THE AUTHOR OF THE SPANISH BROTHERS
PASTOR DÜSEK of Kolin, Bohemia, has kindly sent me his recollections of Miss Alcock’s visit there in August and September of this year. He had known her since 1884, when he was a student in the Free Church College in Edinburgh, where Dr. Blaikie was one of the professors. At the same time he was editing the Sunday Magazine. He took a warm interest in all his students, having them often at his house; but he kept a special corner of his heart for those who came from the struggling Protestant churches abroad. Pastor Düsek’s letter will tell how the Bohemian Church was rising from its ashes, after such persecution that the population was literally "decimated" — reduced to one-tenth of its former numbers. As a student, Mr. Düsek had been with Dr. Blaikie on a lecturing tour in Ireland, and visited Archdeacon Alcock at Waterford. He was now married to the daughter of Pastor Scalatnay — one of those truly devoted men who have given their lives and talents to the despised Reformed Churches.
Mrs. Smith joined Miss Alcock at Dr. Waller’s, and they went up the Rhine to Switzerland and spent a long time there, re-visiting Constance among other places, before they went on to Prague, which they found intensely interesting and very unsanitary. The Pastor describes the joy that this visit gave to the young and struggling "congregations," as he calls their little churches. "Bohun," I must explain, is Miss Alcock’s fictitious hero — Hubert Bohun, on whom she had bestowed the hand of Chlum’s sweet daughter (imaginary).
Pastor Düsek, being able to speak English, attended the ladies.
KOLIN, December 19, 1913.
The visits of Miss Alcock and Mrs. Smith were always a festive treat. We rambled all the country round to see the historical places she wanted to know, for her then planned Story of Bohemia.
We have seen the ruined Castle of John Chlum, "Koshumbock" — then his residence, Peehel, near Leitmeritz — the town, Melnik, where he lived as the lieutenant of the Queen Sophia, and of course the towns Tabor and Kuttenberg, with the mines, wherein are buried 4,900 Hussites, who had been thrown alive into them [i.e., down the shafts], — the young women having been sold in the market place to Jewish merchants, for transport into the harems of the Arabs in Spain.
There is a mine there, on the top of a hill, with a magnificent view into the country around — every village and town in sight a monument of bloody persecution and heroic martyrdom. There we sat, at the mouth of the deep shaft, and I was telling her and pointing out all the places of the stories told. She painted it in the second part of her book.
On reading the first part of the story, I was struck by the lonely fellow, Bohun, and wrote her back, "You must send him to Bohemia and marry him to a nice girl." She was very pleased with this and replied, "Don’t trouble yourself, Bohun is already well provided for." I suppose the first translation of the story was the Bohemian one: then followed the translation of The Spanish Brothers. All these three books are with us the companions of our youth, and, strange to say, The Spanish Brothers are liked the best of them. I explain the fact by the inward value of the book, and by the newness of the subject to our young people, whereas the story of Constance is dealing with a subject they are familiar with. I speak of our Protestant young people.
The Roman Catholic youth are devouring it, my copy, presented to me by Miss Alcock (English) is wandering from hand to hand of our young ladies who know English, which is now a "rage" in Bohemia.
Miss Alcock told me several times, "I loved John Huss from my childhood, he is the most Christ-like man." Hence her interest in our Church. I wrote her every year an account of our doings and progress, and her joy was touching when I told her how we are going to occupy one after another of all the historical places, and specially when I have sent her an account of the opening of our new congregation in Tabor. I have given the sermon, but the choir was the most interesting. It was composed of six young ladies: a Jewess, a Roman Catholic, a convert from the Roman Church, a reformée from Geneva, a Presbyterian from Scotland, and a Bohemian Hussite. Never was such a choir, singing, in a Protestant worship, old Hussite hymns composed 500 years ago, in the same very place, and sung in the church just opposite to our meeting place — now, of course, a Roman Catholic Church.
Miss Alcock saw all the sites and monuments of our history in Prague. She touched reverently the door-posts, still existing, in the house where John Huss has lived, and dared not to step on the holy ground where once stood the Chapel of Bethlehem, pulled down — it is said, by a mistake in 1786, but rather by a hint of the Jesuits.
