, next door to the hen-houses; the roof,
made of pavement flags, was easy to climb, and, sloping as it did to
the top of the wall overlooking the high-road, was greatly prized by
us as a watch-tower from which we could see the world go by.
To get into our Kingdom we knocked at the Wicket Gate, murmuring as we
Yo he trovado,"
and it opened--with a push. We hadn't an idea then, nor have I now,
what the words meant. We got them out of a book called _The Spanish
Brothers_, and thought them splendidly mysterious.
Besides ourselves, and Nont, and the Russian rabbits, there was only
one other denizen of our Kingdom--a turkey with a broken leg, a
lonely, lovable fowl which John, out of pity, raised to the peerage
and the office of Prime Minister. I have a vivid recollection of
riding in hot haste on a rake to tell the King--not in proper fairy
fashion that the skies were fallen, but that Lord Turkey of Henhouse
John, I remember, always carried some fern seed in his trouser-pocket.
He said it made him invisible--a delusion I loyally supported. It
seems to me the sun always shone in those days, the time was ever
three o'clock in the afternoon, and faery lay just adown the road!
It has just occurred to me, and it is an awesome thought, that you
must converse every day, and all day, in the German language. I
believe I have forgotten all I ever knew of German, though it isn't so
very long ago since I wrestled in tears and confused darkness of mind
with that uncouth tongue. Don't forget your native tongue, and
don't dare write me a letter in German, or, like the Editor of _The
Spectator_, I shall say, "This correspondence must now cease!"
Since last I wrote life has been one long changing of garments and
moving from one show to another. Tuesday was Viceroy's Cup Day at the
races, a very pretty sight. One side of the ground was crowded by
pretty women in lovely gowns, and on the other side the natives sat in
their hundreds and chattered, not the drab-coloured crowd we produce,
but gay and striking as a bed of tulips.
There are three stands--one for the members of the Turf Club, one for
the ordinary public, and one for the natives who can afford a seat.
The members of the Turf Club may be said to be the sheep; the others
the goats. It is more comfortable in every way to be a sheep. You get
a better seat and a comfortable tea in an enclosure, with the sight
of the goats scrambling wildly for a little refreshment to keep you
thankful, for in the heat and dust and glare even a sheep is apt to
lose sight of its mercies. I thought G. was the prettiest girl there.
She is always such a refreshing sight, pink and white and golden like
a morning in May, and tall--"like a king's own daughter."
I was with the Ormondes and, of course, Boggley. Mrs. Ormonde is so
charming, she is a great favourite with men, and is always surrounded
when she goes anywhere by about half a dozen eager for her smiles. She
has the quaintest way of handing her surplus cavaliers on to me, but I
really much prefer Victor and Boggley as companions. They don't need
to be amused like other men, and are always good-natured and funny.
I am feeling a little pale with all the excitement, and shall be glad
of the change to Darjeeling to-morrow. Next mail you shall hear all
about it--that is to say, if no person, seditiously inclined, derails
the train or does anything horrid. Some very dreadful things have been
happening lately, but I don't think there is much danger so long as we
keep far from the vicinity of dignitaries.
_Calcutta, New Year's Day_.
Wednesday already, the mail goes to-morrow, and I with so much to
To begin--we left Calcutta on Friday afternoon and got to the Ganges
about eight, when we embarked in a ferry-boat to cross the river.
It was quite a big steamer, with dinner-tables laid out on deck,
decorated for Christmas with palm-branches, Chinese lanterns, and
large, deadly-looking iced cakes.
On the other side, the train was waiting that was to take us to
Siliguri, and we lost no time in looking for places. Indian trains are
rather different from our trains. Each carriage has two broad seats
running lengthways, which pull out for sleeping berths, and two other
berths that let down from the roof. I found I had to share a carriage
with two other females, and an upper berth fell to my share.
The bearer arranged my bed, and Boggley took a glance round, asked if
I were all right, and departed to his own place. Isn't it a queer idea
to carry one's bedding about with one? Pillows, blankets, and a quilt,
all done up in a canvas hold-all, accompany people wherever they
travel--in trains, hotels, even when staying with friends.
Well, there was I shut up for the night with two strange women, mother
and daughter evidently, American certainly; and the horror of an upper
berth staring me in the face! It is quite an experience to sleep in
the upper berth of an Indian train. To begin with, it takes an acrobat
of no mean order to reach it at all, and once you are in your nose
almost touches the roof of the carriage. As I climbed to my lofty
perch one of the American ladies remarked, "I guess, child, you ain't
going to have the time of your life up there to-night." And I hadn't.
Every time the train gave a jolt--which it did every few seconds--I
clung wildly to the straps to keep myself from descending suddenly and
violently to the floor; and in less than an hour every bone in my body
was crying out against the inhuman hardness of my couch. In spite
of everything, I fell asleep, and awoke feeling colder than I ever
remember feeling before. I started up, banging my head on the roof as
I did so, to find that the carriage door was swinging wide open. What
was to be done? I carefully felt the bumps beginning to rise on my
forehead, and considered. It was, humanly speaking, impossible that
I could descend and shut that door, and yet, could I endure lying
inadequately covered and exposed to all the winds of heaven? There
remained my fellow-travellers--they at least were on the first floor,
so to speak; but as I wavered a striking apparition rose, stalked down
the carriage, and, leaning far out into the night, seized the door and
shut it with a bang. Then arose a shrill protest from beneath me: "Oh,
Mommer, how could you be so careless! You might have fallen out, and I
should have been left quite alone in this awful heathen country!"
After that there was no more sleep, and when daylight came filtering
through the shutters I slid warily to the floor, and having washed
and dressed, sat on my dressing-bag and conversed amiably with the
Americans. I found them charming and most entertaining, simple, quiet
people; not the shrill-voiced tourist _jat_ at all. They had been
travelling, so they told me, with a sort of dreary satisfaction, for
two years, and they had still about a year to do. It sounded like hard
labour! The poor dears! I can't think why they did it. They would have
been so much happier at home in their own little corner of the world.
I can picture them attending sewing bees, and other quaint things
people do attend in old-fashioned New England storybooks. They had a
servant with them whom they addressed as Ali, a bearded rascal who
evidently cheated them at every turn, and who actually came into their
presence with his shoes on!
I didn't know till I met these Americans that I was such a wit--or
perhaps wag is a better word. I didn't try to be funny, I didn't even
know I was being funny, but every word I said convulsed them.
The "Mommer" said to me:
"Child, are you married?"
"No," I said, surprised. "Why?"
"I was just thinking what a good time your husband must have!"
When we reached Siliguri I was surprised to find everything glistening
with frost, and the few natives who were about had their heads wrapped
up in shawls as if they were suffering from toothache. We got some
breakfast in the waiting-room, and then took our places in the
funniest little toy train. This is the Darjeeling-Himalaya Railway. It
was all very primitive. A man banged with a stick on a piece of metal
by way of a starting-bell, and we set off on our journey to cloudland.
Eagerly looked for, Darjeeling came at last, but alack! no mountains,
only piled-up banks of white clouds. It was bitterly cold, and we were
glad to get out and stamp up to the hotel, where we found great fires
burning in our rooms.
There wasn't much to do in the hotel beyond reading back numbers of
_The Lady's Pictorial_, and I went to bed on Saturday night rather low
in my mind, fearing, after all, I was not to be accounted worthy to
behold the mountains.
Some of the people in the hotel were getting up at 3.30 to go to Tiger
Hill to see the sun rise on Everest. Boggley, the lazy one, wouldn't
hear of going, and when I awoke in the grey dawning stiff with cold,
in spite of a fire and heaps of blankets and rugs, I felt thankful
that I hadn't a strenuous brother. If it had been John, I dare not
think where he would have made me accompany him to in his efforts to
get as near as possible to his beloved mountains. Never shall I forget
the first time he took me to Switzerland to climb. I had never climbed
before--unless you call scrambling on the hills at home climbing--and
I was all eagerness to try till John gave me Whymper's book on Zermatt
to amuse me in the train, and I read of the first ascent of the
Matterhorn and its tragic sequel. It had the effect of reducing me
to a state of abject terror. All through that journey, from Paris to
Lausanne, from Lausanne to Visp, from Visp to Zermatt, horror of the
Matterhorn hung over me like a pall. I even found something sinister
in little Zermatt when we got there--Zermatt that now I love so, with
the rushing, icy river, the cheerful smell of wood smoke, the goats
that in the early morning wake one with the tinkle-tinkle of the bells
through the street, and the quiet-eyed guides that sit on the wall in
the twilight and smoke the pipe of peace.
After dinner, that first night, we walked through the village and
along the winding path that leads up to the Schwarzsee, and gazed at
the mighty peak, so wild, so savage in the pale purple light that
follows the sunset glow--gazed at it in silence, John wrapped in
adoration, I thinking of the men who had gone up this road to their
"Yes," said John, as we turned back, "some very scared men have come
down this road."
If he had known what an exceedingly scared girl was at his side he
wouldn't, I think, have chosen that moment to turn into the little
graveyard that surrounds the village chapel, to look at the graves
of the victims--the graves of Croz the guide, of Hudson, and the boy
Hadow. The text on one stone caught my eye--"_Be ye therefore also
ready..._" It was too much; I fled back to the hotel, locked the door
of my room, shuttered the windows so that I should not see the vestige
of a mountain--and wept.
It is odd to think how I hated it all that night, how to myself
I maligned all climbers, calling them in my haste
foolhardy--senseless--imbecile, when I had only to go up my first easy
mountain to become as keen as the worst--or the best.
Sometimes in those mountaineering excursions with John to Zermatt,
to Chamonix, to Grindelwald, I have found it in my heart to envy the
unaspiring people who spend long days pottering about on level ground.
But looking back it isn't the quiet, lazy days one likes to think
about. No--rather it is the mornings when one rose at 2 a.m. and,
thrusting aching feet into nailed boots, tiptoed noisily into the
deserted dining-room to be supplied with coffee and rolls by a
pitifully sleepy waiter.
Outside the guides wait, Joseph and Aloys, and away we tramp in single
file along the little path that runs through fields full of wild
flowers, drenched with dew, into a fairy-tale wood of tall, straight
pine-trees. We follow the steady, slow footsteps of Joseph, the chief
guide, up the winding path that turns and twists, and turns again, but
rises, always rises, until we are clear of the wood, past the rough,
stony ground, and on to the snow, firm and hard to the feet before the
sun has melted the night's frost. When we reach the rocks, and before
we rope, Aloys removes his ruecksack and proceeds to lay out our
luncheon; for if one breakfasts at two one is ready for the next meal
at nine. Crouched in strange attitudes, we munch cold chicken, rolls
and hard-boiled eggs, sweet biscuits and apples, with great content.
Joseph has buried a bottle of white wine in the snow, and now pours
some into a horn tumbler, which he hands to Mademoiselle with an
air--a draught of nectar. It is John's turn for the tumbler next, and
as he emerges from the long, ice-cold, satisfying drink he declares
his firm intention, his unalterable resolve, never to drink anything
but white wine again in this world. But doubtless as you know, the
white wine of the Lowlands is not the white wine of the mountains.
