"Me gustan todas, Me gustan todas en general."
Then came the day when I was told that practically my engagement to her had been approved by her family. This came, I need hardly say, as a considerable surprise. The future was as rosy as the rosiest sunrise in any part of the world could be—a most desirable and charming wife, a life of contentment and pleasure. Who could ask for a better future? No more soldiering. On the contrary, a ready-made road to success, in whatever walk of life I chose to pursue. Some such thoughts—and many others—passed through my mind and I plucked up courage. Still, my heart was not in the affair, as you will see; but I argued to myself that, if the marriage did not finally take place, it could mean only the breaking of a family arrangement, which would not result in much grief or sorrow to my fiancee, as she certainly could not have become very devoted to me personally.
A fortnight or so passed, during which some further family affairs were discussed, and the day was at hand when the engagement was to be made public. Unfortunately a stroke of ill luck overtook me the night before that very day. It was the custom in Paris for those engaged in the theatrical profession to hold annually an Artists' Ball in aid of the charities supported by them. This year the ball was to be held at the Grand Hotel. It was always a brilliant and picturesque pageant. The companies playing in the theatres entered the magnificent ballroom dressed in their theatrical costumes, while others appeared in fancy dresses. Remembering the fame for good taste, smartness and chic of Frenchwomen, the beauty of such a gathering is not surprising. The younger members of our party promised ourselves a thoroughly enjoyable night, while the elder ones looked forward to much pleasure too. It was about half-past twelve that the guests assembled in the ballroom to watch the arrival of the artists. Company after company entered, amidst much applause, and took up the position allotted to them. At a given signal the men approached the ladies to beg for the honour of dancing with them; it was a thoroughly Bohemian fete, and it was not necessary to obtain personal introductions. One very politely made his request of a lady for a dance. If it was granted, all was well. If it was not granted, then a polite bow—and all was not well.
I had been much attracted by a very sweet and charming actress. She appeared to me as the impersonation of all that was lovely. Her complexion was fair, and her hair golden—a head that Murillo would have loved to paint. She was rather petite, but, oh dear me, what a figure! What ankles! What sweetly moulded neck and arms! What delicately coloured flesh! Are you surprised that she looked all lovable? She had a companion, differing in type, but with equally as many charms of her own. One of my friends seemed to be much taken with her, and we at once decided to try our fortune and beg of them to honour us by accepting us as partners for the opening dance. As soon as the signal was given we did so, and, to our great joy, we obtained their permission. No two young men were happier than we were, for one dance followed another till supper was ready. Of course, the fact had quite escaped my mind that, in France and Spain, it is not usual for engaged men to dance with other ladies than their fiancee—and certainly outre for them to make themselves conspicuous by paying too much attention to any ladies, especially at such public functions. Still I continued to enjoy myself. My friend was equally successful with his partner.
Before going to supper Louise (my charming companion's name) told me that she had another ball to attend that night, and that, as it was then about 2 a.m., she and her friend Estelle would take a light supper and leave immediately afterwards. Their will was, of course, law to us. We sent out a message by our footman for our carriage to be ready at the exit gateway in half an hour, and our partie carree continued to enjoy itself. While at supper my cousin came to our table. We introduced him to Louise and Estelle. He joined us in a glass of champagne, and, as he left us, he said to me in Spanish, "Ten cuidado; tomas demasiados riesgos." But, what think you? Did I care? No. I did not even realize that he was alluding to my engagement. I just thought that he had noticed that we four had passed the whole evening together, and that possibly we might be opening a friendship that might result in a liaison which might not be so judicious. We wished him good night and he passed on.
After supper we hurried to our carriage and drove to Louise's apartments, which were only a short distance from the Grand Hotel. Arriving there, Louise suggested that my friend should drive Estelle home and return to take her to the other ball to which she was going. This we, of course, agreed to, and Louise invited me to her apartments to have a glass of champagne while she placed herself in the hands of her maid to change her costume and we awaited the arrival of my friend and the carriage. They were delightful apartments—such as one expects Parisiennes of exquisite taste to dwell in. The dining-room was a work of art in white and gold. Sky-blue draperies, deeply embroidered in Japanese fashion, with birds of the air and fishes of the seas in such bewildering colour as only the Japanese know how to depict. Louise's dress at the ball was in the same sky-blue tone, and—as she stood in her dining-room taking a glass of champagne before handing herself over to the tender mercies of her maid—she looked almost heavenly. Anyway, so any man would have thought if he had been in my place, and of my age, during those precious moments.
But is there not a proverb that says: "All that glitters is not gold"? It applies not only to physical but also to mental condition. My mental condition was one of happiness. Louise was beautiful. Louise was kind, and the world was good and so was the champagne. But Nemesis was not far off.
Presently Louise returned to me. She wished for a cigarette and a glass of champagne before her maid robed her for her second ball. Just clad in the filmiest and most fetching of wraps (I think that is the word), she looked as bewitching as if she had just floated down from the abodes of bliss and beauty. She had just sipped her glass of champagne and lit her cigarette, and leaned on the arm of the arm-chair in which I was sitting, when we heard the hall-door open and someone enter.
"Hush!" she said; "it is Gustave! Leave him to me and say little."
"Louise, ma cherie, ou etes vous?"
It was Gustave. He drew apart the silken curtains separating the hall from the dining-room. "Voila, je suis retourne. Mais ... mon Dieu!"
As the curtains were drawn Louise rose from the arm of the chair (I at once rose also), and in the sweetest tones, speaking in English, Louise said: "My dear Gustave. What a pleasant surprise. No? Oh, yes, for me! I thought you would not return till the day after to-morrow. So! No? Let me introduce to you my friend, an English officer. He has been so polite to me at our fete to-night."
Gustave and I stood facing each other; we had no need for introductions. Gustave was the bachelor brother of my prospective father-in-law. He happened also to be a particular friend of Louise's. I knew him and he knew me. We looked calmly at each other. He was twice my age; it was not for me to speak. The piece was set as if for a dramatic scene—Louise, in her charming deshabille; my humble self, silent but unabashed; Gustave, practically in possession of the situation. The moment was a critical one, but though Nemesis had arrived it was not the Nemesis with a flaming sword; it was the Nemesis with a somewhat more dangerous weapon, that of French politeness, which scorns to provoke personal quarrels in the presence of ladies but awaits to obtain reparation in good time in accordance with the code of honour.
Bowing low to Louise and looking at me straight in the face, Gustave politely remarked, "It happens that I am acquainted with monsieur the English lieutenant. I regret that I have intruded and disturbed your tete-a-tete at such an hour of the morning. Pray forgive me, Louise. I have no doubt monsieur the lieutenant and I will meet by and by. N'est-ce pas, monsieur le lieutenant? Good night to you both." And, as Louise moved, Gustave added, "Please, oh, please, do not bother. I know my way out quite well. Au revoir." He drew the curtains aside and, turning towards us, made the politest of bows and was gone.
"Louise," I said, as I took her hands in mine, "it is all my fault. Can you forgive me?"
"Mon jeune ami," said Louise as she looked up at me. "First of all, give me one kiss. Yes, I like that; just one more. So! Ah! Good! Now you said, 'Forgive me.' For that I love you, because it is what a man always should say to a woman. I not only forgive you, but I think you are charmant. One more kiss—eh! ah! nice. I never allowed anyone, since I remember, even to suggest to me to ask forgiveness. Certainly not any man. Don't be concerned; don't be unhappy. Gustave will come by and by and will ask me to forgive him for his conduct to-night. He was rude; he was unpleasant in front of me. He suggested, by his words, things that had not happened. That was more than impolite; it was ungentlemanly, and you will see he will be very sorry and come to me and ask me to forgive him. At this moment I know not that I will forgive him. One more kiss. He is a good friend, but by no means indispensable to me. I have all I wish of my own and can please myself as to whom I choose for my friends. So don't be concerned. Just one more kiss and I go to make ready for the ball. Ah! the hall door bell! Your friend returns. I will be with you bien vite. Silence, n'est-ce pas?" And she went to her room.
Next minute my friend was with me. He was so full of the charms of Estelle that I had not—even if I wished—an opportunity of saying anything. Another cigarette, a couple of glasses of champagne, the presence of Louise looking sweeter than ever, all in pink silks and satins, and we were off in the carriage to leave her at the private house where her friends, she said, would be wondering what had become of her.
