Day after Day 20
Letters between Muriel and Harold
7 Lansdowne Crescent, Worcester
September 1st, 1904
My Dearest Harold,
I know that, as I write this letter, you are still en route to your destination. I hope that it will go on the next ship out, and therefore you won't have to wait all those weeks for a reply from me. I am sending it to the offices of your company and assume that they will know where you are working and will get it to you.
I do miss you so much. It seems like much more than a week since you sailed off from South Hampton. I hope you are having a reasonable journey. I expect all the rowing you did when you
were at school will have prepared you for being on the water. Do you spend much of your time reading up about your work and your new life?
I wonder about the others on the ship. Do you have your meals all together? Are there lots of young attractive women who are vying for your attention? I wish engaged men had to wear rings as well, so that those women would know that you are spoken for. I do love my ring and gaze at it all the time, remembering those wonderful moments when you asked me to marry you.
I hope you think we were being sensible in deciding that you should go out on your own to assess the situation. If I had gone along straight away, and it turned out that you didn't like the life or I couldn't cope with the climate, then we would have all that effort for nothing.
This way you can get settled in and know exactly what I should bring, when we go there after we are married in 1906. I hope you like the idea of us having a joint wedding with John and May. Since we started out our knowledge of one another as a foursome, I thought it was very appropriate that we should seal our marriages on the same day.
John is greatly looking forward to his job at Warwick, and will be going up soon to find accommodation. He will be senior English master, and I am sure he will be very good at that as
he was always very clever when telling us about the books we read and how to interpret them properly. We hope to go up to Warwick to visit him when he is established. I rather think that May is the time to go, and then we can take in a play at Stratford at the same time. But of course he will be home for Christmas before then, so we can make our plans after he tells us what else there is to see and do in that area.
I eagerly await your letter to tell me of your safe arrival and your first impressions of your new home (and soon to be mine as well).
Here is a quotation for you to be working on in the meantime.
'Art is born of observation and investigation of nature'.
I sort of think that is what you are doing - investigating nature - so you are an artist, despite you thinking yourself a practical scientific man.
All my love from Muriel
15th October, 1904
My darling Muriel,
What a wonderful surprise to get your letter so soon after arriving. I couldn't wait to open it. Of course the others teased me about it - seeing as it was remarkable for a personal letter to arrive for someone who just officially signed on as an employee.
You asked about the ship going over. It was called the HMS Gort, which was built at the Glasgow shipyards in 1894. It is a 4,500 gt and has a single screw triple expansion engine. I know those details will not mean much to you, but they do to me, as we learned a lot about engines in our courses at Camborne. The ship has a maximum speed of 13.5 knots. As it is primarily a cargo ship, and the main port of call is South Africa, there were not many of the passengers who came the full distance with me, although we did have more getting on the ship at Cape Town.
We spent four days in Cape Town while the cargo was off loaded and new cargo put on. It is a wonderful beautiful city, and I could quite well imagine us living there very happily. But back to the ship. It had four masts and one funnel, and had a few first class passengers, 200 second class passengers (which included me) but 1,150 third class passengers.
There were a few in the group that I got to know quite well, as we always ate at the same table, one being a clergyman and his family who was interested to hear that I had a brother about to take holy orders. They and several others I fully intend to look up as they have commitments in areas not too far away. As far as pretty girls flirting with me, you need not worry. Most of the women were wives or daughters, and much too fiercely defended by their husbands or fathers for any shipboard romance to take place. Besides, you know that I would not look at any woman but you - as has been the
case since I first met you at Perdiswell Churchyard all those years ago.
I will tell you a little about the situation here. I am to be a divisional assistant, and will live for the time being at Lahat. The number of the white staff depends upon the size of the mine - an average of one white man to every 400 workers is usual.
My bungalow is built on posts some four or five feet from the ground. It is an open design - plank walls and attap (palm leaf) roof. It is surrounded by a verandah, and the kitchen and servants' quarters are built away from the main building though connected with it by a covered way. I have three native servants - house boy, cook, and water carrier, all men you will be pleased to hear.
There is also a divisional manger of a slightly larger mine in Batu Gjhah and the Manager lives in Ipoh which is the centre of activity, and quite is a sizeable town with many advantages. Those of
us who are farther afield have a rather solitary life when it comes to any social interaction. But I have long and tiring days and am quite happy to put my feet up and read at night without having to
worry about being polite. I'm sure that I will make some social acquaintances as time goes on, but that is not my priority at the moment. I may try to get a motor cycle after awhile and then I could
keep in touch with the others through a Club in Ipoh.
The climate is pleasant, but much warmer and wetter than we are used to in England. We have a high in the day of about 85º, but it doesn't get below 60º at night. My servants cook and clean for me, so other than work, I have nothing to do. They are very pleasant and have a sort of pidgeon English. As the French were in this area from the 1880s many of them also have a smattering of
French and if I cannot get them to understand my English, I try in French often with more success. I hadn't realised my lessons at school would come in so handy when I was a miner.