It needs to be buried in the snow by Joseph, and drunk out of a horn
tumbler, at the foot of an aiguille, after a six hours' climb, to be
at its best. After refreshment comes the hard work. To look at the
face of the rock up which Joseph has swarmed; to say hopelessly, "I
can't do it, I can't," and then gradually to find here a niche for one
hand, here a foothold; to learn to cling to the rock, to use every bit
of oneself, to work one's way up delicately as a cat so as not to send
loose stones down on the climber below, until, panting, one lands
on the ledge appointed by Joseph, there to rest while the next man
climbs, it is the best of sports. And at the top to stand in the
"stainless eminence of air," to look down eight--ten--a thousand feet
to the toy village at the foot while John names all the other angel
peaks that soar round us, tell me, you who are also a climber, is it
not very good?
But the coming down! Stumbling wearily down the steep paths of the
pine-woods with the skin rubbed off one's toes, and giving at the
knees like an old and feeble horse, that is not so good. And yet--I
don't know. For as we near the valley, puffs of hot, scented air come
up to meet us, the tinkle of the cow-bell greets our ears, and we
realize that it is only given to those who have braved the perils, who
have searched for the deep things of the ancient mountains and found
out the precious things of the lasting hills, to thoroughly appreciate
the pleasant, homely quietness of the meadow-lands.
But I have wandered miles away from Sunday morning in Darjeeling.
It was still misty when we went out after breakfast, but not so
solidly misty, so Boggley held out hopes it would clear.
Darjeeling is a pretty place tucked into the mountain-side. In the
middle is the bazaar, and it happened to be market day, which made it
more interesting. The village street was lined on both sides with open
booths, some piled with fruit and vegetables, others, oddly enough,
with lamps and mirrors and other cheap rubbish which bore the legend
"Made in Germany," others with all sorts of curios. The place was
thronged with people. A few plainsmen and Tibetans Boggley pointed
out, but most of the crowd were hill-people, jolly little squat
men and women hung with silver chains and heavy ear-rings set with
turquoises. Their eyes are very black and all puckered with laughing,
and they have actually rosy cheeks.
They crowded round, trying to sell us curios and lumps of rough
turquoise. When we asked the price of anything, they replied promptly,
"Twenty rupees." We would offer two rupees, and, after a few minutes'
bargaining, they took it quite cheerfully, the thing probably not
being worth eight annas. I bought a prayer-wheel. It is a round silver
thing with a handle rather like a child's rattle, and inside are slips
of paper covered with writing. These are the prayers, and at intervals
you twirl the wheel round, and the oftener you turn it the more devout
I also purchased some lumps of rough turquoise, though Boggley said
they were not a good blue,--too pale,--and was tying them up in my
handkerchief when Boggley gripped my arm. "Look!" he said. I looked
straight across the valley, "Higher," said Boggley, and I lifted
my eyes literally to the skies; and
there--"suddenly--behold--beyond"--were the everlasting snows.
All day they stayed with us, and as the sun was setting we climbed to
a point of vantage to see the last of them. It has been said they are
a snow-white wall barring the whole horizon. They are like a city
carved by giants out of eternal ice, a city which lieth four-square.
We watched while peak after peak faded into cold greyness; until
Kangchenjunga towered, alone, rose-red into the heavens, sublime in
its "valorous isolation." Then the light left it too, and we turned
and came down from the Hill of God.
We left for Calcutta at noon on Monday, and I had a thoroughly
over-eaten, uncomfortable day, all owing to Boggley's forethought.
He said as we began breakfast about nine o'clock: "Now eat a good
breakfast, for we shall have to leave before lunch, and no man knows
when we shall get another meal."
It seemed good common-sense, so I ate an egg and two pieces of toast
after I had really finished. That was all very well, but the hotel
people thoughtfully provided us with a substantial luncheon before we
left. Even then Boggley kept on looking to the future.
"Oh, tuck in," he said. "We shan't get anything more till eight
I didn't feel as if I wanted anything ever again, but I hurriedly
gobbled some food, and we raced to the station, then sat in the train
half an hour before it started.
At the first station we stopped at, the bearer appeared at
the carriage window with a breakfast cup of tea and a large
"y-sponge-cake," ferreted from no man knows where. He was so pleased
with himself that I hadn't the heart to refuse it--so there were three
meals that ought to have been spread over the greater part of the day
crowded into one morning. I sympathized with the vulture, who
"Eats between his meals,
And that's the reason why
He very, very rarely feels
As well as you and I."
It is never pleasant to come down from the heights, and we had rather
a dreary journey to Siliguri.
Boggley had taken care to wire for a lower berth in the train for me,
but it seems ordained that I shall ascend in Indian trains. I again
found myself in a carriage with my Americans, and the daughter had
such bad toothache, and seemed so much to dread the prospect of
mounting to the eyrie, that I had to say that I would rather like it
Toothache kept Miss America awake and made her talkative, which was
unfortunate for me. She wanted to know all about the manners and
customs of the British. She only knew us from the outside, so to
speak. Incidentally she shed a lurid light on the habits of the
American male. It seems that young men in America are expected to
carry offerings of fruit and flowers and candy to young women--not
when they are engaged, mark you; what is expected of them then I
daren't think--but to quite irrelevant young women. "Don't young
gentlemen do so in England?" asked Miss America. "No," I said, feeling
that I was making out my countrymen poor, mean creatures indeed, but
feeling also how much more complicated life would become for these
"gentlemen of England now abed" if they had to carry crates of
oranges, drums of figs, and pounds of candies to every casual young
woman whose acquaintance they enjoyed.
"You don't say!" said Miss America. "And don't they take you out
driving in their buggies?"
"_Never_," I replied firmly. "They haven't got them."
"You don't say! And how does a young gentleman show he admires you?"
"Well, he doesn't as a rule," I murmured feebly.
"I guess," she said, "we manage things better in America." And,
indeed, perhaps they do.
This conversation so exhausted us that we fell very sound asleep, and
knew nothing till we arrived at the station where we had to get out
and change into the ferry-boat. Then there was a terrible scurry. The
servants waiting to pack up the bedding and strap bags--they said they
had wakened us at the previous station, but they must have wakened
someone else instead--while we threw on various articles of clothing,
stuck hats on undone hair, and feet into unlaced shoes, all the while,
like a Greek chorus, the "Mommer" moaning reproachfully, "Oh, Ali, you
might have woke us," while outside on the platform bounded the irate
Boggley speaking winged words.
We did get on to the boat, so after all there was no harm done.
I was quite sorry to part with my Americans when we reached Calcutta.
They and their Ali were going on to Benares that night, tired and
spiritless. They shook us both violently by the hand, vowing we were
just "lovely people" and that I was a "real little John Bull!"
The home mail was waiting us when we got back, and I read my letters,
slept for an hour or two, and then got up and went to a big New Year's
dinner-party, where we had fireworks in our crackers, and sang what G.
Thanks so much for your delightfully long letter.
My wrist aches so I can't write another word.
_Calcutta, Jan. 8_.
One more week and we start for the Mofussil and the Simple Life. The
Mofussil, I may remark in passing, is not, as at first I thought, some
sort of prophet, but means simply the country districts.
I have been standing over Bella while she laid out all my dresses,
telling her which are to be packed carefully and left in Calcutta, and
which are to accompany me. I don't want to take any more luggage than
I can help; as it is, I foresee we shall have a mountain. Boggley has
been begging everyone for the loan of books, as he does not see how
I am to be kept in reading matter when there are no libraries within
reach. He accuses me of being capable of finishing two fat volumes in
a day, but I shan't have time to read much if I carry out my great
project. _I am going to write a book_. You are surprised? But why?
Other members of the family can write, why not I? I read in a review
lately that John has great distinction of style, so perhaps I have
too. Anyway, I have bought a pile of essay-paper and sixpenny-worth of
J nibs, and I mean to find out. It is to be a book about the Mutiny,
the information to be derived from Trevelyan's book on Cawnpore. There
is room, don't you think, for a really good book on the Mutiny?
Last night the Drawing-Room was held by the Vicereine, a function that
everyone, more or less, is expected to attend. I went with G. and her
sister (one needn't go with the lady who presents one), and found it
most entertaining. Not being the wives or daughters of Members of
Council or anything _burra_, we hadn't the private entree, and had to
wait our turn in pens, like dumb driven cattle.
It is a much simpler affair than a presentation at home; one need not
even wear veils and feathers, and the trains of our white satin gowns
were modest as to length. It was silly to be nervous about such a
little thing, but I quite shook with terror. I think it was the being
passed along by A.D.C.'s that unnerved me, but when I reached the last
and heard "To be presented," and my name shouted out, I stotted
(do you know the Scots word to stot? It means to walk blindly--to
stumble--that and much more; oh! a very expressive word) over a length
of red carpet that seemed to stretch for miles, feeling exactly as a
Dutch wooden doll looks; saw, as in a glass darkly, familiar faces
that smiled jeeringly, or encouragingly, I could not be sure which;
ducked feebly and uncertainly before the two centre figures; and,
gasping relief, found myself going out of the doorway walking on G.'s
Afterwards, when we were all gathered upstairs, the many pretty gowns
and uniforms made a gay sight. I saw the dearest little Maharanee
blazing in magnificent jewels and looking so scared, and shy, and
sweet. There was a supper-room, and lots to eat if one could have got
at it, or had had room to eat it after it had been got. I don't like
champagne--"simpkin" they call it here--much to drink, but I like it
less when it is shot down my back by a careless man.
There is a fancy-dress ball to-night at Government House, and that is
the last of my dissipations for some time to come.
I go on writing, writing all the time about my own affairs and never
even mention your letters, and nothing makes me so cross as to have
people do that to me. I like my friends to make interested comments on
everything I tell them.
I am glad you are so happy in your work and enjoy life. Is the book
nearly finished yet? It is nice that you have found such charming
friends. Is the Fraeulein person you talk about pretty? I can imagine
how you enjoy hearing her play and singing to her accompaniment. I
always think of you when I hear good music, and of your face when I
told you that the only music I really liked was Scots songs played
on the pianola! But you know that is really true. I simply hate good
Once, in Paris, I went with some people to hear _Samson et Delilah_,
and while everyone sat rapt, enchanted by the sweet sounds, I waited
with what patience I could till the stage temple fell, in the vain
hope that some part would hit the tenor. What would your Fraeulein say
to such blasphemy?
Forgive me maligning the gods of your idolatry. I think I had better
finish this letter before I go on from bad to worse, because I am in
an unaccountably perverse and impertinent frame of mind to-day, and
there is no saying what I shall say next.
_Calcutta, Jan. 8_.
Such a scene of confusion! Everything I possess is lying on the floor.
All the things I have accumulated on my way out and since I came to
Calcutta lie in one heap waiting to be packed; shoes, dresses, hats,
books, photographs are scattered madly about, and in the middle,
almost reduced to idiocy, and making no effort to reduce chaos to
order, sits Bella. I can't help her, for I must get my home letters
written and posted before we leave Calcutta, for before I reach my
first halting-place the mail will be gone.
Boggley has been in the Mofussil for three days, and I have been
staying with the Townleys. I came back last night. It was nice being
with G. again, and her sister is extraordinarily kind. We had rather
an interesting day on Friday. I have always been asking where are the
Missionaries, but I suppose I must have asked the wrong people, for
they didn't seem to know. However, the other day I met a lady,--Mrs.
Gardner,--the wife of a missionary, who asked us to go to lunch with
her, and promised she would show us something of the work among the
women. So on Friday we set off in a _tikka-gharry_.
