It is some eighteen years since this institution was founded, at Mussoorie, one of the chief sanataria in the Himalaya mountains. Here all those who can obtain leave, and who can afford the additional expense, repair to escape the hot weather of the plains. The season begins about the end of April, and ends about the first week in October. The club is open to the members of the civil and military services, to the members of the bar, the clergy, and to such other private gentlemen as are on the Government House list, which signifies, “in society.” The club-house is neither an expensive nor an elegant edifice, but it answers the purposes required of it. It has two large rooms, one on the ground-floor, and the other on the upper story. The lower room, which is some sixty feet long by twenty-five wide, is the dining-room, breakfast-room, and reception-room. The upper room is the reading and the ball-room. The club has also its billiard-room, which is built on the ledge of a precipice; and its stables, which would astonish most persons in Europe. No horses except those educated in India, would crawl into these holes cut out of the earth and rock.
Facing the side-door is a platform about forty yards long by fifteen feet wide; and from it, on a clear day, the eye commands one of the grandest scenes in the known world. In the distance are plainly visible the eternal snows; at your feet are a number of hills, covered with trees of luxuriant foliage. Amongst them is the rhododendron, which grows to an immense height and size, and is, when in bloom, literally covered with flowers. On every hill, on a level with the club, and within a mile of it, a house is to be seen, to which access would seem impossible. These houses are, for the most part, whitened without as well as within; and nothing can exceed in prettiness their aspect as they shine in the sun.
From the back of the club-house, from your bed-room windows (there are twenty-three sets of apartments) you have a view of Deyrah Dhoon. It appears about a mile off. It is seven miles distant. The plains that lie outstretched below the Simplon bear, in point of extent and beauty, to the Indian scene, nothing like the proportion which the comparatively pigmy Mont Blanc bears to the Dewalgiri. From an elevation of about seven thousand feet the eye embraces a plain containing millions of acres, intersected by broad streams to the left, and inclosed by a low belt of hills, called the Pass. The Dhoon, in various parts, is dotted with clumps of jungle, abounding with tigers, pheasants, and every species of game. In the broad tributaries to the Ganges and the Jumna, may be caught (with a fly) the mâhseer, the leviathan salmon. Beyond the Pass of which I have spoken, you see the plains of Hindoostan. While you are wrapped in a great coat, and are shivering with the cold, you may see the heat, and the steam it occasions. With us on the hills, the thermometer is at forty-five; with those poor fellows over there, it is at ninety-two degrees. We can scarcely keep ourselves warm, for the wind comes from the snowy range; they cannot breathe, except beneath a punkah. That steam is, as the crow flies, not more than forty miles from us.
We are all idlers at Mussoorie. We are all sick, or supposed to be so; or we have leave on private affairs. Some of us are up here for a month between musters. We are in the good graces of our colonel and our general—the general of our division, a very good old gentleman.
Let us go into the public room, and have breakfast; for it is half-past nine o’clock, and the bell has rung. There are not more than half a dozen at the table. These are the early risers who walk or ride round the Camel’s Back every morning: the Camel’s Back being a huge mountain, encircled about its middle by a good road. The majority of the club’s members are asleep, and will defer breakfast until tiffin time—half-past two. At that hour the gathering will be great. How these early risers eat, to be sure! There is the major, who, if you believe him, has every complaint mentioned in “Graham’s Domestic Medicine,” has just devoured two thighs (grilled) of a turkey, and is now asking Captain Blossom’s opinion of the Irish stew, while he is cutting into a pigeon-pie.
Let us now while away the morning. Let us call on some of the grass widows. There are lots of them here, civil and military. Let us go first to Mrs. Merrydale, the wife of our old friend Charley, of the two hundredth and tenth regiment. Poor fellow! He could not get leave, and the doctors said another hot summer in the plains would be the death of his wife. They are seven hundred pounds in debt to the Agra bank, and are hard put to it to live and pay the monthly instalments of interest. Charley is only a lieutenant. What terrible infants are these little Merrydales! There is Lieutenant Maxwell’s pony under the trees, and if these children had not shouted out, “Mamma! Mamma! here is Captain Wall, Sahib!” I should have been informed that Mrs. Merrydale was not at home, or was poorly, which I should have believed implicitly. (Maxwell, when a young ensign, was once engaged to be married to Julia Dacey, now Mrs. Merrydale, but her parents would not hear of it, for some reason or other.) As it is, we must be admitted. We will not stay long. Mrs. Merrydale is writing to her husband. Grass widows in the hills are always writing to their husbands, when you drop in upon them, and your presence is not actually delighted in. How beautiful she looks! now that the mountain breezes have chased from her cheeks the pallor which lately clung to them in the plains; and the fresh air has imparted to her spirits an elasticity, in lieu of that languor by which she was oppressed a fortnight ago.
