Sir Robert Hart
Part 3 out of 3
little old dame, creeps in one day, sits by our fire, amuses us,
comforts us, occupies us, and--before we know it--we feel a wrench if
we are obliged to move away.
Nevertheless we must all move some time or another. Everybody
does--even the I.G., whose going had been so often prophesied and
again so often contradicted that he had come to be regarded as the one
fixed star twinkling unselfishly in the heaven of duty.
The morning of his going, I remember, broke fine and clear. The sky
was beautifully blue, like an inverted turquoise bowl. The little
railway station must have been startled half out of its wits by all
the people flocking in. Such a thing in all its history had never
happened before. Under the low grey roof trooped guards of honour
sent by every nationality--all for the sake of one man who was only a
civilian, and nothing but a private individual. There were this
man's own nationals in the central position--a company of splendid
Highlanders with pipers, and stretching away down the platform there
were American marines, Italian sailors, Dutch marines and Japanese
soldiers. And, of course, there were Chinese, no less than three
detachments of them, looking very well in their new khaki uniforms.
Two of the detachments had brought their bands, and the I.G.'s own
band had come of its own accord to play "Auld Lang Syne."
[Illustration: FRONT VIEW OF SIR ROBERT HART'S HOUSE.
With his butler, Ah Fong, who served him for almost half a century.]
As the I.G. stepped from his sedan chair at the end of the platform
his face wore an expression of bewilderment, but only for a moment.
Then he turned to the commanding officer, and saying "I am ready,"
walked steadily down the lines of saluting troops while the bands all
played "Home, Sweet Home." Just as quietly he said good-bye to the
host of Chinese officials with whom he had been associated so long;
then turned to the Europeans whom he had known so well, to all of
whom he had done so many kindnesses, and none of whom could say "bon
voyage" dry-eyed, while camera fiends "snapped" him as he shook hands
and said last good-byes. At last he stepped on board the train and
slowly drew away from the crowd, bowing again and again in his modest
So far as his work was concerned he could go without regrets. He left
his career behind him with no frayed edges that could tangle. He had
fulfilled all his ambitions. He had "bought back Kilmoriarty and got a
title too," as he promised his aunt he would while still a boy in his
teens. He had collected an almost unprecedented number of honours,
been decorated no less than twenty-four times, eight, however, being
promotions in the Orders. But still that left him sixteen to wear, and
of those sixteen, thirteen were Grand Crosses. As a matter of fact he
never wore any of them when he could help it, and never more than one
at a time. "I do not want to look like a Christmas tree," he would say
in joke. This was his humility again.
He certainly was humble, and he looked so. There was never the
slightest pomp or pride about him. "A small, insignificant Irishman,"
so some one has described him. Is he small? I dare say he is, but
one never notices it. One notices only the long face still further
lengthened by a beard, the domed forehead, the bright eyes, very
inscrutable usually, very sympathetic when he chooses to make them
so; and when he speaks, a soft voice, quiet and even-toned but often
indistinct. Not given to demonstrativeness, he appears the same under
all conditions--silent when depressed, silent too when cheerful; he
may smile, but he will never laugh outright--unless called upon in
society to make a special effort to amuse somebody. Then he does it,
as he does all he sets out to do, well.
But usually he allows other people to instruct him, listening
patiently and giving so little hint of what he himself thinks that few
people know him intimately and the general public stands a little
in awe of him. What more natural? His work has been a hard
disciplinarian, a relentless grudger of little joys; and, as is well
known, those who make history have little time to make friends.
Yet on the whole his success has been cheap as successes go. True he
worked prodigiously--how he did work, straight on from his University
days!--but none of his labours have been hopelessly dull, while some
have been exceptionally interesting, and all have been flavoured with
a pinch of romance. Further, he has had the satisfaction of filling
his years about twice as full as other people's--of helping more men
than most of his neighbours, and of gaining the world's respect and
How has he done it? Shall I tell you the secret--or what he often
laughingly said was the secret? It lies hidden in a verse which he
wrote in his fantastic hand on the desk at which he stood for so many
years with unremitting industry. First came two dates "1854--1908,"
and then these lines:
"If thou hast yesterday thy duty done,
And thereby cleared firm footing for to-day,
Whatever clouds may dark to-morrow's sun,
Thou shalt not miss thy solitary way."
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