The Jubilee Season
W ITH the exception of Prince Alfred, the Queen's children had married according to the German proverb, "The oldest must leave the house first." The next in age was Prince Arthur, or the Duke of Connaught. He married in 1879 Princess Louise of Prussia with the usual magnificent display at St. George's Chapel. The real home welcome, however, was awaiting them at Balmoral, where they arrived a few months later. When the train came to a standstill, there stood the Queen and Princess Beatrice, with the Royal Scots for a guard of honor. The Queen gave the bride a bouquet of heather, and they set off for the castle. At the end of the Balmoral bridge was an arch of moss and heather with a motto in flowers, "Welcome to Balmoral." There stood the castle guests, and there were all the tenants, the women in their Sunday clothes, the men in kilts, and the pipers playing their best and loudest, while the children tossed flowers into the carriages and shouted their welcome.
Of course a cairn had been begun in honor of the marriage, and two or three days later the happy party went to visit it, the Queen on her pony and the others walking. There was a speech of congratulation made, and the health of the young people was drunk. "The health of the Princess Beatrice ought to be drunk," Brown declared, and that was done with so many cheers that even the dogs objected to the tumult and began to bark. After the cheering, each one of the party walked up to the cairn and laid a stone upon it. One of the stones in the foundation was already marked with the names of the Duke and Duchess and the date of their marriage.
Three years later St. George's Chapel was again ablaze with the splendor of another royal wedding, that of Prince Leopold, the eighth child of the Queen, to Princess Hélène of Waldeck-Pyrmont. In the evening a state banquet was given, and some of the guests were much amazed when, just before the Queen was to rise from the table, her two Scotch pipers in their full Highland costume appeared at the door and marched twice around the room, playing merry Scottish airs.
The home of the newly married couple was to be at Claremont, the place where the little Princess Victoria had so enjoyed herself. It had been granted to King Leopold when he married Princess Charlotte, but on his death it again became the property of the Crown. The Queen now bought it for the King's namesake. She had given to her son the title of Duke of Albany, and some of the superstitious among her subjects shook their heads at that, for so many who had borne the title had met with misfortune or even with early death.
The wedding celebrations were hardly over before the Queen's thoughts were centered upon Egypt. The Khedive of Egypt was a great borrower, and to fill his ever empty purse he had offered England some seven years previously his shares in the Suez Canal for $20,000,000. England had been very ready to buy them and also to guarantee that people who had loaned money to this spendthrift should not lose their interest. In 1882 some of the Khedive's subjects rebelled against him and got control of the government. To maintain taxation and so pay the promised interest, England must support the Khedive and put down the rebels.
The Queen hated war as badly as her predecessor Elizabeth, but as soon as she saw that it was necessary, she had no patience with delay or poor preparation. She sent directions continually to the War Office, now about arms, now about blankets or food or the comforts that would be needed in the hospitals. She never had the slightest sympathy with indecision or lack of promptness, and the moment that she thought of something that ought to be done for her soldiers, she sent a message to the Minister of War. During one day she sent him seventeen.
The troops sailed. Telegrams were frequent, and on a Monday morning in September there came to Balmoral one marked "Very secret." It was written in cipher and said, "Determined to attack the enemy with a large force on Wednesday." There could be no report of the battle for two days at least, but the Queen and her family tried hard to be brave and cheerful. More than once the Queen slipped away from them to pray that her son might return to her in safety, for the Duke of Connaught was in Egypt in command of a brigade. Wednesday morning a telegram came, "The army marched out last night." A second arrived a little later, "The enemy has been routed at Tel-el-Kebir, but fighting is going on." "Louischen," the wife of the Duke, was with the Queen. They could think of nothing but the husband and son, far away beside the Nile. Any moment might be the fatal one. They almost fancied they could hear the boom of the cannon. Never was a morning so long, but at last the word came, "A great victory; Duke safe and well; led his brigade to the attack." The Queen hurried to find "Louischen," and threw her arms about her neck. "How glad and proud and thankful we can be!" she exclaimed with tears, not of sorrow but of joy.
That afternoon the Duke of Albany and his wife arrived, and then there was a double rejoicing. After the drinking of healths of bride and bridegroom, John Brown stepped forward and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, let us join in a good Highland cheer for the Duke and Duchess of Albany; may they live long and die happy!" and then there was such cheering as made the woods and hills ring.
