THE GREAT TAMASHA COOKBOOK AND FAMILY
In The Hills
|"Our summer visit, 1880 - a street at our hill station, taken by Marion R."|
Photograph, 1880. ("Marion R." has not been identified;
Miss Thomas thinks she was a friend of her Great-Aunt Catherine's)
Courtesy of Miss Thomas
From the unfinished MS., circa 1899: Our India Days
Chapter 10: Darjeeling Days
So you read Tiddy’s letter, Antoinette? And Madeleine also? Well, no, we were not so amused when it came. Tonie snorted and Tess was of the opinion that Tiddy was becoming more sophisticated; certainly in her tone. But a trifle hard? Tonie agreed and noted grimly that it might not do her any harm in life to acquire a little hardness. Whereat our dear Josie, alas, scoffed with a scornful toss of the golden curls that Tiddy was always hard! There was a little silence. Then Tonie conceded that in some ways that was true. Tess’s mouth trembled and she refused to hear another word, saying: “Poor, iddle-bitty Tiddy.” A little later, when Tess was gone out for a walk, Josie ventured cautiously that Tess had never seen Tiddy as she was, and Tonie conceded that she did not see that hardness of hers—no.
Josie then introduced—reintroduced, alas—the topic of Darjeeling. She could not understand why Tiddy had wished to go. Anyone else, yes. But not Tiddy! Somewhat tiredly Tonie suggested that possibly she saw it was time she learnt to be a young lady? Alas, Josie’s reply to this was a scornful: “Why? To be fit for a Ponsonby?” –Not because she was still bitter about the disposition of Papa’s property—hers was not a nature to hold a long-standing grudge—but because she was very piqued that Mrs Allardyce had not invited her. However, Tonie of course reproved her, noting that to speak so of our guardian did not become her and reminding her that he had been very kind to us. To which Josie retorted sourly that perhaps she should write Tiddy she had best hurry up and join us before one of the older ones decided to take him after all! Tonie condemned both the indelicacy of the thought and its expression and stalked out.
—No, well, many of us are intransigent in our youth, Antoinette, dear, but with years and experience, some of us are lucky enough to learn tolerance. Now, what would you girls like to hear today? These seasons in the hills are all the same: a very great deal of gossip, endless tea parties, gallant efforts at dinners where one is lucky to get an even passable white soup and almost everything else leaves almost everything to be desired, and a few little hops with those gentlemen who have managed to take leave from their duties—and they, you know, are always in the minority. Very well, if you truly wish it. And there were some younger officers!
“Who is that?” gasped Miss Martinmass, her thin fingers digging painfully into the sleeve of Tiddy’s dainty sprig muslin.
Tiddy tried not to yelp, and looked across the street. “Oh. It is Major Mason. Should you care to meet him?”
“Oh, yes!” she breathed, her eyes glued to the tall, broad-shouldered figure that had now doffed its hat and was bowing from the opposite pavement.
Resignedly Tiddy smiled and beckoned, and the burly major, very apparently nothing loath, hastened over to them. Dodging with ease the press of vehicles: to wit, one dusty tonga and Mr Sebastian Whyte’s tilbury.
Sketch, pencil, from John Widdop's journal, circa 1829.
From the Widdop family papers
Alas, Major Mason did not appear all that terribly much impressed by Miss Martinmass. Not so much as to hang on her every word, so to speak. Nor her slightest smile or frown, neither. Instead, in a heavy, hearty way, he attempted to flirt with Tiddy herself. Or rather, he attempted to continue the flirtation he had begun but the previous day, upon the occasion of their first encounter.
Tiddy did her best to bear in mind certain strictures of Mademoiselle’s along the lines of every woman’s having to look out for herself. And also to tell herself that if Major Mason was not immediately struck by Miss Martinmass’s charms it was unlikely that he would grow to be so in the course of time. Something like that. And duly fluttered her lashes and giggled and so forth. It was not, sad to say, all that hard. Major Mason was not positively an antidote, if he was not, very clearly, the brightest of the bright. But he was a large, amiable man, rather like a large, friendly, shaggy dog. And Tiddy was quite fond of dogs. Added to which, she had discovered with considerable shame that she enjoyed being flattered by a gentleman. Whether or no she cherished any serious intentions towards him. Help!
Mademoiselle was discovered alone in the front parlour, tatting, on her return to the Allardyce bungalow. “We dropped Miss Martinmass off at her house,” she said on an airy note, as Major Mason, with professions of what almost amounted to undying devotion and life-long slavery, at least for a large military man of limited imagination, took himself off at last.
“En effet?” replied Mademoiselle politely.
“Though I think,” said Tiddy on an airy note, “she would not have been averse to accompanying us back here.”
Their eyes met. They collapsed in gales of unseemly laughter.
“Oh, dear!” concluded Tiddy, blowing her nose. “Poor thing. But I am quite sure he would not have given her a second glance, even if I had not been there. So it was quite fair—n’est-ce pas?”
“All is fair in love and war, ma belle. Shall we take tea?” she replied cheerfully.
