Soon we heard loud shoutings from the direction of the tank, and saw a long string of native servants carrying brown chatties of hot water towards the pond. We found that the courteous House-Baboo had informed the midshipmen that the holes in the banks of the tank were the winter rest-places of cobras. It then occurred to the boys that it would be capital fun to pour hot water down the holes, and to kill the cobras with sticks as they emerged from them. It was a horribly dangerous amusement, for, one bad shot, and the Royal Navy would unquestionably have had to mourn the loss of a promising midshipman in two hours' time. When we arrived the snake-killing was over, and the boys were all refreshing themselves with large cheroots purloined from the dining-room on their behalf by a friendly kitmutgar. The dragging of the tank was really a wonderful sight. As the net reached the far end it was one solid mass of great shining, blue-grey fish, of about thirty pounds weight each. The most imaginative artist in depicting the "Miraculous Draught of Fishes" never approached the reality of Barrackpore, or pictured such vast quantities of writhing, silvery finny creatures. They were a fish called cattla by the natives, a species of carp, with a few eels and smaller fish of a bright red colour thrown in amongst them. I could never have believed that one pond could have held such incredible quantities of fish. The Viceroy, an intrepid pioneer in gastronomic matters, had a great cattla boiled for his dinner. The first mouthful defeated him; he declared that the consistency of the fish was that of an old flannel shirt, and the taste a compound of mud and of the smell of a covered racquet-court. A lady insisted on presenting the midshipmen with two dozen bottles of a very good champagne for the Gun-room Mess. In the innocence of her heart she thought that the champagne would last them for a year, but on New Year's Eve the little lambs had a great celebration on board, and drank the whole two dozen at one sitting. As there were exactly eighteen of them, this made a fair allowance apiece; they all got exceedingly drunk, and the Admiral stopped their leave for two months, so we saw no more of them. They were quite good boys really though, like all their kind, rather over-full of high spirits.
As is well known, Queen Victoria celebrated her seventieth birthday by commencing the study of Hindustani under the tuition of a skilled Moonshee. At the farewell audience the Queen gave my sister, Her Majesty, on learning that Lady Lansdowne intended to begin learning Hindustani as soon as she reached India, proposed that they should correspond occasionally in Urdu, to test the relative progress they were making. Every six months or so a letter from the Queen, beautifully written in Persian characters, reached Calcutta, to which my sister duly replied. In strict confidence, I may say that I strongly suspect that Lady Lansdowne's letters were written by her Moonshee, and that she merely copied the Persian characters, which she could do very neatly. The Arabic alphabet is used in writing Persian, with three or four extra letters added to express sounds which do not exist in Arabic; it is, of course, written from right to left. I had an hour and a half's daily lesson in Urdu from an efficient, if immensely pompous, Moonshee, but I never attempted to learn to read or write the Persian characters.
I do not think that any one who has not traversed the plains of Northern Indian can have any idea of their deadly monotony. Hour after hour of level, sun-baked wheat-fields, interspersed with arid tracts of desert, hardly conforms to the traditional idea of Indian scenery, nor when once Bengal is left behind is there any of that luxuriant vegetation which one instinctively associates with hot countries. In bars in the United States, any one wishing for whisky and water was (I advisedly use the past tense) accustomed to drain a small tumbler of neat whisky, and then to swallow a glass of water. In India everything is arranged on this principle; the whisky and the water are kept quite separate. The dead-flat expanse of the Northern plains is unbroken by the most insignificant of mounds; on the other hand, in the hills it is almost impossible to find ten yards of level ground. In the same way during the dry season you know with absolute certainty that there will be no rain; whilst during the rains you can predict, without the faintest shadow of doubt, that the downpour will continue day by day. Personally, I prefer whisky and water mixed.
In 1891 the Viceroy had selected the Kumaon district for his usual official spring tour, and all arrangements had been made for this. As my sister was feeling the heat of Calcutta a great deal, she and I preceded the Viceroy to Naini Tal in the Kumaon district, as it stands at an altitude of 6500 feet. The narrow-gauge railway ends at Kathgodam, fifteen miles from Naini Tal, and the last four miles to the hill-station have to be ridden up, I should imagine, the steepest road in the world. It is like the side of a house. People have before now slipped over their horses' tails going up that terrific ascent, and I cannot conceive how the horses' girths manage to hold. Naini Tal is a delightful spot, with bungalows peeping out of dense greenery that fringes a clear lake. As in most hill-stations, the narrow riding tracks are scooped out of the hillsides with a perpendicular drop of, say, 500 feet on one side. These khudd paths, in addition to being very narrow, are so precipitous that it takes some while getting used to riding along them. A rather tiresome elderly spinster had come up to Naini Tal on a visit to a relative, and was continually bewailing the dangers of these khudd paths. She had hoped, she declared, to put on a little flesh in the hills, but her constant anxiety about the khudds was making her thinner than ever. A humorous subaltern, rather bored at these continual laments, observed to her: "At all events, Miss Smith, you'll have one consolation. If by any piece of bad luck you should fall over the khudd, you'll go over thin, but you'll fall down plump—a thousand feet."