When in Bohemia she stayed always in the manse of my father-in-law, Rev. T. E. de Scalatnay at Oelim, not far from Kolin, and she and mother became very big friends, though they did speak but by signs, or in a lot of languages, Miss Alcock knowing no Bohemian and mother no English; but the eyes, and the hands clasped in each other, were the best interpreters of the heart’s feelings. They used to drink their coffee from very small porcelain Mocca cups, promising to remember and to think of each other when drinking coffee out of them afterwards. Miss Alcock took two away. My wife has the rest of the set. The New Testament — Miss Alcock’s Bohemian Testament — if you will kindly send it to my wife, will be deposited in the library of the "Huss House," in dear memory of her.
Ours is a small church, the remnants that passed through a persecution of 200 years, impoverished, ill-treated, scarcely tolerated until the year 1861. It was confined to the villages, and not allowed to enter towns. In that year we began to move towards the centres of national life, and to preach in them. Miss Alcock had interest in every step we have made forwards. We had in 1861 but 38 congregations, now we have 69, and 60 preaching stations. She saw the importance of our Sunday School work, of our schools, of our publishing Society, and especially of our endeavour to occupy the ancient seats of the Gospel, and of our centre in Prague. Then sprung up the idea to build a normal school for the education of Christian teachers (Seminary in Chaslaf), of whom we are now employing 165 in Roman Catholic schools, giving instruction in religion to Protestant children in 545 schools. Another idea was the Huss-house in Prague, something like the houses of the Y.M.C.A. with a library, a museum, lecture-rooms, halls, and maybe the central offices of our Church, to serve the evangelistic work in the capital. We have collected as yet in our Churches £8,000, and have bought a house in Prague (but it is still heavily mortgaged), there to be dedicated to the purpose. No wonder Miss Alcock plunged into the idea with all her heart! She contributed every year her portion, and watched eagerly the progress, and she would have been delighted to hear that we have opened since my last report to her, at third congregation in Prague, and that around the Huss house is a fourth congregation in formation, with the hope to get a most memorable Church from the City Council, a Church where the dearest friend of John Huss was preaching, and with the consent of John Huss (then in prison in Constance) administered, for the first time, the Holy Supper in both kinds.
Miss Alcock and Mrs. Smith always treasured the two little cups they took away with them. There was indeed a charm in that quiet manse, and the spirit of love and peace pervading it. Above all, Miss Alcock remembered the whole-hearted devotion and humility of President Scalatnay. The travellers visited most of the places mentioned in the Story of Bohemia, and then went to Herrnhutt — child of the Bohemian Church. Then they turned homewards — only Deborah had no home, nor any prospect of one, yet.
For the present, she threw herself into work for Bohemia. It is sad to remember how hard she worked that winter, spending the strength that seemed to be reviving in holding meetings for Bohemia — chiefly in and near London — whenever they were offered her. Her headquarters were at one or other of Mrs. Meredith’s houses, at Clapham or Byflete.
In January she went for pleasure, not business, to stay with Professor and Mrs. Hughes, connections of her stepmother, at Cambridge — a visit much enjoyed. We were then at St. Leonards for the winter, my dear mother very ill. Miss Alcock found Byflete too cold, though the company there was most congenial; and when the set of rooms below ours became vacant, she took them and came down to us, having all her meals upstairs, but with her own parlour for a study. She had found time to read at the British Museum and had abundant materials, but was under one of her fits of despair about her work. Nevertheless, she had a really good and original plot — the crisis turning on an eclipse of the moon, which gave the executioners such a fright that they ran away, and the prisoners escaped. She set herself down to work: Sir Robert Ball was consulted about the exact date of the eclipse, which he kindly supplied, and happily the story could be made to fit.