Let us now go to Mrs. Hastings. She is the wife of a civilian, who has a salary of fifteen hundred rupees (one hundred and fifty pounds) per mensem, and who is a man of fortune independent of his pay. Mrs. Hastings has the best house in Mussoorie. She is surrounded by servants. She has no less than three Arab horses to ride. She is a great prude, is Mrs. Hastings. She has no patience with married women who flirt. She thinks that the dogma—
When lovely women go astray,
Their stars are more in fault than they—
is all nonsense. Mrs. Hastings has been a remarkably fine woman; she is now five-and-thirty, and still good looking, though disposed to embonpoint. She wearies one with her discourses on the duties of a wife. That simpering cornet, Stammersleigh, is announced, and we may bid her good morning.
The average rent for a furnished house is about five hundred rupees (fifty pounds) for the six months. Every house has its name. Yonder are Cocky Hall, Belvidere, Phœnix Lodge, the Cliffs, the Crags, the Vale, the Eagle’s Nest, &c. The value of these properties ranges from five hundred to fifteen hundred pounds. The furniture is of the very plainest description, with one or two exceptions, and is manufactured chiefly at Bareilly, and carried here on men’s shoulders the entire distance—ninety miles.
Where shall we go now, for it wants an hour to tiffin time? Oh! here comes a janpan! (a sort of sedan-chair carried by four hill men, dressed in loose black clothes, turned up with red, yellow, blue, green, or whatever colour the proprietor likes best). And in the janpan sits a lady—Mrs. Apsley, a very pretty, good-tempered, and well-bred little woman. She is the grand-daughter of an English peer, and is very fond of quoting her aunts and her uncles. “My aunt Lady Mary Culnerson,” “my aunt the Countess of Tweedleford,” “my uncle, Lord Charles Banbury Cross,” &c. But that is her only weakness, I believe; and, perhaps, it is ungenerous to allude to it. Her husband is in the Dragoons.
“Well, Mrs. Apsley, whither art thou going? To pay visits?”
“No. I am going to Mrs. Ludlam’s to buy a new bonnet, and not before I want one, you will say.”
“May I accompany you?”
“Yes, and assist me in making a choice.”
There is not a cloud to be seen. The air is soft and balmy. The wild flowers are in full bloom, and the butterfly is on the wing. The grasshopper is singing his ceaseless song, and the bees are humming a chorus thereto.
We are now at Mrs. Ludlam’s. The janpan is placed upon the ground, and I assist Mrs. Apsley to step from it.
Mrs. Ludlam is the milliner and dressmaker of Upper India, and imports all her wares direct from London and Paris. Everybody in this part of the world knows Mrs. Ludlam, and everybody likes her. She has by industry, honesty of purpose, and economy, amassed a little fortune; and has brought up a large family in the most respectable and unpretending style. Some people say that she sometimes can afford to sell a poor ensign’s wife a bonnet, or a silk dress, at a price which hardly pays. What I have always admired in Mrs. Ludlam is that she never importunes her customers to buy her goods; nor does she puff their quality.
The bonnet is bought; likewise a neck-scarf for Jack. And we are now returning: Mrs. Apsley to her home, and I to the club. Mrs. Apsley invites me to dine with them; but that is impossible. It is public night, and I have two guests. One of them is Jack, who does not belong to the club, because Mary does not wish it.
Mrs. Apsley says she wants some pickles, and we must go into Ford’s shop to purchase them. Ford sells everything; and he is a wine, beer, and spirit merchant. You may get anything at Ford’s—guns, pistols, swords, whips, hats, clothes, tea, sugar, tobacco. What is this which Ford puts into my hand? A raffle paper! “To be raffled for, a single-barrelled rifle, by Purdey. The property of a gentleman hard-up for money, and in great difficulties. Twenty-five chances at one gold mohur (one pound twelve shillings) each.”
