THE AUTHOR OF THE SPANISH BROTHERS
THE WRITER AND HER BOOKS
MISS ALCOCK used often to say that the first twelve or fourteen of the twenty-four years spent at Waterford were the palmy days of her life; or as she often expressed it, "The years of the right hand of the Most High" — when every stroke that she could write was eagerly sought for — when almost every new business transaction brought her a new friend, in editor or publisher — above all, when, through both pen and voice, God gave her continually "souls for her hire," and let her know of it: when her spiritual children filled her heart with their devoted love, and the home life was the happiest she ever had, except at Frankfield Parsonage. As one reads the few pencil notes in the journals which begin in 1868, one feels that perhaps distance lent some of its enchantment to the view of those years of almost incredible toil; still, even in weariness, the joy of toil is great, when it succeeds; and both speaking and writing were in themselves a keen delight to her.
In 1867 she must have begun to write Arthur Erskine’s Experiences. Her fictitious hero, like Sir Walter Scott’s, was seldom the strong character of the tale — more often he was like an unusually handsome and lively steam-tug, cutting its way through the water and drawing a stately ship with her captain, passengers and cargo after it. But in Arthur Erskine, and, to my mind, still more in The Days of Knox, which followed it, the young man in private life is a distinct personality, not overshadowed by anyone historic character that fills the scene.
Arthur is a typical lad of gentle birth, with all the knightly virtues, and faults too. Miss Alcock had a spontaneous "historic fever" for him. We owe The Days of Knox to Mr. Cameron, who begged for another serial for 1868. "I wrote that book on an extinct fever," Miss Alcock said. "On the remains of my fever for George Wishart." It is a sequel to Arthur Erskine’s Experiences, telling what happened further to Arthur and his sister Helen. But the real hero is George Duncan, the goldsmith’s apprentice, son of the James Duncan who tells the story of that last communion in The Dark Year of Dundee.
"Mistress Helen" comes to tarry for a few nights at the goldsmith’s house, and finds herself stranded there by the sudden death of her mother’s kinsman, who had offered her a home; and there she stays for years. George Duncan, just out of his apprenticeship, is one of those quiet and steadfast souls whom all men trust. "In his presence, men were usually their best selves, and also were disposed to think favourably of one another." The course of love and life should have run smoothly for him, since he was not likely to make troubles for himself: but all unconsciously his heart went out of him to the fair and gracious lady "Mistress Helen," and a day came when he found it out. His dream for years had been to go to France, find Arthur, and bring him home. And then — There he stopped — till his eyes were opened and his hopes crushed at one stroke. But still, he went to seek Arthur and brought him back to Helen — and they both thanked him. Then he passed out of Helen’s life — until the Plague came to Edinburgh, and he, following the steps of Wishart, goes to nurse the sufferers at the camp on the hill, where plague patients were taken. There he dies. Arthur hears where he is, and reaches him before the end. Broken-hearted, he speaks of what his sister also owes to George, and says, "Have you no farewell word for her — for any of us?"
"For her — no," said George slowly. "I shall meet her, where they are as the angels of God in heaven."
Had dying lips unconsciously revealed the secret so jealously guarded in life? Something there was in those brief words that made Arthur cover his face and cry, "Oh, Geordie, my brother."
"Dinna greet," said George.
But even Arthur, George had ceased to hear. Only once again a faint murmur passed his lips, and listening as men listen to the dying, they caught the words, "None upon earth . . . that I desire . . . beside Thee."
This was a love that Deborah did know how to paint. The companion figure of Helen Erskine is worthy of George. The description of her — tall, slender and graceful, dressed in the dark kirtle "severely plain" — with dark eyes, broad white brow and wavy hair, and hands so quick and skilled in every kind of service — ah, how it all brings back the form that was not a dream; nor is — thank God. In a life more real than ours we shall find her again.
A copy of The Days of Knox was sent to Mrs. M. M. Gordon, daughter of Sir David Brewster, and author of the delightful Little Millie and her Four Places, and other books. She writes —
. . . Many thanks for sending me your beautiful and interesting volume. I delight in the character of George Duncan; it is so well sustained. I felt peculiarly interested in the story, knowing the localities so well. Connections of mine are now the possessors of Scotscraig. Surely you must be a Scotchwoman!
