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MEMOIRS OF A GRIFFIN.
BY CAPTAIN BELLEW.
CAPT. MARPEET made his appearance at the hour appointed on the following evening, and off we started for the Kidderpore school, which, by the way, is, or was, a rather large and imposing structure, at some distance from Calcutta; mussalchees, or link-boys, with blazing flambeaux, scampering a-bead in good, tip-top style. Emerging from the fort, and over the sounding drawbridges rapidly, the bearers in full grunt, did we make our transit through the bazaars, brilliant with oil-lights, swarming with population, and displaying, under thatched projections, a good assortment of such valuable merchandise as parched grain, tobacco, rice, plantains, and greasy sweetmeats redolent of rancid ghee, enough to nauseate the stomach of a schoolboy.
Having passed the bazaar, we turned sharply from the main road, into a pretty extensive compound or domain, and soon found ourselves before the portico of the school, amongst buggies, palankeens, and other conveyances appertaining to visitors who had preceded us. Leaving our palankeens, we now entered the house, passed through several rooms, one of them devoted to refreshments, and partly filled with gay Lotharios, some few military, the rest belonging to the orders "shippy" and "cranny,"* and finally entered the ball-room. This we found thronged with dancers, in a blaze of light, and resounding to the merry notes of a band, which, though not exactly equal to Weippert's, seemed, nevertheless, as a locomotive stimulus, to be quite as effective. The country-dance then flourished in its green old age, and the couples at the Kidderpore hop were flying about in great style-poussette, hands across, down the middle, and back again—evincing, in spite of the temperature, all that laudable perseverance so essential to the accomplishment of such laborious undertakings.
I had almost forgotten to mention, that Chattermohun Ghose was rather put to his shifts to procure a military equipment for friend Grundy for the night, as I had promised him, and which he (Chattermohun) characterized as "too difficult order;" a red coat and sash, however, he contrived at last to borrow, from the servant of a king's officer in the fort, who had recently, on a short summons, "gone the way of all flesh." The coat had evidently belonged to a man of twice Grundy's cubical contents and superficial area, though he himself was no "eagle's talon in the waist." Nevertheless, though murmuring at the strangeness of the proceeding, we made my brother griffin put it on, and a most ludicrous figure he certainly made in it; the voluminous superabundance of the broad cloth, when girt in by the sash, bulging and bagging out, and giving him much the humpbacked appearance of Hudibras or his Squire Ralpho, as those itinerant heroes of the "pulpit drum ecclesiastic" are usually represented. I thought Marpeet and I would have expired, so tickled were we with Grundy's figure, rendered doubly amusing by the rustic gravity of his deportment. Marpeet, at my particular request, and to keep us in countenance, wore his uniform too, though he had previously declared (considering the season) that it was a most griffinish proceeding to sport broadcloth, and decidedly against his conscience. You griffs, however," said he, "will have your way, and we must humour you sometimes." As for myself,
• Crannies; Portuguese and country-born clerks in offices and fillers of subordinate Government employments, &c.
in my scarlet raggie, brimstone facings, black waist-belt, and regulation sword, in my own opinion, I looked quite the god of war, and was fully armed for execution.
What an era in the life of a soldier is his first appearance in regimentals, "his blushing honours thick about him!" How he then pants for "love and glory!" the tented field and the clash of arms! At forty or fifty, possibly, if of a thoughtful vein, his sword converted to a hoe or pen, "a change comes o'er the spirit of his dream," and he thinks, perhaps, that he might have done better, had he stuck to a black or a blue one. Sometimes, it is true, when warmed with a flicker of his youthful fire, like Job's war-horse, he loves to "snuff the battle from afar," and "saith to the trumpets, ha ha!'" But, mainly, the "pomp and circumstance of glorious war" delight him no more, for he sees the wide-spread evils which lurk under its exciting stir and meretricious glitter, and his heart and mind yearn towards those more ennobling pursuits and occupations, which tend to elevate his species, to give the intellectual and the moral their due ascendancy, and which speak of cc peace and good-will to man."
