Monday, 2 September 2013

12. Scenes from the Shikar, Or, Hunting the Prey


Scenes from the Shikar, Or, Hunting the Prey

 From the unfinished MS., circa 1899: Our India Days
Chapter 11: More Darjeeling Days;
Together With Some Curious Indian Tales (continued)
    Darjeeling opinion of that year’s visiting widows was, so to speak, in the process of consolidation. Lady Caroline Armstrong, once again in the company of Collector Widdop, was seen to pat his arm confidentially. Mrs Turner took a deep breath.
    Mlle Dupont murmured on a weak note that that was—eugh—just manner, Madame.
    To which Mrs Turner, though her commanding figure had stiffened alarmingly, returned graciously that it was like our dear Mlle Dupont to say so. And should they walk on?
    And the ladies walked on.

    —Most certainly we have not forgotten the Junoesque Mrs Mollison, Mr Thomas—your favourite, indeed? The Junoesque and the cigars must put her well in the running? Dear sir, you shock us! –Do not look like that, Antoinette, you goose, we are joking him, and in fact were about to say that a guinea or two could well be placed on Lady Anna Lovatt. Had the form, dear Mr Thomas? At any rate she had the face! Oh, dear, oh, dear! –Very well, Antoinette, dearest, by all means order a tray of something cooling. Lemon barley would be lovely, and we shall all calm down and listen sensibly while Tiddy tells it!

Barley Water
Three tablespoonsful of barley kernels & one pinch of salt to be added to a pint and a half of fast boiling water. Boil rapidly for 4 minutes. Strain. Flavour with sugar & lemon.

Further extract from a letter to Miss Lucas from Tiddy, from “The Allardyce House,
Trafalgar Grove, Darjeeling”, found in the tin trunk in poor condition
    I had part of what follows from Mlle Dupont, who does not care for some of the commentators concerned, and part I observed for myself—or heard: ladies d’un certain âge do not consider that the near presence of persons of my age and status in life is worthy of consideration, you see!
    The evening party was a select affair. Out on Collector and Mrs Voight’s verandah, Mrs Mollison, only too visible from the Voight drawing-room, expelled a long stream of blue smoke. The cluster of young gentlemen laughed admiringly and little Viccy Truesdale, very much above himself, could be heard to suggest: “Essay a smoke ring, ma’am!”
      “What, are you betting I cannot do it, darling Viccy?” she drawled.
    The cluster drew closer, the gentleman laughing and laying bets, and the Junoesque Mrs Mollison drew in smoke…
     “Insufferable,” Mrs Martinmass concluded grimly.
     “My dear, my very word!” Mrs Carruthers agreed. “Poor Mrs Voight! And word has it the creature has set her sights on dear Commander Voight!”
    Mrs Martinmass’s eyes went to the other side of the room, where Mrs Voight’s brother-in-law was sitting on a sofa while the horse-faced Lady Anna Lovatt told him what was apparently an uproariously funny story. “Then I am glad to say she will have her work cut out for her.”
"Lady Anna Trowbridge" (Now identified as the former Lady Anna Lovatt,
née Dewhurst, wife of Major-General Sir Aloysius Trowbridge, K.C.B.)
Oil on canvas, School of Thomas Lawrence, circa 1834.
Formerly in the Regimental Collection, 1st Bombay Lancers, Indian Army.
Courtesy of the Maunsleigh Collection
    Reluctantly Mrs Carruthers revealed: “Er—I have it on very good authority that he was at school with the late Mr Lovatt.”
    “Nevertheless,” she said firmly.
    Mrs Carruthers looked again. She smiled slowly. “Indeed,” she murmured.
    After a moment Mrs Martinmass added: “So, Lady Anna’s late husband must have been considerably older than she; does one conclude she prefers older gentlemen?”
    Mrs Carruthers sniffed—quite in the manner of her daughter Emily. “My dear Mrs Martinmass, had you observed her comportment at the Duckworth breakfast but yester morning, you would not conclude so!”
    The Duckworth breakfast was a most exclusive affair and Mrs Martinmass cannot have expected to be invited, but nevertheless it rankles. The youngest Duckworth boy is an amiable creature with few wits, and it is known in Darjeeling that Mrs Duckworth, who of course was a Vane, considers that Emily Carruthers might do for him. Poor Mrs Martinmass’s lips tightened; nevertheless she asked with interest: “Her comportment with whom?”
    “Hatton. I would say,” said Mrs Carruthers on a very sour note, “monopolising him, were it not that the boot appeared to be very much on the other foot. He made,” she said with a moue of distaste, “a dead set at her.”
    Secure in the knowledge that Mrs Carruthers and Emily are both very, very miffed that since his return from England Charlie Hatton has been steadily ignoring the said Emily, Mrs Martinmass was able to reply calmly: “Oh? I would have said she is too old for him. And certainly far above his touch.”
    “Exact! The Hattons,” said Mrs Carruthers bitterly: “are nobodies. That so-called estate of his in Hampshire is little more than a farm.”
    “I am not surprised to hear it. Er, were any of the Allardyce party at the Duckworth breakfast?”
    An unpleasant smile spread slowly over Mrs Carruthers’s large face. “No. I think, not because Mrs Colonel Duckworth, alone of the Darjeeling hostesses, has not heard of the Lucas fortune, but rather because, for whatever reason, she did not care to invite anyone of the party—”
    Mrs Martinmass laughed. “That was years a[go!”]
    “One gathers, however, that it still ran[kles.”]
    Mrs Martinmass laughed again. “In[deed!”]

Our India Days, Chapter 11: More Darjeeling Days;
Together With Some Curious Indian Tales (continued)
    Quite, Mr Thomas! It is the essence of the thing, if not, at this long distance in time, the exact words! –Goodness, could there be more to tell of Mr Thomas’s favourite? Very well, we shall stop teasing and Tiddy will tell it—yes, she will do the voices, Madeleine, of course! Er, no, dear, the children would not be interested in the content, even though they love the voices, and as you can hear, they are very busy shooting that tiger!