We left the Calcutta we knew--the European shops, the big, cool
houses, the Maidan--and drove through native streets, airless,
treeless, drab-coloured places, until we despaired of ever reaching
anywhere. When at last our man did stop, we found Mrs. Gardner's cool,
English-looking drawing-room a welcome refuge from the glare and the
dust; and she was kindness itself. She made a delightful cicerone, for
she has a keen sense of humour and a wide knowledge of native life.
We went first to see the girls' school--a quaint sight. All the funny
little women with their hair well oiled and plastered down, with iron
bangles on their wrists to show that they were married, wrapped in
their _saris_, so demurely chanting their lessons! When we went in
they all stood up and, touching their foreheads, said in a queer
sing-song drawl, "Salaam, Mees Sahib, salaam!" The teachers were
native Bible-women. The schoolrooms opened on to a court with a well
like a village pump in the middle. One small girl was brought out to
tell us the story of the Prodigal Son in Bengali, which she did at
great length with dramatic gestures; but our attention was somewhat
diverted from her by a small boy who ran in from the street, hot and
dusty, sluiced himself unconcernedly all over at the pump, and raced
out again dripping. It did look so inviting.
When we left the school Mrs. Gardner said she would take us to see
some _purdah nashin_ women--that is, women who never go out with their
faces uncovered, and who never see any men but their own husbands.
I don't quite know what we expected to see--something very Oriental
and luxurious anyhow; marble halls and women with veils and scarlet
satin trousers dotted about on cushions--and the reality was
disappointing. No marble halls, no divans and richly carved tables,
no hookahs and languid odours of rich perfumes, but a room with cheap
modern furniture, china ornaments, and a round table in the middle
of the floor, for all the world like the best parlour of the working
classes. Two women lived there with their husbands and families, and
they came in and looked G. and me all over, fingered our dresses,
examined our hats, and then asked why we weren't married! I could see
they didn't like the look of us at all. They said we were like the
dolls their little girls got at the fete, and produced two glassy-eyed
atrocities with flaxen hair and vivid pink cheeks, and asked if we saw
the resemblance. We didn't. They told Mrs. Gardner--who has been
many years in India, and looks it--that they thought she was much
nicer-looking than we were, her face was all one colour! (They spoke,
of course, in Bengali, but Mrs. Gardner translated.) Poor women! what
a pitifully dull life is theirs! G. was disappointed to hear they
hadn't become Christians. She had an idea that the Missionary had only
to appear with the Gospel story and the deed was done. I'm afraid it
isn't as easy as that by a long way.
Mrs. Gardner read a chapter from the Bible while we were there, and
these women argued with her most intelligently. They are by no means
stupid. Before we left G. sang to them, with no accompaniment but a
cold stare. When she finished they said they preferred Bengali music,
it had more tune. We left, feeling we had been no success.
Having seen a comparatively well-to-do household, Mrs. Gardner said
she would show us a really poor one. We followed her through a network
of lanes more evil-smelling than anything I ever imagined--London
can't compete with Calcutta in the way of odours--until we reached a
little hovel with nothing in it but a string-bed, a few cooking-pots,
and two women. Caste, it seems, has nothing to do with money, and
these women, though as poor as it is possible to be, were thrice-born
Brahmins, and received us with the most gracious, charming manners,
inviting us to sit on the string-bed while they stood before us with
meekly folded hands. The dim interior of the hut with its sun-bleached
mud floor, the two gentle brown-eyed women with their _saris_ and
silver anklets, looking wonderingly at G. in her white dress sitting
enthroned, with her blue eyes shining and her hair a halo, made an
unforgettable picture of the East and the West.
We had tea at the Mission House and met several missionary ladies who
told us much that was interesting about their work, which they seem to
love whole-heartedly. I asked one girl how it compared with work among
the poor at home, and she said, "Well, perhaps it is the sunshine, but
here it is never sordid." I can't agree. To me the eternal sunshine
makes it worse. At home, although the poverty and misery are terrible,
still, I comfort myself, the poor have their cosy moments. In winter
sometimes, when funds run to a decent fire and a kippered herring
to make a savoury smell, a brown teapot on the hob and the children
gathered in, they are as happy as possible for the time being; I have
seen them. I can't imagine any brightness in the lives of the women we
To be a missionary in Calcutta, I think one would require to have an
acute sense of humour and no sense of smell. Am I flippant? I don't
mean to be, because I feel I can't sufficiently admire the men and
women who are bearing the heat and burden of the day. And now that
sounds patronizing, and Heaven knows I don't mean to be that.
Anyway, G. and I were never intended to be missionaries. We drove
home very silent, in the only vehicle procurable, a third-class
_tikka-gharry_, feeling as if all the varied smells of the East were
lying heavy on our chests. Once G. said gloomily, "How long does
typhoid fever take to come out?" which made me laugh weakly most of
the way home.
The day of our departure has come, and Boggley is behaving dreadfully.
Having taken time by the forelock, I am packed and ready, but Boggley
has done nothing. He remarked airily that I must go to the Stores and
get some sheets, a new mosquito-net, and a supply of pots and pans,
and then went off to lunch with someone at the Club, leaving me
speechless with rage. How can I possibly know what sort of pots and
pans are wanted? I never camped out before. I shall calmly finish this
letter and pay no attention to his order.
We had a farewell dinner last night, the Ormondes and one or two
others. We came into this dismantled room afterwards and talked till
midnight, and amused ourselves vastly. I happened to say that I was
rather scared at the thought of the wild beasts I might encounter,
probably under my camp-bed, in the jungle; so a man, Captain Rawson,
drew out a table for me to take with me into camp. One heave and a
wriggle means a boa-constrictor, two heaves and a growl a tiger--and
so on. So you can imagine me in a tent, in the dead of night, sitting
up, anxiously striking matches and consulting my table as to what is
Mrs. Ormonde, who is so nervous that if a cracker goes off in her
hearing she thinks it is another Mutiny, is anxious that we should
take guns with us into the Mofussil in case we are attacked. Picture
to yourself Boggley and me setting out "with a little hoard of
Maxims." Armed, I should be a menace alike to friend and foe!
My first stopping-place is Takai. Boggley is going to some very
far-away place where it wouldn't be convenient to take a female, so
when Dr. and Mrs. Russel asked me to come to them while he is there
I very gladly accepted the invitation. Dr. Russel is a medical
missionary. I don't know him, but his wife, a very clever, interesting
woman, I met when she was last home, and she told me about her home in
the jungle until I longed to see it. Boggley will come for me in about
ten days. Bella I shall leave in Calcutta. It would be a nuisance
carting her about from place to place, and I am not so helpless that I
can't manage for myself.
Expect next mail to receive a budget of prodigious size.
THE SUNBURNED EARTH
_Takai, Jan. 19_.
There is no doubt this is the ideal place for letter-writing. I sit
here, in the verandah, with long, quiet hours stretching out before me
and nothing to do but write and write, and I suppose that is why for
the last thirty minutes I have sat nibbling the end of my pen and
dreaming--without putting pen to paper.
Where did I leave off? The Monday we left Calcutta, wasn't it? To
continue. The said Monday was a strenuous day. Boggley absented
himself till late afternoon, while I wrestled with wild beasts at
Ephesus in the shape of bearers and coolies, my Hindustani deserting
me utterly, as it always does at a crisis. G., desolated at the
thought of the coming separation, hovered round all day and did her
best to help.
About tea-time Boggley walked in, serenely regardless of the fact that
we were still devoid of bed and table linen, crockery and cooking
utensils. In the end the bearer was dispatched to the Stores with a
list, but the result of his shopping I haven't yet seen. G. stayed
till nearly dinner-time, and sang to us for a last time. It was horrid
parting from her, my dear old G. Do I write too much about her? I
thought from something you said in a letter that perhaps I rather
bored you talking of her. You see, I like her so much, and you can
hardly understand how much she has meant to me since we left England
together that showery October day.
After dinner we said good-bye to our friends in what Boggley
irreverently calls "the hash-house," and at nine o'clock departed
to the station. The bearer was there with all the luggage, and the
_syces_ with the ponies, for we are taking the ponies in case there
is a chance of polo. In the end we nearly missed the train. At the
booking-office, when we tried to book the ponies, the babu in charge
lost his presence of mind and turned round and round like a teetotum.
I was amazed at Boggley's patience. For myself, I was conscious of an
intense, and most unladylike, desire to slap the poor babu. I, who
have constantly protested against any want of consideration in the
treatment of natives!
As I was the only lady travelling, the guard was much against giving
me a carriage to myself, but a man who spoke with authority, hearing
us argue, came up and told him to put a "Ladies Only" placard on my
carriage, so I travelled in lonely splendour.
At Assansol, which we reached at 5 a.m., we had _chota-hazri_. Tea and
toast, and most diminutive eggs, which we had to hold in our fingers
as there were no egg-cups.
Simultala was my destination, and about eleven o'clock we reached it.
Underneath the trees a few yards away from the little station we found
a bullock-cart, which the Russels had sent for my luggage, and a
doolie for myself. A doolie is a kind of string-bed hung on a pole,
with a covering to keep off the sun. It is carried by four men, and
two others run alongside to relieve their companions at intervals. I
had sixteen miles to travel in this thing. I looked at Boggley very
doubtfully, and he tried to encourage me.
"It is really quite comfortable," he said (and when he said so he
lied), "and the men go very fast. You will be there in no time." So
I bundled in somehow, said a wistful good-bye to Boggley, and we
started. I can't honestly say I like a doolie. I would rather have
been my luggage and gone in the bullock-cart. Whichever way I lay I
very soon got an ache in my back. The conduct, too, of the coolies
filled me with uneasiness. They kept up a continued groaning. One
said, "Oh--oh--oh!" and the other replied, "Oo--oo--oo!" and you can't
think what a depressing sound it was. (I know now that doolie-coolies
always make that noise when on duty. It seems to keep up their hearts,
so to speak, and cheer them on.) Feeling guiltily that it was my
weight that made them groan, I lay perfectly still, and was even
holding my breath in an effort to make myself lighter, when, for no
apparent reason, we left the road, such as it was, and started across
the trackless plain. There was nothing to be seen except an infrequent
bush, no trace of a human habitation--nothing but the wind blowing and
the grass growing. Awful thoughts began to come into my head. I was
all alone in India, indeed worse than alone, I was in the company of
six natives most inadequately clothed: of their language I knew not
one single word; I didn't even know if they were carrying me in the
direction I wanted to go. Suddenly the groaning ceased, and I found
myself and the doolie planted on the ground. _Was_ my bright young
life to be ended? Cold with terror, I shut my eyes tight, and when I
opened them I found all the six coolies squatted round, all talking
at once, all presumably addressing me. I made out one word which
was repeated often, _baksheesh_. Reminding myself that I was of the
Dominant Race, I sat up and waving a hand towards the horizon said
sternly, "Jao!" I do think I must have intimidated them, for they
meekly picked me up again and we resumed our journey. The longest lane
turns, the darkest night wears on to dawn, the weariest river winds
at last to the sea; and about tea-time, aching, dishevelled, hungry
(having had nothing but a few chocolates since _chota-hazri_ at 5
a.m.), I was deposited before the verandah of the Russels' bungalow.
