Difficulties of an Argentine railway engineer—Why Argentina has the Irish gauge—A sudden contrast—A more violent contrast—Names and their obligations—Capetown—The thoroughness of the Dutch pioneers—A dry and thirsty land—The beautiful Dutch Colonial houses—The Huguenot refugees—The Rhodes Fruit Farms—Surf-riding—Groote Schuur—General Botha—The Rhodes Memorial—The episode of the Sick Boy—A visit from Father Neptune—What pluck will do.
A railway engineer in the Argentine Republic is confronted with peculiar difficulties. In the first place, in a treeless country there is obviously no wood for sleepers. A thousand miles up the giant Parana there are vast tracts of forest, but either the wood is unsuited for railway-sleepers, or the means of transport are lacking, so the engineer is forced to use iron pot-sleepers for supporting his rails. These again require abundant ballast, and there is no ballast in a country devoid of stone and with a soil innocent of the smallest pebble. The engineer can only use burnt clay to ballast his road, and as a result the dust on an Argentine railway defies description. In my time, when carriages of the English type were in use, the atmosphere after an hour's run was as thick as a dense London November fog, and after five or six hours' travelling the passengers alighted with faces as black as niggers'. Whilst waiting for a train, its approach would be announced by a vast pillar of dust appearing in the distance. This pillar of dust seemed almost to reach the sky, and any passengers of Hebraic origin must really have imagined themselves back in the Sinai peninsula, and must have wondered why the dusky pillar was approaching them instead of leading them on.
The difficulties connected with the working of railways did not end here. Most people know that a swarm of locusts can stop a train, for the bodies of these pests are full of grease, and after the engine-wheels have crushed countless thousands of locusts, the wheels become so coated with oil that they merely revolve, and refuse to grip the rails. Let the driver open his sand-box never so widely, the wheels cannot bite, and so the train comes to a standstill. Oddly enough, a bird, too, causes a great deal of trouble. The "oven-bird" makes a large domed nest of clay, the size of a cocoa-nut. In that treeless land the oven-birds look on telegraph-posts as specially provided by a benign Providence to afford them eligible nesting-sites, and from some perversity of instinct, or perhaps attracted by the gleam of the white earthenware, they invariably select one of the porcelain insulators as the site of their future home, and proceed to coat it laboriously with clay, thus effectually destroying the insulation. Now the working of a single-line is entirely dependent on the telegraph, and the oven-birds, with their misplaced zeal, were continually interrupting telegraphic communication, so on the Great Southern Railway of Buenos Ayres every single telegraph-post was surmounted with a wooden box, mutely proclaiming itself the most desirable building-site that heart of bird could wish for, and silently offering whatever equivalents to a gravel soil and a southern aspect could suggest themselves to the avian intelligence. In spite of this these misguided fowls retained their affection for the insulators, and the Great Southern had during the nesting season to employ a gang of men to tear the nests down.
Unlike the majority of railways, both in North and South America, which have adopted the 4 ft. 8-1/2 ins. gauge, the standard gauge of the Argentine Republic is the Irish one of 5 ft. 3 ins., and the reason of this is rather singular. In 1855, during the Crimean War, a short railway was laid down from Balaclava to the British lines. The firm of contractors who built this railway for the British Government had constructed some three years previously a small railway in Ireland, for which they had never been paid. They accordingly seized the engines and rolling-stock, which, owing to the difference in gauge, were useless in England. It occurred to the contractors that they might utilise this material by building the Crimean Railway to the Irish gauge of 5 ft. 3 ins., and they accordingly proceeded to do so. Two years after the Crimean War the same firm secured the contract for building the first railway in the Argentine, a short line, twenty-one miles long, from Buenos Ayres to the River Tigre. As they considered that their Crimean rolling-stock was still in good order, they obtained permission to build the Tigre Railway to the Irish gauge, and these much-travelled coaches and engines which had started their railway career in Ireland, were shipped from the Crimea to the Plate, and eventually found themselves, to their vast surprise, rolling between Buenos Ayres and Tigre. The first time that I was in Buenos Ayres, in 1883, two of the original Crimean engines were still running on this little railway, the "Balaclava" and the "Eupatoria," the latter re-christened "Presidente Mitre." The newer railways followed the lead of the pioneer, and so it comes about that Ireland and the Argentine Republic have the same standard gauge.
The vast solitudes of Espartillar were within eight hours of Buenos Ayres, three by wagon and five by rail, so it was possible to wander out one night to the star-lit camp, where the silence was only broken by the screech of an occasional night-bird, or the beat of the wings of myriads of flighting ducks, without the slightest trace of man or his works perceptible in the great, grey, still, unpeopled world, and to be sitting the next night in evening clothes in a garish, over-gilt, over-decorated restaurant, humming with the clatter of plates and the chatter of high-pitched Argentine voices, as a noisy string-band played selections from the latest Paris operette. It was difficult to realise that this ostentatiously modern town, with its meretricious glitter, and its population of pale-faced town-breds, was only a hundred miles from the place where, amongst brown, sunburnt folk, we had been living a primitive life tempered by quiet transplanted English comfort.
To me there is always something rather attractive in sudden contrasts in surroundings. My memory goes back forty years to Russia, when I was on a bear-shooting expedition with Sir Robert Kennedy. Kennedy had killed two bears, and we were making our way back to Petrograd that night, for next evening there was to be one of the famous "Bals des Palmiers" at the Winter Palace which we neither of us wished to miss. So it came about that one evening we were sitting in a two-roomed peasant's house, thigh-booted and flannel-shirted, in the roughest of clothes, devouring sustenance for our night's sledge journey out of pieces of newspaper by the light of a little smoky oil-lamp, whilst around us stood half the village, whispering endless comments, and gaping open-eyed on those mysterious strangers from the unknown world outside Russia. The room was lined with rough unpainted boards nailed over the log walls; one quarter of it was occupied by a huge stove, on the top of which the children were sleeping; it was very dirty, and the heat in combination with the fetid atmosphere was almost unendurable. A dimly lit picture, all in sombre browns, relieved by the scarlet shirts of the men, and the gaudy printed calicoes of the women, just visible in the uncertain light of the flickering lamp, and of the red glow from the stove. Then came an all-night drive in sledges through the interminable forest of pines, the piercing cold lashing our faces like a whip, and the stars blazing in the great expanse of dull-polished steel above us with that hard diamond-like radiance they only assume when the thermometer is down below zero.
Twenty-four hours later we were both in the vast halls of the Winter Palace in full uniform, as bedizened with gold as a nouveau riche's drawing-room. Though the world outside may have been frost-bound, Winter's domain stopped at the threshold of the Palace, for once inside, banks of growing hyacinths and tulips bloomed bravely, and the big palms, from which the balls derived their name, stood aligned down the great halls, as though they were in their native South Sea Isles, with a supper-table for twelve persons arranged under each of them. Those "Bals des Palmiers" were really like a scene from the Arabian Nights, what with the varied uniforms of the men, the impressive Russian Court dresses of the women, the jewels, the lights, and the masses of flowers. The immense scale of everything in the Winter Palace added to the effect, and the innumerable rooms, some of them of gigantic size, rather gained in dignity by being sparsely tenanted, for only 1,500 people were asked to the "Palmiers." There was nothing like it anywhere else in Europe, and no one now living will ever look on so brilliant a scene, set in so vast a cadre. There was really a marked contrast between the two consecutive evenings Kennedy and I had spent together.
One of the ladies of the British Embassy in Petrograd inquired of a Court official what the cost of a "Bal des Palmiers" amounted to. The chamberlain replied that for 1,500 people the cost would be about 9,000 pounds, working out at 6 pounds per head. This included a special train all the way from Nice with growing and cut flowers, and another special train from the Crimea with fruit. A very expensive item was the carriage by road from Tsarskoe Selo of one hundred specially grown large palm trees in specially constructed frost-proof vans; there was also the heavy cost of the supper and wine, which for the "Bals des Palmiers" was provided on a far more sumptuous scale than at the ordinary Court entertainments and balls.
Certain names carry their own responsibilities; for instance, when a town proudly proclaimed itself the "City of Good Airs" it should live up to its title. The Buenos Ayres of the early "eighties" was a notoriously insanitary place without any system of proper drainage. Some of the "Good Airs" fairly knocked one down when one encountered them. That has all now been rectified; Buenos Ayres is at present admirably drained, and is one of the healthiest cities of South America.
Certain names, again, have their drawbacks. Helen Lady Dufferin, the mother of my old Chief and godfather, was the grand-daughter of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and in common with her two sisters, the Duchess of Somerset and Mrs. Norton, she had inherited her full share of the Sheridan wit. As I have pointed out elsewhere, people of a certain class in London maintained in those days far closer relations with persons of a corresponding class in Paris than is the custom now. Lady Dufferin had innumerable friends in Paris, and amongst the oldest of these friends was Comte Joseph de Noailles. Whenever the Comte de Noailles came to London, Lady Dufferin was the first person he went to see. When they were both in their old age, the Comte de Noailles arrived in London, and, as usual, went to dine with his friend of many years. As it was a warm evening in July, he walked to Lady Dufferin's house from his hotel, carrying his overcoat on his arm. On leaving the house, the old gentleman forgot his cloak, and Lady Dufferin received a note the next morning asking her to be good enough to send back the cloak by the bearer. The note was signed "Joseph de Noailles." Lady Dufferin returned the cloak with this message, "Monsieur, lorsqu' on a le malheur de s'appeler Joseph, on ne laisse pas son manteau chez une dame."
Joseph naturally suggests Egypt, and Egypt recalls Africa, and on the whole African continent there is surely no more delectable spot than the Cape peninsula. Capetown with its suburbs is dominated everywhere by the gigantic flat-topped rock of Table Mountain. Go where you will amongst the most splendid woodland, coast and mountain scenery in the world, that ever-changing rampart of rock is still the central feature. Jan Van Riebeck, the original Dutch pioneer of 1652, must have yielded to the irresistible claims of Table Bay as a harbour with a very bad grace, before founding his new settlement on the slopes of Table Mountain. Every racial and inherited instinct in him must have positively itched to select in preference some nice low swampy site, for choice in the Cape Flats, if not actually below sea-level, at all events at sea-level, where substantial brick dams could be erected against the encroaching waters, where he could construct an elaborate system of canals, and where windmills would have to pump day and night to prevent the place becoming submerged. The Dutch, both in Java and in Demerara, had yielded to this misplaced affection for a sea-level site, and had constructed Batavia and Georgetown strictly according to their racial ideals, with a prodigal abundance of canals. Though this doubtless gave the settlers a home-like feeling, the canal-intersected town of Batavia is so unhealthy under a broiling tropical sun that it has been virtually abandoned as a place of residence.