The dancers being in motion, we did not advance, but contented ourselves with occupying a position by the door, and leisurely surveying the scene. At one end of the apartment, on chairs and benches, sat certain elderly matrons, amongst whom were the superiors of the establishment, looking complacently at the young folks, and calculating in all probability the amount of execution likely to result from the evening's amusements: Terpsichore being, as is well known, in India, as elsewhere, the great perpetrator of that sort of amatory Thugism, which lures the unwary into the snares of Hymen. The young ladies, however, whose sylph-like forms were gliding through the mazes of the dance, were the "orient pearls at random strung," which principally attracted my attention. As the flush of a summer's noon fades by insensible degrees into the ebon shades of night, so did the complexions of these charming damsels graduate from white to black. Youth, however, smiling, buxom youth, like the mantle of charity, covers a multitude of defects, or, if I may help myself to another and apter simile, possesses an alchymic power, which converts all it touches to gold. There were eyes, teeth, sportive ringlets, and graceful forms enough, in the Kidderpore ball-room, stamped with all its freshness, to atone for the darker shadings of the picture. For the first time, indeed, though previously imbued with the common and illiberal European prejudice against black (if, indeed, it be a prejudice and not an instinct), I began to experience a wavering, and to think that dark, languishing eyes and a dash of bronze imparted what is often wanted in English beauties, somewhat of soul and character to the countenance. Music, lights, the excitement of the ballroom, are, however, it must be confessed, sad deceivers, producing illusions full oft, which painfully vanish with the morning's light. For young ladies of about thirty or so (an age, indeed, now-a-days, I am credibly informed, never attained by spinsters), the ball-room and its factitious glare have some decided advantages. By day, Cupid, the sly urchin, can only make his attacks from smiles and dimples; but by night, at a pinch, he may launch a shaft with effect even from a wrinkle.
The dance at length ceased; beaux bowed, ladies curtsied, and the throng broke into couples, and promenaded the apartment. Exhausted belles sunk into seats, whilst attentive youths fanned and persiflaged, laughed at nothing, and studied "the agreeable." Such was the posture of affairs, when the head of the establishment, a lady of about five-and-forty, of pleasing appearance
and address, seeing we were strangers, approached and kindly bade us welcome. There was an amiability, and at the same time a firmness and decision in her manner, a happy admixture of the suaviter and fortiter, which showed that she was peculiarly well qualified for the arduous task she had to perform of presiding over this establishment-a sort of nunnery travestied, in which perpetual celibacy formed no part of the vows, and the vigils differed widely from those which “ Pale-eyed virgins keep" in the gloomy seclusion of the convent. The charge of two or three score of young Houris, in latitude 22 degrees, 23 minutes, and 2 seconds, demi-queue-de-chating it once a fortnight, is appalling. The immensity, indeed, of such a responsibility fills the mind with awe. I, for my part, perspire at the bare idea of it! It is right to observe, however, that the good lady did not stand alone, but always found able coadjutors in the Government, who, to their great honour be it said, were ever prompt to spread the shield of their protection over the orphan daughters of their officers. In proof of which, it is affirmed, that on more than one occasion, when enamoured youths made off with the young Helens, forgetting certain necessary preliminaries, and thinking probably with the poet, that
Love free as air, at sight of human ties,
Spreads his soft wings, and in a moment flies,
and wishing, therefore, to dispense with the aforesaid ties, they had the pleasant alternative of marriage or dismissal offered them, with the best effect, the Government being indisposed to take a poetical view of the matter.
