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The great proconsul : the memoirs of Mrs. Hester Ward, formerly in the family of the Honble. Warren Hastings, Esq., late Governor-General of India online

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handsomest and most empty-headed youth in Calcutta. Their
father enjoying the appointment of page to his Majesty, both
brother and sister are recognised to be persons of the highest



^ A VETERAN. 135

ton, and for more than a month the settlement could talk of
little else than the foreign and romantic cast of Lady Day's
beauty, her charmingly odd Christian name (she is called Bene-
dicta), and the splendour of her dress and equipages.

That Lady Day's reign lasted no more than a month an't to
be attributed to any lack of merit on her ladyship's part, but
to the provision of a new object of interest in the household of
Sir Eyre Coote. The good old General himself, extensive as his
services and his fame may be, is neither attractive to the eye nor
qualified to shine in company by reason of his manners or con-
versation, but he has the good fortune to be married to a very
fine young lady, the most vivacious and sprightly of beings.
Lady Coote's father was Governor of the island of St Helena,
and in that isolated spot she formed a romantic attachment for a
charming young lady of her own age, Miss Molly Brancepeth. 1
Desiring to close for ever the mouths of the sneerers at female
friendship, so numerous at the present day, these amiable young
creatures entered into an engagement never to be separated, with
the pleasing result that Miss Brancepeth, showing herself
adamant to the most influential suitors, has resided with Lady
Coote since her marriage, and accompanied her even to this
distant shore. The arrival of this interesting pair eclipsed
even the charms of Lady Day, and the period succeeding their
entrance upon the Calcutta stage was one of the most animated
the settlement has known. It contributed in no slight degree to
increase the innocent gaiety of the time that Mr Francis was
once more proved a false prophet ; for so far was Sir Eyre Coote
from bringing out the despatches that were to make him Gover-
nor-General, that he even refused, in the most resolute manner,
to pledge himself to his indiscriminating support. Extraordinary
as it must appear, when the frantic efforts of Mr Francis' friends
in England, and the powerful influence brought to bear by Ad-
ministration, are considered, the General has succeeded in land-
ing in Bengali while still preserving an open mind on the
subjects which distract the Government here, and has gone so
far as to announce it as his rule of conduct to devote himself ex-
clusively to the concerns of the military department, and judge
1 History remembers this lady only as Miss Molly B .



136 THE GREAT PROCONSUL.

every other question that may come before him entirely on its
merits.

There can be little doubt that the respectable veteran has been
much encouraged in this impartial attitude by the liberal and
genteel behaviour adopted by Mr Hastings, who finds his dearest
hope fulfilled in it. Yet such is the true politeness of the Gov-
ernor-General, that before he could possibly be acquainted with
Sir Eyre Coote's equitable intentions he prepared to receive him
with all, and more than all, the ceremony that the most exacting
of men could have desired. " I have had one sharp lesson," he
said to us, smiling, "on the danger of undervaluing my new
associates, and the General shan't think himself slighted, what-
ever happens." In pursuance of this prudent policy, and stimu-
lated by the frank conduct of the General, Mr Hastings has had
the pleasure of meeting his wishes in various points, such as by
giving into his hands the complete control of the military
department, arranging for his maintenance and allowances upon
a suitable scale, and obtaining for him the possession of the
house and grounds of Gyretty, recently in the occupation of Mr
Chevalier, but granted to the General as much as seventeen
years ago by a sunnud or charter of the Nabob Cossim Ally
Cawn.

These concessions have aroused the most violent passions in
the breast of Mr Francis, who had looked on the General as his
predestined ally, and found him his unflinching opponent in his
very first attempt to steal an advantage over Mr Hastings by his
means. On the question, which was one regarding the agency
at Bennaris, Sir Eyre Coote replied, with great coolness, that he
was determined on a total absence of retrospection in all matters
that had preceded his arrival, so that the incident was for him
absolutely closed. Mr Francis was unable to restrain his anger
at this reply, and went raving against the General all over
Calcutta. Even now he can't hear his name mentioned without
exhibiting the most intense bitterness, as happened last evening.
Mr Maxwell (who attended the Commander-in-Chief and his
family to Gyretty, on Mr Hastings' behalf, to see them suitably
established) happening to remark that the General was busying
himself over the improvement of the house, and laying out the



