A MINGLED YARN OF FAMILY HISTORY.
are in no sense an autobiography. Yet there are manifold
reasons why I must string them—especially the earlier ones—on an
autobiographic thread. Indeed, it is only thus that I can give
my account of a typical Scottish middle-class family, and of the
life of a girl in London, also fairly typical of that period.
My paternal grandparents belonged to a line of farmers in
Buchan, a remote district of Aberdeenshire. From family
tradition and from what remains of the family homestead, their
outward life must have been bleak and Spartan in the extreme.
Family and servants shared their evenings round the kitchen-fire.
My father always cherished kindliest recollections of a certain
"Maggie," whom he called the most faithful worker he had ever known,
often quoting her words when, being too crippled by chilblains to
move about, she would take to the spinning-wheel with the remark, "Ane
can aye be deein' something." He used to tell us, too, how,
when calves were being taken away to market, he and his younger
brother Charles would wander away across the hill-side to escape
from the pathetic lowing of the bereaved cow.
There were four sons and two daughters in the house.
One daughter soon married the other lived out an invalided life at
home. The eldest son succeeded his father on the farm the
second proved rather "a rolling stone," extravagant, according to
his thriftier brothers' estimate, ready to claim family help, and
never dreaming he should be prepared to render it. From his
general financial confusions, I fear he caused some mystification
and dispeace among his nearest relatives. My father, the third
son, left home for London when he was twenty-one. The youngest
child was my uncle Charles, afterwards Dean of Moray and Ross, the
memory of whose personal charm and love for animals and for all
things lovely and of good report has scarcely yet faded from
Inverness. He married twice. The first wife, the
daughter of a prosperous farmer in Morayshire, is said to have been
a very pretty woman, of most retiring manners; the second spouse had
some pretensions to "family," and was a person of strongly-marked
and eccentric individuality, of whom many quaint stories are told in
a charming book called "Inverness before Railways," written many
years ago by my friend the late Miss Isabel Anderson, sister to the
present librarian of Aberdeen University, who had known the Fyvies
in her childhood.
My uncle seems by his intimate associations with county
families, who did not even belong to the Episcopal communion—such as
the Forbes of Culloden—to have been something of a "society" man,
but I possess letters and tractates of his which prove him to have
been also an earnest and faithful "minister."
My father disliked second marriages in a general way.
He had been much attached to the first wife of his brother Charles,
in whose house he had paid a long visit on the solitary occasion
when he returned from London to the North. He was not the more
reconciled to the second nuptials by the rather tactless way in
which my uncle had written to his own brother that his second bride
"is much above what my birth entitles me to expect." My father
might have been better pleased could he have known that the lady of
this brother's middle-aged choice looked at the matter in quite
another light. All her pride was in her husband. She
claimed dignity from him alone. It happened that, though a
punctilious housekeeper, she was odd and careless in her dress, and
Miss Anderson tells us that on one rainy day, when shopping in the
market-place, a bystander took the liberty to hint to her that her
dress was very muddy, though she was holding it in a way that
displayed the holes in her stockings. The lady drew herself up
indignantly, and replied: "What does that signify? I am
My uncle Charles had been one of the early and enthusiastic
admirers of Sir Walter Scott, eagerly procuring the Waverley novels
as they came out, that he might enjoy them with some lads of the
Dunbar family to whom he was then acting as tutor. He remained
always a bookish man, and not only had a good library of his own,
but also started one in connection with his church—a very advanced
movement in those days. In the beginning of his ministry,
however, Bishop Skinner alludes to him in a letter as "a raw youth,"
his grounds for this cruel appellation being that my uncle had
celebrated a marriage during Lent. Anybody who realizes the
domestic habits but too common among the humbler rural folk in the
North-East of Scotland is tempted to think that my uncle's breach of
ecclesiastical etiquette may have been an act of social charity.
I saw my uncle Charles once in London, when I was about six
years old. I well remember the tall grave man, in his Dean's
garb, who laid his hand kindly upon my head. He has no
descendants in this country, but grandsons of his figured in the
ill-omened Jameson's Raid.
My father's mother died in very advanced age, passing away
without suffering. She only "wanted to sleep," and her son and
daughter-in-law, understanding what was coming, persuaded her to
remain in bed, and sent for those of her absent family who were
within possibility of reaching her. When the middle-aged sons
entered with grave faces, she said to them: "I'm glad to see you, my
dear boys; but I can't keep awake." The family remained in her
room, going to the bedside from time to time; then they found all
was over so peacefully that the watchers never knew when the last
moment came. I have often wondered whether it may not be the
true intention of Nature that all death should be thus: whether some
law has not been broken—however ignorantly or innocently—where death
is far otherwise.
My maternal grandfather, Peter Thomson, himself a business
man in London, was descended from masons, millers, and crofters on
the Tweed Border, of whom I know no further particulars. Among
my mother's cousins on this side were three brothers Hislop, who
were of some note in their generation. The Rev. Alexander
Hislop was one of the zealous promoters of the Free Church severance
in 1843. He was an antiquarian and a philologist. His
"Two Babylons," though he wrote it from the narrowest sectarian
standpoint, becomes, from its honest and careful scholarship, a most
illuminating book on the matter of world religions. How narrow
his own standpoint was may be guessed when I add that I have seen a
diary of his in which he laments "the spiritual deadness" of his
son, aged eight, and his own "hopelessness" when the poor child died
of brain-fever a year later!
The younger brother, the Rev. Stephen Hislop, became a
missionary in India, and distinguished himself as a botanist.
Certain Indian flora which he discovered are known by his name.
He lost his life—by drowning—in pursuit of his hobby.
The third brother, Robert, had a considerable influence in
the educational world, and was a "collector" on natural history
lines, some of his collections being now in one of the Edinburgh
A grandson of the Rev. Alexander Hislop perished nobly in
saving life during the great floods in Bloemfontein a few years ago.
Himself a splendid swimmer, he had saved one after another, till he
was caught in an overwhelming torrent, and those looking down from a
height reported that his face wore a smile as he was swept away.
My maternal great-grandmother was a well-connected
Aberdeenshire woman of great force of character, one or two of whose
sayings, shrewd, and possibly cynical, lingered long behind.
Her husband, my great-grandfather on this side, came from an acute
commercial stock in Aberdeen and its neighbourhood—people honoured
in their own place, and with occasional instances among them both of
talent and eccentricity—the former too often left uncultivated, and
the latter not always of an amiable type, but allied rather to "grippiness."
When my mother, in her maidenhood, paid a short visit among
her mother's "people," a son of the wealthiest and best-placed
branch of these kinsfolk offered her marriage. She declined on
the score of the brevity of their acquaintance. At parting he
gave her as "a remembrance" a copy of the Shorter Catechism, "with
proofs," bound in russia leather!
On this side of the house were two old people who left very
quaint benefactions, much grudged by some of their wealthy kin.
They were brother and sister—he, a combination of wastrel and miser;
she, practical and kindly. One frosty day she met with an
accident in Market Street, Aberdeen, and received much kind help
from a young policeman, who saw her safely to her home.
By-and-by she remarked to her brother that after both their deaths
she should like her share of their property to go to the Aberdeen
police, the interest to be annually disbursed among them, her
gratitude to her own helper having shown her that they must have
many opportunities for showing kindness for which they might get no
reward and few thanks. The brother pondered. "And now I
think of it," said he, "I shall leave my share to the scavengers,
for I am sure they are a most deserving body!"
Another member of this group of kinsfolk owned the land
whereon "Union Place" was afterwards built. He sold it for
£100. Even then it was seen he had made a bad bargain.
