From Courtesan to Convert
"When you met Lola Montez, her reputation made you automatically think of bedrooms."
* * * * *
Sweep a drag-net across the pages of contemporary drama, and it is unquestionable that in her heyday no name on the list stood out, in respect of adventure and romance, with greater prominence than did that of Lola Montez. Everything she did (or was credited with doing) filled columns upon columns in the press of Europe and America; and, from first to last, she was as much "news" as any Hollywood heroine of our own time. Yet, although she made history in two hemispheres, it has proved extremely difficult to discover and unravel the real facts of her glamorous career. This is because round few (if any) women has been built up such a honeycomb of fable and fantasy and imagination as has been built up round this one.
Even where the basic points are concerned there is disagreement. Thus, according to various chroniclers, the Sultan of Turkey, an "Indian Rajah" (unspecified), Lord Byron, the King of the Cannibal Islands, and a "wealthy merchant," each figure as her father, with a "beautiful Creole," a "Scotch washerwoman," and a "Dublin actress" for her mother; and Calcutta, Geneva, Limerick, Montrose, and Seville—and a dozen other cities scattered about the world—for her birthplace. This sort of thing is—to say the least of it—confusing.
But Lola Montez was something of an anachronism, and had as lofty a disregard for convention as had the ladies thronging the Court of Merlin. Nor, it must be admitted, was she herself any pronounced stickler for exactitude. Thus, she lopped half a dozen years off her age, allotted her father (whom she dubbed a "Spanish officer of distinction") a couple of brevet steps in rank, and insisted on an ancestry to which she was never entitled.
Still, if Lola Montez deceived the public about herself, others have deceived the public about Lola Montez. Thus, in one of his books, George Augustus Sala solemnly announced that she was a sister of Adah Isaacs Menken; and a more modern writer, unable to distinguish between Ludwig I and his grandson Ludwig II, tells us that she was "intimate with the mad King of Bavaria." To anybody (and there still are such people) who accepts the printed word as gospel, slips of this sort destroy faith.
As a fount of information on the subject, the Autobiography (alleged) of Lola Montez, first published in 1859, is worthless. The bulk of it was written for her by a clerical "ghost" in America, the Rev. Chauncey Burr, and merely serves up a tissue of picturesque and easily disproved falsehoods. A number of these, by the way, together with some additional embroideries, are set out at greater length in other volumes by Ferdinand Bac (who confounds Ludwig I with Maximilian II) and the equally unreliable Eugene de Mirecourt and Auguste Papon. German writers, on the other hand, have, if apt to be long-winded, at least avoided the more obvious pitfalls. Among the books and pamphlets (many of them anonymous) of Teutonic origin, the following will repay research: Die Graefin Landsfeld (Gustav Bernhard); Lola Montez, Graefin von Landsfeld (Johann Deschler); Lola Montez und andere Novellen (Rudolf Ziegler); Lola Montez und die Jesuiten (Dr. Paul Erdmann); Die spanische Taenzerin und die deutsche Freiheit (J. Beneden); Die Deutsche Revolution, 1848-1849 (Hans Blum); Ein vormarzliches Tanzidyll (Eduard Fuchs); Abenteur der beruhmten Taenzerin; Anfang und Ende der Lola Montez in Bayern; Die Munchener Vergange; Unter den vier ersten Koenigen Bayerns (Luise von Kobell); and, in particular, the monumental Histeriche of Heinrich von Treitschke. But one has to milk a hundred cows to get even a pint of Lola Montez cream.
With a view to gathering at first hand reliable and hitherto unrecorded details, visits have recently been made by myself to Berlin, Brussels, Dresden, Leningrad, Munich, Paris, and Warsaw, etc., in each of which capitals some portion of colourful drama of Lola Montez was unfolded. In a number of directions, however, the result of such investigations proved disappointing.
"Lola Montez—h'm—what sort of man was he?" was the response of a prominent actor, recommended to me as a "leading authority on anything to do with the stage"; and the secretary of a theatrical club, anxious to be of help, wrote: "Sorry, but none of our members have any personal reminiscences of the lady." As she had then been in her grave for more than seventy years, it did not occur to me that even the senior jeune premier among them would have retained any very vivid recollections of her. Still, many of them were quite old enough to have heard something of her from their predecessors.
But valuable assistance in eliciting the real facts connected with the career of this remarkable woman, and disentangling them from the network of lies and fables in which they have long been enmeshed, has come from other sources. Among those to whom a special debt must be acknowledged are Edmund d'Auvergne (author of a carefully documented study), Lola Montez (an Adventuress of the 'Forties); Gertrude Aretz (author of The Elegant Woman); Bernard Falk (author of The Naked Lady); Arthur Hornblow (author of A History of the Theatre in America); Harry Price (Hon. Sec. University of London Council for Psychical Investigation); Philip Richardson (editor of The Dancing Times); and Constance Rourke (author of Troupers of the Gold Coast); and further information has been forthcoming from Mrs. Charles Baker (Ruislip), and John Wade (Acton).
Much help in supplying me with important letters and documents and hitherto unpublished particulars relating to the trail blazed by Lola Montez in America has been furnished by the following: Miss Mabel R. Gillis (State Librarian, Californian State Library, Sacramento); Mrs. Lillian Hall (Curator, Harvard Theatre Collection); Miss Ida M. Mellen (New York); Mrs. Helen Putnam van Sicklen (Library of the Society of Californian Pioneers); Mrs. Annette Tyree (New York); Mr. John Stapleton Cowley-Brown (New York); Mr. Lewis Chase (Hendersonville); Professor Kenneth L. Daughrity (Delta State Teachers' College, Cleveland); Mr. Frank Fenton (Stanford University, California); Mr. Harold E. Gillingham (Librarian, Historical Society of Pennsylvania); Mr. W. Sprague Holden (Associate-Editor, Argonaut Publishing Company, San Francisco); and Mr. Milton Lord (Director, Public Library, Boston).
In addition to these experts, I am also indebted to Monsieur Pierre Tugal (Conservateur, Archives de la Danse, Paris); and to the directors and staffs of the Bibliotheque d'Arsenal, Paris, and of the Theatrical Museum, Munich, who have generously placed their records at my disposal.
Unlike his American and Continental colleagues, a public librarian in England said (on a postcard) that he was "too busy to answer questions."
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I. PRELUDE TO ADVENTURE
II. "MARRIED IN HASTE"
III. THE CONSISTORY COURT
IV. FLARE OF THE FOOTLIGHTS
V. A PASSIONATE PILGRIMAGE
VI. AN "AFFAIR OF HONOUR"
VII. "HOOKING A PRINCE"
VIII. LUDWIG THE LOVER
IX. "MAITRESSE DU ROI"
X. BURSTING OF THE STORM
XI. A FALLEN STAR
XII. A "LEFT-HANDED" MARRIAGE
XIV. THE "GOLDEN WEST"
XV. "DOWN UNDER"
XVI. FAREWELL TO THE FOOTLIGHTS
XVII. THE CURTAIN FALLS
APPENDIX I. "ARTS OF BEAUTY"
APPENDIX II. "LOLA MONTEZ' LECTURES"
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LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
LOLA MONTEZ, COUNTESS OF LANDSFELD Frontispiece
"JOHN COMPANY" TROOPS ON THE MARCH IN INDIA
HER MAJESTY'S THEATRE, HAYMARKET, WHERE LOLA MONTEZ MADE HER DEBUT
BENJAMIN LUMLEY, LESSEE OF HER MAJESTY'S THEATRE
LOLA MONTEZ, "SPANISH DANCER." DEBUT AT HER MAJESTY'S THEATRE
VISCOUNT RANELAGH, WHO ORGANISED A CABAL AGAINST LOLA MONTEZ
ABBE LISZT, MUSICIAN AND LOVER
FANNY ELSSLER, PREDECESSOR OF LOLA MONTEZ IN PARIS
PORTE ST. MARTIN THEATRE, PARIS, WHERE LOLA WAS A "FLOP"
SUPPER-PARTY AT LES FRERES PROVENCAUX. FIRST ACT IN A TRAGEDY
RESIDENZ PALACE, MUNICH, IN 1848. RESIDENCE OF LUDWIG I.
"COMMAND" PORTRAIT. IN THE "GALLERY OF BEAUTIES," MUNICH
KING OF BAVARIA. "LUDWIG THE LOVER"
LOLA MONTEZ IN CARICATURE. "LOLA ON THE ALLEMANNEN HOUND"
BERRYMEAD PRIORY, ACTON, WHERE LOLA MONTEZ LIVED WITH CORNET HEALD
LOLA MONTEZ IN LONDON. AGED THIRTY
A "BELLE OF THE BOULEVARDS." LOLA MONTEZ IN PARIS
THE "SPIDER DANCE." CAUSE OF MUCH CRITICISM
LOLA MONTEZ IN "LOLA IN BAVARIA." A "PLAY WITH A PURPOSE"
LOLA AS A LECTURER. FROM STAGE TO PLATFORM
LOLA MONTEZ IN MIDDLE LIFE. A CHARACTERISTIC POSE
"LECTURES AND LIFE." FROM STAGE TO PLATFORM
COUNTESS OF LANDSFELD. A FAVOURITE PORTRAIT
GRAVE OF LOLA MONTEZ, IN GREEN-WOOD CEMETERY, NEW YORK
* * * * *
THE MAGNIFICENT MONTEZ
PRELUDE TO ADVENTURE
In a tearful column, headed "Necrology of the Year," a mid-Victorian obituarist wrote thus of a woman figuring therein:
This was one who, notwithstanding her evil ways, had a share in some public transactions too remarkable to allow her name to be omitted from the list of celebrated persons deceased in the year 1861.
Born of an English or Irish family of respectable rank, at a very early age the unhappy girl was found to be possessed of the fatal gift of beauty. She appeared for a short time on the stage as a dancer (for which degradation her sorrowing relatives put on mourning, and issued undertakers' cards to signify that she was now dead to them) and then blazed forth as the most notorious Paphian in Europe.
