Rome and Tobago

HAVING on my journey out to Trinidad finished the course of religious reading which Monsignor Merry del Val had set for me, on landing at Port of Spain I sought out Father Coveney, the Superior of the Dominicans who served the Catholic Cathedral. I had letters from Monsignor Merry del Val and from Father Antrobus of the London Oratory stating my case. After two or three interviews Father Coveney, a most lovable old Irishman, devout, humble, charitable, humorous, and kindly, said he would receive me, and settled the day and the hour. It was early one morning in St. Dominic’s Chapel in the Cathedral that the very short ceremony took place, no one being present but Father Coveney, a server, and myself, and I heard Mass in the Cathedral immediately after.

The ceremony of reception was so simple that, apart from the Mass, it would have made little or no impression on me. I had now for some time considered myself practically a member of the Church, and this ceremony appeared but to set the seal on a matter already settled. Apart, therefore, from the natural satisfaction of concluding a much desired contract — if I may call it so — I felt no sensation of sudden spiritual light as on that day in Rome under Tasso’s oak. This seemed but a natural sequence to a decision previously taken.

So I felt also after Confirmation, which took place two or three weeks later in Port of Spain.

Another month had passed when Father Reginald, the French Dominican in charge of the Catholic Mission in Tobago, considered that I might receive Holy Communion for the first time according to the Catholic rite. Father Reginald came as near to saintliness as any man I ever met. He was untiring in his efforts to look after his scattered flock all over the island, and I can see now his clean-cut features, his dark eyes and hair, and his spare, ascetic figure, dressed in the white Dominican habit, trotting along on a little brown pony with a large brown gamp held over him to keep off either sun or rain.

His principal church was that of the Sacred Heart at Scarborough, a wooden building painted white and blue outside and scrupulously clean within, with unglazed windows and Venetian shutters to keep out the sun, opening on to views of the sea. The coconut palms outside rustled in the wind all through Mass, and, with the sea, made a pleasant music that was never out of tune or time and was thoroughly in harmony with the place. Father Reginald at once took a truly Christian interest in me, and we often met and talked matters over together; but I believe he cared, if one may say so, a good deal more for the souls of his very poor black folk, who were, but for him, left entirely to themselves on that island where he was the only priest. He wore himself to the bone, and at last, like Father Damien, developed leprosy from constantly looking after the wretched creatures who suffered from that most hideous disease. He was then, of course, compelled to leave his little flock and return to France to die in a leper’s hospital. R. I. P.

I could realize what the horror of such contact might be, for once, riding along the coast near Bloody Bay, I got off to drink from a spring beside which an old Negro was sitting. I began to drink out of my hands, when the old man courteously offered me a tin cup. I thanked him and, not wishing to offend, I used it. When I returned it I looked at him. He was a leper. Saint Francis would no doubt have embraced him, but I fear the old man must have read in my face what I felt.

When from time to time I went down to Scarborough, Father Reginald, like an Apostle, used to talk to me of the Blessed Sacrament, and one day I rode down from Louis d’Or to receive my First Communion at his hands in the little white church to the music of rustling palms and of the sea.

Next morning at daybreak I was in the church and ready for early Mass and Communion.

This was indeed the greatest and most wonderful moment of the new spiritual life for me. For the first time I fully realized what the great saints must often have felt, what it means to empty oneself, as one empties a glass of impure water, and then to fill oneself again, even if it be but for a moment, at the fountain of life. I realized that Mass is the supreme act of sacrifice.

But in Him we offer ourselves. Therefore in accepting Him God accepts us. And within ourselves we offer Him. Therefore when seeing us God sees His Son.

Christ in us, we in Christ, the Eternal Priest, the worthy Oblation; for ourselves, for the Church, for the World.

It is no wonder that Pius XI has written: ‘There is nothing greater in the Universe than the Mass.’

