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MORE LEAVES FROM MY DIARY.1
CEW men could recall, off-hand, who was the most beautiful woman
T he had ever met in his life, and when or where this meeting was. I can recall some such vision very distinctly, and under circumstances rather bizarre. Once hurrying from some of the “Badens," making for Strasburg, I arrived at the station just as the train was starting. I had only time to jump in, when I found myself in the presence of a sort of golden-haired divinity-a most brilliant being indeed. She had been at the window looking out for something, or somebody, and was now in sad agitation-disappointment or distress. I had time to note the masses of hair of the rare and wonderful “old gold” tint, with a fine, richly coloured Rubens face. Presently, growing tranquil, she unfolded to me that her husband had rushed back to the station to change a ticket, and had been left behind. The train was a fast one, and would not stop for an hour or more. Duly sympathising with this sad state of things, I did my best to console, and suggested topics of comfort—he might be in the train, after all : he had jumped into some last carriage, or, better still (this sotto voce), there would assuredly be a slow train following, by which he would come on. Having settled all these points to our satisfaction, we then got on other and more general topics : when, in the midst of an animated conversation, the train stopped. At the next moment the door was opened, and a hearty, genial, blackbearded man entered joyfully. He had, exactly as I had said, jumped into the last carriage. Before he explained this portion of the adventure, the golden-haired one told him what I had prophesied, so that an impression of respect for my sagacity was left on the pair. For the rest of the day we travelled on most pleasantly : he was a friendly, agreeable man, “something in the city," and we were altogether certainly an agreeable little party. As the day became excessively sultry, she most naturally took off her hat, and thus found an excuse to display her splendid treasures of golden locks, for the benefit of the stranger. They tumbled down in gorgeous magnificence ; the husband looked on with a sort of pride. “She's not
· For the first “ Leaves," see “Gentleman's Magazine " for January, 1892.
badly provided in that way,” he said. By evening we had reached Strasburg. We put up at the same hotel, and dined together, during which time we became what are called “sworn friends.” After dinner we walked about and looked at the town. The pair were now anxious that I should travel with them on the morrow, but alas ! I had to get on to Paris that night. And so, about eleven o'clock, we made our adieus. There were the usual pie-crust promises, and assurances of meeting again. “I must come and see them in town.” Cards were interchanged. The lady arranged or rearranged, for the last time, her golden locks. But “business is business,” and at last I finally took my way to the station. I must conclude as I began-she was really the handsomest woman I have ever seen. But I never saw her again. ...
One of the most charming and original spots in London is the riverside Terrace at the Tower. As we promenade it here, it is delightful to watch the river beside us, the passing steamers, the bustle, the general air and tone of “the Port." It is a curious feeling to sit and look down at the entrance channel below, at the arched "Traitors' Gate," while above rise the “Towers of Julius." It is only recently that this has been opened, or reopened, to the public.
The worthy beefeaters have been shorn of their scarlet glories and appear in a dark undress. A rare entertainment is it to go round with one of these—the honest rustics gaping with delight, and devouring his words of wisdom. I recall a touch of character here that “entertained me mightily." One of these burly veterans, who displayed a huge bushy beard, with many medals, was standing close by when a party of French passed- men and women-and made their way to the Terrace. He called them back in rough tones : at this time it was forbidden. One of the party, a young Frenchman, spoke English fairly, and, in a moment, I noticed them all grouped round the warrior, the young Frenchman speaking deferentially. The beefeater stood in the centre, erect and gruff. I next saw the young man take up the medals that lay on the capacious chest with a sort of delicate reverence, which he exhibited to the Frenchwomen, who showed admiration by various little cries of rapture. The beefeater only half liked it, but he was clearly flattered by the familiarity. He condescended to some short, blunt particulars as to his campaigns, gave the party also some directions as to what they were to see, then strode majestically away, followed by their admiring eyes. Suddenly he stopped and called out abruptly, “And, I say! If ye likes, ye can walk along the Terrace yonder!” The blunt, halfashamed way in which this courtesy was bestowed was delightful.
The French went their way, clearly pleased with their little victory, and the spectator learned a valuable lesson from this trifling incident. Manner will do everything. Give a young fellow, on setting out in life, a good manner, and he will want neither meat, drink, nor clothes. “I like that lad,” you hear some old person say; "he has such nice off-hand manners.” The late Henry Doyle—“Dickey's ” brother-got on in the world on the strength of his admirable manner. It is an astonishing, potent gift. So let us all pray for Manner. ...
London is quite as well stored with “curios” as any foreign town, but they are little known. For years I have found delight in exploring and studying not only the material London, but its phases of life. I lament the disappearance of the old tavern life—a link with Johnson and his days. Of a winter's night how often have I sat in one of the mahogany “boxes” of the old “Cock” in Fleet Street, the kettle on the hob, watching the strange solitary characters that came in-old dry solicitors, barristers from the Temple. There were the pipes, and the screw of tobacco, and the excellent chop. After a time you began to feel like one of Dickens's characters. Not long since I took an agreeable lady on a voyage of discovery about London—it was a “personally conducted ” affair—and a pleasant day it was. First we visited the Garrick Club, and its wonderful show of dramatic pictures. Here you require someone to do “showman," and pick out the best pictures. Next to the older inns, Clifford's, Staple, Barnard's, then to the beautiful Ely Chapel close by, thence to the old Roman Wall, next to Crosby Hall, thence on to the old “Brewers' Hall” in Addle Street, a truly astonishing place from its fine old oaken chambers, deserted kitchens, &c. I could lay out half a dozen mornings of this pattern, guaranteeing each to be full of entertainment ; for instance, a morning among the old churches-All-Hallows, St. Bartholomew the Great, St. Mary Woolnoth, St. Giles Cripplegate, and many more. A curious hour or two could be spent in the bizarre Soane Museum. ....