Were this all, these columns would not have included her name. But she exhibited some very remarkable qualities. The natural powers of her mind were considerable. She had a strong will, and a certain grasp of circumstances. Her disposition was generous, and her sympathies very large. These qualities raised the courtesan to a singular position. She became a political influence; and exercised a fascination over sovereigns and ministers more widely extended than has perhaps been possessed by any other member of the demi-monde. She ruled a kingdom; and ruled it, moreover, with dignity and wisdom and ability. The political Hypatia, however, was sacrificed to the rabble. Her power was gone, and she could hope no more from the flattery of statesmen. She became an adventuress of an inferior class. Her intrigues, her duels, and her horse-whippings made her for a time a notoriety in London, Paris, and America.
Like other celebrated favourites who, with all her personal charms, but without her glimpses of a better human nature, have sacrificed the dignity of womanhood to a profligate ambition, this one upbraided herself in her last moments on her wasted life; and then, when all her ambition and vanity had turned to ashes, she understood what it was to have been the toy of men and the scorn of women.
Altogether a somewhat guarded suggestion of disapproval about the subject of this particular memoir.
Three years after the thunderous echoes of Waterloo had died away, and "Boney," behind a fringe of British bayonets, was safely interned on the island of St. Helena, there was born in barracks at Limerick a little girl. On the same day, in distant Bavaria, a sovereign was celebrating his thirty-fifth birthday. Twenty-seven years later the two were to meet; and from that meeting much history was to be written.
The little girl who first came on the scene at Limerick was the daughter of one Ensign Edward Gilbert, a young officer of good Irish family who had married a Senorita Oliverres de Montalva, "of Castle Oliver, Madrid." At any rate, she claimed to be such, and also that she was directly descended from Francisco Montez, a famous toreador of Seville. There is a strong presumption, however, that here she was drawing on her imagination; and, as for the "Castle Oliver" in Sunny Spain, well, that country has never lacked "castles."
The Oliver family, as pointed out by E. B. d'Auvergne in his carefully documented Adventuresses and Adventurous Ladies, was really of Irish extraction, and had been settled in Limerick since the year 1645. "The family pedigree," he says, "reveals no trace of Spanish or Moorish blood." Further, by the beginning of the last century, the main line had, so far as the union of its members was blessed by the Church, expired, and no legitimate offspring were left. Gilbert's spouse, accordingly, must, if a genuine Oliverres, have come into the world with a considerable blot on her 'scutcheon.
Still, if there were no hidalgos perched on her family tree, Mrs. Gilbert probably had some good blood in her veins. As a matter of fact, there is some evidence adduced by a distant relative, Miss D. M. Hodgson, that she was really an illegitimate daughter of an Irishman, Charles Oliver, of Castle Oliver (now Cloghnafoy), Co. Limerick, and a peasant girl on his estate. This is possible enough, for the period was one when squires exercised "seigneurial rights," and when colleens were complacent. If they were not, they had very short shrift.
Mrs. Gilbert's wedding had been a hasty one. Still, not a bit too hasty, since the doctor and monthly nurse had to be summoned almost before the ink was dry on the register. As a matter of fact, Mrs. Gilbert must have gone to church in the condition of ladies who love their lords, for this "pledge of mutual affection" was born in Limerick barracks while the honeymoon was still in full swing, and within a couple of months of the nuptial knot being tied. She was christened Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna, but was at first called by the second of these names. This, however, being a bit of a mouthful for a small child, she herself soon clipped it to the diminutive Lola. The name suited her, and it stuck.
While these facts are supported by documentary evidence, they have not been "romantic" enough to fit in with the views of certain foreign biographers. Accordingly, they have given the child's birthplace as in, among other cities, Madrid, Lucerne, Constantinople, and Calcutta; and one of them has even been sufficiently daring to make her a daughter of Lord Byron. Larousse, too, not to be behindhand, says that she was "born in Seville, of a Spanish father"; and, alternatively, "in Scotland, of an English father." Both accounts, however, are emphatic that her mother was "a young Creole of astonishing loveliness, who had married two officers, a Spaniard and an Englishman."
It was to Edward Gilbert's credit that he had not joined the Army with the King's commission in his pocket, but in a more humble capacity, that of a private soldier. Gallant service in the field had won him advancement; and in 1817 he was selected for an ensigncy in the 25th Foot, thus exchanging his musket and knapsack for the sword and sash of an officer. From the 25th Foot he was, five years later, transferred to the 44th Foot, commanded by Colonel Morrison. In 1822, its turn coming round for a spell of foreign service, the regiment moved from Dublin to Chatham and embarked for India. Sailing with his wife and child, the young officer, after a voyage that lasted the best (or worst) part of six months, landed at Calcutta and went into barracks at Fort William. On arrival there, "the newcomers," says an account that has been preserved, "were entertained with lavish hospitality and in a fashion to be compared only with the festivities pictured in the novels of Charles Lever." But all ranks had strong heads, and were none the worse for it.
During the ensuing summer the regiment got "the route," and was ordered up country to Dinapore, a cantonment near Patna, on the Ganges, that had been founded by Warren Hastings. It was an unhealthy station, especially for youngsters fresh from England. A burning sun by day; hot stifling nights; and no breath of wind sweeping across the parched ghats. Within a few weeks the dreaded cholera made its appearance; the melancholy roll of muffled drums was heard every evening at sunset; and Ensign Gilbert was one of the first victims.
The widow, it is recorded, was "left to the care and protection of Mrs. General Brown," the wife of the brigadier. But events were already marching to their appointed end; and, as a result, this charitable lady was soon relieved of her charge.
Left a young widow (not yet twenty-five) with a child of five to bring up, and very little money on which to do it (for her husband had only drawn 108 rupees a month), the position in which Mrs. Gilbert found herself was a difficult one. "You can," wrote Lola, years afterwards, "have but a faint conception of the responsibility." Warm hearts, however, were at hand to befriend her. The warmest among them was that of a brother officer of her late husband, Lieutenant Patrick Craigie, of the 38th Native Infantry, then quartered at Dacca. A bachelor and possessed of considerable private means, he invited her to share his bungalow. The invitation was accepted. As a result, there was a certain amount of gossip. This, however, was promptly silenced by a second invitation, also accepted, to share his name; and, in August, 1824, Mrs. Gilbert, renouncing her mourning and her widowhood, blossomed afresh as Mrs. Craigie. It is said that the ceremony was performed by Bishop Heber, Metropolitan of Calcutta, who happened to be visiting Dacca at the time. Very soon afterwards the benedict received a staff appointment as deputy-adjutant-general at Simla, combined with that of deputy-postmaster at Headquarters. This sent him a step up the ladder to the rank of captain and brought a welcome addition to his pay. In the opinion of the station "gup," some of it not too charitable, the widow "had done well for herself."
Captain Craigie, who appears to have been a somewhat Dobbin-like individual, proved an affectionate husband and step-father. The little girl's prettiness and precocity appealed to him strongly. He could not do enough for her; and he spoiled her by refusing to check her wayward disposition and encouraging her mischievous pranks. It was not a good upbringing; and, as dress and "society" filled the thoughts of her mother, the "Miss Baba" was left very much to the care of the swarms of native servants attached to the bungalow. She was petted by all with whom she came into contact, from the gilded staff of Government House down to the humblest sepoy and bearer. Lord Hastings, the Commander-in-Chief—a rigid disciplinarian who had reintroduced the "cat" when Lord Minto, his predecessor in office, had abolished it—smiled affably on her. She sat on the laps of be-medalled generals, veterans of Assaye and Bhurtpore, and pulled their whiskers unchecked; and she ran wild in the compounds of the civilian big-wigs and mercantile nabobs who, as was the custom in the days of "John Company," had shaken the pagoda tree to their own considerable profit. After all, as they said, when any protest filtered through to Leadenhall Street, what were the natives for, except to be exploited; and busybodies who took them to task were talking nonsense. Worse, they were "disloyal."
As, however, there were adequate reasons why children could not stop in the country indefinitely, Lola's step-father, after much anxious consideration, decided that, since she was running wild and getting into mischief, the best thing to do with her would be to have her brought up by his relatives in Scotland. A suitable escort having been found and a passage engaged, in the autumn of 1826 she was sent to Montrose, where his own father, a "venerable man occupying the position of provost, and sisters were living."
From India to Scotland was a considerable change. Not a change for the better, in the opinion of the new arrival there. The Montrose household, ruled by Captain Craigie's elderly sisters, was a dour and strict one, informed by an atmosphere of bleak and chill Calvinism. All enjoyment was frowned upon; pleasure was "worldly" and had to be severely suppressed. No more petting and spoiling for the little girl. Instead, a regime of porridge and prayers and unending lessons. As a result the child was so wretched that, convinced her mother would prove unsympathetic, she wrote to her step-father, begging to be sent back to him. This, of course, was impossible. Still, when the letter, blotted with tears, reached him in Calcutta, Captain Craigie's heart was touched. If she was unhappy among his kinsfolk at Montrose, he would send her somewhere else. But where? That was the question.
As luck would have it, by the same mail a second letter, offering a solution of the problem, arrived from an Anglo-Indian friend. This was Sir Jasper Nicolls, K.C.B., a veteran of Assaye and Bhurtpore, who had settled down in England and wanted a young girl as companion for, and to be brought up with, his own motherless daughter. The two got into correspondence; and, the necessary arrangements having been completed, little Lola Gilbert, beside herself with delight, was in the summer of 1830 packed off to Sir Jasper's house at Bath.
"Are you sorry to leave us?" enquired the eldest Miss Craigie.
"Not a bit," was the candid response.
"Mark my words, Miss, you'll come to a bad ending," predicted the other sourly.
But if Bath was to be a "bad ending," it was certainly to be a good beginning. There, instead of bleakness and constant reproof, Lola found herself wrapped in an atmosphere of warmth and friendliness. Sir Jasper was kindness itself; and his daughter Fanny made the newcomer welcome. The two girls took to one another from the first, sharing each other's pleasures as they shared each other's studies. Thus, they blushed and gushed when required; sewed samplers and copied texts; learned a little French and drawing; grappled with Miss Mangnall's Questions for the Use of Young People; practised duets and ballads; touched the strings of the harp; wept over the poems of "L.E.L."; read Byron surreptitiously, and the newly published Sketches by Boz openly; admired the "Books of Beauty" and sumptuously bound "Keepsake Annuals," edited by the Countess of Blessington and the Hon. Mrs. Norton; laughed demurely at the antics of that elderly figure-of-fun, "Romeo" Coates, when he took the air in the Quadrant; wondered why that distinguished veteran, Sir Charles Napier, made a point of cutting Sir Jasper Nicolls; curtsied to the little Princess Victoria, then staying at the York Hotel, and turned discreetly aside when the Duchess de Berri happened to pass; and (since they were not entirely cloistered) attended, under the watchful eye of a governess, "select" concerts in the Assembly Rooms (with Catalini and Garsia in the programmes) and an occasional play at the Theatre Royal, where from time to time they had a glimpse of Fanny Kemble and Kean and Macready; and, in short, followed the approved curriculum of young ladies of their position in the far off-days when William IV was King.