So it is not surprising that on the long ride back to Louis d’Or along the sea beaches with their coco palms, beside the waves which had all the colors of a peacock’s neck or a kingfisher’s wing, through the village streets where little black children rolled about naked in the dust, along the cliffs where the foolish-looking pelicans hovering over the water would suddenly close their wings and plunge head-foremost into the waves, I paid no attention to all these sights and sounds now familiar to me, but rode with the same exaltation I had known under Tasso’s oak in Rome, with a sense of serene security, of being buoyed up in a boundless ocean and supported in infinite space.

And then a great pity came over me for all those who, thinking themselves so wise, so superior, rejected these gifts altogether and relied ‘on the continuous cultivation of that immanent energy which is the lifeblood of religion. Apart from this [i.e. immanent energy] nothing remains but the empty shell or mere curiosity fit only for an anthropological museum.’1

The reverend evangelical speaker I quote tells us further that ‘when the grosser forms of symbolism survived into the higher religions, as typically in the case of sacrifice, — in itself a crude form of shedding blood and appropriate only to those who did their own In Mass we offer to God the Irresistible Gift — Jesus Christ. We offer Him in worthy adoration, in perfect gratitude, in fullest expiation, in prevailing petition. butchering, — it needed much verbal reinterpretation to allegorize the primitive act.‘

So, in the eyes of those who rely on their own ‘immanent energy,’ sacrifice, of which the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross must ever be the great example worthy of imitation for His followers, becomes nothing but ‘a crude form of shedding blood and appropriate only to those who do their own butchering.’ It is perhaps, therefore, not to be wondered at that, after Our Lord made His great declaration in the synagogue at Capharnaum respecting His Body and His Blood, ‘many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him.’ Could these have been the first ‘evangelicals ’?

However, as I said, on that ride home along the Windward road of Tobago there was confirmed in me that sense of security gained first under Tasso’s oak on the Janiculum Hill. Therefore Tobago and Rome have become special shrines in my memory.

From that day I can say that, although the first exaltation passed away in the hurly-burly of terrestrial occupations such as rubber planting or diplomatic work, I have never looked back. Indeed the security in the protection of Mother Church has but grown from year to year.

For all this I have to thank my dearest Isa, who understood clearly that union in religion must be the true foundation of a happy marriage. Religion surely to her was something very much more alive and definite than the vague description given by the evangelical preacher quoted above, who also said: ‘Religion is, as it were, an extended system of faith healing covering activities of all kinds in so far as they exceed the bounds of calculation.’

So it was with a peculiar joy and contentment that I was able to write to her that I believed we should in future be united completely in the spirit, and that my submission to the Church had been made, not because she had asked this, but because for me it was henceforth the only way.

As I have already said, I had come to the West Indies with my friend, Thorleif Orde,2 with instructions from the London Syndicate to select and buy a property for a rubber plantation. Having landed at Port of Spain, we spent a fortnight or three weeks looking over the island of Trinidad, but we could find nothing that suited us. Sir Hubert Jerningham, the Governor, Mr. Hart of the Botanical Gardens, and one or two friends we had met advised us to try the island of Tobago, which lies thirty miles northeast of Trinidad, where, we were told, there were several fine properties being abandoned for almost absurd prices. A little steamer left Port of Spain twice a week for Scarborough, the ‘capital’ of Tobago. We decided that we would go over and spy out the land.

I knew nothing about Tobago, but I at once bought a map of the island and an old history of it. From the map I learned that it was about twenty-six miles long and seven across in the broadest part; that it had a backbone of hills covered with forest, rising in the east to eighteen hundred feet, from which numberless small rivers discharged themselves into bays, some almost landlocked; that the western end, where Scarborough bay lay, was of coral formation, low and sandy, and had been entirely under sugar, while the eastern end was hilly, even mountainous, divided into deep valleys each of which formed, as a rule, a separate property having its own stream and ending in a flat piece of land which had invariably been under sugar, and a shipping bay where schooners could lie and take in produce and discharge goods required for the plantation. Road communication, I was told, was of the most primitive kind, because practically all transport was carried by schooners from Scarborough to the shipping bays of the different plantations with their accessory villages.