The ladies took tea.
Major-General Harkness (Rtd.) had acquired a bran-new tikka-gharry. It very rapidly became apparent to the interested gaze of Darjeeling that the purpose for which he had acquired it was the tooling around the town of Miss Angèle Lucas. Well, he was certainly not observed to be using it for any other purpose.
“Can he afford it?” said Tiddy fearfully to her chaperone after the first of these thrilling expeditions.
“Heureusement, oui,” she replied at her driest.
Gulping, Tiddy subsided.
“I think you do not know Colonel Fitzmaurice? He is just come up from the plains,” said Miss Martinmass in a faint voice.
The faintness could scarcely be induced by the Colonel’s rank, for as a resident of Darjeeling—the which Tiddy had now realised was occupied not merely by summer visitors fleeing the heat of the plains, but by an increasing number of permanent residents who could not afford, or did not wish, to retire to England—she must be used to such. Perhaps it was on account of the Colonel’s looks? He was certainly a man of striking appearance: not very tall but broad-shouldered, burly but not stout, a welcome relief, and possessed of a most manly, firm-chinned face, with a—not a warm smile, precisely: more a very warm grin. The which made one feel he was the most likeable fellow in the world. As, indeed, gossip had already informed Tiddy he was, more or less. And also that his family was very well connected indeed, his late Mamma having been a Delahunty and sister to the then earl.
|"The ebullient Fitzmaurice, sans the disguise that the ladies love"|
Sketch, pencil and watercolour, from John Widdop's journal, circa 1829.
From the Widdop family papers
Colonel Fitzmaurice grinned at Tiddy and assured her he was delighted to meet her, kissing her hand with considerable grace (not sloppily); and Tiddy smiled very much, and agreed that she was very pleased to meet him.
The Colonel then introduced the very young gentleman who was with him. His cousin’s boy: Viccy. Mr Victor Truesdale. Come out to see how he likes the place, y’know? –Cheery laugh. Tiddy did not make the mistake of assuming that Miss Martinmass’s faintness of voice was due to him, for he could, really, only honestly have been described as unfledged: what with the ears that had a tendency to stick out, the slender neck which the swaddling neckcloth did not quite manage to disguise, the round cheeks and—well, just that general impression of fluffy, eager, dampish, just-out-of-the-egginess!
|"Little Viccy T - just out of the egg"|
Sketch, pencil, pen & wash, from John Widdop's journal, circa 1829.
From the Widdop family papers
He bowed and smiled very nicely, appearing not to mind that his “Cousin Fitz” then patted him kindly on the shoulder and told him that was the ticket. The Colonel then mooted a scheme—apparently full-blown—for introducing some “fun and life” into the “old town” by means of a series of “little hops.”
“It is like being in a high wind,” said Miss Martinmass very faintly, as the Colonel, smiling warmly into their eyes in farewell, bore his young cousin off at last.
“Yes, it is, rather!” agreed Tiddy with a laugh.
“He is such a manly man,” she said faintly.
“Certainly,” agreed Tiddy promptly. She could not for the life of her tell if Miss Martinmass actually liked this characteristic, or was merely overwhelmed by it. The two were not, of course, mutually exclusive: but— After a moment’s somewhat frantic thought she cleared her throat and said airily: “I wonder, would one find life in his house quite exhausting, or quite stimulating?”
“Oh!” said Miss Martinmass, her hand pressed to her flat bosom. “One cannot say…”
There being absolutely no hope that she had produced this remark as a deliberate counter to Tiddy’s probing, she gave up, for the nonce. Though not definitively: on first acquaintance the widowered Colonel Fitzmaurice struck her as far more promising material for a husband for poor Miss Martinmass than any of the retired military figures that infested the town. Certainly more so than the craggy, lorgnetted Brigadier Polkinghorne; but also much more so than the gruff Major-General Widdop, who, she rather thought, was so immersed in the web of military nonsense he had constructed for himself that he would have very little time left over to pay due attention to a wife. And would probably neglect her even more shamefully than the stout, genial General Porton did the squashed, quiet Mrs Porton.
Of course a young officer or East India Company man would quite probably suit her even better, but alas, there were as yet few of these present, and those who were seemed to be of Major Mason’s mind where poor Miss Martinmass was concerned.
The bald Colonel Brinsley-Pugh was possessed of a smart phaeton, which for the last few years, according to the gossip, or at least to Mrs Turner and Mrs Whassett, the which amounted to the same thing, he had not bothered to drive very much. For the town was not that large. However, this summer he began to tool it about again. With a dandy pair of black geldings poled up, the which were definitely new. But which, according to the indiscreet Captain Narrowmine, the fellow could d— well afford, after that win on the Whatever-it-Was Stakes. In spite of the bald pink pate he was not a bad-looking man, being sufficiently slim and of an upright carriage. Provided always that one could overlook those frolicking side-whiskers, of course. And not as elderly as some. So Miss Angèle Lucas was not altogether averse to accepting his invitations to drive out. In especial as, as Mademoiselle had calmly pointed out, it was excellent practice.