Capetown has none of the raw, unfinished aspect so many Colonial towns wear, but has a solid, grave dignity of its own, and its suburbs are unquestionably charming. The settled, permanent look of the town is perhaps due to the fact that there is not a single wooden house or fence in Capetown, everything is of substantial brick, stone and iron. The Dutch were admirable town-planners; since the country has been in British hands our national haphazard carelessness has asserted itself, and the city has been extended without any apparent design whatever. I was certainly not prepared for the magnificent groves of oaks which are such a feature of Capetown and its vicinity. These oaks, far larger than any to which we are accustomed, bear witness to the painstaking thoroughness of the Dutch. Before an oak capable of withstanding the arid climate and burning sun of South Africa could be produced, it had to be crossed and re-crossed many times. The existing stately tree is the fruit of this patient labour; it grows at twice the pace of our oaks, and attains far larger dimensions; it is quite useless as a timber tree, but produces enormous acorns which, in windy weather, descend in showers from the trees and batter the corrugated iron roofs of the houses with a noise like an air-raid.
The Union of South Africa is unfortunate in having the great range of the Drakensberg running parallel to the coastline for hundreds of miles, for until the Zambesi is reached there are practically no navigable rivers at all. This barrier mountain range, and the recklessness of the early settlers in cutting down the forests, are together responsible for the aridity of South Africa. She is, indeed, as Ezekiel said of old, "planted in the wilderness, in a dry and thirsty ground." The Cape peninsula is comparatively well-watered; between the giant rocky buttresses of Table Mountain little clear streams gush down, and there are several brooks, proudly termed "rivers" locally, quite visible to the naked eye. Everything in this world is relative. I remember at Alkmaar in North Holland ascending an artificial mound perhaps seventy feet high, planted with trees. In the dead-flat expanse of the Low Countries, this hillock is looked on by the natives of Alkmaar much as Mont Blanc is regarded by the inhabitants of Geneva, with feelings of profound veneration; so in South Africa the tiniest brooklet is the source of immense pride to the dwellers on its banks, and rightly so, for it is the very life-blood of the district, and literally Isaiah's "rivers of water in a dry place." I always carefully avoided any allusion to the sixteen different burns running through the park at Baron's Court, for it might have looked like arrogance to boast of this super-abundance of water in my old home, where, between ourselves, a wholly dry day was rather a notable rarity. Where the aridity is most noticeable is in the great oak and fir woods at Groote Schuur, the lordly pleasure-house which Cecil Rhodes built for himself at Rondebosch, under the slopes of the Devil's Peak. Here, under the trees, the ground is absolutely bare; not even the faintest sign of grass, not the smallest scrap of vegetation. Rondebosch Parish Church might have been lifted bodily from England; it is an exceedingly handsome building of a very familiar type, yet in the churchyard there was not one blade of green; nothing but naked earth between the graves. Fortunately the Australian myrtle has been introduced, a shrub that can apparently dispense with moisture, so thanks to it every garden in the Capetown suburbs is surrounded by a hedge of vivid perennial green. These suburbs have a wonderfully home-like look, embowered as they are in oak trees, and the buildings are all of the solid familiar type; even the very railway stations, except for their nameboards, might be at Wandsworth Common, Balham, or Barnes, instead of at Rosebank, Rondebosch, and Claremont, though Balham and Barnes are not fortunate enough to have the purple ramparts of Table Mountain or the Devil's Peak towering over them, whilst, on the other hand, they fortunately escape the all-pervading South African dust.
I like the name "The Tavern of the Ocean," formerly given to Capetown; and what a welcome break it must have afforded in the wearisome voyage from Europe to the Dutch East Indies, or to India proper! The Netherlands Dutch seem only to have regarded it as a half-way house, a sort of unimportant railway "halt" between Europe and the East, where the necessary fresh water and green vegetables could be supplied to passing vessels. It was not until Simon Van der Stel was appointed Governor in 1678 that any idea of developing the Cape as a colony was ever entertained. Van der Stel has left his impress deep on the country. Though the vine had been already introduced by Van Riebeck, it is to Van der Stel that the special features of Cape scenery are due, for we owe to him the splendid groves of oak of to-day, and he originated the Dutch Colonial type of building, of which so many fine specimens still remain. These old Dutch houses are a constant puzzle to me. In most new countries the original white settlers content themselves with the most primitive kind of dwelling, for where there is so much work to be done the ornamental yields place to the necessary; but here, at the very extremity of the African continent, the Dutch pioneers created for themselves elaborate houses with admirable architectural details, houses recalling in some ways the chateaux of the Low Countries. Where did they get the architects to design these buildings? Where did they find the trained craftsmen to execute the architects' designs? Why did the settlers, struggling with the difficulties of an untamed wilderness, require such large and ornate dwellings? I have never heard any satisfactory answers to these questions. Groot Constantia, originally the home of Simon Van der Stel, now the government wine-farm, and Morgenster, the home of Mrs. Van der Byl, would be beautiful buildings anywhere, but considering that they were both erected in the seventeenth century, in a land just emerging from barbarism seven thousand miles away from Europe, a land, too, where trained workmen must have been impossible to find, the very fact of their ever having come into existence at all leaves me in bewilderment.
These Colonial houses, most admirably adapted to a warm climate, correspond to nothing in Holland, or even in Java. They are nearly all built in the shape of an H, either standing upright or lying on its side, the connecting bar of the H being occupied by the dining-room. They all stand on stoeps or raised terraces; they are always one-storied and thatched, and owe much of their effect to their gables, their many-paned, teak-framed windows, and their solid teak outside shutters. Their white-washed, gabled fronts are ornamented with pilasters and decorative plaster-work, and these dignified, perfectly proportioned buildings seem in absolute harmony with their surroundings. Still I cannot understand how they got erected, or why the original Dutch pioneers chose to house themselves in such lordly fashion. At Groot Constantia, which still retains its original furniture, the rooms are paved with black and white marble, and contain a wealth of great cabinets of the familiar Dutch type, of ebony mounted with silver, of stinkwood and brass, of oak and steel; one might be gazing at a Dutch interior by Jan Van de Meer, or by Peter de Hoogh, instead of at a room looking on to the Indian Ocean, and only eight miles distant from the Cape of Good Hope. How did these elaborate works of art come there? The local legend is that they were copied by slave labour from imported Dutch models, but I cannot believe that untrained Hottentots can ever have developed the craftsmanship and skill necessary to produce these fine pieces of furniture. I think it far more likely to be due to the influx of French Huguenot refugees in 1689, the Edict of Nantes having been revoked in 1685, the same year in which Simon Van der Stel began to build Groot Constantia. Wherever these French Huguenots settled they brought civilisation in their train, and proved a blessing to the country of their adoption. In England they taught us silk-weaving and clock-making, starting the one in Spitalfields, the other in Clerkenwell. In Dublin, where a strong colony of them settled, they introduced the making of tabinet, or "Irish poplin," and I am told that the much-sought-after "Irish" silver was almost entirely the work of French Huguenot refugees. Here, at the far-off Cape, the Huguenots settled in the valleys of the Drakenstein, of the Hottentot's Holland, and at French Hoek; and they made the wilderness blossom, and transformed its barren spaces into smiling wheatfields and oak-shaded vineyards. They incidentally introduced the dialect of Dutch known as "The Taal," for when the speaking of Dutch was made compulsory for them, they evolved a simplified form of the language more adapted to their French tongues. I suspect, too, that the artistic impulse which produced the dignified Colonial houses, and built so beautiful a town as Stellenbosch (a name with most painful associations for many military officers whose memories go back twenty years) must have come from the French. Stellenbosch, with its two-hundred-year-old houses, their fronts rich with elaborate plaster scroll-work, all its streets shaded with avenues of giant oaks and watered by two clear streams, is such an inexplicable town to find in a new country, for it might have hundreds of years of tradition behind it! Wherever they may have got it from, the artistic instinct of the old Cape Dutch is undeniable, for a hundred years after Van der Stel's time they imported the French architect Thibault and the Dutch sculptor Anton Anreith. To Anreith is due the splendid sculptured pediment over the Constantia wine-house illustrating the story of Ganymede, and all Thibault's buildings have great distinction; but still, being where they are, they are a perpetual surprise, for in a new country one does not expect such a high level of artistic achievement.
Many of the fine old Colonial homesteads are grouped together in what are now the Rhodes Fruit Farms in the Drakenstein. So attractive are they that I do not wonder that a very near relative of mine has bought one of them for his son; and I envy my great-nephew who will one day sit under the shadow of his own vines and fig trees at Lormarins, amongst groves of peaches, apricots and plums. I cherish pleasant recollections of a visit to Boschendaal, also in the Fruit Farm district, a delightful old house, standing over a jungle of a garden where a brook babbles through thickets of orange and lemon trees, and amongst great tangles of bougainvillaa and pink oleanders, and in whose shady dining-hall I was hospitably entertained by a Dutch farmer on an omelette of ostrich's egg (one egg is enough for six people), on "most-bolajie" (bread made with sweet new wine instead of with water), and other local delicacies, including "mabos," or alternate slices of dry salted peaches and dry sweetened apricots. This condiment is cynically known as married life. In the voorhuis of Boschendaal lay nineteen fine leopard skins, and Mr. Louw, the courtly mannered old farmer, who would be described by his countrymen as an "oprechter Burger," explained to me in slow and laborious English that he had killed every one of these leopards with his own hand within one mile of his own house.
A most attractive land were it not for the aridity. Should I settle there I should be forever regretfully recalling the lush greenery of English meadows in June, or of English woods in spring-time.