Tiddy’s letter found in the tin trunk, continued
    [The en]tirety of Darjeeling society had not been invited to the Voights’ evening party, though there was certainly a more general spread of personalities than had been at the exclusive Duckworth entertainment, so those who had not been favoured were very eager to hear of it from those who had—or even from those who knew so[meone who had!]
    [Vio]let and I called upon Miss MacDonnell and Master Tinker Terrier, to find she was not alone, and we would not therefore need to give our feeble accounts of the evening’s proceedings. Mr Sebastian Whyte, warning that his report was but at second-hand, for he was not there in person, plunged eagerly into it in the shade of the maiden lady’s great deodar. Brigadier Polkinghorne had told him that cards were mooted, poor Mrs Voight attempting to make up several whist tables, but Mrs Mollison said that was but dull stuff and they must get up a faro table, and Mrs Allardyce supported her. Most taken aback, Miss MacDonnell ventured that she has played whist with dear Mrs Allardyce an hundred times, and she is a splendid player.
    Agreeing calmly, Mr Whyte took a seedy biscuit, approved it as “Delicious as ever,” and continued smoothly with his narrative. All the younger gentlemen of course joined Mrs Mollison and Mrs Allardyce at the faro table, and not a few of the older gentlemen, too. Mrs Carruthers immediately developed a headache, and removed Emily. And Mrs Duckworth claimed her girls were overtired from all the late nights and got them out of it. At this Miss M. was driven to thrown up her hands, gasping: “Mrs Duckworth left early?”
    To which Mr Whyte returned sweetly: “Yes, but I do not think that Mrs Voight particularly cares that she was a Vane, not even if her brother be Viscount Stamforth himself.” Taken unawares, dear Miss MacDonnell choked. And allowed that Mrs D. is but a cousin to the head of the family. She then enquired anxiously: “But what about dear little Tiddy and Violet?” At which Violet and I exchanged glances but remained properly dumb, like well brought-up young ladies.
    Mr Whyte assured her it would not have been proper for us to play. Not perceiving the twinkle in his eye, she cried: “But that is my point! Were they left quite out in the cold?”
    Looking impossibly prim, Mr Whyte explained that Violet, Miss Martin­mass and I were left to play spillikins with Mlle Dupont, while the gentlemen encouraged Mrs Mollison and Lady Anna Lovatt to lay the silly sort of bet which you may imagine. Captain Lord Alfred Lacey and Commander Voight, alas, making cakes of themselves just as much as silly little Viccy Truesdale.
    Miss M. was duly horrified, gasping: “Surely not dear Commander Voight?” At which he confirmed that yes: he was, alas, stationed at Lady Anna Lovatt’s right elbow. “The gentlemen,” said Miss MacDonnell on a vicious note, “all seem to admire that young woman. But I cannot tell why, for she reminds me forcibly of a favourite brown gelding of my dear brother’s! I would not even call her pretty!”
    Looking primmer than ever, naughty Mr Whyte returned: “No, nor I. But the consensus is, I collect, that the sterner sex find her fascinating. Cmmdr. Voight certainly appeared fascinated.” He took another biscuit, chewed slowly, and swallowed, possibly meditating whether or not to say it, given our presences. But, perhaps deciding that as we had seen the thing, it could not signify, he admitted that according to his friend Stanley, Charlie Hatton appeared equally fascinated and was at Lady Anna’s left elbow. Before Miss MacDonnell could throw up her hands again, he added quickly: “By this time, I am sorry to say, Mrs Voight had tacitly washed her hands of it, and was absorbed in whist in the other room.” This tactic, if tactic it were, worked: Mrs Voight’s passion for whist is well known, so Miss MacDonnell had to admit that one could see it.
    Mr Whyte awarded us a kindly look. “Stanley was very annoyed about the gentlemen’s complete desertion of the young ladies, but as he had been asked to make up a table with General Hay, could not go to their rescue. So he was very pleased to see Collector Widdop leaving the faro table and joining Mlle Dupont and the girls.”
    “Not really?” she cried, the hands clasped to the flat bosom in positive ecstasy. “Oh, he is the most gentlemanly of men! So gallant!” Placidly the narrator agreed, nobly forbearing to mention that when his game broke up Brigadier Polkinghorne came over to our table and grunted: “Very well done of you, Widdop!”—causing us maidens to redden, alas, for who wishes to be perceived to be the object of a gentleman’s charity, however kindly meant?

Our India Days, Chapter 11: More Darjeeling Days;
Together With Some Curious Indian Tales (continued)
    Later, of course, Brigadier Polkinghorne and Mr Whyte became quite close friends of ours, visiting with us all at our homes, so we also had their versions of that season in the hills! Yes, precisely, Antoinette dearest: we all grew up enough, we are glad to say, to be capable of perceiving the solid worth and kindly hearts of both gentlemen. Though the Brigadier’s lorgnette continued as entertaining as ever! No, well, what would life be without the little eccentricities of one’s friends, after all? Very dull, yes, Madeleine, dear!
    Now, Mr Thomas, are your guineas still on the Junoesque Mrs Mollison? Yes, perhaps a prudent man would have a side bet on the equine Lady Anna Lovatt!
    Oh! Ponsonby sahib, pray do not creep up on one like that! We are not encouraging the youth of today to lay bets, at all, for he thought of it for himself! The luscious Mrs Matcham? Dear sir, that phrase, in front of the girls? Is the shikar over? Oh, they have gone off into the mofussil after more game! At least five days by elephant, or gazebo? Pray stop it, sir, you will have us all in hysterics!

