Frank Leward: Memorials
My collection of letters to and from my friend ends here and I step out, as it were, from my office of writer and collector of letters to give the reader, who may have followed my friend so far on his journey through life, a few notices of its concluding scenes.
I did take the boy "the young un" as Frank always called him to Claydon, and his bright and happy boyhood helped to cheer and light up the old place; even poor Mrs. Leward seemed to take an interest in him and used to sit looking at him, or she would stroke his hair and smile as he stood by her chair.
However he was soon packed off to school. He used to spend the greater portion of his holidays at Claydon but always some part with his mother. Frank and he became inseparable friends and the young un was never so happy as when he was up with his uncle in his sanctum, at the top of the old tower, among his curious collection of guns and pistols, relics from the Crimea, tomahawks and spears and bows and arrows of page 346fearful size and shape from the South sea Islands, boomerangs from Australia, and Mexican saddles and trappings, and red Indian dresses and pipes from aboriginal America.
The young un is now a rising officer in the army, but one of Franks greatest pleasures while he was at school was to go up there to see him and get him to dinner with some of his particular school friends at Eton. I well remember one time when I was summoned by the boy and dare not refuse, though in the midst of very heavy work, to assist at one of these festivities. Herbert did the honours with Frank at the other end, and I and the other boys sitting on either side. It was a merry meeting and did both old men good, and when the boys had gone back in good time for fear of a switching, we strolled about enjoying the beauty of the old place, till I had to get back to Town, and Frank went off in the other direction to Claydon.
I never could get him to town except when Garibaldi came in 64, then he came up for a day but was disgusted with the fashionable fuss people made about his old chief. He said he believed Mr. Gladstone was about the only sincere admirer of the rough hardy general out of the whole lot of big people who courted him. He was however perfectly happy when he got him down to Claydon where he was received in triumph, and through triumphal arches, though he could only stay for a night.
Mrs. Leward the elder soon after that began to fail and Frank sent suddenly for me one day saying she was much worse. When I got there I found she was sink-page 347ing, and less conscious apparently than ever of what was going on around her. In the evening of the next day we were alone in her room, the nurse had gone to lie down, we sat silently watching, and I thought I could feel the kind angel of death descending, when a gentle voice in a tone which made me start, for I could recollect the kind deep affectionate voice of other days, said "Frank I am going." He went, almost sprang, to her bedside and took the hand which I could see was held out to him. Hitherto, ever since his return, though she allowed him to take her hand, she had never offered it.
I dare not lift the veil from off that leave taking. I left the room. It was a meeting and a parting that required no witnesses. I waited in the ante-room and stopt the nurse from going in. He called me in after a long interval; all was then over, her troubled spirit had fled, and his feelings were too deep for words. In that last hour's conversation, he afterwards told me, the clouds which had for so long hung round about her mind had completely cleared away. She knew him again. All the years that had passed since her great affliction came on were as though they had not been. He was her boy once more, the same to her as though he had never gone away, and all that had passed since then was forgotten. "I knew you would come back before I died" she said, "what message have you for my mother." He told me they talked quietly together all that time on many subjects, he trying to persuade her she would now recover, telling her she must not go, that he could not spare her, she only shaking her head know-page 348ing she must go. When he told her how he was back again in the old glades and was to live there all his life, she smiled was again happy and contented, and so she passed away.
When I went back there was a peculiar joy lighting up Frank's face at having once more listened to his mother's words and at having received the tokens of her love and forgiveness, but the joy was mingled with the most intense emotion at losing her just at the moment when she was given back to him.
