THE AUTHOR OF THE SPANISH BROTHERS
THE LIFE AT BOURNEMOUTH
In May, 1899, Ida Mellinger Nakashian died; in the autumn Miss Alcock paid her last visit to the Streatham home; on December 13 my dear mother’s "grand release" was signed, and she went Home. In March the house was given up. Miss Alcock writes to Miss Kift, using my household name: "Tomorrow Beta goes out finally from that dear ‘9, Kempshott Road’ which has been such a happy home, and consecrated by so many memories."
The dear Partners asked me to go first to Ulundi, when able to leave the neighbourhood, and most sweet and precious was the love that met me there from both. Dear Mrs. Smith was always so willing to take me into the partnership of love. Already they were surrounded by dear and charming friends, who went on growing dearer. The place, the surroundings, all seemed fitting; and it was easier for Miss Alcock to visit her Irish friends and relations in summer than in winter. She missed her classes! but she was not fit for stated work outside the house. I found her, indeed, sadly changed for the worse, physically. Miss Shattuck had been in England that winter, and went to stay at Ulundi, where Miss Alcock gave a drawing-room meeting for her. By the time she came, the hostess had a serious touch of bronchitis. Deborah made a desperate effort — too much — to fulfil all she had intended, with the result that she had an illness much graver than any before it, and was never the same again. It marked a long step down.
She writes to Miss Kift: —
I am very sorry you did not see Miss Shattuck, — she is charming, and took our hearts by storm — so calm, quiet, unassuming, thoroughly womanly and thoroughly Christian.
When able, that winter, Miss Alcock had been working at a story of Geneva in the days when Calvin and his adherents ruled the city. The hero, Norbert, is a spirited boy, brought up in that atmosphere, whose crowning adventure is that he saves a fair maiden from being taken, against her will, to marry a wicked Duke, by dressing up in her clothes — which he gets from her devoted nurse — and riding off on the palfrey brought for her, closely veiled — of course at the imminent risk of his own life, which is adroitly saved. The story came out in the Sunday at Home in the following year, under the title of "Under Calvin’s Spell."
To Miss Kift.
Have I told you of the very interesting and curious Diploma I got from Bohemia, making me an honorary member of the "Society of the Huss House"? The design is taken from an old Hussite Hymn-book of 1572. The great initial letter contains a most quaint picture of the martyrdom of John the Baptist, and at the bottom there is a picture of the martyrdom of Huss; but it would take too long to describe it all, and I will show it to you when we meet (D.V.). My name figures in it as "Deboré Alcockove" (the Czech termination for the name of a maiden lady.)
The next letter describes the great beauty of Canon Toyne’s sermon on Trinity Sunday. The cousins went back to Ireland for the summer with the happy feeling of having the same place to return to. And the next winter brought a fresh development which gave pleasure both to themselves and their friends. Miss Alcock began a weekly Browning Reading in the drawing-room at Ulundi. This meant far less effort than that of a lecture or address, and yet was an opportunity for giving out some of her best thoughts. The Syllabus for five weeks will give some idea of her method. She first introduced the subject, speaking from the text which made her motto: and any of the audience who liked — knowing the subject before-hand — were asked also to bring a Scripture motto bearing upon it. This brought out many good thoughts from them. Then Miss Alcock would read the passages chosen, commenting here and there, and at the end giving a masterly summary, when often she spoke at her very best. The letters from Bournemouth friends constantly refer to these "Brownings" with warmest gratitude.
SYLLABUS FOR FIVE WEEKS
SOME ASPECTS OF THE RENAISSANCE, CHIEFLY IN ITALY.
It was a New Birth of joy in Life, in Nature, and in Art.
Fra Lippo Lippi.
"Every Creature of God is good."
A return to the observation of Nature and the Study of Facts. Andrea del Sarto — Parts of Paracelsus.
A passionate interest in Ancient Languages and Literature.
The Grammarian’s Funeral.