    Now, you have not overtired yourself, we trust?—Good.—Then run along inside and ring the bell for a tray of tiffin, Antoinette. –Yes, pray do look at her notes, Ponsonby sahib: we have been telling them of that time Tiddy baba was in the hills with Mrs Allardyce. Still? No such thing! There is a lot to tell!
    By all means pass him the pencil, Madeleine—no, dear girl, if he were tired he would not care to draw. Do not worry: for a gentleman he has quite a deal of good sense! –No, well, persons who creep up on one and accuse one of  encouraging the youth of today in bad habits must expect to be paid back in their own coin, Ponsonby sahib! –We were just saying that some years later, Stanley Polkinghorne and Sebby Whyte became our good friends. Lorgnette and all—precisely, Gil! Oh, do but look: that sketch is Stanley to the life!
    Antoinette, do come and look: Ponsonby sahib is drawing some of the Darjeeling characters for you! John said what, dear? No more strawberry tarts? But the good Cook made a large batch this morning! All gone to the children? –Hush, Gil, we are not prepared to hear a single word about the strenuous nature of a tiger shoot! And you shall eat cucumber sandwiches and like them, sir! –Yes, that is Sebby Whyte: a very round face, with twinkling eyes! Well, yes, elaborate coloured cravats had come into fashion for gentlemen, Antoinette: that is not exaggerated. Not for Mr Whyte.

"Sebby Whyte" & "Brigadier Polkinghorne"
2 gouaches from John Widdop's journal, circa 1829.
From the Widdop family papers
    Ponsonby sahib, you will absolutely not take Mr Thomas’s guineas, for you know the end of the story! Only sixpences? You will not take them either, sir!
    Yes, thank you, Mr Thomas, we shall all have a cucumber sandwich. Please pass this cup to Ponsonby sahib, Madeleine. The next part of the story concerns John Widdop—and Tess is to stop giggling immediately! Now, Collector Widdop, we should explain, was not an unattractive gentleman, but it was not his slim figure and pleasant but unremarkable looks which were the draw. No: in British India a Collector of the East India Company was generally reckoned a great catch—and, indeed, the phrase “flies round the honey-pot” must spring to mind!

"Five Antique Honey Pots & a Silver Honey Bee from the Maunsleigh Collection"
Courtesy of the Maunsleigh Collection

Extract from a volume of John Widdop’s journal,
written at the Widdop bungalow in Darjeeling
Tues 10.
    I must confess that in the course of a sufficiently long and successful career I have become accustomed to all of the many and varied forms of persuasion human ingenuity can devise. And, since being left a widower some ten years since, to those devised by the female mind in pursuit of a mate. Accustomed though I am, however, to the ladies of Anglo-India and the many and varied snares they lay, I was a little surprised to have a bowing bearer come into the parlour at a sufficiently early hour and announce that an English mem was calling.
    “I think you mistake, bhai,” said I.  “English mems do not call on sahibs.”
    “It is an English mem, sahib,” the man persisted, bowing again but with, or so I fancied, an odd look in his dark, slightly slanted brown eye.
    I asked cautiously whether she had an ayah with her but the answer was  “No, sahib. No ayah.”
    I went to the window and peered from behind the curtains. Not that I was aware of any particular sins of my own that might be coming home to roost in my quiet little hill station bungalow, but my older brother has been here for a while, and Cuthbert has always been a dashed idiot… I could not see more than the indication of a pale gown within the shelter of the front porch, and said on a resigned note: “You had better show her in here. Is my brother up, yet?” He was not, it being “too early for Major-General sahib to be having chota huzzree.”
    I asked for the mem to be shown in and leant my shoulders against the mantelpiece above the empty grate, doing my best to make sure my face expressed nothing at all.
    “English mem, huzzoor,” announced the bhai, bowing deeply.
    There was no doubt whatsoever that both the term of address and the depth of the bow were meant to put the English mem severely in her place! I merely thanked the fellow, which got rid of him, and said neutrally to the heavily veiled lady: “Good morning. May I help you?”
    She raised the veil. “Phew, that’s better! I think the things gather dust, far from keeping it off! Good morning, Collector.”
    I trust my face did not express my emotions, which were in considerable turmoil. The little Lucas girl calling here? Why, for God’s sake? Surely Cuthbert could not have been so idiotic as to—And surely she could not have been! The girl had struck me as a sensible little creature! Nay, both intelligent and sensible—and I am not accustomed to misjudge people.
    “If this is a social call, Miss Lucas,” said I drily, “allow me to tell you that it is ill-judged. Ladies do not call at bachelor houses.”
    “I know. That’s why I have come so early,” she returned cheerfully.
    I bit on the bullet and replied, I hope evenly: “My brother is not yet up, I’m afraid.”
    To this Miss Lucas returned: “Good. I haven’t come to see him, I’ve come to see you. –I can see what you’re thinking,” she added kindly—I blinked—“but it’s nothing like that. I am not in trouble of any sort.”
    “Then who is?” I demanded tightly.
    “Nobody. I have come in the hope that you can help me settle a wager.”
    At this I took a deep breath. “Miss Lucas, I perceive that you were not sufficiently spanked in your childhood—which cannot have been so long since as I thought.”
    “No,” she agreed cheerfully, not a whit abashed: “I’ve only had to be a young lady for about a year. It’s all right, no-one saw me, and even if they had, it could not signify: this an old dress of Mlle Dupont’s which no-one in India, let alone Darjeeling, has ever seen.”
    “And the bonnet?” I returned unemotionally.
    She was not thrown by this gambit. “It’s a very old one of Mrs Allardyce’s which she gave to one of the ayahs when Violet was a baby. So I don’t think anyone will recognise it, either. And this is a new ribbon: I took the old one off.”
    I confess I was driven to pass a hand over my forehead. “Who taught you—never mind.”
    Those wide grey-green eyes, which heretofore in my blindness I would have catalogued as limpidly innocent, not as shrewd as a hardened box-wallah’s of forty-odd, were seen to twinkle. “What, the art of deception? No-one would have dreamed of teaching me any such thing, sir, but I suppose I absorbed something from Ponsonby sahib during that period when no-one spanked me sufficiently.”
    “More than something. And I doubt he would be best pleased by this escapade. I know Gil Ponsonby quite well,” said I grimly.
    “Yes; he has mentioned you. Tell him if you must: I don’t mind. The thing is, I made a bet with Charlie Hatton and he is being quite insufferable over it, and though it is not the thing to use such means, I decided I had best ask you straight out and be done with it. For either you will tell me or you will not,” she explained in matter-of-fact tones.
    After an appreciable moment I managed to utter: “Tell you what?”
    “No wonder Ponsonby sahib approves of you,” she discovered. “You go straight to the heart of the matter, do you not? That must make it difficult for you when you’re dealing with the mulaquati in your District, though.”
    “On the contrary, I am as capable of circumlocution as a situation requires. This one don’t. Tell you what?”
    “I’m afraid it is a very impertinent enquiry. Tell me who holds the title deeds to this bungalow,” said little Miss Lucas, going rather red but, to her credit, looking me firmly in the eye.
    There was then, I freely admit it, a stunned silence in the dingy front parlour of the Widdop bungalow.
"Our hill station - Bungalows viewed from the hillside"
Photograph, circa 1880.
Courtesy of Miss Thomas
    I finally managed to ask why?
    “That was the bet, you see. That I could not discover it,” she said simply.
    “I grasped that, Miss Lucas. Why bother?”
    For the very first time in this extraordinary interview she actually sounded unsure of herself as she replied: “Um, the whole of Darjeeling has apparently been in a ferment about it for years, though there is no why to that, except that that is the sort of place it is.”
    “I suppose I see. Though not why a young fellow like Charles Hatton should bother to interest himself in the matter.”
    “Um, well, he thinks it’s funny. Both in itself and also because Darjeeling is so interested. But he would not have bothered himself to the extent of making the wager, only, um…”
    Scowling, she revealed: “He is so sure that I will lose, and if I do, I will have to give him the supper dance at General Hay’s stupid ball, you see!”
    “You should be flattered, Miss Lucas,” I returned smoothly.
    Now very red in the face, she retorted crossly: “I am not flattered at all: I have known Charlie Hatton all my life, and he is the most conniving, selfish creature that ever walked! He was in England for years and never so much as came near us until he heard that we four younger ones were to get the bulk of Papa’s fortune!”
    “Ah. Then why bother to bet with him?” said I lightly.
    The little thing was now both red-faced and scowling, and admitted: “He provoked me into it, I suppose. Put it like this, I was stupid enough to let him provoke me, and he knew I would be.”
    “I see. And you do not want the supper dance with him?”
    “No,” she said grimly. “And I certainly do not want to leave him with the impression that I did not really try to win the bet.”
    To this I murmured that he could not know her so very well if he could be left with that impression, and invited Miss Lucas to accompany me to the study. She gave me an uncertain look but trotted along, noting: “It’s Miss Tiddy, actually. Or Miss Angèle, if you must. I’m the youngest, you see.”
    “I beg your pardon; I had not realized. Miss Tiddy, then,” said I, showing her into the study. I unlocked the desk and handed her a folded packet of papers.
    Miss Tiddy unfolded the papers and went very red, I was glad to see. After a moment she said in a strangled voice: “Thank you, Collector.”
    “Not at all. I would ask why the joint minds of Darjeeling suppose I have turned the place over to my brother, only that I cannot see that you would be able to offer more than a guess.”
    “No. It has something to do with his living here for so long, I think,” she said limply.
    “Mm. Well, Cuthbert has no genius for managing property, or I might have turned the place over to him,” I conceded, stowing the papers away again. “How do you intend convincing young Hatton that you know the truth, Miss Tiddy?”
    Her reply was a forceful “Huh!” and the declaration that Hatton would not dare to accuse her of  lying. Assuring her I was glad to hear it, I led her out to the front door.
    “Thank you very much, sir,” she said on a lame note as I opened the door and bowed.
    “Not at all. May I hope that you will promise me the supper dance in Hatton’s stead?” I ventured.
    “You?” replied Miss Tiddy in frank astonishment.
    On reflection, I do not dare to ask myself precisely why the astonishment! At the time I merely bowed and assured her I should be honoured.
    “What, with all those well-born widows competing for your hand? I think not!” she returned  with a sudden laugh.

