THE AUTHOR OF THE SPANISH BROTHERS
THE DESIRE ACCOMPLISHED IS SWEET TO THE SOUL
MISS ALCOCK’S health continued extremely delicate through the first part of 1862. A good many years later she gave some of the fruits of her experience of ill-health to a young friend who also had been laid aside by serious illness, just when the first steps of a writer’s career were opening before her. In reading the first letter, it must be remembered that her own worst malady, at this time, and very often in after years, was haemorrhage from the lungs, which, while compelling absolute stillness and silence, not only leaves the brain untouched, but sometimes brings a peculiar exhilaration, which has actually to be combatted, lest the pleasant excitement should bring on another attack.
To I. A.
I am now going to tell you one of the secrets of our craft. A sick-bed (when there is not actual suffering) is the story-teller’s paradise. It is the very home of dreams and visions. There, unhindered by the claims of practical life, our dream-children come and go all day, and often in the night too. They come and tell us all their secrets, their loves and hates, their joys and fears — the stories of their lives. They even show us what they wear, and how they looked, or rather how they look, for they don’t die, they live, with us. We need not go in search of them, or call them, even — only open the doors, and they will come in. Oh, how often they have come to me!
I trust and believe the writer’s life and career will be given you, and it is your business now to fit yourself for it, body, soul, and spirit. Do you remember how the young knight of old used to watch in the church the whole night through, before he received the accolade, for prayer and preparation!
Perhaps this sickness of yours is your "watch-night," given to prepare you for fuller consecration of all you are and have — especially of your sword, which is the pen — to the Service of the Highest.
. . . You remember that verse, "He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver"(Mal. iii. 3), and have often heard doubtless how the refiner "sits" and watches the silver or the gold until he can see his own face reflected there. Then the work of the fire is done, and he takes it out. So with us, who are His silver and His gold. In every trouble of ours we can see Him "sitting" and watching us, until He sees His own image reflected clearly; and then the work of trial will be done.
May God give you some very special token of His love and care in this time of comparative silence and loneliness, making your heart glad in Him "more than in the time" when all outside things, "corn and wine and oil, increased."
. . . [She sends her good wishes to her friend, for] "restoration to health, and, gradually and with due precautions, to reasonable and temperate activity. . . ."
. . . You will find you have learned much, especially of love. Sickness is a grand time for learning love, the earthly and heavenly. And you, dear, are rich in both.
Of course, I am still a prisoner; yet much as I miss the Sunday services, I find these quiet home Sundays full of rest and charm.
. . . He has brought you as it were, "into a desert place" to rest awhile "with Him." Bring to Him every care, every feeling of weariness or weakness, and He will take it away, or bear it with you.
During the spring and early summer of this year the family were often staying at the seaside or in the country, near enough to Dublin for Mr. Alcock to go in and out to his work. In the leisure gained, Deborah wrote another short story called The Martyr’s Widow. She summarised its subject herself in The Romance of Protestantism, when speaking of her definition of Romance. What is it? "Courage, high endurance, generous deeds."
. . . We ask now what ‘generous deeds’ we have to show. Take one, for a sample, from the story of the Netherlands. Under the crushing tyranny of Alva, hosts of martyrs and other innocent victims were slaughtered, until at last the people rose in the cities, the towns, and the country, to shake off the intolerable yoke. It was not to be wondered at that those who were most active in the persecution should run some risk of having done to them what they had done to others.
The Burgomaster of Gonda had been particularly zealous in hunting the heretics to death. The people sought for him in their wrath, and ill would it have fared with him had they found him. Horribly frightened and seeking concealment, he turned into the house of a certain widow. She led him to a secret closet — in those days of peril there were such in many houses. "Shall I be safe here?" he asked, trembling. "Oh, yes, sir," she said, "you will be quite safe, for it was here my husband hid, when you sought for him and could not find him." Ah, but he had sought for him again, and had found him, in another place; and now, his widow, in the day of vengeance, saved the life of him who had hunted her husband to his death. Nor is that the only such story we can find in the records of Protestantism.
When the story was finished "I took my courage in both hands," she said, "and sent it to Mrs. Charles." Her father’s diary gives the date "June It. Deb’s letter to Mrs. Charles — an epoch, perhaps, in the dear girl’s history. We pray Thee, Lord, direct us in this matter, for His sake Whom we desire to honour."
