Victoria, from the depth of her heart, subscribed to all the eulogies of Feodora and Mr. Klumpp. She only found that they were insufficient. As she watched her beloved Albert, after toiling with state documents and public functions, devoting every spare moment of his time to domestic duties, to artistic appreciation, and to intellectual improvements; as she listened to him cracking his jokes at the luncheon table, or playing Mendelssohn on the organ, or pointing out the merits of Sir Edwin Landseer's pictures; as she followed him round while he gave instructions about the breeding of cattle, or decided that the Gainsboroughs must be hung higher up so that the Winterhalters might be properly seen--she felt perfectly certain that no other wife had ever had such a husband. His mind was apparently capable of everything, and she was hardly surprised to learn that he had made an important discovery for the conversion of sewage into agricultural manure. Filtration from below upwards, he explained, through some appropriate medium, which retained the solids and set free the fluid sewage for irrigation, was the principle of the scheme. "All previous plans," he said, "would have cost millions; mine costs next to nothing." Unfortunately, owing to a slight miscalculation, the invention proved to be impracticable; but Albert's intelligence was unrebuffed, and he passed on, to plunge with all his accustomed ardour into a prolonged study of the rudiments of lithography.
But naturally it was upon his children that his private interests and those of Victoria were concentrated most vigorously. The royal nurseries showed no sign of emptying. The birth of the Prince Arthur in 1850 was followed, three years later, by that of the Prince Leopold; and in 1857 the Princess Beatrice was born. A family of nine must be, in any circumstances, a grave responsibility; and the Prince realised to the full how much the high destinies of his offspring intensified the need of parental care. It was inevitable that he should believe profoundly in the importance of education; he himself had been the product of education; Stockmar had made him what he was; it was for him, in his turn, to be a Stockmar--to be even more than a Stockmar--to the young creatures he had brought into the world. Victoria would assist him; a Stockmar, no doubt, she could hardly be; but she could be perpetually vigilant, she could mingle strictness with her affection, and she could always set a good example. These considerations, of course, applied pre-eminently to the education of the Prince of Wales. How tremendous was the significance of every particle of influence which went to the making of the future King of England! Albert set to work with a will. But, watching with Victoria the minutest details of the physical, intellectual, and moral training of his children, he soon perceived, to his distress, that there was something unsatisfactory in the development of his eldest son. The Princess Royal was an extremely intelligent child; but Bertie, though he was good-humoured and gentle, seemed to display a deep-seated repugnance to every form of mental exertion. This was most regrettable, but the remedy was obvious: the parental efforts must be redoubled; instruction must be multiplied; not for a single instant must the educational pressure be allowed to relax. Accordingly, more tutors were selected, the curriculum was revised, the time-table of studies was rearranged, elaborate memoranda dealing with every possible contingency were drawn up. It was above all essential that there should be no slackness: "Work," said the Prince, " must be work." And work indeed it was. The boy grew up amid a ceaseless round of paradigms, syntactical exercises, dates, genealogical tables, and lists of capes. Constant notes flew backwards and forwards between the Prince, the Queen, and tile tutors, with inquiries, with reports of progress, with detailed recommendations; and these notes were all carefully preserved for future reference. It was, besides, vital that the heir to the throne should be protected from the slightest possibility of contamination from the outside world. The Prince of Wales was not as other boys; he might, occasionally, be allowed to invite some sons of the nobility, boys of good character, to play with him in the garden of Buckingham Palace; but his father presided, with alarming precision, over their sports. In short, every possible precaution was taken, every conceivable effort was made. Yet, strange to say, the object of all this vigilance and solicitude continued to be unsatisfactory--appeared, in fact, to be positively growing worse. It was certainly very odd: the more lessons that Bertie had to do, the less he did them; and the more carefully he was guarded against excitements and frivolities, the more desirous of mere amusement he seemed to become. Albert was deeply grieved and Victoria was sometimes very angry; but grief and anger produced no more effect than supervision and time-tables. The Prince of Wales, in spite of everything, grew up into manhood without the faintest sign of "adherence to and perseverance in the plan both of studies and life-" as one of the Royal memoranda put it--which had been laid down with such extraordinary forethought by his father.
Against the insidious worries of politics, the boredom of society functions, and the pompous publicity of state ceremonies, Osborne had afforded a welcome refuge; but it soon appeared that even Osborne was too little removed from the world. After all, the Solent was a feeble barrier. Oh, for some distant, some almost inaccessible sanctuary, where, in true domestic privacy, one could make happy holiday, just as if--or at least very, very, nearly--one were anybody else! Victoria, ever since, together with Albert, she had visited Scotland in the early years of her marriage, had felt that her heart was in the Highlands. She had returned to them a few years later, and her passion had grown. How romantic they were! And how Albert enjoyed them too! His spirits rose quite wonderfully as soon as he found himself among the hills and the conifers. "It is a happiness to see him," she wrote. "Oh! What can equal the beauties of nature!" she exclaimed in her journal, during one of these visits. "What enjoyment there is in them! Albert enjoys it so much; he is in ecstasies here." "Albert said," she noted next day, "that the chief beauty of mountain scenery consists in its frequent changes. We came home at six o'clock." Then she went on a longer expedition--up to the very top of a high hill. "It was quite romantic. Here we were with only this Highlander behind us holding the ponies (for we got off twice and walked about). . . . We came home at half-past eleven,--the most delightful, most romantic ride and walk I ever had. I had never been up such a mountain, and then the day was so fine." The Highlanders, too, were such astonishing people. They "never make difficulties," she noted, "but are cheerful, and happy, and merry, and ready to walk, and run, and do anything." As for Albert he "highly appreciated the good-breeding, simplicity, and intelligence, which make it so pleasant and even instructive to talk to them." "We were always in the habit," wrote Her Majesty, "of conversing with the Highlanders--with whom one comes so much in contact in the Highlands." She loved everything about them--their customs, their dress, their dances, even their musical instruments. "There were nine pipers at the castle," she wrote after staying with Lord Breadalbane; "sometimes one and sometimes three played. They always played about breakfast-time, again during the morning, at luncheon, and also whenever we went in and out; again before dinner, and during most of dinner-time. We both have become quite fond of the bag-pipes.