"Flight from the hags of Darjeeling (Sketched when self in a jaundiced mood
& Cmmdr. V. complaining bitterly on said subject)"
Sketch, pen & wash, from John Widdop's journal, 1823.
From the Widdop family papers
    I did manage not to smile but it was a close-run thing. “No, well, would it surprise you to know, Miss Tiddy, that I do not want any of those well-born widows?”
    “Yes, it would, actually,” said my astonishing visitor frankly. “Not that I don’t think they’re all very silly and worthless, but then, gentlemen don’t usually see that in charming ladies, do they?”
    I begged her to acquit me of the usual gentlemanly blindness, and she duly warned me that if I dared to bow again, she would go into strong hysterics.
    “That would never do,” said I. “So, will you give me the supper dance and rescue me from the silly widows?”
    She was about to accept, but gulped and admitted that Mlle Dupont and Mrs Allardyce might gain the wrong impression.
    “Along with the rest of Darjeeling—well, yes, that had occurred to me. Wouldn’t it—er—enliven the hill station season?” I ventured.
    “It might, yes! –I have to admit,” she admitted with a sigh, “that it is all incredibly silly and time-wasting. Though interesting of its kind. But really, sir: I have come all the way out to India, and then all the way up to the hills, just to fritter the days away in the exact same sort of social stupidities that we had back in England!”
    To this I replied that in my experience, humanity is apt to take its social stupidities with it, the colour and romance of India notwithstanding, and the little girl who had grown up in the country conceded the colour but owned she would not call it romance. I apologised for using the term conventionally and repeated my invitation. As might have been expected, Miss Tiddy Lucas did not return a precisely conventional reply! Nor, alas, a flattering one! The big grey-green eyes narrowed and she said: “Well, they may not let us get away with actually supping together, but if we do, will you let me have champagne?”
    “Of course.”
    “Good. It’s a bargain,” she said solemnly, holding out her hand.
    I managed to shake it solemnly. As she pulled her veil down and stepped out into the porch I murmured: “Oh—one thing. The shoes. You have not yet perfected the art of deception. The shoes give you away. They are the ones you were wearing t’other day, when Mrs Allardyce was so kind as to offer me a ride in the barouche.”
    She looked up at me something dazedly. “Yes. You are very sharp. But if it had been a serious matter, of course I should have taken care not to wear a pair of my own.”
    Heaven forbid it should ever be a serious matter, then! I managed neither to laugh nor shudder and merely requested her to oblige me by going straight home, not offering to send a bhai with her, for the Widdop bungalow bhais are known all over town. I did just mention that the front parlour curtains of the Porton bungalow, opposite, had been twitching for the last five minutes. And requested her, as her figure and gait are, in my humble opinion, unmistakable, to take the precaution of limping.
    “Very wise. A bientôt, monsieur!” said  the small, dingy, veiled figure cheerfully, limping down my garden path.
     Well—possibly this season in the hill station might be rather more entertaining than anticipated! Tho’ that, alas, is not saying very much at all.

