H. M. C.
Without Whose Kindly Help This Book
Would Never Have Been Written
I am not at all sure that I ought to call myself a girl any longer.
For many days I hesitated whether it was quite legitimate to give this book the title I desired, and I pondered long upon the interesting problem, “When is a girl no longer a girl?” It was extremely difficult to decide, especially as I am practically debarred from asking anybody else’s advice. It was not exactly a topic a girl of my age could safely introduce into general conversation, even if I had not had a dreadful secret misgiving as to what the general verdict would be. In a weak moment, however, I decided to ask Aunt Agatha’s opinion on the subject. Of course, the moment I had broached it to her I knew that I had made a mistake. If you want to be bolstered up in a comfortable illusion, Aunt Agatha, with her sensible views, and her downright method of expressing them, is the very last person to go to. We were sitting on the lawn at Hendon, and Aunt Agatha was knitting one of those unending woollen comforters for deep-sea fishermen, exactly as she had been doing ever since I could remember her. For a moment she went on knitting silently, as if she thought the subject scarce worthy the attention of a sensible woman. Then she looked up at me over her gold-rimmed spectacles with that clear annihilating glance of hers which, as a nervous visitor once said, is calculated to expose the boldest humbug and make even the guiltless feel guilty.
“A man who remains a boy till he dies at any age, no matter how old he may be, is delightful,” she gave forth at last in those decided tones that always seem to force conviction on you; “but a woman who masquerades as a girl after thirty is detestable.”
Her words gave me that curious sinking feeling I sometimes get inside. All my pleasant illusions seemed to fall away and leave me robbed of everything but the horrible fact that I was over thirty. There is no use trying to hide it. The fact of having written a book nine years ago, about my first visit to India and the Great Durbar, most unfortunately acts as a kind of landmark. Now in that book I was most careful to draw a veil over the delicate subject of my age, and I thought that all was well. But I see now how like an ostrich with his head in the sand I was. I forgot the future. I had to admit that I was no longer in my teens then, which of course did not much matter. Nobody minds owning up to anything under twenty-five. But I forgot that, as the years went by, that admission would serve as a milestone, and inquisitive, evil-minded people would be able to count up and say “well, supposing she was so old then, that would make her so old now.” I always feel so thankful that I am not one of those unfortunate women whose ages are exposed from the day of their birth to the day of their death in peerages and books of reference. Of course, it is very nice to be born in the purple, but it has its disadvantages. It’s terribly cruel on women who enter them as dear fluffy little babies all unashamed and unwitting of what they are doing, in the first of January edition of the year after they are borne and then grow up further and further away from that innocent looking date that faces them on the printed page, with the tragedy awaiting them, that the further away they get the bigger it looms up and hits them in the face.
That’s another advantage a man has over us. I never yet met a man who minded owning up to his age, and the result is that no one is the least curious about it. It’s only about the things you try to hide that people get real curious. Just because we women are so ashamed of our ages and try to hide them, everybody tries to find them out—at least all women do. Men have an extraordinary lack of even the most wholesome curiosity, calculated at times to drive the mildest woman wild. Yet even the nicest woman gets quite catty when it comes to a question of age. Berengaria, who is the kindest soul alive, gave me quite a shock that way one day later on in India. We had both been out riding, and on our way back I had called at the hospital to see a fellow passenger who, I had heard, was laid up there. Berengaria had not dismounted, but had waited for me below. I guess that was the most extraordinary hospital I have ever been in. Outside each room was a large card hung on the wall giving not only the full name of the patient who was lying ill inside, but his or her age, the religious denomination to which he or she belonged, the names of the parents and the nature of the disease!
I breathed a prayer as I hurried along the corridors past those dreadful cards that I might never have to take refuge in that hospital. Of course, one could always lie boldly, but unfortunately when one gets ill is just the time when you want to give up lying for a bit. Besides, one might die, and one wouldn’t want to die with a lie on one’s card, and to have to confess at the last moment would be so dreadfully humiliating. And just imagine if you happened to be a nice reticent sort of person being labelled in black and white with the disease you happened to be suffering from! Now, I will say for myself that I hurried past those cards, feeling that they were altogether too private for inspection, though to be quite honest I must admit that I did it with that warm self-righteous glow at resisting temptation, which always will come over me whenever I try to do a noble action. But of course, however much you avert your eyes, you must see something, and on one of the cards I happened, to my surprise, to see the name of one of Berengaria’s friends who had come to dinner with us two days previously, apparently in the best of health. When I rejoined Berengaria again outside I naturally told her.
“Did you know that Mrs. Johnstone was in hospital?” I asked, as I remounted and we rode off.
“Mrs. Johnstone, in hospital?” exclaimed Berengaria showing great animation and, as I thought, kindly interest, but a moment later I was rudely undeceived. “No, is she?” she added, looking round at me eagerly, “Did you see how old she was?”
This, without a word as to what the illness of her friend might be, and from Berengaria, who is usually full of kindliness and sympathy. It only shows how a woman’s age is always hanging about at the back of her mind.
They say that a woman is only as old as she looks. It would be much truer to say that she is only as old as she feels. So many people, women especially, are born old, while so many other people, especially women, are still young though outwardly old and grey. I can right down honestly assert that I feel young, and I always thought that I looked young, until I was suddenly pulled up brutally by a small nephew the other day. He is one of Dorothy’s twins. Dorothy again distinguished herself by having twins for the third time about five years ago. Nicky—he was the younger twin of the youngest twins and named after me—had been particularly interested in people’s ages during one of the long conversations he always insisted upon having with me on every available occasion, and twenty seemed to him very old indeed. He could not quite grasp the fact that anybody could possibly be so old. So when he bluntly asked me my age I hesitated to answer truthfully.
“You don’t think I look old, do you?” I laughed weakly and uneasily under his penetrating scrutiny.
For a full minute he stared at me with his round unblinking eyes. Then he pronounced his verdict.
“No,” he said, decidedly, with his little head held critically on one side. I held my breath, knowing that that was not all he thought. Then he qualified his decision with this terrible qualification, “No, except sometimes about the eyes.”
It came as a great blow, all the greater because I could not hide from myself something of its truth. Had I not myself discovered those tell-tale little lines about the eyes, and had I not already resorted secretly to Bond Street to obliterate them? So Nicky’s shaft went straight home.
Still, after I had considered the question every way, I think it was the dreadful picture of the ridiculous woman masquerading as a girl, conjured up by Aunt Agatha’s downright assertion, that weighed most with me, and, but for a lucky event that happened later, I should not have had the courage to call this book “An American Girl at the Durbar.”
But it is time I began to explain how it came to pass that I went to the Durbar at all. Of course, there was a variety of reasons. Does any woman ever do anything except for a variety of reasons? Try to pin a woman down to a single reason and see! Now, I did think of passing over these preliminaries and beginning the book straightway on Indian soil, but on second thoughts I felt I had better tell everything. Having been brought up by Aunt Agatha, I’ve a great belief in frankness, within limits, and as Jack doesn’t mind I shall hide nothing. It’s such a great joy to have a sensible husband, though of course, as I try to impress upon him, it’s a much greater joy to have a sensible wife. A fool man is bad enough, but a fool woman is ten times worse.
Now, I am more than a little bit afraid you will think that I did not quite act up to my usual standard of common sense on this occasion. Like Aunt Agatha again, there is nothing I pride myself more upon than my common sense, and I had best admit quite frankly that on this occasion I did not quite live up to my principles. But then if no one ever made a lapse from his principles how little other people would ever have to talk about.
It was just over eight years ago, after our return from the last Durbar, that I had married Lord Hendley. Since then we had followed the usual routine and gone with the crowd, the usual round of country and town, races and yachting, shooting and hunting, for eight whole years. I had had a most excellent time, and there had been really nothing wanting to make any girl, American or otherwise, happy, and I suppose it was just because there really was nothing wanting that I had begun to imagine that there was. I guess from my experience that that’s life all through. If you suffer from a surfeit of good things, you are bound to take a lopsided jaundiced view of life somewhere. Now, I had better confess without further preliminaries, that I had begun to take a jaundiced view of one thing. It was supremely ridiculous, but there it was and I couldn’t get away from it. I was committing the absurdity of falling in love with my own husband. I thought of course, that I was in love with him when I married him, but I wasn’t really. I know now. The real falling in love came afterwards. Falling in love with one’s husband, of course, need not necessarily make one unhappy. But that in my case was just the trouble of it. It was making me unhappy for the very ridiculous but particularly annoying reason that Jack wasn’t in the least aware that I was doing it.
I can’t explain how it happened. Whoever can explain these things in cold blood? It simply was that the longer I lived with him, the more I adored him. During all these years we had gone about everywhere together, and done everything together, and I couldn’t help comparing every other man I met with him, much to the disadvantage of the other men, and so it gradually began to dawn upon me what a really very nice man I had married. When I saw the way some men treated their wives, and when I saw what some men deserved in the way of treatment from their wives, I began to wake up and realise how lucky I had been. Jack stood out quite head and shoulders above all the other men I knew, and of that I felt real proud. Every woman knows the wonderful glow of satisfaction that the consciousness of being well dressed gives her. But not every woman knows the glorious soul-inflating glow of satisfaction that the consciousness of having the best husband in the world can give her. I did. But it was dreadful to feel that your husband wasn’t glowing about you as much as you glowed about him.
And so it was, I suppose, that I really began to fall in love with my own husband. He was so nice and straight and clean and well set-up as only an Englishman can be, and his clothes always looked as if they had been made for him, which most Englishmen’s somehow don’t, and he was always courteous and smiling, and ready to do anything for anybody, and he had that wonderful gift of talking to every individual he met as if for the moment that individual was the one person in the world he most wanted to see. That last is one of the most wonderful gifts in the world. I find it so difficult myself when anybody bores me to avoid the run-abouty eye. But Jack never seems bored.
Now, I suppose it was only natural that when I began to fall in love with my husband I should begin to imagine all sorts of things. They say that you can’t love anybody unless you’ve got lots of imagination, and I believe it’s true. Sometimes I wish I had been born dull and stodgy. It would be such a comfort to divest oneself of one’s imagination for a time, and just see only half a yard in front of one’s nose, and be able to enjoy that limited landscape peaceably. I am one of those strangely-constituted people who always see sixteen sides to every question, and though, thanks to the common sense instilled into me by Aunt Agatha in my youth, I generally manage to cling on to the right one, there are still those other fifteen sides floating about in the back of my mind, which is generally upsetting and disturbing. Yet, in spite, or perhaps it may have been because, of my vivid imagination, I had never before really fallen in love, and I guess it was just this which caused me to behave like a silly little love-sick girl of seventeen. For what happened to me was this. No sooner did I begin to fall in love with my husband than I began to imagine that he didn’t really love me. Now, if you once let a thing like that get hold of you, you’re done. It was perfectly ridiculous, and I knew that it was perfectly ridiculous, but there it was.
I guess I must have been in low spirits when the thought first got hold of me. It certainly was after a long succession of late nights and a constant rush, when you do begin to long for just nothing but a hedge and a sparrow again. Anyway, it did get hold of me, and, for the time being, I made a bad lapse from the common sense Aunt Agatha had so diligently instilled into me. Just what I imagined is difficult to put on paper, but anyone who has ever been in love will know at once. And here I am glad to know that men are in exactly as bad a case as women. Love makes even the most sensible man into an idiot at least once in his life. I had seen lots of men make idiots of themselves, and perhaps, inwardly, I had smiled a rather superior smile. And so Nemesis, as it has such a nasty trick of doing, had overtaken me.
Of course, this all took some time, and the deeper and deeper I fell in love with him, the less and less did he appear to my excited imagination to be caring about me. He was always the same cool, delightfully good comrade that he had always been, but I missed the ardour of the first few years. He never ruffled my hair now, or hugged me frantically as he did that first time in the garden at Berengaria’s when he proposed, and I never knew how much I liked it till he stopped doing it. There were a hundred little things I missed. He was all that one could desire in the way of a pal, but he wasn’t a lover any more. We seemed to be settling down into dreadful, humdrum, middle-aged married life, very good chums, but without a touch of romance, and I was still young enough to want a little more love-making first. I was very unhappy. Of course, I would just have died rather than let him see what I felt. He never noticed that anything at all was wrong. That was the tragedy of it. He was so eminently sensible that I don’t believe he could have conceived anyone being so foolish. Fortunately, I had the saving sense of humour sufficient to laugh at my own absurdity. But, all the same, it was there. I knew right enough, at the bottom of my heart, that Jack did love me, but the haunting fear that he didn’t love me in the same way that I had come to love him had caught firm hold of me.
I don’t know what would have happened, for I was getting quite afraid about it, if an event had not occurred that brought matters to a crisis. We were breakfasting alone one morning, and Jack was reading out little bits from his correspondence, or showing me some of his letters, in the charming way he had that always made breakfast the most delightful meal of the day to me.
“What do you think of that?” he asked, passing across to me a thick square sheet of important-looking note paper. “Shall I accept?”
It was a letter from a very High and Puissant Personage, asking him to be Second-in-Command of a Royal Embassy that was to be present at an Eastern Potentate’s Coronation. It would mean an absence of something like three months. I looked up at Jack quickly. We had never been parted for more than a few days since we had been married. He was calmly immersed in his correspondence and drinking his tea. Was he really contemplating leaving me for three months? I had a dreadful cold sort of feeling that he was.
“Shall you accept?” I asked in my most natural manner, as I passed him back the letter. He looked up at once in that courteous, attentive way he had whenever I spoke, and which I so loved in him.
“What do you say?” he asked, with his delightful smile. “It’s for you to decide.”
I don’t quite know what I had expected him to say, but you must remember that I had begun to take a jaundiced view of life, and when once you get that way everything goes wrong. Of course, I didn’t want him to say he couldn’t leave me, or anything namby-pamby like that. I should probably have secretly despised him just a little bit if he had. Yet, just because he had not said something to that effect, and had generously left the decision to me, I was hurt and stupid. I could have cried with rage and anger at my own stupidity, yet that didn’t cure the stupidity. Alas, for my vaunted common sense. My only excuse is that I was in love with my husband, and, thank heaven, at least no one can find fault with me for that.
“It would be almost impossible to decline such an honour, wouldn’t it?” I asked, determined that he and not I should make the decision. Nothing but a remembrance of Aunt Agatha’s copy-book maxim about dying in the last ditch with a smile, and never letting the enemy know how it hurts, and such like, enabled me to smile on as if I felt all right inside.
“Oh, no!” Jack said, still smiling, “not if you don’t wish it.”
What more could a husband have said without becoming idiotic and sentimental? And yet, I guess, just because I was a woman who is always an unreasonable being at heart, I wasn’t satisfied. I buried my face in my tea-cup lest he should see something of the folly I was thinking. At least, I had the grace to be ashamed of it. When I looked up again he was regarding me with something of the look I loved and felt I hadn’t seen in his eyes for ages. My heart leaped about in a stupid sort of way at once.
“We’ve never been really parted since we were married,” was all he said. It was the way he said it. He really did love me after all.
“No,” I laughed weakly, feeling suddenly absurdly happy, “but we shall be now, it seems.”
“You don’t mind being left?” he said. He was his old self again, good friend and comrade, without a touch of sentiment. My spirits promptly sank to zero.
“Oh, no!” I answered, lying smilingly, “it will have to be sometime, I suppose,” and then breakfast proceeded absolutely as if nothing had happened. I wanted to howl. To have to go on placidly eating kidneys and toast and drinking tea, when you want to shriek and tear up something, is horrible. I sometimes think I shall join the suffragettes just for the sheer joy of being able to shriek and yell at the top of my voice. I am convinced that that is why a lot of women do join them. It must be such an intense relief to be able to let oneself go, as a sort of compensation for all the occasions when you have had to sit still and say nothing. To see Jack quite unperturbed and unconscious of what I was feeling, going on with the rest of his correspondence, and throwing me a word or two on altogether different subjects, was infuriating. I came to the heartrending conclusion that he didn’t really love me a cent.
As soon as breakfast was over I rushed upstairs, and was just going to sit down and howl as loud as I dared, when a new thought suddenly struck me. Possibly Jack’s going away for a time might, in the end, prove a good thing. It might rouse him to greater affection when he came back, and meantime I might grow more sensible. Absence might make the heart grow fonder of me in his case, whereas it might make the heart grow fonder of some one else in mine, which seemed, just then, a most desirable result. So, instead of sitting down and relieving my feelings in a real good cry, as I had been on the point of doing, I at once began to make new plans. What was I to do in the interval while Jack was away? The Mission was due to start in November, so I should be left alone for the three months when least is doing, from a woman’s point of view. Now, always having had a husband to go about with, I didn’t feel at all inclined to traipse around a lot of country house parties as a grass widow. Besides, if there was one thing I loved it was travelling, and to think of Jack trotting round and enjoying himself abroad, while I was doing the same old round at home, made no kind of appeal to me at all. I, too, must get away from England. But where? Then it came to me in a flash, and I made up my mind at once. I would go to India again and do the Durbar. Berengaria, my cousin with whom I had stayed before, had invited us months ago, but somehow then neither of us had been very keen, and we had refused. Now, I would cable out at once and ask if it was too late for her to take me in. Berengaria’s husband, Sir John Hugesson-Willoughby, had recently—though I suspected very largely owing to Berengaria’s exertions—been made Lieutenant-Governor of the Northern Provinces, so that they would have an official camp at the Durbar, where one would see everything that happened from the very best possible point of vantage.
I never believe in letting the grass grow under one’s feet when once one has made up one’s mind, and by dinner time that evening I had had a reply to my cable. Berengaria would be delighted to take me in. I announced my plans to Jack as we sat down to dinner. I was full of curiosity to see how he would take it.
“What?” he exclaimed, “to India?”
There was no mistaking the fact that he was completely taken by surprise, and that he didn’t seem quite pleased. He had evidently thought of me as staying quietly at home doing needlework, awaiting his return. I simply hugged myself with joy.
“Yes,” I said sweetly. “Isn’t it a good idea of mine?”
“But—” he began.
“Yes, I know we refused when Berengaria first asked us,” I went on placidly, “but a cable has put that all right, and she will be delighted to have me. So I shall be able to fill in the time while you are away.”
“But alone,” Jack said looking seriously concerned, “I don’t quite like the thought of your going alone.”
“Oh, I shall not be alone,” I assured him, “I shall of course take Ermyntrude.”
Ermyntrude is my eminently respectable English maid, whom nature plainly designed for her calling, but not for the dignified appellation bestowed upon her by her godfather and godmother at her baptism.
Jack laughed. He and Ermyntrude have a great respect for one another, mingled on his side with amusement and on hers with much awe. She once confessed to me that “he always made her feel weak-like about the knees, as if she wanted to keep on curtsying all the time.”
“Well, you will be all right with Ermyntrude, I suppose,” he said, still somewhat doubtfully, and then the subject dropped. Of course, like an idiot, I immediately felt deeply aggrieved that he had not made more fuss about it. I, who hate fuss! It was all very puzzling, and only to be understanded of a woman. Anyway, Ermyntrude and I were definitely committed to the Durbar, while Jack went off elsewhere.
Ermyntrude was much more excited when I broke the news to her that night as I went to bed. She was diligently brushing my hair, and I was watching her prim expression in the glass with a secret delight that never palled.
“Ermyntrude,” I said suddenly, “we are going to travel in the East again.”
The brush that she was wielding paused, arrested in mid-air, while the other hand sought vaguely about the place where Ermyntrude fondly imagined her heart to be.
“Not to India again, my lady,” she asked hurriedly, “not to that dreadful savage land?”
Some of Ermyntrude’s exciting adventures on the last occasion suddenly flashed across my mental vision, as they had doubtless done across hers.
“My dear Ermyntrude,” I laughed, “surely your last visit convinced you that there was really nothing savage about India?”
“Indeed, it did not, my lady,” she asserted, with a very decided little shake of the head. “Nothing will convince me but what that land is a savage one underneath. They do say, ‘scratch a Russian and you find a Tartar.’ I say, ‘scratch an Indian and you find a savage.’”
“Oh, but we are all savages underneath if it comes to that,” I said. “I admit I have real savage instincts at times, and I expect you have, too, Ermyntrude.”
“Oh! my lady,” she exclaimed hastily, looking primmer than ever.
“It is only the clothes we wear that keep our savage instinct in check,” I went on—Ermyntrude is one of those dreadfully prim people one always has an intense desire to shock—“Clothes exercise an enormous restraint upon us in more senses than one. Do you know, Ermyntrude, I was only thinking the other day at Ranelagh, when everyone was peacocking about dressed in their best, what a dreadful shock everyone would get if everything in the way of clothes and the things that were not actually growing on us suddenly fell off.”
“Oh, my lady,” exclaimed Ermyntrude again hastily, blushing to the roots of her hair, her eyes as round as saucers regarding me in the looking-glass.
“I am sure the revelations would be real exciting, wouldn’t they, Ermyntrude? Except that each of us would be so busy hiding his or her own little deficiencies that no one would have time to notice anybody else’s. Great is the power of clothes!” I exclaimed, getting up, feeling that Ermyntrude had stood enough for one night—my faithful maid is unalterably devoted to me, though I am sure at times she wishes I were just a little bit different—“for without them there are very few of us who could respect ourselves, and without self-respect we should all degenerate into savages.”
“Yes, my lady, doubtless we should,” replied Ermyntrude, much in the manner one adopts to humour a spoilt child, as she tucked me into bed, “only, thank heaven, in this cold climate, at least, there isn’t much chance of its becoming fashionable to leave off everything.”
How Jack slept that night I don’t know, but I know that I didn’t sleep at all. Jack certainly went to bed exactly as if we had not been going to part for three months in a few weeks’ time, and although I was just sane enough to realise that he might possibly be thinking the same about me, I felt quite sure he wasn’t. Jack is so horribly sensible. Anyhow, I was very unhappy, and none the less so, because I knew I had no good cause to be. As I said before, no one but a woman is really likely to be able to understand.
But I have not yet explained why I finally decided that I could honestly call this book “An American Girl at the Durbar.” It was like this.
Two days after I had decided to go to India, I happened to run across Maisie Dallant in Manson’s Stores. Now, I don’t mind admitting at once that I don’t, as a rule, like flappers. It is not that I have a jealous or catty nature or anything like that. It is simply that they don’t appeal to me at all. But Maisie was an exception. I had met her first the year before, on the very day she had landed in England. It was at a big tea party at the house where she and her mother were staying. Mrs. Dallant, to whom I was introduced first, was one of those women who remain unmistakably horsey even in a London drawing-room.
“That’s my daughter,” she had said, pointing out Maisie among the crowd, “landed to-day and rising seventeen.”
There was something extraordinarily appropriate about the remark. The first thing that struck you about her was that she looked so full of health and naughtiness. She was so delightfully youthful, and unbroken, so simple and bubbling over with fun that you could hardly help falling in love with her straight away. She was slight and fair, with coils of beautiful nut brown hair and wonderful blue eyes that in some lights seemed to deepen into violet. But what charmed you most about her was that she was so absolutely natural. She had obviously been brought out much too young, but it didn’t seem to have spoilt her a bit. She had the wonderful knack of enjoying herself in a simple unaffected way that made everybody else enjoy themselves too. Like so many daughters nowadays, she was just about as far removed from her mother in looks and character as she well could be. The contrast between them was ludicrous. Mrs. Dallant was big, masculine and horsey. Maisie was small, dainty and essentially feminine. Mr. Dallant I have never seen. He is busy building a big hotel somewhere out West most of the time to perpetuate the family name. That’s a thing Americans do that Englishmen have not taken to yet. They build hotels right there in the cities where they have made their fortunes, and christen them with their own names. It’s an excellent way of making sure that your name won’t die out, and your children will probably rise up and call you blessed in the next generation, since big hotels are mostly paying things. Not content with this, Mr. Dallant had recently opened an enormous store in London that was calculated to throw every other store, past, present and to come, into the shade. So, when I came upon his daughter by chance in Manson’s Stores, I was surprised to see her there.
“What are you doing here,” I said, “with that immense store of your own close by?”
Maisie smiled her sweet, little innocent smile.
“Oh, Poppa never allows Momma and me to buy anything at his store,” she explained, “because he says they have so much trouble to get the money out of us afterwards. Momma says that she and Poppa being one, what is the use of paying oneself? But Poppa says it makes all the accounts go wrong.”
“So, as a result, you deal at Manson’s,” I laughed.
“Yes,” she said, adding with that pathetic little look of hers, “but there are some things you can’t get anywhere else except at Poppa’s Store.”
“What, for instance?” I asked, seeing that she was dying to tell me.
“Waffles,” breathed Maisie, in a reverent hushed voice, a seraphic look overspreading her face.
Suddenly, out of my dim and distant past from the days when I was very young across the Atlantic, the savour of waffles was wafted to me. Not for years had I so much as seen a waffle. A great desire swelled up in me for one. I felt that nothing would be of any interest whatever again in this world until I had eaten waffles. I looked at Maisie.
“Are you very fond of them?” I asked.
“I think I have wanted waffles more than anything else since I have been in England,” she answered plaintively, “and they are so hard to get. Do you know I sometimes positively ache for waffles!”
Maisie was so intensely dramatic—or so intensely natural, whichever you like to call it—and I have such a sympathetic nature that I at once began to feel that I ached too.
“Are you aching now?” I asked.
“I am,” she confessed, with a smile. “I have been all the morning.”
“Well then,” I said cheerfully, as if I were doing it entirely for Maisie’s benefit, “the obvious thing for us to do is to set out for Poppa’s Store straight away.”
Maisie brightened up at once.
“Will you?” she said. “How real good of you. I have been wondering all the morning what I should do, as I couldn’t have gone to eat them all alone.”
So off we went together. Dallant’s boasts that it is the biggest block of building comprising only one establishment in Europe, if not in the world. It supplies everything. It has got most things on the premises, and what it has not got it will get for you in the shortest possible length of time. No order is ever refused. Maisie dilated on all this as we drove along in a way that in anybody else would have sounded boastful, but that in her seemed just natural, innocent pride in Poppa’s Store.
“Poppa is already talking of enlarging the premises,” she told me. “He wants to have everything on the premises producible at a moment’s notice.”
“Everything? But that’s impossible,” I said, feeling that Maisie, relieved of the ache by the near approach of waffles, really was getting a bit too boastful.
“Poppa says it’s not,” she asserted, “and he’s real proud of the fact that already no order causes the least surprise to any of the assistants, but is immediately and intelligently attended to. Ask for anything you like and see.”
I felt that Maisie really did deserve a fall.
“All right,” I said, as the taxi drew up against the pavement. “We will see. I don’t mind betting that I stump the first man I ask.”
We entered the enormous main entrance, where half-a-dozen or more smart young men in frock coats are always ready to direct you to any part of the establishment. I turned and looked at Maisie. She laughed softly, but very cocksurely.
“You try,” she said.
I led her straight up to a nice looking, fair young man, with a frank open face.
“I want a hippopotamus,” I said.
“Yes, madam,” he answered, exactly as if I had asked for a ribbon or a packet of pins. “Alive or dead, madam?”
Now I don’t mind confessing that it was that young man who stumped me instead of my stumping him. For a few wild delirious seconds I hesitated. Which would he be the more unlikely to have, a hippopotamus alive or a hippopotamus dead? I had awful visions of being saddled with a live hippopotamus. Only a wicked little cough from Maisie pulled me together again.
“Oh, dead,” I said, trying to look at that nice young man reproachfully, as if he ought to have known.
“Yes, madam,” he replied, still imperturbable, “first floor, second turning on the right.”
“Thank you,” I murmured, thankful to escape and trying not to hurry towards the lift.
I dared not look at Maisie, who was making dreadful little gurgling noises in her throat that I was afraid would upset me before we got out of sight of that particular young man. Fortunately, there was nobody else in that lift. Once inside we both collapsed.
“Poppa will be pleased,” Maisie declared, as we began to ascend. “He just couldn’t have wanted his boast put to a better test.”
“Oh, yes,” I said, recovering my courage and feeling that Maisie’s pride must at all costs be brought low, “that young man did it very well, but of course I don’t suppose I should be able to get a dead hippopotamus on the first floor, second turning to the right.”
Maisie laughed softly again.
“You try,” was all she said.
The lift stopped at the first floor. I felt quite weak after my escape from that nice young man down below, and here was another exactly like him waiting for me opposite the door of the lift. Only the look on Maisie’s face decided me. It was absolutely necessary for me to prove to her that that young man down below was only bluffing, and that, of course, they hadn’t really such a thing as a dead hippopotamus in stock. Of course they hadn’t got such a thing in stock, I assured myself, and it would be so easy to say, when they offered to get it for me, that that wouldn’t do, as I wanted it at once, that very afternoon.
We got out of the lift and approached the young man-in-waiting. He was an even nicer looking young man than the one below. I remember even then thinking that I did not remember ever having seen so many nice looking young men together as at Dallant’s Store. You don’t see half as many in a London ball-room. This one stepped forward now, with a charming smile, as if he had been especially waiting for me all the morning.
“I want the second turning on the right,” I said, feeling that that at least was non-committal.
“The Stuffed Animal Department. I am in charge of it. This way, madam.”
I followed, feeling exactly as a fly must when it is drawn into a spider’s web. That nice young man had such enticing manners. You felt at once that he would know exactly what you wanted, and that you were going to get from him the very best of its kind in the market at the most reasonable possible price, which, of course, is very nice and comforting when you really do want what you ask for. But when you don’t, it’s most embarrassing. Still, I comforted myself with the thought that surely even Dallant’s couldn’t have a stuffed hippopotamus in stock. Besides, even if the impossible did happen, that nice young man couldn’t really entice me into buying a hippopotamus I didn’t want, even though I was going to ask for one.
We reached the second turning on the right, and there we were in the Stuffed Animal Department. Now, if there is one thing I particularly dislike, it is to see something that was once endowed with the wonderful gift of life stuffed out with sawdust, and, instead of being allowed to lie nicely and comfortably and decently dead somewhere privately, to be condemned perpetually to simulate a ghostly mockery of what it was like in life until the kind moths and worms finally destroy it. That Stuffed Animal Department of dear dead things tricked out in forced and hideous smiles to look lifelike was horrible. However, I had not much time to sympathise with them. My eye was hurrying round anxiously to see if there was anything like a hippopotamus in sight. I grew confident as it lighted on nothing larger than a timid little barking-deer. The nice young man turned when we got well into the middle of the Department and asked me what he could do for me.
“I want a hippopotamus,” I said again, as naturally as I could, scanning his face and hoping against hope to see a look of surprise and apology come over it. But it was evident that that was an expression forbidden at Dallant’s.
“Yes, madam,” replied that nice young man, in his imperturbable and impressive manner, as he led the way further into the Department, “I venture to think we have the best specimen in stock anywhere in Europe.”
And there, round the corner, towering among a vast array of animals of smaller size, was an enormous hippopotamus. I stood facing it with greater terror than I felt certain it could ever have inspired in life. For a moment I was quite stunned. Its ugly grinning face seemed to leer out at me mockingly. I had an awful nightmare feeling that I should never really get away from it again.
That nice young man simply purred over that hippopotamus. You would have thought that he had brought it up from infancy and known it intimately for years as a constant and faithful friend.
It was the fifth or sixth largest specimen ever known, he told us proudly, and he reeled off the dimensions of all sorts of parts of its anatomy. It had been brought from Africa twenty-five years ago, and had been placed in a German Zoo, where Dallant’s had kept their eye upon it with a view to acquiring it for stuffing purposes when dead. At last, a few months previously, it had died, and Dallant’s had straightway pounced upon its carcass, and there it was stuffed, as large and hideous as in life.
Of course, I admit that Maisie had some reason to chuckle. She had proved the infallibility of Poppa’s boasted Store to the hilt. But still she need not have carried on quite in the way she did. She, too, purred over that hippopotamus and drove me further and further into its clutches.
“It really is a beauty, isn’t it, dear?” she said, standing a little way off and admiring it with that fascinating interested look of hers that obviously went straight to the young man’s heart and made him fall in love with her. “It’s a perfect beauty, and I really don’t think you could do better elsewhere, dear.”
Then the young man chimed in again. Luckily, he was so taken up with Maisie and the hippopotamus that I don’t think he noticed my embarrassment. The moment he went round the other side of the animal, patting it as if it were a dear familiar friend, I seized on Maisie.
“You must get me out of this,” I whispered hurriedly. “You must buy it and then make it all right with your Poppa.”
But Maisie shook her head decisively.
“Oh, no,” she said, with her pathetic little smile, “I couldn’t do that. Poppa has forbidden me to buy anything at his Store, and it would make him dreadfully angry if I bought a hippopotamus.”
Much as I love Maisie, there are times when I feel as if I want to strangle her.
“But you must,” I insisted, “I can’t disappoint that young man. We must buy it.”
Suddenly Maisie’s face lit up.
“I’ll manage it on one condition,” she whispered.
“Yes, yes, anything,” I said hurriedly, as the young man reappeared again round the hippopotamus’s head.
“If you’ll take me out to India with you,” she said.
I was much too excited to think what that entailed. Relief from the present situation and the hippopotamus was all I asked.
“All right,” I hastily agreed and turned with my best smile to the young man. “We will take the hippopotamus,” I said.
But even as I said it, I felt that it was a lie. We had no intention of taking the hippopotamus, and that nice young man would be bound to find us out later on. He would know that we had been frauds, and that we really didn’t want the hippopotamus he evidently so doted on. It would hurt his feelings dreadfully, and one of Aunt Agatha’s copy-book maxims was that you must never on any account, if you can possibly help it, hurt the feelings of anyone. That nice young man would probably be so hurt that he would take a jaundiced view of life for a long time afterwards. He would look upon all his female customers with suspicion, and that would spoil his confident and assured manner. No, I couldn’t do it. I must take that hippopotamus. Fortunately an idea suddenly struck me.
“What address shall I send it to?” he was asking, with his pencil ready poised over one of the neat little red notebooks that Dallant’s provide.
Maisie was just going to give an address when I rushed in with my new idea.
“Can you keep it for me till Christmas?” I said. This time it was Maisie’s turn to look astonished. I felt it was some compensation for all I had gone through.
“Certainly, madam,” replied the young man, “we will keep it as long as you wish.”
“You see, I want it as a little Christmas present,” I told him confidentially, and therewith I gave him Aunt Agatha’s address. The hippopotamus should be Aunt Agatha’s Christmas present. The hall at Hendon is enormous, and I guess would hold fifty hippopotami—if they were packed close. I wrote a little card to be sent with it, hung round its neck, “With Nicola’s love.” If only I might have been inside it to see Aunt Agatha’s expression when it arrived.
That nice young man was evidently to be trusted, for the hippopotamus arrived safely at Hendon on Christmas Eve. If I had entertained any doubts as to its reception, Aunt Agatha’s enthusiastic letter of thanks and appreciation dispelled them. “Your quite unique present arrived yesterday,” she wrote, her letter reaching me in India on the eve of my return, “a special box brought it over from the station and, with the help of a score of men or so, we got it into the stable where we unpacked it amidst the most intense excitement. It was quite dramatic. I watched the proceedings from a chair, while the whole household, and quite half the people on the estate, gathered round. Will you believe me, not one of them had ever seen a hippopotamus before? So I was able to give them a little lecture on the species and the nature and habits of the brute, which was so much appreciated that I am having all the village children up to-morrow to give them a little lesson in natural history too. It was so clever of you to choose a hippopotamus, dear Nicola, and really, there is nothing that could have pleased me more, since not only has it given me personal pleasure but it has been such a source of interest and instruction to everyone upon the estate.”
Isn’t it curious how sometimes one does good unwittingly? Whereas at other times one racks one’s brains to think of something suitable in the way of a present, and then don’t succeed after all. The end of that hippopotamus, or rather not the end for he is still very much in evidence, was that Aunt Agatha placed him on the edge of the lake at Hendon. He looks most realistic, just as if he were going down to drink, and you can’t help noticing him as the chief feature of the landscape as you drive up from the lodge to the house. One of the keepers looks after him and assures Aunt Agatha that by washing him occasionally with some particular preparation he will last for a hundred years in spite of all weathers, which, as Aunt Agatha says, is really as long as one can be expected to regard the interests of posterity.
When the purchase of the hippopotamus was safely carried through, Maisie suggested that it really was time for waffles. So we took another lift and glided up to the twelfth story, which is the roof garden where you are invited to sustain the body in the intervals of shopping. There was such a crowd that it was only after we had wandered round hungrily for about ten minutes that we secured a table. I believe Maisie would have ordered waffles straight away, had I not firmly interposed. Now, I am not at all the sort of person who can lunch on surprise. Tea and toast, or anything washy like that, have no attractions for me between the hours of one and three. It is not because I am greedy or have an enormous appetite, and it is not because I am extravagant, for nothing annoys me more than to stand anyone a five-shilling lunch and sit by and see them eat only sixpennyworth. It is simply that I am not built that way, and there is nothing like recognising the way you are built and submitting to it. So I insisted on ordering something solid first, and when we had got through that I ordered waffles.
“No waffles for lunch, ma’am,” announced the trim, little white-capped maid who was waiting on us, “waffles are only supplied for tea.”
Maisie and I looked at one another in despair. To have come here and eaten through a lunch, a good enough lunch, but still not one you would go out of your way to seek when you had a much better one awaiting you at home, solely in order to get to the waffles, and then to be told at the end of it that there were no waffles, was an awful blow. I turned on Maisie full of scorn.
“Do you mean to tell me, Maisie, that this Store is such a one-horse show that I can’t get a waffle when I want it?” I said.
Now I have never known Maisie boast about her wealth or anything else, but there is one thing she is real right down proud of and that is Poppa’s Store. To her mind it is the most wonderful thing on earth. Of course she could have announced at once that she was Poppa’s daughter, and have ordered waffles to be brought at once, but that wouldn’t do. Anybody who wanted waffles, or anything else, must be able to get it in double quick time. So Maisie was on her mettle. Now, when Maisie Dallant wants a thing she is about the most difficult human being in the world to resist, and the extraordinary thing about her is that she has almost as much power over women as over men. As somebody once said of her, she could wheedle her last feather out of a hen. So when she began to try and thaw the heart of that trim little waitress, I waited patiently, knowing that waffles would surely come.
“I wonder if you would be so very kind as to ask if we might have them now, even if it is not quite usual,” she asked in her pathetic little way, with her whole soul in her eyes. “We have come such a very long way, especially to taste the waffles of this Store, and we are very tired, and we’ve just bought a hippopotamus, so if you could possibly get us some waffles we should be so grateful.”
“Oh, well, I’ll try, Miss,” said the little maid, looking most sympathetic and hurrying off as if she really believed we should collapse if we didn’t get waffles. Within a minute or two she was back again—and sure enough we should have waffles especially prepared for us and we should not be kept waiting longer than she could possibly help.
Maisie smiled at me triumphantly. Once more the omnipotent Store was vindicated.
“You will take me to India with you, won’t you?” she pleaded while we waited.
“But you didn’t buy the hippopotamus,” I protested laughingly. “I did after all.”
“Yes, but I offered to,” urged Maisie, and forthwith proceeded to disclose to me how very keen she was to go to India and the Durbar, and why she so particularly wanted to go. She was a little bit vague and indefinite on this latter point at first, or it may have been that my attention was distracted by the arrival of those delicious waffles, which were worth waiting for and which seemed to renew my youth straight away. It seemed, however, that there were two men in India, both of whom Maisie wanted to see, and both of whom would be at the great Durbar. I gathered, of course, that both of them were in love with her.
“But two men, Maisie,” I said in my innocence, thinking that one of the two seemed rather superfluous.
“Aren’t these waffles too heavenly?” was all she murmured in reply, the claims of the rival candidates in India evidently lost in the enjoyment of the moment.
“Delicious,” I agreed. “But two men?” I insisted, feeling that if I was going to take her to India I really ought to know a little more about it.
“Yes, two,” said Maisie, dragging her wonderful eyes away from the waffles on her plate and lifting them innocently to mine. She did not seem at all inclined to become communicative, but I felt I must know more.
“Isn’t two one too many?” I suggested.
“I wish there was only one,” said Maisie.
“Then you do like one better than the other?” I said, getting interested.
For a moment Maisie toyed with a delicious little bit of waffle.
“I can’t quite say that,” she said at last, with the air of one diligently searching after truth.
“But you can’t love both,” I exclaimed, with all the righteous indignation of a married woman who only loves her husband and has quite conveniently forgotten if she ever did love anybody else.
“I can’t quite say I do that either,” was all Maisie would admit again, as she disposed of the last little bit of waffle.
“Then for goodness’ sake, Maisie, what can you say?” I exclaimed, with a laugh.
“All I can say is this,” she answered after a moment’s pause, with a pathetic little smile as if she claimed your sympathy for having two tiresome men in love with her and not knowing which to choose, “all I can say is this, that if you take me out to India with you and I see them both together, I think I shall be able to tell if I do love either of them, and if I do which one it is.”
