Poor Jack

Noël Annan

  • Leaves from a Victorian Diary by Edward Leeves and John Sparrow
    Alison Press/Secker, 126 pp, £8.95, September 1985, ISBN 0 436 24370 9

In the Berlin restaurant Baron Kuno von Pregnitz, ignoring Mr Norris, suddenly asked the young Englishman: ‘And, excuse me, how are the Horse Guards?’ ‘Still sitting there.’ ‘Yes? I am glad to hear this. Ho! Ho! Ho! ... Excuse me, I can remember them very well.’ They had in fact been sitting there for longer perhaps than Christopher Isherwood knew. In June 1849 Edward Leeves, an elderly expatriate, driven out of Venice by the Austrian bombardment, made his way to London. There he met Jack Brand, a trooper in the Blues. A month later Leeves went to Scotland to stay with the Queensberrys having fixed with Jack a day to meet on his return. Jack never showed up. He had died that day of cholera. Leeves was shattered. He visited the grave to kiss the headstone and day after day recorded how long it was since Jack last mounted guard or had been buried. He longed only to lie in the grave with him, and his diary became an electuary of grief. By next summer he was back in Venice with his memories.

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