A VETERAN. 137

gardens and building a riding -school for the pleasure of his
lady, Mr Francis observed with the most cruel contempt, " Any
one would think the old fool had an age to live ! " Mr Hastings
replying jocularly that the General was very likely to see both
himself and Mr Francis under the sod, the matter dropped,
though Mr Francis still sat pinching his chin with an air of
excessive disgust. As I looked at him, and contrasted his
morose aspect with the air of easy benevolence which sits en-
throned on the countenance of Mr Hastings, I experienced the
same feeling of wonder as when I first entered Calcutta at the
daily polite intercourse of these two gentlemen, whose opinions
and aims are so constantly opposed to one another. Did all
business opponents feel compelled to shun one another in their
private life, the result would questionless be intolerable in such
a community as this, where friends and enemies are forced to
encounter each other perpetually, and could not, if they would,
go further for avoidance' sake than Bearcole in the one direction
and Sooksaugur in the other. But that a person in Mr Hastings'
situation should frequently entertain the man whose declared
desire it is to occupy his place is a thing that surprises me even
more than the general toleration extended to Mr Francis, though
this is sufficiently astonishing. The general morality of the
European inhabitants of Calcutta an't so high that any very
strict judgment need be anticipated from them ; but I had not
expected to find Mr Francis' strongest defenders among the
ladies, who, with all their cry of " Shocking creature ! A sad
wicked fellow ! " in company, appear to find his assiduities no
less agreeable than before. I can perceive that the official
situation of Mr Hastings may preclude him from displaying that
abhorrence of Mr Francis' behaviour which I know he feels
and which he has testified to the great resentment of Mr Francis
himself; but I wonder that he should honour him with an
invitation to this agreeable retreat, where we are now residing
during the hot weather. Nor is it that Mr Francis has mani-
fested either repentance or gratitude, since I believe with all
my soul that he's destitute of both.

These disagreeable reflections were still in my mind when we
rose from supper, and Mr Maxwell desired to know if he might



138 THE GREAT PROCONSUL.

attend me into the garden. Looking back to my last mention
of this young gentleman, I see that I have not yet remarked the
vast improvement in his air and manners caused by a cold
season spent in Calcutta, and if I may say it without vanity
under my tuition. He is now a very pretty fellow, though by
no means a maccaroni, a part for which he has no taste, even
would Mr Hastings allow a member of his family in it. As for
his conversation, I have sat by with much satisfaction and heard
him sustain a brisk fire of raillery from one of the most garrulous
of our ton young ladies with equal coolness and modesty, and
when supplanted with her by a swain more to her taste, turn
to discourse of a becoming sobriety with Paclra Kiernander or
the respectable Dr Jackson. This evening I had observed a
further alteration in him, in the direction of a greater vivacity
and a more assured readiness of speech, and wondered whether
it was produced by his brief visit to the General's, or whether
his absence had merely caused me to remark a change which
had been long in progress. In the garden, which is laid out
with the greatest taste imaginable, we spoke of Sir Eyre Coote
and his excellent disposition, and I was surprised to find that
Mr Maxwell regarded the future in a less roseate light than I.

" Sure the General has every right to be regarded as a person
of the utmost honour and discretion," said I.

"Why, yes, ma'am, so far; but in the course of my short
attendance on him I have observed an odd sort of testy fickle-
ness a readiness to take offence at the person who pleased
him best the moment before which seemed to me so irritating
that even the forbearance of Mr Hastings might be tasked to
meet it."

" Nay," said I, " how can a gentleman who has obtained more
than he could possibly have anticipated find anything to take
offence at 1 "

"Why, ma'am, an't it often to be observed that those who
have least reason are the most on the alert to discover monstrous
slights ? Mr Hastings can't divest himself, if he would, of his
supreme control over the military department, however com-
pletely he may relinquish the executive power into the General's
hands. And what's to happen when they're of different minds ?



A VETERAN. 139

Now there's the matter of the Golandauz. 1 The General has
already declared against them, either on account of some
imagined affront he conceives to have been put on him by
Colonel Pearse, or because as a King's officer he inclines in
every way to diminish the consequence of the Company's troops.
But Mr Hastings is the Colonel's friend and patron, and has
repeatedly commended the discipline of the Golandauz. Now
if the General desire to disband them, as it's already whispered
in the army that he does, what then ? "

"Well, sir, what then ?"

"Well, ma'am, I should suppose a further showering of
favours on the General, unless he's to join Mr Francis in a fit
of pique."

