MY SCOTS-SPANISH ORIGIN
AT a period in the history of Scotland, we find that a law was passed under the provisions of which every landowner who was a Catholic had either to renounce his adherence to his Church or to forfeit his landed property to the Crown. This was a severe blow to Scotsmen, and history tells that practically every Catholic laird preferred not to have his property confiscated, with the natural result that he ceased-at any rate publicly-to take part in the outward forms of the Catholic religion. Churches, which Catholic families had built and endowed, passed into the hands of other denominations. Catholic priests who-in devotion to their duty-were willing to risk their lives, had to practise their devotions in secrecy.
My great grandfather, Charles Edward Gordon (1754-1832), then quite a young man, happened to he one of those lairds who submitted to the law, preferring to remain lairds. His younger brother, James Arthur (1759-1824), who chanced to be possessed in his own right of a certain amount of hard cash, began to think seriously. It appeared to him that, if a law could be passed confiscating landed property unless the owners gave up the Catholic religion, there was no reason why another law should not be passed confiscating actual cash under similar conditions. The more he turned this over in his mind, the surer he became that at any rate the passing of such a second law could not be deemed illogical. He was by no means the only one of the younger sons of Scots families who thought likewise. It seemed to him that it would be wise to leave the country-at any rate for a while.
In those days there were no Canadas, Australias and other new and beautiful countries appealing to these adventurous spirits, but there were European countries where a field was open for their enterprise. My great granduncle-youthful as he was-decided that the South of Spain, Andalusia, La Tierra de Santa Maria, would suit him, and he removed himself and his cash to that sunny land. It is there that the oranges flourish on the banks of the Guadalquivir. It is there that the green groves of olive trees yield their plentiful crops. It is there that the vine brings forth that rich harvest of grapes whose succulent juice becomes the nectar of the gods in the shape of sherry wine. He decided that white sherry wine offered the best commercial result and resolved to devote himself to its production. Business went well with him. It was prosperous; the wine became excellent and the drinkers many.
By this time his brother had married and the union had been blessed with two sons. When the elder was fifteen years old, it appeared to his uncle James Arthur that it would be a good thing if his brother, the laird, would send the boy to Spain, to be brought up there, with a view to his finally joining him in the business. He decided, therefore, to visit his brother in Scotland, with this object in view. He did so, but the laird did not appear to be kindly inclined to this arrangement. He was willing, however, to let his second son go to Spain, finish his education, and then take on the wine business. This was not what the uncle wanted. He wished for the elder son, the young laird, or for nobody at all. The matter fell through and the uncle returned to the Sunny South.
A couple of years later on, the laird changed his mind, wrote to his brother, and offered to send his eldest son, John David (1774-1850). A short time afterwards the young laird arrived in Spain. His father, the laird, lived for many years, during which time-after the death of his uncle-his eldest son had become the head of one of the most successful sherry wine firms that existed in those days in Spain. He had married in Spain and had had a large family, who had all grown up, and had married also in that country, and it was not till he was some sixty years of age that his father, succeeded to the Scots properties of Wardhouse and Kildrummy Castle. The law with reference to the forfeiture of lands held by Catholics had become practically void, so that he duly succeeded to the estates. The old laird had driven over in his coach to the nearest Catholic place of worship and had been received back into the Church of his fathers. Afterwards he had given a great feast to his friends, at which plenty of good old port was drunk to celebrate the occasion. He drove back to his home, and on arrival at the house was found dead in the coach. So we children, when told this story, said that he had only got to Heaven by the skin of his teeth.
His successor, my grandfather, John David, died in 1850 in Spain, and my father's elder brother, Pedro Carlos (1806-1857), became the laird and took up his residence in the old home. He broke the record in driving the mail coach from London to York without leaving the box seat. And later on, in Aberdeen, he drove his four-in-hand at full gallop into Castlehill Barracks. Anyone who knows the old gateway will appreciate the feat.
On his death in 1857, his son, my cousin, Juan José (1837-1866), succeeded to the property. He, of course, had also been brought up in Spain, and was married to a cousin, and sister of the Conde de Mirasol, but had no children. When he took up his residence as laird, most of his friends, naturally, were Spanish visitors whom he amused by building a bullfighting ring not far from the house, importing bulls from Spain and holding amateur bull-fights on Sunday afternoons. This was a sad blow indeed to the sedate Presbyterians in the neighbourhood. His life, however, was short, and, as he left no children, the property passed to my father, Carlos Pedro (1814- 1897), by entail.
