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Victoria's Highland Journals

Volume One

At Balmoral | Friday, September 8, 1848
The first moments in Balmoral

We arrived at Balmoral at a quarter to three. It is a pretty little castle in the old Scottish style. There is a picturesque tower and garden in front, with a high wooded hill; at the back there is wood down to the Dee; and the hills rise all around.

There is a nice little hall, with a billiard-room; next to it is the dining-room. Upstairs (ascending by a good broad staircase) immediately to the right, and above the dining-room, is our sitting-room (formerly the drawing-room), a fine large room -- next to which is our bedroom, opening into a little dressing-room which is Albert's. Opposite, down a few steps, are the children's and Miss Hildyard's three rooms. The ladies live below, and the gentlemen upstairs.

We lunched almost immediately, and at half-past four we walked out, and went up to the top of the wooded hill opposite our windows, where there is a cairn, and up which there is a pretty winding path. The view from here, looking down upon the house, is charming. To the left you look towards the beautiful hill surrounding the Dee winds, with beautiful wooded hills, which reminded us very much of the ThŸringerwald. It was so calm, and so solitary, it did one good as one gazed around; and the pure mountain air was most refreshing. All seemed to breathe freedom and peace, and to make one forget the world and its sad turmoils.

The scenery is wild, and yet not desolate; and everything looks much more prosperous and cultivated than at Laggan. Then the soil is delightfully dry. We walked beside the Dee, a beautiful, rapid stream, which is close behind the house. The view of the hills towards Invercauld is exceedingly fine.

When I came in at half-past six, Albert went out to try his luck with some stags which lay quite close in the woods, but he was unsuccessful. They come down of an evening quite near to the house.

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At Balmoral | September 16, 1850
With Albert and Brown to the Black Burn, and then moonrise

We reached the hut at three o'clock. At half past four we walked down to the loch, and got into the boat with our people: Duncan, J. Brown, P. Coutts, and Leys rowing. They rowed mostly towards the opposite side, which is very fine indeed, and deeply furrowed by the torrents, which form glens and corries where birch and alder trees grow close to the water's edge. We landed on a sandy spot below a fine glen, through which flows the Black Burn. It was very dry here; but still very picturesque, with alder-trees and mountain-ash in full fruit overhanging it. We afterwards landed at our usual place at the head of the loch, which is magnificent; and rode back. A new road has been made, and an excellent one it is, winding along above the lake.

The moon rose, and was beautifully reflected on the lake, which, with its steep green hills, looked lovely. To add to the beauty, poetry, and wildness of the scene, Coutts played in the boat; the men, who row very quickly and well now, giving an occasional shout when he played a reel. It reminded me of Sir Walter Scott's lines in The Lady of the Lake:

Ever, as on they bore, more loud
And louder rung the pibroch proud.
At first the sound, by distance tame,
Mellow'd along the waters came,
And, lingering long by cape and bay,
Wail'd every harsher note away.

We were home at a little past seven; and it was so still and pretty as we entered the wood, and saw the light flickering from our humble little abode.

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At Balmoral | Monday, October 11, 1852
The new owners build a cairn at holiday's end

This day has been a very happy, lucky, and memorable one -- our last! A fine morning.

Albert had to see Mr. Walpole, and therefore it was nearly eleven o'clock before we could go up to the top of Craig Gowan, to see the cairn built, which was to commemorate our taking possession of this dear place; the old cairn having been pulled down. We set off with all the children, ladies, gentlemen, and a few of the servants, including Macdonald and Grant, who had not already gone up; and at the Moss House, which is half way, Mackay met us, and preceded us, playing, Duncan and Donald Stewart going before him, to the highest point of Craig Gowan; where were assembled all the servants and tenants, with their wives and children and old relations. All our little friends were there; Mary Symons and Lizzie Stewart, the four Grants, and several others.

