Letters from India Volume I/To a Friend 16

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Letters from India, Volume I  (1872)  by Emily Eden
To a Friend

Government House, July 23.

I have given up my journal. It was so tiresome—was it not? I always saw you quite excédée and worn out with our journeyings backwards and forwards to Barrackpore, trying to carry it off well out of sentiment, but wishing I would say nothing more about it. The fact was, I tried to read one of my journals, and there never was so fatal an experiment; it was enough to put the most excitable subject to sleep. Perhaps I may begin again in the course of time, but I believe a shorter one kept for my own information would be quite enough.

But what makes me write to-day in this immense bustle, is the receipt of your letter of the 4th of April, per ‘Mary Ann Webb,’ or some name of that sort, and these bring us up to the date of the overland letters: so now whatever we receive will be all new, and, what is odd, I am sorry for it. Those overland short letters tell us you are all well, and then the details that come in the intermediate letters are not at all spoiled. Dates are of no consequence at that distance. We have tried the experiment now, and know it, and the feeling of security with which we open these letters is delightful. The next arrival will be trepidating, because though we know you were all quite well on the 4th, we cannot guess what may have happened on the 5th of April; and I do not know how one would bear any misfortune here. One of the things I watch myself about particularly is any leaning to shape out some particular calamity that may have happened at home, because, though I am never half an hour without a vague fancy or dream of some kind, yet if it take any decided form, however unlikely or absurd, I find it haunts me afterwards, and I think it will bring itself to pass. I see I cannot express what I mean, but in this dreamy, idle climate, with all one’s affections 15,000 miles off; one becomes superstitious and timid.

We have been so lucky about letters this last month—constant small supplies of them—and this morning I was woke by yours and ——’s before seven. I like them to come at that hour, I can study them, and it makes it no trouble to get up and dress. Letters agree with me, and invigorate my constitution wonderfully.

You will have heard from us about our books long before this, and will have seen that we have no chance of any but what you send us, and our appetite for trash becomes daily more diseased and insatiable; so you are hereby constituted our book-agent, and you can settle with Rodwell the set he is to send, and if any other friends call upon him and suggest other books that are not in your list, he can throw them in too; but you had better be constantly targing him with a long set of names, and make him send more constantly and in smaller quantities than he seems inclined to do. We have had ‘Rienzi’ and ‘Gilbert Gurney,’—thanks to Mr. Trower, who belongs to a book-club, and has sacrificed his week’s share of these books to me, because I did a sketch for him. I shall be obliged to do another if the box does not arrive soon. What a book ‘Gilbert Gurney’ is! He always makes his little hits at India with such success, and it puts the people here in such a rage. I wonder whether I shall ever have the proper feeling of resentment for any Indian ridicule. At present it puts me into hysterics of delight. We are going on just as usual.

Our last Tuesday was a very brilliant ball, and was supposed to assist two or three young ladies in their settlement in life, and our two last Thursday mornings have been so fully attended that last time there were not chairs or sofas enough for our guests to sit down. Nothing can be more fatiguing I should suppose to all parties concerned. Fanny and I, with our best intentions, cannot speak to more than four people at once. It is a tiresome job altogether—those mornings at home; but, after all, it only lasts two hours, and it keeps the rest of the week so cool and comfortable. That is a great comfort to me here, the number of hours I can pass alone without any fear of being called down. We breakfast at nine, and dawdle about the hall for a quarter of an hour, reading the papers, and doing a little civility to the household; then Fanny and I go to the drawing-room and work and write till twelve, when I go up to my own room, and read and write till two. Fanny stays downstairs, as she likes it better than her own room. I do my shopping, too, at this hour; the natives come with work, and silks, and anything they think they have a chance of selling, and sometimes one picks up a tempting article in the way of work. At two we all meet for luncheon, and George brings with him anybody who may happen to be doing business with him at the time. Fanny generally pays —— a visit, and I pay George a short one after luncheon, and then I go up to my own room, and have three hours and a half comfortably by myself. I draw to a great amount, and was making a lovely set of costumes, but my own pursuits have been cut in upon by other people. One person wants a picture of a sister she has lost touched up, and in fact renewed, as the damp has utterly destroyed it. Another has a picture of a brother in England, in a draped cloak, and with flowing hair, and the picture is only lent to her, and he is such a darling, only she has not seen him for some years, and if I could make a copy of it, &c. There are no professional artists in Calcutta, except one who paints a second-rate sort of sign-posts, and though I cannot make much of all these likenesses, yet it feels like a duty to help anybody to a likeness of a friend at home, and it is one of the very few good-natured things it is possible to do here, so I have been very busy the last ten days making copies of these pictures.

To finish our day: at six we go out. George and I ride every day now; Fanny about once in three times. At 7.30 we dress; dine at eight, and at ten go off to bed.

The weeks we do not go up to Barrackpore we dine alone at least four days out of the seven, which is a great set-off against the superior charms of Barrackpore; but there we always have the house full, and I have yet to discover the person whom I like to sit next to at dinner three days running. However, you see we have many more quiet hours than I expected in this odd unnatural life, and though I have horrid fits of yearning to see you, and sometimes find I have wasted a whole hour in ridiculous dreams of how it is to come to pass, and then rouse up in a fever of desperation because it is not true, yet a good many of my thoughts are very pleasant. I have lived so very much in the past. I have recollected so many bits of our lives that I had not thought of for years, and we have certainly had a great many hours of very considerable enjoyment. Most of my best recollections are Eden Farm days. Are not yours? Oh dear! how I do wish (I cannot put emphasis enough on that wish) that you were here, if only for a morning visit.

I am sure we shall not stay away six years nor anything like it. I do not know why, but Fanny and I have settled that we shall be only three years here, and one going and coming. I forget what put it in our heads, partly I think because I could not bear it a day longer, so that settles the point; but I am sure we shall not exceed five years at the worst.

We have bought our house at Simla preparatory to going up the country fifteen months hence, and we have let it for this year. George and I and Major Byrne did this quietly without telling anybody, as otherwise the price would have been doubled. I tell George, that we are living dreadfully in the future, for besides settling about the grates and fixtures in our house in the Himalaya Mountains, I have been buying some beautiful Chinese satin, and am going to engage two more Dacca embroiderers to work constantly in my passage at some furniture for our house at Knightsbridge. They can work chairs, ottomans, and screens such as are not to be seen in England, and we can send them home to be taken care of till we come ourselves.

Yours most affectionately,

E. E.