"Your own poets have said."
But no moral Regeneration — hence inevitable decay.
"The Bishop orders his tomb in St. Praxed’s Church."
A Toccato of Galuppi’s.
"They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters."
The unveiling of the Holy Scriptures brought true Regeneration wherever accepted.
Fust and his friends.
Part of Bishop Blougram’s Apology.
"The entrance of Thy Word giveth light."
Letters now take up the narrative — first to Miss Kift.
February 8, 1901.
. . . Your letter most truly expressed our feelings about the dear and honoured Queen. I echo your words, "we all thought she was to go on forever." The blow has been so sudden and unexpected, and came home so to every one. Mary and I went to the Memorial Service last Saturday in St. Michael’s; it was very touching, solemn, and reverent. I am glad to hear from you and others how deep the feeling has been, and how great the outward respect shown, in Dublin. I do feel glad and thankful that she came amongst us last year . . . Last Tuesday — our Browning reading — was a horrid day, with snow on the ground, and we expected scarcely anyone, but numbered sixteen after all! We have two delightful new members, a Mrs. and Miss Blatchford, Americans from Chicago . . . We had them to tea yesterday, with Mr. B., and enjoyed it greatly . . .
Miss Blatchford broke down and wept for Queen Victoria. The warmth, the enterprise and freshness of these dear new friends was very delightful, and gave a glimpse of the literary and spiritual life that goes on in a certain circle, behind all the race for wealth in Chicago. All the family were deeply interested in Armenia.
Lady Wimborne asked Miss Alcock to give a lecture on Church History to the girls in the school under her supervision at Parkstone, and she gave them John Huss — very glad of the opportunity, for she felt keenly the importance of giving the young a strong foundation of fact in support of Protestant feeling.
The next letter to Miss Kift is written from Waterford, August, 1901, after a visit to Deborah’s friends, Mrs. Sandford and her daughters at Cork.
. . . I have been longing to tell you of the lovely time I had among the scenes of my childhood; how I even went through the dear little Parsonage house, where we lived, and the garden and grounds, and went to the dear Church, where my Father’s ministry was so blessed. But perhaps the most interesting thing that came to me was the renewal of friendship with Mr. Lane of Vernon Mount — a gray-haired man of 61, but known to me as the playfellow of my childhood, "little Willie Lane." He and his charming wife made me come and stay with them from Friday to Monday, and it was really delightful. We had yards and yards of talk, about old times and many other things too. Mr. Lane, I grieve to say, is much broken in health, but a truly Christian man, and ready for whatever God may send. He is also very artistic and full of taste . . . On Sunday I went again to Frankfield Church, and there, being Communion Service, I knelt at the same railing where I had taken my first Communion at twelve years old, fifty-four years ago! . . .
I am having a very nice time here with Nellie Gibbon. Acton is away on business, but Nat is here, which is always a pleasure to me, and there is the dear Baby, whom I knew in Ballybrack.
The young cousin mentioned, Mrs. Acton Gibbon, was perhaps the one of all that generation, among the girls, who drew nearest to Deborah. She took a warm interest in all the young people, but there was one trio — special friends of each other, whom she specially cared for — Mary (Minnie) Ashe, her brother Robert, and Eleanor Alcock, afterwards Mrs. Gibbon. Mary’s early marriage to Mr. Atkinson took her out of sight: "Rob" went to India — Eleanor remained; and she had been brought a good deal in contact with "Cousin Deb" through a little Essay Club which went on for several years. Miss Alcock gave the subject for an essay — I think, once a quarter — suggesting what books to read for it; and the essays all came to her for criticism. I think she gave a prize for the best — and that they were afterwards sent round for the members to read. She took great pains in correcting them, sometimes writing notes on a separate paper for the writer’s eye alone. Eleanor said that in reading up for those essays, she had a great many false impressions knocked out of her, and learned much. Her father, Dr. Nathaniel Alcock, was a very dear and close friend of Deborah. She spoke often of what she owed to her two "Dr." friends — to Dr. Waller in divinity, Dr. Alcock in science. For many years she had nursed the thought that Law, moral and physical, is one — One Law — that is, it is Law itself Necessity — acting on different planes. She was never tired of hearing what Dr. Alcock could tell from science of these analogies. Had she lived to write to the end of her Seventy Years of Thought, the influence of his mind would have been seen there — not so much in opinion as in knowledge that made the basis of principles. She took the principles, and applied them according to her own experience.
