From ‘Royal Processions’
In A Cask of Jerepigo
by Herman Charles Bosman
On the occasion of the marriage of Princess Elizabeth, London had a Royal Procession. I saw a number of Royal Processions during my stay in England, some ten to fifteen years back.
These processions are colourful affairs. They are got up in good style. And in that one moment of scarlet and gold, when your hat is raised, and there is a thunder of hoofs on the ground when the royal carriage is passing, and the air is wild with trumpets and cheering, then you find that your pulse throbs very quickly, and that strange thrills are stirring in your heart.
The best place from which to view a procession is the pavement. And the best time to take up a position is at midnight. This involves a twelve-hour wait in the gutter. But if you don’t come early, you will find that the best stretches of gutter have already been taken up, and you have to content yourself with sitting down on an inferior piece of kerbstone, made of the hardest kind of concrete.
This waiting is very pleasant. And I know what Milton meant when he wrote of those who stand and wait. To me there is always something sublime in the thought of people waiting. Whether it is that they are waiting for a train, or for a king to ride past, of for One Whose coming shall bring peace to the children of men.
Near me was a man who sat reading a library book by the light of a candle.
I think I have had more fun waiting with the crowd in the gutter than at most fashionable functions to which, on various occasions, I have been invited. (By mistake, no doubt.) For one thing, at a society wedding, they always engage a number of detectives to breathe down the back of your neck, and make you feel jumpy.
In the early hours of the morning – I didn’t know the time – there was some cheering. I enquired as to the cause.
‘It’s the English dawn,’ I was informed.
I said it was very agreeable to hear that. But I wondered how they knew.
This is one of the major difficulties the English winter presents to a man who is used to blue skies. It is always a problem to distinguish between the kind of darkness they call night-time, and the other kind of darkness they call daytime. To the uninitiated, all darkness looks about the same.
When he was told that the dawn had come, the man with the library book blew out what was left of his candle, and went on reading in the dark.
It grew later. I got into conversation with the people around me. They told me lots of things about the Royal Family – things I had never heard of before. And I reciprocated by telling them all sorts of things about General Smuts. Things I am sure General Smuts had never heard of either.
By and by the wedding guests began driving down the Mall, on their way to Westminster Abbey. They all looked pretty distinguished. Maharajahs and Cabinet Ministers and peeresses and foreign ministers and nobilities.
Afterwards a carriage-load of princesses drove slowly past. I stepped off the pavement, in between two policemen, and blew a platonic kiss at the princesses. One of them stuck her hand out of the window, and waved back at me. But it was the wrong princess. And before I could explain the mistake – namely, that I didn’t mean her, but the one next to her, with the black hair – the carriage had passed on.
C’est la vie.
Then came the big moment. A spectacular climax of bursting colour and tumultous cheering and gilded carriages and Horse Guards in dazzling uniforms … The King and Queen of England … I glanced swiftly at the man with the library book. He was still engrossed in his reading. Not once did he lift his eyes from the printed page. I have often wondered what he came to the procession for.
It was a very successful Royal Wedding. But I also felt there was something lacking, in respect of mediaeval conceptions of largesse, in the sight of vendors of sausage rolls hawking their wares among the subdued dusk to 10.30 throngs in Hyde Park and Green Park and St James’s Park. There were no fat oxen turning on spits at Marble Arch, with free chunks of meat for all who came. There were no mighty vats of nut-brown ale set up in Birdcage Walk. And bring your own tankard.
I obtained a good view of General Hertzog. That was because he held his head up very high. Yet there was a strained look on his face. Perhaps he was trying to remember whether it was the Crown Colonies that Britain had promised to hand over to the Union, or whether it was the Crown Jewels.
Or perhaps General Hertzog was just homesick.
And I recalled another South African, who drove through London when Victoria was Queen. They still talk about him there. What did he think about, I wonder, as his carriage swung into St James’s Street? About a Bushveld farm, maybe, and the sun lying yellow on whitewashed walls, and the big tree by the dam. I hardly think so. I think it is more reasonable to believe that Paul Kruger was pardonably vain about his triumph. And what he really thought was: ‘If only the boys in the Rustenburg district could see me now’.
It is in their passing that all the world’s pageants are the same. The kings are gone, the clamour is ended, and the sound of marching men is dying in the distance.