His defence was: "Eh, but the hundred gold pieces were bonnie!"
The same property, as built on, must now be worth scores of
My maternal grandmother, who came of this stock, and became
the wife of Peter Thomson, was herself a beautiful and talented
woman, enjoying all the "culture" of the time. Kept as a
"parlour-boarder" at a fashionable school till she was nearly
twenty, yet at thirty-two she, a young widow, courageously assumed
charge of her husband's import business—a wreck, owing to the
Napoleonic wars—went herself to his wharves, and acted with such
aplomb and good sense that she speedily rallied her broken fortunes,
and in due time dowered her daughters, made a provision for her own
old age, and set up her three sons for life by dividing her revived
business among them. She was a tall, elegant woman, with
waving chestnut hair, which at her death (at seventy-three) had
scarcely changed to silver. She was very precise and strict in
demeanour—made her grand-children "sit up," not in the slangy sense,
but in a literal one. Nobody lounged in her presence; nobody
was allowed to hang over the fire. She kept all her own
rules—never lay in bed for breakfast, never addressed strangers
without polite prefix. During the latest years of her life she
lived with my mother's only sister, and the son of the house told me
that down to her last appearance at the breakfast-table, very
shortly before her death, her pretty curls were always in prim order
under her lace cap. She had embroidered most beautifully
during her younger days, and specimens of her work, both in coloured
silks and dainty laces, remain among my treasures. She had
learned French to perfection—it proved of great use among her
business connections—and she was always very partial to French
people. An only child, she had no relations nearer than
cousins, and of a large family of these, on her clever mother's
side, many were most unfortunate, the sons "going wrong"; one of the
daughters, in defiance of the then existing law, marrying her
deceased sister's husband; and another sister, of somewhat limited
mentality, ending her days in a genteel almshouse. One of the
younger sons had some little artistic faculty, and was actually
placed as pupil in the studio of the unfortunate artist
Haydon—singularly misplaced, it would seem, for the only artistic
work of his which has reached posterity is a daintily-painted
"conventional" valentine addressed to a young relative, who thought
so little of her admirer that it is evident that she tried
ineffectually to erase his name from his tribute.
Though my father's family had been staunch Scottish
Episcopalians, yet the general tenor of his own life and
principles—even my Uncle Charles's lapse, so displeasing to his
Bishop—makes me think that my own freedom from all sectarianism
derives from this side. Or possibly a certain width of thought
may have evolved from the contradictory theological narrownesses
joining in me! For my maternal grandfather, Peter Thomson—the
uncle of the Hislops—came of sternest Covenanting breed, and that
branch of the family has steadily followed the progress of Scottish
dissent. Some of its younger people still cherish the dainty
handless teacups which their foremothers had lent for use at the
first social meeting of that seceding body which was long known as
the United Presbyterian Church. On the other hand, my maternal
grandmother's people were staunch "Auld Kirk," and she had many
stories of the parish ministers and schoolmasters of her race.
One concerned a schoolmaster who had come to England, and had
founded a fashionable "establishment" on the South Coast—a school
which, I believe, still exists, and has had many famous men among
its pupils. This schoolmaster delighted to horrify his wife
and her guest, my grandmother, by pointing to the glass-dropped
candelabra on the drawing-room shelf, and declaring, "Those are my
breeches," the good lady having exchanged sundry of those garments
when half-worn for these ornaments.
In the other story the kinsman was a parish minister in the
wilds of the Scottish North-East. On one Sunday his wife and
daughter filled their pew, clad in gay garments which had come as
fast as they could—in those days it was not very fast—from Paris.
The minister's discourse was on the follies of fashion and the
wickedness of extravagance. As he ended, he leaned over the
pulpit, and, taking the congregation into his confidence by his
dramatic action and tone, said: "Brethren, doubtless you are
thinking that before I preach thus I should look at home.
Brethren, it is because I have looked at home that I preach thus."
He must have been a brave man, for he had to go back to the Manse!
IN CHILDHOOD'S DAYS.
recollections show forth manifold changes both in social custom and
I recall being on the dickey of a stage-coach. I do not
remember who was with me, nor where I was being taken—nothing except
the red-coated guard and his sonorous horn.
I remember sitting on my mother's knee at breakfast, and
thinking how very pretty her throat was as it rose out of the fine
white muslin "neckerchief" that she wore inside her dress, which was
always cut "half-low." She persisted in that mode till her
death in 1878, in winter adding a "fichu" (she called it "a
tippet") of the same stuff as each dress, and crossed over in front.
She wore caps made of net and "blond" lace, with bows of ribbon set
among the latter at each side of her face. The cap was
fastened by ribbons under her chin. She had worn caps of this
type from the day after her marriage, when she was a girl of
twenty-two. Nor did she vary their fashion—save during the
first year of her widowhood—in the least till about the year 1870,
when the side-trimmings were slightly moderated, and others were
added above the forehead.
I remember being taken to the British Museum when it had high
walls about it. As the existing buildings were completed in
1847, this means that I must have been under four years of age.
My too youthful appearance caused our whole party to be turned back
at the entrance. I wept bitterly, and my mother indignantly
told the person who repelled us (I don't remember who it was) that I
had as much sense as many grown-up people. Poor mother!
She snatched me up in her arms and carried me all the way home!
I could read easily when I was four years old, and reading
was never anything but a delight to me. I have no recollection
of the process of learning, though, as I remember that afterwards I
had among my toys little flat blocks with a picture on one side and
a letter of the alphabet on the other, and inscribed with such
legends as "C is the Cat who sits on a Cushion," I suppose these had
been used in my instruction.
There were few toy or even juvenile books in those days, and
I am proud of the literary discrimination I displayed, for my
favourites were "Goody Two Shoes," the reputed work of Oliver
Goldsmith; "Mrs. Lester's School," by Charles and Mary Lamb; and
"Mary the Maid of the Inn," by Robert Southey, the reading of the
latter being always rather "a fearful joy." Of course, these
great names meant nothing to me, nor do I even remember seeing them
appended to my editions, which had paper covers and rude woodcuts,
sometimes crudely coloured. When I was five years old somebody
gave me "The Childhood of Mary Leeson," by Mary Howitt. I have
it still with my name and the date in it, and though it was a great
favourite, it is in a state of good preservation.
During my father's lifetime (which means before I was eight)
I liked to read Blair's "Belles Lettres"—a book no longer
appreciated as it once was, but for which I have a kindness, because
it first made me aware of the high literary culture of ancient
Greece. I can recall the day when I read the passage wherein
Dr. Blair commends the simplicity of Virgil's description of an
innocent rural flirtation, which Dryden translated as―
"My Phillis me with pelted apples plies,
Then tripping to the wood the wanton hies,
And wishes to be seen before she flies,"
and goes on to say: "Mr. Pope wanted to imitate this passage, and,
as he thought, to improve upon it. He does it thus:
"'The sprightly Sylvia trips along the
She runs, but hopes she does not run unseen,
While a kind glance at her pursuer flies.
How much at variance are her feet and eyes!'
This," proceeds Dr. Blair, "falls far short of Virgil. The
natural and pleasing simplicity of the description is destroyed by
the quaint and affected turn in the last line."
The critic did not add that Pope was only sixteen when he
made this "imitation," as I understand to have been the case.
But I remember that the comparison between his verse and Dryden's
gave me a peculiar delight—like the awakening of a new sense.
I must add that I did not explain these joys to my seniors—I had no
words to fit the subject. I remember somebody said, "What can
that child be doing with that book?" and that my father answered,
"Let her read it if she pleases." I was very grateful to him,
and I am sure he was right.
