THE GREAT TAMASHA COOKBOOK AND FAMILY
Miss Lucas and Miss Tonie
|"Tess & Tonie Seated"|
(Identified as the Lucas sisters, Antonia, L., and Theresa, R.)
Watercolour, circa 1832, by "JW" (John Widdop)
From the Widdop family papers
From the unfinished MS., circa 1899: Our India Days
Chapter 11: More Darjeeling Days;
Together With Some Curious Indian Tales (continued)
Do come in, Madeleine—Mr Thomas. You look quite damp and chilled: come over to the fire. Really, this English weather! Raining again just when we were sure it was set fine for the rest of the summer! Well, at least the children are busy and happy, constructing the Red Palace of Dehrapore in the nursery. And we all had a lovely day yesterday, it was a great treat for Gil baba and the girls to come in the barouche with Ponsonby sahib. –No, no, the boys did come, Mr Thomas, but they rode alongside on the ponies: Matt is quite reconciled to riding Trusty, as Malcolm, who of course is older, is being a very good boy and riding fat old Brown Betty without complaint—as Ponsonby sahib put it, possibly the oldest and fattest pony that ever managed to put one foot in front of t’other! –It does rain in India, Madeleine, in fact drenching rain for weeks on end, but it is regular, you see. It does not suddenly rain in the middle of the dry season.
Ponsonby sahib is quite well, thank you, Mr Thomas, but he is under Dr Fortescue’s orders not to come down on such a nasty day, after such a busy time yesterday. Er, well, just between you and us, he is sitting up in bed, having obediently drunk a glassful of warm milk which we do not think the good doctor realised would have elaychee and honey added, writing down some additions to Antoinette’s notes! Well, inactivity always chafed him. And just because he is elderly, does not mean that his mind does not require occupation! –Now, if everyone is comfortable, we shall continue with the story.
(Reconstructed from a set of letters from Ponsonby to Lord Sleyven
in the tin trunk,
plus Madeleine’s letters from the Thomas papers)
“Huzza!” cried Tiddy baba, rushing out onto the verandah of the Allardyce House, as a dusty, grimy carriage pulled up at the gate. “At last!”
The steps were let down, Ponsonby jumped down and handed Tess and Tonie down and, brushing him aside like a fly, Tiddy hurled herself into her eldest sister’s arms.
“Dearest!” said Tess in astonishment to the burst of tears. “What is it?”
“Made a fool of herself over some ineligible,” noted Tonie tartly. “Said I not that the tenor of her letters indicated she was on course to do so?”
“No!” gasped Tiddy, raising her head from Tess’s shoulder and beaming through the tears. “I am not such an imbecile! Just glad to see you! I have missed you both dreadfully!”
Tonie sniffed slightly, but pecked her cheek and allowed Tiddy to hug her fiercely.
“Hullo, Tiddy,” said Ponsonby on a dry note.
“Thank you so much for bringing them, Ponsonby sahib!” she beamed.
He blinked. “Er—think nothing of it. We’ve seen a considerable amount of the hill country: very interesting.”
“Indeed; I have done so many sketches. And our tea plantation is doing very well,” approved Tonie.
“Aye,” agreed Ponsonby. “Tom Harper has taken over from old Meggs, now, and is making a very good fist of it.”
Tonie nodded. “Most certainly: the plantation appeared so orderly and efficient!”
“I cannot imagine Major Meggs being retired,” admitted Tiddy.
“No, and apparently for quite some time,” said Tess with a smile, “although he was nominally so, he did not let Mr Harper do a thing without supervising him—which of course did not work out at all well.”
“Fatal,” agreed Tonie deeply.
“Indeed! But dear Mrs Meggs—she was so very kind to us, Tiddy—at last diverted him onto a hobby, and he became totally absorbed with that. You will never guess what!” said Tess, her wide grey eyes sparkling.
“No, I don’t think I shall. It must be something energetic and practical, I conclude?”
Her sisters nodded, smiling, what time Ponsonby, seeing they were apparently not to proceed up the path to the house within the immediate future, turned to order the syce to get the baggage down.
“But give me a clue, at the least!” urged Tiddy.
“Camels,” said Tonie.
“Tonie!” protested Miss Lucas.
“He hasn’t take up the breeding of camels? In the hills?” croaked Tiddy.
“Not that; but that was too much of a clue,” said Tess severely.
Tiddy eyed them wildly.
“You had best tell her,” said Tonie with a smile. “Syce! Careful with that bag! –You must watch these men, Colonel, or they will be putting the heavier luggage down on top of the lighter things which we made sure were strapped on top.”
“Tell me,” said Tiddy limply to her eldest sister.
Tess laughed, and linked her arm in hers. “Training them up to pull large carts—the which, of course, he intends poor Mr Harper to use for carting the tea down to Calcutta!”
“Carts? But Tess, camels are beasts of burden! I mean, I have seen camel-carts, of course—but they were used as conveyances, rather than for freight.”
“Yes. These are more like waggons,” said Tess primly, “with the camels yoked together.”
“Camels? They will never pull together!” she gulped.
“No, and Major Meggs did not succeed in making them do so, but it kept him splendidly occupied for months,” she said tranquilly. “Shall we go in?”
“Of course! You must be longing to wash and rest after the journey!” They strolled up the path. “Did Josie and the Meggses get away safely?”
“Oh, yes; they left before we did, and she was very pleased to be heading back for Patapore, because Mrs Meggs is a sister of Mrs Colonel Jeffcott, and of course they will be staying with them.”
“Good,” said Tiddy in some relief. Colonel Jeffcott was the younger brother of one, Sir Alfred Jeffcott, Bart., and his eldest nephew was said to be joining him this summer—and a niece, though she did not count—and though it was but a baronetcy, still, Sir Alfred had a beautiful home in Sussex and was a wealthy man.
Tonie and Ponsonby were still occupied with the baggage, so Tiddy took Tess up to the room she would be sharing with Tonie, explaining that Mademoiselle, Mrs Allardyce and Violet were out paying calls, but she had stayed home because she had had a feeling that it might be today that they would arrive!
“Tonie seems cheerful,” she said on a cautious note.
“Why, yes indeed, Tiddy! You know, she had declared she would not make an album of the trip, for she had seen it all before so many times, and I feared she was going to sink into a melancholy—but once we reached Lucas Hills, and kind Mrs Meggs had seen us settled in, she began to take an interest. And we had not been there two days before she had her sketchbook out! She has done a series on the plantation and the workers, and then on the journey here, took some lovely sketches which she has determined to work up into an album of gouaches! And the dear Colonel thinks that they should arouse considerable interest back home in England, for they are not just views, you know—though of course the scenery is very fine—but studies of all the interesting natives we saw on the way—and as a matter of fact,” said Tess with a conscious little laugh, “he has encouraged me to write a little text to accompany them, and thinks we may be able to publish a little book of engravings.”
“Help, isn’t that a very expensive undertaking?” said Tiddy in a hollow voice. “Even more so than Tonie’s dratted china-painting.”
“Do not call it that, dearest. No, well, private publishing does cost, one must suppose, but he thinks that in the form of an illustrated journal, a publisher may well be interested in it!”
“Ye-es. More and more ladies come out to India, these days, it is not so unusual,” said Tiddy cautiously.
“But there is still a public for such things! Why, do you not remember how dear Miss Bartlett used to urge Mamma to write down her experiences?”