I find in my diary much about the late Cardinal, whom I knew intimately, and who was certainly one of the most interesting of men, with something of fascination about him. We had many a talk, chiefly at the club to which we both belonged.
We have so few picturesque figures on our public stage that we can but ill spare any of the list. They can be counted upon the fingers. These are the sympathetic and interesting, who have a charm in their bearing, voice, and utterances ; we look after them in the street ; they say a few words to us, which linger in our ears. Such personages have the note of " distinction.” And how few they are ! Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Henry Irving, the late Cardinal, and it may be one or two more.
At the Athenæum Club our Cardinal was often seen-all associations, lay and clerical, were congenial to him. There was a faint reflex of the old Oxford life. He would arrive in his little brougham about five o'clock, step out jauntily, arrayed in his comfortable great-coat of a dressing-gown cut, with a hat of a special pattern, very broad of brim, but bent down “fore and aft.” It had nothing of the professional “shovel,” yet it suited the well-cut, ascetical, sad-toned face that it sheltered. He usually made his way to the library ; but it was a slow progress, and he was sure to encounter many an acquaintance. He knew most political and official personages there, with whom he always had a smiling, half-confidential talk ; and it was pleasant to note their deferential and cordial bearing towards him. But his chief acquaintance seemed to be among the bishops, deans, canons, and other dignitaries. With some—notably the Bishop of Gloucester-he was on affectionate terms. On a ballotday he was sure to attend, and there were many who seized the opportunity of being presented to him. His manner was really irresistible on these occasions : there was the old musical tenderness in his voice, and, with his head a little on one side, he held your hand at a distance, with a curious grasp, stiff, yet cordial. When he was inclined for “a read,” he would betake himself to the shelf of new books, and deliberately select what appeared to him most attractive. He would then retire with it to some well-sheltered corner, his hat well down on his forehead, his glasses “on,” and so read till he was interrupted, or grew tired. He had many intimate conversations with all sorts and conditions of men: he liked a regular talk, on the cushioned bench, on the stairs. He was altogether a charming, engaging man, and really quite irresistible when he wished to have something done. It was here that I had many a pleasant chat with him, and even discussion. He was strongly opposed to theatrical amusements, considering them full of dangers. And on this point he would pursue the argument with great good-humour, but with firmness. At last he would say, "Well! we'll fix a day, and you'll come to my house, and we'll have it regularly out together.”
Not long before his death they were painting the huge barrack in which he lived—a “shivery” place, an “institution” rather, with scarcely one comfortable room in it. A large number of men were engaged in the work, which they conducted after the fashion of the British workman-i.e. at their leisure. The owner complained;
the thing dawdled on for weeks, no progress was made ; more men were then put on, who only got in each other's way. At last, quite au bout, the Cardinal descended one morning from his eyrie at the very top, and in his tender, quavering note, his arms outstretched, said, “Go away, all of you ! Go out / " It was argued that the work was only half done. “No matter ! Go, every one of you, and never come back again !” It was like a prophet, and they all shrank off and departed. ...
It is rarely one's fortune to witness strange dramatic scenes which leave a deep life-long impression. One of the most extraordinary was an Irish funeral at Killarney, of the old pattern, which I witnessed many years ago. The party went from Dublin by railway, reaching the little town about nine o'clock of a winter's night. Here a procession was formed of a number of more or less undignified vehicles, which then were in fashion everywhere in Ireland, yclept "covered cars," almost the universal method of conveyance, of course excepting the familiar and ever-welcome “outside car.” It was a square box upon wheels, the door of entrance at the back; and this, when the passengers wished to enter or get out, was “ backed ” on to the pavement with a vigorous jolt, much as a coal van is when delivering its burden. A train of these truly unpicturesque vehicles, duly formed in solemn procession, set out slowly through the lighted streets-all crowded with people, and suggesting a foreign town--for the Cathedral. A sort of savage music heralded us; a band of women, old and young, who were filling the air with their passionate wailings, and sobs, and shrieks, that subsided not even for a moment. It was not unmusical, and, as a performance, had some art, and never flagged. When the stately Cathedral was reached, the lights and shadows of the great porch and the gathered crowds presented an effective scene. Then the extraordinary orchestra was to be heardsome seven or eight wailers or “keeners,” who now redoubled their efforts as the coffin was borne in. They were tossing their arms, beating their breasts, and tears-real tears-were streaming down their faces. The suggestion was as of something highly savage or Indian.
The coffin was left there for the night, and next morning the train again re-formed, the grotesque covered cars falling into line. The way was through the beautiful arbutus-lined lanes and roads, on to Old Muckross Abbey : among the exquisite ruins the defunct was to be laid. Again the “keeners ” led the way ; they were even more passionate in their exertions than on the preceding night. Such