To give some idea of Miss Alcock’s other duties, I quote three or four entries from her diary.
1886. Sunday, March 29. Class of 23, and 7 or 8 externes.
Monday. Partly examined school, then drove. Arranged about books. English history. Catholicism. Time-table. Imperfect learning of verses. Tables. Manners and order. Holidays.
Thursday. Meeting. Walk with Miss Hoare. Class of 25. Gave little books. Visited Thorntons.
Friday. Stupid and weary. Lord, help me. Only 8 in class, but attentive. Gave little books. Little more than 4 pages, with all my trying. Evening class, 14. Despatched Treasury papers.
Saturday. About 14 pages, very badly, I fear — finished chapter xii. Saw Mrs. N. and E. K.
Four classes a week, with full preparation for each, and looking after each scholar individually — a home daughter’s duties, a missionary working-party to conduct, and a very large portion of the cares of the parish on her shoulders! But this last was not yet as heavy as it afterwards became. In addition, there was proof-correcting for each monthly part of the story — and proofs of the book, which must have come out early in 1869.
In August, 1868, Mr. Alcock lost the dear sister, Mrs. Gore, to whom Deborah owed the first kindling of her love of history. In the previous June, Mrs. Charles had been made a widow. For a time, sorrow overwhelmed her, but the Hand that wounded could make whole, and gradually the healing came. Her mother, Mrs. Rundle, was with her, and for several years they had "a cube," in 71, Victoria Street, to be near the Abbey and Lady Augusta Stanley.
A letter to Miss Kift describes Miss Alcock’s one bit of magazine work this year.
The little bit I have been doing in the writing way has only been a thorough enjoyment to me. It is a historical sketch of a character I cared about long, long ago, and had written half of a long romance upon, before the time I first knew you — the re-reading of which now has given me many a hearty laugh. If you chance to see the Treasuries for May and June, you may probably wonder at my juvenile taste in the matter of heroes. But I hope you will acknowledge that if my poor, dear old Elector of Saxony was not particularly brilliant, he was good. There are certain bits of history, my intense interest in which cannot be accounted for. Those German Wars of Charles V, and the Netherlands wars of Philip II, are among them. Oh, Kaiser Carl, don’t I hate you, and your precious son!! . . .
Now for a little sense, if it is in me, and the Spanish Gypsy and the Spring weather will permit its exercise. Anyone else would be writing about Mr. Gladstone and the Disestablishment of the Church, but I haven’t that much good in me today. . .
To the same.
" — , an authoress, speaks so kindly about my work, and particularly about poor "Arthur." Mama wants me to stop, and go to bed, and so, as you are aware, I will have to do it.
And very well it was for her, that all through these strenuous years, she had to go to bed at a fixed time.
To the same.
. . . Truly do you say that your work at present is home work; you know I have always held that such should have the first place. But I don’t think it a bit less service than anything else — Sunday School teaching and the like. And I think it makes us so happy, does it not? to take every little bit of work, however small, as given us directly by His own Hand. "If God gave us masters with His own Hand," says my beloved friend Pascal, "would we not obey them right willingly? Circumstances and events are such masters."
These passages are from letters written at intervals, taken in order of time but with a curiously appropriate sequence of thought. The students who revered Miss Alcock could sometimes hardly contain themselves when they heard her so ordered about; and once a friend staying with her, after hearing her packed off to bed by "Aunt Sally," said, when they were alone, "How can you bear it?" "Because I can think what I like when I get upstairs," said Deborah.
The prospect of Disestablishment hung like a heavy cloud over Irish Churchmen then. Never had they more cause to say
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercies, and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Miss Alcock gives her own and her father’s feeling about it in the following extract from his Memoir —
". . . Mr. Alcock viewed this measure with strong disapprobation, though without panic or excitement. He believed that nations, as such, had a corporate existence. He thought it the duty of every nation to acknowledge God, and to worship Him according to its measure of light; and therefore he approved of what is called the "Establishment of Religion," whilst at the same time he considered the union of Church and State much more beneficial to the State than to the Church.
