When I first came to India there were a few ladies of the old school still much looked up to in Calcutta, and among the rest the grandmother of the Earl of Liverpool, the old Begam Johnstone, then between seventy and eighty years of age. All these old ladies prided themselves upon keeping up old usages. They use to dine in the afternoon at four or five o’clock—take their airing after dinner in their carriages; and from the time they returned till ten at night their houses were lit up in their best style and thrown open for the reception of visitors. All who were on visiting terms came at this time, with any strangers whom they wished to introduce, and enjoyed each other’s society; there were music and dancing for the young, and cards for the old, when the party assembled happened to be large enough; and a few who had been previously invited stayed supper. I often visited the old Begam Johnstone at this hour, and met at her house the first people in the country, for all people, including the Governor-General himself, delighted to honour this old lady, the widow of a Governor-General of India, and the mother-in-law of a Prime Minister of England. She was at Murshidabad when Siraj-ud-daula marched from that place at the head of the army that took and plundered Calcutta, and caused so many Europeans to perish in the Black Hole; and she was herself saved from becoming a member of his seraglio, or perishing with the lest, by the circumstance of her being far gone in her pregnancy, which caused her to be made over to a Dutch factory.
She had been a very beautiful woman, and had been several times married; the pictures of all her husbands being hung round her noble drawing-room in Calcutta, covered during the day with crimson cloth to save them from the dust, and uncovered at night only on particular occasions. One evening Mrs. Crommelin, a friend of mine, pointing to one of them, asked the old lady his name. ’Really, I cannot at this moment tell you, my dear; my memory is very bad,’ (striking her forehead with her right hand, as she leaned with her left arm in Mrs. Crommelin’s,) ‘but I shall recollect in a few minutes.’ The old lady’s last husband was a clergyman, Mr. Johnstone, whom she found too gay, and persuaded to go home upon an annuity of eight hundred a year, which she settled upon him for life. The bulk of her fortune went to Lord Liverpool; the rest to her grandchildren, the Ricketts, Watts, and others.
Since those days the modes of intercourse in India have much altered. Society at all the stations beyond the three capitals of Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay, is confined almost exclusively to the members of the civil and military services, who seldom remain long at the same station—the military officers hardly ever more than three years, and the civil hardly ever so long. At disagreeable stations the civil servants seldom remain so many months. Every newcomer calls in the forenoon upon all that are at the station