Though naturally of a friendly, confiding disposition, and not at all shy, Tiddy just at first had felt a little at a loss on these driving expeditions with her older military admirers: but she had very soon discovered there was no need to. One just encouraged them to talk of themselves!
“Oh, quite!” agreed the charming Mrs Allardyce with that light laugh of hers, on this discovery’s being reported. “That is the whole secret of encouraging a gentleman, my dear Tiddy!”
“Really, Mamma,” protested Violet Allardyce faintly, going very red.
“But of course your Mamma is quite right, my dear,” said Mlle Dupont promptly. “Bien sûr, one does not neglect to look admiringly while they do it. With that and a pretty face, they will require no more, you may be assured.” She smiled serenely at her.
“Mademoiselle, surely that is not true of sensible men?” demanded Tiddy.
“Vairy possibly not. Though I cannot tell,” she said airily.
At this the sophisticated Mrs Allardyce, alas, collapsed in giggles of the most agonising sort. Gasping, once she was able to speak: “Do not dare to enquire further, my dears!”
The girls were now both rather flushed, though smiling. Later, when the two of them were alone, Violet said in some awe: “Mlle Dupont is so—so cynical, is she not?”
Tiddy eyed her drily but did not say “As bad as your Mamma.” Just: “Well, she has not had an easy life. And then, Folkestone, where she lives, is full of dreadful old retired majors-general and things, just like Colonel Brinsley-Pugh.”
“Ye-es. Well,” said the gentle, limply pretty, brown-haired Miss Allardyce with a sigh, “Mamma is every bit as cynical, I freely admit it, and she has not had a hard life at all. Though of course it was very sad for her when Papa died.”
“Yes, of course,” said Tiddy kindly, though by now having had more than time to hear the gossip on that point.
“I wish I remembered him better… He had to be away with his regiment most of the time.”
Yes, and if he had not had to be, Mrs Allardyce’s friend in the Governor-General’s train would have made quite sure— Resolutely Tiddy wrenched her mind off the subject. “Of course,” she agreed sympathetically.
Miss Allardyce sighed. “I would have said he was sensible, though.”
Sensible enough to have married the woman he did—quite.
“But if—if there are no sensible men, can one look forward to having to do it for the rest of one’s life, in order to attain domestic harmony?” she asked wanly, not smiling.
Help! Tiddy swallowed. “What: flattering the creatures and encouraging them to talk of themselves?”
“Er…” She thought about it. “We didn’t know very many people back in England, so I suppose I’m thinking of the Calcutta ones…” She swallowed. “Frankly, Violet, the alternative seems to be that one chooses a weak but charming one, like Major Hatton, and far from flattering him, proceeds to rule him and the rest of his household with a rod of iron for the rest of one’s days.”
Miss Allardyce bit her lip. “Oh, dear. There must be some sensible ones, though, surely!”
Tiddy gave a sniff worthy of Mademoiselle at her driest. “Perhaps. But I would say, so few that the chances of one’s tying oneself up to one are very slim indeed.”
Miss Allardyce tried to smile, but failed. “Oh, dear,” she concluded sadly.
—Good gracious, girls, those faces! Major Mason reminds you of whom, Madeleine? –Oh. We see, dear. And he sounds to you like the best of a bad lot, Antoinette? Dearest girl, what an expression! Well, you did say you wished to hear more about the hill station life, girls. But shall we ring for tiffin, before we go on? –A tray of tea, Madeleine, dear. Never mind if it be too early or too late: a cup of our Lucas & Pointer tea is always welcome! …There, that’s better! Now, do not you both feel much brighter? –Mr Collins? What put him into your head, Antoinette? Oh—settling for a fool. Neither of you girls will do that, we are quite, quite sure. Your Mamma cannot possibly intend you to take Mr Frimpton’s curate, Madeleine, for he has left the district—The next curate? Madeleine, this is silly: no-one has as yet laid eyes on him! Your Mamma is correct in saying that a curate who can look forward to a living would be a respectable match, but we are very sure that she has not gone further than that! But if our tales of Darjeeling are making you mournful—No, very well, but just recollect whom we did all marry! –There! That’s better! Tiddy’s admirers were funny, you know!
Mezzotint, hand-coloured, circa 1830, artist unknown
(from a portfolio of mounted prints & sketches, Maunsleigh Library)
Courtesy of the Maunsleigh Collection
Major-General Harkness called, apparently under the impression that Miss Angèle had promised to drive out with him today. Unfortunately, just as the words passed his lips Colonel Brinsley-Pugh was announced, apparently under the impression that she had promised— Oops. Neither Mrs Allardyce nor Mademoiselle was of any help whatsoever in this dilemma: they just sat there, looking impossibly prim. Tiddy laid the Colonel’s floral offering on a small table next the Major-General’s floral offering.
“I’m so sorry: I seem to have mixed my appointments up!” she gasped.
This had not very much result; the two military figures continued to glare at each other and the two older ladies continued to sit there looking irritatingly prim.