I then placed the first stone, after which Albert laid one, then the children, according to their ages. All the ladies and gentlemen placed one; and then everyone came forward at once, each person carrying a stone and placing it on the cairn. Mr. and Mrs. Anderson were there; Mackay played; and whisky was given to all. It took, I am sure, an hour building; and whilst it was going on, some merry reels were danced on a stone opposite. All the old people (even the gardener's wife from Corbie Hall, near Abergeldie,) danced; and many of the children, Mary Symons and Lizzie Stewart especially, danced so nicely; the latter with her hair all hanging down. Poor dear old "Monk," Sir Robert Gordon's faithful old dog, was sitting there amongst us all. At last, when the cairn, which is, I think, seven or eight feet high, was nearly completed, Albert climbed up to the top of it, and placed the last stone; after which three cheers were given. It was a gay, pretty, and touching sight; and I felt almost inclined to cry. The view was so beautiful over the dear hills; the day so fine; the whole so gemüthlich. May God bless this place, and allow us yet to see it and enjoy it many a long year!

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At Balmoral | October 29, 1854
They go to Kirk

We went to Kirk, as usual, at twelve o'clock. The service was performed by the Rev. Norman McLeod of Glasgow, son of Dr. McLeod, and anything finer I never heard. The sermon, entirely extempore, was quite admirable; so simple, and yet so eloquent, and so beautifully argued and put. The text was from the account of the coming of Nicodemus to Christ by night; St. John, chapter 3. Mr. McLeod showed in the sermon how we all tried to please self and live for that, and in so doing found no rest. Christ had come not only to die for us, but to show how we were to live. The second prayer was very touching; his allusions to us were so simple, saying, after his mention of us, "bless their children." It gave me a lump in my throat, as also when he prayed for "the dying, the wounded, the widow, and the orphans." Every one came back delighted; and how satisfactory it is to come back from church with such feelings! The servants and the highlanders -- all -- were equally delighted.

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At Balmoral | September 29, 1855
On a Highland outing Vicky becomes engaged

Our dear Victoria was this day engaged to Prince Frederick William of Prussia, who had been on a visit to us since the 14th. He had already spoken to us, on the 20th, of his wishes; but we were uncertain, on account of her extreme youth, whether he should speak to her himself, or wait till he came back again. However, we felt it was better he should do so; and during our ride up Craig-na-Ban this afternoon, he picked a piece of white heather (the emblem of "good luck"), which he gave to her; and this enabled him to make an allusion to his hopes and wishes, as they rode down Glen Girnoch, which led to this happy conclusion.

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At Balmoral | September 18, 1858
A ride on John Brown's shoulder

Alas! The last day! When we got up the weather seemed very hopeless. Everything was white with snow, which lay, at least, an inch on the ground, and it continued snowing heavily, as it had done since five this morning. I wished we might be snowed up, and unable to move. How happy I should have been could it have been so! It continued snowing till half-past ten or eleven, and then it began to clear up. The hills appeared quite white; the sun came out, and it became splendidly bright...

At one o'clock I left with Alice and Lenchen for Grant's, where we met Albert, who joined us in the carriage: the day was truly splendid. We got out at the river, and were going down to Nelly's Bush, when a stag was heard roaring very near; so we had to stop, and, with our plaids and cloaks to sit upon, really avoided getting very wet. We waited till Albert was near to the stag, saw it move, heard Albert fire twice, and the stag turn, stop, and then disappear. Albert fired again, but the stag had crossed the Dee; so we turned up on the road, and went into the dear old Corrie Buie; Albert turning off to see if there were any deer near, while we waited for him. We then came to a place which is always wet, but which was particularly bad after the late rain and snow. There was no pony for me to get on; and as I wished not to get my feet wet by walking through the long grass, Albert proposed I should be carried over in a plaid; and Lenchen was first carried over; but it was held too low, and her feet dangled; so Albert suggested the plaid should be put round the men's shoulders, and that I should sit upon it; Brown and Duncan, the two strongest and handiest, were the two who undertook it, and I sat safely enough with an arm on each man's shoulder, and was carried successfully over. All the Highlanders are so amusing, and really pleasant and instructive to talk to -- women as well as men -- and the latter so gentleman like.