"The hats are worse but otherwise - plus ça change..."
Sketch, pen  wash, from John Widdop's journal, circa 1829.
From the Widdop family papers

Our India Days, Chapter 11: More Darjeeling Days;
Together With Some Curious Indian Tales (continued)

   John Widdop was delightfully intelligent, of course! And the dearest man! No, no, you are anticipating, Mr Thomas! Er, no, Madeleine, dear: over time Major-General Widdop did not become more sensible, alas. Persons of that age are not apt to change their spots. Which reminds us: if you would just run in and ring the bell, Antoinette, someone had best be asked to make sure that that tiger comes indoors after it has been well and truly shot! There is no need, thank you, Mr Thomas: you are a guest and she is not helpless. Er—no, Madeleine,  you are thinking of lions; tigers are solitary creatures and lurk in the depths of the forests, one never sees them as a general rule. Nor leopards, neither. As Ponsonby sahib says, they are solitary creatures, too, but unlike tigers, extremely agile climbers who often lurk in the branches of big trees. They do hunt larger game, of course: deer are plentiful in many parts of India—but they will hunt monkeys, too, either on the ground or in the trees. No, we have never seen a leopard in the wild; they hunt mostly at night and like many cats prefer to doze during the heat of the day.
    —Thank you, Antoinette, dearest. Not tigers still, no, we have diverged onto the topic of leopards. There, now: if Ponsonby sahib says that when game is scarce, a leopard will eat fruit or small creatures such as mice or even insects, we are sure he must be right! And as he says, any notion that tigers or leopards terrorize the poor villagers is quite incorrect: as a rule they avoid human habitations entirely. The so-called man-eater is usually a mangy old creature that has lost most of its teeth and cannot hunt its proper game. Oh, Matt told you of the pistol in the study which shot a man-eating tiger, did he, Mr Thomas? That was when you were in the mofussil with John Widdop himself, was it not, Ponsonby sahib? –Very well, if you two gentlemen think the progress of the shikar should be checked on, by all means do so, and you may hear the story as you go, Mr Thomas—though it will perhaps not be as exciting as you imagine! And Gil: please come straight back, or Dr Fortescue will be scolding us.

The Tale of Ponsonby Sahib ’s Man-Eating Tiger Hunt with Collector Widdop

"A Tiger, by Matt Ponsonby"
Watercolour, circa 1855, by Matthew Ponsonby, Snr.
(Inserted in the MS, Our India Days)
From the Widdop family papers
    It was not exciting at all, girls, though perhaps the waiting for the creature to appear was nerve-racking enough. As tigers hunt at night, the gentlemen could not see very much. They tethered a goat to a tree on the outskirts of the village and hid in another tree downwind of it, with their guns at the ready. When the goat shrieked as the tiger went for it, Mr Widdop’s clerk got such a fright that he fell out of the tree, and the two Indian bearers who had waxed very brave, insisting on coming with them, jumped down and ran away. The Collector himself missed with both barrels of his shot-gun—he was shooting at the noises, you see, it was too dark to see—and Ponsonby sahib’s gun misfired. The tiger ran straight towards them, so Gil grabbed up his pistol and shot it through the head. No, not trying to climb up after them, for as they realized once they inspected the corpse in daylight the poor creature was missing one eye and near to blind in the other. What with that and the pitch-dark, it could not possibly have seen them, or indeed, their tree, and as he tells the story, in fact bumped into it!

    —So, how is the shikar progressing, dear sirs? Goodness, a bag of three crocodiles, a gazelle for the pot, four brace of rabbits, and a snake before they have even reached tiger country! Who shot the snake? –Oh, little Gil, but of course! We do trust they are not leaving poor Malcolm out of it, though? Growling and roaring in the night? We see! Yes, indeed, the camp would be terrified! The elephant roared back? So that was what that noise was all about! –Well, yes, it very likely would, Madeleine, for elephants become very restless if they scent a tiger or a leopard. 
"An elephant rearing"
Watercolour, author unknown, circa 1865?
(Thought to be by Gilbert Ponsonby after an Indian miniature)
From the Widdop family papers
    Er—“trumpeted” is the correct word, Antoinette, but pray do not tell Tessa that, or we shall have trumpeting in the house! And have you had the full story of the famous man-eater hunt, Mr Thomas? Exactly! Real life so often offers one an anticlimax, does it not, in contrast to what Gil would call a rattling good story! –You have promised them the rattling good story of Lord Sleyven’s wicked crocodile? Ponsonby sahib, was that wise, with the little girls here? –It was Harriet who shot one of the crocodiles? Oh. In that case, there can be no objection!
    Now, go on, Tiddy baba: tell them what Hatton dared to say to you in the wake of his behaviour at the Voight party—was this at Mrs Allardyce’s little dance? Oh, yes!