Tiddy took a deep breath. “What shall we do?” she said plaintively, looking from one to the other of her elderly admirers.
Huzza! This worked. They fell over themselves to assure her that it did not signify, they would just sit here and have a pleasant cose; or perhaps stroll out, if Miss Angèle would care to take an arm of each?
Ridiculous though the appearance she would then present might be, this last was infinitely preferable to sitting there in the front parlour with Mademoiselle and their hostess looking prim; so Tiddy accepted with alacrity, and the three set out.
“Mais, dis donc! Two strings to your bow!” said Mademoiselle brightly on her return.
Mrs Allardyce gave a smothered laugh.
Tiddy peered cautiously from behind the curtains. The military pair were retreating down the front path. “At least they’re going,” she reported limply.
“They will drive off at the exact same instant,” predicted her maddening hostess. “In order to prevent the other from making a new sortie. It is what the military men call tactics, my dear Tiddy.”
Tiddy peered. The reins were gathered up, and the vehicles wheeled—in tandem; and they departed at a strict trot. In tandem. Help!
“Yes?” said Mrs Allardyce calmly.
Tiddy smiled weakly. “Um, yes.”
Mrs Allardyce laughed that light laugh of hers.
On receipt of Josie’s somewhat sparse reply to her letter, Tiddy was seen to be scowling horribly. “What is it?” said Mademoiselle.
“Tess doesn’t want Ponsonby sahib!” she said angrily. “And Tonie has never liked him, the idea is ludicrous! And only an imbecile like Josie could believe he would offer for a young woman who does not want him!”
Mlle Dupont nodded silently.
Tiddy’s eyes narrowed. “I shall take Johnny Jullerbees Ponsonby, for I am the only one that ever liked him. And besides—” She broke off.
“Besides?” said Marie-Louise Dupont blandly.
“Nothing. I must beg you, Mademoiselle, to proceed apace with the business of ladifying me. He will never take me seriously unless I appear truly grown up.”
“Très bien, ma petite,” she said calmly. “And one starts, I think, by taking the posies of Major-General Harkness—eugh—if not more seriously, then at least with the appearance of more interest.”
“‘For the practice,’” quoted Tiddy grimly. “But should I encourage him, if I cannot care the snap of my fingers for the poor man?”
Mademoiselle gave that shrug of hers. “Bof!” she said.—An expression strictly forbidden to Mlle Angèle.—“That is the risk a man takes. Added to which, when one is old enough to be the grandfather of the young lady to whom one presents floral favours, one should be old enough to see when one is making a fool of oneself, n’est-ce pas?”
Tiddy nodded limply. One should, indeed. But was one not, grandfather, male, or not, still only human? For all her good points, there was something icily hard—nay, inhumanly hard—about Marie-Louise Dupont.
The forceful Colonel Fitzmaurice had gone ahead and organised a little hop, even though, as a widower, he had no hostess. Darjeeling had an Assembly Room, of sorts, so that was where it was held. As young Mr Viccy Truesdale explained with a chuckle: “Cousin Fitz won’t have it at his house, for he don’t dare to invite any of the pussies to play hostess: favouring one above the rest would mean his name would be Mud for the next five hundred years—and then, encouraging one to think she might snare him on a permanent basis would never do!”
|"At the ball, Or, Whom will he ask?"|
Coloured lithograph, circa 1830
(from a portfolio of mounted prints & sketches, Maunsleigh Library)
Courtesy of the Maunsleigh Collection
The town was filling up with summer visitors, but as many of the gentlemen had perforce stayed at their duties down on the plains, most of those present at the “hop” were pretty well on the shady shade of forty. And, alas, some of those who were on the sunnier side were not quite quite. As Mesdames Turner, Whassett, Martinmass, et al. did not neglect to inform Miss Angèle. In fact, that rather pretty dark boy was the son of a clerk in Mr Dean’s Calcutta offices—no doubt a worthy man, but it would not do to encourage the boy. And Mrs Martinmass could not imagine what had caused dear Colonel Fitzmaurice to invite him.
Tiddy had rather liked young Mr Jackson, though without any idea of falling in love with him, and she felt very angry as these remarks were passed, but could think, alas, of no way of getting back at the cats in question. Unless cutting Miss Martinmass out with Major-General Widdop, who did not want her in any case, might count? Determinedly she smiled upon the Major-General, and was rewarded by having him eagerly solicit her hand for a country dance and step on her flounce therein, and by having Mrs Martinmass’s scorching glare follow them up and down the length of the room for every second the dance lasted.
“Hullo,” said the broad-shouldered Major Mason with a grin, as Major-General Widdop bore her back to her chaperone.
“Manners, sir!” barked the Major-General, stiffening up alarmingly.
“Oh, well, we have met once this evening, sir,” he replied easily. “Good evening again, Miss Tiddy.”
“Good evening, Major Mason!” said Tiddy, trying not to laugh.
The Major-General, stiffer than ever, and an alarming shade of puce, the which assorted ill with his—oh, dear—dress uniform, barked: “Don’t believe I had heard you was on sufficient terms with Miss Angèle’s family to permit you to make free with her pet name, sir!”