By this time her heart and mind were brimful of a new story, part of which was already written. For once, the historic and the imaginary hero were one — which sounds like an Irish bull. The fact is that the real hero, a grandson of Gustavus Vasa, is so shadowy a figure in history — and yet so self-revealing in the very little known of him — that while he suggested what seemed his very self to her, she felt free to let her fancy play with him.
Sweden, at one time, wavered between Romanism and the Protestant faith. The balance turned for the Protestant succession. A king’s death caused the crown to be offered to Gustaf, hitherto kept in obscurity — but he must avow himself a Protestant. The records imply that he had little faith of any kind, but he had been brought up a Catholic and had scruples. He consulted the Protestant pastor, "Sten," who is one of the chief characters in the book, drawing a picture of his own case in the third person.
"Does the man of whom you speak believe the faith he thinks of professing?" asked Sten.
"Frankly, no; but perhaps quite as much of it as of the other."
Sten, from his soul, loved Gustaf. To see him King, and worthy, would have been rapture to him; but he said, "Prince, the man of whom you speak could not do it — not for glory or renown — not for crown or sceptre."
There spoke the voice most dear to Deborah’s heart. Repeatedly, in Mr. Alcock’s Diary or recollections, cases occur where a poor man could get a situation, or a man of position would come in for a legacy, by turning from Catholic to Protestant, and spoke to him about it. Mr. Alcock always said, "You cannot do it," and in every case the man obeyed. "Our aim is not to bring men from one church to another — it is to bring them to Christ," he would say.
Gustaf yields — gives up the crown and goes forth a wanderer. So far, that was history: the real Gustaf refused to turn his coat. He also, several years later, refused, from the Czar of Russia, an offer of his daughter’s hand, and an army to reconquer Sweden. He could not take the former without renouncing a poor girl who had come with him — or followed him — faithful as any wife, though his rank had prevented their marrying. He would be true to her; and he would never fight against Sweden.
The real Gustaf, too, had a passion for science and astrology. The story teemed with romance, and Sten, meant to be subordinate, rose high in it. The shadowy love-story was raised to a higher plane: the Prince and the maiden were betrothed, and faithful to the end — that was all.
Miss Alcock and I had planned always, if possible, to spend together those weeks in the autumn which she used to spend at Streatham. This would be her chance for writing. This year — 1901 — she joined me at Newquay, where we knew few people and were very quiet. Gustaf had his innings indeed! She wrote the whole morning, had a drive in the afternoon, and after tea we talked and talked, with the sunset sky to light us, in the shortening days — over the intricacies of the plot ; especially, when Gustaf was in prison, how to get him out again. Miss Alcock had quite settled the final act, but how to make it possible? Whatever either of us suggested, the other saw a flaw in it. But he got out at last. Those were delightful hours.
On Sundays, she never wrote; and both the rest and the time for quiet thinking were very profitable to the work. I was ill when she first came, and on Sunday she went out alone, and found her way into one of the chapels — the church being beyond her walking powers. She liked it very much the first time, but the second, came back looking doubtful, and as usual, very much out of breath, having just had to climb a steep little bit of hill, besides the stairs. "It was a stranger that preached," she said, "and a children’s service." Seeing she was bottling up something, I said, "That rather tempts a man to make a fool of himself."
