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TWO VOLUMES IN ONE
I DEDICATE THIS BOOK TO MY HUSBAND
What? Have you not received powers, to the limits of which you will bear all that befalls? Have you not received magnanimity? Have you not received courage? Have you not received endurance?– EPICTETUS
When I began this book I feared that its merit would depend upon how faithfully I could record my own impressions of people and events: when I had finished it I was certain of it. Had it been any other kind of book the judgment of those nearest me would have been invaluable, but, being what it is, it had to be entirely my own; since whoever writes as he speaks must take the whole responsibility, and to ask “Do you think I may say this?” or “write that?” is to shift a little of that responsibility on to someone else. This I could not bear to do, above all in the case of my husband, who sees these recollections for the first time now. My only literary asset is natural directness, and that faculty would have been paralysed if I thought anything that I have written here would implicate him. I would rather have made a hundred blunders of style or discretion than seem, even to myself, let alone the world at large, to have done that.
Unlike many memoirists, the list of people I have to thank in this preface is short: Lord Crewe and Mr. Texeira de Mattos–who alone saw my MS. before its completion–for their careful criticisms which in no way committed them to approving of all that I have written; Mr. Desmond MacCarthy, for valuable suggestions; and my typist, Miss Lea, for her silence and quickness.
There are not many then of whom I can truly say, “Without their approval and encouragement this book would never have been written”–but those who really love me will forgive me and know that what I owe them is deeper than thanks.
CONTENTS OF BOOK ONE
THE TENNANT FAMILY–MARGOT, ONE OF TWELVE CHILDREN–HOME LIFE IN GLEN, SCOTLAND–FATHER A SELF-CENTRED BUSINESS-MAN; HIS VANITIES; HIS PRIDE IN HIS CHILDREN–NEWS OF HIS DEATH–HANDSOME LORD RIBBLESDALE VISITS GLEN–MOTHER DELICATE; HER LOVE OF ECONOMY; CONFIDENCES–TENNANT GIRLS’ LOVE AFFAIRS
GLEN AMONG THE MOORS–MARGOT’S ADVENTURE WITH A TRAMP–THE SHEPHERD BOY–MEMORIES AND ESCAPADES–LAURA AND MARGOT; PROPOSALS OF MARRIAGE–NEW MEN FRIENDS–LAURA ENGAGED; PROPOSAL IN THE DUSK–MARGOT’S ACCIDENT IN HUNTING FIELD–LAURA’S PREMONITION OF DEATH IN CHILDBIRTH–LAURA’S WILL
SLUMMING IN LONDON; ADVENTURE IN WHITECHAPEL; BRAWL IN A SALOON; OUTINGS WITH WORKING GIRLS–MARGOT MEETS PRINCESS OF WALES–GOSSIP OVER FRIENDSHIP WITH PRINCE OF WALES–LADY RANDOLPH CHURCHILL’S BALL–MARGOT’S FIRST HUNT; MEETS ECCENTRIC DUKE OF BEAUFORT; FALLS IN LOVE AT SEVENTEEN; COMMANDEERS A HORSE
MARGOT AT A GIRLS’ SCHOOL–WHO SPILT THE INK?–THE ENGINE DRIVER’S MISTAKEN FLIRTATION–MARGOT LEAVES SCHOOL IN DISGUST–DECIDES TO GO TO GERMANY TO STUDY CHAPTER V
A DRESDEN LODGING HOUSE–MIDNIGHT ADVENTURE WITH AN OFFICER AFTER THE OPERA–AN ELDERLY AMERICAN ADMIRER–YELLOW ROSES, GRAF VON– AND MOTIFS FROM WAGNER
MARGOT RIDES HORSE INTO LONDON HOME AND SMASHES FURNITURE–SUITOR IS FORBIDDEN THE HOUSE–ADVISES GIRL FRIEND TO ELOPE; INTERVIEW WITH GIRL’S FATHER–TETE-A-TETE DINNER IN PARIS WITH BARON HIRSCH –WINNING TIP FROM FRED ARCHER THE JOCKEY
PHOENIX PARK MURDERS–REMEDIES FOR IRELAND–TELEPATHY AND PLANCHETTE–VISIT TO BLAVATSKY–SIR CHARLES DILKE’S KISS–VISITS TO GLADSTONE–THE LATE LORD SALISBURY’S POLITICAL PROPHECIES
THE BEAUTIFUL KATE VAUGHAN–COACHED BY COQUELIN IN MOLIERE– ROSEBERY’S POPULARITY AND ELOQUENCE–CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN BON-VIVANT AND BOULEVARDIER–BALFOUR’S MOT; HIS CHARM AND WIT; HIS TASTES AND PREFERENCES; HIS RELIGIOUS SPECULATION
CONTENTS OF BOOK TWO
THE SOULS–LORD CURZON’S POEM AND DINNER PARTY AND WHO WERE THESE –MARGOT’S INVENTORY OF THE GROUP–TILT WITH THE LATE LADY LONDONDERRY–VISIT TO TENNYSON; HIS CONTEMPT FOR CRITICS; HIS HABIT OF LIVING–J. K. S. NOT A SOUL–MARGOT’S FRIENDSHIP WITH JOHN ADDINGTON SYMONDS; HIS PRAISE OF MARIE BASHKIRTSEFF
CHARACTER SKETCH OF MARGOT–PLANS TO START A MAGAZINE–MEETS MASTER OF BALLIOL; JOWETT’S ORTHODOXY; HIS INTEREST IN AND INFLUENCE OVER MARGOT–ROSE IN “ROBERT ELSMERE” IDENTIFIED AS MARGOT–JOWETT’S OPINION OF NEWMAN–JOWETT ADVISES MARGOT TO MARRY–HUXLEY’S BLASPHEMY
FAST AND FURIOUS HUNTING IN LEICESTERSHIRE–COUNTRY HOUSE PARTY AND A NEW ADMIRER–FRIENDSHIP WITH LORD AND LADY MANNERS
MARGOT FALLS IN LOVE AGAIN–“HAVOC” IN THE HUNTING FIELD; A FALL AND A DUCKING–THE FAMOUS MRS. BO; UNHEEDED ADVICE FROM A RIVAL–A LOVERS’ QUARREL–PETER JUMPS IN THE WINDOW–THE AMERICAN TROTTER– ANOTHER LOVER INTERVENES–PETER RETURNS FROM INDIA; ILLUMINATION FROM A DARK WOMAN
THE ASQUITH FAMILY TREE–HERBERT H. ASQUITH’S MOTHER–ASQUITH’S FIRST MARRIAGE; MEETS MARGOT TENNANT FOR FIRST TIME–TALK TILL DAWN ON HOUSE OF COMMONS’ TERRACE; OTHER MEETINGS–ENGAGEMENT A LONDON SENSATION–MARRIAGE AN EVENT
THE ASQUITH CHILDREN BY THE FIRST MARRIAGE–MARGOT’S STEPDAUGHTER VIOLET–MEMORY OF THE FIRST MRS. ASQUITH–RAYMOND’S BRILLIANT CAREER–ARTHUR’S HEROISM IN THE WAR
VISIT TO WOMAN’S PRISON–INTERVIEW THERE WITH MRS. MAYBRICK– SCENE IN A LIFER’S CELL; THE HUSBAND WHO NEVER KNEW THOUGHT WIFE MADE MONEY SEWING–MARGOT’S PLEA THAT FAILED
MARGOT’S FIRST BABY AND ITS LOSS–DANGEROUS ILLNESS–LETTER FROM QUEEN VICTORIA–SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT’S PLEASANTRIES–ASQUITH MINISTRY FALLS–VISIT FROM DUCHESS D’AOSTA
MARGOT IN 1906 SUMS UP HER LIFE; A LOT OF LOVE-MAKING, A LITTLE FAME AND MORE ABUSE: A REAL MAN AND GREAT HAPPINESS
“Prudence is a rich, ugly old maid wooed by incapacity.”–Blake.
THE TENNANT FAMILY–MARGOT, ONE OF TWELVE CHILDREN–HOME LIFE IN GLEN, SCOTLAND–FATHER A SELF-CENTRED BUSINESS-MAN; HIS VANITIES; HIS PRIDE IN HIS CHILDREN–NEWS OF HIS DEATH–HANDSOME LORD RIBBLESDALE VISITS GLEN–MOTHER DELICATE; HER LOVE OF ECONOMY; CONFIDENCES–TENNANT GIRLS’ LOVE AFFAIRS
I was born in the country of Hogg and Scott between the Yarrow and the Tweed, in the year 1864.
I am one of twelve children, but I only knew eight, as the others died when I was young. My eldest sister Pauline–or Posie, as we called her–was born in 1855 and married on my tenth birthday one of the best of men, Thomas Gordon Duff. [Footnote: Thomas Gordon Duff, of Drummuir Castle, Keith.] She died of tuberculosis, the cruel disease by which my family have all been pursued. We were too different in age and temperament to be really intimate, but her goodness, patience and pluck made a deep impression on me.
My second sister, Charlotte, was born in 1858 and married, when I was thirteen, the present Lord Ribblesdale, in 1877. She was the only member of the family–except my brother Edward Glenconner– who was tall. My mother attributed this–and her good looks–to her wet-nurse, Janet Mercer, a mill-girl at Innerleithen, noted for her height and beauty. Charty–as we called her–was in some ways the most capable of us all, but she had not Laura’s genius, Lucy’s talents, nor my understanding. She had wonderful grace and less vanity than any one that ever lived; and her social courage was a perpetual joy. I heard her say to the late Lord Rothschild, one night at a dinner party:
“And do you still believe the Messiah is coming, Lord Natty?”
Once when her husband went to make a political speech in the country, she telegraphed to him:
“Mind you hit below the belt!”
She was full of nature and impulse, free, enterprising and unconcerned. She rode as well as I did, but was not so quick to hounds nor so conscious of what was going on all round her.