“Yes, put my name down for a chance, Ford.”
“And Captain Apsley’s, please,” says the lady.
After promising Mrs. Apsley most faithfully that I will not keep Jack later than half-past twelve, and taking another look into those sweet eyes of hers, I gallop away as fast as the pony can carry me. I am late; there is scarcely a vacant place at the long table. We have no private tables. The same board shelters the nether limbs of all of us. We are all intimate friends, and know exactly each other’s circumstances. What a clatter of knives and forks! And what a lively conversation! It alludes chiefly to the doings of the past night. Almost every other man has a nickname. To account for many of them would indeed be a difficult, if not a hopeless task.
“Dickey Brown! Glass of beer?”
“I am your man,” responds Major George, N. I. Fencibles.
At the other end of the table you hear the word “Shiney” shouted out, and responded to by Lieutenant Fenwick of the Horse Artillery.
Adolphus Bruce of the Lancers lifts his glass with immense alacrity.
It is a curious characteristic of Indian society that very little outward respect is in private shown to seniority. I once heard an ensign of twenty years of age address a civilian of sixty in the following terms: “Now then, old moonsiff, pass that claret, please.”
The tiffin over, a gool, or lighted ball of charcoal, is passed round the table in a silver augdan (fire-holder). Every man present lights a cigar, and in a few minutes there is a general move. Some retire to the billiard-room, others cluster round the fireplace; others pace the platform; and two sets go up-stairs into the reading-room to have a quiet rubber—from three till five. Those four men seated at the table near the window have the reputation of being the best players in India. The four at the other table know very little of the game of whist. Mark the difference! The one set never speak, except when the cards are being dealt. The other set are finding fault with one another during the progress of the hand. The good players are playing high. Gold mohur points—five gold mohurs on the rub—give and take five to two after the first game. And sometimes, at game and game, they bet an extra five. Tellwell and Long, who are playing against Bean and Fickle, have just lost a bumper—twenty-seven gold mohurs—a matter of forty-three pounds four shillings.
In the billiard-room, there is a match going on between four officers who are famed for their skill, judgment, and execution. Heavy bets are pending. How cautiously and how well they play! No wonder, when we consider the number of hours they practise, and that they play every day of their lives. That tall man, now about to strike, makes a revenue out of billiards. I shall be greatly mistaken if that man does not come to grief some day. He preys upon every youngster in every station he goes to with his regiment. He is a captain in the Native Infantry. His name is Tom Locke. He has scored forty-seven off the red ball. His confederate, Bunyan, knows full well that luck has little to do with his success. He, too, will come to grief before long. Your clever villains are invariably tripped up sooner or later, and ignominiously stripped of their commissions and positions in society.
It is five o’clock. Some thirty horses and as many ponies are saddled and bridled, and led up and down in the vicinity of the club. Everybody will be on the mall presently. The mall is a part of the road round the Camel’s Back. It is a level of about half a mile long and twelve feet broad. A slight fence stands between the riders and a deep khud (precipice). To gallop along this road is nothing when you are accustomed to it; but at first it makes one very nervous even to witness it. Serious and fatal accidents have happened; but, considering all things, they have been far fewer than might have been expected.
The mall is crowded. Ladies and gentlemen on horseback, and ladies in janpans—the janpanees dressed in every variety of livery. Men in the French grey coats, trimmed with white serge, are carrying Mrs. Hastings. Men in the brown clothes, trimmed with yellow serge, are carrying Mrs. Merrydale. Jack Apsley’s wife is mounted on her husband’s second charger. “Come along, Captain Wall,” she calls out to me, and goes off at a canter, which soon becomes a hard gallop. I follow her of course. Jack remains behind, to have a quiet chat with Mrs. Flower, of his regiment; who thinks—and Jack agrees with her—that hard riding on the mall is a nuisance, and ought to be put a stop to. But, as we come back, we meet the hypocrite galloping with a Miss Pinkerton, a new importation, with whom—much to the amusement of his wife—he affects to be desperately in love. The mall, by the way, is a great place for flirtations.
