THE journey from Jerez to Scotland must have been full of interest and excitement for my father. Our party numbered about thirty of all ages, down to a couple of babies, my sister's children. My father found it more practicable to arrange for what was then called a family train to take us through Spain and France. We travelled during the day and got shunted at night. Sometimes we slept in the carriages; other times at hotels. In either case, as a rule, there were frequent and-for a time-hard-fought battles among us young ones of both sexes for choice of sleeping places.
At meal times there were often considerable scrambles. We all seemed to have the same tastes and we all wanted the same things. My parents (who, poor dears, had to put up with us, and the Spanish nurses and servants, who had never left their own homes before, and who, the farther we got, seemed to think that they were never going to return to them) at last came to the conclusion that any attempts at punishing us were without satisfactory results, and that appealing to our love for them (for it was no use appealing to our love for each other) and our honour paid better.
My elder sisters and brothers, who were in the party, knew English. I did not. Not a word except two, and those were "all right," which, immediately on arrival at Dover and all the way to London, I called out to every person I met.
On reaching Charing Cross the party was to have a meal previous to starting up to Scotland. The station restaurant manager was somewhat surprised when my father informed him that he wanted a table for about thirty persons, which, however, he arranged for. The Spanish nurses and women-servants were dressed after the style of their own country. They, of course, wore no hats, their hair being beautifully done with flowers at the side (which had to be provided for them whether we wished it or not), and characteristic shawls graced their shoulders. So that the little party at the table was quite an object of interest, not only to those others who were dining at the time, but also to a great many ordinary passengers who practically were blocking the entrance to the restaurant in order to obtain a glimpse of the foreigners.
All went well until the chef, with the huge sirloin of beef upon the travelling table, appeared upon the scene. No sooner did he begin to carve and the red, juicy gravy of the much under-done beef appeared, than the nurses rose in a body, dropped the babies and bolted through the door on to the platform. They thought they were going to be asked to eat raw meat. Of course, they had never seen a joint in Spain. On their leaving, we, the younger members of the family, were told to run after them and catch them if we could. So off we went, and then began such a chase through the station as I doubt if Charing Cross had ever witnessed before or has since. The station police and porters, not understanding what was going on, naturally started chasing and catching us youngsters, much to the amusement and bewilderment of those looking on. Meanwhile my father stood at the entrance of the restaurant, sad but resigned, and it was after some considerable time and after the removal of the offending joint, that the family party was again gathered together in peace and quiet, and shortly afterwards proceeded on the last stage of its journey and arrived safely at the old family home, which stands amidst some of the most beautiful woods in Scotland. It is very old, but not so old as the family itself.
My father decided that it would be better for me to get a little knowledge of the English language before he sent me to school, so that I might be able to look after myself when there. I was handed over to the care of the head gamekeeper, Thomas Kennedy. Dear Tom died three years ago, at a very old age; rather surprising he lived so long, as he had for years to look after me. To him, from the start, I was "Master Joseph," and "Master Joseph" I remained until I embraced the old chap the last time I saw him before he died. It was from Tom Kennedy that I first learnt English, mixed with the broad Aberdeen-Scots, which when combined with my Spanish accent was practically a language of my own.
I wonder if Britons have any idea how difficult it is, especially for one whose native tongue is of the Latin origin, to get a thorough knowledge and grasp of their language. To my mind, the English language is not founded on any particular rules or principles. No matter how words are spelt, they have got to be pronounced just as the early Britons decided. There is no particular rule; if you want to spell properly, you pretty well have to learn to spell each word on its own. This is proved by the fact that the spelling of their own language correctly is certainly not one of the proud achievements of their own race. In the good old days before the War it may be stated without exaggeration that one of the greatest stumbling blocks in the public examinations-especially those for entrance into Woolwich and Sandhurst-was the qualification test in spelling. There must be thousands of candidates still alive who well remember receiving the foolscap blue envelopes notifying them that there was no further necessity for their presence at the examination as they had failed to qualify in spelling. As regards the pronunciation of words as you find them written, it is quite an art to hit them off right. Still, perseverance, patience and a good memory finally come to the rescue, and the result is then quite gratifying.
It was from Tom Kennedy that I also learnt to shoot, fish, ride and drink, for Tom always had a little flask of whisky to warm us up when we were sitting in the snow and waiting for the rabbits to bolt, or-what often took a great deal longer time-waiting for the ferrets to come out. And-last but not least-he taught me to smoke. I well remember Tom's short black pipe and his old black twist tobacco. I shall never forget the times I had and the physical and mental agonies I endured in trying to enjoy that pipe.
