« PreviousContinue »
(now the Kaiser) at the head of the leading company, and much put to it to keep the pace and step of the tall Pomeranians. I do not know whether he, as Kaiser, still maintains the picturesque custom of his grandfather, inside whose palace the guards and sentries all were equipped in the uniform of Frederick the Great's time. The only mark of the nineteenth century was that they carried the needle-gun instead of the old musket with the famous iron ramrod, which was so effective during the Seven Years' War. I have said that I was an A.D.C. to a general officer when I visited Berlin, and an A.D.C.. I remained for a few years. Now, there are two kinds of A.D.C.s. There is the domestic variety, which finds itself as much at the beck and call of the General’s wife and daughters for social purposes as it is employed by the General himself on purely military business. I have heard it whispered that the prospects of a young officer in the Service may be as much benefited by zeal and efficiency in performing the duties of a domestic A.D.C. as by showing intelligence and energy in the tented field. Generals whose personal reputation as soldiers is on the highest level, and whose good word is all-powerful, may be very much under home influence, and may be pushed to see special qualifications for military advancement in the cherished “tame cats’ of their drawing-rooms. Cherchez la femme may probably still be said in looking for the beginnings of some successful careers in the British Army. Except on active service, when an A.D.C. is necessarily the organising spirit of his General’s head. quarters, I am thankful to say that my experience of the duties of personal Staff was strictly confined to work in the field and at the desk, and in it I always found very full and interesting employment. I may here mention a domestic problem that once presented itself to me while serving on a distant expedition. A message arrived that a kind naval officer had presented a turtle to my General, and I was told that it had been landed and was lying on the beach. The household at my disposition consisted of a European orderly, a black man who most unjustifiably called himself a cook, and two nondescript coloured boys, our personal attendants. Accompanied by these I went to the beach, and there, gasping on the shingle, I found an enormous monster over six feet long, lying helpless on its mighty carapace, and seemingly impervious to anything less shattering than dynamite. There was the material for gallons of soup and yards of steaks, but how was it to be utilised ? The orderly had “never seen one of them beasts before,’ and the cook, equally ignorant, had no suggestion to make. I ask the question of any highly cultivated modern Staff officer, What should have been done Frankly, I gave it up, and I believe that, after long toil with a hatchet, the poor brute's head was cut off, and some of its body was removed for the pot. I draw a veil over the memory of the dish that afterwards appeared at our table. It certainly had no resemblance to either turtle soup or turtle steaks. The annual inspections of regiments in old times were very amusing in themselves, and brought the General's A.D.C. in contact with numberless good fellows in every rank of the Service, all of whom were pleasant acquaintances, and some became intimate and dear friends. To think only of the rank-and-file. In afteryears, men who had been soldiers turned up in many different places and showed their kindly memories by the most friendly attentions. A gold-laced porter at a restaurant would depart from his dignity and rush to give his personal service. A butler at a country house would by no means allow the officer whom he recognised to be valeted by the first or second footman, but himself attended to the visitor on the chance of a word or two about the time when the old —th lay at Hounslow. The police force was full of old soldiers, who would stop the traffic in a crowded street for the passage of an old friend. I remember, too, being once the victim of an assault at Epsom and grappling with my assailant. I yelled “Police l’ and a mounted constable quickly came to my assistance, followed by a couple of plain-clothes men. After I had charged my man at the office in the Grand Stand, and the case was arranged for the next Petty Sessions, my police allies all introduced themselves as men who knew me well while they were serving in various corps, and expressed their delight in being at hand ‘when there were a lot of rough customers about who were looking nasty.” The idiosyncrasies of inspecting generals were always of much interest, and, previous to an inspection, even the most swagger colonels often condescended to pump the A.D.C. as to the points to which the General was likely to pay particular attention. As I have told, General Lawrenson looked for equitation, another General would absolutely revel in checking the books and records in the regimental office, a third was an expert in saddlery, while a fourth would not admit that a corps was in proper order unless the barrack rooms were scoured, polished, and whitewashed like dairies. Even what were called the “inspection lunches’ were often carefully considered, so that the General might perchance be mollified by the entertainment that was offered to him. A story was told of the Duke of Cambridge when he was making a certain tour of inspection. On the table of the first corps that he visited was a dish of homely pork chops, of which H.R.H. partook with approval. The tip was sent on that pork chops were food such as the Commander-in-Chief loved. At his next inspection lunch, therefore, pork chops were duly provided, and