Although Sir Jasper had a hearty and John Bullish contempt for foreigners—and especially for the "Froggies" he had helped to drub at Waterloo—he felt that they, none the less, had their points; and that they were born on the wrong side of the Channel was their misfortune, rather than their fault. Accordingly, there was an interval in Paris, where the two girls were sent to learn French. There, in addition to a knowledge of the language, Lola acquired a technique that was afterwards to prove valuable amid other and very different surroundings. If de Mirecourt (a far from reliable authority) is to be believed, she was also, during this period, presented to King Charles X by the British Ambassador. On the evidence of dates, however, this could not have been the case, for Charles had relinquished his sceptre and fled to England long before Lola arrived in the country.
After an interval, Sir Jasper felt that he ought to slip across to Paris himself, if only to make sure that his daughter and ward were "not getting into mischief, or having their heads filled with ideas." No sooner said than done and, posting to Dover, he took the packet. Having relieved his mind as to the welfare of the two girls, he turned his attention to other matters. As he had anticipated, a number of his old comrades who had settled in Paris gave him a warm welcome and readily undertook to "show him round." He enjoyed the experience. Life was pleasant there, and the theatres and cafes were attractive and a change from the austerities of Bath. The ladies, too, whom he encountered when he smoked his cheroot in the Palais Royal gardens, smiled affably on the "English Milord." Some of them, with very little encouragement, did more. "No nonsense about waiting for introductions."
But, despite its amenities, Paris in the early 'thirties was not altogether a suitable resort for British visitors. The political atmosphere was distinctly ruffled. Revolution was in the air. Sir Jasper sniffed the coming changes; and was tactician enough to avoid being engulfed in the threatened maelstrom by slipping back to England with his young charges in the nick of time. Others of his compatriots, not so fortunate or so discreet, found themselves clapped into French prisons.
Returning to the tranquillity of Bath, things resumed their normal course. Sir Jasper nursed his gout (changing his opinion of French cooking, to which he attributed a fresh attack) and the girls picked up the threads they had temporarily dropped.
Always responsive to her environment, Lola expanded quickly in the sympathetic atmosphere of the Nicolls household. Before long, Montrose, with its "blue Scotch Calvinism," was but a memory. Instead of being snubbed and scolded, she was petted and encouraged. As a result, she grew cheerful and vivacious, full of high spirits and laughter. Perhaps because of her mother's Spanish blood, she matured early. At sixteen she was a woman. A remarkably attractive one, too, giving—with her raven tresses, long-lashed violet eyes, and graceful figure—promise of the ripe beauty for which she was afterwards to be distinguished throughout two hemispheres. Of a romantic disposition, she, naturally enough, had her affaires. Several of them, as it happened. One of them was with an usher, who had slipped amorous missives into her prayer-book. Greatly daring, he followed this up by bearding Sir Jasper in his den and asking permission to "pay his addresses" to his ward. The warrior's response was unconciliatory. Still, he could not be angry when, on being challenged, the girl laughed at him.
"Egad!" he declared. "But, before long, Miss, you'll be setting all the men by the ears."
During the interval that elapsed since they last met, Mrs. Craigie had troubled herself very little about the child she had sent to England. When, however, she received her portrait from Sir Jasper, together with a glowing description of her attractiveness and charm, the situation assumed a fresh aspect. Lola, she felt, had become an asset, instead of an anxiety; and, as such, must make a "good" marriage. Bath swarmed with detrimentals, and there was a risk of a pretty girl, bereft of a mother's watchful care, being snapped up by one of them. Possibly, a younger son, without a penny with which to bless himself. A shuddering prospect for an ambitious mother. Obviously, therefore, the thing to do was to get her daughter out to India and marry her off to a rich husband. The richer, the better.
Mrs. Craigie went to work in business-like fashion, and cast a maternal eye over the "eligibles" she met at Government House. The one among them she ultimately selected as a really desirable son-in-law was a Calcutta judge, Sir Abraham Lumley. It was true he was more than old enough to be the girl's father, and was distinctly liverish. But this, she felt, was beside the point, since he had accumulated a vast number of rupees, and would, before long, retire on a snug pension.
Sir Abraham was accordingly sounded. Hardened bachelor as he was, a single glance at Lola's portrait was enough to send his blood-pressure up to fever heat. In positive rapture at the idea of such fresh young loveliness becoming his, he declared himself ready to change his condition, and discussed handsome settlements.
With everything thus cut and dried, as she considered, Mrs. Craigie took the next step in her programme. This was to leave India for England, during the autumn of 1836, and tell Lola of the "good news" in store for her. She was then to bring her back to Calcutta and the expectant arms of Sir Abraham.
Honest Captain Craigie looked a little dubious when he was consulted.
"Perhaps she won't care about him," he suggested.
"Fiddlesticks!" retorted his wife. "Any girl would jump at the chance of being Lady Lumley. Think of the position."
"I'm thinking of Lola," he said.
"MARRIED IN HASTE"
Among the passengers accompanying Mrs. Craigie on the long voyage to Southampton was a Lieutenant Thomas James, a debonair young officer of the Bengal Infantry, who made himself very agreeable to her and with whom he exchanged many confidences. He was going home on a year's sick leave; and at the suggestion of his ship-board acquaintance he decided to spend the first month of it in Bath.
"It's time I settled down," he said. "Who knows, but I might pick up a wife in Bath and take her back to India with me."
"Who knows," agreed Mrs. Craigie, her match-making instincts aroused. "Bath is full of pretty girls."
The meeting between mother and daughter developed very differently from the lines on which she had planned it. Contrary to what she had expected, Lola did not evince any marked readiness to fall in with them. Quite undazzled by the prospects of becoming Lady Lumley, and reclining on Sir Abraham's elderly bosom, she even went so far as to dub the learned judge a "gouty old rascal," and declared that nothing would induce her to marry him. Neither reproaches nor arguments had any effect. Nor would she exhibit the smallest interest in the trousseau for which (but without her knowledge) lavish orders had been given.
Poor Mrs. Craigie could scarcely believe her ears. For a daughter to run counter to the wishes of her mother, and to snap her fingers at the chance of marrying a "title," was something she had considered impossible. What on earth were girls coming to, she wondered. Either the Paris "finishing school" or the Bath air had gone to her head. The times were out of joint, and the theory that daughters did what they were told was being rudely upset. It was all very disturbing.
In her astonishment and annoyance, Mrs. Craigie took to her bed. However, she did not stop there long, for prompt measures had to be adopted. As it was useless to tackle Sir Jasper Nicolls (whom she held responsible for the upset to her plans) she sought counsel of somebody else. This was her military friend, who, as luck would have it, was still lingering in Bath, where he had evidently discovered some special attraction. After all, he was a "man of the world" and would know what to do. Accordingly, she summoned him to a consultation, and unburdened her mind on the subject of Lola's "oddness."
"Of course, the girl's mad," she declared. "Nothing else would account for it. Can you imagine any girl in her senses turning up her nose at such a match? I never heard such rubbish. I'm sure I don't know what Sir Abraham will say. He expects her to join him in Calcutta by the end of the year. As a matter of fact, I've already booked her passage. The wedding is to be from our house there. Something will have to be done. The question is, what?"
"Leave it to me," was the airy response. "I'll talk to her."
Thomas James did "talk." He talked to some effect, but not at all in the fashion Mrs. Craigie had intended. Expressing sympathy with Lola, he declared himself entirely on her side. She was much too young and pretty and attractive, he said, to dream for an instant of marrying a man who was old enough to be her grandfather, and bury herself in India. The idea was ridiculous. He had a much better plan to offer. When Lola, smiling through her tears, asked him what it was, he said that she must run away with him and they would get married. Thus the problem of her future would be solved automatically.
The luxuriant whiskers and dashing air of Lieutenant Thomas James did their work. Further, the suggestion was just the sort of thing that happened to heroines in novels. Lola Gilbert, young and romantic and inexperienced, succumbed. Watching her opportunity, she slipped out of the house early the next morning. Her lover had a post-chaise in readiness, and they set off in it for Bristol. There they took the packet and crossed over to Ireland, where James had relatives, who, he promised, would look after her until their marriage should be accomplished.
"Elopement in High Life!" A tit-bit of gossip for the tea-tables and for the bucks at the clubs. No longer a sleepy hollow. Bath was in the "news."
It was not until they were gone that Mrs. Craigie discovered what had happened. Her first reaction was one of furious indignation. This, however, was natural, for not only had her ambitious project gone astray, but she had been deceived by the very man she had trusted. It was more than enough to upset anybody, especially as she was also confronted with the unpleasant task of writing to Sir Abraham Lumley, and telling him what had happened. As a result, she announced that she would "wash her hands" of the pair of them.
While it was one thing to run away, it was, as Lola soon discovered, another thing to get married. An unexpected difficulty presented itself, as the parish priest whom they consulted refused to perform the ceremony for so young a girl without being first assured of her mother's consent. Mrs. Craigie, erupting tears and threats, declined to give it. Thereupon, James's married sister, Mrs. Watson, sprang into the breach and pointed out that "things have gone so far that it is now too late to draw back, if scandal is to be avoided." The argument was effective; and, a reluctant consent having been secured, on July 23, 1837, the "position was regularised" by the bridegroom's brother, the Rev. John James, vicar of Rathbiggon, County Meath. "Thomas James, bachelor, Lieutenant, 21st Bengal Native Infantry, and Rose Anna Gilbert, condition, spinster," was the entry on the certificate.