From the history of Tobago I learned that the southwest part was traditionally believed to be the scene of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, that the island had changed hands more frequently than any other in the West Indies, having been successively Spanish, Dutch, French, British, and even at one time having been assigned to the Duke of Livland or Lithuania. There was no mention of any great or stirring battles having been fought there, but it seems to have acquired a curious habit of changing masters with every peace signed after every European war during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Since the whole length of the south coast of the island was exposed to the trade winds which blew nearly all the year round, we were told it was, for a tropical climate, decidedly healthy, and that there were fewer insect pests than in Trinidad. Finally, it possessed no venomous snakes or reptiles.

We set out for Tobago with much curiosity and even enthusiasm.

Our first experience of Tobagonians was curious. On the steamer was a darky who was returning home from Trinidad. He was rather late in coming aboard and had evidently promised a special tip to the boatman, who arrived pouring with sweat just as the steamer was leaving and who was not at all satisfied with the tip he received. But the Tobagonian jumped on to the companion ladder with his two or three bundles and the steamer got under way. Then began a most educative match in strong language in the Trinidadian and Tobagonian dialects, ending up with: —

‘ Well, anyhow de Trinidad niggers is all rascally tief and robbers.‘

To which the Trinidadian replied, shaking his fist from his boat: ‘An’ of all de black trash dere is in de worl’, de Tobago nigger is de wuss.‘

The passengers on the steamer, including ourselves, were delighted with the exchange of compliments.

It took us about eight hours to reach Scarborough. A pleasant little bay sheltered from the trade winds but open to the west, the shore fringed with graceful coconut palms, a little town with a brick courthouse in a square shaded by great mango trees, and some flamboyant trees then in flower with their glorious colored spikes, a few brick stores, a number of irregular wooden shanties of the Negroes and some better houses belonging to richer storekeepers or retired civil servants, with palms waving over all, a wooden church or two, and an old quay or pier in a state of general dilapidation — such was Scarborough. On a hill about a mile out of the town was Government House, where lived the Administrator, standing in ‘its own grounds’ with various kinds of palms and other trees and a semblance of a garden, a fine, great, old-fashioned, cool house built partly of bricks, partly of planks, with the inevitable eighteenth-century fort on another hill. In the streets were some planters and richer merchants in topees and white ducks, riding ponies, with Negro women carrying baskets of fruit on their heads and Negro men strolling about as if eternity belonged to them.

We put up at a lodging house outside the town kept by an old colored lady and her elderly daughter. Everything was spotlessly clean, large rooms with windows opening on to the sea, a garden with mango trees and gourds and red peppers and a few roses that looked sadly out at elbows. There was also a perfect miniature bay for bathing. Here we quickly made ourselves at home, and here we always put up afterwards whenever we had to go in to Scarborough for business.

We had a letter for Captain Short, a retired officer of the Army who had bought one of the best estates on the island, Richmond, which he was rapidly turning into a first-rate cocoa plantation. He had bought it, like most of the old sugar estates, in a condition of ruin and dilapidation. Having got two horses and a boy to look after them, we set out for Richmond as soon as possible along what was known as the Windward road, which ran along the southeast coast of the island and caught the refreshing trade winds.

Short received us with true West Indian hospitality, asked us to bring our baggage the next day for a stay of two or three days when he would show us the estates farther up the coast, and after lunch he showed us over a considerable part of his own plantation. It was mainly in cocoa, but he was also experimenting with coffee and limes and other fruit. It had a beautiful little river with deep pools for bathing, a fine bay in front, and a valley running back into the wooded hills behind. The house stood on a little hill overlooking the flat and the old sugarworks, and was so placed as to catch all the trade breeze. I had rarely come upon a more enchanting spot, and after seeing it both Thorleif and I felt that Tobago was the island for us, especially since there were now several estates going for a mere song. Labor was very cheap, and, in spite of the dictum of the Port of Spain boatman, the Tobago colored workman was, according to Short, not at all bad. He had the good qualities of most other West Indian agricultural laborers, and also their defects.

In the course of a few days we saw many estates, and finally settled on one of the largest, called Betsy’s Hope, about fifteen miles up the Windward road from Scarborough.