Twenty-six years before, when word had come of the fall of Sebastopol, a bonfire had been lighted on the top of Craig Gowan, and now there was another in honor of the Egyptian victory. It was very dark, but no one cared for that. The two princesses and many of the people in the house walked up to the top of the hill with the pipes playing jubilantly. There the bonfire was lighted, and the Queen watched from the windows and listened to the pipes and the cheering. When the princesses came down, they all had a little supper together "in Louischen's room."
With all these family celebrations, indeed with almost every action of the Queen's life, John Brown was closely associated. In private and in public he was the attendant of his sovereign, ever on the watch to save her, not only from danger, but from the least annoyance. On one occasion, the Queen's carriage stopped in a village after dark, and curious people thronged about. One man actually held up a lantern to get a plainer view of her face, but all that met his eyes was the rugged, determined features of John Brown, for the faithful man had calmly put himself between the Queen and her inquisitive subject. On another occasion, a woman pushed up to the carriage and stood leaning upon the wheel and staring at the Queen. John Brown thought it a waste of courtesy to be gentle with such a person, and he growled "Be off with you!" like an angry policeman to a crowd of troublesome ragamuffins. In 1883 this faithful servant died. There could hardly have been a time when the Queen had more need of him, for by a fall on the staircase at Windsor she had become unable to walk or even to stand.
During the months of her lameness, she prepared for publication a volume of extracts from her journal for 1862 to 1882. The dedication read, "To My Loyal Highlanders, and especially to the memory of my devoted personal attendant, John Brown." She was as modest about this book as about the first one, and with the copy that she presented to Tennyson she sent an almost shy little note saying, "Though a very humble and unpretending author, I send you my new book, which perhaps you may like to glance at. Its only merit is its simplicity and truth."
The Queen's lameness did not prevent her from making her usual spring visit to Balmoral in 1884, but the most unusual precautions were taken to insure her safety. Within two or three years the Emperor of Russia had been assassinated, and in London several attempts had been made recently to blow up public buildings with dynamite. Generally when the Queen traveled, her time-table was known, and people were at every station to give her welcome. An engine was always sent before the train to make sure that the road was clear, but this time, however, the time-tables were kept secret, and no spectators were allowed to gather at the stations. Men were usually at work on the road, averaging one to every half-mile. These men were now supplied with flags to wave as the train came in sight. If the engineer saw a white flag, he knew the way was clear for half a mile; but if the red one was waved, he knew there was danger or some obstruction ahead, and that he must stop at once.
The Queen was still so much of an invalid that she could stand only a few minutes when the day came that she had to be told of the sudden death of her youngest son. He was the only one of the nine children who had not been strong, but the Queen loved him all the better for his sufferings. He was much like his father in mind, and she had hoped that he would be able to act as her private secretary. Even when he was ill, he was so merry and unselfish that all who saw him loved him. He never seemed to realize that there was anything in him to call out their affection, and he once said very simply, "I can't think why people should always be so kind to me."
The Queen felt that the joy had gone from her life, but she sent to her people the message, "I will labor on as long as I can for the sake of my children and for the good of the country I love so well."
The government of her country gave her little pleasure at that time, for in spite of all that she could do, grave trouble was arising from what she believed was the mistaken course of her Ministers. Egypt had been pacified three years before, but there was revolt in the Soudan. A man named Mohammed had gone about among the wild Arabs declaring, "I am the prophet who was to follow the great Mohammed. For twelve hundred years the world has been awaiting me. Come and fight under my banner." Thousands rose to join him, and Mohammed, or the Mahdi, as he was called, led them against the Khedive. That ruler was helpless to repulse them. England was responsible for the good order of his country, and the Ministers debated the question long and seriously, what to do in Egypt.
"Let us send troops to the Soudan and suppress the rebellion," advised one.
"That is what the Queen wishes," said another, "but it may be that the Soudan is not worth so many lives as would be wasted in conquering the rebels."
"It is not," declared another positively. "Let us attempt nothing but to keep the Mahdi out of Egypt."