After a short honeymoon in Dublin, first at the Shamrock Hotel, and then in rather squalid lodgings (for cash was not plentiful), Lola was taken back to her husband's relatives. They lived in a dull Irish village on the edge of a peat bog, where the young bride found existence very boring. Then, too, when the glamour of the elopement had dimmed, it was obvious that her action in running away from Bath had been precipitate. Thomas, for all his luxuriant whiskers and dash, was, she reflected sadly, "nothing but the outside shell of a man, with neither a brain that she could respect nor a heart she could love." A sorry awakening from the dreams in which she had indulged. As a matter of fact, they had nothing in common. The husband, who was sixteen years his wife's senior, cared for little but hunting and drinking, and Lola's tastes were mainly for dancing and flirting.
It was in Dublin, where, much to her satisfaction, her spouse was ordered on temporary duty, that she discovered a ready outlet for these activities.
"Dear dirty Dublin" was, to Lola's way of thinking, a vast improvement on Rathbiggon. At any rate, there was "society," smart young officers and rising politicians, instead of clodhopping squireens and village boors, to talk to, and shops where the new fashions could be examined, and theatres with real London actors and actresses. If only she had had a little money to spend, she would have been perfectly happy. But Tom James had nothing beyond his pay, which scarcely kept him in cheroots and car fares. Still, this did not prevent him running up debts.
The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland at that period was the Earl of Mulgrave ("the Elegant Mulgrave"), afterwards Marquess of Normanby. A great admirer of pretty women, and fond of exercising the Viceregal privilege of kissing attractive debutantes, the drawing-rooms at the Castle were popular functions under his regime. He showed young Mrs. James much attention. The aides-de-camp, prominent among whom were Bernal Osborne and Francis Sheridan, followed the example thus set them by their chief; and tickets for balls and concerts and dinner-parties and drums and routs were showered upon her.
Thinking that these compliments and attentions were being overdone, Lieutenant James took them amiss and elected to become jealous. He talked darkly of "calling out" one of his wife's admirers. But before there could be any early morning pistol-play in the Phoenix Park, an unexpected solution offered itself. Trouble was suddenly threatened on the Afghan frontier; and, in the summer of 1837, all officers on leave from India were ordered to rejoin their regiments. Welcoming the prospect of thus renewing her acquaintance with a country of which she still had pleasant memories, Lola set to work to pack her trunks.
If she had followed the advice of a certain "travellers' handbook," written by Miss Emma Roberts, that was then very popular, she must have had a considerable amount of baggage. Thus, according to this authority, the "List of Necessaries for a Lady on a Voyage from England to India" included, among other items, the following articles: "72 chemises; 36 nightcaps; 70 pocket-handkerchiefs; 30 pairs of drawers (or combinations, at choice); 15 petticoats; 60 pairs of stockings; 45 pairs of gloves; at least 20 dresses of different texture; 12 shawls and parasols; and 3 bonnets and 15 morning caps, together with biscuits and preserves at discretion, and a dozen boxes of aperient pills." Nothing omitted. Provision for all contingencies.
Officers were also required to provide themselves with an elaborate outfit. Thus, the list recommended in the East India Voyage gives, among other necessary items, "72 calico shirts; 60 pairs of stockings; 18 pairs of drawers; 24 pairs of gloves; and 20 pairs of trousers"; together with uniform, saddlery, and camp equipment; and such odds and ends as "60 lbs. of wax candles and several bottles of ink." Nothing, however, about red-tape.
A helpful hint furnished by Miss Roberts was that "A lady on ship-board, spruced up for the Park or the Opera, would only be an object of ridicule to her experienced companions. Frippery which would be discarded in England is often useful in India. Members of my sex," she adds, "who have to study economy, can always secure bargains by acquiring at small cost items of fashion which, while outmoded in London, will be new enough by the time they reach Calcutta."
A lady with such sound views on managing the domestic budget as Miss Emma Roberts should not have remained long in single blessedness.
Those were not the days of ocean greyhounds, covering the distance between England and India in a couple of weeks. Nor was there then any Suez Canal route to shorten the long miles that had to be traversed. Thus, when Lola and her spouse embarked from England in an East Indiaman, the voyage took nearly five months to accomplish, with calls at Madeira, St. Helena, and the Cape, before the welcome cry, "Land Ahead!" was heard and anchor was dropped at Calcutta.
Lola's first acquaintance with India's coral strand had been made as a child of five. Now she was returning as a married woman. Yet she was scarcely eighteen. She did not stop in Calcutta long, for her husband's regiment was in the Punjaub, and a peremptory message from the brigadier required him to rejoin as soon as possible. It was at Kurnaul (as it was then spelled) that Lola began her experience of garrison life. Among the other officers she met there was a young subaltern of the Bengal Artillery, who, in the years to come, was to make a name for himself as "Lawrence of Lucknow."
The year 1838 was, for both the Company's troops and the Queen's Army, an eventful one where India was concerned. During the spring Lord Auckland, the newly-appointed Governor-General, hatched the foolish and ill-conceived policy which led to the first Afghan war. His idea (so far as he had one) was, with the help of Brown Bess and British bayonets, to replace Dost Muhammed, who had sat on the throne there for twenty years without giving any real trouble, by an incompetent upstart of his own nomination, Shah Shuja.
Lieutenant James's regiment, the 21st Bengal Native Infantry, was among those selected to join the expeditionary force appointed to "uphold the prestige of the British Raj"; and, as was the custom at that time, Lola, mounted on an elephant (which she shared with the colonel's better half), and followed by a train of baggage camels and a pack of foxhounds complete, accompanied her husband to the frontier. The other ladies included Mrs. McNaghten and Mrs. Robert Sale and the Governor-General's two daughters. It is just possible that Macaulay had a glimpse of Lola, for a contemporary letter says that "he turned out to wish the party farewell."
The "Army of the Indus" was given a good send off by a loyal native prince, Ranjeet Singh (the "Lion of the Punjaub"), who, on their march up country, entertained the column in a rest-camp at Lahore with "showy pageants and gay doings," among which were nautch dances, cock-fights, and theatricals. He meant well, no doubt, but he contrived to upset a chaplain, who declared himself shocked that a "bevy of dancing prostitutes should appear in the presence of the ladies of the family of a British Governor-General." Judging from a luscious account that Lola gives of a big durbar, to which all the officers and their wives were bidden, these strictures were not unjustifiable. Thus, after Lord Auckland ("in sky blue inexpressibles") and his host had delivered patriotic speeches (with florid allusions to the "British Raj," the "Sahib Log," and the "Great White Queen," and all the rest of it) gifts were distributed among the assembled company. Some of these were of an embarrassing description, since they took the form of "beautiful Circassian slave maidens, covered with very little beyond precious gems." To the obvious annoyance, however, of a number of prospective recipients, "the Rajah was officially informed that English custom and military regulations alike did not permit Her Majesty's warriors to accept such tokens of goodwill."
But, if they could not receive them, the guests had to make presents in turn, and Ranjeet Singh for his part had no qualms about accepting them. With true Oriental politeness, and "without moving a muscle," he registered rapture at a "miscellaneous collection of imitation gold and silver trinkets and rusty old pistols offered him on behalf of the Honourable East India Company."
A correspondent of the Calcutta Englishman was much impressed. "The particular gift," he says, "before which the Maharajah bent with the devotion of a preux chevalier was a full-length portrait of our gracious little Queen, from the brush of the Hon. Miss Eden herself."
In a letter from Lord Auckland's military secretary, the Hon. William Osborne, there is an account of these doings at Lahore:
Ranjeet has entertained us all most handsomely. No one in the camp is allowed to purchase a single thing; and a list is sent round twice a week in which you put down just what you require, and it is furnished at his expense. It costs him 25,000 rupees a day. Nothing could exceed his liberality and friendship during the whole of the Governor-General's visit.
A second durbar, held at Simla, was accompanied by much florid imagery, all of which had to be interpreted for the benefit of Lord Auckland. "It took a quarter of an hour," says his sister, "to satisfy him about the Maharajah's health, and to ascertain that the roses had bloomed in the garden of friendship, and the nightingales had sung in the bowers of affection sweeter than ever since the two Powers had approached each other."
The Afghan campaign, as ill conceived as it was ill carried out, followed its appointed course. That is to say, it was punctuated by "regrettable incidents" and quarrels among the generals (two of whom, Sir Henry Fane and Sir John Keane, were not on speaking terms); and, with the Afghans living to fight another day, a "success for British arms" was announced. Thereupon, the column returned to India, bands playing, elephants trumpeting a salute, and guns thundering a welcome. "The war," declared His Excellency (who had received an earldom) in an official despatch, "is all over." Unfortunately, however, it was all over Afghanistan, with the result that there had to be another campaign in the following year. This time, not even Lord Auckland's imagination could call it "successful."
"There will be a great deal of prize money," was the complacent fashion in which Miss Eden summed up the situation. "Another man has been put on the Khelat throne, so that business is finished." But it was not finished. It was only just beginning. "Within six months," says Edward Thompson, "Khelat was recaptured by a son of the slain Khan, Lord Auckland's puppet ejected, and the English commander of the garrison murdered."
Although the expedition that followed was the subject of a highly eulogistic despatch from the Commander-in-Chief and the big-wigs at headquarters, a number of "regrettable incidents" were officially admitted. As a result, a regiment of Light Cavalry was disbanded, "as a punishment for poltroonery in the hour of trial and the dastards struck off the Army List."
Later on, when Lord Ellenborough was Governor-General, a bombastic memorandum, addressed "To all the Princes and Chiefs and People of India," was issued by him:
"Our victorious army bears the gates of the Temple of Somnauth in triumph from Afghanistan, and the despoiled tomb of Sultan Mahmood looks down upon the ruins of Ghuznee. The insult of 800 years is at last avenged!
"To you I shall commit this glorious trophy of successful war. You will yourselves with all honour transmit the gates of sandalwood to the restored Temple of Somnauth.
"May that good Providence, which has hitherto so manifestly protected me, still extend to me its favour, that I may so use the power entrusted to my hands to advance your prosperity and happiness by placing the union of our two countries upon foundations that may render it eternal."
There was a good deal more in a similar style, for his lordship loved composing florid despatches. But this one had a bad reception when it was sent home to England. "At this puerile piece of business," says the plain spoken Stocqueler, "the commonsense of the British community at large revolted. The ministers of religion protested against it as a most unpardonable homage to an idolatrous temple. Ridiculed by the Press of India and England, and laughed at by the members of his own party in Parliament, Lord Ellenborough halted the gates at Agra, and postponed the completion of the monstrous folly he had more than begun to perpetrate."
