Iceland seems a strange place to go to, but it came about in this wise.
My brother was ill after completing his medical education, and wanted
a holiday. Not having the slightest idea where to go, Iceland was
suggested. To Cook’s I then went. The young man behind the counter
shook his head. They had never been asked for a ticket to Iceland.
Indeed, they did not know how to get there. They knew nothing about the
place. That decided the matter, and to Iceland, in 1886, we young folk
Then it was that my father besought me to keep a diary. “There will
be no possibility of sending letters home,” he said, “because there
are only two or three posts a year, and there is no telegraphic
communication. So by the time you come back, you will have forgotten
many of the interesting details, all of which your mother and I would
like to know. Consequently I beg you will keep a diary.”
Therefore I took with me some funny little black-backed shiny books
at a penny each, and scrawled down notes and impressions, sometimes
written from the back of a pony, sometimes in the darkness of a tent in
which one could not stand up; sometimes sitting beside a boiling geyser
while our meal bubbled in a little tin can on the edge of the pool, but
always beneath the gorgeous skies, the endless days and little-known
nights of the Arctic in summer.
To that little trip romance is attached.
Alec Tweedie, who had been proposing to me regularly since the day I
came out, was, to my amazement and disgust, standing on the quay at
Leith when we arrived there ready to start.
We were a little party of four, and as he knew I particularly wished
him not to come, and that he would make an odd man in the party and
also render the situation uncomfortable for me, I was perfectly furious.
I raged up and down that quay, I used every bad word I could think of.
But still he was firm to his ground. He would take his gun, he would
shoot. He would never say a word to cause me the least embarrassment
from the day we started till we returned, he would never refer to
the old sentimental charge of which I was heartily sick. In fact, he
promised to be on his “best behaviour,” but come he would.
I nearly turned tail myself, even at the last moment, so furious was I
at the situation. However, as his word of honour was given, I accepted
the matter rather than upset the whole party at the eleventh hour or
let the others guess the secret.
To his credit be it said, he entirely carried out his promise. He was
always there when I wanted him, never when I did not. He was just as
nice to my girl companion as to myself. He was good pals with the two
men, in fact, I do not think any of the others realised the situation
in the least.
It was his behaviour during that time that made me begin to change my
mind. I saw the strain it was on him and admired him for carrying it
through. I saw him pull himself up many times and march off to light a
pipe for solace.
* * * * *
If love is service, Alec loved.
Riding astride over a lava bed near Hekla my pony fell, the girths gave
way, and saddle and I turned round together. It was a nasty fall on my
head and I was stunned. Alec appeared—from goodness knows where—to pick
me up. I have ridden since I was seven, generally on a side-saddle, but
in Iceland, Morocco, and Mexico astride, and only two falls have been
my lot, this and another from a side-saddle in Tangier, when my horse,
climbing a steep stony road, strained and broke the girths and I fell
on the off-side.
* * * * *
It was not till we were coming into the Firth of Forth many weeks
later, just before landing on the quay where I had stormed and raged,
that Alec Tweedie said:
“There is Edinburgh Castle, have I kept my word?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Have you any fault to find with anything I have said or done during
“No,” I murmured.
“Have I kept my promise in the letter and the law?”
Again I had to answer “Yes.”
“Then you are satisfied?”
“But you had no right to come,” I weakly said.
“That has nothing to do with it. Are you satisfied?”
“Yes,” I had to reply.
“Then,” he continued, “remember that my bond is waste paper when we
land in a few minutes, and the proposals I have made before, I shall
repeat on _terra firma_.”
* * * * *
Six weeks later we were engaged, and six weeks later still I married
one of the handsomest men in London.
* * * * *
When I was first engaged it was a constant subject of interest to my
friends that the man should have such an extraordinary name as ALEC.
In 1887 no one in England had apparently ever heard the name of Alec.
He was the fifth generation bearing the name himself, but outside that
family the abbreviation does not appear to have penetrated.
Times change, and twenty years later the name had become so well
known that I had the honour and felicity of seeing it on a music-hall
programme, and placarded for a music-hall artist.
