THE AUTHOR OF THE SPANISH BROTHERS
IRISH LIFE — THE FAMINE, AND DEBORAH’S MORNING STAR
No sketch of Miss Alcock’s life could be complete without mention of her father’s work in connection with two important agencies: the Home Mission and the Irish Society — the former for the revival of spiritual life within the Protestant Church, especially in the scattered and outlying districts, where a lonely pastor’s work among a handful of Protestants surrounded by Romanists was often very discouraging. This Mission was carried on under a voluntary committee, by the purely voluntary efforts of devoted clergymen who gave to it all the time they could spare from their own duties.
This was work that Mr. Alcock dearly loved. Often, when depression threatened, we find from his diary that a Home Mission tour, with a great deal of rough riding and rowing in it, drove the clouds away.
But dearer still to him was the work of the Irish Society. This can be described in Miss Alcock’s own words:
Another notable effort was then being made in the Irish Church carried on by "The Irish Society," for the sheep not of her own fold, whom she sought to bring to the feet of the Good Shepherd.
Mr. Alcock took an active part not only in Home Missions, but also in the work done for his Roman Catholic fellow-countrymen. He longed to bring them, not out of one church into another, but to the feet of Christ. His method in dealing with souls was to let in the light first, and trust to its power to turn out the darkness. This was also the method of the old "Irish Society" for which he worked zealously for many years. The Irishman of that day dearly loved his native tongue, and was convinced that nothing bad could come to him in it, since it was known that the Devil could not speak a word of Irish! There were still a great number (some say half a million) who knew no other language , while many more, called bi-linguists, spoke English for the outer world, and Irish at home. The Irish Society engaged such bi-linguists as could read to teach their more ignorant neighbours to read Irish. This might be done anywhere — in a mud-cabin, by the roadside at the noon-day rest in the harvest field. Only two books were needed — the Irish primer and the Irish New Testament. The teachers — who might have a dozen pupils, or only one — received a small gratuity from the Society for each scholar who learned to read; the scholar received nothing except the entrance into his dull and narrow life of a great new interest, which often entirely transfigured it. At intervals, an inspector came round, and teachers and scholars assembled, the scholars to be examined, the teachers to receive their gratuities. The scholars were always, and the teachers generally, Roman Catholics; but the inspector was always a Protestant, apt to teach, usually a clergyman. Thus, almost "without observation," a great work began. Many, through the reading of the Scriptures, abandoned Rome altogether; while others, probably the greater number, who made no outward change, learned to put their trust alone in Him of whom the Irish New Testament told them.
Mr. Alcock was a diligent and active inspector. He often told stories of the quaint translations of the Irish scholars, as, for instance, "If ye have faith the big of a grain of musthard, ye shall say unto this sycamine, ‘Rise up from yer roots and be ye sot (planted) in the say (sea), and it shall humble itself unto ye.’ "
One day, when driving across a bog with an Irish teacher, they saw one of the scholars at a distance, and called him to them. "Have you got your Testament with you, Pat?" asked the teacher. Pat drew it from beneath his ragged garment. "For what would you part with it?" the teacher asked. Mr. Alcock never forgot that poor man’s look as he pointed to his head and drew his finger across his throat, saying, "I’ll part with this first." It was no empty boast. At first the Church of Rome, not being directly attacked, did not take alarm. But when results began to appear, and the chapel would be forsaken for the church, then persecution began. Many touching stories might be told of the faith and patience of these humble and simple converts under much trial. Some of the Scripture readers employed, as the work developed, were waylaid, beaten, and even seriously wounded. Mr. Alcock was never personally molested, but he was sometimes denounced from the altar. A priest who lived near Frankfield warned his parishioners against "a fellow named Alcock, or Gamecock. He’s going about the country with a bag of heretical books behind him which he gives amongst the people. Take care that none of ye go near him, for I understand he’s to be in this parish tomorrow. If any of ye goes to hear him, I’ll make hares of ye." This terrible threat seems to have scared away all but a courageous few. It is quite possible. Dean Brown of Enniscorthy used to tell of a man whom the priest threatened to "turn into a rat," if he dared to vote against his wishes at the election next day. "It’s all nonsense," said the man to his wife that night. "He can do nothing of the kind." Then, after a pause, "But I say, Biddy, you may as well put the cat out of the way before I come back."