"But what of our English and Egyptian garrisons in the Soudan?" That was a grave question, and a long discussion followed. The government then in power was ready to do almost anything to avoid war. The Queen looked upon the matter differently. She was now no girl of eighteen, she was a woman with nearly fifty years' experience in dealing with nations civilized and nations uncivilized. She believed that it was best to hold on to the Soudan; but since her Ministers were determined to abandon it to the revolters, she saw that the only thing to do was to lose no time in confronting the Mahdi with an army so overwhelmingly superior to his own forces that he would not dare to attack the garrisons.
The Ministers did not agree with her. "General Gordon has already shown that he knows how to manage the people of the Soudan," they said, "and he will be able to persuade the Mahdi to let the garrisons go free."
"With an army to support him, yes," said the Queen; "but alone, no."
Nevertheless, General Gordon was sent to cross the desert almost alone. In spite of all that the brave commander could do, the Mahdi could not be persuaded to let the garrisons go, and soon the envoy himself was shut up in Khartoum. "Help us," he pleaded with England. "Send us troops." Still the government delayed, in spite of the Queen's warnings. No help came, and General Gordon then sent a messenger to beg private parties in the British colonies and the United States for money to organize a relief expedition; but the messengers were captured and put to death. The Queen urged and insisted that relief should be given, and the people insisted with her. Troops were sent at last, and they hastened on till they were only a mile and a half from Khartoum. But they were forty-eight hours too late, for the city had fallen, and General Gordon had been slain.
Queen Victoria was a constitutional monarch. She had stood firmly by her Ministers ever since the Bedchamber Plot of the first year of her reign; but she was also a woman, a loving, tender-hearted woman, and she wrote to General Gordon's sister a letter in which sympathy for her loss and indignation for the "stain left upon England" were mingled. She said:
"Dear Miss Gordon,
"How shall I write to you, or how shall I attempt to express what I feel! To think of your dear, noble, heroic brother, who served his country and his Queen so truly, so heroically, with a self-sacrifice so edifying to the world, not having been rescued! That the promises of support were not fulfilled—which I so frequently and constantly pressed on those who asked him to go—is to me grief inexpressible."
General Gordon's diary was found and sent to his sister. Its last entry was, "I have done my best for the honor of our country. Good-by." His Bible was presented by his sister to the Queen. It was placed on a cushion of white satin in an exquisite casket of carved crystal with silver mountings. "This is one of my greatest treasures," the Queen often said, as she sadly pointed it out to her friends.
The Queen was aroused from her sorrow over what she ever looked upon as a disgrace to her country by the approaching marriage of Princess Beatrice to Prince Henry of Battenberg. Their wedding was quite different from those of the other royal children, for it was celebrated at the country church near Osborne. No one knew how to manage a royal wedding in a little village church, and there were all sorts of momentous questions to be settled before the arrangements were complete. It all came out well in the end, however. There was not room for quite so many royalties as usual, but the wedding day was a delightful holiday for the people of the Isle of Wight, for there were fireworks, bands, a dinner and a dance for all the tenants and servants on the estate, and a most beautiful display of sailing vessels and steamers. Tennyson's home was on the Isle of Wight, and the Queen sent him a charmingly informal invitation to the wedding. "It would give me the greatest pleasure," she wrote, "if you would come over for the wedding in our village church, but I fear you won't do that? But pray come and see me when all is quiet again." Tennyson did not attend the wedding, but the Princess must have counted among her choicest gifts his message, "To the royal bride the old poet sends his blessing." This marriage alone of all those in the royal family was not to bring separation, for it was agreed that the Princess and Prince Henry should remain with the Queen.
This Queen and Empress had now been on the throne for nearly half a century, and throughout her dominions there was a feeling that so rare an event ought to be celebrated with fitting magnificence. The Jubilee feeling was in the air. Every town and every little village wished to mark the time by something that should remain as a lasting memorial. Libraries, hospitals, and museums were founded, and parks were purchased and thrown open to the public. Memorial clocks, statues, schools, and towers sprang into being in every corner of the land, and in all the colonies. "God Save the Queen" was sung in Hindustanee on the shores of Asia and in Hebrew in the synagogues of London. Addresses of congratulation and loyalty came in by the score; representatives of all the colonies flocked to England, as sons and daughters hastened homeward to a family gathering.