I looked at her in astonishment. It seemed to me so very unnecessary to go all that way to find out if you were in love with someone when you were as doubtful about it as all that. But Maisie was absolutely serious and I think she divined my thoughts.
“I feel I ought to give them both a chance,” she said appealingly.
I laughed, but I could not help feeling that she really meant it. So, of course, after that I felt I should be doing those two young men a grievous wrong if I did not take Maisie out and give them that chance.
That same afternoon it was all settled. I was to chaperon Maisie Dallant to India. I was under no delusion whatever, however. There was not the smallest doubt about it that Maisie Dallant was really going to chaperon me. Anyway, no one can cavil now at my calling this book “An American Girl at the Durbar,” for herein are narrated Maisie’s doings as well as mine.
The last hurried days before our departure flew by. Maisie had declared that she could not possibly set out until she had spent a few days in Paris over clothes, so she had gone on ahead to friends there, and I was to pick her up en route. Ermyntrude in her usual capable manner was here, there and everywhere, buried in huge trunks and mindful of many things. Nothing but her devotion to me would have induced her again to face the dangers of the East, she declared, and even so she was full of gloomy forebodings.
“What ’as to be, ’as to be,” she said once resignedly, her aspirates dropping from her as they always did when she was deeply moved, “but if I ever get safe back again this time, my lady, it’s about all I can expect of Providence in one lifetime.”
As for me, I just longed for those last few days to be over. Jack went on as peaceably as if nothing unusual was happening, and of course, that upset me, though, of course again, I should have hated him if he had been sentimental. But when I feel jumpy, and those around me appear abnormally placid—well, I only get more jumpy. To feel that you are standing right on the edge of a precipice, and to see everyone pass calmly by as if they didn’t notice it, does tend to make you careless about your balance out of sheer despair. But the end came at last, and, outwardly, at least, I hadn’t made a fool of myself.
Jack’s Mission did not start until a few days after I had left, so he was able to come and see me off by the Continental train at Charing Cross. Of course, up to the very end I tried to pretend that the very last thing I was thinking of was sorrow at leaving him. He had never once said that he was sorry. I suppose that, manlike, he took it for granted that I knew it. But he didn’t say it, and, womanlike, I did so want to hear him say it. Why won’t men understand what foolish creatures we women really are, and how we simply pine for the spoken word? There are some of us, I suppose, who are content with the speaking silences, but for the most part we are a talkative sex. Yet there is nothing we all of us despise more than a weak sentimental man. Emotion is only reasonable in a man once or twice in his life, as when you break it to him suddenly that his wife has just run away with another man, or when you place his first-born unexpectedly in his arms, or when you tell him that it’s twins. A little emotion in cases like these is only to be expected, but happily such things don’t often occur in a man’s life unless he’s particularly unlucky. Yet, owing to my contradictory nature, because Jack was behaving in a perfectly sensible and gentlemanly way I was furious. I had really begun to get quite anxious about myself. I felt that there must be something very much the matter with me when I, who had so prided myself upon my common sense, could behave like this.
Jack did everything that an ordinarily decent man could do for his wife at Charing Cross. He was delightfully attentive and thoughtful, and he provided me with everything that mortal woman could wish, but, of course, being mortal woman I wasn’t satisfied. If only he had not made me feel so like his sister instead of his wife. Why do some men treat their wives as if they were their sisters? Every woman has a weak spot in her heart somewhere and just longs at times in a primitive way to be carried off by a primitive man. Jack looked and behaved in such a dreadfully civilised way as he stood by the carriage door talking and smiling up at me. Suddenly there flashed across my mind the picture of that other time I had said good-bye to him on this same platform, on my way to India, before he had proposed, and how we had shaken hands forgetfully so many times. Years ago, when I was at school, we used to be marched home two and two from church on Sunday evening, the German governess in charge bringing up the rear, and whenever we passed a loving couple saying “ good-night “ in the shadow of the trees, she, thinking that the sight was not good for us, used hurriedly to say to the last couple, “Pass up de word, pass up de word, dat is a broder and a sister,” which, of course, we none of us believed. But now anyone, seeing Jack and me saying good-bye at Charing Cross Station, might easily have believed it, if any one had said, “Dat is a broder and a sister.” Whereas, I felt that I would so much rather have heard someone say “ Well, if that woman isn’t his wife, she ought to be.”
“You’ll soon be off now. Take care of yourself,” he said gaily, as if I were only going away for the week-end.
“Yes, we are almost due to start,” I answered fatuously, consulting my watch for the twelfth time. I felt that, if I ventured on anything more than mere commonplaces, I should have broken down, or done something that Aunt Agatha would have written down as vulgar or ill-bred.
Jack was smiling up at me with something of the old lover-like look on his face. If I had not been so carefully trained by Aunt Agatha, I should have flung my arms round his neck and told him to take me home, and that I didn’t want to go to India a bit, and that I would sit and do needlework quietly at home till he came back again. I realised with a shock what an infinite capacity for obedience I possessed, and that if only he would seize me in his arms and forbid me to go, how exquisitely I should enjoy it. But of course Jack did nothing of the kind. He remained his usual polite smiling self, absolutely correct and conventional. I almost hated him. Why don’t men realise how every woman just simply longs to obey something stronger than herself? Those women who behave worst are in reality just hungering round in search of a man to reduce them to obedience. There is something of the instinct of the slave in every woman, if only the right man is clever enough to find it.
Mercifully the train moved off at last, Jack was going to kiss me, but I prevented him, and the one thing I wanted most of all in the world just then was that he should kiss me. Only a woman will understand how anyone could be so mad.
When the train had steamed clear out of the station, I just threw myself back in the corner of the carriage and howled. I don’t think I ever knew before what it really was like to be torn by sobs, as the story book says. Ermyntrude, after first showing great solicitude and offering me a large bottle of smelling salts, sat on the opposite seat at the further end of the carriage with her face studiously averted, looking out of the window—most tactful and discreet. It was not until I had quite calmed down that she began to fuss about and set me to rights again. During the process she never said a word—which for Ermyntrude showed great self-restraint.
“Ermyntrude,” I said, as I began to take an interest in my personal appearance again, “I’ve been an idiot.”
“Oh no, my lady, quite right and proper,” she said primly.
“Right and proper,” I exclaimed involuntarily, looking up at her in surprise.
“Oh yes, my lady, only what every wife ought to do when she says good-bye to her husband for a long time like this.”
At that I laughed so long and loud that I felt much better. Ermyntrude’s views on the married state were so delightfully early Victorian. I couldn’t imagine her behaving as I had just done. But then neither could I have imagined Ermyntrude married. That, however, only shows how little one really knows of anyone, although you may have lived with them for years Ermyntrude was yet to give me one of the greatest shocks of surprise I have ever had.
The journey from Dover to Calais and on to Marseilles was quite uneventful. During my previous journey to India, I had already had several adventures before I actually set sail. But reserved carriages, such as Jack had arranged for me all through, don’t lend themselves to adventures. There are disadvantages even to being a future Duchess. I often longed to rush in among the crowd and share in the give and take of travel, and not to be treated any more like a minor deity. It was much the same on board. So many of the nice people seemed to fight rather shy of me with a deprecating air, while everybody who was not quite nice seemed to want to know me. That does not look quite right, but you will know what I mean. The nice people, with their ridiculous English horror of being thought snobs, made no advances, while the real snobs and bounders were only too anxious to make the acquaintance of someone higher in the social scale than themselves. This is the chief drawback I find to being a future Duchess.
I spent my time on board the Minatia in snubbing half the passengers and trying to draw the other half out, though I must admit I found it much more difficult to do the one than the other. It is so much more difficult effectively to snub a bounder than it is to draw out a retiring person. Still, though of course I have no sympathy at all with the former, I cannot say that I have much more with the latter. Shyness is generally such pure self-consciousness. After all one can only make the best of the raw material that is given to one to start with, and if one does one’s best I don’t see that there is any need to be shy and apologetic about it. I particularly dislike people who creep about and sidle along the wall as if they felt they oughtn’t to be there. Besides it is really so inconsiderate to be shy and awkward and stupid. It only makes other people uncomfortable, and it’s an awful strain on them trying to draw you out. As Aunt Agatha said in her downright way “Here you are, you didn’t ask to be born, or to have a face or a figure, or a brain like those you have got, but here you are, and, unless you are so dissatisfied with yourself as to go away and commit suicide, the only thing to do is just to sit down and make the best of it. Don’t, whatever you do, go round whining and making other people’s lives a burden just because they happen to have got something that you haven’t got.”
But, of ordinary sensible human beings who treated me as another sensible human being on board that ship, I am bound to say there were few. I gave most of them up in despair after the first few days and withdrew into my books and ended by getting the reputation of being very “sidey.” Maisie, who had joined me at Paris, proved a most delightful companion. That is high praise to speak of a woman with whom you have had to share a cabin for fifteen days. But Maisie thoroughly deserved it. She was never in the way, she was always cheerful and she was never seasick. She was always up and dressed and out of the cabin before I wanted to get up in the morning, which in itself is a claim to affection on the part of your cabin companion, and she always left me plenty of time to dress for dinner. When I was horribly seasick, she just quietly disappeared, realising, as few good sailors do, how infuriating a sight they are to their seasick fellow passengers. Ermyntrude was too annoying for words this voyage. She had always been the worst possible sailor on every previous occasion on which she had sailed with me.
This time, to my amazement, on the second morning after leaving Marseilles, while I lay prostrate and feeling dreadfully ill, Ermyntrude suddenly walked into the cabin looking horribly well and pleased with herself.
“Ermyntrude,” I exclaimed indignantly, beginning to wonder if the boat really was rolling as much as I imagined that it was, “why aren’t you seasick?”
Just then the boat really did give such an awful roll that I simply had to close my eyes. When I opened them again, Ermyntrude, quite unaffected by the roll, was busy arranging my clothes.
“If you please, my lady, I’ve taken Peace-be-still tabloids,” she said.
“What?” I cried angrily. I closed my eyes again with a groan. To watch the cabin heaving about at all angles and Ermyntrude balancing herself with great skill and apparent enjoyment in the middle of it was too much for me.
“It’s a most wonderful remedy, my lady,” she said. “You take two tabloids, a white one and a yellow one and you never feel seasick any more that voyage.”
I wanted to scoff at such an apparently ridiculous assertion, but I felt too ill. Besides, there stood Ermyntrude, a living witness to the efficacy of the remedy.
“Give me two tabloids,” I murmured feebly, holding out my hand.
“Oh, my lady,” the wretched woman exclaimed, “there are only two in a box and I’ve taken both.”
I could have slapped her. I turned my face to the wall and felt much worse than ever.
I heard afterwards that Ermyntrude was quite the most unpopular person in the second class. Most of the passengers there were very seasick, and Ermyntrude, her head quite turned by feeling a good sailor for the first time in her life, went flaunting about among them, belauding the virtues of Peace-be-still tabloids. Now, since she herself had swallowed the only two there were on board, that was annoying of her, to say the least of it. Everybody, of course, clamoured for Peace-be-still tabloids, and finding none, looked with great scorn upon the woman who had swallowed the only two there were, and had become such an astounding proof of their efficacy. I myself was so furious that I banished her to the second class until the wind and sea abated.
At Port Said I met crowds of anxious fellow-passengers in chemists’ shops asking eagerly for Peace-be-still tabloids. The first two shops I entered had never heard of them, but in the third I found them. Of course, having got them, I felt sure that the sea for the rest of the voyage would be like a mill-pond. But fate decreed otherwise. The very first day out from Aden it was most unusually rough for that time of the year. I woke up very early in the morning to find the boat rolling with a steady even sort of roll that looked to a bad sailor as if it meant to get worse. Maisie was already getting up quite unconcerned.
“It will require an awful lot of faith in Peace-be-still tabloids to enable me to get up this morning,” I said, as I drew out the box from under my pillow, “but I am going to try.”
I took the two tabloids, the one white and the other yellow, and lay down again for half-an-hour as the directions ordered. Then, Maisie having disappeared, I boldly got up. I was determined to give those tabloids every chance. It would be too infuriating if they cured Ermyntrude and not me. I did my utmost to blind myself to the fact that the boat was rolling horribly. I kept my eye firmly fixed on itself in the glass as I hastily did up my hair. Then I seized my sponge-bag and walked as steadily as I could out into the passage. A long passage looks so dreadful when it is rolling from side to side, and for a moment, as I clung to the side railing, my heart failed me, and I was sorely tempted to rush back and fling myself down in my berth again. But I conquered the temptation and set off as steadily as I could towards the bath. Being such a bad sailor, and having always stuck so closely to my berth whenever it was rough, I had not had much practice at walking along heaving passages. I never knew before what it was to feel so unbalanced. I just bumped about from side to side of that corridor, clinging hold of first one rail and then another, but always managing to get a bit further forward each time. It was most exciting. Once I lost my sponge-bag and it rolled down a side passage. I dived after it just as a shy young man in pink pyjamas, who was passing, also dived after it, and we slid along that side passage side by side, in a delightfully primitive way.
At last, however, I reached the bathroom, and so exciting had been my adventures en route, that it was only then that I realised how much I was enjoying myself and how perfectly marvellous it was that I, a wretched sailor, was not feeling the least little bit ill. I was so amazed at myself and so overjoyed that I grew weak with laughter as I was flung about all over that bathroom. I never enjoyed a bath so much in my life before, though the water and I kept continually parting company. First I fell out of the bath, then the water hit me on the head, next it dashed itself against the wall, all over my dressing-gown, and finally it deposited itself in one great wave on the floor, leaving me high and dry. When I got back to my cabin, after another wild journey along the passage, I found Ermyntrude awaiting me.
“Oh, my lady, I am thankful they’ve had the same effect on you as on me,” were the words with which she greeted me. “I was so afraid you and I might be differently constituted.”
I thankfully acknowledged that I must be constituted like Ermyntrude, and was still more grateful for the fact later on when I found that the tabloids had not had the same marvellous effect upon everybody. Some people had taken them and still were ill. I suppose it must depend, as Ermyntrude suggested, on the way you are constituted. Anyway, I shall never cease to rejoice that I and Peace-be-still tabloids were evidently made for one another.
There was the usual crowd on board: dignified elderly civilians and their still more dignified, though never admittedly, elderly wives, light hearted subalterns just let loose from Sandhurst, colonels and majors of all shapes and sizes, typical and otherwise, a company of young civilians setting out for the first time for the land of promise, a few commercial men and planters and quite a large gathering of globe-trotters. It is always amusing on a P. and O. boat to watch how birds of a feather cling together. The official looks with pity at the ignorance or with resentment at the cocksureness of the globe-trotter, while the latter is apt to look upon the official as a very prejudiced individual who thinks he has the monopoly of knowledge all to himself, while the subaltern of nineteen thinks himself what he probably is—much more of a man of the world than the civilian of twenty-four. Lots of men were amusing and interesting in their own different ways. Little Mr. Samples I took quite a fancy to.
“There are two kinds of people I particularly dislike,” he told me during our first conversation together, “the fat and the bald and—I’m getting both.”
He said it in such a pathetic, serious tone, yet with such a sense of humour withal that my heart quite went out to him. For there was no doubt whatever that he was getting both. Why is it that men go bald so much quicker than women? Has anybody ever really discovered the reason? It is so particularly unfair of nature, because men cannot hide their baldness as we women can. In fact, lots of women would be only too glad to go bald as an excuse to wear a really beautiful wig.
“Why don’t you take lots of exercise?” I asked poor little Mr. Samples.
“I do, I do,” he protested tragically, “but it makes me so dreadfully hungry and thirsty that it only seems to make me fatter.”
I am afraid I only laughed. One’s own little tragedies are often so comic to other people.
“And have you tried all the advertised remedies for the hair?” I asked, still trying to be encouraging.
“There are only two that I have not yet tried,” he said, “but I’m losing faith. I am afraid my head will always remain a living sermon on the vanity of human hair restorers.”
“Perhaps that is better than having a head that’s a living sermon on the vanity of human hair dyes,” I murmured wickedly, thinking of a certain head of hair on board that simply yelled its art at you.
The owner, Mrs. Blandsey, was quite a nice woman when once you got over her hair. The story went that when people first knew her she had dull, uninteresting dark hair that suddenly blossomed, on one of her visits home, into a beautiful glossy, auburn shade, calculated to deceive any but the most penetrating female eye. Suddenly, however, something went wrong, and her hair took on all sorts of curious shades in a perfectly chameleon-like manner. Nobody could ever understand why she had deserted the beautiful auburn that everyone so much admired, until at last her bosom friend gave out that she had discovered the reason why. The patent company that had supplied the auburn dye had suddenly gone bankrupt, and no more was to be obtained, to the utter confusion of Mrs. Blandsey’s hair.
There was one man on board who interested me in spite of myself. I was so desperately in love with Jack that I had never given a thought to any other man in the world. Yet suddenly this man came along, who simply forced one to think about him. He was a Frenchman, whom, as a rule, I don’t admire, the Marquis de Boncourt by name, reputed to be fabulously rich, extremely fascinating, and, of course, separated from his wife. He was not at all the typical French Marquis of English fiction. Tall, well-built and extremely handsome, he had the most wonderful brown eyes I have ever seen. They always seemed to gaze at you with a curious, lingering look, as if they were reluctant to take themselves off you. It gave one a most flattering feeling. The Marquis had come from Brindisi, and so only joined us at Port Said. I was standing leaning over the railing as he came on board, and as his eye caught mine for the first time I felt quite an electric shock. His glance held mine till the last minute, as he passed up the gangway, not rudely, but with a look of respectful lingering admiration that quite thrilled me. I felt at once that he and I could not end with a look like that. I turned and walked the deck, wondering when and how we should meet.
It was not until the next morning, just before lunch, that I saw him again. I had been reading all the morning in my deck chair and had risen to take a constitutional before lunch, as a crowd of other people were doing. All at once, even before I saw him, and though I was not thinking of him at the moment, I became uneasily conscious of his presence. It was too absurd, and so absolutely against the common sense on which I pride myself, that I strongly resented it. I felt like some absurd self-conscious ’Arriet, awaiting the attentions of a passing ’Arry. I tried to think only of my husband, but somehow, in a most dreadful way, he suddenly seemed very far off and I felt horribly alone. Twice I passed him promenading the deck, and twice though I wanted to look at him I kept my eyes straight in front of me. But all the time I had a most uncomfortable feeling that he was the only person on the deck, and that he and I were alone in the world. It was perfectly ridiculous to feel like this about an absolute stranger whom I had never met, and to whom of course, being in love with my husband, I was altogether indifferent. I suppose the absurd feeling was the result of dreamy, idle days on board. I tried to think of all Aunt Agatha’s copy-book maxims, but it was of no use. I sat down in my chair again and deliberately set myself to read. It was not until I had read nearly a page that I discovered it was someone else’s book that I was reading, and not the one I had left on my chair. Then I was conscious that he had come and sat down in the chair next to mine.
“I think,” he said in a charming well-bred voice, with the slightest trace of a foreign accent “That this is the book of Madame la Comtesse.”
He was handing me my book with grave serious eyes looking into mine. They were marvellous eyes seen close to—eyes that seemed as if they absorbed you and made you all curl up into nothing inside. They made one feel like the rabbit when the snake goes for it, only much pleasanter, all the excitement without the danger. I took the book from him, trying hard to look natural, just as if my heart were not thumping about in an idiotic way inside.
“Thank you,” I said, “How stupid of me, and this is yours?”
“It is,” he answered, and then for the first time he smiled. It was a wonderfully fascinating smile, showing brilliant white teeth underneath the dark moustache.
There was a pause. I am not generally at a loss for a casual remark, but now I felt struck dumb. It was the rabbit and the snake again, I suppose. My only instinct was one of self-preservation—not to let him see what I was feeling.
“Madame la Comtesse has been amused?” he asked, indicating the book in his hand, which I had taken up in mistake for my own.
I could not for the life of me remember a word of the page or so I had read, neither had I even noticed what the book was about.
“I have only just opened it,” I said, “Is it amusing?”
“Very,” he replied with a smile. “If Madame la Comtesse will allow me I will lend it her.”
I thanked him, and then for the sake of something to say I asked him what it was about.
“Oh!” he exclaimed in his deep, rich voice that had such a tender, sympathetic note in it, “It is the old, old story. Love! love! love!”
He said it in such an extraordinarily amorous way that I felt I was looking quite shocked, probably with something of the expression that Ermyntrude sometimes wears.
“Husband cold and not understanding—how you say?—impassionate,” he went on, “she all fire, all soul. There comes another alive to all her sympathies, a kindred soul.”
He paused, and I felt he was looking at me. I glanced up and his eyes held mine.
“I hope she did what was right,” I said hurriedly.
“Right?” he exclaimed, tragically, “right? but she loved.”
“Love does not make wrong right,” I said, yet feeling that I was being weakly drawn into an argument in which I should be worsted.
He laughed a light little laugh such as only a Frenchman can laugh.
“In love there is neither wrong nor right, nor anything at all but love. Love compels all and condones all.”
“I don’t agree with you at all,” I said severely, feeling that I must be looking more like Ermyntrude than ever.
“Ah!” he murmured softly, “perhaps it will be that some day Madame la Comtesse will love and know.”
I could not make up my mind whether to be angry or amused. At any rate I felt that for a first conversation this one had gone far enough. I took up my book and began to read again.
After that I saw a good deal of the Marquis for the rest of the voyage. In spite of myself, there was something about him that fascinated me. He was so utterly unlike Jack. I had left home dreadfully upset because I imagined Jack had ceased to care for me as he used to do, yet knowing full well that fire and passion and enthusiasm were utterly alien to his nature. Yet here was a man who was as incapable of hiding his feelings as Jack was of showing his. If in my most depressed moments I had had a wild desire to be seized and carried off in a primitive way, here was the very man to do it. It was impossible in my then frame of mind not to think how delightful it would be to be loved by him—if only he were Jack! If only I could have put some of his ardour and passion into Jack. There were two things I particularly admired about him that Jack had not got—his splendid eyes and his beautiful speaking voice. I think the latter is one of the rarest gifts the gods give to either men or women. It is astonishing how very few charming speaking voices one comes across. So many people have such very unpleasant voices, while most have just ordinary voices with nothing in any way noticeable about them. It is only the rare exceptions who have such delightful voices that it is a pleasure simply to sit and hear them speak. For actual music and refinement I have never heard a voice in a man like that of the Marquis de Boncourt. It was so perfectly modulated, so wonderfully flexible and refined, and so capable of expressing every emotion. It charmed me against my will.
No one except a woman who has been in love with her husband, believing at the same time that he does not love her, will in the least understand what I felt. I suppose it was a species of madness. Other women had forgotten their troubles in flirting with another man, why should not I? So for two or three days I tried. But all the time I knew that it was not real. Though he might fascinate me as the snake does the rabbit, I didn’t really care for him in the least. I realised it with a shock one morning, as we stood leaning over the rail side by side. Suddenly he put out his hand and placed it over mine, and if I did not know before I knew the moment that he touched me. It was hopeless for me to attempt to imagine I was in love with anyone else. There had never been anyone else but Jack, and there never would be. It made me so depressed that I felt I looked ten years older for at least two days afterwards.
To Maisie, fortunately, the Marquis de Boncourt apparently made no appeal at all. She was one of those essentially young girls who love nice, fresh, clean boys, and she found plenty of them on board the Minatia. The thought of the two young men waiting anxiously to meet her at the Delhi Durbar did not seem to prevent her having an excellent time en route. She appeared to me to have a different youth in attendance nearly every day. What I had felt from the first, that it was Maisie who was going to chaperon me, not I who was going to chaperon Maisie, was proving perfectly true. Sweet and simple and innocent as she looked, she was quite capable of taking care of herself, and of me too. Already, before we got to Aden, it was quite obvious that at least two soldiers and one civilian had fallen badly in love with her. It was only then that I began to realise what a tremendous responsibility I had undertaken in bringing her out. Supposing that she fell in love with some impossible young man, how should I face an irate father and mother? I thought that Maisie seemed unusually pensive, as we sat together on deck on the third evening out from Aden, and I wondered nervously what had happened.
“Don’t break too many hearts on board,” I said, laughingly, after we had been discussing some of our fellow-passengers in the gossipy way one has on board.
For a moment Maisie was silent. Then she shook her head solemnly.
“I don’t think I’m at all the kind of girl that any man would really break his heart about,” she said.
“Oh, why not?” I asked, surprised at this introspective frame of mind in Maisie. “Isn’t that putting rather a low estimate on yourself?”
“I can’t explain,” she said. “I only feel I’m not.”
“Perhaps it’s the fault of the modern young man,” I suggested, cheerfully. “I am not sure that he’s capable of breaking his heart.”
Maisie, however, at once demurred.
“Oh, no, it’s not that,” she declared, “the men are simply just longing to break their hearts.”
“Do you mean to say, then, that we are so unattractive that, though the men just long to break their hearts over us, they can’t do it?”
But Maisie, for once, was serious.
“Have you ever thought,” she asked, “what you would think of yourself if it were possible for you to meet yourself?”
“Often,” I said, “and I’ve always come to the conclusion that I should not like myself at all.”
Maisie shook her head again solemnly.
“I feel that I am just the type I should particularly dislike,” she said.
“My dear Maisie!” I exclaimed, really alarmed at this pessimistic admission from the girl I had always known as invariably cheery and bright. “What is the matter?”
Maisie looked at me comically for a moment without answering. Then she laughed.
“I’ve had two proposals to-day,” she said, “and if there is one thing I particularly hate having to do it’s having to say ‘No’ to anybody. It’s the one thing that upsets me.”
I was immensely relieved that it had been “No,” but two proposals in one day made me realise again what a tremendous responsibility I had undertaken. Maisie, however, having had to say “No” twice, was apparently determined not to have to say it again, and became a most subdued little personage for the last two days of the voyage.
No city could desire a finer approach than Bombay. Even were it not so beautiful in itself, every one would be eager to welcome the first sight of it. After the tedium of a five days’ voyage without a glimpse of land, there are few to whom it has not become a longed-for goal. From far away on the horizon, a blue-grey line between sky and sea as the sun rose over it, I watched it grow to a thing of wondrous beauty, a dream city, shut in by its towering hills and lapped by the waves, ablaze in the golden light of morning. It is fitting that it should have come to us as a wedding gift, a Royal dowry for a Royal bride, and though no splendid city rose between mountain and sea when Catherine of Braganza brought it as one of its first Indian possessions to the British Crown, the exquisite casket was there, and the jewel within had but grown into harmony with its setting.
One’s first actual contact with most cities is disappointing. Disembarking is a worrying business under the best conditions, and docks and railway stations are seldom in the best part of the town, necessitating a drive through the business quarters or the slums. At Bombay there is the added nuisance of getting through the Custom’s House, and then a long drive in a bone-shaking ticca ghari over bone-shaking roads. Fortunately, Ermyntrude, armed with her previous experience and her own native determination, was admirable in getting our heavy luggage delivered over to Cook’s men, and our small personal luggage through the Customs and on to a carriage. The Marquis de Boncourt, in spite of the fact that I had shown him marked coldness, was most attentive; and his valet, a very French-looking garçon, seemed to be giving Ermyntrude much help which, somewhat to my surprise, Ermyntrude seemed to be accepting with unwonted graciousness. They made an extraordinary pair, my prim, elderly maid and the dapper little French valet. When I happened to mention him to Ermyntrude later, she was quite self-conscious about him.
“He does not know much English,” she said, rather hurriedly, “so I thought I ought to help him.”
“I thought he was helping you,” I said, in surprise.
“He was doing his best, my lady, but he’s only a Frenchman,” she explained in a tone of much superiority. Ermyntrude never had much opinion of foreigners.
“I believe he has been teaching you French,” I said, laughingly.
Ermyntrude positively blushed.
“I thought I ought to take advantage of the opportunity to learn a few words, my lady,” she admitted, “it will be so useful when we go abroad.”
I stared in astonishment at my essentially English maid, who had always prided herself, hitherto, on not knowing a word of any other language but her own. She saw my surprise, and weakly hastened to explain.
“You see, my lady,” she said, “I had more or less to learn French in order to teach him English.”
Had Ermyntrude, whom I had so long thought proof against the tender passion, fallen a victim to the charms of the little French valet? I dismissed the idea as impossible, but Maisie is very quick at noticing things, and what she said disturbed me.
“You will be wanting a new maid very soon,” she remarked, with a wise little nod. “Be sure you go to Poppa’s Stores. They’ve always got the best on hand.”
“Ermyntrude is much too sensible to do anything so foolish,” I maintained, though doubts had begun to assail me.
But Maisie only nodded her head again very wisely.
“Ah,” she said, “it’s just the ultra-sensible people who go in the end and do some great big, foolish thing.”
It is curious how much more kindly disposed one feels towards one’s fellow-passengers when the journey is over and one comes to say good-bye to them. Every one on board the Minatia seemed suddenly to wake up when we got near Bombay Harbour and become their own natural selves again. People I had not taken the least interest in, and some whom I had actually disliked, all at once became quite charming. I suppose it was that everybody was so glad to say good-bye to everybody else that they felt they could afford to unbend and be real genial and pleasant. On board one is afraid to show oneself too pleasant for fear of attracting the bores, for whom board-ship life must be a perfect paradise, since it is impossible to escape them when once they have fixed on to you, and a real bore is the hardest person in the world to snub. Aunt Agatha always says that it is only the very dull people who ever get bored, but I guess she would make an exception if she went a long sea voyage and fell into the hands of just two or three real bores, though I am inclined to believe that she would have sufficient strength of mind to escape from them, for if there ever was anyone who did not suffer fools gladly it is Aunt Agatha. So when you knew that the time was up, and that no one could cling on to you and bore you to extinction during a long voyage when you were perhaps feeling by no means your best, you felt generally more pleasant all round. I found myself gripping warmly by the hand people I had hardly spoken to the whole way out, and hoping I should meet others again who had not at all attracted me before.
Generally, there are dozens of prospective brides on the big P. and O. boats that come out about this time, but the Minatia was so full up with Durbarites that the brides were fewer than usual. We had, however, a fair selection. There were eleven of them, Ermyntrude, who seemed to know all the gossip on board, told me, and fifteen more in the second class. They interested me immensely, that little company of brides going out to marry in a far country, and to face an unknown life with its new ties and new interests. They were of all ages and descriptions, some such strong, capable Englishwomen, and others whom one felt instinctively needed a man to look after them. One wondered why some had never got married before, and others, poor things, one could not help wondering who could be marrying them now. It was a little pathetic as the ship drew near the docks, and they watched eagerly for their fiancés waiting for them on the quay. As I, too, looked down at them, a fine, bronzed, manly-looking lot for the most part, I wondered with which of the expectant brides each one of them would pair off. I confess I was mostly disappointed. Time and again one asked oneself, “Why did she come all this way to marry him?” or, “Couldn’t he possibly have found anyone more suitable than her?” There were so few couples who seemed just to match. One of the prettiest girls, quite a flapper, paired off with a plain middle aged man, old enough to be her father. Another, a particularly strong capable woman, with lots of ambition one would have thought, was marrying a weedy, seedy-looking youth, destined, surely, to be shoved aside in any walk of life. A splendidly handsome young fellow went off with such a plain little brown mouse of a girl; while another couple met after a five years’ separation, and I think they must both have shown marked traces of the passing of those years of waiting, though they lost no time about it when they did meet, for their names were already in the hotel book as man and wife by the time we reached the hotel some couple of hours after we had landed.
Imagine going out to marry a man one had not seen for five years! It would be bad enough to go out to marry a man one had not seen for five months. So much may happen in five months. But five years! These brides were going out, many of them to lead lives as unlike the lives they had hitherto led as they well could be, and the men, as they welcomed them, must have had many an anxious thought as to how they would stand the climate and adapt themselves to new conditions. Yet India is a wonderful land and, though many abuse it, there are few who leave it when their time comes without regret. I think one comes across more happy couples in India than anywhere else in the world. Nobody ever runs away with anybody else. Even those couples who begin by not getting on well generally end by becoming regular Darbys and Joans. There could be nothing more proper than Anglo-Indian Society so far as I saw it. There is certainly more latitude in India than at home so far as regards chaperonage and the conventionalities, but the number of real scandals is astonishingly few. Berengaria told me later that this was largely because people did not get the chance of going far astray, as every one lived so much in public. When every single room has got at a moderate estimate half a dozen doors, mostly kept open, and every house sports some six or eight silent-footed servants given to prying and much gossip, it is difficult to make love to your neighbour’s wife unbeknown to your neighbour and his household. So most married couples make the best of one another, and if this is putting it down to not the best possible of human motives, it comes to the same thing in the end, as Berengaria sagely remarked.
As we watched the crowd on the quay, Maisie, who was standing beside me, suddenly gave an exclamation of surprise.
“Why, there’s Captain Bremner,” she said.
“Who is Captain Bremner?” I asked, only mildly interested, the name conveying nothing to me.
“He is one of the two I have come out to see.” Maisie smiled up at me innocently.
That put Captain Bremner in quite a new and interesting light.
“Which is he?” I asked eagerly.
“You can’t possibly mistake him, he’s so good looking,” Maisie explained, “He is wearing a grey flannel suit and a white topi, and he is standing next to the woman with a red parasol.”
Then I saw him. He certainly was all that the most exacting girl could demand in the way of an escort so far as outward appearances went. He had that delightfully clean look that most Englishmen have, and that subalterns seem to have in particular. For he was a subaltern, Maisie told me, though, as A.D.C., he was called Captain. Tall and broad, he looked as if he were good at all sorts of games, and his clear cut features and strong capable mouth, under the tiny military moustache, made you feel that he was just the kind of man you would choose to rescue you in case of need.
“I didn’t in the least expect to see him,” Maisie was saying, looking up at me in her innocent little way. “I can’t imagine how he got leave to come and meet us.”
But from my first glance at him I could very well imagine it. He was just the man to get anything he wanted if he only wanted it badly enough. He was among the first of the crowd on the quay to get on board, and when Maisie had introduced him my first impressions were confirmed. But I noticed one thing straight away that caused me some anxiety for his future happiness. He was desperately in love with Maisie, whereas the latter’s affections I had every reason to believe were by no means fixed. I determined at once that Captain Bremner should have my whole-hearted support against his unknown rival, whom he had already forestalled by coming to meet us at Bombay. I felt grateful, however, to that unknown rival for not coming to meet us too. It would have been so dreadful if they had both come, especially if the other was anything like as determined-looking and formidable as this one.
“It was tremendous luck getting here,” Captain Bremner was saying, “but the General is an awfully good sort.”
I wondered greatly just how much he had told that kind-hearted General, to whom he was apparently doing special A.D.C. during the Durbar.
“I must get back by to-night’s train though,” he added, turning to me. “I hope you are not stopping in Bombay.”
I had intended staying until the following night, but I had not the heart to disappoint anything so young and eager. So I gave in at once.
“We are leaving by to-night’s mail,” I said with a smile, and both he and Maisie smiled upon me in return.
Then someone came up to say good-bye and I left them together.
Already Bombay scarcely knew itself. All was bustle and preparation, triumphal arches and elaborate decorations rapidly nearing completion and transforming the great commercial capital into the fairy city of a dream. It was all beautiful, or, at least, it all promised to be beautiful when the finishing touches had been put and everything was swept and garnished for the Royal visitors, yet one could not help thinking how tired those Royal visitors must get of even the most charming decorations. It must be like living always on caviare or pâté de foie gras.
Though I suppose really if you have never lived on anything else you don’t mind it. Still, they seldom see a place as it actually is, and most places look much better in their natural state than when dressed up in gauze and tinsel. A dignified venerable building gay with flags and bunting always reminds me of an old gentleman tricked out in his grand-daughter’s clothes. But, of course, one must decorate in order to show one’s loyalty and enthusiasm. No one could dream of receiving Royalty without flags and bunting. In India, too, the people excel in the art of decorations and illuminations, even the smallest village, when the local official goes on tour, decking itself out in paper flags and red carpet. It was small wonder that Bombay determined to outdo anything that had ever been done before in honour of the King Emperor.
Like everyone else, Maisie was tremendously struck with the amount of brown skin to be seen in Bombay. I had grown so accustomed to it before that I scarcely noticed it. Of course, it is rather a shock after having been accustomed all one’s life to people who go about with every little bit of skin covered up, except their hands and faces, to come suddenly upon a people who take no thought at all of how little or how much they show. I confess, that to me there is something wonderfully attractive in a brown skin when it shows itself naturally, and does not peep at you out of a western garment. A nice brown body with a snow white dhoti thrown carefully round it looks most picturesque, but imagine a white body with any coloured dhoti thrown round it! Bombay proved a fascinating place for the few hours we stayed in it. Surely no city in the world is such a mass of contradictions. Surely nowhere else do the East and the West meet and mingle as they do in Bombay. The streets themselves are a marvellous kaleidoscope of moving life and colour. Men of a dozen different races pass one at every turn, in every variety of costume, and as far apart as the poles, even to the untrained eye, in life and thought and action. Then, too, there are the women brightly dressed and with laughing cheery faces that one scarcely ever sees in any other town in the East, the women among the Parsees who flourish here being as free to come and go in public as the men.
In the roadway there is the same amazing variety amongst the traffic. The slow and ponderous bullock cart meanders on undisturbed by the frantic tootling of a panting motor driven by an Indian chauffeur, and containing a whole family of Parsees, while the smart English dog-cart with its sahib and mem-sahib flashes by the lordly carriage and pair of a local Raja or the humble one horse ticca ghari, piled up with a miscellaneous collection of Indian luggage. Bombay is so evidently a commercial city and yet so unmistakably Eastern and slow moving. But if one is inclined to be a little disappointed and to feel that there is little of the romance that one expected of this city of a Royal bride’s dowry, which had looked so fascinating as one approached it from the sea, there remains the glorious drive out to Malabar Hill as the sun goes down, with its exquisite views of the Bay and of the town, as it lies spread out along the shore. Then there is the Yacht Club when the sun has gone down in a blaze of glory over the Bay, and the stars come out to shine with all their brilliance in the serene and cloudless sky, while the moon rises slowly over the ghats to lend a last note of loveliness to the scene. As one sits in the garden of the Yacht Club, looking out over the moonlit Bay, one realises to the full the beauty and fascination of Bombay.
We left for Delhi that night after dinner, as arranged. Captain Bremner had seen that our carriage was reserved all right, so that we had no trouble. Ermyntrude had gone on ahead with the luggage and we found our beds ready made, and everything arranged when we arrived. Maisie was enthusiastic over the comforts of Indian travelling. To be able to spread oneself out by day, to sleep comfortably by night, and have a real bath in the morning is much to be thankful for on a long railway journey, and if you do get filthily dirty from the smoke and the dust, it is only what you have to expect when you come to India, as Maisie said. I felt quite an experienced traveller as I explained these things to her, while Ermyntrude, too, showed herself quite accustomed to the way of things, and this time she met with no adventures in her second-class carriage, where she told me in the morning she had gone to bed comfortably, and slept all night. The scene outside on the station platform seemed one mass of congested passengers, coolies, luggage and elusive little boys who were selling everything except the thing one wanted. They simply swarmed round the carriage, offering one, pillows, resais, fans, Colonial editions, fruits and sweets of all descriptions, with large trays of pan, and packets of cigarettes for the Indian passengers. The noise and the crowd seemed only to add to the heat, which was appalling.
The next day pursued its hot and dusty way quite uneventfully, except for one incident. Never again, if I can help it, will I chaperon a girl and a man who is in love with her. After breakfast, for which we had to get out of our compartment and go to a refreshment car at the end of the train, Maisie asked if Captain Bremner might come and sit with us, and, of course, I said he might. But no sooner had he come, and in spite of the fact that he was extremely nice about it, I realised at once, that I was horribly de trop. Now, I am not accustomed to feeling in the way, and I didn’t at all like it. I had known in my time what it was to have other people in the way. So I fully sympathised with them. But what was I to do? All the other carriages were full, but even if they were not I could hardly get down and go into one of them, leaving Maisie alone with Captain Bremner. Yet it was too dreadful, feeling that though they were much too polite and kind to show it, by word or look, they both of them were longing to get rid of me.
Captain Bremner, of course, having taken all the trouble to get leave and come and meet us, naturally wanted to make all the running he could, especially as he knew, so I gathered from something he said, that a deadly rival was waiting to appear upon the scene when we got to Delhi. He had seemed so whole-heartedly in love that I had rashly promised to help him all I could. I felt that I was not playing the game by sitting there and spoiling sport. There was only one thing to be done. I must go and sit in the bathroom. It would be frightfully hot and very uncomfortable, but I felt sure that this was just one of the occasions when Aunt Agatha would say, “don’t think about yourself, but just make things as pleasant as you can for other people.” There could be no doubt that the only way I could make things pleasant for other people just then, was by disappearing, and there was nowhere else to disappear to, except the bathroom. The only thing to do was to take it smilingly.