"Would you like to dance, Sir ?" said the lady, addressing herself to Capt. Marpeet. “No, I thank you, ma'am," said my blunt companion; “I am a little too stiff in the joints, and my dancing days are all over." The fact was, that Marpeet had passed five consecutive years of his life in the jungles, where, as it frequently happens in India, he had acquired what, for want of a better term, I will call a gynophobia, or woman-horror, which the occasional avatar of a spinster in those deserts wild rather tended to confirm than allay. A short residence in England had, it is true, in some degree, moderated this dread of the respectable portion of the softer sex; but still much of it remained, and he shunned with morbid aversion all situations imposing the painful necessity of "whispering soft nothings" and "doing the agreeable" with the ladies. The good dame of the school smiled expressively on receiving Capt. Marpeet's answer; it was a smile which said, as plain as smile could speak, "You are an odd fish, I see, and one on whom pressing would be quite thrown away." "Perhaps," said she, turning to me, "you will allow me to introduce you to a partner, and if so, I shall have great pleasure in presenting you to one of our young ladies?" I had none of Marpeet's scruples, expressed my acknowledgments, accepted her offer, and was led full clank across the ballroom, and presented in due form to Miss Rosa Mussalch, as an aspirant for her fair hand in the ensuing dance. Miss Rosa Mussaleh was a fine bouncing girl of eighteen, still in high blow from the effects of her recent exertions. Form unexceptionable; complexion rather tending to a delicate saffron, bespeaking plainly her Asiatic maternity. If not engaged, Miss Rosa," said the schoolmistress, presenting me, Ensign Gernon" (I had previously communicated my name and rank, though there was not much danger of her mistaking me for a major-general)" will be happy to dance with you.” "I shall be ver happie; I am not engaged," said Miss Rosa, in a singular variety of the Anglo-Saxon tongue called the Cheechee language (Hindustanee idiom Englished), then new
to me-a dialect which constitutes a distinguishing mark of those born and bred in India, and the leading peculiarity of which consists in laying a false emphasis, particularly on such small words as to, me, and, &c. The lady of the establishment having performed her devoir, as mistress of the ceremonies, made a courteous inclination, and withdrew, leaving us to ourselves.
As rather a precocious juvenile, I had danced with some of the fair and well-born damsels of my own land, at Bath, Clifton, and elsewhere, and was, therefore, not to be daunted with the mahogany charms of Miss R. M.; so, sans ceremonie, I dashed into conversation. "You have a splendid room here for dancing," said I; "well lighted, and ventilated too, I perceive, which is a great point on such a night as this." "Do you find it ver warm ?" said she; "for Calcutta, we don't consider this too hot." "No?" said I, “then I envy you your insensibility in that respect; for my part, I have at this moment all the sensations resulting from a comfortable vapour bath." The young lady was rather amused at the idea of the vapour bath; "but why," said she, "if you do feel too hot, do you not change your red coat for white jacket, like the other gentlemen ?" "Why! why!" said I, not caring to confess the real reasons, one of which, a very good one, was, that I had not brought one, "I don't consider it exactly military, or respectful to the ladies." "Ah!" said the charming Rosa, rather archly, "I fear you are griffin, and unacquainted with the custom of dis country." I felt a little abashed to be so soon detected; but recovering my courage, renewed the conversation, to which I gave another turn. "You have a great many charming young ladies here," said I." Oh, yes," said my partner, "great manie; but they are not all here; the little girls are gone to bed. Do you then admire our young ladie?" This was a rather pointed question; but I replied without hesitation,
Oh, excessively; there appear to be some lovely creatures amongst them, and (giving a flourish) with charms enough to move the soul of an anchorite." "Oh," said Miss Rosa, with a smile and downward look, wishing to be complimentary, "I think dey are more fond of the military." I was on the point of emitting that expressive note of astonishment-whew! but checked myself. "I think," said I, "you rather nistook me, though I can hardly regret that which has been the cause of so flattering an admission, but I alluded to an ascetic." "Asiatic!" said the young lady, with some hauteur, and a toss of the head, "no native come to these ball, I assure you." I could not suppress an emphatic "humph!"
