The young couple, arriving at Calcutta, were sent straight away to Morar, one of the hottest places in India in August. Ill-health could daunt neither of them, and they star up-country. A worse trial awaited the young bride. Two days after their arrival Lieutenant Roberts was sent back to Calcutta, and his wife was perforce left with friends, kind and hospitable, but still strangers to her When the period of separation was o\ Mr. and Mrs. Roberts had another journey, this time enlivened by floods.
But at last a happier time was at hand. The lieutenant was appointed Quartermaster-general to Lord Canning on his six months' tour through India. This meant that he had the whole ordering of the huge camp. The work was very heavy. but it was interesting, and his wife could accompany him. On this tour he showed her all the ground he had covered during the Mutiny two years before. Small wonder that she was "intensely interested," as he records, and that it was Delhi that "had the greatest fascination for her." She would not have been the soldier's wife that she is if she had not been moved to the heart by the sight of the places where her young lieutenant had won distinction and the supreme personal honour of the Victoria Cross; where he had fought and suffered and conquered.
On this tour the events of the Mutiny became living realities to her, and if never before, then she accepted the lot of a soldier's wife, with all its anxieties and partings. its need of courage, its patience in loneliness. its constant cheerfulness.
Over and over again Lord Roberts has paid tribute to his wife's qualities. 1 book, "Forty-one Years in India." is dedicated "to the country to which I am so proud of belonging, to the Army to which I am so deeply indebted, and to my wile, without whose loving help my ' Forty-one Years in India' could not be' the happy retrospect it is."
When he was sent to Calcutta one year in March, she came down from Simla to join him - at the beginning of the wet weather; when he was visiting cholera camps she insisted on accompanying him; she rejoiced when he received an appointment on the North-west Frontier, that seat of peril and unrest, where reputations are made; when he went off at short notice in command of the Kabul Field Force, she went with him as far as she might, and there bade him and his men a cheery " good-bye and good luck ! ' before turning away to a sad and lonely home-going. Before he lost all communication with the outside world, on his second expedition into Afghanistan, his last word from civilisation was a telegram, put into his hands a few minutes before breaking camp, from his wife in a distant Somersetshire village, wishing him God-speed. Lady Roberts' Scheme
She never lost courage, either to accompany him through hardship, or to bear suspense in separation. Any woman knows which is the harder - to bear illness and discomfort with her husband, or to keep cheerful and happy with the children in an English village while he is lost to all messages in a savage country, menaced by immediate peril.
For many years this soldier's wife had seen with heartache how many valuable lives were wasted by the lack of skilled nursing in military hospitals. The "orderly on duty" did his best for the sick - anyone may guess what his best amounted to! The Government had been approached on the matter over and over again, but had rejected all proposals on the score of expense. Lady Roberts bided her time, but in 1886 she saw that her husband was in a position to ensure attention from the Government, and she drew up a scheme for providing military hospitals with trained nurses, pointing out that since every soldier cost his country 100 before he even reached India, it was worth some expense to preserve his life. The result of her proposal can be seen to-day in the well-equipped military hospitals all over India. Money the Government would not provide she collected herself from the Army in India, even the privates subscribing.
This latter money was devoted to providing homes in the hills for the nurses, and so energetic was Lady Roberts that before long she was able to buy various plots of land in healthy districts and to set in motion this important part of her scheme. It must be remembered that India in those days was farther away than it is now, because conditions of transit were not so good, and it was not so easy to come home frequently as it is now. What Lady Dufferin had done in the previous year for the native women and children, Lady Roberts was now able to do for the Army. Of course, in this scheme she had her husband's heartiest support, for no man was in a better position to realise that a healthy soldier is worth three sick ones. Sick leave had before that time inconvenienced him very much, and the only surprising thing Was that a scheme which his wife had had in her mind for so many years should have had to wait so long for any chance of success. When this had come, however, everyone was full of admiration, and wondered how the Army had got on at all without Lady Roberts' military hospitals and nurses' homes.
Such a career as that of Lord Roberts is bound to entail a prominent social side, more especially in India, which is proverbial for its social meetings. Lady Roberts never failed in adapting herself to the needs of the moment. The wife of a distinguished soldier in India is brought into contact with all classes, and has in particular to act as leader in a society where rules of precedence and the smaller items of etiquette are considered most important. Such a position is rendered all the more difficult by being at once defined and tacit. The wife of a viceroy has her official position to uphold her, but in general society, whether as hostess or guest, there are any number of pitfalls into which the tactless may fall. Lady Roberts always realised that by her handling of the social situation she could, as in other ways, help her husband, and he always found in her a successful hostess to his friends and colleagues, and, which is perhaps more important, a tactful acquaintance where his opponents, political or military, were concerned.
Such is the woman who has been for fifty-one years the helpmate and loving comrade of this great soldier. "My Co.," he has been known to call her, using the Army abbreviation for "commanding-officer." If she had been selfish, or lacking in moral and physical courage, he would not be what he is: she would have kept him back at every turn.
Here is the most significant story of all: She had been married less than a year, and had been separated from her husband for part of that time. She had gone literally through fire and flood with him, her health had suffered, and she was, after all, in a strange country, although she had friends, because, as Lord Roberts has proudly recorded, she accepted his in almost every case. The China expedition of 1886 was forming, and he had set his heart on going, but someone else was chosen instead. Lord Clyde took young Mrs. Roberts in to dinner one night, and told her she ought to be grateful to him, as he should have sent Roberts on active service if he had not been newly married. "You have done your best to make him regret his marriage," she cried indignantly. "He will feel I am ruining his career!"
No wonder that, forty years later, this brave and unselfish lady, hearing one day of the death of her only son in battle, on the next that her husband was to sail within a week for the seat of war, wasted no time in tears, but prepared to follow him without delay, to be near him as always, to comfort and uphold him as became a soldier's wife - his "bright, best friend."