“I am going to sit in the bathroom for an hour or two,” I said as naturally as possible, getting up and collecting some cushions.
“Oh! we couldn’t let you do that,” exclaimed Maisie and Captain Bremner simultaneously, jumping up and looking dreadfully self-conscious.
“Couldn’t let me?” I exclaimed, turning round upon them with a smile. “But I should simply love to sit in the bathroom.”
They both stared at me helplessly dumb between joy and shamefacedness. With my hand on the handle of the door I turned to them again.
“Don’t wake me, I’m going to sleep,” I whispered laughingly, and disappeared within.
It was very hot and very cramped inside that bathroom, but for three mortal hours I sat there. That is why I said never again, if I could help it, would I chaperon a girl and a man who is in love with her, especially on a railway journey.
There was a neat little time table especially printed for this particular “special” hung up in the carriage showing us, among other things, that we were due to arrive at Delhi main station at 7.0 a.m. But from the first it had never come within reasonable distance of telling the truth and we had gradually lost all faith in it. Our arrivals at the various stations en route, and consequently our meals, got later and later than the advertised time, until at last we were two hours late for dinner. We ought to have had it at 7.0 p.m., but it was nearly nine o’clock before we reached the station where we were able to get out and enter the refreshment car. We were nearly famished. Then after a most indifferent meal we were very cross at being boxed up in the refreshment car till half-past ten, when we got to a station where we could get out and back to our own compartment. After arriving at Delhi main station at 7.0 a.m., the time table assured us we should wait an hour for chota hazri, that most desirable meal in the small cold hours, for if the day was hot, the nights were bitterly cold. Thus, having been given plenty of time to have chota hazri and to dress, we were advertised to go gently on to Kingsway, the station specially built for the occasion in the centre of the Durbar Camp, dropping passengers at various stopping places en route. Captain Bremner was going straight on duty again from Delhi main station, so we should be left to our own resources till someone met us at the terminus.
I slept soundly all night, and was only awakened by the clanging of a bell outside our carriage door, loud enough to wake the Seven Sleepers. Maisie and I both jumped up, and, as I was on the side where the bell was, I let down the nearest window and put out my head to see where we were. It was pitch dark and I imagined it was still the middle of the night, but as the guard came along I asked him where we were and if we had made up the time we had lost the night before?
“This is Delhi, miss,” he said in a strong Scotch accent, looking at me with a cheery smile, “and you’ve got just fifteen minutes to do it in if you’re going to get out here.”
“But surely it’s not seven o’clock,” I gasped, feeling under the pillow for my watch and putting my head out of the window again to see the time by the platform lights. Fifteen minutes to dress, roll up one’s bedding and clear out! And this in the peaceful slow-moving East. Thank heaven, we were not getting out here. It was just ten minutes to six by my watch, yet that nicely framed, but absolutely untrustworthy, time table still assured us that we only reached Delhi at 7.0 a.m. Maisie and I both felt it was dangerous to lie in bed under such uncertain conditions any longer and we both fumbled about to turn on the electric light. But that thoughtful and economical railway company had carefully turned it off, and we were proceeding to dress very gloomily from more points of view than one when the faithful Ermyntrude appeared, followed by a nice white-robed kitmatghar bearing a tray of tea and toast, which we greedily consumed in the intervals of dressing.
To reach Kingsway, the line after leaving Delhi main station skirted the end of the famous Ridge, circling between various camps, and leaving the amphitheatre, where the great scene of the Durbar was to be enacted, away to the left, finally turning sharply back up the middle of the immense area, twenty miles square, to end up in the midst of what, for all India at least, was the present hub of the universe. Fortified by tea and toast and dressed ready to descend when our turn came, Maisie and I thoroughly enjoyed our first glimpse of Delhi as the sun rose. Though the train began to stop at various places after leaving the main station, there were no platforms, and nothing one could call a station. One after another, various shivering little groups clambered down from the train and hung together forlornly, with their luggage dumped down beside them in the pale morning light, and there we gaily left them with no further visible means of communication with the outside world, in the way of coolies or conveyances.
Our early arrival had evidently taken everybody by surprise. That trains should be late at Durbar time was to be expected, and everybody counted on it, but that any train anywhere at any time should be more than one hour ahead of its time was calculated to upset the best laid plans. They were very important people whom we deposited by the wayside, according to Ermyntrude, who always in a wonderful way seemed to know who everybody was, politicals, civilians and soldiers, but there never seemed anyone to meet them, not even a coolie to carry their luggage. It was evidently a case of each man for himself, and we steamed gaily away and left them. It was a fascinating journey through the camps, our first view of the city of tents, lit by the early morning sun. Even then, it all struck one as colossal, those miles and miles of canvas and waving flags. The new-made roads and trim gardens all sprung to fife out of the bare plain at the bidding of another race, to do honour to the greatest King who had ever trodden even the historic city of Delhi, whose massive walls and domes and minarets looked proudly down upon this new-made city of a day.
After many halts by the way, we reached Kingsway at last. Here was not only a real station with a platform, but yards and yards of red carpet, several tired looking officials, a couple of gorgeously uniformed A.D.C.’s, a guard of honour, and actually a shivering band. It all looked so comically unnatural at 6.30 a.m. The band, in great coats, clutching cold looking brass instruments, the little Gurkha guard stiff and immovable like toy soldiers. The splendid A.D.C.’s and the Politicals in their uniforms all looked in the early morning light as if they had been left over from a function of the night before and had never been to bed at all. One of the beautiful A.D.C.’s I recognised as having seen at the Durbar before, and I wondered if he had been doing this kind of thing ever since. But although the guard came to attention, the band prepared to play, and the A.D.C.’s and officials began to cultivate a welcoming smile, nothing happened. We did not in the least know what distinguished personage we had on board the train, but Maisie and I were duly impressed. They surely would not have gone to all that trouble except for some one very big indeed. We waited, all excitement to see him emerge. But the minutes passed and still nothing happened.
The guard was told to stand at ease, while the A.D.C.’s and Politicals put their heads together and looked this way and that along the train as if uncertain what to do, until at last another gorgeous A.D.C. descended from a carriage lower down and they all gathered round him. I took the opportunity to hail the station-master who was standing not far off. As we were not expected for nearly an hour yet, and there was evidently no one to meet us—there was only one motor waiting on the other side of the platform—we thought that the only thing to do was to get hold of our luggage and sit on it on the platform until somebody from the Northern Provinces Camp came to fetch us. That station-master, however, was very polite, but very firm. No one must do anything or unearth so much as a band-box from the luggage van until the great official, with whom all unwittingly we had travelled, condescended to walk along the red carpet, receive the salutes of the Politicals, the A.D.C.’s, and the guard of honour, listen to the music of the band and go. At present it appeared he was still asleep and nothing could be done. As the train was before its time, it was impossible to disturb the great man’s sleep, and so in spite of our early scramble into our clothes and our longing to get a nice warm bath, and to settle ourselves comfortably into the welcoming tent that awaited us, there we must wait.
For nearly an hour we had to possess our souls in patience, the band sulkily silent, the guard very bored, and the officials growing colder and less cordial every minute. Then, at last, after all that waiting, band, guard and officials were suddenly taken by surprise. Out of the train literally darted that great official, clad in a gorgeous uniform with splendid gold epaulettes, and with a hurried handshake to a few of the officials, a brief recognition of the guard of honour, a passing glance at the band, which had been so taken by surprise that it had scarcely had time to strike up, and absolutely ignoring the beautiful strip of red carpet, he walked hurriedly across the bare platform behind the band, and took his seat in the motor. His whole proceedings were so rapid they quite took your breath away. But even then he did not go. The officials still hung about and the guard of honour waited until at last when the band had tramped off and the red cloth had been rolled up, a large, stout, elderly lady, very plainly dressed and wearing a topi, hopped out of the train and trotted off all by herself across the platform to join the great man in the motor.
Then at last they were really off and the bored Politicals and the patient guard of honour were free to vanish. The luggage was unlocked, and Ermyntrude soon had it collected all together on the platform, where we sat upon it waiting for some one to come and rescue us.
For another half-hour we sat on our boxes and then relief came in the shape of a motor and an A.D.C., who was full of apologies when he heard that we had been kept waiting. His self-reproach was so pathetic that we quite forgot any little inconvenience we had suffered in trying to console him. That A.D.C. was about the most perfect specimen of his kind you could expect to meet with. It was not only that he was so beautiful to look upon and so well groomed generally, he was so kind and thoughtful and attentive that he made you think at times that he couldn’t possibly be real and that he must be some wonderful perfected sort of machine wound up and warranted not to fail. Now, last time I was in India I had not been particularly struck with the A.D.C.’s I had met, and everyone had told me that however nice a man might be before he became an A.D.C. the gold and glitter of it immediately turned his head and spoilt him. But it was evident that in this one Berengaria had caught a treasure, for I had no doubt that it was she who had arranged a little thing like the appointing of the A.D.C.’s herself as soon as Sir John had been appointed Lieutenant-Governor. I could only wonder if she had caught many more like this, for she had written that their staff of two was to be increased to six for the Durbar.
We had been feeling rather cold and deserted and hungry sitting on our boxes, but the moment he spoke to us we felt quite cheerful again. He inspired such confidence that you felt at once you had been taken in hand by somebody quite capable of looking after you, and that all would be well in this best of all possible worlds. Even Ermyntrude thawed under his genial address. He was just capability and efficiency personified. Everything seemed to run smoothly under his magic touch. Another conveyance had followed the motor, coolies rushed forward eager to do his behests and in no time at all without the least fuss or worry Ermyntrude was safely ensconced in the second vehicle, with all the luggage piled up on top and bristling out all over it and a gorgeous chaprasi in scarlet and gold perched on the box, while we were moving silently and rapidly away in a luxuriously fitted motor with the A.D.C. explaining everything to us as we passed. In spite of the fact that we were both longing for a bath and breakfast, that first glimpse of those wonderful camps was all too fleeting. It was just like fairy land—some marvellous white city conjured up by the imagination that one almost expected to disappear even as one looked at it.
The Northern Provinces Camp surpassed even my memories of anything I had seen at the previous Durbar. Underneath a beautifully ornamented gateway the motor sped along a broad gravel drive that circled round the greenest of grass plots with a fountain playing in the middle of it, drawing up before an immense shamiana, gay with flags and bunting and many palms, that formed a delightful lounge and entrance hall. It was so early still that there was no one about except a few gorgeous chaprasis in scarlet and gold, and the A.D.C. who had proved so adequate a guide, philosopher and friend, took us straight to our tents. Along one carpeted and furnished corridor and then another, we passed the names of various people printed on enormous cards outside the gangways that led to their tents and were much impressed. They were very imposing names and they were all Honourables. Maisie said it made her quite dishonourable not to be one too. Plain “Miss Dallant” on her card looked so dreadfully bold and unclothed. But at any rate it made us feel most comfortably at home to see our names like that. Then, his duty done, that charming A.D.C. left us.
“You will find the hours for meals and all the engagements for the week hanging up in your tents,” he assured us with a last parting thought for our comfort. “There is a motor-car especially set aside for your use. This is the number of it,” handing me a card, “and if you send this chaprasi,” pointing to a tall salaaming object in scarlet and gold, “with this card whenever you want it, the car will be round at the front entrance within five minutes. There is also a telephone in your room if you should want to telephone to the office. I do hope you will be comfortable and find everything you want, but if you don’t please ring me up at the office—my name is Denton—and I will come and put things right, and Lady Hugesson-Willoughby hopes you will breakfast with her in her private sitting-room at 9.0 a.m. The Lieutenant-Governor’s quarters are immediately to the left of the entrance hall, and you cannot fail to find them. Your luggage should be with you immediately and hot water for your baths.”
With that and a charming smile, he was gone before we could even thank him. Maisie and I looked at one another breathlessly for a moment, after he had gone, as we stood in the door of the tent. Then Maisie paid him the greatest compliment she knew.
“Not one of Poppa’s young men could have done it better,” she said with her sweet little smile, as we passed within.
Those tents of ours in the Northern Provinces Camp were about the last word in camp luxury. I had one enormous tent divided into two, providing a sitting-room, charmingly furnished in green, with carpets, rugs, sofas, curtains and Oriental hangings all round the walls, and a fascinating bedroom in white and pink. There was a fireplace in both rooms and a nice bright fire burning in the sitting-room, while beyond was a large bathroom with a real sensible bath in it. The tent had a raised, boarded floor, and the hangings on the walls gave the rooms a delightfully cosy look inside. Maisie’s rooms, which were connected with mine, were almost exactly similar, while Ermyntrude had a smaller tent just beyond. Against the wall hung framed instructions as to the hours for meals, the calling of carriages and the times of the various functions, while on the writing table, together with a charming little note of welcome from Berengaria, lay a budget of tickets with special instructions on the back as to how to get there. It was all just perfect. “Even Poppa couldn’t have done it better,” as Maisie admitted.
By the time we had bathed and changed and generally got clean again it was nearly nine o’clock, and we prepared to set forth in search of Berengaria’s quarters. I was much looking forward to meeting Berengaria again. I had not seen her since the Durbar of 1902, and Berengaria the Commissioner’s wife had now become Berengaria the Lieutenant-Governor’s wife, and a Lieutenant-Governor in India is a very great personage indeed, sometimes his wife is even greater. In the corridor outside our tents we found Captain Denton. He was one of those happy people who always seem to possess the knack of being on the spot just when they are wanted.
“There are no official engagements for to-day, as you will probably have seen already from the printed programme of events,” he said, as he showed us the way, “but it is about the last quiet day you will have, so you will probably like to look around and see the various camps and other sights of the place. The polo ground is the great meeting place in the afternoon.”
He stopped at the entrance to the Lieutenant-Governor’s quarters, a whole company of tents joined together by covered passages. Here he handed us over to another A.D.C., whom he introduced as Captain Manser, and who was as exact a reproduction of himself as you could find. I wondered if they had been alike to start with, or whether being so closely associated in the same billet had made like grow to like, just as I am told a keeper of parrots at a Zoo grows like a parrot and a keeper of seals like a seal.
“Lady Willoughby is awaiting you,” he said, taking us in hand as comfortingly as his double had done at the railway station. “I was just coming to your tents to escort you across.”
He drew aside the heavy curtains that covered an opening in a tent wall and we passed within. Berengaria hurried forward to greet us, welcoming us with characteristic warmth.
“I am glad to see you, dear,” she said as she kissed me impulsively on both cheeks, and as I too expressed due pleasure at seeing her.
Then I introduced Maisie, and, after a few appropriate words, Berengaria turned to me again. She grasped both my hands, and I suddenly had a horrible presentiment that she was going to say to me exactly what she had done nine years ago.
“Nine years! Is it possible?” she exclaimed, looking at me with a beaming smile as I waited nervously for what I felt was coming, “and you have not changed a bit. Have I?”
They were almost the same words she had used nine years ago, and now, as then, I looked Berengaria in the face and lied boldly. It would be so very impolitic to offend one’s hostess at the very moment of one’s arrival.
“Not a bit, dear, not a bit,” I said, and kissed her again with renewed warmth on both cheeks, lest she should see that I was lying. For there was no possible manner of doubt that Berengaria had changed considerably.
For strictly, I suppose, I ought not to have bolstered her up in a fond delusion. I ought to have stuck to the simple truth. Aunt Agatha and I once had a great argument over a similar case. Her view was that it is very bad for any one to blind themselves to the plain truth, and that, if one saw anybody doing it, one’s duty was to point it out to them. “Whatever is, is,” she said in her downright way, “and the only thing to do is to face it.” I looked at it from the other point of view. Why give people unnecessary pain by disturbing their harmless delusions. To which Aunt Agatha had replied with withering sarcasm, and, I guess, perfect truth, “It’s very harmless to believe a lie.” For which sentiments you can imagine Aunt Agatha is a perfect terror to comfortable people who don’t love to see themselves as others see them.
Berengaria had grown most undeniably plump. Unkind people might have called her stout or even fat, but I don’t think that would have been quite true. There is a great difference between being plump and being stout or fat. They are three quite separate degrees. An Indian gentleman once wrote of his father as having become in his later years as “plump as a partridge.” I think he had divined the true distinction. There is such an immense difference between that and being fat and flabby like an over-fed poodle. Berengaria undoubtedly escaped the latter, and her height and dignity enabled her, so far, to carry off anything else triumphantly. Still she had changed in the last nine years, and, of course, she knew it. Only, womanlike, she had a craving to be told what she knew was not true.
Berengaria was full of the doings of the next few days as we sat at breakfast, which was served by two silent-footed, white-robed kitmatghars at a little table beside a big low window. For that delightful sitting-room tent of Berengaria’s had actually a low window in it. One would never have known that one was in a tent at all, save for the ceiling. The walls might have been quite solid for all one could see from the inside, draped as they were by Indian hangings. The low window opened on to a tiny garden, neatly divided into grass plots and flower beds filled with a blaze of colour. Round this garden square were the other private tents of the Lieutenant-Governor, forming the most perfect little temporary home one could imagine.
“Yes, it’s all delightful,” said Berengaria, in answer to our expressions of admiration, “but, of course, like every other earthly Paradise, it has one drawback—I live in terror of fire. It never worried me last time, and I never thought of it this time until I saw a tent burnt down in camp the other day. Then I realised how awful it would be if a fire once got a hold among all these thousands of tents. The fire I saw the other day was a most extraordinary sight. I was having tea in the camp where it broke out and we rushed out when we heard the noise, but it was all over in a moment. The flames simply leapt along the top of the tent and the whole thing fell with a crash. Everything inside was ruined. They cut the ropes of three other tents adjoining, and there were two ayahs asleep inside one of them, and they were nearly suffocated before they could be got out. I always sleep with one eye open, but imagine having to escape in one’s nightclothes in a camp of burning tents!”
Berengaria’s vivid imagination made the danger seem horribly real. I felt that my first night’s sleep at least was ruined. I tried to turn the conversation resolutely to gayer things, but Berengaria had not quite finished yet with fires and tragedies.
“I was determined to have something to go about in if my tents were burned down,” she said, with a smile, “so I turned a lot of stupid papers out of two big iron safes in John’s office tent, and I’ve got two complete costumes, a day one and an evening one reposing there in case of need. So if anything happens I shall only have myself to think of and John.”
“How is John?” I asked, “and how does he like being Lieutenant-Governor?”
“He loves the work,” she said, “and it was really great luck getting it when he did. Things are always such a matter of luck in India. If poor Sir James had not died suddenly a year ago, we should not have been here now. That is why India is such a gamble, somebody dies or has to go on leave suddenly, and you happen to be on the spot, and there happens to be no one else available and so you drop into it, and from there you climb on to something better still. Or else things turn out just the reverse. The men in your particular line hang on and don’t die or won’t go on leave, or else you happen to be on leave yourself just when the chance comes along; or again, you get overlooked in some quiet district out of the way of headquarters.”
“And their wives sometimes make a difference, don’t they?” I suggested, with a smile of comprehension.
Berengaria laughed her cheery, infectious, little laugh.
“Some people do say that I made John, L.-G.,” she said, “but that’s not true. I only made people realise what a splendid man he would be for the post.”
That she loved being where she was, Berengaria made no effort to conceal. It was just this frankness about her that had always attracted me, and now that she ruled at Government House—the first lady in her own particular province—she was just the same, charming and unaffected, as she had always been, thoroughly enjoying herself, and thereby making other people enjoy themselves too.
“I think only those who have borne the burden and heat of the day can really know the pleasure of being at the top of the tree,” she told me, “I have done seventeen years in India and eleven hot weathers in the plains, and the reward has come at last, so I feel I have every right to enjoy the few brief years at the top before we retire to our tiny little villa somewhere in Suburbia at home.”
“That’s a long time ahead,” I said cheerfully, “meanwhile you have four years more of red carpet, ‘God save the King,’ and those beautiful A.D.C.’s, two of whom we have already seen this morning.”
“Ah! I admit I am rather proud of them,” said Berengaria, as we finished breakfast. “I was determined when we went to Government House that we would have a good staff. I knew from other people’s experience that a good staff was half the battle, and for some time before I had kept my eye on promising young subalterns. We only get two A.D.C.’s and a Private Secretary in the ordinary course of things. Captain Denton is one of the permanent A.D.C.’s and the other is Captain Manser, and when you get to know them better you will admit that they are just about perfect. Of course, at first, I had to drill them a bit. But they took it splendidly. Poor dear John is all very well ruling the Province, I leave that entirely to him and never interfere in official matters, but I saw that, if Government House was going to be a success socially, I should have to do everything. John is quite all right socially, if you tell him exactly what to do, and if you give him somebody to take into dinner, or somebody to talk to, he will talk and make himself quite interesting. But he is no good at running a house. So I do all that.”
Berengaria was going to be extremely busy all the morning till lunch time, she told us, making various arrangements for the camp, so Maisie and I decided to call for our motor and go out and explore by ourselves. We handed the ticket that Captain Denton had given us to the red and gold chaprasi, who darted off with it as if he had been shot out of a gun, and in a moment was back again breathless, but apparently saying that the motor was ready. I said “Bahut Achha,” which were two of the few Hindustani words I knew, pointing outside as I said them, and he said “Bahut Achha,” pointing outside too, so we supposed it was all right. It is wonderful with how small a vocabulary you can get along quite comfortably in India. It certainly says much for the native intelligence of the Indian. Maisie and I counted up later on and we found that we could only muster nineteen Hindustani words between us. Yet we used to hold quite long conversations with chaprasis and coolies and they always seemed to understand.
I must, however, confess that when we got outside and found that our chauffeur was an Englishman I almost fell upon his neck with joy. I had looked forward with some trepidation to careering about Delhi behind a native chauffeur, who would probably drive furiously and with whom I felt my Hindustani would be wholly inadequate to cope. Our chauffeur was a young mechanic from some big motor works in Bombay, who had taken this means of seeing the Durbar. He was very young, but he looked capable, and he was an Englishman. The only thing against him was his name. It was Illman, and the great objection to it was that whenever you mentioned it to any one they always immediately called him Hillman, and looked at you as if you were the kind of person given to dropping an “H.”
“Good morning,” I said, determined to establish good relations with him straight away. “We just want to go round and see Delhi. Do you know the way about here?”
“Oh, yes, my lady,” he answered in a nice shy way, touching his cap.
“All right, take us along the main streets,” I said, adding with a smile, “and please be careful.”
“Oh, yes,my lady,” he said, touching his cap again.
I got in, and Maisie was just following when she remembered something she had forgotten, and asked me to wait a moment while she went back to fetch it. I spent the time in talking to Illman. He had been out in India for over a year and had come up to Delhi three weeks ago with forty cars, of which he was practically in charge, being the only European with them. He seemed to have had lots of experience.
“I hope you have never run over anything,” I said, smilingly.
“Oh, no, my lady, never, nor no accident of any kind.”
Then Maisie came up and we started off. Half-an-hour later I was sitting in the car outside one of the camps while Maisie had gone in to leave cards, and write our names in the Visitors’ Book. Illman was standing by the car and I suddenly saw that he wanted to speak to me, but was too shy to begin. I smiled at him encouragingly.
“Please, my lady, when I told you just now I had never run over nothing, I forgot, I did once,” he came out with apologetically.
“You did run over something?” I said, amused at his naive confession. “What was it?”
“It was a cat, my lady,” he said quite seriously.
“A cat,” I repeated, trying to keep the amusement out of my expression.
“Yes, my lady, it was soon after I came out,” he explained. “It was in Bombay, and as I weren’t quite certain if I had killed it or not, I turned back and run over it again to make sure.”
Luckily, Maisie came out just at that moment, or Illman’s intense seriousness would have quite upset me.
“It was awfully kind and thoughtful of him,” laughed Maisie, when I told her what had so amused me, “but one does wonder what the cat said when he ran over her the second time.”
That was about the most marvellous ride you could possibly imagine. Down Kingsway, the splendid broad road that runs from the King-Emperor’s camp to the Durbar amphitheatre, we passed through a succession of magnificent camps. Coronation Road was one long stretch of camps its whole length from beginning to end, all of them belonging to the native Chiefs, and surely, for infinite variety and Oriental splendour it was the most wonderful street even in all the gorgeous East. Other camps were on either side of Prince’s Road, and others again beyond and around in every direction, extending over an area of twenty miles square in all. Each individual camp was a new delight, and as we sped along past them neither Maisie nor I could award the palm to any one of them for originality or beauty.
Burma had imposing dragons to guard its gates, which the natives called “billis” (cats), the camp owning them being known as the “Billi” Camp—the Camp of the Cats! Kashmir’s beautiful carved parapet and gateways, transparent as the finest lace, its dark walnut wood contrasting with the gleaming white archways of its neighbours, won a special meed of praise; while the Orissa gateways, the pillars painted with forest scenery, among which appeared elephants and tigers, peacocks and monkeys, painted by native artists, was the admiration of every passer-by. Patiala, Jhind, Baroda, Benares, all were enchanting, a feast of colour and triumph. Quaint and loyal devices, little formal flower beds, decked with oyster shells and glistening mica, rampant tigers adorning gate posts, a group of pea-green and scarlet retainers, and another of orange and Reckett’s blue, formed a wonderful dazzling medley spread out before our eyes as the motor moved slowly on.
Back again into the Mall, we passed along the Alipur Road, behind the famous Ridge, and through the Fort into the old City of Delhi. Here, one was in another world, though even beneath these historic walls and in these old world streets there was the same stir and life, the same feeling of expectation as in the wonderful tent city of a day that we had left. It was the sudden and astonishing contrasts that struck one most. It upset all one’s preconceived notions of the possible. There seemed to be representatives of every imaginable race under the sun, jostling one another in the streets. The variety of costumes bewildered one. A tall black bearded Pathan rubbed shoulders in the crowd with a little cheery faced Gurkha, a clean shaven Bengali with an Arab from the Persian Gulf, a Parsi in his shiny little black hat with a splendid white turbaned Sikh, while motors, carriages and pairs, jolting and clattering tongas, scarlet ekkas adorned with oval mirrors, closed palki gharis, through the chinks of which peered purdah ladies, bullock carts, elephants, and the famous camel carriage of the Lieutenant-Governor of the. Punjab, jostled one another in friendly rivalry along the roadway. And in the midst of the babel and confusion, calmly controlling it all, stood Tommy Atkins, armed only with a tiny cane.
I have always cherished the greatest respect for Tommy Atkins, but I had never before admired him so much as I did at Delhi. The way he played the part of the London Bobby only confirmed me in my belief that there are few things he could not do if he were only put to it. There he stood, in the midst of that distracting pandemonium and that absolutely petrifying procession of every conceivable variety of vehicle, waving aside motors, carriages, bullock carts, elephants, horses and camels with equal sang-froid. One block that we got into looked hopeless. Quite a small Tommy stood in the midst of it like a rock, a motor impatiently snorting in the small of his back, a camel looking over his shoulder, and two ekkas with their wheels interlocked and their ponies heads almost hitting him in the chest. Our motor was behind the first one, and lots of other vehicles of sorts were coming to a halt all round.
Just as we were eagerly watching to see how Tommy Atkins would extricate us all, a camel from behind created a diversion by nibbling at my hat. It was a particularly brilliant green hat, and I guess looked most refreshing to a camel on that parched and thirsty road. That camel had come to a halt behind us, with its chest up against our motor, so that its head simply loomed over us and there was no getting away from it. Maisie very bravely stood up and moved her arms frantically, trying to drive it off, but that only seemed to annoy it, and it showed its teeth in a most alarming way. The camel boy viewed the situation quite complacently, not even making use of the one rein you drive a camel with, and in answer to our repeated expostulations only pointing laconically behind, where a couple of ekka ponies had their noses close up against the hind quarters of the camel making retreat impossible. I crouched down in the motor, trying to save what remained of my half-eaten hat, under a most ineffective parasol.
“It’s the only hat I have got that will go with this dress,” I remembered saying to Maisie, as she expostulated with the camel.
But just at that moment Maisie’s turn came. She had sat down again and was crouching under her parasol when she suddenly gave a loud scream. An elephant standing beside the motor had playfully, but unexpectedly, put its trunk into her lap. Then, luckily, the motor moved quietly off. Tommy Atkins had extricated us all and was confidently waving us by. He was just a plain little ordinary Tommy, yet how splendid! I gave him a grateful smile, which was all I could give him, as we passed. I wonder if he and his fellows realised how greatly we appreciated all that they did and the efficient way in which they did it. I hope they did, and that they got some special word of thanks or something in the way of a look.
Yet it was only that same night at dinner that I had to stand up for Tommy Atkins against an Englishman, who did not appreciate him. I had never before met Sir Peter Timms, M.P. Of course, I had long known him by sight and reputation. Who did not know the M.P. who had so long been a thorn in the flesh to his own party, to whom he was a much greater terror than to the enemy. I confess I was much surprised to see his name among the list of guests in the Northern Provinces Camp. I should not have thought that he was at all the kind of man of whom Berengaria would have approved. But just before dinner Berengaria, herself, enlightened me.
“Sir Peter Timms is going to take you in to dinner,” she said, adding tactfully, “I thought it would please him and that he might interest you. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Oh, no,” I replied quite truthfully, “I shall be interested in meeting him.”
“I thought it best to ask him to be our guest,” Berengaria explained. “We heard he was going to make a tour round the Northern Provinces, and one could guess what that meant. So I determined to muzzle him as far as I could by making him our guest to start with. After eating our salt for ten days he can’t, if he has got any decency at all, turn round and abuse us.”
“How clever of you,” I laughed.
But Berengaria shook her head.
“No,” she said, “it’s only horribly worldly-wise. Every little bit of food they eat in my house nearly chokes me, and I long to tell them what I think of them. But if I can prevent them going home and misrepresenting things to the dear, good, lovable, gullible British public, I feel it’s worth it. Last year I caught two of them and made much of them at Government House, and arranged their tour for them through the Province, with the result that when they got home, although they black-guarded the administration of nearly every other part of India, they never said a word about the Northern Provinces, though if there are burning questions anywhere it is here.”
I felt it my duty to back up Berengaria all I could and make myself particularly pleasant to Sir Peter Timms. But I am bound to say that it was difficult. He had so evidently come out to see the Durbar with the object of decrying it. I struggled hard through dinner to find a subject about which I did not strongly disapprove of his opinions, but he was one of those people one sometimes meets so absolutely antagonistic to all one’s preconceived notions, that it was hard to find even a temporary common meeting ground. I put him down as a man whose bigoted sentiments no amount of reasoning and no power on earth could change. But I was wrong. Berengaria and the Durbar combined simply bowled Sir Peter Timms head over heels. To me it was one of the most marvellous things at the Durbar, the sight of that man coming to curse and remaining to praise.
He begun by abusing the Durbar almost as soon as we were introduced.
“Fifty thousand troops,” he said, in his loud pompous voice that seemed designed to brow-beat everybody else, and tyrannically trample down all opposition, “here, only to make a show, doing nothing and eating their heads off.”
It seemed to me inconceivable that any Englishman could make such a monstrous statement.
“I should have said that some of them were having about the hardest time of their lives,” I protested.
“Perhaps,” he said, sarcastically, “peacocking about and posing in beautiful uniforms. It must get very tiring after a time.”
“Have you seen the Tommies controlling the traffic in the streets?” I asked.
“A soldier’s business is fighting,” was his only answer, “let him stick to that. Don’t make a show toy soldier of him.”
“But to put it on its lowest grounds,” I reasoned, “you must make the conditions sufficiently attractive or we shall not get soldiers at all. Recruiting is hard enough as it is.”
Sir Peter was one of those tiresome people who never will come out into the open and argue with you. He never met you fairly and answered your questions or challenged your statements. He merely took refuge in bald assertions or repeated catch phrases like a parrot.
“It is scandalous,” he went on, ignoring my last remark. “The expense and the utter waste of public money is simply scandalous. In a poor country such as India, with plague, pestilence, and famine always rife, it is criminal to spend money like this.”
He waved one large fat hand to indicate the well laid dinner table and the eighty odd guests, while, with the other, he raised his glass of sparkling champagne, whereon some of the money he so much regretted had been spent. I did so wonder if it ever occurred to him that he was adding to that expense by being a guest and drinking that champagne.
“But the Indian Princes and people love a show like this,” I said, remembering why Berengaria had asked him, and struggling to be pleasant. “The King-Emperor’s visit is a great event to them.”
Sir Peter turned and gave me a glance of quite withering contempt.
“There are three hundred million people in India,” he said, “how will it benefit them? The Princes and Chiefs, I grant you, may enjoy the fun—though I doubt that in the case of some of them—and perhaps a few thousand others, but what about the rest of the three hundred millions?”
‘The Princes and Chiefs are men of tremendous influence,” I urged. “They, and the few thousand others who will see the Durbar, will go back amongst the three hundred millions, and the wonderful impression made upon them will be felt all over India.”
Sir Peter Timms turned again and looked at me, as if I were a child of ten talking about things of which I knew nothing.
“The impression,” he said with a sneer.
I was so horribly afraid he was going to say something disloyal, that I hurried on to safer ground.
“The little I know of India strikes me as being so extraordinarily impressionable. Have you not felt that too?”
“To be too impressionable is a bad thing in individuals or nationalities,” he said oracularly.
“Perhaps so,” I admitted, for the annoying part about Sir Peter’s assertions was that there was generally a modicum of truth about them if only they had been urged in time and season, “but I was not saying that it is either good or bad. I was merely saying that it is so. One has to look facts in the face and act accordingly.”
“Impressionism of that sort is to be discouraged,” he gave forth gravely, sipping the costly champagne again. His manner annoyed me so intensely that I felt he deserved the worst.
“Have you been out in India long?” I asked him sweetly.
“No, not long,” he replied evasively, showing a sudden desire to break off the conversation.
“By which boat did you come?” I asked still sweetly.
“By the Mars,” he answered absently, showing great interest in the menu.
“Ah! then you must have arrived the same day we did—two days ago,” I said, remembering that the Mars had arrived just ahead of us. “But, of course, you have been in India often before.”
He gave an annoyed side glance at me.
“No, I have never been in India before,” he said shortly.
“Haven’t you, really, Sir Peter?” I exclaimed with feigned and innocent surprise. “I have always looked upon you as such an authority on India, that I thought you must know it intimately.”
It was very rude of me, but he did so need somebody to humble him, if that were possible, at this late stage of his development. If only he had had the right kind of wife to do it.
“I have studied the Indian problem closely for thirty years,” he asserted quite stuffily.
“Oh, but it’s quite impossible to know a country until you have really seen it,” I said, adopting something of Sir Peter’s superior tone, “and I am sure you will agree with me when you have been here longer. That is why I am always against too much interference from home with our Colonial and Indian administrators. Put a man in on the spot whom you can trust and then give him as free a hand as possible.”
“H’m,” he snorted, “a nice state of affairs there would soon be in India if we at home didn’t keep a pretty close watch upon them. If an administrator abroad isn’t kept in the public eye at home he goes wrong. There’s something in the climate or the responsibility he can’t stand. He just goes wrong. Look at the Congo atrocities. That’s what would happen anywhere if we didn’t keep a close watch. Look, I say, at the Congo atrocities.”
I looked instead at my neighbour on my other side. I felt that I could endure no more for the moment of Sir Peter Timms. My neighbour on my left was Captain Denton, and he was such an immense relief, a nice, clean, straight Englishman without any fads or crooked ideas on life. We just talked of honest, sane, healthy things like polo and motors and home. We chatted on gaily, regardless for the moment of burning questions and social problems, though I could hear Sir Peter still pegging away at them with his neighbour on his left. Why will people ride their pet hobbies to death? It would be so much better for themselves, and they would get such a much better grip of their hobbies, if only they would take a rest and leave them alone for a while. Sir Peter never, to my knowledge, conversed about anything else but burning political questions and social problems, which was not only very trying for other people, but so particularly bad for himself. If only he had left them alone for a bit and occupied his mind with other things, he would have been able to go back to them with something of an outside view of them and possibly even he might have realised what a jaundiced view he was taking of life.
His partner claimed Captain Denton, while Sir Peter was still in deep converse with the lady on his other side, so for a moment I had time to look round the table and study the other people. It was a long table with three offshoots, seating about eighty people in all, and Berengaria had told me that they were all Northern Provinces officials except myself, Maisie, Sir Peter Timms, and a few others, and as I sat looking round at them there was one thing that particularly struck me. The men were such a splendidly capable looking lot. There is, undoubtedly, something about service in India that pulls an Englishman together and makes a man of him. As my eye ran along from one to another, my heart warmed to them. They all looked as if they had already done something to their credit, and were capable of any amount more. They were so alive and alert and interested. That was the thing that struck me most. They had borne much of the burden and heat of the day, and they showed it in their bronzed, lean strength, yet they were as keen and eager as if they were just setting out. The young men among them were few. The guests were mostly officials of several years’ standing. But even the subalterns, whom Berengaria had caught to be temporary A.D.C.’s, had the same look of alertness and strength. They made one just long to be in a tight place for the simple joy of seeing them get one out.
Among the guests was Captain Haslem, Maisie’s other young man. I had met him earlier in the day, and it had come with something of a shock to me to find that he was almost, if not quite, as charming a youth as the other. I almost began to sympathise with Maisie. They were so extraordinarily alike in many ways, such good typical specimens of British manhood. They looked as if there would be less than nothing to choose between them if pitted against one another at anything. In fact, as I looked across at Captain Haslem, I began to grow just the least little bit uncomfortable. I had certainly definitely promised Captain Bremner my aid before we left Bombay, yet such an impression had Captain Haslem’s fresh enthusiasm and frankness made upon me, when he had confided in me that afternoon, that I had great qualms as to whether I had not been too sympathetic and whether he, too, might not justifiably look upon me as an ally. It was all very complicated. Only Maisie, the cause of it all, seemed to be perfectly happy and at ease.
“Do you know the lady on my left?” Sir Peter’s voice broke in upon my thoughts.
I glanced across at her. I had not seen her before.
“A most remarkable woman,” announced Sir Peter approvingly, “a most remarkable woman.”
I felt myself taking an instinctive dislike to her at once. Anyone approved by Sir Peter Timms was bound to be objectionable.
When I was introduced to Miss Lamb that same evening in the drawing-room after dinner, I felt, to begin with, that my first prejudice was fully merited. Miss Lamb was a woman of about forty-five, tall and striking-looking, rather weather-beaten, but extremely well turned out, and before you were introduced to her you would have taken her for a well-born, well-bred Englishwoman of the ordinary conventional type. She was one of those singular people whom you would never suspect of being at all like what they are from their outward appearance. There was nothing unusual about Miss Lamb, until she began to talk to you. Then you quickly discovered that she was very unusual, indeed. Berengaria came up and told me that she had asked to be introduced to me.
“She is not staying in the camp, only dining here,” Berengaria whispered in that nice little preparatory way she had before introducing anyone. “She’s Irish, very much interested in India, very amusing, but odd, distinctly odd.”
Within five minutes Miss Lamb had told me proudly that she had broken one hundred and forty-seven panes of glass—twenty-two of them plate-glass—in the cause of women’s suffrage. That, of course, put me off at once. It seemed such a wicked waste of glass, and if there is one thing I particularly hate it is waste. But as soon as I could get over that, to my great surprise, we got on famously. She reminded me so of Aunt Agatha. She was so frightfully keen about things that she simply carried one away with her. India was the subject that absorbed her for the moment, and she was full of its great problems, which she had come out determined to probe. Her chief instrument of warfare was apparently a tiny pocket edition of a Hindustani grammar, which she kept in a little silk bag, and never went about without, boasting that it was the only book she had read connected with India.
“I wanted to keep my mind free from all prejudice, so I have read nothing,” she told me. “I have just come to live among the Indian people and study their wants and needs on the spot.”
“But there are three hundred millions of them,” I exclaimed, looking at her in astonishment, and wondering how even so capable and energetic a person as she was going to tackle so immense a problem.
But Miss Lamb was not dismayed. She looked at me kindly as if I were very young.
“I’ve a great suspicion that if I can find the key to one room in the heart of India, I shall have found the key to all,” she said.
It appeared that she intended to get down at a small wayside station—any station so long as it was not near a big town—-and set off with a tent and a couple of servants to tour quietly among the neighbouring villages and literally live amongst the people. It was a plan that, clothed in Miss Lamb’s enthusiastic words, sounded admirable, but, though I was carried away, I had grave doubts as to its practical workings. There were the difficulties of language, the ignorance of the peasant class and their invincible reticence and suspicion, but Miss Lamb swept them all aside with supreme confidence.