Most steady-going people, like Mrs. Flower, not only think hard riding on the mall a nuisance, but make it the theme of letters to the editors of the papers; and sometimes the editors will take the matter up, and write leading articles thereon, and pointedly allude to the fact—as did the late Sir C. J. Napier in a general order—that beggars on horseback usually ride in the opposite direction to heaven. But these letters and leaders rarely have the desired effect; for what can a man do when a pretty woman like Mrs. Apsley says, “Come along; let us have a gallop.”
Why are there so very many people on the mall this evening? A few evenings ago it was proposed at the club that a band should play twice a week. A paper was sent round at once, and every one subscribed a sum in accordance with his means. Next morning the required number of musicians was hunted up and engaged. Two cornets, two flutes, two violins, a clarionet, a fife, and several drums. It is the twenty-ninth of May—a day always celebrated in “this great military camp,” as Lord Ellenborough described British India. At a given signal, the band strikes up “God save the Queen.” We all flock round the band, which has taken up a position on a rock beetling over the road. The male portion of us raise our hats, and remain uncovered while the anthem is played. We are thousands of miles distant from our fatherland and our Queen, but our hearts are as true and as loyal as though she were in the midst of us.
This is the first time that the Himalaya mountains have listened to the joyous sound of music. We have danced to music within doors; but never, until this day, have we heard a band in the open air in the Himalaya mountains. How wonderful is the effect! From valley to valley echo carries the sound, until at last it seems as though
Every mountain now had found a band.
Long after the strain has ceased with us, we can hear it penetrating into and reverberating amidst regions which the foot of man has never yet trodden, and probably will never tread. The sun has gone down, but his light is still with us.
Back to the club! Dinner is served. We sit down, seventy-five of us. The fare is excellent, and the champagne has been iced in the hail which fell the other night, during a storm. Jack Apsley is on my right, and I have thrice begged of him to remember that he must not stay later than half-past twelve; and he has thrice responded that Mary has given him an extension of leave until daylight. Jack and I were midshipmen together, some years ago, in a line-of-battle ship that went by the name of the House of Correction. And there is Wywell sitting opposite to us—Wywell who was in the frigate which belonged to our squadron—the squadron that went round the world, and buried the commodore, poor old Sir James! in Sydney churchyard. Fancy we three meeting again in the Himalaya mountains!
The cloth is removed, for the dinner is over. The president of the club—the gentleman who founded it—rises. He is a very little man of seventy years of age—fifty-three of which have been spent in India. He is far from feeble, and is in full possession of all his faculties. His voice is not loud, but it is very distinct, and pierces the ear.
They do not sit long after dinner at the club. It is only nine, and the members are already diminishing. Some are off to the billiard-room, to smoke, drink brandy-and-water, and look on at the play. The whist parties are now at work, and seven men are engaged at brag. A few remain; and, drawing their chairs to the fireplace, form a ring and chat cosily.
Halloa! what is this? The club-house is heaving and pitching like a ship at anchor in a gale of wind. Some of us feel qualmish. It is a shock of an earthquake; and a very violent shock. It is now midnight. A thunderstorm is about to sweep over Mussoorie. Only look at that lurid forked lightning striking yonder hill, and listen to that thunder! While the storm lasts, the thunder will never for a second cease roaring; for, long before the sound of one peal has died away, it will be succeeded by another more awful. And now, look at the Dhoon! Those millions of acres are illuminated by incessant sheet lightning. How plainly we discern the trees and the streams in the Dhoon, and the outline of the pass which divides the Dhoon from the plains. What a glorious panorama! We can see the black clouds descending rapidly towards the Dhoon, and it is not until they near that level land that they discharge the heavy showers with which they are laden. What a luxury would this storm be to the inhabitants of the plains; but it does not extend beyond the Dhoon. We shall hear the day after to-morrow that not a single drop of rain has fallen at Umballah, Meerut, or Saharunpore.
The party from the billiard-room has come up to have supper, now that the storm is over. They are rather noisy; but the card-players take no heed of them. They are too intent upon their play to be disturbed. Two or three of the brag party call for oyster-toast to be taken to the table, and they devour it savagely while the cards are dealt round, placing their lighted cheroots meanwhile on the edge of the table.