"Oh, yes," she panted, "and such a — pretentious fool!" (Pause for breath.) "When an Anglican clergyman — is a fool — he’s an insipid fool. — When a Nonconformist — he’s a blatant fool!"
Next Sunday we went to the small Methodist chapel, chiefly attended by fishermen — each father bringing a cluster of little ones with him — and heard an excellent Bible sermon from the pastor, simple, but with real thought in it, and very clear. When we came out she said, "You couldn’t have done it better yourself, if you had been giving it to a class," which I hope meant that she felt she could not have done better with that subject and that audience.
She went back to Bournemouth and wrote steadily — only the book grew too long. It had one character too many, who should have been killed off much sooner. Perhaps if she had let it cool and gone back to it, she might have hardened her heart and done this; but while it was still all glowing within her heart, Mr. Stoughton, who had asked her for a story, said it should come out for the next season if she could have it ready by a given time. She put on steam for it, and was up to time, but it was too close a run, and the book did not appear till the very end of October — a serious disadvantage. I still think it in many respects the finest thing she has ever done: the reviews were excellent, but the length of the book was against it, and after a few years it was allowed to go out of print. It is called Not for Crown or Sceptre, and came out in 1902.
From Dr. Alcock.
. . . I have read Not for Crown or Sceptre with great pleasure, and must compliment and congratulate you first of all on the vigorous cerebration you have retained, and of which there is no evidence of decadence. More power to your gray matter! May it work well into the twentieth century, for there is plenty for it yet to do. The ultramontane is abroad everywhere, in the church, in the senate, in the market-place, and in the home. Father Laurence may be multiplied by tens of thousands . . . Your characters stand out in fine relief, and the way you have implied the influence of the neurotic strain in all the Vasas is very true to life; while your strong scene of the death of the four children, and the paroxysm of homicidal mania in the starved brain of the overwrought mother, is a fine use of a natural consequence.
To Miss Kift.
. . . Just before Christmas, on the 18th of December, my dear old friend Mrs. Meredith was taken Home. She had been failing for some time, but her devoted sister Miss Lloyd had no thought the end was so near. I think she feared for her a long time of bodily and mental weakness and failure, which she has been most mercifully spared. The end came after a few days’ illness, and without any suffering whatever.
She has done a great work for God in the world, which will long survive her; and now she is with Him, at rest and in peace. We have had my friend Frances Synge, the mother of the Telegraph Boys, staying with us since yesterday week, but she is going tomorrow. She is to be henceforward the mother of the News-Boys too, as she is now getting up an Association for them, similar to the Shoeblack Brigade. She is full of energy, but has been out of health, and much needed the change here . . .
It was the Telegraph Messenger Boys themselves who first took up the cause of the News-Boys — moved with distress at seeing them standing about in rain or snow, waiting till papers were shot out, and they had to rush off with them. The Messengers called attention to their case by asking for the use of a room in which to give them a tea, out of their own pockets. Mrs. Synge went to Mr. Harmsworth and asked if the news-boys might attend an Institute. He not only fell in with all arrangements, but asked what the annual cost of an Institute would be, and gave her a cheque for the first year.
To the same
(when about to move house.)
April 2, 1902.
. . . One cannot help having a feeling towards even the walls that have witnessed so much, and been so associated with our past lives. It is one of the new theories now that these places keep some kind of spiritual influence, which tells upon those that come to live in them afterwards — an "aura" I think they call it. There ought to be one in "102" of kindly, loving words and deeds. Such, indeed, I found there, during the three winters I spent with you, my Susan! It was a very peaceful interlude in my life. Some of the work done then has not been forgotten, as I have found lately, through letters from friends in Dublin.
To the same.
May 19, 1902.
. . . It is just half a century now since we came to live in Dublin, and I think we began to know you two, or at most three years afterwards. I was 67 on Tuesday. I don’t feel myself at all old in mind, but I do in body, and oh, I do in memories! How many dear ones have gone from us both since those early days!