It was his opinion, too, that England in this age is called by God to a special privilege and truth — that of being the champion and witness before all the world of a free Protestant faith and an open Bible. He believed that her unexampled prosperity was given and continued to her on condition of her faithfulness to this calling. Ireland he considered an integral part of the United Kingdom, and therefore bound to share its fortunes and to abide by its destinies. . .
Nevertheless, he passed no harsh censure upon those who took a different view of the question.
He was willing to allow that the adversaries of the Irish Establishment acted honestly, and from sincere conviction. Nor did he regard the future of the Irish Church with despondency. He thought the loss of her temporalities not the greatest loss that could befall a Church, but very far otherwise; and he looked with confidence to the Great Head of the Church to sanctify the discipline, and make it the means of spiritual revival and blessing. He had a strong faith in sacrifice as a factor in moral and spiritual education. He used to say, "What men pay for, that they prize;" and on higher grounds, he hoped that the spirit of liberality which the exigencies of the case might be expected to evoke and to cultivate, would be the source of much reflex blessing.
At the same time he looked with apprehension on the condition of the numerous country parishes where Protestants were few and poor, and would find it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain their own worship. In their interest as well as in the general interest of the Church, he urged upon all a generous support of the Central Fund. He thought also that the central authority ought to be strengthened and consolidated. Whilst the flock should certainly contribute to the support of the pastor, the pastor should not occupy towards the flock a position of dependence, which would be only too likely to restrict his liberty and hamper his usefulness. He looked upon faithful ministers as ambassadors of Christ; and he thought ambassadors should speak with authority, should have hands scrupulously clean, should avoid entangling themselves in the affairs of the country where they resided, and in all things should behave as those who hold in trust the cause and the honour of their King.
But he desired, and was ready to welcome, lay co-operation in Church work ; and he believed that such co-operation would naturally tend to strengthen the attachment of the laity to the Church. He looked with positive abhorrence upon anything like priestly assumption on the part of the clergy. He used to say that our Lord Himself, "if He were on earth, would not be a priest"; and he held strongly that there are now no priests on earth — save in the sense in which all God’s people are priests, offering spiritual sacrifices of prayer and praise.
Priests, priests — there’s no such name! God’s own except
Ye take most vainly. Through Heaven’s lifted gate
The priestly ephod in sole glory swept
When Christ ascended, entered in, and sate
(With victor face sublimely overwept)
At Deity’s right hand, to mediate —
He alone, He for ever. On His breast
The Urim and the Thummim, fed with fire
From the full Godhead, flicker with th’ unrest
Of human, pitiful heart-beats. Come up higher,
All Christians! Levi’s tribe is dispossest."
These lines of Mrs. Browning’s expressed his very thoughts.
One can speak only with reverence of the spirit in which the new Church of Ireland, laity as well as clergy, rose to meet the new situation created. Some of Ireland’s best financiers brought their knowledge to aid the spiritual wisdom of the leaders of the Church. Miss Alcock told me that one of these — I cannot recall the name — was told by a leading statesman, himself opposed to Disestablishment: "It must come sooner or later. Better for you it should come now, while you are in the hands of a friend of the Church like Gladstone." Mr. Gladstone’s aim was that no living man should suffer by the change. But when the arrangements were made for compensation, the question arose, how to guard against a man’s taking his compensation and leaving his post? The nation resolved to trust the Irish clergy, and the confidence was well rewarded.
Mr. Alcock took a keen interest in the arduous work of re-organization, attending both the General Convention and the Synods as long as he was able. He writes of the organization —
"A great experiment which has succeeded beyond the most sanguine expectation."
The more one sees of the working of the Constitution of the Irish Church the greater becomes the admiration felt for the wisdom and soundness of its provisions. The blessing on the work of the Church since then is most remarkable. To their honour and our own shame, the Irish Church sent out, in proportion to their numbers, six missionaries to one from the Church of England; and the sums of money given are in about the same proportion. If wealthy England did as much in proportion, what an impetus would be given to missionary work! Whether Disestablishment would help towards this is another question: personally, I cannot feel that the two cases are parallel. But we need not wait for any change, except in our own hearts, to follow the noble example of this dear sister Church of Ireland by practising a simplicity of life which leaves more power to give.