"At a dance"
Engraving, circa 1817, artist unknown
(A reproduction of this engraving was published in La Belle Assemblée, 1817)
(From a portfolio of mounted prints & sketches, Maunsleigh Library)
Courtesy of the Maunsleigh Collection

Extract from a letter from Madeleine Thomas to her sister Adelaide
    Even back in those days, dear sister, it appears that Darjeeling had a string quartet, so kind Mrs Allardyce hired them to play for a little hop in the drawing-room of the Allardyce House in Trafalgar Grove. The old ladies described the quartet so amusingly, but I fear I cannot capture their exact tone for you. There was a Mr Harris (first violin), retired some time since from a clerical position with the East India Company, which of course they refer to  as merely “the Company” or “John Company”. It took me quite some time,  I must confess, to puzzle out their meaning, and our dear brother informed me I was a goose! Then there was a Mr Kettle (second violin), retired from a position with Lucas & Pointer, and a meek yellow-brown Mr Robbins (viola). “His musical contribution was deemed almost to make up for his unfortunate birth” was the phrase used! And a depressed-looking junior Mr Harris was the violoncello.
    Out on the verandah Charlie Hatton blew a smoke ring and Tiddy baba, as we are agreed I shall call her when it is just between ourselves, noted that that was not so very clever, for Mrs Mollison could do it. Mr Charlie then tried to persuade her that his avoiding her at the Voigts’ elegant evening party was done express to force Collector Widdop to hasten to her rescue, which of course she saw through, as one would. Young men can be so vain, can they not? So she walked off and left him to his silly smoke rings.
    Now, this little hop of Mrs Allardyce’s was held only two days before General Hay’s big ball, which might have struck one as an odd time to choose. However, the grand people, I cannot recall absolutely all their names, but persons such as the General himself, the Voights, General and Mrs Porton, and the Duckworths were not present. Instead there were such persons as Miss MacDonnell and Mrs and Miss Turner, amongst the older ladies, and quite a few young people: Harriet Doolittle, and quite half a dozen other acquaintances from Calcutta. And a good number of young officers to dance with them, so it was a delightful occasion. But the point was—and we all laughed very much over it—that Mrs Allardyce had invited the ones who were  not favoured with invitations to the General’s ball at Long Reach Villa!
Our India Days, Chapter 11: More Darjeeling Days;
Together With Some Curious Indian Tales (continued)
    Yes, we are about to recount the events of General Hay’s ball, if you are not too tired? Stop it! Of course Gil may come down to burra khana this evening like a big boy if he is feeling very well! –It is since our darling little Gil baba came to stay, Mr Thomas: Ponsonby sahib is so thrilled to have one of the grandchildren named for him, you see. But you must absolutely promise to have a nap before dinner, Ponsonby sahib. Very well, after the story of the crocodile, if they will all come and sit quietly for it. But first, the Long Reach Villa Ball!

The Long Reach Villa Ball
(A reconstruction, drawn largely from the journal of Collector Widdop)

"Hay's Ball or Danse macabre"
Sketch, pencil, form John Widdop's journal, circa 1829.
From the Widdop family papers
    General Hay’s ball was in full swing. The majestic Mrs Duckworth raised her ivory lorgnette—much prettier then Brigadier Polkinghorne’s tortoiseshell one—and after a pause for examination of the somewhat surprising sight of Miss Angèle Lucas in the capable arms of Collector Widdop, said drily: “Entertaining enough.”
    Mrs Voight smiled feebly. Not that she had any particular interest in Collector Widdop. Well, of course he was a catch, but it was ridiculous to suppose he would even look twice at her little Jane, only just out. But young Tiddy Lucas was a nobody, even if she would have a substantial portion. “Well, yes. In especial as earlier in the season, his brother was very attentive in that direction.”
    “So one had heard… Well, John Widdop is an attractive fellow, I think we may concede that between ourselves, Eliza,” she said, lowering the lorgnette. “But he don’t give the impression of a man setting out to woo the lady of his choice.”
    Mrs Voight looked dubiously at Mr Widdop and Tiddy Lucas laughing as the figures of the country dance brought them back together. “Er—no-o…”
    “He lacks,” elaborated Mrs Duckworth drily, the lorgnette once again raised, “that sheep-like expression. –Do but look over there, my dear!” She nodded slightly.
    Mrs Voight looked. Young Lord Frederick Dewhurst, who would have been completely suitable for her own little Jane, was humbly proffering the smiling Lady Caroline Armstrong a glass of refreshment.

"Closing in for the Kill - Lady C.A. at Hay's ball"
Sketch, pencil, form John Widdop's journal, circa 1829.
From the Widdop family papers
    The two matrons watched in silence as the expectable dimpling, curl-shaking and arm-patting then took place.
    “Taking of sheep-like expressions,” agreed Mrs Voight very grimly indeed.
    “Oh, and of cradle-snatching, my dear,” she said with a lightness worthy of Mrs Allardyce herself.
    Mlle Dupont and Brigadier Polkinghorne were sitting together. Mademoiselle had a sneaking feeling that the well-connected Brigadier had taken her under his wing because his friend Mr Whyte had asked him to. He had already explained that Sebby was not here tonight—not grand enough for their host. As Collector Widdop surrendered Tiddy to Major Mason with what appeared to be great reluctance, the Brigadier said kindly: “Wouldn’t worry about that, ma’am.”
    “N— Eugh, which, monsieur?” said Mademoiselle feebly.
    “Either,” he noted drily. He raised the lorgnette. Mademoiselle tried very hard not to notice that on the far side of the room Mrs Duckworth was doing the precise same thing. He looked slowly round the crowded ballroom.
    As he did not speak, Mlle Dupont eventually offered: “It is all vairy expectable, no?”
    “Somethin’ like that,” he grunted, as the Junoesque Mrs Mollison, laughing immoderately, was seen to lead the burly, grinning Colonel Fitzmaurice into the waltz, what time his little nephew Viccy Truesdale stood by discomforted, and the darkly lush Mrs Matcham, also laughing, was seen to capture Captain Lord Alfred Lacey from under the very nose of little Miss Armstrong, not to mention the disconcerted Lady Armstrong, and lead him ditto.
    Mademoiselle looked again.. “Eugh—I do not see Lady Anna Lovatt.”
    “The d— boy,” replied the Brigadier grimly, “saving your presence, ma’am, has taken her into a kala jugga.”
    “Who? Into a what?” she said limply.
    “Oh, beg pardon, Mlle Dupont. Young Hatton. Taken her into a kala jugga. Hindustanee, y’know. Means a little sitting-out place.”
    “I am vairy sure he has! But as to whether it might be in response to Tiddy’s encouraging the Collector, or hers is in response to his, I cannot tell!” said Mademoiselle somewhat wildly. “And Mrs Allardyce promised it—it would all be resolved!”
    The Brigadier blinked. “What, tonight?”
    “Eugh—no. I do beg your pardon, monsieur: I was becoming heated. No, she had a plan…” said Mademoiselle glumly. “But I do not know the details.”
    “Women like Mrs Allardyce always do have a plan,” noted Stanley Polkinghorne drily.

