11 MAY 1929, Page 19


[To the Editor of the SPEcrAToR.] Sue,—I read with the greatest interest, in the Spectator of May 4th, the appreciation of that wonderful book, On the Face of the Waters, by your predecessor in 1896, and I feel that you may like to hear what Mrs. Steel herself told me about her great masterpiece.

Eight years ago my husband received a letter from Mrs. Steel, who had taken DaLshangan Lodge near here. She wrote to ask him for " fishing leaves " for her grandsons and nephews. I at once recognized the neat little signature as that of the famous Indian novelist, and was so delighted to have the opportunity of making her acquaintance. A luncheon party was hurriedly arranged in her honour, and, amongst others invited to meet her was our neighbour, the late Lord Donington (great grandson of the famous Lord Hastings) with his niece, Lady Flora Hastings, who I remember pointed out to Mrs. Steel nineteen of her books on our sitting-room shelves. At luncheon Mrs. Steel sat next my father, the late Sir Charles Hotham, and I heard him say to her : " I would like to tell you that my great friend, Sir Donald Stewart, has always said that your novel, On the Face of the Waters, is the most perfect and accurate account of the Siege of Delhi that has ever been written, and, of course, he was all through it."

Some time after, I went to see Mrs. Steel, and we sat out on the moor in the brilliant sunshine, among all her young people. I said to her : " How was it possible for you to write so won- derfully about the Siege of Delhi ; it was in 1857, and you were only ten years old then, and never in India until you were eighteen. Who told you all about it ? " I remember her answer distinctly : " My dear, no one told me about it," nor did I write it ; it was written though me." I recollect also that I once asked her : " Was Craddock, the engine-driver, a real person ? " And her answer was : " More real than perhaps anyone I have met in this life."

She told me another time that she often described to her family the plot of a short story she was going upstairs to write, and then came down with quite a different story which she declared was strange to herself.

Mr. and Mrs. Steel took Dalshanghan Lodge twice, but she never came there again after his death. I remember her once coming to tea here, on a stormy October afternoon, and telling ghost stories, as only she could tell them, to an entranced circle in our fire-lit sitting-room. I can see her now, as I write, a dear quaint little figure with a close bonnet, and a " Teddy Bear " coat of brown plush—I think she wore it on every occasion I ever saw her ! She was the merriest, happiest little lady, so proud of her charming daughter, and her bril- liantly clever grandsons and nephews, whose merits she was never tired of extolling. I asked her which of her books she considered her best, thinking she would say The Potter's Thumb, but she said : " In the Guardianship of God. "

I was just reading her last book, The Curse of Eve, when I heard of her death.—I am, Sir, &c., JEAN FORBF.S OF CALLENDAR.

• Earlstoun Lodge, Dalry, Kirkcudbrightshire.