Tracks Of A Rolling Stone By Henry J. Coke

 - Tracks of a Rolling Stone

by Henry J. Coke


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Tracks Of A Rolling Stone

By Henry J. Coke


THE First Edition of this book was written, from beginning to end, in the short space of five months, without the aid of diary or notes, beyond those cited as such from a former work.

The Author, having no expectation that his reminiscences would be received with the kind indulgence of which this Second Edition is the proof, with diffidence ventured to tell so many tales connected with his own unimportant life as he has done. Emboldened by the reception his 'Tracks' have met with, he now adds a few stories which he trusts may further amuse its readers.

June 1905.


WE know more of the early days of the Pyramids or of ancient Babylon than we do of our own. The Stone age, the dragons of the prime, are not more remote from us than is our earliest childhood. It is not so long ago for any of us; and yet, our memories of it are but veiled spectres wandering in the mazes of some foregone existence.

Are we really trailing clouds of glory from afar? Or are our 'forgettings' of the outer Eden only? Or, setting poetry aside, are they perhaps the quickening germs of all past heredity - an epitome of our race and its descent? At any rate THEN, if ever, our lives are such stuff as dreams are made of. There is no connected story of events, thoughts, acts, or feelings. We try in vain to re-collect; but the secrets of the grave are not more inviolable, - for the beginnings, like the endings, of life are lost in darkness.

It is very difficult to affix a date to any relic of that dim past. We may have a distinct remembrance of some pleasure, some pain, some fright, some accident, but the vivid does not help us to chronicle with accuracy. A year or two makes a vast difference in our ability. We can remember well enough when we donned the 'CAUDA VIRILIS,' but not when we left off petticoats.

The first remembrance to which I can correctly tack a date is the death of George IV. I was between three and four years old. My recollection of the fact is perfectly distinct - distinct by its association with other facts, then far more weighty to me than the death of a king.

I was watching with rapture, for the first time, the spinning of a peg-top by one of the grooms in the stable yard, when the coachman, who had just driven my mother home, announced the historic news. In a few minutes four or five servants - maids and men - came running to the stables to learn particulars, and the peg-top, to my sorrow, had to be abandoned for gossip and flirtation. We were a long way from street criers - indeed, quite out of town. My father's house was in Kensington, a little further west than the present museum. It was completely surrounded by fields and hedges. I mention the fact merely to show to what age definite memory can be authentically assigned. Doubtless we have much earlier remembrances, though we must reckon these by days, or by months at the outside. The relativity of the reckoning would seem to make Time indeed a 'Form of Thought.'

Two or three reminiscences of my childhood have stuck to me; some of them on account of their comicality. I was taken to a children's ball at St. James's Palace. In my mind's eye I have but one distinct vision of it. I cannot see the crowd - there was nothing to distinguish that from what I have so often seen since; nor the court dresses, nor the soldiers even, who always attract a child's attention in the streets; but I see a raised dais on which were two thrones. William IV. sat on one, Queen Adelaide on the other. I cannot say whether we were marched past in turn, or how I came there. But I remember the look of the king in his naval uniform. I remember his white kerseymere breeches, and pink silk stockings, and buckled shoes. He took me between his knees, and asked, 'Well, what are you going to be, my little man?'

'A sailor,' said I, with brazen simplicity.

'Going to avenge the death of Nelson - eh? Fond o' sugar- plums?'

'Ye-es,' said I, taking a mental inventory of stars and anchor buttons.

Upon this, he fetched from the depths of his waistcoat pocket a capacious gold box, and opened it with a tap, as though he were about to offer me a pinch of snuff. 'There's for you,' said he.

I helped myself, unawed by the situation, and with my small fist clutching the bonbons, was passed on to Queen Adelaide. She gave me a kiss, for form's sake, I thought; and I scuttled back to my mother.

But here followed the shocking part of the ENFANT TERRIBLE'S adventure. Not quite sure of Her Majesty's identity - I had never heard there was a Queen - I naively asked my mother, in a very audible stage-whisper, 'Who is the old lady with - ?' My mother dragged me off the instant she had made her curtsey. She had a quick sense of humour; and, judging from her laughter, when she told her story to another lady in the supper room, I fancied I had said or done something very funny. I was rather disconcerted at being seriously admonished, and told I must never again comment upon the breath of ladies who condescended to kiss, or to speak to, me.

While we lived at Kensington, Lord Anglesey used often to pay my mother a visit. She had told me the story of the battle of Waterloo, in which my Uncle George - 6th Lord Albemarle - had taken part; and related how Lord Anglesey had lost a leg there, and how one of his legs was made of cork.

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