Olivia in India
Part 3 out of 3
1. "Honoured Sir, I have the honour to report that the Scandinavian
has been concluded in this district and has been removed to Lahserai."
(Survey and Settlement operations.)
2. "Sir, I have the honour to report that there has been no
Scandinavians in the district this year, but it is raging furiously at
3. "Sir, I have the honour to report two Scandinavians were seen at
Gopalbung. One was shot by Billie Burke Sahib, the other has not since
That is a good, but somewhat involved, story. Another was about a
missionary who had been eaten by a tiger. The police wired, "A tiger
has man-eaten the Pope of Ramnugger."
Yesterday the Listers had a duck-shoot. About twenty men came from all
round, and Mrs. Lister and I went with them. We drove two and two to
a very large lake and then set sail in queer native boats punted by
natives. Of course I wanted to go with Boggley, but was sent off with
a strange man, one Major Griffiths, who eyed me with great dislike
because he said my light dress would frighten the birds. It got
frightfully hot with the sun beating on the water, and I simply dared
not put up a sunshade in case of scaring the birds more than I was
already doing, and thereby increasing the wrath of my companion. He
shot a lot of ducks, but evidently not so many as he thought he ought
to shoot, and when he saw the birds all congregated at one corner of
the lake a thought struck him, and he told the natives to take us to
shore. He got out and beckoned me to follow, which I obediently did,
and together we crawled through the jungle, with the _bandar-log_
chattering above us and--for all I know to the contrary--snakes
hissing beneath our feet. If I stepped, which I could hardly avoid
doing sometimes, on a fallen branch, making it crackle, the man turned
on me a glance so malignant I positively quailed. Breathlessly we
crept to the water-side and the unsuspecting ducks, and then
Major Griffiths fired into the brown,--is that the proper
expression?--killing I don't know how many. I don't think it was at
all a nice thing to do, but my opinion was neither asked nor desired.
Even then my friend was not satisfied, and he voyaged about until I
knew luncheon was long since a thing of the past, and I hated so the
shape of his face I could have screamed. When at last we did return, I
found my surmise as to luncheon had been only too correct, and we had
to content ourselves with scraps. The next duck-shoot I attend I shall
choose as companion a less earnest sportsman.
The weather is beginning to stoke-up, as Boggley calls it, and during
the day the tent is insufferable. I can sit outside it in the early
morning, but as the sun gets up Autolycus summons the _chuprassis_,
and they carry my table and writing-materials to the verandah of
the Guest House, which has a cool, not to say clammy and tomb-like,
atmosphere. My chief trials are the insects. There is a land of large
black beetle with wings that has a strange habit of poising itself
just above my head and remaining there. Someone told me--who I forget;
anyway, Boggley says it isn't true, but it seems quite likely--that
if these beetles drop on you they _explode_. Did you ever hear of
anything quite so horrible? I keep a wary eye on them and shift my
seat at their approach.
Not a hundred yards away a heathen temple stands, with its gilded roof
shining in the sun. We tried to go inside it the other day, but an
angel with a flaming sword, in the shape of a _fakir_, kept us out. It
didn't look very attractive. We saw enough when we beheld the post the
poor kids and goats are tied to, all messy and horrid from the last
sacrifice. The priest who forbade us to enter, just to show there was
no ill-feeling, hung wreaths of marigolds round our necks. Boggley,
once we were out of sight, hid his in the ditch, but I, afraid they
might find out and be offended, went about for the rest of the day
decked like any sacrificial goat.
That we are leading the Simple Life I think you would admit if you saw
us at our meals. I find that food really matters very little. Our cook
is of the jungle jungly. Autolycus is disgusted with him, and does his
best to reform him. _Chota-hazri_ I have alone, as Boggley is away
inspecting before seven o'clock. I emerge from my tent and find a
table before Boggley's tent with a cloth on it,--not particularly
clean,--a loaf of bread (our bread is made in jail: a _chuprassi_ goes
to fetch it every second day), a tin of butter, and a tin of jam.
Autolycus appears accompanied by the jungly cook, bearing a plate of
what under happier circumstances might have been porridge. A spoonful
or two is more than enough. "No good?" demands Autolycus. "No," and
disdainfully handing the plate back to the entirely indifferent cook,
he proceeds to produce from somewhere about his person a teapot and
two tiny eggs. Luncheon is much worse, for the food that appears is
so incalculably greasy that it argues a more than bowing acquaintance
with native _ghee_. Dinner is luncheon intensified, so tea is really
the only thing we can enjoy. The fact is, if we thought about it we
would never eat at all. I happened to walk round the tent to-day, and
found the dish-washer washing our dishes in water that was positively
thick, and drying them with a cloth that had begun life polishing our
brown boots. I stormed at him in English, and later Boggley stormed
at him in Hindustani, and he vowed it would never happen again; but
I dare say if I were to look round at this minute, I should find him
doing exactly the same thing; and I don't really care so long as
neither of us perishes with cholera as a result.
Such funny things live behind my tent! What should I find the other
day but a little native baby--about two or three years old. It seems
his mother is dead, and his father, who is our _chokidar_, has to take
him with him wherever he goes. He is the oddest little figure, clothed
in a most inadequate shirt, and a string round his neck with a shell
attached to keep away evil spirits. His hair is closely shaved except
for one upstanding tuft which is left to pull him up to heaven with;
and his face looks nothing but two great twinkling eyes. He squats
beside me nearly all day, and eagerly eats anything I give him, like a
little puppy dog. Toffee and fancy biscuits, both of which I possess
in abundance, are his favourites. An old servant of Boggley's is with
a sahib near here, and he arrived dressed in spotless white from
head to foot, bearing in one hand a large seed cake wreathed with
marigolds, and in the other a plate of toffee coloured pink, green,
and yellow, an offering to the Miss Sahib which he presented with many
salaams, and of which my little Hindoo gets the benefit. Autolycus and
the _chuprassis_ take a great interest in teaching him manners. When
I hold out a biscuit Autolycus says sternly, "Say salaam to the Miss
Sahib," and the baby puts his small hand gravely to his forehead,
bowing low with a "Talaam, Mees Tahib," then snaps up the prize.
I shall miss my little companion. I wonder what will become of
him--little brown heir of the ages. Already he can lisp to idols, but
he has never even heard of the Christ who said, "Suffer the children."
I shall finish this and post it to-morrow before we leave. We have
been to church to-night, the most unusual occurrence with us nowadays.
Of course it was only an English church (I remember the time when I
thought it very exciting and more than a little wicked to be present
at a Church of England service) and the padre was a very little young
padre, and rather depressing. He insisted so that we were but a
passing vapour that I began to feel it was only too horribly true, and
Boggley, who had partaken largely of tinned cheese at luncheon and was
feeling far from well, grew every moment more yellow and green.
The Listers asked us to go back with them to dinner, but we thought it
better (Boggley especially) to seek the seclusion of our tents.
_Manpur, March 9_.