In his diary my father states the following:
“My daughter Ethel has just married (1887) Alec Tweedie, son of an
Indian Civil Servant and grandson of Dr. Alexander Tweedie, F.R.S.,
formerly of 47, Brook Street, whose portrait hangs in the Royal College
of Physicians, London. Old Dr. Tweedie’s work on fever was very well
known, and the London Fever Hospital was built under his auspices.
Strangely enough, he examined me when I first came to London to take
the membership of the Royal College of Physicians.
“But the connecting-link is even stronger, for Alec Tweedie is first
cousin to Sir Alexander Christison, my old Edinburgh chum, who took
his degree with Murchison and myself on the same day in Edinburgh. My
son-in-law is therefore a nephew of dear old Sir Robert Christison,
whose classes I attended as a student.
“On his mother’s side, Alec is the grandson of General Leslie,
K.H., and great-grandson of Colonel Muttlebury, C.B.K.W., a very
distinguished soldier, who was in command of the 69th at Quatre Bras.
“My son-in-law is also a nephew of General Jackson, who was in the
famous charge of Balaclava, so that on his mother’s side he is as much
connected with the army as he is on his father’s with medicine.”
* * * * *
Being a young person with a mind of her own, I rebelled against hideous
sugar flowers on my wedding-cake. I loved wedding-cake, and my father,
knowing this form of greed, laughingly said:
“You had better get a wedding-cake as big as yourself and then you will
I did, that is to say it weighed nine stone four pounds, my own weight,
which is barely a stone more when these pages go to press.
Well, thereupon, I repaired to Mr. Buszard, junior—whose father,
attired in a large white apron and tall hat, I, as a baby, had known in
his then little shop in Oxford Street.
“I want real flowers on my cake,” I announced.
“Impossible, we never do such a thing,” he replied.
“Then you must do it now, do it for me.”
Much palaver, and Mr. Buszard and I crossed the street together to
a little flower shop, with the result that those three tiers of
wedding-cake were decked with natural blooms and a tall vase of white
flowers as a central ornament.
Everyone has natural flowers nowadays.
I travelled away with the top tier of my cake, and ate bits of it in
France, Switzerland, Italy, and Germany, during our three months’
We took one of the houses at the top of Harley Street, overlooking
Regent’s Park, where squirrels frolic and wood pigeons cry, and there,
in York Terrace, where the muffin man rings his bell on Sundays and
George IV lamp-posts hold our light, I still live.
Apropos of this street, Sir Arthur Grant of Monymusk once told me a
His grandfather owned many houses in the neighbourhood in the beginning
of the nineteenth century, and whenever one was empty he put an old
caretaker in who had once been a personal servant. On one occasion one
of the houses was to let. A lady and gentleman arrived in a carriage
and asked to see over it. The caretaker showed them round and they
seemed pleased with everything. They asked many questions and lingered
some time, and when they left, to the surprise of the caretaker, they
handed her a sovereign.
As most people gave her nothing, and others a shilling, she was rather
taken aback with the sovereign, and explained how large a sum it was.
“It is all right,” said the gentleman, “put it in your pocket and may
it bring you luck.”
Not long after her return to the staircase, which she had been cleaning
before their arrival, she heard a child’s voice. It seemed to be
crying. She listened for some time, and as she was quite alone in the
house, she was unable to understand the cause. Finally, feeling sure it
came from a certain room, she went and opened the door, just to satisfy
herself it was an hallucination. What was her amazement to find a
sturdy little boy of two standing before her. She nearly had a fit, the
people had not mentioned a child, nor had she seen anything of it, and
she remembered that the lady and gentleman had left no address. Feeling
sure such kind people would come back, she took the small boy to the
kitchen and gave him some milk. He was too small to tell her who he was
or where he came from, though he sat and cried.
When her husband came home she told him the strange story.
“Oh, they will come and fetch him presently. Don’t you worry,” he said.
But day wore on to evening, and evening wore on to night, and no one
came. The only thing she could do was to pacify him and put him to bed,
and when she undressed him golden sovereigns fell out of a bag tied
round his neck.
The mystery thickened. Days went on; no one claimed the child. The
caretaker went to Sir Arthur’s grandfather and reported the matter, and
everything was done to try to trace the owners of the little boy, but
nothing was heard of them.