I don't suppose you know anything about mission work? Neither do I,
which is very shocking, as I have had every opportunity of acquiring
information. Perhaps, as a child, I was taken to too many missionary
meetings, with their atmosphere of hot tea and sentiment, and heard
too much of "my dear brothers and sisters in the mission field," for
I grieve to say, before I came to India, I quite actively disliked
missionaries and thought them a feeble folk. Mother was the only kind
of missionary I liked. She has a mission--so we tell her--to the
dreary people of this world. Not the very poor--they are vastly
entertaining--but the not-very-rich, highly respectable, deadly dull
people, with awkward, unlovable manners, whom no one cares very much
to visit or to ask to things, and who must often feel very lonely and
neglected. While others are taken up with more entertaining company
Mother has time to trot to these people with a new book or magazine,
or merely to talk for half an hour in the funny bright way which is
like no one else's way; has them to the house to meet interesting
people (in spite of the remonstrant groans of the family), and having
brought them does not neglect them, but draws them out till they seem
quite brilliant, and they go away warmed and enlivened by their social
Even the most determined distruster of missions couldn't stay long at
Takai without being converted. Dr. Russel, very far from being feeble,
is a most able man, who would have made his mark in his profession at
home; but he prefers healing the bodies and saving the souls of the
Santals in the jungle, to building up a lucrative practice, and even
attaining the dizzy height of a knighthood.
To heal their poor neglected bodies; to be the first to tell them of
Jesus--how did Festus put it?--"one Jesus, which is dead, whom Paul
affirmed to be alive"; to teach them, to help and raise them until
life becomes for these natives a new and undreamed-of thing--one can
see how fine it is, how soul-satisfying!
Dr. Russel has built a hospital, and the natives come from far and
near bringing their sick. As I sit here writing, they come trooping
past, taking a short cut past the bungalow, stopping to stare at me
quite unabashed, sometimes carrying a sick child, sometimes a blind
old man or woman. They know they can come at any time and the Padre
Sahib will never tell them to go away. It is different with a
Government official. He is hedged round by _chuprassis_ who levy toll
on the poor natives before they allow them to enter the presence of
the Sahib. It is a scandal, but it seems impossible to stop it. You
may catch a _chuprassi_ in the act, you may beat him and insist on
his handing back the money, but almost before your back is turned the
annas or pice have changed hands again! It is _dustoor_!
My first view of the hospital was rather a shock. Nothing was what I
had expected. The beds are square blocks of cement, without even a
mattress. The patients bring their own bedding and their cooking pots
and pans, and generally a friend to look after them. The said friends
camp all round the hospital, and it is pretty to see them at sunset,
each cooking his evening meal over his own little fire. This morning
being Sunday I went to a service at the hospital. The mingled smell
of carbolic, hookahs, and coco-nut oil was, I confess, rather
overpowering, but when Dr. Russel asked me, "Is this at all
interesting to you, or is it merely disgusting?" I could reply
truthfully that it was more interesting than disgusting. The patients
sat rolled up in their blankets, and listened while the tale of the
Prodigal Son was read to them, holding up their hands in horror when
they heard he herded swine: they regard that as a very low job indeed.
It is odd the way they respond: just as if during church service at
home a man were to answer each statement made by the clergyman, "Right
you are, guv'nor."
Coming home, we saw a native cooking his dinner on a little charcoal
fire, and as I passed he threw the contents of the pot away.
Surprised, I asked why. "Because," I was told, "your shadow fell on it
and defiled it!"
One can hardly overestimate the boon a man like Dr. Russel is to a
district. Trust is a plant of slow growth with the natives, but
they have learned to trust him entirely, and go to him in all their
troubles as children go to a father. And he has a very real helpmate
in his wife. I never saw such a busy woman. If she isn't in the
hospital helping at operations (she has a medical degree), she is
teaching girls to sew, or women to read, and yet the children are
beautifully cared for, and the house excellently managed. I suppose
most women would pity Mrs. Russel sincerely. She passes her life in a
place many miles from another European, with absolutely no society,
no gaieties, no theatres, not even shops where she can while away
the time buying things she doesn't want. Yet I never met a woman so
utterly satisfied with her lot. Honestly, I don't think she has a
single thing left to wish for: devoted to her husband, devoted to her
children, heart and soul in her work.
"If only," she sometimes says, "it would go on! The children will have
to go home very soon--the tragedy of Anglo-Indian life."
They are such dear children, Ronald and Robert and tiny Jean. The boys
speak Santali like little natives, and even their English has an odd
turn. When little Jean was born they were greatly interested in the
first white baby they had seen, and Ronald said rapturously:
"Oh, Mummy, aren't ladies darlings when they are babies?"
Their mother found them one day bending over the cradle, arguing as to
why the baby cried.
Ronald said, "She has no teeth, for that reason she cries."
Robert said, "She has no hair, for that reason she cries."
And Ronald finished, "She has no English, for that reason she cries."
I am not the only visitor at Takai. There are two missionary ladies
here, resting after a strenuous time in some famine district. One is
tall and stout, the other is short and thin; both have drab-coloured
faces and straight mouse-coloured hair; both wear eye-glasses and sort
of up and down dresses--the very best of women one feels sure, but
oh! so difficult. You know my weakness for making people like me,
but these dear ladies will have none of me, charm I never so wisely.
Everything I do meets with their disapproval--how well I see it in
their averted, spectacled eyes! I talk too much, laugh too much, tell
foolish tales, mimic my elders and betters, and--worst sin of all--I
have never read, never even heard of, the _Missionary Magazine_.
Something you said in your last letter, some allusion to religion, I
didn't quite like, and at any other time I would have written you a
sermon on the subject. In Calcutta (where I felt so self-righteous)
nothing would have prevented me--but now I haven't the spirit. Mark,
please, how the whirligig of Time brings its revenges! In Calcutta I
thought myself a saint, in Takai I am regarded as a Brand Unplucked.
It is rather dispiriting. I am beginning to wonder if I really am as
nice as I thought I was.
_Takai, Jan. 22_.
This Gorgeous East is a cold and draughty place.
We have _chota-hazri_ in the verandah at 7.30, and at that early hour
it is so cold my blue fingers will hardly lift the cup. Now the sun
is beginning to warm things into life again, and I have been sitting
outside basking in its rays, to the anxiety of Mrs. Russel, who, like
all Anglo-Indians, has a profound respect for the power of the Eastern
sun. The children are taught that one thing they must not do is to run
out without a topi. They were looking over _The Pilgrim's Progress_
with me, and at a picture of Christian, bareheaded, approaching the
Celestial City, with the rays of the sun very much in evidence, Robert
pointed an accusing finger, saying, "John Bunyan, you're in the sun
without your topi."
The poor Santals must feel dreadfully cold just now, especially the
children, who have hardly anything on. Mrs. Russel has a big trunk
full of things sent out from home as presents to the Mission--pieces
of calico, and various kinds of garments--and these are given as
prizes to the children who attend the Christian schools. The pieces of
cloth which they can wind round them are the most valued prizes.
Some of the garments are too ridiculous. Shapeless sacks of pink
flannelette, intended, I suppose, for shirts; and such-like. This
morning there was a prize-giving. The big trunk was brought into the
verandah, and the children were allowed to choose. One small boy
chose a dressing-gown of a material known, I believe, as duffle, of a
striking pattern. In this he arrayed himself with enormous pride: a
wide frilled collar stood out round his little thin neck, and, to
complete the picture, he carried a bow and arrow. A quainter figure I
never saw! I only wished the well-meaning Dorcas who made the garment
could have seen him. A little missionary from somewhere in West Africa
once told me about a small orphan native she had rescued and adopted.
"I had him christened," she said plaintively. "I had him christened
David Livingstone, and I dressed him in a blue serge man-of-war suit;
but he ran away." I murmured sympathy, but I couldn't feel surprised.
Imagine a little heathen David Livingstone, in a hot, sticky serge
These bows and arrows, by the way, are rather interesting. The natives
make them of bamboo and strips of hide, and they are tipped with iron.
They really shoot things with them--birds and wild animals, I mean. I
bought one from the owner of the dressing-gown for four annas, to take
home to Peter. It seemed very little for a real bow and arrow, but Dr.
Russel said it was quite enough; and when one comes to think of it, it
is double a man's day's wage. I _am_ enjoying myself at Takai. As the
man said when he lost his wife, "It's verra quiet but verra peacefu'."
After Calcutta, the quiet does seem almost uncanny.
It is a blameless existence one leads. I think I would soon grow very
good, for there is no temptation to be anything else. One can't be
very frivolous when there is no one to be frivolous with; nor can one
backbite and be unkind, for there is no provocation. As for being vain
and fond of the putting on of apparel, what is the good when one is
the Best People if one wears a garment of any description?
Although there is nothing to do, the days never seem too long. After
_chota-hazri_ I generally go for a walk with the children. There is
one good broad road passing the bungalow which leads away to the Back
of Beyond, but we prefer the little tracks worn by the feet of the
natives, which criss-cross everywhere. Jean won't stir a step without
a horrid, dilapidated rag doll called Topsy. I do dislike the faces of
rag dolls, their lack of profile is so gruesome, and Topsy is a most
depressing specimen of her kind; but Jean lavishes affection on her.
A woman-child is an odd thing. I remember being taken into a shop to
choose a doll, and I chose a most hideous thing with curly white hair.
No one could understand why, and I was too shy to tell. It was because
the doll was so ugly; I felt sure no one would buy her, and I couldn't
bear to think of her loneliness. The boys christened her "Mrs.
Smilie," after a lady of that name whom they thought she resembled,
and the poor thing came to a tragic end. They were playing at the
execution of Mary Queen of Scots, in the shrubbery, seized on "Mrs.
Smilie" to play the title role, and with brutal realism chopped off
her poor ugly head. I arrived just in time to see the deed, and rushed
swiftly, with fists and feet, to avenge her fate.
Well, we set off every morning on our pilgrimage, Jean calling herself
"Mrs. Jones," and walking primly till we reach what we pretend is the
seashore, where she forgets her dignity and rolls about in the sand.
A certain kind of tree that Dr. Russel has planted round about the
bungalow makes a noise exactly like waves, so it is easy to pretend
about the sea. We meet many pilgrims on their way to some holy place,
and we create quite a sensation in the little clusters of huts--they
could hardly be called villages--that we pass through. The inhabitants
crowd around us, saying "Johar," which I take it is Santali for
"Salaam," and we repeat "Johar" and grin broadly in reply; and the pie
dogs sniff round us in a friendly way. The other day we met a boy who,
on beholding me, stood stock still, threw back his head, and shouted
with laughter. I never heard more whole-hearted merriment. I had to
join in. Whether it was that he had never seen anyone with fair
hair before, or whether there is something particularly droll in my
appearance, I don't know, but he evidently found me the funniest thing
he had met with for a long time. It is generally Topsy who is the
centre of interest. They hustle one another to look at her and gurgle
with delight. Jean told me solemnly, "I have to leave her at home when
I go with Mummy to the villages. They won't listen about Jesus for
looking at Topsy."
Jean's great desire is to meet "someone white." Yesterday I saw a
horseman approaching in European riding kit and a topi. "Look, Jean,"
I said, "I believe that is an Englishman" but when he came up to us
and raised his topi with a flourish Jean said mournfully, "No, it's
nobody white," and I had to pick her up hurriedly in case she should
say something more to hurt the poor Eurasian.
When we come in from our walk it is tiffin-time. After that the
children are put to bed, and I sit in the verandah and write and rest.
Did I say rest? This is what goes on:
I go into the nursery, and Jean, very wide awake, demands a needle and
thread, as she wants to sew a dress for Topsy. I tie a piece of thread
into a large darning-needle and supply her with my handkerchief, which
she proceeds to sew into a tight ball. I return to my writing.
This time it is Robert.