It had been one of the principal sugar estates of the Windward Coast, and the large flat leading to the bay was still, to some extent, under sugar. There was the usual wooden house in considerable disrepair on a hill overlooking the usual large sugarworks, which were falling to pieces, and the river with its valley running up into the highest hills of the island. This valley was practically untouched ground, and, with the flat, gave us all the land we wanted for a first experiment. There was also a large village on the estate, which settled the labor problem for us.

Both Thorleif and I agreed we could not do better than buy this for the Syndicate. It had, in the great days of Tobago some fifty years before, belonged to an old Scotsman who lived on so generous a scale that he was known as the King of Tobago. He was buried just below the house in a small enclosure now almost abandoned, but still bright with many-colored crotons. I was surprised to find many darkies in all the villages with Scots names — McDougalls, Mackintoshes, Macleods, and McGillivrays abounded. It appeared that at one time most of the leading planters had been Highlanders.

The purchase of this estate, which the Syndicate approved, naturally involved some legal business in Port of Spain, where lived the present owner, Mr. Tucker, who also owned the neighboring properties of King’s Bay and Speyside, both equally lovely in their way. Since it seemed that this legal business might be somewhat protracted, and since I was anxious not to lose a day of the Castilloa seeding season which was now on, I hired a small house with ground about it suitable for a nursery, halfway along the Windward road between Scarborough and Betsy’s Hope — or Louis d’Or, as we, reverting to the old name on eighteenth-century maps, called our estate from henceforth.

At our temporary dwelling we made all haste to prepare and equip the small nursery for the seedlings, with the help of Captain Short, who, as an old planter, knew the ropes. Thorleif hired the necessary labor and set to work forthwith, while I returned to Port of Spain to conclude the purchase and forward parcels of Castilloa seed which we bought from the Botanical Gardens.

The making of a nursery is much the same all over the West Indies and, I suppose, the tropics. Beds of good earth are laid out at convenient distances, shaded by pergolas, over which are spread coconut palm leaves. Clean running water is conducted from a neighboring stream and then led into troughs. A place at once rather sunny and sheltered from the wind must be chosen and good paths made between the beds.

Within a week or ten days from our getting into the nursery house, hundreds of seedlings, my green babies, were showing over the black soil. After they were grown to a certain size they were taken out of the beds and planted separately into pots of hollow bamboo stems, which, again, are used for the purpose in every tropical nursery. This business, when you are dealing with thousands of seedlings as we were, entailed much labor, but since we paid as much as any planter in the island, and paid regularly, — which all planters did not, — we never had the slightest trouble.

By September the legal business was completed, and I had collected in Port of Spain and Scarborough the necessary furniture, crockery, and so forth, for the new house. We bought horses, oxen, mules, carts, implements, tools, all the paraphernalia necessary for starting a plantation, all with the help of our friend Captain Short; and one fine day we moved into the Louis d’Or ‘Great House,’ as the planters’ houses on the larger estates were always called. We were in high content with the world and with ourselves, for was not each of these green babies — of which there were thousands being taken up to the new nursery at Louis d’Or in two-wheeled carts drawn by four oxen — going to be worth, in a few years, a pound or even two pounds apiece? Besides, what pleasanter life could a man look forward to than to live in that old West Indian house, now thoroughly swept and garnished, looking out over the flats still untidy with sugar patches, but shortly to be covered with green Castilloas standing in rows like soldiers, and down the great avenue of ever-waving coconut palms which led out to the green-blue sea and the white breakers where the coral reefs were?

We thought of the lovely sight it would be in a few years, when the place would be humming with prosperity, and our own schooners would lie in the bay to carry off our products to Port of Spain and bring back our weekly requirements.

We organized our labor gangs with the help of the old overseer, a darky called Stuart, and a most excellent, reliable, hard-working man. We cleared the flats of weeds and old sugar cane, opened up drains, and laid out plantations. All day we were out from 6 A.M. to 12, and from 2 P.M. to 6, when we came home for buckets of cold water to be thrown over us by our servant Quashie, followed by our solitary cocktail, dinner, and a pipe, feeling as no kings could ever have felt. Those were the great days of hope unclouded, of the certainty of success.