Deborah had not long to wait before an answer came. Mrs. Charles gave high praise to her little story, and had sent it on to Mr. Cameron, Editor of The Family Treasury for Sunday Reading, asking if he could find it a place there.
Here was joy indeed for the young aspirant, and for those who loved her, too. Mr. Alcock wrote to his wife:
How pleased Deb must have been with Mrs. Charles’ letter — not more, I venture to say, than you yourself were. I am rather apprehensive, however, of any over-excitement at present, and wish she could be amused, going about a little, and kept in the open air. With fullest measure of love to both.
After rather more than usual delay, owing to the holiday season, the editor accepted "The Martyr’s Widow," and — oh, happiness! — asked for more! This made an epoch indeed.
Part of the summer holiday was spent at Harrogate; then came a short Swiss tour, which Deborah had scarcely strength to enjoy, and a week in London, where to her great delight she met Mrs. Charles — bright with the radiant happiness which lasted all through her married life, and overflowing with kindness and sympathy. Life, her own life, was coming into blossom at last, for Deborah.
She found a sedative entirely to her taste, in writing the Life of Alfred the Great that autumn. While it was in progress, she was invited by a Dublin friend, Mrs. Flood, to spend a few days with her in order to meet a young cousin of hers, Miss Arabella Stubbs, whose sister, Miss Elizabeth Stubbs, was for so long Mrs. Pennefather’s private secretary at Mildmay. This young lady was also busy with her pen, writing essays on India, and the hostess thought the two scribes would like to know each other. So began a friendship which lasted for the rest of life, and brought another in its train when, in 1865, Miss Stubbs became the wife of the Rev. C. H. — afterwards Dr. — Waller, for many years the Principal of St. John’s Hall, Highbury. Deborah’s friendship and correspondence with him made another large addition to her possessions.
She was still very far from strong in 1863, and it was difficult to keep her from overdoing. Miss Ryder, a dear friend of these days, wrote to her long after —
I hope you are not overworking yourself. Alas, I fear you are never in a position to negative that charge. I know the indomitable spirit that would not own to fatigue while anything remained undone.
It was very difficult for her "not to do," while she remained in Eccles Street, at the centre of business: and both for quiet and the milder air on the south side of Dublin, she went, some time in this winter, to make a long stay with Miss Callwell there. This was a sweet and restful time, in very congenial company. Mr. Alcock often came over to see her; and sitting beside the fire, alone together, they talked, as friends, more than ever before.
It was probably there that Alfred’s Life was finished, and she brought him to "The Peace Place" — the "Great, quiet dwelling" of his own verse. The book has long been out of print; but as one looks out upon the seething waves of modern politics, one cannot but feel the extreme need for such a standard of public life, to be known and read, not only by kings and princes, but by the common people whose voice, united, is now the voice of a king.
But now the book was finished, what was to be done with it? The following letter to Deborah’s beloved friend, Miss Kift — another friendship of Dublin days — tells how this perplexity was solved.
. . . I hear from the Balls that you have been much scandalized by my conduct in not writing. What shall I say in self-defence? . . . I have been unusually busy lately. There is the usual amount of outdoor work, and last week the lectures and classes began again. I had thirty-six little ones for a commencement, and preparing their books was in itself no trifling task. Just at present, too, all we who are very interested in our Biblewoman and her work, are very busy preparing for a sale of the articles of clothing made by the poor women at the Mothers’ Meeting. . . .
Shall I confess to my dear friend that I have work of a very different sort on hand also? You were among the first people I longed to tell of it. About a year ago I wrote a life of my favourite hero, "Alfred the Great," but was then very much puzzled to know what to do with it. We had it with us in Harrogate this August, when we happened most unexpectedly to meet a friend of Mama’s who resided near London. He was himself a literary man. Mama showed him my MS., which he read, and, most fortunately for me, took a great fancy to. (I say fortunately, but most truly do I feel that every step of the way was "through the good Hand of my God upon me.") To make a long story short, this friend offered my work to Mr. Macintosh (W. Macintosh, 24, Paternoster Row), who agreed to purchase the copyright, to my no small astonishment and very great delight! Mr. M. has taken it up quite warmly too, and says he will bring the book out very nicely, and put a good portrait of Alfred for the frontispiece.