The very evening that Lord Lansdowne arrived for his projected tour, the news of a serious outbreak in Manipur was telegraphed. The Viceroy at once decided to abandon his tour and to proceed straight to Simla, to which the Government offices had already moved, and where his presence would be urgently required. Lord William Beresford, the Military Secretary, a prince of organisers, at once took possession of the telegraph wires, and in two hours his arrangements were complete—or as an Anglo-Indian would put it, "he had made his bundobust." The Viceroy and my sister were to leave next morning at 6 a.m., and Lord William undertook to get them to Simla by special trains before midnight. He actually landed them there by 11 p.m.—quite a record journey, for Naini Tal is 407 miles from Simla, of which 75 miles have to be ridden or driven by road and 66 are by narrow-gauge railway, on which high speeds are impossible. There were 6500 feet to descend from Naini, and 6000 feet to ascend to Simla, but in India a good organiser can accomplish miracles.
The Viceroy's tour being abandoned, Colonel Erskine, the Commissioner for the Kumaon district, invited me to accompany him on his own official tour. It was through very difficult country where no wheeled traffic could pass, so we were to ride, with all our belongings carried by coolies. I bought two hill-ponies the size of Newfoundland dogs for myself and my "bearer," and we started. The little animals being used to carrying packs, have a disconcerting trick of keeping close to the very edge of the khudd, for experience has taught them that to bump their load against the rock wall on the inner side gives them an unpleasant jar. These little hill-ponies are wonderfully sure-footed, and can climb like cats over dry water-courses piled with rocks and great boulders, which a man on foot would find difficult to negotiate. The rhododendrons were then in full flower, and the hills were one blaze of colour. We were always going up and up, and as we ascended, the deep crimson rhododendron flowers of Naini Tal gradually faded to rose-colour, from rose-colour to pale pink, and from pink to pure white. It was a perfect education travelling with Colonel Erskine, for that shrewd and kindly old Scotsman had spent half his life in India, and knew the Oriental inside out. The French have an expression, "se fourrer dans la peau d'autrui," "to shove yourself into another person's skin," and therefore to be able to see things as they would present themselves to the mind of a man of a different race and of a different mentality, and from his point of view. All young diplomats are enjoined to cultivate this art, and some few succeed in doing so. Colonel Erskine had it to perfection. On arriving in a village he would call for a carpet, and a dirty cotton dhuree would be laid on the round. He would then order a charpoy, or native bed, to be placed on the carpet, and he would seat himself on it, and call out in the vernacular, "Now, my children, what have you to tell me?" All this was strictly in accordance with immemorial Eastern custom. Then the long line of suppliants would approach, each one with a present of an orange, or a bunch of rhododendron flowers in his hand. This, again, from the very beginning of things has been the custom in the East (cf. 2 Kings, chap. viii, vers. 8, 9: "And the King said unto Hazael, Take a present in thine hand, and go, meet the man of God.... So Hazael went to meet him, and took a present with him"). Colonel Erskine was a great stickler for these presents, and as they could be picked off the nearest rhododendron bush, they cost the donor nothing.
The outpouring of grievences and complaints then began, each applicant always ending with the two-thousand-year-old cry of India, "Dohai, Huzoor!" ("Justice, my lord!") The old Commissioner meanwhile listened intently, dictating copious notes to his Brahmin clerk, and at the conclusion of the audience he would cry, "Go, my children. Justice shall be done to all of you," and we moved on to another village. It was very pleasant seeing the patriarchal relations between the Commissioner and the villagers. He understood them and their customs thoroughly; they trusted him and loved him as their official father. I fancy that this type of Indian Civil servant, knowing the people he has to deal with down to the very marrow of their bones, has become rarer of late years. The Brahmin clerk was a very intelligent man, and spoke English admirably, but I took a great dislike to him, noting the abject way in which the natives fawned on him. Colonel Erskine had to discharge him soon afterwards, as he found that he had been exploiting the villagers mercilessly for years, taking bribes right and left. From much experience Colonel Erskine was an adept at travelling with what he termed "a light camp." He took with him a portable office-desk, a bookcase with a small reference library, and two portable arm-chairs. All these were carried in addition to our baggage and bedding on coolies' heads, for our sleeping-places were seldom more than fifteen miles apart.