Tiddy, of course, did not dislike Miss Bartlett, but recognised nevertheless that she was one of the greatest toad-eaters that ever walked. She was about to remind Tess of this, but took another look at her pink cheeks and shining eyes, and thought better of it. “So she did. How exciting it will be, to see you both in print!”
Tess smiled and nodded.
“The air of the hills must agree with Tonie. What a pity we can’t stay up at the plantation permanently,” noted Tiddy.
|"The Tea Plantation: three scenes"|
Engraving, circa 1830, artist unknown
(From a portfolio of mounted prints & sketches, Maunsleigh Library)
Courtesy of the Maunsleigh Collection
“Oh, I do not think it was just the air! Delightful though that was!” said Tess with a laugh.
Tiddy’s jaw sagged. “Surely not! Tess, not Mr Harper? I remember clear as clear, that time he came down to Calcutta with Major and Mrs Meggs and they brought him to Ma Maison for tiffin: you all took it on the verandah with Mamma and Mrs Carruthers. It was the day Josie and Emily went to some frightful simpering girl’s birthday party—I remember, it was Caroline Collins; I suppose one should not call her frightful, now that she is dead, poor girl. Reverend Gilliatt was there, too: mooning at you, as usual. Mr Harper barely uttered, and afterwards Tonie said he was a lump, and poorly bred.”
Tess was rather red. “Tiddy, my dear, she was scarce seventeen at the time, and poor Mr Harper was very shy—well, I concede he has no company manners, no. But he has an excellent grasp of his job, and Major Meggs told the Colonel that he is a thoroughly sound fellow—as, indeed, I could see for myself!”
“I am sure he is, but this is Tonie of whom we are talking, Tess! Mrs Meggs told Mamma that his mother was a grocer’s daughter; and old Mr Harper, you know, though Papa thought very well of him, was in the counting-house in London.”
Tess put her rounded chin in the air. “What can that signify? Papa himself started in the counting-house! They may live in the hills and be happy!”
Tiddy gave her a troubled look. “I honestly wish I could see it.”
“It shall be so,” said Miss Lucas determinedly.
Tiddy swallowed hard. “I hope so,” she said lamely.
Kind Mrs Allardyce of course insisted on giving several pleasant entertainments to welcome the elder Miss Lucases—and Darjeeling welcomed them with open arms. Possibly Mrs Carruthers’ sour report that she did not believe that Henry Lucas had cut up all that warm and it was a great pity that Colonel Ponsonby had got so much out of the estate had not had the effect that she had imagined it would. There were dinners, and dances, and several actual balls, and more dinners, and innumerable picknicks… And naturally gossip was rife!
According to Mrs Duckworth, the Allardyce woman was making a dead set at Colonel Ponsonby. The feeling with which this opinion was expressed might have had something to do with Violet’s mother’s not inviting the dim youngest Duckworth scion to anything but the largest of the picknicks, whether or no his mother had been a Vane. Mrs Voight, on the other hand, maintained that the Junoesque Mrs Mollison would have poor Gil Ponsonby before the rains came. In the deep shade of Miss MacDonnell’s deodar tree, however, opinion had consolidated in quite the opposite direction.
“I have seen a man beat a faster retreat,” said Mr Sebastian Whyte thoughtfully, “but in that case an actual cobra was involved.”
Miss MacDonnell threw up her hands and gasped in giggling protest.
“No, well, we had something of the sort back in England,” admitted Mademoiselle. “Pursued even to the doors of Tamasha itself, the poor man! But I can assure you that Mrs Mollison is not the type to appeal at all to Colonel Ponsonby. But what is a—a cobra, Mr Whyte?”
Gulping slightly, Mr Whyte explained it was a poisonous snake, and that yes, he had seen a man beat a very hasty retreat when confronted with one lurking in his bathroom. Adding quickly that it had only been in a dak-bungalow, Mademoiselle: it could not happen in a well-run house!
Mrs Turner then murmured that she had seen Miss Lucas and Collector Widdop taking a stroll yester morning, and that he was such a very pleasant man.
“Indeed!” agreed Miss MacDonnell brightly, urging more tea on her. “Never mind that a xollector is generally reckoned to be a great catch, in India, dear Mlle Dupont: such things do not necessarily contribute to a happy state of matrimony, do they? But Collector Widdop—and of course I have known him for quite some time—has a very sweet and generous nature! My dear brother was wont to say you could not find a better fellow in the length and breath of India!”
“We think so,” agreed Mrs Turner. “If he should show signs of wishing to fix his interest, Mlle Dupont, I think you need have no worries at all for Miss Lucas’s future happiness. Goodness, I recall when he married his late wife—a delightful young woman, no pretension about her—do you remember the wedding, dear Miss MacDonnell? An huge reception, I dare say half Calcutta invited, but that was the bride’s side’s doing, you know: dear Mr Widdop is such a modest man—but as I say, the late Mr Turner remarked to me then, that the young woman could count herself fortunate in having found such an honest and reliable fellow! Er—you may think that that sounds not very much, Mlle Dupont, but I assure you, it was high praise indeed, from the late Mr Turner.”
“Indeed, I think it sounds vairy much, Mrs Turner! To say that a man is honest and reliable is a vairy great thing! Why, it is the sort of thing that the late Mr Lucas might have said,” she smiled.
“Indeed,” said Mrs Turner in some relief. “And—and, well, if he has sometimes, since his sad loss, allowed himself to encourage, er, certain ladies, well, I am sure there is very little in that—such an attractive man, of course! And, er, it was not for lack of encouragement from the ladies, as it were.”
“Aye. Added to which, they were all what was on offer,” grunted Brigadier Polkinghorne. “And talkin’ of hasty retreats, saw him beatin’ a fairly fast retreat from the vicinity of Lady Caroline Armstrong, t’other day.”
“I missed it,” explained his friend sadly. “Though one is glad to hear it, Stanley! The Gratton-Gordons have birth, true, but one has to admit it, that is all they have. ‘Well-behaved’ is scarce a phrase one would use in reference to a single one of that family! But if Collector Widdop is being pursued, it is partly his own fault, y’know—and I think you are too kind to him, dear Mrs Turner, for when one hands out tidbids to a man-eater, the usual result is that it will hang about the village forever, looking for prey!”
Again Miss MacDonnell threw up her hands and gasped in protest, but without the giggles. At which the Brigadier begged her to excuse Sebby, for he had lately sustained a shock.
Nothing more was said on that occasion, for Miss Tonie was present; but subsequently Brigadier Polkinghorne and Mr Whyte had a private word with Mlle Dupont. That is to say, it was most certainly intended to be private, but unbeknownst to these well intentioned persons the three saree-clad bundles crouched at the far end of the verandah muttering in their native tongue and chewing paan were not three of the ayahs, but Mrs Allardyce’s old Kamala Ayah, Nandinee Ayah, and Miss Angèle Lucas.
“I am afraid you may not like this, Mademoiselle,” said the amiable Mr Whyte on a grim note which was most unlike his usual pleasant tones. “It concerns Charlie Hatton.”
“Go on, monsieur,” said Mademoiselle tightly.
“I had driven out to the Wilsons’ bungalow, which is a little out of the town.”
“The Wilsons are on home leave,” explained Brigadier Polkinghorne.