At the same time, I had my beloved cats to play with, an
undiminished interest in story-books, my dolls, and my doll's house.
My sister Elizabeth dressed me a doll in all the well-made garments
of a baby—the clothing buttoned and tied, an could be constantly
washed, even to the handsome "pelisse" it wore for "walking out."
I am sure this was more wholesome in every way than the
readily-soiled "bought" finery I see dragged about on the dolls of
to-day. But I always preferred my pussies to my doll, because,
as I put it, "they were alive." My doll's house had two rooms,
and its front was of real "harling," bits of genuine quartz
glittering in it. I wanted the resident family to have a
husband and a son. The small dolls of that day were very
primitive creations, with no joints save at thighs, knees, and
elbows. They had wooden heads and painted faces, and they were
all made feminine, with topknots. My sister Elizabeth, twelve
years my senior, and ever my good fairy, sympathized with my taste
(I believe she shared it), so she hewed off two of the top-knots,
inked over the bare spot, drew fierce whiskers on one of the
cherubic faces, and prepared suitable garments. We had a
"grown-up gentleman" and "a boy." Both had velvet coats and
white "ducks," the latter a reflection of trousers then fashionable.
We never had hot dinner on Sunday, as my father liked to
spare labour as much as possible; but after our "cold beef and
pickles" we always had particularly nice fruit-pie, and sometimes
dessert also. After dinner we sat round in a circle, including
the servant-girl and any visitor, and read, "verse about," one or
two chapters from the "story" parts of the Bible, going
consecutively through the books; also, my father heard the hymns and
Catechisms of those who wished to recite any. We were "broad"
in our selection of Catechisms, for we had the Church Catechism, the
Shorter Catechism, and a simple little work (I think by Isaac Watts)
called the Mother's Catechism, and each might learn any or all, as
she chose! I think I learned the whole of the Mother's
Catechism, but in the Shorter Catechism I stopped on the first
answer: "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for
ever." I never went beyond that. I learned a few of
Watts's "Hymns for Children," but they did not seem to fasten on my
mind, except, perhaps, one or two of the "Moral Songs," especially
"Pity the sorrows of a poor old man,
Whose trembling limbs have brought him to your door,"
which is not by Dr. Watts at all—though it was published as his in
the edition I knew—but by one Rev. Thomas Moss. I used to
associate this with a decent-looking aged pensioner who came to us
weekly for a tiny dole.
For general Sunday reading I had the "Pilgrim's Progress," "Agathos,
and other Stories" (Bishop Wilberforce), several volumes of the
Child's Companion and the Youth's Magazine, of which I
still possess forty volumes. They are well-printed, well-bound
books, full of carefully-conveyed information and excellent woodcuts
and steel engravings. In their early days Jane Taylor wrote in
them as "Q. Q.," and in their latter days Jean
Ingelow joined the staff.
There was a red-leather bound copy of "Janeway's Token for
Children," which had been given by some distant relative to my
sister Elizabeth, and she could not endure it, and always took it
from me if she saw it in my hands. It consisted of histories
of poor little children, all, if memory serves me, under ten years
of age, but trained like, parrots in the repetition of a hideous
Calvinism, and all dying young. Certainly in the long-run I
did read it, but it did me no harm, because I had heard my sister's
opinion of it. In the year 1900 I gave this copy as a
curiosity to the Religious Tract Society, who were its original
publishers. I think my sister occasionally threatened to
destroy, it, but the family had an almost Mohammedan reverence for
"books," and, further, this was a gift. We were never allowed
to leave volumes lying about. When a reading was done, all was
carefully put away, each book in its unvarying place.
One of my earliest remembrances is of awakening on a sunny
morning, after, for some temporary reason, passing the night on an
improvised couch in the little heavily-panelled "drawing-room" of my
birthplace in Bedford Street, Strand. The windows were open,
and fresh breezes were blowing in, sweetened by passing over
flower-laden carts going to Covent Garden, and the voice of my
sister Elizabeth was carolling Ken's verse:
"Awake, my soul, and with the sun
Thy daily stage of duty run."
She died at eighteen. I first saw "the lovely appearance of
death" as she lay in her coffin. I remember my mother gently
lifting one of the folded marble hands, and sighing "This busy
hand!" I was then six years old. I had loved her dearly;
I have loved her ever—have never forgotten her—and sixty years
afterwards I can distinctly recall her appearance and manner.
Yet I do not recollect any very keen grief when she died, possibly
because I could not then realize the "unutterable longing" of
ever-present loss. I was interested and excited, thinking how
very pretty my other sisters looked in their black dresses and soft
white frills, and marvelling why a certain young cousin absented
himself from the funeral on the score that "it was more than he
A child has no long past by which to measure the future of a
In those days death had the gloomiest surroundings.
There were no flowers in or on my sister's coffin. Early on
the morning of the funeral "mutes" took up their position on each
side of the front-door, each man holding a long wand, whose upper
end was swathed in silken folds, so that the effect was of big black
umbrellas badly "done up," and held handle downwards. The
mourners were wrapped in black scarves, and, "supported" by
undertakers, as if physically prostrate, were borne away in black
coaches with black cushions, and drawn by black horses. My
father himself hated this pageantry of woe, and cut it down as much
as possible, absolutely forbidding the great bunches of black
feathers with which hearses were generally decorated. The
mourners came home to tea, and there were madeira cakes on the
table, which I have loathed ever since.
Among my earliest recollections is one of an old negro who
did odd jobs about our house, and called me "Missie." He had
been a slave, escaping from the Southern States, and his past
sufferings cast strange glooms on his otherwise cheery nature, and
in one of these he finally committed suicide. It was not
thought proper that I should know this, but I gathered the truth
somehow, and was much horrified; yet, as if out of respect to the
silence with which I had been guarded, I was silent in my turn, and
did not reveal that I had discovered the fact.
I saw one of the last processions of the Lord Mayor's Show by
river. It was abolished, I think, about 1853. We watched it—a
long line of boats, almost hidden by a dense yellow fog—from an
uncle's house on the Adelphi Terrace, and as he died in 1849, and
his house was soon vacated, that fixes the date.
In my childish days lamp-lighters went about at twilight
bearing ladders, which they had to mount at each lamp-post.
The postmen wore scarlet coats and top-hats. They struck a
pretty note of colour in the streets. Policemen also word high
hats (partly, I think, glazed) and long heavy coats of pelisse-like
pattern. My eldest sister, fourteen years my senior,
remembered the old "Charlies," with their long-drawn-out cries, "Ten
o'clock, and a—fine—moonlight—night!" or whatever the weather might
I can remember the old thick red penny postage-stamps, which
one had to cut carefully apart. I remember when the
perforation began, and I recollect I thought I might have invented
that myself, as I was always working markers of the then fashionable
"perforated card," and knew how well and easily it would split.
I recollect hearing the clatter of pattens in the streets on
rainy nights. These pattens—at least, as used in London—were
an unyielding piece of wood roughly shaped to the size and instep of
an average foot, and raised from the ground by a circle of iron
fastened on by three prongs. These were succeeded by "clogs,"
which (again as used in London) were a piece of wood with a joint in
the middle, and heel and toe caps of leather, with a strap for
fastening. Some of these "clogs" were made as daintily as so
primitive an article could be. They were very useful, as in
those days thick boots were not used, and ladies slipped off their
clogs and left them in the hall. Goloshes made their first
appearance from America about 1847, but did not win or deserve
popularity till four or five years later.
Our house in Bedford Street was quaintly interesting.