The woman’s husband was a nice old man, and instead of wishing to turn
the child out, he said:
“No, God ordained to give us no children of our own. This little boy
has been left with us, and it is our duty to take care of him.” So
accordingly the little boy was brought up as their own son.
He was sent to school, went out as a page-boy, and became a footman. He
made an excellent servant, clean, punctual, tidy, and efficient—but,
alas! he finally traced his pedigree to a family of very high degree;
from that moment he was ruined. He thought himself too grand for his
situation, became idle, took to drink, began blackmail, and generally
went to the dogs.
The house we took was a few doors from this romance.
Built about 1810, the house was strong and good, but old-fashioned, so
we had to put in a bath, have hot and cold water laid on upstairs; add
gas, after finally deciding it would be too much bother to work our own
electric dynamo in the cellar (the only possible source of electric
light in London in 1887 was at the Grosvenor Gallery in Bond Street);
reconstruct the drains from end to end; in fact, turn an ancient
dwelling into a modern one. A vine, probably as old as the house, bears
fruit on the drawing-room balcony every summer, and lilies of the
valley and jasmine flourish beneath the window.
One year the vine bore one hundred and seventy bunches of little black
grapes. In the hot summer of 1911 the number of bunches was less; but
two weighed respectively one pound, and thirteen ounces.
* * * * *
Was it Chance? or did Dame Brilliana Harley hover as a guardian angel
round the path of her namesake, gently whispering suggestions shedding
her influence to draw me in her footsteps? Howe’er it was, after my
marriage and departure abroad, naturally nothing more was thought of
the shiny black cloth book of Iceland notes by its owner.
Meantime it happened that Miss Ellen Barlee, a fairly well-known
authoress in those days—she wrote a _Life of the Prince Imperial_—was
going blind, and my father lent them to her so that her secretary might
read my jottings aloud in the evening with a view to amusing the old
[Illustration: GRAPES GROWING ON A LONDON BALCONY]
One day she sent for me. “My dear, you must publish this,” she said as
soon as I arrived.
At that time I had not long returned from my wedding tour. Needless
to say, therefore, I laughed at the idea. Miss Barlee was determined,
however, to carry her point.
“If you do not believe in my opinion,” she said, “may I send the
manuscripts to my publisher, and if he approves of it, will you take
the matter into serious consideration, as you are almost the first
woman—girl, I should rather say—to have been across Iceland?”
Naturally I assented to her proposal, thinking the whole thing absurd.
What was my surprise when, a little later, I received a letter from the
publisher to say that he liked the notes, and if I would divide them
into chapters he thought that they would make a nice little book. He
also asked whether I could let him have any illustrations for it.
Feeling somewhat exalted, and yet very shy about the whole thing, I
sent him a number of the sketches that I had made. Lo and behold, they
were accepted for the illustrations, and the book appeared as _A Girl’s
Ride in Iceland_.
How strange it seems to look back and remember the origin of the title
_A Girl’s Ride in Iceland_. It was the title I had put on the cover of
the little black book—but it seemed absurd and ridiculous to my mind as
a cover on a real book. I thought of all sorts of grand, high-sounding
delineations; but Miss Barlee would none of them. “I love your title,”
she said. “You were a girl, and it seems such an original idea, you
must stick to it.” I did, but the critics laughed at the idea of a girl
doing anything—nevertheless it was quickly followed with _A Girl in the
Carpathians_, and every sort and kind of “girl” has haunted the public
ever since, from the stage to the library.
The book ran through four editions, finally appearing on the bookstalls
at one shilling.
But, oh dear, how I struggled with those chapters! How I fought those
“Mondays,” “Tuesdays,” and “Wednesdays” of the diary-form and wrestled
to get the whole into consecutive line and possible chapters: but it
gave me amusement during long hours spent on a sofa before my eldest
child was born. I used to get into despair, the despair of the amateur
who does not know what is wanted, and which is just as bad as the
despair of the professional who really knows what is wanted and yet
cannot pull it off. And so _A Girl’s Ride in Iceland_ appeared just for
the fun of the thing. It cost me nothing and amused me hugely at the
moment; but I soon forgot all about it and set to work to enjoy myself
Among the friends who came to our bridal dinners—alas! years have
rolled on and death has played havoc among them—was Professor John
Stuart Blackie, my husband’s cousin. In Edinburgh that remarkable head
of his, with the shaggy white locks, the incomparable black wide-awake
and the Scotsman’s plaid thrown around his shoulders, was really one of
the sights. In fact, no figure was better known north of the Tweed than
Professor Blackie in his day. The north was his “ain countree,” but he
was a delight to every social circle that he entered on those occasions
when he came south.