One day when the Rifle Brigade was quartered at Winchester, Ribblesdale–who was a captain–sent Charty out hunting with old Tubb, the famous dealer, from whom he had hired her mount. As he could not accompany her himself, he was anxious to know how her ladyship had got on; the old rascal-wanting to sell his horse– raised his eyes to heaven and gasped:
“Hornamental palings! My lord!!”
It was difficult to find a better-looking couple than Charty and Ribblesdale; I have often observed people following them in picture-galleries; and their photographs appeared in many of the London shop-windows.
My next sister, Lucy, [Footnote: Mrs. Graham Smith, of Easton Grey, Malmesbury.] was the most talented and the best educated of the family. She fell between two stools in her youth, because Charty and Posie were of an age to be companions and Laura and I; consequently she did not enjoy the happy childhood that we did and was mishandled by the authorities both in the nursery and the schoolroom. When I was thirteen she made a foolish engagement, so that our real intimacy only began after her marriage. She was my mother’s favourite child–which none of us resented–and, although like my father in hospitality, courage and generous giving, she had my mother’s stubborn modesty and delicacy of mind. Her fear of hurting the feelings of others was so great that she did not tell people what she was thinking; she was truthful but not candid. Her drawings–both in pastel and water-colour–her portraits, landscapes and interiors were further removed from amateur work than Laura’s piano-playing or my dancing; and, had she put her wares into the market, as we all wanted her to do years ago, she would have been a rich woman, but like all saints she was uninfluenceable. I owe her too much to write about her: tormented by pain and crippled by arthritis, she has shown a heroism and gaiety which command the love and respect of all who meet her.
Of my other sister, Laura, I will write later.
The boys of the family were different from the girls, though they all had charm and an excellent sense of humour. My mother said the difference between her boys and girls came from circulation, and would add, “The Winsloes always had cold feet”; but I think it lay in temper and temperament. They would have been less apprehensive and more serene if they had been brought up to some settled profession; and they were quite clever enough to do most things well.
My brother Jack [Footnote: The Right Hon. H. J. Tennant] was petted and mismanaged in his youth. He had a good figure, but his height was arrested by his being allowed, when he was a little fellow, to walk twelve to fifteen miles a day with the shooters; and, however tired he would be, he was taken out of bed to play billiards after dinner. Leather footstools were placed one on the top of the other by a proud papa and the company made to watch this lovely little boy score big breaks; excited and exhausted, he would go to bed long after midnight, with praises singing in his ears.
“You are more like lions than sisters!” he said one day in the nursery when we snubbed him.
In making him his Parliamentary Secretary, my husband gave him his first chance; and in spite of his early training and teasing he turned his life to good account.
In the terrible years 1914, 1915 and 1916, he was Under-Secretary for War to the late Lord Kitchener and was finally made Secretary for Scotland, with a seat in the Cabinet. Like every Tennant, he had tenderness and powers of emotion and showed much affection and generosity to his family. He was a fine sportsman with an exceptionally good eye for games.
My brother Frank [Footnote: Francis Tennant, of Innes.] was the artist among the boys. He had a perfect ear for music and eye for colour and could distinguish what was beautiful in everything he saw. He had the sweetest temper of any of us and the most humility.
In his youth he had a horrible tutor who showed him a great deal of cruelty; and this retarded his development. One day at Glen, I saw this man knock Frank down. Furious and indignant, I said, “You brute!” and hit him over the head with both my fists. After he had boxed my ears, Laura protested, saying she would tell my father, whereupon he toppled her over on the floor and left the room.
When I think of our violent teachers–both tutors and governesses –and what the brothers learnt at Eton, I am surprised that we knew as much as we did and my parents’ helplessness bewilders me.
My eldest brother, Eddy, [Footnote: Lord Glenconner, of Glen, Innerleithen.] though very different from me in temperament and outlook, was the one with whom I got on best. We were both devoured by impatience and punctuality and loved being alone in the country. He hated visiting, I enjoyed it; he detested society and I delighted in it. My mother was not strong enough to take me to balls; and as she was sixty-three the year I came out, Eddy was by way of chaperoning me, but I can never remember him bringing me back from a single party. We each had our latch-keys and I went home either by myself or with a partner.
We shared a secret and passionate love for our home, Glen, and knew every clump of heather and every birch and burn in the place. Herbert Gladstone told me that, one day in India, when he and Eddy after a long day’s shooting were resting in silence on the ground, he said to him:
“What are you thinking about, Eddy?”
To which he answered:
“Oh, always the same … Glen! …”
In all the nine years during which he and I lived there together, in spite of our mutual irascibility of temper and uneven spirits, we never had a quarrel. Whether we joined each other on the moor at the far shepherd’s cottage or waited for grouse upon the hill; whether we lunched on the Quair or fished on the Tweed, we have a thousand common memories to keep our hearts together.
My father [Footnote: Sir Charles Tennant, 1823-1906.] was a man whose vitality, irritability, energy and impressionability amounted to genius.
When he died, June 2nd, 1906, I wrote this in my diary:
“I was sitting in Elizabeth’s [Footnote: My daughter, Elizabeth Bibesco.] schoolroom at Littlestone yesterday–Whit-Monday–after hearing her recite Tartuffe at 7 p.m., when James gave me a telegram; it was from my stepmother:
“‘Your father passed away peacefully at five this afternoon.’
“I covered my face with my hands and went to find my husband. My father had been ill for some time, but, having had a letter from him that morning, the news gave me a shock.
“Poor little Elizabeth was terribly upset at my unhappiness; and I was moved to the heart by her saying with tear-filled eyes and a white face:
“‘Darling mother, he had a VERY happy life and is very happy now … he will ALWAYS be happy.’
“This was true. … He had been and always will be happy, because my father’s nature turned out no waste product: he had none of that useless stuff in him that lies in heaps near factories. He took his own happiness with him, and was self-centred and self- sufficing: for a sociable being, the most self-sufficing I have ever known; I can think of no one of such vitality who was so independent of other people; he could golf alone, play billiards alone, walk alone, shoot alone, fish alone, do everything alone; and yet he was dependent on both my mother and my stepmother and on all occasions loved simple playfellows. … Some one to carry his clubs, or to wander round the garden with, would make him perfectly happy. It was at these times, I think, that my father was at his sweetest. Calm as a sky after showers, he would discuss every topic with tenderness and interest and appeared to be unupsettable; he had eternal youth, and was unaffected by a financial world which had been spinning round him all day.
“The striking thing about him was his freedom from suspicion. Thrown from his earliest days among common, shrewd men of singularly unspiritual ideals–most of them not only on the make but I might almost say on the pounce–he advanced on his own lines rapidly and courageously, not at all secretively–almost confidingly–yet he was rarely taken in.
“He knew his fellow-creatures better in the East-end than in the West-end of London and had a talent for making men love him; he swept them along on the impulse of his own decided intentions. He was never too busy nor too prosperous to help the struggling and was shocked by meanness or sharp practice, however successful.
“There were some people whom my father never understood, good, generous and high-minded as he was: the fanatic with eyes turned to no known order of things filled him with electric impatience; he did not care for priests, poets or philosophers; anything like indecision, change of plans, want of order, method or punctuality, forgetfulness or carelessness–even hesitation of voice and manner–drove him mad; his temperament was like a fuse which a touch will explode, but the bomb did not kill, it hurt the uninitiated but it consumed its own sparks. My papa had no self- control, no possibility of learning it: it was an unknown science, like geometry or algebra, to him; and he had very little imagination. It was this combination–want of self-control and want of imagination–which prevented him from being a thinker.
“He had great character, minute observation, a fine memory and all his instincts were charged with almost superhuman vitality, but no one could argue with him. Had the foundation of his character been as unreasonable and unreliable as his temperament, he would have made neither friends nor money; but he was fundamentally sound, ultimately serene and high-minded in the truest sense of the word. He was a man of intellect, but not an intellectual man; he did not really know anything about the great writers or thinkers, although he had read odds and ends. He was essentially a man of action and a man of will; this is why I call him a man of intellect. He made up his mind in a flash, partly from instinct and partly from will.
“He had the courage for life and the enterprise to spend his fortune on it. He was kind and impulsively generous, but too hasty for disease to accost or death to delay. For him they were interruptions, not abiding sorrows.
“He knew nothing of rancour, remorse, regret; they conveyed much the same to him as if he had been told to walk backwards and received neither sympathy nor courtesy from him.
“He was an artist with the gift of admiration. He had a good eye and could not buy an ugly or even moderately beautiful thing; but he was no discoverer in art. Here I will add to make myself clear that I am thinking of men like Frances Horner’s father, old Mr. Graham, [Footnote: Lady Horner, of Mells, Frome.] who discovered and promoted Burne-Jones and Frederick Walker; or Lord Battersea, who was the first to patronise Cecil Lawson; or my sister, Lucy Graham Smith, who was a fine judge of every picture and recognised and appreciated all schools of painting. My father’s judgment was warped by constantly comparing his own things with other people’s.
“The pride of possession and proprietorship is a common and a human one, but the real artist makes everything he admires his own: no one can rob him of this; he sees value in unsigned pictures and promise in unfinished ones; he not only discovers and interprets, but almost creates beauty by the fire of his criticisms and the inwardness of his preception. Papa was too self-centred for this; a large side of art was hidden from him; anything mysterious, suggestive, archaic, whether Italian, Spanish or Dutch, frankly bored him. His feet were planted firmly on a very healthy earth; he liked art to be a copy of nature, not of art. The modern Burne-Jones and Morris school, with what he considered its artificiality and affectations, he could not endure. He did not realise that it originated in a reaction from early-Victorianism and mid-Victorianism. He lost sight of much that is beautiful in colour and fancy and all the drawing and refinement of this school, by his violent prejudices. His opinions were obsessions. Where he was original was not so much in his pictures but in the mezzotints, silver, china and objets d’art which he had collected for many years.