The Commissioner's old Khansama had very strict ideas as to how a "Sahib's" dinner should be served. He insisted on decorating the table with rhododendron flowers, and placing on it every night four dishes of Moradabad metal work containing respectively six figs, six French plums, six dates, and six biscuits, all reposing on the orthodox lace-paper mats, and the moment dinner was over he carefully replaced these in pickle-jars for use next evening. We would have broken his heart had we spoiled the symmetry of his dishes by eating any of these. It takes a little practice to master bills of fare written in "Kitmutar English," and for "Irishishtew" and "Anchoto" to be resolved into Irish-stew and Anchovy-toast. Once when a Viceroy was on tour there was a roast gosling for dinner. This duly appeared on the bill-of-fare as "Roasted goose's pup." In justice, however, we must own that we would make far greater blunders in trying to write a menu in Urdu.
The Kumaon district is beautiful, not unlike an enlarged Scotland, with deep ravines scooped out by clear, rushing rivers, their precipitous sides clothed with dense growths of deodaras. In the early morning the view of the long range of the snowy pinnacles of the Himalayas was splendid. I learnt a great deal from wise old Colonel Erskine with his intimate knowledge of the workings of the native mind, and of the psychology of the Oriental.
There is something very touching in the fidelity of Indian native servants to their employers. Lady Lansdowne returned to India eighteen years after leaving it, for the marriage of her son (who was killed in the first three months of the war) to Lord Minto's daughter, and I accompanied her. One afternoon all the pensioned Government House servants who had been in Lord Lansdowne's employment arrived in a body to offer their "salaams" to my sister. They presented a very different appearance to the resplendent beings in scarlet and gold whom I had formerly known, for on taking their pension they had ceased troubling to dye their beards, and they were merely dressed in plain white cotton. These grey-bearded, toothless old men with their high, aquiline features (they were nearly all Mohammedans), flowing white garments and turbans, might have stepped bodily out of stained-glass windows. They had brought with them all the little presents (principally watches) which my sister had given them; they remembered all the berths she had secured for their sons, and the letters she had written on their behalf. An Oriental has a very long memory for a kindness as well as for an injury done him. Lady Lansdowne, whose Hindustani had become rather rusty, began feverishly turning over the pages of a dictionary in an endeavour to express her feelings and the pleasure she experienced in seeing these faithful retainers again: she wept, and the old men wept, and we all agreed, as elderly people will, that in former days the sun was brighter and life altogether rosier than in these degenerate times. Before leaving, the old servants simultaneously lifted their arms in the Mahommedan gesture of blessing, with all the innate dignity of the Oriental; it was really a very touching sight, nor do I think that the very substantial memento of their visit which each of them received had anything to do with their attitude: they only wished to show that they were "faithful to their salt."
It is difficult to determine the age of a native, as wrinkles and lines do not show on a dark skin. Dark skins have other advantages. One of the European Examiners of Calcutta University told me that there had been great trouble about the examination-papers. By some means the native students always managed to obtain what we may term "advance" copies of these papers. My informant devised a scheme to stop this leakage. Instead of having the papers printed in the usual fashion, he called in the services of a single white printer on whom he could absolutely rely. The white printer had the papers handed to him early on the morning of the examination day, and he duly set them up on a hand-press in the building itself. The printer had one assistant, a coolie clad only in loin-cloth and turban, and every time the coolie left the room he was made to remove both his loin-cloth and turban, so that by no possibility could he have any papers concealed about him. In spite of these precautions, it was clear from internal evidence that some of the students had had a previous knowledge of the questions. How had it been managed? It eventually appeared that the coolie, taking advantage of the momentary absence of the white printer, had whipped off his loin-cloth, SAT DOWN ON THE "FORM," and then replaced his solitary garment. When made to strip on going out, the printing-ink did not show on his dark skin: he had only to sit down elsewhere on a large sheet of white paper for the questions to be printed off on it, and they could then easily be read in a mirror. The Oriental mind is very subtle.