Now we are in a different place. At least it has a different name and
is a day's journey from Bantale, but it looks exactly the same. We
left Baratah yesterday morning and got in and out of trains all day
until about seven in the evening we got out finally at Manpur. I had
a dreadful cold, and was sniffy and inclined to be cross; so when
Boggley suggested we should dine in the waiting-room while Autolycus
and the _chuprassis_ went on with the luggage to acquaint the
dak-bungalow people of our arrival, I upbraided him for not making
proper arrangements, and reviled the meagre repast, and was altogether
very unpleasant. When we reached our destination we found Autolycus
prancing distractedly. "This," he said to Boggley, "is what comes of
making no bundabust." Some other people were already occupying the
bungalow, and we could only get the back rooms, small, mouldy, and
inconvenient. Poor Boggley looked so crushed I had to laugh, and we
calmed the worried Autolycus, who hates to see his Sahib shoved into
corners, and, there being no inducement to remain up--went to bed.
Manpur is a fairly big station--the sort of place you read about in
Anglo-Indian novels. There are six households and a club. Boggley
and I called on all the six this evening, and then went to the club.
Everyone meets there in the evening to see the picture-papers and to
play tennis and bridge.
It is rather a bored little community, Manpur. I think they are all
pretty sick of each other, and one can't wonder. Even an Archangel
would pall if one met him at tea, played tennis with him, and sat next
him at dinner almost every day of the year; how much more poor human
beings--and Anglo-Indian human beings at that. Taken separately
they are delightful, but each assures us that the others are quite
impossible. They unite in being shocked at our living in such
discomfort, and have all invited us to stay; but it isn't worth while
to change our quarters. Besides, we are going away for the week-end to
some friend of Boggley's who lives about thirty miles from here.
A nice little young civilian is at present calling on us. He came to
pay his duty call, and he and Boggley became so deep in Oxford talk,
and found so many mutual friends, that we asked him to stay to dinner.
Autolycus told me in a stage whisper that the Sahib could easily stay
as the dak-bungalow cook was very good, and that we would get quite a
Calcutta dinner. His pride, as he bore in the dishes, was beautiful to
see; and it was a good dinner, though rather tinny.
_Manpur, Thursday 12th_.
This delayed letter must be posted before we leave by the night train
for our next trek. We came back late last night from Misanpore after a
nice but very queer time. On Saturday, when, after a long dusty
drive of eight miles from the station, we arrived at the bungalow
of Boggley's friend, there was every evidence that no visitors were
expected. Just think! Boggley had never let him know we were coming;
the poor man was ignorant of the fearful joy in store for him.
I gripped Boggley by the arm. "Wretch," I hissed in his ear. "Why
didn't you write? What sort of man is he? Will he hate having me?"
"_Qui hai_?" bellowed Boggley to the deserted-looking bungalow. Then,
turning to me, "Oh yes, he'll hate it," he said calmly; "but he'll be
pleased afterwards." I could have shaken him. Making me play the part
of a visit to the dentist!
When our host appeared, very dishevelled (it turned out that he was
feeling far from well and had been lying down), and beheld me, dismay
was written large on his countenance. He glared round in a hunted
way, and it looked as if he were going to make a bolt for it; but he
remembered in time his manhood, and faced me. (His name is Ferris, and
he is tall and bald, and about forty, and so shy that when he blushes
his eyes water.) Somehow, we all got inside the house, and Boggley and
I sat in the drawing-room while Mr. Ferris rushed out to summon his
minions and make arrangements. We heard a whispered discussion going
on about sheets, and I longed to tell my distracted host that I had
all my bedding with me in a strap; but the thought that he might
consider me "ondelicate," like Mr. Glegg, deterred me. Presently I was
shown into what, only too evidently, was our host's own room, for a
servant snatched away some last remaining effects of his master--a
spatter-brush and a slipper--as I entered. I sat down on the bed and
pondered over what I would have felt had I been a man, and shy, and
seedy, and a strange female had been suddenly shot into my peaceful
It was rather a difficult week-end. I have met men who were difficult
to talk to, but never one like Mr. Ferris, who, while willing, indeed
anxious, to be agreeable, so absolutely annihilated conversation. It
wasn't till dinner on Sunday night that I discovered a subject that
really interested him--London restaurants. He grew quite animated as
we discussed the relative merits of the Ritz, the Carlton, the Savoy,
the Dieudonne. I think that long, thin, bald, gentle bachelor
spends all his spare moments--and he must have many in lonely
Misanpore--thinking about his next leave and the feasts he will then
enjoy. Yet the odd thing is he isn't greedy about food. I think it
must be more the lights and music and people that attract him.
Mr. Ferris and Boggley were away all Sunday, and I spent the whole day
with a volume of Dana Gibson's drawings, the only book I could find.
I did go for a short walk, but the dust was nearly knee-deep, and,
except the little bungalow and outhouses, there was absolutely nothing
Yesterday again Boggley had to go and inspect some place, so it was
decided he would bicycle there, and then pick me up at some station we
had to change at on our way to Manpur. I drove to the station in Mr.
Ferris's little dogcart--alone. Mr. Ferris said he was so sorry he had
an engagement, but I think myself it was simply that he couldn't face
the eight miles alone with me.
The groom, instead of sitting behind, ran behind; and as the pony was
fresh he had to run pretty fast. There were two roads--a _pukka_ or
made road, and a _cutcha_ road, on which the natives walked and drove
Autolycus and the _chuprassis_ were waiting at the station, and put
me into a carriage. They went straight on to Manpur with the luggage
instead of waiting at the station where we changed trains. It was ten
o'clock when I got out of the train, and Boggley had said he would be
no later than half-past eleven; then we would have luncheon, and get
the one o'clock train to Manpur. I went into the refreshment-room to
ask what we could have for luncheon,
"Ham and eggs," said the fat babu promptly.
"Nothing else?" I asked.
"Yes," said the babu; "mixed biscuits."
"Oh," I said, surprised.
"Certainlee," said the babu.
Then I went outside to read a book and watch for Boggley. My book was
one of those American novels where every woman is--to judge from the
illustrations--of more than earthly beauty. I got so disheartened
after a little when everyone I met had a complexion of rose and snow
(besides, I didn't believe it) that I shut it up. I found it was
nearly twelve o'clock, and Boggley hadn't arrived. I waited another
quarter of an hour, and then went in and ate some ham and eggs. One
o'clock, and the train came and went, but still no trace of the
laggard. Outside the station the blinding white road lay empty.
Nothing stirred, not even a native was visible; the whole world seemed
asleep in the heat. A pile of trunks lay on the platform addressed to
somewhere in Devonshire and labelled _Not wanted on the Voyage_. Some
happy people were going home. A far cry it seemed from this dusty land
to green Devonshire. I sat on the largest trunk and thought about it.
Two o'clock, three, four--the hours went past. I felt myself becoming
exactly like a native, sitting with my hands folded, looking straight
before me. If I hadn't been so anxious I shouldn't have minded the
waiting at all. Now and again I refreshed myself with a peep at the
babu, just to assure myself that I wasn't the only person left alive
in the world.
About five o'clock Boggley and his bicycle strolled into the station.