“No, you are quite right, sir; and I must beg your pardon,” said naughty Major Mason with a twinkle in his eye.
“Beg my pardon, sir?” he barked. “You will beg Miss Angèle’s, this instant!”
“Oh, absolutely, sir: aye. Beg pardon, Miss Angèle, for taking the liberty,” he said humbly.
“Not at all, Major. –I feel I must in all fairness tell you, General, that the Major has already explained that his French is very poor,” said Tiddy on a plaintive note.
“That,” he said, the grimness and stiffness abating a scarce-discernible fraction, “is but poor excuse, Miss Angèle. Thank you for a delightful dance.”
Somewhat limply Tiddy curtseyed in response to his horribly military bow.
“Well, sir?” he then barked.
“Oh, right you are, sir! I say, Miss Angèle, will you do me the tremendous honour of dancing this one with me?” said Major Mason humbly, bowing very low.
“Thank you, Major,” replied Tiddy very faintly indeed.
His face perfectly straight, the burly major bowed again, and led her onto the floor.
“You are absolutely naughty, Major Mason!” she hissed. “How I managed not to laugh in front of the poor man, I shall never know!”
“You? What about me?” he said sadly. “The effort near to killed me. And it’s worse for me, y’know: he ain’t your superior officer.”
“Nor is he yours, unless perhaps your duties include the peeling of potatoes?”
Major Mason just winked.
Giggling, Tiddy allowed him to whirl her into the dance.
As it finished, however, and he led her to a chair near the wall and not near to her chaperone, she said on a wistful note: “I don’t suppose you might be a marrying man, might you, dear Major Mason?”
Unshaken, the Major replied: “Not absolutely, no, Miss Tiddy. Unless it was yourself you had in mind?”
“Not absolutely, no, as matter of fact,” said Tiddy, peeping at him naughtily.
“Crushed!” said the Major with his cheerful laugh. “Don’t think I will dare ask who.”
“The thing is, I feel sure you need to be looked after,” said Tiddy soulfully.
“I do, ma’am! Come and do so, I beg!”
“Not me; I, alas, have another destiny,” said Tiddy importantly. Ignoring Major Mason’s choking fit, she added: “But there is a lady, a very kindly, caring lady, who only needs a lovely man to look after, to—well, to blossom.”
“No,” said the Major on a dry note, his eyes on Miss Martinmass, sitting looking depressed while her majestic mamma put Major-General Widdop under interrogation.
“Well, bother!’ replied Tiddy with a pout.
“Old Widdop can have her.”
“I do not think he would be kind to her.”
“Well, ain’t you got a colonel to spare, ma’am?” he drawled as Colonel Brinsley-Pugh, the pate gleaming, was seen to head in their direction. “Oops. Or two,” he added, as their host rapidly mounted a counter-offensive.
Tiddy had time only for a feeble smile before the two senior officers were upon them.
|"Cutting a caper - two snr. officers who ought to know better"|
Sketch, pen & ink, from John Widdop's journal, circa 1829.
From the Widdop family papers
—There, now, dear girls! That’s better! You see, it was funny, not tragic at all, and Tiddy certainly found it so! –The fate of Miss Martinmass, Madeleine? Her mother died about five years later, and she came home to England to live with her brother and his wife, and to help with their little ones. “Unpaid governess” is putting it rather too strongly, Antoinette. They were very kind to her—the brother not taking after the mother at all, you understand—and though she stayed a spinster, she was a happy spinster! Much happier than she could ever have been married to Widdop—yes, Madeleine, that’s a sensible girl. The children did grow up, Antoinette, of course, but Miss Martinmass stayed on as companion to the sister-in-law: they were fast friends, and both very much interested in handwork, and in fact if you run upstairs to Ponsonby sahib’s room—he is out taking a gentle constitutional, Madeleine—you will see a wonderful quilt that they worked together on his bed at this instant!
…Well? Yes, we all think it quite charming, with its pattern of lozenges and the beautifully worked Indian flowers, birds and animals on alternate lozenges. Miss Martinmass originally intended all flowers but could not think of enough, so they fell back on birds and animals. Such a very kind and thoughtful gift!
As to what then transpired... Well, a great deal! But there is another letter somewhere from Tiddy baba, Antoinette, if you would care to look it out...
A letter to Great-Aunt Tess from Great-Aunt Tiddy,
dated “Tuesday 26th, The Allardyce House, Trafalgar Grove, Darjeeling”,
as transcribed from the original
My Dearest Tess,
I write this dispatch from the very battle front itself. Were it not to flatter myself unduly I would say I have an inkling of what Helen of Troy must have felt. Can she possibly have made the same mistake as I? That is, to have given a gentleman, or several gentlemen, too much encouragement without having meant to? O, dear.
It is all the fault of that dance of Col. Fitzmaurice’s. Or, rather, of that and the influence of naughty Maj. Mason, who encouraged me to become outrageous. Why was I not warned the man is an hopeless flirt and has besides a sense of humour ill-fitted to a person of his years and position? Added to which, he does not want a wife and says the Army takes very good care of him, so I do not even have the consolation of hoping to award him to Miss Martinmass.