I could not leave him alone with such a grief so I stayed till he had laid her at rest by the side of her father and mother. As we walked about in the afternoon in the lovely spring weather he told me she had mentioned a curious circumstance to him at their last interview the "great secret" as I see she called it when writing to him after her mothers death, but which he had since forgotten all about. It was only that Mrs. Herbert had it seems for some years before her death noticed Mr. Leward's partiality for his younger son, and partly also from her own ardent and touching affection for Frank, whom she could see was not one who was likely to look well after himself or his own interests, she had laid by for some years considerable treasure for him. This she had in some mysterious way deposited underground in the Hermitage. It is very improbable that the old chest in which this treasure was concealed could have been taken to the Hermitage or buried there by Mrs. Herbert herself, or by her orders without so many knowing of it that the secret must have been divulged.page 349
I think the probability is that it had been placed there some generations before and most likely during the troubled times of Charles the first when the Herberts stood for the Stuarts. The date of the chest itself strengthens the probability of this surmise. It may have been that she heard a tradition from her husband that such a receptacle was there, in which the old plate of the Herbert family had been placed, to save it from Crom-wellian despoilers, and that she remembered the tradition when it seemed to her to become necessary to make a secret provision for one of her descendants. The curious way too in which the keys that opened the chest were also concealed, and which was evidently of very ancient date, would possibly lend an additional interest to the secret, and surround it in her mind with an air of romance. At any rate Frank told me, as a curious fact, that his mother had directed him to look for a secret place concealed by one of the panels in the library behind Mr. Herbert's, his grandfather's, portrait. That there he would find, she believed, a bunch of keys, though she had never dared to look for them herself, possibly thinking she had no right to interfere with what concerned the remnant of her son's inheritance, and also from a feeling of certainty that he would return before she died. These keys so concealed, she said, would open an oak chest that he would also find buried beneath the floor of the Hermitage. We sauntered back, and though I confess I somewhat suspected these curious revelations were the result of some strange fancy on Mrs. Leward's part, yet I did suggest we should try to find page 350the sliding panel. We entered the library; there hung the old portrait of Mr. Herbert painted by Romney, in the dress of the latter part of the last century, on the old wainscoted wall above the mantel-piece. I couldn't help noticing then, as I had often done before when Frank was younger, the extraordinary likeness the picture bore to him, although it was the portrait of a polished gentleman of the old school, with carefully powdered tie wig, abundance of lace, and the most elaborate coat and waistcoat, and though it had an unmistakable air of a man of the world, there was the same natural look of simple quiet refinement and of a modest diffidence no one could help noticing both in Frank and in his mother, and which all Frank's rough fare in life and all his hardships and exposure had never altogether effaced.
We put the picture slightly on one side. Frank thought his mother had said the right-hand side, but we could find nothing there. Then we tried the other side by the window, with no better success. We were almost giving up the search when I said it would be better to take the picture down and try thoroughly. So we rang for Olditch, the old original Robert Olditch, "Bob as was," who directly after Frank took possession of the Glades had been sent for from Southampton and installed at Claydon as gamekeeper, head gardener, groom, coachman, and general factotum. Bob soon got us some steps and took the picture down, and stood scratching his head in blank amazement, while I mounted and felt about all over the wall, with my face close to it, trying to discover if my rapping produced any hollow page 351sound. What was his astonishment when a small panel flew open and hit me full in the face and nearly knocked me off the ladder, but he only said "Lor." I found a bunch of very old keys, three of them much larger than the others. We closed the panel, replaced the picture, and told Bob to follow us. He in his sober suit of black did so shaking his head and evidently thinking the whole affair was not quite canny, but not uttering a word. I suppose the greatest secret might have been entrusted to Bob if it concerned" the young maister," as he still called Frank, though in reality we had nothing we wanted to conceal.
We went to the Hermitage but could find no indication of anything unusual there. Still what I had heard from the old housekeeper, and from others, of Mrs. Leward's habit of sitting there day by day, and of her extreme jealousy of any one else being allowed to go there, as well as the fact of the keys having been found where she said they would be found, gave (I thought) a strong corroboration to the story. Bob was sent for some tools and both he and Frank set to work. It reminded Frank he said of the diggings in Australia:" do it sir" said Bob in astonishment and trepidation, not knowing what might happen next, and expecting every minute something too jump up and hit him in the face, as the panel had done to me. "Eres somat ard" said Bob after a little time "somat werry ard," his voice slightly trembling with fear. They cleared away the earth and we could plainly see the top of an oak chest which, after a good deal more hard work and the help page 352of some ropes and a little engineering and leverage, was got to the surface by our united efforts. As I said it was an old chest of the time of Charles the first and had been luxuriantly carved. It was bound with steel bands and was fastened by three padlocks, rusty as may be imagined. We succeeded in unlocking them at last with the three larger keys. It contained a number of smaller boxes and jewel cases which all yielded to other keys. "Lor" again said Olditch with his hat on one side "who'd a thought it," as he saw the treasures unfolded. They were really of very considerable value and consisted of Mrs. Herberts own family jewels and those of her husbands family, besides a quantity of gold carefully packed and stowed away, and even a large packet of bank notes. We got these valuables back to the house and I suppose no one cared so little about them as Frank.