" For shame, sir ! Would you intimate that Mr Hastings has
bribed the General to remain neuter thus far ? "

"I would not, ma'am; but I don't doubt Mr Hastings'
enemies will. When young Miss or Master roars and howls in
the parlour because it's forbid them to trample on the best
china, and the fond mania stops the outcry with a handful of
sweetmeats, her female friends are apt to call that a bribe,
an't they 1 "

"I don't perceive any the slightest resemblance in the cases,
sir."

" Indeed, ma'am, when a person notoriously testy and tender
of his consequence conducts himself like a lamb for two entire
months, and is further found to be in possession of a number
of favours never before granted to a person in his situation,
there's a certain parallel that won't be wholly missed."

" But Mr Hastings has given nothing that was not justly
deserved. The degree of ceremony when the General landed
was as honourable for the one to receive as for the other to
grant."

"Precisely, ma'am; but what of the additional allowances
given to Sir Eyre Coote above his predecessors, and the house
and grounds of Gyretty ? "

"Why, sir, I have heard every officer that spoke of it say
the new allowances were absolutely necessary. General Claver-
1 Native artillery.



140 THE GREAT PROCONSUL.

ing contrived to exist on less because he never quitted Calcutta,
and the up-country stations might have vanished from the face
of the earth for all he knew of ; em. And Gyretty was actu-
ally the General's own property, granted him by the former
Nabob."

" I'm not contending against the justice of the favours, ma'am,
but against the expediency of granting them now and all at
once. In his generous desire to satisfy the General by with-
holding nothing he could justly claim, Mr Hastings has retained
nothing, the expectation of which might have bound the General
to him, forgetting that the appetite of an avaricious person
grows with each gratification. It's undeniable, I fear, that the
General is willing to accept all that's offered him, as witness the
star and epaulette of very rich diamonds that he received from
the Nabob of Arcott on his way hither, a gift that should have
been refused."

" So I see it's Mr Hastings' wisdom you condemn, while you're
good enough to grant him honesty ? " said I.

" Such a word as * condemn ' was never in my thoughts,
ma'am. At the worst I was lamenting the liberal temper that
enables him to keep nothing back from his friends. ' If this or
that will make the poor fellow happy,' he seems to say, ' I'll be
shot if I'll withhold it from him ! ' You know yourself the
extreme pain it causes him to be forced to deny anything to
anybody, so that he's entreated his private friends not to make
applications to him which he would be wrong to grant. Ah,
madam, if you had spent these last few days in General Coote's
family, as I have, and heard the gentlemen talk of Mr Hastings,
you would not wonder that I would even see him withhold
favours that were rightly merited, rather than afford Mr Francis
another chance to speak of jobs."

" When you know that if Mr Hastings were to pluck a rose
in the garden, and offer it with a genteel compliment to my
Lady Coote, Mr Francis would read a job in the action ! " I
cried. " Oh, sir, I would never desire to see a generous mind
lowered by a base prudence for the sake of conciliating an
irreconcilable foe ! "

"I wouldn't call that prudence base which acts with a wise



A VETERAN. 141

regard to the future, ma'am. How can I help seeing or any
other of our revered Mr Hastings' most loyal friends that in
too many of the concerns of government he exists, as they say,
from hand to mouth, satisfying the crying needs of the moment
as they arise, without considering that the method may prejudice
his future action ? The gradual steps by which the Judges have
ascended to their present outrageous situation "

"Oh, don't speak of the Judges!" I cried. "I have no
patience when I consider that persons so infinitely indebted to
Mr Hastings could so cruelly abuse his good nature."

" But they think themselves authorised, ma'am, by that very
good nature. And indeed if things go on as they are, I see no
course consistent both with the disposition of Mr Hastings and
the peace of the Presidency but to buy 'em off. Oh," as I cried
out, "'twill be a wise concession, questionless, effecting a just
compromise between the rival interests, but granted then and in
that manner, to the hostile party at home 'twill appear as a
bribe. Moreover, it must be paid for, and where's the money
to come from ? The resources of the Presidency are already
taxed for the Maratta War, Mr Hastings daren't stop the in-
vestment, 1 and the scheme of exacting forced contributions
from the tributary Rajas for military purposes don't seem very
promising, judging from the refractory disposition of the Ben-
naris fellow, Chyte Sing. Sure you must see, ma'am, I an't
blaming Mr Hastings, only regretting that his methods should
allow his enemies such a handle against him."

