THE AUTHOR OF THE SPANISH BROTHERS
THE LAND OF BEULAH AND THE RIVER’S BRINK
IN May, 1911, when workmen had to be in the house, we went to rooms in London near the British Museum. It was a time of seeing many friends — delightful, but very exhausting. The Mildmay Conference was held in May that year, to avoid the rush of the King’s Coronation, and we stayed at the Garden House, in the green quiet of the "Compound" — a pleasant contrast to the roar of Bloomsbury. Here again, deafness, though slight, and weakness, were a heavy handicap to Miss Alcock: still, the time was sweet to her. She enjoyed the atmosphere of love and peace — meeting with friends, and the ever thoughtful care of dear Miss Hanham, head of the house. And there was a meeting for the Waldenses that rejoiced her heart, held under the Mulberry Tree, beside the golden laburnums.
Before leaving town we drove out to see Miss Constance Maynard and Westfield College — another pleasure "exertion" but it was a pleasure. She came back to Frankfield very tired.
June 20 is marked with a black stone. I had gone up again for the Coronation Prayer-meeting, Miss Synge being with Miss Alcock. On June 17, Mr. Robert Ashe was shot dead at Tinnevelly, in his wife’s presence, by a fanatical Brahmin. The news was in all the papers on Monday, 19th. The maids saw the name and kept back the paper, but on Tuesday Miss Synge had to tell Miss Alcock, before the letters from Ireland would come in. She was stunned. When I got back that evening, knowing nothing, her first look spoke. Then Miss Synge told me. The Diary tells of one comfort. "By second post came Sallie’s beautiful letter. Wonderful! God is good." And a day or two after, Mrs. Ashe sent on Mrs. Robert’s answer to her own telegram of sympathy. "Loving thoughts and thanks. Psalm cxix. 50, 75." Verse75 is "I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are right, and that Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me." She looked straight past the murderer to the Father’s heart.
Miss Alcock was never the same again. "Rob" was dearest to her of all she had in the next generation — distinguished by his great abilities, and his tact and justice in dealing with the natives. And his home was ideally happy.
His wife had just been to Ireland for a short visit, after her father’s death, but had hurried back on reading in the papers of ominous symptoms in India. They had "five days of perfect happiness and love." Then, in the railway carriage, as they were starting for their home in the hills, to see the children, the deed was done.
The train went back to Tinnevelly with its sad burden. The news flashed home.
Miss Alcock crept about the house for some weeks, then she had two short but severe attacks of illness in succession, and pulled through them with her usual vitality, but not even up to her former low level. The centre-springs of life were touched and the physical heart, naturally so strong, began to fail at last. But the physical breakdown seemed to relax the mental tension, and a measure of revival came with the coming of Mrs. Isaac Ashe. When once that meeting was over, the crushed look began to pass from Deborah’s face; she was herself again, only weaker.
It would violate the sanctities to tell how that deeply bereaved mother bore her grief. The blinding tears will come, to remember how she got out the Patience board and made "Deb" begin her game again — taking a game herself, by her side! It was good, since it gave them something to do together without the strain of talking, but when she was gone, and I brought out the board, Deborah would not have it. Even Patience was too much of an effort, without the stimulus of that dear company. She would take a book instead, and half doze over it. Then I knew that the end was in sight — when her life-long recreations were too much for her. The River lay before us, but it flowed not through a dark valley: we were in the Land of Beulah, and like Bunyan’s pilgrims, breathed the sweet fragrance that blew over from the other side.
All her life long, Deborah had shrunk from the thought of death, and clung to life. "I am like the girl in Hitherto," she would say. "I’m interested in my life: I’d sooner see to the end of it than have something else. And you know, I’m so shy — and to think of the thousands of people there — all strangers!"
"But they won’t be all strange — the friends will be there," I said.
Still she seemed to think of the surrounding host. But now, when the shadow was stealing near to her, she said one day —
"I have been thinking ‘He has the keys of Hades and death.’ Whoever has the keys must open the door; and whoever unlocks the door must be the first to be seen when I go in."
"And He is not a stranger," I said.
"No," almost inaudibly, for tears came. But with that realization, all her fear seemed to depart from her as a garment. She no longer felt troubled when it was a duty to arrange for a future when she would be gone. And the thought of Him she was to meet was always with her. Once she said, "How can He, in His resurrection body, be seen by every one at once? There will be more than one at a time entering in."
I reminded her that it would be His Ascension body that He would wear — still a Son of man, yet restored to the attributes of full Divinity; and also that our own spiritual bodies would surely have powers of seeing that we have not now. But we agreed that the whole subject was beyond us: we have no powers that could understand, if it were explained to us — less than the caterpillar could understand the butterfly.
Another time she quoted Carlyle’s saying that Mirabeau had "dramatised his own death," and said she had done the same with hers twenty times at least — in course of her life, I suppose.
"It is not possible for anyone with the dramatic instinct that you have, not to dramatise things beforehand," I said.
She agreed, and presently, reverting to the closing scenes in particular, said, "There’s a little weakness in it, too — you become interesting when you are going to die."
She was interesting even to herself, in a drama! and the dramatic situation inspired her, even about herself! — but it never laid hold of her as the real stories did. As she accustomed herself to the thought of death, it ceased to touch the imagination: it was real: the time was shortening, and she had something yet to finish before her work was done. She had often said that she had two messages to give — that Christ can satisfy — and to make no peace with Rome, since Rome puts the hand of man between the soul and Christ. But the message was that Christ can satisfy.