I had meant to be frightfully cross with him when he appeared--that is
to say, if he weren't wounded or disabled in any way--but somehow I
never can be very cross when I see him, the way he wrinkles up his
short-sighted eyes is so disarming.
He had absolutely no excuse except that he had run across old friends,
and they had persuaded him to stay to lunch, and then they had got
talking, and so on and so on. He was very repentant, but inclined to
laugh. I expect really he had forgotten for the time he had a sister.
He confessed he hadn't mentioned my existence till he was leaving, and
then, he said, "They did seem rather surprised." I should think so
Our home mail was waiting us at Manpur and another "Calcutta" dinner.
Your letter, my faithful friend, was more than usually charming and
kind--a balm to my lacerated feelings! If you don't get a letter next
mail after this it will mean either that we are entirely out of the
reach of post offices, or that a tiger has eaten the dak-runner.
_Chota Haganpore, March 25_.
... a whole fortnight since I wrote last, and our tour is almost over.
On Wednesday we go back to Calcutta, and in April I sail for home. The
time has simply rushed past. This last fortnight has been a time of
pure delight; I have been too absorbed in enjoying myself to write.
First, we stayed two days in a town where Boggley had to open some
sort of building. The natives met us with a band, and there were
decorations and mottoes and crowds. In the evening a dramatic
entertainment took place for our amusement--_Julius Caesar_ acted
by schoolboys. Mark Anthony wore a _dhoti_, a Norfolk jacket, and a
bowler hat. In the middle of "Friends, Romans, Countrymen," the bowler
fell off. Still declaiming, he picked it up with his toes, caught it
with his hand, and gravely put it on again--very much on one side. I
envied the "mob" their serene calm of countenance. Boggley and I made
horrible faces in our efforts to preserve our gravity.
The next day Boggley played in a football match with these same boys.
One got a kick on the shin, and limping up to Boggley said, "Sir, I am
wounded; I cannot play," whereupon another ran up to the wounded
one, crying, "Courage, brother. Tis a Nelson's death." Great dears I
thought they were.
Since then we have been through dry places, and camped in desolate
places, hardly ever seeing a European, and enjoying ourselves
extremely. One day, a red-letter day, Boggley shot two crocodiles.
One was a fish-eater, but the other was a great old _mugger_, most
loathsome to look at. Autolycus hoped for _human limbs_ inside it, and
I believe they did actually find relics of his gruesome meals in the
shape of anklets and rings and bangles. Boggley is going to have the
skins made up into things for me, but it will take about six months to
cure them. It is good to think there is one _mugger_ the less. I hate
the nasty treacherous beasts. Pretending they are logs, and then
eating the poor natives!
One night we had a delightful camping-ground on the edge of a lochan
well stocked with duck, which Boggley set out to shoot and ended by
missing gloriously. We were much embarrassed by a fat old landowner
heaping presents on us. He nearly wept when we refused to accept a
All the fortnight we have only met two Europeans--a couple called
Martin. I don't know quite what they were, or why they were holding up
the flag of empire in this lonely outpost, but they were the greyest
people I ever saw.
Finding ourselves in the neighbourhood of Europeans, we called, as in
duty bound. The compound round the bungalow had a dreary look, and
when we were shown into the drawing-room I could see at a glance it
was a room that no one took any interest in. The rugs on the floor
were rumpled, the cushions soiled; photographs stood about in broken
frames, and the flowers were dying in their glasses. When Mrs. Martin
came in, I wasn't surprised at her room. A long grey face, lack-lustre
eyes, greyish hair rolled up anyhow, and greyish clothes with a hiatus
between the bodice and skirt. "This," said I to myself, "is a woman
who has lost interest in herself and her surroundings," Her husband
was small and bleached-looking and, given encouragement, inclined to
be jokesome; sometimes (by accident) he was funny. Mrs. Martin paid
very little attention to us, and none whatever to her husband's jokes.
I laughed loudly. I thought it was so persevering of him to go on
trying to be funny when he was married to such a depressing woman. As
we got up to go I noticed in a corner a child's chair with a little
chintz cover, and seated in it a smiling china doll lacking one arm
and a leg.
I could hardly wait till I was outside to tell Boggley what I thought
of Mrs. Martin and her house. "The hopeless, untidy creature!" I
raved. "She doesn't deserve to have such a little cheery husband or
The only thing I don't like about Boggley is that he never will help
me to abuse people.
"Poor woman," he said; "she's pretty bad." Then he told me her story
as he had heard it.
Ten years ago, it seems, she was quite a cheery managing woman, with
two little girls whom she worshipped; she and her husband lived
for the children. They were just going to take them home when they
sickened with some ailment. Mr. Martin at the time was prostrate after
a bad attack of fever. There was no doctor within thirty miles. One
child died, and the mother started with the other on the long drive to
the nearest doctor. The last ten miles it was a dead child she held in
When Boggley finished I was silent, remembering the little
chintz-covered chair--empty but for a broken doll.
Now that I have tasted the joys of solitude I don't see how I am to
enjoy living in a crowd again. I am practically alone all day, for
Boggley has long distances to ride and bicycle--and I never was so
happy in my life, I write, and I read, and I fold my hands in newly
acquired Oriental calm (which my bustling, busy little mother most
certainly won't admire), and sit looking before me for hours.
The books lent me by various people are all read long ago, and I have
gone back to those that are always with me.
They are all before me as I write. The little fat green one at the end
of the row is Lamb's _Essays of Elia_: he so well fits some moods, and
certain minutes of the day, that gentle writer. Next is my _Pilgrim's
Progress_, the one I have had since my tenth birthday. Father gave
each of us a copy when we reached the mature age of ten. It was only
on high days and holy-days that we were allowed to look at his
own treasured copy, which stayed behind glass doors in the corner
book-case. The illustrations, I know now, were very fine, and even
then we found them wonderful. Then comes my little old Bible. I
coveted it for years before I got it because it had pages like
five-pound notes; I value it now for other reasons. Next the Bible
is Q's _Anthology of English Verse_, its brave leather cover rather
impaired by the fact that for two mornings Boggley, having mislaid his
strop, has stropped his razor on it. Lastly comes my Shakespeare.
Sometimes in a night-marish moment I wonder what the world would have
been like had there been no Shakespeare. Suppose we had never known
Falstaff, never heard the Clown sing "O Mistress Mine," never laughed
with Beatrice nor masqueraded with Rosalind, never thrilled when
Cleopatra "again for Cydnos to meet Mark Antony" cries "Give me my
robe, put on my crown; I have immortal longings in me."
What would we do when surfeited with the company of those around us if
we couldn't creep away and pass for a little while into the company
of those immortals? What does it matter how tiresome and complacent
people are when I am Orsino inviting the Clown to sing words the utter
beauty of which bring the tears to my eyes:
"O fellow, come, the song we had last night:
Mark it, Cesario; it is old and plain:
The spinsters and the knitters in the sun,
And the free maids that weave their thread with bones,
Do use to chant it; it is silly sooth,
And dallies with the innocence of love,
Like the old age."