We two returned home in the early hours of the morning and retired to bed. Bed was one thing. Sleep was another. The day and evening had been crowded with unexpected events, wonderful happenings and newly inspired emotions. First and foremost, one event was certain. My engagement was doomed. Why, in all creation, had I selected Louise from all those six hundred other women who had attended the ball at the Grand Hotel? Louise, who was Gustave's friend, and Gustave, my prospective uncle-in-law? There was only one answer—"Nemesis."
Then I remembered my cousin's warning at supper, "Cuidado!" Well, warnings are of no value if they are not heeded. One thing was clear. The engagement would be off. I must admit that the fault was all mine; I would not, nay, could not, offer any excuse. I had not played the game. I had failed to rise to the occasion and prove myself the correct youth that my sponsors had vouched for. So, no doubt the prospective father-in-law would soon call a family council and Gustave's relations would be discussed—and then, an end to the affair.
Curiously enough, this did not trouble me much. I felt that the worst harm I had done was to hurt the pride of my would-be benefactors. This might be pardonable, but, as regarded my fiancee, what should I do? There seemed to me only one way to act that was honourable. I would ask that I might be given the privilege of seeing her for the last time and ask her forgiveness. If this was refused, then I would find my own way to see her. My thoughts ran on. All the pleasures of the evening recalled themselves. A new sensation coursed through my brain. Yes; it must be so. I must be in love. Love at first sight—and in love with Louise. Was she to suffer—and I the cause of her sufferings? No. I would see her, tell her of my love for her, marry her. Louise, one more kiss—eh! Then I must have fallen asleep.
When I returned from the world of nod my valet had brought me my morning chocolate. My brain was anything but clear. That some happenings of a surely serious nature had taken place the night before was certain. What were they? Gradually my memory recalled them. And then I dressed. As I was just ready for dejeuner my cousin sent me word that he would like to see me. I knew what it was about. Our interview was short. He was very kind. He laid all the blame on himself for expecting that the method of making marriages by arrangement would be a success where a youthful Britisher was concerned. He, however, wished I should tell him all that had happened since he had seen me at supper, and especially about my meeting with Gustave.
I just told him—as I have told you, pointing out that the affair had been quite harmless, though appearances were certainly against me. He left the house and returned later on. He had seen Gustave. The engagement, of course, was off. My escapade was looked upon as excusable. I was young and inexperienced in the ways of the world, and permission was graciously given me to see my late fiancee. This I did, and, I am happy to say, she not only forgave me but we remained friends.
It suddenly dawned upon me that my leave was up and that I was due back to duty at home. Don Carlos, while somewhat resenting the unfortunate ending of his scheme, made allowances for me when the whole story was related to him. He smiled a kindly smile as I expressed to him all my regrets that I had failed to take advantage of his well-meaning efforts in my behalf.
But then, what about Louise? What about Gustave? What should I do? The solution came from Gustave himself. Next day I received an invitation from him to a supper party at the Cafe d'Helder. Naturally I accepted. We were to meet at a quarter to twelve, and my friend, Estelle's admirer, was also asked. It was a merry party; just ten of us. The hour to say "Good morning" arrived only too soon. For me it was not only "good morning" but also "good-bye." I had to leave Paris the evening of that day. My last but one good-bye was to Louise. I kissed the hands she gave me; then she said, looking towards Gustave with smiling eyes, "One last kiss for monsieur the lieutenant. N'est-ce pas, Gustave? Mais, oui. The final. Pourquoi non?" So Louise and I kissed.
Then Gustave shook hands with me, placed his hand on my shoulder, and we left the supper-room together. He came down to see me into my carriage, and as I was stepping into it he once more shook my hand and said, "You are very young. I am old enough to be your father. Always remember your English proverb: 'Look before you leap.' Good night. Bonne fortune toujours."
Thus ended my first romance and, with it, my most enjoyable visit to Paris.
 "I like them all; I like them all equally well."
 Take care. You are taking too many risks.
SOLDIERING IN IRELAND
On obtaining his commission a young officer was ordered to report himself at the Royal Artillery Barracks at Woolwich, to undergo six months' further training in his regimental duties and in practical work at the Arsenal, with occasional visits to the School of Gunnery at Shoeburyness. It was a happy six months if he managed to keep out of trouble, for there were many temptations to overcome. Straight away from the strict discipline of the "Shop," the young officer found himself—or at least considered himself—quite a gentleman at large. In his own opinion he had become a person of very considerable importance, and the orders he gave had to be implicitly obeyed. His uniform was a source of extreme pleasure to him. He was allotted a whole "Tommy" to himself as a soldier servant. He rejoiced in the possession of quite a big room for his quarters. And there was the Mess.
At that time there had been an amalgamation of the English and Indian Artillery, which were combined into one General List, so that the whole of the Artillery formed one Regiment comprising Horse, Field and Garrison Artillery. The headquarters were at Woolwich, and the Royal Artillery Mess was the Headquarters Mess, and is so still, though lately there have been further sub-divisions of the Regiment. Still, these have not as yet, so far as I know, resulted in any change as regards the Headquarters Mess. It remains to be seen what changes will or will not be made in the future.
One of the institutions attached to the Royal Artillery Mess was the Garrison Theatre. At regular intervals the Royal Artillery officers gave performances at this theatre. Let me tell you that it is seldom that an Engineer or Artillery officer was not a first-rate dancer; for, at the "Shop," two or three nights a week dancing took place in the gymnasium to the delightful music of the Royal Artillery band. On these nights ladies were not allowed to attend, so the cadets had to supply the ladies amongst themselves. But the continual practice naturally made them good dancers. Personally I took great delight in the art of dancing. I was built just for it, tall, light, thin and long-legged. I was able to pirouette and high-kick fairly well.
I was very keen on private theatricals, so that, amongst my other important duties of those days, I was appointed stage manager and producer for a week's performance which was to take place at the Garrison Theatre. The play was the old farce, Box and Cox, which was converted into a musical comedy. Some people say to this day that this particular production was the origin of the musical comedies which have since then so amused the public. Mrs. Bouncer was most excellently performed by Lieutenant Bingham, while Lieutenants Jocelyn and Fritz, if I remember rightly, were Box and Cox. Mrs. Bouncer, assisted in the musical part of the piece by a chorus of lusty sergeants and gunners, who revelled in dances and choruses, was a great success, while a specially selected chorus of ballet-girls highly distinguished themselves. The production was quite good, and the financial results on behalf of the regimental charities were most satisfactory. In after years the theatrical experiences thus gained gave me considerable enjoyment. But of this, later on.
The end of the six months' training at Woolwich being completed, I was appointed to a Garrison company, with its headquarters at Limerick—good old Limerick—which was then known as the paradise of hard-up subalterns. Limerick is a quaint town. There is Old Limerick and Modern Limerick. The old town is situated round the castle, which is on the banks of the Shannon, and where—across the river—stands the old Treaty Stone. It is difficult to describe Old Limerick. One must really see it and live in it to appreciate its dirty houses, poor tenements, its smells and other unhealthy attributes. Yet it is a characteristic little piece of old Ireland. This part of the old town reached down to the cathedral, past which the main street—George Street—runs through the modern town, practically parallel with the River Shannon. With the exception of the old castle, Limerick does not possess any buildings of very particular interest. The best residential part was across the river, Circular Row. Limerick itself has nothing to recommend it as regards picturesqueness, but there is much beauty in the country surrounding it. From just below the castle the River Shannon has some beautiful reaches, right away up to Castle Connell; while Tervoe on the river, Adare Abbey, and many other places are well known.
When I reported myself to my commanding officer at the castle I found that our company, which then consisted of about eighty all told, was doing duty from the very North to the South of Ireland. There was a detachment of some twenty-five men at a place called Green Castle, which was an old fort at the entrance of Lough Swilly, not far off the Giant's Causeway. Another detachment of some thirty-five men was on duty at Carlisle Fort, one of the forts guarding the entrance into Cork Harbour at Queenstown. This left us about twenty men at our headquarters at Limerick Castle. Our captain was not with the company. He was A.D.C. to a Colonial Governor, and, of course, was seconded. The two senior subalterns were in command of the detachments at Green Castle and Carlisle Fort, so that the commanding officer, our good major and myself, were left at our headquarters with the twenty men. By the time that we found the guard for the day, the major's two orderlies, my own orderly, the cook and cook's mate, the district gunner (who was busy keeping our three very old guns, mounted in the tower, polished up), the office clerk and the barrack sweeper, the morning parade consisted usually of the sergeant-major.