The children at the Parsonage, sitting round the table or by the fireside, heard the letters that came in, describing the sufferings of faithful convert — so lightly touched on in this record, but terribly real; and deeper and deeper there sank into Debbie’s heart undying horror of the awful tyranny of the Romish Church. For while she was hearing these tales of violence in the present, deeds darker yet — tortures too sickening to be named or thought of — were growing familiar to her on the page of history. Semper eadem (" Ever the same!") That is Rome’s motto. She could not change, and never can, as long as it is a part of her creed that no heretic can find salvation — he cannot even attain to purgatory, but is consigned to endless tortures — and at the same time the Church holds that by a mechanical act expressing return to her bosom, without any inward change, he may save his soul — through purgatory, indeed, but assuredly — in the long hereafter. According to this, the most hideous tortures are mercy, if they can drive the wanderer back to a level where the anguish of purgatory is put within his reach. Even merciful men might consent to such measures, with a shudder, if they believed the heretic would yield. But this creed gives a fearfully good excuse for the human fiends who delight in cruelty to practise it, and for the colder villainy that profits by it. "Romanism is essentially of this world," Miss Alcock once said, "only its teachers are supported and financed by their trade in things of the other world."
Yet the Church of Rome includes in her dogmas enough of the Christian faith to live and die by, and we believe that, down the ages, millions and millions have found the face of Christ within her fold. In these Irish experiences, one finds continually the cleavage between those of her followers who take her on the higher side or on the lower. Among Miss Alcock’s first letters to me, written in 1889, she alludes to these early days in stating her own position.
Of "Great Babylon, drunk with the blood of the saints," my abhorrence is boundless and measureless. I often say that I think when I die "Protestant" will be found written on my heart, as Queen Mary thought Calais would be on hers. Those features in the Romish system which appeal to some imaginative minds so strongly are all lost upon me. I think her very splendours tawdry and meretricious. I find no fragrance in her "good, strong, stupefying incense smoke." . . . But you will confront me with GéneviPve, wherein I have exalted Pascal and the Jansenists. In truth, it was well for me that, side by side with my abhorrence of Rome, there grew up in me an intense persuasion of the personal holiness of many who were in that system, though not of it. This I owed first to the friend of my childhood, who has now returned to me — this very same John Huss. At eleven I had to make the best of a hero who certainly had no scruples about confession, since he made choice of his greatest enemy as his confessor. And so with the other distinctive doctrines of Rome. I think it did me a great deal of good when, at about twenty, I picked up Les Pensées de Pascal on a bookstall — and here was another revelation.
Pascal became, and remained, one of her best loved teachers.
It must have been soon after the birthday that put the life of Huss into Debbie’s hands that the governess went away, and Mary’s sister, Miss Annie Gore — about nine years older than Debbie — came for a long stay, greatly enjoyed by all the party. She had the enthusiastic temperament, and shared not only in Debbie’s admiration for her heroes, but in the very game itself, taking a character and talking in it. This was splendid practice for the future author, as she had to find answers for two actors who spoke their own thoughts, not hers, as all "live" characters do in a writer’s own head, when they get possession of it. The daily walks were more exciting than a theatre. I once remarked to Miss Alcock what a spell against dullness that "game" must have been. She answered, "Mary said to me once, ‘I believe you would lose your Müth des Lebens (joy of life) if you could not have the game.’ "
Miss Gore well remembered The Reformers, and how Debbie read and re-read that book at every spare moment. "When we were going out, she would get her things on, and then throw herself down on her face upon the floor with the book before her, bury her face in it, and read on till every one else was ready, and then leap up and join us, looking wild!"