In course of her pleadings for Bohemia, Miss Alcock had made several new friends — among them one family whose affection enriched the rest of her life — Mrs. Synge of Blackheath, and her daughters, Isabel and Frances — the latter, the founder and mainspring of the Telegraph Messenger Boys’ Association. From that time forth, this Association became one of Deborah’s constant interests, and the young leader, "almost like a Waterford girl" to her, she once said. Nothing else could ever be quite like Waterford! Another friendship, linked slightly with the dear past, was that of four sisters, the Miss Mortimers, who had formerly lived at Waterford and were now at St. Leonards. Their mother and her father had known each other since they were boy and girl together, and they had visited there during some of the early years of Mr. Alcock’s ministry. The acquaintance once renewed was never dropped again, and added greatly to the happiness of Deborah’s latest years.
After one month’s steady work, she went back to Mrs. Meredith’s, thoroughly wound up for her task.
In March my dear mother was brought back to Streatham in an ambulance carriage — as we thought, to die; but she rallied and spent almost nine years on her couch-bed, placed in the drawing-room, which was made her bedroom. Through the first year, the dear life hung on a very feeble thread. Deborah used to come over about once a week to read me what she had been writing. The Story of Constance had been a strong comfort to me during that sad winter at St. Leonards, and in some things I thought The Story of Bohemia marked an advance even on The Spanish Brothers; the writer had loved and suffered deeply since that book was written, and in this one the range of human feeling and experience is wider, showing a wider knowledge of how our Lord can help through anything — great or small.
The history too — so skilfully interwoven that it only heightens the interest of the drama — is of the greatest importance. No one knows what Rome is who has not read the histories of the Netherlands and of Bohemia.
One of the strongest characters Miss Alcock ever drew was that of the young "Ostrodek," son of a robber baron — fierce from a wild inheritance — gentle to the Lady Sophia, the gentle wife of Chlum. He tells one tale of martyrdom, when, to his horror, he saw among the sufferers two little children seven years old, that he had played with and carried on his shoulder not long before. But as the flames rose up, he heard them — not crying — singing — and the sweet sound of their hymn of praise went on, through the few minutes left before the voices were silenced in death. "I shall hear it till I die," he said. He dies on the battlefield — with the peace of God upon his face at last; and with almost his last breath, he looks upward and says, "I hear the children singing."
Of course that incident is true: all such stories are, in Miss Alcock’s books. The number of Protestant martyrdoms is so overwhelming, who uses them need never invent one touch, either of cruelty or of glory.
Miss Alcock has been accused of minimizing the persecutions inflicted on Romanists by Protestants. She has never denied them. All Protestants are not John de Chlums! But in all her long research through history, she has found no single instance where Roman Catholics were burned for their faith. Even Servetus — the one sole instance of burning — was not a Catholic, but a Unitarian. What she does say is that, compared with the incalculable myriads of those who suffered death and torture at the hands of Rome, the number of those who suffered on the other side for their faith is infinitesimal. When we remember that that persecution went on more or less for 200 years, and is not over yet — when you reckon the area over which it is spread, and the depopulation it caused — would it be any exaggeration to say that if all were known and told, a thousand scribes might write for a thousand days and not reach the last sad tale?
A much larger number of Romanists may have suffered for plotting against the State, or the life of the sovereign; but these would not have the compliment of being burned: the extreme punishment by the civil law was hanging — for the crime of attempted regicide and some others, hanging after torture; but even in that case, the torture was not always inflicted. Whenever, in print or conversation, instances are given which go beyond this, they should be verified before accepted. There is nothing more wanted, in these days, than a few scholars who will make it their business to see that history shall not be tampered with — at least, not with impunity. In writing this I am drawing from Miss Alcock’s knowledge, not my own; but I do know that her research was always honest. The range of her subjects shows its width, and it was a very rare thing for the smallest inaccuracy to be found in any work of hers. As to her conscientiousness, we have a case in point in the enormous trouble she took, so to adjust the incidents of her story as to preserve intact the correctness of both history and astronomy, where the eclipse came in.
The Story of Bohemia was finished at Raphoe, in July, and published, together with The Story of Constance, in one volume, called Crushed, Yet Conquering.
Miss Alcock and her cousin began their holiday with the Keswick Convention — a disappointment in one way, simply in consequence of the unexpected outburst of love and appreciation and gratitude that met her there. As soon as her presence was known, friends new and old, and readers too, beset the rooms where she and Mrs. Smith were. It was very sweet, and cheering too, in a sense; but she had come there longing to be alone with God, and to be taught more of Him; and all this talking left her too tired to enjoy the meetings.