So six months passed away and I was sent, with my two elder brothers, to the Oratory School in Edgware Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham. The head of the school was the celebrated Doctor, and later on Cardinal, Newman. Even to this day my recollections of that ascetic holy man are most vivid. At that time his name was a household word in religious controversy. He stood far above his contemporaries, whether they were those who agreed with or differed from his views. He was respected by all, loved by those who followed him; never hated, but somewhat feared, by those who opposed him. I remember, that one of the greatest privileges to which the boys at our school at that time looked forward, was being selected to go and listen to Doctor Newman playing the violin. Five or six of us were taken to his study in the evening. In mute silence, with rapt attention, we watched the thin- featured man, whose countenance to us seemed to belong even then to a world beyond this, and we listened to what to us seemed the sweetest sounding music.
But yet there are other recollections which were not so pleasant. The head prefect was a man of very different physical qualities. Dear Father St. John Ambrose erred on the side of physical attainments. He was by no means thin or ascetic. He possessed a powerful arm, which he wielded with very considerable freedom when applying the birch in the recesses of the boot-room. I must admit that my interviews with Father St. John in the boot-room were not infrequent. But, after all, the immediate effect soon passed away and the incident was forgotten. Still, to my surprise, when the school accounts were rendered at the end of the year, my father was puzzled over one item, namely, "Birches-£1 2s. 6d." (at the rate of half a crown each)! He asked me what it meant, and I explained to him as best I could that dear Father St. John was really the responsible person in the matter, and I had no doubt my father would get a full explanation from him if he wrote. But it brought home to me the recollection of nine visits to the boot-room with that amiable and much-respected Father St. John. I have within the last few months met again, after my long absence in other countries, several of my school mates. They are all going strong and well, holding high positions in this world, and as devoted as ever to the old school at Edgbaston. One of them is now Viscount Fitzalan, Viceroy of Ireland.
When my two elder brothers left the Oratory, which I may say was a school where the boys were allowed very considerable liberty, my father must have thought, no doubt, when he remembered the twenty-two and sixpence for birches, that it would be wise to send me somewhere where the rules of the college were, in his opinion, somewhat stricter. So off I was sent, early in 1870, to dear old Beaumont College, the Jesuit school, situated in that beautiful spot on the River Thames just where the old hostelry The Bells of Ouseley still exists, at the foot of the range of hills which the glorious Burnham Beeches adorn. The original house was once the home of Warren Hastings. Four delightful years of school life followed. It was a pleasure to me to find that there was no extra charge for birches. The implement that was used to conserve discipline was not made out of the pliable birch tree, but of a very solid piece of leather with some stiffening to it-I fancy of steel-called a "ferrula." This was applied to the palm of the hand, and not to where my old friend the birch found its billet. As the same ferrula not only lasted a long time without detriment to itself, but, on the contrary, seemed rather to improve with age, the authorities were kind enough not to charge for its use.
No event of any particular interest, except perhaps being taught cricket by old John Lillywhite, with his very best top hat of those days, and battles fought on the football ground against rival colleges, occurred until the end of the third year. I happened to have come out, at the end of that year, top of my class. I had practically won most of the prizes. It was the custom of the school that senior boys of the upper classes were permitted to study more advanced subjects than the school had actually laid down for the curriculum of that particular class for the year. These extra subjects were called "honours." They were studied in voluntary time; the examinations therein and the marks gained in no way counted towards result of the class examinations for the year.
These class examinations were held before the "honours" examination. A friend of mine in a higher class, who was sitting behind me in the study room, asked if I'd like to read an English translation of "Cæsar." I promptly said "Yes" and borrowed it, and was soon lost in its perusal, with my elbows on my desk and my head between my hands. Presently I felt a gentle tap my shoulder. I looked up to see the prefect of studies standing by me. He told me afterwards that he had thought, from the interest I was taking in my book, that I was reading some naughty and forbidden novel, which he intended to confiscate, of course, and probably read. He was surprised to find it was an old friend, "Cæsar." Being an English translation it was considered to be a "crib." He asked me where I had got it. I couldn't give away my pal, just behind me, so I said I didn't know. "Don't add impertinence to the fact that you've got a 'crib.' Just tell me where you did get this book," he remarked. "I don't want to be impertinent," I said, "but I refuse to tell you." "Very well, then," he said, "straight to bed."
I heard nothing more on the subject till a few days afterwards, at the presentation of the prizes, the breaking up day, on which occasion the parents and friends of the scholars were invited to be present. At an interval in the performance the prizes were presented. The prefect of studies would begin to read from the printed prize list, which all the visitors were supplied with, the names of all the fortunate prize winners in succession, from the highest to the lowest. As the name of each prize winner was called he stood up, walked to the table at which the prizes were presented, received his, and, after making a polite bow, returned to his seat.
