Letters from India Volume I/To the Same

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Letters from India, Volume I  (1872)  by Emily Eden
To the Same


Barrackpore, Thursday, April 28.

I sent off my packet to you per ‘Hindoostan,’ and also a letter to Sister. Miss Fane stayed with me till 6 p.m., and then went back to Calcutta and met George, &c., on the road down. I drove to meet them in the open carriage, but after waiting in the road till it was dark, I came back, not being able to explain to either of the six men who were with me what I was waiting for, and thinking they might suppose I was gone mad and put me out of my pain. It certainly is tiresome not being able to speak the language of the country one lives in, but as for attempting to learn their gibberish I can’t. I get such horrible fits at times (particularly when I am driving out) of thinking that we are gone back to an entirely savage state, and are at least 3000 years behind the rest of the world. I take all the naked black creatures squatting at the doors of their huts in such aversion, and what with the paroquets, and the jackals, and the vultures, which settle in crowds on the dead bodies that are thrown on the banks of the river, and what with the climate and the strange trees and shrubs, I feel all Robinson Crusoe-ish. I cannot abide India, and that is the truth, and it is almost come to not abiding in India. When I think, what I thought of a long sea-voyage, and yet look back upon it as pleasant compared to this life, and when I long to go in every little brig that goes down the river homeward-bound, I can only calculate how strong my aversion must be to ‘the land we live in.’ I suppose it is partly not feeling well, and partly the fidget for letters; but nobody can be happy in such a climate. Everybody says it is one of the hottest hot seasons they have ever known; but then again they say that the same remark is made of every hot season.

We live in complete darkness, and that does not make life more cheerful, though it makes it a little cooler.

Friday, April 29.

Archdeacon Dealtry arrived. He is reckoned an excellent preacher, and is a very good man.

We receive visits always on Friday at Barrackpore from ten till twelve.

George and I took a drive. We have got several new wild beasts at the menagerie, and some very pretty birds.

Saturday, April 30.

One of the hottest days we have had.

In the evening —— and Fanny went out in his gig, and I was carried in a chair to the garden, to which George, ‘the reedeculous strong cretur!’ walked, and we sat there by the side of a large pond, or small lake, watching the fish and making Chance swim, and expecting a breath of air, but it never came, so we went home again.

As we passed by ——’s bungalow we found him and all the rest of the household sitting in front of it smoking. Two chairs at least to each man, and some trying to be more comfortable by putting their feet on the table. Their hookahbadeers (I do not know how to spell any of their words) were squatting behind them, and their grooms leading their horses about, as it was too hot to ride. ‘What a crowd!’ I naturally observed. ‘Just look at home!’ —— said, and I found that George and I, for our quiet walk, had fifteen men gliding after us; our own two head servants (who never lose sight of us), two men with umbrellas, a black gardener, eight palanquin-bearers with their head man, and Chance’s servant, skipping about after him.

I found out the other day that Chance, without telling me, had hired another valet, because his man did not like going backwards and forwards to Barrackpore: so I was obliged to represent to him that he never would make his fortune in five years if he went on in that kind of way, and that it would be very hard upon Mrs. Chance, who was probably slaving at home to bring up the ‘Miss Chances’ in a decent manner, and he was very reasonable and gave up Sookie, and has made it a rule that Jimhoa is to be always with him.

We had company at dinner.

Sunday, May 1.

One of the clergy accosted me when I went into the breakfast-room this morning with, ‘Pray, Miss Eden, are you aware that your motties are at work this morning?’ ‘I am very much shocked,’ said I; ‘but who are my motties?’ (I thought of you at the time.) ‘Why, the gardeners,’ he said. I thought it safe to deny the fact, but unluckily they all began picking away with their pickaxes under the window, so that I said I would mention it to Lord Auckland when he came, and that he would speak to his motties forthwith; but the instant I mentioned it as a shocking fact, Captain ——, who reigns despotically here, said that of course they were at work, that they were more than half of each week absent at their own religious festivals, and that they would starve if they were not allowed to work the days that they thought it lawful; and that shocked the reverend gentleman. So how it is to end I do not know, nor can I make out what is right, but I think the motties might be starved.