It is necessary to have written this short history of the family, from my great grandfather's time, to let you know how I came to be born in Spain, and how our branch of the family was the only one of the clan which remained Catholic in spite of the old Scots law.
I would like to tell you something now about Jerez, the place where I was born, and where the sherry white wine comes from. Yet all the wine is not really white. There is good brown sherry, and there is just as good golden sherry, and there is Pedro Ximenez. If you haven't tasted them, try them as soon as you get the chance. You'll like the last two-and very much-after dinner. I am not selling any, but you'll find plenty of firms about Mark Lane who will be quite willing to supply you if you wish.
Well, Jerez is a town of some sixty thousand inhabitants. Don't be afraid. This is not going to be a guide-book, for Jerez has not a single public building worth the slightest notice, not even a church of which it can he said that it is really worth visiting compared with other cities, either from an architectural or an artistic point of view. It is wanting in the beautiful and wonderful attractions which adorn many of the Andalusian towns that surround it. In Jerez there are no glorious edifices dating back to the occupation of the Moors (except the Alcazar-now part cinema-show). There are no royal palaces taken from the Moors by Spanish kings. There is no Seville Cathedral, no Giralda. There is no Alhambra as there is in Granada. There are only parts of the ancient walls that enclosed the old city. The Moors apparently thought little of Jerez; they evidently had not discovered the glories of sherry white wine
Jerez seems to have devoted all its energies to the erection of wine-cellars, the most uninteresting buildings in the world. A visitor, after a couple of days in Jerez, would be tired of its uninteresting streets, badly kept squares and absence of any places of interest or picturesque drives. Probably he would note the presence of the stately and silent cigüeñas (storks), who make their home and build their nests upon the top of every church steeple or tower. They are not exciting, but there they have been for years, and there they are now, and it is to be presumed that there they will remain. Yet, Jerez is a pleasant place to live in. Although there is only one decent hotel in it, there are excellent private houses, full of many comforts and works of art, though their comfort and beauty is all internal. They are mostly situated in side streets, with no attempt at any outside architectural effects.
The citizens of Jerez are quite content with Jerez. They love to take their ease, and have a decided objection to hustle. The womenkind dearly love big families: the bigger they are the better they like them. They are devoted to their husbands and children, and live for them. The men cannot be called ambitious, but they are perfectly satisfied with their quiet lives, and with looking after their own businesses. They love to sit in their clubs and cafés, sit either inside or at tables on the pavements in the street -and talk politics, bull-fights, and about the weather, in fact any topic which comes handy; and they are quite content, as a rule, to talk on, no matter if they are not being listened to. This habit of general talk without listeners is also common to the ladies. To be present at a re-union of ladies and listen to the babble of their sweet tongues is a pleasure which a lazy man can thoroughly enjoy.
The local Press is represented principally by three or four-mostly one-sheet-newspapers, which you can read in about three minutes. Of course their all-absorbing interest, as regards sport, is centred in the bull-fights. For three months before the bull-fighting season begins -which is about Easter-people talk of nothing but bulls and matadors. The relative merits of the different studs which are to supply, not only the local corridas, but practically the tip-top ones throughout the chief cities of Spain, are discussed over and over again, while the admirers of Joselito (since killed) are as lavish in words and gestures of praise as are those of Belmonte, while, at the same time, the claims of other aspirants to championship as matadors are heard on every side.
Once the season begins-it lasts until towards the end of October-the whole of everybody's time is, of course, mostly taken up in commenting upon the merits or demerits of each and every corrida. There does not appear to be time for much else to be talked about then; unless an election comes along, and that thoroughly rouses the people for the time being. It is of very little use for anyone to attempt to describe upon what lines elections are run in Spain. One has to be there to try and discover what principles guide them. For instance, the last time I was in Spain Parliamentary elections were to take place the very week after Easter Sunday. On that day the first bull-fight of the season was to take place at Puerto Santa Maria, a small town about ten miles from Jerez. Of course a large number of sports, with their ladies, motored or drove over for the occasion.
