Letters from India Volume I/To a Friend 11
Government House, May 22, 1836.
We have had some letters up to January 27th, and ships now are coming in two and three in a day. It is always the case at this time of the year, but the long blank that precedes this delicious rush of letters is frightful. However, the rush makes up for it all, and the letters come dropping in, at all hours of the day, in such a particularly pleasing manner! I did not think I could have been so happy in this country as I have been all this week studying those letters; they are even more valuable than I expected them to be. Nobody laughs in this languid country—at least not publicly; but I put this Indian habit at defiance over my English letters, and take such comfortable giggles by myself over them that the respectable individuals who are sitting cross-legged at my door would evidently think, if they dared to think at all, that I was slightly cracked.
There is such a delightful storm going on this afternoon! I presume the world was grown so hot that it has blown up, for the thunder is rattling about in the wildest manner; but I am afraid it will not rain enough to cool us, and I am rather cured of my wish for rain. We had a pelting shower yesterday, and were charmed for an hour, and then the steam began to rise from the hot ground, and it was more difficult to breathe than before.
The only incident of last week that would have amused you was the reception of a vakeel, or ambassador, from one of the great native princes. It was a burning hot day, and George and his whole household had to put themselves into full-dress immediately after breakfast, which is no joke with the thermometer at 94°. We filled the ball-room with guards, the band, &c., and then there arrived—first, fifty of the vakeel’s servants with baskets on their heads containing fruits, preserves, lovely barley-sugar, and sugar plums, &c.; then, a silver howdah for an elephant (something like an overgrown coffin lined with common velvet); then five silver trays containing shawls that made one’s mouth water, and gold stuffs that would have made unparalleled trains at a drawing-room, and then a tray full of such bracelets! and such armlets! and such ornaments for the head! and one necklace of such immense pearls and emeralds! All these were spread on a carpet before George’s sort of throne. We were all peering out of the window to see the vakeel’s procession, which was very picturesque and theatrical; and as soon as he came to the door, Fanny and I hid ourselves behind some pillars; for the natives look upon those valuable articles, women, with utter scorn. George sat majestically down in his velvet chair; the aides-de-camp began to fan themselves with their cocked-hats; 150 of our servants, who have all been smartened up with new liveries, arranged themselves behind George; and the aides-de-camp went to hand in the vakeel and his secretary. It was great fun to see —— walking gravely up the ball-room, in his splendid uniform, hand in hand with this old black creature, who was in a scarlet turban, with a white muslin gown very short waisted, with tight long sleeves and a full short petticoat and no shoes and stockings; for you are to know that though the present magnanimous Governor-General has allowed the natives to come to his levees and our balls with their shoes on, yet this extreme condescension is so unusual that, on these great occasions, he cannot indulge the humane propensities of his magnificent mind; so whenever he spreads his carpet the natives are bound to take off their shoes, and on this sublime occasion he did spread at least four yards of Venetian carpeting. They sat down opposite George, with the foreign secretary between them, who interpreted, in a loud slow tone, all the little questions that were asked. Amongst others, he asked if they had seen Calcutta? and they said, ‘Now we have seen your generous presence, we wish to see nothing else.’ After ten minutes of that sort of discourse they were handed off. The fruits were given to our servants, and the shawls, necklaces, &c., were instantly carried away by the private secretary, for the good of the company. We did not even get a taste of barley-sugar, which, for want of emeralds, I could have put up with.
There was a rajah who came to visit Fanny and me one day, and he was not dressed like these people, but had two long diamond necklaces on, of the largest diamonds I have ever seen, with an immense ruby locket. He gave us some beautiful parrots, and monkeys and sloths for our menagerie, which nobody can take away from us.
Your most affectionate,