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At Balmoral | Friday, October 7, 1859
An unforgettable day

Breakfast at half-past eight. At ten minutes to nine we started, in the sociable, with Bertie and Alice and our usual attendants. Drove along the opposite side of the river. The day very mild and promising to be fine, though a little heavy over the hills, which we anxiously watched. At Castleton we took four post-horses, and drove to the Shiel of the Derry, that beautiful spot where we were last year -- which Albert had never seen -- and arrived there just before eleven. Our ponies were there with Kennedy, Robertson, and Jemmie Smith. One pony carried the luncheon-baskets. After all the cloaks, etc. had been placed on the ponies, or carried by the men, we mounted and began our journey. I was on "Victoria," Alice on "Dobbins." George McHardy, an elderly man who knew the country (and acts as a guide, carrying luggage for people across the hills "on beasts" which he keeps for that purpose), led the way. We rode (my pony being led by Brown most of the time both going up and down) at least four miles up Glen Derry, which is very fine, with the remnants of a splendid forest, Cairn Derry being to the right, and the Derry Water running below. The track was very bad and stony, and broken up by cattle coming down for the "Tryst." At the end of the glen we crossed a ford, passed some softish ground, and turned up to the left by a very rough, steep, but yet gradual ascent to Corrie Etchan, which is in a very wild rugged spot, with magnificent precipices, a high mountain to the right called Ben Main, while to the left was Cairngorm of Derry. When we reached the top of this very steep ascent (we had been rising, though almost imperceptibly, from the Derry Shiel), we came upon a loch of the same name, which reminded us of Loch-na-Gar and of Loch-na-Nian. You look from here on to other wild hills and corries -- on Ben A'an, etc. We ascended very gradually, but became so enveloped in mist that we could see nothing -- hardly those just before us! Albert had walked a good deal; and it was very cold. The mist got worse; and as we rode along the stony, but almost flat ridge of Ben Muich Dhui, we hardly knew whether we were on level ground or the top of the mountain. However, I and Alice rode to the very top, which we reached a few minutes past two; and here, at a cairn of stones, we lunched, in a piercing cold wind.

Just as we sat down, a gust of wind came and dispersed the mist, which had a most wonderful effect, like a dissolving view -- and exhibited the grandest, wildest scenery imaginable. We sat on a ridge of the cairn to take our luncheon, -- our good people being grouped with the ponies near us. Luncheon over, Albert ran off with Alice to the ridge to look at the splendid view, and sent for me to follow. I did so; but not without Grant's help, for there were quantities of large loose stones heaped up together to walk upon. The wind was fearfully high, but the view was well worth seeing. I cannot describe all, but we saw where the Dee rises between the mountains called the Well of Dee -- Ben-y-Ghlo -- and the adjacent mountains, Ben Vrackie -- then Ben-na-Bhourd -- Ben A'an, etc. -- and such magnificent wild rocks, precipices, and corries. It had a sublime and solemn effect; so wild, so solitary -- no one but ourselves and our little party there.

Albert went on further with the children, but I returned with Grant to my seat on the Cairn, as I could not scramble about well. Soon after, we all began walking and looking for "cairngorms," and found some small ones. The mist had entirely cleared away below, so that we saw all the beautiful views. Ben Muich Dhui is 4,297 feet high, one of the highest mountains in Scotland. I and Alice rode part of the way, walking wherever it was very steep. Albert and Bertie walked the whole time. I had a little whisky and water as the people declared pure water would be too chilling. We then rode on without getting off again, Albert talking so gaily with Grant. Upon which Brown observed to me in simple Highland phrases, "It's very pleasant to walk with a person who is always 'content.'" Yesterday, in speaking of dearest Albert's sport, when I observed he never was cross after bad luck, Brown said, "Every one on the estate says there never was so kind a master; I am sure our only wish is to give satisfaction." I said, they certainly did.

By a quarter-past six o'clock we got down to the Shiel of the Derry, where we found some tea, which we took in the "shiel," and started again by moonlight at about half-past six. We reached Castleton at half-past seven -- and after this it became cloudy. At a quarter-past eight precisely we were at Balmoral, much delighted and not at all tired; everything had been so well arranged, and so quietly, without any fuss. Never shall I forget this day, or the impression this very grand scene made upon me; truly sublime and impressive; such solitude.