Thus was gained, and fixed in the tenacious memory of childhood, such a grasp of the actors and intricacies in the Council of Constance that when its story was written, forty-three years after, Miss Alcock made the tale clear enough for even the unlearned to follow it with ease.
Of course "the game" revolved around Huss and his martyrdom for many a day. "Robert" — one of the four archers who were his guards and learned to love him — being one of the chief characters.
The shadow of the great Famine was stealing over the land, but as yet the worst of it had not come to Cork, and that summer with "Cousin Annie " was a very happy one. Miss Gore would take poetry to read aloud as they walked in the quiet lanes — perhaps even a story-book! Her upbringing, though quite as religious and Evangelical as Debbie’s, had been on wider lines. Her father had no fear of the text, "Whatsoever loveth and maketh a lie," where stories were concerned. Somehow the girls found a definition that finally eased their consciences about the game as well as story-books — "A lie is anything said with intent to deceive." This the game was not.
Miss Gore entirely contradicts any impression that Mr. Alcock was stern and forbidding. He might be, on occasion, in public duty, but in her experience "Uncle John was always genial, tender, even playful." She remembers how he would be the life of the party whenever she went out with him — and the wonderful way he had of drawing every one out. "Not questioning them point-blank, but giving each one opportunity to bring out whatever they had in them of the best." She remembers especially one proud day when there was a great gathering of clergy at Frankfield House, after some clerical function, and Mr. Alcock ran down to say, "Mr. Lane wants you all to come up to supper. Can you be ready in time?" Of course they could, and went speeding up the fields to met the dear welcome always found there; and again "Uncle John" was the inspiring element, "taking care of every one, especially if it was anyone a little behind the rest in any way — full of kindness, charm and humour."
And after the supper, crossing the wide hall where the door used to stand open on summer evenings, they paused, as usual, on the doorstep to look down on the twinkling lights of Cork, far off on the plain below, stretching on, in lines and curves, like stars come down to earth, while the real stars were stealing out above, and the soft gray and glow of the twilight hung between.
This year, Mr. Alcock’s mother died. He was with her not long before, and she sent a gold guinea — already a rarity — to each of the girls. When he gave the keepsakes he said, "If ever you wish to spend it, let me know," since he could get for it more than a guinea’s worth.
That happy evening at "big Frankfield" seems the last radiant memory before the Famine swooped down, and the daily guests at Frankfield House were a famished crowd, coming each morning to the spot where great boilerfuls of soup or porridge were distributed. It was the same at the Parsonage. Every morning, the first sight on drawing up the blinds would be a crowd of starving people on their knees, in the bitter cold, — come long before the time, to get the one meal of the day. Indian meal was sold at the schoolhouse at a nominal price. Besides the care of his own people, Mr. Alcock joined a Relief Committee and spent much time in visiting the poor Roman Catholics and bringing them help. Every one gave who could. Servants in families brought their wages. Debbie brought Mary’s guinea and her own. The father hesitated a moment, then said, "I accept it — as a great sacrifice." The strain was too great. Early in 1847 Mr Alcock had a serious illness. On Mr. Lane the burden had fallen even more heavily; he laboured and gave unceasingly, till his strength also failed, and early in the spring he was prostrated, and his life despaired of. Still, "the ruling passion" held sway. When his mind was wandering, he woke suddenly from sleep and, turning to his wife with a look of anguish, said, "Oh, Pen, there’s such misery and want in the city. They are dying of starvation, and here am I, lying here doing nothing. I must get up and go down to Cork! I must get up."
To the surprise and joy of every one he rallied, and even went for a short drive. There was talk of a Continental trip, Mr. Alcock accompanying him; and a brother clergyman, who had travelled on the route proposed, came one morning to breakfast at the Parsonage, to talk of hotels and doctors. Mrs. Lane herself had come down early to report an excellent night. The friends were chatting, full of hope, when Mr. Lane’s man opened the door and said, "Mr. Lane wants you, sir; he has got a bad change."