I had hoped to find many interesting touches on this subject in Mr. Alcock’s letters from Dublin, but almost the only recollection preserved is that of the clever retort of a Mr. Dickenson to a brother clergyman of the name of Brush, who had laid various complaints against him. Rising to reply, he said, "I am not aware of having given Mr. Brush any handle for his sweeping observations."
Mr. Dickenson — afterward Dean of the Chapel Royal — must have been the wag of the grave Convention. Mr. Alcock enjoyed bringing a good story home — and hearing one: his curates learned to save up any good joke for his amusement. He was especially diverted when shown a tradesman’s bill for "Putting in two pains in the body of the Church."
In the spring of 1869 Deborah had a very pleasant trip via Clifton to London, where Mr. Alcock met her. As usual the brightest spot was a long day spent with Mrs. Charles. Their sympathy, intellectual and spiritual, was unique; and to Deborah’s temperament — terribly prone to suffer — her friend’s joyous nature brought sunshine. Like herself, Mrs. Charles had had a rapturously happy childhood; but while in Debby the "young heart’s leaping" began to be tamed at thirteen, with her, never crushed or thwarted, it went bounding on, checked only for a short time by mental conflicts — until her early and intensely happy marriage brought the consummation of her joy. And now, her deep experience of grief was proving that all she had so beautifully written of the power of Christ to comfort others was being fulfilled to herself.
It does not seem to have occurred to either that they were naturally rivals — each unrivalled in her one special line of historic religious fiction, save for the other. This was made easier by there being no question of dear life in the case — neither depended on her pen for bread; nevertheless, it is very pleasant, in this greedy world, to see no trace of either having felt the least temptation to grudge the other anything. They were comrades in a great fight, each rejoicing in every good stroke the other struck.
The Diary contains two rather pathetic entries —
May 15. Aunt S. came this evening. Eliza and I met her at the train. Lord, help me to be always patient with her.
May 22. [After the names of people who often tried her] "Oh, Lord, help me. Thou alone knowest how little things sometimes try temper and patience."
The strain of overwork must have told on the nerves sometimes. In July Deborah had a restful holiday with Mary, who afterwards shared part of the family trip on the west coast of Scotland — a time of rest and great enjoyment. On the 18th the three returned to Waterford; on the 23rd Deborah writes: "Began my work. Father, help me." This was the beginning of The Spanish Brothers. For once she had a fairly good start before the monthly parts would have to be sent in, and sometimes, day after day, comes "Wrote," with not very much besides. When and how this story seized her I do not know; probably during the leisure of the holiday.
The following letter to Miss Kift, written probably at the end of this year, tells of a double joy —
You ask so lovingly about me and my doings. Well, I am deep in a story of the Spanish Inquisition. Rather a gruesome subject, isn’t it? I have just arrested my poor unlucky hero, who — if he has nothing else to rejoice in at present, rejoices in the euphonious name of Don Carlos Alvarez de Santillanos y Menaya. I am sometimes in the depths of despair about the whole matter, and tempted to wish Don Carlos back again into the original chaos out of which he sprang. But it is rather too late in the day for that amiable wish, as his boyhood and youth, including his first and only love affair (my particular detestation), are already in print.
Mr. Nelson talks of making a little book of "The Story of a Prince," which came out in two Nos. of last year’s Treasury, and I am glad, for the poor Prince, an old, old favourite, crept into a warm corner of my heart when I was writing about him.
I am so interested just now in some of the people here, and especially some of the dear girls of my Sunday Class, that — wonderful for me! — the present sometimes quite drives the past out of my head. I have 23 at present, and some of them, two or three in particular, show me an amount of love that is quite touching. I hope there is the higher love too, which makes it much more sweet. In one case I know there is. We had our Sunday School Tea-party last week, and it was very pleasant this time, as we had Mr. Pakenham Walsh to exhibit a Missionary magic lantern. Every one takes care of her own Class, providing table linen, laying the table, etc., but two of my girls came in the morning and worked away and saved me all the trouble they could. I don’t know if Mama told you of the Thursday Class (the little children) giving me a beautiful presentation at Christmas, a very handsome photographic album.
