Margot Asquith, An Autobiography: Volumes I & II
Part 2 out of 7
"'But, my darling heart, she's unconscious. She has never been
conscious all day. She would not know you!'
"I sank stunned upon the stair. Some one touched my shoulder:
"'You had better go to bed, it is past one. No, you can't sleep
here: there's no bed. You must lie down; a sofa won't do, you are
too ill. Very well, then, you are not ill, but you will be to-
morrow if you don't go to bed.'
"I found myself in the street, Arthur Balfour holding one of my
arms and Spencer Lyttelton the other. They took me to 40 Grosvenor
Square. I went to bed and early next morning I went across to
Upper Brook Street. The servant looked happy:
"'She's better, miss, and she's conscious.'
"I flew upstairs, and Charty met me in her dressing-gown. She was
calm and capable as always, but a new look, less questioning and
more intense, had come into her face. She said:
"'You can go in now.'
"I felt a rushing of my soul and an over-eagerness that half-
stopped me as I opened the door and stood at the foot of the
wooden bed and gazed at what was left of Laura.
"Her face had shrunk to the size of a child's; her lashes lay a
black wall on the whitest of cheeks; her hair was hanging dragged
up from her square brow in heavy folds upon the pillow. Her mouth
was tightly shut and a dark blood-stain marked her chin. After a
long silence, she moved and muttered and opened her eyes. She
fixed them on me, and my heart stopped. I stretched my hands out
towards her, and said, 'Laura!'... But the sound died; she did not
know me. I knew after that she could not live.
"People went away for the Easter Holidays: Papa to North Berwick,
Arthur Balfour to Westward Ho! and every day Godfrey Webb rode a
patient cob up to the front door, to hear that she was no better.
I sat on the stairs listening to the roar of London and the clock
in the library. The doctor--Matthews Duncan--patted my head
whenever he passed me on the stair and said, in his gentle Scotch
"'Poor little girl! Poor, poor little girl!'
"I was glad he did not say that 'while there was life there was
hope,' or any of the medical platitudes, or I would have replied
that he LIED. There was no hope--none! ...
"One afternoon I went with Lucy to St. George's, Hanover Square.
The old man was sweeping out the church; and we knelt and prayed.
Laura and I have often knelt side by side at that altar and I
never feel alone when I am in front of the mysterious Christ-
picture, with its bars of violet and bunches of grapes.
"On my return I went upstairs and lay on the floor of Laura's
bedroom, watching Alfred kneeling by her side with his arms over
his head. Charty sat with her hands clasped; a single candle
behind her head transfigured her lovely hair into a halo. Suddenly
Laura opened her eyes and, turning them slowly on Charty, said:
"'You are HEAVENLY! . . .'
"A long pause, and then while we were all three drawing near her
bed we heard her say:
"'I think God has forgotten me.'
"The fire was weaving patterns on the ceiling; every shadow seemed
to be looking with pity on the silence of that room, the long
silence that has never been broken.
"I did not go home that night, but slept at Alfred's house. Lucy
had gone to the early Communion, but I had not accompanied her,
as I was tired of praying. I must have fallen into a heavy sleep,
when suddenly I felt some one touching my bed. I woke with a start
and saw nurse standing beside me. She said in a calm voice:
"'My dear, you must come. Don't look like that; you won't be able
"Able to walk! Of course I was! I was in my dressing-gown and
downstairs in a flash and on to the bed. The room was full of
people. I lay with my arm under Laura, as I did in the old Glen
days, when after our quarrels we crept into each other's beds
to'make it up.' Alfred was holding one of her hands against his
forehead; and Charty was kneeling at her feet.
"She looked much the same, but a deeper shadow ran under her brow
and her mouth seemed to be harder shut. I put my cheek against her
shoulder and felt the sharpness of her spine. For a minute we lay
close to each other, while the sun, fresh from the dawn, played
upon the window-blinds. ... Then her breathing stopped; she gave a
shiver and died. ... The silence was so great that I heard the
flight of Death and the morning salute her soul.
"I went downstairs and took her will out of the drawer where she
had put it and told Alfred what she had asked me to do. The room
was dark with people; and a tall man, gaunt and fervid, was
standing up saying a prayer. When he had finished I read the will
My Will [Footnote: The only part of the will I have left out is a
few names with blank spaces which she intended to fill up.], made
by me, Laura Mary Octavia Lyttelton, February, 1886.
"I have not much to leave behind me, should I die next month,
having my treasure deep in my heart where no one can reach it, and
where even Death cannot enter. But there are some things that have
long lain at the gates of my Joy House that in some measure have
the colour of my life in them, and would, by rights of love,
belong to those who have entered there. I should like Alfred to
give these things to my friends, not because my friends will care
so much for them, but because they will love best being where I
loved to be.
"I want, first of all, to tell Alfred that all I have in the world
and all I am and ever shall be, belongs to him, and to him more
than any one, so that if I leave away from him anything that
speaks to him of a joy unknown to me, or that he holds dear for
any reason wise or unwise, it is his, and my dear friends will
forgive him and me.
"So few women have been as happy as I have been every hour since I
married--so few have had such a wonderful sky of love for their
common atmosphere, that perhaps it will seem strange when I write
down that the sadness of Death and Parting is greatly lessened to
me by the fact of my consciousness of the eternal, indivisible
oneness of Alfred and me. I feel as long as he is down here I must
be here, silently, secretly sitting beside him as I do every
evening now, however much my soul is the other side, and that if
Alfred were to die, we would be as we were on earth, love as we
did this year, only fuller, quicker, deeper than ever, with a
purer passion and a wiser worship. Only in the meantime, whilst my
body is hid from him and my eyes cannot see him, let my trivial
toys be his till the morning comes when nothing will matter
because all is spirit.
"If my baby lives I should like it to have my pearls. I do not
love my diamond necklace, so I won't leave it to any one.
"I would like Alfred to have my Bible. It has always rather
worried him to hold because it is so full of things; but if I know
I am dying, I will clean it out, because, I suppose, he won't like
to after. I think I am fonder of it--not, I mean, because it's the
Bible--but because it's such a friend, and has been always with
me, chiefly under my pillow, ever since I had it--than of anything
I possess, and I used to read it a great deal when I was much
better than I am now. I love it very much, so, Alfred, you must
keep it for me.
"Then the prayer book Francie [Footnote: Lady Horner, of Mells.]
gave me is what I love next, and I love it so much I feel I would
like to take it with me. Margot wants a prayer book, so I leave it
to her. It is so dirty outside, but perhaps it would be a pity to
bind it. Margot is to have my darling little Daily Light, too.
"Then Charty is to have my paste necklace she likes, and any two
prints she cares to have, and my little trefeuille diamond brooch
--oh! and the Hope she painted for me. I love it very much, and my
"Little Barbara is to have my blue watch, and Tommy my watch--
there is no chain.
"Then Lucy is to have my Frances belt, because a long time ago the
happiest days of my girlhood were when we first got to know
Francie, and she wore that belt in the blue days at St. Moritz
when we met her at church and I became her lover; and I want Lucy
to have my two Blakes and the dear little Martin Schongaun Madonna
and Baby--dear little potbellied baby, sucking his little sacred
thumb in a garden with a beautiful wall and a little pigeon-house
turret. I bought it myself, and do rather think it was clever of
me--all for a pound.
"And Posie is to have my little diamond wreaths, and she must
leave them to Joan, [Footnote: My niece, Mrs. Jamie Lindsay.] and
she is to have my garnets too, because she used to like them, and
my Imitation and Marcus Aurelius.
"I leave Eddy my little diamond necklace for his wife, and he must
choose a book.
"And Frank is just going to be married, so I would like him to
have some bit of my furniture, and his wife my little silver
"I leave Jack the little turquoise ring Graham gave me. He must
have it made into a stud.
"Then I want Lavinia [Footnote: Lavinia Talbot is wife of the
present Bishop of Winchester] to have my bagful of silver
dressing-things Papa gave me, and the little diamond and sapphire
bangle I am so fond of; and tell her what a joy it has been to
know her, and that the little open window has let in many sunrises
on my married life. She will understand.
"Then I want old Lucy [Footnote: Lady Frederick Cavendish, whose
husband was murdered in Ireland] to have my edition of the
"Pilgrim's Progress," that dear old one, and my photograph in the
silver frame of Alfred, if my baby dies too, otherwise it is to
belong to him (or her). Lucy was Alfred's little proxy-mother, and
she deserves him. He sent the photograph to me the first week we
were engaged, and I have carried it about ever since. I don't
think it very good. It always frightened me a little; it is so
stern and just, and the 'just man' has never been a hero of mine.
I love Alfred when he is what he is to me, and I don't feel that
is just, but generous.
"Then I want Edward [Footnote: The late Head Master of Eton] to
have the "Days of Creation," and Charles [Footnote: The present
Lord Cobham, Alfred's eldest brother] to have my first editions of
Shelley, and Arthur [Footnote: The late Hon. Arthur Temple
Lyttelton, Bishop of Southampton] my first edition of Beaumont and
Fletcher; and Kathleen [Footnote: The Late Hon. Mrs. Arthur
Lyttelton.] is to have my little silver crucifix that opens, and
Alfred must put in a little bit of my hair, and Kathleen must keep
it for my sake--I loved her from the first.
"I want Alfred to give my godchild, Cicely Horner,[Footnote: The
present Hon. Mrs. George Lambton.], the bird-brooch Burne Jones
designed, and the Sintram Arthur [Footnote: The Right Hon. Arthur
Balfour.], gave me. I leave my best friend, Frances, my grey
enamel and diamond bracelet, my first edition of Wilhelm Meister,
with the music folded up in it, and my Burne Jones ''spression'
drawings. Tell her I leave a great deal of my life with her, and
that I never can cease to be very near her.