The next letter to Miss Kift describes the one sole adventure in Miss Alcock’s life.
We were driving back here, after lunching at the Stoughtons, in a hansom, when, going rather quickly down a hill, the horse came down suddenly. The doors flew open and we were shot out, like stones from a sling, one on each side of the cab. We had a wonderful escape. I was not hurt at all; poor B. got several bruises, but no serious hurt, D.G. After walking on awhile, we got another cab, a four-wheeler, and came home, to entertain Bertie Alcock, who was coming to tea, and had been waiting a long time. We have been at two Armenian Committee Meetings, and, last Monday, at a meeting for special prayer about Macedonia, from which the accounts are most appalling. Yesterday, at the Armenian Committee (which was most interesting), we had Mr. Rendel Harris, who has recently come back from Armenia, and gave us a terrible picture of the state of things there also. Three Professors in the Harpoot College, excellent and able men, have been thrown into prison, and tortured repeatedly to try and make them accuse the Missionaries of collecting arms and planning a rebellion! But I must not get upon these things, for there would be no stopping! We have had a very happy and a very interesting time here, still we think it wise to get a little farther away from London damp, and London fogs, before the winter draws nearer; so we propose on Monday to go to Worthing, where B. has heard of very nice lodgings.
At Clapham we were within an easy drive of London, and Miss Alcock did enjoy the drive in a hansom to committees or meetings; and still more the drive back when twilight was falling and the lamps lighting up all along the river-side, glittering against the gray shadows beneath the sunset glow. Alas, that will be seen no more! It is all a blaze of electric lights now, and town dwellers can never really see the moon or stars.
It seems to have been in this year that Dr. Sandford, brother of Miss Alcock’s dear friends — well known as "an eye and ear doctor" — was married at Bournemouth to Victoria, Lady Carbery; and Miss Kate Sandford stayed at Ulundi, to Miss Alcock’s great pleasure.
The Browning Readers gave their Leader a pretty travelling cloak on her birthday, to her great surprise. "It was those dreadful Birthday Books which people bring for you to write in, that let out the secret of the day," she wrote, "and it happened to fall on a ‘Browning Day.’ " Mrs. Smith had had a little presentation before, as she did all the work of sending out the notices, etc. There were often twenty present, and Miss Alcock had to set up a stock of folding carpet chairs, which came out on the occasion. Next comes a piece of good news —
To Miss Kift.
December 8, 1903.
. . . Our last bit of family news reached us in a telegram from Sally, "EncyclopFdia Competition out. Ashe first." Yes, Leslie Ashe has won the prize of £1,000! It was offered by the Publishers of the EncyclopFdia Britannica for the best answers to a series of questions on the contents of the said EncyclopFdia — of course very difficult and elaborate. 11,080 competitors entered, and 5,000 persevered. There were 93 prizes in all, ranging from the £1,000 to £10. We all hoped Leslie would get something, but did not dare to dream of his coming out on the top! He took up the thing when he came home so out of health and unable for ordinary work, finding it a great interest, and, as he said, to save himself "from a nervous breakdown." It is a grand thing for him, and likely to make his name as a Tutor. He is being interviewed by newspapers, and getting congratulated on all sides. Of course it is a wonderful cheer to Sally, and one is very thankful for that, she has had so much to try and depress her . . .
Mr. Robert Ashe had been home on furlough with his wife and children, and Miss Alcock met him and "his little family" in town to bid farewell before their returning to India. His eldest, a little girl, was Miss Alcock’s godchild. She had many godchildren and tried always to remember them in prayer on Sunday evenings.
Death was becoming very busy in Deborah’s circle: it is the penalty of growing old, to outlive so many loved ones. But sometimes he was baulked.
To Miss Kift.
February 22, 1904.
. . . There is here now a young sister of Robbie Ashe’s wife, Elsie Patterson. She has come to be near a young clergyman, Mr. Henry, to whom she is engaged, and who is, we all fear, dying of consumption. He is in an Invalid Boarding House, and she, with a friend, in a lodging close at hand. We feel for them greatly, and try to do any little thing we can to cheer them.