One never comes to the end of the beauty. Only to-day, while I was
browsing for a few minutes in a comedy I have not much acquaintance
with, I happened on these lines, which I am going to write down merely
for the pleasure of writing them:
"I am a woodland fellow, sir, that always loved a great fire, and the
master I speak of ever keeps a good fire. I am for the house with the
narrow gate, which I take to be too little for pomp to enter: some
that humble themselves may, but the many will be too chill and tender,
and they'll be for the flowery way that leads to the broad gate and
the great fire."
A very pleasant thing about our present solitude is that one can read
aloud or speak to oneself without risk of being thought demented. The
fact is, the inhabitants of the little village on the outskirts of
which we are camping regard us as so hopelessly and utterly mad
already that no further display of eccentricity on our part could make
Even in the jungle there are servant troubles. Our cook, finding, I
expect, this life too uneventful, intimated that his father was dying,
and left last night. We thought we should have to go without dinner,
but Autolycus, stepping gallantly into the breach said No, he would
cook it; he had often cooked while with Colonel-M'Greegor-Sahib. The
next we saw was a hen flying wildly, pursued by Autolycus, and in
about half an hour it appeared on the table, its legs--still rather
feathery--sticking protestingly from the dish. That was all there was
for dinner except two breakfast-cups of muddy coffee.
... The dak came in a little while ago with the. English mail. I have
just finished reading your letter. I think I know what you must feel
about your book. It is sad to come to the end of a long and pleasant
task--something finished you won't do again; a page of life closed.
I know. It scares me, too, how quickly things come to an end. We are
hurrying on so, the years pass so quickly, that even a long life is a
terribly short darg. Life is such a happy thing, one would like it to
last. I was twenty-six yesterday, and if my soul were to say to me
now, "_Finish, good lady, the bright day is over_," I would be most
dreadfully sorry (and I would expect everyone else to be dreadfully
sorry too; I'm afraid I would insist on a great moaning at the bar
when I put out to sea); but I would have to admit that I have had a
good time--a good, good time.
But I don't agree with you about the darkness of what comes after. How
can it be dark when the Sun of Righteousness has arisen? I suppose
it must be very difficult for clever people to believe, the wise and
prudent who demand a reason for everything; but Christ said that in
this the foolish things of the world would confound the wise. I am
glad He said that. I am glad that sometimes the battle is to the weak.
At the crossing, "I sink," cried Christian, the strong man, "I sink in
deep waters," but Much-Afraid went through the river singing, though
none could understand what she said. I don't know that I could give
you a reason for the hope that is in me (I speak as one of the
"foolish things"), but this I know, that if we hold fast to the
substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,
looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, then, when
the end comes, we shall be able to lay our heads down like children
saying, _This night when I lie down to sleep_, in the sure and certain
hope that when, having done with houses made with hands, we wake up
in the House of Many Mansions, it will be what John Bunyan calls a
I shall have to stop writing, though lecturing you is a fascinating
pastime, for the day is almost done, and Boggley will soon be home.
Autolycus, looking very worried, is busied with the task of preparing
the evening meal. One of the _chuprassis_, his gaudy uniform laid
aside, and clad in a fragment of cotton, is sluicing himself with
water and praying audibly. The _dhobi_ is beating our clothes white on
stones in the tank. In the village the women are grinding corn; the
oxen are drawing water from the well. The wood-smoke hangs in wisps on
the hot air, and the song of the boys bringing home the cattle comes
to me distinctly in the stillness. The sunset colours are fading into
the deep blue of the Indian night, and the faithful are being called
At home they are burning the whins on the hillsides, and the Loch o'
the Lowes lies steel-grey under the March sky.
THE LAND OF REGRETS
_Calcutta, April 1 (Monday_).
... The flesh-pots of Calcutta are wonderfully pleasant after jungly
fare, and there is something rather nice about a big airy bedroom with
a bathroom to correspond, hot water at will, and an _ayah_ to look
after one's clothes, after the cramped space of a tent, a zinc bath
wiggling on an uneven floor, and Autolycus fumbling vaguely among
one's belongings. I am staying with G. in her sister's, Mrs.
Townley's, very charming house. Boggley had to go off at once on
another short tour, and I was only too pleased to come to this most
comfortable habitation. It is nice to be with G. again, and she has
lots to tell me about her doings--dances, garden-parties, picnics--all
of which she has enjoyed thoroughly. All the same, I would rather have
had my jungle experiences. She and her sister and brother-in-law laugh
greatly at my tales. They regard me as an immense joke, I don't know
why. I think myself I am rather a sensible, serious sort of person.
Mrs. Townley is the kindest woman. She has such a delightful way
of making you feel that you are doing her the greatest favour by
accepting her hospitality. I am not the only guest. A member of a
nursing sisterhood--Sister Anna Margaret--is resting here for a few
days. She wears clothes quite like a nun, but she is the cheeriest
soul, with such contented eyes. She might be a girl, from the interest
she takes in our doings and the way she laughs at our well-meant but
not very witty fun.
Calcutta is very hot. The punkahs go all day--not the flapping kind of
Mofussil punkahs, but things like bits of windmills fastened to poles.
I never like to sit or sleep exactly underneath one, they look so
insecure; besides, they make one so untidy. At a dinner-party it is
really dreadful to have the things flap-flapping above one's carefully
done hair. My hair needs no encouragement to get untidy, and I have
quite an Ophelia-like air before we get to the fish. It is too hot to
go out much except very early in the morning and again after tea. We
read and write and work till luncheon, then go to bed and try to sleep
till tea-time. We waken hot and very cross, and it is the horridest
thing to get up and get into a dress that seems to fasten with
millions of hooks and buttons. My old Bella is back with me, but she
has found a mistress whose temper has shortened as the temperature has
risen. Yesterday she fumbled so fastening my dress that I jumped round
on her, stamped my foot, and said, "Bella, I shall slap you in a
minute," She replied in such a reproving tone, "Oh! Missee Baba." Tea
makes one feel better, and then there is tennis and a drive in the
cool of the evening.
Mosquitoes are a great trial. They don't worry so much through the
day, but at night--at night, when one with infinite care has examined
the inside of the mosquito-curtains to make sure none are lurking, and
then, satisfied, has dived into bed and tucked the curtain carefully
round, and is just going off to sleep--buzz-z-z sounds the hateful
thing, and all hope of a quiet night is gone. The other night I woke
and found G. springing all over her bed like a kangaroo. At first I
thought she had gone mad, dog-like, with the heat, but it turned out
she was only stalking a mosquito.
Yesterday we all went--Mrs. Townley, Sister Anna Margaret, G., and
I--to the Calcutta Zoo. We fed the monkeys with buns, watched the
loathly little snakes crawl among the grass in their cages, and then
G. began gratuitously to insult a large fierce tiger by poking at it
with her sunshade.
It wasn't a kind thing to do, for it is surely bad enough to be caged
without having a sunshade poked at one, and evidently the tiger
thought so, for it lashed its tail and its roars shook the cage. We
went home, and retribution followed swift and sure.