Now, I don’t think anyone who knew me would call me a weak character. Yet I must admit that enthusiasm does make an extraordinary impression upon me. Most people are so terribly only half alive. They just meander on in a feeble aimless way, never enjoying themselves very much, and never fully awake to all that life, with its wonderful possibilities and opportunities, really means. A lot of them might just as well not have been born for all the pleasure they get or the good they do. One meets so many people like this, that when somebody comes along simply bubbling over with life and energy and enthusiasm, one is apt to get carried away. This was what happened to me when Miss Lamb came along. I feel, in the light of what I subsequently did, that it is necessary to make this excuse for myself. I had seen her several times in the interval, and had had long talks with her, but it was not until about a week later that she suddenly enlarged her wonderful plan so as to include me.
“I have taken a great fancy to you,” she said in her downright way. “You take an intelligent interest in things and I should like to meet you again. What are you doing immediately after the Durbar?”
“I have not yet decided what I am going to do immediately after,” I replied, “but I am going on to Calcutta for the King’s visit there at the end of the month.”
“Which means that you will have about ten days to spend in between,” said Miss Lamb. “ Now why shouldn’t you come and get to know something of the real heart of India with me? I should like your company and I guarantee you a real interesting time off the beaten track.”
So, before I quite knew what I was doing, I found myself promised for a week in between Delhi and Calcutta to explore the real heart of India with Miss Lamb. Berengaria held up her hands in horror when I told her of it.
No one could fail to be aware that the great day had dawned. Long before the sun was up the whole place seemed astir. At four o’clock, a boom, like the last trump, awoke one with a start. An hour later, just as one had dozed off again, another cannon roared out, followed by a third at six o’clock. But long before that sleep had become impossible. The main road that ran in front of our camp was one long stream of traffic, not only ordinary decent rumbling traffic, but traffic that, apparently, at 4 a.m. had to be encouraged by brass bands and bagpipes, and drums and fifes. The bagpipes were the first things I heard that morning, skirling for all they were worth and dying away to the regular even tramp of marching feet, to be followed by brass bands and drums and fifes, leading their respective regiments, in apparently endless succession, into Delhi to line the Royal route. It was so fascinating, listening to them as I lay in bed, that regular even tramp, with the approaching or receding music of their bands, that I forgave them even for waking me up at that atrocious hour in the morning.
“Poor things,” said Maisie, when she came in to have chota hazri with me later on, wrapped in a fur coat, “they have got an awful day before them.”
“What are Captain Bremner and Captain Haslem doing to-day?” I asked, suspecting that Maisie was thinking chiefly of them when she pitied the soldiery in general.
“Captain Bremner has gone sick,” said Maisie, with something that looked suspiciously like a smile, as she poured me out a cup of tea.
“Gone sick,” I exclaimed in surprise. “He seemed all right at the polo yesterday.”
“He was,” she nodded, nibbling daintily at a little bit of toast.
“Then what has happened since?”
“Nothing,” and there was no mistaking the smile now, “it happened before. The fact is he can’t appear on parade.”
“I do hope nothing has happened to that beautifully fitting uniform of his,” I said.
“Oh no, the uniform is all right,” Maisie explained, “the trouble is lower down. It happened yesterday morning. He had a beautiful pair of top boots, worn for the first time, and unexpectedly he had to walk two miles out, stand for five hours and then walk two miles home in them, and—they were much too tight at the top.”
I laughed, but I sympathised. It must have been so horribly annoying to have to fall out because one’s legs were not quite all there. I wonder how many more of the fifty thousand troops who were on duty that day had their own little tragedies too. Many of them were out for something like twelve hours, most of the time standing shoulder to shoulder under a broiling sun. There seemed to be troops everywhere. Even generals tumbled over one another on duty along the line of route; and officers of lesser rank, in every conceivable variety of uniform, hurried here and there, hot and dusty, but forceful and important. So great were the precautions taken, that not only was there one long phalanx of soldiers on either side of the route throughout its whole course, but even the roofs of the houses in the Chandni Chauk were said to be manned by soldiers in mufti, posing as loyal onlookers, ready with inconspicuous lathis to prod unwary suspects. It must have been an anxious morning for the police. Nobody doubted the loyalty of the immense concourse of people gathered to do homage to the first English King-Emperor who had ever entered the historic city, but what, as a nervous official said to me, is the loyalty of the crowd against the one man who throws a bomb, and throws it with unerring aim.
As we drove along the roads to our seats in the Reception Pavilion on the Ridge, there was an extraordinary air of suppressed excitement and expectation. The crowds on Coronation Day at home had been wonderfully keen, interested and loyal, but they were different from these. It takes an Oriental crowd to show the real excitement of anticipation. No other crowd is so easily swayed, so quickly carried off its feet by a wave of feeling. Yet, curiously enough, an Indian crowd, when the great moment for which it has so long and patiently waited comes, seldom cheers. Its instinct is to salaam in silence, and to give no audible expression to its welcome. The Royal entry into Delhi must have seemed lacking in enthusiasm to anyone not knowing this characteristic silence of an Eastern crowd at the great moment. When the Badshah passes by, the Indian salaams in awe and silence, and if at first the Englishman misses the loud-voiced greeting that he would expect in the West, I am not sure that, on second thoughts, the sight of a vast silent multitude respectfully salaaming is not more impressive. But so keen is the Englishman on hearing a noise, that the Indian troops are actually taught how to cheer.
“It is extraordinary how difficult it is to teach them at first,” Captain Denton told us as we drove along. “One of the first things I had to do after joining my regiment was to try and teach a lot of recruits to cheer. Their first efforts were amusing. They seemed so afraid of the sound of their own voices. One recruit was so nervous about it that he always got anxious when the time for cheering drew near, and I heard him say one day to the man next to him, in a hurried stage whisper, ‘Abhi tin hooray hoga?’ (Now will there be three cheers?)”
We started early enough to motor round the Ridge through the town, and it was a fascinating drive through the crowded streets, all too soon over, to be followed by a long wait in the blazing sun. The Reception Pavilion on the Ridge was in the form of two large semi-circles, with a broad road between them, the centre, on a level with the roadway, being devoted to high officials and Government guests, while behind on rows and rows of raised seats, under an awning, sat the other privileged guests. They were indeed privileged, for they had a protection overhead against the sun while we had not. Never shall I forget the heat as we sat there in the broiling sun from half-past nine till half-past one. It seemed to get hotter and hotter every moment, yet we had started out from our camp in fur coats. That is the annoying thing about the Indian climate. You are nearly always either too hot or too cold. Delhi was bitterly cold when the sun was not up, while during the day it could be simply grilling. The result was that you had to make yourself hotter in the middle of the day by clutching a great thick fur coat that you would be only too thankful for later on in the evening.
Fortunately that morning I was wearing a good big hat, for an English parasol is almost useless. How those gorgeous, but unfortunate, gentlemen in wigs, who sat in a hot semi-circle opposite to us, endured it I cannot imagine. A few of them had been wise and taken topis, and it was amusing to see them wearing them jauntily on the top of the wigs, or hanging the wigs on their knees and wearing the topis until the great moment came along. The others had only a little ineffective three-cornered hat, with which they vainly tried to dodge the sun. Even the other officials, great and small, in tight cloth uniforms plastered with heavy gold lace, must have found it hot enough.
The Bombay people had rather a rush to arrive in time, as they had to be present to speed the parting Royalties in Bombay and then get ahead of them to be present to receive them in Delhi. All the big officials, too, who received the King and Queen at the Selimgarh railway station had to hurry off, after doing so, to be present again at the Reception Pavilion on the Ridge. One programme of their proceedings amused us immensely, as it laid down that after doing their duty at the station they were “to move off at a smart trot for the Ridge.” The idea of those dignified celebrities moving off at a smart trot was delicious, and much beguiled the time of waiting for their arrival. Could the judges, in wig and gown, trot out as briskly as the Executive, weighted though the latter were with pounds of solid gold lace, but allowed the free use of the lower limbs, and who would set the pace and would they all arrive? They did eventually all arrive at a very smart pace indeed, but nearly all of them in motors.
I am not quite sure, by the way, that motors ought to have been allowed at all at Delhi. They looked so dreadfully modern and out of place. Of course, the whole Durbar was one long study in contrasts, but motors did seem a big sacrifice of the picturesque to mere convenience. A fine carriage and pair, with gorgeous syces and outriders on splendid prancing steeds, is such a much more satisfactory setting for an Indian Raja than a motor-car. It was the same with the Governors, the Lieutenant-Governors, the Councillors, and all other great folk. One had such a much greater respect for them in carriages than in motor-cars.
A small dais, covered with velvet of a peculiar magenta shade that simply shrieked at the scarlet uniforms, protruded into the road in front of the seats of the members of Council and other great folk. From it the Vice-President of the Council was to read the address of welcome. But it was a terrible stumbling block on the highway. Horses shied off it, and carriages nearly crashed into it, while it was very nearly smashed altogether by one gallant charger, whose gorgeous rider only just avoided crashing into an alighting Heaven-Born by swerving across it and scattering the high officials out of their beautiful carved chairs on the other side. Patiently we waited, with, alas! no band to enliven us, the tedium relieved only by exciting little incidents like these, until at last, after two hours in the baking sun, about half-past eleven there was a stir of expectation and the advance guards of the procession swung into sight. Smart and so thoroughly well turned out, as only an English company of soldiers can be, came rank after rank of mounted troops, looking none the worse for their early start and their long wait in the blazing sun.
But still no band, and the group of gorgeous but silent heralds that suddenly appeared came as a surprise. Clad in cloth of gold, with wonderful heraldic devices, and mounted on grey chargers, they might have ridden straight out of the Middle Ages, a dazzling company from an old-world pageant. Passing half to the right and half to the left, they formed up and blew a stirring fanfare on their silver trumpets. Rapidly a troop of scarlet body-guards filled the roadway in front of us and before we had quite realised what was happening, the King-Emperor himself was in the midst of us, riding a fine black charger, and looking splendid in his general’s uniform and white helmet, with a broad light blue ribbon across his breast. But, alas! it was only a fleeting glimpse that I got of him, and that only by craning my neck. Poor little Maisie, whose stature is not her great point, said she never saw him at all until she caught sight of the high official stepping on to the magenta velvet block and beginning to read the address.
He was so surrounded by his staff, and so hidden by the Queen’s carriage that had drawn up alongside, that we felt we were not allowed to see nearly enough of the principal figure in the pageant. But we consoled ourselves with an excellent view of the Queen, and she is always a joy to look upon. If ever a woman looked every inch a Queen, it is Queen Mary. She made a most regal-looking picture sitting in the State carriage, with the golden umbrella and the golden fan held over her by two brilliant scarlet-clothed chaprasis, alone on her side of the carriage, with the Mistress of the Robes and the Lord Steward opposite. Her stateliness and beautiful fair colouring make her a most satisfactory Royal figure, and when she smiles and bows she looks charming. She has a most taking way, too, of adding a little smiling nod to her first formal greeting that seems so nice and friendly and to include everybody.
Then, before one had time to take it all in, the address was over, the King-Emperor had replied and the procession had moved off again. Nobody even raised a cheer, and, beyond that one exhilarating blast on the silver trumpets, there had been no sound. We all wanted to cheer, but there was nobody to lead us. I think that was it, and it made one feel that the high officials really ought to have been drilled to cheer beforehand, like the native troops. If only they had brought out the State coach and the cream-coloured ponies, so that the King and Queen might have entered Delhi in that, it would have made such a difference. I am sure it would have appealed immensely to the people. Even I always feel an added thrill of loyalty when I see those fascinating cream ponies prancing and curvetting into view, and the wonderful crowned glass coach swaying behind them.
The most effective part of the procession, from the spectacular point of view, had still to come. Immediately behind the Queen’s carriage followed the Imperial Cadet Corps, with their glorious Star of India, blue turbans, white cloth tunics and glittering aigrettes, their coal-black horses caparisoned with snow-leopard skins as saddle-cloths. Then in one long brilliant procession, in simply bewildering array, came the Princes of India and their retinues; the Nizam, a sombre figure in black, but with a startling bodyguard in bright yellow, and his following of state officers in the well-appointed carriages; the Gaekwar, with his coloured hammer-cloths and be-wigged English coachmen; the gay retinue of dignified Mysore; the scarlet and silver footrunners of Kashmir, whose tiny Maharaja beamed happily on everybody; the led horses trained to caracole and prance, with draperies of silver network, and with solid silver birds perched all down their cruppers; a troop in ancient chain armour and helmets—all making a veritable feast of life and colour in the brilliant sunlight. One grew almost breathless with excitement as one watched it all go by.
The foot soldiers of Jeypore were like nothing one had ever seen before. Even the stately officials in the Reception Pavilion began to show animation as one wonder succeeded another. We actually let loose a cheer for the manly little boy Maharaja of Jodhpore, with his striking escort in white with grey turbans and silver tassels. The cheery little Nepalese every one loved, while the footmen who strode manfully on in the dust and the heat, in spite of being clad in purple velvet, won our deepest sympathy and admiration. One Raja brought a large mirror framed in gold and silver, and two or three came in real solid silver-gilt barouches, in which they reclined at ease in their wonderful embroidered satin coats with ropes of pearls and glittering kincob turbans—eating sandwiches. Two empty silver sedan chairs were solemnly carried past, the seat of one still carefully wrapped in tissue paper. It was quaint little touches like these that added so much to the interest of it all. One felt that this was a glimpse of the real India that, in spite of long years of British rule, the West has so little touched, the India with its strange mixture of squalor and magnificence, of great pretensions and such contempt for detail.
Some of the coach-boxes of the gorgeous carriages were piled up with old stable rugs, and horsecloths used in the early morning hours, while syces’ red dusters dangled prominently here and there, and the inevitable little bit of string, in the shape of a coil of rope, hung underneath. One careful retainer marched solemnly past, with his new green tunic tucked up round his waist to avoid the dust. An energetic but extremely ragged sweeper seized the opportunity of a momentary lull in the procession to rush out into the roadway, armed with his brush, and straightway began to raise a cloud of brick red dust. A pariah dog limped by, mangy and tired and evil looking. Then the gorgeous pageant went on again. The Begam of Bhopal got a tremendous cheer. Once having begun to cheer, that imposing company of great officials seemed to grow like schoolboys, wanting to cheer again and again. The Begam evidently thoroughly appreciated it, for in spite of the decorous blue silk veil, which only left holes for her eyes, one could see how gay she looked as she nodded and waved her hand.
For over an hour and a half after the King had gone by we watched the great procession, until at last Captain Denton came to tell us that it was nearing its end, and suggesting that we should go off quietly before the crush of people, all trying to get away at once, began. So, bravely joining a gay company of silver and gold halberdiers, we marched off down the road as if we were part of the procession and found our motor exactly where a capable Tommy-Bobby told us we should. Fortunately, in spite of the contempt I had poured upon the suggestion before starting, Maisie had insisted on bringing chocolates and biscuits—of which I had eaten the larger share—or we should both have been famished. As it was, I don’t think I ever enjoyed anything more in the way of food than that belated tiffin to which people dropped in one by one—hot, dusty and ravenous, but full of the great show they had just seen.
“It was a wonderful sight,” was Berengaria’s verdict, “and I have only one fault to find with it—the central figure ought to have been more prominent.”
I thought of that splendid elephant procession at the last Durbar, as we had seen it from the Jumma Musjid, and I wondered much why elephants were not to figure at all at this Durbar. They are so absolutely Oriental and imposing, it seemed a pity to have excluded them altogether, and surely it would have looked appropriate to see the King-Emperor and his Consort, robed and crowned, making their first entry into Delhi riding on an elephant, in a golden howdah.
“It was criminal, putting us all out in the sun like that,” averred Sir Peter Timms, as he sat down by me and mopped his face. “I can only imagine that it was the work of some junior official who hoped for rapid promotion by giving all the high officials sunstroke.”
“But you at least had a topi, Sir Peter,” I said cheerfully.
“I was not thinking of myself,” he said grandiloquently, “I was thinking of those poor inoffensive-looking men in wigs.”
“Still, it was a splendid sight,” I maintained, ignoring the personal inconvenience of a few in the general effect, “and if only they had given me the State coach and the eight cream-coloured ponies, or the elephants, I should have been quite content.”
I felt sure that it was due solely to English self-consciousness that there was not more visible enthusiasm at the State Entry. English people, in their hearts, love a pageant, but they think it rather beneath them to acknowledge it. So it is only after the pageant has been going on for some time that they finally get carried away and forget themselves and show their unfeigned pleasure in it. That is mostly what happened at Delhi. It was very interesting watching the crowds gradually warm up as the Durbar festivities proceeded. The first big function after the State entry—the unveiling of the King Edward Memorial—was, of course, not one where one would expect much audible enthusiasm. It was a solemn, imposing ceremony, fitly placed as the King-Emperor’s first act in Delhi, and, like everything else that followed, excellently organised. The capable way in which everything was managed struck one more and more as the days went by. In spite of the enormous crowds and the immense amount of traffic going to the various functions, there was never any trouble or confusion. The Tommies on duty seemed to know everything, answering every question with all the intelligence and assurance of the London Bobby.
Maisie and I went alone to the unveiling of the Memorial, but we had full confidence in Illman. He was wearing a large coloured badge that seemed to pass us through where other people were not allowed to go, a Tommy, where the roads diverged, just moving us right or left with his cane until we found ourselves on the open maidan, between the Jumma Musjid and the red walls of the Fort. There among hundreds of others we found our chairs in a railed-in circle, the centre of which was the unfinished pedestal, with a red-carpeted staircase leading to a red granite block ready suspended by a most unsightly crane. As before, we had splendid seats near the front row, just to the side of the dais on which the King and Queen were to stand.
The heat, if possible, was greater even than that of the day before, and as the afternoon wore on it seemed only to get hotter. We strolled about and talked to various acquaintances until the distant band on the other side of the enclosure struck up the National Anthem, and through the avenue made by a Scotch regiment on the one side, and the smart little Gurkhas on the other, the Royal procession walked up to the dais. We all stood and listened while some one read out the inscription which the King was going to unveil. It is a splendid inscription and brings back vividly the great personality of the man it commemorates. It struck one as so fitting that the first acts of their Majesties in Delhi should be to honour the first British King-Emperor of India who had done so much for the Empire. The inscription on the Memorial runs:—
Edward the Seventh—King and Emperor
Let this monument, erected by the voluntary donations of thousands and thousands of his subjects throughout the Indian Empire, the rich giving out of their wealth and the poor out of their poverty, bear witness to their grateful memory of his virtues and his might. He was the father of his people, whose diverse religions and customs he preserved impartially. His voice stood for wisdom in the councils of the world. His example was an inspiration to his Viceroys, his Governors, his Captains and the humblest of his subjects. His sceptre ruled over one-fifth of the dwellers upon earth. His justice protected the weak, rewarded the deserving, and punished the evil-doer. His mercy provided hospitals for the sick, food for the famine-stricken, water for the thirsty soil, and learning for the student. His sword was ever victorious. Soldiers of many races served in his great army, obeying his august commands. His ships made safe the highways of the ocean and guarded his wide dominion. By land and sea he ensured amity between nations of the world, and gave well-ordered peace to the people of his vast Empire. He upheld the honour of princes and the rights of the defenceless. His reign was a blessing to his well-beloved India, an example to the great, and an encouragement to the humble; and his name shall be handed from, father to son throughout all ages as a mighty Emperor, a merciful and a great Englishman.
It was an impressive moment as the King slowly mounted the steps and declared the stone well and truly laid. Then “God Save the King” stirred us, so that one brave man near me actually tried to raise a cheer and one or two more followed suit, but it seemed to stick in their throats and the cheer died away. In dead silence the Royal party walked back to their carriages.
But at the semi-final of the polo on the polo ground there was really an audible welcome, and when later the King walked over to see the football, which is so essentially Tommy’s one game in India, with only two or three of his suite in attendance, the enthusiasm was tremendous. It was the same again at the Torchlight Tattoo at night. It was quite clear that the enthusiasm was working up. The Tommies who had been admitted free on this occasion were there to give us a lead and nobody can cheer like Tommy unless it is an Eton or Harrow boy.
The Torchlight Tattoo was a beautiful sight. At intervals on the maidan were masses of blazing torches, carried by half-a-dozen or more different regiments taking part in the display. Group by group they performed various movements, their bands playing in turns and finally ending up in one big square, in the centre of the polo ground. When the whole lot of bands massed together burst into sound, we watched the electric light at the end of the conductor’s baton as if it were a wizard’s wand evolving magic music out of the dark. It was fascinating. Then the square of torches split up again and various figures were gone through, the pipers and Scotchmen having a performance all to themselves. When it was all over, in spite of many misgivings, we found our motor again without the least difficulty and got quickly home to a welcome supper of hot mulligatawny soup and caviare sandwiches, after what we all felt to have been a really well-spent day.
I am afraid that already I am exhausting my list of adjectives and I have not got near the two most wonderful things at Delhi yet. But there is no other word than magnificent for the State Service on Sunday. What, with the massed bands and the massed Bishops, the eight thousand troops and the crowd of worshippers on the open plain, it was just about as impressive as a service could well be. I have never seen so many bishops together before, and the way they distributed the service among them was so nice and friendly. As many as possibly could get something to say. The King and Queen sat on a dais under a canopy facing the altar, and I shall never forget the effect of those hymns: “The Church’s one foundation” and “Fight the good fight,” sung out there in the open, under the blue of an Indian sky, to the accompaniment of that tremendous volume of sound. It inspired one as no service within four walls could ever quite do. It was the one event during the Durbar in which Indians, as a whole, could not take part, yet I felt that it would be one that would appeal to them tremendously. Though the act of worship took a form in which they could not join, they were quick to appreciate the essential thing, the act of worship itself. The Indian people, whatever their differences of creed and caste may be, are above all things an intensely religious people and the respect for religion shown by their King-Emperor made a deep impression. There were many Indians with whom I talked of it and they all showed the same interest and appreciation.
“You saw the King-Emperor kneel and bend his head in prayer?” asked one, speaking of it reverently as of some sacred thing.
“Yes,” I answered, realising for the first time that what to my eyes was an accustomed act was to him a thing of wonder. That the great King-Emperor should himself kneel in prayer and supplication to a greater even than he moved him strangely.
“I would rather have seen that than anything else at Delhi,” he said slowly.
The look of awe and reverence on his own face was moving. Then his expression suddenly changed.
“If the King outwardly pays homage to religion, how is it that all his officials do not also do the same?” he asked me.
His question so surprised me that for a moment I hesitated. I felt that the honour of British officials in his eyes hung for a moment on my answer. What could I say to him?
“I think they do,” I answered him at last, knowing full well how many of them do not.
But he was not to be deceived. He shook his head at once.
“No,” he said, “I gave ground to build an English Church in Tondipur, my capital, but many of the high officials never go to it.”
How could I explain to him the infinite divisions among Christians, and that perhaps many of those high officials did not subscribe to the form of worship of that particular Church? I sought vainly in my mind for some exoneration of the Englishmen who failed in what this Indian fellow subject so naturally expected of them.
“Though they do not attend the Church,” was all I could say in their defence, “they doubtless, too, pay their homage to the King of Kings in private.”
He gave me a quick, beautiful smile, but I saw that he was not convinced.
“Ah!” he said softly, “but the King-Emperor knelt in public.”
On the Monday morning we awoke to a chilly grey world, clouds veiling the sun, and a mist hanging low over the camp. It looked as if the dire prophecies of the oldest inhabitant and other foreboders of evil were coming true. Rain alone now seemed to threaten the success of the Durbar. It would have been too tragic if it had rained on Durbar Day, just when every one was getting wound up to a thrilling pitch of expectation. However, by nine o’clock it looked more hopeful, and, remembering the grilling we had endured at the former open-air function, Maisie and I decided to sacrifice appearances, and don the large ugly sun topis which we had purchased in the bazaar, and whose innate ugliness we had tried to disguise in soft chiffon scarves. The event this morning was the trooping of the colours, and we made our way once more to the now familiar polo ground. There, drawn up in the centre, was a hollow square, the living lines composed of eight beautiful regiments, a mass of scarlet, surmounted by spotless white topis, and finished off below by varieties of dark garments, kilts, spats or trews. In their accustomed place at the opposite end of the green lawn were the massed bands, flanked by crowds of soldier spectators, while we sat on our usual seats on the terraced slope that divided the two polo grounds. If Lord Curzon had never done anything else but invent these wonderful mounds and polo grounds he would still deserve to be immortalised. Throughout all the great events, one saw his handiwork continually, evidence of the genius that had made the Durbar of 1902 so great a success, and shown the way for all Durbars to come. There were many of us to whom his memory was ever present in the Durbar of to-day, and from whom the vision of that gracious queenly figure moving beside him here, nine years ago, the American Vicereine of whom we were so proud and whom we so sincerely mourn, will never fade. I always hoped Lord Curzon realised how strong his memory remained in the Delhi of to-day.
This time we had seats in the very front row, which I admit I have a weakness for. It is not so much that they are the chief seats in the synagogue, though, of course, that counts, but I hate having to peer underneath somebody else’s hat, or squint over the top of it and get what view I can between the feathers. Even the men wore great big topis, that it is to be hoped kept the sun off them as effectually as it kept the view from other people, while no one could really complain if a woman did hold up a parasol in that heat, even though it made a dead wall in front of you. Even in the first row our view was threatened, and it was only with difficulty that our stalwart escort, Captain Denton, managed to clear away some of the seedy-looking crowd who were all trying to make two cinematograph cameras answer for their presence in front of us, while some of the more obnoxious specimens of my own sex, who had pushed their illegitimate way along the road kept clear for the Royal approach, were finally routed by a determined little Tommy. So, finally we had a splendid view of the whole proceedings, besides being able to watch Her Majesty, who was seated in the shamiana close to us.
Punctually to the minute the King rode on to the ground on his black charger, with his brilliant staff and aides-de-camp, and this time there was no mistaking him. He rode forward quite alone, and, dismounting at a scarlet block, walked slowly a little way on to the maidan opposite the eight groups of drums on which the new colours were laid. Then the landau drove up and the Queen, looking perfectly charming in an eau-de-nil dress with the flowing train which she rightly thinks so much more becoming than the present tight skirts, and a hat covered with sweet peas, stepped out and took her seat on the most arrantly inartistic pink silk chair that had been provided for her on the dais. Lady Hardinge and Lady Creagh stood near her, the former’s small daughter chattering away with others in attendance. It all looked so bright and cheerful, with none of the chilliness of the first two ceremonies. Then the blessing of the colours by the Bishop of Lahore, supported by two other bishops, was most impressive. The representatives of the Church of Scotland prayed over the Highland flags, and, lastly, the Roman Catholic Bishop, exchanging his green tasselled solar topi for a golden mitre and donning a golden cope, advanced with his two chaplains and blessed the colours of the Connaught Rangers. With slow and dignified step the chosen officers approached His Majesty, bearing the flags, and through one’s glasses one could appreciate the fact that it was all perfectly done, even to the smallest movement, as they advanced and gave the colours into the King’s hands and received them back on bended knee. Then the officers bearing them took up their places in front of the old colours, and the one pathetic little touch of the ceremony came as these were slowly carried away to the rear to the strains of “Auld Lang Syne.” What memories of many days went with them! But to-day we were there to acclaim the new, and “God Save the King” brought us to our feet, with an added thrill of loyalty. It was a perfect joy to hear and see the cheers that followed. With helmets raised on bayonets, those Tommies cheered with every little bit of breath in their bodies, first three for the King and then three more for the Queen. All of us women are nursemaids at heart where a red coat is concerned, and if there was one of us there who was not moved she was not a true woman. Anyway, it was a magnificent show and smart uniforms are to be much encouraged.
This part of the ceremony over, the King and his Staff mounted, the Royal carriage came round, and the whole brilliant cavalcade rode out of one gate and through the next on to the other polo ground, where three Indian regiments were waiting to receive their colours. Here the proceedings were much shorter as there were no prayers, the Commander-in-Chief reading out an exhortation in the vernacular. Afterwards their Majesties drove slowly round the inside of the great square of native soldiers who had won some mark of distinction, saying a few kind words as they passed, and one felt glad that these faithful soldiers of the King had seen him close at hand and got into touch with him, as it were, as a splendid preparation for the great Durbar that was to take place on the morrow.
Everything that had gone before had been but a preparation for to-day. The Durbar itself was the great event that had called us together and, as it drew near, one was conscious of an extraordinarily tense feeling of excitement in the air. Englishmen are the very last people in the world to get excited and to show it, and Indian officials are adepts at wearing a mask, but the whole atmosphere of Delhi was so alive with expectation that even the most rigidly official of officials showed something of it. Not only would the 12th of December assuredly mark an epoch in Indian history, in that a British King-Emperor would appear for the first time crowned among his Indian subjects, but there were rumours, which seemed to gather force as the day approached, of an announcement to be made of such importance that it would materially affect the administration of the Indian Empire. Great boons were to be granted to the Indian people. It was extraordinary how that word passed from mouth to mouth, with eager expectation before and with unbounded astonishment after the famous Twelfth. The wildest rumours floated about as to what the boons were going to be. Everybody talked and no one knew. If there was a secret, it was certainly astonishingly well kept. Not even some of the highest officials knew whether there was anything in the rumour or not.
“I don’t for a moment believe there will be any important announcement at all to-morrow,” one of the most important officials told me some twenty-four hours before the Durbar. “India is a place where there is always some wild rumour or other floating about and all this talk, you will find, will prove to be nothing but wild conjecture without an ounce of truth in it.”
“The occasion is important enough in itself,” said another. “It does not need any further announcement to mark it.”
Berengaria, too, assured me as we sat at breakfast the morning before that Sir John didn’t know, and, when I hinted as tactfully as I could that perhaps he really did know but wouldn’t say, she shook her head.
“John might keep an official secret from me,” she said with a smile, “I should quite approve of his doing that if he had to do it, but there is one thing John could not do. He could not keep me from knowing that he had a secret to keep. John doesn’t know.”
But that same afternoon at the polo Berengaria beckoned to me to come and sit beside her.
“John knows,” she whispered.
“Has he told you?” I whispered back excitedly. All this mystery had made one as curious as if it were a matter of personal importance to oneself.
Berengaria shook her head, with an expressive little shrug.
“Then how do you know he knows?” I asked.
“I’ve lived with him for eighteen years,” she smiled, “he was told this morning, but he has not told me.”
“How exciting,” I said, feeling my curiosity growing upon me. “Haven’t you really the least idea what is going to happen?”
But Berengaria shook her head again.
“None whatever,” she said regretfully, “and you can be sure that I am speaking the truth because, if I knew, you couldn’t fail to see that I was dying to tell you.”
“I wonder how many people really know,” I said.
“A dozen men and not a single woman” was Berengaria’s prompt reply, as the neglected polo having come to an end we got up to walk about. “The order went forth that not a single woman was to know. I wonder what the suffragettes would say to that.”
That night after dinner I tackled the Lieutenant- Governor himself.
“Well, John,” I said, making room for him beside me on the couch and carefully watching his expression, “what are the great announcements going to be to-morrow?”
Poor John looked tired and worried.
“What!” he exclaimed, holding up his hands in mock despair, “you too drawn into the vortex of Indian intrigue. Now be a nice kind cousin and talk to me of something else—anything else you like under the sun but nothing to do with India. Much as I love it, there are times when I long to get out of it and to draw in a real good draught of English air.”
So for a time we talked of other things and John told me of the plans that he and Berengaria were already making for settling down at home after their retirement. But there, in the midst of the great Durbar camp, it was impossible long to remain away from the all absorbing topic. We looked at each other and smiled as we found ourselves nearing it again.
“Couldn’t you really tell me just a little tiny bit, John,” I said beguilingly. “It’s ten o’clock now and I couldn’t do much harm even if I wanted to, and I promise you I won’t tell a soul.”
Poor John threw up his hands again.
“Why, I can’t even tell Berengaria,” he said, with a little rueful smile, “and there are not many secrets I have ever kept from her.”
“Then why not tell her this one?”
“No woman is to be allowed to know,” he whispered.
I laughed softly, for John had told me something.
“Then there is a secret to tell?” I said. But he had risen to go and the official mask had fallen over him again.
“You must wait and see, Nicola,” was all he said, with rather a weary smile. “You must wait and see.”
From which little conversation and John’s manner I gathered that the Lieutenant-Governor of the Northern Provinces did know, and that the Lieutenant-Governor of the Northern Provinces did not quite approve.
“I know, I know,” exclaimed Berengaria excitedly, as I saw her for a moment before we started on the following morning, “John didn’t tell me, but I know, and I can’t stay speaking to you a moment longer because I have promised not to tell and, if I do, I shall. It’s the most amazing thing that you or I or anybody else has ever heard.”
So it was with my curiosity and expectation raised to the highest possible pitch that we set out for the great Durbar. Joining an endless throng of conveyances of every conceivable sort, we crept slowly along Kingsway, down which the Royal procession would come later. There had been an air of excitement abroad on the morning of the State Entry, but it was nothing to this. Everybody seemed alive with interest. There would be no lack of enthusiasm to-day. We were early as usual, and so reached the great amphitheatre without the smallest difficulty. So perfect had all the arrangements been that even on that morning of all mornings, when every available conveyance was crowding towards the one central spot, we saw our motor disappear as we alighted, in the sure and certain hope that it would be at once available when we needed it again. The great amphitheatre had been altered out of recognition since the last Durbar. The former horseshoe structure had been cut down to a broad semi-circle covered over with a beautiful white roof, deeply carved under the wide eaves, and surmounted at intervals by graceful cupolas on slender pillars. Opposite the centre of it, and distant from it only about twenty yards, stood the open crimson and gold pavilion, under which was the raised dais with the golden thrones.
Facing this great semi-circle—dedicated to high officials, Government guests and distinguished strangers—but with a wide arena in between, was another much bigger semi-circle composed of an enormous earthen terraced mound, on which were seated thousands of native spectators. They made a gorgeous patch of colour, looking in the distance like some immense bed of tulips, their different coloured puggarees being, in places, grouped together in blocks, giving a dazzlingly uniform effect. Opposite this enormous amphitheatre stood a second Pavilion with two more thrones high up on a raised dais, under a golden dome, so that the vast crowd of native spectators representing the millions of India might see their Sovereigns face to face. A carpeted pathway connected the two Pavilions along which their Majesties would pass. It was a brilliantly conceived arrangement, giving so many thousands an opportunity of seeing what was after all the great event of the whole Durbar—the crowned King and Queen upon their thrones as Emperor and Empress of India.
The long wait was again delightful. The continuous stream of arrivals was a pageant in itself. The seats were so well arranged in our amphitheatre that there was plenty of room to stroll about from one part to another and gossip with one’s friends, or promenade about below on the broad red carpeted gangway bordering the carriage road, in front. The whole place was alive with Politicals and A.D.C.’s receiving the Indian Princes and marshalling them to their seats or instructing them what to do. Conversations overheard were most amusing. One Indian potentate, magnificent in white figured satin, with diamond aigrette, and dog collar, and ropes and ropes of pearls, seemed particularly worried about his homage. I heard him say, anxiously, to a friend who was standing beside him, “There’s no hand-kiss, is there?” To which his friend confidently replied, “No, no, only Viceroy hand-kiss.” “Hush,” said a third, turning round to speak to them, “mustn’t say ‘Viceroy.’ Can’t have Viceroy and Roy at same time. Viceroy only Governor-General now,” which, of course, was true, but which was a thing I had never thought of before. Another conversation overheard was between two dignified English officials who sat just behind me. There had been elaborate notices in most of the camps as to precautions against fire, and prescribing measures to be taken in case of an outbreak: on the first alarm one was instructed to heave one’s stove out of the door with the greatest possible promptitude. To one of the dignified gentlemen who sat behind me those instructions had nearly been disastrous.
“When the Honours’ list came round to our camp last night,” I heard the more dignified of the two saying, “old Donkins had gone to bed. But I thought it would ease his mind to know that he really had got his K., so I hurried off to rout him out and tell him. His tent was all dark save for the remains of a fire in his stove, so I called out to him from the doorway, and what do you think the silly ass did? He jumped out of his sleep and thought it was an alarm of fire, and before I knew what he was doing he had seized the stove, and had rushed upon me with it as I stood in the doorway. I only just brought him to his senses in time.”
“H’m,” said the other after a laugh, “there’s no chance of my doing that. My wife’s in such a funk of fire that I have to carry the blessed stove out into the cold every night before she’ll go to sleep.”
A third remark overheard concerned a bewigged and gowned little company who were just arriving.
“Who are those?” asked a fresh young English voice.
“Those,” came in slow, elderly, motherly tones, as the owner peered through her lorgnettes, “those, I think, must be a kind of Proctor.”
“What Jack calls the Proggins?” the first voice asked excitedly, “Oh, mummy, I am glad to have seen the Proggins, I must write and tell Jack.”
They were really the very distinguished Judges of a very distinguished Court!
The arrival of the Chiefs was almost a repetition of the State Entry, save that it was more gorgeous, each one having a little procession of his own. They were a wonderful company in their gilt and silver carriages, upholstered in every conceivable colour of silk and satin and velvet. For an hour and a half we watched them arrive, at the back of the amphitheatre, the glittering array varied by the more sober arrivals of Governors, Lieutenant-Governors, Councillors and Judges. The way some of those Indian Princes carried themselves was a study in deportment. The older ones were the very personification of dignity, while as for the younger men, slim, tall, and of wonderful springy lissomeness, in their splendid jewels and puggarees and waving aigrettes, they were perfect models of manly grace and high born distinction.
“If only all Englishmen might have had something of that same distinction,” I said, as I stood talking to John and Berengaria and watching the long stream of arrivals.
“But we should not have been here, had we been other than we are,” was the practical John’s reply, and I suppose he was right. I suppose it is the solid, businesslike, unshowy qualities of the Englishman which have enabled him to get where he is. Yet one cannot but sympathise with those magnificent native Rajas—the very essence of courtesy and breeding in their outward bearing—when they find some hard, dull plebeian Englishmen sent to represent the British Government at their Courts or at the head of their districts. I was told that not long since a Raja or Maharaja was suspected of dabbling in sedition and it was considered necessary in the interest of the public service to open his letters in the post. But the only thing they contained that had the remotest connection with politics was a bitter complaint, in one of the letters to a friend, that an official who was not a gentleman had been sent to rule over his district.
“There would have been no sedition,” John once said to me, “if only all of us Englishmen in India had been Sahibs.”
“An ounce of tact goes further in India than tons of brain,” Berengaria had added, “but how few there are that realise it.”
As we watched that great company assembling, I could not help wondering how many English men and women among them realised the deep significance of it all. Were they most of them regarding it just as a wonderful show, or was the real meaning of it brought home to them? Did they realise then, if never before, what a heritage was theirs, and what a tremendous responsibility? I, who was born an American and had only become an Englishwoman by marriage, could scarcely contain myself with the pride and glory of it. With English people it is so difficult to tell whether they are moved or not. Anything excitable I should have detested, yet one longed for some outward and visible sign. It came later and I was satisfied, trusting that it was not a fleeting emotion, but one that would remain always. I cannot imagine anyone who was there that day ever forgetting.
“I sometimes think,” said Berengaria softly, voicing something of my thoughts, “that we shall only truly realise our greatness when it has gone.”
I turned to her quickly.
“Don’t,” I said, “I can never think of an Englishman except as top dog.”
“Ah!” John spoke with that curious lowering of the voice that only came to him rarely, when he was deeply moved. “It only wants the first alarm of danger to rouse us up. Every Englishman would die at his post rather than give in. That is our strength.”
Then, when we were feeling moved beyond the common with the wonder and greatness of it all, there fell over the whole assembly a sudden silence.
There had been no signal. The majority of us, I think, did not even know what was coming. It was one of those pulsating moments when a vast crowd is moved by a common but unexpected impulse. The abrupt cessation of the babbling of many voices, without command or signal, was impressive beyond description. It was a speaking silence. Quietly we subsided into our seats and sat waiting. It was only then that I saw for the first time that Sir Peter Timms’s seat was next to mine.
“What is it?” he whispered. Even he seemed subdued and expectant.
“Wait,” I whispered back, listening for far off sounds out of the stillness. “Wait. They are coming.”
I knew for whom we were waiting. Memories of nine years ago came back to me. Those moments I had lived through then were moments that stood out in one’s life and that one does not forget. Out of the far distance faint strains of music coming nearer wove themselves into a tune, “See the Conquering Hero comes.” Then, when the strains seemed almost unbearable, they came slowly into sight. My eyes were so dim that I saw them only through a mist. So old and feeble were many of them that one trembled lest even that short road should be too long for them and they would never reach their appointed seats. But others, stronger and holding themselves still proudly erect, helped their weaker comrades. Englishmen and Indians side by side as they had fought so long before. Fifty-four years! Already the Indian Mutiny is fading out of sight among long since forgotten things. It comes almost as a shock to one to realise that there are still many alive to-day who remember it as if it were but yesterday.