And now there is singing—comic and sentimental. “Isle of Beauty” is followed by the “Steam Leg,” the “Steam Leg” by the “Queen of the May,” the “Queen of the May” by the facetious version of “George Barnwell,” and so on. Jack Apsley—who has ascertained that dear Mary is quite safe, and not at all alarmed—is still here, and is now singing “Rule, Britannia,” with an energy and enthusiasm which are at once both pleasing and ridiculous to behold. He has been a soldier for upwards of sixteen years; but the sailor still predominates in his nature; while his similes have invariably reference to matters connected with ships and the sea. He told me just now, that when he first joined his regiment, he felt as much out of his element as a live dolphin in a sentry-box, and he has just described his present colonel as a man who is as touchy as a boatswain’s kitten. Apsley’s Christian name is Francis, but he has always been called Jack, and always will be.
It is now broad daylight, and high time for a man on sick-leave to be in bed. How seedy and disreputable we all look, in our evening dresses and patent-leather boots. And observe this carnation in my button-hole—the gift of Mrs. Apsley; she gave it to me on the mall. The glare of the lights, and the atmosphere of smoke in which I have been sitting part of the night, have robbed it of its freshness, its bloom, and perfume. I am sorry to say it is an emblem of most of us.
Go home, Apsley! Go home, reeking of tobacco-smoke and brandy-and-water—with your eyes like boiled gooseberries, your hair in frightful disorder—go home! You will probably meet upon the mall your three beautiful children, with their rosy faces all bloom, and their breath, when they press their glowing lips to those feverish cheeks of yours, will smell as incense, and make you ashamed of yourself. Go home, Jack. I will tiff with you to-day at half-past two.
Two young gentlemen were victimized last night at the brag party. The one, a lieutenant of the N. I. Buffs, lost six thousand rupees; the other, a lieutenant of the Foot Artillery, four thousand. The day after to-morrow, the first of the month, will be settling day. How are they to meet these debts of honour? They have nothing but their pay, and must borrow from the banks. That is easily managed. The money will be advanced to them on their own personal security, and that of two other officers in the service. They must also insure their lives. The premium and the interest together will make them forfeit fourteen per cent. per annum on the sum advanced. The loan will be paid off in three years, by monthly instalments. The paymaster will receive an order from the bank secretary to deduct for the bank so much per mensem from their pay. For the next three years they will have to live very mildly indeed.
There were also two victims (both youngsters) to billiards. One lost three thousand rupees in bets, another two thousand five hundred by bad play. They too, will have to fly for assistance to the banks. Captains Locke and Bunyan won, between them, last night, one thousand four hundred pounds. There was but little execution done at whist. Not more than one hundred and fifty pounds changed hands. Those four men who play regularly together, and who never exceed their usual bets, have very little difference between them at the end of each month—not thirty pounds either way. This will not hurt them; for they have all good appointments, and have private property besides.
I find, on going to tiffin at Jack Apsley’s, that Mrs. Jack has heard all about the winnings and losings at the club. Some man went home and told his wife, and she has told everybody whom she has seen. In a short time the news will travel to head-quarters at Simlah, and out will come a general order on gambling, which general order will be read aloud at the Himalaya Club, with comments by the whole company—comments which will be received with shouts of laughter. Some youngsters will put the general order into verse, and send it to a newspaper. This done, the general order will be converted into pipe-lights. This is no doubt very sad; but I have no time to moralize. My duty is simply to paint the picture.
Mrs. Apsley is not angry with her husband for staying up till daylight. She thinks a little dissipation does him good; and it is but a very little that Jack indulges in, for he is a good husband and a good father. Jack has a severe headache, but he won’t confess it. He says he never touched the champagne, and only drank two glasses of brandy and water. But who ever did touch the champagne, and who ever did drink any more than two glasses of brandy and water? Jack came home with his pockets filled with almonds, raisins, prunes, nutcrackers, and two liqueur glasses; but how they got there he has not the slightest idea—but I have. Wywell, from a sideboard, was filling his pockets all the while he was singing “Rule, Britannia.”
“Mrs. Apsley, I have some news for you.”
“What is it, Captain Wall?”
“The club gives a ball on the 7th of June.”
“You don’t say so.”
“And what is more, a fancy ball.”