“Exactly. I had a charming letter from Mrs Wilson, asking me if I would just pop up to see that the house is not going to rack and ruin, and to air it a little. The house is not visible from the road, and as the drive is in quite good repair I drove up; and, well, not to put too fine a point on it, there on the verandah were Charlie Hatton and Lady Anna Lovatt, er, en déshabillé.”
Poor Mlle Dupont, though she believed herself to hold no brief for Hatton, was heard to gasp. At the far end of the verandah one of the supposed ayahs shrugged and pulled a wry face.
“Told you you should not mention it,” noted the Brigadier sourly.
“Mais non, Mr Whyte! I am vairy grateful!” said Mademoiselle quickly. “Not that one had not a sufficiently low opinion of Mr Charles Hatton—but it is best to know, non?”
With some relief the Darjeeling friends agreed that it was, indeed!
Our India Days, Chapter 11: More Darjeeling Days;
Together With Some Curious Indian Tales (continued)
We did not intend to put you to the blush, girls. You modern girls have so much sensibility. Er, but perhaps if you think your mamma would not care for Madeleine to hear this part of the story, Mr Thomas, you had best take her— Very well, then, if you are sure? For such things do happen, after all: there is no use blinking at facts. And Hatton was not, in spite of the looks and the charm, a very pleasant young man.
Madeleine, dear, it is a gross exaggeration to say that older men are much pleasanter. Though of course Collector Widdop was indeed the pleasantest of gentlemen! –Mr Thomas, do not tease her, the new curate is not even arrived in the district yet! –Yes, ring for tea, Antoinette, dearest, very sensible.
…Most refreshing! Now, we shall go on with the tale. Well, yes, Mr Thomas, did we not advise you to put your guineas on the horse-faced one? You girls cannot imagine what he saw in her? Nor you, Mr Thomas? Er—well, you are not very old, yourself, of course!
Extract from a letter from Ponsonby to Lord Sleyven, in the tin trunk
Mlle Dupont reported this shocking tale to the burra-sahib with celerity. I am afraid I was neither shocked nor surprised: I was not sure who Lady Anna was, but had some notion of that young man’s character.
“She is one of the widows staying up at Long Reach Villa: the one that looks rather like a horse. A well-bred horse, or that is what is said. Most of the gentlemen seem to admire her, but I am sure I cannot see why—other than that the creature blatantly encourages them!” said Mademoiselle on a sour note.
|"Pursued but not Fleeing"|
Lithograph, hand-coloured, circa 1821, artist unknwon
(from a portfolio of mounted prints & sketches, Maunsleigh Library)
Courtesy of the Maunsleigh Collection
I replied that that will not uncommonly do it, with the majority of the sterner sex, conceding that I had seen the one she meant. I would have said she was too old for Master Hatton, and made the point to her, asking whether the woman has anything that he may want on a more permanent basis? Evidently she is very well connected, being Lord Frederick Dewhurst’s sister and a daughter of Lord Abingdon. You may know him, Jarvis, but I confess I have never heard of him. Mlle Dupont kindly explained that Mrs Allardyce says that he is a marquis, adding: “Lady Anna is, I think, not a poor woman: the late Mr Lovatt is said to have left her well provided for.”
To which I replied that it is, then, not lack of fortune, but her age alone which has suggested to her that an Indian hunting expedition might be not a disadvantageous move at this juncture. She agreed, but seemed dubious about my further point, that the woman must be ten years Charlie Hatton’s elder, but then said hastily that the fact was not in question, adding the curious rider: “Non, eugh, Mrs Allardyce did just mention—but then, I am not at all certain if it is she!” It is not like Mademoiselle either to be unsure of her facts or to hesitate in this fashion. I duly demanded clarification. I shall give you her exact answer, Jarvis. I am sure it will recall the full flavour of Darjeeling to you. Not to mention, just what poor d— A. had to put up with!
“She said that there was a lady of her acquaintance who—eugh—in short, monsieur, who could be relied upon to show Hatton in his true colours, giving Tiddy a disgust of him, you see, and, eugh, not to take him, in the end.”
Well, yes! I not unnaturally replied: “The woman is a menace.”
Poor Mlle Dupont went very red, so I hastily added: “I’ve known her for years, and poor Allardyce. Can you explain how Sebby Whyte’s catching Lady Anna and Charles Hatton in flagrante on a verandah may be supposed to show him up before Tiddy?” Naturally she could not, except that it may get about. She could not say—nor I, neither—what is to persuade her that it has any more truth in it than any other Darjeeling story.
I thought about it and finally decided that whether or no the whole thing be a plot by Mrs A. must be beside the essential point—that is, if one grants the essential point be giving Tiddy a disgust of Master Hatton. We shall just have to wait until Lady Anna accepts an offer from him. Or—though I fear he may be too shrewd to count his chickens publicly before they be hatched—he considers the thing is as good as done and boasts of it.
I hesitated, but finally asked what Mademoiselle thought Tiddy felt. Her opinion is that although she has seen a fair amount of him, she treats him only as an old friend. There is no doubt, she conceded, that she sees through him. She added: “I would like to say I am sure there are no warmer feelings, but to be perfectly honest, monsieur, I cannot swear to it. Tiddy is no longer a little girl, and she has never, frankly, been one to wear her heart on her sleeve in any case.” I agreed: she is very like her father, in some ways.
We are agreed that we shall be on our guard, but that there is nothing we can do.
A Conversation with Ponsonby Sahib at a Dance, as told by Tiddy baba
(Reconstructed from a letter written by Madeleine Thomas to her sister, Adelaide)
We were all three at one of the many dances held at Darjeeling that year—and at this distance I cannot even recall who had given it, there were so many! Collector Widdop whirled Tess away in the waltz. She was smiling, her cheeks very pink.
For once I was merely sitting out demurely beside our guardian.
“I like him,” I said.
“John Widdop? Yes, so do I,” replied Ponsonby sahib mildly. “He is a very decent fellow. Though I would not have thought that you could have got to know him well enough to form any accurate opinion of his essential character.”
I was watching the dancers but answered seriously enough: “Oddly, that holds true only for the most underhand of characters, who are concerned to conceal their real selves. Truly decent persons such as the Collector reveal themselves immediately. –Do not say it: the problem then is, to determine which is which! But I must admit that no-one in Darjeeling has had anything bad to say of the Collector, except that he has been tempted by several ladies since his wife died.”
“And gave in to the temptation?” he murmured.
“Well, my informants did not say so, in view of my maidenly state,” said I, looking prim, “but that was certainly the implication—yes.”
Ponsonby sahib laughed. “Aye!”
“He can well afford to retire, you know.”
He blinked. “How on earth do you know that?”
“General Porton told me. I think he forgot to whom he was speaking: most people don’t listen to him, you see, so it was a novel experience to have an interested audience, and he got carried away. He told me a very great deal about the Collector’s personal fortune, and how he supports his older brother and owns everything he uses, including the bungalow—though I already knew that.”
Ponsonby sahib had not been spared the Darjeeling speculation about the Widdop bungalow, so he croaked: “You and the General must be alone in all of Darjeeling in that! How do you know?”
I looked at him sideways. “I dare say you will not approve of this. But as there was no harm in it, I shall tell you.” Forthwith I related the story of the bet and the visit to the Widdop bungalow, with all the details of my disguise, describing the Collector’s reaction to it as justification for my conclusion that he was both a shrewd and a sensible man.