For many reasons it is well that the memory of it should be softened in the greater trust and sympathy of later days, yet no Englishman worthy of the name, for all time to come, can cease to do honour to those who fought for England and to those who, in spite of so great temptations, remained loyal in the hour of the Great Betrayal. And those were all that remained in India, all who were not too feeble and bowed down with years, to come to play their part in the great triumph of to-day. In all the strength, and joy, and pride, and glory of the Durbar, they alone were old and weak. All was splendour and magnificence in that immense arena. They alone were the only sad, pathetic touch. Yet feeble and helpless as they were, one realised that they had played no insignificant part in making possible the ceremony of to-day. Without the heroism and devotion of these and their fellows, many of whom have long since gone to their rest, there would have been no crowning of the King-Emperor in his imperial city. They had come out of the strife and darkness of the past to bring us this great triumph of to-day.
Then suddenly, when every pulse throbbed to the triumphant notes of the music that accompanied them, there came a change. The music ceased. One breathless moment of silence followed and then the strains of “Auld Lang Syne.” It was a dramatic change from triumph to pathos and it made its quick appeal. They were passing, this gallant company, this memory of an olden time. Never again, perchance, would they grace an Imperial triumph, for there was not one of them in whom the sands of life had not run low. They were passing, with all their tragic memories, to be swallowed up in the triumph of to-day. But before they passed the recognition that they had deserved of England came to them. If it had never been brought home to them before, it came to them in the moment when that vast assembly of all that was best and greatest in the land rose to do them honour and cheered and cheered again. And so the veterans of the Mutiny, acclaimed by that great multitude, passed slowly to their seats.
The tears were still in my eyes as I turned to Sir Peter Timms.
“It is good to be an Englishman to-day,” I said.
For a moment he was silent, staring straight before him. Then he slowly turned and looked at me.
“Yes, it is good,” was all he said, but there was the suspicion of tears in his eyes too. I said no more, knowing now that there was hope even for Sir Peter Timms.
Then, having paid our homage to the loyalty and devotion of others, we prepared to give expression to our own. The stir of expectation was electrical. The great moment of the whole Durbar was at hand. A glittering escort trotted up and in a four-horse carriage preceded by the body-guard came the Governor-General and Lady Hardinge, the latter exquisitely dressed as usual in a beautiful grey dress and toque. Then in quick succession came a brilliant throng of notables, the Queen’s brother, the Duke of Teck, the Master of the Robes, Lord Crewe, and many others, with their smart uniforms and gay dresses making charming patches of colour over the lower steps of the pavilions, and finally settling down on the little blue and gold chairs arranged for them on either side of the dais.
Then once more there was a pause. Far off we heard the distant blare of trumpets and we sat expectantly. At last they were coming. A crowd of fascinating little Indian pages, the sons of the greatest Chiefs and Princes in the land, advanced to the front of the dais, dressed in glittering kincob and white satin, golden waist cloths and golden shoes, with great jewelled turbans on their tiny little heads. As they were carefully marshalled on the steps, the guns boomed out and the strains of “God Save the King,” played far off, could just be faintly heard in the silence that had fallen on us. Away across the great arena we caught a glimpse of mounted troops moving slowly onwards. Gradually the music drew nearer with a great roar of cheering ever about it, and then at last, passing in front of the great open amphitheatre beyond, we could just distinguish the swaying golden umbrellas and the line of pale blue where the Imperial Cadet Corps rode behind the Royal Carriage. But already the head of the procession had reached us, hundreds and hundreds of mounted troops passing by at a foot’s pace, a magnificent company of men that should have rejoiced the heart of any Englishman. Then the six bays with their outriders and postilions came in sight, and the great carriage slowly circled round in front of us and drew up opposite the pavilion.
The cheering that had accompanied them all round the arena swelled to a deafening roar as they arrived. Englishmen had learned to cheer at last. There could be no mistaking the loyalty and enthusiasm to-day. But again, with one of those dramatic changes that seemed to be so marked a feature of the day’s proceedings, the cheering suddenly ceased as the Queen slowly alighted. While the National Anthem, was played, the King Emperor remained in the carriage while the Queen, a regal figure, stood on the steps of the dais and waited. Then the King, too, alighted, and taking her hand—the little pages carefully lifting each enormous purple ermine-bordered train—they slowly mounted the steps. For a moment, at the top, they stood, a most Royal pair in crowns and robes and orders, and then first to one side and then to the other they bowed with charming grace and dignity before seating themselves upon their thrones. The tiny pages after arranging the trains, with delightful sang-froid and utter lack of self-consciousness, took up their places on the steps below, and for a few seconds there was no sound or movement.
Then the King rose and the Queen stood by him. Every word of the Proclamation, as he read it, could be heard from where we were. His is a wonderful voice, clear and distinct and with wonderful carrying powers, and, above all, he speaks English like an Englishman. But all the time my eyes were riveted on the Queen. She was wearing her exquisite Coronation dress of white and gold, with a broad blue ribbon across her breast, the purple train falling gracefully over the steps, her diamond crown and the jewels at her throat flashing in the sunlight. She looked magnificent. It is indeed fortunate that England has so truly regal-looking a pair to send to play their parts in the dignified and pomp loving East. As they reseated themselves, the Imperial Cadet Corps, having dismounted, trooped up on either hand to take their places and form an exquisite pale blue background to the dais.
The ceremony of paying homage followed. The Governor-General left his seat and walking up the shallow steps kissed the Royal hand, and walked backwards down again. The Commander-in-Chief and the Members of the Viceroy’s Executive Council came next, but none of them kissed the King’s hand and so were spared the ordeal of ascending and descending backwards those three steps at the foot of the throne. The Ruling Chiefs followed, one by one, each in his strictly observed order of precedence, a wonderful gathering of different races drawn from all quarters of the Indian Empire, and bound together only by this common allegiance to the same King-Emperor. Those were thrilling moments as they came, in one long continuous line, drawn from the east and from the west, and from the north and from the south, in every variety of garb and as unlike as men well could be. From the snowy heights of the Himalaya to the furthest limits of Ceylon. From the Shan States to the sandy reaches of the Persian Gulf, they came in one long glittering company to lay a common homage at the same King-Emperor’s feet. It was the first time in history that all India had paid personal homage to its Emperor and one felt that one was witnessing an event that for all time would be remembered in history.
The young Nizam, who had so recently succeeded his father, led the way, soberly dressed in black, and making his obeisance with dignified respect. Of all those that came after him, it is possible only to remember a few. It was so dazzling an array that it is only the general impression that for the most part remains. Even the most striking figures were but single units in the kaleidoscope, and it is only here and there that one stands out. None could forget tiny Kashmir, beautiful in white damask and enormous turban, smiling broadly at the general applause, or Jeypore, in black, making his graceful, deep salaams, or little fourteen year old Jodhpore in cloth of gold. Oodeypore, in his stiff starched skirt, looked as if he had walked straight out of a picture of Akbar’s day. One charming little incident came as a break in the long procession. A tiny train-bearer rose up from his seat on the steps of the throne and gravely offered homage, returning slowly to his place and to his occupation of tracing the pattern on the Queen’s throne.
Then the procession went on again, a stream of green, scarlet, gold and white, blue brocade and purple silk, gorgeous as to its headgear and mostly patent leather as to its shoes. And all the time their Badshah bowed, returning their salutes, while the Queen-Empress sat like a gracious smiling statue. The Begam of Bhopol, the only woman of them all, won great applause as she advanced, a strangely silent figure, completely covered in gold tissue. One potentate, in a hat trimmed with red fringe and his hair in a long plait, and wearing what to Western eyes looked like a dressing gown, in brilliant orange, and native slippers, was loudly cheered as he gravely took off his hat. The little Shan chiefs, in as many pointed spikes as their own pagodas, afforded fresh variety. Some who carried swords laid them down at their feet as they rendered homage. Then came a more soberly clad company of Governors, Lieutenant-Governors, Councillors and Judges, relieved again and again by the lesser Chiefs of the various provinces. Ranjitsinhji, not in cricketing flannels, was loudly cheered, and so was the Agha Khan, the spiritual ruler, who came up all alone, in an astrakhan Persian cap and heavily embroidered gown.
At last the wonderful procession came to an end, and another scene in the splendid pageant began. Rising from their thrones, the King and Queen slowly descended the steps, the little pages once more clinging to the yards and yards of heavy purple velvet, and the gorgeous chobdars bearing the maces and fly whisks and fans and umbrellas. In stately procession, they all moved off towards the second pavilion under its golden dome in the middle of the opposite arena. Before them, the whole distance, down the steps and up again, the Lord Steward and the Lord Chamberlain walked backwards, bearing their wands of office. Their Majesties, in their crowns and robes, the glittering pages and the brilliant uniforms of the staff, in the glorious mid-day sunlight of a December day in Delhi, made a picture never to be forgotten. Beyond it rose up a fitting setting, the enormous amphitheatre, with its thousands of coloured turbans, flowing like huge banks of flowers, the lofty white pavilion, with its golden dome, and rank on rank of soldiery. Slowly the Royal procession ascended the steps and we could just see the King and Queen standing facing the people as the roars of cheering came to us like one mighty sea of sound.
I think that was the most thrilling moment of the whole Durbar. The King had proclaimed himself to the Chiefs and Princes and Rulers of India. Now he had gone to show himself to his people, and his people were acclaiming him with no uncertain voice. It was, by his express wish, I was told, that a very large portion of that immense outer mound was thrown open to any one who might wish to come, so that even the poorest of his Indian subjects might have free access to witness the great ceremony. So, absorbed in watching the far off scene, we sat and waited, hearing only the silver trumpets and the band, but knowing that the Proclamation was being read again, in English and in Urdu. At its conclusion, the Royal Standard ran up and floated above the golden dome, while the booming of the long salute of one hundred and one guns began. First, thirty-four guns, then a wonderful feu de joie that, commencing near at hand seemed to run away till it lost itself in the distance, followed by the first bars of the National Anthem; then thirty-three guns, the feu de joie and the National Anthem; and again thirty-four guns, the feu de joie and the National Anthem. It was impressive beyond words, sitting through the slow firing of those guns. There is always something awe-inspiring in the deep booming of a gun saluting, and, when one remembered the message that these salutes were sending out to all India, one could not fail to be impressed, while the repetition of the National Anthem only served to emphasise its beauty and solemnity.
As they finished, there was a pause, and we knew that the Governor-General was reading out the boons conferred upon his Indian subjects by the King-Emperor in commemoration of his Coronation. Of course, it was impossible to hear from where we were, and on our side of the amphitheatre we sat in an expectant silence. Once more the silver trumpets rang out, to be followed by three cheers for the King-Emperor, which literally rent the air in their intensity. We could see that wonderful mass of colour on the further mound swayed to and fro like flowers in a summer breeze, as his Indian subjects cheered their Badshah. The three cheers more for the Queen were no less hearty, and as they died away we saw the magnificent procession moving back again towards us. The enthusiasm as the great Durbar drew to its close was intense. Even the most reserved and cautious of Englishmen seemed to forget themselves. I had been too much absorbed in the whole thing to think of anybody else, but it was impossible not to feel the wave of enthusiasm that surrounded you. One felt literally as if one were being swept off one’s feet. I glanced once at Sir Peter Timms and he was watching it all with fascinated interest. I felt that even he who had come deliberately to scoff might remain to praise. I said no word, trusting to the wonderful sight that we had seen to have its own effect.
The glittering procession had again reached the first pavilion, and the King and Queen, mounting the steps, had once more taken their seats on the thrones. Once more the tiny pages had arranged the immense trains over the arms of the chairs and draped them down the steps, while the Governor-General and the brilliant suites had disposed themselves on the dais as before. When all was still the Heralds trotted up and blew another silver blast from their trumpets. For a moment we waited breathless. If anyone had doubted whether some great announcement was going to be made, we knew it then. There was an extraordinary tension in the air. Slowly the King-Emperor rose to his feet, with a paper in his hand, and, in the midst of a silence that could be felt, read out in his loud clear voice the startling announcement that literally took away the breath of all India. I shall never forget the blank astonishment that fell upon that enormous crowd. Each sentence, fraught with such vast import, that fell from the King-Emperor’s lips came like a thunderbolt among his hearers. It was the King himself who had thrown a bomb. “The transfer of the seat of the Government of India from Calcutta to the ancient capital of Delhi.” One could almost feel the great assembly start in its surprise. “The creation of a Governorship for the Presidency of Bengal, of a new Lieutenant-Governorship in Council for Behar, Chota Nagpore, and Orissa, and of a Chief Commissionership for Assam.” The amazement deepened. The Partition of Bengal had been undone. “It is our earnest desire that these changes may conduce to the better administration of India and the greater prosperity and happiness of our beloved people.” The King had finished speaking.
The scene that followed was the most extraordinary I have ever witnessed. Astonishment and incredulity were on every face. A few tried to cheer, but most were silent, struck dumb at the momentous announcements that had fallen so unexpectedly upon them or eagerly asking their neighbours if they could possibly have heard aright. The great secret had been well kept, surely the best kept secret in all history. Officials in the highest positions, and some of those most nearly concerned, had not been given even an inkling of that which was to come. There was nothing wanting to the dramatic nature of the surprise. I looked at Sir Peter.
“I can’t grasp it,” he said, like one dazed. “I can’t grasp it. It’s too colossal.”
“I feel as if a bomb had been thrown at me,” I gasped, and I think that that was the feeling of most people there.
But before we had recovered, while we were still gaping under the shock of it, the Heralds blew their final blast on the silver trumpets, and we all found ourselves singing “God save the King.” It was a splendid effort. We all sang it with a will, as an outlet to our pent up emotions, and forgetful for the moment in our loyalty of the amazing announcements that had just been made. We felt, I think, that, whatever our later conclusions might be as to the wisdom of the changes foretold, the King himself was not responsible, and that both he and the Queen had played their parts splendidly in the historic pageant that was closing. So we sang “God save the King” with all our hearts, and whatever we possessed in the way of voices. Slowly, as it ended, their Majesties descended the steps and entered their carriage. The great procession reformed and moved out of sight at a walk, the King and Queen smiling and bowing till the last. The great Durbar was over.
“It was magnificent,” Sir Peter Timms said, as we moved away. “It was the most magnificent thing I have ever seen.”
I looked at him in surprise. I had felt uncomfortably certain that his first words would be some criticism of the great announcements. I had dreaded having to speak to him after it was all over lest he should say something that I should resent. But he seemed for the moment quite to have forgotten the boons. The splendour of the Durbar, as a whole, had swallowed up all else. In the midst of my astonishment and relief at Sir Peter’s chastened frame of mind, I suddenly saw the comic side of it. I thought of all his previous denunciations.
“But think of the expense,” I said wickedly, glancing at him out of the corner of my eye, “only think of the awful expense of it all.”
Sir Peter turned and positively glared upon me.
“Expense,” he snorted, bubbling over with even a greater than his usual indignation, “who would ever think of talking of expense when it was a question of a thing like that? Why, I would have given my last farthing rather than have missed it.”
How I wished that every Englishman, especially those not yet imbued with the Imperial idea, might have seen that Durbar too. There could have been none who would not have felt an added pride in his birthright; who would not have been inspired by that sight into a sturdier patriotism. There would have been not an Englishman left who was not an out and out Imperialist, eager to play his part in the great and glorious burden of the Empire.
After the Durbar itself, there was no doubt, to my mind, that the most interesting event was the Garden Party in the Fort. Now a garden party sounds a very ordinary and a very tame affair in the midst of so much pageantry, but this was no ordinary garden party. It was just a fairy tale come true.
The famous Fort was a fitting setting to the scene. The inscription on the walls of the Dewan-i-Khas, with its proud boast, speaks true. “If there is a Paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this.” Not only is that true of the exquisite building itself, with its delicate traceries and chiselled marble columns, amidst which the famous peacock throne once stood in all its glory, it is true of the whole Fort, with its massive red walls towering with all the appearance of strength, but with none of its grimness, round the level green lawns and the shallow marble waterways that broaden out here and there into little pools of liquid clearness reflecting kiosque and cupola. All along the eastern boundary of the Fort are the beautiful Royal apartments of the Moghul Emperors, the square marble pillars and domed ceilings, carved with the most exquisite bas-reliefs picked out with gold and brilliant colours, that even after centuries have not faded. Against the red of the walls and paths and the fresh green of the lawns, the sunk flower beds, a blaze of colour, formed vivid contrasts. As the guests arrived and moved about, the beautiful English dresses vying with the uniforms of soldiers and Politicals and the infinite variety and splendour of the Indian costumes, one already felt transported to some fairy scene. But this, magnificent as it was, one knew was but a part of the great event of to-day.
There was something still to come that would render it unique in history. Not only were the King-Emperor and Queen-Empress to grace this great gathering of their subjects, Indian and English, within the walls of the Fort where their predecessors, the old Moghul Emperors, had so long ruled, but, later, they were to perform the Darshin ceremony which none living had ever seen, but which was still among the Indian people a great tradition. Clad in their robes and crowned, the King-Emperor and Queen-Empress were to show themselves to the people outside the Fort from the famous balcony in the octagonal tower from which Aurungzebe himself and many another Moghul Emperor had looked down upon his people. There were five thousand privileged guests to meet their Majesties within the Fort. Outside there had gathered one of the largest crowds that had surely ever drawn together in the world. Those who erred on the side of caution estimated the number at a quarter of a million. Others refused to believe that there were less than four hundred thousand.
Even inside the Fort it seemed an immense gathering. It would have been almost impossible to find anyone in particular, but part of the charm of it was that, as one moved about, one kept continually meeting friends and acquaintances. As at all the other functions part of the interest lay in watching the other guests. The Indian potentates were always a joy to look upon and the Garden Party gave one the opportunity, which so few of the other great functions had done, of meeting them and talking to them. Some of them I already knew, and they came and talked to me in their charming courteous way and in their perfect English. Others again, of an older school, knew no language save their own, but there was always some one with them or near at hand to interpret. They interested me immensely, and I longed to get to know them better and find out something of what they thought of it all, and what the King’s visit really meant to them. After all, it was the opinion of the Indian people that most mattered. The King-Emperor had come to India primarily to visit them and not his own officials.
“What has struck you most in all the great events of the past few days?” I asked a dignified Maharaja who was introduced to me, wondering what he would say. He spoke no English, his grandson, a charming youth of some seventeen years, interpreting, and the answer came without the smallest hesitation.
“The graciousness of their Majesties,” he said. “That has gone home to our hearts. That the King-Emperor, in the midst of his affairs of State among his own people, should have found time to come to us, and that the Queen-Empress should have left her home and her children to visit us, these things we shall never forget. They have gone to the cores of our hearts.”
Then he spoke again to his grandson in his soft beautiful tongue and the young man looked at me hesitatingly, as if he was half afraid to translate.
“What is it?” I asked.
“His Highness wishes to know if he may ask the same question of you, madam? Will you honour him by telling him what has struck you most in all the celebrations?”
I was glad that I could answer with as little hesitation as he had done.
“The loyalty, the wonderful whole hearted loyalty of the Indian people,” I said at once.
A look of the keenest pleasure, which was good to see, came over the old man’s face as my answer was translated to him.
“You are right,” came back the reply. “Loyalty is of the very essence of the Indian people. There is no disloyalty. An evil spirit, as it is always apt to do, has entered into some and made them mad. But there is no disloyalty. The King to us is as a god.”
An Indian lady with whom I talked had been present a few days before when the Indian ladies met the Queen and presented her with a jewel and an address. She spoke to me, with tears in her eyes, of the Queen’s graciousness and of how deeply her reply to the address had touched the hearts of Indian women.
“You can have no idea,” she assured me, “how deep an interest those behind the purdah take in outside affairs. The Queen’s sympathy expressed in Delhi has penetrated into hundreds of thousands of zenanas all over India, and we Indian women never forget.”
It was indeed a charming message that the Queen had sent, through those that were privileged to meet her, to all the women of India. “The beautiful spirit of your welcome affects me deeply,” her Majesty had said, “and I trust that those who meet me here to-day will themselves accept and convey to the sisterhood of this great Empire my warm thanks for their gentle greeting of sincere homage. I desire to assure you all of my ever-increasing solicitude for the happiness and welfare of those who live ‘within the walls.’ The pages of history have set forth what splendid influences for good can be brought to bear in their homes by the women of India, and the annals of its noble races are coloured by acts of devoted fealty and magnificent service as the fruits of the lessons instilled by mothers in the hearts and minds of their children. I have learnt with deep satisfaction of the evolution which is gradually but surely taking place among the inmates of the purdah, and I am convinced that you all desire to encourage education amongst your children, so that they may grow up fitted to become useful and cultivated companions for their future husbands. The jewel you have given me will ever be very precious in my eyes, and, whenever I wear it, though thousands of miles of land and sea separate us, my thoughts will fly to the homes of India and bring back again and again this happy meeting and recall the love your tender hearts have yielded to me. Your jewel shall pass to the future generations as an Imperial heirloom, and shall always stand as the token of the first meeting of the English Queen with the ladies of India. I thank you for your congratulations and for the good wishes expressed by you towards the King-Emperor and myself, and join my prayers to yours for the strength, unity, and well-being of the Empire.”
A moment later I was introduced to one of the latest products among the Princes of India, a boy only just in his teens. He was at school in England and had interrupted his studies only to come out to India for the Durbar. He was a delightfully manly little fellow, with a very fair skin, and doubtless in his English clothes but little different from his fellows among English schoolboys.
“And what do you think of the Durbar?” I asked him, thinking that it would naturally appeal to him immensely, and that he would be enjoying his holiday at home in India after his English school life. His answer amazed me.
“Too much tomasha,” he said, shaking his head, “I want it to be over so that I can get back home.”
“You want to get back home?” I said, incredulously, uncertain for the moment what he meant by “home.”
“To school in England,” he said, “I start back next week and I’m jolly glad.”
I looked upon the latest Indian product with astonishment. He had spoken of “home” quite naturally, and he had meant an English school in England. “Too much tomasha.” Assuredly it gave one furiously to think. Is it wise to make an English schoolboy of an Indian princeling? Is it really the best training for the future ruler of an Indian state? I talked to John about it later on.
“It is one of the most difficult questions we have to deal with,” he said. “On the one hand, if we leave them to be brought up out here, there is all the pernicious influence that seems inseparable from most native Courts, and it is almost impossible to provide for them in their own homes an education that will fit them for their general responsibilities. On the other hand, if we send them home and give them an education among English boys, there is the awful danger that it may unsettle them and make them discontented with their lot afterwards. The colleges out here for the native Chiefs attempt to strike the happy mean, but it is a difficult task. So much depends upon the character of our native Chiefs.”
The picture of that sturdy-looking, manly little fellow, born to rule a native state, and gorgeous in white brocaded satin embroidered with gold and pearls, yet longing only to get back to his English playmates and his dearly loved English school, which he looked upon as “home,” will always remain with me as one of the strangest I saw in India. Which would conquer, the East or the West? One felt so helpless in the grip of such forces as these. One could only pass on, hoping earnestly for the best.
“I want to introduce you to Rai Bahadur Gurombhi Bosi,” said Berengaria, whom I came upon suddenly in the crowd talking to a group of Indians. I don’t at all expect I have got his name right, but that is what it sounded like. I wonder if Indians find our names as hard to get hold of as we do theirs?
“Do you speak English?” I asked, by way of beginning a conversation.
“Oh! yes, I am England-returned,” he said, with conscious pride.
It was the first time I had ever heard the expression, but I found it was quite a common one. It sounded such a proud boast and yet it had the merit of being short and explanatory. I heard another expression, for the first time, from the mouth of this same Rai Bahadur, a minute later. He was telling me about his school and college days, and, knowing how fond the educated Indian is of passing examinations and getting degrees, I asked him if he had passed any.
“Oh yes, I am a failed B.A.,” he said at once, with something of the same pride with which he had told me that he was an England-returned.
The idea of being proud of having failed in an examination struck me as delightfully humorous. Yet, of course, as Berengaria pointed out when I laughed with her over it later on, the fact that you have failed in an examination proves not only that you went in for it and so must have read up to a certain standard, but also that you have passed the next examination below it which qualified you to go in for it. So, I suppose, in spite of the fact that an Englishman would never say it, it is better to call yourself a Failed or Plucked B.A. than merely to say that you have passed the First Arts, which I am told is the examination next below it.
A burst of music and the booming of guns announced the arrival of the King and Queen and put an end to my conversation with the Rai Bahadur, who I felt had still much useful information to impart. The crowds that thronged the lawns parted left and right as the Royal party entered, and their Majesties were, as usual, graciousness itself, recognising many of the guests as they made their tour of the grounds. The display of daylight fireworks that greeted their arrival was certainly quaint and original. We had all been wondering what they would be like, nobody that I had come across having seen a daylight firework before. So we watched with much interest the puffs of white smoke, which followed a loud report, and remained suspended like cotton wool high up in the air until suddenly it spread and slowly descended in ringlets just like ordinary golden rain. Some seemed to dissolve into paper balloons and weird-looking animals that floated away. One awful monster appeared in the sky apparently from nowhere and hovered over us, a huge cobra with golden head and striped body. It looked enormous, as if it must be at least a hundred yards long. It wriggled and swooped above our heads and stayed there as long as we did, swaying horribly yet gracefully in the fitful breeze. It was quite uncanny.
Meanwhile the King and Queen had been strolling about the grounds, and visiting the museum especially arranged for this occasion in the Mumtaz Mahal, with its exquisite collection of paintings illustrating the Ramayana, while the Queen had also visited the purdah ladies. Finally they appeared in the marble Hall and passed on into the Dewan-i-Khas, where several maids and valets had preceded them carrying most interesting looking bags and suit cases. Here heavy curtains had formed two of the recesses into dressing-rooms for their Majesties in which to don their robes and crowns.
The sun was still high in the sky, pouring its last brilliant rays of afternoon across the Fort, when the King and Queen came out from the Dewan-i-Khas. They were in their full Coronation robes and wearing their crowns, and their fascinating little pages attended them. As they passed across the marble platform to the famous octagonal tower, they made a fitting picture for that magnificent setting. Then the great moment came, and they both appeared in the Musummum Burj, the little balcony overlooking the immense plain that stretches away from the walls of the Fort to the famous river Jumna beyond. It was a marvellous scene as one looked down upon it from the walls of the Fort. The whole immense area was alive with people. A veritable sea of faces looked up in expectation towards the octagonal tower, and over the whole vast mass one could see a wave of intense excitement pass as the long expected moment came and their Majesties appeared.
Here centuries ago, their forefathers had waited on this same spot the appearance of their Moghul Emperors on this same historic balcony. Now, after the lapse of many years, they had come to hail another Emperor of another race who had come from a far off country to show himself to his Indian people. If there had been anything wanting to appeal to the imagination, to fill the cup to the full, it came in this. A tremendous roar of cheering swept up towards us, and if anyone had doubted the loyalty of the Indian people before he could have doubted no longer then. After staying for a time in the Musummum Burj their Majesties took their seats, still robed and crowned and with only their pages in attendance, on the walls close by in full view of the crowds below. It was a fairy tale come true.
Slowly the great sea of faces, in a column eighty yards wide, moved forward. One could see no individual movement, only one compact mass of heads surging onwards as if urged by one common impulse. As the great procession reached a certain point, opposite their Majesties, it branched off right and left down broad avenues kept clear for it, while those in authority strove continually to move it on. It was as if one looked at some magic show. The vastness of it made one rub one’s eyes in wonder and astonishment. Besides the great procession, all sorts of sports and games were going on in various open spaces at the same time, as part of the Badshahi Mela or Royal Fair which lasted for several days. It was so absolutely another world apart from the select gathering within the Fort.
I turned round for a moment in the midst of watching the wonderful sight to find two Muhammadan gentlemen close behind me. One was an old man, very dignified though bent and grey, and the other was apparently his son, who was endeavouring to enable him to get a view of the scene below. I moved to give him room to come forward, but, though he thanked me charmingly, he would not come forward until I insisted. For a moment his eyes swept the vast crowds on the plain, and then they fixed themselves on the King-Emperor, as he sat, a Royal figure in purple and ermine and flashing crown.
“It is something for these poor old eyes to have lived to see,” he murmured, with his gaze still fixed.
I lent him the little field-glasses I had brought with me. It took some time to get them rightly adjusted to his sight, as he had evidently never used such things before, but when he saw properly through them his delight was a joy to watch.
“It is as if I stood right in the immediate presence of the King,” he said reverently.
For a moment or two longer he stood watching, then he turned to me to move back so that I might resume my place.
“I shall never forget your graciousness in giving me so long a look at the King’s face,” he said, salaaming as he gave me back the glasses. “There is but one God and the King is his shadow. I shall die content now that I have seen the King’s face.”
Then they moved away. I could not prevail upon the dear old man to take my place. The shadow of God. It was a beautiful conception of Kingship.
“Many of those people down below believe that the mere act of beholding the King’s face washes away their sins,” a Hindu potentate told me a few minutes later as we stood together on the walls. And yet one speaks of Indian disloyalty! The loyalty of the Indian crowd, which had impressed me before, came home to me in a new way at this Darshin ceremony. To watch a quarter of a million people, all in one vast compact mass, and swayed by a common impulse, was a sight never to be forgotten. For more than a generation there had been no visible Emperor in India. Not within the memory of any living man had an Emperor of India shown himself to his subjects from the walls of the Fort. Yet the sentiment of loyalty was there still, deep-rooted in their hearts.
“Loyalty is as the very breath of our being,” my Indian friend said, and one felt that he spoke not only for himself, but for all the thousands who crowded below.
The fleeting Indian twilight soon deepened into dusk, and the King and Queen, bowing right and left to the vast gathering beneath the walls, passed slowly within. One of the most wonderful sights one had ever seen was over. One’s glimpse of fairy land come to life was passing, and, as after most great moments, one descended to earth again with a bump. I suddenly discovered that I had had no tea and that I was very tired and quite famishing. Luckily Captain Denton, as usual, turning up just at the moment that you wanted him, came along and took us off and regaled us with nice hot tea and an infinite variety of cakes. But the flies on those cakes! I took in the dusk what I thought was a currant cake and a veritable swarm of flies rose up. They proved a terrible nuisance, the one little worrying touch to remind you that even that perfect Garden Party was not quite Paradise. The arrangements themselves were, as usual, perfect. Everywhere you went there seemed to be delightful bands playing and refreshments provided. Though there were refreshments carefully arranged for all castes and creeds, some of the strictly orthodox Indian guests had evidently come not intending to take any risks.
One little group near us produced a large pine-apple from somewhere beneath a flowing robe. Cutting it into pieces with a pocket knife, they proceeded to chew it contentedly, scattering the rejected morsels round about regardlessly. Another group made short work of a bunch of large red bananas, which at least were safe from any polluting hand, though provided from no one knew where. Others made for the buffet and civilised tea, but to some the saucers were evidently a novelty, being left behind on the long table, while the cups were carried away. The sweets, however, seemed to meet with special approval, one particular brand of chocolates, which had been liberally provided, seeming to be special favourites.
By the time we had finished tea another change had come over this marvellous Garden Party. Darkness had fallen and fairy land by day had been succeeded by the most exquisite fairy land by night.
Earl’s Court and the White City have accustomed English eyes to illuminations, but those after all, beautiful as they were, are only make-believe. Here, in the Delhi Fort, there was the real thing for background. The smooth marble of the pillars and arches stood out of the darkness aglow with light. The alcoves and carved walls of that gem among mosques, the Moti Musjid, sacred to the ladies of the palace, stood out clear as day in the brilliance of innumerable little lamps. Every tree bore its shimmering gold and silver fruit, while water flowed down over globes of light placed in the old recesses, carved out for them hundreds of years ago. We wandered about entranced. It was like a scene from the Arabian Nights. Beyond the Fort, over the dense moving masses of people, revealing them for a moment and then casting them back into darkness, rose dazzling rockets and golden rain.
Once more their Majesties were amongst us, having laid aside their robes and crowns, and after they had slowly moved away, we too reluctantly followed, leaving the exquisite scene in all its glowing beauty. The city streets were illuminated in honour of the fête, and thousands of those softly flickering little cocoanut oil chiraghs outlined the walls and gardens, as we passed back over the Ridge and down again among our own gaily lighted and welcoming camps. Another perfect day was over.
There are many other events at Delhi that I should like to write about, but Berengaria insists that at all costs I must avoid a guide-book style. Now, I have already confessed somewhere that personally I love a guide-book. I have been blessed or cursed with an inquiring mind, and I do like to know things. Sadly it must be confessed, that most people, wherever you go, don’t know things, and, what is more, don’t seem to have the faintest desire to know them. They even think you extraordinary, and look upon you with suspicion, for wanting to know. I generally find that whenever I go to a place I get to know more about it in two days than most of the inhabitants have got to know about in as many years. Most people are perfectly content not to know the meaning of a thing, or to live quite close to a famous spot without ever troubling to go and see it.
“Momma wouldn’t cross the road to see one of the seven wonders of the world,” said Maisie, when I discussed the subject with her. “While Poppa would go half round the world to see anything worth seeing, if he thought they would let him buy it or even chip a bit off it.”
Maisie herself fortunately strikes a happy mean. She is surprisingly interested for a girl of her age in history and architecture and archaeology. The mornings we spent going round old Delhi, seeing the Kutub Humayun’s tomb, and the other sights, she thoroughly enjoyed. I am bound to admit that we generally had Captain Bremner with us, and that these were his special subjects, but still, to do Maisie justice, I don’t think he accounted for all her interest in them. She is one of those happy people possessing the wonderful gift of being interested in everything and adapting themselves to anything or anybody. It made her a delightful travelling companion.
There was one event I forgot to mention in its proper place, the Royal Reception at night on the day of the Durbar. Like all the other functions, it was a splendid sight. I am not going to describe it all, the enormous shamiana that held five thousand people, the magnificent display of uniforms and dresses, and the Royal progress through the room after dinner. But there were three little incidents, embarrassing, amusing, and characteristically Indian respectively, that I really must record. In the first place, I have never before arrived at a late evening reception before dinner. But that was our fate on the night of the Royal Reception. We had dined out in another camp with friends at seven o’clock in order to be in good time, as we had been given special notices that unless we arrived there early we should probably never arrive there at all, the difficulty of controlling the traffic by night being so tremendous. So our hostess was most particularly anxious to get us off in time, with the result that we left about a quarter-past eight. The roads had just been cleared apparently, and save for a motor here and there hurrying towards the King-Emperor’s Camp, there was no traffic at all upon them.
The consequence was that we arrived in no time at all and a beautiful A.D.C. came forward to meet us with much éclat. But when we told him our names his face fell. They were not on the printed list of dinner guests in his hand, yet we had arrived among the dinner guests! I suppose we ought to have been quite overcome. It was rather dreadful to have arrived in time for dinner when you were only asked for the reception afterwards. But the look of shocked propriety on the face of that A.D.C. decided it, and with a glance at one another, Maisie and I both disgraced ourselves by giggling. However, that A.D.C., though he was so shocked, was very wise and kind, and found us a quiet corner, with the result that we saw all the guests go in to dinner and the Royal procession also. We had a tremendous wait, of course, while they were dining, but other people began to appear almost at once, and, as usual, it was always interesting watching them arrive.
I was standing near the entrance behind an enormously tall A.D.C., when a smart looking little soldier man of sorts, in uniform, came in hugging a huge white topi.
“You can’t bring that in here,” said the magnificent A.D.C., with a disdainful glance at the topi.
“What am I to do with it then?” he asked, as I wondered if there were no gentlemen’s cloak rooms.
“Leave it in your motor,” said the A.D.C., shortly, blocking the way.
“Haven’t got a motor,” retorted the little man, his gorge evidently rising.
“Leave it in your ticca ghari, then,” said the A.D.C., still more contemptuously and not budging an inch.
“Haven’t got a ticca ghari,” snorted the little man, now really angry.
“Then how the deuce did you get here?” demanded the A.D.C., his gorge evidently rising, too.
“Walked,” was the laconic reply.
For a moment the A.D.C. regarded him as if he were some strange animal, who had wandered there by mistake. Then he waved him back in a lordly way.
“We don’t legislate for people who walk,” he said grandly, and forthwith drove that poor little man out by the way he came in. What he did with the topi I don’t know, but I saw him again later in the evening without it, quite restored to good humour and talking to a beautiful lady, so evidently all was well.
The third little incident was characteristically Indian and thoroughly amused us all. It was a delightful little local touch. Just before it was time for the King and Queen and the other guests to come out from dinner, the magnificent scarlet and gold chobdars, with their golden maces, filed in to take their places behind the seats prepared for the Royal party, and behind them came the stalwart body-guard to take up their posts round the roped-in enclosure. Trotting at their heels came a couple of grubby little coolie boys, at whom we looked with amazement in the midst of this gorgeous company. But when the lordly body-guard had taken up their posts we found what they had come for. The tiny urchins hurried round and carefully polished off every speck of dust from their great jack boots.
I don’t feel that I am a fully qualified critic, so far as the review is concerned, but certainly if I had any voice in the matter I should give medals of some sort or other to every one of those fifty thousand men and hundreds of horses that played a part in the gallant show. As usual, we had to breakfast in the chilly dawn and eat a hurried meal, but we had got quite accustomed to that. In fact, I had scarcely eaten a single meal that was not hurried since I had been in Delhi, and I had always got up about two hours earlier than usual. Ermyntrude was loud in her lamentations as to the effects of such an upset of our usual mode of life upon her digestion, and had taken a last remaining Peace-be-still tabloid, in the hope that it would have as quieting an effect on land as on sea. She had never disclosed the results to me, but this morning, when she came to me in the small hours, I noticed that her mouth was drawn into that extraordinarily prim angle which I knew meant trouble of some kind. I knew too, from long experience, that she meant to unburden herself to me, and that she would never be happy until she had done so.
“Is anything the matter, Ermyntrude?” I asked a few minutes later, as she brushed my hair and I watched her indignant face in the glass.
“It’s that French maid, Lady Dansey’s maid, my lady,” she burst out angrily. “The hussey.”
In the glass Ermyntrude looked to be brushing furiously, though fortunately it never affected her firm yet gentle touch.
“What has she done now?” I asked, wondering what it was that could so have upset my usually calm and imperturbable maid. She had several times spoken to me of the enormities of this particular maid before, but this was evidently something much more serious.
“The way that woman carries on isn’t decent.” Ermyntrude brandished the brushes and I waited to hear more. Her voice sank lower but it was no less menacing.
“She drinks, too, my lady.”
“Drinks?” I exclaimed in surprise, knowing what an offence this would be in Ermyntrude’s eyes, her principles being so rigidly teetotal.
“Last night, there was no denying it, my lady, and you would scarcely believe what she did. She actually, if you please, demanded champagne for dinner, and wouldn’t look at the claret that was offered her, and there was no mistaking, my lady, that she had already had a good deal of something. Suddenly up she gets and seizes the claret bottle and rushes out shrieking, ‘I see the secretary. What for you give me this stuff. I, who only drink the ver’ best champagne.’”
“How disgraceful, Ermyntrude,” I said sympathetically, trying to hide a smile at the dramatic way she had told the story. Somehow I felt there was more behind. There was. For a moment she went on brushing in silence. Then she burst out again, and the real reason of her anger against the French maid was revealed.
“The way that minx makes eyes at Alphonse, my lady, makes me blush for my sex,” exclaimed the indignant Ermyntrude.
Suddenly there came back to me the picture of my usually prim and forbidding maid accepting, with unwonted graciousness, the obviously ineffectual assistance of the Marquis de Boncourt’s French valet, as we were leaving our boat at Bombay. The truth was out. Amazing as it might seem, there could be no doubt about it that all Ermyntrude’s seemingly virtuous indignation was prompted by jealousy. That last sentence had completely given her away. The idea of my respectable elderly maid, whom I had known all these years and whose level-headedness I would have sworn to anywhere, coveting the attentions of that absurd, dandified, little French valet, was too ludicrous. Yet like many ludicrous things, it was true. I could only hope that it was nothing more than a temporary madness, such as sometimes seizes the wisest of us, though all the time I had a horrible fear that Ermyntrude was one of those determined people who, once they get an idea, right or wrong, firmly implanted in their minds, never budge an inch to the right or left.
As usual, again that morning, too, we started off from our camp hours before the real show began. Early as we were, however, the roads from every quarter leading to the big parade ground were crammed. We hooted and panted along in our motor, Illman guiding us through the throng with his usual ability and not running over even a cat, and we were finally rewarded for our early start by getting excellent seats in the sheltered part of the newly erected grand stand.
All over the immense open plain, some two miles broad by one mile long, if Berengaria is to be believed, were masses of troops, too far off to be clearly distinguished without field glasses, but from which, as time went on, group after group seemed to detach itself and form into line, several men deep, in front of us waiting to be inspected. Punctually as ever the Royalties came careering up to the edge of the plain in front of the stand, and, without alighting, proceeded across the maidan towards the troops. The King rode his beautiful black charger in front of his staff, quite alone, so that everyone could recognise him, even from a very long way off. Then came half the Imperial Cadet Corps, preceding the Queen’s carriage, the other half following the line of blue turbans, enabling us to mark the Royal progress from afar. Slowly they passed along the front ranks, then back again behind them to inspect those in the rear, and, that finished, the whole brilliant inspecting group trotted back towards us, the Queen’s carriage bumping about in a most alarming manner over the uneven ground. She must have been glad to alight and take her seat in the pavilion in the centre, while the King rode forward alone to the Royal Standard and sat there for over an hour and a half, while fifty thousand of his troops passed before him.