Before my day, in the chief room of the chief floor, there had been
a carved wooden mantel. My eldest sister had recollections of
flowers, fruit, and birds, even of monkeys. This was all
ruthlessly cleared away by order of the factor of the Dukes of
Bedford, from whom we held our lease, the fine wood-carving,
beautifully adapted to the panelled chambers, being replaced by
plinths of white marble. The custom on the Bedford estate was
to grant twenty-one years' leases at rather moderate rentals, and at
the expiry of each, if it were to be renewed, repairs and
improvements were ordered, costing from £300 to £500. When the
leases were not renewed, then certain reinstatements were called
for. The worst of all was that many of the so-called
"improvements" were of disastrous nature. Such was one wrought
when our lease "fell in" during my school-days. It was ordered
that the rich old red-brick front was to be covered with Portland
cement, straight architraves of the same to be placed above the
windows, with their small, heavily-framed panes. It was
debated whether the fine old bracket windows of the shop and
counting-house might not be removed for modern substitutes, but it
was decided that any tampering with them might bring down the whole
building. The Portland cement architraves proved a source of
endless worry and loss. Behind our house was a great
printing-office, and the steam it emitted caused these fearsome
"ornaments" to peel off and to fall in masses through a glass roof
in a neighbouring yard, and even upon the heads of passers-by in the
street. We were constantly the victims of complaints and
damages. Why such an "improvement" had ever been wrought was
mysterious. Many years afterwards we learned that the ducal
factor of that day had had a cousin who was a Portland cement maker.
The leisureliness of business at that time is indicated by
our shop and counting-house being approached by flights of steps.
The counting-house and shop were both panelled throughout. The
dining-room was partly panelled and partly papered, the ceiling
being also papered—an old fashion now revived. Shop and
dining-room were divided by a partition of small-paned windows, the
upper part in bold, ornamental designs. The dining-room had a
large china closet. The kitchen lay behind the dining-room,
and was well lit, almost all of one side of it being glazed, and
looking upon a paved yard, from which a ladder led up to a loft and
The staircase and hall were panelled, and the balustrades
roughly carved. All the rooms on the first and second floors
were panelled. There were four rooms—two small—on each flat,
and all four communicated. On the doors of the first-floor
rooms there were beautifully wrought brass hanging handles, and
keyholes with decorative appliances. There were many
commodious cupboards and fixture shelves. The attic- rooms
(three) were all papered; that at the back opened upon "leads."
The sanitary arrangements of the house—and, indeed, of the
whole street—were very bad. This must have accounted for the
undue mortality among its young people. Whole families
perished in youth, and I cannot recall a single household all of
whose members survived to the age of twenty. Yet the great
cholera epidemics of that time, rampant all around, wholly passed by
The shop-windows were sashes, and occasions somebody would
gently raise one and extract loaf or a roll. The counters in
the shop were fine mahogany, but my father judged it "cleanest" that
they should be regularly scrubbed. The shop inkstand, in the
form of the base of a column, was of black Wedgwood. For a
year or two before we left the house (1869) "collectors" had tried
to secure that inkstand, but, of course, we did not part from it.
The shop had only one gas-lamp. It stood slightly back from
the window, and was of brass, in form of a Corinthian pillar.
I suppose it would be gloomy now, but the light seemed very
brilliant in those days, and I often saw lads standing outside and
reading by it. There was also gas in the bakehouses, but
nowhere else on the premises. For the living-rooms we used
tall brass candlesticks, with tallow candles, snuffers and all.
These were succeeded by "composites," preferred as giving no smell,
and consuming their own wicks, snuffing having involved perpetual
interruption. For staircase and bedroom use we carried flat
The bakehouses and ovens were below the shop and dining-room.
They were not absolutely underground, as most were, because our
flights of steps yielded them the level of ordinary
"breakfast-parlours." The conditions in those days could never
be good, though my father, who had been through them himself, tried
to do his best. The men had their sleeping-quarters at the top
of the house in an airy chamber opening on to the leads.
Between 1855 and 1868 wages stood at twenty-three shillings a week
for foremen, and eighteen shillings a week for seconds, with
house-room, firing, light, bread, and potatoes. Before that,
wages had been lower. One very flourishing firm―patronized
by royalty—kept eleven men, and had only one bed for them all.
During the twenty-four hours they occupied it turn and turn about.
One of these unfortunates was generally in Charing Cross Hospital,
and the "master" got a reputation for generosity by his yearly
subscription to its funds. He, too, was a Scotsman, and when
he finally retired from business with the (then) huge fortune of
£80,000, he carried the national thrift so far that he married his
head shopwoman, a spinster who had been in his service for more than
a quarter of a century. He thus spared himself from giving her
any pension, and secured the services of a trusty
housekeeper—without a salary!
In my father's journeyman days men stayed long in their
service, and when they left it was generally either to go abroad or
to "set up" for themselves. My father had arrived in London at
the age of twenty-two. He had taken a fortnight to travel by
sea from Peterhead, the chief port of Buchan. He spent his
first night in London in the house of some "brither Scot" near the
Docks, and next morning he entered the employment of Mr. Charles
Grant, a wealthy old bachelor who then ruled in 2, Bedford Street.
Save for one brief visit to his old home, he never again slept
outside that house, which to-day sounds almost incredible. My
father rose through every grade of the business till he finally
bought it, and the leasehold. As he had never received a
farthing from home, but, on the contrary, had steadily contributed
to its welfare, his own savings, at such wages as he received, could
not with the utmost economy be large, and so, when he acquired his
property, much remained to be "paid off." I have seen his old
private account-book—a model—the most moderate expenditure on dress,
payment for a "sitting at church," "sent home," and "saved."
No doubt his journeyman days had been full of what modern
young men would consider unbearable hardship, yet the "tone" was
different and better. The old bachelor master had maintained
friendly relations with his men. On Sundays they had dined at
his table along with other guests, such as the minister of the Scots
Church in Crown Court, or any stranger who occupied his pulpit,
while a constant visitor was an uncle of Lord Macaulay.
The earlier hours of those very Sundays had, however, been
devoted to peculiarly worrying toil, probably counted of "necessity"
or "mercy," because it was not unprofitable, and was adapted to
"keep together" the "custom" of a neighbourhood. On Sunday the
big oven, being empty of bread, was devoted to the baking of
everybody's Sunday dinner. My father said he had often seen
more than a hundred of these awaiting their turn. They were
charged for on strictly "caste" principles. The baking of a
humble joint or small pie cost but a penny or three half-pence, but
as the dishes rose to poultry, ducks, the lordly turkey, or the tin
of fancy tarts, the charges also rose even to sixpence or eightpence.
Of course, the cost of kitchen fires was saved, and the care and
skill of a "second hand" were brought into requisition.
Many journeymen—and my father in his day—had felt all this
peculiarly irksome. I have heard an aged man, in his ninetieth
year, describe with a strength of emotion which rose to poetic
height his feeling when, on a sunny spring Sunday afternoon, nearly
seventy years before, he had emerged, hot and soiled, from his
underground bakehouse, and saw a bird soaring and singing in the
blue sky. Then and there he vowed that he would leave the
trade at once, and he did so.
My father had not been long a master before he agitated for
the abrogation of this Sunday labour. A number of neighbouring
masters bound themselves to drop the practice on the same date, but
they resumed it in a week or two. Only my father and one
other, a rich and refined old bachelor, kept to the bond.