Never could Debbie forget her father’s look as he seized his hat and rushed out without a word, his friend following. He knew there could be only one change. The three left behind sat waiting, fearing. Suddenly, through the deep stillness came — the Irish Keene — the wail for the dead, never heard before, but known at once — raised by the crowd waiting for food in the court of Frankfield House, for the friend who fed them. It fell on Mr. Alcock’s ears before he could reach the house, and the faithful servants met him with silence, and clasped hands uplifted. All was over.
"Oh, the mourning there was!" Miss Alcock said. Besides his own estate, Mr. Lane had charge of the neighbouring property of absentee landlords, and everywhere he had been the friend of the poor. Never had Frankfield Church and Churchyard been so crowded as on his funeral day — May 29.
It was Debbie’s first great sorrow, and deeply she felt it. Her father for many weeks seemed carried above it, absorbed in his blessed work for souls, while hearts were softened. A very touching entry tells of Mrs. Lane’s first re-entering the church, alone with him on a week-day. "We had been accustomed to meet on that day to pray for him," he writes. "Now, we gave thanks for him."
In July the family went for a holiday to Kilkenny and then to New Ross, where Mr. Alcock took "the girls" walking and boating — the first beginning of their growing into companions for him. Debbie went on to stay with her mother’s mother at Inistiogue, who was very fond and proud of her, though not blind to her faults. A letter written by Mrs. Innes to the future stepmother, before Mr. Alcock’s second marriage, gives her impressions of her granddaughter at the time of this visit.
LETTER FROM MRS. INNES.
To Mrs. Alcock.
As regards Debby, she has suffered greatly from the want of a maternal guiding power, which, combined with her very variable health, has produced much irregularity both in her manners and education. I have long wished for the advantage she is now likely to enjoy — and which a father could not afford — some regular system of training and spending her time. You seem to have formed a very just estimate of her character. She is indeed very amiable, affectionate and high-principled. What strikes me as a principal defect is her want of observation, or absence of mind. She lives in an imaginary world of her own, while totally unacquainted with the realities of life around her. Her talents are good, but she does not use them, and though her mind is "independent," her habits are very much the contrary; in fact, she has been too much cared for and attended to by those around her ever to think of doing anything for herself. However, all this was as when I last saw her, nearly a year and a half since. Having been part of that time at school may have caused a great difference in her manners, and, I hope, lessened her natural indolence. . . . No doubt she will use every effort in her power to conform to your wishes and earn your approval. I did write to her lately, but in rather general terms. The letters she has written to me are very nice, both as to writing and style, with apparent good sense — all beyond her years — but she has grown so rapidly that one is apt to expect more from her than those years would warrant."
"Natural indolence" was not Debbie Alcock’s besetting sin. If she sat with her hands before her, it was because her brain was working at high pressure. This ceaseless brain activity, combined with her rapid growth (she had reached her full height, which was above the average, by the age of thirteen), could hardly fail to produce physical languor. And, though not lay, she, like her father, had strongly the quality she called "passiveness." Unless principle were at stake, she could never resist what other people chose to do with or for her; and, as we have seen, it was not by her own choice that she was overmuch waited on.
A happy antidote to brain-pressure was found in eight months at a day-school about three miles from Frankfield, where the girls walked every morning and were fetched home in the pony-car in the afternoon. There, for the first time, Debbie had a chance of comparing her own abilities with those of others, and the result was inspiriting: she was almost immediately placed among the elder girls, with Mary. The light touch of school-life and interests, and the ordinary lessons of school, kept the precocious brain employed at tasks far easier than that of digesting the Council of Constance. And at home the two girls had the double delights of independence in their own sphere, and being taken more and more into companionship with the father who calls them both "my children" in his diary. "When I am wearied, the girls read to me, and it soothes me like David’s harp," he writes. Evidently reaction was setting in after the long strain. The old depression fastened on him, though he let his "children" see little of it.