It is to those early years I look back when I think of Tobago as one of the most enchanting places on the face of the earth. Even when I returned many years after, when the planting of rubber there had proved a complete failure and poor Thorleif was struggling along against the hopeless collapse of prices to make cocoa, which we had planted in place of rubber, give even a modicum of profit — even then I felt the Circean enchantment of Tobago and the West Indies. Had I been a free man, I should probably have returned to end my days there as a lotus-eater, but I hope a lotus-eater with much kindness in my heart for fellow lotus-eaters, whether white or black.

My planter colleagues interested and entertained me vastly, as did also the Tobagonian Negroes — as, indeed, did human beings everywhere and at all times.

We were too busy to see much of our white neighbors, but when we went down to Scarborough we met them at the club, and every now and again one riding up or down the coast would come in for a cocktail, for a meal, or for a bed. They always had plenty of stories to tell about each other’s curious and entertaining ways. Some there were who no doubt were the very pinks of propriety, but many had human weaknesses which provided conversation for their neighbors.

Thus there was Mr.—, who, generally a most excellent and pleasant fellow, occasionally succumbed to drink, and most unfortunately this was often the case when he came to Scarborough and spent a day in the planters’ club. This was a small house with about six rooms, one Negro servant who cooked and did all the housework, with a well-stocked bar and odd copies of Punch and the Field on the sittingroom tables. The members of the club bore with Mr.—’s vagaries till one day he stripped completely and threatened to throw out of the window any other member who entered the club. This led, naturally, to a meeting of the committee, who regretfully decided that Mr.—, though a very good fellow, must cease to be a member of the club. When the Negro servant who took the bar and cooked the food heard this, he pointed out that Mr.—was the only member of the club who paid his bill punctually and kept it going. So the committee rescinded their decision and only asked the servant to let members know whenever Mr.—was in the club and in what condition he happened to be.

An incident that caused much excitement and some scandal in the island occurred in the village of Roxburgh, belonging to the estate next ours, owned by a — for Tobago — wealthy Scotsman, Mr. Archibald, who had built himself a fine house and could entertain like a country gentleman. One day we were shocked to hear that a murder had been committed in Roxburgh. No such thing had happened for thirty years in Tobago, where the worst crime was petty larceny, which, however, was both continual and general.

The magistrate, Major Walker, a retired volunteer turned lawyer for Tobago; the doctor, a young colored Trinidadian; some neighboring planters, and as many darkies as could crowd into the little courthouse, attended the inquest. After it was over the ‘gentry’ went to sup with Mr. Archibald at the Great House, and Major Walker and the doctor stayed the night. The Major went up to his room after supper, and presently the other guests were roused by a shriek of horror and rage. Rushing up, they found the Major in a state bordering on collapse, pointing to a dark and bloody head that had rolled out on to the floor from an empty petroleum tin that had been upset by him as he had come into the room in the dark.

The discovery naturally caused some stir among the guests until it was found that the doctor, having few opportunities of dissecting any part of the human body, had secretly cut off the head of the murdered man, packed it in an empty tin, and brought it up to the house meaning to take it to his surgery the next day. Unfortunately he had left the tin in the Major’s bedroom instead of his own.

The Major, being made the object of some merry wit on account of his fright, was furious with the doctor. He lunched with us the next day, told us the whole story, and vowed he would be even with that damned doctor yet. A fortnight later he rode up to the door and invited himself to lunch again. He was in high spirits. After a cocktail or two he could no longer contain himself.

‘I’ve dished that doctor,’ he said. ‘I’ve looked up autopsies in my law book and found that the doctor ought to have examined the state of the heart before giving evidence at the inquest. He never did this, so I’ve ordered him to exhume the body and do it now. He’ll have a real jolly time.’

The doctor had to do it, and there was war to the knife between him and the Major as long as they remained in Tobago. But on the whole I am not sure whether the law in this case did not successfully make the punishment fit the crime.