The tiffin is brought in. Mulligatawny soup and rice, cold lamb and mint sauce, sherry and beer. The Apsleys are very hospitable people; but Mary, who rules the household, never exceeds her means for the sake of making a display.
The soup and a glass of wine set Jack up; and he becomes quite chirpy. He proposes that he and I and Wywell shall go to the fancy ball as middies, and that Mary shall appear as Black-eyed Susan. Then, darting off at a tangent, he asks me if I remember when we were lying off Mount Edgecombe, just before sailing for South America? But he requires a little more stimulant, for the tears are glistening in his soft blue eyes when he alludes to the death of poor Noel, a middy whom we buried in the ocean a few days before we got to Rio. In a very maudlin way he narrates to his wife the many excellent qualities of poor Noel. She listens with great attention; but, observing that his spontaneous emotion is the result of the two over-night glasses of brandy—plus what he cannot remember drinking over-night—she suggests that Jack shall make some sherry cobbler. What a jewel of a woman art thou, Mrs. Apsley! Several of the men who returned home, as Jack did, none the better for their potations, have been driven by their wives’ reproaches to the club, where they are now drinking brandy and soda-water to excess; while here is your spouse as comfortable as a cricket on a hearth; and now that he confesses he was slightly screwed, you, with quiet tact, contradict his assertion.
For the next week the forthcoming fancy ball to be given by the club will be the chief topic of conversation amongst the visitors at Mussoorie. Mrs. Ludlam is in immense demand. She knows the character that each lady will appear in; but it is useless to attempt to extract from her the slightest particle of information on that head. This ball will be worth seven hundred and fifty rupees to Mrs. Ludlam.
Let us keep away from the club for a few days; for, after several officers have been victimized at play, their friends are apt to talk about the matter in an unpleasant manner. This frequently leads to a quarrel, which I dislike to witness.
Where shall we go? To the Dhoon. It is very hot there; but never mind. No great-coat, no fires, an hour hence; but the very lightest of garments and a punkah. The thermometer is at eighty-five degrees there. The Dhoon is not a healthy place in the summer. It must have been the bed of an enormous lake, or small inland sea. Its soil being alluvial, will produce anything: every kind of fruit, European and tropical. You may gather a peach and a plantain out of the same garden. Some of the hedges in this part of the world are singularly beautiful, composed of white and red cluster roses and sweetbriers. There is an excellent hotel in the Dhoon, where we are sure to meet people whom we know.
Sure enough, I find a Party of five at the hotel; all club men, and intimate friends of mine. They, too, have come down to avoid being present on the first settling day; for if there should be any duelling, it is just possible that some of us might be asked to act as second.
We must dine off sucking-pig in the Dhoon. The residents at Mussoorie used to form their pig-parties in the Dhoon, just as the residents of London form their whitebait banquets at Greenwich. I once took a French gentleman, who was travelling in India, to one of these pig-parties, and he made a very humorous note of it in his book of travel, which he showed to me. Unlike most foreigners who travel in English dominions, he did not pick out and note down all the bad traits in our character; but gave us credit for all those excellent points which his experience of mankind in general enabled him to observe.
The Governor-General’s body-guard is quartered just now in the Dhoon, and there is a Goorkha regiment here. The Dhoon will send some twenty couples to the fancy ball on the 7th. Every lady in the place has at this moment a Durzee (man tailor) employed in her back verandah dress-making. We are admitted to the confidence of Mrs. Plowville, who is going as Norma. And a very handsome Norma she will make; she being rather like Madame Grisi—and she knows it.
We return to the club on the 2nd of June. There has been a serious dispute, and a duel has been fought; but happily, no blood shed. The intelligence of the gambling at the club has reached the Commander-in-Chief at Simlah; and he has ordered that the remainder of the leave granted to Captains Locke and Bunyan be cancelled, and that those officers forthwith join their respective regiments. The victims also have been similarly treated; yet every one of these remanded officers came up here on medical certificate.
It is the morning of the 7th of June. The stewards of the ball are here, there, and everywhere, making arrangements. Several old hands, who hate and detest balls, and who voted against this ball, are walking about the public room, protesting that it is the greatest folly they ever heard of. And in their disgust they blackball two candidates for admission who are to be balloted for on the 10th instant. They complain that they can get no tiffin, no dinner, no anything. But the stewards only laugh at them.