One day some time before this when I was down there for a short visit Bob came up to us with a queer expression on his face, "please Sir" he said "I eer tell as ow old Mother be bad and be took to the wukus." He was sent off immediately to look after her, charged with full powers to supply all her wants. When he came back he described the scene in his own inimitable language. He found she was indeed in the workhouse, and amused us by his description of the way she received him and behaved when she got outside its doors, insisting upon dancing in the street, though now over eighty years of age. She refused to come away from her old home, she said she would'nt leave the sea where page 353all her boys were lying. So Bob having put her old cottage in order and filled it with everything that could cheer the heart of an old woman, and having arranged that she should get week by week enough to supply all her modest wants left her" a croanin over the fire."
Frank generally met me at York at the end of the summer assizes and he became a favourite with many of our men on Circuit, whom he used to meet at dinner at the de Grey rooms. They even suggested that he should get called and be their junior for once, but he always had a sailors distrust of lawyers. Then we used to go up to Westmoreland, and the jolly quiet times which we spent at Rydal water could scarcely for complete happiness be surpassed. The fresh quiet morning air as it came over the lake and stirred the clean white curtains of our bed rooms, the perfect liberty of the cottage and its garden, the time for talk, for walks, for short excursions, for reading up the pile of books my laborious avocations accumulated for my reading in the long vacation, the peaceful country and still more peaceful reverend looks of our good old friend, who seemed at last almost to live on the anticipation of these annual visits of his two old pupils, all these delights, realised our anticipated dreams of happiness in a way which so rarely I fear in this world come so literally to pass.
But time was hastening on and old Mr. Saunders grew ready for the event which he seemed to look forward to with curiosity; and which would solve for him, as he used to say, his great problem. Both I and Frank were able to be with him when it happened. He left his page 354books, his greatest treasure, between us two, and what small fortune he had in two equal portions to be divided between the poor of Rydal, Grassmere, Ambleside, and in founding some scholarships at Upton. He left no relatives behind. We buried him according to his directions in Grassmere Churchyard near where Wordsworth is buried, "but not too near at a respectful distance." Several other old Upton boys came to the simple funeral, and we sang a hymn of Mendelssohn's over the last remains of our dear old friend. The school children came out of their village school hard by and stared at us with wondering eyes as they saw us, now growing grey haired men, singing over the grave of our old master.
Soon my parliamentary and professional work stopped my going circuit, and prevented my giving more than a small portion of time to my visits to the Glades, and then only in the long vacation. But what a relief it used to be after the bustle of a London season, legal work, political work, political harangues, and bothers of all kinds, to wake up in the morning and find oneself comfortably in bed at the Glades, and not obliged to get up or do anything. Frank used to be up always at day light looking after all manner of things about the place and making many improvements, and he never could understand why I wasn't up too. To me to be roused early and deliberately refuse to stir, to read the lightest of light literature, even a French novel, and then to turn over and go to sleep again, is the perfect idea of luxurious rest after endless trouble and fatigue.
If I didn't join him in his morning walks we had page 355many a pleasant afternoon stroll and splendid long evenings together, after our frugal dinner and over his eternal pipe. The young un often got a short leave to come and entertain us then and grumbled dreadfully at our dinners and breakfasts, and generally before he left effected a small revolution, much to Frank's amazement, but with no great objection on my part. Most of Frank's afternoons though were spent in the antique library, for he became a great reader and really a considerable authority on some old classic Italian works.
Sometimes, however, short fits of gloom would come over the old traveller. "It little boots it that an idle king" he would say in the words of my favourite poet, who there seems to me to have caught the spirit of the great Florentine, or he would quote the words of the great Italian themselves, our old master's favourite author, where I think in the most touching lines I know Dante meets the great Ulysses who confesses that after all his wanderings he thought had come to an end for ever, and he had at last got safely back to Ithaca again, neither his affection for his son, nor duty to his father, nor even the love which ought to have made him stay at home for his wife's sake, could conquer in him the wild desire to have greater knowledge of the world, of the evil and the good in man. When I argued with him once on the right he had to rest after his troubled life, and of his duty to stay at home to look after his dependants and the place, and the necessity of combating the desire of change he broke out, the only time I ever remember him breaking out into an invective quotation, and he became page 356almost eloquent and scornful with the words of the same canto of Dante,
"Considerate la vostra semenza;
Fatti non foste a viver come bruti,
Ma per sequir virtute, e conoscenza."