He listened seriously, neither smiling nor frowning. “He was right,” he concluded. “If you were serious about the thing it was a grave mistake to neglect the gait and the shoes.”
“Yes.” I glanced up at him doubtfully. His face was expressionless, his eyes following the movement of the dance. “You miss the old life,” I stated flatly.
Like many a young person who has spoken before thinking, I wished very much I had said nothing. After a moment I offered in a very small voice: “I’m sorry you had to give it up, Ponsonby sahib.”
He sighed. “Thank you. But we must all move on, I suppose. Uh—did old Porton give any hint as to whether Widdop in fact means to retire in the near future?”
“Not really. The implication was that he might if he found a suitable wife, I think. But then he sidetracked himself with an account of the family. There were eleven sisters, though several of them died in childhood, and just the two brothers. Their father was a clergyman: there is a family estate, I think he said it was in Sussex; but that would have belonged to the Collector’s uncle. Do you think he might like to settle in Kent, rather than near his relatives?”
“Uh—” I could see him take another look at the dancers. “I dare say he might. But if we are envisaging possibilities, will Tess prefer Kent to Calcutta?”
“I think so. She said something to me the other day about its being impossible to go back. Though she truly enjoyed the trip to the hills: she didn’t mean that!” I added quickly
“No,” he said with a little sigh. “Well, you were all just girls at home, when you lived in Calcutta…”
“Um, yes. And—and the climate is not the best for English children, is it?”
“No, it certainly is not.”
“No. Caroline Collins died,” I said in a low voice, not having meant to say any such thing.
He blinked. “I’m very sorry to hear that, Tiddy. One of Captain Collins’s girls, was she?”
“Yes. –Major Collins, he is, now. She was about the same age as Josie. Ginger curls.”
“I remember. She always was a sickly little lass,” he said kindly.
“Mm. I suppose she might have died anyway, even had they gone back to England... And Tess has admitted she had forgotten how hot it can be here.”
“Mm. And Tonie?”
“Actually, I thought we would have nothing but complaints from her, but although she did grumble at the first in Calcutta, we noticed that on the days the rest of us found most oppressive, she did not complain of the heat at all.”
“That’s the impression I had, too. Though she did express appreciation of the cooler weather in the hills. Um… has either of them said anything to you about Tom Harper?”
“Tess has said a lot, and Tonie has said nothing at all, the which Tess assures me must be indicative!” I replied with a laugh.
“Good. I think Tonie is capable of appreciating his solid worth.”
I looked at him dubiously. “Then why are you frowning, Ponsonby sahib?”
“Uh—was I?” he said lamely. “It’s just that, thoroughly good fellow though he is, he has no charm, and is very much not a ladies’ man, on the one hand, and then, on the other, he is not a gentleman.”
“Tess seems to think that will not weigh with her.”
“No-o. I could see it did not weigh up there in the hills, no. Well, wait and see, I suppose. He is to come down and make a full report of the plantation in a couple of months’ time, so that will be an opportunity to get them together in a rather different setting, and see if…”
“If she still likes him?” I asked naïvely.
“Not exactly. If her notions of her consequence,” said Ponsonby sahib grimly, “outweigh both her affections and her recognition of Harper’s genuine worth.”
I swallowed hard and admitted: “I see.”
He was looking at me distressfully, and bit his lip. “Tiddy, I’m dashed sorry: I shouldn’t be moaning on at you as if you were an old woman.”
“You can say anything to me, Ponsonby sahib,” said I.
And we sat on in silence for some time. Very, very much later, he revealed that he wished to give my hand a comforting squeeze, but refrained, for, never mind if he was my guardian, there was enough gossip circulating in Anglo-India about Papa’s will without adding to it; and then, he had no right to do any such thing, for he was a married man.
Extract from a volume of John Widdop’s journal,
written at the Widdop bungalow in Darjeeling
(The transcription is thanks to the hard work of Charles Babbage
in deciphering the Collector’s handwriting)
Thurs., very late.
Miss Lucas is a most attractive young woman, one cannot deny the fact. Clearly as virtuous as she is attractive, too. And what is more, entirely devoid of both cunning and spite, a refreshing change! The unmarried ladies who are, I shall not scruple to write it here, endlessly thrust under my nose the minute I show the said nose in Anglo-Indian society, are of course virtuous, but they are by and large both cunning and spiteful—or else too stupid and pudding-like to be either. While in the younger widowed ladies, oddly enough, the lack of virtue don’t seem to go hand-in-hand with a lack of spite or cunning. Ditto for not a few of the married ones. I have no objection to lack of virtue in “grass widows” as those whose husbands stay behind on the plains leaving them to dalliance in the hills seem to be called these days—but it is not a trait one seeks in a young woman whom one might be considering as a partner in life. If I am, of which I admit I am by no means sure. No, well, there would be no fear of that sort of thing, with Miss Lucas. But do I want another marriage? The agony of dear Lucy’s death has eased, as such things do, over time, but that it is not to say that the memory is not still painful. And making the decision to send our three little girls home to England without me was an extremely painful business. One could point out that that is all in the past. It seems incredible that my jolly, bouncing little Annie is to be married next year, and little Lily, who in my mind’s eye I still perceive as a round-faced little creature of six or so with a mop of untidy, feathery dark curls, is about to contract an engagement to a decent young man.
|"The Widdop children"|
Three portraits, watercolour, 1816-1817, from John Widdop's journal.
(L.-R.: "Our Baby Rosie"; "Our Wonderful Annie, aged 7"; "Our Darling Lily")
From the Widdop family papers
Even Baby Rosie is to have her come-out next Season; I cannot imagine it. I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I have visited with the girls since they went home. Though I suppose, if one remarries, there is the possibility of retiring to England.
Well, yes, I should have to: I could not face a separation from another little family were I fortunate enough to be blessed with one. There is always a “but”, however. The loss of tiny Johnny was inexpressibly painful for both Lucy and myself. Ask another woman to go through that sort of thing? Everyone does, apparently without a second thought. Well, it is natural to want a wife and family, after all. But when one has been through it once… Aye, well, there is also the point that the amiable and virtuous Miss Lucas, lovely though she is, might bore me to tears if I had to live with her.
I shall make no precipitate decisions. Miss L. is the pleasantest young woman I have met for a very long time. We should give ourselves the time to see if mutual liking can develop into something rather more solid.
A picknick in the hills, the which would have been improved by the absence of the usual crowd of outriders, syces, and kind friends.
The scene enlivened by a loud quarrel between Miss Tiddy L.’s ayah and one of the Allardyce House bhais over whether a fire would, could or should be lit, little Miss T. wading into it in the best Hindustanee I have ever heard from a feringhee’s lips—one would have sworn it was a native speaker, with one’s eyes shut—in support of the bhai. The ayah subsequently retiring to a considerable distance in the expectable sulk. Miss L. very pleasant to yrs. truly, but if in fact she prefers me to that ass Tom Mason or the absurd Polkinghorne or even d— Sebby Whyte, I confess I cannot tell! She is pleasant to everyone! Well, I shall plug on. But if only she had more spark. I would say, were more like her little sister, but Miss Tiddy has too d— much.
The Great-Aunts’ Picknick Treats
(Originals (rather obscured), in a hand which some claim is Antoinette’s, but which looks rather more like Madeleine’s. –K.W.)