At nine o'clock every morning, after first joining, I appeared on parade, when the sergeant-major reported "All present, sir," and I said, "Carry on, sergeant-major," and went inside to breakfast. After a time I'm afraid I got into the bad habit of letting the sergeant-major come to make his report at the window of my quarters, which faced the barrack-square. At ten o'clock the major, whose quarters were above mine, and who was the happy possessor of some eight children, appeared at the company office, and I duly reported to him, "All correct, sir, this morning." For it was only very occasionally that we had a prisoner. The major would answer, "Very good." I would then ask him, "Do you want me any more to-day, sir?" He would then answer, without a smile, for he was a serious-minded major, "No, thanks." And then the joys of my day would begin for me.
The way in which my major came to be quartered in Limerick was this. He was the eldest brother of a very well-known family in Tipperary. He had many brothers, all of whom were also well known and much liked throughout the surrounding districts. They were all first-class horsemen, and, needless to say, good sportsmen all round. One of these brothers was at the time Sub-Sheriff of Limerick. It was indeed a difficult post to fill in those days. The country was exceedingly disturbed. Evictions were all too frequent, with the accompanying result of riots and murders, and it required much pluck and tact to carry out the Sub-Sheriff's duties. My major had been, some time previous to my joining, ordered to Singapore, while another major, a bachelor, was in command of the company at Limerick. In those days officers were allowed to exchange on the payment of fees agreed upon. My major did not relish the idea of proceeding to Singapore with his young family of eight, so he approached the bachelor major at Limerick with a view to an exchange, and offered a very handsome sum. The bachelor major very promptly accepted, and the exchange took place. Just before leaving Limerick the members of the club gave the bachelor major a farewell dinner, and, in proposing his health, the chairman remarked that he didn't understand why anybody should wish to leave Limerick for such an awful place as Singapore. When answering the toast the bachelor major said he would tell them in confidence the real reason. He went on to say that a short time before he accepted the exchange he had been to dinner with friends, some nine miles away, across the Shannon, in County Clare. He was returning home with the old jarvey on an outside car, and as it was a fairly fine night, moonlight, and he had had a very good dinner, he was enjoying his pipe and now and again having a little doze. They were passing a piece of road which was bounded on one side by a somewhat thick hedge. Suddenly there was a flash and the loud report of a gun, which very promptly woke him and made the old jarvey sit up too, and pull his horse up. Immediately two heads popped up over the hedge, had a good look at the major, and then one of the men said, "Begorra, Pat, we've shot at the wrong man again," and promptly disappeared. "Now, don't you think, my friends, that it's time I went to Singapore?"
But he never told them of the cheque he got to go to Singapore.
At that time the garrison of Limerick was fairly strong. There was a Field Artillery battery at the William Street Barracks, and there were a regiment of infantry and a squadron of cavalry at the New Barracks, so that our turn for any garrison duty didn't come very often, and we had plenty of time to enjoy ourselves. Anyone who wished and who had sufficient horses could put in four or five days' hunting a week during the season. The Master of the Limerick Hounds at the time lived at Croome. He was a typical Irish gentleman, noted for his genial character and the forcefulness of his language in the hunting field. Limerick is a fine hunting country, and gives excellent sport. There were many good riders in those days. Our friend the Sub-Sheriff was one, but perhaps the best man there was the owner of Ballynegarde, at whose hospitable house we spent many happy days. He must have ridden quite over sixteen stone, and I well remember seeing him, on a chestnut horse, clear the wall which surrounded the park, the chestnut changing his feet on the top, just like a cat. Good horses were just as expensive in those days as they were before the war, but we subalterns did not buy expensive horses; we picked up good jumpers that had gone cronk, and trusted to the vet., occasional firing, plenty of bandages, and not too hard work to keep them going.
Riding out one morning towards Mount Shannon, the then lovely home of the Fitzgibbons, on the banks of the river, and just on leaving the old town of Limerick, I arrived at a rather long and steep hill, at the foot of which a jarvey was trying to induce his horse, a long, rakish, Irish-built bay, to go up. The horse absolutely refused to do so, and each time the old jarvey flogged him he exhibited very considerable agility in every direction except up the hill. I rode up to the jarvey and asked him what was the matter. "Shure, sir," he said, "I bought this horse to go up this hill, for I am the mail contractor on this road. I've got him here these last three mornings, and I've never got farther than this. Now I'll have to go back again and get another horse, and all the people will get their mails late and they'll report me, and they'll fine me, and the divil do I know what my ould missus'll have to say about it. And, shure, yer honour, 'tis all the fault of this donkey-headed old quadruped."
I asked him whether the old quadruped could jump.
"Shure, yer honour," he said, "he'd jump out of his harness, traces an' all, if I hadn't got him by the bit."
"Will you sell him?" says I.
"Will I sell him?" says he. "Will I find the fool that'll buy him, yer honour?"
"Bring him up to the old castle in the morning," says I, "and I may find the fool that'll buy him."
"Begorra, sir," says he, "yer a gintleman. I'll be there with him at nine o'clock, with a halter round his old ewe neck."
Next morning, at nine o'clock, just as the sergeant-major was reporting as usual, "All correct," I saw my old friend leading his quadruped into the barrack square. He was a quaint looking horse. He was particularly full of corners, for he wasn't furnished up above at all. But he had good-boned legs. His coat was by way of being a miracle to look at. He had no particular colour to speak of. In some places he was a bit of a roan—Taffy-like; round some other corners he was a dirty bay. In some places, especially where for the last three days he had attempted to get out of his harness at the bottom of the hill, there was no hair at all. But he had a good-looking eye; he had good sound feet; good bone, though his tail was hardly up to Cocker. Most of it, no doubt, was now part and parcel of the car.
I can well remember the look of the correct and austere sergeant-major—who himself was a bit of a sport, but who still considered himself "on parade"—as he cast his eye over that noble quadruped, and wondered what his lieutenant was about. I could see that he was asking himself, "Is he going to run a circus, and is this going to be the freak horse?"
"Mick," says I, "if I get a saddle on the horse, will you ride him; come out with me and put him over a couple of jumps?"
"Shure, yer honour," says he, "an' so I will."
"Sergeant-major," says I, "tell my groom to put a saddle and bridle on this Rosinante" (at the mention of which name the sergeant-major looked perplexed) "and get one of the other horses ready for me."
In a few minutes Mick and I were riding down the old street, making for a bit of open country. We soon came to a high road, bounded on each side by fairly stiff, stone walls. Having come to a gate on one side I pulled up.
"Now," says I, "Mick, are you game to go into that field and take the double across the road?"
"Shure, I am," says he; "but 'tis a long day, yer honour, since I had a jump. Would you lend me your whip? The old horse'll want it, it may be."
I gave him the whip, jumped off my nag, opened the gate, and away went Mick into the field. It was a sight to do one good. There was Mick, what he called his hat stuck on the back of his head, and what was left of his coat-tails flying in the air behind him, heading for the first stone wall, and, before you could say "knife," he was over it like a bird, across the road, over the wall the other side, with a "whoop-la" that you could have heard in the cathedral in Limerick.
Just as well to mention that Rosinante's age was what is known amongst horse-copers as "uncertain," that is, anywhere between nine years old and twenty-four.
After that (it was not long before we were again at the Castle) I asked Mick Molloy how much he wanted for the horse. He said, "Shure, I'll just take what I gave for it. He's no good to me."
I asked him how much that was, and he said, "Five pounds."
I was so surprised, that he became quite apologetic, thinking he was asking too much, and quickly began to sing the praises of his mount. I at once disabused him of the idea by telling him that I couldn't give him less than L7 10s., which might help him a little towards his getting an animal that would pull his car up the hill. The horse became mine, and the late owner left the barracks wishing me all the blessings that our good God and Ould Oireland could bestow on my humble head. The end of Mick Molloy came later on.
UNRULY TIMES IN IRELAND
Affairs in Ireland have always been a source of wonderment to me. Ever since the days I spent there, right through to the present time, the doings—at one time or another—of some of the inhabitants of Ireland have puzzled most people. All the talent of all the Prime Ministers and Members of Parliament, within these forty years, has been unable to ensure for Ireland such political and economic conditions as would have made it the happy country which it ought to be.
When I was there in 1877-1878 the times were full of trouble, and I recall several episodes which show the temper of the people at that day. Some four miles from Limerick is a place called "Woodcock Hill," where the rifle ranges, for the instruction in musketry of the troops quartered there, were situated. Close to the range was a small Catholic chapel, standing practically by itself. An infantry regiment was quartered in Limerick at the time. It was an English regiment; its depot, from which the recruits fed it, was somewhere in the North of England, and the number of Catholic soldiers in its ranks was very small in proportion. One Sunday morning the priest attending the little chapel at "Woodcock Hill" found that somebody had broken into the church and stolen some of the altar fittings and—worse from the Catholic point of view—had taken the chalice used at Mass. This, of course, was nothing less than sacrilege in the eyes of the devout Catholic Irishmen.