“Whatever he chose, whether it was a little owl, a dog, a nigger, a bust, a Cupid in gold, bronze, china or enamel, it had to have some human meaning, some recognisable expression which made it lovable and familiar to him. He did not care for the fantastic, the tortured or the ecclesiastical; saints, virgins, draperies and crucifixes left him cold; but an old English chest, a stout little chair or a healthy oriental bottle would appeal to him at once.
“No one enjoyed his own possessions more naively and enthusiastically than my father; he would often take a candle and walk round the pictures in his dressing-gown on his way to bed, loitering over them with tenderness–I might almost say emotion.
“When I was alone with him, tucked up reading on a sofa, he would send me upstairs to look at the Sir Joshuas: Lady Gertrude Fitz-Patrick, Lady Crosbie or Miss Ridge.
“‘She is quite beautiful to-night,’ he would say. ‘Just run up to the drawing-room, Margot, and have a look at her.’
“It was not only his collections that he was proud of, but he was proud of his children; we could all do things better than any one else! Posie could sing, Lucy could draw, Laura could play, I could ride, etc.; our praises were stuffed down newcomers’ throats till every one felt uncomfortable. I have no want of love to add to my grief at his death, but I much regret my impatience and lack of grace with him.
“He sometimes introduced me with emotional pride to the same man or woman two or three times in one evening:
“‘This is my little girl–very clever, etc., etc. Colonel Kingscote says she goes harder across country than any one, etc., etc.’
“This exasperated me. Turning to my mother in the thick of the guests that had gathered in our house one evening to hear a professional singer, he said at the top of his voice while the lady was being conducted to the piano:
“‘Don’t bother, my dear, I think every one would prefer to hear Posie sing.’
“I well remember Laura and myself being admonished by him on our returning from a party at the Cyril Flowers’ in the year 1883, where we had been considerably run by dear Papa and twice introduced to Lord Granville. We showed such irritability going home in the brougham that my father said:
“‘It’s no pleasure taking you girls out.’
“This was the only time I ever heard him cross with me.
“He always told us not to frown and to speak clearly, just as my mother scolded us for not holding ourselves up. I can never remember seeing him indifferent, slack or idle in his life. He was as violent when he was dying as when he was living and quite without self-pity.
“He hated presents, but he liked praise and was easily flattered; he was too busy even for MUCH of that, but he could stand more than most of us. If it is a little simple, it is also rather generous to believe in the nicest things people can say to you; and I think I would rather accept too much than repudiate and refuse: it is warmer and more enriching.
“My father had not the smallest conceit or smugness, but he had a little child-like vanity. You could not spoil him nor improve him; he remained egotistical, sound, sunny and unreasonable; violently impatient, not at all self-indulgent–despising the very idea of a valet or a secretary–but absolutely self-willed; what he intended to do, say or buy, he would do, say or buy AT ONCE.
“He was fond of a few people–Mark Napier, [Footnote: The Hon. Mark Napier, of Ettrick.] Ribblesdale, Lord Haldane, Mr. Heseltine, Lord Rosebery and Arthur Balfour–and felt friendly to everybody, but he did not LOVE many people. When we were girls he told us we ought to make worldly marriages, but in the end he let us choose the men we loved and gave us the material help in money which enabled us to marry them. I find exactly the opposite plan adopted by most parents: they sacrifice their children to loveless marriages as long as they know there is enough money for no demand ever to be made upon themselves.
“I think I understood my father better than the others did. I guessed his mood in a moment and in consequence could push further and say more to him when he was in a good humour. I lived with him, my mother and Eddy alone for nine years (after my sister Laura married) and had a closer personal experience of him. He liked my adventurous nature. Ribblesdale’s [Footnote: Lord Ribblesdale, of Gisburne.] courtesy and sweetness delighted him and they were genuinely fond of each other. He said once to me of him:
“‘Tommy is one of the few people in the world that have shown me gratitude.'”
I cannot pass my brother-in-law’s name here in my diary without some reference to the effect which he produced on us when he first came to Glen.
He was the finest-looking man that I ever saw, except old Lord Wemyss, [Footnote: The Earl of Wemyss and March, father of the present Earl.] the late Lord Pembroke, Mr. Wilfrid Blunt and Lord D’Abernon. He had been introduced to my sister Charty at a ball in London, when he was twenty-one and she eighteen. A brother-officer of his in the Rifle Brigade, seeing them waltzing together, asked him if she was his sister, to which he answered:
“No, thank God!”
I was twelve when he first came to Glen as Thomas Lister: his fine manners, perfect sense of humour and picturesque appearance captivated every one; and, whether you agreed with him or not, he had a perfectly original point of view and was always interested and suggestive. He never misunderstood but thoroughly appreciated my father. …
Continuing from my diary:
“My papa was a character-part; and some people never understood character-parts.
“None of his children are really like him; yet there are resemblances which are interesting and worth noting.
“Charty on the whole resembles him most. She has his transparent simplicity, candour, courage laid want of self-control; but she is the least selfish woman I know and the least self-centred. She is also more intolerant and merciless in her criticisms of other people, and has a finer sense of humour. Papa loved things of good report and never believed evil of any one. He had a rooted objection to talking lightly of other people’s lives; he was not exactly reverent, but a feeling of kindly decent citizenship prevented him from thinking or speaking slightingly of other people.
“Lucy has Papa’s artistic and generous side, but none of his self- confidence or decisiveness; all his physical courage, but none of his ambition.
“Eddy has his figure and deportment, his sense of justice and emotional tenderness, but none of his vitality, impulse or hope. Jack has his ambition and push, keenness and self-confidence; but he is not so good-humoured in a losing game. Frank has more of his straight tongue and appreciation of beautiful things, but none of his brains.
“I think I had more of Papa’s moral indignation and daring than the others; and physically there were great resemblances between us: otherwise I do not think I am like him. I have his carriage, balance and activity–being able to dance, skip and walk on a rope–and I have inherited his hair and sleeplessness, nerves and impatience; but intellectually we look at things from an entirely different point of view. I am more passionate, more spiritually perplexed and less self-satisfied. I have none of his powers of throwing things off. I should like to think I have a little of his generosity, humanity and kindly toleration, some of his fundamental uprightness and integrity, but when everything has been said he will remain a unique man in people’s memory.”
Writing now, fourteen years later, I do not think that I can add much to this.
Although he was a business man, he had a wide understanding and considerable elasticity.
In connection with business men, the staggering figures published in the official White Book of November last year showed that the result of including them in the Government has been so remarkable that my memoir would be incomplete if I did not allude to them. My father and grandfather were brought up among City people and I am proud of it; but it is folly to suppose that starting and developing a great business is the same as initiating and conducting a great policy, or running a big Government Department.
It has been and will remain a puzzle over which intellectual men are perpetually if not permanently groping:
“How comes it that Mr. Smith or Mr. Brown made such a vast fortune?”
The answer is not easy. Making money requires FLAIR, instinct, insight or whatever you like to call it, but the qualities that go to make a business man are grotesquely unlike those which make a statesman; and, when you have pretensions to both, the result is the present comedy and confusion.
I write as the daughter of a business man and the wife of a politician and I know what I am talking about, but, in case Mr. Bonar Law–a pathetic believer in the “business man”–should honour me by reading these pages and still cling to his illusions on the subject, I refer him to the figures published in the Government White Book of 1919.
Intellectual men seldom make fortunes and business men are seldom intellectual.
My father was educated in Liverpool and worked in a night school; he was a good linguist, which he would never have been had he had the misfortune to be educated in any of our great public schools.
I remember some one telling me how my grandfather had said that he could not understand any man of sense bringing his son up as a gentleman. In those days as in these, gentlemen were found and not made, but the expression “bringing a man up as a gentleman” meant bringing him up to be idle.
When my father gambled in the City, he took risks with his own rather than other people’s money. I heard him say to a South African millionaire:
“You did not make your money out of mines, but out of mugs like me, my dear fellow!”
A whole chapter might be devoted to stories about his adventures in speculation, but I will give only one. As a young man he was put by my grandfather into a firm in Liverpool and made L30,000 on the French Bourse before he was twenty-four. On hearing of this, his father wrote and apologised to the head of the firm, saying he was willing to withdraw his son Charles if he had in any way shocked them by risking a loss which he could never have paid. The answer was a request that the said “son Charles” should become a partner in the firm.
Born a little quicker, more punctual and more alive than other people, he suffered fools not at all. He could not modify himself in any way; he was the same man in his nursery, his school and his office, the same man in church, club, city or suburbs.
[Footnote: My mother, Emma Winsloe, came of quite a different class from my father. His ancestor of earliest memory was factor to Lord Bute, whose ploughman was Robert Burns, the poet. His grandson was my grandfather Tennant of St. Rollox. My mother’s family were of gentle blood. Richard Winsloe (b. 1770, d. 1842) was rector of Minster Forrabury in Cornwall and of Ruishton, near Taunton. He married Catherine Walter, daughter of the founder of the Times. Their son, Richard Winsloe, was sent to Oxford to study for the Church. He ran away with Charlotte Monkton, aged 17. They were caught at Evesham and brought back to be married next day at Taunton, where Admiral Monkton was living. They had two children: Emma, our mother, and Richard, my uncle.]
My mother was more unlike my father than can easily be imagined. She was as timid, as he was bold, as controlled as he was spontaneous and as refined, courteous and unassuming as he was vibrant, sheer and adventurous.
Fond as we were of each other and intimate over all my love- affairs, my mother never really understood me; my vitality, independent happiness and physical energies filled her with fatigue. She never enjoyed her prosperity and suffered from all the apprehension, fussiness and love of economy that should by rights belong to the poor, but by a curious perversion almost always blight the rich.