It was a magnificent sight, and must have given every one who saw it, Englishman or Indian, an almost awe-inspiring impression of the strength of the British Raj. It was the largest review of British troops ever held in India, and even then it was nothing like as big as had been intended. The original arrangement was that some eighty thousand troops should pass before their King-Emperor, and it was only owing to the fear of famine and the shortage of fodder that the number had been reduced. Even then it was colossal. They came on and on in one long endless stream. Round after round of applause went up as the best known troops went by. The young Raja of Jodhpur, mounted on a white cob, leading his troops, met with a great reception and so did little Bahawulpur, but perhaps the heartiest burst of cheering was reserved for four year old Bhartpur, as he rode by, clad in a correct tunic and long riding boots, with a sword as big as himself, on a beautifully groomed camel with gorgeous trappings that stepped out proudly at the head of the famous camel corps. After they had all saluted, the tiny Raja was brought back, divested of his turban and boots and allowed to enjoy a well earned rest, all fully in the public eye. It looked so quaint. A shaggy white goat met with its meed of appreciation. It had to jog along at a great pace, with its short little steps, to keep up with the swinging pace of its regiment, but it seemed quite to understand and not to mind at all, trotting along most manfully.
By the time the long march past finally came to an end, the cavalry and horse artillery had trotted round the plain to the starting point once more, and every pulse throbbed quicker when the signal was given and the first detachment of splendid horsemen thundered by. The horse artillery surpassed even themselves, the teams of six great chargers tearing along in perfect form, as if there were no weight at all behind them and as if the world were one straight line.
There was only one performer on the field that day I felt anxious about. He was falling further and further behind his special troop of horse, for he was not mounted, but he followed, racing as if for dear life, with his tongue out and his tail streaming in the wind. I think he would have called himself a bull terrier, and I do hope he found his master after that mad career. Only one casualty occurred that I saw, just as the Royal party was preparing to depart. Suddenly a horse executed an unexpected pas seul and his rider left him hurriedly. He did not seem much hurt, however, only rather dusty.
The wonderful Durbar festivities drew near their close. One was sad that they were almost over, and yet one felt that it would be impossible to live up to them for long. It would be like eating waffles every day, as Maisie put it. Yet it was with unabated interest that we set off for the Investiture, which, according to the official programme, was the last big function. It had been a much discussed ceremony. The Investiture at the previous Durbar, in 1902, had been held in the Dewan-i-Khas, the exquisite building in the Fort, and it would have been impossible to find a more fitting setting. But for some reason it had been decided to hold this one in the shamiana in the King-Emperor’s camp where the reception had been held. Of course it was impossible for everyone to be invited owing to lack of space, and many amusing stories went the round in connection with it. Batches after batches of invitations had been sent out, so it was said, to people apparently whom it was impossible to leave out, when suddenly the authorities were pulled up short by the dreadful discovery that more people had been invited than could possibly squeeze in.
Nobody was at all likely to refuse. What was to be done? Some genius found a way. The word was sent round that no man was to be allowed in except in a beautiful velvet Court suit unless, of course, he was a soldier, or Political or other distinguished person entitled to wear uniform. This rule at once struck out a lot of people who had reluctantly to admit that they did not possess the wedding garment. Great, too, had been the tragedies occasioned by the ever-varying orders from home anent dress to be worn at this and other important functions. The great judicial lights were kept on tenter hooks for months, not knowing whether wigs were a sine qua non or not. One learned judge, who possessed a curly horse-hair toupee, as he irreverently called it, told me that he had no fewer than four frantic applications for the loan of it from friends who thought he was not going to be present himself.
As to “damask tufted gowns,” at one time prescribed to be worn on one occasion only at the trifling cost of thirty guineas, they nearly destroyed all legal loyalty. Really, when men do begin to fuss about clothes they make a much greater fuss than women. Of course I admit their clothes do not lend themselves to compromise like ours. A man cannot pretend he is in evening dress when he is not, and he cannot possibly disguise the fact that he is wearing trousers when he ought to be showing a beautiful calf in silk stockings. And he cannot get out of the fact that he’s wearing a bowler or a straw hat when he ought to be wearing a topper, or a short lounge coat when it should be a coat with a skirt or a tail. The result is that if the poor thing does make a mistake he looks dreadfully out of it. Men are sensitive enough in any case, but to have to parade about in a lounge coat and bowler when every one else is in a shining topper and a morning coat, or still more to look overdressed in the latter when nobody else is wearing them, is enough to quell the manliest heart.
Now, a woman can generally make some sort of compromise if she is in doubt about the correct attire. There is no such a gulf fixed, for instance, between any of her headgear as between a man’s bowler or straw and his topper. Any woman’s hat in reason will pass muster in any gathering. Again, there is no such strong line drawn in her garb as between a man’s lounge suit and his morning or frock coat, or as between his trousers and his knee breeches. Every woman wears a skirt of some sort so far. It is the same with evening clothes. A woman can fill up the neck of her evening gown with chiffon or lace, and pretend she is in evening dress or not as she likes, which her unfortunate husband can by no means do with his uncompromising clothes. He is either in evening dress or he is not, and there is an end of it. It occasions the poor dear awful distress at times and I do sympathise. I guess it must be real trying to have a glossy white shirted chest when nobody else has, or a buttoned-up coat when you ought to be white and glossy.
So it is not surprising that their garments caused the men some anxiety at the Durbar. To be incorrectly dressed at any time is bad enough, but to be incorrectly dressed on these occasions meant that there was a chance of your being turned away at the door and not getting in at all. So many anxious telegrams passed to and fro in consequence, and the Lord Chamberlain’s office was bombarded with inquiries. Some surprise was caused by the irritable answer given by a harassed official, over the telephone, to one anxious inquirer. “Surely, sir, you must know that, on occasions when ladies are present, no trousers are ever worn,” while a last and final telegram from home contained the laconic command, “no trousers.”
But all doubts and difficulties at last overcome, the men made a brave show in the Royal Shamiana, as the hour for the Investiture drew near. Much as one regretted the Dewan-i-Khas, the enormous tent, with its pale blue and white roof, white and gold pillars and countless chandeliers, really presented a brilliant background. Two golden thrones, on a dais facing the entrance, awaited their Majesties, backed by a crimson velvet curtain with the Royal Arms emblazoned in the centre. On either side stood rows of gilt legged chairs with blue satin seats for the suite. Facing them were long rows of substantial arm-chairs to accommodate the favoured recipients of honours, while behind them wide shallow steps rose in tiers, furnished with the unstable little bentwood chairs that seem devoted to functions of all sorts in India. The throng glittered with orders, robes, wigs, swords, satin breeches and buckled shoes. For once, the men took their rightful place and looked the lords of creation they really are, throwing us poor women, in spite of diamonds and lace, completely into the shade. Those of us who had been wise were in black or white or something non-committal, for it was hopeless to attempt to vie with those gorgeous uniforms, and there was always the danger of clashing horribly with an unknown neighbour—which every woman tactfully avoids if she can—on these and similar occasions when men disport themselves in colours.
Once more the bevy of little pages turned out and the Imperial Cadet Corps took up its post of honour. Then a burst of music, and the staff of the Governor-General advanced with stately tread, keeping their balance in the slow step march to the joy of all beholders. The now familiar blare of the silver trumpets proclaimed the approach of the King and Queen, the brilliant Heralds parting right and left after their fanfare to allow the Royal procession to pass in. Walking backwards came the two Lords in Waiting, bearing their staves of office, and moving as easily as if they had eyes in the backs of their heads. They looked the very personification of dignity and added tremendously to the impressiveness of the whole. The King and Queen both looked admirably regal, he in the light blue cloak of the Star of India and she in a dress of exactly the same shade, and crowned with blazing diamonds. They made a charming picture as they came up the centre aisle hand in hand, and he handed her to her seat. The rest of the suite grouped themselves appropriately round the dais, Lord Hardinge taking the chair on the next level at the King’s right hand and Lady Hardinge the corresponding seat on the Queen’s left.
Then came one of the most charming little scenes imaginable. When everyone was seated and we were all waiting expectantly for the Investiture to begin, to our intense surprise the Queen rose and bowed low to the King, her pages lifted her train, her Ladies in Waiting followed, and they all walked soberly back to the entrance and disappeared. What was going to happen? You could have heard the proverbial pin drop as we waited. A moment later the curtains at the end of the room were drawn aside again and the Queen, attended as before, walked slowly up the aisle and, advancing alone towards the dais, knelt before the King. It was a charming sight as he invested her with the most exalted Order of the Star of India, draping the pale blue mantle of the Order round her. As the little ceremony was over, she stooped and kissed his hand, while he leant forward and kissed her on the cheek before raising her and handing her back to her seat. It was the most delightful and unexpected little touch and seemed to add such a welcome and vivid human note to the otherwise formal ceremony.
One of the most nerve shaking experiences of my life came a few moments later. After her Majesty had been invested, came a long succession of officials and others on whom honours had been conferred, many of them marching up with beautifully simulated modesty to receive the decorations for which they had recommended themselves, as the unknown lady sitting next to me put it, and whose husband was evidently not among the favoured ones. We sat watching with absorbed interest as their King deftly tapped them first on one shoulder and then on the other and they rose other than they were before, or as he neatly pinned a decoration on their manly breasts. Everything proceeded in a most dignified and proper manner. Womankind one was glad to see represented by the Begam of Bhopal, and another lady who literally devoured the Royal hand with kisses that could be heard.
Then, with dramatic suddenness, the peaceful, stately orderliness of the ceremony was rudely broken in upon. An Investiture is not a function at which one expects a sensation. We had come to witness a dignified ceremonial and all was proceeding as we had anticipated. It was then that the interruption came with all the greater shock. A brilliant flickering light suddenly shone from outside through the open curtains of the shamiana and at the same instant we heard the dreaded cry of “fire,” and the discordant shriek of the fire alarm. Just at that very moment the electric light in the shamiana, which had hitherto shone with a bright steady light, suddenly went lower as if preparatory to going out altogether. If it had gone out, one trembles to think what would have happened with everyone startled and alarmed by the fire outside. Then it blazed up again to such an intense flare that it seemed as if every wire was bound to fuse.
For one sickening moment one felt as if the place where one’s heart ought to be was quite empty and quite cold. Here and there all through the shamiana ran a murmur of frightened voices breaking in upon the dignified silence. Several women started out of their seats, and for a second it looked as if there were going to be an awful stampede. The sharp words of command ringing out just outside, and the rush of many feet could be heard distinctly, adding to the terror and the horror. I watched the King, and he never turned a hair, but went on pinning on the Orders as if there were not the slightest cause for alarm. If his heart really was standing still, like mine, he never showed it. It was a splendid example, and it did much to calm us all. The Queen, too, sat still unmoved, only turning once to ask for news. It was a tent just outside the shamiana that had caught fire and anyone who has seen a tent catch fire knows what it means. The whole thing is over before anything whatever can be done. It is only a matter of seconds, the fire leaping over the canvas and devouring it like a bit of paper.
Fortunately, there were so many men on the spot that they were able to cut the ropes not only of that tent, but of the adjoining ones, and so prevent the fire from spreading. If that enormous shamiana, with three thousand people in it, had caught fire the consequences would have been too ghastly to think of. Berengaria told me afterwards that her seat had been near one of the curtained doorways and that she had been in the act of slipping outside for a moment, to get a breath of air, when the tent caught fire and she saw the whole thing. She said that the promptitude with which the ropes were cut was marvellous, and that the burning tent and the neighbouring ones fell as if they had been shot. As she was passing out just at the critical moment, the curtains in the doorway caught in her tiara, and it was only with the help of an A.D.C. that she got free again. Imagine that happening in the middle of a stampede!
Fortunately, however, nothing happened and the Investiture pursued the even tenor of its way after this exciting little interlude. For over two hours the King knighted and decorated his chosen subjects until even the smallest medal had been awarded, and the stately ceremony came to an end.
There was only one of the Durbar functions that I missed, except the State dinner, and that was the laying of the foundation stones of the new Delhi by the King and Queen on the morning after the Investiture. It was a ceremony which, of course, did not figure in the official programme, and it was hastily arranged after the momentous announcement in the Great Durbar on the 12th. A site was chosen in the Government of India Camp, the two blocks of concrete bearing simply the date in gold letters—“December 15th, 1911.” I had to rely on Berengaria for these few facts, as only very few people were asked and by some mistake—the only mistake of the kind, by the way, that occurred in our case during the whole Durbar—our tickets arrived just too late to enable us to be present. It was a very simple little ceremony Berengaria said, the Governor-General reading an address and the King replying. Still, it was an historic occasion, setting the seal on the new changes, and I wish I had been there. Berengaria is a person who notices and describes things graphically, but like everybody else she does suffer from most unaccountable lapses. I was much struck with this on the evening before I left Delhi, when she had particularly asked me to read over my notes to her, as she said she so much wanted to know how the various events had struck me. I expect I missed lots of things, too, but, at any rate, I hope I did not miss two of the finest, as Berengaria did.
“Oh, Nicola,” she interrupted, as I read to her what I had written about the Mutiny Veterans, “if only I had seen them.”
I looked at her in surprise. How was it possible she could have missed what to me was one of the most touching sights I have ever seen?
“I have a vague recollection of them,” she explained, “but I never seemed to realise them like that.”
Now, Berengaria is not absent-minded. The only other explanation possible is that she was talking all the time and so missed them. Berengaria is one of those delightful people who always have something to say and something always worth hearing.
“You were talking so much that you never saw them, I expect,” I said, smilingly.
“I shall never forgive myself for having missed them,” she replied, adding hastily, “and there is one thing more I missed that I had better tell you about before you come to it. I never saw the King and Queen appear on the Balcony or the wall at the Garden Party.”
“You never saw that?” I exclaimed, in my surprise. Berengaria had indeed missed another most wonderful sight.
“No, I never saw them,” she admitted, sadly. “To tell you the truth I was having tea at the time. Sir Peter Timms said that he was dead tired and I, too, was dead tired, so we thought we had better get a seat and some tea, while we could, and all the time we were congratulating ourselves on having tea so comfortably that wonderful sight was going on. When we got up from tea it was over, and I only just saw the tail ends of the Royal trains disappearing into the Dewan-i-Khas. I nearly killed Sir Peter Timms for letting me miss it.”
I expect there were lots of little things that I missed, too. In a great show like that, amidst such immense masses of people, it is impossible to see everything. Even the same thing, seen by different pairs of eyes, looks different, and, as Berengaria said, it would make interesting and amusing reading if every one who was at the Durbar wrote an account of it. Some of the descriptions would, doubtless, differ from one another to such an extent as to make it seem impossible that they related to the same Durbar.
After the King and Queen had left Delhi, on the morning of the 16th, there was a general scramble to get away. Yet it was with an immense regret that I made preparations to depart. One had lived in the midst of such wonderful scenes, such as one was never likely to see again, and for a brief space one had lived in the midst of events that would take their place for all time in history. Delhi, however, when the pageant was over and everything was in the stir and confusion of packing up and departing, was no place to linger in. Moreover, with firm insistence Miss Lamb claimed me, and, certainly with many misgivings on my part, she and I set out to explore the heart of India. The manner of our departure and what followed thereafter must be reserved for a chapter to themselves.
Now, I must confess that, if Berengaria had not laughed so immoderately at the idea of my going off with Miss Lamb to explore the heart of India, my courage would in all probability have failed me and I should not have gone. Why is it that quite wise people don’t realise that if they want to prevent your doing a thing the surest way to defeat their object is by violent opposition? If anyone ostentatiously opposes my doing a thing, I immediately want to do it all the more and I believe most other people are constituted just like me—in that respect, at any rate. So, when Berengaria said it was quite impossible for me to think of going off with Miss Lamb, I quietly determined that nothing should prevent my going. When she found that I really meant to go, she was quite angry.
“You don’t in the least realise what you are letting yourself in for,” she said indignantly. “You know nothing of the conditions of life in the Indian Mofussil, and yet you won’t take advice from someone who has been out here nearly twenty years and really does know something about it. Miss Lamb is a lunatic and ought to be locked up. If you go anywhere in this Province, I shall set the Criminal Investigation Department on to you.”
“But we are not going to do anything criminal,” I said meekly.
“No,” said Berengaria impressively, “perhaps not. But it is quite possible that somebody else may do something criminal to you.”
That, of course, was not calculated to inspire confidence, especially in a person who is nervous in the dark like me. I had dreadful visions of long dark winter evenings and longer nights all alone in the unknown Indian Mofussil, except for Miss Lamb, who, after all, was only a woman, and there are times and occasions when I, at least, distinctly long for the protecting presence of a man. If only Berengaria had not been so scornful and made retreat so difficult, I think I should have given up the idea there and then. But I had an uneasy feeling that she would be equally scornful if I showed lack of courage and gave in now, while I felt I could never face Miss Lamb again if I did finally back out. I was horribly between the Devil and the Deep Sea.
“The very idea of two unprotected women trotting about in the by-ways of India unprotected,” Berengaria went on. “It’s perfectly ridiculous. How are you going to live? Do you expect to find comfortable hotels in the Mofussil?”
“I don’t know anything about the arrangements,” I admitted airily. “Miss Lamb said she would see to all that.”
“What does she know about it, I should like to know. Going into camp needs a tremendous lot of bandobast.”
“Bandobast,” I exclaimed incautiously and, I am afraid, rather nervously, “what’s that?”
Berengaria snorted again.
“You don’t even know the simplest Hindustani words and yet you are going to cut yourself off entirely from English-speaking people and going where no one will understand a word you say. Bandobast, of course, means arrangements of all kinds. I’ve no patience with your Miss Lamb. People like her ought to be deported. They do no good and only cause no end of trouble to other people.”
Miss Lamb, however, unconscious of Berengaria’s wrath, was serene and undismayed. Depressed by Berengaria’s onslaught, I revived at once under her self-confidence and enthusiasm. I almost forgot even to ask her what bandobast she had made.
“I’ve an eighty-pounder, a Madrassi, and a Mugh,” she told me proudly, when at last I remembered and broached the subject. “We shall be quite all right.”
An eighty-pounder sounded to my uninitiated intelligence strangely like a gun, but hasty reflection convinced me it must be a tent. The Mugh, however, stumped me.
“A Mugh?” I said, once more exposing my ignorance, “what’s that?”
“A cook,” Miss Lamb informed me, “the Mughs are a race of people, all cooks by trade, and such splendid cooks. They come from Chittagong.”
I wanted to ask her about beds and furniture, and crockery, and all sorts of things, but Miss Lamb seemed so capable and trustworthy that I thought it best to leave everything to her.
The next morning I had said good-bye with regret to our luxurious camp, and Miss Lamb and I stood on the platform at Delhi Station, awaiting the arrival of our train. With many misgivings, too, I had taken leave of Ermyntrude who, I instinctively felt, was not built for exploring the heart of India with such adventurous spirits as Miss Lamb and me. My faithful maid is excellent on her own lines and as long as you leave her to pursue the usual routine which she knows so well; but dump her down on a desert island and she has no resources at all. So, after a feeble protest against being left behind and a very strong protest accompanied by awful forebodings against my going at all, she had been finally packed off with Maisie to stay with Berengaria until it was time to meet me in Calcutta.
Every one seemed to be trying to get away from Delhi at the same moment and that railway station presented an extraordinary scene. Luggage of every sort and description was piled up everywhere, or weighing down perspiring, staggering coolies; anxious passengers were hurrying here, there and everywhere, all of them in travelling kit and many of them hardly recognisable as the smart folk one had been rubbing shoulders with for the last ten days; while worried station officials were answering half a dozen inquiries—most of them futile ones—at once. The station itself wore a dissipated look, with some of the decorations still up, dusty and faded, and the depressed appearance decorations always have the morning after. Miss Lamb waved her large white sunshade, lined with green, grandly towards the crowd of Europeans on the platform.
“They are all going off along the beaten track to Agra, Benares, Lucknow, and Cawnpore, and they will see nothing but what they are shown,” she said, with kindly contempt, “whereas we shall probe deep down into the real heart of India.”
I had a terrible presentiment that we should, and followed Miss Lamb’s stalwart figure along the platform to the booking office, full of forebodings and conscious only of a great yearning for the beaten track.
The Madrassi servant and the Mugh cook stood beside our luggage. The former was a nice bright boy, with a confident manner, and beautifully clean-looking in a white suit and a white and gold puggaree. He rejoiced in the name of Pomerangum, and spoke English quite well, except that he seemed to think there were no other parts to a verb save the present participle. The Mugh was small and plain, and he didn’t look at all at first sight what one would expect in a cook. He wore nothing in the way of headgear, and his rather scanty black hair had a damp, oily look that was not prepossessing to Western eyes, whatever it may have been to his own family circle. The rest of his body was swathed in a large terra-cotta coloured shawl. He certainly added a touch of brightness to the station platform, but I had an uncomfortable feeling about him that he was not quite clean.
He was the first cook I had ever seen in India, however, and Miss Lamb seemed very proud of him, so I trusted it was all right. Certainly the meals I had had in India so far had been most excellent, and presumably they had all been cooked by native cooks. Even so, I could not quite get over his luggage. It was tied up in a dirty looking cloth, from which peeped out the handle of a frying pan and the lid of a saucepan, and he had placed it conspicuously on the top of my own personal luggage, on the smartness of which I always pride myself. It gave it such a disreputable look that I almost unconsciously edged away so as not to be identified with it. As we were on our way to Calcutta, I had thought it best to take all my luggage with me and leave it at the station where we got out to explore India. The name of the station I had discovered was Changulnugger, and Miss Lamb had chosen it in the most characteristic way.
“Do you know anyone there?” I had ventured to ask her rather anxiously, when she first told me of our destination.
“Oh, no,” she exclaimed, looking at me in surprise as if I had asked a very foolish question, “that’s just it. We are going where we know absolutely nobody, to a place of which we know absolutely nothing and where nobody on the spot has the least idea that we are coming.”
It had given me a dreadfully lonely feeling and I was not comforted.
“But why have you chosen Changulnugger?” I persisted, feeling at the moment that it had no attractions for me whatever.
“I was determined not to know anything about the place before we went to it, so that we should not be in any way prejudiced,” Miss Lamb replied, in her decided way that made even her most astonishing statements sound possible and reasonable. “So I just took a railway time-table and turned to the Delhi-Calcutta page. Then I shut my eyes and put my finger casually on it anywhere, and the station it pointed to was Changulnugger.”
I felt it was tempting Providence horribly, to choose one’s destination like that. As soon as I could, I privately looked up the time-table, but it furnished no information about Changulnugger, except that, although it was apparently on the main line, only two trains a day stopped there, one up and one down. To reach it we had to travel by the slowest of passenger trains that stopped at every station. I shall never forget the scene at the booking office when Miss Lamb asked for tickets.
“Two firsts and two thirds for Changulnugger,” she demanded, confidently.
“Where for?” asked the babu, peering down and out at us through the wire network over the ticket opening, as if he had never seen the like of us before.
“Changulnugger,” repeated Miss Lamb, with great distinctness, as if she in her turn had never seen anything so dense before.
“Not knowing Changulnugger, looking up,” said the babu, withdrawing his face and disappearing inside the office.
We waited patiently for his return. Other people, crowding round the ticket office and clamouring for their tickets, did not evince the same patience, and looked upon us with ill-concealed annoyance. Miss Lamb held her place opposite the wire netting, sublimely unconscious of them all. I admit on occasions like this I feel unhappy. I always try to believe that it is because I have such a considerate nature and that I hate to inconvenience other people, but I cannot always quite convince myself. In my weaker moments, I sometimes fear it is merely want of conviction. On this occasion, for instance, we had to get our tickets, and if the babu took a long time giving them to us, and so kept lots of other irate people waiting, it was not in the least our fault. Yet I should have been dreadfully uncomfortable about it if I had been there alone, and, as it was, I had some difficulty in withstanding the temptation to edge away and disclaim all responsibility for the block in the traffic. It is, of course, a most unreasonable attitude of mind, and it always annoys me because I positively dislike anything unreasonable. Now, Miss Lamb had no scruples. She just simply stood her ground until the babu at last reappeared, and handed out four paper tickets that he had had to write out for us. It was obvious that the traffic between Delhi and Changulnugger was not great, no printed tickets even being provided. The same thing happened over the luggage. Miss Lamb again stood firm and blocked all the traffic until she had seen her luggage, and mine too, labelled with Changulnugger labels, which, again, had to be written, as there were no printed ones and no one apparently had ever gone from Delhi to Changulnugger before. So far, she was certainly proving a most invaluable travelling companion. I had nothing to do but to follow meekly in her wake and hand over to her as many rupees as she from time to time demanded.
That journey was a perfect nightmare. To begin with, there were four of us in the compartment. Now, although Indian railway compartments are built on generous lines, travelling with three other people and their luggage for a whole day and a night, through the dust and the heat, does not tend to make one love one’s kind. I remembered, as I tried to smile upon the two strangers whom we found already installed in the carriage, how I had wished, on the journey across France, to descend from my reserved compartment and jostle for a seat with the crowd. But, like so many other things that appear attractive viewed from a distance, it proved most disappointing when one came to do it. It was quite unromantic and altogether undesirable. Even when we managed to get inside, under the frowns of the two unknown passengers, there was hardly room to move owing to the luggage they had already stowed away in the carriage.
You always take everything you possibly can with you into your compartment when you travel in India. There is lots of room under the seats and you can store away as much as any ordinary passenger wants there quite easily, but of course, when you are on transfer, as most people always seem to be in India, and you want to take all your household goods and chattels with you, even a roomy first class carriage on an Indian line gets blocked. That those two ladies were on transfer there could be no possible manner of doubt. Among other impedimenta a large zinc bath contained a jumble of articles, and the first indignant glance I cast at them disclosed a camera, two tennis bats, a despatch box, a pair of boots, and surmounting the whole a baby’s go-cart. I looked hurriedly round for the baby and felt devoutly thankful for small mercies when I discovered that the baby and its go-cart were travelling apart. The two ladies were of the chichi type. When Berengaria had first used the word chichi, I at once asked her what it meant. She told me it was a term always used to denote the Eurasian class, or anyone of mixed nationality, but when I asked her why the word chichi should mean whitey brown, Berengaria could not tell and was quite annoyed with me for wanting to know.
India is an extraordinary place for picking up words of which you know the actual meaning but somehow never trouble to discover the derivation. I asked a man who was supposed to be a great linguist later on what chichi actually meant. He, too, seemed rather annoyed at my asking him—I suppose it must be rather annoying if you set up for being clever to be asked questions you can’t answer—and all he could say was that chichi is the sound Eurasians are supposed to make, when they want to express the feeling an Englishman shows by clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth or saying “dear, dear,” or “tut, tut.” It does not sound a very satisfactory explanation, and though I met several Eurasians, some of whom were charming, I have never heard one say chichi. But that our fellow travellers were very much of that persuasion there could be no possible manner of doubt. They were travelling with railway passes, as I discovered when the ticket collector came along. They made no attempt to make room for us, and when I nearly fell over the bath they never offered to move it.
“Do you mind if I push this over there?” I said to the elder of the two, indicating the bath and a vacant space in the corner, as a coolie staggered in with our luggage.
“Oh no, I don’t mind if you do,” she said, complacently, sitting back in her corner seat and watching me struggle with it.
It was so heavy that it was only with the help of a coolie that I was able to move it. Miss Lamb was in her element, pushing boxes here and there, and reducing chaos to order, until we were all settled, very cramped but neat and compact. Then came the struggle with the coolies. Now I, being a foolish person in that respect and not liking to attract attention and create a disturbance on a railway platform, should have given those coolies much too much backsheesh at the outset. They would probably even then have asked for more, and if they had insisted and had not gone when I moved them away with that expressive word, bus (enough), about which there is such splendid force and finality, I should probably have given them more. I admit I invariably overpay anybody who is likely to create a disturbance or make himself unpleasant, if he does not get what he considers enough. It is weak and it really means buying people off and paying them to be pleasant, but I cannot stand a fuss.
I have not got the power of walking on and looking sublimely unconscious while the cabby lets fly his parting shots at my retreating figure. Worse still, I have not even the courage to look the other way when one of those splendid English menservants, or pretty, dimpling parlourmaids, hangs about suggestively as I am leaving country houses, nor dare I drop a coin into an expectant hand that could possibly fail to awaken a gratified smile. Try as I always have done to carry out Aunt Agatha’s maxims, I am bound to confess that I lag miles behind in this respect. I like to think it must be constitutional. Try as I might, I could never succeed in becoming so absolutely and utterly indifferent to the opinion of tip-expectants as Aunt Agatha. She just simply ignores the effect of her tips. She gives what she considers right and proper and never thinks of it again. She drops her coin into the eagerly opened hand as indifferently as one drops a penny in a slot. I admire it tremendously, but I could never hope to emulate it.
Miss Lamb would have rejoiced the heart of Aunt Agatha over the payment of those coolies. There were four coolies. They had taken our luggage off the carriage, carried it on to the platform, sat over it for about an hour and then carried it into the train. Miss Lamb took out of her large reticule four two anna bits and solemnly presented those coolies with one each. They all of them held those tiny silver coins on their out-stretched palms, and simultaneously set up the most awful clamour. Of course, I could not understand a word, but there was no doubt about the purport of it. We had most criminally underpaid them. The noise they made was appalling. I nervously expected the whole of the passengers to gather round to see what had happened. But not one of them took the least notice. Even people on the platform close to us never even turned their heads. Now, I should have been intimidated at once and have hastily given them anything that came handy in my purse. But Miss Lamb stood firm. She waved them aside.
“Bus, bahut bus,” she said, with a sweep of her hand and a splendid air of finality, turning at the same time to converse with me as if nothing were happening. Thereafter, so far as she was concerned, they might have been altogether non-existent.
So the train moved out of Delhi station, amidst the howls of execration of that terrible quartette. I quite trembled to think what curses they might be calling down upon us and our journey, about which I already had such doubts. But Miss Lamb, untroubled by coolies or doubts, chatted gaily on.
Hour after hour that train rattled slowly over the hot dusty plains, stopping at innumerable little wayside stations, the platforms of which seemed always to be crowded with a motley throng of natives. Whole families, with all their household goods, appeared to be everywhere on the move, and at every stopping place there was bustle and confusion as the train came in. It was interesting to watch at first, but the heat and dust and discomfort of that packed railway carriage had a most depressing effect. Miss Lamb is one of those people on whom environment has little effect. Nothing seemed to depress her or to affect her extraordinarily vital personality. I cannot imagine her other than I always knew her, in whatever circumstances or among whatever people she was thrown. Unfortunately, I am just the other way. Environment makes all the difference to me. It does not matter whether it is the environment of people or place. If the people I am with are nice and kind and appreciative, I am at my best, but, if they are cross or critical, I feel at my very worst straight away. As for places, I can be happy in most, but there are some that depress me horribly.
As that hot rattling train pursued its bone-shaking way through the hours of the afternoon, my spirits began to sink. As it drew towards sunset, there was such a melancholy look over the bare flat plain, with its miles and miles of unfilled land, that it made them sink lower and lower. I fervently wished I had taken Berengaria’s advice and was with her in her nice comfortable Government House with friendly faces all round. To be going out into the wilds of India, not even knowing one’s destination, beyond the unconsoling fact that it was called Changulnugger, seemed suddenly revealed in its maddest light. I glanced across at Miss Lamb busily engaged in studying her Hindustani Manual. Her look of determination was comforting, but Berengaria had pronounced her mad, and Berengaria had been out here nearly twenty years and ought to know.
I felt more and more depressed. How I longed for Jack. It was not, of course, that I had not longed for him all through the Durbar, but living in the midst of those scenes was so exciting that, as Maisie had said, when I asked her about her two young men, she really had not had time to think about being in love. One had just been kept going from morning till night. I cannot imagine a better tonic for anyone in love than to go through a strenuous week like that. I did not hear of any engagements taking place at Delhi, though, of course, there may have been some as a consequence of it later on, when people had had time to think about ordinary everyday things again. I had thought a lot about Jack at odd moments, but you cannot think consecutively of anyone far away in the midst of a hubbub like that. Just as I was really beginning to think of him, and to get unhappy again, it was time to dress for another function or to hurry through another meal and rush off to some wonderful sight that took one’s breath away, much more one’s thoughts.
In that train, however, tired of reading, weary of looking out of the window at the broad expanse of melancholy plain as evening fell, one was just in the frame of mind to fall a prey to one’s most depressing thoughts. Of course, mine flew to Jack and to those dreadful days before we parted. Would things go on again just as they were before, Jack imperturbably smiling and I a perfect idiot, a prey to torturing fancies? I simply longed to see him again, and yet I dreaded that first meeting. He was to join me in Calcutta about the end of the King’s visit, if all went well. I grew cold at the thought of it. If we once started again as we had left off, I felt I couldn’t stand it. It is a dreadful feeling to know that there is only one man in the world it is possible for you to love, and not to be quite certain whether he loves you. I dosed and slept uncomfortably on my hard uncompromising seat for hours, longing for the dinner station, so that for a few minutes at least one might get out of that awful carriage and stretch oneself and then try to go to bed.
The train came to a sudden stop, with a jolt that nearly threw me into the arms of Miss Lamb. It was nine o’clock, though we had been due at seven; and we were told, as we hurried into the stuffy, dimly lighted refreshment room, that we should have just twenty minutes grace in which to eat our dinner. It was a trying meal, beginning with very lukewarm soup, and ending with a custard that tasted musty. I felt gloom settling down all over me. Miss Lamb talked to anybody and everybody, apparently completely unconscious of her surroundings and the quality of the dinner. Though no one could have regretted not having seen the end of it, one resented being hustled off before it was over in order to secure one’s seat in the train again.
When we got back to our carriage, fresh trouble awaited us. Two more passengers had got in. They were a very stout lady and her daughter, with lots more luggage that stood piled up all round, mountains high, mixed up with ours. That made six of us in the carriage, and there were only four berths. The two chichi ladies had appropriated the two berths on the one side and were already making their preparations for the night. The other two berths belonged, by right, to Miss Lamb and me. That left the two ladies, who had just got in, with no seat at all. They had perched themselves, insecurely, on portions of their luggage, and were bravely trying to look comfortable and happy. Miss Lamb had previously insisted on giving me the lower berth and taking the upper one herself, but now she at once offered it to the stout lady, who, however, with one calculating glance up at it, hastily, but gratefully, declined. There was nothing for it but to offer her mine. She at first very nicely refused that, too, saying she could not possibly oust me, but, of course, I insisted. Then Miss Lamb, in spite of my protests, gave up hers to me, and I got up aloft and went peacefully to sleep. Miss Lamb and the stout lady’s daughter slept among the luggage as comfortably as they could. The two chichi ladies watched our every movement with curious eyes, but made not the slightest effort to help.
It was not till the afternoon of the following day that we reached our destination. I grew quite excited as we drew near Changulnugger. At last we were going to make our much discussed plunge into the unknown. It was the tiniest of stations, with a small booking office, two small waiting-rooms, and a goods shed. Unlike most of the railway platforms we had stopped at, there was no motley crowd of passengers waiting our arrival. Changulnugger Station wore a decidedly deserted air. To the evident surprise of the station master, Miss Lamb and I descended and looked about for some one to get out our luggage. There was only one man, in a ragged blue garment, with a bell in his hand, and another railway official of sorts, standing in the doorway of the ticket office, visible on the platform besides the station master, while Pomerangum and the Mugh cook seemed to be the only other passengers descending. Both the latter hurried towards us and hastily began dragging out of the carriage all sorts of things that did not belong to us, and were only just rescued in time by their irate owners inside.
Extricating our own private property from that mass of baggage stacked up in the compartment was a work of art, and we delayed that train considerably before we got it all. Meanwhile, the station master advanced upon us, after seeing our tent and other heavy luggage safely out of the guard’s van, eyeing us with unmistakable surprise.
“You alighting here?” he asked unnecessarily, seeing that we were struggling in a most determined way to do so.
I nodded an assent. Miss Lamb, seeing to the extrication of the luggage, was much too busy to notice him. I was vainly trying to remember how many pieces of luggage I was travelling with.
“Why being no coolies in this misbegotten station?” demanded Pomerangum angrily, descending hot and staggering beneath my largest trunk.
The station master looked at us and him solemnly, as if he could not quite believe that we were real.
“Having been here fifteen months, have never seen European alight until this moment,” he said slowly.
Then the guard frantically caught his attention, and he asked us if we were all right. The Madrassi searched the carriage again. Miss Lamb recounted the luggage, we declared ourselves all there, and the train moved off. My heart sank as it drew slowly out of the station. Here we were, stranded in what was evidently a particularly unfrequented part of India, where no European had been seen at least for fifteen months. On either side of the line lay an immense stretch of open country, all cultivated, a smiling and prosperous looking land, but with no signs of even the smallest village. A few huts scattered here and there about the fields were all one could see in the way of habitation. Moreover, it was nearly three o’clock, and I was very hungry, having had nothing since breakfast at ten. Miss Lamb, having assured herself that all the luggage had been taken out of the brake van, turned in a business-like way to the very unbusiness-like looking station master. The clerk and the chokidar in the ragged blue coat stood by, watching with great interest. Miss Lamb began by addressing the station master in what I supposed was Hindustani. For a moment he stood regarding her stolidly. Then he spoke.
“English speak, please,” he said, pronouncing each word slowly, as if he were feeling his way among them.
Miss Lamb was a little hurt at the rejection of her well-meant efforts to meet that station master on his own ground, but she returned to the attack in English as directed.
“Now, my good man,” she said in her brusque determined way, “I want six coolies and two bullock carts.”
The station master, standing with his hands behind his back and the air of a man determined not to help you if he possibly could, shook his head slowly from side to side.
“Not being available here,” he assured us.
Miss Lamb stared at him with withering contempt.
“Where is Changulnugger?” she demanded.
The babu moved a fat hand in the direction of half a dozen huts about half a mile away.
“And where is the nearest town?”
“Twelve miles off,” he answered, with a jerk of the thumb in the opposite direction.
For a moment Miss Lamb considered the situation. Before she could speak again the station master’s curiosity got the better of him, and he turned to me, presumably as a more likely person to get information out of than Miss Lamb.
“What for you come to Changulnugger?” he asked.
I felt quite incapable of explaining to that babu “what for” I had come to Changulnugger.
“We want to go off into camp,” I said, in as conciliatory a tone as I could. “Please get us some coolies and bullock carts.”
“Not being possible to-day,” he said, shaking his head again and evidently resolved not to budge an inch, “to-morrow getting for you early.”
I glanced hopelessly at Miss Lamb. She was looking out, first in one direction then in another, as if judging the resources of the country round. The Madrassi boy was standing on one foot, which he was scratching with the other. The Mugh stood by him considerably less clean than when we started. They both looked as hopeless as I felt. Only Miss Lamb wore her usual undaunted air, and looked capable of dealing with the situation.
“We must camp here for to-night,” she said with decision, turning towards me.
“Yes,” I agreed, feeling that even this wretched little station was a last link with civilisation, and that I was loath to leave it. “But how are we to get up the tent?”
“Pomerangum can do that with a little help,” she announced cheerfully. “Let us select a place for it.”
There was no desirable place for a tent near by, no nice shady trees to camp under, as I had always pictured Indian camp life. I voted for a place close behind the station. It was fairly clean and open, so we decided upon it. Pomerangum had assured Miss Lamb that he could pitch an eighty-pounder, but he had only the remotest notion of how to put it up. I had had no previous experience of pitching tents myself, and I had no idea it was such an art. You simply have to coax it into position, some one clinging on to the pole, while some one else on either side clings on to the ropes, to steady the whole thing and prevent it collapsing. Fortunately the station chokidar proved quite an expert and ordered Pomerangum, Miss Lamb and me about peremptorily. We, in much fear that the whole thing would collapse, and realising that our best chance of getting it fixed lay in obeying, obeyed meekly. At last, after wobbling horribly several times and threatening to engulf and smother Miss Lamb, who clung to the pole inside, it was safely and firmly fixed, and we opened our two new chairs that were convertible into beds at night, fixed our camp table and arranged such of our belongings as we were going to take into camp with us.