More than once during my father's lifetime we went to
Shepherd's Bush for a summer holiday. The place was really
rural then. A bit of quite genuine country road separated it
from Notting Hill. The little "green" of Shepherd's Bush stood
fresh, open, and primitive, unguarded by any paling, though there
were generally cows or donkeys grazing upon it. I think there
was but one house on the south side—a building standing behind
walls, and surrounded by fine old poplars. On the West side
were a few antique cottages; one, heavily thatched, and almost
hidden behind a dense hedge, we believed—I know not on what
grounds—to have been a haunt of the highwayman Jack Sheppard.
The northern side had some tiny cottage of more modern build, with
pretty gardens front; an old-world inn, its sign swinging from a
pole over a horse-trough; and beside it an old-fashioned village
shop, over which were the rooms we rented. Our landlord and
his wife, kind, homely people, were very fond of animals.
There was always a puppy or a kitten to the fore, and it was during
our visits there that I learned, through their dear old "Pompey," to
be fearless and familiar with dogs.
Wood Lane and Wormwood Scrubs—it was long before the prison's
date—in the immediate neighbourhood, were so lonesome that they were
not regarded as safe for the walks of young people.
During those summer holidays my father always joined us early
on Sunday morning, returning to town late in the evening. The
journey took more than an hour, for there was no way of suburban
locomotion save by omnibus. These vehicles went slowly at
best, and stopped at many intervals, apparently at the sweet will of
the driver and conductor. In those days the omnibus was small
and narrow, and though seats were covered with red velvet, the floor
was stuffed with straw. On wet days this became very
unpleasant from muddy feet and dripping umbrellas. Six
passengers sat on each side-seat, while in most of the vehicles
there was also a cross-seat opposite the door—a point of vantage in
which I delighted, as it gave one a good survey of all one's
fellow-travellers. The outside was gained by help of an
inch-wide projections and a strap. Mounting was really an athletic
feat, possible only for active men. Naturally, with such
conditions, the outside fares were slightly lower than the inside.
After dark the interior was dimly lit by a small hanging oil-lamp,
whose droppings frequently threatened to defile coats and dresses.
There were few cabs on the streets when I was a girl.
If my memory serves me rightly, the fares were very much a matter of
personal arrangement, and many of the cabmen were sadly apt to bully
helpless or ignorant passengers. In other ways they were often
very kind, naming most moderate sums if conveying a servant-maid to
a situation or a sick person to a hospital. There were no
ambulances then. All sorts of patients used cabs taken from
the rank. They were uncomfortable enough, too, wellnigh
springless, with straw on the floor. Hansoms were a later
innovation, and for a long while it was regarded as very "fast" for
a woman to drive in one. To do so alone was wellnigh to lose
The first railway-trains were most primitive. I have
travelled with an aged man, who told me that in his youth he had
gone in a third-class carriage, which had neither roof overhead nor
seat within, and that the railway officials used a long stick to
indicate to the passengers how to crowd together. I remember
being told that my father and mother had once gone off on an
adventure, not particularly wanting to go anywhere, but only it "to
ride on a train," as people might now aspire to an aeroplane.
I cannot remember my own first use of the railroad. There were
very few to use—scarcely any for short distances. I saw the
sea for the first time when I was about seventeen, and my eldest
sister and I took a one-day trip to Brighton. My first long
journey was in going to Scotland in 1868, when I was twenty-five.
We started from King's Cross at eight in the evening, reaching
Edinburgh at eight next morning. The seats had no cushions,
and we had to make ourselves as comfortable as we could with our own
rugs. All the refreshment to be obtained was a cup of tea at
York. Ten minutes' stop was allowed, according to the
time-table, but as the train was nearly always late, the pause was
generally curtailed, and after having had a free fight at the
buffet, one had to leave the scalding liquid wellnigh untouched.
It is not easy for one who knew the river-side near Charing
Cross then to realize his whereabouts now. In those days the
beautiful suspension-bridge, now at Clifton, hung over the Thames
near where the railway-bridge is to-day. It was a very
pleasant resort in summer—perfectly safe for children, as its rail
was high, and it had no wheeled traffic. The toll was one
halfpenny. The same toll was exacted on Waterloo Bridge.
The suspension bridge was reached by a short street, which
has wholly vanished. It led down, nearly opposite the Golden
Cross Hotel, to a fish-market known as Hungerford Market. The
whole place was very quaint and interesting. In the end it
proved a dead failure as a market, and its premises went through
many vicissitudes before, about 1864, they finally disappeared to
make way for the railway-station. One forlorn adventure was
that which turned the market into a covered promenade, of which the
chief attraction was to be wall advertisements. These were
coming to the front about that time. They had been few indeed
until 1860, when Dion Boucicault covered every yard of space he
could find with repetitionary announcements of his "Colleen Bawn."
I was a well-grown girl before any decent magazines accepted any
advertisements, saving, perhaps, of a few books, and these were
announced on the covers only. There were no extra leaves, and
certainly no advertisements interwoven with the literature.
London streets generally bore a very different aspect from
that of to-day. To begin with, people lived over their shops
and offices, and their female servants' lives must have been much
livelier and with better prospects than the suburban maid enjoys
to-day. The infamous window-tax had persisted, though with
modifications, till 1851. During the time when the imposition
was heaviest (from 1784 to 1808), many householders had closed every
"unnecessary" window, and many of these were not reopened.
Rooms with two windows were deprived of one, and closet and passage
windows were often closed altogether, so that many houses had a
strangely blinded aspect. Neither my father nor his
predecessor had done aught of the kind to our house, preferring to
pay the tax, and I was brought up in the just belief that such an
imposition was wicked.
At the corner of nearly every street sat an old dame beside a
trestle, from which she sold apples or other seasonable fruit.
Fruiterers' and greengrocers' shops were few and far between, and
were generally thrust away in back-streets. The mode of
selling strawberries is changed. When I was young they were
sold in "pottles"—long, slight baskets, tapering downward to a
point, and carried by a handle.
At certain seasons of the year there was an annual invasion
of Dutch or German girls, who, from the articles they sold, were
known as "Buy-a-Brooms." They used to be neatly dressed, with
quaintly-braided fair hair. They had not a word more of
"English" than sufficed to do their trade.
Every busy corner of every broad street had its
crossing-sweeper, street-cleaning arrangements being then of the
most rudimentary sort. Some of these sweepers were
picturesque, and romantic tales were told about them and the money
they made. I recall a villainous-looking old dame who kept a
corner of the Haymarket. Many of the old-men sweepers had
medals on their breasts. Regular passers-by often gave a
weekly toll to the sweeper, whose work did so much to spare trousers
and skirts. Occasionally one would see a young boy or girl
wielding a broom, with a pathetic air of eager enterprise.
There were a great many street-shows in those days.
Besides "Punch and Judy," there was another show carried about in
much the same way, and only displayed after dark, when the shadows
of its marionettes were cast upon an illuminated screen. As my
memory serves me, this was a much more refined show than "Punch."
Then there were acrobats—parties of from five to ten or eleven, who
went about carrying their meagre properties on their backs, and,
when they caught an opportunity, throwing off their coats,
displaying their tights and spangles, and turning themselves into
"human pyramids" and so forth. I have seen them mounted
decoratively, one upon each other, till a height was reached from
which the highest could look into a second-floor window.
Sometimes the troupe was quite a family party—not only a father and
three or four growing-up sons, but the mother also, her function
being to mind the performers' clothes and carry round the hat.
A perennial show was the large cage fixed on a lorry which
generally stood somewhere near St. Martin's Church, and contained
what was known as "the Happy Family"—i.e., dogs, cats, rabbits,
rats, mice, and canary-birds all living together in visible peace
and apparent contentment.