(1) Bacon & Egg Pie to Be Eaten Cold
Take some thin rashers of bacon & 8 eggs. Steep the rashers in water to take out some of the salt. Lay these in yr. pie-dish.
Beat the eggs with a pint of fresh cream. Add a little pepper, & pour over the bacon. Lay over this a good cold paste. Decorate as you like & brush with a little more beaten egg or melted butter. Bake the day before needed.
(2) Dry Meat Curry for Picknicks
Fry together a pound of finely minced steak, a cup of minced onions, and two teaspoonsful of a good curry powder.* When these are browned simmer with a little water until the onions are soft. This can either be served rather dry or with plenty of gravy. This curry is very nice and is quickly made. Made dry, a little jar of it taken to a picnick will be found very useful, as it makes fine sandwiches. It will keep for days. Indeed, all curried meats keep longer than meats prepared in other ways.
* To Prepare a Good Curry Powder
Grind together finely 10 oz. of dhania [coriander] seeds, 1 teaspoon of caraway seeds, 1 teaspoon of black pepper, 1 teaspoon of red pepper, 6 teaspoons of turmerick, 4 tablespoons of fine flour, 1 teaspoon of cloves, 4 teaspoons of cinnamon, the seeds of 6 elaychee pods [cardamom]. Sift together 3 or 4 times & dry thoroughly in an expiring oven. Put in air-tight bottles. A pound of meat will require about two teaspoons of this mixture. If not hot enough add more red pepper.
(3) German Sausage & Caper Sandwiches
Slice thinly and butter yr. bread. Fill sandwiches with German sausage and capers. If capers are not available a pleasant subsitute may be found in thin slices of cucumber which have lain a moment in vinegar.
(4) Spiced Bacon & Egg Sandwiches
Slice thinly & butter yr. bread. Fill sandwiches with chopped boiled bacon & eggs, green chillies.
(5) Picknick Dainties
Rub 4 ozs. Butter into 1 1/2 breakfastcupsful of sifted flour. Add 2 ozs. Sugar & 2 heaped teaspoons baking powder, with sufficient milk to make a stiff dough. Roll out & cut into rounds. Place 1 teaspoonful of a good raspberry or strawberry jam in the centre of each. Wet the edges, & fold over to make turnovers. Crimp the edges as you please. Bake on a cold greased tray in a hot oven until golden. [About 15 minutes.] Delightful for yr. picknick.
(6) Raisin Pie (A Good Picknick Pie)
Boil 2 cups of seeded Muscatels & 1/2 cup sugar for five minutes with 1 1/2 cupsful of water. If to yr. taste, some chopped nuts may be added. Mix 2 tablespoonsful of cornflour with the juices of 1 lemon & 1 orange. Add to the raisins, boiling for 3 or 4 minutes & stirring well. Add the grated lemon & orange rind. Cool a little.
Line yr. pie plate with a good short pastry. Put in the filling & cover with a pastry top. Bake in a moderately hot oven until nicely golden. [About 30 minutes.] Sprinkle generously with sugar while still hot. To eat cold.
Our India Days, Chapter 11: More Darjeeling Days;
Together With Some Curious Indian Tales (continued)
Oops: here are the children! Hush, hush, children!—Very well, we shall come upstairs and see the Red Palace of Dehrapore on the instant, but hush! Chup! Do not shout! Why, Matt, dearest boy, have you brought your Grandmamma a nice warm wrap? How very thoughtful. –Ssh, Antoinette, it cannot signify which fur it is. Yes, Tessa, darling, it is rather like a bear, is it not? A big old furry grey bahloo! –Chup! Chup! Hush, hush, no growling in the sitting-room, children! –Thank you, Mr Thomas, please do give Tess your arm. Now, if we are all well wrapped up, it is ho! for the foothills of the Himalayas, and thence on to the Red Palace!
...Thrilling, indeed, but somewhat exhausting, as these expeditions so often are! –Yes, Gil baba, the Himalayas are every bit as steep as the front stairs—nay, steeper! Come and sit on Great-Aunt Tonie’s knee, that’s a good boy! Well, yes, Ponsonby sahib has climbed in the Himalayas, but not to the top, no-one at all in the whole world has done that, and in fact the natives claim that only their gods live up there, in the mists and eternal snows. But even the foothills are very steep. Shockingly bad roads, Mr Thomas, and at places it is much safer to get out and walk or continue on by mule, rather than stay in the carriage!
|"Negotiating the hills"|
Watercolour, circa 1829, attrib. to Antonia Lucas.
From the Widdop family papers
Er, no, Antoinette, there is really not time before dinner to continue with the story today. Perhaps tomorrow, if Madeleine and Mr Thomas would care to call? Tomorrow morning, Gil baba? Dearest child, it will not be a very thrilling story—Oh, no, goodness: the donkey! Very well, Gil baba, we shall tell you the story of Great-Aunt Tess’s donkey tomorrow. Two stories about donkeys? Well, India has no lack of stories about donkeys, we could probably think of another story about a donkey, if we all put our minds to it!
(On the morrow). Now, if everyone wishes to hear the stories about the donkeys, you must all sit quietly. Malcolm, no riding crops in the morning-room, if you please. Er—never mind if it be the Rajah of Dehrapore’s sceptre, dear boy, the morning-room is not the place for it. Yes, pop it in the elephant’s foot in the hall. That skipping-rope may go with it, thank you, Tessa. A snake? Then it may certainly go out!
Collector Widdop Considers Miss Lucas,
with the Fortunate Intervention of a Donkey
(Luckily most of this survived, and Madeleine’s letters
helped in fleshing it out. –K.W.)
In the hills that summer Collector Widdop continued to pay Miss Lucas attentions. Spending rather a lot of time in a person’s company, whether it be on tête-à-tête aimless drives, at picknicks with a crowd of other persons, at proper teas on blameless verandahs, at dinner with a crowd of other persons, dancing in too-small rooms under the punkahs surrounded too closely by a crowd of other people, or merely strolling down the street smiling at the idiosyncrasies and inadequacies of Darjeeling’s little shops, does tend to provide an insight into that person’s character. –Sit down, Tessa—you, too, Malcolm. You have not missed the donkey, no, do not be silly. We were merely telling a little of the time in the hills when we first met Collector Widdop.
|"John Widdop India, 1825"|
Watercolour, 1825, artist unknown.
Courtesy of a private collector. (Sourced by Jack Cooper)
The donkey incident took place on a day when Tess and John Widdop were taking one of those mild strolls down the main street, which was not a main street as we have in our English towns: rather more like our local village street, but much dustier! Lord Freddy Dewhurst, who of course was very young—er, yes, Mr Thomas, the same Lord Frederick who these days adorns the Cabinet—as we say, he had become extremely bored with the dawdling life in the hills, the more so as the ladies of the Long Reach Villa house party did not hesitate to command his attendance at any function where they might need an escort, regardless of the ages or interests of the other guests. Card parties where no other participant was under the age of forty and where the only variation on the endless hands of whist was basset or, if General Hay was present, casino, an old-fashioned game of which the general was very fond, and which was about as exciting, had palled. –No, no-one plays it nowadays, Matt, and in fact we would be hard put to it even to remember the rules! Basset? Well, no, that was not particularly exciting either, alas!