"I leave Mary Elcho [Footnote: The present Countess of Wemyss.]
my Chippendale cradle. She must not think it bad luck. I suppose
some one else possessed it once, and, after all, it isn't as if I
died in it! She gave me the lovely hangings, and I think she will
love it a little for my sake, because I always loved cradles and
all cradled things; and I leave her my diamond and red enamel
crescent Arthur gave me. She must wear it because two of her dear
friends are in it, as it were. And I would like her to have oh!
such a blessed life, because I think her character is so full of
blessed things and symbols. ...
"I leave Arthur Balfour--Alfred's and my dear, deeply loved
friend, who has given me so many happy hours since I married, and
whose sympathy, understanding, and companionship in the deep sense
of the word has never been withheld from me when I have sought it,
which has not been seldom this year of my blessed Vita Nuova--I
leave him my Johnson. He taught me to love that wisest of men--and
I have much to be grateful for in this. I leave him, too, my
little ugly Shelley--much read, but not in any way beautiful; if
he marries I should like him to give his wife my little red enamel
harp--I shall never see her if I die now, but I have so often
created her in the Islands of my imagination--and as a Queen has
she reigned there, so that I feel in the spirit we are in some
measure related by some mystic tie."
Out of the many letters Alfred received, this is the one I liked
April 27th, 1886. MY DEAR ALFRED,
It is a daring and perhaps a selfish thing to speak to you at a
moment when your mind and heart are a sanctuary in which God is
speaking to you in tones even more than usually penetrating and
solemn. Certainly it pertains to few to be chosen to receive such
lessons as are being taught you. If the wonderful trials of
Apostles, Saints and Martyrs have all meant a love in like
proportion wonderful, then, at this early period of your life,
your lot has something in common with theirs, and you will bear
upon you life-long marks of a great and peculiar dispensation
which may and should lift you very high. Certainly you two who are
still one were the persons whom in all the vast circuit of London
life those near you would have pointed to as exhibiting more than
any others the promise and the profit of BOTH worlds. The call
upon you for thanksgiving seemed greater than on any one--you will
not deem it lessened now. How eminently true it is of her that in
living a short she fulfilled a long time. If Life is measured by
intensity, hers was a very long life--and yet with that rich
development of mental gifts, purity and singleness made her one of
the little children of whom and of whose like is the Kingdom of
Heaven. Bold would it indeed be to say such a being died
prematurely. All through your life, however it be prolonged, what
a precious possession to you she will be. But in giving her to
your bodily eye and in taking her away the Almighty has specially
set His seal upon you. To Peace and to God's gracious mercy let us
heartily, yes, cheerfully, commend her. Will you let Sir Charles
and Lady Tennant and all her people know how we feel with and for
Ever your affec.
W. E. GLADSTONE.
Matthew Arnold sent me this poem because Jowett told him I said it
might have been written for Laura:
Strew on her roses, roses,
And never a spray of yew!
In quiet she reposes;
Ah, would that I did too!
Her mirth the world required;
She bathed it in smiles of glee.
But her heart was tired, tired,
And now they let her be.
Her life was turning, turning,
In mazes of heat and sound,
But for peace her soul was yearning,
And now peace laps her round.
Her cabin'd, ample spirit,
It flutter'd and fail'd for breath.
To-night it doth inherit
The vasty hall of death.
SLUMMING IN LONDON; ADVENTURE IN WHITECHAPEL; BRAWL IN A SALOON;
OUTINGS WITH WORKING GIRLS--MARGOT MEETS THE PRINCESS OF WALES--
GOSSIP OVER FRIENDSHIP WITH PRINCE OF WALES--LADY RANDOLPH
CHURCHILL'S BALL--MARGOT'S FIRST HUNT; ECCENTRIC DUKE OF BEAUFORT;
FALLS IN LOVE AT SEVENTEEN; COMMANDEERS A HORSE
After Laura's death I spent most of my time in the East End of
London. One day, when I was walking in the slums of Whitechapel, I
saw a large factory and girls of all ages pouring in and out of
it. Seeing the name "Cliffords" on the door, I walked in and asked
a workman to show me his employer's private room. He indicated
with his finger where it was and I knocked and went in. Mr.
Cliffords, the owner of the factory, had a large red face and was
sitting in a bare, squalid room, on a hard chair, in front of his
writing-table. He glanced at me as I shut the door, but did not
stop writing. I asked him if I might visit his factory once or
twice a week and talk to the work-girls. At this he put his pen
down and said:
"Now, miss, what good do you suppose you will do here with my
MARGOT: "It is not exactly THAT. I am not sure I can do any one
any good, but do you think I could do your girls any harm?"
CLIFFORDS: "Most certainly you could and, what is more, you WILL"
CLIFFORDS: "Why, bless my soul! You'll keep them all jawing and
make them late for their work! As it is, they don't do overmuch.
Do you think my girls are wicked and that you are going to make
them good and happy and save them and all that kind of thing?"
MARGOT: "Not at all; I was not thinking of them, _I_ am so very
CLIFFORDS (RATHER MOVED AND LOOKING AT ME WITH CURIOSITY): "Oh,
that's quite another matter! If you've come here to ask me a
favour, I might consider it."
MARGOT (HUMBLY): "That is just what I have come for. I swear I
would only be with your girls in the dinner interval, but if by
accident I arrive at the wrong time I will see that they do not
stop their work. It is far more likely that they won't listen to
me at all than that they will stop working to hear what I have to
So it was fixed up. He shook me by the hand, never asked my name
and I visited his factory three days a week for eight years when I
was in London (till I married, in 1894).
The East End of London was not a new experience to me. Laura and I
had started a creche at Wapping the year I came out; and in
following up the cases of deserving beggars I had come across a
variety of slums. I have derived as much interest and more benefit
from visiting the poor than the rich and I get on better with
them. What was new to me in Whitechapel was the head of the
Mr. Cliffords was what the servants describe as "a man who keeps
himself to himself," gruff, harsh, straight and clever. He hated
all his girls and no one would have supposed, had they seen us
together, that he liked me; but, after I had observed him blocking
the light in the doorway of the room when I was speaking, I knew
that I should get on with him.
The first day I went into the barn of a place where the boxes were
made, I was greeted by a smell of glue and perspiration and a roar
of wheels on the cobblestones in the yard. Forty or fifty women,
varying in age from sixteen to sixty, were measuring, cutting and
glueing cardboard and paper together; not one of them looked up
from her work as I came in.
I climbed upon a hoarding, and kneeling down, pinned a photograph
of Laura on a space of the wall. This attracted the attention of
an elderly woman who turned to her companions and said:
"Come and have a look at this, girls! why, it's to the life!"
Seeing some of the girls leave their work and remembering my
promise to Cliffords, I jumped up and told them that in ten
minutes' time they would be having their dinners and then I would
like to speak to them, but that until then they must not stop
their work. I was much relieved to see them obey me. Some of them
kept sandwiches in dirty paper bags which they placed on the floor
with their hats, but when the ten minutes were over I was
disappointed to see nearly all of them disappear. I asked where
they had gone to and was told that they either joined the men
packers or went to the public-house round the corner.
The girls who brought sandwiches and stayed behind liked my visits
and gradually became my friends. One of them--Phoebe Whitman by
name--was beautiful and had more charm than the others for me; I
asked her one day if she would take me with her to the public-
house where she always lunched, as I had brought my food with me
in a bag and did not suppose the public-house people would mind my
eating it there with a glass of beer. This request of mine
distressed the girls who were my friends. They thought it a
terrible idea that I should go among drunkards, but I told them I
had brought a book with me which they could look at and read out
loud to each other while I was away--at which they nodded gravely
--and I went off with my beautiful cockney.
The "Peggy Bedford" was in the lowest quarter of Whitechapel and
crowded daily with sullen and sad-looking people. It was hot,
smelly and draughty. When we went in I observed that Phoebe was a
favourite; she waved her hand gaily here and there and ordered
herself a glass of bitter. The men who had been hanging about
outside and in different corners of the room joined up to the
counter on her arrival and I heard a lot of chaff going on while
she tossed her pretty head and picked at potted shrimps. The room
was too crowded for any one to notice me; and I sat quietly in a
corner eating my sandwiches and smoking my cigarette. The frosted-
glass double doors swung to and fro and the shrill voices of
children asking for drinks and carrying them away in their mugs
made me feel profoundly unhappy. I followed one little girl
through the doors out into the street and saw her give the mug to
a cabman and run off delighted with his tip. When I returned I was
deafened by a babel of voices; there was a row going on: one of
the men, drunk but good-tempered, was trying to take the flower
out of Phoebe's hat. Provoked by this, a young man began jostling
him, at which all the others pressed forward; the barman shouted
ineffectually to them to stop; they merely cursed him and said
that they were backing Phoebe. A woman, more drunk than the
others, swore at being disturbed and said that Phoebe was a
blasted something that I could not understand. Suddenly I saw her
hitting out like a prize-fighter; and the men formed a ring round
them. I jumped up, seized an under-fed, blear-eyed being who was
nearest to me and flung him out of my way. Rage and disgust
inspired me with great physical strength; but I was prevented from
breaking through the ring by a man seizing my arm and saying:
"Let be or her man will give you a damned thrashing!"
Not knowing which of the women he was alluding to, I dipped down
and, dodging the crowd, broke through the ring and flung myself
upon Phoebe; my one fear was that she would be too late for her
work and that the promise I had made to Cliffords would be broken.