The fiddles now began agair; I presented my arm, divested myself, though with reluctance, of my trusty Solingen blade, and took my place in the set. A tremendous long set it was, and after slaving for half an hour, I found myself at the head of it. Grundy, with a face like that of the Marquess of Granby on a sign-post, standing next to me, his black neckcloth reduced to the state of wet rope, and mopping his frontispiece incessantly. "Well, how do you get on, Grundy?" said I. "Oh, it's cruel hot work," said he, with a sigh, which was perfectly heart-rending. "Hot, indeed," I rejoined, giving sigh for sigh; "they don't catch me dancing again in a red coat." At this moment, raising my head, I caught a sight of Marpeet directly opposite, leaning against the wall. As our eyes met, he grinned maliciously, winked, and made a significant gesture, in which his nose and fore-finger were the principal performers, and which gave me plainly to understand, that he considered us by no means persons to be envied. If working up the dance was fatiguing, the going down it was still more so. My partner, a practised hand, skipped about without the smallest signs of fatigue, whilst I, reeking from every pore, was
dragged up and down and whirled round and about till my head spun, and I thought I should have fairly gone into a fit, or sunk from sheer exhaustion on the floor. I did, however, contrive to hold out till we finished the dance, five-and-twenty couples, when, with a staggering bow, I tendered my arm and led my partner to her seat. "Are you fond of dancing?" said she, with the coolest assurance. "A little of it," said I, with a sigh, "when in practice, the set not too long, and the weather not too hot." A gentleman, chained, ringed, and be-broached, stout and bronzed, now came up, and engaged my partner for the next dance, chatted for some time with the air of an old acquaintance, gave a "bye bye" sort of nod, and passed on. "Do you know Capt. Trinkum ?" "No," said I; "what does he belong to ?" "To the Rustomjee Bomanjee," said she. “The Rustomjee Bomanjee," I rejoined; "pray what regiment is that? some irregular corps, I suppose." This remark of mine set her off in a violent fit of laughter, of which (rather confused) I begged to know the cause. "It's a country ship," screamed she, “not a regiment." Going off again at a tangent, "Oh, now I see you are a griffin." Thus she balanced the anchorite account, and turned the tables. I can't say I was not sorry when he of the Rustomjee Bomanjee came smirking up, and relieved me from the raillery of Miss Rosa, who, though herself guilty of corrupting the King's English, was an arrant quiz, and not disposed to spare my griffinish blunders.
Marpeet now joined me, and after a little banter touching the style in which Miss Rosa had trotted me about, proposed an adjournment to the refreshment-room. To this I joyfully acceded, suggesting that it would be a charity to take poor Grundy with us, if his dissolution had not already taken place, and whom I had lately seen streaming like the apotheosis of a river-god. "Oh! to be sure!" said Marpeet; "let us look him up." So, taking my arm, we made a move towards the opposite side of the room, where, in a corner, we found Grundy, cooling down after his exertions, and wearing a look of extreme exhaustion, his face marked with perpendicular streaks, like the tattooing of a New Zealander, and his well-saturated pocket-handkerchief rolled up in a ball in his hand. Come, Grundy," said Marpeet; "come along with us; we're going to victual and refit, and would recommend the same to you, for you seem in need of it." Grundy assented with pleasure, and, linked arm-in-arm, we entered the refreshment-room.
Here was a scene of considerable bustle; some were preparing acidulous compounds for the ladies in the ball-room; others doing the like for themselves. As we entered, a staid and exemplary young man, with his cargo of negus and cake, balancing the same with the nicety of a juggler, was making his way out, when in banged a six-foot ensign, to do the bidding of his fair inamorata, and charged with her fan and gloves, and going full butt against the exemplary beau, upset both negus and cake. The ensign, a flighty fellow in every respect, made a hasty apology and off, leaving the beau to wipe his waistcoat and repair the damages as best he might. Knots of young fellows were there, laughing, eating sandwiches or brewing negus, lounging, and clanking their swords. Native servants belonging to the visitors or the establishment were bustling about, and making themselves useful; whilst here and there, in a corner, and availing herself of the solitude of a crowd, a young lady might be seen, her back against the wall, listlessly sipping her negus, or balancing a spoon over a jelly-glass, and listening, with downward look and in mute entrancement, to some handsome militaire, whilst he was pouring into her attentive ear the "leprous distilment" of honied words.
NS Vor 25 No 127