Severe as was this criticism, it was not unmerited. Ellenborough's theatrical bombast, like that of Napoleon at the Pyramids, recoiled upon him, bringing a hornets' nest about his own ears and leading to his recall. As a matter of fact, too, the gates which he held in such reverence were found to be replicas of the pair that the Sultan Mahmood had pilfered from Somnauth; and were not of sandalwood at all, but of common deal.
While following the drum from camp to camp and from station to station, Lola spent several months in Bareilly, a town that was afterwards to play an important part in the Mutiny. Colonel Durand, an officer who was present when the city was captured in 1858, says that the bungalow she occupied there was destroyed. Yet, the mutineers, he noticed, had spared the bath house that had been built for her in the compound.
During the hot weather of 1839, young Mrs. James, accompanied by her husband, went off to Simla for a month on a visit to her mother, who, yielding to pressure, had at last held out the olive-branch. The welcome, however—except from Captain Craigie, who still had a warm corner in his heart for her—was somewhat frigid.
There is a reference to this visit in Up the Country, a once popular book by Lord Auckland's sister, the Hon. Emily Eden. Following the coy fashion of the period, however, she always refrained from giving a name in full, but would merely allude to people as "Colonel A," "Mr. B," "Mrs. C," and "Miss D," etc. Still, the identities of "Mrs. J" and "Mrs. C" in this extract are clear enough:
September 8, 1839.
Simla is much moved just now by the arrival of a Mrs. J, who has been talked of as a great beauty all the year, and that drives every other woman quite distracted.... Mrs. J is the daughter of a Mrs. C, who is still very handsome herself, and whose husband is deputy-adjutant-general, or some military authority of that kind. She sent this only child to be educated at home, and went home herself two years ago to see her. In the same ship was Mr. J, a poor ensign, going home on sick leave. He told her he was engaged to be married, consulted her about his prospects, and in the meantime privately married this child at school. It was enough to provoke any mother; but, as it now cannot be helped, we have all been trying to persuade her for the last year to make it up. She has withstood it till now, but at last has consented to ask them for a month, and they arrived three days ago.
The rush on the road was remarkable. But nothing could be more satisfactory than the result, for Mrs. J looked lovely, and Mrs. C has set up for her a very grand jonpaun, with bearers in fine orange and brown liveries; and J is a sort of smart-looking man with bright waistcoats and bright teeth, with a showy horse, and he rode along in an attitude of respectful attention to ma belle mere. Altogether, it was an imposing sight, and I cannot see any way out of it but magnanimous admiration.
During this visit to Simla the couple were duly bidden to dine at Auckland House, on Elysium Hill, where they met His Excellency.
"We had a dinner yesterday," wrote their hostess. "Mrs. J is undoubtedly very pretty, and such a merry unaffected girl. She is only seventeen now, and does not look so old; and when one thinks that she is married to a junior lieutenant in the Indian Army, fifteen years older than herself, and that they have 160 rupees a month, and are to pass their whole lives in India, I do not wonder at Mrs. C's resentment at her having run away from school."
Writing to Lady Teresa Lister in England, Miss Eden gives an entertaining account of Simla at this date:
Everybody has been pleased and amused, except the two clergymen who are here, and who have begun a course of sermons against what they call a destructive torrent of worldly gaiety. They had much better preach against the destructive torrent of rain which has now set in for the next three months, and not only washes away all gaiety, but all the paths, in the literal sense, which lead to it.... I do not count Simla as any grievance—nice climate, beautiful place, constant fresh air, plenty of fleas, not much society, everything that is desirable.
In another letter, this indefatigable correspondent remarks:
Here, society is not much trouble, nor much anything else. We give sundry dinners and occasional balls, and have hit upon one popular device. Our band plays twice a week on one of the hills here, and we send ices and refreshments to the listeners, and it makes a nice little reunion with very little trouble.
* * * * *
A further reference to the amenities of Government House at Simla during the Aucklands' regime is instructive, as showing that it was not a case of all work and no play:
There are about ninety-six ladies here whose husbands are gone to the wars, and about twenty-six gentlemen—at least, there will, with good luck, be about that number. We have a very dancing set of aides-de-camp just now, and they are utterly desperate at the notion of our having no balls. I suppose we must begin on one in a fortnight; but it will be difficult, and there are several young ladies here with whom some of our gentlemen are much smitten. As they will have no rivals here, I am horribly afraid the flirtations may become serious, and then we shall lose some active aides-de-camp, and they will find themselves on ensign's pay with a wife to keep. However, they will have these balls, so it is not my fault.
* * * * *
After she had left Simla and its round of gaieties, Lola was to have another meeting with the hospitable Aucklands. This took place in camp at Kurnaul, "a great ugly cantonment, all barracks and dust and guns and soldiers." Miss Eden, who was accompanying her brother on a tour through the district, wrote to her sister in England:
November 13, 1839.
We were at home in the evening, and it was an immense party; but, except that pretty Mrs. J, who was at Simla, and who looked like a star among the others, the women were all plain.
A couple of days later, she added some further particulars:
We left Kurnaul yesterday morning. Little Mrs. J was so unhappy at our going that we asked her to come and pass the day here, and brought her with us. She went from tent to tent and chattered all day and visited her friend, Mrs. M, who is with the camp. I gave her a pink silk gown, and it was altogether a very happy day for her evidently. It ended in her going back to Kurnaul on my elephant, with E.N. by her side, and Mr. J sitting behind. She had never been on an elephant before, and thought it delightful.
She is very pretty, and a good little thing apparently. But they are very poor, and she is very young and lively, and if she falls into bad hands, she would laugh herself into foolish scrapes. At present the husband and wife are very fond of each other, but a girl who marries at fifteen hardly knows what she likes.
When she wrote this passage, Miss Eden might have been a Sibyl, for her words were to become abundantly true.
Except when on active service, officers of the Company's Army were not overworked. Everything was left to the sergeants and corporals; and, while Thomas Atkins and Jack Sepoy trudged in the dust and sweated and drilled in their absurd stocks and tight tunics, the commissioned ranks, lolling in barracks, killed the long hours as they pleased.
Following form, Captain James (the Afghan business had brought him a step in rank) did a certain amount of tiger-shooting and pig-sticking, and a good deal of brandy-swilling, combined with card-playing and gambling. As a husband, he was not a conspicuous success. "He slept," complained Lola, feeling herself neglected, "like a boa-constrictor," and, during the intervals of wakefulness, "drank too much porter." The result was, there were quarrels, instead of love-making, for they both had tempers.
"Runaway matches, like runaway horses," Lola had once written, "are almost sure to end in a smash-up." In this case there was a "smash-up," for Tom James was not always sleeping and drinking. He had other activities. If fond of a glass, he was also fond of a lass. The one among them for whom he evinced a special fondness was a Mrs. Lomer, the wife of a brother officer, the adjutant of his regiment. His partiality was reciprocated.
One morning when, without any suspicion of what was in store for them, Mrs. James and Adjutant Lomer sat down to their chota-hazree, two members of the accustomed breakfast party were missing. Enquiries having been set on foot, the fact was elicited that Captain James and Mrs. Lomer had gone out for an early ride. It must have been a long one, thought the camp, as they did not appear at dinner that evening. Messengers sent to look for them came back with a disturbing report. This was to the effect that the couple had slipped off to the Nilgiri Hills and had decided to stop there.
The next morning a panting native brought a letter from the errant lady addressed to her furious spouse. This missive is (without explaining how he got it) reproduced by an American journalist, T. Everett Harre, in a series of articles, The Heavenly Sinner: "I suggest," runs an extract, "you come to your senses and give me my freedom ... I am going with a man of parts who knows how to give a woman the attentions she craves, and is himself glad to shake off a young chit of a wife who is too brainless to appreciate him."
A first-class sensation. The entire cantonment throbbed and buzzed with excitement. The colonel fumed; the adjutant cursed; and there was talk of bringing the Don Juan Captain James to a court-martial for "conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman." But Lola, as was her custom, took it philosophically, doubtless reflecting that she was well rid of a spouse for whom she no longer cared, and went back to her mother in Calcutta.
Mrs. Craigie's maternal heart-strings should have been wrung by the unhappy position of her daughter. They were not wrung. The clandestine marriage, with the upsetting of her own plans, still rankled and remained unforgiven and unforgotten. As a result, when she asked for shelter and sympathy, Lola received a very frigid welcome. Her step-father, however, took her part, and declared that his bungalow was open to her until other arrangements could be made for her future. Not being possessed of much imagination, his idea was that she should leave India temporarily and stop for a few months in Scotland with his brother, Mr. David Craigie, a man of substance and Provost of Perth. After an interval for reflection there, he felt that the differences of opinion that had arisen between her husband and herself would become adjusted, and the young couple resume marital relations. Accordingly, he wrote to his brother, asking him to meet her when she arrived in London and escort her to Perth.
Lola, however, while professing complete agreement, had other views as to her future. She wanted neither a reconciliation with her husband nor a second experience of life with the Craigie family in Scotland. One such had been more than sufficient, but she was careful not to breathe a word on the subject. She kept her own counsel, and matured her own plans.
THE CONSISTORY COURT
Sailing from Calcutta for London in an East Indiaman, at the end of 1840, Lola was consigned by her step-father to the "special care" of a Mrs. Sturgis who was among the passengers. He obviously felt the parting. "Big salt tears," says Lola, "coursed down his cheeks," when he wished her a last farewell. He also gave her his blessing; and, what was more negotiable, a cheque for L1000. The two never met again.
But although she had left India's coral strand, a memory of her lingered there for many years. In this connection, Sir Walter Lawrence says that he once found himself in a cantonment that had been deserted so long that it was swallowed up by the ever advancing jungle. "A wizened villager," he says, "recalled a high-spirited and beautiful girl, the young wife of an officer, who would creep up and push him into the water. 'Ah,' he said, with a smile of affection, 'she was a badmash, but she was always very kind to me.' She was better known afterwards as Lola Montez."
At Madras a number of fresh comers joined the good ship Larkins in which Lola was proceeding to England. Among them was a certain Captain Lennox, aide-de-camp to Lord Elphinstone, the Governor. An agreeable young man, and very different from the missionaries and civil servants who formed the bulk of the other male passengers. Lola and himself were soon on good terms. "Too good," was the acid comment of the ladies in whose society Captain Lennox exhibited no interest. The couple were inseparable. They sat at the same table in the saloon; they paced the deck together, arm in arm, on the long hot nights, preferring dark and unfrequented corners; their chairs adjoined; their cabins adjoined; and, so the shocked whisper ran, they sometimes mistook the one for the other.