Through this crowded year the care of souls around her lay deep in the teacher’s heart. "Carlos" was written at a great pace. The second part (February) went off on January 5. Late in February Miss Alcock writes, "Very much possessed with my subject all this time." A month later, "Wrote. All my heart is in this work." Next day, "Read to papa. Encouraged." Next, "Read to papa. He is pleased, thank God." March 30, "Finished Carlos."
This would mean the first draft: it would still have to be copied. But all the load was gone from heart and brain. She had spent her passion’s force, and her father was entirely satisfied. When she read him the death of Carlos’ father, and the last we hear of Carlos, his tears ran down, and he said with trembling voice, "It will do, Deb! It will do! It will do." He prayed about all her books, but never for any quite as much as he did for this one, which laid hold on him from the first.
The plot is simple. Two lads, very near in age — the elder born to be a soldier, the other, thoughtful and timid, more fit for the Church — left orphans, as was supposed, were brought up in their father’s ancient castle by faithful retainers, with the village Curé as their tutor. But, cut on a window pane by their father’s hand, as they believed, were the magic words:
Yo hé trovado,"
and the boys were convinced that he had found El Dorado far across the sea, in the golden land where Spaniards ruled the Indians; and one day, Juan was to go there and find him.
They followed the paths planned out for them by their uncle in Seville, except that when the time came near for Carlos to receive the tonsure, he drew back, for he had seen a maiden whom he loved. But — Juan had loved her too, and he was away for a time. Carlos fled from temptation; and then he heard "the Evangel," and received it. Persecution burst suddenly upon the secret converts in Seville. Carlos was imprisoned and put to the Question, but no tortures could induce him to deny his Lord, or betray his friends. After this — and two years in a dungeon — he was removed to a room high up, with a window, barred but open to the light of heaven; and in this room he found a companion — an old, white-haired man, considered "a satisfactory penitent." It was his father. The Dominican Prior had thrown them together in hope of saving Carlos’ soul. Very soon the son found out the father, but he had to wait his time before making himself known. Don Juan, his brain weakened by long imprisonment, had yielded obedience to the Prior. Slowly the light returned to him. His El Dorado had been the Evangel, bringing the peace of God. He had lost that peace, but now, with his son beside him, he found it again, and died before the Prior and the Inquisitor came, and Carlos was given his choice — to recant, or be burned at the stake next morning.
Next day! next day! The rapture was too great for thought! and on that day he "suffered," beside the brave muleteer who had first taught him the Truth.
Juan, his brother, had believed him long dead, but could not rest without venturing once more into Seville to seek for any word of his last days that could be told. He arrived the day after the auto-da-fé, and heard all — went to the Dominican convent to denounce the Prior, and was given, by a lay brother, a tiny book in which was the record of how Carlos found their father! Then, warned by the Prior, he escaped to England with his wife and child.
The story came to my own home when we were watching two young, lovely sisters go slowly to the grave — one, a child, through long, long agonies of suffering. No words can tell what The Spanish Brothers was, to the living and the dying, at such a time. It had words to lift the soul clean above the anguish to the glory that we all knew and believed in, but sometimes faith almost faltered — the anguish was so long, so dreadful; and then, God sent us "Carlos." To thousands upon thousands that book has come with the same power. How many souls have been born anew through it no one can tell — still less, how many have been strengthened, as we were, in extremity; but to her life’s end, forty-two years after the book came out, the writer was often told of fresh instances.
Of course, we did not think of its literary qualities — they were lost in what excelled! But in looking through it again this day, I see how splendidly she has done her bad characters, — all but one or two having a gleam of good in them. And I remember nothing else written by a woman to equal the fury of Juan’s denunciation of the Prior — who, he knew, could send him to torture with a word — after hearing of Carlos’ death.
The book was finished before the summer holiday, but its proofs invaded the author’s retreat in the Isle of Skye. Again the holiday was delightful, and Deborah had the great pleasure of showing Mary "something of the wonderful scenery, which is unlike anything I have seen elsewhere, except in Switzerland," she writes.