    It was now time for the supper dance and Tiddy looked eagerly for the Collector.
    “Mrs Duckworth maintains you are wrong,” said a teasing voice in her ear. “He has signed it over, lock, stock and barrel, to Major-General W.!”
    “Go away, Charlie,” replied Tiddy grimly.
    “Pooh! Admit you made it all up, and dance this one with me!”
    “Of course I did not make it up. I told you: I asked the Collector and he showed me the papers. Here he is now: ask him yourself,” said Tiddy grimly.
    “Oh, Lor’! Wouldn’t dare!” he hissed, laughing. “Stiff, ain’t he? –Evening, sir,” he said brazenly as Mr Widdop approached. “I say, hope you was not under the impression that Tiddy had promised you the supper dance, for, y’know, she promised it me days back.”
    “That is a lie, Collector,” warned Tiddy grimly.
    “Yes, I can see that, Miss Tiddy,” he agreed, looking curiously at Mr Hatton.
    To her enjoyment, Tiddy saw that Charlie had gone rather red. “Oh, you cannot blame a fellow for trying, sir!” he said with a would-be easy laugh.
    “Can I not?” returned the Collector evenly.
    “Oh, absolutely not! Well, if you still maintain you have won the you-know-what, Tiddy—though you know and I know you have not—s’pose I had best resign myself.”
    The Collector put a hand under Tiddy’s elbow. “I do hope, Hatton, that you are not labouring under the misapprehension that I don’t take your meaning. As Miss Tiddy is aware, I hold the title deeds to the bungalow in which my brother and I are living. Good evening.”
    Mr Hatton was left with nothing to do but bow and take himself off.

"Hatton discomforted - Highlight of Hay's Ball?"
Sketch, pencil, from John Widdop's journal, circa 1829.
From the Widdop family papers
    He did so in the direction of Lady Anna Lovatt, who was immediately heard to cry: “There you are, you bad thing! I had almost given your dance to darling Bertie!” And one of Darjeeling’s medley of majors was then seen to bow and resign the lady to him.
    “I would say,” said the Collector lightly, whirling his fair prize into the waltz, “that the art of covering one’s bets is not unknown to your friend Hatton.”
    “That puts it very well,” agreed Tiddy grimly. “Having his cake and eating it is also a favourite with him.”
    “Well,” said John Widdop easily, “that don’t work. Not when one is past the age of two or so. Perhaps one day he will grow up sufficiently to realise it.”
     “I hope I may be a fly on the wall when he does,” replied Tiddy grimly.
    Mlle Dupont found the supper most pleasant, in the company of Brigadier-General Polkinghorne and the Collector. Since by now she had received more than one very reliable report that the latter was one of the most charming men in Anglo-India, she was relieved to see that his manner to Tiddy was no warmer than that of an older man to a favourite niece. And, in fact, found it in her heart to feel sorry for the man: widowered these ten years and being chased by all the hags of Anglo-India! However, the spectacle of Charlie Hatton supping in a party with Mrs Mollison, Mrs Matcham, and Lady Charlotte Armstrong and flirting with all three of them was not an edifying one.
    After supper the Collector’s brother came up and claimed Tiddy for a country dance, Mademoiselle eyed this performance drily. Had it not occurred that after dancing with his very much younger brother, Miss Angèle Lucas might not find herself precisely aux anges in his arms? No, apparently not!

"Cuthbert in his finery"
Sketch, pencil, pen, wash & gouache, from John Widdop's journal, circa 1829.
From the Widdop family papers
    He was quickly followed by several young officers. Charlie did not come near her: he seemed to be sharing himself amongst the three ladies with whom he had supped. But did that indicate, wondered Mademoiselle, that he was trying to pique Tiddy into chasing him, or—or not?
    And that was more or less that for General Hay’s ball. No further enlightenment was received that evening as to Charlie Hatton’s preference, or, indeed, as to which of the ladies might be Mrs Allardyce’s “she”. He did not appear to favour one above the other, and the fair Mrs Mollison, horribly Grecian in artfully draped finest Madras white silk shot with silver, wholly unsuited to her age and widowed station in life, the lush Mrs Matcham, all smiles, complaisance and dark curls above a superbly cut deep puce silk with an exactly toning necklace of what she freely admitted were only garnets, thus neatly pre-empting the female half of Darjeeling, and Lady Charlotte Armstrong, girlishly simple in a plain lilac silk and awarding girlish pats on the arm to the male half of Darjeeling, all seemed equally warm and welcoming toward him… Then there was the horse-faced but wellborn Lady Anna Lovatt. Allowing Mr Hatton to take her into a sitting-out place had certainly seemed like encouragement, but in the further course of the evening, to Mademoiselle’s certain knowledge, she also went aside with three other gentlemen. Of whom Major Mason might have nothing but a pleasant smile to recommend him above Charlie Hatton, but the same could not be said of Lord Alfred Lacey and Commander Voight!
    “Quatre,” said Mademoiselle grimly under her breath as Tiddy returned from a dance.
    “What was that, Mademoiselle?”
    “Nothing, ma petite. I fear the evening is in danger of becoming rather rompish: Mrs Duckworth has gone. We should collect Mlle Violette and go.”
    There being nothing even remotely exciting in watching a pack of middle-aged persons becoming rompish, Tiddy agreed eagerly to this suggestion, and they collected Violet, and went. 