Of course, he commanded the whole company. And why not? Who would be an
octogenarian as full of activity and high spirits as he was, a Greek
scholar, professor, and a wit, without the authority to bid others keep
silence while one’s self talks? His little foibles and vanities were
the man, and nobody who knew him would willingly have seen him part
with a single one of them.
On such an evening, soon after my marriage, I was sitting between him
and Mr. (now Sir) Anderson Critchett. The Professor declared in his
emphatic way that no man who lacked a poetic soul ought to live, poetry
being one of the most refining and ennobling gifts; he had always been
a poet himself and hoped to continue so as long as he lived.
The old scholar became quite excited on the theme and said he would
sing to us after dinner, which he did, half singing, half reciting
“Scots wha hae wi’ Wallace bled.”
“I believe in singing, it does one good,” he professed, and so he sang.
Eccentric as he was, Blackie’s courtesy was delightful. What a pity we
have not more of that sort of thing nowadays! We women do love pretty
Blackie once wrote me a poem—it was in Greek:
_Likeness to God._
Those _things_ are likest to God,
The _heart_ that fainteth never,
The _love_ that ever is warm,
And the hand of the generous giver.
When he gave it to me, he dropped on his knees on the floor before a
whole roomful of people, kissed my hand like a courtier of the Middle
Ages in humble obeisance, and handed me the little poem.
About this time also dates my first essay in journalism. Chance so
often steps in to foreshadow the important events of our lives.
Everyone gets his chance; but many do not recognise it when it comes.
If we only accept small beginnings they often lead to big endings. My
chance notebook on Iceland and some sporting articles in the _Queen_
were the beginning of an income a few years later.
I was going to Scotland to pay a round of shooting and golfing visits
with my husband, who was fond of all kinds of sport. It occurred to
me it would be an interesting thing to write some sporting articles,
for I invariably followed the guns. I therefore went down to the
office of the _Queen_ and boldly sent my card in to the editor. Miss
Lowe received me. I explained my idea to her, but as it would be an
innovation for a lady’s paper to attempt to print anything in the
nature of sport she did not know how it would be received, so she sent
for a worthy captain, who was at that time the art editor of the paper,
and asked for his opinion. “Absurd!” he exclaimed, without a moment’s
hesitation; “perfectly absurd! A woman can’t write articles on sport.”
As really I did not care very much about doing the articles except
for an amusement, I was turning to go away, when I noticed the editor
holding the lapels of the old gentleman’s coat and trying to bawl into
“Women don’t know anything about sport and don’t want to,” he
continued, still determined not to listen.
Those were the early days of women in journalism, and men—or rather
most men—had a strong prejudice against us and a distinct disbelief in
our abilities. After this ultimatum there was nothing left for me to
do but to say good-bye and leave Miss Lowe’s room. I was going out a
little crestfallen that my plan had so completely fallen through, when,
as the captain opened the door for me, he suddenly noticed my gloves,
“Why do you wear those white gauntlet gloves? They look like the Horse
“They are my driving gloves,” I replied.
“Driving gloves!” he exclaimed. “What do you mean? You didn’t drive
“Certainly,” I answered, “the phaeton is at the door.”
“You drove down Holborn at this crowded hour of the day?”
“Yes,” I mildly replied.
He looked out of the window and saw the carriage and horses standing in
the street below. By this time I was in the passage. He called me back,
scanned me curiously, and, turning to Miss Lowe, said suddenly, and
without any preliminary canter:
“Let her do the articles. A woman who can drive a pair along the
crowded London streets in the season ought to be able to write a
Perhaps his conclusion was as illogical as his previous opinion of
woman’s capability in the sporting line had been. Anyway, as it gave
me the opportunity I wanted, I was not disposed to question, much less
to quarrel, with it. So began the first series of sporting articles
to appear in a woman’s paper. The little set was a success. This was
my first essay in journalism, just done at the time for the fun of
the thing. I think I made about fifteen pounds over it, and promptly
distributed my earnings where most sadly required.