Rumours soon began to circulate that, on the previous Saturday evening, after some rifle-shooting had taken place, two red-coats had been seen in the vicinity of the chapel. These rumours were not long in being spread throughout the city, and as the regiment was looked upon as being anti-Catholic, reports went about to the effect that the sacrilege had been carried out not so much for the sake of the value of the stolen articles, but purely out of hatred for the Catholics and for the purpose of desecrating the holy place. The consequences of these rumours soon became apparent. Soldiers, returning home late at night, were set upon and hammered in the by-streets. As a result, instead of going about in ones and twos, they would congregate in bigger groups and took every opportunity of retaliating on the civilians.
On a quiet Sunday morning, a glorious day, at about eleven o'clock, red-coats in small groups rapidly began to arrive at the old Castle. I had been out riding and was returning to my quarters about twelve o'clock, and I found that there were not less than somewhere between 150 and 200 soldiers within the barrack gates. It had been the custom for members of other corps to come into the canteen at the "Castle" for a glass of beer or two, after their dismissal from church parade. But for such a number to get together was more than unusual.
In the absence of the major, my commanding officer, the responsibility of dealing with the case fell on me. I determined to send my groom with a message to the officer commanding the regiment at their barracks, which were at the other end of the main street in the town, to inform him of what was going on, and then to order the men off in small groups from the "Castle." But there was no time, for hardly had I finished writing my message than the whole lot of red-coats left the barracks together and proceeded towards George Street. They had their waistbelts on but fortunately did not carry any side-arms. Still, the good old infantry belts, with their heavy brass buckles, were quite a formidable weapon to use about in a crowd which was unarmed. I jumped on my horse and, riding by side streets, reached the police station, which was in the middle of the town, close to the main street, to inform the police of what was taking place. However, when I got there, it had become evident to the police that trouble was coming, for large numbers of civilians were congregating and showing considerable excitement in the main street and moving down towards the cathedral from which direction the red-coats were coming.
Before any steps could be taken by the police the crowd of civilians and the red-coats met. For some little time the red-coats made their way through the crowd, slashing with their belts. Some stones began to fly, heavy sticks were being used, and gradually the red-coats were separated and were getting quite the worst of the bargain.
The news of the disturbance had reached the barracks shortly after the two factions had met, and such of the soldiers as were at that time within the barrack walls were ordered to parade under arms, with a view of marching down the street to restore order. However, by the time they were ready to march out there were but few red-coats left in the streets. They had been dispersed by the crowd and had sought safety wherever they could. They were collected later on and marched up to their barracks by police and military escorts, quiet was once again restored that Sunday afternoon, and the remains of the fight collected in the shape of lost belts, broken shillelaghs, road metal and smashed glass, while a good many broken heads and bruised limbs received attention.
The sequel was this. The regiment was confined to barracks until further orders. Two nights afterwards, in the early hours of the morning, it marched quietly along to the railway station. A troop train awaited its arrival, while at another platform more troop trains landed another regiment which, in equal silence, marched off to its new quarters. So ended this episode, for as soon as, on the next day, the townspeople became aware that the offenders, as they considered them, had gone, they lost all resentment and were quite ready to make friends and to welcome their successors, who soon were enjoying quite a time of popularity. We soldiers always looked forward to election time with considerable anxiety. We were generally ordered to be ready, in case our assistance was wanted in aid of the police, and we knew that long before we should be called on to use our rifles or even our swords brick-bats and other missiles would be flying about, quite indifferent as to whom they would hit. The opposing political sides had one great end in view, and that was to break each other's heads, and they deeply resented anybody else attempting to interfere with that playful form of amusement, so that oftentimes both sides would turn their attention on the police and soldiers, causing us quite considerable inconvenience. However, I must say this, that on no occasion when I was on duty at such so-called political meetings and elections did the situation become so aggravated as to necessitate the use of their arms by the soldiers.
Still, we did go home sometimes with a sore head, and I received my first wound from a piece of road metal hurled at me from quite a short distance by a great, strapping, fine Irishwoman. This occurred at Belfast some time after the affair at Limerick. As far as I remember there was to be a Catholic procession from somewhere near the Customs House through the principal streets to the Catholic cathedral. The city authorities and the police were notified and fully expected quite high old times as regarded street fighting. They had been advised by those who were carrying out the procession that the Catholics fully intended to reach the cathedral, even if it took them a week and they had to walk over the bodies of whoever tried to stop them, They knew whom they meant all right. The Orangemen had also informed the authorities that they had very rooted objections to this procession and that they were determined that that procession was not to get to the cathedral without some efforts of resistance on their part. Consequently the authorities requested military assistance, and further stated that they thought it would be necessary to have on hand, or close to, a sufficient number of soldiers to preserve the peace. So the scene was set for a pretty disputation. Many police were in attendance, and the soldiers were principally utilized out of view, as far as possible, in the side streets debouching on the route of the procession. It was hoped by these means to prevent sudden rushes by these side streets taking the procession at a disadvantage on the flank.
I was detailed to take charge of a dozen cavalrymen and was allotted my own little side street. We waited for some three or four hours before the procession as such, or what was left of it, seemed to be approaching our way. It is difficult to describe the noises that filled the air up to that time. We could not see down the main street, but we could hear the smashing of glass windows and the rattling of stones could be easily made out. And then came our surprise. Suddenly our little side street became full of men and women, rushing towards the main street, no doubt to obtain further points of advantage. I can see the women now, holding their petticoats up with both hands, in which the munitions of war in the shape of road metal were being carried, and from which the men helped themselves as they wanted. They came straight at us. What could twelve men do on horseback against such a rush? They were on us, round us, through us, before we could get our breath. I suddenly felt one of my feet had been taken out of the stirrup-iron, and the next thing was that I was pulled out of my saddle and fell, to my surprise, on something comparatively soft. It happened to be a lady who was paying me this delicate attention, and, as I fell on her, she sat down on the ground, dropped her petticoat out of her hand, and out fell her stock of munitions. It was some little time before she found breath sufficient for her to let me know just what she thought of me for coming there to "interfere with their business." I must have hurt her and annoyed her, for as I got up and was just mounting my horse, which one of the troopers was holding, the lady, a big strapping, fine Irishwoman, picked herself up off the ground, seized the handiest piece of road metal, and threw it, from about three yards away, at the back of my head.
I saw nothing more of the procession that day. I heard no more sounds of revelry. I woke up, late in the afternoon, not in my little side-street but in a very comfortable bed with my head duly bandaged and a nurse sitting alongside of me. I didn't ask why or wherefore I was there. I felt it. All I said to her was, "One whisky and soda, please, quick!" which she brought and which I drank, and then she told me that it had been reported that the tail end of the procession had reached the cathedral at last. So all was well. I bear that honourable scar to this day.
SPORT IN IRELAND
Roller-skating had become the fashion in England, and three or four of us became anxious to introduce it into Ireland. We formed a small company and appointed our directors, whose business knowledge was about equal to their knowledge of the art of roller-skating at that moment. However, all went well. The rink was opened at Dublin. A club of the nicest of the nice was formed. The members practised very hard, day after day, and evening after evening, with closed doors, until we became quite artists. Then came the time to inform the public at large that the rink would be open to them every afternoon and evening, reserving Tuesday and Thursday nights for the members of the club.
From the very jump the rink was a success. The members of both sexes gave exhibitions. We played tennis on roller-skates; we danced on roller-skates; we held athletic sports on roller-skates, including steeple-chases and obstacle races. In a very short time the public at large became quite as good skaters as those who taught them, if not better. Then came the usual development that has attended similar enterprises ever since. Fancy dress balls, gymkhanas, carnivals and such like, and—what was more satisfactory to the company—money rolling in all the time. The expenses were not heavy but the dividends were, and, to our surprise, we members of our company, very few in number, found ourselves absolutely drawing a regular monthly dividend. As we were mostly poor soldiers this was highly gratifying. I remember investing my first dividend in buying a mate to "Mick Molloy." He was much more expensive, you can guess, and I named him, following upon the naming of Mick Molloy, Larry O'Keefe.