"Olivia, if this bungalow fell into the tank would it splash out all
"Of course it would."
"Then what would the water do when it fell back from the splash and
found the bungalow blocking up its tank?"
Unable to think of an answer, I tell him to be a good boy and not
disturb people when they are writing. Ronald begs for a piece of paper
and a pencil, and having got it, proceeds to write down everything
beginning with G. I once told Peter to do that, and his list when I
looked at it ran: "God--Gollywog--Gordon Highlanders."...
Immediately I resume my writing it begins again, "Olivia" in every
tone, peremptory, beseeching, coaxing--but like the deaf adder I stop
my ears and refuse to hear. I am using this opportunity to write my
great work on the Mutiny, and it isn't nearly so easy to write a book
as I thought. No matter how much I try, my sentences seem all to
stand up on end. I can't acquire any ease or grace of style. I read
somewhere lately that young writers use too many adjectives, that good
writers depend more on verbs. It has made me rather nervous and I keep
counting both, but a certain dubiety in my own mind as to which is
which greatly complicates matters. My heroine, too, is a failure, I
like her name--Belinda--but it is the only thing I like about her.
What is the good of me laboriously writing down that she is beautiful
and charming when I am convinced in my own mind she is nothing of the
kind? However, I mean to persevere....
We all meet at tea--the nicest time of the day I think. My friend
Katie says the world isn't properly warmed up till five o'clock, and
certainly there is a feeling of comfort all over everything at the
clink of the teacups. Mrs. Russel being Scots, knows how to give a
proper tea, with plates, and knives, and scones, and jam; and I am as
greedy as a schoolboy over it. Yesterday there was no milk--such a
blow. The cows had wandered into a man's land, and he, as the custom
is, marched them into the pound five miles away, and there we
The country round Takai is quite pretty--almost like Scots moorland.
Yesterday we went for a picnic to a river at the opening of a pass--a
most interesting place where not very long ago a native boy had been
eaten by a tiger. You see, picnics in the jungle are not quite the
insipid things they are at home! There is always the chance that the
unwary may be devoured. Actually we did see yesterday the footprints
of a tiger in the sand by the river--pugs I think is the proper
expression. I was scared, but Robert advanced boldly into the bushes.
Ronald, watching him admiringly, said, "He is very brave; he is as
brave as Daniel."
Talking about tigers, they aren't nearly as prevalent as I thought. I
had an idea they were prowling all over India waiting to spring, but
one man told me he had been in India fifteen years and had never seen
one. Boggley came on one once and took it for a cow--short-sighted
Boggley! Dr. Russel says there was a man-eating tiger in the district
lately, and a reward was offered for its capture. A young engineer
sallied forth to slay. He directed the natives to dig a pit near where
the tiger was known to be and cover it with branches, and the next day
went and found it had walked into the trap. The natives removed the
branches, the gallant engineer approached, but they had dug the pit on
a slope, and the tiger _came walking up to meet him!_
I would rather like to see a wild beast from a safe distance. A native
came into hospital only yesterday with his arm all torn and mauled by
a leopard, but, though I have walked miles through the jungle, I have
seen nothing more fearsome than a black-beetle, and _that_ I might have
seen at home. The Santals are very keen _shikaris_, and go regularly
to hunt armed with bows and arrows and a few guns.
One morning I watched them start. With them was a youth home on
holiday from a situation in Calcutta--I liked his idea of a shooting
costume. He wore a pair of bright blue socks and yellow shoes, a
pink shirt worn over a dhoti, and over that a well-cut tweed coat
(evidently an old one of his master's), a high linen collar, but no
tie, a straw hat and enormous blue spectacles. The last-named were
evidently worn more for effect than by order of the oculist, for the
youth removed them when the time came to use his gun.
My home mail has just come in. I like to be in the verandah to see the
dak-runner bring in the letters. I hear him long before I see him, for
he carries a stick with jingling bells at the end to frighten away
animals as he comes through the jungle. Mine was a particularly nice
mail to-day--good news from everyone. You have no idea how out here
one loves to get letters, and how one gloats over every scrap of
news. Do you really look forward to my letters? Your letters are the
greatest comfort to me; indeed, I can't imagine what it would be like
I must finish this up, for the mail goes to-morrow. My time here is
nearly run. I hear from Boggley that he expects to arrive to-morrow,
and we depart together the next day. I shall be sorry and glad--both.
Sorry to leave Takai and the dear people, more than glad to be with
Robert has just come in, excitedly clutching the tail of a lizard. He
had caught it going up the wall, and the lizard had wriggled away and
left its tail. Now I suppose it will perseveringly grow another.
Robert is holding the tail before Jean that she may see it wriggle,
and saying, "God made it so. _Wasn't_ it clever?" The dear babies! How
I shall miss them!
_Circuit House, Lakserai, Jan 31_.
This letter must begin in pencil, for Boggley has the only pen. By the
bye, would you mind keeping my letters till I get home? I think it
might be amusing to read them when my cold weather in India is a thing
of the past.
Behold us on the first stage of our wanderings!
We left Takai on Wednesday, I in my old friend the doolie, Boggley on
his bicycle. It is wonderful where a bicycle can go in India.
I was much sorrier to leave Takai than I thought I should be, and
I think they were a little sorry to see me go. Even the missionary
ladies unbent so far as to say they would miss my bright face and
merry chatter. How differently people describe things! Bright and
merry are hardly the adjectives I should have applied to my soulful
countenance and brilliant conversation; but no matter. They all stood
on the verandah to watch us go. Mrs. Russel, dear woman, was obviously
sincerely sorry for anyone leaving such a delectable spot as Takai;
and indeed there are many worse places. The boys grinned benignly,
each hopping on one foot. Robert, looking rather like a toadstool with
his topi and thin legs, said, "I'm going to Scotland soon, and I'm not
coming back to India till I have a long beard."
Just as we were starting, an object hurtled through the air and fell
at my feet, and Jean's voice explained, "It is Topsy, Olivia; you may
have her"; then, self-sacrificing but heart-broken, she buried her
head in her mother's lap. I am rather "tear-minded," as our old nurse
used to say, at any time, and I saw things through a mist for the
first mile or two.
It didn't seem nearly such a long way going to the station as coming
from it, but Boggley on his bicycle was there long before me and my
doolie men. We got a train to wherever we were going to about five
o'clock. I had some sandwiches with me, and we got tea handed in at a
station. It tasted of musty straw, and Boggley said the milk wasn't
safe, but the cups made up for everything. Boggley's bore the legend
_Forget-me-not_, and mine _A present for a good girl_ in gilt letters.
About eight o'clock we came to another station--it is quite impossible
to remember their ridiculous names--and got out. It was quite an
important station, and the large refreshment-room had a long table set
for dinner. Lining the walls of the room were tall glass cases filled
with tinned meats, jam, biscuits, and other eatables, for in the
Mofussil provisions are bought at the railway stations. After dinner
Boggley produced a pencil and sheet of paper. "Now," he said, "we must
make a list of provisions wanted." So we sat on the table and laid our
"We'll begin with necessaries," said Boggley "Butter."
"Jam," I added, "and cheese."
These being put down, we couldn't think of another single thing.
"Go on," said Boggley, biting his pencil "That can't be all."
"Biscuits," I said with a flash of inspiration, and we chose three
boxes of biscuits, and stuck again.
When the attendant produced a list of provisions kept, we got on
better, and soon had two large wooden boxes packed with things that
sounded as if they might taste good. The only thing I do feel we have
been extravagant in is mustard--it is an enormous tin, and one doesn't
really eat such a vast deal of mustard.
The list finished and approved, I asked when our train came in.
"About 4.30," said Boggley. This was 9 p.m.
"What!" I cried, aghast, "Where are we going to sleep?"
Boggley waved his hands comprehensively. "Anywhere," he said; "we'll
see what the waiting-room is like."
The waiting-room was like nothing I had ever seen before. A large,
dirty, barn-like apartment, with some cane seats arranged round the
wall, and an attempt at a dressing-table, with a spotty looking-glass
on it, in one corner. One small lamp, smelling vilely, served to
make darkness visible, and an old hag crouching at the door was the
attendant spirit. It doesn't sound cheery, does it? The bearer,
Autolycus by name (I call him Autolycus not because he is a knave and
witty, but because he is such a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles),
made up a bed on one of the cane seats, and there, in that dreary and
far from clean apartment, with horrible insects walking up the walls
and doubtless carpeting the floor, with no lock on the door and
unknown horrors without, I slept dreamlessly. My last waking thought
was, "I wish my mother could see me now!"
Boggley slept in the refreshment-room. Autolycus had gone to the
stationmaster and demanded a bed for "a first-class Commissioner
Sahib," and, so far does impudence carry one, got it.
I was awakened at 3 a.m., and the aged crone helped me to pack up
my bedding. I gave her a rupee, which afterwards I regretted when
Autolycus pointed out she had stolen a sheet.
We crossed the Ganges in the grey dawn, a clammy fog shrouding
everything. Nothing was visible but a stretch of wan water, and one or
two natives near the bank bathing in the holy river. We were the only
Europeans travelling, till at one station a nice old priest came in,
of what nationality we couldn't make out. I was pondering it when I
discovered that my bangle with the miniature, which I always wear,
wasn't on my wrist. We looked up, and down, and round about, and then
I shouted, "Why, there it is!" And there it was lying on the priest's
lap. He looked so utterly dumbfoundered, poor dear man, and blushed
all over his fat, good-natured face, and I, when I realized I had
pointed an accusing finger, was also covered with confusion. We tried
to explain that it had come off with my glove, but he merely bowed
repeatedly and made hurt ejaculations in some unknown tongue, so we
were reduced to an uneasy silence.
About twelve o'clock we had breakfast in the refreshment-room of a
station. We had wired for it, so it was ready. First we got ham and
eggs. The ham was evidently tinned, and the eggs were quite black. I
poked my share suspiciously and asked what made it so black. "Pepper,"
said Boggley, who was eating away quite placidly.
Pepper! As if I couldn't recognize plain dirt when I saw it. Our
plates were the kind with hot water inside, and a cork, and as the
venerable man removed them for the next course I, watching, saw him
wipe them perfunctorily with the corner of his already none too clean
garment, then gravely hand them back. After that, I thought dry bread
was the safest thing to breakfast on.
Now we are installed in Lakserai Circuit House These rest-houses
are kept up by the Government for officials on inspection duty.
Dak-bungalows are rather different. Any traveller may stay in them by
paying so much. This house consists of one very large room, dining,
drawing, smoking room in one, and two bedrooms. It is rather damp and
dreary, but that doesn't matter, for we leave again to-morrow morning.
We have been to call this afternoon on the wife of the Collector, Mrs.
Edston, a pretty woman with nice manners and a sweet voice. We had tea
with her and saw her small son. Her bungalow interested me. It was
only the second Mofussil bungalow I had seen. The Takai drawing-room
was delightful, a big, rather empty room, with one or two good
reproductions of famous pictures on the walls, heaps of books, and an
almost entire absence of ornaments--rather an ascetic room. It
suited the simple, strenuous life there. Mrs. Edston's is quite
different--bright and pretty, full of flowers and growing plants;
tables laden with silver, and photographs of pretty women and
children; comfortable chairs, with opulent cushions, soft rugs and
hangings--altogether a very cosy room.
Mrs. Edston has kindly asked us to dine with her to-night.
