But despite those occasional glimpses of the enemy as people, his usual attitude was far more typical of the era. War was "fun," and he rather hoped "to get in on the fun if several regiments are sent to Egypt to prevent the Russians or anyone else interfering with the Suez Canal". (March 21. 1877). Or, "The Afghans were very troublesome and attacked our frontier, but they seem now to have given in and are begging for peace so perhaps we shall not go at all. All the (officers and) men (here) are very sorry that there is to be no fighting” (March 8, 1877; also May 2, Malta).
There was other fun to be had in Shillong during the summer season, when the monsoon and the heat made life untenable for the British in the lowlands and the white population at the hill stations increased accordingly. Then the "swells" gave parties for other "swells," and the Major was there every night, dancing every dance and eating heartily for a change, even though he had to starve himself between times. (He must have appreciated the free meals since he complained mightily in other letters about the expense of food and lodging for himself and grass for his horse. Apparently he had to pay for his everyday living expenses as well as for travel: March 31, 1877; June l6, l878.)
But the worries in the letters outweighed the pleasures by far, and many of the worries wore about problems far from Assam. His mother, "dear Madre," had cancer and there was concern about her care. By this time (July, 1878) Mary had completed her nursing course and had been offered a position as night superintendent at £50 per year. Instead, however, it was decided that she should go to St. Helen's and nurse her mother-in-law. (Sarah, her sister-in-law, had proposed that she be paid £50 there, but the Major vetoed that.)
The ongoing worry in almost every letter was the boys and their schooling. It was expensive (£200 per year plus such extras as rowing, boxing, swimming, baths, etc.; Major Chambers obviously placed great emphasis on physical fitness). Stuart had a bad temper (like his mother's, as his father never failed to point out), and Lionel was lazy and slovenly. Perhaps the Major's feelings about his own sons were exacerbated by reports of Colonel Pollack's son (an obvious prig), whose "mother even though she had five younger children managed to teach him to read and write perfectly and play the piano well" (May 2, .1878). This paragon, who was now at school, had also "learned short-hand sufficiently well to be able to make his own notes in that style. The boy writes regularly to his father, giving accounts or his doings, who his companions are, what books he studies his place in class, and so on, apparently without any effort. This is what I wish L. and S. to do."
They didn't, and Major Chambers even went so far as to prepare a blank chart to illustrate his lack of letters. He also had a miserable practice of copying off all Lionel's spelling mistakes from the few letters he did send, and asking that these letters be rewritten. It's not very hard to understand how even threats that he would not be given a proposed "tip" ( ) failed to move Lionel. He didn't get the "tip." His father meant what he said.
Finally, the inevitable happened. There is a gap in the letters before December, 1879, so we don't know exactly how it came about, but the portents had been plain. No more money was to be spent on Lionel's formal education. Never mind that he hadn’t been well since he arrived in England. (March 3, 1878): "His delicate health is now all nonsense. If he finds it galling to be excelled by his younger brother his remedy is to apply himself more diligently;" and, a year later, (April 17, 1879): "Your idea that L. is improving is purely imaginary. Anything more outrageous in the way of carelessness combined with ignorance would be difficult to find." A friend had spoken of an agricultural school in Dublin that might prepare Lionel for an apprenticeship as a farmer, since the one in Circencester would obviously be too difficult for him. (Or did Mary perhaps have, he inquired, a friend in the States who knew of someone who would take Lionel on? Major Chambers' ideas about the farming life seemed to have been based entirely on that of the tea planters in Assam, but that didn't prevent him from being very authoritative on the subject.)
And so, two years after that first farewell in
Euston Square Station, Mary was faced with a second, this time to her
elder son. Perhaps it took place on the docks at Plymouth, since her family
had a country house at Heavitree in nearby Essex, or perhaps it was at
Bristol. Her first letter to her son in the States gives neither the date
nor the place. But, sometime in November, 1879, my tearful grandmother
had waved goodbye to her 14 year old son, who was sailing on the steamer
Australia. He was going to a farm in Allen, Michigan, on which Orlando
and Ann Harris, former family servants, were settled. It is possible that
Mary had bought this farm while in the States on route from India to England,
but whether or not this is the case is unclear.