The success of our venture in Dublin led us to thirst for further triumphs, and, at an especial meeting of the company in Dublin, it was decided to repeat the success at Limerick. So it came about that the rink at Limerick was started. We followed the same methods that had been carried out in Dublin, only we had not to undergo the probationary stage of learning to roller skate. A large party arrived from Dublin, and after one week of real joy and fun soon made the rink a success. This made us bold, so we exploited Cork and Waterford and our pecuniary successes increased daily, and some of us began to think that it would be worth while to throw up our military careers and become professional roller-skating rink promoters. That was really my first business venture. Others followed later on, as you will hear by and by, but not with the same result.
Let me tell you now what happened to Mick Molloy. He was certainly a good horse and a splendid jumper, but he had one bad fault and that was that, every now and again, apparently for no reason whatever, except the same cussedness that held him when he wouldn't go up the hill, he would hit a bank or a wall full hard and turn head over heels into the next field. As the weather, as a rule, was moist, and there was plenty of mud about when Mick Molloy performed his athletic feat and I picked myself up from the soft ground, I generally succeeded in attaching to my person a fairly considerable amount of Irish soil. At this particular time one of the great demands by Irishmen was for what they then called "fixity of tenure." Can you wonder that, after my repeated attempts to annex as much of Irish soil as Mick Molloy could help me to, the members of the hunt christened me "Fixity of Tenure"?
I had a visit from one of the best riders in Ireland at that time who was quartered at the Curragh, whose riding at Punchestown Races was always good to watch and who had come down for a few days' stay with us. There was a meet of the hounds; he wanted a ride. I offered him Mick Molloy, who was in good form just then, and he accepted the offer. I warned him of his one peculiarity. The morning of the hunt we rode out together. It was in the direction of Ballynegarde. There was often a trap to be met in the way of a sunken ditch over-grown with gorse, and unless one knew the lay of it a horse was apt to rush through instead of jumping and find himself and the rider at the bottom of the sunken ditch. I had forgotten to warn the rider of Mick Molloy of this fact. We had a fine seven-mile run in the morning and killed one fox. My friend was delighted with Mick, for he had carried him to the kill without a fall. He was full of praises of old Mick.
The hounds had a spell and, once more, they were thrown into covert. In a short time "Gone away" was heard and the hounds streamed out, following a good scent, across a beautiful piece of country. I got into difficulties very early. Old Larry and I had a difference of opinion about a stone wall. He wouldn't have it at any price. I had got out of the line and, unless I could get over that particular wall, I was going to be out of the run. So I made up my mind that over the wall Old Larry must go, with the result that I got over the wall all right but Old Larry didn't. Not only that, but, after giving what I thought at the time was a very impertinent sniff, he put his head and his tail up in the air and trotted off across the field, leaving me in full possession of the wall. That run was over for me. Another belated huntsman caught Old Larry and, as it was late in the afternoon and the hounds were well out of sight, we turned our horses' heads towards home. The hour for dinner came. It was dark. It was raining, but neither my friend nor Mick Molloy had turned up. We dined heartily and well, and it was not till about ten o'clock, when the port wine was going round merrily, that my brother officer came in. Yes, he was wet and weary. He carried a saddle and a bridle in his arms, but—alas! also there was no Mick Molloy. In the second run he had come across one of these sunken ditches. Mick Molloy rushed it, fell into it, and the weight of his rider had broken his back. Such was the end of good old Mick.
The last meet of the Limerick Hounds which was held that season gave the opportunity to some bright members of the club to play off a practical joke on the members of the Hunt. If the weather was suitable after the close of the season, and the Master so wished, a few extra meets were arranged for by him. No regular notice was given for such meets; the secretary of the Hunt generally informed the members by post-card that a meet would be held at such a place next day. This particular year April Fools' Day was on a Tuesday. The members duly received a post-card on the Monday that an extra meet of the hounds would take place at a place called Tervoe, about five miles from Limerick, on the Wednesday. Later on in the afternoon on the same day members received telegrams to say that the meet would take place on the Tuesday instead of Wednesday. On Tuesday morning members turned up and wound their ways towards Tervoe. At the barracks we had to rearrange our plans as to who could get away for this, perhaps the last meet of the year. It was finally settled, and those of us who could be spared rode off.
On the way to Tervoe we overtook a couple of other members, and after riding a little distance they said, "You fellows had better go back. This is a sell. Don't you know it's April Fools' Day? Go back." Well, we believed them and turned back, for they told us they were only going out to see the fun at Tervoe.
We were going back when we met some other members going out, so we told them, "Don't you go. This is all a sell. Don't you know it's April Fools' Day?" They looked at us in surprise and said, "Well! How can you fellows have been made fools of like this? Those two chaps are just making April fools of you. Come along, let's hurry on or we'll be late." It was in no pleasant mood that we trotted again towards Tervoe. We were anxious to interview our two kind friends. Then we arrived at the Meet to find that it was a sell all right, and that the whole of the members of the Hunt had been sold. We only had one satisfaction left, and that was that we had been sold twice that morning instead of once.
I must leave dear old Ireland, pass over my stay in Cork; the glorious days in Queenstown Harbour; how we dropped two fourteen-ton guns, the first of their kind, which we were to mount at Carlisle Fort, into the bottom of the sea and how we picked them out again; the late nights and the early mornings at the Cork and Queenstown clubs; the beautiful girls for whom Old Ireland is so much noted; the meetings of the South United Hunt Club at Middleton, where the Murphys, Coppingers and other splendid riders lived. And I must also pass over the six weeks of what in those days appeared to me as the term of solitary confinement right away at Greencastle Fort at the entrance to Lough Swilly. I went up there in the winter. Greencastle village was a small summer resort for the people of Londonderry. There was an hotel, which was open in the summer, and was managed by a man and his sisters. In the winter it was shut up. A few small cottages were also closed up. The population consisted of the policeman and three or four fishermen.
There was nothing to do for the men at the fort, except a little gun-drill. The nearest village was Moville, some four miles off. It was too rough as a rule to go fishing with any degree of comfort, so it was that I learnt how to play marbles. The old policeman, a couple of the fishermen and the hotel-keeper, when he was sober—which was not often—were quite experts, and taught me the game. They called it Three-Hole. The idea was this: you had to make nine holes, and the one who was last in doing so had to stand drinks, and, in addition, to put his hand down on the ground, with the knuckles facing the others, each one of whom had three shots at him with a good hard marble. This may be of little interest, indeed, as far as the game is concerned, but it shows one how different were the lives of us young officers then from what they are nowadays.
After my stay at Greencastle I proceeded to take charge of our detachment at Carlisle Fort, Queenstown Harbour. Have you ever been there? If not, go when you get the opportunity. Certainly Carlisle Fort itself—it lies on the left-hand side of the exit from the harbour—is difficult to get to. Either you had to cross by sailing-boat from Queenstown—there were no motor launches—or else drive right round the long arm of the harbour, at the end of which is Rostellon Castle. In the summer either trip was, as a rule, quite enjoyable. If one wished to go to Queenstown or Cork, an hour or so with a fair wind would land you at Queenstown. If, on the other hand, time was no particular object, the drive to Middleton, the headquarters of the hunt, was a most pleasant one. You passed Aghada Hall, then Rostellon, farther on. You could rest at the Sadleir Jacksons' hospitable home. But in the winter it was not so pleasant. The hunting country was all on the inland side of the harbour. One's mounts had to be sent round by Rostellon the day before the meet. And then, if those of us quartered at Carlisle wished to get to the meet in time, we had to make a very early start in our garrison boat, so as to reach Queenstown for an early breakfast at the club, and then a long drive to the meet. Sitting in an open boat at 4 A.M. on a dark winter's morning, with perhaps a head wind and four miles of a choppy sea to battle against, required a considerable amount of endurance and keenness, but we did it all right. It used to strike me as an odd circumstance in those days that the Tommies who manned the boat were so pleasant over the job. They were not going to hunt. They were not out to enjoy themselves. We were. Yet there were always volunteers, who apparently found pleasure in helping their young officers, though at very considerable inconvenience to themselves. But then the right Tommy is, and always has been, a good chap.