At such times I could see his thoughts would be far away back in old days, in careless school days, in stormy voyages, or in the short happy time he spent in Tasmania, and whither he would sometimes say he must go again to look at that beautiful Island once more before he died, or in some other of the eventful adventurous and suffering scenes of his life.
We did manage once to get as far as Northern Italy and took the young un with us, and went over the battlefields where the Cacciatori delle Alpi fought so well, and it was most interesting to me and to the young military man, whose sympathies I could see however were Austrian, to have all the spots pointed out to us where the heroes fought for Italy's freedom. We talked of going to the Crimea in the same way but I never managed to find time enough for that. In one of his fits of wander-madness he once did go off to South America without telling any one he was going, but he didn't stay long, and he confessed to me when he came back he had got too old for travelling. We picked up Bango when we were in Italy and brought him back with us. An enthusiastic Italian lady, living near Monza, had kept him all that time as a relic of the mysterious Englishman who had come to fight for her country against the hated page 357Austrians. Bango knew Frank directly he saw him indeed even before he saw him, when he heard his voice he gave a sort of satisfied neigh, but showed his satisfaction at seeing him again by making efforts to bite him, and he astonished the good people at Claydon for some years afterwards by his eccentric conduct, and he now lies not far off the white slab which still marks the spot where Kitto was burried. Bango, even Bango, though not till after a hard struggle for life, and many a dangerous kick, even Bango, like so many of the personages who have come before us, even he at last had to yield to the grim Sergeant.
It has been a great pleasure to me, though sometimes a melancholy pleasure, to collect from various sources, these memorials of my friend. And it has been a work of greater labour than would perhaps at first appear. Some old letters I have chanced upon in a curious way. For instance the one from Mr. Jones to the late doctor Pott. I was anxious to find out if Mr. Jones, who afterwards became senior partner of the old, but inharmonious sounding, firm of Weaber, Jones, and Blogg, had ever expressed any feeling to anyone on receiving the news of his sons disappearance from Upton. It so happened that this very respectable firm of solicitors became clients of mine, and it occurred to me one day at the end of a long conference with one of the partners to ask him if he could discover in any old letter books they might have of about the middle of June 1838 any letter or letters from the late Mr. Jones on the subject of his son's flight. I received in a few days a copy of the letter of June 18th page 358from Mr. Jones to doctor Pott, together with some memoranda of fees paid to certain police officers in London.
These labours are now at an end. They have occupied much of my leisure time through several long vacations. While so occupied my thoughts have reverted to the old old days that are gone. Then the fuss, the trouble, the gaieties, the luxuries, and the pleasures of the present, pleasures now at my time of life consisting chiefly in the small triumphs of party politics, and perhaps sometimes in the consciousness, or belief at any rate, that one is taking one's part in the government of a great country and doing one's best to help to direct its destinies aright, are all forgotten. Then I see the old times rise again, for a moment I live again in them. I recall the happy boyish days when the great glories of the ancient literature first dawned upon my astonished and perceptive mind in all their splendour, in the spring time of life. And then my Oxford days of repose and calm, peaceful and studious, when we, as it were like youthful gladiators, prepared ourselves for coming fights, before the less human studies of the law "hardened the heart and narrowed the intellect." I feel again the painful anxiety lest I should fail and be stranded, a feeling too often forgotten by those who have not failed. I see again before me the faces of those I loved with an open hearty unsuspecting love, the like of which can never quite be felt for friends, however worthy they may be, that we make in after life. An indescribable desire to grasp the hand once more of those dear ones steals over me, to fade away again as I wake up to the reality of active life.page 359
In that life I have indeed succeeded far beyond what I ever in most sanguine moments anticipated,
"But the beauty and the joyaunce
Of those boyish days is o'er,
And many of the beautiful
Lie quiet in the grave,
And he who comes again
Wears a brow of toil and pain
And wanders sad and silent
By the melancholy main."