We have just come back, and as I am not very sleepy I shall write a
bit. It was pouring rain at eight o'clock, so a trap was sent for us,
and a note asking us not to whip the horses too hard. I thought they
must be very restive animals, but it turned out to be a joke. There
were no horses in the trap, only coolies!
We had a very pleasant dinner. Mr. Edston is out in camp, but two
young assistant officers were there. They live in tents in the
compound, as the bungalow is small, and have their meals with the
Edstons. Sitting to-night before a blazing fire, in the pretty
drawing-room, listening to Mrs. Edston singing, I reflected that
they were exceedingly fortunate young men to have such a home-like
habitation and such a charming hostess. To do them justice, I think
they quite realize their good fortune.
We depart to-morrow morning for some quite unpronounceable place about
twenty miles from here, to stay at another rest-house till Monday.
We have reached the unpronounceable place after much prayer and
fasting. What a day we had yesterday! We left the Lakserai Circuit
House at 10 a.m., preceded by Autolycus and a crowd of coolies bearing
luggage. Each coolie carries one thing, and as they are all paid the
same without regard to the weight carried, of course there is great
competition for the light packages. It is odd to see one man stagger
under a trunk while another trots gaily off with a cushion or a kodak.
We are allowed to take hand-luggage into the carriage, and we take
such a broad view of the word that it means with us dressing-bags,
suit-cases, tennis-rackets, gun-cases, polo-sticks, golf-clubs, and as
much more as the compartment will hold.
The station, when we reached it yesterday, was crammed with natives
squatting so thick on the platform one could hardly move without
treading on them. A great festival is going on which only happens once
in a long time--fifty years I think--and if they bathe in the holy
Ganges while the festival lasts all their sins are washed away. They
are flocking from all parts, eagerly boarding every train that stops,
regardless of the direction it is going in. The festival ends to-day
at twelve, so I greatly fear many will be disappointed. At all times
the native loves railway travelling, and, as he has no notion of
time-tables, he often arrives at the station the night before, sleeps
peacefully on the ground, and is in comfortable time for the first
train in the morning. Also, he has no idea of fixed charges, and when
he goes to the ticket-office and asks for his "tickut," and the babu
in charge tells him the price, he offers half. When that is refused he
goes away, and returns in an hour or so and offers a little more. It
may take a whole day to convince a native that he can't beat down the
This festival had so disarranged the trains that our train which
should have left at ten didn't come in till twelve. Then we had
to change at the next station and wait for the connection, and we
actually sat there till eight in the evening, when our train sauntered
in. They say of a certain cold and draughty station in Scotland that
in it there is neither man's meat, nor dog's meat, nor a place to sit
down, and it is equally true of the Indian junction. We had nothing
to eat all day except ginger snaps, and they pall after a time,
especially in a dry and dusty land where no water is. There were two
other travellers in the same plight, a Mr. and Mrs. Blackie, and we
sat together through that long hot day, too utterly hungry and bored
even to pretend interest in each other. When the train did come in,
something had gone wrong with the engine, and they lost more time
pottering about with it--tying it up with string probably. It was then
that my temper, and I do think I behaved with great fortitude up to
that time, gave way, and I tried to bully the officials. It was
no use. They merely smiled and said, "Cer-tain-lee," and Boggley
irritated me more and more by solemnly repeating:
"It is not good for the Christian soul to hustle the Aryan brown,
For the Christian riles and the heathen smiles
And it weareth the Christian down.
And the end of the fight is a tombstone white
With the name of the dear deceased;
And the epitaph drear--'A fool lies here
Who tried to hustle the East.'"
We had nothing to look forward to at the end of the journey except a
dak-bungalow's cold welcome, but the Blackies, who live at Madhabad,
insisted we should go home with them to dinner; so, instead of the
tinned ham-and-egg meal we had expected, we had a dainty, well-cooked
dinner in a cosy dining-room. Warmed and fed, we retired to our
present resting-place, and found little comfort here. Autolycus and
his coolies had only just arrived, and Autolycus was searching vainly
for a lamp--a _bati_ he called it. The floors are stone and as cold as
the tomb. Mr. Blackie begged us to go back to his place for the night,
but we wouldn't hear of it. Autolycus ran a lamp to earth; we explored
for bedrooms and found two, in which he hastily made up beds. They are
damp, and far from clean; but one learns to put up with a lot in the
Mofussil, and in a very short time we had forgotten our troubles in
This morning I rose betimes and went out to the verandah, and there
I found--quite suddenly--a handsome young man. It seems he too is
staying in this eligible mansion. He is an engineer--a bridge-builder,
I think--and this is convenient for his present work. He was in
bed and asleep, and didn't hear us arrive last night; so he was as
surprised to see me as I was to see him. When Boggley appeared we had
breakfast together. It was interesting hearing about the kind of life
this young man leads. He says although Madhabad is not gay, it is
Piccadilly compared to where he often is, out in camp, forty miles
from another European, with not a soul to speak to from week to
week. The evenings are the dreariest times, and he often goes to bed
immediately after dinner. He was quite cheerful, and said he liked
the life. Madhabad is a large village, but the Blackies are the only
Europeans. There are a lot of planters, however, living round about.
We had callers this morning. Mr. Royle, to whose place we go on
Monday, rode over with his two small daughters, to say they would
expect us to stay with them. We meant to camp, but it will be much
pleasanter to stay with the Royles; everyone says they are charming
Boggley and I went for a walk after tea to see the country. There
isn't much to see except a long, straight brown road and a most
insanitary-looking tank. The village is more interesting with its
queer booths. I do think it is an incongruous sight to see, as I
saw this afternoon, a native, naked but for a loin cloth, plying
a Singer's sewing-machine. The natives looked sullen and rather
suspicious, or is it only that I imagine it because they are so unlike
the broad-smiling Santals with their cheerful _johar_? There are four
trees before this bungalow, and at present two vultures are perching
on each--horrible creatures, with long, scraggy necks. I pointed them
out to Boggley, who was immediately reminded of a tale of a bumptious
young civilian, new to the country, who was told, by one who had
suffered many things at his hands, that the birds were wild turkeys, a
much-valued delicacy; hearing which the youth promptly shot some and
sent them round to the ladies of the station. Do you believe that
tale? I don't.
... We have just finished dinner--much the most amusing dinner I ever
ate. There is an intense rivalry, it seems, between our cook and the
engineer-man's cook; and although we dined together, our bills-of-fare
were kept jealously apart. Autolycus, of course, waited on us, and
when he handed me the fish, and I helped myself to one of the four
pieces, he said sternly, "Two, please," and I meekly took the other.
The engineer had no fish, but on the other hand he had an entree which
was denied us. Both cooks rose to a savoury. (They _will_ give you
the savoury before the sweet. If you insist on anything else, it so
demoralizes them that the dinner is a ruin.) Our savoury was rather
ambitious--stuffed eggs rolled in vermicelli. It tasted rather like a
bird's-nest, and one felt it had taken a lot of making and rolling
in brown hands. I envied the simpler poached egg on tomato of the
engineer. You can't _pat_ a poached egg!
_Rika, Feb. 9_.
I have no home letters to answer this week. We forgot to give the
Calcutta people the new address, so on Monday night the dak-runner
with his bells would jingle with my precious home mail into the Takai
verandah; Mrs. Russel, having no other address, would re-direct them
back to Calcutta, and they may reach us here about Sunday, It is
tantalizing, but I don't pine for news in Rika so much as in most
places. I am so thoroughly at home. I find the Mofussil is simply full
of nice people. When we rode out here on Monday morning, and Mrs.
Royle, with a shy small girl on either side, came down the verandah
steps to meet us, I knew I was going to love staying here. There is an
atmosphere about that makes for peace and happiness, and every day I
like the place and the people more.
Rika was rather a revelation. The civilians' bungalows have a
here-we-have-no-continuing-city look about them; their owners are
constantly being moved, and pitching their moving tents elsewhere;
but the Royles have been at Rika for fifteen years, and have made a
delightful home. The bungalow is built on a slightly rising ground
with a verandah all round--a verandah made pleasant with comfortable
chairs, rugs, writing-tables, books, and flowers. At one end a
_dirzee_ squats with a sewing-machine, surrounded by white stuff in
various stages of progress for the Mem Sahib and the children. From
the middle of the verandah a broad flight of steps, flanked on either
side by growing plants in pots, leads down to the road, and across the
road lie the tennis-lawns and the flower-garden. I have read that one
of the most pathetic things about this Land of Exile is the useless
effort to make English flowers grow. In Rika they must feel at home,
for the whole air is scented with roses and mignonette. When
Mrs. Royle took us to see her flowers, Boggley pulled a sprig of
mignonette, sniffed it appreciatively, and handing it to me said:
"What does that remind you of?"
"Miss Aitken's teas!" I said promptly. Always that scent takes me
straight back to sunny summer afternoons when
"The day was just a day to my mind,
All sunny before and sunny behind,
Over the heather,"
and myself in a stiffly starched frock, accompanied by three brothers
with polished faces and spotless collars setting out to drink tea with
our friends Miss Aitken and Miss Elspeth. There was always honey for
tea, I remember,--honey made by the bees that buzzed through laborious
days in their thatched houses in a corner of the sunny garden,--and
little round scones, and crisp shortbread; and, as we ate and
chattered, through the open windows the roses nodded in, giving
greeting to their friends, the roses of past summers dried and
entombed in great vases; and the scent of mignonette so mixed itself
with the sound of gentle old voices and childish trebles, the fragrant
tea in the fragile china cups, the prancing dragons in the cabinet,
that now, over the years, it brings them all back to me as surely, as
potently, as if it had been indeed a sprig of Oberon's wild thyme
or Ophelia's rosemary for remembrance. As I have told you, we were
naughty children, sometimes even wicked children, but our conduct at
this house was, "humanly speaking, perfect." The old ladies listened
so sympathetically to our tales of how many trout we had that day
_guddled_ in the burn; of the colt we had managed to catch and
mount--as a family--by the aid of the dyke, and of the few delirious
moments spent on its slippery back before it threw us--as a family; of
the ins and outs of why Boggley's nose was swelling visibly and his
right eye disappearing. They would look at each other, nodding wisely
at intervals while they murmured, "Interestin' bit bairnies." Boggley,
when young, was of a peculiarly fiery temper. At times one could
hardly look at him without being confronted with squared fists and
being invited to "come on"; but when Miss Elspeth, holding one of his
pugnacious paws in her kind, soft hands, assured him he was the flower
of the flock, and _her_ boy, he was a Samson shorn for mildness.
Speaking pure Lowland Scots, which was a delight to listen to; full
of a gracious hospitality embracing everyone in the district from the
highest to the lowest; fiery politicians and ardent supporters of
their beloved Free Kirk, to the upkeep of which I believe they would
cheerfully have given their last copper, Miss Aitken and Miss Elspeth
were of a type now unhappily almost extinct.
Miss Elspeth was the plain, clever one. "In my youth", she loved to
quote, "in my youth I wasna what you would ca' bonnie, but I was pale,
penetratin', and interestin'."
Miss Aitken had been a beauty, and liked to tell us of the balls she
had danced at, when, dressed in white muslin with heelless slippers
and a wreath in her hair, she had been called "a sylph," Why she had
never married was a puzzle to many. I remember she used to tell us of
a wonderful visit to London, and of how she came home sick at heart
about leaving all the "ferlies," as she called them. On her first
evening at home Miss Elspeth had said, to cheer her, "Come and see the
wee pigs." "Me!" said poor Miss Aitken. "What did I care about the
wee pigs!" It was, perhaps, more than the "ferlies" she missed, but I
don't know. She was no sylph when I knew her, my dear Miss Aitken, but
she had a most comfortable lap, and a cap with cherry ribbons, and the
kindest heart in all the world. Once, John, who thirsted always for
information, and mindful of a point that had struck him in the chapter
at morning prayers, said:
"Miss Aitken, are you any relation to Achan-in-the-Camp?"