Women fight very awkwardly and I was battered about between the
two. I turned and cursed the men standing round for laughing and
doing nothing and, before I could separate the combatants, I had
given and received heavy blows; but unexpected help came from a
Cliffords packer who happened to look in. We extricated ourselves
as well as we could and ran back to the factory. I made Phoebe
apologise to the chief for being late and, feeling stiff all over,
returned home to Grosvenor Square.
Cliffords, who was an expert boxer, invited me into his room on my
next visit to tell him the whole story and my shares went up.
By the end of July all the girls--about fifty-two--stayed with me
after their work and none of them went to the "Peggy Bedford."
The Whitechapel murders took place close to the factory about that
time, and the girls and I visited what the journalists call "the
scene of the tragedy." It was strange watching crowds of people
collected daily to see nothing but an archway.
I took my girls for an annual treat to the country every summer,
starting at eight in the morning and getting back to London at
midnight. We drove in three large wagonettes behind four horses,
accompanied by a brass band. On one occasion I was asked if the
day could be spent at Caterham, because there were barracks there.
I thought it a dreary place and strayed away by myself, but Phoebe
and her friends enjoyed glueing their noses to the rails and
watching the soldiers drill. I do not know how the controversy
arose, but when I joined them I heard Phoebe shout through the
railings that some one was a "bloody fish!" I warned her that I
should leave Cliffords for ever, if she went on provoking rows and
using such violent language, and this threat upset her; for a
short time she was on her best behaviour, but I confess I find the
poor just as uninfluenceable and ungrateful as the rich, and I
often wonder what became of Phoebe Whitman.
At the end of July I told the girls that I had to leave them, as I
was going back to my home in Scotland.
PHOEBE: "You don't know, lady, how much we all feels for you
having to live in the country. Why, when you pointed out to us on
the picnic-day that kind of a tower-place, with them walls and
dark trees, and said it reminded you of your home, we just looked
at each other! 'Well, I never!' sez I; and we all shuddered!"
None of the girls knew what my name was or where I lived till they
read about me in the picture-papers, eight years later at the
time of my marriage.
When I was not in the East-end of London, I wandered about looking
at the shop-windows in the West. One day I was admiring a
photograph of my sister Charty in the window of Macmichael's, when
a footman touched his hat and asked me if I would speak to "her
Grace" in the carriage. I turned round and saw the Duchess of
Manchester [Footnote: Afterwards the late Dutchess of Devonshire];
as I had never spoken to her in my life, I wondered what she could
possibly want me for. After shaking hands, she said:
"Jump in, dear child! I can't bear to see you look so sad. Jump in
and I'll take you for a drive and you can come back to tea with
I got into the carriage and we drove round Hyde Park, after which
I followed her upstairs to her boudoir in Great Stanhope Street.
In the middle of tea Queen Alexandra--then Princess of Wales--
came in to see the Duchess. She ran in unannounced and kissed her
My heart beat when I looked at her. She had more real beauty, both
of line and expression, and more dignity than any one I had ever
seen; and I can never forget that first meeting.
These were the days of the great beauties. London worshipped
beauty like the Greeks. Photographs of the Princess of Wales, Mrs.
Langtry, Mrs. Cornwallis West, Mrs. Wheeler and Lady Dudley
[Footnote: Georgiana, Countess of Dudley.] collected crowds in
front of the shop windows. I have seen great and conventional
ladies like old Lady Cadogan and others standing on iron chairs in
the Park to see Mrs. Langtry walk past; and wherever Georgiana
Lady Dudley drove there were crowds round her carriage when it
pulled up, to see this vision of beauty, holding a large holland
umbrella over the head of her lifeless husband.
Groups of beauties like the Moncrieffes, Grahams, Conynghams, de
Moleynses, Lady Mary Mills, Lady Randolph Churchill, Mrs. Arthur
Sassoon, Lady Dalhousie, Lady March, Lady Londonderry and Lady de
Grey were to be seen in the salons of the 'eighties. There is
nothing at all like this in London to-day and I doubt if there is
any one now with enough beauty or temperament to provoke a fight
in Rotten Row between gentlemen in high society: an incident of my
youth which I was privileged to witness and which caused a
Queen Alexandra had a more perfect face than any of those I have
mentioned; it is visible even now, because the oval is still
there, the frownless brows, the carriage and, above all, the grace
both of movement and of gesture which made her the idol of her
London society is neither better nor worse than it was in the
'eighties; there is less talent and less intellectual ambition and
much less religion; but where all the beauty has gone to I cannot
When the Princess of Wales walked into the Duchess of Manchester's
boudoir that afternoon, I got up to go away, but the Duchess
presented me to her and they asked me to stay and have tea, which
I was delighted to do. I sat watching her, with my teacup in my
hand, thrilled with admiration.
Queen Alexandra's total absence of egotism and the warmth of her
manner, prompted not by consideration, but by sincerity, her
gaiety of heart and refinement--rarely to be seen in royal people
--inspired me with a love for her that day from which I have never
I had been presented to the Prince of Wales--before I met the
Princess--by Lady Dalhousie, in the Paddock at Ascot. He asked me
if I would back my fancy for the Wokingham Stakes and have a
little bet with him on the race. We walked down to the rails and
watched the horses gallop past. One of them went down in great
form; I verified him by his colours and found he was called
Wokingham. I told the Prince that he was a sure winner; but out of
so many entries no one was more surprised than I was when my horse
came romping in. I was given a gold cigarette-case and went home
King Edward had great charm and personality and enormous prestige;
he was more touchy than King George and fonder of pleasure. He and
Queen Alexandra, before they succeeded, were the leaders of London
society; they practically dictated what people could and could not
do; every woman wore a new dress when she dined at Marlborough
House; and we vied with each other in trying to please him.
Opinions differ as to the precise function of royalty, but no one
doubts that it is a valuable and necessary part of our
Constitution. Just as the Lord Mayor represents commerce, the
Prime Minister the Government, and the Commons the people, the
King represents society. Voltaire said we British had shown true
genius in preventing our kings by law from doing anything but
good. This sounds well, but we all know that laws do not prevent
men from doing harm.
The two kings that I have known have had in a high degree both
physical and moral courage and have shown a sense of duty
unparalleled in the Courts of Europe; it is this that has given
them their stability; and added to this their simplicity of nature
has won for them our lasting love.
They have been exceptionally fortunate in their private
secretaries: Lord Knollys and Lord Stamfordham are liberal-minded
men of the highest honour and discretion; and I am proud to call
them my friends.
Before I knew the Prince and Princess of Wales, I did not go to
fashionable balls, but after that Ascot I was asked everywhere. I
was quite unconscious of it at the time, but was told afterwards
that people were beginning to criticise me; one or two incidents
might have enlightened me had I been more aware of myself.
One night, when I was dining tete-a-tete with my beloved friend,
Godfrey Webb, in his flat in Victoria Street, my father sent the
brougham for me with a message to ask if I would accompany him to
supper at Lord and Lady Randolph Churchill's, where we had been
invited to meet the Prince of Wales. I said I should be delighted
if I could keep on the dress that I was wearing, but as it was
late and I had to get up early next day I did not want to change
my clothes; he said he supposed my dress would be quite smart
enough, so we drove to the Randolph Churchills' house together.
I had often wanted to know Lord Randolph, but it was only a few
days before the supper that I had had the good fortune to sit next
to him at dinner. When he observed that he had been put next to a
"miss," he placed his left elbow firmly on the table and turned
his back upon me through several courses. I could not but admire
the way he appeared to eat everything with one hand. I do not know
whether it was the lady on his right or what it was that prompted
him, but he ultimately turned round and asked me if I knew any
politicians. I told him that, with the exception of himself, I
knew them all intimately. This surprised him, and after discussing
Lord Rosebery--to whom he was devoted--he said:
"Do you know Lord Salisbury?"
I told him that I had forgotten his name in my list, but that I
would like above everything to meet him; at which he remarked that
I was welcome to all his share of him, adding:
"What do you want to know him for?"
MARGOT: "Because I think he is amazingly amusing and a very fine
LORD RANDOLPH (muttering something I could not catch about
Salisbury lying dead at his feet): "I wish to God that I had NEVER
MARGOT: "I am afraid you resigned more out of temper than
conviction, Lord Randolph." At this he turned completely round
and, gazing at me, said:
"Confound your cheek! What do you know about me and my
convictions? I hate Salisbury! He jumped at my resignation like a
dog at a bone. The Tories are ungrateful, short-sighted beasts. I
hope you are a Liberal?"
I informed him that I was and exactly what I thought of the Tory
party; and we talked through the rest of dinner. Towards the end
of our conversation he asked me who I was. I told him that, after
his manners to me in the earlier part of the evening, it was
perhaps better that we should remain strangers. However, after a
little chaff, we made friends and he said that he would come and
see me in Grosvenor Square.
On the night of the supper-party, I was wearing a white muslin
dress with transparent chemise sleeves, a fichu and a long skirt
with a Nattier blue taffeta sash. I had taken a bunch of rose
carnations out of a glass and pinned them into my fichu with three
diamond ducks given me by Lord Carmichael, our delightful
Peeblesshire friend and neighbour.
On my arrival at the Churchills', I observed all the fine ladies
wearing ball-dresses off the shoulder and their tiaras. This made
me very conspicuous and I wished profoundly that I had changed
into something smarter before going out.
The Prince of Wales had not arrived and, as our hostess was giving
orders to the White Hungarian Band, my father and I had to walk
into the room alone.
I saw several of the ladies eyeing my toilette, and having
painfully sharp ears I heard some of their remarks:
"Do look at Miss Tennant! She is in her night-gown!"
"I suppose it is meant to be 'ye olde Englishe pictury!' I wonder
she has not let her hair down like the Juliets at the Oakham
Another, more charitable, said:
"I daresay no one told her that the Prince of Wales was coming.
... Poor child! What a shame!"