It was quite impossible not to wish to return to such pleasures again and again; and in 1848 the Queen took a lease of Balmoral House, a small residence near Braemar in the wilds of Aberdeenshire. Four years later she bought the place outright. Now she could be really happy every summer; now she could be simple and at her ease; now she could be romantic every evening, and dote upon Albert, without a single distraction, all day long. The diminutive scale of the house was in itself a charm. Nothing was more amusing than to find oneself living in two or three little sitting--rooms, with the children crammed away upstairs, and the minister in attendance with only a tiny bedroom to do all his work in. And then to be able to run in and out of doors as one liked, and to sketch, and to walk, and to watch the red deer coming so surprisingly close, and to pay visits to the cottagers! And occasionally one could be more adventurous still--one could go and stay for a night or two at the Bothie at Alt-na-giuthasach--a mere couple of huts with "a wooden addition"--and only eleven people in the whole party! And there were mountains to be climbed and cairns to be built in solemn pomp. "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 gemuthlich." And in the evening there were sword-dances and reels.
But Albert had determined to pull down the little old house, and to build in its place a castle of his own designing. With great ceremony, in accordance with a memorandum drawn up by the Prince for the occasion, the foundation-stone of the new edifice was laid, and by 1855 it was habitable. Spacious, built of granite in the Scotch baronial style, with a tower 100 feet high, and minor turrets and castellated gables, the castle was skilfully arranged to command the finest views of the surrounding mountains and of the neighbouring river Dee. Upon the interior decorations Albert and Victoria lavished all their care. The wall and the floors were of pitch-pine, and covered with specially manufactured tartars. The Balmoral tartan, in red and grey, designed by the Prince, and the Victoria tartan, with a white stripe, designed by the Queen, were to be seen in every room: there were tartan curtains, and tartan chair-covers, and even tartan linoleums. Occasionally the Royal Stuart tartan appeared, for Her Majesty always maintained that she was an ardent Jacobite. Water-colour sketches by Victoria hung upon the walls, together with innumerable stags' antlers, and the head of a boar, which had been shot by Albert in Germany. In an alcove in the hall, stood a life-sized statue of Albert in Highland dress.
Victoria declared that it was perfection. "Every year," she wrote, "my heart becomes more fixed in this dear paradise, and so much more so now, that ALL has become my dear Albert's own creation, own work, own building, own lay-out... and his great taste, and the impress of his dear hand, have been stamped everywhere."
And here, in very truth, her happiest days were passed. In after years, when she looked back upon them, a kind of glory, a radiance as of an unearthly holiness, seemed to glow about these golden hours. Each hallowed moment stood out clear, beautiful, eternally significant. For, at the time, every experience there, sentimental, or grave, or trivial, had come upon her with a peculiar vividness, like a flashing of marvellous lights. Albert's stalkings--an evening walk when she lost her way--Vicky sitting down on a wasps' nest--a torchlight dance--with what intensity such things, and ten thousand like them, impressed themselves upon her eager consciousness! And how she flew to her journal to note them down! The news of the Duke's death! What a moment--when, as she sat sketching after a picnic by a loch in the lonely hills, Lord Derby's letter had been brought to her, and she had learnt that "ENGLAND'S, or rather BRITAIN'S pride, her glory, her hero, the greatest man she had ever produced, was no morel." For such were here reflections upon the "old rebel" of former days. But that past had been utterly obliterated--no faintest memory of it remained. For years she had looked up to the Duke as a figure almost superhuman. Had he not been a supporter of good Sir Robert? Had he not asked Albert to succeed him as commander-in-chief? And what a proud moment it had been when he stood as sponsor to her son Arthur, who was born on his eighty-first birthday! So now she filled a whole page of her diary with panegyrical regrets. "His position was the highest a subject ever had--above party--looked up to by all--revered by the whole nation--the friend of the Sovereign... The Crown never possessed--and I fear never WILL--so DEVOTED, loyal, and faithful a subject, so staunch a supporter! To US his loss is IRREPARABLE... To Albert he showed the greatest kindness and the utmost confidence... Not an eye will be dry in the whole country." These were serious thoughts; but they were soon succeeded by others hardly less moving--by events as impossible to forget--by Mr. MacLeod's sermon on Nicodemus--by the gift of a red flannel petticoat to Mrs. P. Farquharson, and another to old Kitty Kear.
But, without doubt, most memorable, most delightful of all were the expeditions--the rare, exciting expeditions up distant mountains, across broad rivers, through strange country, and lasting several days. With only two gillies--Grant and Brown--for servants, and with assumed names. It was more like something in a story than real life. "We had decided to call ourselves LORD AND LADY CHURCHILL AND 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." Strong, vigorous, enthusiastic, bringing, so it seemed, good fortune with her--the Highlanders declared she had "a lucky foot"--she relished everything--the scrambles and the views and the contretemps and the rough inns with their coarse fare and Brown and Grant waiting at table. She could have gone on for ever and ever, absolutely happy with Albert beside her and Brown at her pony's head. But the time came for turning homewards, alas! the time came for going back to England. She could hardly bear it; she sat disconsolate in her room and watched the snow falling. The last day! Oh! If only she could be snowed up!