Her preachings on economy were a constant source of amusement to my father. I made up my mind at an early age, after listening to his chaff, that money was the most overrated of all anxieties; and not only has nothing occurred in my long experience to make me alter this opinion but everything has tended to reinforce it.
In discussing matrimony my father would say:
“I’m sure I hope, girls, you’ll not marry penniless men; men should not marry at all unless they can keep their wives,’ etc.
To this my mother would retort:
“Do not listen to your father, children! Marrying for money has never yet made any one happy; it is not blessed.”
Mamma had no illusions about her children nor about anything else; her mild criticisms of the family balanced my father’s obsessions. When Charty’s looks were praised, she would answer with a fine smile:
“Tant soit peu mouton!”
She thought us all very plain, how plain I only discovered by overhearing the following conversation.
I was seventeen and, a few days after my return from Dresden, I was writing behind the drawing room screen in London, when an elderly Scotch lady came to see my mother; she was shown into the room by the footman and after shaking hands said:
“What a handsome house this is. …”
MY MOTHER (IRRELEVANTLY): “I always think your place is so nice. Did your garden do well this year?”
ELDERLY LADY: “Oh, I’m not a gardener and we spend very little time at Auchnagarroch; I took Alison to the Hydro at Crieff for a change. She’s just a growing girl, you know, and not at all clever like yours.”
MY MOTHER: “My girls never grow! I am sure I wish they would!”
ELDERLY LADY: “But they are so pretty! My Marion has a homely face!”
MY MOTHER: “How old is she?”
ELDERLY LADY: “Sixteen.”
MY MOTHER: “L’AGE INGRAT! I would not trouble myself, if I were you, about her looks; with young people one never can tell; Margot, for instance (with a resigned sigh), a few years ago promised to be so pretty; and just look at her now!”
When some one suggested that we should be painted it was almost more than my mother could bear. The poorness of the subject and the richness of the price shocked her profoundly. Luckily my father–who had begun to buy fine pictures–entirely agreed with her, though not for the same reasons:
“I am sure I don’t know where I could hang the girls, even if I were fool enough to have them painted!” he would say.
I cannot ever remember kissing my mother without her tapping me on the back and saying, “Hold yourself up!” or kissing my father without his saying, “Don’t frown!” And I shall never cease being grateful for this, as a l’heure qu’il est I have not a line in my forehead and my figure has not changed since my marriage.
My mother’s indifference to–I might almost say suspicion of– other people always amused me:
“I am sure I don’t know why they should come here! unless it is to see the garden!” Or, “I cannot help wondering what was at the back of her mind.”
When I suggested that perhaps the lady she referred to had no mind, my mother would say, “I don’t like people with ARRIERE– PENSEES”; and ended most of her criticisms by saying, “It looks to me as if she had a poor circulation.”
My mother had an excellent sense of humour. Doll Liddell [Footnote: The late A.G.C. Lidell.] said: “Lucy has a touch of mild genius.” And this is exactly what my mother had.
People thought her a calm, serene person, satisfied with pinching green flies off plants and incapable of deep feeling, but my mother’s heart had been broken by the death of her first four children, and she dreaded emotion. Any attempt on my part to discuss old days or her own sensations was resolutely discouraged. There was a lot of fun and affection but a tepid intimacy between us, except about my flirtations; and over these we saw eye to eye.
My mother, who had been a great flirt herself, thoroughly enjoyed all love-affairs and was absolutely unshockable. Little words of wisdom would drop from her mouth:
MY MOTHER: “Men don’t like being run after …”
MARGOT: “Oh, don’t you believe it, mamma!”
MY MOTHER: “You can do what you like in life if you can hold your tongue, but the world is relentless to people who are found out.”
She told my father that if he interfered with my love-affairs I should very likely marry a groom.
She did me a good turn here, for, though I would not have married a groom, I might have married the wrong man and, in any case, interference would have been cramping to me.
I have copied out of my diary what I wrote about my mother when she died.
“January 21st, 1895.
“Mamma is dead. She died this morning and Glen isn’t my home any more: I feel as if I should be ‘received’ here in future, instead of finding my own darling, tender little mother, who wanted arranging for and caring for and to whom my gossipy trivialities were precious and all my love-stories a trust. How I WISH I could say sincerely that I had understood her nature and sympathised with her and never felt hurt by anything she could say and had EAGERLY shown my love and sought hers. … Lucky Lucy! She CAN say this, but I do not think that I can.
“Mamma’s life and death have taught me several things. Her sincerity and absence of vanity and worldliness were her really striking qualities. Her power of suffering passively, without letting any one into her secret, was carried to a fault. We who longed to share some part, however small, of the burden of her emotion were not allowed to do so. This reserve to the last hour of her life remained her inexorable rule and habit. It arose from a wish to spare other people and fear of herself and her own feelings. To spare others was her ideal. Another characteristic was her pity for the obscure, the dull and the poor. The postman in winter ought to have fur-lined gloves; and we must send our Christmas letters and parcels before or after the busy days. Lord Napier’s [Footnote: Lord Napier and Ettrick, father of Mark Napier.] coachman had never seen a comet; she would write and tell him what day it was prophesied. The lame girl at the lodge must be picked up in the brougham and taken for a drive, etc. …
“She despised any one who was afraid of infection and was singularly ignorant on questions of health; she knew little or nothing of medicine and never believed in doctors; she made an exception of Sir James Simpson, who was her friend. She told me that he had said there was a great deal of nonsense talked about health and diet:
“‘If the fire is low, it does not matter whether you stir it with the poker or the tongs.’
“She believed firmly in cold water and thought that most illnesses came from ‘checked perspiration.’
“She loved happy people–people with courage and go and what she called ‘nature’–and said many good things. Of Mark Napier: ‘He had so much nature, I am sure he had a Neapolitan wet-nurse’ (here she was right). Of Charty: ‘She has so much social courage.’ Of Aunt Marion [Footnote: My father’s sister, Mrs. Wallace.]: ‘She is unfortunately inferior.’ Of Lucy’s early friends: ‘Lucy’s trumpery girls.’
“Mamma was not at all spiritual, nor had she much intellectual imagination, but she believed firmly in God and was profoundly sorry for those who did not. She was full of admiration for religious people. Laura’s prayer against high spirits she thought so wonderful that she kept it in a book near her bed.
“She told me she had never had enough circulation to have good spirits herself and that her old nurse often said:
“‘No one should ever be surprised at anything they feel.’
“My mamma came of an unintellectual family and belonged to a generation in which it was not the fashion to read. She had lived in a small milieu most of her life, without the opportunity of meeting distinguished people. She had great powers of observation and a certain delicate acuteness of expression which identified all she said with herself. She was fine-mouche and full of tender humour, a woman of the world, but entirely bereft of worldliness.
“Her twelve children, who took up all her time, accounted for some of her a quoi bon attitude towards life, but she had little or no concentration and a feminine mind both in its purity and inconsequence.
“My mother hardly had one intimate friend and never allowed any one to feel necessary to her. Most people thought her gentle to docility and full of quiet composure. So much is this the general impression that, out of nearly a hundred letters which I received, there is not one that does not allude to her restful nature. As a matter of fact, Mamma was one of the most restless creatures that ever lived. She moved from room to room, table to table, and topic to topic, not, it is true, with haste or fretfulness, but with no concentration of either thought or purpose; and I never saw her put up her feet in my life.
“Her want of confidence in herself and of grip upon life prevented her from having the influence which her experience of the world and real insight might have given her; and her want of expansion prevented her own generation and discouraged ours from approaching her closely.
“Few women have speculative minds nor can they deliberate: they have instincts, quick apprehensions and powers of observation; but they are seldom imaginative and neither their logic nor their reason are their strong points. Mamma was in all these ways like the rest of her sex.
“She had much affection for, but hardly any pride in her children. Laura’s genius was a phrase to her; and any praise of Charty’s looks or Lucy’s successes she took as mere courtesy on the part of the speaker. I can never remember her praising me, except to say that I had social courage, nor did she ever encourage me to draw, write or play the piano.
“She marked in a French translation of “The Imitation of Christ” which Lucy gave her:
“‘Certes au jour du jugement on ne nous demandera point ce que nous avons lu, mais ce que nous avons fait; ni si nous avons bien parle mais si nous avons bien vecu.’
“She was the least self-centred and self-scanned of human beings, unworldly and uncomplaining. As Doll Liddell says in his admirable letter to me, ‘She was often wise and always gracious.'”
GLEN AMONG THE MOORS–MARGOT’S ADVENTURE WITH A TRAMP–THE SHEPHERD BOY–MEMORIES AND ESCAPADES–LAURA AND MARGOT; PROPOSALS OF MARRIAGE–NEW MEN FRIENDS–LAURA ENGAGED; PROPOSAL IN THE DUSK–MARGOT’S ACCIDENT IN HUNTING FIELD–LAURA’S PREMONITION OF DEATH IN CHILD-BIRTH–LAURA’S WILL
My home, Glen, is on the border of Peeblesshire and Selkirkshire, sixteen miles from Abbotsford and thirty from Edinburgh. It was designed on the lines of Glamis and Castle Fraser, in what is called Scottish baronial style. I well remember the first shock I had when some one said: “I hate turrets and tin men on the top of them!” It unsettled me for days. I had never imagined that anything could be more beautiful than Glen. The classical style of Whittingehame–and other fine places of the sort–appeared to me better suited for municipal buildings; the beams and flint in Cheshire reminded me of Earl’s Court; and such castles as I had seen looked like the pictures of the Rhine on my blotting-book. I was quite ignorant and “Scottish baronial” thrilled me.
What made Glen really unique was not its architecture but its situation. The road by which you approached it was a cul-de-sac and led to nothing but moors. This–and the fact of its being ten miles from a railway station–gave it security in its wildness. Great stretches of heather swept down to the garden walls; and, however many heights you climbed, moor upon moor rose in front of you.