"Anybody can make a mistake in the dark," said Lola, when Mrs. Sturgis, remembering Captain Craigie's injunctions, and resolved at all costs to fulfil her trust, ventured on a remonstrance.
Ninety years ago, travellers had to "rough it;" and the conditions governing a voyage from India to England were very different from those that now obtain. None of the modern amenities had any place in the accepted routine. Thus, no deck sports; no jazz band; no swimming-pool; no cocktail bar; not even a sweepstake on the day's run.
But time had to be killed; and, as a young grass widow, Mrs. James felt that flirting was the best way of getting through it. Captain Lennox was the only man on board ship with whom she had anything in common. He was sympathetic, good-looking, and attentive. Also, he swore that he was "madly in love with her." The old, old story; but it did its work. Before the vessel berthed in London docks, Lola had come to a decision. A momentous decision. She would give David Craigie the slip, and, listening to his blandishments, cast in her lot with George Lennox.
"I'll look after you," he said reassuringly. "Trust me for that, my dear."
Lola did trust him. In fact, she trusted him to such an extent that, on reaching London, she stopped with him at the Imperial Hotel in Covent Garden; and then, when the manageress of that establishment took upon herself to make pointed criticisms, at his rooms in Pall Mall.
Naturally enough, this sort of thing could not be hushed up for long. Meaning nods and winks greeted the dashing Lennox when he appeared at his club. Tongues wagged briskly. Some of them even wagged in distant Calcutta, where they were heard by Lola's husband. Ignoring his own amorous dalliance with a brother officer's spouse, he elected to feel injured. Resolved to assert himself, he got into touch with his London solicitors and instructed them to take the preliminary steps to dissolve his marriage. The first of these was to bring an action for what was then politely dubbed "crim. con." against the man he alleged to have "wronged" him.
The lawyers would not be hurried; and things moved in leisurely fashion. Still, they moved to their appointed end; and, the necessary red tape being unwound, interrogatories administered, and the evidence of prying chambermaids and hotel servants collected and examined, in May, 1841, the case of James v. Lennox got into the list and was heard by Lord Denman and a special jury in the Court of Queen's Bench. Sir William Follett, the Solicitor-General, was briefed on behalf of the plaintiff, and Frederick Thesiger appeared for Captain Lennox.
In his opening address, Sir William Follett (who had not been too well instructed) told the jury that the petitioner and his wife "had lived very happily together in India, and that the return of Mrs. James to England was due to a fall from her horse at Calcutta." While on the passage home, he continued, pulling out his vox humana stop, the ship touched at Madras, where the defendant came on board; and, "during the long voyage, an intimacy sprang up between Mrs. James and himself which developed in a fashion that left the outraged husband no choice but to institute the present proceedings to recover damages for having been wantonly robbed of the affection and society of his consort."
At this point, counsel for Captain Lennox (who, in pusillanimous fashion, had loved and sailed away, rather than stop and help the woman he had compromised) cut short his learned friend's tearful eloquence by admitting that he was prepared to accept a verdict, with L1000 damages. As the judge agreed, the case was abruptly terminated.
This, however, was only the first round. In December of the following year, the next step was adopted, and a suit for divorce was commenced in the Consistory Court. As neither Mrs. James nor the Lothario-like Captain Lennox put in an appearance, Dr. Lushington, declaring himself satisfied that misconduct had been committed, pronounced a decree a mensa et thoro. All that this amounted to was merely a judicial separation.
The report in The Times only ran to a dozen lines. Considering that the paper cost fivepence a copy, this was not a very liberal allowance. Still, readers had better value in respect of another action in "high life" that was heard the same day, that of Lord and Lady Graves, which had a full column allotted it.
This was all that the public knew of the case. It did not seem much on which to blast a young wife's reputation. Dr. Lushington, the judge of the Consistory Court, however, knew a good deal more about the business than did the general public. This was because, during the preliminary hearing, held some months earlier and attended only by counsel and solicitors, a number of damaging facts had transpired.
Mrs. James, said learned counsel for the petitioner, had "been guilty of behaviour at which a crocodile would tremble and blush." A serious charge to bring against a young woman. Still, in answer to the judge, he professed himself equipped with ample evidence to support it. His first witness was a retired civil servant, a Mr. Browne Roberts, who had known the respondent's husband, first, as a bachelor in India, and afterwards as a married man in Dublin. At the beginning of 1841, he had received a call, he said, from a Major McMullen to whom Captain Craigie had written, asking him to take charge of his step-daughter on her arrival in London and see her off to his relatives in Scotland. When, however, the major offered this hospitality, it was refused. Thereupon, Mr. Roberts had himself called at the Imperial Hotel, Covent Garden, and suggested that she should come and stop with his wife; and this invitation was also refused.
Not much in this perhaps, but a good deal in what followed. Mrs. Elizabeth Walters, the manageress of the Imperial Hotel, said that on February 21, 1841, "a lady and gentleman arrived in a hackney cab, with luggage marked G. Lennox and Mrs. James, and booked a double room." Mrs. Walters had not, she admitted, "actually discovered them undressed, or sharing the bed," but "she would not have been surprised to have done so." Accordingly, when her travelling companion left the next morning, she taxed Mrs. James with misconduct. After telling her to "mind her own business," Mrs. James had declared that she and Captain Lennox were on the point of being married, and had then packed up and left the establishment.
"What exactly did she say?" enquired the judge.
"She said, 'what I choose to do is my own affair and nobody else's.'"
On leaving the somewhat arid hospitality of the Covent Garden Hotel, Mrs. James had removed to a lodging-house just off Pall Mall, where she stopped for a month. Mrs. Martin, the proprietress, told the court that, during this period, Captain Lennox settled the bill, and "called there every day, often stopping till all hours of the night."
The testimony of Mrs. Sarah Watson, the sister of Captain James, was that her brother had written to her in the autumn of 1840, saying that his wife had been thrown from her horse and was coming to England for medical treatment; and that he had written to his aunt, Mrs. Rae, of Edinburgh, suggesting that his wife should stop with her. Mrs. Watson, having "been told things," then called on Mrs. James in Covent Garden. "I spoke to her," she said, "of the shocking rumour that Captain Lennox had passed a night with her there, and pointed out the unutterable ruin that would result from a continuance of such deplorable conduct. I begged her to entrust herself to the care of Mrs. Rae. My entreaties were ineffectual. She positively declared, affirming with an oath, that she would do nothing of the kind."
Among the passengers on board the East Indiaman by which Mrs. James had voyaged to England was Mrs. Ingram, the captain's wife. "The conduct of Mrs. James," she said, "was unguarded in the extreme, and her general behaviour was what is sometimes called flirting." Captain Ingram, who followed, had a still more disturbing story to recount. "On several occasions," he said, "I heard Mrs. James address the gentleman who joined us at Madras as 'Dear Lennox,' and she would even admit him to the privacy of her cabin while the other passengers were attending divine service on deck. When I spoke to her about it, she answered me in a very cool fashion."
All this was distinctly damaging. The real sensation, however, was provided by Caroline Marden, a stewardess.
"During the voyage from Madras," she told the astonished judge, "I more than once saw Captain Lennox lacing up Mrs. James's stays."
"Did you see anything else?" faltered counsel.
"Yes, I also saw her actually putting on her stockings while Captain Lennox was in her cabin!"
There were limits to intimacies between the sexes. This was clearly among them. For a man to assist in adjusting a woman's stays, and watch her changing her stockings, could, in the opinion of the learned and experienced Dr. Lushington, only lead to one result. The worst result. Hence, he had no difficulty in pronouncing the decree for which the husband was applying.
All James had got for his activities in bringing his action was a divorce a mensa et thoro, that is, "from bed and board." But, while it was all he got, this measure of relief was probably all he wanted, as he was not contemplating a second experiment in matrimony, either with Mrs. Lomer or anybody else. Where his discarded wife was concerned, she would have to shift for herself. She no longer had any legal claim upon him; nor could she marry again during his lifetime. Her position was a somewhat pathetic one. Thus, she was alone and friendless; besmirched in reputation; abandoned by her husband; and deserted by her lover. But she still had her youth and her courage.
The London of the 1840's, where Lola found herself cast adrift, was a curious microcosm and full of contrasts. A mixture of unabashed blackguardism and cloistered prudery; of double-beds and primness; of humbug and frankness; of liberty and restraint; of lust and license; of brutal horse-play passing for "wit," and of candour marching with cant. The working classes scarcely called their souls their own; women and children mercilessly exploited by smug profiteers; the "Song of the Shirt"; Gradgrind and Boanerges holding high festival; Tom and Jerry (on their last legs) and Corinthians wrenching off door knockers and upsetting policemen; and Exeter Hall and the Cider Cellars both in full swing. Altogether, an ill place of sojourn for an unprotected young woman.
Exactly how this one supported herself during the next few months is not very clear, for, if she kept a diary, she never published it. According, however, to a Sunday organ, "she entangled the virtuous Earl of Malmesbury in a delicate kind of newspaper correspondence, an assertion having been made in public that she visited that pious nobleman at his own house." An odd story (of American origin, and quite unfounded) has it that, about this period, she established contact with a certain Jean Francois Montez, "an individual of immense wealth who lavished a fortune on her"; and Edward Blanchard, a hack dramatist of Drury Lane, contributes the somewhat unhelpful remark, "She became a Bohemian." Perhaps she did. But she had to discover a second career that would bring a little more grist to the mill. Such a course was imperative, since the balance of the L1000 her step-father had given her would not last indefinitely. Looking round, she felt that, all things considered, the stage offered the best prospects of earning a livelihood. Not a very novel decision. Nowadays, as an attractive young woman, with a little capital in her possession, she would have had more choice. Thus, she might have opened a hat shop, or run tea-rooms, or bred pet dogs, become a mannequin, or a dance club hostess, or even "gone on the films." But none of these avenues to feminine employment existed in the eighteen-forties. Hence, it was the footlights or nothing.