She needed help. She still had no home, nor any prospect of one in view. Since Mary’s widowhood she had always had a vague thought that whenever she herself was left alone, they two might make a home together. Now it was growing upon her — and all the warmth of the welcome given her strengthened the conviction — that Raphoe was not the place for her: she would be buried there; and also that it was not Mary’s duty, at present, to leave her home there for her sake.
Perhaps no one who has not felt it can conceive what it is, after a lifetime of absorption in home-ministry, to go forth with no one left to tend. It is the case of the handle without the pitcher: the handle cannot tell how to balance itself, nor find out how to stand alone. Every habit has to be readjusted. Keswick was a help to Deborah by making her feel the strong, dear bonds of the Christian family — the Household of God. The deeper lesson was to be learned with Him alone. She writes to Miss Kift in later years —
Oh, how well I know by experience the deep sadness that comes with the very sense of freedom — the being able to go just where one likes, which for so many years you and I had not, and were so thankful not to have . . .
She was still often taking meetings for Bohemia, and spoke on the subject at Keswick. The autumn holiday with Mary was spent at Bournemouth. In November Deborah returned to Ireland, and a few weeks after, while she was staying in his house, Dr. Ashe was taken ill, and died after only four days’ illness, leaving three sons and three daughters — the youngest son and daughter still being educated. The God of the widow and the fatherless drew very nigh to the bereaved one then; but by the great happiness of her wedded life, her loss may be measured. Changes followed; but she was able to settle with her children in Dundrum, near Dublin, close to the home of her elder sisters.
Deborah went for the winter to her faithful friends, Miss Susan Kift and her brother James. "Susan is a very restful person," she wrote; and in that loving home she found her first sense of anything like repose. For two more winters it was her abode, always congenial, and only a little too convenient for all her friends to come and see her, and for her to go out, taking classes and meetings. Each winter she had one long course at the Y.W.C.A. rooms — either Church History or Scripture. Over a hundred listeners were often present. She also had shorter courses in drawing-rooms — sometimes at Greystones or other country places near to the city, making two, or even three, lectures a week, at times. "I was tempted to work for the work’s sake, to fill the empty places," she said afterwards; but it was not only for that. Very fragrant is the memory of those addresses in Dublin still, and the influence went far, for many in her audience would themselves be teachers. She was also placed on the Council of the Y.W.C.A. One of her stories in connection with this is too good to be lost. There was some special meeting or Convention of Y.W. members — out of Dublin, but not far off, which she and several other members attended — some of them nearly as old as herself. Miss Adeline Marrable, the Secretary — quite juvenile in comparison — in her official capacity, made all the arrangements, and when they got out at the station on their way to the meeting, engaged the car to take them on. "I pay for all," she said to the driver, "these are all my family" indicating the group of ladies. The man looked from them to her, and said, "Faith, and it’s mar-r-ried ye must have been befor-re ye were bor-rn."
Miss Alcock was staying with us at Streatham the following July when another terrible blow fell — news came of the sudden death of Mrs. Ashe’s second son. Again, the mother, so deeply bereaved, took up the cross and kissed it; but it was a deep sorrow to all the family.
It would only be tedious to chronicle the comings and goings of the next few years. Life settled into something like routine: the winter in Dublin — in the early summer, visits to friends. Deborah usually came to England in July, and paid us about a fortnight’s visit, then went for a six weeks’ holiday with Mary, paid English visits, and about September settled down at 9, Kempshott Road, Streatham Common — generally for about two months. This was her grand time for writing. Her room was large, and at the sunny window she had a table where she would plant herself at half-past nine, and write on steadily till one — the time of our early dinner. Then she stopped for the day, as a rule. The afternoon usually brought visitors; between tea and supper she would write letters if necessary: if not, she read. After supper at 7.30 she played Patience — her favourite "thought-stopper" for years — till nine, when we had prayers. About that time, the night-nurse came in; I was "off duty," and we talked; but not long after ten o’clock — she was true to her habit of going to her room in good time, though she might sit by her fire there for a while. Scattered through the day were little visits to my mother’s couch. The doorways were just wide enough for it to be wheeled through into the dining-room, and she was usually brought in for dinner, and taken back again for her rest. Dear Deborah used to say, "People often say how nice it is to have a child in the house. I feel that about having an old person in the house — as if life could not be complete to me without it. I have had them so long."