In the Diary for 1869 comes the first mention of "a letter to Miss Scott Moncrieff" — a Scotch lady of many gifts who became one of Miss Alcock’s most valued friends. She wrote for The Sunday at Home, Good Words, and other magazines. Whether the first introduction to each other came through Mrs. Alcock’s connexion, or an Editor’s, I cannot recollect; but it was Deborah’s own Scotch stories that sealed the bond. It is likely that the two friends met during this year, as in 1869 Miss Scott Moncrieff left her Dalkeith home, on the death of her father, and went to live in Lonsdale Terrace, Edinburgh, to make a home-centre for brothers and sisters, or their families, coming home from India.
To Miss Scott Moncrieff.
ARCHDEACONRY, November, 70.
We have had, since I wrote last, such a very great enjoyment — a visit from dear Mrs. Charles. She spent nearly a fortnight with us, accompanied by her mother, Mrs. Rundle, whom we also like very much. Mrs. Charles was delightful, so fresh and genial, and full of love and sympathy: her bright spirit shed a brightness over everything. Of course, the shadow of the great sorrow still rests upon her, but her nature is a very happy one: "a child’s delight in little things" is indeed hers, and with a heart full of love to God and man, she finds enjoyment everywhere, and is always giving it. She entered so lovingly into all our interests here, taking especial interest in my Sunday class, which (together with dear mamma’s) she taught, one Sunday. . . I am very busy just now, as the superintendence of our very large Sunday school here (over 400 children) has just been thrown on my hands, the excellent lady who has held it for many years having been obliged to give it up through ill-health.
One cannot help lamenting that superintendence: she could have taken the weekly class for the teachers, without being burdened with all the details of management, which did so much to wear her out. The work of selecting prize-books alone must have taken weeks of time, if all the hours spent on it could be added up; but her dread of any anxiety falling upon her father bound her to the work. And after all, she loved it; and in time, good helpers relieved her of much of the detail.
December brought an addition to the family party at the Archdeaconry, Miss Arminella Vance, a young girl of fifteen whose father was a friend and connection of Mrs. Alcock.
She had had an illness slightly affecting her lungs, but was not actually an invalid, and Mrs. Alcock, knowing what Waterford air had done for Deborah’s lungs, sent her an invitation, which Miss Vance describes:
My first recollection of Miss Alcock is when, in 1870, I was taken there, a very shy, frightened girl of fifteen, and she received me so kindly and tried to set me at my ease. I was not at all well, and on that account and for other reasons, I was taken from school, and they did not know what to do with me. Mrs. Alcock, who was a connection of my father’s, most kindly wrote and asked him to send me to the Archdeaconry at Waterford for six months, saying she would see that I continued my studies. Miss Alcock (as I called her in those days) asked two very nice girls, a little older than myself, to come in twice a week, and she used to read history with us, and we all loved it. As you can imagine, I soon lost my fear of her, and learned to very nearly worship her. She and I used to sit on the hearth-rug by the fire in the evenings, and she very soon taught me to care for other things than merely the pleasures of this life. She was so thoughtful too, and eager to help me in my difficulties. Every Sunday, at breakfast, it used to be the habit of Miss McKenny to say a text, and then everybody round the table had to say one in turn, bearing on that one. You can well believe that a very shy, nervous girl like myself could simply never think of a text at all, from pure terror, so Deb, who sat next to me, used to whisper one to me. Then I took to asking Miss McKenny, the evening before, what her text was going to be, and getting one ready; but very often, even then, Mrs. Alcock, who was impetuous, would bring out the text I had prepared, and say it out of her turn, which, of course, again reduced me nearly to tears; so dear Deb came to my rescue again!
She used to hold a delightful Sunday class of young women, which it was my privilege to be allowed to join, and very much I enjoyed it. After those six happy months came to an end, I used often to go and stay with them all again, and very happy weeks they always were. The love that existed between the father and daughter was one of the most beautiful things possible; they seemed just everything to each other, and I never saw the least friction between them all the time I was staying with them. Deb bought a beautiful little Shetland pony, and my great joy was to go out with her in the little carriage that just held two, when we used to take it in turns to drive the spirited little animal, who took us long distances; and then we were able to enjoy delightful quiet talks. Although of late years I, unfortunately, saw very little of her, I always felt she was just the same to me, and that nothing ever came between our love for each other; and at the time I had my serious operation, her letters, and prayers were a great help to me.