Well, this isn’t all! I wrote a little story called "The Martyr’s Widow," for The Family Treasury of Sabbath Reading, in the June number of which it appeared; and a short time since, I had a letter from the publisher, Mr. Nelson, asking me to write him a small volume of such stories, and (entre nous) offering me fifty guineas for said volume! He only requires ten, and I hope I have at least five disposed of now. You will not wonder that I am a little busy, and not a little interested in my task. I know you will like to hear all this, so I have run on with it.
Mr. Nelson’s letter may be interesting.
HOPE PARK, EDINBURGH.
October 27, 1863.
DEAR MADAM, —
Mr. Cameron has just called in reference to a recent note from you. We have glanced at your story "The Martyr’s Widow." We think a very nice volume of similar stories might be made, and we shall be glad if you can undertake it. About ten stories of similar length would be required, and for such a volume we beg to offer you the sum of fifty guineas.
THOS. NELSON & SONS.
This letter found Miss Alcock on another visit to Miss Callwell, and she remembered "going upstairs to bed with my head quite giddy — physically giddy — with the excitement." It was not till the following spring that her first payment for authorship reached her, on her twenty-ninth birthday — a cheque for fifty-two pounds ten shillings. Can any words express the joy that must have been to the large heart, so cramped and bounded all her life before for want of money? "I have never known any anxiety about money," she once said. "I have wished for more of it!" From that day forth, her wish was granted. A smaller cheque soon followed, for the use of her stories in the magazine. Her father kept up her allowance as before: the large sums she received from time to time were entirely at her own disposal. In old age she reckoned that she had invested about half her earnings — all the rest she had the intense joy of spending, and almost all for love, besides whatever was wanted for books or travel to equip her for her work. Her first purchase was a gold watch for her father. When he and her mother became engaged, he exchanged the handsome gold watch he then possessed for another — a beautiful lady’s watch — to give to his betrothed, and bought a common silver one for himself, which had served him ever since. His wife’s he had given to her daughter when she grew up, and she now had the ecstasy of giving him the best plain gold watch that money could buy in Dublin. On November 9, a fortnight after she got her cheque, his diary says: The Lord very gracious to our dear Deb. Continue Thy loving-kindness, O Lord." And again on December 14: "Dear Deb begins to reap the fruit of her labour and patience. Lord, remember and bless."
Everything she wrote was steeped in his prayers: every page was read aloud to him — to her infinite advantage, she thought; but there was another side to that. She could jest with him in daily life — he had a keen sense of humour and loved it; but in anything so serious as writing for the public good, she could not think of "letting herself go," for print, when he would hear! Thus one of her most winning talents as an author was almost buried while he lived. Occasional cumbrousness of style, too, was caught from him: she had none of it in speaking, and it appears very little in her writings of later years.
On the other hand, among her many gains from him was her extraordinary precision in the choice of words. This was very striking to those who heard her speak, but still more noticeable in her preparation. In the thousands of pages we have gone over together, for press or lecture, she would frequently alter a shade of meaning, if a thought had ripened since she wrote it down, but scarcely ever a word, when her intention was unchanged.
To return to the course of events, in July, 1864, Deborah’s dear cousin, Miss Sarah Gore, was married to Dr. Isaac Ashe, a man full of attraction, with a touch of genius. "He was one of my few man friends," Deborah said, "and a very dear and valued one. A man of science with a poet’s soul" — but always giving the best of himself to the details of his professional work, however wearisome. He was one of the many bright spirits who seem bound down by their own faithfulness. He and Miss Alcock had much in common, with their strong literary tastes and keen sympathies. Only, on him, in daily contact with pain and grief, it was the mystery of present suffering that weighed most heavily — more so than it did on her, at that time. Mercifully, even the power to suffer has a limit, in human nature. Deborah, with her keen historic instinct, had to endure such anguish in reading of the horrible tortures inflicted in the past — she had no power left to realize collectively the longer but lesser woes that come in the course of nature. Individually, her sympathy was only too ready; the suffering of anyone near and dear to her would affect her even to illness. And all who knew her will remember how eagerly she would interpose in any difficulty, great or small, where she thought money might be of service — offering to pay carriage hire or railway fare, or the cost of a nurse in sickness, as though she were everybody’s sister, and there was a claim on her to do it. Equally keen was her sympathy with the joys of others. Sweet was it to take good news to her!