When the prefect of studies reached the class to which I belonged he called out: "Grammar, first prize. Aggregate for the year, Joseph M. Gordon." Upon which rose from my seat, and for a moment the applause of the audience which was freely given to all prize winners, followed. I was on the point of moving off towards the table in question, when, as the applause ceased, the voice of the prefect of studies once more made itself clearly heard. It was only one word he said, but that word was "Forfeited." No more. I sat down again. Then he continued: "First prize in Latin, J. M. G." I must admit I didn't know what to do, but I stood up all right again. The audience didn't quite appear to understand what was going on, but the prefect of studies gave them no time to commence any further applause, for that one word, "Forfeited," came quickly out of his mouth. Down again I sat. However, I immediately made up my mind, though, of course, not knowing how many prizes I had won, to stand up every time and sit down as soon as that old word "Forfeited" came along, which actually happened about four times.
I often wonder now how I really did look on that celebrated occasion. But I remember making up my mind and then that I would remain in that school for one year more, but no more, even if I was forced to leave the country, and to win every prize I could that next year, and make sure, as the Irishman says, that they would not "forfeited." So I remained another year. I was fortunate enough to win the prizes-I even won the silver medal, special prize for religion-and it was a proud day me when I got them safely into my bag, which I did soon as possible after the ceremony, in case someone else should come along and attempt to "forfeit" them. I had taken care to order a special cab of my own and to my portmanteau close to the front door, so that I get away at the very earliest opportunity to Windsor Station.
But I had not forgotten that I had made up my mind leave the school then, so on my arrival at home I duly informed my venerable father that I had made up my mind be a soldier, and that as I was then over 17, and as candidates for the Woolwich Academy were not admitted reaching their eighteenth birthday, it was necessary I should leave school at once and go to a crammer. My father made no objection at all, but he said, "As your time is so short to prepare, we will at once go back to London and get a tutor." Considering this was the first day of my well-earned holidays, it was rather rough; I was adamant about not returning to school, so turned southwards with my few goods and chattels, except my much cherished prizes, which I left with the family, and proceeded to London on the next day.
So I lost my holidays, but I got my way.
My father selected a man called Wolfram, who up to that time had been master at several old-fashioned crammers', but was anxious to start an establishment of his own, and I became his first pupil at Blackheath. As I had practically only some five months odd to prepare for the only examination that would be held before I reached my eighteenth birthday, I entered into an agreement with Mr. Wolfram that I would work as hard as ever he liked, and for as many hours as he wished, from each Monday morning till each Saturday at noon, that from that hour till Sunday night I meant to enjoy myself and have a complete rest, so as to be quite fresh to tackle the next week's work. This compact was carried out and worked admirably, at any rate from my point of view. All went quite satisfactorily, for when the results of the examination were published I had come out twenty-second on the list out of some seventeen hundred candidates, and as there were thirty-three vacancies to be filled, I was amongst the fortunate ones. As I had found it so difficult to learn the English language, I was surprised that I practically received full marks in that subject.
There was generally an interval of six weeks from the time when the actual examination was completed till the publication of the results. The examination took place late in the year, and as my people generally went to Spain for the winter, they decided to take me with them, which pleased me immensely. We arrived back at Jerez, which I had not seen since our departure from there in the family train some seven years before, and, considering myself quite a grown-up young man, I looked forward to a lot of fun. The journey took some time. We stayed in Paris, Bayonne, Madrid, and finally reached Jerez. The Carlist War had then been going on for three or four years (of this more anon), and caused us much delay in that part of the journey which took us across the Pyrenees, as the railways had been destroyed.
By the time we arrived in Jerez some five weeks had elapsed, with the result that, a very few days after our arrival, just as I was beginning to enjoy myself thoroughly, a telegram arrived from the War Office, notifying me that I had been one of the successful candidates at the recent examinations and that I was to report myself at Woolwich in ten days' time.
This telegram arrived one evening when a masked ball was being held at one of the Casinos. Being carnival time it was the custom at these balls for the ladies to go masked, but not so the men. This was a source of much amusement to all, as the women were able to know who partners were and chaff them at pleasure, while the men had all their time cut out to recognize the gay deceivers. At the beginning of the ball I had seen a masked lady who appeared to me just perfection. She sylph-like; her figure was slight, of medium height, feet as perfect as Spanish women's feet can be; a head whose shape rivalled those of Murillo's angels, blue-black tresses adorning it, and eyes-oh ! what eyes-looking at you through the openings in the mask. I lost no time asking her to dance. I did not expect she would know who I was, but she lost no time in saying "Yes," and round we went. I found I didn't want to leave her, so asked her to dance again-and again. She was sweetness itself. She always said "Yes." It was in the middle of that I was informed by my father of the telegram to return to Woolwich. I wished Woolwich in a very hot place. Soon came the time for the ladies to unmask. She did so, and I beheld, in front of me, a married aunt of mine! Going back to Woolwich didn't then appear to me so hard.