The first floor of the house consists of the drawing-room and two
enormous bedrooms, one opening into the other, and both opening by
several windows on to the verandah. Sister Anna Margaret is in one,
G. and I in the other. We have two beds, but they are drawn close
together and covered by a mosquito-curtain. Last night we went to bed
in our usual gay spirits and fell asleep. It seemed to me that we were
in the Zoo again and the tiger was fiercer than ever. It hit the bars
with its great paw, and to my horror I saw that the bars were giving.
I ran, but it was too late. The beast was out of the cage and coming
after me with great bounds. My legs went round in circles and made no
progress, as legs do in dreams; the tiger sprang--and I woke. At
first I lay quiet, too thankful to find myself in bed to think about
anything else; then I sniffed.
"Olivia?" said G. "Do you notice it?"
"What?" I asked.
"That awful smell of Zoo."
Of course that was it. I had been wondering what was the curious
smell. My first thought--an awful one--was that the tiger had actually
broken loose, tracked us home, and was now under the bed waiting to
devour us. There was nothing to hinder it but a mosquito-curtain! How
I accomplished it, paralysed as I was with terror, I know not, but I
took a flying leap and landed on G., hitting her nose with my head and
clutching wildly at her brawny arms, much developed with tennis, as my
She was too terrified to resent my intrusion.
"What do you think it is?" she whispered. "Hu-s-h, speak low. Perhaps
it doesn't know there's anyone in the room."
"It's the tiger from the Zoo," I hissed with conviction.
G. started visibly. "Rubbish," she said. "A tiger wouldn't get into a
house. Ah--oh, listen!"
Distinctly we heard the fud of four feet going round the bed.
"Cry for help," said G.
"Sister!" we yelled together.
"Sister Anna Margaret!"
No answer. Sister Anna Margaret slept well.
"Sister!" said G, bitterly. "She's no sister in adversity."
"Get up, G.," I said encouragingly. "Get up and turn on the light.
Perhaps it isn't a tiger, perhaps it's only a musk rat."
G. refused with some curtness. "Get up yourself," she added.
Again we shouted for Sister, with no result.
You have no idea how horrible it was to lie there in the darkness and
listen to movements made by we knew not what. We felt bitterly towards
Sister Anna, never thinking of what her feelings would be if she came
confidingly to our help and was confronted by some fearsome animal.
"If only," said G., "we knew what time it was and when it will be
light. I can't _live_ like this long. Let go my arm, can't you?"
"I daren't," I said. "You're all I've got to hold on to."
We lay and listened, and we lay and listened, but the padding
footsteps didn't come back; and then I suppose we must have fallen
asleep, for the next thing we knew was that the _ayahs_ were standing
beside us with tea, and the miserable night was past.
G. and I looked at each other rather shamefacedly.
"Did we dream it?" I asked,
G. was rubbing her arm where I had gripped it.
"I didn't dream this, anyway," she said; "it's black and blue."
At breakfast we knew the bitterness of having our word doubted; no one
believed our report. They laughed at us and said we had dreamt it, or
that we had heard a mouse, and became so offensive in their unbelief
that G. and I rose from the table in a dignified way, and went out to
walk in the compound.
We are very busy collecting things to take home with us. (Did I
tell you G.'s berth had been booked in the ship I sail in--the
_Socotra_--it sails about the 23rd?) The _chicon-wallah_ came this
morning and spread his wares on the verandah floor--white rugs from
Kashmir, embroidered gaily in red and green and blue; tinsel mats and
table centres; pieces of soft bright silk; dainty white sewed work.
We could hardly be dragged from the absorbing sight to the
The Townleys never change their servants, and now three generations
serve together. The old _kitmutgar_ is the grandfather and trains
his grandsons in the way which they should go. To-day at luncheon
(fortunately we were alone), one of them made a mistake in handing a
dish, whereupon his grandfather gave him a resounding box on the ears,
knocking off his turban. Instead of going out of the room, the boy
went on handing me pudding, sobbing loudly the while, and with tears
running down his face. It was very embarrassing, and none of us had
enough Hindustani to rebuke the too-stern grandparent.
This afternoon, when we were having tea in the garden and enjoying
Peliti's chocolate-cake, a great outcry arose from the house, and we
saw the servants running and looking up to the verandah. Mr. Townley
called out to know what was the matter, and received such a confused
jumble of Hindustani in reply that he went to investigate. He came
back shrugging his shoulders. "It's some nonsense about a 'spirit,'
They say it's been appearing suddenly, then disappearing for some
time. Now the _chokra_ swears he saw it go up the verandah into a
bedroom. To satisfy them, I have sent for my gun, and I'll wait below
while they drive the 'spirit' down."
"It's our midnight visitor," G. and I cried together.
We waited, breathless. The servants rushed on to the verandah with
sticks--a dark streak slid down the verandah pillar--Mr. Townley
fired. It wasn't a tiger, it was a civet cat--a thing rather like a
fox, with a long pointed nose and an uncommonly nasty smell.
"Think," said G., as we looked at it lying stretched out
stiff,--"think of having that thing under our bed! A mouse indeed!"
We didn't say "I told you so," but we looked it.
Boggley comes back to-morrow, and I am going with him to the Grand
Hotel, so that we shall be together for the last little while.
_Agra, April 11_.
... from a chapter in the _Arabian Nights_; from the middle of the
most gorgeous fairy-tale the mind of man could invent, I write to you
Often I have heard of the Taj Mahal, read of its beauty, dreamed of
its magic, but never in my dreams did I imagine anything so exquisite,
Boggley thought I should not leave India without seeing this "miracle
of miracles--the final wonder of the world," so we left Calcutta on
Monday night by the Punjab mail and came to Agra, and we have done
it all in proper order. Yesterday, in the morning, we motored to
the deserted city, the capital of Akbar, the greatest of the Mogul
emperors, about twenty miles off. It has battlemented walls and great
gates like a fairy-tale city. The bazaar part of it is mostly in
ruins, but the royal part is perfectly preserved and could be lived in
comfortably now. There is Akbar's Council Chamber, the houses of his
wives, the courtyard where they played living chess, the stables,
waterworks, the palaces of his chief ministers, the mosque and
cloisters, the Gate of Victory. The carving in marble and red
sandstone is wonderful. Akbar must have been a broad-minded man, for
we found paintings of the Annunciation side by side with pictures of
the Hindu god Ganesh. It is intensely interesting to see the place
just as it was hundreds of years ago. In the great Mosque Quadrangle
there is a marble mausoleum, delicately carved, a priceless piece of
work in mother-of-pearl, erected to Akbar's high priest; and our guide
was his lineal descendant, glad to get five rupees for his trouble!
We lunched in the Government bungalow, a comfortable place, not
glaringly out of keeping with the surroundings, and then motored to
Akbar's tomb--another piece of colossal magnificence. I was awed by
it. Out of the glaring sunshine we went down a long dark passage to a
great vault, where the air was cold with the coldness of death. It
was completely dark except for one ray of light falling on the plain
marble tomb. An old Mohammedan crooned eerily, impressively, a lament
which echoed round and round the vault. The Mohammedans and the Scots
have a similar passion for deaths and funerals!
Lastly, in its fitting order, we drove to the Taj Mahal.