And finally a man said:
"There is nothing so odd as the passion some people have for self-
advertisement; it only shows what it is to be intellectual!"
At that moment our hostess came up to us with a charming accueil.
The first time I saw Lady Randolph was at Punchestown races, in
1887, where I went with my new friends, Mrs. Bunbury, Hatfield
Harter and Peter Flower. I was standing at the double when I
observed a woman next to me in a Black Watch tartan skirt, braided
coat and astrachan hussar's cap. She had a forehead like a
panther's and great wild eyes that looked through you; she was so
arresting that I followed her about till I found some one who
could tell me who she was.
Had Lady Randolph Churchill been like her face, she could have
governed the world.
My father and I were much relieved at her greeting; and while we
were talking the Prince of Wales arrived. The ladies fell into
position, ceased chattering and made subterranean curtsies. He
came straight up to me and told me I was to sit on the other side
of him at supper. I said, hanging my head with becoming modesty
and in a loud voice:
"Oh no, Sir, I am not dressed at all for the part! I had better
slip away, I had no notion this was going to be such a smart party
... I expect some of the ladies here think I have insulted them by
coming in my night-gown!"
I saw every one straining to hear what the Prince's answer would
be, but I took good care that we should move out of earshot. At
that moment Lord Hartington [Footnote: The late Duke of
Devonshire.] came up and told me I was to go in to supper with
him. More than ever I wished I had changed my dress, for now every
one was looking at me with even greater curiosity than hostility.
The supper was gay and I had remarkable talks which laid the
foundation of my friendship both with King Edward and the Duke of
Devonshire. The Prince told me he had had a dull youth, as Queen
Victoria could not get over the Prince Consort's death and kept up
an exaggerated mourning. He said he hoped that when I met his
mother I should not be afraid of her, adding, with a charming
smile, that with the exception of John Brown everybody was. I
assured him with perfect candour that I was afraid of no one. He
was much amused when I told him that before he had arrived that
evening some of the ladies had whispered that I was in my night-
gown and I hope he did not think me lacking in courtesy because I
had not put on a ball-dress. He assured me that on the contrary he
admired my frock very much and thought I looked like an old
picture. This remark made me see uncomfortable visions of the
Oakham ball and he did not dispel them by adding:
"You are so original! You must dance the cotillion with me."
I told him that I could not possibly stay, it would bore my father
stiff, as he hated sitting up late; also I was not dressed for
dancing and had no idea there was going to be a ball. When supper
was over, I made my best curtsy and, after presenting my father to
the Prince, went home to bed.
Lord Hartington told me in the course of our conversation at
supper that Lady Grosvenor [Footnote: The Countess of Grosvenor.]
was by far the most dangerous syren in London and that he would
not answer for any man keeping his head or his heart when with
her, to which I entirely agreed.
When the London season came to an end we all went up to Glen.
Here I must retrace my steps.
In the winter of 1880 I went to stay with my sister, Lucy Graham
Smith, in Wiltshire.
I was going out hunting for the first time, never having seen a
fox, a hound or a fence in my life; my heart beat as my sisters
superintending my toilette put the last hair-pin into a crinkly
knot of hair; I pulled on my top-boots and, running down to the
front door, found Ribblesdale, who was mounting me, waiting to
drive me to the meet. Hounds met at Christian Malford station.
Not knowing that with the Duke of Beaufort's hounds every one wore
blue and buff, I was disappointed at the appearance of the field.
No one has ever suggested that a touch of navy blue improves a
landscape; and, although I had never been out hunting before, I
had looked forward to seeing scarlet coats.
We moved off, jostling each other as thick as sardines, to draw
the nearest cover. My mount was peacocking on the grass when
suddenly we heard a "Halloa!" and the whole field went hammering
like John Gilpin down the hard high road.
Plunging through a gap, I dashed into the open country. Storm
flung herself up to the stars over the first fence and I found
myself seated on the wettest of wet ground, angry but unhurt; all
the stragglers--more especially the funkers--agreeably diverted
from pursuing the hunt, galloped off to catch my horse. I walked
to a cottage; and nearly an hour afterwards Storm was returned to
After this contretemps my mount was more amenable and I determined
that nothing should unseat me again. Not being hurt by a fall
gives one a sense of exhilaration and I felt ready to face an arm
of the sea.
The scattered field were moving aimlessly about, some looking for
their second horses, some eating an early sandwich, some in groups
laughing and smoking and no one knowing anything about the hounds;
I was a little away from the others and wondering--like all
amateurs--why we were wasting so much time, when a fine old
gentleman on a huge horse came up to me and said, with a sweet
"Do you always whistle out hunting?"
MARGOT: "I didn't know I was whistling ... I've never hunted
STRANGER: "Is this really the first time you've ever been out with
MARGOT: "Yes, it is."
STRANGER: "How wonderfully you ride! But I am sorry to see you
have taken a toss."
MARGOT: "I fell off at the first fence, for though I've ridden all
my life I've never jumped before."
STRANGER: "Were you frightened when you fell?"
MARGOT: "No, my horse was ..."
STRANGER: "Would you like to wear the blue and buff?"
MARGOT: "It's pretty for women, but I don't think it looks
sporting for men, though I see you wear it; but in any case I
could not get the blue habit."
STRANGER: "Why not?"
MARGOT: "Because the old Duke of Beaufort only gives it to women
who own coverts; I am told he hates people who go hard and after
today I mean to ride like the devil."
STRANGER: "Oh, do you? But is the 'old Duke,' as you call him, so
MARGOT: "I've no idea; I've never seen him or any other duke!"
STRANGER: "If I told you I could get you the blue habit, what
would you say?"
MARGOT (with a patronising smile): "I'm afraid I should say you
were running hares!"
STRANGER: "You would have to wear a top-hat, you know, and you
would not like that! But, if you are going to ride like the devil,
it might save your neck; and in any case it would keep your hair
MARGOT (anxiously pushing back her stray curls): "Why, is my hair
very untidy? It is the first time it has ever been up; and, when I
was 'thrown from my horse,' as the papers call it, all the hair-
pins got loose."
STRANGER: "It doesn't matter with your hair; it is so pretty I
think I shall call you Miss Fluffy! By the bye, what is your
When I told him he was much surprised:
"Oh, then you are a sister-in-law of the Ancestor's, are you?"
This was the first time I ever heard Ribblesdale called "the
Ancestor"; and as I did not know what he meant, I said:
"And who are you?"
To which he replied:
"I am the Duke of Beaufort and I am not running hares this time. I
will give you the blue habit, but you know you will have to wear a
MARGOT: "Good gracious! I hope I've said nothing to offend you? Do
you always do this sort of thing when you meet any one like me for
the first time?"
DUKE OF BEAUFORT (with a smile, lifting his hat): "Just as it is
the first time you have ever hunted, so it is the first time I
have ever met any one like you."
On the third day with the Beaufort hounds, my horse fell heavily
in a ditch with me and, getting up, galloped away. I was picked up
by a good-looking man, who took me into his house, gave me tea
and drove me back in his brougham to Easton Grey; I fell
passionately in love with him. He owned a horse called Lardy
Dardy, on which he mounted me.
Charty and the others chaffed me much about my new friend, saying
that my father would never approve of a Tory and that it was lucky
he was married.
I replied, much nettled, that I did not want to marry any one and
that, though he was a Tory, he was not at all stupid and would
probably get into the Cabinet.
This was my first shrewd political prophecy, for he is in the
I cannot look at him without remembering that he was the first man
I was ever in love with, and that, at the age of seventeen, I said
he would be in the Cabinet in spite of his being a Tory.
For pure unalloyed happiness those days at Easton Grey were
undoubtedly the most perfect of my life. Lucy's sweetness to me,
the beauty of the place, the wild excitement of riding over fences
and the perfect certainty I had that I would ride better than any
one in the whole world gave me an insolent confidence which no
earthquake could have shaken.
Off and on, I felt qualms over my lack of education; and when I
was falling into a happy sleep, dreaming I was overriding hounds,
echoes of "Pray, Mamma" out of Mrs. Markham, or early punishments
of unfinished poems would play about my bed.
On one occasion at Easton Grey, unable to sleep for love of life,
I leant out of the window into the dark to see if it was thawing.
It was a beautiful night, warm and wet, and I forgot all about my
The next day, having no mount, I had procured a hireling from a
neighbouring farmer, but to my misery the horse did not turn up at
the meet; Mr. Golightly, the charming parish priest, said I might
drive about in his low black pony-carriage, called in those days a
Colorado beetle, but hunting on wheels was no role for me and I
did not feel like pursuing the field.
My heart sank as I saw the company pass me gaily down the road,
preceded by the hounds, trotting with a staccato step and their
noses in the air.
Just as I was turning to go home, a groom rode past in mufti,
leading a loose horse with a lady's saddle on it. The animal gave
a clumsy lurch; and the man, jerking it violently by the head,
bumped it into my phaeton. I saw my chance.
MARGOT: "Hullo, man! ... That's my horse! Whose groom are you?"
MAN (rather frightened at being caught jobbing his lady's horse in
the mouth): "I am Mrs. Chaplin's groom, miss."
MARGOT: "Jump off; you are the very man I was looking for; tell
me, does Mrs. Chaplin ride this horse over everything?"
MAN (quite unsuspicious and thawing at my sweetness and
authority): "Bless your soul! Mrs. Chaplin doesn't 'unt this
'orse! It's the Major's! She only 'acked it to the meet."
MARGOT (apprehensively and her heart sinking): "But can it jump?
... Don't they hunt it?"
MAN (pulling down my habit skirt): "It's a 'orse that can very
near jump anythink, I should say, but the Major says it shakes
every tooth in 'is gums and she says it's pig-'eaded."