On that summer day in 1864, the happy wedding, with a large family gathering, must have made her as glad as she ever could be, even then, in presence of a great many people, not all intimately known. Among the guests was the bride’s brother, the Rev. Arthur Gore, afterwards Archdeacon of Bowden and Canon of Chester. He preached for Mr. Alcock on the following Sunday, and the diary says: "Arthur in the evening. Striking sermon."
Like all true workers, Mr. Alcock loved good work in others; and like his daughter, he was very much less critical of them than of himself. Again and again we find on Sunday night, "Preached from—Poor," or perhaps, "Not such as I desired. Lord pardon, and bless, notwithstanding Thy servant’s weakness." In the evening the curate’s name— "Very good," or sometimes "Original."
The last entry is frequent when the Rev. Philip Dowe was his curate, first in the Isle of Man, and then, after several years interval, in Dublin. I think Mr. Dowe must have gone direct from Bethesda to Christ Church, Barnet, where he remained with Mr. Pennefather’s successor, the Rev. Filmer Sulivan.
"The Barnet Conference" had moved to Mildmay Park, North London, with Mr. Pennefather; but his friend, Mr. Skrine, had a conference on "The Coming of our Lord" at Trent, East Barnet, that summer, and Mr. Alcock went to it, and was interested, though differing from some of the views advanced. Miss Alcock once told me that his views and her own on the Blessed Hope were very much akin to those of Mr. and Mrs. Guinness in their book, The Approaching End of the Age, though not identical. But she felt it important not to be drawn into giving too literal interpretations, in detail, of those wonderful prophecies, lest the Great Hope of the Church, — the time and season whereof our Lord has hidden from us — should be lowered into a subject for speculations which bring it into ridicule by their utter lack of the sense of proportion-events which loom large to us because they are near, making hardly a ripple on the broad stream of history.
This feeling in no way interfered with recognition of steps towards the fulfilment of definite prophecies, e.g. the return of the house of Israel to their own land. Mrs. Pennefather used to say that it seemed as if God had left the time of His Son’s return unknown, that in every age His servants might have the joy of thinking of it, with no certainty of long ages stretching out between. When they passed from earth, and learned the measures of Eternity, they would find it had been "nigh" indeed all the time. There Miss Alcock also left this secret of the Lord — only with a profound conviction that the world never can be healed of its diseases "Until He Come." We have our part to do: "Looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God," by obediently fulfilling His commands — and how much more may yet be left for us, we know not; but we have no promise that the wickedness of the wicked will come to an end without Himself, in His royal power, to end it.
Deborah’s book of short stories, five, of various lengths, instead of ten, came out in 1864 under the title of its chief story "Sunset in Provence." The last, "A Child’s Victory," is founded on the true incident of a martyr’s little daughter finding her way to the spot where he was already bound to the stake — breaking from those about her and darting to him as the flames rose up, in time to die with him. It need not be told that the writer’s soul was in that story.
A letter from Mr. Brooke alludes to a certain "Redmond" whose story comes in for a good deal of criticism, mingled with praise. I give it as an interesting specimen of suggestive criticism, but nevertheless, one which betrays that the Rev. R. S. Brooke did not know the ways of those characters in fiction who, as Hans Andersen said of his "real "stories, "do not wait to be fetched: they knock at one’s forehead and say, ‘Here I am.’ "
From Rev. R. S. Brooke.
MY DEAR MISS ALCOCK, —
I read your MS. at a sitting this evening. It greatly interested me, and I was much pleased with the life of the style, the short and graceful sentences, the spirit of the dialogue, and its suitableness to time and character. And on the whole, as far as my poor judgment goes, I could hail the authoress as one whose work, should God spare her life, would be a very popular and pleasing addition to the small circle of good religious tale-writers of the day.
This I say in great sincerity; with equal truth I will add that I am as sure the honesty and outspoken Protestantism of the MS. would effectually debar it from gaining access to the pages of the periodical we spoke of today. Alas, that it should be so!