All for now, but I long for your next letter, and will write again more about what life is like here next time. Let me know what is going on in Worcester and what you and May are getting up to.
I think your quote was from Cicero. Am I right?
Here is one for you. 'Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures'.
7 Lansdowne Crescent, Worcester
8th November, 1904
What nicer treat could I have than a letter from you? I have so looked forward to getting it, and will treasure it forever, along with many more from you, I do hope. It is so frustrating that it is a minimum of six weeks for our letters to do their journey and for us to get a response.
I enjoyed hearing about where you are living, but being a female and an artist of sorts, I would like you to describe it in more detail for me. How are the rooms decorated? What sort of furniture do you have? What do the servants cook for you? Where do all your workers live? What sort of time to you get up and start work? Do you go to church on Sundays? What is the scenery like? That
should give you a few things to put in your next letter.
As far as life around here goes, we do much as we did last year. May and I go to the Technical College at the Victoria Institute for me to learn more of art subjects and she to learn management skills as well as to improve her music skills which are already exceptional, as you know. Her mother continues to enjoy singing with the Worcester Choral Society and they have just had a concert which was well attended as usual. It is so nice that May knows Edward Elgar personally, as he was the first to teach her piano way back before he was famous. We catch the odd glimpse of Mr. Elgar
and his daughter, Carise, who is now at our old school, when they come to visit with his parents Mr. and Mrs. William Elgar, Edward's sister Helen, and the grandchild who is called Clare Grafton.
I occasionally read in the paper that your sister Una is doing well at Alice Ottley's, and of course both your brothers, Mark and Jimmy, are written up for their sporting prowess at King's School, although neither of them is as good as you were.
I have heard the rumour that May's brother, Tom, is more than a little interested in one of the Tree girls, and will let you know when I find out more about that. He doesn't divulge much to May, as you can imagine, but she apparently overheard him speaking to Carrie Tree on one occasion and felt there was something more than plain friendship in his tone.
But of course they are still far too young to have a proper romance going. As you know he has gone off to Oxford, and we think he is enjoying it, but he doesn't write home very often. We shall see him soon when his term finishes. I keep meaning to go over to visit with your mother but have not managed it yet. I will make sure I do so over the Christmas period as they will be missing you
I trust this letter and my little gift to you for Christmas will arrive in plenty of time. For Christmas presents, I asked friends if they would like to help me fill my bottom drawer, so Mrs. Stinton gave us an early present of a pair of pillowcases with the finest lace trimming. So when I finally come to your headquarters in Lahat, I shall do so knowing that I have very fine pillowcases with decoration on them from a prize winning lace maker. I wonder if your servants do a proper job of washing delicate things.
I didn't know your quote but mentioned it when I was visiting the Trees. Mrs. Tree knew it straight away. Her father was a minister in Plymouth. It is from Henry Ward Beecher's Proverbs
from a Plymouth Pulpit. I must not take the credit for knowing it, but I have now learnt it.
Here is one for you: 'Many books require no thought from those who read them, and for a very simple reason; they made no such demand upon those who wrote them.'
I can't imagine that you read those sorts of books.
All for now, my love. Have a wonderful Christmas. You must tell me what traditions they have there and how different they are from ours. I miss you very much.
Love from Muriel
Lahat Perak, December 1st, 1904
I am writing this immediately after receiving yours as I want to make sure it gets on the next available boat back to England, hopefully to be in time for Christmas.
I have enclosed a small gift - and thank you for yours, but I won't open it until Christmas Day when I then shall be able to think about you wrapping it and imagine that I can smell your scent on the paper it is wrapped in.
I will answer only a few of your questions now, and take more time to write to you properly in a few days. You asked about the scenery. My work is on the Kinta River in the Kinta Valley.
It is difficult to imagine Kinta Valley (pictured above) before the roads and open-cast mines, when the hills and valleys were covered with primeval forests in which great beasts like elephants, tigers and rhinoceros roamed. In fact the whole of the Malay Peninsula is one vast forest, through which flow countless streams that from one of the most lavish water systems in the world. The rivers, though many of them are of imposing appearance and of considerable length, are uniformly shallow, only a few on the west coast being navigable by ships for a distance of some 40 yards from their mouths.
As far as going to church on Sundays, preachers of any denomination are few and far between. They tend to have a rota and visit areas in turn. We do have work here on Sundays as well as other days to maximize the output, so I am afraid that I have not been able to have a day of rest and prayer as one would expect to do. You will have to pray extra long and hard to make up for it. I do get days off, but not often on a Sunday.
Have a wonderful Christmas. Do visit my parents if you have a chance and then you can bring me up to date with all that I am missing. What I miss most, of course, is you.
I'm afraid I cannot guess your quotation, you must tell me in your next letter. Here is mine: 'An author is a fool who, not content with boring those he lives with, insists of boring future
Much love my darling,