The arrival of this pony marks an era. Out of her cheque for The Spanish Brothers, Deborah proposed buying a brougham for her father’s daily drive. On this Mrs. Alcock said, "If you do that, you must buy a pony-carriage for yourself." It was done, and those drives in the little carriage — almost always with a "girl" companion — were Deborah’s one recreation through many a weary stretch of constant nursing.
This young girl’s presence in the home that winter was a real pleasure to Deborah, and often a practical help, as "Ella" grew stronger. She took care that the visitor should always know where she ought to be and what to do. When a little service was wanted, she would say, "Youngest." That was enough. Miss Vance told me how alarming she felt the stately and formal courtesy of her first reception by the Archdeacon and his wife, kind though it was — and how Miss Alcock herself was very quiet in their presence, but soon took the guest away to another room, where they sat by the fire and chatted; and at once her fears departed and she began to feel at home.
March 9, 1871, was a wet day, apparently too wet for the pupils to come. They were always having wet days at Waterford! This one proved fruitful. Having the hour free, Deborah climbed the step-ladder in the study to look for a book, and accidentally (?) drew out Prescott’s History of Peru. With the strong interest in all things Spanish still tingling within her, she paused, standing on the ladder, to look into the story of the Incas; and before she came down the flame of a new "fever" was alight. A stream of history rolled out before her. The Figure dominating it was historic, but through the moving scenes of time, He stands timeless — the same, past, present, and "to be" — the King Who yet shall come to rule in righteousness. The part she had to write was in the sad, sad "Land of the Might-Have-Beens." Ah! what might have been, if instead of the cruel Spaniards, with their horrible travesty of the Christian faith, true heralds of the Crucified had come to win those gentle Incas for His Kingdom! It was the tragedy of Spain repeated in another form — the truth bringing peace stamped out. Only, in Spain, the whole truth was offered, and received by the few. The Incas had the law of righteousness for all, but knew not the Lord who fulfilled it. Their god was Ynti — the Sun, but to the higher souls among them he represented some Power beyond himself.
A letter, written to Miss Moncrieff in 1872, gives the essence of the Incas’ faith, and of the writer’s feeling about them.
All the Diary says on March 9 is "Very wet. No class or meeting. Laid an egg."
ARCHDEACONRY, February, ‘72.
. . . I am in the Treasury again this year, but I feel, to confess the truth, a little shy of introducing my dark-faced hero ["Viracocha, Child of the Sun" with the unpronounceable name — and a little apprehensive as to the reception he may meet with. Very strange are the caprices of imagination, and I am sure I cannot tell how mine came to be fascinated by Inca legends, songs and stories. Yet a meaning runs through all. The beneficent kings, who ruled in righteousness, and were "the friends of the poor," though despoiled by the cruel stranger, should yet one day, the nation believed (believes still for aught I know) return and reign again in power and glory. You see the application? My motto is "Thy Kingdom come"; my object, which in The Spanish Brothers was to show Christ fulfilling all the needs of the individual soul, is in this, to exhibit Him fulfilling the aspirations of humanity — the Desire of all nations, the King of righteousness and King of Peace.
I fear, however, I shall succeed but indifferently, if at all, in giving outward expression to my thoughts. The Sunday-school work brings with it many cares and anxieties, but much pleasure. Also, though superintendent, I have my own class besides, and am greatly interested in it. I have had much joy in some of its members, dear girls; three or four have now become teachers themselves. One of the most interesting, a very clever girl of nineteen, regards "the aspirations of the ladies" with (I am sorry to say it) a far more favourable eye than you do, and had it not been for the Fifth Commandment, would have enrolled herself ere this as a medical student. I quite take your view, and often urge it upon her, but we must wait for the sobering influences of time. I rather like to see young people vehement, don’t you?
The work was begun in 1871, under almost hopeless difficulties. On April 8 comes "Began an attempt to write Under the Southern Cross." On the 11th, "Tried to write"; on the 18th, "Wrote" — every intermediate day having meetings or working party. 14th, "Packed up work valued at £34 9s. 0d., £35 4s. 0d." Not till the 22nd was the first chapter finished and read to Mr. Alcock, who said it "promised well."
To Miss Kift.