" I don't know what's happened to you, sir ! " I cried. " As
though all Mr Hastings' difficulties were not due to the be-
wildering circumstances of the time, and the intricacies of
government through which he has to struggle ! Pray lay the
blame on those who sent him here and bade him work and
fight, and then tied his hands. I fear I have been mistaken in
you, sir. You have criticised your patron before in my hearing,
but never with such unbecoming freedom as this. Pray why
don't you offer to show him a better method ? "

"Because I can't, ma'am," he replied very frankly. "I am

1 The goods and specie consigned to the Company by each year's fleet,
from which its dividends were paid.



142 THE GREAT PROCONSUL.

one of those unhappy wretches who can see what's wrong, but
can't suggest how it's to be corrected, unlike the General's
aids-du-camp, who were one and all full of plans for reforming
every abuse they perceived. Perhaps I have listened too long
to these newly arrived critics, who spoke as freely of their own
patron as of mine. In any case, I see that I've wearied Mrs
Ward with my observations."

"Why, no, sir," said I, disarmed by his frankness, "you have
listened patiently enough to mine since you arrived in Calcutta
to deserve a chance of making your own. But I'll confess "

"That you didn't expect to find my opinions differ from
yours ? " he suggested, looking at me with a curious air that
showed me again the change in him.

" I trust I an't so foolish as that, sir. Young Master starts
out into the world, and the poor old dame by whose counsels he
has hitherto regulated himself may go hang ! Perhaps the
gentlemen of the General's family were good enough to hint it
was time this should happen here 1 "

"Best assured, ma'am, that nothing they could say or hint
could diminish in the slightest degree my respect and gratitude
towards Mrs Ward," he said very earnestly, at the same moment
that we met Mr Hastings in one of the paths. He smiled to
perceive our serious countenances.

" What's the matter 1 " he asked us. " Has our fair moralist
shown herself too severe upon the chance employments of a
young man of fashion, pray ? "

" Indeed, sir," I said, not understanding him, " Mr Maxwell
is a stricter moralist than I. I have been seeking in vain to
modify the severity of his judgments."

"Ah, ma'am, that's merely his cunning. He was trying to
allure you away from a certain point. Maxwell, what's this I
hear from Mr Francis that you had 'a meeting with an
aid-du-camp of the General's?"

"'Twas not meant to come to your ears, sir, but it's true.
May I be permitted to attend you in private?"

"Mrs Ward is as nearly interested in you as I, sir. Do I
understand you did me the honour to fight about me?"

"That was the occasion announced, sir."



A VETERAN. 143

" Then let this be the last of such encounters, I beg. Thank
Heaven ! Warren Hastings can protect his own reputation with-
out two young fools making targets of one another over it. Do
you perceive the infinite harm you might have done if this
became known, my family and the General's coming to blows
near as soon as he lands ? A meeting of this kind an't to be
undertaken for a few rough words or a quarrel about the shape
of a lady's chin" he looked sharply at Mr Maxwell. "It
should be reserved as the last resort where an intolerable insult
has been offered, or the crowning touch given to a course of
deceit and chicanery. Then you may risk your life in the con-
fidence Heaven will guide the bullet aright. But in this case
a celestial interference was happily unnecessary, as you're per-
haps aware. What ! you didn't perceive that the bullets were
carefully drawn by the seconds, who were wiser than you, before
the pistols were handed to you and your antagonist ? "

I thought Mr Maxwell was near swooning, he turned so pale
with disgust. Before he could speak, Mr Hastings continued

"Those gentlemen had more care for my reputation than you
had, after all. Go, sir, and be thankful you were prevented
from embruing your hands in the blood of a fellow- creature.
Pray acquaint Mrs Hastings that we are returning to the
house."

"Oh, sir," I cried, as the young gentleman passed out of
sight, still walking as if in a dream, " how unkind, how unlike
Mr Hastings, to put such an affront upon the unfortunate
Mr Maxwell in the presence of a female! How could you
have the heart to do it ? "

"I had a very special reason," said Mr Hastings. "Mr
Francis was good enough to inform me that the offending officer
had spoke in a disrespectful style of a lady to whom Mr Maxwell
considered himself deeply indebted, and that this was the true
cause of the duel so happily rendered harmless. I was ex-
cessively anxious to see whether the youth would betray the
fact, which I knew Mrs Ward would learn from Mr Francis
soon enough. 'Twas a test, and Mr Maxwell has surmounted
it triumphantly. Will Mrs Ward allow me to felicitate her
upon her pupil 1 "



144 THE GREAT PROCONSUL.

" Oh, sir ! " I cried, but faultered and almost wept, for I
perceived at last the reason of the change in Mr Maxwell.
He was my pupil no longer.