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At Balmoral | Tuesday, September 4, 1860
Hotel Grantown
A "Great Expedition" with Grant and Brown

Arrived this evening after a most interesting tour; I will recount the events of the day. Breakfasted at Balmoral in our own room at half-past seven o'clock, and started at eight or a little past, with Lady Churchill and General Grey, in the sociable (Grant and Brown on the box as usual) for Castleton, where we changed horses. We went on five miles beyond the Linn of Dee, to the Shepherd's Shiel of Geldie, or, properly speaking, Giuly, where we found our ponies and a guide, Charlie Stewart. We mounted at once, and rode up along the geldie, which we had to ford frequently to avoid the bogs, and rode on for two hours up Glen Geldie, over a moor which, was so soft and boggy in places, that we had to get off several times. The hills were wild, but not very high, bare of trees, and even of heather to a great extent, and not picturesque till we approached the Fishie, and turned to the right up to the glen which we could see in the distance. The Fishie and Geldie rise almost on a level, with a very little distance between them. The Fishie is a fine rapid stream, full of stones. As you approach the glen, which is very narrow, the scenery becomes very fine -- particularly after fording the Etchart, a very deep ford. Grant, on his pony, led me through: our men on foot took off their shoes and stockings to get across. From this point the narrow path winds along the base of the hills of Craig-na-Go'ar -- the rocks of the "Goat Craig"; -- Craig-na-Caillach; and Strong-na-Barin -- "the nose of the queen." The rapid river is overhung by rocks with rich rocks and corries, and occasional streamlets falling from very high -- while the path winds along, rising gradually higher and higher. It is quite magnificent!

We stopped when we came to a level spot amongst the trees. The native firs are particularly fine; and the whole is grand in the extreme. We lunched here -- a charming spot -- at two o'clock; and then pursued our journey. We walked on a little way to where the valley and glen widen out, and where there is what they call here a green "hard." We got on our ponies again and crossed the Fishie (a stream we forded many times in the course of the day) to a place where the finest fir-trees are, amidst some of the most beautiful scenery possible.

Then we came upon a most lovely spot -- the scene of all Landseer's glory -- and where there is a little encampment of wooden and turf huts, built by the late Duchess of Bedford; now no longer belonging to the family, and alas! all falling into decay -- among splendid fir-trees, the mountains rising abruptly from the sides of the valley. We were quite enchanted with the beauty of the view. This place is about seven miles from the mouth of the Fishie. Emerging from the wood we came upon a good road, with low hills, beautifully heather-coloured, to the left; those to the right, high and wooded, with noble corries and waterfalls.

We met Lord and Lady Alexander Russell at a small farmhouse, just as we rode out of the wood, and had some talk with them. They feel deeply the ruin of the place where they formerly lived, as it no longer belongs to them. We rode on for a good long distance, twelve miles, till we came to the ferry of the Spey. Deer were being driven in the woods, and we heard several shots. We saw fine ranges of hills on the Spey-side, or Strathspey, and opening to our left, those near Loch Laggan. We came to a wood of larch; from that upon cultivated land, with Kinrara towards our right, where the monument to the late Duke of Gordon is conspicuously seen on a hill, which was perfectly crimson with heather.

Before entering the larch wood, Lord Alexander Russell caught us up again in a little pony carriage, having to go the same way, and he was so good as to explain everything to us. He showed us "The Duke of Argyll's Stone" -- a cairn on the top of a hill to our right, celebrated, as seems most probable, from the Marquis of Argyll having halted there with his army. We came to another larch wood, when I and Lady Churchill got off our ponies, as we were very stiff from riding so long; and at the end of this wood we came upon Loch Inch, which is lovely, and of which I should have liked exceedingly to have taken a sketch, but we were pressed for time and hurried. The light was lovely; and some cattle were crossing a narrow strip of grass across the end of the loch nearest to us, which really made a charming picture. It is not a wild lake, quite the contrary; no high rocks, but woods and blue hills as a background. About a mile from this was the ferry. There we parted from our ponies, only Grant and Brown coming on with us. Walker, the police inspector, met us, but did not keep with us. He had been sent to order everything in a quiet way, without letting people suspect who we were: in this he entirely succeeded. The ferry was a very rude affair; it was like a boat or coble, but we could only stand on it, and it was moved at one end by two long oars, plied by the ferryman and Brown, and at the other end by a long sort of beam, which Grant took in hand. A few seconds brought us over to the road, where there were two shabby vehicles, one a kind of barouche, into which Albert and I got, Lady Churchill and General Grey into the other -- a break; each with a pair of small and rather miserable horses, driven by a man from the box. Grant was on our carriage, and Brown on the other. We had gone so far forty miles, at least twenty on horseback. We had decided to call ourselves Lord and Lady Churchill and party, Lady Churchill passing as Miss Spencer, and General Grey as Dr. Grey! Brown once forgot this, and called me "Your Majesty" as I was getting into the carriage; and Grant on the box once called Albert "Your Royal Highness"; which set us off laughing, but no one observed it.