This is no place to speak of the marvels of Mogul architecture in Agra and Delhi. I do not believe that there exists in the world a more exquisitely beautiful hall than the Diwan-i-Khas in Delhi palace. This hall, open on one side to a garden, is entirely built of transparent white marble inlaid with precious stones, and with its intricate gilded ceilings, and wonderful pierced-marble screens it justifies the famous Persian inscription that runs round it:
"If heaven can be on the face of the earth, It is this, it is this, it is this."
I always regret that Shah Jehan did not carry out his original intention of erecting a second Taj of black marble for himself at Agra, opposite the wonderful tomb he built for his beloved Muntaz-i-Mahal; probably the money ran out. Few people take in that the dome of the Taj, that great airy white soap-bubble, is actually higher than the dome of St. Paul's. The play of fancy and invention of Shah Jehan's architects seems inexhaustible. All the exquisite white marble pavilions of Agra palace differ absolutely both in design and decoration, and Akbar's massive red sandstone buildings make the most perfect foil to them that could be conceived.
Lucknow is one of the pleasantest stations in India, with its ring of encircling parks, and the broad, tree-shaded roads of its cantonments, but the pretentious monuments with which the city is studded will not bear examination after the wonders of Agra and Delhi. The King of Oude wished to surpass the Mogul Emperors by the magnificence of his buildings, but he wished, too, to do it on the cheap. So in Lucknow stucco, with very debased details, replaces the stately red sandstone and marble of the older cities.
In 1890 after a long day's sight-seeing in Lucknow, in the course of which we ascended the long exterior flight of steps of the great Imambarah on an elephant (who proved himself as nimble as a German waiter in going upstairs), Lady Lansdowne and I were taken to the Husainabad just as the short-lived Indian twilight was falling. On passing through its great gateway I thought that I had never in my life seen anything so beautiful. At the end of a long white marble-paved court, a stately black-and-white marble tomb with a gilded dome rose from a flight of steps. Down the centre of the court ran a long pool of clear water, surrounded by a gilded railing. On either side of the court stood great clumps of flowering shrubs, also enclosed in gilded railings. At the far end, a group of palms were outlined in jet black against that vivid lemon-coloured afterglow only seen in hot countries; peacocks, perched on the walls of the court, stood out duskily purple against the glowing expanse of saffron sky, and the sleeping waters of the long pool reflected the golden glory of the flaming vault above them.
In the hush of the evening, and the half-light, the scene was lovely beyond description, and for eighteen years I treasured in my mind the memory of the Husainabad at sunset as the vision of my life.
On returning to Lucknow in 1906, I insisted on going at once to revisit the Husainabad, though I was warned that there was nothing to see there. Alas! in broad daylight and in the glare of the fierce sun the whole place looked abominably tawdry. What I had taken for black-and-white marble was only painted stucco, and coarsely daubed at that; the details of the decoration were deplorable, and the Husainabad was just a piece of showy, meretricious tinsel. The gathering dusk and the golden expanse of the Indian sunset sky had by some subtle wizardry thrown a veil of glamour over this poor travesty of the marvels of Delhi and Agra. So a long-cherished ideal was hopelessly shattered, which is always a melancholy thing.
We are all slaves to the economic conditions under which we live, and the present exorbitant price of paper is a very potent factor in the making of books. I am warned by my heartless publishers that I have already exceeded my limits. There are many things in India of which I would speak: of big-game hunts in Assam; of near views of the mighty snows of the Himalayas; of jugglers and their tricks, and of certain unfamiliar aspects of native life. The telling of these must be reserved for another occasion, for it is impossible in the brief compass of a single chapter to do more than touch the surface of things in the vast Empire, the origin of whose history is lost in the mists of time.
Matters left untold—The results of improved communications—My father's journey to Naples—Modern stereotyped uniformity—Changes in customs—The faithful family retainer Some details—Samuel Pepys' stupendous banquets—Persistence of idea—Ceremonial incense—Patriarchal family life—The barn dances—My father's habits—My mother—A son's tribute—Autumn days—Conclusion.
I had hoped to tell of reef-fishing in the West Indies; of surf-riding on planks at Muizenberg in South Africa; of the extreme inconvenience to which the inhabitants of Southern China are subjected owing to the inconsiderate habits of their local devils; of sapphire seas where coco-nut palms toss their fronds in the Trade wind over gleaming-white coral beaches; of vast frozen tracts in the Far North where all animate life seems suspended; of Japanese villages clinging to green hill-sides where boiling springs gush out of the cliffs in clouds of steam, and of many other things besides, for it has been my good fortune to have seen most of the surface of this globe. But all these must wait until the present preposterous price of paper has descended to more normal levels.