One other strange personality among many on the island must be mentioned. This was Mr. L-, son of a former Dean or Archdeacon of Trinidad, who owned a beautiful but totally ruined estate at the northeast end of the island, called Man of War Bay because ships of the navy often called there on account of the excellent and sheltered anchorage.

He lived entirely alone in the old sugarworks with a number of cats to keep the rats away. The roof was very leaky, and below every leak he had cut a large circular hole in the floor in order, as he told callers, to prevent the rain from splashing him when it came through.

He had fallen out with the darkies in the estate village, whom he accused of having burned his house down. The darkies disliked him greatly, because, among other things, he resorted to voodoo tricks to scare them, which they thought was not becoming in a white man. Thus at night he would put a human skull with lights inside in front of his door, which he declared was the best protection anyone could want in an island of 20,000 Negroes with perhaps not more than a hundred whites. Thorleif and I paid him a visit one day and he advised us, as newcomers, to do likewise. Then he picked up the skull, patted it affectionately, and said: —

‘ Poor little girl — I knew her well. She lived in Barbados and I bought her skull there. She’s a good companion to me now and a great help.’

He was an educated man and had some good books in tattered covers. How he lived I never discovered. We used to see him occasionally riding on an old mule laden with coconuts and bananas; he used to sell them in Scarborough and buy the few things he needed. Was he mad or only a cynical Diogenes? It was impossible to say.

As for voodooism and other African beliefs and customs, there were still plenty of these among the Tobagonian Negroes. When a death occurred, all the friends and relatives of the deceased would gather in the house for the two nights before the funeral and make a hideous noise, howling and bawling songs of all kinds from spirituals to syncopated jazz tunes, slapping their hands in time to keep out the spirit of the late lamented, which might otherwise return and take possession of the house. They did not, however, forget the spirit’s creature comforts, for food and drink were both set out on the doorstep.

From our house on the hill I often heard these curious sounds of revelry going on in the village. Sometimes the noise would die down for a time and then revive with still louder shouting and the beating of drums and kettles, when it was supposed the spirit was trying to enter the house. There were also curious stories of witchcraft, which, however, I never could verify. But, taking them all in all, — except for petty larceny, which they could not resist, the Tobagonian Negroes were as law-abiding, kindly, and on the whole reasonably hard-working people as anyone could wish for. One great defect they certainly had: it was impossible to rely on them, and if an employer was compelled to go over to Port of Spain on business for two or three days he could not be sure that on his return the nursery would not be all drooping for want of water, or the cocoa beans all mildewed for the lack of drying in the sun. Thorleif and I soon got to know their little failings and to protect ourselves against them with continual vigilance.

In October I said good-bye to Tobago, carrying with me a satisfactory report as to the number of seedlings prospering in the nursery. I embarked for London much pleased with the progress made, and above all with the happy prospect of seeing my fiancée soon again and making her my wife before the end of the year.

We had corresponded regularly and had thus become better acquainted than ever before. Only one matter had caused a slight cloud. On the beach I lost a pocketbook containing her photograph. This I duly confessed, not, perhaps, taking the offense as seriously as I should have done. She, on the other hand, seemed to consider it quite a serious matter that a photograph of her might have fallen into the hands of some passing black man. I reflected sadly that a life spent in a convent up to the age of sixteen, and after that in the salons of Rome, might perhaps create a different sense of proportions and values to that created by living, as I had recently been, in the remote corners of the earth. I may say, however, that I never found, then or later, that our different ways of life before our marriage created any serious difference of opinion. We were, indeed, too entirely united over things that really mattered ever — as Robert Louis Stevenson puts it, in his essay on ‘Walking Tours in the face of the gigantic stars to split differences between the degrees of the infinitesimally small, such as a tobacco pipe or the Roman Empire, a million of money or a fiddlestick’s end.’

That has always been a favorite quotation of mine, but I have never been able, in Isa’s presence, to explain away the, in her eyes, somewhat slighting reference to the Roman Empire, or to make it palatable. Italians, however, when one gets to know them, are the most matter-of-fact people in the world.

I returned to London in the early part of October, made my report to the Syndicate, and then left as soon as possible for Rome. My poor mother-in-law was stricken with an illness from which she could not recover and was anxious that our wedding should take place without delay, in which we were all agreed.

