A Knight’s Tale (12: The Night Of The Panther)

During these last two years, Mabs received visits from an old friend of St Petersburg days and was persuaded to go to Estonia, the new state that had just obtained its independence from Russia.

English was very much in demand, and there would be plenty of pupils, so off she sailed to Reval – now Tallinn – the capital of Estonia. There she found life very interesting and thoroughly enjoyable.

From her own rooms in the centre of the capital she taught groups from the Ministry; from the Banks; and pupils from the high schools.

In the summer months balls were given on board the various English ships, such a Cumberland, York, Neptune, and other light cruisers, brightly decorated for the occasion. At Christmas there were evening parties in the snow, sleigh bells, and supper at a seaside villa. Easter was equally festive.

Many Estonians and Baltic Germans kept up some of the old Russian customs including special services in the Russian churches, with processions of priests and choristers.

In 1929, when Mabel had been in Tallinn seven years, she persuaded her younger sister, Evelyn, to join her. Evelyn did so, and her part in the saga will come later.

The global depression had reached all Europe, including Estonia, by 1931, which meant English lessons were not quite so plentiful.

In July 1932, when the eldest sister, Ethel, with her severe health problems consequent upon her revolutionary experience, was having difficulty in letting rooms in the Wimbledon house that the two of them were jointly buying, [Mabel] “decided to leave Tallinn, and turn over the teaching and my furnished room to my sister.”

After “getting things straight” in 18 Bernard Gardens SW19, she began to look for another post abroad. Nothing daunted, now aged 51, my father’s aunt accompanied an English woman and her two daughters, aged 15 and 13, joining her husband in India for six months. Mabel’s task was to prepare her charges for school in England. Her “time in India was very comfortable and the girls were not spoiled and very easy to teach”. They “even had an electric fan in the schoolroom.”

One night my intrepid great aunt joined a panther hunt. “The natives selected a good tree and made a platform in it” where she and two others “spent the night watching for the panther – gun ready. A goat was tied up near the tree as a decoy, but the panther was too wise and managed to slink away after getting the hunters’ scent.”

The six months being up, Mabel returned to England with the family.