We have heard much lately about the Lucas busts and figures
in wax. I wonder if anybody remembers a vanished "art"
somewhat allied? In cases displayed outside a house on the
left-hand side of Regent Street, going north, there used to be seen
in my childhood tiny profile portraits in wax, with real hair and
eyebrows, probably belonging to the sitter, the waxen shoulders
daintily draped in "practicable" silks or satins, presumably also
chosen from her wardrobe. The wax heads were scarcely larger
than those in cabinet photographs, and the whole effect was very
ghastly. Each little plaque was enclosed under glass
The only May-Day festival that survived in the London of my
youth was that enacted by the chimney-sweeps, who in gay disguises
perambulated the streets in the wake of a moving mass of greenery
carried by a man concealed within it. In my earliest
recollections the chimney-sweeps' womenkind assisted at this curious
celebration, wearing rose-wreathed hats, white aprons, and flying
ribbons. One, I think, used to be garbed as a rustic bride.
But later on the women did not appear, but were personated, roughly
enough, by lads, and so the custom died out, for certainly I had not
seen it for many years before I left London.
There were permanent beggars in the streets in those days—for
example, a rather gentlemanly-looking, pathetic-faced dwarf, who
played a concertina beneath the wall of the National Gallery.
Another, whom we saw in nearly all our walks, though he was never in
exactly the same spot, was no other than Hare, who saved his life by
giving King's evidence as to the awful dissecting-room crimes of
Burke and Hare. He had become blind through being thrown into
a lime-pit by some navvies who had discovered his identity, which he
did not proclaim on the board he wore, whereon he had the effrontery
to announce: "Kind friends, I lost my sight through falling into a
lime-kiln." I once saw him kicking the miserable woman who
brought his food to his begging-station.
A quaint, quiet, old-world precinct stretched above the river
from Charing Cross as far as Whitehall. All is altered now,
though here and then one can recognize an old landmark. Part
of this region was flanked by the back-wall of the gardens of
Northumberland House—the stately mansion which then stood on the
south-east corner of Charing Cross, where Northumberland Avenue now
opens. The house was built as a quadrangle, and presented its
dullest side to Charing Cross. The windows seemed all closed
and dead, and the great carriage-gates were never ajar unless some
liveried servant was lounging there. But by some curious
custom Northumberland House was always thrown open after the death
of each Duke of Northumberland, and the public were admitted by
ticket. When I was taken there I was too young to observe many
details, but I was impressed by the stately proportions of the
apartments and by the garden views seen from the many high, narrow
windows. I also remember a solid silver fender, and I was
struck by the hideousness and physical horror of the great pictures
chosen for the dining-rooms, that conspicuous in what was called the
"small dining-room" being the death of Abel, with every
accompaniment of raw flesh and streaming gore.
The reigning Duke was forced to sell this property that
Northumberland Avenue, with its clubs and hotels, should not be
diverted from its present sweep by even a few yards!
Another greatly changed area is that now occupied by Garrick
Street. When I was a child this was covered by congeries of
close, narrow and alleys, among them that Rose Street where Dryden
the poet was unaccountably assaulted, and whence Butler, writer of "Hudibras,"
was carried to his last resting-place in the yard of St. Paul's,
Covent Garden. I was "under orders" never to go down Rose
Street, which had become a disreputable retreat; but I have looked
down it, and, so far as my memory serves, it was narrow and winding,
did not lead anywhere, and was so hidden away that one did not see
it till one looked for it.
Amid such manifold changes certain patches remain intact.
For example, in Bedford Street, where I was born, every house on the
left-hand side going from the Strand to Chandos Street was utterly
changed more than forty years ago. The Lancet offices,
which were there in my childhood, I think, remain, but much altered
in appearance; a long, low, old-fashioned hostelry, which covered a
good deal of ground, is transformed out of all knowledge; and the
houses higher up—our own, another, and some very ancient residences
beyond—have all made place for great Civil Service Stores.
Yet, when I was last there, by taking up a position on the pavement
where our house stood, I could see almost exactly what I saw from
our windows when I was a child. The houses on the east side of
the street are unchanged; some of them are even used for the same
trades, though, of course, by different people.
I remember the last days of the state of things which had
prevailed in that neighbourhood even in the time of the chronicler
Strype, who alluded, however, rather to that part of the street
north of Chandos Street. He speaks of "Mercers, Lace-men,
etc." The small house opposite ours, with a curious
half-moon-shaped window on the third story, was occupied by a lady
who was a "lace-man"—a little, rather comical old maiden, the
daughter of an army officer, and the only sister of nineteen
brothers, many of whom perished "in the wars." She survived
them all, ministered to their orphaned children, and at last died in
great poverty. At the time of my father's death she was a
well-to-do woman, to whose tiny "shop" Duchesses and Countesses
resorted, though it made no window display save two or three pieces
of rare lace spread out on dark silk between two dainty punch-bowls.
After the lace lady's retirement her house had many a strange
vicissitude. It was a time of revolt and trouble in Italy, and
for a while the old maid's former home seemed to pass into the hands
of nondescript refugees. For some weeks it was inhabited by
two gentlemen (for such they seemed), one between thirty and forty,
the other a mere lad. At first they used only the second-floor
front-room, where we once saw the elder carefully brushing out the
beautiful curly hair of the youth. They came over to our house
once or twice to beg in broken English some homely loan, as of pail
or steps. Their manners were extremely courteous.
By-and-by the shop-window was lined by a long wire blind, marked
"Agent." We never saw anybody on the place but these two, and
we saw little of them. Suddenly one morning we found the wire
blind turned round, so that the word "Agent" was hidden, and in
front of the blind stood a teapot and cups and a plate with a steak
upon it. The house had become a coffee-house! We never
again saw either of the gentlemen, and the only person who ever
stirred in the coffee-house was a very handsome, able-bodied young
woman, whom one observant neighbour declared was a man in disguise.
The "coffee-house" was soon closed, and the premises passed into the
hands, first of betting men, and then of very commonplace
newsagents. I utilized the vicissitudes of this house in my
story, "Not by Bread Alone," and did not draw very much on my
The house next to this, higher up from the Strand, had also
been occupied by exiles; but these were Polish gentlemen, who,
calling themselves the Brothers Levinsky, opened an establishment
for the sale of combs, brushes, and other toilet requisites.
These left the street while I was very young. They had been
preceded by a high-class lending-library and bookseller's, which had
enjoyed the personal patronage of the daughters of George III.
The house afterwards came into the possession of a homely
couple—a gasfitter and his wife—who let it out in "floors," for we
did not hear of "flats" in those days. The gasfitter's wife
was careful only to keep her house full, and was not always
particular as to whom she received. After I had read
Shakespeare I called her "Dame Quickly." Among the fleeting
pictures of human life which we got from the floating population of
that establishment I remember two elderly maiden sisters, who lived
on the first floor with a little nephew and a beautiful cat.
They earned their living by making dressing-gowns, and they sat
stitching at the window from morning till night. They never
rested but on Sunday, when they went to church in the morning, while
in the afternoon an elder nephew came to tea. The monotony of
their existence seemed to have no intermission, yet they were always
bright and chirpy. They looked like well-bred women, and the
elder nephew was handsome and gentlemanly.
At another time these rooms were occupied by a Jewish
family—father, mother, two sons, and a daughter. They seemed
to have plenty of money, and to follow no regular occupation.
The girl was of a type of rare Syrian beauty. Long after they
had left our street we saw their name in the newspaper as plaintiffs
against a Russian noble for the abduction of this daughter. In
the evidence it transpired that they were betting people. In
her testimony the girl declared that she had been only too glad to
be taken from the gambling and riot of her home. About that
time I saw her in the street, still retaining the delicacy of her
Oriental loveliness. She was accompanied by a stately and
swarthy man in a furred overcoat, who looked old enough to be her
father. I suppose this was the Russian noble.