With Debbie, a great change was stealing on. Somehow — whether from books read during her visits or lessons at school she did not seem to recollect — she had made acquaintance with the old classic poets and heroes of Greece and Rome, and fallen in love with them, individually and collectively — a passion which, as may be supposed, proved a very unhappy love. A whole new world of questionings awoke. Her own pen tells of this: —
As my attachment to these things grew, my spiritual life unhappily declined. I was vaguely conscious of this, and after a fashion mourned it. I felt I was wrong somehow, and could not get right — did not really want to get right. I was trained in a school in which there were no half-lights or softening shades. Righteousness and sin, truth and error, grace and nature, stood in everlasting opposition, and no compromise was possible between them. I have called it a "school," but the very use of that name, then, would have branded me as an outsider. "Schools of thought! I call them schools of error!" I have heard a good lady say, and she voiced the belief of some of the best men and women of that day. There was then undeniably among Evangelicals considerable suspicion and jealousy of what they called "the pride of intellect" — a phrase I could never exactly understand. Intellectual gifts were regarded as rather a danger and a snare than a help or advantage. The religious literature that came in my way favoured this idea. Much of it was after the fashion of Cowper’s lines, contrasting Voltaire and the pious cottager who:
Just knows, and knows no more, her Bible true,
A truth the brilliant Frenchman never knew.
Pious cottagers, saintly children who died young, and converted heathen played a large part in our early literature. This was not because our teachers were themselves either dull or small-minded. My father, the moulder and inspirer of my youth, was a richly gifted man — a ripe scholar, an eloquent preacher, and a finished master of English composition, besides the suppressed but real dramatic power I have spoken of already. But very literally he counted all things loss for Christ — all things worthless that did not contribute to His glory and the salvation of the souls He died for. The words of the impassioned hymn, "Shew me Thy face," were for him literally true —
All lesser lights shall vanish quite,
All lower glories wane.
The beautiful of earth shall ne’er
Seem beautiful again.
Such men were like those who have tried to look steadfastly at the sun — they could hardly see anything else; except, indeed, practical work for others, and in that they excelled. The early Evangelicals were the pioneers of all the great philanthropic movements of the nineteenth century, and we in Ireland were not behind them, as far as our abilities and opportunities extended.
What Sir James Stephen said of one of the early Evangelicals was exactly true of my father. He "united the strongest belief in the total depravity of the race, with the firmest persuasion of the entire goodness of any specimen of it with whom he came in contact." And he also united the tenderest and most benevolent compassion for every suffering he knew of on earth, with the calm belief in the terrible destiny that awaited in the future the majority of the human race.
I was taught that if I were "a child of God," there were in me two natures, called in Scripture "the flesh" and "the spirit." According to this teaching, all that was in me at my first birth belonged to the "old man" — to "the flesh" — and was evil, and doomed to destruction. Only that which I received at my second birth (if I had indeed been born again) was the true, the divine, the holy life which was of God, and was acceptable to Him. I still believe that this doctrine of the two natures, if properly stated, is a divine and glorious truth — a mystery indeed, but one that goes far to elucidate and explain other mysteries, and to reveal us to ourselves as we truly are. The mistake was in supposing "the flesh," or "the old man," to be ourselves, all that was in us before conversion, instead of being only the taint of sin that defiles all the rest. It is unto sin, and unto sin only, that the Christian is called to die. That may be called a sublime mistake which was made by a young artist, a converted man. Walking with a friend he passed a print shop, in its window a beautiful engraving. His companion paused and drew his attention to this. "Come on," said the Christian. "We are dead to all that."
Things were not by any means pushed to this extent in my early home, nor was Art ever my passion; it was moral beauty, the deeds of heroes, courage, generosity, self-sacrifice. Up to about the age of twelve I was saved by the fact that my favourite heroes were usually among the martyrs, for whom my admiration, beginning in my eighth year, has lasted all my life. But at about that age, I took to the heroes of antiquity. Then came a time when
"All the golden deeds of men made glorious riot in my heart,"
all through the week, and then on Sunday I was pulled up short by teaching in the spirit of the severest interpretation of the thirteenth article of the Church of England. (Footnote: "Works done before the grace of Christ and the Inspiration of His Holy Spirit are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ . . . yea, rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.") Six days I dreamed of Greek and Roman heroes with whom I lived happily, only troubled now and then by a dull sense of wrong thinking and wrongdoing, and on the seventh believed I ought to give them up, since none of their deeds were acceptable in the sight of God — and tried not to think of them at all, or to entertain the most melancholy views of their destiny in the other world, which gave me deep concern. But I did think of them.