Any little earnings then were devoted to charity, and I always called
them my “charity money.” It was the generousness of superfluity. Now,
when I can’t help giving away a great deal more than I ought to afford,
it is the “extravagance of generosity.”
Having tried my hand at journalism I was satisfied, just as I had tried
my hand as a girl in my teens at exhibiting oil-paintings at the Lady
Artists’ Exhibitions or china plaques elsewhere; or as later, when I
exhibited photographs and won a Kodak prize of five pounds for horses
galloping across the open prairie. It is nice to make an attempt at
anything and everything, and sometimes such experience becomes of
value. Truly, journalism did so to me when, six years after those first
half-dozen sporting articles appeared for “the fun of the thing,” I had
to look to my pen, or my brush.
[Illustration: BORKUM OF SPY FAME—NOW A GREAT NAVAL STATION
_Water-colour sketch by the Author. Exhibited in London 1911_]
How strange, after such a span of time, to feel a little thrill of
pleasure at the announcement of acceptance of something I had done!
It shows that, after all, one is capable of new sensations along new
lines, even when parallel ones.
Everyone was talking of Borkum in 1910. Two English officers had been
arrested as spies there and imprisoned in a German fortress.
Mr. Percy Anderson, fresh from designing the dresses for _Kismet_,
chanced to see a sketch I had made at Borkum a few years before.
“Why on earth don’t you send it to an exhibition?” he asked.
“I never show anything nowadays,” was my reply.
“Send this for a change, then—just get a frame and send it in.”
The frame was bought, and to the Lady Artists in Suffolk Street it
went. A little thrill of joy passed through me when I opened an
envelope with a bright red ticket:
_Admit the artist to varnishing day._
A week later my little picture appeared in the _Daily Graphic_.
Borkum, once famous “as the only spot on earth without a Jew,” is now
a great German naval base. In 1900 it was little more than a sandhill,
with a few lodging-houses and bathing-machines, and ourselves the
only English folk. Icebound in winter, it was the home of millions of
wild fowl in summer. Every evening before going to bed the visitors
and residents sang their anti-Jewish anthem. Though strong in
fortification, Borkum is not great in size, being only six miles long
and half a mile wide.
Public charity is no doubt an excellent thing. The world could not
get on without it. But private charity seems to me of infinitely more
value. If every one of us always had some particular case in hand for
someone less blessed than ourselves, what a much happier place the
world would be. Individual charity means so much. There is nothing
easier than for a rich person to write a cheque and send it to some
institution, where a large percentage is swallowed up in paying rates,
rent, and taxes, clerks, and the rest of it, but it means a great deal
for a person to give up their private time, to expend their own energy,
in looking after some individual case. We all know people we can
help, not singly, but in multitudes, if we choose to take the trouble,
and for the greater part of my life I have found it a good thing to
have one big job in hand at a time and to work at it till completed.
Procuring public or private pensions for the genteel poor, getting
cripples into homes, invalids into hospitals, or people recovering
from illnesses into convalescent homes; starting young people in life;
enquiring into emigration cases and helping them; finding young women
places in bonnet shops, even securing employment in orchestras.
In fact, there is generally a niche for every case if one only takes
the trouble to find it. The niche is not always procurable by the
persons themselves, as they have not the world-wide knowledge and
influence to secure it; but with a little capacity, a little work,
and a little thought one is often able to help young people to start,
to help to educate children, and do hundreds of little individual
kindnesses which may keep the whole family together, or mean the future
success of the individual.
Poverty is always relative. It means possessing less than we have
been accustomed to. Having been both rich and poor, I am perhaps an
The domestic experiences of those married years were, later, as so much
garnered grain to the writer. My luxurious, happy home was—without my
knowledge—affording me training which afterwards proved invaluable in
my writing. The responsibilities of motherhood gave me insight into the
workings and imaginations of children’s minds. The household wisdom
learnt as mistress of a fairly large establishment has been of infinite
use in writing on practical subjects of domestic interest—especially
those of interest to women.
Men must really cease to think women find fun in ordering cabbages.
As every book we read leaves some sort of an impression, so every scene
or incident we live leaves its mark.