The aged lady who lives in a lovely old moated house a few miles out of Thurswell is one of the youngest people I ever met. She is the mother of two distinguished sons and the grandmother of a peeress. She takes an interest in everything that is going on in various parts of the world, and even points out the mistakes made by the leader-writers in the London papers—some of the mistakes. But she does so quite cheerfully and without any animus. She still sketches en plein air, and in her drawings there is no suggestion of the drawing-master of the early Victorians. Any elderly person who could hold a pencil and whose moral character could bear a strict investigation was accounted competent to teach drawing in those days; for drawing in those days meant nothing beyond making a fair copy of a lithograph of a cottage in a wood with a ladder leaning against a gable and a child sitting on a fence—a possible successful statesman in the future—with a dog below him. She never was so taught, she told me: she had always held out against the restrictions of the schoolroom of her young days, and had never played either the “Maiden's Prayer” or the “Battle of Prague.” Thalberg's variations on “Home Sweet Home” she had been compelled to learn. No young lady in that era of young ladies could avoid acquiring at least the skeleton of Thalberg's masterpiece: and I was glad that this particular old lady, who had once been a young lady, had mastered it; for it enabled her to give me the most delightful parody upon it that could be imagined.

Only once did I hear her speak with bitterness in referring to any one; but when she began upon this occasion, she spoke not only bitterly, but wrathfully—contemptuously as well. She was referring to the Emperor Napoleon III. in his relations with the unhappy Maximilian of Mexico. She had known the latter intimately. My own impression is that she had been in love with him—and tears were in her eyes when she talked of how he had been betrayed by the man whom she called a contemptible little cad. Sedan represented, in her way of thinking, the cordial agreement with her views by the Powers above. To hear her talk of those tragedies of more than forty years ago, as if they were the incidents of the day before yesterday, was inspiriting. I never inquired what was her age, but one afternoon when I called upon her I found that a birthday party was going on—a double party; for it was her birthday as well as her youngest grandchild's. Two fully iced cakes, with pink and white complexions, were being illuminated in the customary way, and each had been made a candelabrum of eight tapers. When I ventured to suggest that there must be an error in computation in some direction, it was the younger of the beneficiaries who explained to me that about seventy years or so ago Granny had become too old to allow of her birthday cake holding the full amount of the candles to which she was entitled, so it had been agreed that she should have only one candle for every ten years of her life. The little girl confided in me that she thought it was rather a shame to cheat poor Granny out of her rights, but of course there was no help for it: any one could see that no cake could be made large enough to accommodate, without undue crowding, eighty-one candles.

I looked at the sweet old Granny, and thought, for some reason or other, of the night of the first January of the century when I had stood listening to the tolling of the eighty-one strokes of the church bell in Devonshire, when every belfry in the kingdom announced the age of the good Queen who had gone to her rest. I wondered...

This dear lady of the eight-candle birthday cake—of which, by the bye, she partook heartily and apparently without the least misgiving—had been married at the age of seventeen, and this, she thought, was exactly the right age for a girl to marry, not, as might be supposed, because it admitted of her period of repentance being so much the longer, but simply because she considered grandchildren so interesting. She was not inclined to be tolerant over the prudent marriages of the present day, when no girl is unreasonable enough to expect a proposal before she is twenty-five, or from a man who is less than thirty-five. It almost brought me back to Shakespeare's England to hear her express such opinions. That stately old lady, Juliet's mother, as she appears in every modern production of the play, was made by the author to be something between twenty-six and twenty-seven, her daughter being some months under fourteen, but certainly forward for her age. We used to be informed by sage critics of this drama “of utter love defeated utterly” that Shakespeare made Juliet so young because it was the custom in Italy, where girls developed into womanhood at a much earlier age than in England, for a girl to marry at Juliet's time of life. It so happens, however, that early marriage was the custom in England and not in Italy in the sixteenth century. When a girl was twelve her parents looked about for a promising husband for her, and usually found one when she was thirteen.

Only a few months ago I came upon an unpublished letter, written in the beautiful Gothic hand of Queen Elizabeth, in response to the inquiry of an ambassador respecting a wife for an amiable young prince. The Queen suggested two names of highly eligible young women, and mentioned that one of them was twelve and the other thirteen!

The most flagrant example of unbridled centenarianism which I have yet come across in the course of my investigations in the neighbourhood of Thurswell was that of a lady who had won quite a literary aureole for her silver hair owing to the accident of her being actually the original “Cousin Amy” of Tennyson's “Locksley Hall.” For years she had worn this honourable distinction, and, so far as I could gather, her title to it had never been disputed. Even in the Cathedral Close of Broadminster the tradition had been accepted, and she had been pointed out to strangers, who doubtless looked at her with interest, saying, “Not really!” or “How perfectly sweet!”

I ventured to ask the prebendary who had told me that the poet had been in love with her and consequently “greatly cut up” when she married some one else—as might be inferred from some passages in the poem—what was the present age of the lady, and he assured me that she was seventy-four. She did not look it, but she really was seventy-four. I had not the heart to point out that twenty-three years had elapsed since Tennyson published his sequel—“Sixty Years After”—to his “Locksley Hall,” so that this “Cousin Amy” must be at least a centenarian if she had not died, as described in the sequel, between eighty and ninety years ago. She was, however, a nice old lady and her name was really Amy, and she had known Alfred Tennyson when she had been very young and he a middle-aged gentleman whom it was a great privilege to know.

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