For me, I stood with longing eyes, and footsteps trembling with eagerness, on the borders of the enchanted land of Poetry, of Romance, of Literature; but I thought it was the region of the enemy, and I had no business to enter it.
Thus began the long, long conflict between the things of the spirit and things of the imagination. The succeeding years, up to the age of seventeen or thereabouts, were filled for the most part with these internal struggles — between the things of the "flesh," as I accounted them to be, and those of the spirit — in other words, between the Christian life — the life of faith, and the dreamer’s.
As I copy the words, fresh from re-reading Under the Southern Cross, with its wealth of imagination, and the exquisite poetry and passion of its descriptions of the Incas and their glorious land, the question will rise: What might she not have done for the world, for Christ, if all her powers had had full play? — not least the rich gift of humour which shines out in her later books. Miss Elise Sandes said, "If she had written for the world, she would be known all over the world." She is known all over the world, geographically, but chiefly by those who are not of the world. She had every natural gift for reaching a much wider area, had a wider outlook been allowed her.
Yet what the writer lost, the woman and the Christian may have gained, and thereby been able to reach the world from a higher standpoint. Few women have done more to influence the early life of those, both men and women, who have risen to be Christian leaders. In principle and thought, Deborah rapidly outgrew her pinfolds, and was the more careful to guard her readers against them for having suffered herself. We dare not say that it could ever be God’s ideal will for great powers to be hampered; but while it is His actual will to work in this dark world through human hands, He Himself deigns to be under the limits and conditions inseparable from the use of such poor tools. He must, unless the work were taken completely out of our will, and only our hands employed; and He knows that the far greater kindness is to let us slowly learn to help ourselves, bearing with all our stupid fumbling "till our change come," and with new powers we can serve Him better.
Here I must pause to say that it would be a grave mistake to accept the impressions of a hypersensitive child with a hyper-conscientious father, dwelling in a little corner of Erin, as representing the general opinions of Evangelicals in those days. The Rev. William Pennefather — who, with his gifted wife, planned the first Barnet Conference, pioneer of all Evangelical and united Conventions — was then beginning his ministry in Ireland. He and his wife not only permitted general reading, but enjoined it as a duty, especially on the young. They were the first to make full use of music, painting and flowers in Christian work. Mrs. Rundle Charles (author of The Schönberg-Cotta Family) was very near Miss Alcock’s age — a little older. In those same days her evangelical parents gave her every advantage of mental culture and innocent enjoyment; she grew up steeped in the sweet influences of poetry, literature and art; and it was the same in all their wide circle in Devonshire. My mother was nineteen when Debbie was born, and through the next ten years she and her brothers spent their leisure in feasting on all the books they could lay hands on, especially poetry; and with every encouragement from their pastor, the Rev. William Jay, of Bath, and Dr. Spender, a leading member of his church, whose grandsons are now helping to make history. The same with all the great "Earlham Sect" — Gurneys, Burtons, Forsters, Cunninghams, Hoares — some of them still Friends, but many more, Evangelical members of the Church of England — all, as families, distinguished for their mental gifts and charm.