The supper has been supplied by Monsieur Emille, the French restaurateur, and a very splendid supper it is. It is laid out in the dining-room. Emille is a great artist. He is not perhaps equal to Brazier—that great man whom Louis Philippe gave to his friend, Lord William Bentinck, when Lord William was going out to govern India—but Emille, nevertheless, would rank high even amongst the most skilful of cuisiniers in Europe.
It is a quarter past nine, and we of the club are ready to receive our guests. The ladies come in janpans; their husbands following them on horseback or on foot. It is a beautiful moonlight night. We are always obliged to wait upon the moon when we give a ball in Mussoorie. Before ten o’clock the room is crowded. There are present one hundred and thirty-six gentlemen, and seventy-five ladies. Of the former nine-tenths are soldiers, the remainder are civilians. Of the latter, seventy are married; the remaining five are spinsters.
Here we all are in every variety of costume—Turks, Greeks, Romans, Bavarian broom-girls, Medoras, Corsairs, Hamlets, Othellos, Tells, Charles the Seconds, and Quakers. Many have not come in fancy costume, but in their respective uniforms; and where do you see such a variety of uniforms as in an Indian ball-room? Where will you meet with so great a number of distinguished men? There is the old general: that empty sleeve tells a tale of the battle of Waterloo. Beside him is a general in the Company’s service, one who has recently received the thanks of his country. He has seen seventy, but there is no man in the room who could at this very time endure so great an amount of mental or bodily fatigue. That youngster to the right of the general is to be made a brevet-major and a C.B. as soon as he gets his company. He is a hero, though a mere boy. That pale-faced civilian is a man of great ability, and possesses administrative talents of the very highest order. Seated on an ottoman, talking to Mrs. Hastings, is the famous Hawkins, of the Third Dragoons. Laughing in the side doorway is the renowned William Mumble. He is the beau ideal of a dashing soldier. Yonder is Major Starcross, whose gallantry in Affghanistan was the theme of admiration in Europe. And there is Colonel Bolt, of the Duke’s Own. All of these men have been under very hot fire—the hottest that even Lord Hardinge could remember. All of them are decorated with medals and ribbons. Where will you see handsomer women than you frequently meet in a ball-room at Mussoorie or Simlah? Amongst those now assembled there are three who, at any court in Europe, would be conspicuous for their personal attractions—Mrs. Merrydale, Mrs. Plowville, and Mrs. Banks. Mrs. Apsley is a pretty little woman; but the three to whom I have alluded are beautiful.
The dancing has commenced, and will continue until four o’clock, with an interval of half-an-hour at supper-time. The second supper—the ladies being gone—will then commence, and a very noisy party it will be. Unrestrained by the presence of the fair sex, the majority of those who remain will drink and smoke in earnest, and the chances are, there will be several rows. Ensign Jenks, when the brandy and water inflames him, will ask young Blackstone, of the Civil Service, what he meant by coming up and talking to his partner during the last set of quadrilles. Blackstone will say, the lady beckoned to him. Jenks will say, “It is a lie!” Blackstone will rise to assault Jenks. Two men will hold Blackstone down on his chair. The general will hear of this, for Captain Lovelass (who is himself almost inarticulate) has said to Jenks, “Cossider self unarrest!” Jenks will have to join his regiment at Meerut, after receiving from the general a very severe reprimand.
While talking over the past ball, an archery meeting or a pic-nic is sure to be suggested. It must originate at the club; without the countenance of the club, which is very jealous of its prerogative, no amusement can possibly be successful. A lady, the wife of a civilian, who prided herself on her husband’s lofty position, had once the temerity to try the experiment, and actually sent round a proposal-paper in her own handwriting, and by one of her own servants. She failed of course. All the club people wrote the word “seen” opposite to their names; but withheld the important word “approved.” Even the tradespeople at Mussoorie acknowledge the supremacy of the Himalaya Club.
The season is over. The cold weather has commenced in the plains. It is the 5th of October, and everybody at Mussoorie is on the move—going down the hill, as it is called. Every house which was lately full is now empty, and will remain so till the coming April. The only exceptions will be the schools for young ladies and for little boys; the convent, the branch of the North-West Bank, and the Post-Office. Invalided officers who reside at the sanatarium during the summer will go down the hill, and winter in Deyrah Dhoon. In another month the mountains will be covered with snow, and it would be dangerous to walk out on these narrow roads, few of which are railed in.