I had considered, in my innocence, that the dance had gone off very happily, all parties being pleased with each other and themselves, and was thus brought to a rude awakening by the events of the very next morning. First, a posy and a note arrive from Col. Fitzmaurice himself, while we are still taking chota huzzree. I am innocently flattered to learn that I appeared as a dainty fairy last night, if the same merely confirms what he murmured into my ear during our waltz, and preen myself only a very little over the posy, ignoring the sardonic look in Mademoiselle’s clever eye. We have finished chota huzzree and are just barely seated in the front parlour, about to take up our work, Mlle. D. composedly, Violet A. apparently eagerly, and self with considerable lack of enthusiasm, when another posy arrives. Maj.-Gen. Harkness. This has become, tho’ I blush to admit it, quite a usual occurrence. Tho’ I am a trifle startled to learn that last night I appeared as the morning star at dawn, and gave “an old man” (his expression, one that I would never dream of using) cause to hope that his day was not altogether past. Not the usual consequence of two pairs of country dances, or so I in my innocence had assumed.
The work is going along splendidly, as to Mademoiselle’s and Violet’s, and half a petal has been unpicked, as to Tiddy’s, when a third posy is delivered. This one has trailing pink ribbons, so can it possibly be for me, pink not being, as all who know me must be aware, even if they have not the benefit of Josie’s advice, my colour? O, why yes, so it can: from Col. Brinsley-Pugh! Last night my eyes were like stars and might he dare to hope, just a little, that he had found favour in my eyes?
“Had he?” asks Mademoiselle at her driest. I manage to counter this with dignity: “I am sure I did not wittingly give him reason to suppose so.”
We have settled down to our work again, when the door knocker is heard yet again! She does not say anything. A posy eventuates: Krishna, who brings it in, looking positively excited, and congratulating me on it regardless of Mademoiselle’s reproving look. Trailing green ribbons: exquisite taste. The note, however, must give one pause: “Dear Miss Tiddy, Dare one hope that this poor mite will cause green jealousy amongst all those senior officers whom you so heartlessly favoured last night in preference to, Yr. Devoted” (he is no such thing) “T. Mason.” Violet, of course, is completely taken in by it and gives a gasp of, if such a thing be possible, happy envy. Mademoiselle allows herself a refined snigger. I concentrate on my stitchery…
Another knock at the front door. Mademoiselle notes to the ambient air: “Were there any left?” I merely wait. The most delicious little pale yellow rosebuds: young Viccy Truesdale! O, no! One had thought he had more sense! Surely he cannot seriously be setting himself up in competition with his elderly cousin and all those military— No, no, it must be a joke, along the lines of bad Major M.’s! Alas, no. The note: “Dear Miss Angèle” (the creature has been calling me Tiddy for a week past, usually forgetting the “Miss” into the bargain), “My eyes were opened last night at the sight of you in that esquisite gouze.” (He cannot spell.) “May I dare to hope that yr. kindness in our dance” (I swear, I merely said he waltzed divinely, what is there in that?) “indicates that you are prepared to look seriously at last upon Yr. Humble and Devotted” (the spelling again), “Victor Truesdale.” At last? What does the creature mean? I have treated him as a younger brother for every instant of our acquaintance! Mademoiselle has now collapsed in giggles of the most agonising sort, so there is nothing for it but to preserve a dignified silence.
“Et puis?” she says eventually.
I reply with the utmost dignity: “Mais rien, Mademoiselle, je vous assure. Ce sont des imbéciles, et pire, des imbéciles qui se déçoivent absolument.” After correcting my French she merely returns, looking dry, to her work.
You might well be excused for thinking that that must be all, and bad enough; but no! The unpicked petal has had time to be botched again, before the knocker is heard once more. The posy is glorious, and the “old soldier” (his) was given cause to hope that that he might not be fighting a losing battle after all (all his). My sincerely devoted, Maj.-Gen. C.D. Widdop (Rtd.).
Pray do not laugh: it is too dreadful! And I only did it to punish Mrs Martinmass for speaking so unkindly of young Mr Jackson!
Mademoiselle begins: “If you will take my advice, Tiddy,”—“Yes?” the foolish one gasps, hope fluttering in her silly bosom—“you will unpick that petal again. Try a nice even satin stitch, when you are better able to concentrate.” Hope dies.
Since that fateful morning, I have had to face the consequences. The first of which was the necessity of smiling complaisantly upon Maj.-Gen. Harkness as he tooled me in his tikka-gharry, the meanwhile telling me a very great deal that I never wished to know of his family’s circumstances, and— O, dear. Ditto upon Maj.-Gen. Widdop as we took a pleasant stroll on a sunny, windy day, with young Tinker-Terrier, the traitor, quite failing to bite the man in the ankle, or even bark nastily at him! The meanwhile receiving a rather full account of the Widdop family’s circumstances and the assurance that his widowed sister, a Mrs P—, would be delighted to receive me at her charming house in —shire at any time. Tho’ the great Darjeeling mystery of exactly who holds the title deeds to the Widdop bungalow was not resolved, alas!