It is true that much reading of fiction was discouraged, but what had they to read, in the way of religious fiction! The delightful Taylor writings — Grace Kennedy, and Mrs. Sherwood; but when they had outgrown Mrs. Sherwood and finished Display and The Contributions of Q.Q. and Anna Ross and Father Clement and dear Masterman Ready, what was left, of any consequence, that could be called religious? CÉlebs in Search of a Wife! Miss Edgeworth’s pagan moralities do not count. Only two or three of Sir Walter Scott’s novels were allowed to quite young girls then. No Uncle Tom’s Cabin, nor Ministering Children, nor The Wide Wide World: no Mrs. Gaskell, no Miss Yonge — beloved of Evangelicals as well as by the High Church — nor Catherine Bell, or E. J. May, who helped Miss Yonge to instruct us in our "minor moralities." And to take a wider range, which a host of Evangelicals permitted, when it opened — no Kingsley, George MacDonald, Charlotte Brontë, or George Eliot — all, in their way, deeply religious writers, though George Eliot wrote of faith, alas! from memory. And in poetry, no Tennyson, Browning, Mrs. Browning, Jean Ingelow or Adelaide Proctor. Wordsworth was still little read. Mrs. Browning had been writing nearly twenty years, but had not made the mark she did afterwards.
That there were many Evangelicals who stood in fear of earthly wisdom and graces is shown by Foster’s Essay On the Aversion of Men of Taste to Evengelical Religion; but the Essay itself, and its hearty reception, showed that they were only a section of the body, though probably a large one.
I cannot resist adding one personal remembrance, though it dates perhaps half a generation later. If I recollect right, we were quite children when someone quoted those very lines:
The beautiful of earth will ne’er
Seem beautiful again.
"Oh, no! Much more beautiful," we exclaimed. And our parents, intensely Evangelical, were pleased.
The shadow she so pathetically describes was already stealing over Debbie’s heart, when her father offered her the privilege of coming to the Lord’s table, without waiting for confirmation. Mary had been confirmed while with her mother at Kilkenny the previous summer. Debbie, being also away, must have lost any opportunity given at Frankfield that year, and evidently the tender father did not like her to be left out. He did not question her — only said that she and Mary had shared all other things together, and as it must be some time before the next Confirmation, and he had no doubt that she had made her choice, and was "ready and desirous" to seal it by fulfilling her Lord’s command, he would like her to do so.
What could she say? She dared not confess that a revolution was beginning in her inner life, and at times all its foundations tottered. Perhaps it was well that she did not try, for her father might not have understood. Definite difficulties he would have met with tenderest sympathy, but there were no words to explain to him the strange, shuddering doubt that comes over so many of us in youth, and most of all to those in whom the imaginative life is strong. "Is anything real? Am I real? How can I know?" It was all the harder for her because, while grappling alone in her thirteenth year with the problems of full-grown life, she had less than the common experience of real life that comes to any child of nine or ten who is one of a family. Her own personality was still in embryo, while her thoughts careered. The "Me," — so small, yet large enough to hunger for the infinite THOU and be satisfied with nothing less, was emerging from the child-stage, and had still to find itself and feel its own feet upon the earth.
Her father did not see all this: he saw only his child’s obedient life, and love of all holy things. So she came with Mary to the Holy Feast — with deepest reverence and longing, but still labouring to find the right feelings in herself — and came away sadly conscious that, compared with the standard she longed to reach, even there she had not found reality. Real life was coming fast upon her in another way. In the spring of 1848 Mr. Alcock’s old friend, the Rev. William Carpenter, wrote that he was leaving his present charge at the district church of St. Barnabas in Douglas, Isle of Man, and the Trustees were very anxious to have Mr. Alcock as his successor. The offer was accepted, to the profound grief of the Frankfield people. Miss Lane was already preparing to leave Frankfield house. To Debbie, the change was not what it would have been a year before. The inner wrestling was conquering the simple outer life. But no other place on earth was ever as dear to her, and when at seventy-two she had a home of her own at last, she called it "Frankfield."
Among the letters preserved by her was one signed "S. Biggs," describing a visit to Frankfield Parsonage, and how the place seemed lonely to the writer.
I wanted to see the little Debbie I so well remembered trotting along a broad gravel walk at Frankfield by the side of my aunt’s Bath-chair.
I looked on your father with a kind of awe, and half-wondered what it was like to be his child.
Many years have passed, and earth’s joys and sorrows have brightened and shadowed my path, but sunshine rests on that broad walk.
And there it ever lay, in memory, to the little child grown old.
V. THE STEPMOTHER
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