I think also that the struggle in Redmond’s mind is scarce commensurate to producing the antecedents. His mother’s death in his childhood could hardly have generated so much bigotry. I think at times he seems ill-tempered as a companion and indolent as a soldier. I think, after his interview with Basil, he might have developed into a little more impressibility. I do not like the mention of cowardice in connection with a soldier; and after the terrible warning he got, I don’t think his dropping his reins on a military march either natural or pleasing. It made me positively angry with him. Make your hero respected, or he will not be interesting; mere morbidness of mind, or melancholy, will not now (since the Byron mania has passed away) attract, or absorb attention. Your Redmond is a most interesting character; he has failings enough to enable you to afford him a few more virtues. Make him brave as a lion, and active as a lightning-flash. I did not admire him standing in the archway when he should have been in the thickest of the fight, scorning the bullets. Colonel Picton would have shot him there.
Work his mind up on the most melancholy lines, and intensest struggles of conscience, convictions, etc. I would give you every latitude in your delineations of the man, but in depicting the soldier, make him like Ney, or CÉur de Lion, or Nelson, always and on all occasions bravest of the brave, with the spring of the panther, the pounce of the hawk, the cry and the joy of the warhorse for the battle.
If you thus exhibit him in his twofold character — of a thoughtful man and a vivid soldier — you would have your dark and bright nicely adjusted in his case and character. I am really thoroughly interested in the tale, and write not critically but kindly. I hope to bring you the MS. either on Thursday or Friday about one o’clock, and I am, dear Miss Alcock,
Yours very faithfully,
RD. GR. BROOKE.
Mr. Brooke says well, "Make your hero respected." He may be deluded, even wicked, but never contemptible. But what could Deborah do, if the man she had created refused to obey her?
When talking once of the conflicting forces at work in present days, she said how she wished that Mrs. Charles were here still. "No one else has her passion and poetry, her original thought and high cultivation."
I agreed to this, and observed that Miss Yonge had none of her passion.
"Oh, no! And none of her original thought."
"But Miss Yonge had far more creative genius — or rather, inventive genius — marshalling people and events," I said.
"In that she was far before Mrs. Charles," said Deborah, and added that Mrs. Charles had once incidentally shown her "where she stood, in creating. She spoke of the pleasure of handling the characters in one’s stories — ‘people whom you can lead through the circumstances of their lives.’ Oh! If you can lead them, what are they? If they haven’t got grit in them and can stand up against you, they’re no good."
" ‘You make them up, and then they defy you!’ " I said, quoting an author-friend, and she liked that. I am not surprised to find no trace of "Redmond’s" story at this time.
If it ever appeared, his image must have had time to cool before it could be recast.
The Sunset of Provence was a success: 1868 opened very brightly, but trouble was nigh at hand. Mr. Alcock took a severe chill and could not shake off the consequences, his general health being already lowered by long overstrain. He struggled on till March, when he was obliged to rest, and went with his wife to the hospitable home of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, where his daughter was already, working hard at The Dark Year of Dundee. Here Mr. Alcock became so very much worse that for a time there seemed scarcely a hope of his recovery. His brother Dr. Alcock and his nephew Dr. Ashe hastened to him, but could not deny the gravity of the case. His daughter writes: —
"The Easter of that memorable year came to us with one of those glorious bursts of spring — sunshine and flowers and cloudless skies — which seem so much brighter and sweeter than all the later splendours of the summer. It was through those fair spring days, when all nature spoke of life and hope, that he lay, as we thought, dying.
"All the time his peace was indeed ‘as a river,’ full, calm, and unruffled by a doubt. For the future — there was quietness and assurance for ever. Should the gates of the everlasting city unfold before him at any moment, he would ‘pass in there with ease and naturalness, as one who had everything to gain and nothing to lose.’ For the present he was — as ever in times of illness — gentle, patient, tranquil — grateful to those around him, and always willing to take remedies, or to do whatever else was required of him. At such a time, doubtless, the man who has been often ill before has a great advantage over the strong man suddenly struck down by unexpected sickness. Still more does the man accustomed to a life of self-control, and of thoughtful courtesy in little things, reap the benefit.
"Much prayer was made for him by friends far and near, and gradually his sickness abated. After a time of rest at Llandudno, he was able to go for a tour amongst the islands of Scotland, to Skye, Mull and Arran, where he had been two or three times before, and had greatly enjoyed the grand and beautiful scenery, and the homely, kindly ways of the people.