It did not take me long to mount and in a moment I had left the
man miles behind me. Prepared for the worst, but in high glee, I
began to look about me: not a sign of the hunt! Only odd remnants
of the meet, straggling foot-passengers, terriers straining at a
strap held by drunken runners--some in old Beaufort coats, others
in corduroy--one-horse shays of every description by the sides of
the road and sloppy girls with stick and tammies standing in gaps
of the fences, straining their eyes across the fields to see the
My horse with a loose rein was trotting aimlessly down the road
when, hearing a "Halloa!" I pulled up and saw the hounds streaming
towards me all together, so close that you could have covered them
with a handkerchief.
What a scent! What a pack! Have I headed the fox? Will they cross
the road? No! They are turning away from me! Now's the moment!!
I circled the Chaplin horse round with great resolution and
trotted up to a wall at the side of the road; he leapt it like a
stag; we flew over the grass and the next fence; and, after a
little scrambling, I found myself in the same field with hounds.
The horse was as rough as the boy said, but a wonderful hunter; it
could not put a foot wrong; we had a great gallop over the walls,
which only a few of the field saw.
When hounds checked, I was in despair; all sorts of ladies and
gentlemen came riding towards me and I wondered painfully which of
them would be Mr. and which Mrs. Chaplin. What was I to do?
Suddenly remembering my new friend and patron, I peered about for
the Duke; when I found him and told him of the awkward
circumstances in which I had placed myself, he was so much amused
that he made my peace with the Chaplins, who begged me to go on
riding their horse. They were not less susceptible to dukes than
other people and in any case no one was proof against the old Duke
of Beaufort. At the end of the day I was given the brush--a
fashion completely abandoned in the hunting-field now--and I went
home happy and tired.
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
Although I did not do much thinking over my education, others did
it for me.
I had been well grounded by a series of short-stayed governesses
in the Druids and woad, in Alfred and the cakes, Romulus and Remus
and Bruce and the spider. I could speak French well and German a
little; and I knew a great deal of every kind of literature from
Tristram Shandy and The Antiquary to Under Two Flags and The
Grammarian's Funeral; but the governesses had been failures and,
when Lucy married, my mother decided that Laura and I should go to
Mademoiselle de Mennecy--a Frenchwoman of ill-temper and a lively
mind--had opened a hyper-refined seminary in Gloucester Crescent,
where she undertook to "finish" twelve young ladies. My father had
a horror of girls' schools (and if he could "get through"--to use
the orthodox expression of the spookists--he would find all his
opinions on this subject more than justified by the manners,
morals and learning of the young ladies of the present day) but as
it was a question of only a few months he waived his objection.
No. 7 Gloucester Crescent looked down on the Great Western
Railway; the lowing of cows, the bleating of sheep and sudden
shrill whistles and other odd sounds kept me awake, and my bed
rocked and trembled as the vigorous trains passed at uncertain
intervals all through the night. This, combined with sticky food,
was more than Laura could bear and she had no difficulty in
persuading my papa that if she were to stay longer than one week
her health would certainly suffer. I was much upset when she left
me, but faintly consoled by receiving permission to ride in the
Row three times a week; Mlle. de Mennecy thought my beautiful hack
gave prestige to her front door and raised no objections.
Sitting alone in the horsehair schoolroom, with a French patent-
leather Bible in my hands, surrounded by eleven young ladies, made
my heart sink. "Et le roi David deplut a l' Eternel," I heard in a
broad Scotch accent; and for the first time I looked closely at my
Mlle. de Mennecy allowed no one to argue with her; and our first
little brush took place after she informed me of this fact.
"But in that case, mademoiselle," said I, "how are any of us to
learn anything? I don't know how much the others know, but I know
nothing except what I've read; so, unless I ask questions, how am
I to learn?"
MLLE. DE MENNECY: "Je ne vous ai jamais defendu de me questionner;
vous n'ecoutez pas, mademoiselle. J'ai dit qu'il ne fallait pas
discuter avec moi."
MARGOT (keenly): "But, mademoiselle, discussion is the only way of
making lessons interesting."
MLLE. DE MENNECY (with violence): "Voulez-vous vous taire?"
To talk to a girl of nearly seventeen in this way was so
unintelligent that I made up my mind I would waste neither time
nor affection on her.
None of the girls were particularly clever, but we all liked each
other and for the first time--and I may safely say the last--I was
looked upon as a kind of heroine. It came about in this way: Mlle.
de Mennecy was never wrong. To quote Miss Fowler's admirable
saying a propos of her father, "She always let us have her own
way." If the bottle of ink was upset, or the back of a book burst,
she never waited to find out who had done it, but in a torrent of
words crashed into the first girl she suspected, her face becoming
a silly mauve and her bust heaving with passion. This made me so
indignant that, one day when the ink was spilt and Mlle. de
Mennecy as usual scolded the wrong girl, I determined I would
stand it no longer. Meeting the victim of Mademoiselle's temper in
the passage, I said to her:
"But why didn't you say you hadn't done it, ass!"
GIRL (catching her sob): "What was the good! She never listens;
and I would only have had to tell her who really spilt the ink."
This did seem a little awkward, so I said to her:
"That would never have done! Very well, then, I will go and put
the thing right for you, but tell the girls they must back me.
She's a senseless woman and I can't think why you are all so
frightened of her."
GIRL: "It's all very well for you! Madmozell is a howling snob,
you should have heard her on you before you came! She said your
father would very likely be made a peer and your sister Laura
marry Sir Charles Dilke." (The thought of this overrated man
marrying Laura was almost more than I could bear, but curiosity
kept me silent, and she continued.) "You see, she is far nicer to
you than to us, because she is afraid you may leave her."
Not having thought of this before, I said:
"Is that really true? What a horrible woman! Well, I had better go
and square it up; but will you all back me? Now don't go fretting
on and making yourself miserable."
GIRL: "I don't so much mind what you call her flux-de-bouche
scolding, but, when she flounced out of the room, she said I was
not to go home this Saturday."
MARGOT: "Oh, that'll be all right. Just you go off." (Exit girl,
drying her eyes.)
It had never occurred to me that Mlle. de Mennecy was a snob: this
knowledge was a great weapon in my hands and I determined upon my
plan of action. I hunted about in my room till I found one of my
linen overalls, heavily stained with dolly dyes. After putting it
on, I went and knocked at Mlle. de Mennecy's door and opening it
"Mademoiselle, I'm afraid you'll be very angry, but it was I who
spilt the ink and burst the back of your dictionary. I ought to
have told you at once, I know, but I never thought any girl would
be such an image as to let you scold her without telling you she
had not done it." Seeing a look of suspicion on her sunless face,
I added nonchalantly, "Of course, if you think my conduct sets a
bad example in your school, I can easily go!"
I observed her eyelids flicker and I said:
"I think, before you scolded Sarah, you might have heard what she
had to say."
MLLE. DE MENNECY: "Ce que vous dites me choque profondement; il
m'est difficile de croire que vous avez fait une pareille lachete,
MARGOT (protesting with indignation): "Hardly lachete,
Mademoiselle! I only knew a few moments ago that you had been so
amazingly unjust. Directly I heard it, I came to you; but as I
said before, I am quite prepared to leave."
MLLE. DE MENNECY (feeling her way to a change of front): "Sarah
s'est conduite si heroiquement que pour le moment je n'insiste
plus. Je vous felicite, mademoiselle, sur votre franchise; vous
pouvez rejoindre vos camarades."
The Lord had delivered her into my hands.
One afternoon, when our instructress had gone to hear Princess
Christian open a bazaar, I was smoking a cigarette on the
schoolroom balcony which overlooked the railway line.
It was a beautiful evening, and a wave of depression came over me.
Our prettiest pupil, Ethel Brydson, said to me:
"Time is up! We had better go in and do our preparation. There
would be the devil to pay if you were caught with that cigarette."
I leant over the balcony blowing smoke into the air in a vain
attempt to make rings, but, failing, kissed my hand to the sky and
with a parting gesture cursed the school and expressed a vivid
desire to go home and leave Gloucester Crescent for ever.
ETHEL (pulling my dress): "Good gracious, Margot! Stop kissing
your hand! Don't you see that man?"
I looked down and to my intense amusement saw an engine-driver
leaning over the side of his tender, kissing his hand to me. I
strained over the balcony and kissed both mine back to him, after
which I returned to the school-room.
Our piano was placed in the window and, the next morning, while
Ethel was arranging her music preparatory to practising, it
appeared my friend the engine-driver began kissing his hand to
her. It was eight o'clock and Mlle. de Mennecy was pinning on her
twists in the window.
I had finished my toilette and was sitting in the reading-room,
learning the passage chosen by our elocution master for the final
competition in recitation.
My fingers were in my ears and I was murmuring in dramatic tones:
"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears, I come to bury
Caesar, not to praise him. ..."
The girls came in and out, but I never noticed them; and when the
breakfast bell rang, I shoved the book into my desk and ran
downstairs to breakfast. I observed that Ethel's place was empty;
none of the girls looked at me, but munched their bread and sipped
their tepid tea while Mademoiselle made a few frigid general
remarks and, after saying a French grace, left the room.
"Well," said I, "what's the row?"
MARGOT (looking from face to face): "Ah! The mot d'ordre is that
you are not to speak to me. Is that the idea?"
MARGOT (vehemently, with bitterness): "This is exactly what I
thought would happen at a girls' school--that I should find myself
boycotted and betrayed."