Let us sum up the events of the season. Four young men were victimized—two at cards and two at billiards. Two duels were fought on the day after the ball. In one of these duels an officer fell dead. In another the offending party grievously wounded his antagonist. Four commissions were sacrificed in consequence of these encounters. There were two elopements. Mrs. Merrydale went off with Lieutenant Maxwell, leaving her children under the care of the servants, until her husband came to take them away. Mrs. Hastings, who used to bore us about the duties of a wife, carried off that silly boy Stammersleigh. These elopements led to two actions in H.M. Supreme Court of Calcutta, and seven of us (four in one case and three in the other) had to leave our regiments or appointments, and repair to the Supreme Court to give evidence. Some of us had to travel fourteen hundred miles in the month of May, the hottest month in India.
There was another very awkward circumstance connected with that season at Mussoorie. The reader knows that Captains Locke and Bunyan were ordered to join their regiments, the unexpired portion of their leave having been cancelled by order of his Excellency the Commander-in-Chief. In the hurry of his departure from the hills, Locke had left in the drawer of a table a letter from Bunyan, containing a proposal to victimize a certain officer—then in Mussoorie—in the same manner that they had victimized one Lord George Straw; namely, to get him to their rooms, and play at brag. Lord George Straw had lost to these worthies eighteen hundred pounds on one eventful night. The general opinion was, touching a very extraordinary fact connected with the play, that Lord George had been cheated. This letter from Bunyan to Locke was found by the servant of the officer who now occupied the apartments recently vacated by Locke. The servant handed it to his master, who, fancying that it was one of his own letters, began abstractedly to read it. Very soon, however, he discovered his mistake. But he had read sufficient to warrant his reading the whole, and he did so. A meeting of gentlemen at the club was called; and, before long, Locke and Bunyan left the army by sentence of a general court-martial. I have since heard that Locke lost his ill-gotten gains in Ireland, and became eventually a marker at a billiard-room; and that Bunyan, who also came to poverty, was seen driving a cab for hire in Oxford-street.
It behoves me, however, to inform the reader that, recently, the tone of Anglo-Indian society during the hot seasons is very much improved. Six or seven years ago there never was a season that did not end as unhappily as that which I have attempted to describe; but it is now four years since I heard of a duel in the Upper Provinces—upwards of four years since I heard of a victim to gambling, and nearly three since there was an elopement. It is true that the records of courts-martial still occasionally exhibit painful cases; but, if we compare the past with the present, we must admit that the change is very satisfactory. I do not attribute this altered state of things to the vigilance of commanding officers, or the determination of the commanders-in-chief to punish severely those who offend. It is due chiefly to the improved tone of society in England, from which country we get our habits and manners. The improvement in the tone of Indian society has been very gradual. Twenty years ago India was famous for its infamy. Ten years ago it was very bad. It is now tolerable. In ten years from this date, if not in less time, Indian society will be purged entirely of those evils which now prey upon it, and trials for drunkenness and other improper conduct will happen as rarely as in England. Year by year this communication between our fatherland and the upper part of India will become more speedy and less expensive; and thus will a greater number of officers be enabled to come home on furlough for a year or two. Nothing does an Indian officer so much good as a visit to Europe. When a man has once contracted bad habits in India, he cannot reform in India. To be cured he must be taken away for a while from the country. There have been instances of officers who have had strength of mind to alter their course of life without leaving the East; but those instances are very few.
The East India Company should do all in its power to encourage young officers to spend a certain time every seven years in Europe. Instead of six months’ leave to the hills—which six months are spent in utter idleness, and too frequently in dissipation—give them nine months’ leave to Europe. This would admit of their spending six months in England, or on the Continent, where they would improve their minds and mend their morals, as well as their constitutions.
The East India Company should also bring the Peninsular and Oriental Company to reasonable terms for the passage of officers to and from India. A lieutenant who wishes to come home, cannot at present get a passage from Calcutta to Southampton under one hundred and twenty pounds. So that he gives up more than four months’ pay for being “kept” thirty-six days on board of a steamer. Three pounds ten shillings per diem for food and transit!