It was out with the Cork South United Pack of fox-hounds that I first met with a serious accident. I was riding a ripping mare, which I had named Kate Dwyer, and which, up to the day of this accident, had not given me a fall. The hounds were running up a long gully. The fox did not seem to have made up his mind as to which side of the gully he would break. Some of us thought it would be to the right, and we were following the crest of the gully on that side. We came to a stone wall on the slope of the hill. It was a thin wall—daylight through it. One had only to give the stones a push to make a very easy gap. I walked the mare up to it quietly and was leaning forward to push the stones down with my whip, when, I presume, the mare thought I wanted her to move on. So she tried to make a standing jump of it. It was a failure. She struck it and we fell together, my right leg being crushed by her weight falling on it on some of the displaced stones. The leg was not broken, but the flesh and tissues were all torn below the knee, and the bone pretty well lacerated. I was taken to Middleton, the then home of the Murphys and the Coppingers and many other good sportsmen, and, after having my injuries patched up, went to hospital. The mare, I am happy to say, had hardly even a scratch on her. She was the best bit of horseflesh I ever threw my legs across. I sold her afterwards to a friend from Northumberland, who, having married an Irish girl, used to come every year to put in a couple of months' hard riding in Limerick. He bought her from me at the end of the season and took her home to Northumberland. She did well in the summer, but, on the opening day of their season, she fell down dead in the middle of their first run. Poor old Kate.
My accident proved more severe than I anticipated, and I was sent home to Scotland on sick leave. After two months my leg mended up and I returned to Old Ireland in the early summer. Our company's annual training and the landing and mounting of the two first "Woolwich infants"—fat, six-inch muzzle loaders—at Carlisle Fort filled up the time till the autumn months. As I was very keen on shooting and was given three weeks' leave, I returned to Limerick, in the neighbourhood of which sport was of the best. I never had anywhere in the world a better day's woodcock shooting than the O'Grady family gave me in County Clare. Long narrow belts of wood in an undulating country were full of the so-called best sporting bird in the world. Hard to down; best to eat. Equally good with the woodcock shooting in Clare was the wild-duck shooting in the quaking bogs of County Limerick, and away in the loughs, westwards, towards the mouth of the Shannon.
Before proceeding further, I have to make an admission. My readers will have no doubt have discovered by this time that I am faithfully recording what comes to my mind of the old days. If the incident I record tells against me I am quite content to accept the blame. Why not? No one really knows where the hand of fate is leading one. Thank God we know not what to-morrow is going to bring forth. All pleasure and zest in life would be gone if we only knew what to-morrow was going to do for us. Yet we have to behave to-day—or should behave to-day—so as to secure a pleasurable and profitable to-morrow, in case we are permitted to be alive on the morrow. It seems to me how wonderful it is that any act on one's part—quite unpremeditated, or only if done just by chance—can have so great an influence on all our to-morrows. It may ruin all our prospects or may make us the happiest of mortals. It may bring the saddest of morrows to those dearest to us, or it may shower blessing—unintentionally, of course—on our worst enemies.
Well, no more sermons. What is the admission I was going to make? Well, I will now tell you, right off. I fell in love. Quite hopelessly, desperately in love. It was very annoying and distressing, for had I not, up to then, loved so many that I loved no one in particular, at any rate, except for short periods of time. What was coming over me, I wondered? Oh, but, whatever it was, it was indeed sweet, and, if love is freely, wholly given, and is returned, then is it not heavenly bliss on earth? Yes, no doubt. But, what about to-morrow?
There was, unfortunately, no chance of a happy to-morrow for us. Except our love, all else was against us. She was young, sweet as only a real colleen can be, her Irish blue-violet eyes set in her lovely forehead, fringing which her glorious gold chestnut hair sparkled in the sun with the richest tints. To watch her on horseback was a dream. But—and now your sympathies will, I hope, be given to me—she was married. She cared not for her husband; her husband evidently did not particularly love her. It was the old story. Two young people marrying young and then discovering that they had been too hasty and that they could not live together happily. There was nothing new in this situation. It seems to be always happening. I have come across such happenings more than several times since the days I am now writing of. The Divorce Court appears to be useful in such cases and relieves the sufferings of those affected, at times. But the Divorce Court cannot reach every one, can it? There is not enough time nor are there enough Divorce Courts to get round.
But let me get on with my affairs before I start a discussion as to what love is. Let it suffice that I was suffering from a violent attack of it. However, something else was to claim me and set me on to fresh fields. Just then, as the result of the evenings and moonlight nights spent wildfowl shooting in the bogs in the cold, I got rheumatic fever, and once more returned to hospital. My illness, which became very serious, led to my being ordered the longest sea voyage I could take, in the hopes of regaining my strength. This necessitated my resigning my commission and taking my passage for a trip to New Zealand, though the doctors did not seem to think I should reach that far-off land. Thus ended my second romance. And now for fresh worlds to conquer, if Providence only gave me health.
A VOYAGE TO NEW ZEALAND
It was a bright summer's morning. Somewhere about noon the good clipper, the New Zealand Shipping Company's Waipa, slipped her cable and was taken in tow down the old River Thames. Her skipper was a good sea salt; he was a Scotsman all right. His name was Gorn. I had been allotted my cabin. I was, of course, unable to move without help, but I did look forward to getting better as the good old ship moved to the south and worked into warmer tropical climes. The days are now past to go to the other end of the world—the farthest end, anyhow, then known—in a sailing ship. We had three months' voyage in front of us. We were to call nowhere; we were just to sail merrily along for three solid months, till we reached our first port of call, Port Chalmers, in New Zealand.
Our passengers were not many in what we called the saloon—three New Zealanders, who had made money as shepherds and then become owners of sheep stations, and a few intending settlers in that beautiful land, retired officers and ex-clergymen, with their families, took up the available first-class accommodation. The remainder of the passengers, of whom there were a good many, were emigrants of both sexes, a happy, contented crowd, many of whom were looking forward to the better conditions of life which New Zealand offered them through her commercial agents in London.
I well remember how soon our small troubles began. Perhaps the only real trouble was our medical officer. He was the doctor in charge of the ship, and was kind and attentive, but, even before we reached the Doldrums, which was about a third of the way, we were not surprised to find there were no medical comforts left. Our worthy captain was very much concerned, especially as about that time the potatoes had given out, the fresh meat had been consumed—even to the last poor fowl—and the so-called baker declared that he was absolutely unable to give us any decent bread. So we had a lively two months to look forward to. Personally I did not mind. Instead of getting better, as the weather got warmer I became worse. I was taken every day from my bunk into one of the ship's boats, which hung on the side, and made as comfortable as I could be, and got as much fresh air as was available. Everyone was kind, and, in the absence of any pain, I was not unhappy. But I did not look forward with any degrees of pleasure to the time when, on crossing the line, we should leave the warm climates, and, picking up the south-easterly trades off the South American coast, enter the cold regions through which the rest of the voyage had to be made. But one never knows. My friend, the doctor, who had been most sanguine in promising me the full use of my limbs as the weather became warmer, was more than puzzled, so much so that I fancied he fully anticipated my final collapse as soon as the cold weather came on; and I sometimes thought, too, that he did regret that the medical comforts in his charge had been consumed so early in the voyage.
Well, we reached the tropics, and for three days the Doldrums held us. They had the usual festivities when crossing the Line, and Father Neptune visited us. Our worthy captain pleased all the passengers by the hearty way in which he entered into all their amusements. From my perch in my boat I enjoyed what I then thought were the last few days I had to live. Then came the day when a slight ripple appeared in the calm waters, which presaged a light breeze. This breeze turned into a fairly strong wind—and we had picked up the south-easterly trade. To my great relief, and to the very considerable astonishment of the doctor, from that moment I began to improve. As, each day, we made to the south, the cooler became the wind and the rougher the sea. It was a fine trade wind, and we bowled along with all sail set doing our eight or nine knots an hour day and night. And each day I felt better. Before we doubled the Cape of Good Hope and entered the long stretch which, tracking along the Southern Seas, due east, was to land us in New Zealand, I was actually walking with some slight help, and from that time onwards I improved to such an extent that I was able to take my turn now and again with one of the watches as an able seaman.
It was a long weary journey across those Southern Seas. The monotony of it, day after day, with the following wind, wave after wave apparently threatening to overtake us, yet our poop deck ever avoiding them. And so on until we reached Stewart Island. We made the North Passage, and on November 4, just ninety-two days after leaving London, we entered Port Chalmers.
Port Chalmers is the Port of Dunedin, that fine city in the South Island of New Zealand. Dunedin was named after the city of Edinburgh, which was once known as Dunedin. It is just chock full of Scotsmen, and it is very much to be doubted whether a better name could have been given it by those sons of Scotland who first made their home there. The climate of Dunedin much resembles the climate of Edinburgh itself. Snow covers its streets in the winter, and the great Mount Cook, clad in snow, hovers away in the far distance. Down towards the south scenery which not even the fiords of Norway can rival extends from the bluff towards the north. Milford Sounds are well known for their great beauty to all those who have travelled in those waters. I doubt whether there is any part of the world which, within such distances, is more magnificently picturesque than that southern corner of the South Island of New Zealand. Enough; this is not a guide book.