Just conceive of Van der Stel's astonishment when he first reached the Cape! He must have been used to a small, dead-flat, water-logged land, with odoriferous canals at every turn, and thousands of windmills pumping day and night for all they were worth to keep the country afloat at all; after a voyage of seven thousand miles he found himself in a land of mighty mountain ranges, of vast, illimitable distances, parched by a fierce sun, and nearly waterless. It must have needed immense courage to start the founding of a New Holland in such (to him) uncongenial surroundings. As a tribute to the adaptable South African climate, I may say that I have myself seen, on Sir Thomas Smartt's well-watered farm, apple trees and orange trees fruiting and ripening in the same field.
When I was invited to go surf-bathing at Muizenberg, I rubbed my eyes, for I had vague ideas that this pastime was confined to South Sea Islanders. Recollections of Ballantyne's books crowded in on me; of apparently harmless sandal-wood traders, who unblushingly doubled the part of bloodthirsty pirates with their peaceful avocations; of bevies of swarthy but merry maidens rolling in on their planks on the top of vast surges; of possibly some hideous banquet of taro roots and "long pig" (baked over hot stones under a cover of plantain leaves) to follow on these primitive pastimes; even perhaps of some coloured captive maiden, wreathed in hibiscus flowers, loudly proclaiming her distaste at the idea of being compulsorily converted into "long pig." I should, of course, have had to rescue her after exhibiting prodigies of valour, to find this dumb but devoted damsel clinging to me like a leech, remaining a most embarrassing appendage until she had learned sufficient English to answer "I will," when I could have united her to a suitable mate, a copper-coloured yet contented bride.
When Capetown swelters in heat, Muizenberg is generally ten degrees cooler, though, most obligingly, the water of the Indian Ocean at Muizenberg is ten degrees warmer than that of the Atlantic at Capetown, owing to the Antarctic current setting in to the latter.
At Muizenberg we found half the population of South Africa in the water in front of the biggest bathing-house I have ever seen. The handling of the surf-plank requires some care, for it is a short, heavy board, and in the back-wash is apt to fly back on the unwary, hitting them on their food-receptacle, and effectually (to use a schoolboy term) "bagging their wind." You walk out in the shoal water up to your shoulders, and as a big sea comes in, you throw yourself chest foremost on to your plank, and are then carried along on the top of the roller at the pace of a leisurely train (an Isle of Wight train), to be deposited with a bang on the sandy beach. It is really capital fun, but alas for my flower-wreathed South Sea Island maidens! Excluding our own party I only saw many amply waisted ladies disporting themselves staidly in the water, and the surrounding cinemas and tea-shops might have been at Brighton, except that they were far smarter and much better kept. Owing to the strongly marked facial characteristics of some of the customers in these places, who were mostly from Johannesburg, I at first imagined that I must have wandered inadvertently into Jerusalem, or that I had perhaps drifted to some fashionable health resort on the shores of the Dead Sea.
Groote Schuur, the stately house built by Cecil Rhodes for himself, and by his will bequeathed as the official home of the Premier of South Africa, became very familiar to me. These modern adaptations of the Dutch Colonial style have one marked advantage over their originals. In the old houses the stoep is merely an uncovered terrace on which the house stands. In the modern houses the stoep is a shady, pillared, covered gallery, which in hot weather becomes the general living-room of the family. Having built his house, Cecil Rhodes employed agents to hunt up in Holland fine specimens of genuine old Dutch furniture with which to plenish it. Some of these agents surely exceeded their instructions in the matter of grandfather clocks. They must have absolutely denuded the Low Countries of these useful timepieces, for at every step at Groote Schuur a fresh solemn-faced Dutch clock ticks gravely away, to remind one how time is passing. Rhodes collected a very fine library, but he had a curious fad for typewritten copies of his favourite books, which fill an entire bookcase in the library. Rhodes paid an immense price for the splendid set of seventeenth-century Brussels tapestries in the dining-room, illustrating the "Discovery of Africa," and the magnificent Cordova leather in the drawing-room must also have been a costly acquisition. The deep ravine running beside the house he had planted with blue hydrangeas throughout its length; when these are in flower, interspersed with scarlet and orange cannas, they form the most glorious mass of colour imaginable, as do the hedges of pink and white oleanders in the garden, each one with its smaller, attendant clipped hedge of pale-blue plumbago.
To me, I confess, the most interesting thing in the house was General Botha himself. When he talked of the future of South Africa in slow, rather laboured English (for this medium was always a little difficult for him), one felt that one was in the presence of a really great man. His transparent honesty, and his obvious sincerity of purpose, stood out as clearly as his strong common sense. On looking at his powerful, almost stern, face, one realised that here was a man who would allow nothing to turn him from his purpose once he was convinced that he was right; a man, too, to whom anything in the way of underhand intrigue, or backstairs negotiations, would be temperamentally repugnant. The chivalrous foeman had become the most loyal ally, and an ally of whom the entire British Empire should be proud. There was nothing tortuous about the farmer turned soldier, and the soldier turned statesman.
Of Mrs. Botha I should not like to say too much, lest I might be accused of flattery. As I shall presently relate, she was wonderfully kind to a very sick lad whom I brought out to Africa with me.
There is a curious custom in South Africa of drinking tea at eleven o'clock in the morning. So engrained is the habit that the streets of Capetown at eleven o'clock are black with business men rushing from their offices to the nearest tea-shop in search of this reviving draught; in fact, I believe that in offices there is a rigid line of demarcation between the seniors who go out for this indispensable cup of tea and the juniors who have to have it brought them.
At Groote Schuur at eleven o'clock there was always a great gathering for this important ceremony, and naturally the Dutch element usually predominated. I could never find any trace of racial bitterness amongst the men; with some of the women it was rather different. Onlookers are apt to be more bitterly partisan than those who have taken actual part in the conflict.
A mile or so from Groote Schuur House stands the beautiful Rhodes Memorial, on the slopes of the Devil's Peak. This austere temple of milk-white granite, with the great flight of steps flanked by bronze lions leading up to it, and its backing of pine trees, is in absolute harmony with its surroundings, and its very severity seems typical of the rugged energy of the man whose memory it commemorates. I cannot help wishing, though, that Mr. Herbert Baker, its architect, had built it on rather a larger scale, for its gigantic environment appears to dwarf the monument when seen from a few miles off. Watts's figure of "Physical Energy," to be appreciated, must be seen here in the position for which it was designed. Standing at the foot of the great flight of stairs, with its background of purple mountain, and Africa stretching away endlessly below it, it is really magnificent. The replica erected in Kensington Gardens, and placed with singular infelicity on grass between an avenue of elm trees, gives but little idea of the effect of the original, towering high over what Rhodes maintained was the finest view in the world, a view extending over the immense expanse of the Cape Flats, and embracing two oceans, with the splendid mountains of Hottentot's Holland in the background. If the bronze rider, gazing with shaded eyes over the Africa that Rhodes loved, is typical of his life, the calm white austerity of the temple in the background seems symbolical of the peace which that restless soul has now found.
The vineyards, oaks and wheatfields of the comparatively well-watered Cape peninsula are not representative of the rest of the Union. Once the train has laboriously clambered 3,000 feet up the Hex River Pass, real Africa commences. Endless tracts of rolling arid veld, with an atmosphere so clear that it is impossible for a newcomer to determine whether the kopje seen in the distance is five miles, ten miles, or twenty miles away. I quite understand the fascination of these bare stretches of veld and the irresistible attraction which Africa exercises over her children, for it is unlike anything else in the world.
I have a theory that when Moses "removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh," he banished them to the southern extremity of the continent, where the flies, imagining that their services might some day be required again to plague the Egyptians, have kept themselves in a constant state of mobilisation ever since. In no other way can the plague of flies in South Africa be accounted for.
The wonderful effect of the dry air of the Cape peninsula, and of the drier air of the High Veld in cases of tuberculosis is a matter of common knowledge, for was not Cecil Rhodes himself a standing example of an almost miraculous recovery? All of which brings me to the episode of the Sick Boy, and if I dwell on it at some length I do so intentionally for the comfort and better encouragement of those battling with the same disease. I first met the Sick Boy (hereinafter for the sake of brevity termed the "S.B.") at the house of one of my oldest friends, who had an annual cricket-party for the benefit of his son. Amongst the schoolboy eleven staying in the house was a tall and very thin lad of sixteen, who showed great promise as a bowler. My hostess told me that this boy was suffering from tuberculosis, that he had had to leave Eton at fifteen to undergo a very severe internal operation from which he had only just recovered, and that when the party broke up, he was going straight into a nursing-home to prepare for another equally severe operation. Every time he played cricket he had to be put to bed at once after the match, and to be fed on warm milk. The lad had tremendous pluck; in spite of his weakness he insisted on taking part in the games and amusements of the other boys, and proved very good at all of them.