FIRST GIRL (bursting out): "Oh, Margot, it's not that at all! It's
because Ethel won't betray you that we are all to be punished to-
MARGOT: "What! Collective punishment? And I am the only one to get
off? How priceless! Well, I must say this is Mlle. de Mennecy's
first act of justice. I've been so often punished for all of you
that I'm sure you won't mind standing me this little outing! Where
is Ethel? Why don't you answer? (Very slowly) Oh, all right! I
have done with you! And I shall leave this very day, so help me
On hearing that Mlle. de Mennecy had dismissed Ethel on the spot
because the engine-driver had kissed his hand to her, I went
immediately and told her the whole story; all she answered was
that I was such a liar she did not believe a word I said.
I assured her that I was painfully truthful by nature, but her
circular and senseless punishments had so frightened the girls
that lying had become the custom of the place and I felt in honour
bound to take my turn in the lies and the punishments. After which
I left the room and the school.
On my arrival in Grosvenor Square I told my parents that I must go
home to Glen, as I felt suffocated by the pettiness and
conventionality of my late experience. The moderate teaching and
general atmosphere of Gloucester Crescent had depressed me, and
London feels airless when one is out of spirits: in any case it
can never be quite a home to any one born in Scotland.
The only place I look upon as home which does not belong to me is
Archerfield [Footnote: Archerfield belonged to Mrs. Hamilton
Ogilvie, of Beale.]--a house near North Berwick, in which we
lived for seven years. After Glen and my cottage in Berkshire,
Archerfield is the place I love best in the world. I was both
happier and more miserable there than I have ever been in my life.
Just as William James has written on varieties of religious
experience, so I could write on the varieties of my moral and
domestic experiences at that wonderful place. If ever I were to be
as unhappy again as I was there, I would fly to the shelter of
those Rackham woods, seek isolation on those curving coasts where
the gulls shriek and dive and be ultimately healed by the beauty
of the anchored seas which bear their islands like the Christ
Child on their breasts.
Unfortunately for me, my father had business which kept him in
London. He was in treaty with Lord Gerard to buy his uninteresting
house in an uninteresting square. The only thing that pleased me
in Grosvenor Square was the iron gate. When I could not find the
key of the square and wanted to sit out with my admirers, after
leaving a ball early, I was in the habit of climbing over these
gates in my tulle dress. This was a feat which was attended by
more than one risk: if you did not give a prominent leap off the
narrow space from the top of the gate, you would very likely be
caught up by the tulle fountain of your dress, in which case you
might easily lose your life; or, if you did not keep your eye on
the time, you would very likely be caught by an early house-maid,
in which case you might easily lose your reputation. No one is a
good judge of her own reputation, but I like to think that those
iron gates were the silent witnesses of my milder manner.
My father, however, loved Grosvenor Square and, being anxious that
Laura and I should come out together, bought the house in 1881.
No prodigal was ever given a warmer welcome than I was when I left
the area of the Great Western Railway; but the problem of how to
finish my education remained and I was determined that I would not
make my debut till I was eighteen. What with reading, hunting and
falling in love at Easton Grey, I was not at all happy and wanted
to be alone.
I knew no girls and had no friends except my sisters and was not
eager to talk to them about my affairs; I never could at any time
put all of myself into discussion which degenerates into gossip. I
had not formed the dangerous habit of writing good letters about
myself, dramatizing the principal part. I shrank then, as I do
now, from exposing the secrets and sensations of life. Reticence
should guard the soul and only those who have compassion should be
admitted to the shrine. When I peer among my dead or survey my
living friends, I see hardly any one with this quality. For the
moment my cousin Nan Tennant, Mrs. Arthur Sassoon, Mrs. James
Rothschild, Antoine Bibesco, and my son and husband are the only
people I can think of who possess it.
John Morley has, in carved letters of stone upon his chimney-
piece, Bacon's fine words, "The nobler a soul, the more objects of
compassion it hath."
When I first read them, I wondered where I could meet those souls
and I have wondered ever since. To have compassion you need
courage, you must fight for the objects of your pity and you must
feel and express tenderness towards all men. You will not meet
disinterested emotion, though you may seek it all your life, and
you will seldom find enough pity for the pathos of life.
My husband is a man of disinterested emotion. One morning, when he
and I were in Paris, where we had gone for a holiday, I found him
sitting with his head in his hands and the newspaper on his knee.
I saw he was deeply moved and, full of apprehension, I put my arm
round him and asked if he had had bad news. He pointed to a
paragraph in the paper and I read how some of the Eton boys had
had to break the bars of their windows to escape from fire and
others had been burnt to death. We knew neither a boy nor the
parent of any boy at Eton at that time, but Henry's eyes were full
of tears, and he could not speak.
I had the same experience with him over the wreck of the Titanic.
When we read of that challenging, luxurious ship at bay in the
ice-fields and the captain sending his unanswered signals to the
stars, we could not sit through dinner.
I knew no one of this kind of sympathy in my youth, and my father
was too busy and my mother too detached for me to have told them
anything. I wanted to be alone and I wanted to learn. After
endless talks it was decided that I should go to Germany for four
or five months and thus settle the problem of an unbegun but
Looking back on this decision, I think it was a remarkable one. I
had a passion for dancing and my father wanted me to go to balls;
I had a genius for horses and adored hunting; I had such a
wonderful hack that every one collected at the Park rails when
they saw me coming into the Row; but all this did not deflect me
from my purpose and I went to Dresden alone with a stupid maid at
a time when--if not in England, certainly in Germany--I might
have passed as a moderate beauty.
A DRESDEN LODGING HOUSE--MIDNIGHT ADVENTURE WITH AN OFFICER AFTER
THE OPERA----AN ELDERLY AMERICAN ADMIRER--YELLOW ROSES, GRAF VON--
VON--AND MOTIFS FROM WAGNER
Frau von Mach kept a ginger-coloured lodging-house high up in
Luttichau-strasse. She was a woman of culture and refinement; her
mother had been English and her husband, having gone mad in the
Franco-Prussian war, had left her penniless with three children.
She had to work for her living and she cooked and scrubbed without
a thought for herself from dawn till dark.
There were thirteen pianos on our floor and two or three permanent
lodgers. The rest of the people came and went--men, women and boys
of every nationality, professionals and amateurs--but I was too
busy to care or notice who went or who came.
Although my mother was bold and right to let me go as a bachelor
to Dresden, I could not have done it myself. Later on, like every
one else, I sent my stepdaughter and daughter to be educated in
Germany for a short time, but they were chaperoned by a woman of
worth and character, who never left them: my German nursery-
governess, who came to me when Elizabeth was four.
In parenthesis, I may mention that, in the early terrible days of
the war, our thoughtful Press, wishing to make money out of public
hysteria, had the bright idea of turning this simple, devoted
woman into a spy. There was not a pressman who did not laugh in
his sleeve at this and openly make a stunt of it, but it had its
political uses; and, after the Russians had been seen with snow on
their boots by everyone in England, the gentlemen of the Press
calculated that almost anything would be believed if it could be
repeated often enough. And they were right: the spiteful and the
silly disseminated lies about our governess from door to door with
the kind of venom that belongs in equal proportions to the
credulous, the cowards and the cranks. The greenhorns believed it
and the funkers, who saw a plentiful crop of spies in every bush,
found no difficulty in mobilising their terrors from my governess
--already languishing in the Tower of London--to myself, who
suddenly became a tennis-champion and an habituee of the German
The Dresden of my day was different from the Dresden of twenty
years after. I never saw an English person the whole time I was
there. After settling into my new rooms, I wrote out for myself a
severe Stundenplan, which I pinned over my head next to my alarm-
clock. At 6 every morning I woke up and dashed into the kitchen to
have coffee with the solitary slavey; after that I practised the
fiddle or piano till 8.30, when we had the pension breakfast; and
the rest of the day was taken up by literature, drawing and other
lessons. I went to concerts or the opera by myself every night.
One day Frau von Mach came to me greatly disdressed by a letter
she had received from my mother begging her to take in no men
lodgers while I was in the pension, as some of her friends in
England had told her that I might elope with a foreigner. To this
hour I do not know whether my mother was serious; but I wrote and
told her that Frau von Mach's life depended on her lodgers, that
there was only one permanent lodger--an old American called
Loring, who never spoke to me--and that I had no time to elope.
Many and futile were the efforts to make me return home; but,
though I wrote to England regularly, I never alluded to any of
them, as they appeared childish to me.
I made great friends with Frau von Mach and in loose moments sat
on her kitchen-table smoking cigarettes and eating black cherries;
we discussed Shakespeare, Wagner, Brahms, Middlemarch, Bach and
Hegel, and the time flew.
One night I arrived early at the Opera House and was looking about
while the fiddles were tuning up. I wore my pearls and a scarlet
crepe-de-chine dress and a black cloth cape with a hood on it,
which I put on over my head when I walked home in the rain. I was
having a frank stare at the audience, when I observed just
opposite me an officer in a white uniform. As the Saxon soldiers
wore pale blue, I wondered what army he could belong to.
He was a fine-looking young man, with tailor-made shoulders, a
small waist and silver and black on his sword-belt. When he turned
to the stage, I looked at him through my opera-glasses. On closer
inspection, he was even handsomer than I had thought. A lady
joined him in the box and he took off her cloak, while she stood
up gazing down at the stalls, pulling up her long black gloves.
She wore a row of huge pearls, which fell below her waist, and a
black jet decollete dress. Few people wore low dresses at the
opera and I saw half the audience fixing her with their glasses.
She was evidently famous. Her hair was fox-red and pinned back on
each side of her temples with Spanish combs of gold and pearls;
she surveyed the stalls with cavernous eyes set in a snow-white
face; and in her hand she held a bouquet of lilac orchids. She was
the best-looking woman I saw all the time I was in Germany and I
could not take my eyes off her. The white officer began to look
about the opera-house when my red dress caught his eye. He put up
his glasses, and I instantly put mine down. Although the lights
were lowered for the overture, I saw him looking at me for some
I had been in the habit of walking about in the entr'actes and,
when the curtain dropped at the end of the first act, I left the
box. It did not take me long to identify the white officer. He was
not accompanied by his lady, but stood leaning against the wall
smoking a cigar and talking to a man; as I passed him I had to
stop for a moment for fear of treading on his outstretched toes.