On this particular day his young Lordship had commandeered a tonga from one of the native drivers and suborned two other drivers into a race down the main street with the aid of considerable baksheesh—bribes, dear young people—and quite possibly that of some hard liquor which it was doubtless against the drivers’ religion to consume. It was not, truth to tell, as thrilling a sight as all that, for the average Indian tonga nag is scarce capable of more than a slow trot even under the whip, the which, alas, the poor creatures were getting.
|"Racing in the dust, Calcutta"|
Watercolour, circa 1812, artist unknown.
From the estate of Jarvis Wynton, Fifth Earl of Sleyven.
(From a portfolio of mounted sketches, Maunsleigh Library)
Courtesy of the Maunsleigh Collection
Tess had but time to draw an indignant breath at the sight of the unfortunate creatures being thus tortured and the Collector had but time to conceal a grin—well, he was a man, after all, Madeleine, dear—when out from a side street came a donkey-cart driven by that meek little yellow-brown Mr Robbins who played the viola in the Darjeeling string quartet.
There were shrieks from the passers-by, shouts from the racers, and than a grinding crash as Lord Frederick’s tonga grazed the wheel of the donkey-cart! The tonga swayed madly but was brought safely to a halt at the far side of the road, but the cart, which had just been turning as it was struck, reeled violently and toppled over, throwing its driver into the street, where he was trampled by the horse in the next tonga before its driver could wrench it aside!
Before the Collector realised what she was at, Miss Lucas had rushed into the road to the aid of the donkey-cart driver.
|"A Donkey-cart in India"|
Watercolour, circa 1865 (inserted in the MS, Our India Days;
authorship uncertain; by Malcolm Standish?)
From the Widdop family papers
Lord Frederick had got down and was holding his nag’s head, looking extremely foolish. The Collector ran to Miss Lucas’ side, shouting at him: “Look to the donkey, you fool!”
Tess was now kneeling in the dust, holding her handkerchief to the poor man’s forehead. “He is unconscious,” she said as the Collector knelt beside her. “That horse kicked him in the head, I think. It is a long gash but not very deep. And I think, from the way his leg is doubled awkwardly underneath him, that it may be broken. We must get him indoors and get a doctor to him without delay. Can you get some men to carry him to the hotel, please?”
Darjeeling’s best hotel, the one which had the privilege this season of sheltering Mrs Carruthers and Emily, was but a few doors down the street. If the hotel’s management would take the man in at all, it was unlikely that the guests would care for the thing. The Collector did not need to express the thought, for Major Mason, who had run out of a nearby shop on hearing the commotion and untangled the donkey from its traces with some ineffectual help from Lord Frederick, voiced it for him:
“Place is full of sakht burra mems. They won’t welcome a half-caste fellow, wounded or not, Miss Lucas.”
“What can that signify?” she retorted scornfully. “Will one of you find some men to carry him, please!”
“Uh—aye. Best get a litter or some such,” muttered the burly major.
“Then fetch one, sir!” said Tess crossly. “Run to the hotel!”
Major Mason shot an agonised look at Mr Widdop, but did run off to the hotel.
The Collector was cautiously inspecting the fallen man. “Mm, broken leg,” he agreed. “And I think his right arm as well. Dashed pity: he’s the viola player in the local string quartet.”
“Then Darjeeling will have to do without its quartet for the rest of the season. How is the donkey?” returned Miss Lucas in a remarkably grim voice.
The Collector had not meant to imply any sympathy for the fashionables of Darjeeling who would be without their quartet: he’d meant that the poor fellow would miss playing his instrument! He bit his lip. “All right, I think,” he said lamely. “Mason felt its legs.”
“Check it again, please,” she ordered grimly.
Meekly he did so, leading it a few steps to check its gait. It was limping a little but it didn’t seem to be much. “Only a slight sprain to the hind leg. It might benefit from a poultice, but it’s nothing much,” he reported, not leaving go its rein, just in case it should try to bolt and Miss Lucas should blame him for it.
“Then that is something saved from the wreck,” she replied, not abating the grimness.
At this Lord Frederick, who had been standing by helplessly, bleated out some sort of an apology, but Miss Lucas snapped back: “Do not dare to speak, sir! If this poor man dies it will be entirely your fault! Clear this crowd back, if you please, the poor man needs some air! And kindly hold my parasol over him.”
The parasol was at her side. His Lordship looked numbly from it to the growing crowd of excited, jabbering locals.
“Pick it up, Dewhurst,” said the Collector quickly. “Clear off, ekdum!” he ordered the onlookers.
The crowd moved back, and Lord Frederick picked the parasol up, opened it and held it over the fallen man. After a few moments he said in a low voice to the Collector: “This fellow’s a chee-chee, y’know, sir.”
“And?” replied John Widdop in a bored voice.
“Well, uh, well, we’d best get a doctor to him, no question, but, uh, well, the hotel?”
“If the manager objects I shall have a word with him. I think Dr McLeod is staying there, isn’t he? Give me that parasol, and go and see if he’s in.”
“Dr McLeod? Ain’t he Hay’s doctor, sir?” replied the young man in tones of unalloyed horror.
“Just get him, Dewhurst.”
Gulping, Lord Freddy handed him the parasol, and scrambled off.
The fallen man had had time to come to and start moaning and Miss Lucas had had time to look round angrily and ask where Major Mason had got to by the time the Major reappeared with two porters from the hotel and a litter. The accident victim was lifted carefully onto it under Miss Lucas’ supervision and they set off for the hotel in procession, the Collector once more ordering the spectators to clear off.
“What are you doing?” said Miss Lucas sharply to him as the cortège reached the hotel.
“I—I beg your pardon?” he stuttered.
“Look after the little donkey! We cannot leave it in the street, or one of these rascally-looking fellows will steal it! I presume you have a stable for your own horses? Take it there and see it safely looked after, with a poultice to its leg.”
“Miss Lucas, I cannot desert you in a public hostelry,” he said on a feeble note.
She took a deep breath. “Please do not talk nonsense, Collector. This is the most respectable of Darjeeling’s hotels and in any case I am not helpless. This is no time for bothering about mere social forms. A donkey represents a considerable sum of money to a poor man. Please look after it. And pray walk the poor little beast slowly.”
“Very well,” he said feebly, abandoning her to the tender mercies of Mason, the hotel manager, stupid young Dewhurst, et al. At least, he reflected drily as he obediently led the donkey home slowly, she had not asked him to haul the cart home! Though possibly that would be next.
|"Safely grazing: Our dear little 'Rajah' (misnamed by the children)"|
Photograph, circa 1890. Courtesy of Miss Thomas
—You may well laugh, dear Mr Thomas, and of course, once it was all over, so did we! No, no, Tessa, the little donkey was perfectly all right, and of course the Collector’s syce put a poultice on its leg immediately.
Fortunately the Widdop bungalow was at no great distance from the hotel. The Collector got back, panting, to find a not entirely unexpected contretemps taking place in the front lobby, the which area was used only to such very mild excitements as elegant persons asking to have the fire lighted against the afternoon chill as they took tiffin, or, conversely, asking to have the blinds lowered against the afternoon sun as they took tiffin. The hotel manager was representing to Miss Lucas the ineligibility of such a fellow’s being sheltered under his choice roof. Miss Lucas’s cheeks were dangerously flushed.
“Where is the doctor?” asked the Collector sharply.