Three years later I met the S.B. again. He had spent the interval entirely in sanatoria and nursing-homes, except for a few months at St. Moritz in the Engadine, and had undergone six major operations, the last one entailing the removal of his left ear, though the external ear had been left. The unfortunate lad, who seemed to have had most of the working "spare parts" of his anatomy removed, was a walking triumph of modern operative surgery, but his disease had clearly made advances. He was then living in an open-air hut at his father's place, and his condition was obviously critical. As I was myself going to South Africa, I proposed to his father (he had lost his mother as a child) that the boy should accompany me, pointing out the wonders the dry South African climate had effected in similar cases, and the advantages of a long sea-voyage. So it was settled. As I was fully alive to the responsibilities I was incurring I took my valet with me, in case additional help should be required. Billy, the S.B., came on board, long, lanky, and pitiably emaciated. His abnormally brilliant colour, and his unnaturally bright eyes betrayed the progress the disease had made with him. He revived at once in the warmth, and I had considerable difficulty in restraining his super-abundant vitality, for he played deck-cricket all day, and entered himself for every single event in the ship's sports, regardless of his very narrow available margin of strength. After arriving in Africa, as the S.B. could not have stood the noise and racket of a big hotel, we found most comfortable quarters in a quiet little place in the delightful suburb of Rondebosch. I wished to go up-country, and as it was obvious that the S.B. could never have stood the heat, fatigue, and dust of long railway journeys during the height of the South African summer, I found myself in a difficult position. I had the most stringent directions from the doctors as to what the S.B. might or might not do. He was on no account to ride, either a horse or a bicycle; bathing might prove instantly fatal to him; he was only to play cricket, golf, or lawn-tennis in strict moderation, followed each time by a compulsory rest. I knew the S.B. well enough by now to realise that, the moment my back was turned, he would want to do all these things, if merely to show that he could do them as well as anybody else, quite regardless of consequences. Mrs. Botha came to the rescue, and with extraordinary kindness, told me to send the S.B. to Groote Schuur, where she would undertake to look after him. As I have hinted earlier, I have seldom come across so delightful a family as the Bothas, father, mother, sons and daughters alike; so fortunate Billy the S.B. was transferred with his belongings to Groote Schuur, where he was immensely elated at being allowed to use Cecil Rhodes' sumptuous private bathroom. This bathroom was entirely lined with Oriental alabaster; the bath itself was carved out of a solid block of green marble, and the very bath-taps were exquisitely chiselled bronze Tritons, riding on dolphins. When I returned to Capetown I found the S.B. quite one of the Botha family, being addressed by everybody by his Christian name. He played lawn-tennis and billiards daily with the General, and should he prove refractory (a not infrequent occurrence) the General had only to threaten, "I shall have to make you smoke another of my black cigars, Billy," for the S.B. to capitulate instantly with a shudder, for he had gruesome recollections of the effects one of these powerful home-grown cigars had produced on him upon a previous occasion.
When we sailed from South Africa, Mrs. Botha came down herself to the liner to see that Billy's cabin was comfortable, and that he had all the appliances he required, such as hot-water bottles, etc., and she presented him with a large parcel of home-made delicacies for his exclusive use on the voyage home. Nothing could have exceeded her kindness to this afflicted lad, of whose very existence she had been unaware three months earlier.
Before we had been at sea a week, the S.B. managed to get a sunstroke. He grew alarmingly ill, and the ship's doctor told me that he had developed tubercular meningitis, and that his recovery was impossible. I gave the S.B. a hint as to the gravity of his case, but the boy's pluck was indomitable. "I am going to sell that doctor," he said, "for I don't mean to die now. I have sold the doctors twice already when they told me I was dying, and I am going to make this chap look silly, too, for I don't intend to go out." Soon after he relapsed into unconsciousness. Meningitis affects the eyes, and the poor S.B. could not bear one ray of light, so the cabin was carefully darkened, and the electrician replaced the white bulbs in the cabin and alley-way with green ones. As we were approaching the equator the heat in that closed-up cabin was absolutely suffocating, the thermometer standing at over 100 degrees. Still the sick lad felt chilly, and had to be surrounded with hot-water bottles, whilst an ice-pack was placed on his head. I and my valet took it in turns to sit up at nights with him, as every quarter of an hour we had to trickle a teaspoonful of iced milk and brandy into his mouth. As each morning came round, the doctor's astonishment at finding his patient still alive was obvious, and he assured me again and again that it could only be a question of hours. One morning my valet, whose turn as night-nurse it was, awoke me at 4 a.m. with the news that "Mr. William has come to again, and is screaming for beef-tea." I went into the cabin, where I found the S.B. quite conscious, and insistently demanding beef-tea. By sheer grit and force of will the lad had pulled himself out of the very Valley of the Shadow. We got him the best substitute for beef-tea to be obtained on a liner at 4.30 a.m., and two hours later he was clamouring for more. His progress to recovery was uninterrupted as soon as we were able to carry him into the open air, his eyes protected by some most ingenious light-proof goggles, cleverly fashioned on board by the second engineer. The S.B. had learnt from the doctor of some strictly private arrangements which I had made with the captain of the ship should his disease unfortunately take a fatal turn. I found him one morning rolling about in his bunk with laughter. "It is really the most comical idea I ever heard of in my life," he spluttered, shaking with merriment. "Fancy carrying me home in the meat-safe! Just imagine father's face when you told him that you had got me down in the refrigerator! I never heard anything so d——d funny," and as fresh humorous possibilities of this novel form of home-coming occurred to him, he grew quite hysterical with laughter. He was immensely amused, too, at learning that during the most critical period of his illness I had got the captain to stop the ship's band, and to rope-off the deck under his cabin window. I will not deny that the S.B. required a good deal of supervision; for instance, when at length allowed a little solid food, I found that he had selected as a suitable invalid repast, some game-pie and a strawberry ice, which had, of course, to be sternly vetoed; he had entered, too, for every event in the ship's sports, and though he was so weak that he could barely stand, he had every intention of competing. I have seldom met any one with such wonderful personal courage as that boy, and he would never yield one inch to his enemy; the strong will was for ever dominating the frail body.
On this voyage we had a number of young people on board who were crossing the equator for the first time, so Neptune kindly offered to leave his ocean depths and to board the ship in the good old-fashioned orthodox style to further these young folks' education. Just as we crossed the Line, the ship was hailed from the sea, her name and destination were ascertained, and she was peremptorily ordered to heave to, Neptune naturally imagining that he was still dealing with sailing ships. The engines were at once stopped, and Neptune, with his Queen, his Doctor, his Barber, his Sea Bears and the rest of his Court, all in their traditional get-up, made their appearance on the upper deck, to the abject terror of some of the little children, who howled dismally at this alarming irruption of half-naked savages with painted faces. I myself enacted Neptune in an airy costume of fish-scales, a crown, and a flowing beard and wig of bright sea-green. Of course my Trident had not been forgotten. Amphitrite, my queen, was the star-comedian of the South African music-hall stage, and the little man was really extraordinarily funny, keeping up one incessant flow of rather pungent gag, and making the spectators roar with laughter. All the traditional ceremonies and good-natured horseplay were scrupulously adhered to, and some twenty schoolboys and five adults were duly dosed, lathered, shaved, hosed, and then toppled backwards into a huge canvas tank of sea-water, where the boys persisted in swimming about in all their clothes. The proceedings were terminated by Neptune and his entire Court following the neophytes into the tank, and I am afraid that we induced some half-dozen male spectators to accompany us into the tank rather against their will, one old German absolutely fuming with rage at the unprecedented liberty that was being taken with him. During these revels the S.B., though only just convalescent, and still in his bunk, had to be locked into his cabin, or he would have insisted on taking part in them, and would have certainly died an hour afterwards.
Upon the outbreak of war in August, 1914, the S.B. made three attempts to obtain a commission, only to be promptly rejected by the medical officers when they examined him. He then tried to enlist as a private, under a false name, but no doctor would pass him, so he went as a workman into a Small Arms' Factory, and made rifle-stocks for a year. The indoor life and the lack of fresh air aggravating his disease, he was forced to abandon this work, when, by some means which I have never yet fathomed, he managed to get a commission in the Royal Air Force. The doctors, being much overworked, let him through without a medical examination, and in due time the S.B. qualified as a pilot, when, owing to engine trouble, he promptly crashed in his seaplane into the North Sea, in January, and was an hour in the water before being rescued. This icy bath somehow arrested the progress of his disease, and he was subsequently sent to the Dardanelles. Here, whilst attempting to bomb Constantinople, the S.B. got shot down and captured by the Turks. During his eighteen months of captivity he underwent the greatest privations from cold and hunger, being insufficiently clad and most insufficiently fed. Upon his release after the Armistice, he was examined by a British doctor, who told him, to his amazement, that every trace of his dire disease had vanished, nor were the most eminent specialists of Harley Street subsequently able to distinguish the faintest lingering signs of tuberculosis. He was completely cured, or rather by his strong willpower he had completely cured himself.
Billy (the term of S.B. being clearly no longer applicable) is now married to a pretty and charming wife; he is the proud father of a sturdy son, and is putting on weight at an alarming rate, his waistcoat already exhibiting a convexity of outline that would be justifiable only in the case of an alderman. He is a partner in a prosperous West End business, and will be most happy to book any orders you may give him for wine.
I have purposely dwelt at length on the case of the S.B. in order to encourage other sufferers from this disease to realise how strong the personal factor is in their cases, and how much they can help themselves. Here was an apparently hopeless case of tuberculosis, and yet a lad by his indomitable grit and personal courage fought his enemy, continued to fight him, and finally conquered him, all by sheer determination never to give in. Let others in his position take heart of grace and continue the struggle, and may they, too, rout their enemy as the S.B. did. Nil desperandum! I may add that an ice-cold bath of an hour in the North Sea in January, and eighteen months' incarceration in a Turkish prison, are not absolutely essential items in the cure.
In France at the outbreak of war—The tocsin—The "Voice of the Bell" at Harrow—Canon Simpson's theory about bells—His "five-tone" principle—Myself as a London policeman—Experiences with a celebrated church choir—The "Grillroom Club"—Famous members—Arthur Cecil—Some neat answers Sir Leslie Ward—Beerbohm Tree and the vain old member—Amateur supers—Juvenile disillusionment—The Knight—The Baron—Age of romance passed.
In July, 1914, I was in Normandy, undergoing medical treatment for a bad leg. Black as the horizon looked towards the end of that month, I personally believed that the storm would blow over, and that the clouds would disperse, as had happened so often previously when the relations between Germany and France had been strained almost to the breaking-point by the megalomaniac of Potsdam.
On the fateful Saturday, August 1, 1914, I was at a little old Norman chateau standing on the banks of the placid river Mayenne. It was a glorious afternoon, and I was in a boat on the river fishing with the two daughters of the house. We suddenly saw the local station-master running along the bank in a state of great agitation, brandishing a telegram in his hands. He asked us where he could find "M. le Maire," for my host, amongst other things, was mayor of the little neighbouring town, and added with a despairing gesture, "Helas! C'est la guerre!" showing us the official telegram from Paris. We at once landed and accompanied the station-master up to the house, where our host was dumbfounded at the news, for, like me, he had continued to hope against hope. Five minutes later he was knotting the official tricolour scarf round his waist, for it fell to his duty as Maire to read the Decree of Mobilisation in the town, and I accompanied him there. I shall never forget that sight. Sobbing and weeping women everywhere; the older men, who remembered 1870 and knew what this mobilisation meant, endeavouring to master their emotion and to keep up an appearance of calm; the younger men, who were to be thrust into the furnace, standing dazed and anxious-eyed at the prospect of the unknown to-morrow which they were to face. My host, after reading the Decree, added a few words of his own, such words as appeal to the French temperament; brief, full of hope and courage, and breathing that intensely passionate love of France which lies at the bottom of every French soul. The Maire then ordered the tocsin to be sounded in half an hour's time, when it would also ring out from every church steeple in France.