We had a long three hours drive; it was six o'clock when we got into the carriage. We were soon out of the wood, and came upon the Badenoch road -- passing close by Kinrara, but unfortunately not through it, which we ought to have done. It was very beautiful -- fine wooded hills --- the high Cairngorm range, and Ben Muich Dhui, unfortunately much obscured by the mist on the top -- and the broad Spey flowing in the valley, with cultivated fields and fine trees below. Most striking, however, on our whole long journey was the utter, and to me very refreshing, solitude. Hardly a habitation! And hardly meeting a soul! It gradually grew dark. We stopped at a small half-way house for the horses to take some water; and the few people about stared vacantly at the two simple vehicles.

The mountains gradually disappeared, -- the evening was mild, with a few drops of rain. On and on we went, till at length we saw lights, and drove through a long and straggling "toun," and turned down a small court to the door of the inn. Here we got out quickly -- Lady Churchill and General Grey not waiting for us. We went up a small staircase, and were shown to our bedroom at the top of it -- very small, but clean -- with a large four-post bed which nearly filled the whole room. Opposite was the drawing and dining-room in one -- very tidy and well-sized. Then came the room where Albert dressed, which was very small. The two maids (Jane Shackle was with me) had driven over by another road in the waggonette, Stewart driving them. Made ourselves "clean and tidy," and then sat down to our dinner. Grant and Brown were to have waited on us, but were "bashful" and did not. A ringletted woman did everything; and, when dinner was over, removed the cloth and placed the bottle of wine (our own which we had brought) on the table with the glasses, which was the old English fashion. The dinner was very fair, and all very clean: soup, "hodge-podge," mutton-broth with vegetables, which I did not much relish, fowl with white sauce, good roast lamb, very good potatoes, besides one or two other dishes, which I did not taste, ending with a good tart of cranberries. After dinner I tried to write part of this account (but the talking round me confused me), while Albert played at "patience." Then went away, to begin undressing, and it was about half-past eleven, when we got to bed.

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At Balmoral | Wednesday, September 5
Back to Balmoral

A misty, rainy morning. Had not slept very soundly. We got up rather early, and sat working and reading. Good tea and bread and butter, and some excellent porridge. Jane Shackle (who was very useful and attentive) said that they had all supped together, namely, the two maids, and Grant, Brown, Stewart, and Walker (who was still there), and were very merry in the "commercial room." The people were very amusing about us. The woman came in while they were at their dinner, and said to Grant, "Dr. Grey wants you," which nearly upset the gravity of all the others: then they told Jane, "Your lady gives no trouble"; and Grant in the morning called up to Jane, "Does his lordship want me?" One could look on the street, which is a very long wide one, with detached houses, from our window. It was perfectly quiet, no one stirring, except here and there a man driving a cart, or a boy going along on his errand. General Grey bought himself a watch in a shop for 2£!

At length, at about ten minutes to ten o'clock, we started in the same carriages and the same way as yesterday, and drove up to the Castle Grant, Lord Seafield's place -- a fine (not Highland-looking) park, with a very plain-looking house, like a factory, about two miles from the town. It was drizzling almost the whole time. We did not get out, but drove back, having to pass through Grantown again; where evidently "the murder was out," for all the people were in the street, and the landlady waved her pocket-handkerchief, and the ringletted maid (who had curl-papers in the morning) waved a flag from the window. Our coachman evidently did not observe or guess anything. As we drove out of the town, turning to our right through a wood, we met many people coming into the town, which the coachman said was for a funeral. We passed over the Spey, by the Bridge of Spey. It continued provokingly rainy, the mist hanging very low on the hills, which, however, did not seem to be very high, but were pink with heather. We stopped to have the cover of leather put over our carriage, which is the fashion of all the flys here. It keeps out the rain, however, very well.