Monday, May 2.

Went down to Calcutta by water, and excused myself going to breakfast; laid down for two hours, and was not so tired as usual, but the heat is insufferable. In my sitting-room with the doors and windows closed, except one where there is a tattie (a rush mat which covers the whole window, and which is kept constantly wet, so that the hot wind may blow cool through it) with a large punkah constantly going—in short, with all the wretched palliatives that they call luxuries. The thermometer stood at 94° the whole day. I never can read, nor breathe, nor do anything but lie and think what a detestable place it is. In the lower floors of the house the thermometer was 4° lower; but the ground-floor is supposed to be unwholesome, and besides there are no rooms for us there.

Tuesday, May 3.

I have been thinking with envy of the dear little chimney-sweepers knickety-knocketing their shovels about the streets at home all this week, and I see you with your open carriage boiling over with children giving them half-pence, and begging them not to be run over. ‘I, too, once gave halfpence to chimney-sweepers’, as the man said who had lived in Arcadia.

There was a charity meeting to-day at a new school, called ‘La Martinière,’ to which Fanny and I were duly summoned, and we went off at six in the evening, grudging the loss of our drive, but willing to give up everything in a good cause. We found in the suburbs a building as big as St. Paul’s, with twelve small babies of orphans playing in a play-ground. Our own servants found us a way upstairs, and forced open a door that was called the ‘ Ladies’ committee room,’ and we sat down by ourselves. Presently Sir H. Fane and Miss Fane arrived, and then another lady, and we all sat looking at each other for half an hour, and then Sir H. Fane wisely advised us to go away and take our drive, which we did. As three ladies are enough to make a committee, we might have passed a mild resolution not to leave one stone of La Martinière standing on another; but we refrained, and it turned out afterwards that the secretary has quarrelled with the ladies, and so neither came nor sent any papers. It is very natural and right to quarrel, but very wrong to make people drive two miles away from the waterside, and mount up to the top of a large house for nothing. However, our being tired did not much matter to-day. George and —— and Captain Byrne dined at Mr. Macaulay’s, from which process we had excused ourselves, and nobody dined at home but Captain Chads and two of the aides-de-camp. All our English servants went to a concert; they lead such a shocking dull life we are glad to find any amusement for them.

Wednesday, May 4.

Captain Richardson, the head of the Hindoo College, brought a little native boy to sit to me for his picture. He is a son of one of the highest caste natives, and splendidly dressed. His pearl and emerald necklaces might have tempted one to burke him, only he was such a pretty little thing, and it would have been a pity. He was very anxious to have it explained to me, that his jewels were all his own and not his father’s, and he begged to have all his bracelets introduced into the picture. All the natives have beautiful hands and feet, and they show particularly well in these high-born little children. He would not eat anything in our house, and at the college servants of his own sect always come and feed him.

George and I took a hot drive in the evening, and we had a small easy dinner, which we mean to have every Wednesday. The Trevelyans and Mr. Macaulay, and a Captain and Mrs. Cockerell.

Thursday, May 5.

The heat was intolerable everywhere, but more especially in our rooms; the thermometer was at 95° very early, and I did not dare look in the afternoon. How Lord William did take us in! It is such a much worse climate than even its enemies said. This state of things is to last another month: I can hardly imagine how the people are to last so long. It was our visiting morning too. Lady —— was the only consolatory fact among our visitors; she has been twenty-two years in India, looks remarkably fresh and well, rides every day full canter, and declares she has been as happy as the day is long, all the time, and the days are immensely long I assure you. Sir —— has never had a day’s health in the meantime.

We came up to Barrackpore late, by land.

Friday, May 6.