The other trunks and heavy luggage I tried to explain to the chokidar I wanted to leave in the station until such time as we should return, but, as neither of us knew a word of the other’s language, it was difficult. I had not even the command of a dead language to help me like the Englishman in Rome, who, failing to make the porter understand that he wanted to leave his luggage until he came back for it, suddenly had a brilliant inspiration, and, pointing to it, said, impressively, “Requiescat in pace” and then, pointing to himself, the single word “Resurgam,” whereupon that porter smiled and understood. I, less fortunate, had to rely on signs alone, but I finally got everything stacked against the office wall, there to await the return of the station master at such time as the next train, many hours hence, was due to stop at Changulnugger.
Behind our tent Pomerangum had pitched the tiniest of tents to make a kitchen, and already the smoke that emerged proclaimed that cooking was in progress. Within an incredibly short space of time, considering, we were seated at a substantial meal of eggs, tinned tongue and hot potatoes, bread and butter, jam and tea. It is extraordinary what a difference food and drink make to one’s spirits. Though by no means reconciled to our position, I felt much more capable of dealing with it after that meat tea. Besides, Miss Lamb’s confidence was enough to inspire the faintest heart. She was so full of life and energy that she would have given the semblance of victory even to the severest defeat, and as yet nothing really untoward had happened to us.
“The Durbar was glorious,” she said, as we finished tea. “We saw India from the top, all that was most splendid and romantic gathered together in one spot. But it is only now that we are beginning to see the real India, the India of the teeming millions with the common daily round of life that has been going on undisturbed for centuries. Come, let us go out and explore before it gets too dark.”
I jumped up to comply with Miss Lamb’s suggestion, and, of course, bumped my head against the roof. As it was fortunately only a canvas roof, it did not much matter, though it was rather bad for one’s hat. If you stood right in the centre of our tent you could just stand upright. Anywhere else you had to bend your head or double yourself up. I admit I sighed for my large spacious tent at Delhi, but I tried to console myself that this was really Indian camp life, while that wasn’t.
What looked like a main road ran within a few hundred yards of our tent and we set out along it at a brisk pace. We both felt we needed exercise after having been cooped up for a day and a night in that dreadful railway carriage, and having had, perforce, to bolt most indigestible meals. I suppose we had walked about a mile and were just thinking of returning, as it was getting dark, when from a little further ahead we suddenly heard what sounded remarkably like a free fight. A dozen voices at once seemed to be raised in angry altercation, the hoarse shouts and cries breaking in distinctly upon the evening stillness. Miss Lamb stopped for a moment to listen and then hurried on in the direction from which the sounds came, I following.
“We must see if we can be of any use,” she said resolutely. “It may be that a woman is being ill-treated.”
“But do you think it would be altogether wise to interfere?” I asked breathlessly, hurrying reluctantly along to keep pace with Miss Lamb’s rapid strides. To try and interfere in a quarrel among natives, which we knew nothing whatever about, seemed, to my vivid imagination, most undesirable.
“It is our duty, an unpleasant duty perhaps, but we must face it,” Miss Lamb decreed unflinchingly, as we turned a bend in the road and came in sight of a group of native huts, with about twenty or thirty people, evidently extremely excited, gathered together in front of them. We were close upon them now, though they were much too deep in their dispute to notice us. They were a wild unkempt looking lot, and every one of them seemed to be talking at the same time. Just as we were within a few yards of them, half a dozen sticks were brandished in the air and a real free fight began. I came promptly to a halt, and I admit that only the fear of earning Miss Lamb’s eternal contempt prevented me from quitting the scene with all speed. If that sounds cowardly, just imagine yourself out in that unfrequented part of India, not knowing a word of the language and with no sign of authority to appeal to, an Englishwoman among a score or more of infuriated natives, evidently of the lowest class. If ever there had been the smallest doubt in my mind as to whether Miss Lamb was or was not a person to put her precepts into practice, it disappeared then. Without a moment’s hesitation she rushed straight into the midst of that frantic group, seizing first one man and throwing him aside and then another, shouting short sharp commands at the top of her voice, in what to me was an unknown tongue, until she stood in the centre of the group, which had dropped to a sudden amazed silence at the sight of the strange apparition.
Then an extraordinary thing happened. With one wild whoop, they fled in all directions. Miss Lamb, in a commanding attitude, was left in full possession of the scene. It was one of the funniest sights I have ever seen. The relief from the fear that had possessed me, as I saw her dash in amongst them, was so great that I only just prevented myself from giving way to the humour of it and laughing hysterically. Miss Lamb, left alone in the middle of the roadway was amazed and, I think, a little resentful. She would have loved to harangue them, point out to them the evil of their ways, and preach a little sermon to them on love and charity with your neighbour. “They must have thought her a ghost,” Berengaria said, when I told her the story later. “Just imagine what an apparition she must have appeared to those excited ryots, who probably had never seen a white woman before in their lives. And it’s just as well for Miss Lamb that they did think her a ghost, or heaven knows what might have happened.”
It was with some difficulty that I induced Miss Lamb to return. She was more than half inclined to follow up the main body of fugitives.
“The fight will probably break out again as soon as we have left,” she said, looking towards the huts to which the majority of the combatants had fled.
“But it’s getting dark,” I urged anxiously, “and I think we ought to be getting back. I don’t think they will fight again to-night.”
But it had been too easy a victory for Miss Lamb, and it was only with great reluctance she returned to camp. On the way I had another shock. Just in front of me, on the road, something that I thought was a stick suddenly wriggled and disappeared. It was an enormous snake. Awful visions of a night in that tiny tent began to conjure themselves up in my mind, and Pomerangum’s greeting did not tend to quiet them. He had caught a large centipede, which he exhibited with great pride. It is the most horrible, creepy, crawly thing you can imagine. All his assurances that there were no more or that none would come within the tent failed to reassure me, and I put my feet as little as possible on the ground for the rest of that evening.
However, I must say that outwardly things looked quite cheery inside the tent. There was a lamp on the little table in the centre, with some of our books laid out and our two chairs, with comfortable cushions, drawn up beside it. All was quite snug and cosy. Outside it was a gloriously starlight night and not unpleasantly cold. I sat inside the tent, with a light coat on, and was perfectly comfortable whenever I could get out of my mind the thought that a snake was probably crawling in under the awning and rapidly advancing on my feet. At eight o’clock Pomerangum brought us a marvellous dinner, considering the means at his disposal, soup, an entree, boiled chicken and vegetables, a custard pudding and quite a variety of things for dessert. He even ran to coffee afterwards. My respect for Pomerangum and the Mugh cook rose rapidly. After dinner Miss Lamb suggested that we should go for a stroll, while Pomerangum made our beds. So we walked up and down the road in front of our camp, Miss Lamb conversing volubly about the delights of rural life and the charms of the real India, I walking warily in much fear of snakes and centipedes.
Our beds looked quite inviting when we got back to them. The only thing was that they were so very near the ground and therefore so easy of access to all manner of creeping things. But the mosquito nets that Pomerangum had cleverly pinned to the roof of the tent could be carefully tucked in all round and would prove a great protection. There was not much room to undress, and we had to do it by the light of a hurricane lantern, as any other kind of lamp would have been too dangerous in those small quarters. Once inside, however, all seemed well. Miss Lamb was fast asleep almost as soon as her head touched the pillow. That always upsets me. When anyone else goes to sleep first like that I always feel aggrieved, and I can never get to sleep as quickly as I otherwise should. It is very absurd, but I can’t help it. That night I lay awake thinking of all manner of things, mostly unpleasant.
I saw, in imagination, all sorts of creeping things converging from all quarters upon our tent, and I actually heard jackals. From far away their hideous, melancholy cries first began, sweeping nearer with incredible rapidity until they seemed close round the tent. I started up in bed in a horrible fright, but Miss Lamb slept on unheeding. The noise of those jackals just outside the tent was terrifying to one hitherto unaccustomed to such nocturnal serenades. They sounded exactly as if they were going to swoop down upon the tent and tear one, limb from limb. Then as quickly as they had come they left, their hideous cries growing fainter and fainter until they faded away in the distance. It was so extraordinarily still after they had gone that I began to long for a noise of any kind again. There is nothing quite like the stillness of an Indian night. It is very beautiful but rather terrifying. At last I slept.
I don’t know how long I had slept or how long I had been dreaming. Do dreams take only the fraction of a second or do they take a long time? Does anybody know? Anyhow, long or short, my dream was dreadful enough. I seemed to be in the midst of the fight of the previous night, but instead of running away the combatants had turned upon us and were raining blows upon us, heavy blows that I could hear with an awful distinctness. I awoke with a start. The dream vanished, but the sound of the blows continued. Then I realised what it was. Heavy drops of rain were pattering loudly on the roof of the tent. It was just the one thing that we might legitimately have expected to escape, but I always find, wherever I go, that according to the local inhabitants they are having the most exceptional weather. These were apparently the winter rains, and for the short time they lasted they were just about as heavy as they could be. The perfect thunder of sound on the tent roof finally woke up even Miss Lamb. There was a wind too that shook the tent, playfully lifted the flaps and let in gusts of rain. But worse was in store.
I suspect that tent of being an ancient one; at any rate it had weak spots, and of course, with my usual luck, one weak spot was exactly over my head. Drip, drip, drip. I scrambled half out of bed, mindful, even with rain dripping on my head, of snakes and other creeping things, and leaning far out managed to seize my umbrella. By putting it up inside my mosquito net and crouching underneath it I was able to keep off the rain, though it still persisted in dripping on to the bed in the place where my feet ought to be. It was very uncomfortable having to hold up an umbrella inside a mosquito net and to hear the rain dripping on to the top of it when you wanted very badly to go to sleep. It was adding insult to injury that no rain dripped on to Miss Lamb and that she peacefully went to sleep again without a moment’s unnecessary delay. I cannot say she actually snored, but she breathed very loudly, in a most annoying way to anyone who was dying to go to sleep too, but had to stay awake and listen.
The morning broke cold and grey and damp. The only redeeming feature was the invaluable Pomerangum, who thrust his head halfway into the tent at half-past seven and asked if we wanted tea. We jumped at it, and it proved most grateful. Thus fortified, we began to get up. It was much more difficult even than going to bed in that cramped space, but at last it was accomplished, and we sat down to more tea and toast and poached eggs and jam, preparatory to setting out on our first day’s journey in the Indian Mofussil. Just as we had finished, up came the two bullock carts that the station chokidar, for a large bribe, had promised to provide, and we hastily packed and were soon setting off along the road in the opposite direction to that we had taken the night before. All roads being equal, the toss of a rupee had decided which we should take. Miss Lamb and I marched ahead, then came the bullock carts rumbling along with Pomerangum and the Mugh bringing up the rear. We none of us knew where we were going.
“It is so delightful to be absolutely free,” discoursed Miss Lamb, striding along in her manly way that took me all I knew to keep pace with. “At last we know something of the charm of the road. Here we are, we can go this way or that at pleasure, no dirties claim us, time is of no account, and, though revolutions may be happening in the world outside, they don’t affect us one tiny little bit.”
It struck me, in my doubting mood, that possibly some people might have called this rather a selfish attitude towards life. But I said nothing. Besides, were we not exploring the heart of India for the good of the Indian people?
It was certainly delightful walking, as the clouds, which had not yet quite vanished, kept it cool, but after we had done about four miles and had left the slow moving bullocks far behind, I was glad when Miss Lamb suggested a halt under a peepul tree that stood in the midst of a group of straw-thatched huts, built of mud. It was a charming little scene in its absolutely rustic simplicity. The ground all round the peepul tree, which seemed to serve as an open courtyard, was as carefully prepared with sun-baked mud as the walls and verandah of the huts themselves, and all was neatly swept and garnished. A row of brass pots flashed in the sunlight, as brilliant as the most industrious of housewives could make them. A group of children played happily, naked and unashamed. Across the nearest field came a string of women from the stream, with earthen pots poised lightly on their heads and walking with all the grace that is the Indian woman’s birthright. A delightfully picturesque group of men and boys, seeming to spring from nowhere, gathered to look at us as soon as we had sat down beneath the peepul tree. Miss Lamb at once addressed them, in confident and encouraging tones, in what to me was still an unknown tongue. Alas! to my surprise and hers it proved to be an unknown tongue to the assembled audience also. At first they stared at her in alarmed surprise; when she spoke again they giggled; the third time she spoke, with a note of annoyance in her tone, the more timid onlookers turned and fled. I had to keep a firm hold over myself lest I should howl with laughter. It was so funny. Miss Lamb talked and talked in her fluent Hindustani, but not a word, it was quite obvious, did they understand, until at last she desisted, with an exclamation in English that was not at all complimentary to these dwellers in the heart of India.
When Pomerangum came up with the bullock carts. Miss Lamb asked him why the villagers did not answer when she spoke to them. He turned and addressed them, and it was quite evident that it was only with considerable difficulty and the help of the Mugh cook that even he made them understand.
“These people very ignorant people, not understanding anything but Bengali,” he said, contemptuously.
“They don’t understand Hindustani?” exclaimed Miss Lamb, visions of all the hours she had devoted to her Hindustani Manual doubtless floating before her mind’s eye.
“No, Miss Sahib, only Bengali,” Pomerangum assured her, shaking his head solemnly, “Hindustani no use here.”
I was afraid to look at Miss Lamb. I got up hastily, and saw to one of our packages that looked to be slipping off one of the bullock carts. It was too tragic. How were we to get at the heart of India armed only with a smattering of Hindustani, a Madrassi and a Mugh, when the people we had come amongst spoke only Bengali?
“One lives and learns,” was all Miss Lamb said, as we tramped on again, without the direct exchange of a word between us and the gaping villagers. But for the first time I noticed that some of the confidence had gone out of her voice.
It was charming country through which we passed. Paddy fields on either side rose in broad terraces, with dense patches of bamboos and heavier trees for background, while far off, in a faint line against the sky, stood a long low range of hills. In many of the fields the villagers were already busy harvesting, the paddy a gloriously rich deep gold. Elsewhere on the lower slopes, in striking contrast, it was still green with the freshness of youth. Miss Lamb tried hard again to greet in a friendly way all those we met along the road, but they only stared at us open-mouthed. A mile or two further on, under a delightful group of mango trees, not far from a larger cluster of huts than any we had yet come across, we resolved to pitch our camp.
This time the tent was quickly up, Pomerangum having pressed some of the villagers into the service, and we were soon having an excellent breakfast under the trees. Lying out there in one’s camp chair during the long sleepy hours of the afternoon was delightful. All signs of last night’s rain had disappeared, and the sun shone again brightly. For the first time I really began thoroughly to enjoy the charms of camp life. Towards evening we strolled over to the village, and Miss Lamb made more brave efforts to talk to the villagers, but with no success. Though we were undoubtedly in the heart of India, we were still as yet by no means of it. But it really did seem as if our troubles were over at last, and a restful week of camp life lay before us. After the stir and life of Delhi, with all its wear and tear, this dolce far niente life was just what one desired. Was Miss Lamb mad after all? And were all Berengaria’s alarms unnecessary? Alas, the morrow, if it did not exactly answer both those questions, at least proved much.
It was so charming a spot where we had camped, that we decided to spend the greater part of the next day there, too, especially as one of the local notabilities, living about a mile away in the direction we were going, had invited us to pay him a visit. We arranged to have bara hazri (big breakfast) at twelve o’clock, and to have everything packed up and sent on afterwards, Pomerangum to choose a nice site for the next camp, about five miles further on along the road. We would visit the local Rai Sahib and follow on later in the afternoon. With many injunctions to Pomerangum not to go further than five miles and to find a suitable site, we saw our things off, and after a rest under the trees, until the sun had got a little further over to the west, we set off ourselves to pay our visit. The outside of the house, as we approached it, looked quite imposing, though it was a perfect jumble of buildings that had apparently been built one by one and added on to the original structure, as the dignity of the family grew. The Rai Sahib, smiling, fat and forty, met us at the entrance, dressed in a purple plush cap and a blue and gold frock coat, buttoned round him so tightly that one was lost in admiration of the strength and determination of the buttons and the seams. He had a pleasant, courteous, manner, and spoke English remarkably well. The main, and evidently the newest, part of the house was gorgeously painted in blue, red and yellow, while different coloured marbles had been used in the pillars and the inside walls. It had a most bizarre effect.
Passing up the steps and through the verandah, we were ushered into the main sitting-room, resplendent with glass chandeliers, brilliantly coloured portraits of the King and Queen, many photographs of Indian gentlemen in various stages of undress or sporting kit, a rainbow antimacassar kind of table-cloth, green leather chairs and an ordinary coarse sheet spread over the bright red carpet, of which only the edges were visible. Almost before we were seated our host simply soused us with a very strong sickly scent from a spray, that hung about me for days afterwards. Then we were garlanded with flowers, and I nearly lost control of myself every time I caught sight of Miss Lamb’s decided features peeping out of a garland of large pink water lilies.
A whole crowd of attendants hung about the doors and gazed at us as we sat for ten minutes and talked about things in general. Miss Lamb, always a-thirst for knowledge, had at last found an Indian in the heart of India to whom she could talk without the aid of Pomerangum or the Mugh cook as an interpreter. But it was quite obvious that her string of questions awoke suspicion of some kind in the Rai Sahib’s mind, and he grew less and less communicative, evincing a great desire to let us hear his gramophone. Of course, we politely said we should love to hear it, and so we solemnly sat and listened to “Stop your tickling, Jock,” and one or two other pieces quite as unexpected and as incongruous in this essentially Indian out of the way corner of India. They were evidently a great shock to Miss Lamb, but they were as evidently a new toy to the Rai Sahib and so perforce we sat and listened.
I had been wondering whether we might suggest a visit to the zenana, and we both eagerly welcomed it when our host himself finally suggested it. We followed him through long narrow passages and several rooms—which seemed to form a perfect rabbit warren—opening out of one another, until at last we came to the zenana at the top of a flight of broad, steep stairs. The ladies were sitting on the floor, in a semicircle, facing a sofa, and they all rose when we entered. There were five of them, and the usual group of attendants, this time of course all women, stood watching us from the doorway. We sat on the sofa and a chair was brought for our host. Miss Lamb’s string of questions at once began again—the Rai Sahib interpreting, as not a single one of his women-folk could speak a word of English— though this time she soon found that she had the control of the conversation by no means all to herself. No Englishwoman had ever visited this zenana before, and the curiosity of those ladies far exceeded even Miss Lamb’s intelligent interest in things. At the outset, she had made one last effort with her Hindustani, but it only produced the same look of amazement as before, and henceforward Miss Lamb resigned herself to English. I never saw the Hindustani Manual again.
The five ladies were the mother, very old and wrinkled, yet with a charmingly humorous expression in her bright dark eyes; the two wives, the senior and the junior, the former fat and complacent, the latter young and sprightly; and the two sisters of our host. Both the sisters were pretty in their delicate, languishing way, but it was not until the children of the family, who had evidently been awaiting a summons behind the door, came in that we realised that tales of beauty behind the purdah might be more than true. These three children, two girls and a boy, were perfectly lovely. The boy, aged about seven, was extraordinarily fair, with the expression of an angel, while the girls, some four or five years older, with their clear brown skins and glorious, dark eyes, that fixed one with a wondering unblinking stare, were pictures of Eastern charm and grace. Their voices, too, were fascinating, sweet and rich and soft.
The curiosity of the womenfolk, as they lost their first shyness, was frank and unblushing. As they grew bolder, they fingered our dresses and asked the prices of various articles of our attire, with an interest and absorption that were pathetic. When Miss Lamb tried to draw them to a higher level, she signally failed. It was quite evident that the ladies of this zenana, at least knew little and cared less about the world outside. Only the mention of the Queen at last caught their interest, and it was delightful to find that they knew all about her message to the women of India. I had always heard that news travelled fast, in some mysterious way, behind the purdah, but here was a proof of it that astonished me. It was less than ten days since the Queen had given that message, yet here were these ladies in this out of the way part of India who actually knew it by heart in their own tongue.
“Her Majesty’s message touched their hearts,” our host said, as we suddenly realised in a new way how wonderful an Empire India is—that a message delivered in Delhi should so soon reach this far off village and penetrate even behind the purdah. “Her gracious words will live for ever in the memory of the women of India.”
It was the one subject that seemed really to interest them beyond the material and prices of our garments.
After leaving the local potentate’s house, we walked on for what seemed to me endless miles with no sign of the bullock carts. We had stayed longer than we expected talking to our host and his womenfolk, and by the time we had walked some four miles or more it began to grow dark. Suddenly, the road unexpectedly branched off in two directions. There was nothing in the way of a sign post and nothing whatever to tell us which way Pomerangum and the carts had gone. I sat down exhausted, and abused Pomerangum softly for leaving us in the lurch like this. Miss Lamb energetically nosed about on the road trying to find wheel marks to guide us, but either she was a very poor Sherlock Holmes or there really was no trace remaining, for nothing came of it. Certainly one road did look more like a main road than the other, so we resolved to take it.
Luckily, about half a mile further on, just as darkness was falling, we came upon, not our tent, but a dak bungalow. It was a small unpromising affair, but we made for it gratefully, routed the chokidar out of his quarters behind and got him to open it. There were only two rooms and a bathroom, one of the rooms being apparently intended for a dining-sitting room, the other for a bedroom, though all the latter contained was a narrow bed, without a mattress or any other accessories. The furniture in the dining-room consisted of a table and two office chairs. There was no crockery and no cooking utensils, the bungalow evidently only being designed for local officials who carried all their goods and chattels with them. We had no means of communicating with the chokidar, except by signs, and it was hopeless to try and find out from him if our carts had passed this way. Miss Lamb and I sat down in the two office chairs to deliberate, facing one another across the table on which the chokidar had placed a tiny, native oil lamp that just made darkness visible.
I was very tired and very hungry, but I tried to look brave. Still, it was too annoying just when we had congratulated ourselves that our camp was running so delightfully smoothly. Miss Lamb was full of plans, but I vetoed them all. We couldn’t send the chokidar out on a search because we were quite incapable of making him understand what we wanted. I strongly objected to going out in the dark, with only a tiny oil lamp, on what would most likely prove a useless and hopeless search, and I also strongly objected to being left alone while Miss Lamb went out in search on her own account. I had lost all except Miss Lamb, and I was quite determined, whatever happened, to keep her. So we faced one another helplessly across the table and the feeble little lamp. Then the chokidar did a thing for which I shall always remember him with gratitude. He came in hesitatingly and placed a large bunch of bananas on the table beside the lamp. Miss Lamb and I fell upon them with a cry of joy. We eat three each and that left six. I was just preparing to take another when Miss Lamb’s solemn, warning voice stopped me.
“Remember to-morrow’s breakfast,” she said, and the hand that I was stretching out towards them fell away helplessly.
There was nothing for it but to make the best of things for the night. Miss Lamb insisted on my taking the bed. It had a spring mattress, but it was quite a new experience coming in direct contact with the springs. It was so cold even with all the doors and windows shut, that I couldn’t spare any of my clothes to make a pillow, so I had to use the enamelled wash-hand bowl from the bathroom turned upside down, with my terai hat folded up to rest my face upon. Miss Lamb cleverly disposed of herself partly on the table and partly on the two chairs, with the enamelled water jug for a pillow. Twice I was startled out of my sleep by that water jug falling off the table and clattering on to the ground below, and each time I waited in breathless suspense in fear of a heavier and duller thud to follow. But though unable always to control the water jug, Miss Lamb managed to maintain her balance on the table, and even declared she slept quite soundly. Strangely enough I, too, in spite of some alarms, slept remarkably well, and only finally awoke with joy to find that it was morning. Still greater joy—there was Pomerangum with early tea and the promise of the fattest chota hazri one could desire as soon as one was ready. Who could blame Pomerangum when the troubles of the night were past and he had taken infinite trouble to find and rescue us? Yet, of course, it was all his fault for not having left some one, or something, to guide us where the roads diverged. But that, from my experience, is so like an Indian servant. He may be most trustworthy and intelligent, but occasionally he shows an extraordinary lack of common sense in some little thing that causes one the greatest inconvenience. Yet he never spares himself to set things right, and gives himself infinite trouble to redeem his fault. All of which a moment’s reflection at the outset would have saved himself and you.
Thereafter, for two days again, all went well. It was astonishing, considering in what a small way we were camping, how comfortable we were. The long, lazy, restful days, after the walk and change of camp in the mornings, were delightful, and I was quite content that they should go on for another week before we once more plunged into the gaieties of civilised life in Calcutta. But, alas! the end came suddenly. Catastrophe after all awaited us. We had left our camp one evening for a stroll before dark, and on our return, as it had grown chilly, Miss Lamb said she would put on her thicker coat and skirt, which she had discarded for a lighter dress in the heat of the day. To give her room to change in the tent, I strolled up and down outside.
Lulled to a sense of false security by the two peaceful days we had spent, I was quite unprepared for the dreadful thing that happened. I was about twenty yards away from the tent, when I heard something fall over inside with a crash, and as I turned round Miss Lamb rushed out just as the whole tent sprang into a blaze. It was only the work of seconds before it fell, a blackened heap of cinders. The flames simply leapt over it and devoured it. Almost simultaneously our little cooking tent caught fire and collapsed, a spark evidently having dropped on it from our tent. It was all over so suddenly that it left one breathless. Where a moment before our neat little encampment had shone out white under the trees there was nothing but two little smouldering heaps of ashes. But when I turned to look at Miss Lamb the little breath the shock had left me fled altogether. I gasped in horror. Miss Lamb had evidently been in the act of changing her dress when she knocked over the lamp, and there she stood in the starlight in the midway stage between one dress and another, which, being interpreted, means that she had no dress on at all. She stood, staring horror-struck at the smouldering ashes, in garments that were never intended for the public eye.
Pomerangum stood on one foot, while he scratched himself with the other, and solemnly regarded her. It is dreadful to have a sense of humour at inappropriate moments, but this was so funny and yet so tragic. Could we save anything from that smouldering mass? Here we were, miles from anywhere, with no roof over our heads and probably with no goods and chattels of any kind, while one of us hadn’t even the clothes one is conventionally supposed to stand up in. Pomerangum, anxious to save something from the wreck, made a dart for the smouldering canvas, but returned with a howl and burnt fingers. The Mugh, wiser in his day, got hold of a stick and poked about, but the only result was to reveal our things underneath in a pathetically charred condition. As the ashes cooled, we all helped, though Miss Lamb had to leave off from time to time to ran up and down in order to keep warm. She was very, very lightly clad. I insisted on giving her my cloak, which, fortunately, I had put on after our walk, but unluckily it was only a short one, and, though it kept her neck and chest warm, it made no pretence of covering her lower extremities. After much fishing about, Pomerangum, the Mugh and I collected a heap of things half burnt or badly singed, which was all that remained of our possessions. We regarded them sadly.
“These things being of no use for future use,” Pomerangum declared, turning them over and shaking his head. “There being here no wherewithal to clothe the Miss Sahib.”
Our bedding was hopelessly burned, while even the contents of our leather trunks were damaged beyond hope of repair. Miss Lamb’s trunk had been open at the time, so she had lost practically everything. Though some of my things had escaped, the only other dress that I had allowed myself was quite ruined, the bodice alone remaining, and that with one sleeve burnt off. Most of our stores, too, were spoilt, and the dinner that had been preparing had quite perished. What was to be done? So great is the influence of clothes even on the strongest natures, that poor Miss Lamb was quite bowled over by the loss of hers. I saw that for once I should have to take the lead. The only thing to be done was to set off for the nearest village and seek for help of some kind. It sounded rather vague in the heart of India, but there was nothing else to be done. So leaving Miss Lamb wrapped up, as best we could, in sundry half-burnt odds and ends, and protected by the Mugh, Pomerangum and I set out. We had seen a group of huts about half a mile further along the road, and we made for that. Pomerangum was anything but a cheerful companion.
“Miss Sahib catching her death of cold out all night,” he said, with a little moan that he repeated at intervals.
“I, too, having lost everything, worth at least two hundred rupees,” he added a few moments later, wringing his hands, but in a tone that made me feel sure the two hundred rupees was an afterthought.
Happily, we reached the group of huts before Pomerangum had further time to depress me. A bright light came from under the door of one of the huts, and we made for that. The door was very cautiously opened after we had knocked the second time. At sight of me, however, curiosity evidently got the better of those inside, and they poured out into the verandah until I thought they were never going to stop, men, women and children tumbling after one another in their eagerness to see this unwonted apparition. Pomerangum had a long conversation with them, which, it was evident, was only imperfectly understood on both sides. Things looked hopeless. Suddenly, through another door, which had opened across the courtyard, I spied a bicycle. I hastily asked Pomerangum if he could find out from them how far off the nearest town was, or any place where a white man lived. There was an Englishman, a magistrate, living only nine miles away. It was great news.
I told Pomerangum to borrow the bicycle and ride off at once and tell him our plight. I don’t think I have felt so much inclined to commit an assault upon anyone in my life as I did then, when Pomerangum stolidly told me he couldn’t ride a bicycle. I could have shaken him. It seemed hopeless to send one of those villagers with a message, but it was all that I could do. I instructed Pomerangum carefully to impress upon the messenger the urgency of the matter and the speed required. A long conversation again ensued, and then Pomerangum turned to me blankly and told me that not one of them could ride the bicycle either. It belonged to a youth who was away from home, and no one else had ever ridden it.
Then I took a great resolve. I called for the bicycle. It was a man’s. I gazed at it for a moment hesitatingly. It was our only means of communication with an Englishman and food and shelter. Half a mile away sat poor Miss Lamb, huddled shivering in half-burned garments and waiting for me to rescue her. I, too, had no desire to sit all night under a tree with no dinner, and to face the morning light in as hopeless a position as the night before. I told Pomerangum to light the lamp while I felt the tyres. Then I told him to go back to Miss Lamb and tell her that I had gone for help, though it would be probably some hours before it came. I also told him to see that none of the villagers followed me. Then I wheeled the bicycle away into the night.
I thought I should have died many times along the road. I should have said it was impossible to have done what I did until I tried, and even now I don’t quite know how I did it. Fortunately the night was dark, and there was no one on the road. Those nine miles seemed interminable. I am afraid I took a very long time over them, but at last I reached what was evidently an Englishman’s dwelling on the outskirts of a town. I left the bicycle, with great joy, standing against a tree, and after making myself look as much as if I had not been riding a man’s bicycle as possible, I approached the verandah steps. There was no one about. Timidly I asked if anyone was there, and, getting no answer, went cautiously up the steps. From the top of them I could see into the main sitting-room. It was brightly lighted, and the only occupant was a young man busily engaged in writing at a table at the further end.
“May I come in?” I said weakly, standing in the doorway and blinking in the bright light after the darkness outside.
For a moment I grew quite anxious. I thought that poor young man was really going to have a fit. He leapt up as if he had been shot, and we stood confronting one another. I was so weak and blinded by the light that I groped my way to the nearest chair and sat down uninvited. He sat down, too, on the only other chair in the room, except the one at his writing table. He was evidently too much astonished to speak. I pulled myself together to explain.
“I’m very sorry,” I began, and then I caught sight of his face. It was so full of embarrassment and even fear that I nearly disgraced myself utterly and laughed.
“Are you,” he said hesitatingly, recovering his voice at last, “the Countess of Hendley?”
I gasped with surprise. How could he have known it? Had Berengaria really set the Criminal Investigation Department on to us? That young man was certainly very reticent both then and afterwards as to how he knew our names.
Then I apologised and explained. He was a very nice young man when he once got over the shock of my unannounced arrival. As he explained to me afterwards, this was a very lonely station, with no other Englishman in it, and during all the two years he had been there he had never seen an Englishwoman in the place. So for one to burst suddenly in upon him at nine o’clock at night was, to say the least of it, startling. And when I saw myself in the looking-glass, which that kind young man provided me with, together with a cake of soap, a towel and a basin of water, I sympathised with him still more in his alarm. I could never have believed that I could look so depraved. My hair was more untidy than I have ever seen it and white with dust, while the hat that crowned it had gone to a positively wicked angle, and the hot flushed face beneath it was damp and streaky. Such an apparition suddenly appearing in the lonely house of any peaceful young bachelor was enough to alarm his peaceful heart.
While I washed and tried to make myself look human again, Mr. Transome, as I discovered my host’s name to be, ordered his trap, to go and drive back for Miss Lamb. He had also very kindly divined that I had had no dinner, and after much shouting his servants, who had evidently gone to bed, were routed out and told to provide a meal. As there would undoubtedly be some delay, however, he, with a prescience beyond his years, suggested tea, and within the shortest possible time I was sitting down before his largest tea-pot and an unlimited supply of bread and butter. I think Mr. Transome began to get anxious when I had that tea-pot re-filled for the third time, but, luckily, just then his tumtum was brought round and he started off. I went with him to the door to see him off. It had just occurred to me that Miss Lamb was hardly in a fit costume to receive a gentleman visitor.
“I think I told you,” I said hesitatingly, yet wishing to prepare him for the worst, “that all Miss Lamb’s things have been burnt?”
For a moment he looked at me doubtfully, and then he blushed.
“All her things?” he asked slowly, with an accent on the first word.
“Yes,” I said, considerately looking the other way, “all her things, including her clothes.”
“But she had something on,” he said, quickly.
“Something,” I admitted, “but not much.”
There was a pause. I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye. He was evidently thinking how he was going to clothe a lady out of his masculine wardrobe.
“Perhaps it would be as well if I took a rug and my Burberry,” he suggested.
“I think it would,” I agreed, and he went off to fetch them.
Of course, as luck would have it, just as he returned and was throwing them into the trap, one of the rudely awakened servants discovered my bicycle, where I had left it against a tree, and began to wheel it towards the house. In the very act of getting up into the tumtum, my host’s eye fell upon it, and for the fraction of a second he paused. When he turned round to take his seat his face was crimson. He caught my eye.
“Perhaps you will be good enough to send it back to the village I got it from to-morrow?” I said, feeling secretly rather proud of the feat I had accomplished.
“Oh, certainly,” he answered quickly, as he gathered up the reins.
“I really don’t think I could possibly ride it back again,” I assured him, smiling up at him as, whipping up the pony, he drove out into the night.
Mr. Transome’s bungalow was not adapted for providing sleeping accommodation for visitors, so I was shown off to a dak bungalow close by where his men were preparing beds for us, and I promptly took possession of mine and fell asleep. So soundly did I sleep that I did not even wake when Miss Lamb, her troubles over, joined me some hours later in the refuge that Mr. Transome had provided for us.
Next morning, about eight o’clock, came over, with a tray of tea and eggs and toast, a note from him asking when he might come and see us. We sent word that we should be glad to see him at nine o’clock. Miss Lamb and I held a consultation over the tea and toast as to future plans. It was quite evident that there could be no more exploring of the heart of India. The only thing to be done was to get Mr. Transome to drive us to our late camp, pick up what we could from the débris of which Pomerangum and the Mugh had been left in charge, and then drive back to Changulnugger with all speed, regain the rest of our luggage, and move on to civilisation and Calcutta.
So, when our shy young host came over to us we made our suggestions. He at once fell in with them, and sent a change of horses on ahead to take us right through to Changulnugger, where there was a train at six o’clock in the evening that would take us to Calcutta. We set out after breakfast, Miss Lamb, in a long Burberry coat of Mr. Transome’s, sitting in front, while I perched on with the syce behind. Word had been sent on to Pomerangum that we were coming, and he and the Mugh had stacked everything they could rescue under a tree. It was not much, and we left most of them behind. Pomerangum brought on what we decided to keep on an ekka, a weird little conveyance, with large wheels and not much body, and drawn by a tiny little native pony with a marvellous speed. In the waiting-room at Changulnugger Miss Lamb was once more able to resume her normal habits, and, restored to her clothes, she quite recovered her usual spirits. We all had tea on the platform from a tea basket that the thoughtful Mr. Transome had brought with him, and merrily made light of past troubles and discomforts.
“At any rate, it has been an experience,” said Miss Lamb cheerfully, helping herself to her fourth cup of tea.
“No one could deny that,” I murmured.
“We have got off the beaten track, and we have seen a side of India that very few globe-trotters do see,” she continued.
“No one could deny that,” I murmured again, feelingly.
“And I for one am extremely sorry the experience is over,” she concluded. “I wish we were only just arriving at Changulnugger instead of leaving.”
Did I, too, really wish we were beginning all those experiences over again—the fight, the rain, the snake, the wire mattress without another mattress to cover it, the fire and a dozen other little adventures left untold? Yet I had enjoyed it immensely. It had been such an absolute contrast to the Durbar, a glimpse of another India as far apart as it could well be from that of Delhi. Just as I was hesitating what I could truthfully reply, our train came in, and we bade good-bye to the heart of India and turned our thoughts towards its most civilised and conventional spot—Calcutta.
I don’t quite know what I expected of Calcutta, but the reality came to me as a pleasant surprise. It is a wonderful place. The fascination of it gripped me at once. A breath of the old East India Company’s days still seems to linger over it. In spite of its many industries and commerce, it has nothing of the new made commercial aspect of Bombay. Calcutta, at the very outset, makes you conscious that it has a past. Many of the splendid cities up country have a past, too, but it always strikes you, however interesting, as something of a dead past. Whereas Calcutta, with all its historical associations, is extraordinarily alive. Job Charnock’s tomb and St. John’s Church with its interesting registers and Zoffany’s picture, the Park Street cemeteries with their curious old tombs and historical inscriptions, Warren Hastings’ house, and the site of the Black Hole, all vividly bring back past days. The Botanical Gardens with the marvellous banyan tree, the Museum with its many treasures, the Jain temples and the great Hindu Temple at Kalighat, are strangely redolent of both past and present. Yet it is not the actual sights so much as the very atmosphere of the place. Something of the great days of Clive and Warren Hastings, of Wellesley and Cornwallis still hangs over it. The drive along the Strand road as the sun sets over the shipping on the Hooghly is a daily joy, while at Tollegunge, the famous club, only a short drive off, one might be far in the depths of the country, away from the stir of the great city.
Then, if you want social life, you can find it in an endless round of dinners and dances where all the world that is the world meets. It is the most hospitable place in the universe. Maisie and I were going to stay with people whom we had never met, but who, as friends of Berengaria’s, had invited us to stay with them. Of course, arriving several days before I was expected, I went to an hotel. It was very tiresome being without Ermyntrude, but I was much too proud to wire for her and so let Berengaria know that our expedition had come to a sudden and unexpected end. But Mr. and Mrs. Torrens, as soon as they discovered I was in Calcutta, insisted on my going to them at once, and there a few days later, the night before the King’s arrival, Maisie and Ermyntrude joined me.
The moment Maisie arrived I saw that something had happened. I reproached myself for having deserted her and feared greatly as to what might be the matter. Of course, it must be in connection with her two young men. Maisie did not leave me long in doubt.
“Isn’t it dreadful,” she said, in her simple little way, as soon as we were alone together. “I have promised to marry them both.”
“My dear Maisie,” I exclaimed in horror, “what do you mean?”
To my surprise and distress, instead of replying, she began to cry. She cried most effectively about three tears and a half and explained between her sobs.
“Please don’t be angry, I couldn’t bear that,” she pleaded sweetly. “The fact is they both bothered me so dreadfully that I didn’t know what I was saying.”
“But you actually promised to marry them both?” I asked wonderingly.
“Yes,” Maisie stopped dabbing her face with an absurd little lace pocket handkerchief and looked at me with large, round, troubled eyes.
“I don’t quite see how, having accepted one, you could go and accept the other,” I persisted, being a mere practical woman to whom such a thing seemed impossible.
Maisie gazed at me reproachfully, as if I were very brutal.
“But that’s just what I did,” she said.
“And what happened then?” I asked, feeling real curious to know. There could be no doubt that, strongly as I might disapprove, the situation was an interesting one.
“Nothing as yet. It’s still got to happen.” Maisie grew tearful again at the thought of it. “Do please help me,” she said appealingly.
I reasoned with her gently that I could hardly help her until I knew more about the attendant circumstances. Then she explained.
“I promised Captain Bremner first,” she confessed, tearfully. “It was the night before he left Berengaria’s.”
“Left Berengaria’s?” I interrupted in surprise. This was the first intimation I had had that Captain Bremner had ever been to stay with Berengaria. I was soon to learn, however, that not only he, but Captain Haslem also had managed to get himself invited there. I suppose I ought to have foreseen it. Such are the ways of young men in love the world over. But, alas! I had forgotten it.
“He was so dreadfully tragic,” she went on after she had explained, in the most natural way, that both her young men had joined Berengaria’s house party, “I felt it wouldn’t really be safe to let him go without promising him, and he rushed me so at the last moment that I didn’t know what I was saying. But anyhow I promised him. Of course, I regretted it immediately afterwards.”
“But you really meant it at the time?” I said, somewhat disconcerted.
“Of course,” said Maisie, eyeing me again reproachfully. “Of course I meant it. But what was I to do when Captain Haslem was just as tragic on the following night. He was more violent even than Captain Bremner, and I simply had to promise him or I don’t know what he would have done.”
“Fiddlesticks,” I am sure Aunt Agatha would have said, and that I am bound to confess is what I thought. But it was no use saying it to Maisie in her present condition. The deed was done. Instead, I said cheerfully, “Well, at any rate, you won’t see them again just yet, and that will give you time to decide finally between them.”