Our India Days, Chapter 11: More Darjeeling Days;
Together With Some Curious Indian Tales (continued)
    Oh, dear, did you expect a resolution, Mr Thomas? But what did we say about real life’s tending towards anticlimax? Ponsonby sahib, please stop laughing, or the girls may conclude we are teasing him deliberately! Whereas we are merely allowing the story to unfold in its due order! –No, no, Mr Thomas: fetching the children would not constitute a retreat, merely a strategic withdrawal in order to marshal one’s forces! ...Come and sit down, dear ones—you may tell us all about the shikar in a little, we promise, but if you wish to hear Ponsonby sahib tell of Lord Sleyven’s crocodile before he retires to rest before dinner— That’s better! Go to Great-Aunt Tonie, Gil baba, it is Jane baba’s turn to sit on Ponsonby sahib’s knee. Yes, Harriet may sit on Great-Aunt Tess’s knee: that’s right!

"The Grandchildren - Tessa, Jane baba and Harriet"
Watercolour, circa 1863-5, mounted on brown card.
Thought to be by Gilbert Ponsonby. (Inserted in the MS, Our India Days)
From the Widdop family papers
    Just put that great crocodile-gun down, Tessa dearest, we are quite safe on the terrace. Now, dear sir!

The Story of Lord Sleyven’s Wicked Crocodile
    In the days when Lord Sleyven was a young man, and still only Captain Wynton, the regiment was assigned to the mofussil. As game was plentiful, some of the younger officers went out for some shooting. Down by a river they came across a horrid scene: a young donkey had been taken by a crocodile! Its owner was shouting for help and the poor little mother jenny was braying in distress.

"The wicked crocodile"
Sketch, pencil, circa 1865? Author unknown.*
(Inserted in the MS, Our India Days)
From the Widdop family papers
* Variously though to be by Gilbert Ponsonby or another hand. -K.W.
    The officers set their horses at the stream, and prepared to leap to the rescue. The river was quite wide, though not one of the great Indian waterways, but not too wide for a capable horse and rider. Captain Wynton, however, was on a bony, obstinate brute which jibbed, throwing him over its head so that he landed awkwardly in the water, splash! His fellow officers rushed to rescue him before the crocodile could perceive it was being offered another  dish to its dinner, and he was hauled safely onto the bank. But alas, it was too late for the little donkey, and it was drawn beneath the waters, and eaten up by the wicked crocodile.
    So the officers readied their guns and waited until there was a ripple on the surface of the river and a wicked leathery snout showed again; and: “Bang, bang, bang!” A volley of fire rang out and the wicked crocodile met his just desserts!

    Yes, huzza, indeed! Of course you would shoot it with your huge crocodile-gun, Tessa! Yes, and Matt with his best shot-gun, naturally. A tiger could beat a crocodile, Malcolm? They are both very fierce, dear boy, but there is very little save the guns of the regiment which can bring down a full-grown crocodile! –Snap, snap! Yes, Harriet, they do! Er, yes, the little donkey was all eaten up, Jane baba, but the officers killed the wicked crocodile in the end! Make a crocodile dressing case like your Mamma’s out of it? Yes, that would teach it a lesson, darling!

"Five antique dressing cases from the Maunsleigh Collection,
including 3 crocodile (L. & R.)"
Courtesy of the Maunsleigh Collection

    Now, everyone must thank Ponsonby sahib for the story and let him retire. No arguments, if you please, children. The two Gils may go together, yes, Gil baba. But no more stories! –He will probably just nod off beside his grandfather, Madeleine, he is only four, you know. No, well, look at their faces, dear girl: they thoroughly enjoyed the story! They are all too young to have developed sensibilities, you see. –Now, children, you may all tell us the story of your great tiger hunt from the back of the elephant!

"Naive Indian picture showing rescue of elephant
 with foot in grip of crocodile" (Maunsleigh Catalogue, 1889)
Circa 1820, artist unknown.
From the estate of Jarvis Wynton, Fifth Earl of Sleyven
(Later identified as Lord Vishnu rescuing Gajendra, the Chief of the elephants,
from a crocodile: illustrating the "Gakendra-moksha" legend.)
Courtesy of the Maunsleigh Collection

Culinary note by Cassie Babbage
Australians are now eating crocodile (farmed), though there don’t seem to be any older recipes. Here is an easy recipe for cooking it moli-style. Charles calls it “Mum’s Eat the B’s Before They Eat You Recipe”.
(There are lots of recipes on the Web. I found a nice-looking one at Huey’s Kitchen, For more, just search under “crocodile meat recipes.”) Most experts seem to recommend cooking it quickly as you would squid.
Crocodile Moli
(Serves 4)
500 g crocodile meat  (usually tail meat)
1/2 onion                                                        2 cloves garlic
1 red chilli                                                       2-cm piece ginger
juice 1/2 lime                                                 1/2 cup coconut milk
1 teaspoon ground coriander                      1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric                                  vegetable oil spray
pinch salt                                            Garnish: coriander leaves
Chop the onion and ginger finely. Spray frying pan or electric frypan on moderate heat with vegetable oil. Sauter onion, ginger and ground spices until onion is soft and golden. Add crushed garlic and finely chopped chilli. Cook just until aromas are released.
Slice the crocodile tail into narrow strips as you would squid. Add to pan. Cook 4-5 minutes, stirring gently,
Add coconut milk. Bring to boil then quickly reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 2-3 minutes.
Take off the heat and stir in the lime juice and pinch of salt. Do not add lime all at once, but taste until adjusted to your liking.
Serve with a garnish of fresh coriander leaves.
Note: The Southern Indian moli are made with chicken, lamb, fish, seafood or boiled eggs (or sometimes pork). They would traditionally be served with a selection of spicy vegetable dishes and rice, but I like them with plain rice plus lots of green salad on the side and a spoonful or so of spicy chutney or hot pickle.

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