For those of you who previously read Mabel’s letter on my blog, I apologise for her absence but I am delighted to say she is back. We moved house almost a year ago, and now I have found her letters and will carry on transcribing them.
For those of you who have never heard of Mabel (or Mab as she is known to her family), she was my great-grandmother. From 1899 to 1902 she lived in Sri Lanka (or Ceylon as it was called then by the Empire). Mabel went to Colombo to marry my great-grandfather, George Gillespy, who ran a cocoa-nut mill. Mab wrote regularly to her mother and sister (Tommie) back in Croydon to tell them about her adventures and through her letters we see an opinionated, formidable woman, with UKIP tendencies, a warmongering heart, and a husband who soon found his place.
Madampe, 23rd July, 1900
Hurrah! I am glad you are Champion. I had rather you won that than anything, and so jolly for you and Maude to be in the final, as if you had not won, she is the next best person. I am sorry you let Muriel N. beat you. I expect you got too much worked up over it and lost your nerve. Now if you win the mixed, I shall be happy. How I long to be in the battle! Playing ordinary games is very tame after a club, especially when you don’t feel very energetic to begin with, but I know it is good for me and also for George as it is the only real exercise he gets. He is working very hard just now as he is making a lot of improvements and alterations in the mill but he is so much more happy and cheerful and is altogether better. He is taking the Kepler’s regularly and I think it is doing him some good.
Here is such a sweet kingfisher sitting on a branch of a tree quite close with its eye fixed on me. I think it must have a nest somewhere in the canal bank as it is always about. I think it is very like the English ones. Its head is brown, sort of chocolate colour, and its wings and beak are the very brightest blue. The squirrels are so funny. One is using the most awful language now because the cat is sitting just underneath the tree in which I think the squirrel has got a nest. It is tearing up and down the branches chatting at the top of its throat and waggling its tail about in the most agitated way, while the cat slumbers peacefully without taking the slightest notice. He has settled down into a steady old cat and is quite comfortable and fat now. He sleeps in our bedroom on a chair, never moves all night. I don’t like him being out at night as I am afraid of him being caught by some animal, and he will fight with disreputable cats.
The pups are sweet now. They can walk pretty well, only every now and then their legs give way utterly and they rub their little noses on the ground. They are awfully funny on the matting as it is slippery and their legs go out in all directions. They can all growl no. It is killing to hear them and they paw at one another in the most absurd way but they have not got much control over their actions yet. They were three weeks old on Saturday. One has got a hiccough at the moment and it is shaking its little body to pieces. We have got rid of a good many fleas with much Keating’s (flea powder) and brushing but they still have a good number. George and I kill as many as we can but as he sagely remarks: ‘You need a monkey for this sort of job!’
The other afternoon I was sitting peacefully upstairs on the verandah when I happened to look over the parapet and I saw a huge lizard advancing across the compound. For one awful second I thought it was a crocodile and then I saw it was a kabaragoya which is harmless and eats frogs and things although it often goes for chickens and would have enjoyed the puppies. I tore downstairs and shouted for the Boy and then went into the office where I found Mr VanDort and he somehow frightened it out of the fence. It climbed a tree and lay there sprawled sticking its tongue out like an anteater. We have seen it about for a long time now and do not like the idea of it being near when the pups get big enough to run about. We thought it best to get rid of it. George’s gun wouldn’t go off; the cartridges were damp. So Mr VanDort got the watchman’s and shot it through the head. A brahman skinned it and we are going to send the skin to be tanned as Mr VanDort says it makes the most lovely leather, better than crocodile as it is not as thick. The thing was really rather alarming as its body was almost as long as the stuffed crocodile at Hurst.
Fancy Edith McMinn being engaged, she seems such a kid, but I suppose she is nineteen. Please give her my love and best congratulations. She certainly has gone in for the ‘long of it’. I should think he is a very nice fellow. I just spoke to him slightly at their party and I liked him very much.
We have had an invitation from Mrs Stanley Bois to a fancy dress dance on August 9th. It is nice of them to ask us up to town. Of course we have refused as we have decided not to go away for Race Week and anyhow it would be a great expense as it is sure to be a swell affair and we should have to have proper costumes. It would have been very jolly as they only know the very best people in Colombo. We are rather sad at missing all the festivities but it can’t be helped and it would’ve been wretched for George who would’ve felt all the time that he ought to be at the mill. It would have cost a huge amount too as Colombo is crowded and everything is expensive and there would have been so many other things besides the hotel bill. No one ever walks in Colombo so rickshaws and hackneys would have mounted up. Personally I don’t mind very much. It isn’t as if I have any friends I wanted to see.
Of course I will send you a bangle as soon as I can get one. Unfortunately the letter in which you mentioned it came just after we got back from Colombo or I could have got it then. When you try silver things you have to make sure they weigh it with rupees. However much it weighs, you add a little bit for workmanship so that if a thing weighed 3 rupees, you could pay 3.75 and feel you were not being done much. 25 cents to the rupee is the usual price for the workmanship unless it is very elaborate. Of course they do passengers and people who don’t know the tricks tremendously. It was Mrs Masefield who told George.
I do hope your rheumatism soon got better. You ought not to have it in the summer. I shall think of you and Davina having a good time at cricketing. I hope it won’t be too hot so that Kate can enjoy it. G.C.C Cricket Week seems to be going off all right. It was jolly you having a holiday for it. We roared over your and Mrs Wild’s fright over the burglar. I must say I don’t think much of Chrissie Brooks’s choice. Who could stand little Diplock for a husband?
Many thanks for the Chambers and all the papers. By the way, tell Bob the next time he sends a cutting from the paper to look at the back and not try to pollute my innocent mind with scurrilous literature. What is Jane up to? Will she go to jail? I am anxious to know the end of her exploits. Poor Edward. I should think he feels rather low. I saw Winnie Morris’s wedding in the paper, also Kate Norton’s. Gertrude’s dresses all sound very pretty, don’t they? I suppose her man is well off or she would not have had him.
George and I have given up Ethel as she is so appallingly selfish. Even if he wanted to, it is no good George writing anything to his mother as she only writes back making out Ethel a paragon of virtue and it only makes us crosser. I do honestly think it is a great pity she is not with Walter next winter as very likely he won’t take much care of himself and only get nasty colds.
How nice of Lottie to send you that blouse. It will be useful. I don’t get on very fast with my dressmaking. I have not finished the silk one yet. Having no machine is a drawback, isn’t it?
We are having delightful weather, cool and breezy. This morning it was only 78 degrees. it is barely 80 now at 2 o’clock. It is cloudy too and that is a blessing. We can start playing tennis quite early. We have such lots of people going past these last few days both in boats and on the road. They are Roman Catholics going to some sort of festival at a big church about 15 miles up the canal. They make a pilgrimage to it once a year and it is a great holiday for them.
Well I must shut up as it is nearly 3 o’clock.
Lots of love and kisses to everybody.
From yours ever,