Letters from India Volume I/From the Hon Emily Eden to Blank 1

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Letters from India, Volume I  (1872)  by Emily Eden
From the Hon. Emily Eden to ——


Monday, April 4.

On board the ‘Soonamookie’ at half past six, and it was deliciously cool all the way to Calcutta. There is no doubt that these early hours are the real good hours of the day, if it did not make one feel so hang-dogish in the afternoon; but a stifling sleep then—even if to be bad—does no earthly good.

The whole morning, Government House was like a fair. We were buying shawls and muslins and fans, partly to send to England ourselves, and I was employed by Captain Grey and Mr. Pelham and others, to buy for them presents to take home. There is nothing tempting in Calcutta, except shawls of forty or fifty guineas each—out of everybody’s reach—and a few Chinese things, which are only to be had occasionally.

Captain Grey and Mr. Pelham dined with us, and we all went to the play. The house was very full, and we were received with great applause; but whether that means that George has begun his government well, or that they were obliged to us for our punctuality (as we arrived to a minute and kept nobody waiting) is more than I know. The actresses are professional people; but all the actors are amateurs, and not very good. ‘Timour the Tartar’ was got up with great magnificence. Fanny and I came away at ten, but George sat it all out.

Wednesday, April 6.

Fanny and I went to do our duty to the Native Orphan School, and listened to all the classes saying their Catechism with great decorum. We gave our own subscription, and I made over 5l., left by Mr. Pelham for some charity, to this one as there can be none better managed.

We all dined at Sir E. Ryan’s. George’s dining out is a great affair; and all his people, with silver sticks and servants to stand behind our chairs, were sent down in boats some time before, that they might be ready to meet us. Fanny’s servants and mine had even taken the precaution to bring the footstools we have at home, and carried them after us into the drawing-room, and then in to dinner, as quietly as possible. It was the pleasantest dinner I have seen in India; not a large dinner, and Sir E. Ryan is a very pleasant man.

Thursday, April 7.

The ‘Jupiter’ could not get out of sight yesterday, but is fairly gone to-day; I am very sorry for it. We had become really acquainted with the officers, which is more than we shall be with anybody here; and if they did not really like us (you know my system of not asserting that I have a friend), they all said they did; and for five months, or indeed six now, they have all been doing what they could to please us; and now it seems as if our best friends had forsaken us, as if the carriage had driven off and left us. It is a horrid place to be left in. I thought the physical discomforts of the ship very great, but then I did not know what this oven was. I would have given anything to have gone home in the ‘Jupiter.’ I could not bear to hear all those people saying that they should be at home in September—nice autumn weather, and the month with your birthday in it—and several of them asked if they should go and see you, Robert, &c. They have no right to go, when I cannot see you; and to think that we have not yet been here five weeks! I should think it ought to count for the whole five years.

The tide served late, and we went up to Barrackpore by water. We are repairing and. furnishing, and cannot have much company. Dr. Drummond came to stay with us to-day.

Saturday, April 9.

Some of the officers of the ‘Rose’ came before breakfast, to stay till Monday. I arranged with Captain Champney’s assistance, a sort of morning-room for the gentlemen, because I found that those who had nothing to do in their own bungalows strayed into my sitting-room, and it is surprising how small a show of fellow-creatures tires me in this climate. Went out on elephants. I rode with Captains Macgregor and Barrow, and —— borrowed ‘Jupiter,’ one of the young horses we brought from the Cape, which knocked him off the instant he got on. It was an unlucky day for riding: Captain Macgregor’s horse slipped down; then we were out late, and ‘Selim,’ my particular horse, had never been ridden in the dark before; he is very young, and between fire-flies and the beating of the drums—for it was a great Hindoo festival—he got so frightened that nothing would induce him to move. The instant daylight ceases here it grows pitch dark, so that it was necessary to grope our way home, one of the guards leading ‘Selim,’ and we were very glad when we met the lanterns they had sent out to meet us. Of course they had settled that we had met with all sorts of accidents. We had eight Barrackporeans to dinner.

Sunday, April 10.

A quiet day. George and I passed an hour in the garden; there are some beautiful plants in it, and I am going to have a little garden of my own made close by the house. There are no flowers near it now.

Calcutta, Tuesday, April 12.

We have all our mornings very quiet now; rode in the evening. We had our first party this evening, and it did very well, I believe. It looked very tiresome to an impartial observer, but as they all seem to know each other, I suppose it has its merits. The society here is quite unlike anything I have ever seen before. The climate accounts for its dulness, as people are too languid to speak; but the way in which whole families plod round and round the great hall, when they are not dining, is very remarkable. The whole of this evening it looked like a regiment marching round, and helping their wives along. In general, people at home like to meet strangers when they go out; but here, all near connections take it as an affront if they are not asked to dinner the same day. It is all very pleasant, and very superior to anything I have been used to; but it is rather odd.

Wednesday, April 13.

George and I took a nice long drive, farther out of the town than we have been yet; but the heat has been awful the last three days, the thermometer at 95° in many of the houses at Calcutta. Government House, from its size and situation, has cooler corners in it: but it is an abominable climate. Another dinner of forty-four people.

Thursday, April 14.