The religious marriage took place very quietly on the seventeenth of November in the private chapel of the Palazzo Bandini. The ceremony was performed by Monsignor Merry del Val, which was another link between us. There was a Low Mass at eight in the morning at which only the nearest relations were asked to be present and at which Isa and I went to Communion together for the first time. The wedding service was of the utmost simplicity, just what I should always desire a marriage ceremony to be. After it was over we went upstairs to the piano nobile, where the living rooms were situated, and with all the family partook of a real breakfast, not a great luncheon as was the habit in England in those days, with toasts and speeches. Next we followed the good old Roman custom for wedded couples of paying our respects to the shrine of Saint Peter in our wedding garments. Never, certainly, did the great square of St. Peter’s look more magnificent to me than in the warm autumn sun of that November day. We then returned to our respective homes (mine was, of course, only an hotel) and changed into ordinary garb.

After a short luncheon at Casa Bandini, Isa and I drove away together in a carriage, for fortunately motor cars had not yet come into public use. Two or three years before, I think, Henry Ford and some five or six others had exhibited a primitive kind of motor at the Chicago Exhibition, and Henry Ford, I have been told, declared himself too poor to pay five dollars for the dinner with which the other inventors wished to celebrate the occasion. But we drove out in state in one of my father-in-law’s barouches, and I chose for this honeymoon journey — for it was the only journey we were to have — to drive out through the Porta San Sebastiano, past the little Church of Quo Vadis and the Catacombs of Saint Calixtus and Saint Sebastian, past Cæcilia Metella, along the old Appian Way out towards Monte Cavo and the Alban Hills, between the crumbling ruins of the ancient Roman tombs. It was a heavenly autumn afternoon, still and warm, blue and misty, the Campagna green with fresh grass after the autumn rains and many flowers coming out again in a kind of pseudo-spring. Yet it was unquestionably autumn, the season of mist and mellow fruitfulness, and although I was happy as I had never been before I felt overcome by the sense of the passing of things, and had I then known it I should probably have repeated Claudel’s lovely description of autumn3 — more beautiful perhaps even than that of Keats — ending with the fateful words ’c’en est fait.’

So, shortly before sunset, — for we were careful in those days never to be out in the Campagna at sunset, — we drove back to our little hotel, the Beausite, which Isa was to exchange for the Palazzo Bandini and where we were to spend the next few weeks, because Isa most rightly would not leave her mother when she was so ill.

The day after the religious ceremony we went to the Capitol, where the civil marriage was performed by the Syndic of Rome, Prince Poggio-Sussa, who gave us a short homily on the duties of married life. Our witnesses were my father-in-law and Lord Currie, the British Ambassador.

As belonging to the ‘Black Society’ of Rome, we also went as a matter of course with my father-in-law to pay our respects to the Pope, Leo XIII, and I shall never forget the impression that audience made. I had never before been presented to the Pope, and even now, after so many audiences with Leo XIII, Pius X, Benedict XV, and Pius XI, the ceremony impresses me far more than that of an audience at any other court that I have attended.

On that day there was enough to make the occasion memorable for me. First, Isa, dressed in black silk, on her head a black lace mantilla with a few diamond brooches to keep it in position, seeming to me more beautiful than ever before. Then my old father-in-law, well over six feet tall and slightly bowed, with his handsome features, white hair, and kindly blue eyes, whom the Swiss Guards, in varicolored sixteenth-century costumes, saluted at the entrance to the Vatican and on every landing as we climbed the long stairs. Finally the great halls, with innumerable pilgrims in black sitting awaiting their public audience; the papal domestics in scarlet with white ruffs; the camerieri segreti, gentlemen in waiting, in black with ruffs and swords; the officers of the guard in Napoleonic uniforms; the Monsignori and Cardinals in their respective colors; priests, members of the different orders, brown Franciscans, black Benedictines, white Dominicans, and others. And then at last, after passing through innumerable waiting rooms, we entered a larger room, where, before a great writing table on which stood an ivory crucifix, that extraordinary presence — for one can call him no other — Leo XIII, all in white with a gold chain about his neck and the most impressive head I ever saw on a human body. It was emaciated so that it appeared more like that of a corpse than a living man, with a skin like transparent parchment, a great mouth, great nose, great ears, and great forehead, and deep set in the head the two most living, lustrous black eyes that man ever saw. Once you raised your eyes to those eyes, they held you fascinated; you could see nothing else.