Evan Charteris [Footnote: The Hon. Evan Charteris] said that my hair was biography: as it is my only claim to beauty, I would like to think that this is true, but the hills at Glen are my real biography.
Nature inoculates its lovers from its own culture; sea, downs and moors produce a different type of person. Shepherds, fishermen and poachers are a little like what they contemplate and, were it possible to ask the towns to tell us whom they find most untamable, I have not a doubt that they would say, those who are born on the moors.
I married late–at the age of thirty–and spent all my early life at Glen. I was a child of the heather and quite untamable. After my sister Laura Lyttelton died, my brother Eddy and I lived alone with my parents for nine years at Glen.
When he was abroad shooting big game, I spent long days out of doors, seldom coming in for lunch. Both my pony and my hack were saddled from 7 a.m., ready for me to ride, every day of my life. I wore the shortest of tweed skirts, knickerbockers of the same stuff, top-boots, a covert-coat and a coloured scarf round my head. I was equipped with a book, pencils, cigarettes and food. Every shepherd and poacher knew me; and I have often shared my “piece” with them, sitting in the heather near the red burns, or sheltered from rain in the cuts and quarries of the open road.
After my first great sorrow–the death of my sister Laura–I was suffocated in the house and felt I had to be out of doors from morning till night.
One day I saw an old shepherd called Gowanlock coming up to me, holding my pony by the rein. I had never noticed that it had strayed away and, after thanking him, I observed him looking at me quietly–he knew something of the rage and anguish that Laura’s death had brought into my heart–and putting his hand on my shoulder, he said:
“My child, there’s no contending. … Ay–ay”–shaking his beautiful old head–“THAT IS SO, there’s no contending. …”
Another day, when it came on to rain, I saw a tramp crouching under the dyke, holding an umbrella over his head and eating his lunch. I went and sat down beside him and we fell into desultory conversation. He had a grand, wild face and I felt some curiosity about him; but he was taciturn and all he told me was that he was walking to the Gordon Arms, on his way to St. Mary’s Loch. I asked him every sort of question–as to where he had come from, where he was going to and what he wanted to do–but he refused to gratify my curiosity, so I gave him one of my cigarettes and a light and we sat peacefully smoking together in silence. When the rain cleared, I turned to him and said:
“You seem to walk all day and go nowhere; when you wake up in the morning, how do you shape your course?”
To which he answered:
“I always turn my back to the wind.”
Border people are more intelligent than those born in the South; and the people of my birthplace are a hundred years in advance of the Southern English even now.
When I was fourteen, I met a shepherd-boy reading a French book. It was called “Le Secret de Delphine.” I asked him how he came to know French and he told me it was the extra subject he had been allowed to choose for studying in his holidays; he walked eighteen miles a day to school–nine there and nine back–taking his chance of a lift from any passing vehicle. I begged him to read out loud to me, but he was shy of his accent and would not do it. The Lowland Scotch were a wonderful people in my day.
I remember nothing unhappy in my glorious youth except the violence of our family quarrels. Reckless waves of high and low spirits, added to quick tempers, obliged my mother to separate us for some time and forbid us to sleep in the same bedroom. We raged and ragged till the small hours of the morning, which kept us thin and the household awake.
My mother told me two stories of myself as a little child:
“When you were sent for to come downstairs, Margot, the nurse opened the door and you walked in–generally alone–saying, ‘Here’s me! …'”
This rather sanguine opening does not seem to have been sufficiently checked. She went on to say:
“I was dreadfully afraid you would be upset and ill when I took you one day to the Deaf and Dumb Asylum in Glasgow, as you felt things with passionate intensity. Before starting I lifted you on to my knee and said, ‘You know, darling, I am going to take you to see some poor people who cannot speak.’ At which you put your arms round my neck and said, with consoling emphasis, ‘I will soon make them speak!'”
The earliest event I can remember was the arrival of the new baby, my brother Jack, when I was two years old. Dr. Cox was spoiling my mother’s good-night visit while I was being dried after my bath. My pink flannel dressing-gown, with white buttonhole stitching, was hanging over the fender; and he was discussing some earnest subject in a low tone. He got up and, pinching my chin said:
“She will be very angry, but we will give her a baby of her own,” or words to that effect.
The next day a huge doll obliterated from my mind the new baby which had arrived that morning.
We were left very much alone in our nursery, as my mother travelled from pillar to post, hunting for health for her child Pauline. Our nurse, Mrs. Hills–called “Missuls” for short–left us on my tenth birthday to become my sister’s lady’s-maid, and this removed our first and last restriction.
We were wild children and, left to ourselves, had the time of our lives. I rode my pony up the front stairs and tried to teach my father’s high-stepping barouche-horses to jump–crashing their knees into the hurdles in the field–and climbed our incredibly dangerous roof, sitting on the sweep’s ladder by moonlight in my nightgown. I had scrambled up every tree, walked on every wall and knew every turret at Glen. I ran along the narrow ledges of the slates in rubber shoes at terrific heights. This alarmed other people so much that my father sent for me one day to see him in his “business room” and made me swear before God that I would give up walking on the roof; and give it up I did, with many tears.
Laura and I were fond of acting and dressing up. We played at being found in dangerous and adventurous circumstances in the garden. One day the boys were rabbit-shooting and we were acting with the doctor’s daughter. I had spoilt the game by running round the kitchen-garden wall instead of being discovered–as I was meant to be–in a Turkish turban, smoking on the banks of the Bosphorus. Seeing that things were going badly and that the others had disappeared, I took a wild jump into the radishes. On landing I observed a strange gentleman coming up the path. He looked at my torn gingham frock, naked legs, tennis shoes and dishevelled curls under an orange turban; and I stood still and gazed at him.
“This is a wonderful place,” he said; to which I replied:
“You like it?”
HE: “I would like to see the house. I hear there are beautiful things in it.”
MARGOT: “I think the drawing-rooms are all shut up.”
HE: “How do you know? Surely you could manage to get hold of a servant or some one who would take me round. Do you know any of them?”
I asked him if he meant the family or the servants.
“The family,” he said.
MARGOT: “I know them very well, but I don’t know you.”
“I am an artist,” said the stranger; “my name is Peter Graham. Who are you?”
“I am an artist too!” I said. “My name is Margot Tennant. I suppose you thought I was the gardener’s daughter, did you?”
He gave a circulating smile, finishing on my turban, and said:
“To tell you the honest truth, I had no idea what you were!”
My earliest sorrow was when I was stealing peaches in the conservatory and my little dog was caught in a trap set for rats. He was badly hurt before I could squeeze under the glass slides to save him. I was betrayed by my screams for help and caught in the peach-house by the gardener. I was punished and put to bed, as the large peaches were to have been shown in Edinburgh and I had eaten five.
We had a dancing-class at the minister’s and an arithmetic-class in our schoolroom. I was as good at the Manse as I was bad at my sums; and poor Mr. Menzies, the Traquair schoolmaster, had eventually to beg my mother to withdraw me from the class, as I kept them all back. To my delight I was withdrawn; and from that day to this I have never added a single row of figures.
I showed a remarkable proficiency in dancing and could lift both my feet to the level of my eyebrows with disconcerting ease. Mrs. Wallace, the minister’s wife, was shocked and said:
“Look at Margot with her Frenchified airs!”
I pondered often and long over this, the first remark about myself that I can ever remember. Some one said to me:
“Does your hair curl naturally?”
To which I replied:
“I don’t know, but I will ask.”
I was unaware of myself and had not the slightest idea what “curling naturally” meant.
We had two best dresses: one made in London, which we only wore on great occasions; the other made by my nurse, in which we went down to dessert. These dresses gave me my first impression of civilised life. Just as the Speaker, before clearing the House, spies strangers, so, when I saw my black velvet skirt and pink Garibaldi put out on the bed, I knew that something was up! The nursery confection was of white alpaca, piped with pink, and did not inspire the same excitement and confidence.
We saw little of our mother in our youth and I asked Laura one day if she thought she said her prayers; I would not have remembered this had it not been that Laura was profoundly shocked. The question was quite uncalled for and had no ulterior motive, but I never remembered my mother or any one else talking to us about the Bible or hearing us our prayers. Nevertheless we were all deeply religious, by which no one need infer that we were good. There was one service a week, held on Sundays, in Traquair Kirk, which every one went to; and the shepherds’ dogs kept close to their masters’ plaids, hung over the high box-pews, all the way down the aisle. I have heard many fine sermons in Scotland, but our minister was not a good preacher; and we were often dissolved in laughter, sitting in the square family pew in the gallery. My father closed his eyes tightly all through the sermon, leaning his head on his hand.
The Scottish Sabbath still held its own in my youth; and when I heard that Ribblesdale and Charty played lawn tennis on Sunday after they were married, I felt very unhappy. We had a few Sabbath amusements, but they were not as entertaining as those described in Miss Fowler’s book, in which the men who were heathens went into one corner of the room and the women who were Christians into the other and, at the beating of a gong, conversion was accomplished by a close embrace. Our Scottish Sabbaths were very different, and I thought them more than dreary. Although I love church music and architecture and can listen to almost any sermon at any time and even read sermons to myself, going to church in the country remains a sacrifice to me. The painful custom in the Church of England of reading indistinctly and in an assumed voice has alienated simple people in every parish; and the average preaching is painful. In my country you can still hear a good sermon. When staying with Lord Haldane’s mother–the most beautiful, humorous and saintly of old ladies–I heard an excellent sermon at Auchterarder on this very subject, the dullness of Sundays. The minister said that, however brightly the sun shone on stained glass windows, no one could guess what they were really like from the outside; it was from the inside only that you should judge of them.
Another time I heard a man end his sermon by saying:
“And now, my friends, do your duty and don’t look upon the world with eyes jaundiced by religion.”