"In October, he was able to resume his work and to carry it on for nearly another year, though with much difficulty."
Meanwhile, Deborah had been working — under difficulties indeed — at the story of one of her best beloved heroes — George Wishart, the young Scotch minister who in The Dark Year of Dundee, when "the plague" was raging there, "came back to the terrified city and preached in the Cowgate sermons that ‘raised men’s hearts,’ " as he told them of the love of Christ for sinners, till "they regardit not death, but judgit them mair happy that should depairt" to Him "than sic as sould remain behind."
And after preaching, he went in and out of the stricken homes that others feared to enter, ministering to both soul and body — so moving the whole town that in after years Dundee was the first of all the Scottish burghs to declare for the Reformation. But before that day came, George Wishart had gone to heaven by the way of fire — burned at the stake at St. Andrews, by order of the cruel Cardinal Beaten. On the morning of that day, the captain of the castle where he was confined allowed him to meet his friends in "a pleasant room," and there to administer the Lord’s Supper. He blessed the bread and gave it with the familiar words, "Take this, in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on Him in thy heart by faith." "And likewise the cup." So tenderly he spoke that all vengeance, even against those who were about to slay him, melted away from the hearts of those who loved him as their own souls. Even in that hour, the suffering in prospect was lost in the glory that excelled. So he went to his death.
It was a tale to seize the heart of anyone. To Deborah it came with a heavenly transport in the autumn of 1864. The subject was too large for a short story, and the Editor arranged for it to come out as a serial in the Family Treasury. She had gone to stay with Mrs. Smith and work there quietly, before her father came. Somehow, in spite of watching and intense anxiety, the thing was done. A letter to her friend J. D. tells more of this.
DEAREST J. —
I have been longing to write to you about many things, but one thing for the present must put the rest in abeyance. So our dear Mrs. Guinness has gone "within the veil," her long years of weakness and sickness and suffering over, gone to the Saviour she loved and the home she so often longed for. Does it not give additional preciousness to the thought of those happy weeks you and I spent together beneath her roof, weeks that now cannot in any sense come again? Surely if ever anyone lay at the gate of heaven, waiting as the sick man at the Pool of Bethesda for the angel’s visit, she did for years. But how one feels for poor Mr. Guinness! . . .
It is true that these things are your Church History; but the peculiarity of my case lies in this — there is no perspective in my mind. The distant in time seems as distinct and real as the things immediately about me.
I often wished to alter this, but could not; it was born with me, as colour-blindness is with some people; but oh! the deep enjoyment of that communion with the dead! I have "belonged to my work" with a vengeance for some weeks past. It is just done now. I have (in some fashion or other, spoiling it, I suppose) gone through that wonderful scene of George Wishart administering the Lord’s Supper in prison, just before his martyrdom. I wonder how I dared touch it, and often thought of your saying "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." But a saying of Kingsley’s comes opportunely to comfort me. "When first we see a beautiful thing, our hearts are lifted up close to it in love and reverence, so that we forget the space that lies between and feel as if we almost could touch the distant mountains." N.B.: Not his words, but his thought. You will understand it.
Well, I brought him to the stake, and there I left him, having played the coward in the person of my hero who was witnessing the scene, because neither he nor I could bear more.
And now I am very lonely. "There has passed away a glory from the earth." I tell all this out to you, enjoying the assurance — oh, how precious! — that you positively will care to read it — that you will give me your warm, earnest, thoughtful sympathy. . . . But you could not say to me of my present hero, as you used of poor dear Regner, "I don’t believe there’s no sich a person," for I’m not allowing myself a word of him that is not strictly true.
The book, then called The Dark Year of Dundee, has been reissued by Nelson & Sons under the somewhat hackneyed title of No Cross, No Crown, in their 2s. series (1s. 6d. net). Readers can judge for themselves whether "that wonderful scene" is spoiled.