again they were appreciated. But when, for the third or fourth time, pork chops appeared as the leading feature of a military menu, it is said that the remark burst forth, “Good God! am I never to see anything but pork chops ?” An inspection of Household Cavalry was always one of the pleasantest duties of the year. Then, as always before and since, the Life Guards and Blues were in tenue, in conduct, in drill, and in all interior economy second to none and equalled by very few of the English cavalry regiments. There was little chance, there. fore, of any fault-finding to mar the serenity of temper on all sides. Generally also some people of light and leading made a point of taking the opportunity to look at a corps in which they had possibly served themselves or had some relations serving, so the inspection became a small social function. How magnificent was a charge of these corsleted men-at-arms The horsemanship and rapid accuracy of movement that they showed were of the highest order, and certainly could not then be equalled by any Continental cavalry. I am reminded of this particularly, because I attended some French cavalry manoeuvres immediately after being present at a Life Guards' inspection. The great feature of the last day of the French manoeuvres was to be a grand charge of Cuirassiers, and it was eagerly awaited. When it came, however, I at least was terribly disappointed. Good as their horses were, the ‘Gros Frères’ never allowed them to be extended beyond a common canter, and, even so, the plain was strewn with men who had lost their saddles. The French Staff were, however, apparently perfectly satisfied with the performance, and one of them said to me with pride, “Maintenant, Monsieur, vous pouvez dire que vous avez vu une charge de Cuirassiers.” I don't know whether it is true that modern generals have not the same prestige as their predecessors in my young days, when they were very awe-inspiring personages before whom everybody quailed. A story was current in my old regiment about Lord Cardigan when he was Inspector-General of Cavalry. If any man ever asserted the dignity and importance of his position, he did, and one unfortunate sergeant, to whom he somewhat brusquely addressed a question, was so dumfounded that he could hardly articulate. The Colonel tried to shield him, and hoped that his Lordship would excuse the man, as he was rather nervous. “Good God!’ replied Cardigan, “who ever heard of a nervous hussar * * Curiously enough, it was often the case that men, who had shown over and over again that they were full of pluck, quite lost their heads when they suddenly found themselves confronted with a live general, particularly if he was a little peremptory. They did not perhaps generally carry their deference for high rank quite so far as the sternly drilled Russians in the Crimean war, who, when one of the Allied Generals blundered into their lines, were so taken aback by the apparition that, instead of securing him as a prisoner, they at once presented arms. It may possibly be well in some ways, if it is the case that the non-commissioned officers and privates of to-day have not the same blind reverence for the heads of the military hierarchy as had their predecessors, but there is no doubt that, on occasions without number in our history, the most marvellous deeds have been accomplished by the command and leading of a general, simply because in the eyes of the rank-and-file he was so tremendous an individual that he must be implicitly and unhesitatingly obeyed. I dare say I have been garrulous enough for the present.
I HAD not forgotten the book; we forget nothing we knew in boyhood, when we were ‘whacks to receive and marbles to retain' as Byron said (a peu pres), cribbing—like a boy—from Cervantes himself. No, I had not forgotten the wretched book; that tidy housewife the brain had merely packed a particularly useless memory away in one of the lumber garrets which line one's cranial roof. And there on a dusty shelf, like the bones of some preposterous ignorant protomartyr in a cellule of the Catacombs, the remembrance had long lain perdu, for five-and-thirty years had intervened. Until at Luxembourg on a day of kermesse I got the recollection; in quite the strangest place and hour for such a nexus and tie of thought. A wet Whit-sun was setting, naphtha lamps would soon begin their gusty blazing, a sordid riot of tam-tams, 'phones, and merry-go-rounds was about to break into roar, when, through an open market of marine-stores passing, I spied a pair of blue and white medallions, lying forlorn amidst a spread of wastrel oddments behind a lager-beer barrel, flat on the sopping ground. Dignified yet forlorn they lay, those exquisite ovals, patient amidst the strange bed-fellows of adversity; but was it not a flash of piteous appeal that came from them to one’s eye 2 I verily believe that neglected treasures know a rescuer when they see him much sooner than we always recognise a treasure which ought to be retrieved. ‘Look! those are Wedgwood jasper, man ' ' Hobbinol whispered to me quickly. “Old Wedgwood—Josiah Wedgwood—1790 Wedgwood, bedad ' ' For this Hobbinol of mine is an Irish imp, I fancy, related by Royal blood to the familiar that accompanied Barry Lyndon, who had, as you will remember, ‘the finest natural taste for lace and china of any man alive.’ And Hobbinol always prompts one skilfully, for he has that ineffable something called flair. If, walking down from Bloomsbury to Westminster, I get an impulse to go round by Caramel Street or Sallow Alley, it is Hobbinol who suggests it, and there will be something treasurable to be found in Caramel Street or Sallow Alley, I well, know; it