The rolling Normandy landscape lay bathed in golden sunshine, the wheatfields ripe for the sickle, and the apple orchards rich in their promise of fruit. There was not one breath of wind to ruffle the sleek surface of the Mayenne, and the wealth of timber of leafy Normandy stood out faintly blue over the tawny stretches of the wheatfields. The whole scene, flooded with mellow sunshine, seemed to breathe absolute peace.
Suddenly, from a distant church steeple, came two sharp strokes from a bell, then a pause, and then two strokes were repeated. The town we had just left rang out two louder notes, also followed by a pause. It was the tocsin ringing out its terrible message; and yet another steeple sounded its two notes, and another and another. The news rung out by those two sharp strokes is always bad news. The tocsin rings for great fires, for revolution, or, as in this case, for a Declaration of War. Before us lay Normandy, looking inexpressibly peaceful in the evening sunlight, and over that quiet countryside the tocsin was sending its tidings of woe, as it was from every church tower in France. Next morning the only son, the gardener, the coachman, and the man-servant left the old Norman chateau to join their regiments; the son and the gardener never to return to it. To the end of my life I shall remember the weeping women, and the haggard-eyed men in that little town, and the two sharp strokes of the tocsin, sounding like the knell of hope.
Nothing can carry a more poignant message than a bell. In my time at Harrow, should a member of the school actually die at Harrow during the term, the school bell was tolled at minute intervals, from 10 to 10.30 p.m., with the great bass bell of the parish church answering it, also at minute intervals. The school bell, which rang daily at least ten times for school, for chapel, for Bill, or for lock-up, had an exceedingly piercing voice. We were used to hearing it rung quickly, so when it sent out its one shrill note into the unaccustomed night, a note answered in half a minute by the great boom of the bourdon from the Norman church steeple, the effect was most impressive. In my house it was the custom to keep absolute silence during the tolling of the passing-bell. The British schoolboy is really a highly emotional creature, though he would sooner die than betray the fact. When the tolling began, boys would troop in their night-clothes into one another's rooms for companionship, and remain there in silence, ill at ease, until the tolling, to every one's relief, ceased. There was another ordeal to be faced, too, at the final concert. Amongst our school songs was one called "The Voice of the Bell," describing the various occasions on which the school bell rang. It had a bright, cheery tune, and was very popular, but there was a special verse, only sung when a boy had actually died at Harrow during the term. The melody of the special verse was the same as that of the other verses, but the harmonies were quite different. It was sung very slowly as a solo to organ accompaniment, and it touched every one. The words were:
"Hard to the stroke, another and another, Ding, ding, ding. Tolling at night for the passing of a brother, Ding, ding, ding, One more life from our life is taken, Work all done, and fellowship forsaken, Playmate sleep—and far away awaken, Ding, ding, ding;"
the "ding, ding, ding" being taken up by the chorus.
All the boys dreaded the singing of this verse, at least I know that I did, for no one felt quite sure of himself, and the little fellows cried quite openly. Three times it was sung during my Harrow days, and always by the same boy, chosen on account of his very sweet voice. He was a friend of mine, and he used to tell me how thankful he was to get through his solo without breaking down, or, as he preferred to put it, "without making an utter ass of myself." I think that this special verse is no longer sung, as being too painful for all concerned.
Whilst on the subject of bells, I may say that the late Canon Simpson of Fittleworth was a great friend of mine. Canon Simpson was an enthusiast about bells, not only about "change-ringing," on which subject he was a recognised authority, but also about the designing and casting of bells. He would talk to me for hours about them, though I know about as much of bells as Nebuchadnezzar knew about jazz-dancing. The Canon maintained that very few bells, either in England or on the continent, were in tune with themselves, and therefore could obviously not be in tune with the rest of the peal. Every bell gives out five tones. The note struck, or the "tonic" (which he called the "fundamental"), the octave above it, termed the "nominal," and the octave below it, which he called the "hum note." In a perfect bell these three octaves must be in perfect unison, but they very seldom are. The "nominal," or upper octave, is nearly always sharper than the "fundamental," and the "hum note" is again sharper than that, thus producing an unpleasant effect. Any one listening for it can detect the upper octave, or "nominal," even in a little handbell. Let them listen intently, and they will catch the sharp "ting" of the octave above. The "hum note" in a small bell is almost impossible to hear, but let any one listen to a big bass bell, and they cannot miss it. It is the "hum note" which sustains the sound, and makes the air quiver and vibrate with pulsations. For many years I have lived under the very shadow of Big Ben, and I can hear its "hum note" persisting for at least ten seconds after the bell has sounded. Big Ben is a notable instance of a bell out of tune with itself. In addition to the three octaves, every bell gives out a "third" and a "fifth" above the tonic, thus making a perfect chord, and for the bell to be perfect, all these five tones must be in absolute tune with each other. Space prevents my giving details as to how this result can be attained. Under the Canon's tuition I learnt to distinguish the "third," which is at times quite strident, but the "fifth" nearly always eludes me. During Canon Simpson's lifetime he could only get one firm of bell-founders to take his "five-tone" principle seriously. I may add that English bell-founders tune their bells to the "nominal," whilst Belgian and other continental founders tune them to the "fundamental," both, according to Canon Simpson, essentially wrong in principle.
Three days ago I read a leading article in a great morning daily, headed "The Renascence of bell-founding in England," and I learnt from it that one English bell-foundry was casting a great peal of bells for the War Memorial at Washington, and that another firm was carrying out an order for a peal from, wonder of wonders, Belgium itself, the very home of bells, and that both these peals were designed on the "Simpson five-tone principle." I wish that my old friend could have lived to see his theories so triumphantly vindicated, or could have known that the many years which he devoted to his special subject were not in vain.
Had any one told me, say in 1912, that in two years' time I should be patrolling the streets of London at night in a policeman's uniform as a Special Constable, I should have been greatly surprised, and should have been more astonished had I known of the extraordinary places I should have to enter in the course of my duties, and the curious people with whom I was to be brought into contact. I had occasion one night, whilst on my beat, to enter the house of a professional man in Harley Street, whose house, in defiance of the "Lighting Orders," was blazing like the Eddystone Lighthouse. I gave the doctor a severe lecture, and pointed out that he was rendering himself liable to a heavy fine. He took my jobation in very good part, for I trust that as a policeman I blended severity with sympathy, and promised to amend his ways, and then added hospitably, "As perhaps you have been out some time, constable, you might be glad of some sandwiches and a glass of beer. If you will go down to the kitchen, I will tell the cook to get you some." So down I went to the kitchen, and presently found myself being entertained by an enormously fat cook. John Leech's Pictures from Punch have been familiar to me since my earliest days. Some of his most stereotyped jokes revolved round the unauthorised presence of policemen in kitchens, but in my very wildest dreams it had never occurred to me that I, myself, when well past my sixtieth year, would find myself in a policeman's uniform seated in a London kitchen, being regaled on beer and sandwiches by a corpulent cook, and making polite conversation to her. I hasten to disclaim the idea that any favourable impression I may have created on the cook was in any way due to my natural charm of manner; it was wholly to be ascribed to the irresistible attraction the policeman's uniform which I was wearing traditionally exercises over ladies of her profession. Between ourselves, my brother Claud was so pleased with his Special Constable's uniform that when a presentation portrait of himself was offered to him he selected his policeman's uniform to be painted in, in preference to that of a full colonel, to which he was entitled, and his portrait can now be seen, as a white-haired and white-moustached, but remarkably erect and alert Special Constable, seventy-five years old.
I had during the war another novel but most interesting experience. A certain well-known West End church has been celebrated for over fifty years for the beauty and exquisite finish of its musical Services. As 1915 gave place to 1916, one by one the professional choir-men got called up for military service, and finally came the turn of the organist and choirmaster himself, he being just inside the limit of age. The organist, besides being a splendid musician, happened to be a skilled mechanic, so he was not sent abroad, but was given a commission, and sent down to Aldershot to superintend the assembling of aircraft engines. By getting up at 5 a.m. on Sundays, he was able to be in London in time to take the organ and conduct the choir of his church. Meeting the organist in the street one day, he told me that he was in despair, for all the men of the choir but two had been called up, and the results of ten years' patient labour seemed crumbling away. He meant, though, to carry on somehow, all the same, and begged me to find him a bass for the Cantoris side. I have hardly any voice at all myself, but I had been used to singing in a choir, and can read a part easily at sight, so I volunteered as a bass, and for two years marched in twice, and occasionally three times, every Sunday into the church in cassock and surplice with the choir. The music was far more elaborate and difficult than any to which I had been accustomed, but it was a great privilege and a great delight to sing with a choir trained to such absolute perfection. The organist could only spare time for one short practice a week, during which we went through about one-third of the music we were to sing on Sunday, all the rest had to be read at sight. Had not the boys been so highly trained it would have been quite impossible; they lived in a Resident Choir School, and were practised daily, and never once did they let us down. I do not think that the congregation had the faintest idea that half the elaborate anthems and Services they were listening to, though familiar to the boys, had never been seen by the majority of the choir-men until they came into church, and that they were being read at sight. One particularly florid Service, much beloved by the congregation, was known amongst the choir as "Chu Chin Chow in E flat." The organist always managed somehow to produce a really good solo tenor, as well as an adequate second tenor, mostly privates and bluejackets for the time being, but professional musicians in their former life. It was a point of honour with this scratch-choir to endeavour to maintain the very high musical standard of the church, and I really think that we did wonders, for we gave a very good rendering of Cornelius' beautiful but abominably difficult eight-part unaccompanied anthem for double choir, "Love, I give myself to thee," after twenty minutes' practice of it, and difficult as is the music, we kept the pitch, and did not drop one-tenth of a tone. At times, of course, the scratch-choir made mistakes, and then the organ crashed out and drowned us. The congregation imagined that the organist was merely showing off the power and variety of tone of his instrument; we knew better, and understood that this blare was to veil our blunder. It was really absorbingly interesting work. During Lent we sang, unaccompanied, Palestrina and Vittoria, and this sixteenth-century polyphonic music requires singing with such exactitude that it needs the utmost concentration and sustained attention, if the results are to be satisfactory. The organist was quite pleased with his make-shift choir; though, as a thorough musician, he was rather exacting. At choir-practice he would say, "Very nicely sung, gentlemen, so nicely that I want it all over again. Try and do it a little better this time, and with greater accuracy, please." It is the custom in this church to sing carols from a chamber up in the tower on the three Sundays following Christmas. They are sung unaccompanied, and almost in a whisper, and the effect in the church below is really entrancing. To reach this tower-chamber we had to mount endless flights of stairs to the choir-boys' dormitory, and then to clamber over their beds, and squeeze ourselves through an opening about a foot square (built as a fire-escape for the boys) in our surplices. After negotiating this narrow aperture, I shall always sympathise with any camel attempting to insinuate itself through the eye of a needle. In a small, low-roofed chamber, where there is barely standing-room for twenty people, it is difficult even for a highly trained choir to do itself justice. The low roof tends to deaden the pitch, and in so confined a space the singers cannot get into that instinctive touch with each other which makes the difference between a good and a bad choir; still, people in the church below told me that the effect was lovely. On one occasion, owing to force of circumstances, it had been impossible for the men to rehearse the carols, though the boys had been well practised in them. We sung them at sight unaccompanied; rather a musical feat to do satisfactorily.