The first striking feature in the country is the Pass of Dal Dhu, above which the road winds -- a steep corrie, with green hills. We stopped at a small inn, with only one other house near it; and here the poor wretchedly-jaded horses got a little water, and waited for about ten minutes. Further on we came to a very steep hill, also to a sort of pass, called Glen Bruin, with green hills, evidently of slate formation. Here we got out, and walked down the hill, and over the Bridge of Bruin, and partly up another hill, the road winding amazingly after this-- up and down hill. We then came in sight of the Avon, winding below the hills; and again got out at a little wood, before the Bridge of Avon; the river is fine and clear here. We re-entered our carriages (Lady Churchill and I for this short time together), and drove about a mile further up a hill to Tomintoul; our poor horses being hardly able to drag themselves any longer, the man whipping them and whistling to them to go on, which they could not, and I thought every instant that they would stop the village. We took four hours to drive these fourteen for it was two o'clock when we were outside the town, and got out to mount our ponies. Tomintoul is the most tumble-down, poor-looking place I ever saw -- a long street with three inns, miserable dirty-looking houses and people, and a sad look of wretchedness about it. Grant told me that it was the dirtiest, poorest village in the whole of Highlands.

We mounted our ponies a short way out of the town, but only rode for a few minutes as it was past two o'clock We came upon a beautiful view, looking down upon the Avon and up a fine glen. There we rested and took luncheon. While Brown was unpacking and arranging our things, I spoke to him and to Grant, who was helping, about not having waited on us, as they ought to have done, at dinner last night and at breakfast, as we had wished; and Brown answered, he was afraid he should not do it rightly; I replied we did not wish to have a stranger in the room, and they must do so another time.

Luncheon (provisions for which we had taken with us from home yesterday) finished, we started again, walked a little way, till we were overtaken by the men and ponies, and then rode along Avonside, the road winding at the bottom of the glen, which is in part tolerably wide; but narrows as it turns, and winds round towards Inchrory, where it is called Glen Avon. The hills, sloping down to the river side, are beautifully green. It was very muggy -- quite oppressive, and the greater part of the road deep and sloppy, till we came upon the granite formation again. In order to get on, as it was late, and we had eight miles to ride, our men -- at least Brown and two of the others -- walked before us at a fearful pace, so that we had to trot to keep up at all. Grant rode frequently on the deer pony; the others seemed, however, a good deal tired with the two long days' journey, and were glad to get on Albert's or the General's pony to give themselves a lift; but their willingness, readiness, cheerfulness, indefatigableness, are very admirable, and make them most delightful servants. As for Grant and Brown they are perfect -- discreet, careful, intelligent, attentive, ever ready to do what is wanted; and the latter, particularly, is handy and willing to do everything and anything, and to overcome every difficulty, which makes him one of my best servants anywhere.

We passed by Inchrory -- seeing, as we approached, two eagles towering splendidly above, and alighting on the top of the hills. From Inchrory we rode to Loch Bulig, which was beautifully lit up by the setting sun. From Tomintoul we escaped all real rain, having only a slight sprinkling every now and then. At Loch Bulig we found our carriage and four ponies, and drove back just as we left yesterday morning, reaching Balmoral safely at half-past seven.

What a delightful, successful expedition! Dear Lady Churchill was, as usual, thoroughly amiable, cheerful, and ready to do everything. Both she and the General seemed entirely to enjoy it, and enter into it, and so I am sure did our people. To my dear Albert do we owe it, for he always thought it would be delightful, having gone on many similar expeditions in former days himself. He enjoyed it very much. We heard since that the secret came out through a man recognizing Albert in the street yesterday morning; then the crown on the dog-cart made them think that it was some one from Balmoral, though they never suspected that it could be ourselves! "The lady must be terrible rich," the woman observed, as I had so many gold rings on my fingers! -- I told Lady Churchill she had on many more than I had. When they heard who it was, they were ready to drop with astonishment and fright. I fear I have but poorly recounted this very amusing and never to be forgotten expedition, which will always be remembered with delight.

I must pay a tribute to our ponies. Dear "Fyvie" is perfection, and Albert's equally excellent.

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