Recognising the voice of authority—and very possibly, for it was a small community, recognising his person—the manager bowed very low and intimated that Dr McLeod was being fetched, sir, but that it would not be possible to accommodate the person.
“I’ve just said, we can put the fellow in my room!” said Major Mason loudly.
“I’m afraid that would be quite ineligible, sir,” replied the manager smoothly.
“Then you have the choice. Let him be taken up to Major Mason’s room, or have a cot set up for him here,” said the Collector grimly.
“Sir, the man’s a half-caste!”
“He is a human being in need of succour!” cried Tess loudly before the Collector could reply.
John Widdop looked drily at the manager’s red, annoyed face and decided to bring up the big guns. “Exactly, Miss Lucas. And I am sure your kind hostess, Mrs Allardyce, will be most upset to hear of this when you get home.” As he had fully expected, that did it and the manager grudgingly allowed the litter to be carried up to Major Mason’s room.
It was not long before the doctor arrived. The poor man’s leg and arm were, indeed, both broken. He was given a draught, which helped with the pain and made him drowsy, and then the doctor set the arm and the leg. By this time Collector Widdop was not at all surprised to find Miss Lucas taking the rôle of nurse and assisting the doctor.
Dr McLeod was a small, spry man of middle age with a sharp nose and a sharp manner. “There, he’ll do,” he said at last. “—Put that brandy away, Mason, he don’t need it on top of the draught. And in any case, he won’t take it: Hindoo, ain’t he?”
“No, uh, chee-chee, I think, Doctor.”
“Good; in that case, you might order up some beef broth for him later, Miss Lucas, but let him sleep first,” he said briskly. “I’ll look in on him this evening, but there’s no need to worry.” And that appeared to be that. He snapped his bag shut, nodded to them, and took his departure.
“I shall stay,” said Tess quietly, sitting down by the bedside.
Major Mason cleared his throat uneasily.
“Very well,” agreed the Collector quickly, taking his elbow. “Come along. Mason, we’d better check that my syce is seeing to the donkey. I’ve ordered a poultice, Miss Lucas, but it’s as I thought: the merest sprain.”
“Good,” said Miss Lucas on a firm note. “Thank you, Collector.”
Major Mason began to stutter a disjointed protest to the effect that it wouldn’t do for Miss Lucas to be alone with the dashed fellow in a hotel room but Collector Widdop dragged him bodily from the room and closed the door.
Extract from a volume of John Widdop’s journal,
written at the Widdop bungalow in Darjeeling
...Forthwith I dragged the inept Tom Mason out bodily before the great boot could go further down the great mouth, firmly closing the door behind us.
“Now what?” demanded the Major heatedly, pulling his arm from my grasp.
I refrained from laughing, though with some difficulty, and said that personally I intended writing a short despatch to my superiors in John Company informing them I was taking some of the leave they owe me, and getting on down to the plains when the Lucas sisters go. The gallant soldier duly stuttered—partly shock at the thing itself, partly shock that I had said it to his humble self, I rather think.
“And another note to my clerk, telling him I’ll be away longer than planned,” I added.
He was now grinning widely and wished me the best of luck, for which I duly thanked him, adding: “Come on.”
“Er—let Mrs A. and Mlle Dupont know where she is?” he offered brilliantly.
“No—well, that, too. No, Mason, we’re going to see that the blasted donkey’s all right!”
Mason began to object that he had other plans, but thought better of it. At the bungalow, however, he refused to go out to the stable until, as he put it, his failing senses had been fortified, so I sat down with him and ordered two chota pegs, ekdum. Once fortified he was able to remark that he could see where I was expecting my reward, but concluded he would get his in Heaven. To which I agreed that this was undoubtedly so, and it was like the hungry man who came home to find nothing to eat in the house, though a stream of rice water was flowing down the gutter in the middle of the street. His wife had taken the rice and ghee to the temple and was fasting, in the hopes of getting a handsome husband in the next life.
The Major duly spluttered, objecting: “That don’t make sense, it wasn’t him that was hoping for his reward in the next life! Telling inconsequential tales like a native? You’ve been in India too long, dash it, Widdop!”
I don’t know that I disagree with the latter opinion, but did not say so to him, merely asked if he would care to hear the story of the donkey and the jackal?
To which he replied roundly that he would not, and he did not want to look at the creature, neither!
“Just as you like,” said I mildly, getting up and leaving him to it.
In the stable the little grey donkey was standing placidly in a stall eating some of the sahib’s hay, which my syce quickly informed me was much too good for an inferior donkey that was the property of some unknown budmush. The expected reaction; I merely said without emphasis that the donkey’s master was a respectable man, ordered the syce to give it some oats, overrode the expected objections, checked that the poultice was in place, told the syce that he’d done well, ignored the expected salaaming and thanking and assurances that the sahib is his father and his mother, and retired in good order.
Not entirely to my surprise the maidenly Miss Lucas arrived at my bungalow early this morning. True, she was accompanied by an ayah—silent, huddled in the saree... All the earmarks, in short, of the Indian servant who’s been told very firmly what’s what!
“Miss Lucas,” said I mildly, “you could have sent a message and I would gladly have collected you from the Allardyce house and escorted you to the hotel to see your patient.”
“Pray do not be absurd, sir,” replied Miss Lucas firmly. “I have already been to see Mr Robbins, of course. He is feeling much more the thing, I am glad to say, and his wife is sitting with him. Thank you so much for getting in touch with her.”
To which I, alas, made the feeble reply: “Er, not at all.”
“How is the donkey?” enquired Miss Lucas on a firm note.
“You’ve called at my bungalow to see the donkey? Miss Lucas, you do realise that that is the Porton bungalow right opposite?”
Unmoved by this awful reminder, she replied calmly: “Then perhaps you had better take me round to the stable without delay, Collector.”
“Miss Lucas, I think perhaps you have no idea how Darjeeling can gossip! Never mind that they all undoubtedly know the full facts of the case by this time, it is not at all the done thing for you to call at my house—with or without your ayah,” I noted, as the saree-ed heap showed signs of life—“and there is no doubt whatsoever that Darjeeling will put the worst possible interpretation on it if we disappear round to the stable together!”
The delightful Miss Lucas replied firmly: “That will be very silly of them, then. I do not think people who know either of us will conclude the worst, and I have to say it, I do not care very much about the sort who will; but by all means stay on the verandah, Collector. I can go round to the stable by myself.”
Had she been another woman I might have concluded she was deliberately teasing, but no same man could suspect that of Miss Lucas. Well, good for her!
“Very well, then, Miss Lucas, let ’em gossip,” said I. “Please take my arm.” And I conducted her in form round to the stable.
The little donkey was found not to be limping at all. Miss Lucas produced a carrot from her reticule for it and after a lot of patting, stroking of the nose and so forth—my d— syce, incidentally, volunteering to currycomb the creature and salaaming to the memsahib until his nose nigh to touched his bony knee—agreed to my escorting her home.
On the way I said without preamble: “I’ve decided to come down to the plains for bit. I hope I may call?”
To which the delightful Miss Lucas, going very pink, replied in a little, shy voice which was most unlike the firm one which she’d been using earlier: “I should like that.”