She had the sense to put herself in the hands of an instructress. The one she selected was Fanny Kelly ("the only woman to whom Charles Lamb had screwed up sufficient courage to propose marriage"), who conducted a school of acting. Being honest, as well as capable, Miss Kelly took the measure of the would-be Ophelia very promptly.
"You'll never make an actress," was her decision. "You've no talent for it."
But, if the applicant had no talent, the other saw that she had something else. This was a pair of shapely legs, which, as a ballet-dancer, could yet twinkle in front of the footlights.
This opinion being shared by its recipient, she lost no time in adopting it. As a preliminary, she went to Madrid. There, under expert tuition, she learned to rattle the castanets, and practised the bolero and the cachucha, as well as the classic arabesques and entrechats and the technique accompanying them. But she did not advance much beyond the simplest steps, for the time at her disposal was short, and the art of the ballerina is not to be acquired without years of unceasing study.
According to a French journalist, an "English Milord" made Lola's acquaintance in Madrid. This was Lord Malmesbury, "who was so dazzled by the purity of her Spanish accent that he adopted her as a compagnon de voyage, and shared with her the horrors of bad cooking and the joys of nights in Granada." This fact, however, if it be a fact, is not to be found in the volume of "memoirs" that he afterwards published.
Still, it seems that Lord Malmesbury did meet Lola. His own account of the incident is that, on returning to England from abroad, in the spring of the year 1843, he was asked by the Spanish Consul at Southampton to escort to London a young woman who had just landed there. He found her, he says, "a remarkably handsome person, who was in deep mourning and who appeared to be in great distress." While they were alone in the railway carriage, he improved the occasion and extracted from his travelling companion the story of her life.
"She informed me," he says, "in bad English that she was the widow of Don Diego Leon, who had lately been shot by the Carlists after he was taken prisoner, and that she was going to London to sell some Spanish property that she possessed, and give lessons in singing, as she was very poor."
Notwithstanding his diplomatic training, Lord Malmesbury swallowed this story, as well as much else with which it was embroidered. One thing led to another; and the acquaintance thus fortuitously begun in a railway carriage was continued in London. There he got up a concert for her benefit at his town house, where, in addition to singing Castilian ballads, his protegee sold veils and fans among the audience; and he also gave her an introduction to a theatrical manager, with results that neither of them had foreseen.
FLARE OF THE FOOTLIGHTS
Times change. When Lola returned to London a passage through the divorce court was not regarded as a necessary qualification for stage aspirants. Also, being well aware that, to ensure a good reception, a foreign-sounding name was desirable, this one decided to adopt that of Lola Montez. This, she felt, would, among other advantages, effectively mask her identity with that of Mrs. Thomas James, an identity she was anxious to shed.
Her plans were soon made. On the morning after her arrival, she presented her letter of introduction to the impressario of Her Majesty's Theatre, in the Haymarket. This position was held by an affable Hebrew, one Benjamin Lumley, an ex-solicitor, who had abandoned his parchments and bills of costs and acquired a lease of Her Majesty's. The house had long been looked upon as something of a white elephant in the theatrical jungle; but Lumley, being pushful and knowledgeable, soon built up a valuable following and set the establishment on its legs.
As luck would have it, Lola's interview with him came at just the right moment, for he was alternating ballet with opera and was in want of a fresh attraction. Convinced that he recognised it in his caller (or, perhaps, anxious to please Lord Malmesbury), he offered her an engagement there and then to dance a pas seul between the acts of Il Barbiere di Seviglia.
"If you make a hit," he said, "you shall have a contract for the rest of the season. It all depends on yourself."
Lola, wanting nothing better, left the managerial office, treading on air.
As was his custom, Lumley cultivated the critics, and would receive them in his sanctum whenever he had a novel attraction to submit.
"I have a surprise for you in my next programme," he said, when the champagne and cigars had been discussed. "This is that I have secured Donna Lola, a Spanish dancer, direct from Seville. She is, I assure you, deliciously beautiful and remarkably accomplished. I pledge you my word, gentlemen, she will create a positive furore here."
In 1843 dramatic critics had the privilege of attending rehearsals and penetrating behind the scenes. One of their number, adopting the pseudonym "Q," has left an account of the manner in which he first met Lola Montez. He had called on Lumley for a gossip, and was invited by that authority to descend to the stage and watch his new acquisition practising a dance there.
"At that period," he says, "her figure was even more attractive than her face, lovely as the latter was. Lithe and graceful as a young fawn, every movement she made was instinct with melody. Her dark eyes were blazing and flashing with excitement, for she felt that I was willing to admire her.... As she swept round the stage, her slender waist swayed to the music, and her graceful head and neck bent with it like a flower that bends with the impulse given to its stem by the fitful temper of the wind."
Lumley was tactful enough to leave the pressman alone with the star. As the latter promised to "give her a good puff in his paper," Lola, who never missed an opportunity, made herself specially agreeable to him. Her bright eyes did their work. "When we separated," says "Q" in his reminiscences, "I found myself tumbled heels over head into the profound depths of that which the French call a grande passion."
Lumley's next step was to draw up an announcement of the promised novelty for inclusion in the programme:
HER MAJESTY'S THEATRE
June 3, 1843
Mr. Benjamin Lumley begs to announce that, between the acts of the Opera, DONNA LOLA MONTEZ, of the Teatro Real, Seville, will have the honour to make her first appearance in England in the Original Spanish dance El Oleano.
After the cast list had been set out the rest of the reading matter on the programme was given up to advertisements. Some of them would appear to have been selected rather at haphazard. At any rate, their special appeal to music lovers was a little difficult to follow. Thus, one was of "Jackson's patent enema machines, as patronised by the nobility (either sex) when travelling"; another of "Mrs. Rodd's anatomical ladies' stays (which ensure the wearer a figure of astonishing symmetry";) and another of a "Brilliant burlesque ballad, 'Get along, Rosey,' sung with the most positive triumph every evening by Madame Vestris."
With much satisfaction, Manager Lumley, taking a preliminary peep at the crowded house, saw that a particularly "smart" audience was assembled on the night of June 3. The list of "fashionables" he handed to the reporters resembled an extract from the pages of Messrs. Burke and Debrett. Thus, the Royal Box was graced by the Queen Dowager, with the King of Hanover and Prince Edward of Saxe-Weimar for her guests; and, dotted about the pit tier (then the fashionable part of the house) were the Duke and Duchess of Wellington, the Marquess and Marchioness of Granby, Lord and Lady Brougham, and the Baroness de Rothschild, with the Belgian Minister, Count Esterhazy, and Baron Talleyrand. Even the occupants of the pit had to accept an official intimation that "only black trousers will be allowed." Her Majesty's had a standard, and Lumley insisted on its observance.
That long familiar feature, "Fops' Alley," having disappeared from the auditorium, the modish thing for unattached men was to make up a party and hire an omnibus-box; and from that position to pronounce judgment upon the legs of the dancers pirouetting in wispy gauze on the stage. Then, when the curtain fell, they would be privileged to go behind the scenes and chat with the coryphees.
On the evening of Lola's debut one of the omnibus-boxes was occupied by Lord Ranelagh, a raffish mid-Victorian roue, who had brought with him a select party of "Corinthians" in frilled shirts and flowered waistcoats. It was observed that he paid but languid attention to the opera. As soon, however, as the promised novelty, El Oleano, was reached, he exhibited a sudden interest and pushed his chair forward.
"We shall see some fun in a moment," he whispered. "Mind you fellows keep quiet until I give the word."
A little ominous, perhaps, that the Haymarket entrepreneur should bear the same name as the Calcutta judge who had unsuccessfully sought her hand. But Lola experienced no qualms. As she stood at the wings, in a black satin bodice and much flounced pink silk skirt, waiting for her cue, Lumley passed her with a nod of encouragement.
"Capital," he said, rubbing his whiskers. "Most attractive. You'll be a big success, my dear."
As he moved off, a bell tinkled in the prompt corner. In response, the conductor lifted his baton; the heavy curtains were drawn aside; and, under a cross-fire of opera glasses, Lola bounded on to the stage and executed her initial piroutte. There was a sudden hush, as, at the finish of the number, she stepped up to the footlights and awaited the verdict. Had she made good, or not? In a moment, however, she knew that all was well, for a storm of applause and clapping of hands filled the air. Lumley, from his place in the wings, beamed approval. His enterprise was to be rewarded. The debutante was a success. No doubt about it. She should have a contract from him before any other manager should step in and snap her up.
We do not believe (scribbled a critic, hurriedly jotting down his impressions, to be expanded when he got back to his office) that Donna Lola smiled once throughout her performance. As she withdrew, numbers of bouquets fell on to the stage. But the proud one of Seville did not deign to return to pick them up, and one of the gentlemen in livery was deputed for that purpose. When, however, her measure was encored, she stepped down from her pinnacle and actually condescended to accept an additional bouquet that had been tossed by a fair one from a box.
Her Majesty's Theatre (added a colleague) may now be said to be in its full zenith of grandeur and perfection of beauty and splendour, and variety and fame of the ballet. A new Spanish Donna has been introduced. Although the visitation was unheralded by the customary flourish of trumpeting on dits, it was extremely successful. The young lady came and saw and conquered. Many floral offerings were shot at her as a compliment, and the useful M. Coulos—ever at hand in such an emergency—assisted very industriously in picking them up. As for El Oleano, this is a sort of cachucha; and it certainly gives Donna Lola Montez an opportunity of introducing herself to the public under a very captivating aspect.... A lovely picture she is to contemplate. There is before you the very perfection of Spanish beauty—the tall handsome figure, the full lustrous eye, the joyous animated countenance, and the dark raven tresses. You gaze upon the Donna with delight and admiration.
It was just after the third item on her programme and while she stood before the curtain, bowing and smiling her acknowledgments, that there was an unexpected interruption. An ominous hiss suddenly split the air. The sound came from the occupants of the stage box in which Lord Ranelagh and his party had ensconced themselves. As at a prearranged signal, the occupants of the opposite box took it up and repeated it. The audience gasped in astonishment, and looked to Lord Ranelagh for a solution. He supplied one promptly. "Egad!" he exclaimed in a loud voice, "that's not Lola Montez at all. It's Betsy James, an Irish girl. Ladies and gentlemen, we're being properly swindled!"