The part to be taken in the celebration by associations, cities, and kingdoms had all been planned when it occurred to the editor of one of the London newspapers that nobody had remembered the children. "Let us give the boys and girls of London a feast and an entertainment in Hyde Park," he suggested. "You can't do it," declared the grumblers. "It is a foolish, wicked scheme. There will be a crush, accidents will happen, and hundreds will be injured." Nevertheless, people subscribed so generously that soon all the money needed had been provided. When the children came to the Park, they were taken in groups to great tents; and when they came out, each one had a paper bag which contained "a meat pie, a piece of cake, a bun, and an orange." Their little hands must have been full, for besides the eatables, each one received a little medallion portrait of the Queen and a Jubilee mug. The mugs saw hard service among the thirsty little folk, for all day milk, lemonade, and ginger beer were free to every child who presented his empty mug. The children were amused by all sorts of games and shows. Dukes and princes and representatives of powerful kingdoms came to see the good time; and at last the Queen herself came and gave a special greeting, not to the grown folk, but every word of it to the children. Long before bedtime had come, every one of the twenty-seven thousand small people was safe in his own home, and the grumblers grumbled no more.
June 21, 1887, was "Jubilee Day." Fifty years had passed since the young girl had been aroused from her sleep to hear that she was Queen of a mighty nation; and now, in all the glory of her half century of successful sovereignty, she was to go to Westminster Abbey to thank God for his help and protection.
She now represented, not a kingdom, but an enormous empire, and every corner of it wished to do her honor. The streets of London were spanned by triumphal arches. They were made into a fairyland of flowers, banners, drapings of silk and velvet and tapestry. Staging for seats had been put up all along the route, and every seat was filled. Fabulous prices were paid for a house, a window or even a few square inches on a rough plank. Thousands of people had been out since sunrise to secure a place to see the grand procession; and at last it came in sight, moving slowly toward the multitude that waited all a-tremble with excitement and with devotion to the noble woman who was the symbol of home and country.
First came the carriages containing the dark-faced princes of India, robed in cloth of gold, and shaded with turbans glittering with priceless jewels. Many carriages followed, filled with kings, queens, crown princes, and grand dukes. There were equerries, aides-de-camp, an escort of Life Guards, and a guard of honor composed of princes riding three abreast, the Queen's sons, grandsons, sons-in-law and grandsons-in-law. Towering up among them was the superb figure of Prince "Fritz," Crown Prince of a united Germany. His uniform was of pure white, his helmet of burnished steel, and on it was the Prussian eagle with outspread wings. At last the woman for whom all were waiting came in sight. The splendid robes of her coronation were fifty years behind her, but even in her plainer dress she looked every inch a queen. The Princess Alexandra and the Crown Princess of Germany were with her. For twenty-five years the sovereign had so rarely appeared in public that to her subjects this was more than a mere royal procession, it was the coming back to them of their Queen. A great wave of devotion and loyalty swept over the hearts of the throng. "Not the Queen, but my Queen," they said to themselves, and such a greeting was given her as few monarchs have received.
The Abbey had been filled long before. Rich strains of music were coming from the organ. There was a moment's silence, then the silver trumpets of the heralds were blown, and the church resounded with Handel's march from the "Occasional Oratorio." The Queen entered. She was preceded by archbishops, bishops, and deans, all in the most elaborate vestments of their offices. The guard of royal princes walked slowly up the nave, three abreast, the Prince of Wales and his two brothers coming last. Slowly the Queen to whom all the world was doing honor, ascended the steps of the throne. The vast assemblage was hushed, and stood for a moment with heads bowed in reverence.
A short, simple service followed of praise and thanksgiving. Then her sons and daughters, who had been grouped around the Queen, came forward one at a time to bow before her and kiss her hand. As they rose, she gave each of them a kiss, not of state, but of warm, motherly affection that in this crowning moment of her career could not be satisfied with the restrictions of ceremony.
That evening there were fireworks and illuminations in all the principal cities. England shone literally from shore to shore, for a beacon fire was lighted on Malvern Hills, and in a moment, as its distant gleam shone on other hills, other beacons blazed, till from Land's End to the Shetland Islands it was rejoicingly written in letters of fire that for fifty years the realm had been under the rule of a pure and upright womanhood.
At last the day was fully ended. "I am very happy," said the Queen; and well she might be, for this day had shown her that she was sovereign, not only of the land and its treasures, but of the loving hearts of her subjects.