After our three genuflexions and after kissing the Fisherman’s ring, we were waved by the ivory hand to three large carved gilt chairs, my father-inlaw naturally occupying that nearest His Holiness. The conversation was not remarkable. How should it have been? Congratulations to Isa and me, questions to my father-in-law about his family, and great concern for the health of Princess Bandini, the Papal Benediction for us all, and it was over. We kissed the ring again on our knees, made two more genuflexions, and then passed out of the room.

There was very little to record in it all, but once again I felt as if I had stood in the presence of a master of men. The other two were very, very different, — Bismarck and Cecil Rhodes, — but while they were colossal men of action, Leo XIII was intellect personified.

Isa and I were happy not to be compelled to accept any invitations. Isa visited her mother daily, and so did I when I was permitted to do so, and I was filled with admiration for her Spartan stoicism and uncomplaining acceptance of pain. On the fifteenth of December the end came, and after a few days more with her family Isa decided we could leave for Portofino to spend Christmas with my sister Elsie Carnarvon at her villa there.

Those quiet days in those enchanting surroundings made Portofino then and since a place of special attachment for her as well as for me, and I besides was most glad that these two, sister and wife, should during those trying hours have become fast and lifelong friends.

Isa was completely and entirely devoted to her mother, so that these last days were, indeed, days of grief. But as always, in moments of great sorrow, she found her Faith a pillar of support, and this, combined with her great strength of mind, which was like that of an ancient Roman matron, never for a moment allowed her to give way. Nevertheless the suppression of outward expression also took its toll and she was very weary when we finally left for England. My admiration for her character increased day by day. It is surely in trials such as these that true character can be properly appraised.

After the New Year (1899) we went home slowly from Portofino — Turin, Paris, London.

In Turin, on that occasion, I saw an unforgettable sight. In the morning after our arrival I left Isa resting at the hotel and walked along up to the Superga, the burial place of the Dukes of Savoy and Kings of Sardinia. There was a thick mist, and it seemed as if nothing could ever again be visible through it. I stood on the terrace before the church when suddenly, like the curtain of a theatre, the mist began slowly to rise. First the city below me, then the valley of the Po, then the foothills of the Alps, and finally the white glittering crests of Mont Cenis, of Mont Blanc, and of others stretching away to the east as far as the eye could reach. Above was an immaculate turquoise sky, and all was painted and vividly colored by the clean light of the winter sun. When seen in such circumstances the view from the Superga is certainly one of the most magnificent in the world.

Then Paris for two or three days was a source of great interest, and finally the landing at Dover and the journey up to London provided Isa with much novelty and excitement, since she had never been out of her own country before. After the greenness of the fields and the comfort and cleanliness of the railway carriages of those days, in comparison with the Continental ones, the thing that pleased and amazed her most was, I believe, the size of the sheep in the fields of Kent — the backs of which, she declared, were as broad as tea trays, so that, if trained, they would be useful for bringing in the morning cup of tea. I replied that I had often thought the backs of the sheep in the Campagna might serve as razors.

We stayed a short time in London, just long enough for her to meet some members of my family. Being in strict mourning, we did not accept any invitations outside the family circle, and then, as soon as possible, we went on to Ravenstone, where we spent quietly and most happily the only entire summer we ever passed there together.

  1. Address by Dr. R. R. Marett, Rector of Exeter College, Oxford, speaking on ‘Ritualism and Religion.’ Manchester Guardian, August 1, 1934.—AUTHOR
  2. See ‘A Roman Courtship,’ in the September issue.—EDITOR
  3. ‘Octobre,’ included in the volume of Morceaux Choisis.—AUTHOR