We landed at Port Chalmers and proceeded to Waine's Hotel. It was kept, I need hardly say, by a Scotsman, and it is there still. I felt that I had started a new lease of life. I couldn't believe it possible that I had got rid of every pain and ache and that I was as fit as fit could be. My first concern was to cable home and tell them not only of my safe arrival, but of the wonderful recovery that I had made, and that I intended to at once get to work and take advantage of the letters of introduction that I had taken with me. Two of these were to men in Dunedin, and, curiously enough, one of them was a well-known local man, who happened to be the Officer Commanding the Volunteer Artillery Company. He was most kind. He was a very keen volunteer soldier, and he informed me that the great difficulty he had to contend with was the fact that the Government would not place at his disposal a qualified instructor for his corps. "If you are going to stay here a little time," he said, "will you give a short course of instruction to my men?" I was only too pleased, and, within two days of my arrival in Dunedin, a parade of the corps was held in their drill-hall—which, by the by, was an excellent one—and we made all arrangements to commence business. It was like old times again. Who could have told me, when I was leaving London, three months before, as I thought a cripple, that I was going to be at work again, as fresh as ever, within three months, at the other side of the world? One introduction led to another, till I found it difficult to find time to take advantage of all the kind invitations that were given me.
I had decided, however, that it was to Wellington, the seat of the New Zealand Government, that I had to make my way. It was at Wellington that the responsible head of the New Zealand defence and police force resided—good old Colonel Reader. I had letters of introduction to him, and I thought it advisable, in view of my experience in Dunedin, to interview him as early as possible, as he might consider my experience as a Gunner of some value to the Government. I left my friends in Dunedin with many regrets, and full of promises to return to their hospitable city should the authorities at Wellington deem it advisable to appoint an instructor to their district. I was sorry to leave Dunedin. The town possessed, and possesses, one of the nicest clubs in the southern hemisphere—the Fernhill Club, a most comfortable residence, standing in its own grounds, quite in the centre of the city.
On reaching Wellington I called upon Colonel Reader, and apparently my luck was in. He told me that he was looking out for a Drill Instructor and that he would be pleased if I could take the appointment. The emolument seemed to me enormous. It was just four times the amount I had been receiving as a lieutenant in the artillery. In addition, it carried travelling expenses and other perquisites. I accepted at once, and was ordered to take up my duties at first in the North Island, at a place called Tauranga, not far from the scene of the fight at the Gate Pah, during the Maori War. Anyone visiting Tauranga can still trace the site of the old British camp and the remains of the old trenches.
Not far from the Gate Pah, in what was then called The King Country, lay Ohinemutu, the Maori settlement, alongside which rose the celebrated Terraces—later on, somewhere about 1885, the scene of the terrible eruptions which completely wiped out that wonderful country, submerged the terraces and mountains, and formed fresh lakes in what is now well known as the Rotorua district. How soon or how late further eruptions will take place in this district, where now a modern hotel and marble baths have taken the place of Maori whares and mud-holes, it is not for me to say.
While at Tauranga I became acquainted with the method then in vogue of settling people on the land in New Zealand. A retired officer, who had himself migrated thither, and had secured a holding not far from the township of Tauranga, obtained from the Government a large area of land, north of Tauranga, on the road towards Grahamstown and the Thames Goldfield. It was reported at the time that the price he had paid the Government was ten shillings per acre, right out. This tract of country was completely covered with bracken, and bracken is a difficult growth to get rid of. Proceeding to England, he induced a good many of his friends to try their fortune on the other side of the world, offering them land at an upset price of two pounds per acre—good land, beautiful climate, great possibilities. It was a very tempting offer to those who knew no better, and he succeeded in practically disposing of the land on these terms. The greater number of these would-be pioneers were retired officers, an ex-bishop or two, retired clergymen, and others of a similar walk in life, who, one would naturally think, were the least qualified to battle at their time of life with the problems of cultivating unknown lands in far-distant colonies. The promoter, if report is correct, chartered two sailing vessels, and into these endless furniture, pianos, household goods, belonging to the settlers, were duly packed. Yet, remember, all that they were to find on their arrival was bracken—no houses, no fences, no roads, nothing but bracken. Not one of them knew which portion of the bracken was to be his own. Part of the contract was that, during the voyage out, the settlers were to draw lots for the allotment of positions, the value of which they could only judge from a map hung up in the saloon of the ship.
I rode through this settlement about one year after the arrival of the settlers. There were a certain number of huts, intended finally to be homesteads, in the course of being built. A few tracks formed the so-called roads. Some of the bracken was disappearing. But the ready money which the settlers, or some of them, had brought out with them had been spent, and the outlook was anything but cheerful. Further, the necessary conditions for the survey of the allotments—as required by the Government—had not been fulfilled. Consequently the settlers were unable to borrow any funds on their property, unless they applied to the Jews. This is many years ago, and, though I have not been there lately, I believe that it is now a most prosperous district. But how many of those courageous original settlers or their families are there now?
In connexion with the eruption at Ohinemutu there was an incident which it is worth while to record. Should it occur again, the record should act as a sure warning to the residents at Rotorua. Situated some thirty miles from the coast, to the eastwards of Tauranga, there is an island. It rises in the shape of a conical hill clean out of the sea. It was then known as Sulphur Island, or perhaps better as White Island. As a matter of fact it was an old volcano, though never quite extinct. On landing at this island you would have found that the conical hill was absolutely hollow, and that on its base, in the inside, level with the sea, lay a lake, whose waters were of the dark blue hue that only sulphur lakes can show. The specific gravity of the water is very heavy, much the same as that of the blue lake in the Mount Gambier district, in South Australia, at the top edge of which Adam Lindsay Gordon made his famous jump over a high fence. From both the inner and the outer crust of this shell mountain continually poured sulphur deposits, practically pure sulphur. On the outward side of the mountain this sulphur accumulated on the base, towards the beach. It was indeed a glorious sight, on a moonlight night, to look at this peak rising majestically from amidst the waves of mid-ocean, white as a sugar-loaf, as the rays of the moon bathed it with its silvery light.
Beautiful as it looked, it was yet tainted with the saddest of histories. Though it was known that at some period or another it had been inhabited by natives, yet no fresh water could then be found within its shores. The only solution that could be found for the fact that it had been inhabited was that some springs of fresh water existed between the low and high water mark of the tide which were known to the then inhabitants, but the knowledge of the situation of these springs had died with them. The sulphur, however, almost in its pure state, was there in abundance, and White Island, at the time I am speaking of, was leased by the Government to a small syndicate, which employed a certain number of hands, and exported the sulphur, chiefly to Tauranga. It was a fine paying game for that merry small syndicate. The conditions, however, under which white men were bound to labour at White Island were as sad and as deplorable as it has ever been my lot to know. Any man who decided to fill sulphur bags at White Island knew that he was going to his last home in this world. The conditions of life on the island were practically hopeless. The strong sulphur fumes ate up one's vitality. One's teeth fell out. Nothing but woollen clothes could withstand the ravages of the fumes. Eyesight failed. The only fresh water available was that which was landed on the Island by the schooners which carried away the sulphur bags. The spirit of those labourers was broken, and they were content to finish their lives under the influence of the strong and adulterated spirits with which those same schooners supplied them, thus helping them on their passage to another world. Sulphur (or White) Island is doubtless still there, and, no doubt, supplying many tons of that most useful product of this earth under very much happier conditions.
But, to hark back to the incident of the wonderful volcano upheaval which wrecked Ohinemutu and its terraces, its mountains and its lakes. For about a month previous to the eruptions the captains of the coastal boats plying along the eastern coast from Wellington to Auckland, making Gisborne, Napier and Tauranga their ports of call, noticed that when travelling between White Island and the main coast they passed through shoals of dead fish floating on the surface of the sea. They were astonished at this, but they failed to arrive at any solution of the phenomenon. It was not till after the eruptions took place that these reports caused the Government authorities to attempt to trace a connexion between the shoals of dead fish on the waters and the eruption at Ohinemutu. The result of these investigations proved—as far as it was reported at the time—that serious volcanic disturbances had been taking place between White Island and the mainland, unknown and unseen, but the result of which was apparently proved by the presence on the surface of the waters of the dead or stunned fish. All boys know that a concussion caused in waters where there are fish, stuns them and brings them to the surface, ready to be gathered in by the enterprising but unsportsmanlike spirit who fires off the exploding charge. That a great explosion and upheaval had taken place within the deep sea was proved by the experience of the skippers in the coasting trade. I think I am making a correct statement when I say that the connexion between White Island and the District of Ohinemutu on the mainland, as volcanic centres, was established.