CHAPTER XII.

A PKOJECT.

BELVIDERE-HOUSE, June ye 3rd, 1779.

There is something excessively irksome about the long weary
days of the hot weather. The ignorant observer, contemplating
Mrs Hastings and myself robed in the finest muslins, perpetually
fanned by obsequious attendants and stretched upon Chinese
couches of bamboo, might imagine us in the enjoyment of the
most extreme luxury, if he knew nothing of the lassitude and
discomfort caused by the heat and the lack of exertion. The
only tolerable period in the twenty-four hours is that from sunset
to sunrise ; and why we don't follow the example of the French,
and turn night into day, I can't pretend to say. As it is, we
contrive to exist, I may say, by the help of the early morning
ride and the evening drive, both taken during the hours when
the sun's rays are mercifully withdrawn. Returning from our
morning excursion, there is time merely to bathe and enjoy a
brief interval of repose before the second breakfast, which is
taken in company. The meal over, Mr Hastings and his gentle-
men (excepting the aid-du-camp detailed to remain in attendance
on Mrs Hastings) take horse or palanqueen for Calcutta, all in
the lightest possible garments, wearing coat and breeches of
yellow country silk, 1 nankeen, or white dimity, and often dis-
pensing altogether with waistcoats. The two or three hours
that follow are endurable enough. When Mrs Hastings has
given her orders to the head-servants, and dictated to the aid-

1 Probably tussore,



A PROJECT. 145

du-camp or to me any billets she may desire sent off, I take out
my work-box, and the young gentleman reads aloud from some
improving volume. My patroness has little fancy for sewing,
but her remarks upon the book read are frequently of the most
just and illuminating description.

It is the hours after tiffen (at which I can rarely touch any-
thing but bread and fruit, though Mrs Hastings and the aid-du-
camp are usually able to satisfy a hearty appetite upon cold
meat), that I find so monstrous trying. It is considered proper
to devote them to seclusion and repose, so that the young gentle-
man, after enquiring Mrs Hastings' commands, retires to his
own quarters, and my patroness and I to our couches. But
sleep is not always to be enjoyed at pleasure, and there is an
end even to Mrs Hastings' jewels, though they are displayed
before us two or three times a- week ; and the achievements of
the taylors working in another apartment are soon examined,
and commended or blamed. My desire would be to devote
these unprofitable hours to study ; but the Venetian blinds are
hermetically closed to exclude the hot air, and further darkened
by tattys of fragrant grass, kept continually wet by servants
outside, so that even the ray of light accorded in the morning
to my sewing can't be permitted. Moreover, my patroness still
preserves her distrust of female learning, the native vigour of
her own mind rendering the knowledge gained from books un-
necessary to her, and it don't please her to see me occupied
with any work of a learned appearance from the library Mr
Hastings has been good enough to open to me. Hence I find
it well to be content with the books obtained from the circulat-
ing library, which the gentlemen who go into Calcutta are most
obliging in exchanging for us ; but the quality of these leaves
something to be desired, since they have mostly been brought
out as a speculation by the mates or pursers of the Indiamen,
and are of the sort recommended by the London booksellers as
"light summer reading," suitable for visitors to Bath and Tun-
bridge Wells. In studies of this kind, and in desultory conver-
sation, perhaps interrupted with a slight doze, from which one
awakes with a sensation of actual suffocation to discover that
the bearer or eyah with the fan is also fallen asleep, the time

K



146 THE GREAT PKOCONSUL.

passes until it's necessary to dress for dinner and prepare to
welcome the gentlemen.

A further period of repose heralds the hour for tea, of which
the company partake in the varendar, starting afterwards on
an excursion by land or water. If the latter, the Governor-
General's budgerow (which is politely styled the budgerow of
budgerows) is attended by other decorated vessels, and carries



Online LibrarySydney C. GrierThe great proconsul : the memoirs of Mrs. Hester Ward, formerly in the family of the Honble. Warren Hastings, Esq., late Governor-General of India → online text (page 13 of 40)