You know the story? I have just been reading about it in Steevens's
book. You know how Shah Jehan, grandson of Akbar, first Mogul Emperor
of Hindustan, loved and married the beautiful Persian Arjmand
Banu,--called Mumtaz-i-Mahal,--and when she died he, in his grief,
swore that she should have the loveliest tomb the world ever beheld,
and for seventeen years he built the Taj Mahal? You know how after
thirty years his son rose up and dethroned him, and kept him a close
prisoner for seven years in the Gem Mosque, where his daughter
Jehanara attended him and would not leave him. When grown very feeble,
he begged to be laid where he could see the Taj Mahal; and, the
request being granted, you know how he died with his face towards
the tomb of the beautiful Persian, "whose palankeen followed all his
campaigns in the days when Empire was still a-winning, whose
children called him father--Arjmand Banu, silent and unseen now for
four-and-thirty years, the wife of his youth."
Such a passionate old story! Such a marvellous love-memorial! Shah
Jehan--Mumtaz-i-Mahal--Grape Garden--Golden Pavilion--Jasmine Tower.
As G.W. Steevens says, there is dizzy-magic in the very names. I am
no more capable of describing it than I would have been capable of
building it; you must see it for yourself. It alone is worth coming to
India to see.
Leaving the Taj Mahal dazed and dizzy with beauty, I was hailed by a
voice that sounded familiar, and turning round I saw--an incongruous
figure in that Arabian Nights garden--our old friend of the _Scotia_,
the Rocking Horse Fly. She had another female with her, and Mr. Brand,
the funny man who asked conundrums. I'm afraid my eyes had asked what
he was doing in this galley, for he hastily said that he had only
arrived in Agra that morning, and found our _Scotia_ acquaintance at
the hotel. I introduced Boggley, and we stood uncomfortably about,
while the Rocking Horse Fly waxed sentimental over our meeting.
"Isn't it odd," she said, "that we should all meet and just part
I thought it would have been much odder (and how infinitely horrible!)
if we had all met and never parted. As it happened, we weren't allowed
to part with her as soon as we could have wished. She discovered we
were staying at the same hotel, so we had to dine together, and she
talked the Taj all through dinner, spattering it with adjectives,
while Boggley grunted at intervals. It was refreshing to see Mr. Brand
again. He seems to be enjoying India vastly, and had three quite new
stories, though if he didn't laugh so much telling them it would be
easier to see the point. Boggley and he loved each other at once.
After dinner, when the men were smoking, the Rocking Horse Fly began
to get arch--don't you hate people when they are arch?--and said
surely I was never going home without capturing some heart. I replied
stoutly and truthfully that I was.
"Naughty girl!" said the R.H.F. "You haven't made the most of your
opportunities. Don't you know what they call girls who come out for
the cold weather?"
I said I didn't.
"They are called 'The Fishing Fleet,'" she said sweetly.
I said "Oh," because I didn't know what else to say, feeling as I did
I have heard--Mr. Townley told me--that long ago when a ship from
England arrived in the Hoogly a cannon was fired, and all the gay
bachelors left their offices and went to the docks to appraise the new
arrivals. A ball was given on board on the night of arrival, and many
of the girls were engaged before they left the ship. I don't object to
that. It was a fine, sincere way of doing things; but why the subject
of marriage should be made an occasion for archness, for sly looks,
for--in extreme cases--nudgings, passes my comprehension.
The R.H.F. has a way of making common any subject she touches--even
the Taj and marriage--so I thought I would go to bed. As I said
goodnight I regarded attentively the friend, wondering much how anyone
could, of choice, accompany the R.H.F. in her journeyings. She is a
very silent person, large and fat and about forty, and her eyes are
small out of all proportion to her face, but they twinkled at me
in such an understanding way that I, generally so chary of offering
embraces, went up to kiss her. She is kind, but so large that being
kissed by her is almost as destroying as being in a railway accident!
Do I ignore what you say in your letter? You see, it is rather
difficult. Writing to a friend in a far country is like shouting
through a speaking-tube to the moon, and one can't shout very intimate
things, can one?
Let us be sensible. Don't be angry, but are you quite sure you really
care, and is it wise to care? We are so very different. You are so
very English, and I, in spite of a pink and fluffy exterior, am at
heart as bitter and dour and prejudiced as any Covenanter that ever
whined a psalm. My mind could never have anything but a Scots accent.
You are reserved, and rather cold; I am expansive to a fault. You are
terrifyingly clever; my intelligence is of the feeblest. You have a
refined sense of humour; the poorest, most obvious joke is good enough
for me. But this is only talk. I don't know that I am "in love,"--I
don't like the expression anyway,--but this I know, that if you were
not in the world it would be an unpeopled waste to me. The place you
happen to be in is where all interest centres. Every minute of the
time as I go through my days, laughing, talking, enjoying myself
vastly, away at the back of my mind the thought of you lies "hidden
yet bright," making for me a new heaven and a new earth. Is this
caring? Is this what you want to hear me say? I can't write what I
would like, I can't weave pretty things, I can only speak straight on,
but oh, my dear, I am so glad that in this big, confusing world we
have found each other. Poor Rocking Horse Fly! poor fat friend! how
dull for them, how dull for all the rest of the people in the world
not to have a _you_!
I am not going to write any more, not because I haven't lots to say,
but because writing much or talking much about a thing--being queer
and Scots, it is hard for me to say love--seems somehow to cheapen it,
I have opened this just to say again, My dear, my dear!
_Calcutta, April 21_.
... only three more days in India, and I don't know whether I am
horribly sorry to go or profoundly relieved to get away. There is no
doubt it is a sudden and dangerous country. Three people we knew have
died suddenly of cholera, and two others have had bombs thrown at
them. I shall be thankful to find myself safely on board the steamer,
but even if I escape I am leaving Boggley in the midst of these
perils. Not that he lets the thought of them vex his soul. You learn,
he says, to look upon death in a different way in India, but I am sure
I never could learn to regard with equanimity the thought of being
quite well one day and being hurried away to the Circular Road
Cemetery early the next. It is sad to die in a foreign land, and it is
somehow specially sad, at least I think so, for a home-loving Scot to
lie away from home.
"Tell me not the good and wise
Care not where their dust reposes.
That to him who sleeping lies
Desert rocks shall seem as roses.
I've been happy above ground,
I could ne'er be happy under,
Out of Teviot's gentle sound.
Part us, then, not far asunder."
Yesterday I saw a pathetic sight. A couple in a _tikka-gharry_; the
man a soldier, a Gordon Highlander, and on the front seat a tiny
coffin. The man's arm was round the woman's shoulder, and she was
crying bitterly. A bit of shabby crape was tied round her hat, and she
carried a sad little wreath.
Since coming back from Agra we have stayed at the Grand Hotel. It is a
comfortable, airy place, wonderfully pleasant in the morning when we
sit at a little table in the verandah looking out on the Maidan, and
flat-faced hill-waiters bring us an excellent breakfast. Our own
servants are with us--Autolycus and Bella. When we arrived very early
in the morning and the coolies were carrying up our luggage, a servant
sleeping outside his master's door held up his hand for quietness,
saying something quite gently about not waking his master, "Beat him,"
said Autolycus to the coolies quite without heat, as he hurried on.