My duties, as I have already stated, were not onerous. My chief work, as instructor, was minimized by the small number of troopers. I had under me some thirty or forty mounted men. The Maoris were somewhat restless between the east and west, and they proved that restlessness by making raids on the working parties which were then employed on road making through the Parihaka district. Their chief delight was to raid the road-makers' piles of broken metal and scatter it, broadcast, from their well-constructed heaps.
Before I left Tauranga an incident occurred which appealed to me very much as an instance of the curious ways of Providence. I was riding back one afternoon after visiting some of the country patrols. I had filled my pipe, but discovered that I had no matches. Presently I noticed, on the right-hand side of the road amidst the bracken, a very humble abode. As a matter of fact, it was just what was then known as a "lean-to," the preliminary stage of the farmhouses that were then being built by the settlers. These "lean-tos" were, in the first instance used for living purposes. Later on, when the front parts of the houses were built, they became the kitchens and domestic offices. The building was only some four hundred yards from the road, so I turned in to get a light for my pipe. I noticed, as I was getting near, that a man was standing on a step-ladder, apparently doing some painting. He looked down on me from his ladder as I approached. Then I saw that instead of painting he was engaged in tarring the roof of the building. He was evidently an amateur tar-man. The bucket which held the tar was tied on to the ladder below him. The roof he was tarring was a little above him, with the result that he himself was fairly covered with sprinklings of the tar. As he possessed a pair of somewhat large whiskers and his head was uncovered, he presented a quaint appearance. After greetings, I ventured to ask if he could supply me with a few matches.
As he turned and looked down on me from his perch on the ladder, I recognized an old friend at whose beautiful country house in the county of Cork in Ireland I had spent many, many happy hours when I was quartered at Carlisle Fort. I could hardly believe that he was the host who had been so kind to all of us young officers only a few months before.
"Surely you are not Colonel ——?" I said.
"Yes," he said, "I am."
"Well," I said, "you probably won't remember me, but I do remember you and all the pleasure you used to give us. Are you all out here? Where are the girls?"
I introduced myself, and he did remember me. The result was that he asked me to stay to their evening meal, which invitation I gladly accepted.
As he landed from the ladder he laughed, and he said, "I'm afraid I'm not much of an adept at tarring. It's only been my second attempt, and it takes me such an awful time to get rid of the amount of the tar which I so freely distribute over myself. But I am sure you won't mind our primitive ways, and if this abode is not as pretentious as the old castle in County Cork, still we can all give you a very hearty welcome."
I put up my horse in the shed which did duty as a stable. He told me that the two sons were away with the milk cart, while the girls were hard at work doing the evening's milking of the cows and feeding the poultry, and would shortly finish their day's work. In the meantime, we would have a pipe and stroll round what he called the domain. We were a cheery party that met at that evening meal. The girls appeared, looking sweet in their very best clothes. The old man and his sons put on evening dress. The centre room was a living-room, drawing-room, dining-room, smoking-room, library, all combined in one. The table on which dinner was served was made of rough boards resting on a couple of trestles, but covered with the best of damask tablecloths and silver ornaments. The dining-room chairs consisted of empty packing cases. Such were the difficulties that the early settlers had to contend with.
Some years afterwards I was paying an official call on one of Her Majesty's ships at Adelaide, South Australia, and the commander asked me to go into his cabin, where I saw a photograph of a sweetly pretty woman. I recognized it at once. It was one of the three sisters with whom I had dined some years before. I mentioned the fact, and asked him if she was a relation of his. "Very much so," he said; "she is my wife." He then told me all about the family, and that they had done well, and the farm had been a great success.
A MAORI MEETING
At this time Tauranga itself was a centre of another kind of activity. Exeter Hall had exerted its wonderful influence in attempting to settle all sorts of questions affecting the Empire and the management of Imperial interests in the colonies, the governing of which had already been handed over to the care of those who had so ably developed them. Exeter Hall had influenced the Imperial Government to call upon the New Zealand Government to make monetary compensation to the Maoris for the loss, or so-called loss, of portions of the land which had been taken from them as the result of the Maori War.
A very considerable tract of land, then known as the King Country, lay to the west of Tauranga, and included, I think, the Ohinemutu district. Riding from Tauranga towards the west, you passed through the bracken country and then arrived at the magnificent bush, which began at a place called Europe, known as "Orope" by the Maoris. Glorious and magnificent trees towered overhead, while hundreds of creepers and other semi-tropical plants grew so intensely that it was more than difficult to force a way through. Herein was the home of the supple-jack, whose branches enfolded you more and more the longer you attempted to force your way through. Here was the home of the wild boar. A large tract of this country formed part of the land for which compensation was to be paid by the Government to the Maoris in accordance with the dictates of Exeter Hall.
Courts of jurisdiction were established at several centres of the population. The courts consisted of an English justice and a native assessor. One of these courts was established at Tauranga. The question for the court to decide was which Maori tribe, at the time of the close of the Maori War, were actually the rightful owners of the particular land in dispute. I was informed at the time—and I think my information was correct—that the title of ownership lay, in accordance with the Maori traditions, with the chief of a tribe who had actually killed (and eaten part of) his unsuccessful rival. The courts arranged to make duly known to all tribes that put forward a claim to any such lands, the dates on which sittings would be held to deal with each case in rotation.
I was at Tauranga when the court was sitting, and a wonderful experience it was. The value of the tract of land under consideration in this one case was some L6,500. Remember that it was not intended to restore the land to the Maoris. They were to be compensated only in cash value for the loss of the land. In this particular instance there were three tribes whose chiefs claimed to have been in possession at the time of the war, and who desired to appear before the court. The procedure was as follows: The court sat at Tauranga. The tribes declined to be represented by the chiefs, even if accompanied by a few of their elder tribesmen; they insisted upon attending the courts with the whole tribe, men, women and children. Their average number was about 380. Provision had to be made for suitable camps during the course of the trial. What a time for the furniture dealers, storekeepers, butchers, bakers, and other tradesmen, whose pleasant duty it became to make such provision! Remember that all expenses which the tribes incurred were a charge on the capital value of L6,500. The Maoris cared not. They did not realize that they were actually paying for their own subsistence. The sole aim of each tribe was to win its case. The local authorities fixed the localities for the camps and made all arrangements for their comfort on a liberal scale. The first tribe to arrive found their quarters ready for them, and it then became their privilege to welcome the second tribe, which came from across the water, a small arm of the sea to the south of the town. This tribe swam across, men, women and children, to the head of the jetty to which the local steamers made fast. The Maoris who lived in close proximity to the sea were excellent swimmers.
The order of procedure was as follows: The tribe already in possession of the camp piled up a couple of trucks with barrels of beer, bottles of rum, gin, brandy and whisky. These trucks were run down the rails to the end of the jetty and were left there to await the arrival of the swimming tribe, while the others remained on the shore end to welcome them. The new-comers, tired after their long swim, greatly appreciated the kind thought of their hosts, and immediately set to work to consume as much of the good gifts as the gods, or, rather, their legal opponents, offered them. These, drawn up in battle array, impatiently awaited their arrival, the braves all in front in such a position as they considered advisable, from their military point of view, to impress their guests with a sense of their prowess. Behind the fighting line the womenfolk were drawn up. In their front line were their best-looking girls. They were specially put there to catch the eye of the leading young men among their guests. The elderly women and the youngsters formed the third line.
Thus the hosts waited for the arrival of their guests. The original idea was that the tribe arriving would take a certain amount of the drink offered to them, enough to fortify themselves so as to arrive at the end of the jetty in fairly good condition. But the hopes of the hosts were unjustified. There was nothing left on the trolley at the end of the jetty but empty beer barrels and glass bottles. Watching them as I did, from the little fort just overlooking the jetty, I was wondering how the advance of the visiting tribe down the jetty was going to be carried out. I gathered, from what I had seen, that the amount of spirits consumed would produce some comical effects. I was quite disappointed. I wondered also whether the procession down the jetty was to be carried out in the clothes in which they arrived, which were nil. It would have been a quaint experience to have seen a whole naked tribe arriving at quite a respectable English settlement. But, no. Their coverings had been carefully carried by the swimmers on the top of their heads and kept dry. And while they refreshed themselves from the friendly truck they donned such garments as made them quite respectable.