Letters from India Volume I/From the Hon Emily Eden to the Dowager Countess of Buckinghamshire

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Letters from India, Volume I  (1872)  by Emily Eden
From the Hon. Emily Eden to the Dowager Countess of Buckinghamshire

Barrackpore, July 2, 1836.

My dearest Sister,—I will try to run off a letter early in the morning, for it is so hot, and I am so sleepy after luncheon that I always fall asleep when I am in a transport of sentiment over my letters home. The weather has been better though the last fortnight; occasional days of pouring rains when we can have the windows open, and there have been two or three evenings this last week which were really pleasant—something like the hottest summer evenings of that exquisite country, England—with a little air stirring, and no necessity for gasping with one’s tongue hanging out, like Chance. That little black angel has the audacity to dote on India, and never enjoyed better spirits, or a more imperious temper. He was once nearly carried off by some vultures, and he and ——’s greyhound both narrowly escaped the snap of an alligator. He swims so far out into the Ganges that his own attached servant screams with fright. He has learnt from the natives to eat mangoes, and is very much suspected of smoking his hookah whenever he can get comfortably alone with my tailors. He is allowed, for a great treat, to run before our horses on a cool evening; and the other day, when George was riding with me, Chance insisted on going to the race-course with us. I asked Captain Macgregor to enquire why Chance’s own valet was not with him, and he translated the answer that when the Lord Sahib himself took the dog, the sicar, or head of that class of servants, thought it right to go himself. So there was a grand-looking man in the flowing dress of the upper servants, with a white beard down to his waist, gambolling after Chance, who took to running after the birds, and gave a little growl every time his tutor interfered, and the sicar, who was not used to him, looked frightened out of his senses, and then began running again. I could hardly ride for laughing, but I mention the fact for Dandy’s edification.

We find riding a foot’s pace cooler than the carriage—at least, I do. Fanny is not very fond of it, but the air comes more round one on horseback than in the carriage. —— has a little pony-carriage with no head to it, and wicker sides, and extremely light, and that is much the coolest conveyance we have; besides that, it will go in roads which will not admit of our carriage.

Now that the rains have laid the dust we are making great discoveries in the surrounding country. George laughs at the beautiful lanes we have found, and says we talk as if we were at Matlock, whereas in all Bengal there is not an elevation the size of a mole-hill. But still a green lane with a happy mixture of bamboo and cocoa trees, and constantly a beautiful old mosque with a tank full of those lovely pink lotus which the Hindoos, with good taste, consider sacred, is not to be despised; and it is a great relief, after that tiresome course full of carriages and people, which is the only watered road in the place.

I am going, with great candour, to own that, though I should be glad to say anything spiteful against this horrid country, yet it is indisputable that my health is very much better than it was in London.

It is very difficult to procure at any price the real fine old lndian muslin, but I have got one gown of it something like a bettermost cobweb, and an old creature with a long beard is working it all over with small sprigs at ten rupees for the whole gown. The two Dacca men are embroidering a gown in coloured silks, and I never saw such lovely work. I gave them ten rupees a month, which serves for wages and board-wages, and they sit on the floor in my passage and work, one on each side of a large frame; and when we go to Barrackpore they roll up their frame, put themselves into the boat, and come up and set to work again; and they sleep in the passage, or the hall, or out of doors if it does not rain. I see how extravagance and carelessness must grow on people who live long in India just in that sort of way. All these works, and the trinkets we get made by the native jewellers, cost a great deal of money in the actual materials, but the workmen themselves cost very little; there is no difficulty in finding them, and they make no difficulties either about their work or their treatment. Then we never see any money, so we are not restrained by attachment to a particular 10l. note, or dislike of changing a sovereign. The Baboo buys all the things, doubles their price for his own profit, and Captain Byrne pays him; so the money somehow is all gone without our knowing how. However, we are indulging in these things and in buying books now while our English stock of clothes lasts. George is quite well and uncommonly happy—at least, he thinks it happiness to write from six in the morning till six in the evening; but I can see how despotic power, without the bother of Parliament and immense patronage, may be rather pleasant. Fanny is very happy too, I believe. Barrackpore is her great passion. In another climate Barrackpore would be worth one hundred Calcuttas, but as we are shut up equally in both houses, and can have no shopping in the town, and no rural pursuits in the country, it appears to me there is no great preference to be given to either, except as it suits the convenience of other people; and as I suppose all our aides-de-camp have their little private amusements at Calcutta, it probably puts them out to come here. It is a more fatiguing life than Calcutta, because there we are alone all the daytime, except on Thursdays from ten to twelve, and the blessing of being alone in this country one cannot be sufficiently thankful for; whereas here the house is always full.

I think I have told you as much about us as you can digest. Mind when you write, you go into details enough about yourself, your house, your work, &c. I am obliged to mention that to everybody, because we are sure to hear, somehow, all the gossip of the day, but little home details are the air I happen to breathe, and people fancy they are not to talk about themselves, which is all very well when I can see them and hear of them from others, but it does not answer out here. Pray write a great deal about yourself.

Yours most affectionately,

E. E.