[London—Saturday, 9 October 1869]
Saturday. Went to Gad’s Hill. Mr. Dickens met us at the station (Charing Cross) changing the very aspect of the day as Jamie said afterward beautiful as that was, by the brightness of his presence. So cheery and kindly. We saw him first looking about for us. “Have you forgotten to speak English entirely,” he said laughingly. Almost immediately he confided to Jamie that he was busily engaged upon a new story. It has taken strong hold upon him already and he begins to be pre-occupied with it. He has been at his post all summer with the exception of two days, one passed with the family at Rosherville Gardens “the place to spend a happy day” as the advertisement says, the other a drive up to London to see the play of “School” and a champagne supper in the train going home. He asked us if we had seen a foolish story in the papers of France about his having been torn by a bear who had rushed upon a young man in his liquor just after a breakfast at his house. Of course we had seen it whereupon he continued to give us the true version. He was dressing in his own bed-room in the morning when he saw two Savoyards & two bears come up to the Falstaff Inn. Almost immediately two English bullies came up and insisted upon taking the muzzles off the bears in order to have a dance with them. “At once I saw there would be trouble and I watched the scene with great eagerness. In a moment I saw how things were going and without delay I found myself at the gate. I called the gardener by the way but he managed to hold himself at safe distance behind the fence. I put the Savoyards at once in safety, asked the Bullies what they were at, made them muzzle the bears again and threatened to send for the police. The whole thing was an affair of so short a time that I was not missed from the house but unfortunately while I was covered with dust and blood, for the bears had already attacked one of the men when I arrived, a carriage went in from the occupants of which I suppose the story came. Unfortunately, forgetting the dogs, I had ordered the bears to be carried into the yard until the scuffle should be over. When a tremendous tumult arose between the bears and dogs, happily we were able to separate them without injury and the whole was so soon over that it was hard to make them believe when I came to breakfast that any thing of the kind had gone forward.
Last Sunday he had been in London and found he could not return by train at the time he wished. He walked therefore as far as the town of Eltham about 9 miles where the train stopped. “I asked a man the road to the station and the stupid brute told me to go down a certain road which did not lead there at all; but I walked down this country road over yellow leaves in the perfect sunshine without even a wandering breeze to break the silence when suddenly I came upon three or four antique wooden houses standing under trees on the borders of a lovely stream and a little further upon an ancient doorway to a grand hall, perhaps the home of some bishop of the olden time. The road came to an end there and I was obliged to return but anything more beautiful in that autumnal day than that retreat forgotten by the world I almost never saw.”
They have had some cricket matches of late at Gad’s Hill. He says they always have the same toasts at the dinner of the yearly games. Afterward, one is
“When the French come over
We will meet them at Dover”
certainly as old as the time of Queen Anne and the other
“More pigs fewer parsons.”
Lately they have added another, “May the walls of old England never be covered with French polish.”
In an hour and a half we found ourselves at Higham where the pony carriage was ready to take Mabel & me to the house. Mr. Dickens and Jamie walked.
We found them, M. & Miss H., awaiting us at the door as we arrived; we found altogether a most affectionate welcome and went at once to the pretty drawing room now in its gay winter dress to chat awhile & have tea. Katie had walked to Rochester with young Mrs Charles and were a trifle late but they came in soon; Charles Collins was there also and Harry. The new moon was already up so we all went out to the play ground where Jamie and the gentlemen played two games of ball before dinner. The dews falling heavily we ladies came in and dressed for dinner. As usual I sat on Mr. Dickens’s right hand and he talked very pleasantly all dinner time. He gave us some exquisite Muscatel wine and an exquisite banquet altogether. Mary always rises, goes to a side table and carves the joint. We played games after dinner and talked by turns and went before eleven to our rooms but we none of us slept well. We had his room and I fear he has left the spirit of wakefulness behind him there; certain it is he sleeps better than of old and I could not sleep either night.