I consider myself exceptionally fortunate in having lived at a time when modern conveniences of transport were already in existence, but had not yet produced their inevitable results. It is quite sufficiently obvious that national customs and national peculiarities are being smoothed out of existence by facilities of travel. My father and mother, early in their married life, drove from London to Naples in their own carriage, the journey occupying over a month. They left their own front door in London, had their carriage placed on the deck of the Channel steamer, sat in it during the passage (what a singularly uncomfortable resting-place it must have been should they have encountered bad weather!), and continued their journey on the other side. During their leisurely progress through France and Italy, they must have enjoyed opportunities of studying the real life of these countries which are denied the passengers in a rapide, jammed in amongst a cosmopolitan crew in the prosaic atmosphere of dining and sleeping cars, and scarcely bestowing a passing glance on the country through which they are being whirled. Even in my time I have seen marked changes, and have witnessed the gradual disappearance of national costumes, and of national types of architecture. Every capital in Europe seems to adopt in its modern buildings a standardised type of architecture. No sojourner in any of the big modern hotels, which bear such a wearisome family likeness to each other, could tell in which particular country he might happen to find himself, were it not for the scraps of conversation which reach his ears, for the externals all look alike, and even the cooking has, with a greater or less degree of success, been standardised to the requisite note of monotony. Travellers may be divided into two categories: those who wish to find on foreign soil the identical conditions to which they have been accustomed at home, and those searching for novelty of outlook and novelty of surroundings. The former will welcome the process of planing down national idiosyncrasies into one dead level of uniformity of type, the latter will deplore it; but this, like many other things, is a matter of individual taste.
The ousting of the splendid full-rigged ships by stumpy, unlovely tramp-steamers in the Hooghly River, to which I have already referred, is only one example of the universal disappearance of the picturesque. In twenty-five years' time, every one will be living in a drab-coloured, utilitarian world, from which most of the beauty and every scrap of local colour will have been successfully eliminated. I am lucky in having seen some of it.
I have also witnessed great changes in social habits. I do not refer so much to the removal of the rigid lines of demarcation formerly prevailing in English Society, as to the disappearance of certain accepted standards. For instance, in my young days the possibility of appearing in Piccadilly in anything but a high hat and a tail coat was unthinkable, as was the idea of sitting down to dinner in anything but a white tie. Modern usage has common sense distinctly on its side. Again, in my youth the old drinking customs lingered, especially at the Universities. Though personally I have never been able to extract the faintest gratification from the undue consumption of alcohol, my friends do not seem to have invariably shared my tastes. I am certain of one thing: it is to the cigarette that the temperate habits of the twentieth century are due. Nicotine knocked port and claret out in the second round. The acclimatisation of the cigarette in England only dates from the "seventies." As a child I remember that the only form of tobacco indulged in by the people that I knew was the cigar. A cigarette was considered an effeminate foreign importation; a pipe was unspeakably vulgar.
In my mother's young days before her marriage, the old hard-drinking habits of the Regency and of the eighteenth century still persisted. At Woburn Abbey it was the custom for the trusted old family butler to make his nightly report to my grandmother in the drawing-room. "The gentlemen have had a good deal to-night; it might be as well for the young ladies to retire," or "The gentlemen have had very little to-night," was announced according to circumstances by this faithful family retainer. Should the young girls be packed off upstairs, they liked standing on an upper gallery of the staircase to watch the shouting, riotous crowd issuing from the dining-room. My father very rarely touched wine, and I believe that it was the fact that he, then an Oxford undergraduate, was the only sober young man amongst the rowdy troop of roysterers that first drew my mother to him, though he had already proposed marriage to her at a children's party given by the Prince Regent at Carlton House, when they were respectively seven and six years old. My father had succeeded to the title at the age of six, and they were married as soon as he came of age. They lived to celebrate their golden wedding, which two of my sisters, the late Duchess of Buccleuch and Lady Lansdowne, were also fortunate enough to do, and I can say with perfect truth that in all three instances my mother and her daughters celebrated fifty years of perfect happiness, unclouded save for the gaps which death had made amongst their children.