Miss Elspeth, looking quizzically at her sister, answered for her:
"Dod! Marget, I wouldna wonder but what ye micht hae been tempted by
the Babylonish garment!"
They were very old when we knew them, these dear ladies, and they
have been dead many years, but their simple, kindly lives have left
a fragrance to sweeten this workaday world even as the mignonette in
bygone summers scented their old-world garden.
How I do reminisce! It is entirely your fault for saying you liked it.
You know it is a trait in the Douglas family. Our way of entertaining
guests is to sit close together and recall happenings, and delightedly
remind each other of childish escapades, shouting hilariously, while
our guests sit in a bored and puzzled silence. Pleasant family the
Well, as I said, Rika is a pleasant place and the Royles Irish,
therefore charming. Mrs. Royle is a most purpose-like person. I like
to go with her in the morning on her rounds. Through the gardens we go
to see the bananas and pine-apples and tomatoes ripening in the sun,
and make sure that the _malis_ are doing their work; then on to the
wash-house, where the _dhobi_ is finishing the weekly wash; to the
kitchens, to see that the cooking-pots are clean; finally, to stand on
the verandah while the _syces_ bring the ponies and feed them before
our suspicious eyes. I forgot the henhouse. As we live almost entirely
on fowls in the Mofussil, the _moorghy-khana_ is a most important
feature of the establishment; but just now, I regret to say, owing to
a moorghy famine in the district, the stock is at a somewhat low ebb.
Men have been scouring the country for fowls, but when we went to look
at the result this morning we found about a dozen miserable chickens,
almost featherless, standing dejectedly in corners, and Mrs. Royle
wailed, "We can't kill these: it would be a sheer slaughter of the
innocents!" It isn't easy to get beef or mutton in this part of the
world, and when a sheep is brought to Rika it has to be carefully
concealed, or Kittiwake ties a ribbon round its neck and claims it as
her own, and terrible is the outcry if anyone dares to make away with
There are two Royle children--Kittiwake and Hilda. Kittiwake
(christened, I believe, Kathleen Helen) is fat and broad and beaming,
and very religious. Hilda is inclined to love the gay world, and finds
Rika too quiet--the baby aged six! They are both thorough little
sportsmen and mounted on their ponies go with their father almost
everywhere. Yesterday I went for a ride with them, along dusty brown
roads between rice-fields, and they gave me a wonderful lot of
information about the place and the people. As we passed a little
village temple Kittiwake stopped. "_That_," she said solemnly,
pointing with her whip, "is where they worship false gods."
I told Mr. Royle about Peter being so anxious for a mongoose, and
to-day when the children came running to beg me to come quickly and
see what the fisherman had caught for me, my mind leapt at once to
mongooses. When I saw, confined under a wicker basket, two animals
with yellow fur and flat heads that moved ceaselessly, my heart sank.
If they had been caught for me how could I be so ungracious as to
refuse them, and yet how was it possible for me to carry these most
terrifying creatures about with me, and perhaps, on the voyage home,
have to share my cabin with them?
I looked round wildly. The fisherman was grinning delightedly at his
own cleverness. Our two _chuprassis_, Autolycus, and a _syce_ stood
round with the children, all waiting for my approval.
"They're rather nice, aren't they?" I stammered feebly.
"Oh--_sweet_!" said Hilda rapturously.
"Sweet!" I echoed. "But aren't they big ones?"
"Big!" cried Kittiwake. "Why, they're only _butchas_;" and she lifted
the edge of the basket to get a better view, at which one of the
_butchas_ made a rush for the opening and made straight at me. With
a yell I snatched up my skirts, knocked over Hilda, leapt "like a
haarse" on to the verandah straight into the astonished Mr. Royle,
while the weird beast disappeared like a yellow streak.
"Whatever is the matter?" he asked as I sank to the floor.
"Olivia's afraid of the _butcha_ otter!" squealed Hilda, while she
scampered about looking for the truant.
"Otter?" said I.
"Yes," said Mr. Royle; "they are baby otters that the fisherman found
at the side of the lake. I thought of sending them to the Calcutta
Zoo. They aren't very common in India."
"I'm _so_ glad!" I gasped; and Mr. Royle looked mystified. It didn't
seem exactly a reason for fervent gladness, but suppose they _had_
been mongooses? My life, so to speak, was ruined.
Staying in the house with Mr. Royle is rather like being with Colonel
Newcome in the flesh. He is such a very "perfect gentil Knight"--as
courteous to a native woman as to the L.-G.'s wife. The people round
about adore him and his wife; they are a kind of father and mother to
the whole district. There would be little heard of disloyalty to the
British if all the Sahibs were like Mr. Royle, He is so good--I'd be
almost afraid to be so good in case I died--but not the least in a
sickly way. He is a teetotaller, a thing almost unheard of in India;
and he isn't ashamed to be heard singing hymns with the children
before their bed-time; yet (why yet?) he is a crack shot, a fine polo
player, an all-round sportsman.
Both he and his wife are very fond of books. Mrs. Royle reads
everything she can lay her hands on, but her husband's special subject
is philosophy, and last night he lent me a volume of Nietzsche.
I don't think I understood a single word, but between it and the
_moorghy-khana_ I had a bad night. I thought I had to make in five
minutes a new scheme of the Universe. All the odd-shaped pieces were
lying about like a picture-puzzle, and I feverishly tried to make them
fit, in the clumsy ineffective way one does things in dreams. Just as
I had it almost finished, Mrs. Royle came with a fowl in each hand and
said sternly, "These must come into your scheme." I took the two great
clucking things and vainly tried to thrust their feet--or is it claws
hens have?--into a tiny corner, and they had just wrecked all my
efforts when I woke!
I have taken some photographs which I shall send you. The delightful
babu buttoned tightly into the frock-coat is a clerk of Mr. Royle's,
called a "Sita-Ram--two-o'clock." The frock-coat was a legacy from a
departing Collector, and he is immensely proud of it. He is a great
delight to me, and says he will never cease to pray for my _internal_
welfare! Talking of babus, one wrote to Mr. Royle the other day
about a pair of riding-breeches, and said, "I have your Honour's
measurements, but will be glad to know if there is any improvement in
the girth." Don't you think that was a very pretty way of asking if he
had put on weight?
When I showed Autolycus and the _chuprassis_ the photographs I had
taken of them, the _chuprassis_ said, "_Atcha_" (very good), but
Autolycus shook his head violently, and when Boggley asked him what
was wrong, he replied in an injured tone that it made him look quite
... Deep snow, hard frost, bright sun--how gloriously sparkling it must
be! It dazzles my eyes to think of it. I don't wonder you revel in
the skating and the long sleigh rides through the silent forest. Talk
about the magic of the East--it could never appeal to me like the
magic of the North.
Storks, snow-queens, moor-wives, ell-women--how the names thrill one!
What was your Hans Andersen like? Mine was light blue and gold with
wonderful coloured pictures, but it was the frontispiece I studied,
and which held me frightened yet fascinated. It was a picture of a
pine-wood, with a small girl in a blue frock and white pinafore and
red stockings, crying bitterly under a tree, in the branch of which a
doll hung limply, thrown there by cruel brothers. Through the trees
the sunset sky was pale green melting into rose-colour, and the wicked
little gnomes that twilight brings were tweaking the child's hair and
jeering at her misfortunes. One felt how cold it was, and how badly
the little girl wanted her hood and cloak. The darkness was very
near, and worse things than little gnomes would slip from behind the
tree-trunk trunks. It never occurred to me that the little girl
might have run home to warmth and light and safety. That was no
solution--the doll would still have been there. Your letter, with its
tale of snow and great quiet forests, and the picture you drew me of
the funny little girl with the flaxen plaits and the red stockings,
made me remember it. I don't know where my old book is--gone long
since from the nursery bookshelf to the dustbin, I expect, for it was
much-used and frail when I knew and loved it--but your word-picture
gave me the passport and enabled me to creep once again inside its
cover, so brave in blue and gold, and to greet my friend in the red
stockings, and find her as highly coloured as ever, and not a day
older. It is nice of you to say I have a courageous outlook on life,
but I wish I hadn't told you the story of the mongoose that was an
otter. Now you will say, like Boggley, _Funk-stick!_ If I stay much
longer in this frightsome land my hair will be white and my nervous
system a mere wreck.
Yesterday we left the solitude of Rika and went to polo at a place
about seventeen miles away. It was very interesting to meet all the
neighbouring Europeans--mostly planters and their wives. There were
about twenty people, and everyone very nice. I wish I had time to tell
you about them, but I haven't. After polo, which I enjoyed watching,
we all had tea together and talked very affably. Then Mr. Royle drove
me home while Boggley went with Mrs. Royle. I heard, as we were
leaving, Mr. Royle say something to Boggley about the horse being
young and skittish, and a faint misgiving passed through me, but I
forgot it talking to Mr. Royle, and when we reached Rika I went off
to dress for dinner, taking it for granted that the others were just
behind. Letters were waiting me, and I lingered so long over them I
had to dress in a hurry, and ran to the drawing-room expecting to find
everyone waiting. But the room was empty. Hungry and puzzled, I waited
for another ten minutes, and then went along to Boggley's bedroom, to
see what _he_ meant anyway; but there was no one there. More and more
puzzled, but distinctly less hungry, I went back to the drawing-room,
looked into the dining-room, finally wandered out into the verandah,
where I found the children's old nurse Anne tidying away the
I said: "Nurse, where's everybody?"
Anne left the toys and lifted both hands to high heaven.
"Och! Miss Douglas dear, it wasn't for nothing I dreamt last night of
water-horses. The night before ma sister Maggie's man was killed by a
kick from a wicked grey horse (Angus M'Veecar was his name, and a fine
young lad he was) I dreamt I saw one. As big as three hills it was,
with an awful starin' white face, and a tail on it near as long as
from Portree to Sligachen. It give a great screech, and a wallop in
the face of me, and jumped into the loch, and by milkin'-time next
morning--a Thursday it was--ma sister Maggie came into the door
cryin', 'Och and och, ma poor man, and him so kind and so young,' and
fell on the floor as stiff as a board."
Anne comes from Skye, and often tells me about water-horses and
such-like odd denizens of that far island; and I find her soft
Highland speech, with its "ass" for "as" and "ch" for "j," very
diverting; but this time I wasn't amused.
"But nothing _has_ happened, Anne. What are you talking about? Where
is my brother?"
"Mercy on us all, how can I tell? The mistress and the young gentleman
has never come in, and the master says to me, 'Fetch me my flask,
Anne,' says he; and fetch it I did, and he drove away, an' I'm sure as
I'm sittin' here I didn't see the water-horse for nothing. What does a
flask mean but an accident? Och--och, and a nice laughin'-faced young
gentleman he was, too."