My mother hardly ever mentioned religion to us and, when the subject was brought up by other people, she confined her remarks to saying in a weary voice and with a resigned sigh that God’s ways were mysterious. She had suffered many sorrows and, in estimating her lack of temperament, I do not think I made enough allowance for them. No true woman ever gets over the loss of a child; and her three eldest had died before I was born.
I was the most vital of the family and what the nurses described as a “venturesome child.” Our coachman’s wife called me “a little Turk.” Self-willed, excessively passionate, painfully truthful, bold as well as fearless and always against convention, I was, no doubt, extremely difficult to bring up.
My mother was not lucky with her governesses–we had two at a time, and of every nationality, French, German, Swiss, Italian and Greek–but, whether through my fault or our governesses’, I never succeeded in making one of them really love me. Mary Morison, [Foot note: Miss Morison, a cousin of Mr. William Archer’s.] who kept a high school for young ladies in Innerleithen, was the first person who influenced me and my sister Laura. She is alive now and a woman of rare intellect and character. She was fonder of Laura than of me, but so were most people.
Here I would like to say something about my sister and Alfred Lyttelton, whom she married in 1885.
A great deal of nonsense has been written and talked about Laura. There are two printed accounts of her that are true: one has been written by the present Mrs. Alfred Lyttelton, in generous and tender passages in the life of her husband, and the other by A. G. C. Liddell; but even these do not quite give the brilliant, witty Laura of my heart. I will quote what my dear friend, Doll Liddell, wrote of her in his Notes from the Life of an Ordinary Mortal:
My acquaintance with Miss Tennant, which led to a close intimacy with herself, and afterwards with her family, was an event of such importance in my life that I feel I ought to attempt some description of her. This is not an easy task, as a more indescribable person never existed, for no one could form a correct idea of what she was like who had not had opportunities of feeling her personal charm. Her looks were certainly not striking at first sight, though to most persons who had known her some weeks she would often seem almost beautiful. To describe her features would give no idea of the brightness and vivacity of her expression, or of that mixture of innocence and mischief, as of a half-child, half-Kelpie, which distinguished her. Her figure was very small but well made, and she was always prettily and daintily dressed. If the outward woman is difficult to describe, what can be said of her character?
To begin with her lighter side, she had reduced fascination to a fine art in a style entirely her own. I have never known her meet any man, and hardly any woman, whom she could not subjugate in a few days. It is as difficult to give any idea of her methods as to describe a dance when the music is unheard. Perhaps one may say that her special characteristic was the way in which she combined the gaiety of a child with the tact and aplomb of a grown woman. … Her victims, after their period of enchantment, generally became her devoted friends.
This trifling was, however, only the ripple on the surface. In the deeper parts of her nature was a fund of earnestness and a sympathy which enabled her to throw herself into the lives of other people in a quite unusual way, and was one of the great secrets of the general affection she inspired. It was not, however, as is sometimes the case with such feelings, merely emotional, but impelled her to many kindnesses and to constant, though perhaps somewhat impulsive, efforts to help her fellows of all sorts and conditions.
On her mental side she certainly gave the impression, from the originality of her letters and sayings, and her appreciation of what was best in literature, that her gifts were of a high order. In addition, she had a subtle humour and readiness, which made her repartees often delightful and produced phrases and fancies of characteristic daintiness. But there was something more than all this, an extra dose of life, which caused a kind of electricity to flash about her wherever she went, lighting up all with whom she came in contact. I am aware that this description will seem exaggerated, and will be put down to the writer having dwelt in her “Aeaean isle” but I think that if it should meet the eyes of any who knew her in her short life, they will understand what it attempts to convey.
This is good, but his poem is even better; and there is a prophetic touch in the line, “Shadowed with something of the future years.”
A face upturned towards the midnight sky, Pale in the glimmer of the pale starlight, And all around the black and boundless night, And voices of the winds which bode and cry. A childish face, but grave with curves that lie Ready to breathe in laughter or in tears, Shadowed with something of the future years That makes one sorrowful, I know not why. O still, small face, like a white petal torn From a wild rose by autumn winds and flung On some dark stream the hurrying waves among: By what strange fates and whither art thou borne?
Laura had many poems written to her from many lovers. My daughter Elizabeth Bibesco’s godfather, Godfrey Webb–a conspicuous member of the Souls, not long since dead–wrote this of her:
“HALF CHILD, HALF WOMAN.”
Tennyson’s description of Laura in 1883:
“Half child, half woman”–wholly to be loved By either name she found an easy way
Into my heart, whose sentinels all proved Unfaithful to their trust, the luckless day She entered there. “Prudence and reason both! Did you not question her? How was it pray She so persuaded you?” “Nor sleep nor sloth,” They cried, “o’ercame us then, a CHILD at play Went smiling past us, and then turning round Too late your heart to save, a woman’s face we found.”
Laura was not a plaster saint; she was a generous, clamative, combative little creature of genius, full of humour, imagination, temperament and impulse.
Some one reading this memoir will perhaps say:
“I wonder what Laura and Margot were really like, what the differences and what the resemblances between them were.”
The men who could answer this question best would be Lord Gladstone, Arthur Balfour, Lord Midleton, Sir Rennell Rodd, or Lord Curzon (of Kedleston). I can only say what I think the differences and resemblances were.
Strictly speaking, I was better-looking than Laura, but she had rarer and more beautiful eyes. Brains are such a small part of people that I cannot judge of them as between her and me; and, at the age of twenty-three, when she died, few of us are at the height of our powers, but Laura made and left a deeper impression on the world in her short life than any one that I have ever known. What she really had to a greater degree than other people was true spirituality, a feeling of intimacy with the other world and a sense of the love and wisdom of God and His plan of life. Her mind was informed by true religion; and her heart was fixed. This did not prevent her from being a very great flirt. The first time that a man came to Glen and liked me better than Laura, she was immensely surprised–not more so than I was–and had it not been for the passionate love which we cherished for each other, there must inevitably have been much jealousy between us.
On several occasions the same man proposed to both of us, and we had to find out from each other what our intentions were.
I only remember being hurt by Laura on one occasion and it came about in this way. We were always dressed alike, and as we were the same size; “M” and “L” had to be written in our clothes as we grew older.
One day, about the time of which I am writing, I was thirteen; I took a letter out of the pocket of what I thought was my skirt and read it; it was from Laura to my eldest sister Posie and, though I do not remember it all, one sentence was burnt into me:
“Does it not seem extraordinary that Margot should be teaching a Sunday class?”
I wondered why any one should think it extraordinary! I went upstairs and cried in a small black cupboard, where I generally disappeared when life seemed too much for me.
The Sunday class I taught need have disturbed no one, for I regret to relate that, after a striking lesson on the birth of Christ, when I asked my pupils who the Virgin was, one of the most promising said:
The idea had evidently gone abroad that I was a frivolous character; this hurt and surprised me. Naughtiness and frivolity are different, and I was always deeply in earnest.
Laura was more gentle than I was; and her goodness resolved itself into greater activity.
She and I belonged to a reading-class. I read more than she did and at greater speed, but we were all readers and profited by a climate which kept us indoors and a fine library. The class obliged us to read an hour a day, which could not be called excessive, but the real test was doing the same thing at the same time. I would have preferred three or four hours’ reading on wet days and none on fine, But not so our Edinburgh tutor.
Laura started the Girls’ Friendly Society in the village, which was at that time famous for its drunkenness and immorality. We drove ourselves to the meetings in a high two-wheeled dog-cart behind a fast trotter, coming back late in pitch darkness along icy roads. These drives to Innerleithen and our moonlight talks are among my most precious recollections.
At the meetings–after reading aloud to the girls while they sewed and knitted–Laura would address them. She gave a sort of lesson, moral, social and religious, and they all adored her. More remarkable at her age than speaking to mill-girls were her Sunday classes at Glen, in the housekeeper’s room. I do not know one girl now of any age–Laura was only sixteen–who could talk on religious subjects with profit to the butler, housekeeper and maids, or to any grown-up people, on a Sunday afternoon.
Compared with what the young men have written and published during this war, Laura’s literary promise was not great; both her prose and her poetry were less remarkable than her conversation.
She was not so good a judge of character as I was and took many a goose for a swan, but, in consequence of this, she made people of both sexes–and even all ages–twice as good, clever and delightful as they would otherwise have been.
I have never succeeded in making any one the least different from what they are and, in my efforts to do so, have lost every female friend that I have ever had (with the exception of four). This was the true difference between us. I have never influenced anybody but my own two children, Elizabeth and Anthony, but Laura had such an amazing effect upon men and women that for years after she died they told me that she had both changed and made their lives. This is a tremendous saying. When I die, people may turn up and try to make the world believe that I have influenced them and women may come forward whom I adored and who have quarrelled with me and pretend that they always loved me, but I wish to put it on record that they did not, or, if they did, their love is not my kind of love and I have no use for it.
The fact is that I am not touchy or impenitent myself and forget that others may be and I tell people the truth about themselves, while Laura made them feel it. I do not think I should mind hearing from any one the naked truth about myself; and on the few occasions when it has happened to me, I have not been in the least offended. My chief complaint is that so few love one enough, as one grows older, to say what they really think; nevertheless I have often wished that I had been born with Laura’s skill and tact in dealing with men and women. In her short life she influenced more people than I have done in over twice as many years. I have never influenced people even enough to make them change their stockings! And I have never succeeded in persuading any young persons under my charge–except my own two children–to say that they were wrong or sorry, nor at this time of life do I expect to do so.
There was another difference between Laura and me: she felt sad when she refused the men who proposed to her; I pitied no man who loved me. I told Laura that both her lovers and mine had a very good chance of getting over it, as they invariably declared themselves too soon. We were neither of us au fond very susceptible. It was the custom of the house that men should be in love with us, but I can truly say that we gave quite as much as we received.