Then foreign refugees appeared in these rooms—an elderly
couple, a young man, and a spaniel. They all worked diligently
as tailors, seemed rather superior to their position, and were
quiet, respectable neighbours. Suddenly one morning the rooms
were empty; they were gone! We never knew why, for they
appeared to have left no debts whatever.
I can never recall without a pang a family who lived for some
months in the second floor of this house. It consisted of an
elderly mother, a daughter of about eight-and-twenty, and a son of
eight or nine years younger. They were manifestly people of
good condition, their furniture the relics of a comfortable home.
The son and daughter were always looking through
advertisement-sheets, always posting letters, always trotting in and
out. The old lady, in her worn silk dress and little cap, used
to watch at the window for them. They grew thinner and
shabbier. Somehow we heard that the landlady had given them
"notice" because their rent was in arrear, and that she was going to
keep back some of the furniture to repay herself. I remember
the last we saw of them. I don't know what had become of the
old lady, but the brother and sister came out together, and went off
clinging to each other under one little umbrella through the
persistent drizzle of a London winter day. One wonders if the
clouds ever lifted off their path, or if they finally sank in the
oblivion which closes over so much? We never knew even their
name. That is part of London tragedy!
There was another tragic lodger who lived in the same rooms
long afterwards. This was good-looking young woman living
alone. To visit her came one or two other young women, loud of
manner and flaunting in attire. Also, three or four young men,
handsomely appointed, but treating their female companions with no
sign of respect. One of them came constantly, and lingered
long. A neighbour persisted that this was no other than the
notorious Frederick Windham, of Felbrigge Hall, concerning whose
mental condition there had been a long legal inquiry, and whose
subsequent social and domestic adventures frequently filled corners
of newspapers. Whether this conjecture had any ground I cannot
tell. But here begins the pathos of this episode. Every
Sunday before noon a lad of about sixteen came to visit this girl.
He spent the day with her. By their resemblance he was
manifestly her brother, and looked as one employed in some
good-class shop. None of her other visitors ever met him.
On those days her manner and dress were alike quiet. He and
she used to walk out together, and spend the rest of the day seated
at each side of the window reading. Her sad way of life was
evidently kept secret from him, but the terrible revelation could
not have been long withheld, for before she left our street she was
"drinking," and her fresh full beauty was growing raddled and
On our own side of the street one of the old "mercers' shops"
lingered till long after I became a schoolgirl. It was a shop,
well appointed after the old style, with no window display beyond a
few mounted samples of rich brocade. In the days of the shop's
decadence these were left so long undisturbed that they faded into
mere blotches of indeterminate hue.
Nearer to our house than this mercer's were two very old
houses which bore the inscription, "This is Bedford Street."
These houses were in the occupation of two brothers of the name of
Davenport. One was married to a Roman Catholic, and the other,
who professed to be something of a free-thinker, had his two
sisters, also Roman Catholics, living with him as housekeepers.
I remember his once coming to my father in some distress, saying
that he had by accident greatly upset these good ladies. They
had brought home a bottle of "holy water," and he, unaware of its
sacerdotal character, had sprinkled it over the shop. My
father advised that he should endeavour to persuade these devotees
that, at any rate, the shop was now blessed. This good man was
very fond of animals, and used to bring white mice to show me.
His brother had a son and daughter. The daughter was brought
up in her mother's faith, and was presently hurried off to some
convent, and only returned home once or twice afterwards; then she
died. Her mother soon followed her, and the death of the son a
little later left the old man quite alone. His wife and his
boy were buried in the dismal little graveyard in Pratt Street,
Kentish Town (it belonged to St. Martin's Parish). The old
gentleman composed verses for their tombstone. I can remember
but two lines:
"He was a youth of accents mild,
He was his mother's darling child."
The mourner visited the grave every week for years, until his own
Our next-door neighbours had a strange history. The
husband had been a young working man, a Sunday-school teacher, and
of irreproachable character so far as was known. The wife was
the daughter of a well-to-do and very superior man in business in
the Strand. He had not approved of his daughter's marriage,
but had assisted the man of her choice to go into business for
himself. They had three children—a daughter and two boys.
The two elder of these were in girlhood and boyhood when their
father suddenly disappeared. There were many strange whispers.
Some thought it to be a case of mere desertion, a few whispered of
murder or suicide, others decided that everything was explained when
it was found that his affairs were at so low an ebb that his
creditors sold off his goods. I was about six at the time, and
I remember the horror of seeing the household furniture carted away,
and even the children's toys flung from the windows. The
father-in-law came to the rescue, and reinstated his daughter.
She was constantly in and out of our house at that time seeking
counsels and whispering her alternate fears and suspicions.
The latter grew stronger until, from information somehow received,
she resolved to play the part of a spy, borrowing old garments from
my mother and my eldest sister wherein to disguise herself.
Nothing came out of that proceeding; yet some weeks afterwards the
runaway arrived at home, and resumed life as if he had never been
away. From that time he often absented himself, and business
and home were kept together only by the exertions of the eldest boy.
People naturally suspected a double life and the charms of an
unknown syren. In the course of a few years his wife died,
never revealing his secret, if, indeed, it was known to her.
In due time he brought home another wife—an elderly, plain,
respectable-looking woman whom one could scarcely suspect of having
willingly lived in impropriety. His son, who was always
entirely worthy, received her with honour, and they all lived
together in perfect amity. But it was noticed that from that
time the wanderer never ran away again. I should imagine the
solution of the puzzle to be that, for some reasons of his own, this
man had lived in bigamy, and that, for some reasons of their own,
both the wives had kept this secret.
The first wife, who had always in every problem and puzzle
sought my father's counsel, but rarely called on us when times were
smooth, once entered our house exclaiming: "Ah, Mr. Fyvie, you are
the friend in time of need!" To which my father quietly
rejoined: "Well, well, is that why I am not the friend at other
times?" I, too, have noticed something of the same sort in
I think our neighbourhood was brimful of human interest.
Perhaps any neighbourhood is whose inhabitants remain long in it,
and can tell the story of many years.
A quaint influence fell upon my life about the time of my
father's death. For some time before an old lady had visited
our shop regularly every week. She and my father struck up an
acquaintance, as Scottish people are apt to do when they meet in
other countries. She showed so much sympathy during his
illness and at his death that presently she was invited to our
parlour, and for some years took tea with us once or twice a week.
She never told us her history in any formal or regular way, but I
think she had done so to my father, for she seemed to infer that we
knew it, and freely alluded to its various incidents at almost every
I need not give her name. It was a fine Highland name,
and she was the daughter of a landed proprietor on the West Coast.
Entail to male heirs had cut off her sister and herself. The
former had retired into a convent. Our friend had battled with
the world. She had taught for a while in a school in
Edinburgh, and she had made various other efforts. When we
knew her, she was relying mainly on a small stipend, I know not how
derived, which was paid to her quarterly, and did not amount to more
than £25 a year. She was full of anecdote of all the life—high
and low—in which she had mingled. She had danced with Sir
Colin Campbell (Lord Clyde) when he was a young subaltern. We
gathered, rather by pauses and changes of her tone than by anything
she said, that the love of her life had been killed at Waterloo.
She had known Lord Palmerston, Lord Melbourne, and Lord John
Russell, and had many romantic stories of the love affairs and
characteristics of titled people whose names I have forgotten.
She used to take great interest in my drawings, and on the eve of
the annual school ball she brought me a pair of white satin slippers
in which she herself had danced more than half a century before.