“But that’s just what I shall not have,” sighed Maisie tragically. “They have both got leave to come down to Calcutta, and they are both arriving on Monday, and they are both pressing me to let them announce the engagement.”
Truly the plot thickened. With some trepidation, I foresaw myself inevitably drawn into it.
“My dear Maisie,” I said, firmly, “you must make up your mind at once between them and wire to the other not to come.”
“It’s too late,” moaned Maisie, “they’ve both started.”
After that I felt that destiny was shaping itself, and that my help, if needed, would come in later when those two unfortunate young men arrived. We had at least two days’ respite. Besides, after all, in spite of her momentary tearfulness, there could be no doubt that Maisie was a girl eminently capable of taking care of herself. So I left her, with what consolation I could, and went off to get ready for the King’s arrival.
But that was destined to be a morning of shocks. Another, and much severer one, awaited me in my own room. I had scarcely had time to speak to Ermyntrude, who had only arrived late the night before, and when I went in to her now I noticed nothing unusual. I was entirely absorbed in Maisie’s affairs. Ermyntrude’s clear, level voice brought my attention round to her affairs with irresistible force.
“I am afraid I shall have to trouble your ladyship for three days off next week,” she said quietly, as if she were asking nothing unusual.
But it was so unusual that I positively jumped. In all the years that she had been with me, Ermyntrude had never once asked for a single day’s holiday. Yet here she was asking for it in Calcutta of all places.
“Three days’ holiday!” I repeated, in astonishment, turning round to look at her.
Ermyntrude, for a moment, lost her usual prim determined look and blushed deeply.
“Yes, my lady. I want three days’ holiday to get married in.”
I sat down heavily in the nearest chair and gazed at her.
“You are going to be married, Ermyntrude?” I could only repeat stupidly.
“Yes, my lady,” she answered, busying herself with my clothes and evidently trying to speak naturally. It was a great shock. If there was one person I thought I knew thoroughly, it was Ermyntrude. Yet, when I started out on this voyage if any one had suggested that she would get married in the course of it, I should have laughed them utterly to scorn. That my plain, elderly English maid, who had been devoted to me for years, should suddenly go and marry a man whom she had only recently met, and a Frenchman to boot, on whose nationality she had always hitherto poured such contempt, was amazing. I felt utterly at sea. Never again could I confidently say that I really knew anybody. Of course, I at once thought of Jack. Supposing he was doing something unexpected, something I could never have believed he could possibly have done. I grew horribly afraid. If Ermyntrude could go and do such an utterly improbable thing as to get married, I felt for one wild moment that anybody might do anything.
“You are going to marry?” I said slowly.
“Yes, my lady. Alphonse Dandeau, my lady,” Ermyntrude put in rather hurriedly.
Of course I had known it. But it had seemed too impossible to believe until I had heard it from her own lips.
“I have no intention of leaving you, my lady,” she went on quickly, “not unless your ladyship so wishes. We have decided nothing but to get married at present, he to keep on with the Marquis and me with you, my lady, if convenient.”
It seemed an amazing arrangement. To get married after the shortest possible courtship, have a three days’ honeymoon, and then return to their former occupations apart was, to say the least of it, unusual. I knew it would be worse than useless to attempt to interfere. Besides, Ermyntrude was quite capable of looking after her own affairs, and if she chose to marry a man, and a Frenchman ten years her junior, it was really no business of mine. Still, I could not resist a playful thrust.
“You are really going to become a Frenchwoman, Ermyntrude?” I said, smiling into her uncompromisingly British face.
“France is a very fine country, my lady,” was all she replied, as she put the finishing touches to my toilette.
“I hope Alphonse is well off,” I ventured, fearful lest she should be robbed of her well-earned savings by this dapper little Frenchman who, for all I knew, might be only an adventurer.
“He has a little property of his own in the valley of the Loire,” she told me.
“You are quite sure it’s all right?” I insisted, unconvinced by a mere statement of Alphonse’s.
“Oh, yes, my lady; I interviewed the Marquis and he assured me Alphonse had a property on his estate, a very nice little property, which his mother and sister are looking after while Alphonse is away. He was the Marquis’s foster brother, and he’s very much attached to him. I thought it best to marry him at once, my lady.”
It was evident that Ermyntrude had acted with great discretion and was by no means the slave of passion. I only wondered how she would get on with the mother and sister of Alphonse. Still, it seemed all right, hard as it was to reconcile oneself to it. To me, it meant the loss of my invaluable maid, very probably in the near future, and that was an event to be contemplated only with dismay. Ermyntrude knew all my little ways and fads so thoroughly that I dreaded the thought of a stranger. It would be awful to have to teach a new maid everything afresh. I felt depressed already at the thought of it.
It was thus, in a most chastened frame of mind, that I set out to welcome their Majesties to Calcutta. However, it was impossible to feel depressed long on that glorious winter morning, with happy excitement and expectation in the air, and in the company of our cheery host and hostess. Mr. Torrens was one of those men one often meets in India who might be almost any age. He struck one as being so young and fresh and alert that it came to one with something of a shock of surprise when he spoke of having been in India twenty-two years. Mrs. Torrens, a dainty, pretty little woman, though she had been married thirteen years, belonged to that lucky little company of Anglo-Indian women who have never had to spend a hot weather in the plains, and for whom India only means a round of gaiety for four or five months every cold weather.
“Nothing would induce me to go home every year, as I do, except the children,” she had told me rather wistfully. “Jim wishes it, and I think he’s right. It is hard on the children to cut them off from both parents during the most impressionable years of their lives. But I always hate the thought of leaving Jim to swelter through the hot weather and rains. Though he looks so well, he is anything but strong really. It spoils my cold weather thinking of it, and he can get away home with me so seldom. A woman who marries an Anglo-Indian has a hard struggle of it between husband and children. Of course, you may think I have a good time of it generally, the summer in England with the children and a jolly cold weather out here with Jim, but I assure you wherever I am I feel unsatisfied, as if there were never more than half of me there.”
I did sympathise with Mrs. Torrens, but I could not help remembering what Berengaria, who by no means went home every year, had once said to me on the same subject.
“Everything in this life has its compensations,” was her cheery, downright view of it, “and there are lots of fathers, yes, and mothers, too, who are perfect idols to their children at home, very largely because the children see so little of them. Very few fathers and mothers can remain ideals to their children if they live constantly amongst them. Little daily frictions and irritations are bound to tell and children are so quick to notice. I know several children at home who see their fathers perhaps for six months in four or five years, when their fathers, released from work and enjoying their leave, are at their best. Those children simply adore their fathers, though, as I know those same fathers out here, they are really anything but adorable. It sounds a dreadful thing to say, but it’s quite true, that the less some parents see of their children the more those children will respect them.”
Having had no experience in these matters myself, I can’t venture to pronounce a verdict, though I am now, as always, strongly inclined to suspect that there is much truth in what Berengaria says.
It was a most artistic horseshoe structure that Government had erected at Prinsep’s Ghat, where we assembled to greet the King and Queen. The seats, arranged all round, were crowded with a gay throng of officials and guests. Their Majesties were due to come by launch from Howrah Station, on the other side of the river, and to receive an address on landing before moving off to Government House. The Ghat was formerly the actual landing place on the river bank, but so fickle has the Hooghly been that it has left it high and dry, and a broad carriage drive now separates it from the water’s edge. The pavilion was actually erected on what once was the river bed. Across the road, all carpeted and decorated, and through the end of the horseshoe to their golden seats, on a raised dais at the further end, came the King and Queen with their brilliant suite. Both their Majesties looked extremely well—the King bronzed after his shoot in Nepal and the Queen none the worse for all her energetic round of sight-seeing. Though, of course, everything was on a much smaller scale than the all-India show at Delhi, it was excellently done, and the Bengal Chiefs and local potentates made a glittering company in their gorgeous dresses and wonderful jewels.
Every word of the King’s reply could be heard, and, as usual, he said just the right thing. If there had been the slightest apprehension that Calcutta, which the King’s announcement at Delhi had just dethroned from its proud place as capital of India, would give any the less hearty a welcome to the King-Emperor on that account, it was at once set at rest. As the King said, Calcutta would always hold its own special place, among the cities of the Indian Empire, by right of trade and commerce and general importance. So, loyal and gratified, Calcutta gave its Sovereigns a right Royal welcome. After the address and the reply, and many introductions, the King and Queen, bowing graciously to right and left, passed out behind the thrones and drove away to Government House. The route up the famous Red Road was a delightful one, gaily decorated and with crowds and crowds of school children and purdah ladies on stands on either side. Their Majesties got a tremendous ovation as they passed along.
One delightful little story of the Queen was told me that morning, as we waited for their coming, I wonder if it is true, or if it is only one of the many Indian stories that “grew.” It was while she was at one of the great cities of Upper India years ago, as Princess of Wales, and being anxious to go out quietly to see the place for herself she asked a young Police Officer to escort her and to be sure to tell no one else about it beforehand. So off they started on foot down through the bazaar, the Princess in a thick veil and a topi, enjoying it immensely. But at the first police outpost on the road, the constables, seeing their Police Sahib coming, turned out in full force and saluted with a clatter of arms as he passed. “Now, I particularly asked you that there might be none of that,” said the Princess, looking reproachfully at her young escort. “Oh! it’s not Your Royal Highness they are saluting, it’s me,” he hastened to explain, blushingly. They were only doing the usual thing in turning out to salute him as he passed. The story ends that the Princess enjoyed the joke immensely.
The ten o’clock service in the Cathedral next day was a delightful one. The King and Queen sat in the great raised seats on the right below the Chancel, where the Viceroy usually sits, with the Royal Arms overhead. The service lasted just an hour and the Bishop of Calcutta preached a ten minutes’ sermon. The whole service was so well ordered, cheerful and reverent, and the singing beautiful. They had one of my favourite anthems, “Comfort ye, Comfort ye, my People,” which I believe the King chose. Needless to say, the Cathedral was packed to its utmost limits. In the afternoon we went up the river on a launch to Barrackpore, where the Viceroy has a beautiful week-end retreat, with Serampore, the old Danish settlement opposite, and on to Chandernagore, where the French flag still flies, and a French Governor resides. I was particularly interested in Chandernagore, as it was the place where Ermyntrude was going to spend her honeymoon, determined to lose no time in taking up her rights and privileges as a Frenchwoman among French people. I tried to imagine it and quite failed.
A man who was with us on the launch told me that he had once been the Government official in the neighbouring station, and that he had gone over to pay a State call on the French Governor. He couldn’t speak a word of French, and found to his distress, on arrival, that the Governor could not speak a word of English, so after they had shaken hands, and one had said, “bon jour,” and the other, “good day,” there threatened to be a bad slump in conversation, until the Governor seized with a brilliant idea called in a kitmatghar, who spoke both French and Hindustani, and efficiently translated the English official’s Hindustani into French for the benefit of the Governor and the latter’s French into Hindustani for the benefit of the English official. That and un-iced champagne at four o’clock in the afternoon of a very hot day in June saved the conversation from extinction.
On Monday we motored out to the Botanical Gardens, over the fascinating Howrah Bridge, with its endless stream of traffic, and its views up and down the river of the shipping, the wharves and the mills on the western bank, and the Fort, the High Court and other palatial buildings on the eastern bank, with crowds of Hindus bathing at the bathing ghats, the whole a wonderful picture of progress and old- time tradition. Right through the narrow roads of the bazaar, where the lazy pariah sleeps and the little naked brown children play in the dust and the sun, past a deafening jute mill in full swing, one comes at last, through the glare and the heat and the smells, to those cool delightful gardens on the river bank. They cover an immense area and broad roads, over which one can motor, run all through them. They are a perfect paradise of green lawns, giant trees, magnificent towering avenues, and exquisite lakes that mirror in their liquid surface the luxuriant foliage on the border. The great banyan tree is an amazing sight, its branches throwing out innumerable downward shoots, which reaching the ground take root and become fresh supports to the parent tree. It is a perfect forest of trunks with one immense tree overhead.
Tuesday was a very full day both officially and unofficially. In the morning there were the Proclamation Parade and Ermyntrude’s marriage. The Proclamation Parade came first and we started off for it at an early hour. It was a fine sight. The maidan, the wide open space between the houses and the river that the builders of Calcutta were so wise to leave as the lungs of the great city, makes a splendid parade ground, with ample space for the ten thousand troops on parade. It was a much smaller affair than the Delhi Review, but the surroundings were much more picturesque. The glorious fresh greenness of the maidan, and the fine surrounding trees with the palatial buildings beyond, along Chowringhee, their roofs crowded with spectators, made a charming setting. We saw it all from a most artistic pandal, especially erected for the review and the much-talked-of Pageant, which was to take place later on.
After the Parade and a hasty breakfast, Maisie and I escorted Ermyntrude to her wedding. My faithful maid was married in a wonderful mauve brocade and a hat with ostrich feathers, neither of which I had ever seen before. I still wonder where they came from. The bride was also wearing a diamond brooch that I had given her, and a gold watch that was Maisie’s present, and she carried a parasol with a most elaborate handle, which she proudly showed us as a present from the Marquis de Boncourt. Alphonse looked more French than ever, in a very tight frock coat and hair brushed carefully upwards. I gave Ermyntrude away and the Marquis was best man. No one would have known that Alphonse did not speak English perfectly. I suspect that Ermyntrude had carefully coached him up. His responses were most ready and distinct. Ermyntrude went through it all, as if it was the most ordinary everyday occurrence—cool and determined as I had always known her. Only at the door, after all was over and we had signed the vestry books, did she show any signs of emotion, and they were at leaving me.
“I do hope you won’t miss me very much, my lady, for the next three days—of course, that’s not true, I do hope you will miss me a bit after all these years, but you know what I mean, my lady,” she said, as I shook her hand and wished her joy. “I shall be back on Friday without fail.”
“Of course I shall miss you tremendously, Ermyntrude,” I said, “but you are not to hurry back. I shall be quite all right.”
Then I shook hands with Alphonse, who gave me a most courtly bow, and they drove away, in the motor I had provided for them, to spend their honeymoon in Chandernagore, where Ermyntrude might learn to become less British and more French.
The Marquis de Boncourt, Maisie and I stood for a moment on the steps. As I looked at him, I wondered how he could possibly even for a passing moment have attracted me. It was, doubtless, largely the joy of Jack’s speedy return that had altered my point of view. Yet there was no doubt that the Marquis was a most fascinating man.
“Why do you think they got married?” I asked him, speaking my thoughts aloud as I watched the motor containing the bride and bridegroom disappear. I was still dazed at the thought of Ermyntrude married.
“Did I not once before say to Madame la Comtesse that love is a strange thing?” he answered, with his charming smile, as our motor came up and we got in. “And in any case Alphonse is a good fellow, and if I may be allowed to say so,” he added with a final smile that conveyed so much more than his words, “I judge Madame Dandeau to be a most capable woman.”
It is impossible to say how much I missed Ermyntrude. When you have had the same maid, and a most excellent and intelligent one at that, to do everything for you for many years, the first few days without a maid at all are distressful. I felt as if I had suddenly come down in the world, and it was particularly trying, as there were such heaps of things on just then in that eventful week. The Garden Party that same afternoon at Government House was another delightful function. The grounds at Government House, right in the middle of Calcutta, are just perfect. You might be miles away in some Sylvan retreat instead of only a few yards from the heart of a great city. Like the Garden Party at Delhi, too, it gave one an opportunity of meeting one’s Indian friends, whom one seems so seldom to meet in the ordinary social life of India, and, though I did not know many of them, Mrs. Torrens introduced me to several. Miss Lamb was there and came up to me, in quite an excited state, as soon as she saw me.
“I don’t think I have ever been so upset in my life,” she said as she greeted me.
“You have not been starting a suffragette campaign here, I hope, have you?” I said, jokingly.
Miss Lamb looked at me quickly and critically.
“No,” she said impressively, with her hand on mine, “it’s just the reverse. I am not at all sure I am a suffragette any more. It’s that that is upsetting me.”
“Not a suffragette any more,” I exclaimed, gazing in astonishment at the woman who had boasted to me only so recently of the one hundred and forty seven panes of glass—twenty-two of them plate-glass—that she had broken in the cause.
“An Indian I have just been talking to has thrown a new light upon the question,” she explained, tragically. “He was really very rude, but I am sure he didn’t mean to be. He said, ‘Do you actually think that we, with our traditions and our strong sense of the place that women should occupy in life, will consent to be ruled by a Parliament elected by women?’ Of course, I at once said, ‘But what about the Begam of Bhopal?’ He only waived that aside. ‘It is an accident,’ he said, ‘the one single exception among a population of three hundred millions. We will never consent to be ruled by women. Englishmen we admire and respect, but we will never consent to be ruled by their womenfolk.’ Wasn’t it dreadful?”
“That certainly does give one. ‘furiously to think,’” I said, gazing thoughtfully into Miss Lamb’s troubled face.
“Of course if it’s a question between holding India and votes for women, I should have to give up the votes for women,” she went on quickly. “After seeing that magnificent Durbar and after our experiences in the Mofussil, no sane Englishwoman could contemplate the possibility of our losing India. We women must sacrifice our own personal wishes, if it comes to that. I am going home at once to point this out to everybody.”
Poor Miss Lamb! Never again would she know the wild unholy joy of breaking windows, never again would she grow passionately eloquent on the wrongs of womankind. The stately dignified East, with its centuries of tradition, had conquered her. I should not be at all surprised if the end of Miss Lamb closely resembled the unexpected end of Ermyntrude.
Both Captain Bremner and Captain Haslem were at the Garden Party, having arrived in Calcutta late the night before. I came across Maisie walking placidly between them. They all three seemed to be in the midst of a most lively and amicable conversation. Maisie appeared radiant and perfectly happy. I looked at her in astonishment. To be able to walk smilingly between two men, also smiling, both of whom you had promised to marry struck me as amazing. I was rather afraid that either or both of them might come and tell me that he was the happy man, so after speaking to them for a few minutes I quietly manoeuvred myself away in the crowd. I am bound to confess that I had more and more a sneaking sympathy for Maisie in her incapability to choose between those two young men. Even I found it difficult to decide which of those two delightful youths I liked the best. What could I do if they both came and appealed to me? I did so hope Maisie would settle her own affair.
I had really quite enough to agitate me on my own. In a few more days now, Jack would be with me. I looked forward to it with mingled joy and terror. I wanted him, it was impossible to say how much, but I felt more and more that I could never return to that state of mere friendliness into which we had drifted, and so much depended on the first few minutes of our reunion that I grew cold with fright every time I thought of it—which was about every other minute of the day. “Be natural,” Aunt Agatha would have counselled, which, of course, would have been very wise, but how can you be natural at the most unnatural moment of your life? So many people are most unlike themselves just when they want to be most like themselves. They do things at critical moments not a bit like what they would do under ordinary circumstances, and they live to regret it ever afterwards. Anyway, I felt very nervous and jumpy, and only that gay and strenuous week, with its delightful festivities, kept me up.
When we got back home that afternoon, I was naturally consumed with curiosity to know how Maisie had escaped from her dilemma. I knew she would never tell me straight away. That was not her way. I should have to draw it from her tactfully. But it was quite evident, as usual, that she desired to tell me, so I gave her a lead.
“Well, how did you find your two young men?” I asked her.
“Fortunately,” she smiled, not exactly answering my question, “they had not met one another before they met me.”
“Do you mean to say,” I exclaimed, scandalised, but amused, “that, when I came across you walking between them at the Garden Party, neither of them knew the other had proposed to you?”
“No,” said Maisie, still smiling, “I had just met Captain Bremner when up came Captain Haslem, and I saw that luckily they hadn’t met before since leaving Berengaria’s. What would you have done in my case?”
“My dear Maisie,” I answered, astonished at her effrontery in suggesting I could ever have got myself into such a situation. “I have not the least idea. What did you do?”
For a moment Maisie looked thoughtful, as if she were pondering whether she really had done what was best.
“You see, I felt I could not possibly leave them together,” she replied slowly, “it would have been so dreadful for them to find out from one another. So I thought that I had much better confess right there to them both.”
I marvelled at Maisie’s courage and wisdom.
“I took them off to a quiet corner of the garden,” she went on dramatically, “and then I told them. It was a very awful moment.”
“What happened then?” I asked breathlessly, as Maisie paused, as she always did, just at the most exciting moment.
“Captain Bremner was, of course, very much annoyed, I could see that, but he was very nice and kind and seemed to want to find excuses for me at once,” she told me, with a little wistful air, as if it were really she who was the aggrieved person. “But Captain Haslem was and looked furious. I was convinced as I looked at his face that he has a horrible temper.”
“My sympathies are rather with him,” I admitted, feeling that she thoroughly deserved it. “Don’t you, too, think he had every reason to be angry?”
Maisie opened her beautiful, large, blue eyes and looked at me reproachfully.
“Reason to be angry?” she repeated, protestingly. “Reason to be angry? But don’t you think my future husband, whoever he may be, will often have reason to be angry with me, and will it make his anger any pleasanter to put up with just because he has reason for it?”
I laughed. Maisie was so absurdly pathetic. Her husband would certainly have to be an angel, if he did not sometimes find reason to be annoyed with her.
“So you decided there and then to take Captain Bremner?” I ventured.
“Yes,” said Maisie, “that settled it, and you cannot think what a relief it is.”
I laughed again, but I am not quite sure that the justifiably angry Captain Haslem would not have made a fitter husband for her than the too fond, easy going Captain Bremner. But I said no word to disturb her serenity.
That night there was the Levee, which, of course, did not directly interest us womenfolk, the men going off to look beautiful all by themselves, most of them in black velvet court suits acquired for the occasion at a cost of many hundreds of rupees. Wednesday was again a full day. In the afternoon there were the Races and the King-Emperor’s Cup. I should think the Calcutta Race Course, taken all round, from a visitor’s point of view, could hardly be beaten anywhere in the world. It is just delightful. The stand itself is a fine roomy one, with a broad open space and steps leading up the centre for the Viceroy and his party, and rows of boxes behind and above. Down the course one gets a splendid view of the broad sweep of green turf into which the horses turn as they approach the winning post. In the enormous centre, formed by the circular course and picturesquely broken up by trees and water, and surrounded by yet more trees and palatial buildings beyond, gather an immense crowd of native spectators in every variety of coloured garb. They make a gloriously vivid patch of life, in every shade of green and orange, purple and blue and red. It is quite the most fascinating outlook I have ever seen from any race stand. Behind, on the greenest of lawns, in the paddock, dozens of little tea tables are set out that look most tempting and never fail in popularity. The King and Queen had a tremendous reception as they drove up the course in State, in four-horse landaus, and escorted by the body-guard, and again when they departed, after the King had given away the Cup.
The same night there was the Torchlight Tattoo—a night of many adventures. Mrs. Torrens had a large’ dinner party, which began especially early, to enable us to start in good time. She had decided not to take out her motor or carriage, owing to the crowd and the recklessness of our people’s coachmen, so we were going in ticca gharis hired for the occasion. I set out in one of them with my host and a Mrs. Stackley, the sporting mother of an M.P., who was globe-trotting all on her own, and was also staying with Mrs. Torrens. She was a beautiful, old lady, whose adventurous spirit was by no means evident in her fragile appearance. She was much more full of life and energy, however, than most people half her age.
Pomerangum, whom Miss Lamb had lent to me while Ermyntrude was away, had asked if he might come too, and sit on the box, and fortunately, as events proved, I had let him come. As soon as we drew near the corner of the maidan where the Torchlight Tattoo was to take place, we realised what an extraordinarily dense crowd we were in for. The roadways were absolutely blocked with traffic of every description and though for a time we moved on en masse, with sudden halts and breathless escapes from other people’s conveyances or bobbery horses, we came at last to what seemed to be unmistakably a final halt. It was an amazing sight. Right along the road behind and before was one compact mass of carriages, most of them literally bristling with natives in gaily coloured garments, while, on either side, the pathway was a seething mass of humanity, so closely packed that it was barely possible to move. Mr. Torrens clambered up on the seat and spied out the land.
“We shall never move from here till the show is all over,” he announced. “We are completely blocked in, ahead and behind.”
He got down and faced us, regarding us doubtfully.
“The only possible way of getting there is to get out and walk,” he said, “and I don’t know if you could manage that through this crowd.”
Mrs. Stackley turned to me at once.
“You go with Mr. Torrens,” she urged. “There is no reason why you should both miss it on account of me. I shall be quite all right here in the carriage.”
Mr. Torrens hesitated to leave her, but she was kindly determined that we should go, so we finally left her in the ticca ghari, in charge of Pomerangum, and set forth. It was thrilling. The crowd was so dense on the pathway that our only chance was to keep to the road, and dodge in and out among the horses and carriages. We had to squeeze between wheels about a foot apart and slip past horses’ heads, with our noses almost touching them. If those wheels had turned suddenly ever so few inches, we should have been badly caught, while, if those horses had wished to be nasty, they had only to turn their heads. On we went, Mr. Torrens leading, dodging here and there with great agility, and I closely following, when suddenly even he came to.a halt, and I drew up close behind him, on an empty space of ground about three feet square. Then I saw what had stopped us. The most vicious looking horse I have ever seen stood facing us, its feet planted well apart and forward, and its ears at a positively wicked angle. On either side there was about a foot’s clear space for us to creep by. Fortunately, out of consideration for the people who were going to sit behind me, I was wearing a tiny hat. Mr. Torrens glanced round hastily at me.
“Is it all right?” he asked.
“Oh yes, I think so,” I answered as bravely as I could, feeling that advance, after all, couldn’t be so much worse than retreat, considering the distance we had come.
With our eyes on that horse’s head and those wicked eyes, and an after glance down at his heels, we crept silently by and mercifully, if he did see us, he took no notice of us, and we breathed again as we hurried on. Out of the long road of carriages, at last we found a broad, clear road kept free by Tommies and police. But between us and that broad, open road stood a crowd some ten or a dozen deep, closely packed.
“How am I to get you through that?” asked Mr. Torrens, looking at it doubtfully.
“Let’s risk it,” I said, feeling that, after all, I preferred human beings to horses with feet planted and ears at wicked angles.
Just then a hot and tired-looking Tommy came along and I fell upon him.
“Can you get us through that crowd on to the open road?” I asked him.
“I’m just off duty after ten hours of it, Miss,” he said resignedly, but cheerfully, “and I ain’t feeling very strong, but I’ll have a try for you.”
He was splendid. He went first with his little cane raised aloft, I went next, and Mr. Torrens brought up the rear. It was rather alarming inside that crowd. I don’t think I have ever before been in a crowd where there was literally not an inch to move on either side and where people pressed in upon you until you felt as if you were going to be suffocated. I was lost in admiration of our Tommy. The people in front were already packed as tight as they could go and the way he literally swam through them, with his arms raised aloft and me hanging on to him behind, was marvellous. Once or twice I thought it was all up. It was such a terribly hot crowd and the smell and the crush made one faint. Fortunately another Tommy, on the road, saw us coming and helped to force a passage for us. We were out at last, very hot and dishevelled, but safe and within reach of our goal. I shall ever be grateful to our unknown Tommy, and I am sure no one will blame me if I did surreptitiously drop something into his hand, as I thanked him and wished him good-night.
We crossed the road and found ourselves just at the back of the stand where the King and Queen were sitting. We showed our tickets and someone told us to go to the right, which we did most obediently, but looked in vain for our seats. Finally, we got to the end of the reserved seats and found ourselves in the crowd.
“Your seats are just about opposite where you are now, sir,” said a Tommy, to whom Mr. Torrens appealed, pointing right across the maidan where the Tattoo was already in full swing.
“Can’t we sit down on the grass here?” I said, hurriedly pointing to the row of neat little Gurkhas who were lining the ground. I confess that I was about dead beat. To make a tremendous detour, to get round to the other side of the maidan for the sake of a chair, did not seem at all worth it. So we sat on the grass between two Gurkhas, and saw the Tattoo and the fireworks splendidly, exactly opposite where our seats should have been. The Tattoo was delightful, a large number of troops being employed and the figures gone through most effective. The quaintest fireworks were the rickshaws, a blaze of light drawn by runners that moved along quite naturally.
After it was all over, it was hopeless to think of ever finding our ticca ghari again. Mr. Torrens and I made our way home on foot, trusting that Mrs. Stackley and Pomerangum had already arrived. When we got back, however, everybody else was there except Mrs. Stackley. We had drinks and sandwiches and exchanged experiences, but the time passed and still no signs of them. It was hopeless to think of sending out in search of them. Mr. Torrens and I felt awfully guilty at having deserted them. At last, about twelve o’clock, the ticca ghari drove up and we all rushed out to meet them. But it had returned without them, and the driver had only come for his pay. Mrs. Stackley and Pomerangum had left the carriage and disappeared about five minutes after we had gone. Then, when things looked quite their worst, in they walked. It was quite evident from Mrs. Stackley’s appearance that they had met with adventures. Revived with food and drink she narrated them.
“After you had gone,” she said, “I felt I could not sit tamely in the carriage and miss the Tattoo, so I said to Pomerangum, ‘Come along, we will go and see if we can’t get a view of it too.’ Pomerangum said it was impossible, but I insisted, and off we started. We crept among the horses and carriages most successfully, until suddenly—I suppose I was rather dazed—without any warning, the ground seemed to open up in front of me and I found myself rolling down a bank into a very muddy pool of water. Pomerangum, on the bank, immediately set up a howl and wrung his hands so pathetically, that I laughed so much I couldn’t get up. But Pomerangum’s cries brought what seemed like half a regiment to the rescue and they hauled me out, but when they saw what they had hauled out—and I suppose I did look a bit muddy and wild—they laughed so much that they dropped me in again.” At which, I am afraid, we laughed so much that we interrupted the narrative. The realistic way in which Mrs. Stackley described it was inimitable. We urged her to continue.
“Rather dazed and very dirty after they had got me out the second time,” she continued, “I struggled on a bit further, and suddenly emerged out of the darkness into a blaze of light that nearly blinded me. I sank down on a step that came handy, quite exhausted. But, before I had had time to breathe, a beautiful person in uniform and gold braid hurried up and said excitedly, ‘You mustn’t sit here, you mustn’t sit here, these are the back steps to the King’s box.’ I was much too done to take much notice of him and I waved him off, saying, ‘I don’t care where it is, I must sit here a bit till I can recover breath and get some of this mud off me,’ and I must say, when he found I was more respectable than I looked, he was most kind, and quite spoiled a nice clean pocket-handkerchief over me, and when I was rested he took me in hand and put me in one of the specially reserved seats, so that I saw splendidly in the end. After that we had to walk home, and I am wondering what I shall feel like to-morrow morning. I am much too tired to feel anything now. But I would not have missed it for worlds.”
If you want to find anyone really sporting, look for an Englishwoman elderly in years but unalterably young in heart.
On Thursday night came the Court. Now, as a visitor from home, I had no right to go at all. It had been specially announced that this Court, presentation at which was to be equivalent to a presentation at home, was only for Indian officials and residents, and it was rumoured that it was difficult enough to fit even them all in without making it too long. But the officials at Government House were kindness itself, in the midst of all their strenuous work, and they arranged that, though we did not pass through the throne room, we should join those who had passed through, upstairs. It is a fine room, where we congregated, with great glass chandeliers that once, I was told, adorned a French palace in Chandernagore. It was a gay throng that crowded beneath them, the men for the most part in gorgeous uniforms, outshining the womenfolk, even in their Court finery, for there were no feathers and veils and trains, which make such a difference to a woman’s garb. After the long succession of curtsies—good, bad and indifferent—had been made, the King and Queen came upstairs, preceded by their brilliant staff, and passed through the ballroom along a broad lane of curtsying women and bowing men. It was a charming sight, two little pages carrying the Royal trains, the Queen’s being the lace train presented to her by the ladies of Ireland, a glorious piece of flawless workmanship.
One conversation overheard just before their Majesties came along amused me. A very pretty girl, evidently the centre of admiration, was talking to a little group in a delightfully naive way.
“When I got opposite the King,” she was saying, “he was speaking to the Queen and not noticing me a bit. I was so disappointed, as I had so looked forward to a smile from him. It was probably my only chance of ever getting a smile from him all to myself, so I just waited, refusing to be hustled on, though somebody was whispering to me from behind, frantically imploring me to move on. I just stood still until the King looked, and then he saw what had happened and I got my smile.”
“Oh, Dolly dear, how could you?” came the evidently fond, proud mother’s voice.
“Then I went on to the Queen,” the first young voice continued, “and the woman behind was hustling me so that I bumped my knee on the floor quite loudly, and the Queen saw and heard, and she smiled too, so I got a smile from both of them.”
The much-talked-of Pageant on the following day was quite one of the best shows of its kind I have ever seen. We sat in the same pandal as at the Review, and this time the sun was well behind us, so we saw without too much of a glare. It was essentially the people’s day, and besides the invited guests in the stand there were enormous crowds round the rest of the circular enclosure. We strolled about in front while we waited for their Majesties’ arrival, and, quite unblushingly, a crowd collected round the seats of the Bengal Chiefs, who were a blaze of colour and jewels, one of them wearing the most glorious emeralds—huge flat stones—that I have ever seen. The King and Queen received another great ovation on arriving, two Maharajas holding the State umbrellas over their heads, and two boy Princes carrying the great golden fans, as they alighted. As soon as they had taken their seats, one hundred and one gold mohurs were presented to the King on a tray, according to ancient custom, and the gorgeous Maharajas and Nawabs were introduced. Then the Pageant began. Our beautifully printed programmes gave us full details, which made it so much more interesting.
The Nowroz Procession came first. It is the one that takes place on the Muhammadan New Year’s Day, and the origin of it is said to go back as far as the state entry of Jamshid into his newly-built city of Persepolis. The procession is still kept up in Murshidabad, and almost the whole of it, as we saw it, came from there. The Dasahara Procession, which came next, is a Hindu one, and is supposed to represent Ram setting out with his army in search of Sita. Words are quite inadequate to describe them. They were just magnificent. Gorgeously caparisoned horses, elephants with wonderfully painted heads and hung with gold chains and rich trappings, camels with velvet and embroidered saddle-cloths, immense cars gaily decorated, mace bearers, spearmen, axe bearers, swordsmen, standard bearers, musicians, heralds, and Sepoys came in one long dazzling company, a perfect riot of colour, the combination of magenta and green, red, yellow and blue, immensely daring, but altogether effective in the brilliant sunlight. Some of the howdahs of the elephants were of exquisitely carved ivory and set with precious stones.
A special feature of the Dasahara Procession was the dancing horses that pirouetted by on their hind legs, their fore feet pawing the air so high above that they looked as if they must fall over backwards. One horse was so proud of his dancing that his attendants seemed to have much difficulty in getting him down on all fours again. The splendid Rewa car, drawn by elephants, which brought the procession to a close, formerly carried the King and his courtiers. One could not help thinking what a magnificent vehicle it would have been in which to carry the King and Queen on their first entry into Delhi, and how the people would have appreciated it.
The dance of the Orissa Paiks was fascinating. They are the ancient yeomanry of Orissa, our programmes told us, and though they have ceased to exist as a military force they are still used in the Orissa States to guard the palaces and treasuries. They danced with swords and shields, wearing nothing but bright pink cloths wrapped round their waists, the upper parts of their bodies and legs bare and smeared all over with powder, some grey and some a dull yellow. They were most effective, with that wonderful background of maidan, pageant and crowd, and their dancing a delightful exhibition of strength and agility. Maisie and I simply longed to run out and join them and dance like that too.
Of all the enthusiasm their Majesties met with in India, none could have excelled that shown by the people at the pageant, as they drove away. They had driven in by the entrance close to the pandal, but on leaving they drove right round the enclosure, close in front of the dense crowds that lined it. It was only with difficulty that these had been kept within bounds all the afternoon, but when at last the word went along that the King was really coming, they broke through all restraint and crowded round the carriage. It was too far off for us to see, but one who was there told me it was the most extraordinary scene. The people went simply wild with loyalty and enthusiasm, and the only fear was that some of them would get crushed beneath the wheels of the carriage. The King and Queen were immensely struck and touched by their reception. After they had passed, people were actually seen scooping up the earth where the wheels of the Royal carriage had passed to carry home to place among their household treasures. This in the city which has the reputation of harbouring sedition!
There were steeplechases at Tollegunge next day. It is a good long drive through the native quarters, but the continuous stream of carriages again gave infinite variety. Viewed from the Stand, the Steeplechase Course is a charming one, the hedges and fields and native crowd, gay in every colour of the rainbow, in the midst of it, all adding to its picturesqueness. The King and Queen had a separate pavilion to themselves, so we did not see much of them, except when they came down to cross the paddock to go to tea, and got a vociferous acclamation from the ticca ghari men who had crowded close to the rails near by which they had to pass. The illuminations throughout the town that night were practically the end of all things and they made a fitting close to a great week. Calcutta is a place that lends itself to illuminations and the Indian is an adept in the art of illuminating. Some of the buildings, quite plain and uninteresting in their ordinary daily garb, had sprung into exquisitely delicate things of light. Dalhousie Square, with its fine buildings and large tomb in the centre, was ablaze, every possible corner apparently of every building picked out in electric light or in the little native oil chiraghs that are almost equally effective. Everybody had thought it would be impossible to get round owing to the crush, but, as a matter of fact, there was no difficulty whatever. It had been arranged that through the principal streets all the traffic must go one way, with the result that there was never any block at all. I chaperoned Maisie and Captain Bremner in a motor.
The King and Queen again attended service in the Cathedral on Sunday morning and that was really their last public appearance in Calcutta, except their State departure on the following day. Once more, on the Monday morning, we all met in the horseshoe at Prinsep’s Ghat and much the same ceremony as before was gone through. Another address was read and again the King replied in his clear, penetrating tones. The Queen looked charming as ever, and really affected as if she were going to say good-bye. It was a real good-bye to both of them, for they are never likely to come this way again, and after all the enthusiasm they had met with in Calcutta I think they did genuinely regret that the time had come to go. We all gave them the very heartiest send-off that we possibly could.
Four hours after the King and Queen had departed Jack arrived. I awaited him in the garden and luckily alone. Mrs. Torrens had tactfully understood and had not pressed me to join the picnic that she had arranged that afternoon. I felt positively ill with anxiety. What was going to happen? Were we going to begin again as when once before, in an Indian garden, he had come to me in all the ardour of his first love, or were we going to relapse into the merely good-fellowship relations that were ours before we parted? I was so fearful of saying or doing the wrong thing that I had determined to leave everything to chance. Just as nine years ago he had found me in Berengaria’s garden, so now I awaited him, lying in a hammock, with a tea table beside me, ready for his coming. It was all so much as it had been then. Would it be the same when he arrived? I seemed to have lain there centuries before at last I heard the motor that had been sent to fetch him swing in at the gate. I sat up waiting with my heart in my mouth. A moment more and he was through the house and out into the garden. Then I am not quite sure what happened. I thought I should have been suffocated, but I didn’t care—I was only glad.
“Oh! Jack,” I murmured, as well as I could, with my face buried somewhere in the lapel of his coat, “how violent you have grown.”
“Violent,” he laughed, holding me further off to look at me, “Why, of course I am. I haven’t seen you for two whole months.”
Then he seized me in his arms again and hugged me until even I was satisfied and knew all that I had wanted to know. I saw a kitmatghar emerge from the house with tea and flee inside again nearly upsetting it, at sight of us, but I didn’t care. Jack was back again and there could be no doubt that he loved me. I felt as if he had proposed to me again, and quite absurdly happy. It was not until a long time afterwards that we sat down quietly on separate seats, and that long-suffering kitmatghar discreetly appeared again and brought us tea.
An American Girl at the Durbar by Shelland Bradley (London: John Lane)
This book is very brightly and pleasantly written. It would have been better if the author could have made up her mind to write either a novel of Anglo-Indian life or a record of a tour in India at the time of the Durbar. As it is, one rather feels that it falls between two stools. Those interested in the story grow impatient over the glowing descriptions of the ceremonies at the Durbar, and those who want to know about the Durbar find too many pages taken up with the preliminaries of the voyage and the rather tepid love affairs of one of the American girls. The most amusing part of the book has nothing to do with the Durbar at all, but deals with the adventures of Lady Hendley and the enterprising Miss Lamb when they decide to leave the beaten track of the ordinary globe-trotter and see a part of India unvisited by the average tourist.
The author goes out of her way to pay a high compliment to Anglo-Indian life and morals when, in writing of the numerous prospective brides on the Minatia, she says: “Yet India is a wonderful land, and, though many abuse it, there are few who leave it, when their time comes, without regret. I think one comes across more happy couples in India than anywhere else in the world. . There could be nothing more proper than Anglo-Indian society so far as I saw it.”
— M. S. S.
Source: The Asiatic Quarterly Review. Volumes 1-2. (January-April 1913) p. 210.