We received visitors in the morning, and had rather a more talkative set than usual. The servants all went early by water. We waited for a cooler moment to go by land. —— was going to drive Dr. Drummond in his gig, and I changed places with Dr. Drummond, so as to allow George a front place in the open carriage, which is the best chance of a breath of air. A gig is a very good conveyance here, the air blows so well through it; but we had an adventurous journey. The horse —— had sent on to the half-way house had been picked up by one of the other aides-de-camp, so we went on with the tired one; and then there came one of the storms of thunder and lightning that break up this hot weather; charming inventions, but rather awkward to be out in. It was so dark in one moment that we could only move on by each flash of lightning; and all of a sudden we found a horse’s head between our shoulders, which was the advanced guard of Captain Fagan, who was also driving himself down, and had run against us. From flash to flash we got on, and then ——’s eyes got tired of staring for the road through the lightning, and Captain Fagan had never come by land before, so we drew up, hoping to be overtaken by the carriage and to borrow some of the guard. Then we grew tired of waiting luckily for us, as the carriage had turned off by a by-road, and got in before us. I knew several landmarks, and conducted —— safely to the Lodge, much to his surprise, as he got quite confused at last, and insisted upon it that we had got into the northern provinces, a great way up the country. Lights met us there, and so we got home; but these are the sort of petty events that make one feel so thoroughly in ‘a strange land.’ The storms are so loud while they last, and there is no help at hand. We passed through one little mud village and asked for a ‘mussautcher,’ that is, a man with a torch; but they said there were none living there, and none of the other men would have carried a torch for any sum of money, if we had asked it.

Friday, April 15.

A nice cool day after the storm, and no sun yet; you cannot imagine the relief of it. It would be a burning day in England, but a great comfort here. George and I went to the garden at 4.30, the first time we have been out so early; and then we all rode, Mrs. Colvin came down this time.

Saturday, April 16.

George and I drove to the powder mills—rather a pretty airing, and we had our usual dinner party.

Monday, April 18.

Went down to Calcutta at six in the morning by water. We were there before eight, but were all done up by the heat. At six in the evening, when the sun went down, Fanny and I went out airing in hopes of a breeze, which generally comes up the river after sunset, but it lost its way to-day, and it was very much like driving through hothouses. Our postilions appeared in their new liveries, which are very magnificent—all scarlet and gold, and the Syces in theirs; there is one to each horse, and nothing can look more stately than it all does now. I never shall be used to seeing those men running by the side of the horses; but in the first place they would starve if they did not, and the horses—sensible animals!—grow so fractious in this country that it is very dangerous to go out without these running footmen. We tried riding without them, but found we were not safe from other people’s horses. A large dinner again. I had been feeling poorly, and choked all day, and was particularly breathless all through dinner, and thought I must have gone away from it. However I finished it off, and then knocked up and went to bed.

Tuesday, April 19, and Wednesday 20.

Two bad days of fever and sickness, &c. Dr. Drummond is very attentive, and seems to be a very good doctor. The heat was excessive, but I had luckily had a punkah put up in my bed the day I was taken ill, and so I lay there without stirring for two days with the punkah going night and day. It hangs so close to one’s face that it keeps off the mosquitoes as well as creates a breeze; but an attack of fever is no joke in this country.

On Wednesday evening I had a sofa put out on my balcony, and was moved there, and George very good-naturedly gave up his airing and sat with me for two hours.

Thursday, April 21.

Bad night, but got up in the middle of the day, and Dr. Drummond thinks I shall be all the better for a change to Barrackpore. Miss Fane (Sir Henry’s daughter) is going there with us. George and I went quite late in the open carriage, and I went to bed as soon as I arrived.

Friday, April 22.

George has settled with Miss Fane to stay here next week with me and Dr. Drummond, when he and all the others go back to Calcutta, which is an excellent scheme of his, though dull for her. I took a short airing with her in the evening by way of making acquaintance, but was done up by the drive.

Saturday, April 23.

Pray do you find much inconvenience from the Mohurrum Festival? I little thought how much annoyance the death of Hossein, grandson of Mahomet, would occasion me. It is the Mohometan Festival of the year, and lasts ten days, and besides the eternal beatings of their infernal tom-toms, or ill-tuned drums, all the servants want to go away for five days, and here, where no man will take another man’s business for a day, it is difficult to know what to do.

George’s head man and mine are the only two amongst the whole three hundred who speak English. It does not matter when the aides-de-camp are at hand to interpret: but when they all go back to Calcutta, Dr. Drummond, Miss Fane, and I shall be puzzled. Mr. Colvin was paying me a visit this evening in my room, and all my servants took the opportunity of his being there to interpret, to come in and ask leave to go for five days. The Bengalees are the most servile race in India, and it is impossible to resist their crouching down with clasped hands and begging voices, so I told the jemadar to let them all go, only to make them take it by turns, and his answer was so oracular that I do not know how it will end. ‘Yes, Ladyship’ (they call us so, from Lady W. Bentinck), ‘I will make arrangements what will exclude myself. Five days is no objection, only if Ladyship is sick, Captain Byrne very angry if anybody leave her.’ George’s servant writes and reads, which is a very unusual accomplishment, and the other day George got a note from him: ‘My Lord’s Nazir have very bad stomach pain’ (it was a stronger word than stomach). ‘Native doctor give him much physic. I cannot wait on my Lord to-day. Nazir.’ Mine came to me the other morning, saying, ‘Ladyshib, Beebee Wright wish to borrow me for half hour. She no make washerwoman understand,’ so I gave Beebee Wright the loan of him.