I suppose you know that we have been in London. We spent the first fortnight in May there, nearly all of it with dear Mrs. Charles. I need not say we enjoyed ourselves extremely and had a delightful time altogether. The best thing by far was being with her, but we saw and heard a great many interesting things also. We went to the House of Commons, and heard a debate, which I enjoyed exceedingly. We went to the International Exhibition, the Royal Academy, etc. After this visit, papa and mamma went down to Essex, and I spent a few days with Mrs. Waller . . . The Sunday school gets on much the same as it ever did, I believe. I often think I am the most unfit person in the world for such a work, as I do not know or do half I might."
Very little writing was done that summer. Miss Alcock writes in June, "Troubled about my work." How she got through half she did is the wonder. The summer holiday, in Scotland this year, was shadowed by the illness of both Mr. and Mrs. Alcock. His diary says, "Went through much, attended by our dearest Deb." While in Edinburgh, final arrangements were made about the story, and under the strong whip of necessity, it was accomplished. The central character is a Spanish monk "Fray Fernando," who adopts an Indian boy, "Viracocha, Child of the Sun," and baptizes him, with the name of José. He is an Inca, i.e. of the Royal race, whose Father was the Sun. The good angels of the story are this friar and the sweet nun "Sister Maria," who tells the noble Indian maidens about the Lord Christ, of Whom she had heard in Seville from Fray Constantine, who preached the Evangel though still in the Church. A young English lad, too — Walter Grey — plays a part.
The Fray, who believes he has unawares killed the foster brother he adored, finds him as a galley-slave who has learned the Evangel! All this is beautifully worked out — with ever the mournful background of the glorious land, so peaceful and prosperous under the Incas, wrecked and ruined, — its wonderful irrigation, the work of generations, destroyed; starvation where once was plenty. To the broken heart of José comes the message of the great King Who one day will rule in judgment. The descriptions are wonderful: those who had travelled in Peru could hardly believe that the writer had never been there. The Fray and Sister Maria had been almost betrothed in Spain when he fled for his life without farewell. They are near one another in Cuzco, but never meet. The Fray and Viracocha are carried off captive to Spain, under suspicion of heresy, in a Spanish galleon: an English ship encounters her — gives battle, wins, and the captives are set free. They touch at an island — thence Viracocha goes back to evangelize his people. One only wishes that the Fray had died, instead of going on alone to England. Instead of dying, he appears again at Walter Gray’s Christmas party, many years after. By the way in which the life dies down in this part, I can hardly doubt that this was done from a sense of duty to the magazine — to make "a happy ending."
What makes this story unique is the vivid picture of the Inca character, the life of the people, and of Elizabethan times.
Somehow, the work was finished month by month, as the story ran through the Treasury. The holiday in 1872 was a very happy one; and Under the Southern Cross came out in book form in 1873. To use the expression of "the trade" about it, "It made a splendid thing."
Miss Alcock ventured to send a copy to Mr. Clements Markham, whose books had been her chief authorities for description of the country, and received the following reply:
ALDWARK HALL, ROTHERHAM,
December 26, 1873.
DEAR MADAM, —
I am extremely obliged to you for kindly sending me your interesting work Under the Southern Cross, from the reading of which I have derived very great pleasure. It has the unusual merit of almost absolute accuracy as regards names, historical events, time and place, and even topographical detail; and I always consider that such accuracy most materially enhances the value of a work of fiction, and makes it really useful and valuable. There are a very few trivial errors that I may mention.
Chica ought to be Chicha throughout.
Obrega ought to be Obraje or Obrage.
Page 262, "Welcome shade of a rock," should be "of a boat" hauled up: there are no rocks there.
These are absolutely the only mistakes I have met with throughout the work. . . .
I should be happy to send you a copy of my translations of Garcilaso de la Vega, and other Peruvian works, if you would like to have them, and I would suggest that the heroic and tragic story of the later Garcilaso de la Vega is admirably adapted for a work of fiction. Once more thanking you for your kind present, I am, dear madam.
Yours very truly,
CLEMENTS R. MARKHAM.
If you entertain the idea of taking up the insurrection of Tupac Amaru, in 1780, I can lend you several unedited and unpublished contemporaneous documents on the subject.
XII. A STRENUOUS LIFE
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Last modified: June 27, 2016