I said to Rowley Leigh [Footnote: The Hon. Rowland Leigh, of Stoneleigh Abbey.]–a friend of my brother Eddy’s and one of the first gentlemen that ever came to Glen–when he begged me to go for a walk with him:
“Certainly, if you won’t ask me to marry you.”
To which he replied:
“I never thought of it!”
“That’s all right!” said I, putting my arm confidingly and gratefully through his.
He told me afterwards that he had been making up his mind and changing it for days as to how he should propose.
Sir David Tennant, a former Speaker at Cape Town and the most distant of cousins, came to stay at Glen with his son, a young man of twenty. After a few days, the young man took me into one of the conservatories and asked me to marry him. I pointed out that I hardly knew him by sight, and that “he was running hares.” He took it extremely well and, much elated, I returned to the house to tell Laura. I found her in tears; she told me Sir David Tennant had asked her to marry him and she had been obliged to refuse. I cheered her up by pointing out that it would have been awkward had we both accepted, for, while remaining my sister, she would have become my mother-in-law and my husband’s stepmother.
We were not popular in Peeblesshire, partly because we had no county connection, but chiefly because we were Liberals. My father had turned out the sitting Tory, Sir Graham Montgomery, of Stobo, and was member for the two counties Peeblesshire and Selkirkshire. As Sir Graham had represented the counties for thirty years, this was resented by the Montgomery family, who proceeded to cut us. Laura was much worried over this, but I was amused. I said the love of the Maxwell Stuarts, Maxwell Scotts, Wolfe Murrays and Sir Thomas–now Lord–Carmichael was quite enough for me and that if she liked she could twist Sir Graham Montgomery round her little finger; as a matter of fact, neither Sir Graham nor his sons disliked us. I met Basil Montgomery at Traquair House many years after my papa’s election, where we were entertained by Herbert Maxwell–the owner of one of the most romantic houses in Scotland, and our most courteous and affectionate neighbour. Not knowing who he was, I was indignant when he told me he thought Peeblesshire was dull; I said where we lived it was far from dull and asked him if he knew many people in the county. To which he answered:
“Chiefly the Stobo lot.”
At this I showed him the most lively sympathy and invited him to come to Glen. In consequence of this visit he told me years afterwards his fortune had been made. My father took a fancy to him and at my request employed him on the Stock Exchange.
Laura and I shared the night nursery together till she married; and, in spite of mixed proposals, we were devoted friends. We read late in bed, sometimes till three in the morning, and said our prayers out loud to each other every night. We were discussing imagination one night and were comparing Hawthorne, De Quincey, Poe and others, in consequence of a dispute arising out of one of our pencil-games; and we argued till the housemaid came in with the hot water at eight in the morning.
I will digress here to explain our after-dinner games. There were several, but the best were what Laura and I invented: one was called “Styles,” another “Clumps”–better known as “Animal, Vegetable or Mineral”–a third, “Epigrams” and the most dangerous of all “Character Sketches.” We were given no time-limit, but sat feverishly silent in different corners of the room, writing as hard as we could. When it was agreed that we had all written enough, the manuscripts were given to our umpire, who read them out loud. Votes were then taken as to the authorship, which led to first-rate general conversation on books, people and manner of writing. We have many interesting umpires, beginning with Bret Harte and Laurence Oliphant and going on to Arthur Balfour, George Curzon, George Wyndham, Lionel Tennyson, [Footnote: Brother of the present Lord Tennyson.] Harry Cust and Doll Liddell: all good writers themselves.
Some of our guests preferred making caricatures to competing in the more ambitious line of literature. I made a drawing of the Dowager Countess of Aylesbury, better known as “Lady A.”; Colonel Saunderson–a famous Orangeman–did a sketch of Gladstone for me; while Alma Tadema gave me one of Queen Victoria, done in four lines.
These games were good for our tempers and a fine training; any loose vanity, jealousy, or over-competitiveness were certain to be shown up; and those who took the buttons off the foils in the duel of argument–of which I have seen a good deal in my life–were instantly found out. We played all our games with much greater precision and care than they are played now and from practice became extremely good at them. I never saw a playing-card at Glen till after I married, though–when we were obliged to dine downstairs to prevent the company being thirteen at dinner–I vaguely remember a back view of my grandpapa at the card-table playing whist.
Laura was a year and a half older than I was and came out in 1881, while I was in Dresden. The first party that she and I went to together was a political crush given by Sir William and Lady Harcourt. I was introduced to Spencer Lyttleton and shortly after this Laura met his brother Alfred.
One day, as she and I were leaving St. Paul’s Cathedral, she pointed out a young man to me and said:
“Go and ask Alfred Lyttelton to come to Glen any time this autumn,” which I promptly did.
The advent of Alfred into our family coincided with that of several new men, the Charterises, Balfours, George Curzon, George Wyndham, Harry Cust, the Crawleys, Jack Pease, “Harry” Paulton, Lord Houghton, Mark Napier, Doll Liddell and others. High hopes had been entertained by my father that some of these young men might marry us, but after the reception we gave to Lord Lymington –who, to do him justice, never proposed to any of us except in the paternal imagination–his nerve was shattered and we were left to ourselves.
Some weeks before Alfred’s arrival, Laura had been much disturbed by hearing that we were considered “fast”; she told me that receiving men at midnight in our bedroom shocked people and that we ought, perhaps, to give it up. I listened closely to what she had to say, and at the end remarked that it appeared to me to be quite absurd. Godfrey Webb agreed with me and said that people who were easily shocked were like women who sell stale pastry in cathedral towns; and he advised us to take no notice whatever of what any one said. We hardly knew the meaning of the word “fast” and, as my mother went to bed punctually at eleven, it was unthinkable that men and women friends should not be allowed to join us. Our bedroom had been converted by me out of the night- nursery into a sitting-room. The shutters were removed and book- shelves put in their place, an idea afterwards copied by my friends. The Morris carpet and chintzes I had discovered for myself and chosen in London; and my walls were ornamented with curious objects, varying from caricatures and crucifixes to prints of prize-fights, fox-hunts, Virgins and Wagner. In one of the turrets I hung my clothes; in the other I put an altar on which I kept my books of prayer and a skull which was given to me by the shepherd’s son and which is on my bookshelf now; we wore charming dressing-jackets and sat up in bed with coloured cushions behind our backs, while the brothers and their friends sat on the floor or in comfortable chairs round the room. On these occasions the gas was turned low, a brilliant fire made up and either a guest or one of us would read by the light of a single candle, tell ghost- stories or discuss current affairs: politics, people and books. Not only the young, but the old men came to our gatherings. I remember Jowett reading out aloud to us Thomas Hill Green’s lay sermons; and when he had finished I asked him how much he had loved Green, to which he replied:
“I did not love him at all.”
That these midnight meetings should shock any one appeared fantastic; and as most people in the house agreed with me, they were continued.
It was not this alone that disturbed Laura; she wanted to marry a serious, manly fellow, but as she was a great flirt, other types of a more brilliant kind obscured this vision and she had become profoundly undecided over her own love-affairs; they had worked so much upon her nerves that when Mr. Lyttelton came to Glen she was in bed with acute neuralgia and unable to see him.
My father welcomed Alfred warmly, for, apart from his charming personality, he was Gladstone’s nephew and had been brought up in the Liberal creed.
On the evening of his arrival, we all went out after dinner. There had been a terrific gale which had destroyed half a wood on a hill in front of the library windows and we wanted to see the roots of the trees blown up by dynamite. It was a moonlight night, but the moon is always brighter in novels than in life and it was pitch dark. Alfred and I, walking arm in arm, talked gaily to each other as we stumbled over the broken brushwood by the side of the Quair burn. As we approached the wood a white birch lay across the water at a slanting angle and I could not resist leaving Alfred’s side to walk across it. It was, however, too slippery for me and I fell. Alfred plunged into the burn and scrambled me out. I landed on my feet and, except for sopping stockings, no harm was done. Our party had scattered in the dark and, as it was past midnight, we walked back to the house alone. When we returned, we found everybody had gone to their rooms and Alfred suggested carrying me up to bed. As I weighed under eight stone, he lifted me up like a toy and deposited me on my bed. Kneeling down, he kissed my hand and said good night to me.
Two days after this my brother Eddy and I travelled North for the Highland meeting. Laura, who had been gradually recovering, was well enough to leave her room that day; and I need hardly say that this had the immediate effect of prolonging Alfred’s visit.
On my return to Glen ten days later she told me she had made up her mind to marry Alfred Lyttleton.
After what Mrs. Lyttelton has written of her husband, there is little to add, but I must say one word of my brother-in-law as he appeared to me in those early days.
Alfred Lyttelton was a vital, splendid young man of fervent nature, even more spoilt than we were. He was as cool and as fundamentally unsusceptible as he was responsive and emotional. Every one adored him; he combined the prowess at games of a Greek athlete with moral right-mindedness of a high order. He was neither a gambler nor an artist. He respected discipline, but loathed asceticism.
What interested me most in him was not his mind–which lacked elasticity–but his religion, his unquestioning obedience to the will of God and his perfect freedom from cant. His mentality was brittle and he was as quick-tempered in argument as he was sunny and serene in games. There are people who thought Alfred was a man of strong physical passions, wrestling with temptation till he had achieved complete self-mastery, but nothing was farther from the truth. In him you found combined an ardent nature, a cool temperament and a peppery intellectual temper. Alfred would have been justified in taking out a patent in himself as an Englishman, warranted like a dye never to lose colour. To him most foreigners were frogs. In Edward Lyttelton’s admirable monograph of his brother, you will read that one day, when Alfred was in the train, sucking an orange, “a small, grubby Italian, leaning on his walking-stick, smoking a cheroot at the station,” was looked upon, not only by Alfred but by his biographer, as an “irresistible challenge to fling the juicy, but substantial, fragment full at the unsuspecting foreigner’s cheek.” At this we are told that “Alfred collapsed into noble convulsions of laughter.” I quote this incident, as it illustrates the difference between the Tennant and the Lyttelton sense of humour. Their laughter was a tornado or convulsion to which they succumbed; and even the Hagley ragging, though, according to Edward Lyttelton’s book, it was only done with napkins, sounds formidable enough. Laura and Alfred enjoyed many things together–books, music and going to church–but they did not laugh at the same things. I remember her once saying to me in a dejected voice:
“Wouldn’t you have thought that, laughing as loud as the Lytteltons do, they would have loved Lear? Alfred says none of them think him a bit funny and was quite testy when I said his was the only family in the world that didn’t.”