Next was a long drive with Col. Brinsley-Pugh, who looks so much more handsome with his hat on that I was almost swayed by his assurances that he is one of the Brinsley-Pughs, that his late mamma would have approved of me, and that his sister, a Lady Fenwig (not Fenwick, he kindly spelled it out for me, unasked, as it is a mistake that many people make), would be charmed to have me spend some time at Lord F.’s delightful country house in— Etcetera.
After that, the cheery, charming Col. Fitzmaurice turned up in a spanking new tikka-gharry, which he tried to claim was acquired so his little cousin would have something to tool about the place, and took me for the most delightful drive, smiling into my eyes whenever the horses did not positively require his attention. It gradually penetrated to my slow consciousness that Col. F., unlike the assorted retired senior officers of Darjeeling, is not unaccustomed to the company of the frailer sex. So I was enabled to form squares, and prepare to return fire. He gave me no opportunity, however, the cunning thing, for he was not nearly so obvious as to tell me of his family’s circumstances. Tho’ he did manage to impart the information that “young Viccy” is not his heir. Nor did he positively invite me to visit with any sisters in England. But he did tell me quite a lot, in a very cheery, airy way, of his brother’s house in —shire, and the jolly times the brother’s offspring and their offspring are accustomed to have there every year. And that they usually have a jolly party for the shooting, starting around August, y’know, and going on into the autumn. At that I seized the opportunity to say, very demure, that I did not care for killing creatures. The wrong move: a seasoned campaigner such as Col. F. reforms in good order, patting one’s hand comfortingly, saying: “Of course, of course, dear little girl.” O, help!
Master Truesdale was much easier to deal with. I let him escort me as far as Miss MacDonnell’s to collect Tinker-Terrier the Second, and then let him take me a little way out towards the hills, where there was no-one around who might attempt to join us. Then I told him that his posy had been a very silly gesture, if kindly meant. And that his note had been very silly indeed, and not quite the thing. And that I looked on him as a younger brother. The which was severer than I had intended, to tell you the truth, but by that stage I was feeling a trifle desperate. Poor little Viccy went very red and accused me of letting myself be wound round his Cousin Fitz’s finger. And he supposed that he had said he, little Viccy, was not his heir. And he was a bad fellow, though he had to admit he had always been very decent to himself! In this face of this rather involved information, all at top speed, you know, what could a maiden say? What I did say was, that I thought he had better take me and Master Tinker-Terrier home again, as it was rather too windy for comfort. Which he did, sulking all the way. Still, it was preferable to giving him misplaced hope.
Finalement, it is Major Mason’s turn. Lo! He turns up in a bran-new tikka-gharry! Mademoiselle takes one look from the parlour window, utters a mad shriek, and has to run away and hide before the caller is admitted! So much for wonderful company manners; she is disgraced eternally in my eyes. I permit the monster to drive me out, but inform him he is not to feel pleased with himself, for he is the naughtiest thing ever, and I am most displeased with him, and none of it is a splendid joke. Unfortunately, just as I have managed to say it all without once smiling, we catch sight of Maj.-Gen. Harkness in his tikka-gharry! Immediately we both collapse in helpless gales of laughter. The which, alas, cruelly succeeds in dashing all the poor Maj.-Gen.’s misplaced hopes. So Mason has to promise, by way of apology, to invite Miss Martinmass to drive. (The tikka-gharry is only hired, as it turns out.) On condition I admit it was a splendid joke after all, he agrees. What would you? I admit it, and we tool on, in a state of perfect harmony.
At the precise moment I am in daily expectation of fresh assaults from Col. Fitzmaurice, and have not wholly ruled out a volley from Maj.-Gen. Widdop, neither. Goodness gracious, and I thought that turning myself into a fine young lady would involve merely learning to wear smart gowns and smart bonnets and praise one's hostesses’ horrible tea! I think that possibly I shall ask the Maj.-Gen. to tell me what he did at Waterloo. That may settle his hash.
Dearest Sister, I must rush, for the next move in the campaign is to try on a delightful new sprig muslin gown, in which I intend to convince the assembled Retired Forces of Darjeeling, once and for all, that nothing less than the sunny side of 40 and the shady side of 20 will do for,
Your ever loving,
Angèle Marie Françoise Lucas (ci-devant “Tiddy”)
|Little Miss Lucas at Fitzm.'s hop - 'a dainty fairy', the 'eyes likes stars', &c., &c."|
Sketch, pencil, from John Widdop's journal, circa 1829.
