CALCUTTA, THE CAPITAL OF INDIA
Great stories are told of the receptions, levees and balls that were given in the days of the East India Company, but they could not have been more brilliant than those of to-day. The Government House has never been occupied by a viceroy more capable of assuming the dignities and performing the duties of that office than Lord Curzon, and no more beautiful, graceful or popular woman ever sat upon the vice-queen's throne than Mary Leiter Curzon. No period in Indian history has ever been more brilliant, more progressive or more prosperous than the present; no administration of the government has even given wider satisfaction from any point of view, and certainly the social functions presided over by Lord and Lady Curzon were never surpassed. They live in truly royal style, surrounded by the ceremonies and the pomp that pertain to kings, which is a part of the administrative policy, because the 300,000,000 people subject to the viceroy's authority are very impressionable, and measure power and sometimes justice and right by appearances. Lord and Lady Curzon never leave the palace without an escort of giant warriors from the Sikh tribe, who wear dazzling uniforms of red, turbans as big as bushel baskets, and sit on their horses like centaurs. They carry long spears and are otherwise armed with native weapons. Within the palace the same formality is preserved, except in the private apartments of the viceroy, where for certain hours of every day the doors are closed against official cares and responsibilities, and Lord and Lady Curzon can spend a few hours with their children, like ordinary people.
The palace is managed by a comptroller general, who has 150 servants under him, and a stable of forty horses, and relieves Lady Curzon from the cares of the household. Lord Curzon is attended by a staff of ministers, secretaries and aids, like a king, and Lady Curzon has her ladies-in-waiting, secretaries and aids, like a queen. People who wish to be received at Government House will find three books open before them in the outer hall, in which they are expected to inscribe their names, instead of leaving cards. One of these books is for permanent residents of Calcutta, another for officials, and another for transient visitors, who record their names, their home addresses, their occupations, the time they expect to stay in Calcutta, and the place at which they may be stopping. From these books the invitation lists are made out by the proper officials, but in order to secure an invitation to Lady Curzon's "drawing-room" a stranger must be presented by some person of importance who is well known at court. At 9 o'clock those who have been so fortunate as to be invited are expected to arrive. They leave their wraps in cloakrooms in the basement, where the ladies are separated from the gentlemen who escort them, because the latter are not formally presented to the vice-queen, but they meet again an hour or so later in the banquet hall after the ceremony is over.
The ladies pass up two flights of stairs into waiting-rooms in the third story of the palace, pursuing a rather circuitous course over about half the building, guided by velvet barriers and railings, and at each comer stands an aide-de-camp or a gentleman-in-waiting, to answer inquiries and give directions to strangers. When the anteroom is at last reached, the ladies await their turns, being admitted to the audience chamber in groups of four. They are given a moment or two to adjust their plumage, and then pass slowly toward the throne, upon which Lady Curzon is seated. The viceroy, in the uniform and regalia of a Knight of the Garter, stands under the canopy by her side. There is no crowding and pushing, such as we see at presidential receptions at Washington and often at royal functions in Europe, but there is an interval of twenty-five or thirty feet between the guests. After entering the room each lady hands a card upon which her name is written to the gentleman-in-waiting, and, as she approaches the throne he pronounces it slowly and distinctly. She makes her courtesies to the viceroy and his lady, and then passes on. There is no confusion, no haste, no infringement of dignity, and each woman for the moment has the entire stage to herself.
On either side of the throne are gathered, standing, many native princes, the higher officers of the government and the army, the members of the diplomatic corps and other favored persons, with their wives and daughters, and their costumes furnish a brilliant background to the scene. The rest of the great audience chamber, blazing with electric lights, is entirely empty. The viceroy greets every lady with a graceful bow, and Lady Curzon gives her a smile of welcome. The government band is playing all this time in an adjoining room, so that the music can be only faintly heard, and does not interfere with the ceremony, as is so often the case elsewhere.
Having passed in review, the guests return to the other part of the palace by a different course than that through which they came, and find their escorts awaiting them in the banquet hall. When the last lady has been presented, the viceroy and Lady Curzon lead the way to the banquet hall, where a sumptuous supper is spread, and the gentlemen are allowed to share the festivities. The formalities are relaxed, and the hosts chat informally with the guests.
It is a very brilliant scene, quite different from any that may be witnessed elsewhere, particularly because of the gorgeous costumes and the profusion of jewels worn by the native princes. At none of the capitals of Europe can so magnificent a show of jewels be witnessed, but the medals of honor and decorations which adorn the breasts of the bronzed soldiers are more highly prized and usually excite greater admiration, for many of the heroes of the South African war were serving tours of duty in India when we were in Calcutta.