He pulled himself erect to get out of my way; I looked up and our
eyes met; I don't think I blush easily, but something in his gaze
may have made me blush. I lowered my eyelids and walked on.
The Meistersinger was my favourite opera and so it appeared to be
of the Dresdeners; Wagner, having quarrelled with the authorities,
refused to allow the Ring to be played in the Dresden Opera House;
and every one was tired of the swans and doves of Lohengrin and
There was a great crowd that night and, as it was raining when we
came out, I hung about, hoping to get a cab; I saw my white
officer with his lady, but he did not see me; I heard him before
he got into the brougham give elaborate orders to the coachman to
put him down at some club.
After waiting for some time, as no cab turned up, I pulled the
hood of my cloak over my head and started to walk home; when the
crowd scattered I found myself alone and I turned into a little
street which led into Luttichau-strasse. Suddenly I became aware
that I was being followed; I heard the even steps and the click of
spurs of some one walking behind me; I should not have noticed
this had I not halted under a lamp to pull on my hood, which the
wind had blown off. When I stopped, the steps also stopped. I
walked on, wondering if it had been my imagination, and again I
heard the click of spurs coming nearer. The street being deserted,
I was unable to endure it any longer; I turned round and there was
the officer. His black cloak hanging loosely over his shoulders
showed me the white uniform and silver belt. He saluted me and
asked me in a curious Belgian French if he might accompany me
home. I said:
"Oh, certainly! But I am not at all nervous in the dark."
OFFICER (stopping under the lamp to light a cigarette): "You like
Wagner? Do you know him well? I confess I find him long and loud."
MARGOT: "He is a little long, but so wonderful!"
OFFICER: "Don't you feel tired? (With emphasis) _I_ DO!"
MARGOT: "No, I'm not at all tired."
OFFICER: "You would not like to go and have supper with me in a
private room in a hotel, would you?"
MARGOT: "You are very kind, but I don't like supper; besides, it
is late. (Leaving his side to look at the number on the door) I am
afraid we must part here."
OFFICER (drawing a long breath): "But you said I might take you
MARGOT (with a slow smile): "I know I did, but this is my home."
He looked disappointed and surprised, but taking my hand he kissed
it, then stepping back saluted and said:
My second adventure occurred on my way back to England. After a
little correspondence, my mother allowed me to take Frau von Mach
with me to Berlin to hear the Ring der Nibelungen. She and I were
much excited at this little outing, in honour of which I had
ordered her a new black satin dress. German taste is like German
figures, thick and clumsy, and my dear old friend looked like a
hold-all in my gift.
When we arrived in Berlin I found my room in the hotel full of
every kind of flower; and on one of the bouquets was placed the
card of our permanent lodger, Mr. Loring. I called out to Frau von
Mach, who was unpacking:
"Do come here, dearest, and look at my wonderful roses! You will
never guess who they come from!"
FRAU VON MACH (looking rather guilty): "I think I can guess."
MARGOT: "I see you know! But who would have dreamt that an old
maid like Loring would have thought of such gallantry?"
FRAU VON MACH: "But surely, dear child, you knew that he admired
MARGOT: "Admired me! You must be cracked! I never remember his
saying a civil word to me the whole time I was in Dresden. Poor
mamma! If she were here now she would feel that her letter to you
on the danger of my elopement was amply justified!"
Frau von Mach and I sat side by side at the opera; and on my left
was a German officer. In front of us there was a lady with
beautiful hair and diamond grasshoppers in it; her two daughters
sat on either side of her.
Everything was conducted in the dark and it was evident that the
audience was strung up to a high pitch of expectant emotion, for,
when I whispered to Frau von Mach, the officer on my left said,
"Hush!" which I thought extremely rude. Several men in the stalls,
sitting on the nape of their necks, had covered their faces with
pocket-handkerchiefs, which I thought infinitely ridiculous,
bursting as they were with beef and beer. My musical left was only
a little less good-looking than the white officer. He kept a rigid
profile towards me and squashed up into a corner to avoid sharing
an arm of the stall with me. As we had to sit next to each other
for four nights running, I found this a little exaggerated.
I was angry with myself for dropping my fan and scent-bottle; the
lady picked up the bottle and the officer the fan. The lady gave
me back my bottle and, when the curtain fell, began talking to me.
She had turned round once or twice during the scene to look at me.
I found her most intelligent; she knew England and had heard
Rubinstein and Joachim play at the Monday Pops. She had been to
the Tower of London, Madame Tussaud's and Lord's.
The officer kept my fan in his hands and, instead of going out in
the entr'acte, stayed and listened to our conversation. When the
curtain went up and the people returned to their seats, he still
held my fan. In the next interval the lady and the girls went out
and my left-hand neighbour opened conversation with me. He said in
"Are you really as fond of this music as you appear to be?"
To which I replied:
"You imply I am humbugging! I never pretend anything; why should
you think I do? I don't lean back perspiring or cover my face with
a handkerchief as your compatriots are doing, it is true, but..."
HE (interrupting): "I am very glad of that! Do you think you would
recognise a motif if I wrote one for you?"
Feeling rather nettled, I said:
"You must think me a perfect gowk if you suppose I should not
recognise any motif in any opera of Wagner!"
I said this with a commanding gesture, but I was far from
confident that he would not catch me out. He opened his cigarette-
case, took out a visiting card and wrote the Schlummermotif on the
back before giving it to me. After telling him what the motif was,
I looked at his very long name on the back of the card: Graf von--
Seeing me do this, he said with a slight twinkle:
"Won't you write me a motif now?"
MARGOT: "Alas! I can't write music and to save my life could not
do what you have done; are you a composer?"
GRAF VON--: "I shan't tell you what I am--especially as I have
given you my name--till you tell me who you are."
MARGOT: "I'm a young lady at large!"
At this, Frau von Mach nudged me; I thought she wanted to be
introduced, so I looked at his name and said seriously:
"Graf von--, this is my friend Frau von Mach."
He instantly stood up, bent his head and, clicking his heels, said
"Will you please introduce me to this young lady?"
FRAU VON MACH (with a smile): "Certainly. Miss Margot Tennant."
GRAF VON--: "I hope, mademoiselle, you will forgive me thinking
your interest in Wagner might not be as great as it appeared, but
it enabled me to introduce myself to you."
MARGOT: "Don't apologise, you have done me a good turn, for I
shall lie back and cover my face with a handkerchief all through
this next act to convince you."
GRAF VON--: "That would be a heavy punishment for me... and
incidentally for this ugly audience."
On the last night of the Ring, I took infinite trouble with my
toilette. When we arrived at the theatre neither the lady, her
girls, nor the Graf were there. I found an immense bouquet on my
seat, of yellow roses with thick clusters of violets round the
stalk, the whole thing tied up with wide Parma violet ribbons. It
was a wonderful bouquet. I buried my face in the roses, wondering
why the Graf was so late, fervently hoping that the lady and her
daughters would not turn up: no Englishman would have thought of
giving one flowers in this way, said I to myself. The curtain! How
very tiresome! The doors would all be shut now, as late-comers
were not allowed to disturb the Gotterdammerung. The next day I
was to travel home, which depressed me; my life would be different
in London and all my lessons were over for ever! What could have
happened to the Graf, the lady and her daughters? Before the
curtain rose for the last act, he arrived and, flinging off his
cloak, said breathlessly to me:
"You can't imagine how furious I am! To-night of all nights we had
a regimental dinner! I asked my colonel to let me slip off early,
or I should not be here now; I had to say good-bye to you. Is it
true then? Are you really off to-morrow?"
MARGOT (pressing the bouquet to her face, leaning faintly towards
him and looking into his eyes): "Alas, yes! I will send you
something from England so that you mayn't quite forget me. I won't
lean back and cover my head with a handkerchief to-night, but if I
hide my face in these divine roses now and then, you will forgive
me and understand."
He said nothing but looked a little perplexed. We had not observed
the curtain rise but were rudely reminded of it by a lot of angry
"Hush's" all round us. He clasped his hands together under his
chin, bending his head down on them and taking up both arms of the
stall with his elbows. When I whispered to him, he did not turn
his head at all but just cocked his ear down to me. Was he
pretending to be more interested in Wagner than he really was?"
I buried my face in my roses, the curtain dropped. It was all
GRAF VON--(turning to me and looking straight into my eyes): "If
it is true what you said, that you know no one in Berlin, what a
wonderful compliment the lady with the diamond grasshoppers has
He took my bouquet, smelt the roses and, giving it back to me with
a sigh, said:
MARGOT RIDES A 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
When I first came out in London we had no friends of fashion to
get me invitations to balls and parties. The Walters, who were my
mother's rich relations, in consequence of a family quarrel were
not on speaking terms with us; and my prospects looked by no means
One day I was lunching with an American to whom I had been
introduced in the hunting-field and found myself sitting next to a
stranger. Hearing that he was Arthur Walter, I thought that it
would be fun to find out his views upon my family and his own. He
did not know who I was, so I determined I would enjoy what looked
like being a long meal. We opened in this manner:
MARGOT: "I see you hate Gladstone!"
ARTHUR WALTER: "Not at all. I hate his politics."
MARGOT: "I didn't suppose you hated the man."
ARTHUR WALTER: "I am ashamed to say I have never even seen him or
heard him speak, but I entirely agree that for the Duke of
Westminster to have sold the Millais portrait of him merely
because he does not approve of Home Rule shows great pettiness! I
have of course never seen the picture as it was bought privately."