There was an immense crowd at Puerto Santa Maria. In the south of Spain, especially at a bull-fight, Jack is as good as his master, and each one has to battle through the crowd as best he can. I personally was relieved of my gold watch, sovereign case and chain in the most perfect manner; so perfect that I had not the least idea when or how it was taken. I must confess I felt very sad over it; not so much over my actual loss, but, I did think it most unkind and thoughtless of my fellow townsmen to select me as their victim. The next morning I reported my loss to the Mayor of Jerez. He didn't appear to be much concerned about it, and he informed me that he had already had some forty similar complaints of the loss of watches, packet-books, etc., from visitors to Puerto Santa Maria from Jerez the day previous. He had had a telegram also 'from the Mayor of Puerto Santa Maria to the effect that some seventy like cases had been reported to him in that town.
"So that, after all," he said, "I don't really see any particular reason why you should be hurt. I may tell you that you are in good company. General Primo de Rivera" (who was then Captain-General Commanding the military District) "was with a friend when he saw a man take the latter's pocket-book from inside his coat. He fortunately grabbed the thief before he could make off. One of the ministers of State was successfully robbed of some thirty pounds in notes; while a friend of yours" (mentioning a business man in Jerez who hadn't even been to the bull-fight, but had been collecting rents at Cádiz, and was returning through Puerto Santa Maria home) "was surprised to find on his arrival there, that the large sum, which should have been in his pocket had evidently passed, somehow or other, into some other fellow's hands."
This, of course, somewhat cheered me up, because, after all, there is no doubt that a common affliction makes us very sympathetic. I asked him how he accounted for this wonderful display of sleight-of-hand.
"Oh," he said, "don't you know that the elections are on this week, and that usually, before the elections, the party in power takes the opportunity of letting out of gaol as many criminals as it dares, hoping for and counting on their votes? Of course, the responsibility falls on the heads of the police for making some effort to protect our easy-going and unsuspicious visitors at such times. The job is too big for us at the time being, with the result that these gentry make a good harvest. But yet, after all, we are not really downhearted about it, because, after the elections are over, especially if the opposition party gets in, we round them all up and promptly lock them up again."
The explanation, though quite clear, didn't seem to me to be of much help towards getting back my goods and chattels, so I ventured to ask again whether he thought there was any chance at all of my recovering them, or of his recovering them for me. He smiled a sweet smile, and -shaking his head, I regret to say, in a negative way- answered that he thought there was not the slightest hope, as, from the description of the watch, chain, etc., which I had given him, he had no doubt that they had by that time passed through the melting pot, so that it was not even worth while to offer a reward.
The house where I was born was at that time one of the largest in the city. It is situated almost in the centre of Jerez, and occupies a very large block of ground, for in addition to the house itself and gardens, the wine-cellars, the cooperage, stables and other accessory buildings attached to them, were all grouped round it. To-day a holy order of nuns occupies it as a convent. No longer is heard the crackling of the fires and the hammering of the iron hoops in the cooperage. No longer the teams of upstanding mules, with the music of their brass bells, are seen leaving the cellars with their load of the succulent wine. No longer is the air filled with that odour which is so well known to those whose lives are spent amidst the casks in which the wine is maturing. Instead, peace and quiet reign. Sacrificing their time to the interests of charity, the holy sisters dwell in peace.
Two recollections of some of my earliest days are somewhat vivid. I seem to remember hearing the deep sound of a bell in the streets, looking out of the window and seeing an open cart-full of dead bodies-stopping before the door of a house, from which one more dead body was added to the funeral pile. That was the year of the great cholera epidemic. And again, I remember hearing bells early, very early, in the morning. We knew what it was. It was the donkey-man coming round to sell the donkeys' milk at the front door, quite warm and frothy. My early school days in Spain were quite uneventful. After attending a day-school at Jerez, kept by Don Jose Rincon, I went into the Jesuit College at Puerto Real for a year. A new college was being built at Puerto Santa Maria, to which the school was transferred, and it has been added to since. It is now one of the best colleges in the south of Spain. On the death of my cousin, the entailed properties-as I have said-became my father's, and the family left Spain to take up its residence in Scotland.