Letters from India Volume I/From the Hon F H Eden to a Friend 2
Barrackpore, April 3.
I do not know whether this will turn into a letter; I merely wish to mention, that I have sent you two very ugly Chinese screens, which they reckon pretty here, because the patterns are new. The ‘Jupiter’ will take them, and at the same time will take home a regiment consisting of 480 men, 100 children, and women in proportion: all to inhabit our empty cabins. I suppose, as the thermometer will not be much above a hundred in the shade, that the prospect naturally gives Captain Grey the most unfeigned pleasure.
When we go up the country, I shall send you something really pretty, to show what our subjects can do. In Calcutta, there are only things that one gets in London, and at a fourth of the price, upon the same principle that nobody gets good fish near the sea. There is to be seen at our jeweller’s a pearl, a single pearl set as a mermaid, with an enamelled head and a green tail, which I had some thoughts of buying and presenting to you. 40,000l. was all they asked for it; very cheap, the man said. A native prince pledged it for 8900,2001,8007,642 of rupees; that is about the sum he named. Now I wonder who would give 40,000l. for a single pearl. If ever there is a foolish thing to be done, somebody is always found to do it; but in this case, I wonder who?
I wrote to you three weeks ago all I had to say of my first impressions of the country, and I am glad that it is done; so probably are you. I shall not go back in our lives any more, beyond two or three days: it is quite enough to have to go forward. I should not wonder if you were asleep at five this morning; though your five in the morning is not ours. If ever we are active, that is our active time; so, this morning we got up out of our first sleep to review several regiments of Sepoys. The commander-in-chief is staying with us and prepared this little treat. All the black faces, relieved by scarlet, look remarkably well.
The up country people are really the finest I have seen anywhere, and they look like grander samples of soldiers than our white people; perhaps they don’t fight so well.
They wanted me to go to the review on an elephant, but I knew better than that; for at the last review, one of them took fright, and trotted away, with its trunk striking out one way and its tail another. Now an elephant’s trot must be like the heaving of an earthquake; however, our maids went upon one, and I could not help laughing at the unnatural positions in which, it seems to me, we are all somehow or other always placed. There are times, too, when I could cry about it. Everything is so utterly strange; so much more strange, even, than I had expected. Except our own selves, it does not seem to me that there is one link between this life and the life we have led. Not even letters, for no ships arrive.
Female intellect certainly does not flourish in India. There is a strong confederacy against allowing them to have any ideas; and it seems to me they have ceased struggling against it: however, at Calcutta we see so many, there is no time for discovering individual merit. I have my eye on one or two, perhaps; if we get them down here, they may turn out pleasant. The weather is growing hotter and hotter, and will for the next two months; then it will grow damper and damper. No milliner will sell silks or satins during these damp months, because ‘they cannot expose them to the air. The waste and cost of every article of dress here is quite wonderful; but still the climate is not yet worse than I expected—rather better, in spite of heat and damp; for the house is not very hot, thanks to the punkahs. To be sure, the prisoners in Newgate have more liberty during the day, for they can, I believe, walk about the prison-yard and look out of their grated windows. From sunrise to sunset we are shut up, and the glare is too great to look out; our cells are more spacious, and we never stole, or murdered; that is the great difference; transported we were six months ago.
I’ve got such a paroquet! too pretty, and tame, and clever; even when most incensed, it does not bite; I’m very much distressed, because my jemadhar, whom the Europeans always address as Jemmy Dar, wears a dagger, and no other person does. I think he will ‘dag’ me, which I gently suggested to Captain Byrne, who manages the household. He shook his head, and said there was no use in interfering about that; so he means to let me be ‘dagged.’
Yours, dearest, most affectionately.
F. H. Eden.