If life is going to contain many such half-hours I don't see how I am
to get through it with any credit. I left Anne--whom at that moment
I hated--to seek information from the servants, which she did with a
valiant disregard of her entire lack of knowledge of Hindustani, a
language she stubbornly refused to learn a word of. The last I saw of
her she had seized the _khansamah's_ young assistant and was shouting
at him, "Chokra--ye impident little black deevil, will you tell this
moment, has there been an accident?" Backwards and forwards I went in
the verandah, then down the steps to the road, straining my eyes to
see and my ears to hear something--what I did not know. From the
garden the scent of the roses and mignonette came to me in the soft
Indian darkness. I ventured a little bit along the road, too anxious
to remember, or, remembering, to care, that I had no lantern, and that
at any moment I might tread on a snake. I could only think of one
thing, and how often I pictured it! Mr. Royle coming back, and the
natives carrying someone--someone who didn't laugh any more. The odd
thing was I didn't seem to mind at all what happened to kind Mrs.
Royle. It was Boggley, and only Boggley, that mattered to me. Of
course nothing did happen to anyone. It isn't when one expects and
dreads it that tragedy comes. Tragedy comes quietly, swiftly. I
remember going to see a fisherman's widow in a little village on the
stormy east coast. She told me of her husband's death. "I had his tea
a' ready an' a bit buttered toast an' a kipper, but he never cam' in."
That was all--"He never cam' in."
When our wanderers returned they were rather amused than otherwise.
The horse had given trouble and ended by kicking the trap to pieces,
and they had to walk part of the way home. Quite simple, you see; but
the first opportunity I looked in a mirror to see if my hair had not
turned white in a single night, as men's have done through sudden
fear. It hadn't; but I did dream of a water-horse with "an awful
starin' white face."
This morning Mrs. Royle took me to the village to get some brass to
take home. The shop was a little hut with an earthen floor, a pair of
scales, and one shelf crowded with brass things, made, not for
the European market, but for the daily use of the people, such as
drinking-vessels--_lota_ is the pretty name--and big brass plates out
of which they eat their rice and _dhalbat_. They keep them beautifully
polished with sand, and I think they ought to be rather decorative;
much more attractive certainly than the candlesticks and pots and
cheap rough silver-work which is the usual loot carried away by the
Another mail-day will soon be upon us; they simply pounce on one.
We have to get letters away by Tuesday from the Mofussil instead of
Thursday as in Calcutta. I look forward with great distaste to leaving
this place next week. When with the Royles one can't imagine oneself
happy anywhere else. The days pass so quickly; breakfast seems hardly
over when it is time for luncheon, and before one has really settled
down to read or write it is four o'clock, and time to go to tea, which
is spread down by the lake among the roses, the sun having lost its
fierceness and begun to think of going to bed. We all sit at a round
table and eat brown bread and butter and jam, all home-made. The china
we use is very pretty and came from Ireland, but Mrs. Royle has been
greatly troubled by its discoloured appearance, which the servants
assured her there was no cure for. I suggested rough salt and
lemon-juice, and after tea yesterday afternoon they brought it, and
we each set to work on our own cup and saucer, and behold! in a
very short time they were like new. Boggley made his particularly
beautiful, but unfortunately broke it immediately afterwards, at which
Kittiwake laughed so immoderately she fell on her saucer and sent it
to its long home.
I have learned to take a most intelligent interest in fowls and
Nietzsche; and more and more as the days pass do I like and admire
our host and hostess. I never met people I felt so _affectionately_
Here come the children flying, followed patiently by the old
_khansamah_ with a spoon in one hand and a bottle of cod-liver-oil
emulsion in the other. I had better finish this letter and get the ink
out of their reach.
_Baratah, Thursday, Feb. 21_.
... Now we are really camping out, and I sit outside my tent even
as Abraham did of old. I have a whole long day before me to write.
Boggley was up and away long before I was awake, and won't be back
We left Rika on Monday afternoon, very sad indeed. Mrs. Royle, as is
her way, heaped us with benefits, and, mindful of our starvation
on the way to Rika, had a luncheon-basket packed with cold fowl,
home-made bread, tomatoes, and a big cake. As we drove off the
children pursued us down the drive crying, "Don't go away. Stay with
At the station we were told that the train was two hours late, and
Boggley thought it would be an excellent plan to spend the time
calling on the Blackies, who live near; so, leaving Autolycus and
the _chuprassis_ with the luggage, we set out. We had been shown the
flower-garden and a crocodile that Mr. Blackie had shot, and were
about to drink a dish of tea in the drawing-room, when we heard the
whistle of an engine. "The train!" cried Boggley, bounding to his
feet, and spurning the cup of tea Mrs. Blackie was offering to him. It
was no moment for ceremony. With a shrieked good-bye we leapt out of
the window and across the compound, and set off on our half-mile run
to the station. There is something peculiarly nasty about the nature
of Indian trains. Simply because we left the station it chose to be up
to time. It must have been an amusing incident to the people in the
station, but I would have enjoyed it more had I been one of the
natives watching from a third-class carriage instead of, so to speak,
one of the principal actors. There was the engine shrieking in its
anxiety to start; there was our luggage neatly spread all over an
empty compartment; there was Autolycus protesting shrilly that the
train could not leave without his sahib, who was a very _burra_ sahib;
and finally there _we_ were with scarlet faces, topis on the backs of
our heads, surrounded by a thick cloud of dust, careering wildly into
After all the fuss, we had only about thirty miles to travel, when
we got out and drove three miles in a kind of native cart to a
dak-bungalow, a very poor and uncomfortable specimen of its kind. It
didn't uplift us to hear that plague was very bad all round, and after
a somewhat jungly dinner during which we were very thoughtful and
disinclined for conversation, we sought our mildewed couches, to rise
again at skreich of day and continue our journey, till late on Tuesday
night we got out finally at Baratah station and drove out to our
present camping-ground. The people knew we were coming, and the tents
were up; but they hadn't expected us till the next day, so nothing was
ready, not even a lamp. It was the oddest experience to stumble about
in black darkness in entirely unknown surroundings. You know how
Boggley tumbles over things in the broad light of day, so you can
imagine what tosses he took over dressing-tables and chairs in
the darkness. It didn't last long, however, for an important fat
_khansamah_ hurried in, shocked at our plight, and, explaining that
his sahib, Mr. Lister, was away for a few days, brought us a lamp
and other necessaries. Dinner was not possible under the
circumstances--the box with our forks and knives had not arrived--so
the remains of Mrs. Royle's luncheon-basket coldly furnished forth
our evening meal While we sat there, uncomfortably poised on
dressing-bags, gnawing legs of fowl and hunches of bread, I thought
of you probably dining at the Ritz or the Savoy, with soft lights and
music, and lovely food, and probably not half as merry as Boggley and
I don't know if I really like a tent to live in. The floor is covered
with straw, and then a carpet is stretched over it, which makes a
particularly bulgy, uneven surface to stand dressing-tables and things
on. The straw, too, is apt to stick out where it is least expected,
and gives one rather the feeling of being a tinker sleeping in a barn.
At night a tent is an awesome place. It is terrible to have no door
to lock, and to be entirely at the mercy of anything that creeps and
crawls; to have only a mosquito-net between you and an awful end.
I woke last night to hear something sniffing outside the tent. It
scraped and scraped, and I was sure that it was digging a hole and
creeping underneath the canvas. I sat up in bed and in a quavering
voice said "Go away," and the noise stopped, but only to begin
again--scrape, scrape, snuffle, snuffle, in the most eerie way. Then
something worse happened. At my very ear, as it seemed, the most
blood-curdling yell rent the astonished air. It was only a jackal,
Boggley says, but it sounded as if all the forces of evil had been let
loose at once. You can laugh if you like, but I think it was enough to
frighten a very Daniel. As for me, in one moment I was well under the
blankets, with fingers in both ears, and I suppose even in the midst
of my terror I must have fallen asleep, for the next thing I knew was
daylight and the cheerful sound of voices. To-night I shall have a
lamp burning and a _chokidar_ (watchman) to sleep outside my tent.
Baratah is quite a large town, and has a Roman Catholic Mission and
two lady doctors. We are camping about a mile from the town in a
corner of Mr. Lister's compound. It is pretty, with well-kept grass
and flower-beds, and opposite is the Guest House of the Raj, where we
would be staying now were it not that its roof is not quite safe, and
it cannot be used. I went through it, and a great neglected place it
is, with tawdry Early Victorian furniture and awful oleographs.
When the sun had gone down yesterday, we went for a walk to explore,
along an avenue of peepul trees, across a fine polo-ground, and then
we lighted on a big tank. A tiny native boy was perched on the bank
watching something in the water, so we sat down beside him and watched
too. The something was very large and black, and we were puzzled to
know what it was, till, at a word from the child, it heaved itself out
of the water and revealed itself an elephant. Up it came to where we
were, laid its trunk down so that the small boy could walk up, and off
he went proudly riding on its head. It was the nicest thing to watch I
We got the home mail the night we arrived here, but couldn't see to
read it till the next morning. So you are back in London--sloppy,
muggy, February London! How you will miss the cold clear North and
all the ice-fun; but you will be so busy finishing the book that
surroundings won't matter much. It seemed quite home-like to see the
familiar address on the note-paper.
To-day I am going to devote entirely to writing. Surely my book will
make some progress now. How many words should there be in a book? I've
got 18,000 now; "ragged incompetent words" they are, too. I wonder
what makes a writer of books! Would knowing all the words in the
dictionary help me? My statements are so bald, somehow. It doesn't
seem an interesting tale to me, so I'm afraid I can't expect an
unprejudiced reader to find it thrilling. The Mutiny is perhaps too
large a subject for me--though, mind you, there is one bit that sounds
rather well. I have taken great pains with it, and, as Viola said of
her declaration, "'tis poetical!" The worst of it is, when I write
poetically I am never quite sure that I am writing sense. I dare say
I would be wise to take the Moorwife's advice. You remember in _The
Will-o'-the Wisps are in Town_, when the man had listened to the
Moorwife's tale he said, "I might write a book about that, a novel in
twelve volumes, or better, a popular play."
"Or better still," said the Moorwife, "you might let it alone,"
"Ah," said the man, "that would be pleasanter and easier."
_Baratah, Thursday, Feb. 28_.
We are still in Baratah, as you see, and shall be till Tuesday. It
is a very nice life this nomadic existence, and one gets nearer the
people. They come in little groups and talk to Boggley outside his
tent, and I must say he is most patient with them and tries to do
his very best for each one of them. They make my heart ache, these
natives, they are so gentle and so desperately poor. Isn't it Steevens
who says the Indian ryot has been starving for thirty centuries and
sees no reason why he should be filled?
The Listers are home now and we have been seeing a lot of them.
They are delightful people. Mrs. Lister is quite a girl, and so
good-looking and cheery. She has the prettiest house I think I ever
saw. When we went to call the first time and were shown into the
white-panelled drawing-room with its great open blue-tiled fireplace
and cupboards of blue china, I suppose it was the contrast with our
own rather sordid surroundings, but it seemed to me like fairyland.
The hall is lovely, with a gallery all round and most exquisite
carving; rose-red velvet curtains, Persian rugs glowing with rich,
soft colours, and everywhere great silver bowls of flowers. They are
the most hospitable people, and ask us to dinner every night, and to
every other meal as well. Mr. Lister told me babu stories last night.
Here is one. The Government sent round making inquiries about some
Scandinavians. (Please don't ask why Scandinavians, because I can't
answer.) The Sub-Divisional Officer forwarded the reference to the
different police-stations for report. The babus in charge of these
stations hadn't an idea what Scandinavians were, but would have
scorned to ask. Three of the reports ran thus:
Back to Full Books