Students of Pepys' Diary must have gasped with amazement at learning of the prodigious quantities of food considered necessary in the seventeenth century for a dinner of a dozen people. Samuel Pepys gives us several accounts of his entertainments, varying, with a nice sense of discrimination, the epithet with which he labels his dinners. Here is one which he gave to ten people, in 1660, which he proudly terms "a very fine dinner." "A dish of marrow-bones; a leg of mutton; a loin of veal; a dish of fowl; three pullets, and two dozen of larks, all in a dish; a great tart; a neat's tongue; a dish of anchovies; a dish of prawns, and cheese." On another occasion, in 1662, Pepys having four guests only, merely gave them what he modestly describes as "a pretty dinner." "A brace of stewed carps; six roasted chickens; a jowl of salmon; a tanzy; two neats' tongues, and cheese." For six distinguished guests in 1663 he provided "a noble dinner." (I like this careful grading of epithets.) "Oysters; a hash of rabbits; a lamb, and a rare chine of beef, Next a great dish of roasted fowl cost me about thirty shillings; a tart, fruit and cheese." Pepys anxiously hopes that this was enough! One is pleased to learn that on all three occasions his guests enjoyed themselves, and that they were "very merry," but however did they manage to hold one quarter of this prodigious amount of food?
The curious idea that hospitality entailed the proffering of four times the amount of food that an average person could assimilate, persisted throughout the eighteenth century and well into the "seventies" of the nineteenth century. I remember as a child, on the rare occasion when I was allowed to "sit up" for dinner, how interminable that repast seemed. That may have been due to the fact that my brother and I were forbidden to eat anything except a biscuit or two. The idea that human beings required perpetual nourishment was so deep-grounded that, to the end of my father's life, the "wine and water tray" was brought in nightly before the ladies went to bed. This tray contained port, sherry and claret, a silver kettle of hot water, sugar, lemons and nutmeg, as well as two large plates of sandwiches. All the ladies devoured wholly superfluous sandwiches, and took a glass of wine and hot water before retiring. I think people would be surprised to find how excellent a beverage the obsolete "negus" is. Let them try a glass of either port, sherry, or claret, with hot water, sugar, a squeeze of lemon, and a dusting of nutmeg, and I think that they will agree with me.
A custom, I believe, peculiar to our family, was the burning of church incense in the rooms after dinner. At the conclusion of dinner, the groom-of-the-chambers walked round the dining-room, solemnly swinging a large silver censer. This dignified thurifer then made the circuit of the other rooms, plying his censer. From the conscientious manner in which he fulfilled his task, I fear that an Ecclesiastical Court might have found that this came under the heading of "incense used ceremonially."
My father had one peculiarity; he never altered his manner of living, whether the house was full of visitors, or he were alone with my mother, after his children had married and left him. At Baron's Court, when quite by themselves, they used the large rooms, and had them all lighted up at night, exactly as though the house was full of guests. There was to my mind something very touching in seeing an aged couple, after more than fifty years of married life together, still preserving the affectionate relations of lovers with each other. They played their chess together nightly in a room ninety-eight feet long, and delighted in still singing together, in the quavering tones of old age, the simple little Italian duets that they had sung in the far-off days of their courtship. As his years increased, my father did not care to venture much beyond the circle of his own family, though as thirteen of his children had grown up, and he had seven married daughters, the two elder of whom had each thirteen children of her own, the number of his immediate descendants afforded him a fairly wide field of selection. In his old age he liked to have his five sons round him all the winter, together with their wives and children. Accordingly, every October my three married brothers arrived at Baron's Court with their entire families, and remained there till January, so that the house persistently rang with children's laughter. What with governesses, children, nurses and servants, this meant thirty-three extra people all through the winter, so it was fortunate that Baron's Court was a large house, and that there was plenty of room left for other visitors. It entailed no great hardship on the sons, for the autumn salmon-fishing in the turbulent Mourne is excellent, there was abundance of shooting, and M. Gouffe, the cook, was a noted artist.
Both my father and mother detested publicity, or anything in the nature of self-advertisement, which only shows how hopelessly out of touch they would have been with modern conditions.
My father was also old-fashioned enough to read family prayers every morning and every Sunday evening; he was very particular, too, about Sunday observance, now almost fallen into desuetude, so neither the thud of lawn-tennis racquets nor the click of billiard-balls were ever heard on that day, and no one would have dreamed of playing cards on Sunday.