The air gets hotter, and everything looks more and more tired every
day. Even proud-pied April dressed in all its trim can't put a spirit
of youth into anything.
But these last days in Calcutta, in spite of fears and heat, are very
pleasant. I don't know how I could have said the Calcutta women were
horrid! Now that I am going to leave them they seem so kind and
attractive. Every minute of my time is filled up with river-picnics,
garden-parties, tennis tournaments, dinners and theatre parties; and
my mornings are spent with G. raking in queer shops for curiosities.
I am insatiable for things to take home, and Autolycus has packed and
roped three large wooden boxes containing my treasures.
I wish life weren't such a mixed thing. Just when I am tiptoeing on
the heights of joy because I am going home, I am brought to common
earth with a thud by the miserable thought that I must leave Boggley.
(How pleasant it would be to have a sort of spiritual whipping-boy
to bear the nasty things in life for one--the disappointments, the
worries, the times of illness and sorrow, the partings.) Boggley
says it will be all right once I am away. As a rule he only feels
pleasantly home-sick. Now, with the preparations for departure
constantly before him, helping to address boxes to the familiar old
places, going with me in imagination from port to port till we reach
cool Western lands, I'm afraid he has many a pang.
I am so sorry you are so worried. You will almost have got my letter
by this time, but I wish I had cabled as you asked, only, somehow, I
didn't like the idea. I thought you knew I cared; but, after all, how
could you? I didn't know myself when I left England. Looking back I
seem always to have cared immensely. How could I help it? What I can't
understand is how every woman of your acquaintance doesn't care as I
do; you seem to me so lovable. I am so glad (though it seems an odd
thing to be glad about!) that you have no mother and no sister. I
don't feel such a marauder as I would have done if, by taking you,
I had robbed some other woman. And I am glad of your lonely life. I
shall be able to show you what a nice thing a home is. A quiet, safe
place we shall make it, where worldly cares may not enter. Boggley
says I can make an hotel room look home-like, and, indeed, it is
almost my only accomplishment, this talent for home-making. There is
one thing I want to say to you. You know what Robert Louis says about
married men?--that there is no wandering in pleasant bypaths for them,
that the road lies long and straight and dusty to the grave. It dulls
me to think of it. _Don't_ feel that. Don't let it be true. We mustn't
let our lives get dusty and straight and narrow. We shall love
whimsies and we shall laugh. So long as laughter isn't heartless and
doesn't hurt anyone it is good to laugh. Life will see to it that
there are tears--at least I'm told so. But suppose in years to come,
after we have grown used to each other (though it does amaze me that
people should talk about things losing their charm because one gets
_used_ to them. Does a child tire of its mother because it is used
to her? Is Spring any the less wonderful because we are used to
her coming? God grant we have many years to get used to each
other!)--suppose one fine morning you find that life has lost its
savour, you are tired of the accustomed round, you are tired of the
house, you are tired of the look of the furniture, you want to get
away for a time--in a word, to be free. Well, remember, you are not to
feel that the road isn't clear before you. I promise you not to feel
aggrieved. I shan't wonder how my infinite variety could have palled.
I know that all men--men who are men--at times hear the Red Gods call
them (women hear them too, you know, only they have more self-control;
they find their peace in fearful innocence and household laws), and
I shall be waiting on the doorstep when you return from climbing
Kangchenjunga, or exploring the Bramahputra Gorges, ready to say,
"Come away in, for I'm sure you must be tired."
Arthur, dear, am I a disappointing person, do you find? Ought I to be
able to write you different sorts of letters, tenderer, more loving
letters? But, you see, it wouldn't be me if I could. My heart may be,
indeed, I think it is, full of the warmest instincts, but they have
been unwinged from birth so they can't fly to you. One of the most
talkative people living, in some ways I am strangely speechless. Why!
I haven't even told Boggley, though if he had eyes to see instead of
being the blindest of dear old bats, my shining face would betray
me. I keep on smiling in a perfectly imbecile manner, so that people
exclaim, "Well, you are indecently glad to get away," and when they
ask Why? I point them to the scene in the Old Testament where Hadad
said unto Pharaoh, "_Let me depart, that I may go to mine own
country." Then Pharaoh said unto him, "But what hast thou lacked with
me, that, behold, thou seekest to go to thine own country?" And he
answered, "Nothing: howbeit let me go in any wise_." So it is with
me. India has given me the best of good times. I have lacked for
nothing--"howbeit let me go in any wise." You needn't think I am
changed. I'm not. I'm afraid I'm not. One would think that a new
environment would make a difference, but it really does not. A person
with a suburban mind would be as suburban in the wilds of Nepal as in
the wilds of Tooting. The illuminating thought has come to me that it
isn't a man's environment that matters, it's his mind. Haven't you
often noticed in an evening in London all the City men hurrying home
like rabbits to their burrows (not the prosperous City men, but the
lesser ones, whose frock-coats are rather shiny and their silk hats
rather dull), and haven't you often thought how narrow their lives
are, how cramping their environment? But suppose one of those clerks
loves books and is something of a poet. What does it matter to him
though his rooms in Clapham or Brixton are grimy, almost squalid, and
filled with the worst kind of Victorian furniture? "Minds innocent and
quiet take such for an hermitage." Once inside, the long day at the
office over, and the door shut on the world, an arm-chair drawn up to
the fire and his books around him he is as happy as a king, for his
mind to him is a Kingdom. He may be a puny little man, in bodily
presence contemptible, but he will feel no physical disabilities as he
clambers on the wall of Jerusalem with Count Raymond, or thrills as he
sets forth with Drake to fight Spaniards one against ten. Instead of
the raucous cries of the milk or the coal man, he hears the horns of
Elfland faintly blowing, and instead of a window which can show him
nothing but a sodden plot planted with wearied-looking shrubs, he
has the key of that magic casement which opens on perilous seas in
fairylands forlorn. He will never do anything great in the world, he
will never lead a forlorn hope, or marry the Princess, or see far
lands; he will never be anything but a poor, shabby clerk, but he is
of such stuff as dreams are made of, and God has given to him His
No, I don't think a new environment changes people, and it is foolish
to think it makes them forget. Sometimes in the Eden Gardens at
sunset, when we draw up to listen to the band, I watch the faces of
the youths--Scots boys come out from Glasgow and Dundee--dreaming
there in the Indian twilight while the pipers play the tunes familiar
to them since childhood. They are sahibs out here, they have a horse
to ride and a servant to look after them, things they never would have
had had they stayed in Dundee or Glasgow, but though they are proud
they are lonely. What does grandeur matter if "the Quothquan folk"
can't see it? The peepul trees rustle softly overhead, the languorous
soft air laps them round, the scent of the East is in their nostrils,
but their eyes are with their hearts, and is this what they see? A
night of drizzling rain, a street of tall, dingy, grey houses, and a
boy, his day's work done, bounding upstairs three steps at a time to
a cosy kitchen where the tea is spread, where work-roughened hands at
his coming lift the brown teapot from the hob, and a kind mother's
voice welcomes him home at the end of the day....