Two or three months later the young betrothed brought the news that her parents agreed to their being married, that she might be with her husband and care for him to the end. Would Miss Alcock give her away? Of course she consented, and also — to give some look of cheerfulness to this pathetic bridal — invited them, not exactly to a wedding breakfast, but to lunch at Ulundi after the ceremony. All went off happily; and from that time the bridegroom began to mend. In two or three years he could take easy duty, and he is now the clergyman of a parish, with little ones of his own.
The death of Mr. James Kift removed one of Deborah’s oldest friends — a man whose splendid courage and ability had triumphed over the limitations of a frame partly paralysed; he had done a man’s full work, though he had to be carried to his place in the law courts. His sister was left still surrounded by love and trust, but without the main object of her life. But Deborah’s own greatest loss came when Dr. Alcock died suddenly. No one could ever take the place that he left empty. Her heart went out all the more tenderly to his widow and daughters. Saddest of all was the loss of Mrs. Ashe’s youngest daughter, married most happily to a son of Bishop Walsh. She died in India within a year of her marriage day.
And all the time, no one could help seeing that both the dear ones at Ulundi were steadily failing. Each saw it in the other, and grew more anxious. Every one felt it was a serious thing for two, so frail, to be left to each other, but no one could propose anything better: the constant presence of a third person would be a gLne. And in 1903, a young woman named "Martha" had come to Ulundi as house-parlour-maid — quite above the usual level of maids in lodgings — who, as we afterwards learned, stayed on there for love of Miss Alcock and her cousin, refusing many offers of easier and better places for their sake. She knew their every wish, and studied it. In times of illness, it could be arranged for her to have extra help; and in any real emergency, Mrs. Ashe packed up and crossed the Irish Channel to the rescue. Bournemouth is a place where every kind of help is at hand, for acute illness; and for the chronic weakness, there was Martha.
Miss Alcock and I had our usual time together in 1905, and she was happy in having a new story on hand, about her beloved Claude Brousson, a pastor of "The Desert," — the Huguenots, and smugglers of salt. But the accounts of Mary made her very anxious, and when they met in Bournemouth, Mary’s looks confirmed her fears. In May I went to spend a week with them, and I think we had a "Browning," and Mary was very tired after it. On my last morning she did not rise. As usual, when either was upstairs, we had our morning family prayer beside her bed. She looked very ill and wan, but so sweet — so tender and gentle — full of peace. She was ever loving to me, but more than ever, that day. Something told me it was a last farewell. She was never up again — only, when it was necessary to leave Ulundi for the summer, she was wrapped up and taken to lodgings at Parkstone, where, providentially, the mistress of the house had been a sick-nurse, and was a great comfort. Mrs. Ashe had come, and when Mary grew weaker, her other sisters were sent for. She knew every one, but was too weak to be fully herself.
It was glorious summer weather, and she used to be carried out on her mattress, and laid on the lawn. There was little to be done for her through the day; her sisters liked to do it, and Deborah felt it was their turn. It was hers to see that every possible thing that could alleviate was had, or done; then she set her writing table by the open window where she could see Mary in the garden, and resolutely set herself to copy "Gaspard" (her hero’s name). The dear one did not seem to suffer — and she liked her sweet surroundings. She said to her sister, "Isn’t everything very nice?" "Yes, dear, it is. Nothing could be nicer." "Thank God — oh, thank God. He is very good. And — He loves us!" almost in a tone of wonder. "And — I love Him."
Miss Gore thought those were almost her last conscious words. She died on July 8. So passed away one of the purest souls that ever blessed the world.
Her grave was made in the beautiful Bournemouth Cemetery; but the people of Raphoe placed a stained glass window in their own church, to her dear memory.
XIX. ANOTHER FRANKFIELD
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