It would be difficult to convey any idea of the pleasant family life in that isolated spot tucked away amongst the Tyrone mountains; of the long tramps over the bogs after duck and snipe; of the struggles with big salmon; of the sailing-matches on the lakes; of the grouse and the woodcocks; of the theatrical performances, the fun and jollity, and all the varied incidents which make country life so fascinating to those brought up to it.
It was the custom at Baron's Court to have two annual dances in the barn to celebrate "Harvest Home" and Christmas, and to these dances my father, and my brother after him, invited every single person in their employ, and all the neighbouring farmers and their wives. Any one hoping to shine at a barn-dance required exceptionally sound muscles, for the dancing was quite a serious business. The so-called barn was really a long granary, elaborately decorated with wreaths of evergreens, flags, and mottoes. The proceedings invariably commenced with a dance (peculiar, I think, to the north of Ireland) known as "Haste to the Wedding." It is a country dance, but its peculiarity lies in the fact that instead of the couples standing motionless opposite to one another, they are expected to "set to each other," and to keep on doing steps without intermission; all this being, I imagine, typical of the intense eagerness every one was supposed to express to reach the scene of the wedding festivities as quickly as possible. Twenty minutes of "Haste to the Wedding" are warranted to exhaust the stoutest leg-muscles. My mother always led off with the farm-bailiff as partner, my father at the other end dancing with the bailiff's wife. Both my father, and my brother after him, were very careful always to wear their Garter as well as their other Orders on these occasions, in order to show respect to their guests. Scotch reels and Irish jigs alternated with "The Triumph," "Flowers of Edinburgh," and other country dances, until feet and legs refused their office; and still the fiddles scraped, and feet, light or heavy, belaboured the floor till 6 a.m. The supper would hardly have come up to London standards, for instead of light airy nothings, huge joints of roast and boiled were aligned down the tables. Some of the stricter Presbyterians, though fond of a dance, experienced conscientious qualms about it. So they struck an ingenious compromise with their consciences by dancing vigorously whilst assuming an air of intense misery, as though they were undergoing some terrible penance. Every one present enjoyed these barn-dances enormously.
My father was an admirable speaker of the old-fashioned school, with calculated pauses, an unusual felicity in the choice of his epithets, and a considerable amount of gesticulation. The veteran Lord Chaplin is the last living exponent of this type of oratory. Although my father prepared his speeches very carefully indeed, he never made a single written note. He had a beautiful speaking voice and a prodigious memory; this memory, he knew from experience, would not fail him. An excellent shot himself both with gun and rifle, and a good fisherman, to the end of his life he maintained his interest in sport and in all the pursuits of the younger life around him, for he was very human.
It is difficult for a son to write impartially of his mother. My mother's character was a blend of extreme simplicity and great dignity, with a limitless gift of sympathy for others. I can say with perfect truth that, throughout her life, she succeeded in winning the deep love of all those who were brought into constant contact with her. Very early in life she fell under the influence of the Evangelical movement, which was then stirring England to its depths, and she throughout her days remained faithful to its tenets. It could be said of her that, though, in the world, she was not of the world. Owing to force of circumstances, she had at times to take her position in the world, and no one could do it with greater dignity, or more winning grace; but the atmosphere of London, both physical and social, was distasteful to her. She had an idea that the smoke-laden London air affected her lungs, and, apart from the pleasure of seeing the survivors of the very intimate circle of friends of her young days, London had few attractions for her; all her interests were centred in the country, in country people, and country things. Although deeply religious, her religion had no gloom about it, for her inextinguishable love of a joke, and irrepressible sense of fun, remained with her to the end of her life, and kept her young in spite of her ninety-three years. From the commencement of her married life, my mother had been in the habit of "visiting" in the village twice a week, and in every cottage she was welcomed as a friend, for in addition to her gift of sympathy, she had a memory almost as tenacious as my father's, and remembered the names of every one of the cottagers' children, knew where they were employed, and whom they had married. With the help of her maid, my mother used to compound a cordial, bottles of which she distributed amongst the cottagers, a cordial which gained an immense local reputation. The ingredients of this panacea were one part of strong iron-water to five parts of old whisky, to which sal-volatile, red lavender, cardamoms, ginger, and other warming drugs were added. "Her Grace's bottle," as it was invariably termed, achieved astonishing popularity, and the most marvellous cures were ascribed to it. I have sometimes wondered whether its vogue would have been as great had the whisky been eliminated from its composition. In her home under the Sussex downs, amidst the broad stretches of heather-clad common, the beautiful Tudor stone-built old farm-houses, and the undulating woodlands of that most lovable and typically English county, she continued, to the end of her life, visiting amongst her less fortunate neighbours, and finding friends in every house. Her immense vitality and power of entering into the sorrows and enjoyments of others, led at times to developments very unexpected in the case of one so aged. For instance, a small great-nephew of mine had had a pair of stilts given him. The boy was clumsy at learning to use them, and my mother, who in her youth, could perform every species of trick upon stilts, was discovered by her trained nurse mounted on stilts and perambulating the garden on them, in her eighty-sixth year, for the better instruction of her little great-grandson. Again, during a great rat-hunt we had organised, the nurse missed her ninety-year-old charge, to discover her later, in company with the stable-boy, behind a barn, both of them armed with sticks, intently watching a rat-hole into which the stable-boy had just inserted a ferret.
