At Bombay the Vicereine gets her first experience of the social life of India at the dinners, receptions, and balls which are given in honour of the new Viceroy, and there are usually visits to schools and institutions to be paid. Then follow the great official entry into Calcutta, the arrival at Government House, the swearing-in of her husband in the historic council chamber, the farewell festivities which mark the departure of the outgoing Viceroy, the good-bye to her predecessor, and then the Vicereine faces her position of somewhat lonely splendour. She chooses and arranges her own special suite of rooms, probably starts an aviary, or possibly even a menagerie, for there are many curious animals and gay plumaged birds to attract her attention. Parrots are probably too plentiful, for one Vicereine complained of having fifteen parrots screeching from their nests in the colonnades outside her boudoir.
Regal splendour surrounds the Vicereine on every side. The principal servants wear scarlet and gold; men in long red tunics, white trousers, bare feet, red and gold sashes, and white turbans, wait at table; while higher functionaries attend in gold-embroidered breastplates.
The Vicereine finds the servant problem reversed. At home the difficulty is to get servants; in India, the difficulty is to get rid of them. Those silent, statuesque figures in doorways, halls and corridors, with the guttering, observant eyes, ready to proffer assistance if her Excellency but raise her eyelids, are oppressive to the nerves at first.
Vicereines have been known to sigh for a footman with creaking shoes. A legion of male "housemaids," in tunics and turbans, moves silently about; magnificent personages are on guard in the passages; and there are multitudes of other servants, "some in rags and some in tags" and some with no clothes at all.
Lady Dufferin describes the effect of caste on service in the viceregal household. "One caste," she says, "arranges flowers, another cleans the plate, a third puts candles into the candlesticks, but a fourth lights them; one fills a jug of water, while it requires either a higher or a lower man to pour it out. The man who cleans your boots will not condescend to hand you a cup of tea, and the person who makes your bed would be dishonoured were he to take any other part in doing your room. In consequence, instead of one neat housemaid at work, when you go to my lady's chamber you find seven or eight men in various stages of dress, each putting a hand to some little thing which has to be done." There may be fifty or seventy horses in the viceregal stables, but each horse has a man to himself, who lives and sleeps at the foot of his stall.
A Mortifying Experience
In the management of her vast and novel household the Vicereine depends on the aides-de-camp who preside over the various departments, under the chief rule of one great functionary, who settles every detail, from the highest ceremonial affairs to the problem of mosquitoes that have somehow got inside her Excellency's curtain. The Vicereine's morning is largely taken up in conferring with the aides-de-camp on menus and invitations, charities and functions. She is fortunate if she has an aide-de-camp versed in family and social feud. He will save her from the mortifying experience of one Vicereine who, after her first State dinner, found that, in a company of thirty-four, six couples not on speaking terms had been invited, and, worse ill-luck, they had all been placed together.
Tact and social instinct are the most valuable assets for a Vicereine. She is practically "At-home" each day, and receives the wives of officials and distinguished visitors to the capital, as well as her intimate friends. Social entertainments follow one another in quick succession, for life in India is full of gaiety and colour. The great Drawing-room is held in Christmas week, and rivals Buckingham Palace in stately splendour. In the old days, the wife of the Governor-general entered the throne-room at State functions by a side door, escorted by an aide-de-camp, and her husband led the procession alone.
"That will not suit me," said Lady Canning, very properly. And after the creation of the Viceroyalty she instituted the State entrances at Drawing-rooms and State balls, and took her place beside the Viceroy. At this period full Court dress for the men, and lappets and feathers for the ladies, were introduced. Trains did not become general until much later. The State functions reached the zenith of viceregal grandeur under Lord and Lady Curzon. The compatriots of the Vicereine were charmed to reflect that "Mary Leiter ruled over more subjects than Queen Victoria"; and, if their notion of the status of a Vicereine was unduly exalted, they would at least have been right in believing that she was the queen of functions resplendent beyond our Western dreams.
Nothing can exceed the social homage which native society pays to the representatives of their emperor. The Vicereine has to cultivate the difficult task of making the conversation. Scarcely anyone ventures to address her voluntarily. Her progress through the reception-rooms is truly regal.
She is called upon to perform numberless public functions, such as the opening of bazaars, visiting the schools and hospitals, and accompanies the Viceroy to various ceremonies. The Vicereine is the official head of the Dufferin Fund for promoting medical aid and trained nursing for women established by Lady Dufferin under the auspices of Queen Victoria. The Cana Hospital at Calcutta, and the various other institutions and agencies at work under the fund, come under her supervision.
The Vicereine frequently accompanies her husband on his tours, and often joins his tiger-shooting expeditions, should he be a sportsman. She will meet in her journeys many calls upon her sympathy and benevolence, for famine, plague and pestilence, alas ! are chronic troubles in India.
At the approach of hot weather the Viceregal Court removes to the palace at Simla, perched high on a crag amongst the hills, "like Noah's Ark on Ararat," as one Vicereine wittily put it. There the season opens with a State ball. A succession of gaieties follow, including the weekly gymkhana a noted feature in the gay life at Simla. These have been specially successful during the reign of Lady Minto.
The marriage of Lady Violet, celebrated with befitting beauty and splendour at Calcutta, marks the first occasion of a viceregal wedding in India. It was a happy idea, and added to the social popularity of Lady Minto, a Vicereine truly to the manner born.
Lady Lansdowne and Lady Elgin should be added to the list of recent Vicereines who, each in her own way, has filled the role of chief lady in our great Indian Empire.
Lady Hardmge of Penshurst succeeded to that important position in 1910. She was the Hon. Winifred Sturt, the daughter of the first Baron Alington, and a bedchamber woman to Queen Alexandra. She left the life of ambassadress at the Court of St. Petersburg with a record for gracious, womanly charm which cannot fail to make her reign a success in India. Hardinge is a name deeply honoured in the history of the country. Viscount Hardinge of Lahore, the grandfather of the new Viceroy, was the hero of the Sikh War, and became Governor-general of India in 1844