I would not have missed for anything my two years' experience with that church choir; every Sunday it was a renewed pleasure.
During 1915 and 1916 one got used to meeting familiar friends in unfamiliar garbs, and in a certain delightful club, not a hundred miles from Leicester Square, which I will veil under the impenetrable disguise of the "Grill-room Club," I was not surprised to find two well-known and popular actors, the one in a naval uniform, the other in an airman's. I might add that the latter greatly distinguished himself in the air during the war.
The "Grill-room" is quite a unique club. It consists of one room only, a lofty, white-panelled hall, with an open timber roof. Nearly every distinguished man connected with the English stage for the last forty years has been a member of this club; Henry Irving, Charles Wyndham, Arthur Sullivan, W. S. Gilbert, George Grossmith, Corney Grain, George Alexander, Herbert Beerbohm Tree, and Arthur Cecil are only a few of the celebrities for whom this passing show is over, but who were members of the club. It is unnecessary for me to give a list of the present members; it is enough to say that it comprises every prominent English actor of to-day.
Arthur Cecil had a delightful nature, with a marked but not unpleasant "old-maidish" element in it. For instance, no mortal eye had ever beheld him without a little black handbag. Wherever Arthur Cecil went the little bag went with him. There was much speculation amongst his friends as to what the contents of this mysterious receptacle might be. Many people averred, in view of his notoriously large appetite, that it was full of sandwiches, in case he should become smitten with hunger whilst on the stage, but he would tell no one. As I knew him exceedingly well, I begged on several occasions to have the secret of the little black bag entrusted to me, but he always turned my question aside. After his death, it turned out that the little bag was a fully fitted-up medicine-chest, with remedies for use in every possible contingency. Should he have fancied that he had caught a chill, a tea-spoon of this; should his dressing-room feel over-hot, four drops of that; should he encounter a bad smell, a table-spoonful of a third mixture. Poor Cecil's interior must have been like a walking drug-store. He was quite inimitable in eccentric character parts, his "Graves" in Money being irresistibly funny, and his "Baron Stein" in Diplomacy was one of the most finished performances we are ever likely to see, a carefully stippled miniature, with every little detail carefully thought out, touched up and retouched. I do not believe that the English stage has even seen a finer ensemble of acting than that given by Kendal as "Julian Beauclerc," John Clayton as "Henry Beauclerc," and Squire Bancroft as "Count Orloff" when the piece was originally produced at the Hay-market, in the great "three-men" scene in the Second Act of Diplomacy, the famous "Scene des trois hommes" of Sardou's Dora; nothing on the French stage could beat it. Arthur Cecil bought a splendid fur coat for his entrance as "Baron Stein," but after the run of the piece nothing would ever induce him to wear his fur coat, even in the coldest weather. He was obsessed with the idea that should Diplomacy ever be revived, his fur coat might grow too shabby to be used for his first entrance, so it reposed perpetually and uselessly in camphor. Arthur Cecil was cursed with the Demon of Irresolution. I have never known so undecided a man; it seemed quite impossible for him to make up his mind. Sir Squire Bancroft has told us in his Memoirs how Cecil, on the night of the dress rehearsal of Diplomacy, was unable to decide on his make-up. He used a totally different make-up in each of the three acts, to the great bewilderment of the audience, who were quite unable to identify the white-moustached gentleman of the First Act with the bald-headed and grey-whiskered individual of the Second. This irresolution pursued poor Cecil everywhere. Coming in for supper to the "Grill-room" after his performance, he would order and counter-order for ten minutes, absolutely unable to come to a decision. He invariably ended by seizing a pencil, closing his eyes tightly, and whirling his pencil round and round over the supper-list until he brought it down at haphazard somewhere. As may be imagined, repasts chosen in this fashion were apt to be somewhat incongruous. After the first decision of chance, Cecil would murmur to the patient waiter, "Some apple-tart to begin with, Charles." Then another whirl, and "some stuffed tomatoes," a third whirl, and "salt fish and parsnips, Charles, please. It's a thing that I positively detest, but it has been chosen for me, so bring it." Cecil went for an annual summer holiday to France, but as he could never decide where he should go, the same method came into play, and with a map of France before him, and tightly closed eyes, the whirling pencil determined his destination for him. He assured me that it had selected some unknown but most delightful spots for him, though at times he was less fortunate. The pencil once lit on the mining districts of Northern France, and Cecil with his sunny nature professed himself grateful for this, declaring that but for the hazard of the whirling pencil, he would never have had an opportunity of realising what unspeakably revolting spots Saletrousur-Somme, or Saint-Andre-Linfecte were. He was a wonderfully kind-hearted man. Once, whilst playing at the Court Theatre, he noticed the call-boy constantly poring over a book. Cecil, glancing over it, was surprised to find that it was not The Boy Highwayman of Hampstead, but a treatise on Algebra. The call-boy told him that he was endeavouring to educate himself, with a view to going out to India. Cecil bought him quite a library of books, paid for a series of classes for him, and eventually, thanks to Cecil, the call-boy passed second in a competitive examination, and obtained a well-paid appointment in a Calcutta Bank. Cecil, or to give him his real name, Arthur Blount, was also an excellent musician, and his setting of The Better Land is to my mind a beautiful one. He was an eccentric, faddy, kindly, gentle creature.
At the "Grill-room," actor-managers are constantly pouring out their woes. One well-known actor-manager came in full of a desperate row he had had with his leading lady because the printer in the bills of the new production had forgotten the all-important "and" before her name. She merely appeared at the end of the list of characters, whereas she wanted "AND Miss Lilian Vavasour." "Such a ridiculous fuss to make about an 'and,'" grumbled the actor-manager. "Yes," retorted Comyns-Carr, "and unfortunately 'and and 'art do not always go together on these occasions."
The neatest answer I ever heard came from the late Lord Houghton. Queen Victoria's predilection for German artists was well known. She was painted several times by Winterhalter, and after his death was induced by the Empress Frederick to give sittings to the Viennese artist, Professor von Angeli. Angeli's portrait of the Queen was, I think, exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1876. Some one commenting on this, said that it was hard that the Queen would never give an English artist a chance; after Winterhalter it was Angeli. "Yes," said Lord Houghton, "I fancy that the Queen agrees with Gregory the Great, and says, 'non Angli sed Angeli.'"
Of minor neatness was an answer made to my mother by a woodman at Baron's Court. Apparently at the time of her marriage the common dog-wood was hardly known in England as a shrub, although in the moist Irish climate it flourished luxuriantly. Every one is familiar with the shrub, if only on account of its bark turning a bright crimson with the early frosts. My mother on her first visit to Baron's Court saw a woodman trimming the dog-wood, and inquired of him the name of this unfamiliar red-barked shrub. On being told that it was dog-wood she asked, "Why is it called dog-wood?" "It might be on account of its bark," came the ready answer.
Pellegrini the caricaturist, the celebrated "Ape" of Vanity Fair, was a member of the "Grill-room," as is his equally well-known successor, Sir Leslie Ward, the "Spy" of that now defunct paper, who has drawn almost every notability in the kingdom. Sir Leslie is, I am glad to say, still with us. Leslie Ward has the speciality of extraordinary accidents, accidents which could befall no human being but himself. For instance, in pre-taxi days Ward was driving in a hansom, and the cabman taking a wrong turn, Ward pushed up the little door in the roof to stop him. The man bent his head down to catch his fare's directions, and Leslie Ward inadvertently pushed three fingers right into the cabman's mouth. The driver, hotly resenting this unwarranted liberty, bit Leslie Ward's fingers so severely that he was unable to hold either pencil or brush for a fortnight. This is only one example of the extraordinary mishaps in which this gifted artist specialises.
In the recently published Life of Herbert Beerbohm Tree, the collaborators do not allude to that curious vein of impish humour which at times possessed him, turning him into a sort of big rollicking schoolboy. There was one episode which I can give with Tree's actual words, for I wrote them down at the time, as a supreme example of the art of "leg-pulling." Amongst the members of the "Grill-room Club" was an elderly bachelor, whom I will call Mr. Smith. "Mr. Smith," who has now been dead for some years, was wholly undistinguished in every way. He ate largely, and spoke little, but Tree had discovered that under his placid exterior he concealed a vein of limitless vanity. One evening "Mr. Smith" startled the club by breaking his habitual silence, and bursting into poetry. Apropos of nothing at all, he suddenly declaimed two lines of doggerel, which, as far as my memory goes, ran as follows:
"I and my doggie are now left alone, Johnstone, to-morrow, will give him a bone."