She was quite ready to enjoy the humours of her present way
of life. She told us how the mistress of a humble eating-house
in the Tottenham Court Road, seeing her coming in often for a meal,
took a kind interest in the lonely woman, and told her that she and
her husband would be pleased and "proud" if she would visit them as
a friend, "Though, of course, madam," added the good woman, "we can
see that you are quite above our spear." She told us
that, when she first came to London, she had felt herself in a
foreign-speaking country! Once she had gone in quest of an
address which had been given her as in the Mary-le-bone Road, near
the church. She could make nobody understand her (being a
Highland woman, she spoke perfect English), but at last one woman,
after puzzling a little, looked up, relieved. "I see what you
means," she said. "Go down Marrybone Road, and you'll see the
church just past the big vine waults." Our friend said she
followed the direction, looking out for something in the way of
vineries, and marvelling what "waults " meant. Presently it
dawned upon her that her informant had made confusion between her
v's and w's—the peculiar Cockneyism of the time.
The old lady never told us her precise addresses, and through
that in the end we lost sight of her, and she vanished into the
silence. One or two other acquaintances lost sight of her at
the same time, and called on us for tidings of her; so I think the
vanishing must have meant brief illness and death.
I recollect her telling us once of much insolence endured
while she was living over a little dairy in Kensington—insolence
based on her manifest poverty and her presumed "stuck-upness."
"But I know how to deal with these people," she said. "I took
all quite quietly, as if I did not notice what was meant, but a day
or two afterwards I took out a piece of Turkey carpet and hung it
over the banister, and I washed a piece of fine old lace and hung it
up to dry. I heard that woman come out of her shop and look at
the things, and presently she was whispering to her cronies, and
next time I went downstairs they were quite civil—quite servile."
She always looked well-dressed and lady-like, yet her
garments were little more than "gentle rags." I remember once
meeting her walking in scorching sunshine. "Oh, Miss Mac―!"
I cried, with youth's rash ignorance, "why don't you put up your
parasol?" She had one in her hand. With a smile, she
opened it. It hung in ribbons. "That's why I don't put
it up, my dear," she said, and went off, laughing heartily.
I was duly taken to the Exhibition of 1851, being then eight
years old. The crush along the roads of Piccadilly and
Knightsbridge was fearful, and we had a terrible experience on our
return, for rain was falling heavily, and neither shelter nor
vehicle was to be had. I have a distinct recollection of the
beauty of the big glass building, which enclosed many of the fine
trees of Hyde Park. My memory tells me that the show, though I
then thought it glorious, was heterogeneous and gaudy. Of
details, I remember "the Queen of Spain's jewels," which looked to
me like a pair of stays encrusted with diamonds and precious stones;
a wax model of a Pope in full canonicals; some fine "groups" in
silver; a model of Eddystone Lighthouse; a breakwater; and a piece
of statuary showing a dog saving a child from a serpent. I
remember that I demanded unceasing interest from my eldest sister
and a cousin who escorted us, saying to them, "Why did you bring me
out, unless you mean to attend to me?" and calling blushes to their
faces by announcing, "People are looking at us, and they take you
two for my Papa and mamma." I have a distinct remembrance
that I knew I was mischievous, and delighted in it. The words
"papa" and "mamma" my father never allowed us to use to himself or
my mother. He always insisted on the proper English titles.
I had troubles in those days that nobody knew of. A
house fell down in the Strand, killing one or two people. This
made me very anxious. I knew our house was old, and in the
little panelled counting-house I noted wide cracks in the wall.
Of course, they were only in the wainscoting, due to the great
dryness of the place. I did not know this. To me, they
threatened a final and fatal crash. Every day I examined them,
and trembled when they seemed wider. I do not think I ever
spoke on the subject. The most tenderly-guarded children live,
after all, in a separate world of their own.
It was about this time that I established for myself a kind
of reputation as "uncanny"—as unaccountable to myself as to
everybody else. It lay at the base of what became rather a
household mystery. A regular visitor of ours was a young
kinsman from the North, to whom my father had shown much kindness.
It was this young man's habit to look in upon us early in the
evening, go away to carry through some business with a neighbour of
ours, and then return to us for supper. On a certain occasion
which was to prove memorable he "dropped in" as usual, bringing with
him a beautiful book, a gift for me. He seemed quite his usual
self, and when he went away he said he would return within an hour.
One hour passed, two hours. The family began to question,
"What can have become of him?" Thereupon I, a child about
eight, looked into my eldest sister's face and asked: "Do you think
he means ever to come back?" I cannot tell what impelled this
utterance. My sister, fourteen years my senior, used to
whisper afterwards that, as I asked this unexpected question, the
expression on my face was strange and witch-like. But the
visitor never did come back. Though for years he was
constantly in our neighbourhood, and though he struck up an intimacy
with relations on my mother's side, of which we never heard till
long afterwards, yet not one of us ever again even saw him.
None of us ever knew the reason why, and I never knew what made me
utter my queer forecast.
This happened a few months after my father's death. My
father, who had lost all his four sons in their earliest years, had
never seemed to rally after the death of my sister Elizabeth in her
opening womanhood. From then till his death he was more or
less an invalid, and through those months I was his constant
companion. He often talked to me, rather, I fancy, as
"thinking aloud" than as realizing that I heard, though once or
twice my interruptions must have reminded him that I had ears.
Once he spoke dreamily of his loneliness in his early days in
London, and I, seven years old, said: "But why did you not get
married?" Again he spoke, less as answering me than as turning
over the leaves of the past: "I had to pay my debts. I would
not marry till I owed nobody a penny." The impression never
His very last words were for me, spoken after had been
thought unconscious. Then I was sent out of his room, and
presently my eldest sister came to me and said that "father was at
rest." It was a warm, sunshiny July afternoon, and I was in
the little counting-house, where father and I had spent so much
happy time together.
I think that since the death of Elizabeth I had had time to
learn what loss means; for, fond as I had been of her, whose pet I
was, I grieved much more deeply for my father, whom I missed at
No more sitting on his knee in the firelight on Sunday
evenings when the others were out, hearing stories of his boyhood in
Buchan—of the hole in the hill, where tradition said a piper went in
and came back no more; of the "standing stones" near his father's
farm, so very difficult to count. No more discussion of Bible
characters, and whispered admissions that we did not like Jael, and
thought Jacob a mean fellow.
No more going with him for afternoon excursions on the river,
notably to Greenwich, whose Hospital was then noisy and merry with
its company of old naval pensioners. We used to watch them at
tea, and they would pour some in a saucer and give it to me, and
once an old sailor took me on his knee, and said: "Now, missy, don't
forget you've sat on the knee of one of Nelson's men." I
remember, too, that there was a negro among them, one of the
I always thank my father for one beautiful memory. At
the back of the shop there was a little cupboard, where he kept
blacking and brushes, with which every Saturday afternoon he
brightened his boots for to-morrow's church-going, not approving of
a woman-servant doing this. Once, when I was so little that I
could scarcely walk, I doddered to the cupboard, and leaned over the
little door, which was low enough even for my stature. My
father called this "holding the door open for him, and helping him,"
and ever afterwards he summoned me to do this, and I proudly went
"to help father." It was only long after his death that I
found the door would stand open of itself! Well might I
dedicate my first book to "the memory of my father," who "showed us
what God means when He bids us call Him 'Our Father.'" Owing
to my recollection of the pride and joy of those Saturday
afternoons, the smell of blacking remains to this day as pleasant
and grateful to me as it was obnoxious to the bitter memories of