"Swindled" was an ugly word. The pit and gallery, feeling that they were in some mysterious fashion being defrauded, followed the cue thus given them, and a volume of hisses and cat-calls sprang from the throats that, a moment earlier, had bellowed vociferous cheers. The great Michael Costa, who was conducting, dropped his baton in astonishment, and, refusing to pick it up again, left his desk. There is a theory that it was this untoward incident that led him to transfer himself from the Haymarket to Covent Garden. Quite possible. Musicians are temperamental folk.
It was left for Lumley to deal with the situation. He did so by ringing down the curtain, while Lola, in tears and fury, rushed off to her dressing-room.
Perhaps they left early, but none of the critics saw anything of this denouement. What, however, they did see they described in rapturous, not to say, florid terms:
We saw, as in a dream (declared one of them), an Elssler or a Taglioni descend from the clouds, under the traits of a new dancer, whose fervent admirers lavished on her all the enthusiasm and applause with which the rare perfection of her predecessors has been rewarded.
On Saturday last, between the acts of the opera, Donna Lola Montez was announced to appear on the programme at Her Majesty's. A thousand ardent spectators were in feverish anxiety to see her. Donna Lola enchanted everyone. There was throughout a graceful flowing of the arms—not an angle discernible—an indescribable softness in her attitude and suppleness in her limbs which, developed in a thousand positions (without infringing on the Opera laws), were the most intoxicating and womanly that can be imagined. We never remember seeing the habitues—both young and old—taken by more agreeable surprise than the bewitching lady excited. She was rapturously encored, and the stage strewn with bouquets.
Lord Ranelagh and his friends must have grinned when they read this gush.
"I saw Lumley immediately after the fall of the curtain," says a reporter who was admitted behind the scenes. "He was surrounded by the professors of morality from the omnibus-box, who said that Donna Lola was positively not to reappear. They pointed out to him that it was absolutely essential to have none but exemplary characters in the ballet; but they did not tell him where he would procure females who would have no objection to exhibiting their legs in pink silk fleshings. As Lumley could not afford to offend his patrons, he was compelled to accept the fiat of these virtuous scions of a moral and ultra-scrupulous aristocracy. Carlotta Grisi might have had a score of lovers; but, then, she had never turned up her charming little nose at my Lord Ranelagh."
It was an age when the theatre had to kow-tow to the patron. Unless My Lord approved, Mr. Crummles had no choice but to ring down the curtain. As the Ranelagh faction very emphatically disapproved, Lumley was compelled to give the recruit her marching-orders.
Lola's premiere had thus become her derniere.
By the way, a Sunday paper, writing some time afterwards, was guilty of a serious slip in its account of the episode, and mistook Lord Ranelagh for the Duke of Cambridge. "The newcomer," says this critic, "was recognised as Mrs. James by a Prince of the Blood and his companions in the omnibus-box. Her beauty could not save her from insult; and, to avenge themselves on Mr. Lumley, for some pique, these chivalrous English gentlemen of the upper classes hooted a woman from the stage."
What was behind Lord Ranelagh's cowardly attack on the debutante? There was a simple explanation, and not one that redounded to his credit in any way. It was that, during her "Bohemian" period, he had endeavoured to fill the empty niche left in her affections by the departure of that light-o'-love, Captain Lennox, and had been repulsed for his pains. A bad loser, my Lord nursed resentment. He would teach a mere ballet-dancer to snap her fingers at him. His opportunity came sooner than he imagined. He made the most of it.
Fond as he was of biting, Lord Ranelagh was, some years afterwards, himself bitten. He took a prominent part in an unsavoury scandal that fluttered mid-Victorian dovecotes, when a Bond Street "beauty specialist," known as Madame Rachel, was clapped into prison for swindling a wealthy and amorous widow. This was a Mrs. Borrodaile, whom "Madame" had gulled by declaring that Lord Ranelagh's one desire was to share his coronet with her. Although the raffish peer denied all complicity, he did not come out of the business too well.
"The peculiar prominence he has attained," remarked an obituarist, "has not always been of an enviable description. There are probably few men who have had so many charges of the most varied and disagreeable nature made against them. The resultant obloquy to which he had thus been exposed is great, nor has it vanished, as it properly should have done, with the charges themselves."
This, however, was looking ahead. The comments of 1843 came first. "In the clubs that night," we read, "the bucks and bloods laughed heartily when they discussed the mishap of the proud beauty who had scorned the advances of my Lord." Lola Montez, however, did not regard it as anything at which to laugh. She may, as she boasted, have had a dash of Spanish blood in her veins, but she certainly had none of George Washington's, for she immediately sat down and wrote a circular letter to all the London papers. In this she sought to correct what she described as a "false impression." Swallowing it as gospel, a number of them printed it in full:
To the Editor.
Since I had the honour of dancing at Her Majesty's Theatre, on Saturday, the 3rd inst. (when I was received by the English public in so kind and flattering a manner) I have been cruelly annoyed by reports that I am not really the person I pretend to be, but that I have long been known in London as a woman of disreputable character. I entreat you, Sir, to allow me, through the medium of your respected journal, to assure you and the public, in the most positive and unqualified manner, that there is not a word of truth in such a statement.
I am a native of Seville; and in the year 1833, when ten years old, was sent to a Catholic lady at Bath, where I remained seven months, and was then taken back to my parents in Spain. From that period, until the 14th of April, when I landed in England, I have never set foot in this country, and I never saw London before in my life.
In apologising for the favour I ask you, I feel sure that you will kindly consider the anxiety of myself and my friends to remove from the public any impression to my disadvantage. My lawyer has received instructions to proceed against all the parties who have calumniated me.
Believe me to be your obedient and humble servant,
June 13, 1843.
Ballet-dancers cannot, when making their debuts, be expected to remember everything; and this one had obviously forgotten her sojourn in India, just as she had forgotten her marriage to Thomas James (and the subsequent Consistory Court action), as well as her amorous dalliance with Captain Lennox during the previous year.
"In spite of the encouraging reception accorded Donna Lola Montez, she has not danced again," remarked a critic in the Examiner. "What is the reason?"
Lumley could have supplied the information. He did so, some years afterwards, in his book, Reminiscences of the Opera:
It is not my intention to rake up the world-wide stories of this strange and fascinating woman. Perhaps it will be sufficient to say frankly that I was, in this instance, fairly "taken in." A Noble Lord (afterwards closely connected with the Foreign Office) had introduced the lady to my notice as the daughter of a celebrated Spanish Patriot and martyr, representing her merits as a dancer in so strong a light that her "appearance" was granted.
... But this spurious Spanish lady had no real knowledge of that which she professed. The whole affair was an imposture; and on the very night of her first appearance the truth exploded. On the discovery of the truth, I declined to allow the English adventuress, for such she was, another appearance on my boards. In spite of the expostulations of the "friends" of the lady—in spite of the deprecatory letters in which she earnestly denied her English origin—in spite even of the desire expressed in high places to witness her strange performance—I remained inflexible.
The "Noble Lord" thus referred to in this pompous disclaimer was Lord Malmesbury.
If she had a quick temper, Lola Montez had a good heart, and was always ready to lend a helping hand to others. In this connection Edward Fitzball, a hack dramatist with whom things were not going well, has a story of how she volunteered to assist in a benefit performance that was being got up to set him on his legs. It was difficult to secure attractions; and the beneficiare, realising that, as was the custom in such cases, he would have to make good any deficit himself, was feeling depressed.
"This benefit," he says, "which I fully expected would prove to be a decided loss, annoyed me sadly. I was sauntering along Regent Street when I met Stretton, the popular singer, whose own benefit was just coming off. He said that he had secured every attraction worthy of the public, and that there was no hope for me, 'unless,' he added, 'you could secure Lola Montez.'
"'Pray, who is that?' I said in my ignorance.
"'Lola Montez is a lady who appeared the other night at Her Majesty's Theatre as a dancer, but, due to some aristocratic disturbance, has left in disgust. The papers were full of it. I offered her L50 to dance for me, and met with a decided refusal. Hence, I see no hope for you.'"
Fitzball, however, thinking it worth while taking a chance, hurried to Lola's lodgings and begged her to contribute to the programme he was offering. He had not expected to be successful, since he knew that she was smarting under a sense of injury. To his surprise and delight, however, she promised her services, and refused to accept any payment.
Overjoyed at the success of his embassy, Fitzball rushed off to the printers and had the hoardings plastered with bills, directing special attention to the novelty:
THEATRE ROYAL, COVENT GARDEN Monday, July 10, 1843.
COLOSSAL ATTRACTION! (For the Benefit of Mr. Fitzball)
EXTRAORDINARY COMBINATION OF TALENT!
During the evening the celebrated DONNA LOLA MONTEZ (whose recent performance created so pronounced a sensation at Her Majesty's Theatre) will execute, by special request, her remarkable dance, "El Oleano."
N.B.—This will positively be the Donna's only appearance in London, as she departs on Thursday next for St. Petersburg.
"The theatre," says Fitzball, in his account of the evening, "was crammed. Lola Montez arrived in a splendid carriage, accompanied by her maid. When she was dressed, she enquired if I thought her costume would be approved. I have seen sylphs and female forms of the most dazzling beauty in ballets and fairy dramas, but the most dazzling and perfect form I ever did gaze upon was that of Lola Montez in her white and gold attire studded with diamonds. Her bounding before the public was the signal for general applause and admiration. On the conclusion of her performance, there was a rapturous and universal call for her reappearance."
A PASSIONATE PILGRIMAGE
The "departure for St. Petersburg" was a stretch of Fitzball's imagination. Where Lola did go when she left England was not to Russia, but to Belgium. The visit was not a success, as none of the theatres in Brussels at which she applied for an engagement exhibited any interest in ballet-dancers, whether they came from Seville, or elsewhere. A spell of ill luck followed; and, if her own account of this period is to be trusted, she was reduced to such a pass that in the Belgian capital she became familiar with the inside of pawnshops and had to sing in the streets, to secure a lodging. But this "singing in the streets" business was, if a picturesque one, not an original touch. It is still in active use, as a stock portion of the autobiographical equipment of every stage and film heroine who wants "publicity." Further, if Lola Montez ever did anything of the kind, it was not for long. A "rich man"—she had a knack of establishing contact with them—promptly came to the rescue; and, assisted by, it is said, the mysterious Jean Francois Montez, who had followed her from London, she shook the inhospitable dust of the Brussels boulevards off her feet.