My mother travelled up to London on one occasion to consult a celebrated oculist, and confided to him that she was growing apprehensive about her eyesight, as she began to find it difficult to read small print by lamplight. The man of Harley Street, after a careful examination of his patient's eyes, asked whether he might inquire what her age was. On receiving the reply that she had been ninety on her last birthday, the specialist assured her that his experience led him to believe that cases of failing eyesight were by no means unusual at that age.
My mother had known all the great characters that had flitted across the European stage at the beginning of the nineteenth century: Talleyrand, Metternich, the great Duke of Wellington, and many others. With her wonderful memory, she was a treasure-house of anecdotes of these and other well-known personages, which she narrated with all the skill of the born reconteuse. She belonged, too, to an age in which letter-writing was cultivated as an art, and was regarded as an intellectual relaxation. At the time of her death she had one hundred and sixty-nine direct living descendants: children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren, in addition to thirty-seven grandchildren and great-grandchildren by marriage. She kept in touch with all her descendants by habitually corresponding with them, and the advice given by this shrewd, wise old counsellor, with her ninety years of experience, was invariably followed by its recipients. She made a point of travelling to London to attend the weddings of every one of her descendants, and even journeyed up to be present at the Coronation of King Edward in her ninetieth year. It is given to but few to see their GRANDSON'S GRANDSON; it is granted to fewer to live ninety-three years with the full use of every intellectual faculty, and the retention of but slightly impaired bodily powers; and seldom is it possible to live to so great an age with the powers of enjoyment and of unabated interest in the lives of others still retained.
She never returned to Ireland after her widowhood, but was able, up to the end of her life, to pay a yearly autumn visit to her beloved Scotland. And so, under the rolling Sussex downs, amidst familiar woodlands and villages, full of years, and surrounded by the lore of all those who knew her, the long day closed.
I think that there is a passage in the thirty-first chapter of Proverbs which says: "Her children rise up and call her blessed."
I have reached my appointed limits, leaving unsaid one-half of the things I had wished to narrate. Reminiscences come crowding in unbidden, and, like the flickering lights of the Will-o'-the-wisp, they tend to lead the wayfarer far astray from the path he had originally traced out for himself. "Jack-o'-lanthorn" is proverbially a fickle guide to follow, and should I have succumbed to his lure, I can only proffer my excuses, and plead in extenuation that sixty years is such a long road to re-travel that an occasional deviation into a by-path by elderly feet may perhaps be forgiven.
Charles Kingsley, in the "Water-Babies", has put some very touching lines into the mouth of the old school-dame in Vendale, lines which come home with pathetic force to persons of my time of life.
"When all the world is young, lad, And all the trees are green; And every goose a swan, lad, And every lass a queen; Then hey for boot and horse, lad, And round the world away; Young blood must have its course, lad And every dog his day.
"When all the world is old, lad, And all the trees are brown; And all the sport is stale, lad, And all the wheels run down; Creep home, and take your place there, The old and spent among: God grant you find one face there You loved when all was young."
I protest indignantly against the idea that all the wheels are run down; nor are the trees yet brown, for kindly autumn, to soften us to the inevitable passing of summer, touches the trees with her magic wand, and forthwith they blaze with crimson and russet-gold, pale-gold and flaming copper-red.
In the mellow golden sunshine of the still October days it is sometimes difficult to realise that the glory of the year has passed beyond recall, though the sunshine has no longer the genial warmth of July, and the more delicate flowers are already shrivelled by the first furtive touches of winter's finger-tips. Experience has taught us that the many-hued glory of autumn is short-lived; the faintest breeze brings the leaves fluttering to the ground in golden showers. Soon the few that remain will patter gently down to earth, their mother. Winter comes.