MARGOT: "The Tennants bought it, so I suppose you could easily see
ARTHUR WALTER: "I regret to say that I cannot ever see this
MARGOT: "Why not?"
ARTHUR WALTER: "Because though the Tennants are relations of mine,
our family quarrelled."
MARGOT: "What did they quarrel over?"
ARTHUR WALTER: "Oh, it's a long story! Perhaps relations quarrel
because they are too much alike."
MARGOT: "You are not in the least like the Tennants!"
ARTHUR WALTER: "What makes you say that? Do you know them?"
MARGOT: "Yes, I do."
ARTHUR WALTER: "In that case perhaps you could take me to see the
MARGOT: "Oh, certainly! ... And I know Mr. Gladstone too!"
ARTHUR WALTER: "What a fortunate young lady! Perhaps you could
manage to take me to see him also."
MARGOT: "All right. If you will let me drive you away from lunch
in my phaeton, I will show you the Gladstone picture."
ARTHUR WALTER: "Are you serious? Do you know them well enough?"
MARGOT (nodding confidently): "Yes, yes, don't you fret!"
After lunch I drove him to 40 Grosvenor Square and, when I let
myself in with my latch-key, he guessed who I was, but any
interest he might have felt in this discovery was swamped by what
I opened the library door. Mr. Gladstone was sitting talking to my
parents under his own portrait. After the introduction he
conversed with interest and courtesy to my new relation about the
Times newspaper, its founder and its great editor, Delane.
What I really enjoyed most in London was riding in the Row. I
bought a beautiful hack for myself at Tattersalls, 15.2, bright
bay with black points and so well-balanced that if I had ridden it
with my face to its tail I should hardly have known the
difference. I called it Tatts; it was bold as a lion, vain as a
peacock and extremely moody. One day, when I was mounted to ride
in the Row, my papa kept me waiting so long at the door of 40
Grosvenor Square that I thought I would ride Tatts into the front
hall and give him a call; it only meant going up one step from the
pavement to the porch and another through the double doors held
open by the footman. Unluckily, after a somewhat cautious approach
by Tatts up the last step into the marble hall, he caught his
reflection in a mirror. At this he instantly stood erect upon his
hind legs, crashing my tall hat into the crystal chandelier. His
four legs all gave way on the polished floor and down we went with
a noise like thunder, the pony on the top of me, the chandelier on
the top of him and my father and the footman helpless spectators.
I was up and on Tatts' head in a moment, but not before he had
kicked a fine old English chest into a jelly. This misadventure
upset my father's temper and my pony's nerve, as well as
preventing me from dancing for several days.
My second scrape was more serious. I engaged myself to be married.
If any young "miss" reads this autobiography and wants a little
advice from a very old hand, I will say to her, when a man
threatens to commit suicide after you have refused him, you may be
quite sure that he is a vain, petty fellow or a great goose; if
you felt any doubts about your decision before, you need have none
after this and under no circumstances must you give way. To marry
a man out of pity is folly; and, if you think you are going to
influence the kind of fellow who has "never had a chance, poor
devil," you are profoundly mistaken. One can only influence the
strong characters in life, not the weak; and it is the height of
vanity to suppose that you can make an honest man of any one. My
fiance was neither petty nor a goose, but a humorist; I do not
think he meant me to take him seriously, but in spite of my high
spirits I was very serious, and he was certainly more in love with
me than any one had ever been before. He was a fine rider and gave
me a mount with the Beaufort hounds.
When I told my mother of my engagement, she sank upon a settee,
put a handkerchief to her eyes, and said:
"You might as well marry your groom!"
I struggled very hard to show her how worldly she was. Who wanted
money? Who wanted position? Who wanted brains? Nothing in fact was
wanted, except my will!
I was much surprised, a few days later, to hear from G., whom I
met riding in the Row, that he had called every day of the week
but been told by the footman that I was out. The under-butler, who
was devoted to me, said sadly, when I complained:
"I am afraid, miss, your young gentleman has been forbidden the
Forbidden the house! I rushed to my sister Charty and found her
even more upset than my mother. She pointed out with some truth
that Lucy's marriage and the obstinacy with which she had pursued
it had gone far towards spoiling her early life; but "the squire,"
as Graham Smith was called, although a character-part, was a man
of perfect education and charming manners. He had beaten all the
boys at Harrow, won a hundred steeplechases and loved books;
whereas my young man knew little about anything but horses and,
she added, would be no companion to me when I was ill or old.
I flounced about the room and said that forbidding him the house
was grotesque and made me ridiculous in the eyes of the servants.
I ended a passionate protest by telling her gravely that if I
changed my mind he would undoubtedly commit suicide. This awful
news was received with an hilarity which nettled me.
CHARTY: "I should have thought you had too much sense of humour
and Mr. G. too much common sense for either of you to believe
this. He must think you very vain. ..."
I did not know at all what she meant and said with the utmost
"The terrible thing is I believe that I have given him a false
impression of my feelings for him; for, though I love him very
much, I would never have promised to marry him if he had not said
he was going to kill himself." Clasping my two hands together and
greatly moved, I concluded, "If I break it off now and ANYTHING
SHOULD happen, my life is over and I shall feel as if I had
CHARTY (looking at me with a tender smile): "I should risk it,
A propos of vanity, in the interests of my publisher I must here
digress and relate the two greatest compliments that I ever had
paid to me. Although I cannot listen to reading out loud, I have
always been fond of sermons and constantly went to hear Canon
Eyton, a great preacher, who collected large and attentive
congregations in his church in Sloane Street. I nearly always went
alone, as my family preferred listening to Stopford Brooke or
going to our pew in St. George's, Hanover Square.
One of my earliest recollections is of my mother and father taking
me to hear Liddon preach; I remember nothing at all about it
except that I swallowed a hook and eye during the service: not a
very flattering tribute to the great divine!
Eyton was a striking preacher and his church was always crowded. I
had to stand a long time before I could ever get a seat. One
morning I received this letter:
DEAR MISS TENNANT,
I hope you will excuse this written by a stranger. I have often
observed you listening to the sermon in our church. My wife and I
are going abroad, so we offer you our pew; you appear to admire
Eyton's preaching as much as we do--we shall be very glad if you
can use it.
The other compliment was also a letter from a stranger. It was
dirty and misspelt, and enclosed a bill from an undertaker; the
bill came to seven pounds and the letter ran as follows:
Honoured Miss father passed away quite peaceful last Saturday, he
set store by his funeral and often told us as much sweeping a
crossing had paid him pretty regular, but he left nothing as one
might speak of, and so we was put to it for the funeral, as it
throws back so on a house not to bury your father proper, I
remember you and all he thought of you and told the undertaker to
go ahead with the thing for as you was my fathers friend I hoped
you would understand and excuse me.
This was from the son of our one-legged crossing-sweeper, and I
need hardly say I owed him a great deal more than seven pounds. He
had taken all our love-letters, presents and messages to and fro
from morning till night for years past and was a man who
thoroughly understood life.
To return to my fiance, I knew things could not go on as they
were; scenes bored me and I was quite incapable of sustaining a
campaign of white lies; so I reassured my friends and relieved my
relations by telling the young man that I could not marry him. He
gave me his beautiful mare, Molly Bawn, sold all his hunters and
went to Australia. His hair when he returned to England two years
later was grey. I have heard of this happening, but have only
known of it twice in my life, once on this occasion and the other
time when the boiler of the Thunderer burst in her trial trip; the
engine was the first Government order ever given to my father's
firm of Humphreys & Tennant and the accident made a great
sensation. My father told me that several men had been killed and
that young Humphreys' hair had turned white. I remember this
incident very well, as when I gave Papa the telegram in the
billiard room at Glen he covered his face with his hands and sank
on the sofa in tears.
About this time Sir William Miller, a friend of the family,
suggested to my parents that his eldest son--a charming young
fellow, since dead--should marry me. I doubt if the young man knew
me by sight, but in spite of this we were invited to stay at
Manderston, much to my father's delight.
On the evening of our arrival my host said to me in his broad
"Margy, will you marry my son Jim?"
"My dear Sir William," I replied, "your son Jim has never spoken
to me in his life!"
SIR WILLIAM: "He is shy."
I assured him that this was not so and that I thought his son
might be allowed to choose for himself, adding:
"You are like my father, Sir William, and think every one wants to
SIR WILLIAM: "So they do, don't they?" (With a sly look.) "I am
sure they all want to marry you."
MARGOT (mischievously): "I wonder!"
SIR WILLIAM: "Margy, would you rather marry me or break your leg?"
MARGOT: Break both, Sir William."
After this promising beginning I was introduced to the young man.
It was impossible to pay me less attention than he did.
Sir William had two daughters, one of whom was anxious to marry a
major quartered in Edinburgh, but he was robustly and rudely
against this, in consequence of which the girl was unhappy. She
took me into her confidence one afternoon in their schoolroom.
It was dark and the door was half open, with a bright light in the
passage; Miss Miller was telling me with simple sincerity exactly
what she felt and what her father felt about the major. I suddenly
observed Sir William listening to our conversation behind the
hinges of the door. Being an enormous man, he had screwed himself
into a cramped posture and I was curious to see how long he would
stick it out. It was indique that I should bring home the
proverbial platitude that "listeners never hear any good of
MISS MILLER: "You see, there is only one real objection to him, he
is not rich!"
I told her that as she would be rich some day, it did not matter.
Why should the rich marry the rich? It was grotesque! I intended
to marry whatever kind of man I cared for and papa would
certainly find the money.
MISS MILLER (not listening): "He loves me so! And he says he will
kill himself if I give him up now."
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