He then relapsed into his ordinary placid silence, and soon after went home. Beerbohm Tree made at once a bet of 5 pounds with another member that he would induce old Mr. Smith to repeat this rubbish lying at full length under the dining-table, seated in the firegrate (it was summer-time), and hidden behind the window-curtains. The story got about until every one knew of the bet except Mr. Smith, so next night the club was crowded. The unsuspecting Smith sat silently and placidly ruminating, when Tree appeared after his performance at His Majesty's and lost no time in approaching his subject. "My dear Smith," he began, "you repeated last night two lines of poetry which moved me strangely. The recollection of them has haunted me all day; say them again, I beg of you." The immensely gratified Smith at once began:
"I and my doggie are now left alone, Johnstone, to-morrow, will give him a bone."
"Exquisite!" murmured Tree. "Beautiful lines, and distinctly modern, yet without the faintest trace of decadence. It is the note of implied tragedy in them that appeals to me, for were Johnstone unfortunately to die in the night there would, of course, be no bone for the faithful four-footed friend. Repeat them again, please." After a second repetition Tree went on: "You have l'art de dire to an amazing extent, Smith, and you have the priceless gift of les larmes dans la voix. I know that no pecuniary inducements I might offer would make any appeal to you; still, could I but get you to repeat those beautiful lines on the stage of my theatre, all London would flock to hear you. I should wish now for them to float vaguely to my ears, as the sound of village chimes borne on the breeze; out of the vague; out of the unknown. Ha! I have it! Would you mind, Smith, lying under the table here, and exercising your gift as a reciter from there. I, on my side, will put myself into a fitting frame of mind by eschewing such grossly material things as tobacco and alcohol, and will eat of the simple fruits of the earth. Waiter, apples, many apples! Now, Smith, I beg of you," and Tree, munching an apple, made a gesture of appeal, and stood on the table, a second apple in his left hand.
"Really I," faltered Mr. Smith with a gratified smile, "really... Well... do you mean it?" and he slid obediently under the table, and repeated the idiotic lines. "Gorgeous! Positively gorgeous!" sighed Tree. "Now, Smith, Bismarck once, when at the zenith of his power, electrified an audience of German savants by repeating two simple lines of German poetry seated in the fireplace. I must emphasise the fact that it was when he was at the very zenith of his power, for otherwise, of course, he would have been unable to produce this effect. I should like to see whether your touching lines would move me as strongly coming from so unexpected a quarter. See! I will place The Times for you to sit on, the Daily Telegraph for you to lean against. Two of the most powerful organs of public opinion both equally proud to minister to your comfort. I beg of you, Smith." "Really... it's rather unusual... but if you want it," smirked Mr. Smith, and the doggerel was duly repeated from the fireplace. "Now, Smith, I want those haunting lines to reach me faintly, as from some distant ocean cavern, or like the murmurs sea-shells whisper into the ear. Ha! the window-curtains will muffle the sound; say it from behind them, I pray." When this was over Tree buried his face in his hands, feigning deep emotion, and Mr. Smith regained his place wreathed in smiles, convinced that he had achieved an unparalleled triumph as a reciter, but Tree had won his 5 pounds.
That gifted man Charles Brookfield was also a member of the "Grill-room." There was a slight note of cynicism, and a touch of bitterness in his humour, for he was quite conscious that he had not achieved the success that his brilliant abilities seemed to promise. It was characteristic of Brookfield that when attacked with the tuberculosis to which he eventually succumbed, he should draw up the prospectus and rules of the "Ninety-nine Club" (those who have ever had their lungs tested will understand the allusion), a document in which he gave full rein to his vein of cynical and slightly macabre humour.
Some twenty-five years ago, I and another member of the "Grill-room Club" used occasionally to "walk-on" in the great autumn Drury Lane melodramas. We knew the manager well, and upon sending in our cards to him, we could figure as guests at a ball, or as two of the crowd on a racecourse. I liked seeing the blurred outlines of the vast audience over the dazzling glare of the footlights, and the details of the production of these complicated spectacular pieces amused me when seen from the stage. In one of these melodramas, I think the Derby Winner, there was a spirited auction scene on the stage, when Mrs. John Wood bid 30,000 pounds for a horse. I had an almost irresistible impulse to over-bid her and to shout "forty thousand pounds." Mrs. John Wood would have proved, I am sure, equal to the emergency, and would have got the better of me. Between us, we should probably have run the horse up to a quarter of a million, and the consternation of the rest of the company would have been very amusing to witness, but it would not have been quite fair on our friend the manager, so I refrained.
A great-nephew of mine, then an Eton boy of fifteen, had heard of these experiences and longed to share them; so, with the manager's consent, I took him "on" the first day of his holidays. He was one of the crowd at an imaginary Oxford and Cambridge boat-race, cheering for all he was worth, when he suddenly saw four of his Eton friends sitting together in the front row of the stalls, and nodded to them. The astonishment of these youths at seeing the boy they had travelled up with that morning, moving about the stage of Drury Lane Theatre as though he were quite at home there, was most comical. They gaped round-eyed, refusing to believe the evidence of their senses.
I believe that the appeal of the theatre is simply due to the fact that the majority of human beings retain the child's love of "make-believe" but are too unimaginative to create a dream-world for themselves. Having lost the child's power of creation, a more material dream-world has to be elaborately constructed for them, with every adjunct that can heighten the sense of illusion, an element the unimaginative are unable to supply for themselves. They require all their "i's" carefully dotted and their "t's" elaborately crossed; so they love "real water" on the stage, and "real leaves" falling in a forest scene, and genuine taxi-cabs rumbling about the stage so realistically that no strain need be put on their imagination.
At the age of seven or eight I came to the conclusion that one would go through life shedding illusions as trees shed their leaves in November. I had an illustrated History of England which contained a picture of knights tilting; splendid beings all in armour, with plumes waving from their helmets, seated on armoured horses and brandishing gigantic lances. I asked my governess whether there were any knights left. She, an excellent but most matter-of-fact lady, assured me that there were plenty of knights still about, after which I never ceased pestering her to show me one. One day she delighted me by saying, "You want to see a knight, dear. There is one coming to see your father at twelve o'clock to-day, and you may stand on the staircase and see him arrive." This was an absolutely thrilling episode! One of these glorious creatures of Romance was actually coming to our house that day! I may add that my mother was unwell at the time, and that the celebrated doctor Sir William Jenner, who had then been recently knighted, had been called in for a consultation. At Chesterfield House there is a very fine double flight of white marble stairs, and, long before twelve, wild with excitement, I took my stand at the top of it. How this magnificent being's armour would clank on the marble! Would he wear a thing like a saucepan on his head, with a little gate in front to peep through? It would be rather alarming, but the waving plumes would look nice. Supposing that he spoke to me, how was I to address him? Perhaps "Grammercy, Sir Knight!" would do. I was rather hazy as to its meaning, but it sounded well. It might also be polite to inquire how many maidens in distress the knight had rescued recently. Would he carry his lance upstairs and leave it outside my father's door? If so, I could play with it, and perhaps tilt at the footman with it. Would he leave his prancing charger in the courtyard in the care of his esquire? The possibilities were really endless. Presently our family doctor came upstairs with another gentleman, and they went into my father's room. I said "Good-morning" to our own doctor, but scarcely noticed the stranger, for I was straining my ears to catch the first clank of the knight's armour on the marble pavement of the hall below. Time went on; our doctor and the stranger reappeared and went downstairs, and still no knight arrived. At last I went back to my governess and told her that the knight must have forgotten, for he had never come. I could have cried with disappointment when told that the frock-coated stranger was the knight. That a knight! Without armour, or plumes, or lance, or charger! To console me for my disappointment I was allowed to see my father in his full robes as a Knight of the Garter before he left for some ceremony of the Order. This was the first intimation I had received that we could include a knight in our own family circle. My father's blue velvet mantle was imposing, and he certainly had plumes; but to my great chagrin he was not wearing one single scrap of armour, had no iron saucepan on his head, and was not even carrying a gigantic lance. It seemed to be the same with everything else. In my illustrated History there was a picture of the Barons forcing King John to sign Magna Charta at Runnymede. They had beards, and wore long velvet dressing-gowns, with lovely, long, pointed shoes, and carried swords nearly as big as themselves. I asked my governess if there were any barons left, and she told me that Lord B——, a great friend of my family's, was a baron. This was dreadful. Lord B—— was dressed like any one else, had no beard, and instead of beautiful long shoes shaped like toothpicks, with flapping, pointed toes, he had ordinary everyday boots. He never wore a velvet dressing-gown or carried a big sword, and no one could possibly imagine him as coercing King John, or indeed any one else, to do anything they did not want to do. I asked to see a noble; I was told that I met them every day at luncheon. Like all properly constituted boys I longed to live on an island. I was told that I already enjoyed that privilege. It really was a most disappointing world!
To remedy this state of things, and as a protest against the prosaic age in which we lived, my youngest brother and I devised some strictly private dramas. One dealing with the adventures of Sir Alphonso and the lovely Lady Leonora lingers in my memory, and I recall every word of the dialogue. This latter was peculiar, for we had an idea that to be archaic all personal pronouns had to be omitted. Part of it, I remember, ran, "Dost love me, Leonora?" "Do." "Wilt fly with me?" "Will." "Art frightened, fair one?" "Am." Everything in this thrilling drama led up to the discovery of the hidden treasure which the far-seeing Sir Alphonso had prudently buried in the garden in case of emergencies. Treasure had, of course, to consist of gold, silver, and coin. Some one had given me a tiny gold whistle; though small, it was unquestionably of gold, and my brother was the proud possessor of a silver pencil-case. These unfortunate objects must have been buried and disinterred countless times in company with a French franc-piece. To the eye of faith the whistle and the pencil-case became gleaming ingots of gold and silver, and the solitary franc transformed itself into iron-bound chests gorged with ducats, doubloons, or pieces-of-eight: the last having a peculiarly attractive and romantic sound.
In such fashion did we make our juvenile protest against the drab-coloured age into which we had been born.