It made the invalid life very different to have the sick-room so close to the family parlour. The room itself had the look rather of a pleasant sitting-room than a bedroom, and the name of that chamber was Peace. For about four years our dear patient was able really to enjoy good company, and no visitor, outside the family, was quite as dear to her as Deborah became — "the best of all my children," she said — i.e. her "children of the outer circle." Deborah had a daughter’s place there, and I hope she knew it; but the most distant visitor could not have been more punctilious than she was, on every point of courtesy. I remember showing her a drawer in her room containing our store of all kinds of out-sized envelopes, on purpose that she might help herself. The first time she did so, she came to dinner saying, "The cat has been shown the way to the cream, and the consequence is — she has been there!" I am afraid she never took an envelope without reporting that the cat had been at the cream!
The letters of this period that can be used are almost nil. Those to Dublin friends cease when she is with them. And as her life draws nearer the present time, the "little sanctities," as she would have called them, ask for increased respect. The following was written when "Dr. Adrian" was in progress.
To J. D.
9 KEMPSHOTT ROAD, STREATHAM COMMON,
I was absolutely delighted to get your nice long(ish) letter, and must try to send you back something better than a p.c., though it’s hard these days to get writing letters. When you knock off seven or eight pages of foolscap every forenoon you feel but little inclined to take pen up again afterwards; and then so many letters! . . . I often think I have been wrong to begin this story, at least I fear so. I feel an absolute dread of the emotional parts, which I used to delight in, as if I could not bear to indulge all that again. Besides I feel conscious that the clearness of memory, so necessary to a story-teller, which keeps in hand every little particular (i.e., the colour of eyes and hair) and never lets you say the same thing twice over, is gone from me. Also, the power of "taking infinite pains" polishing a sentence, even, till it shines again. Now, I want to get over the ground. Still, having undertaken it, on I go, and have just come to the siege of Leyden. Would I knew what He would have me to do! Perhaps He will show me, as He did about the house.
To the same.
9 KEMPSHOTT ROAD, STREATHAM COMMON,
. . . It is still not quite settled whether my "Doctor Adrian" is to run for the whole year or not, but I hope Mr. Stevens will see his way to putting it all in.
William the Silent was very grand, very noble, but he lacks the strange, sweet charm, the "beauty of holiness" that hangs round the pathetic figure of the martyr of Bohemia. Most keenly interested, however, I was, and am . . .
Did I tell you of the very real sorrow I have had since coming home, in hearing of the death of my dear friend Miss Mortimer, the eldest of the four dear St. Leonards sisters, with whom I used to stay for a few days nearly every year? She was taken home most suddenly, after an illness of only 36 hours, but was very ready — a devoted Christian, and earnest missionary worker.
To the same.
I have just finished reading Robert Browning’s Life, which could not but be very interesting to me. Mrs. Sutherland Orr uses all her influence to make us think that in his latter years he departed wholly from the Creed of his meridian life.
I say that Christ accepted solves for thee
All mysteries in the earth and out of it.
. . . I keep my faith that, as his wife said of Cowper, he has ere now awaked from his fever dreams,
Beneath those deep pathetic eyes
Once closed in death to save him.
But I do not believe he ever really lost his faith, though no doubt he had the "failings off and vanishings," and "blank misgivings" which I believe a few of us are destined to suffer from, even to the end.