From the Widdop family papers
Darjeeling Days (continued)
Well, well, poor, pathetic Major-General Widdop is long since laid to rest under the deodars of Darjeeling, and silly old Brinsley-Pugh and Narrowmine are long gone, too. And Major-General Harkness—though not before he caught a wealthy widow, we hasten to reassure you! She made him very happy, in addition to bringing him a tidy little sum, so it can scarce signify that she was not positively out of the top drawer, nor even, if Mrs Whassett’s claim is to be given credence, out of the second— If that is Ponsonby sahib laughing over by the French window, he may go away again, for he has heard it all a thousand times and his comments will be naught but frivolous! –Denying you your tiffin, sir? Heavens, is that the time! –Yes, we have had a tray, but we may have another, may we not? Horrors, maudling our insides with tea? Never say so, dear sir! It is Lucas & Pointer’s very own tea!
…Who asked the kitchen to provide these delicious cream cakes with the strawberries? Ponsonby sahib? Yes, thank you, John, we realise that a tray will have been taken up to the nursery. Are they all up there? –Master Matt and Master Malcolm as well? –They have made a fort? We see; thank you, John! –Malcolm is another cousin, Madeleine: one of our dear Josie’s grandchildren. He and his two sisters, Harriet and Jane, have come to spend some time with us. Their Papa is abroad, and their Mamma prefers living in Paris with her brother, who is an artist, to dull old England. Malcolm is a year older than Matt, but as he is rather biddable, there is little doubt who will the leader in their games.
Well, now! The next excitement in Darjeeling was the arrival of Mr Charles Hatton upon the scene! Ponsonby sahib, do you care to help tell it? –Alas, yes, you will be too frivolous, but we can support it, can we not, girls? That is, if there is to be absolutely no mention of windows open onto the verandah of the Allardyce House at times when conversations were being held. Either inside ’em or outside ’em, you say? There! What did we tell you, girls? Pray cease this frivolity at once, sir!
Charlie Hatton arrived in the hills a few days after Colonel Fitzmaurice’s dance. A couple of weeks went by with Charlie in constant attendance at the Allardyce House—though it was true that the amiable Major Mason was, also—but without Tiddy’s offering him any particular encouragement. Certainly no more than she was offering the Major.
Mrs Allardyce, the cleverest woman in Calcutta, was finally driven to say to Mlle Dupont: “Does your little charge want the pretty Hatton boy, or not?”
“Who can say, madame? I am not, alas, in her confidence,” she responded politely.
“No, of course. Forgive me, I should have phrased my enquiry differently. Do you think that Tiddy wants him?”
Cornered, Mademoiselle lifted her hands in a very French gesture. “I confess, I do not know! She has admitted that when they were vairy little, she did—but she is no longer six years old, after all! And certainly she sees through him.”
“Oh? As far as his pursuit of her sister when her back was turned?”
“Eugh—well, I think not,” admitted Mlle Dupont cautiously.
“Hm. And what does Colonel Ponsonby think of it all,”—an infinitesimal pause—“in your opinion?”
Mademoiselle replied somewhat weakly. “As to what I know, madame, he has checked that the boy is not in debt and did not run through his inheritance from the old uncle before he even came of age. From that point of view I believe that he would not think the match inappropriate. But… Well, he has certainly intimated to me that he does not approve of Mr Charlie’s character. Too much easy charm, you know?”
“Ye-es… Well, his father has that, and there is nothing wrong with him.”
“No, but madame, would he have manipulated the two sisters so vairy carefully, in his son’s place?” she cried unguardedly.
“I would say not. I think he has insufficient guile and also too much sense of honour to do such a thing. Added to which, Alan Hatton had never the cool temperament which would allow his head to rule his heart. He was very much in love with Minerva—that is his wife. Very many years ago now, of course.”
“I see. But then, perhaps,” said Mademoiselle her small mouth tightening, “the son is not in love with Tiddy.”
“But I think he is, my dear,” she said with that characteristic lightness of hers.
Mlle Dupont eyed her uncertainly. “Truly, madame?”
“Mm. But he has the temperament that will not allow that to weigh with him when it is a question of his own advantage. She would be his first choice, but in the case she turns him down, I would say there is no doubt at all he will immediately turn to Josie.”
Mademoiselle swallowed. “I was afraid it was something like that…”
“Yes. But then, if Tiddy does not affect him?” She cocked her clever head on one side, and waited.
“But one cannot tell!” cried Mademoiselle in huge exasperation.
“No, quite. Hmm… Reinforcements?” she said, raising a mobile eyebrow. “I just happen to know a very well-connected young woman who is visiting the country at the moment. Indeed, the party is due in a few days’ time: they are to inspect Mr Urqhart’s new tea plantation up in the hills.”
“Eugh—but there is your English proverb of a bird in the hand,” she objected dubiously.
“That only obtains,” said Mrs Allardyce with her famous light laugh, “when the bird is in the hand, I think! And we are agreed that Tiddy is not that! I think I can promise you that we shall very soon find out if she wishes to be.”
“But if she does, and he has switched his attentions?”
“Oh, Lud!” said Mrs Allardyce. “My well-connected friend will not take him, my dear; what are you thinking of?”
There was a moment’s dead silence on the verandah of the Allardyce House in Trafalgar Grove. Then Mlle Dupont, alas, collapsed in gales of unseemly laughter.