Dislike of the elderly to change—Some legitimate grounds of complaint—Modern pronunciation of Latin—How a European crisis was averted by the old-fashioned method—Lord Dufferin's Latin speech—Schoolboy costume of a hundred years ago—Discomforts of travel in my youth—A crack liner of the "eighties"—Old travelling carriages—An election incident—Headlong rush of extraordinary turnout—The politically minded signalman and the doubtful voter—"Decent bodies"—Confidence in the future—Conclusion.
To point out that elderly people dislike change is to assert the most obvious of truisms. Their three-score years of experience have taught them that all changes are not necessarily changes for the better, as youth fondly imagines; and that experiments are not invariably successful. They have also learnt that no amount of talk will alter hard facts, and that the law that effect will follow cause is an inflexible one which torrents of fluent platitudes will neither affect nor modify. Even should this entail their being labelled with the silly and meaningless term of "reactionary," I do not imagine that their equanimity is much upset by it. It is, perhaps, natural for the elderly to make disparaging comparisons between the golden past and the neutral-tinted present; so that one shudders at reflecting what a terrific nuisance Methuselah must have become in his old age. One can almost hear the youth of his day whispering friendly warnings to each other: "Avoid that old fellow like poison, for you will find him the most desperate bore. He is for ever grousing about the rottenness of everything nowadays compared to what it was when he was a boy nine hundred years ago."
What applies to Methuselah may apply, in a lesser degree, to all of us elderly people, though I think that we are justified when we lament a noticeable decline in certain definite standards of honour which in our day were almost universally accepted both in private and in public life. Even then some few may have bowed the knee at the shrine of "Monseigneur l'Argent"; but it was done almost furtively, for "people on the make," or unblushingly "out for themselves," were less to the fore then than now, and were most certainly less conspicuous in public life.
We can also be forgiven for regretting a marked decline in manners. Possibly in hurried days when every one seems to crave for excitement, there is but little time left for those courtesies customary amongst an older generation.
There is no need to enlarge on the immense changes the years have brought about during my lifetime. Amongst the very minor changes, I notice that when my great-nephews quote any Latin to me, I am unable to understand one single syllable of it, and between ourselves I fancy that this modern pronunciation of Latin would be equally unintelligible to an ancient Roman.
Our old-fashioned English pronunciation of Latin may have been illogical, but on one occasion it helped to avert a European war. The late Count Benckendorff, the last Russian Ambassador to the Court of St. James's, a singularly fascinating man, was protocolist to the Congress of Berlin in 1878, and as such was present at every sitting of the Congress. He told me that at one meeting of the Plenipotentiaries, Prince Gortschakoff announced that Russia, in direct contravention of Article XIII of the Treaty of Paris of 1856, intended to fortify the port of Batoum. This was expressly forbidden by the Treaty of Paris, so Lord Beaconsfield rose from his chair and said quietly, "Casus belli," only he pronounced the Latin words in the English fashion, and Count Benckendorff assured me that no one present, with the exception of the British delegates, had the glimmer of an idea of what he was talking about. They imagined that he was making some remark in English to Lord Salisbury, and took no notice of it whatever. Lord Salisbury whispered to his colleague, and ultimately Prince Gortschakoff withdrew the claim to fortify Batoum. "But," added Count Benckendorff, "just imagine the consternation of the Congress had Lord Beaconsfield hurled his ultimatum to Russia with the continental pronunciation 'cahsous bellee!'" Just picture the breaking up of the Congress, the frantic telegrams, the shrieking headlines, the general consternation, and the terrific results that might have followed! And all these tremendous possibilities were averted by our old-fashioned English pronunciation of Latin!
My old Chief and godfather, the late Lord Dufferin, in his most amusing Letters From High Latitudes, recounts how he was entertained at a public dinner at Rejkjavik in Iceland by the Danish Governor. To his horror Lord Dufferin found that he was expected to make a speech, and his hosts asked him to speak either in Danish or in Latin. Lord Dufferin, not knowing one word of Danish, hastily reassembled his rusty remnants of Latin, and began, "Insolitus ut sum ad publicum loquendum," and in proposing the Governor's health, begged his audience, amidst enthusiastic cheers, to drink it with a "haustu longo, haustu forti, simul atque haustu."
Such are the advantages of a classical education!
My younger relatives, who naturally look upon me as being of almost antediluvian age, sometimes ask me to describe the discomforts of an all-night coach journey in my youth, or inquire how many days we occupied in travelling from, say, London to Edinburgh. They are obviously sceptical when I assure them that my memory does not extend to pre-railway days. I am surprised that they do not ask me for a few interesting details of occasions when we were stopped by masked highwaymen on Hounslow Heath in the course of our journeys.
My father told me that when he first went to Harrow in September, 1823, at the age of twelve, he rode all the way from London, followed by a servant carrying his portmanteau on a second horse. My father's dress sounds curious to modern ears. Below a jacket and one of the big flapping collars of the period, he wore a waistcoat of crimson cut-velvet with gold buttons, a pair of skin-tight pantaloons of green tartan with Hessian boots to the knee, further adorned with large brass spurs with brass chains. A schoolboy of twelve would excite some comment were he to appear dressed like that to-day, though my father assured me that he could run in his Hessian boots and spurs as fast as any of his school-fellows.
Though my recollections may not go back to pre-railway days, the conditions under which we travelled in my youth would be thought intolerable now. No sleeping- or dining-cars, long night-journeys in unheated, dimly lit carriages devoid of any kind of convenience, and sea-passages in small, ill-equipped steamers. All these were accepted as a matter of course, and as inevitable incidents of travel.
The first long-distance voyage I ever made was just forty years ago, and I should like people who grumble at the accommodation provided in one of the huge modern liners to see the arrangements thought good enough for passengers in 1882. Our ship, the Britannia of the Pacific Steam Navigation Co., was just over 4,000 tons, and we passengers congratulated each other loudly on our good fortune in travelling in so fast and splendid a vessel. The Britannia had no deck-houses, the uncarpeted, undecorated saloon was the only place in which to sit, and its furniture consisted of long tables with swinging racks over them, flanked by benches. This sumptuous apartment was illuminated at night by no less than forty candles, a source of immense pride of the chief steward. The sleeping-cabins for a six weeks' voyage were smaller and less comfortably fitted than those at present provided for the three hours' trip between Holyhead and Kingstown; at night one dim oil-lamp glimmered in a ground-glass case fixed between two cabins, but only up to 10.30 p.m., after which the ship was plunged into total darkness. As it was before the days of refrigerators, the fore part of the deck was devoted to live stock. Pigs grunted in one pen, sheep bleated in another, whilst ducks quacked and turkeys gobbled in coops on either side of them. No one ever thought of grumbling; on the contrary, we all experienced that stupid sense of reflected pride which passengers in a crack liner feel, for the Britannia then enjoyed a tremendous reputation in the Pacific. Certainly, seen from the shore, the old Britannia was a singularly pleasing object to the eye, with her clipper bows, the graceful curve of her sheer, and the beautiful lines of her low hull unbroken by any deck-houses or top-hamper.
The traveller of to-day is more fortunate; he expects and finds in a modern liner all the comforts he would enjoy in a first-class hotel ashore; and finds them too in a lesser degree on railway journeys.
The long continental tours of my father and mother in the early days of their married life, were all made by road in their own carriages, and as their family increased they took their elder children with them in their wanderings, so what with children, nurses and servants, they travelled with quite a retinue.
I think that my father must have had a sentimental attachment for the old travelling carriages which had taken him and his family in safety over one-half of Europe, for he never parted with them, and various ancient vehicles reposed in our coach-houses, both in England and Ireland. The workmanship of these old carriages was so excellent that some of them, repainted and re-varnished, were still used for station-work in the country. There was in particular one venerable vehicle known as the "Travelling Clarence," which remained in constant use for more than sixty years after its birth. This carriage must have had painful associations for my elder brothers and sisters, for they travelled in it on my parents' continental tours. My mother always complimented their nurse on the extraordinarily tidy appearance the children presented after they had been twelve hours or more on the road; she little knew that the nurse carried a cane, and that any child who fidgeted ever so slightly at once received two smart cuts on the hand from this cane, so that their ultra-neat appearance on arriving at their destination was achieved rather painfully. This Clarence was an unusually comfortable and easy-rolling carriage; it hung on Cee springs, and was far more heavily padded than a modern vehicle; it had vast pockets arranged round its capacious grey interior, and curious little circular pillows for the head were suspended by cords from its roof. On account of its comfort it was much used in its old age for station-work in Ireland. Should that old carriage have had any feelings, I can thoroughly sympathise with them. Dreaming away in its coach-house over its varied past, it must have remembered the vine-clad hills through which it had once rolled on the banks of the swift-flowing, green Rhone. It cannot have forgotten the orange groves and olives of sunny Provence overhanging the deep-blue Mediterranean, the plains of Northern Italy where the vines were festooned from tree to tree, the mountains and clear streams of the Tyrol, or the sleepy old Belgian cities melodious with the clash of many bells. Each time that it was rolled out of its coach-house I imagine that every fibre in its antique frame must have vibrated at the thought that now it was to re-commence its wanderings. Conscious though the old carriage doubtless was that its springs were less lissom than they used to be, and that the axles which formerly ran so smoothly now creaked alarmingly, and sent sharp twinges quivering through its body, it must have felt confident that it could still accomplish what it had done fifty years earlier. I feel certain that it started full of expectations, as it felt itself guided along the familiar road which followed the windings of the lake, with the high wooded banks towering over it, and then along a mile of highroad between dense plantations of spruce and Scotch fir, until the treeless, stonewalled open country of Northern Ireland was reached. The hopes of the old carriage must have risen high as the houses of the little town came into view; first one-storied, white-washed and thatched; then two-storied, white-washed and slated, all alike lying under a blue canopy of fragrant peat smoke. The turn to the right was the Dublin road, the road which ultimately led to the sea, and to a curious heaving contrivance which somehow led over angry waters to new and sunnier lands. No; the guiding hands directed its course to the left, down the brae, and along the over-familiar road to the station. The old Clarence must have recognised with a sigh that its roaming days were definitely over, and that henceforth, as long as its creaking axles and stiffening springs held together, it could only look forward to an uneventful life of monotonous routine in a cold, grey Northern land; and, between ourselves, these feelings are not confined to superannuated carriages.