It was his manliness, spirituality and freedom from pettiness that attracted Alfred to Laura; he also had infinite charm. It might have been said of him what the Dowager Lady Grey wrote of her husband to Henry when thanking him for his sympathy:
“He lit so many fires in cold rooms.”
After Alfred’s death, my husband said this of him in the House of Commons:
It would not, I think, be doing justice to the feelings which are uppermost in many of our hearts, if we passed to the business of the day without taking notice of the fresh gap which has been made in our ranks by the untimely death of Mr. Alfred Lyttelton. It is a loss of which I hardly trust myself to speak; for, apart from ties of relationship, there had subsisted between us for thirty- three years, a close friendship and affection which no political differences were ever allowed to loosen, or even to affect. Nor could I better describe it than by saying that he, perhaps, of all men of this generation, came nearest to the mould and ideal of manhood, which every English father would like to see his son aspire to, and, if possible, to attain. The bounty of nature, enriched and developed not only by early training, but by constant self-discipline through life, blended in him gifts and graces which, taken alone, are rare, and in such attractive union are rarer still. Body, mind and character, the schoolroom, the cricket field, the Bar, the House of Commons–each made its separate contribution to the faculty and the experience of a many-sided and harmonious whole. But what he was he gave–gave with such ease and exuberance that I think it may be said without exaggeration that wherever he moved he seemed to radiate vitality and charm. He was, as we here know, a strenuous fighter. He has left behind him no resentments and no enmity; nothing but a gracious memory of a manly and winning personality, the memory of one who served with an unstinted measure of devotion his generation and country. He has been snatched away in what we thought was the full tide of buoyant life, still full of promise and of hope. What more can we say? We can only bow once again before the decrees of the Supreme Wisdom. Those who loved him–and they are many, in all schools of opinion, in all ranks and walks of life–when they think of him, will say to themselves:
This is the happy warrior, this is he Who every man in arms should wish to be.
On the occasion of Alfred Lyttelton’s second visit to Glen, I will quote my diary:
“Laura came into my bedroom. She was in a peignoir and asked me what she should wear for dinner. I said:
“‘Your white muslin, and hurry up. Mr. Lyttelton is strumming in the Doo’cot and you had better go and entertain him, poor fellow, as he is leaving for London tonight.’
“She tied a blue ribbon in her hair, hastily thrust her diamond brooch into her fichu and then, with her eyes very big and her hair low and straight upon her forehead, she went into our sitting-room (we called it the Doo’cot, because we all quarrelled there). Feeling rather small, but, half-shy, half-bold, she shut the door and, leaning against it, watched Alfred strumming. He turned and gazed at the little figure so near him, so delicate in her white dress.
“The silence was broken by Alfred asking her if any man ever left Glen without telling her that he loved her; but suddenly all talk stopped and she was in his arms, hiding her little face against his hard coat. There was no one to record what followed; only the night rising with passionate eyes:
‘The hiding, receiving night that talks not.’
“They were married on the 10th of May, 1885. “In April of 1886, Laura’s baby was expected any day; and my mother was anxious that I should not be near her when the event took place. The Lytteltons lived in Upper Brook Street; and, Grosvenor Square being near, it was thought that any suffering on her part might make a lasting and painful impression on me, so I was sent down to Easton Grey to stay with Lucy and hunt in the Badminton country. Before going away, I went round to say good-bye to Laura and found her in a strange humour.
“LAURA: ‘I am sure I shall die with my baby.’
“MARGOT: ‘How can you talk such nonsense? Every one thinks that. Look at mamma! She had twelve children without a pang!’
“LAURA: ‘I know she did; but I am sure I shall die.’
“MARGOT: ‘I am just as likely to be killed out hunting as you are to die, darling! It makes me miserable to hear you talk like this.’
“LAURA: ‘If I die, Margot, I want you to read my will to the relations and people that will be in my bedroom. It is in that drawer. Promise me you will not forget.’
“MARGOT: ‘All right, darling, I will; but let us kneel down and pray that, whether it is me or you who die first, if it is God’s will, one of us may come to the other down here and tell us the truth about the next world and console us as much as possible in this!'”
We knelt and prayed and, though I was more removed from the world and in the humour both to see and to hear what was not material, in my grief over Laura’s death, which took place ten days later, I have never heard from her or of her from that day to this.
Mrs. Lyttelton has told the story of her husband’s first marriage with so much perfection that I hesitate to go over the same ground again, but, as my sister Laura’s death had more effect on me than any event in my life, except my own marriage and the birth of my children, I must copy a short account of it written at that time:
‘On Saturday, 17th April, 1886, I was riding down a green slope in Gloucestershire while the Beaufort hounds were scattered below vainly trying to pick up the scent; they were on a stale line and the result had been general confusion. It was a hot day and the woods were full of children and primroses.
“The air was humming with birds and insects, nature wore an expectant look and all the hedge-rows sparkled with the spangles of the spring. There was a prickly gap under a tree which divided me from my companions. I rode down to jump it, but, whether from breeding, laziness or temper, my horse turned round and refused to move. I took my foot out of the stirrup and gave him a slight kick. I remember nothing after that till I woke up in a cottage with a tremendous headache. They said that the branch was too low, or the horse jumped too big and a withered bough had caught me in the face. In consequence I had concussion of the brain; and my nose and upper lip were badly torn. I was picked up by my early fiance. He tied my lip to my hair–as it was reposing on my chin– and took me home in a cart. The doctor was sent for, but there was no time to give me chloroform. I sat very still from vanity while three stitches were put through the most sensitive part of my nose. When it was all over, I looked at myself in the looking- glass and burst into tears. I had never been very pretty (“worse than that,” as the Marquis of Soveral [Footnote: The Late Portuguese Minister.] said) but I had a straight nose and a look of intelligence; and now my face would be marked for life like a German student’s.
“The next day a telegram arrived saying: “‘Laura confined–a boy– both doing well.’
“We sent back a message saying: “‘Hurrah and blessing!’
On Sunday we received a letter from Charty saying Laura was very ill and another on Monday telling us to go to London. I was in a state of acute anxiety and said to the doctor I must go and see Laura immediately, but he would not hear of it:
“‘Impossible! You’ll get erysipelas and die. Most dangerous to move with a face like that,’ he said.
“On the occasion of his next visit, I was dressed and walking up and down the room in a fume of nervous excitement, for go I WOULD. Laura was dying (I did not really think she was, but I wanted to be near her). I insisted upon his taking the stitches out of my face and ultimately he had to give in. At 6 p.m. I was in the train for London, watching the telegraph-posts flying past me.
“My mind was going over every possibility. I was sitting near her bed with the baby on my arm, chattering over plans, arranging peignoirs, laughing at the nurse’s anecdotes, talking and whispering over the thousand feminine things that I knew she would be longing to hear. … Or perhaps she was dying… asking for me and wondering why I did not come… thinking I was hunting instead of being with her. Oh, how often the train stopped! Did any one really live at these stations? No one got out; they did not look like real places; why should the train stop? Should I tell them Laura was dying? … We had prayed so often to die the same day. … Surely she was not going to die… it could not be… her vitality was too splendid, her youth too great… God would not allow this thing. How stiff my face felt with its bandages; and if I cried they would all come off!
“At Swindon I had to change. I got out and sat in the vast eating- room, with its atmosphere of soup and gas. A crowd of people were talking of a hunting accident: this was mine. Then a woman came in and put her bag down. A clergyman shook hands with her; he said some one had died. I moved away.
“‘World! Trewth! The Globe! Paper, miss? Paper? …’
“‘No, thank you.’
“‘London train!’ was shouted and I got in. I knew by the loud galloping sound that we were going between high houses and at each gallop the wheels seemed to say, ‘Too late–too late!’ After a succession of hoarse screams we dashed into Paddington.
“It was midnight. I saw a pale, grave face, and recognised Evan Charteris, who had come in Lady Wemyss’ brougham to meet me. I said:
‘”Is she dead?’ “To which he answered: “‘No, but very, very ill.’ “We drove in silence to 4 Upper Brook Street.
Papa, Jack and Godfrey Webb stood in the hall. They stopped me as I passed and said: ‘She is no worse’; but I could not listen. I saw Arthur Balfour and Spencer Lyttelton standing near the door of Alfred’s room. They said: “‘You look ill. Have you had a fall?’
“I explained the plaster on my swollen face and asked if I might go upstairs to see Laura; and they said they thought I might. When I got to the top landing, I stood in the open doorway of the boudoir. A man was sitting in an arm-chair by a table with a candle on it. It was Alfred and I passed on. I saw the silhouette of a woman through the open door of Laura’s room; this was Charty. We held each other close to our hearts… her face felt hot and her eyes were heavy.
“‘Don’t look at her to-night, sweet. She is unconscious,’ she said.
“I did not take this in and asked to be allowed to say one word to her. … I said:
“‘I know she’d like to see me, darling, if only just to nod to, and I promise I will go away quickly. Indeed, indeed I would not tire her! I want to tell her the train was late and the doctor would not let me come up yesterday. Only one second, PLEASE,