As often happened, an incident she came across in writing of Hubert Bohun suggested a short story — "The Prisoners of Hope" — which came out in the Sunday at Home during 1893. In the latter part of that year she had one of her strong seizures — for a story of Holland; William the Silent being the historic centre. However, the imaginary hero "Dr. Adrian" took a strong place in this book. He represented the struggle of the scientific mind with doubt — burdened with questions that we call "modern" which are as old as the hills, only changing their form a little. Miss Alcock put her soul into that story and felt that her own faith was strengthened, intellectually, by writing it. It took her a long time, and was a reason for visiting Holland on two summer holidays, which both cousins reckoned among the most enjoyable they ever had. They liked the Dutch people, with their thrifty, industrious ways. At The Hague they had the great pleasure of constant intercourse with the Misses Elout v. Soeterwende. One of the family had been a deaconess at Mildmay, where Miss Alcock met her. She was still in England, but all the sisters were lovers of Miss Alcock’s books, in both Dutch and English. Most of them had been translated into Dutch, so that she and Mrs. Smith found friends everywhere — among them the wife of Maarten Maartens, whose acquaintance they made when visiting Miss flout’s aunt, Madame van Loon. They drove out to spend part of a day at her country home. The Siege of Leyden makes part of Dr. Adrian’s story. Of course the travellers went there, as it happened, on the day when carts and wagon-loads of carrots and turnips come into the city, ready for the day after, when everybody eats them — the anniversary of the end of the siege, when a brave lad dared to enter the Spanish lines, found them deserted, and brought away a pot in which carrots and turnips were stewing — the first food that entered the starving city. The historic pot is still preserved there.
Mrs. Smith had been set free from some of her ties to Raphoe near the time of her sister’s widowhood, which drew her to Dundrum. In 1893, it was arranged for her and Miss Alcock to take over the house where the Miss Gores had lived — they joining forces with Mrs. Ashe, whose family party was being diminished by changes and marriage. Deborah stayed at Streatham till December that year, to finish "Dr. Adrian" "in the rough" — and it was a sweet Sabbath day to her when she rose to the Day of Rest, and the dear Sunday service at Immanuel Church, with that task done — and her little home to go to.
The young people were a great interest to her, especially Mrs. Ashe’s youngest son "Robert," who had much of his father in him. One evening in the week Mrs. Smith had a class for girls, when he knew he would find "Cousin Deb" alone. Punctual as the clock he appeared, and sitting on the coal-box in the drawing-room, that the smoke of his pipe might go harmlessly up the chimney, talked with her of all things in heaven and earth — bringing out questions such as the young never feared to bring to her, because she understood. Such talks must have been a great help to her in revising her story. And it was very pleasant to her heart to be called his "Well-beloved Gossip."
"Dr. Adrian began his course in the Sunday at Home in November, 1905. By that time Robert Ashe was away to India. Whether that winter was colder, or whether the clear cold of Dundrum — so healthy to many but not to her — told more upon her in the second year, I know not, but when Miss Alcock came to us in the following year we were distressed to see how ill she looked. She went to Holland as arranged, but after her return had a tedious attack of haemorrhage.
I went with her to see Dr. Williams, the lung specialist, who had known her so long. He looked very grave, and said she must go to a warmer climate for the coming winter — Mentone, San Remo, or Bordighera.
She was comically surprised that anything so important as being ordered abroad could happen to her! But she saw the necessity, and Mrs. Smith, though far from well herself, bravely undertook to go with her.
The two dear frail ones went on their journey, followed with many an anxious thought by those who loved them. As usual, they found many people — and these among the kind of people they liked best to know — who knew Deborah’s books, and were delighted to meet her, and attracted by the graces of her dear companion. Still, it was rather a weary winter, spite of the exquisite loveliness around them. Deborah gained much — Mrs. Smith rather less than nothing, until the spring, when they took a trip to Rome, stopping by the way as they pleased; and this they both enjoyed thoroughly — especially Rome. When Dr. Williams saw his patient, he gave her leave to winter in the south of England, but told her plainly that she must never risk another winter in Ireland.
She had never really taken root in Dundrum, she felt that the place did not suit her, and the buzz of family life, however pleasant, tried her physically. She had lived too long in the quiet shadow of old age to bear to come back to the heyday of life. What she really enjoyed was to have the dear ones coming one or two at a time; and this she was to have to her heart’s content, but there was another landmark to be set up first.
XVII. A STEP INTO LIVING HISTORY
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Last modified: June 27, 2016