Autolycus has knocked at the door to say "Master's come" (he likes to
be very European with me so doesn't call him Sahib), and I must go to
tea. To-morrow Boggley is taking the whole day off and we have got it
all planned out, every minute of it. In the morning we shall drive in
a _tikka-gharry_ to the Stores to buy some final necessaries (such as
soap and tooth-powder), then to Peliti's to eat ices, then to the shop
in Park Street so that Boggley may get me a delayed birthday present,
then round and round the Maidan. _Then_ we shall go to luncheon at the
Townleys and go on with them to Tollygunge for golf. _Then_ we are
going to tea with some people who are taking us a motor run. _Then_ we
go to a farewell dinner at the Ormondes'. Then we shall go to bed.
Bless you, my dear.
_S.S. Socotra, Homeward Bound, Somewhere in the Hoogly, April 24_.
... This day seems to have been going on for weeks and it is only
tea-time now. Was it only this morning that we left? I can't think
it was _this_ morning that Boggley and I took our last _chota-hazri_
together, and Boggley as he gloomily sugared his tea, said, "Now I
know what a condemned man feels like on the morning of his execution."
Then we laughed and it wasn't so bad. Autolycus, very important
because the Miss Sahib was going to cross the Black Water, bustled
about with my few packages (all the heavy baggage went away two days
ago) and, finally, bustled us into a _tikka-gharry_ in such good time
that we had to drive twice round the Maidan before we went to the
landing-stage. Dear, funny Autolycus! I shall miss his ugly, honest
face. He has added greatly to the gaiety of nations as represented by
Boggley and me. The last we saw of him was standing before the
hotel door along with Bella and the two _chuprassis_ bowing low and
murmuring, "Salaam, Miss Sahib, salaam," while I, undignified to the
last, knelt on the seat and wildly waved a handkerchief.
The landing was crowded with people. I wondered how we were all to get
on board one ship, but found as we got on to the launch that most of
the people remained behind; they were only see-ers off. Mr. Townley
had by some means managed to get permission for himself, his wife,
and Boggley to go down the river with us in the launch to where the
_Socotra_ lay; which was a great comfort to us all. When we found our
party, poor G.'s face was much less pink than usual. The Ormondes were
there, having ridden down to see us off, and quite a lot of other
people had come for the same reason. We (the passengers) had to be
medically examined before we were allowed to leave--in case of plague,
I suppose. G. and I were rather scared at the thought--how were we to
know that we hadn't plague lurking about us? However, after a very
cursory glance we were passed on, got our good-byes said, and embarked
on the launch. At any other time I would have hated saying good-bye
to the Ormondes and the other dear people, but with the parting from
Boggley looming so near, I was absent-minded and callous, though I
hope I didn't appear so. The _Socotra_ is quite a tiny ship compared
to the _Scotia_. G. and I clambered on board, in great haste to find
our cabin. We found it already occupied by our cabin companion (she is
Scotch and has artificial teeth and a fine, rich Glasgow accent, and
(I think) is of a gentle and yielding disposition) and an enormous
Boggley was with us, but when he saw we were going to be firm he fled,
"This," said G., waving her hand towards the offending box, "must go
into the baggage-room."
"Certainly," said the Glasgow woman. "I'm sure I don't know what it's
doing here. Ma husband wrote the labels." And she actually began to
drag it into the passage.
Seeing her so amenable to reason, we smiled kindly and begged her
to desist. But she said, "Not at all," and smiled back in such a
delightfully Glasgow "weel-pleased" way that my heart warmed to her. I
can see she will be a constant entertainment.
Mr. Townley introduced us to the captain, who looks kind, and who
asked us to sit at his table, and then we all went in to breakfast. In
spite of our low spirits we enjoyed the meal. G. created something of
a fracas about a kidney which she ate and then said was bad, but
she calmed down, and we enjoyed looking at the other passengers,
speculating as to who and what they were.
Almost directly after breakfast our people had to go, and G. and I,
very stricken, watched the launch as it steamed up the river till lost
to sight behind a big vessel. Since then, except for an interval in
the cabin to get our eyes bathed into decency, we have sat on deck
with aching heads, trying to read and write. At first the heat was
terrible. We drooped like candles in the sun, we wilted like flowers,
and G. gasped, "If all the voyage is going to be as hot as this, I'm
done." Limp and wretched, I agreed with her. Then we found we had put
our chairs against the kitchen, which is up on deck in this ship.
No wonder we were warm! We quickly found a cooler spot, and I have
been writing a long letter to Boggley to send off with the pilot.
Isn't he pure gold, my Boggley? I know that you too "think nobly of
the soul." He will be home in a year, and I am trying to tell myself
that a year isn't long. Well, the Indian trip is over, and I have a
lot, learned a few things, and made some friends--best of them my
faithful G. It is rather astonishing that I should have the joy of her
company home again. Many people, I am sure, expected she would remain
in India, but I think she took the precaution to leave her heart at
home, wise G. One thing you should be thankful for, there will be no
more letters. What a blessing people are nicer than their letters! How
good you have been about mine, how willing to take an interest in the
people I met, in the places I saw, in everything I told you about; and
when I was jocose, you pretended to be amused. Ah, well! Be cheerful,
sir, our revels now are ended!
And so I am going home, home to my own bleak kindly land, "place of
all weathers that end in rain." I am going home to my own people
(I think I see Peter jigging up and down in expectation before my
trunks); and I am going to you. And the queer thing is, I can't feel
glad, I am so home-sick for India. All my horror of bombs and sudden
death has gone, and memory (as someone says) is making magic carpets
under my feet, so that I am back again in the white, hot sunlight,
under the dusty palm-trees, hearing the creak of the wagons, as the
patient oxen toil on the long straight roads, and the songs of the
coolies returning home at even, I see the country lying vague in the
clammy morning mist, and the great broad Ganges glimmering wanly; and
again it is a wonderful clear night of stars. I know that my own land
is the best land, that the fat babu with his carefully oiled and
parted hair and his too-apparent sock-suspenders can't be mentioned in
the same breath as the Britisher; that our daffodils and primroses
are sweeter far than the heavy-scented blossoms of the East; that the
"brain-fever" bird of India is a wretched substitute for the lark and
the thrush and others of "God's jocund little fowls"; that Abana and
Pharpar and other rivers of Damascus are better than this Jordan--all
this, I say, I know; but to-night I don't believe it.
India has thrown golden dust in my eyes, and I am seeing things all
wrong. We have anchored for the night.... I am watching the misty
green blur, which is all that is left to me of India, grow more and
more indistinct as darkness falls. Soon it will be night.
G., who has been absolutely silent for more than an hour, sat up
suddenly just now, and took my hand.
"Olivia," she said. "It's a nice place, England." Her tone was the
tone of one seeking reassurance.
"It is," I said dolefully. "_Very_."
"And it really doesn't rain such a great deal,"
"Anyway, it's home, and India isn't, though India _has_ been jolly."
Then, "I shall enjoy a slice of good roast beef," said G.
Back to Full Books