I really wonder if dancing makes people cooler, or whether the people here indulge in a natural taste for exercise, knowing they cannot be hotter. If I could ascertain its cooling properties, I should set off forthwith in some wild odd figures of a highly saltatory description; but the fact is, we are not yet old enough to dance here. George I suppose in another year or two may begin.

You have no idea the odd applications that are made to be asked to the dinners and parties at Government House, not from any compliment to us, but alleging that it is a sort of public property, and that they choose to come. And the thermometer is at 90° all night, and we could have lived in England. Curious world! I cannot help thinking the next will not be the very least like this.

Saturday, May 7.

Played at chess all morning with Mr. Shakespear, and beat him. Went out on the elephant with George, to see the new baboon and some monkeys of great merit.

Sunday, May 8.

Fanny and —— went out in his gig, and George and I rode up and down by the waterside, on the elephant, till near dinner-time. It was rather cooler than last night, and there is something dreamy and odd in these rides when the evening grows dark. There is a mosque and a ghaut at the end of our park, where they were burning a body to-night; and there were bats, as big as crows, flying over our heads. The river was covered with odd-looking boats, and a red copper-coloured sky bent over all; and then the man who walks by the elephant’s side talks to him all the time in a low argumentative tone, telling him to take care he does not hurt his feet, and that there is a hole here and a rising ground there; and they mention it all so confidentially that I never made out till to-day that they were talking to him.

If I die in India, I should rather like my body burnt; it is much the best way of disposing of it, and insects are so troublesome here in life, that I should like to trick them out of a feast afterwards.

Monday, May 9.

We set off half-an-hour earlier than usual, and, from the strength of the tide, were three hours going down to Calcutta, and did not arrive there till nine. It was very fatiguing, and we shall hardly try it again.

No letters! and not a single ship to be seen in the river. This is very shocking! The ‘Larkins’ was the last arrival from England, and she has now been gone six weeks on her return home. They say it is the first time such a thing has happened; but they say also it is the first hot season they have had. Poor deluded creatures! Eight-and-twenty of them dined with us; but it is our last very large dinner for the season, and as the ‘Rejected Addresses’ says, ‘in a cup of broth—mind, I do not vouch for the fact, but I have been told, that—the scum must be at the top, and the dregs at the bottom.’ We have swallowed scum and dregs, but I missed the broth.

Tuesday, May 10.

Captain Richardson brought my small Rajah to have his picture finished. He was prettier than ever, and more Eastern in all his ways; nodding or shaking his head to his servant to express his wishes, but scarcely ever speaking, except once about his bracelets. He makes a very pretty picture.

George and I took a slow drive, which always makes a hot one; but it is impossible to make the syces run this weather for long together, and the horses are so irritable we cannot go without the men to take care of them.

We dined alone, and had one of our parties in the evening. They are much less tiring than a great dinner, and very popular. There were nearly 300 people this evening. They came at 9; almost all of them danced, without stopping, for two hours, and they were all gone at 11.15. It was cool for the sitters-by in the great hall.

Wednesday, May 11.

There was such a good set of American editions of English books advertised to-day, that I sent off forthwith and bought Mrs. Butler’s Journal and Theresa Lister’s novel, ‘Anne Grey,’ and one of Lady Morgan’s novels and another book, all for ten rupees; and George grumbles at them every time he picks one off the table; but as we are cut off from English editions and from all other amusement, I am thankful for these. I tried at an English shop for some books, and they asked 2l. for Poole’s ‘Scenes and Recollections,’ and 3l. for the commonest novels in three vols. They have no French novels. I wish, if Mr. Rice has an odd copy of the ‘Marquis de Pontanges,’ and any other recommendable French books, you would buy them and send them out to me.

We had only three gentlemen at dinner to-day, who were fresh arrivals from the interior, and more talkative than the Calcuttians.

Thursday, May 12.

Several visitors, but all gentlemen. No lady could come out. Even the oldest Indians own to being a little too hot. We came up to Barrackpore very late by land.