The trip to Scotland must have been very much to Deborah’s taste, for her heart was on fire with Scotland’s struggle for faith and freedom. And it gave her practice in the Scottish tongue. It was a bold step for an Irish girl to write a Scotch story in a Scotch magazine, and it was very gratifying that the editor wrote, "The tale has been especially popular in Scotland. Your command of our vernacular is to me inexplicable, unless you have lived oftener and longer in Scotland than I supposed." The one shadow on that happy winter was the state of her father’s health. Her own, too, was far from satisfactory. She says in his memoir: —
"Still, when in August, 1866, Mr. Alcock left Dublin for his usual vacation, he fully intended to return and resume his work in the beginning of October. While in Llandudno in September, he heard that two or three valued members of his congregation were ill, and longing for his presence. He crossed over to Dublin to visit them, and whilst there he heard of impending changes which led him to think that an active man in the fullness of his strength was needed for the post he held, and that his own failing health unfitted him for the burden.
Returning to Llandudno under this impression, he spent a whole night in conflict and prayer, and in the morning reached the conclusion that he ought to resign. He wrote immediately to the trustees announcing his resolution, and nearly all of them entreated him to reconsider it. One alone did not answer at once — the aged Bishop of Cashel (Rev. Robert Daly). Mr. Alcock was beginning to wonder at his silence, when he received a letter from him, expressing, like the others, regret for the loss Bethesda would sustain, but also offering him the Archdeaconry of Waterford and Rectory of St. Patrick’s Union there. The work, compared with that of a voluntary church in the metropolis, would be light and easy — quite, as the Bishop believed, within his physical capacity. . .
Mr. Alcock thankfully accepted this offer, to the great joy of the venerable Bishop, who, as it afterwards transpired, had been actually upon his knees engaged in prayer for guidance as to the appointment to the vacant Archdeaconry, when the letter was brought in announcing Mr. Alcock’s resignation of Bethesda.
It must have weighed also with Mr. Alcock, in accepting, that his daughter would escape the Dublin winters.
By this time Deborah had been seized with the plot of another story, Arthur Erskine’s Experiences — the adventures of a Scottish laddie who goes to France, and comes in for thrilling and terrible scenes during the persecutions there in the sixteenth century. In his sister, Helen Erskine, she drew one of the few imaginary heroines who came out of the depths of her own heart, for Helen was Mary — as Mary would have been, left alone to fend for herself in the days of the Regent Murray.
But till the parting from Dublin was over, real life gave little space for dreams. With even more than her father’s clinging to old familiar places and friends, she dreaded the uprooting. She wrote to a friend:
Your dear loving letter went to my heart, and brought tears to my eyes. I can say too, "I cannot do without you." . . . You know you will have to come and see us in our new house. . . Oh, how your letter brought back the longing for one of the old, old talks! . . .
She was sure that there would never be anyone like the Dublin friends. And there never was. No one ever took the same place in her heart that was held by them — the lovers and comrades of her youth; but there was yet a deeper place to be sounded in that deep heart — the love that springs from the mother-instinct in a woman old enough to cherish it not only for little children, but for the young in all stages from childhood into middle life. This lay before her at Waterford, though she knew it not.
Happily for the pastor’s health, though otherwise causing a good deal of inconvenience, the "Archdeaconry," as the Rectory of St. Patrick’s parish was now called, would not be vacant until after Christmas, and then had to undergo repairs.
The interval after leaving Dublin was spent in Wales, very quietly. Whether it was during this time, or earlier, I do not know, but it was in Wales, and before the Waterford days, that Mr. Alcock spoke one sentence that made a difference to all the rest of his child’s life. They were sitting alone together out of doors, and she read to him, from the "PhFdo," Plato’s account of the death of Socrates — going out into the dark so calmly — thinking of others to the last, reaching out into the dim future without fear, but with such cold and shadowy hopes! At the close, Mr. Alcock wiped his spectacles and said, "Surely he may come in for the words ‘If ye were blind, ye should have no sin.’ "
Oh, that he had said those words nineteen years before! What agony of conflict would have been spared her! But they were spoken now — at last ! With the long-drawn breath of an immense relief, she turned her face towards a future in which, happen what might, she was free to believe the words of Scripture, that the great and good of old would be judged "according to their works," (Since the death of Miss Alcock, I have been deeply interested to find that this is also the view of so close a student of Scripture as Sir Robert Anderson. See The Gospel and its Ministry.) not according to knowledge they had never received, of a Saviour they had never rejected.
X. THE TEACHER
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Last modified: June 27, 2016