Well! Not only lovely and virtuous, but with the determination and the courage to flout the d— pointless proscriptions of society when need be! Not to say, the intelligence to see that they are pointless. Pointless and completely unjust, indeed. I cannot count the number of women of my acquaintance who would have left that poor little yellow man in the street where he lay. No, well, she has the determination of the little sister without, thank God, the eccentricity. And to think I imagined, in my blindness, she had no spark!
Our India Days, Chapter 11: More Darjeeling Days;
Together With Some Curious Indian Tales (concluded)
And that was how, dear children, a little grey donkey brought Great-Aunt Tess and Great-Uncle John together! Yes, Tessa, and so your Grandmamma and Grandpapa lived happily ever after!
Well, not immediately, obviously, Malcolm, there is no need to be quite so literal, dear boy. –Thank you, Mr Thomas, pray do ring the bell for a tray of tea. –The book of drawings? Gil, dear, the book is too heavy for you. Yes, go with him, Matt, that’s a good boy!
Well! You have all been good! We did not think, to say truth, that you would sit through the story, for it is a story about grown-up people, after all. And about a donkey, yes, Tessa. What happened to it? Well, dear, after your Grandpapa had made quite sure it had had plenty of oats and hay, and the poultice had been removed and the leg rested for a couple of days, it went home. And when the doctor declared poor Mr Robbins fit to be moved, he was put on a litter and carried home to his wife and little children, too. –Five, dear. No, not dhotees, they all wore English dress just as you do, and had English furniture in their little house. There were three girls and they wore little cotton dresses very like yours, except that waists were higher for both girls and women in those days. –Ah, here are the boys! Two books? Oh, it was Ponsonby sahib’s book of drawings* for his little boy that you wanted, Gil, was it? Of course he may look at it, Malcolm. Doubtless your Mamma does not care to speak of that little boy, but we do not care to forget him! No, we never met him, Matt, but nonetheless we can honour his memory, can we not? Look through it carefully, children, it is an old book now...
* Unfortunately this book wasn't with the papers in the tin trunk—we’d have loved to see it!—but there were a few pages of drawings which might have come from it. –K.W.
If there is no donkey in it, Tessa, try the other volume, it is the book your Grandmamma was given of sketches of Indian life in the mofussil and, since you have all heard the full story, we can now reveal that they were done by Collector Widdop himself, in his District!*
Yes, but Madeleine and Mr Thomas did not know, did they? –They are charming, indeed, Mr Thomas: John had a great sense of humour.
* Quite a few of John Widdop’s sketches have survived, but not all in good condition. They are largely pencil or pen and ink, some hand-coloured in watercolour, plus a few, more careful, detailed watercolours, like his pictures of his children. You can still see that he had considerable talent. –K.W.
Oh, dear, is he still sticky, James? Gil baba, let James wipe your hands—thank you, James, and pray convey our thanks to Cook for the muffins: just right, on such an inclement day!
Now, if everyone is settled we shall have the story of the musical donkey—and perhaps we should just mention for the benefit of you older ones that it is a cautionary tale, one of the many that one hears in India, and in fact a very old story indeed, but that although there is a jackal in it, there is no need to worry about er, predators or scavengers. Yes, that picture that Tessa found is extremely realistic, Mr Thomas—like mangy dogs, yes, Malcolm—but in Indian lore, as you will hear, jackals often figure as wise and clever creatures! It does not follow, Matt? Well, we have wise old owls, do we not? Er, no, in India the owl is considered a foolish bird, as a matter of fact. –Tessa, there is no blood in this story, and please do not harp on the point. All creatures must eat, after all, even jackals.
The Story of the Musical Donkey
Once upon a time there was an old, thin donkey who worked for a dhobee-wallah by day, fetching the dirty wash from the customers in a little cart, and carrying the clean wash home to them. At night he was free to wander as he liked. One night, he made friends with a jackal and they both went out in search of food. They found a garden filled with cucumbers and helped themselves to a delicious meal. After that they returned every night to the garden to eat cucumbers. And so the donkey started looking healthy and fat and not thin any more.
One night the cucumbers were especially tasty and the donkey was filled with happiness. So happy was he, that he told the jackal he wanted to sing a song.
“O, honourable donkey,” said the jackal, “pray do not do any such thing! We mustn’t let the farmer hear us or he’ll beat us for stealing his cucumbers!”
“But I must sing!” objected the donkey.
“O, honourable donkey,” said the jackal, “you are my father and my mother, respected one, but please don’t sing, your voice is not sweet.”
“Huh!” retorted the donkey crossly. “You’re just jealous of my lovely voice!”
“No, no, honourable donkey, I’m not jealous! If you sing, the farmer will come and reward you in a way Your Honour won’t like!”
But the donkey started singing: “BRAA-AAY! BRAA-AAY!” and the jackal decided to wait outside the garden.
When the farmer heard the donkey braying, he rushed out to beat him. The donkey fell down and the farmer tied a heavy stone around his neck to punish him. “There!” he said. “That’ll teach you not to steal my cucumbers, you noisy thief!”
Somehow the donkey dragged himself out to the waiting jackal.
Bowing, the jackal said: “Allow me to congratulate you on your reward, Donkey.”
And at this the donkey apologised for not listening to the jackal’s good advice, instead of letting his vanity lead him to think he was jealous of his lovely voice.
(Research has revealed that this is in fact a very old Indian story, from the Panchatantra, an ancient collection of Sanskrit fables. It is said to be the original source of some of Aesop’s fables. The Sanskrit original has not survived as such but there are many versions in India, and it has long since been translated into the major languages of Southeast Asia and Europe as well, influencing many folktales. It goes back to about the 5th century A.D., or even earlier. It is said that originally the tales were written to teach a boy prince about achieving success in the world. Most of the fables are about animals, and although they generally do not stress the moral, certainly in the versions we read, they are organized into 5 books according to the topic being taught, e.g. friends, property, or war. -Julie Darling.)
Circumstantial, Mr Thomas? Oh, the detail about the dhobee-wallah! Well, that is how we heard the story, you see. Circumstantial but irrelevant: quite! Many Indian stories are like that and in fact, in the version we first knew, the moral is not drawn explicitly at all: the donkey merely apologises for not listening to the jackal’s advice and one is left to draw one’s own conclusions about the dangers of vanity! –Did we mention a story about a man who was hungry and did not get his reward on this earth? Oh, yes! Well, you would find that quite inconsequential, and the children would not understand, so we shall not tell it now. It was one of John Widdop’s favourites, which he would often tell, sometimes fleshed out with a great deal of irrelevant detail, which was how he had heard it in his District. No, well, dear John was definitely the sort of man who left one to draw the moral oneself. You are right: India did suit him down to the ground!
Two Recipes With The Flavour of Darjeeling:
(1) Aniseed Tea (to be Drunk Hot or Cold)
Boil 4 tablespoons of anise seeds in 2 cups of water till tender & the water is aromatised. Strain into 4 cups of Darjeeling tea. Add milk & sugar to taste.
(2) Sweet Kashmiri Tea,
As Drunk by Ponsonby Sahib
when on a Mission in the High Hills
Take 3 teaspoons of green tea & 1 of Darjeeling tea, 6 blanched almonds, chopped, a few pine nuts, 2 1/2 cups of milk, 2 1/2 cups of water, a small piece of cinnamon, 2 cloves & 6 green elaychee pods [cardamoms]. Stew all together gently for 15-30 minutes. Strain & serve hot, with sugar to taste. May also be perfumed with saffron. To drink at any time of day.