I reminded her once of Miss Sandes’ saying that if she had written for the world, she would be known all over the world.
"I couldn’t have written for the world — I did not know it," she said.
I said if she had turned away from Christ, she might have left home, carved out another life for herself, seen the world and written for it; but then she would have been not herself, but another person.
"If that had come," she said, "it would have meant Atheism. I could not pause where Mrs. Humphrey Ward does," i.e., stopping short of His divinity. Then she went back to the old shadow — doubt of every kind, that would not quite go away for long —
And still at an uncertain hour
The agony returns.
"That is why I am such a lover of Ittai the Gittite," she said. " ‘Surely in what place my lord the King shall be, whether in life or death, even there also will Thy servant be.’ If He goes, I go with Him — all goes; so it won’t matter."
He was actually more real to her than her own identity; if He went, nothing was real, or in order. The world was one mad confusion. With Him — a majestic Order came in sight.
We spoke of Frances Havergal’s lines —
O Jesus, make Thyself to me
A living, bright Reality
More dear, more intimately nigh
Than e’en the sweetest earthly tie,
and felt He was the nearest.
Then she told me how her mind had been filled with the thought that the cry of this age has been, and is, to understand — to solve the mysteries. In her own youth, they were anxious for their own salvation, but never thought of the How and Why. In these days, everything must be proved. Law is the great, established fact — the rule of Law, and in the spiritual world it is the same. "Drummond says ‘It is like.’ I say it is one law," she said, and gave an outline of thoughts which had glanced in and out of her talk and letters for some time, but were taking clearer form now.
One letter sent me deals with this central thought. It was written to a young friend who had had a great fight for her own faith, and who, in sending it, called it a letter on "The Christian Idea."
The Christian Idea.
I fully understand how you found — (professedly an unbeliever), "one of the greatest religious influences" in your life, for the two great principles of Law and Duty were, as it seems to me, inwrought into his being. Or rather, to write more correctly, the one great principle, since Duty is but obedience to Law. Law = God’s command: Duty = man’s response. Where, as I think, the distinctively Christian idea comes in, is in the revelation that the Centre of Law is not a blind, unknown, resistless Force, but, as Miss Bayly says, "A Person with the attributes of a Force" (Footnote: 1. Or a Force with the attributes of a Person. The human mind has no experience of any personal attributes without limitation — the extremely limited range of our own minute personalities. In the Divine Centre of all personal as well as all natural Force, the personal forces that we call feelings — love, justice, wrath, desire, response, repulsion — must be as vast as we believe the force of gravitation to be, and those of heat and electricity. The Centre of Life must respond to every appeal as inevitably — one might almost say as automatically — as the electric fluid does to a child’s touch on the button, or the sensitized plate to the wireless message.) i.e., that unknown Power behind all phenomena, loves, cares, helps: — not by breaking Law, but by making lower laws (or rather lower manifestations of Law, for I think all Law is one), be counteracted by higher ones — as we ourselves can do, and do every day: e.g., Baby is falling off a chair, and by the law of gravitation would come to the ground and be hurt, but you catch him in your arms and he is safe. So we get the distinctively Christian idea: —
I. God is not only a Person behind Nature, but a Person who loves and cares.
II. We know this by the revelation of Christ, who, Himself divine and human, is the connecting link and the means of communication between both.
III. We have been, and are, in many ways often disobedient to Law: consequently it is against us: we are "under the curse of the Law." But then comes in Redemption — the Christ sets right the wrong, and puts Law upon our side, not by breaking, but by obeying it.
IV. Which He enables us also to do, by the Power He imparts — the Divine Spirit. He joins Himself to us in vital union, so that He not merely represents us, but we are part of Him.
Here, as I take it, is the Christian idea: nor do I think there is anything in the Christian conception of God, thus understood, which conflicts with any other part of our knowledge. Rather it seems to me that the magnificent conception of Law which is one of the great thoughts of our age, dovetails in a wonderful way with the teachings of Scripture. I too loved Kingsley passionately, and I shall love him always. My training was in some ways the reverse of yours; for me, the problem was to bring my general thinking into line with the very definite doctrines I had been taught from my earliest childhood. I am profoundly thankful to say they do fall into line, with the exception of two or three quite unnecessary excrescences . . .
These she told me were Unconditional election, Eternal Punishment (in the sense of never-ending misery) and the impossibility of salvation without conscious faith in Christ, obtained in this life. What follows is from my notebook.
I said that she had perhaps widened her views on verbal inspiration. She said, "I hold that all Scripture is ‘profitable for doctrine,’ etc.; and I believe in verbal superintendence."
I said that was practically the teaching of our early days: it was not supposed the personality of the writer was extinguished.
"No," she said, "but it was supposed that only the good in him got into it."
I demurred that his limits were recognized, and she agreed. As to Christ being our only means of communication with Jehovah, I said, He was known before Christ came. She repeated her favourite definition of the Trinity, "God absolute, God comprehensible, God communicable." "Without the Lord I do not believe we could know the Father: we can’t grasp the Infinite."
By "Verbal Superintendence" she meant, as far as I venture to define, that God inspired every thought and guided every word, yet left the writer’s own individuality full play in choosing among the different ways and words in which the thoughts could be expressed. My dear mother was very careful in teaching us to observe this — the difference in the style of Peter, Paul and John — the striking difference between Jeremiah and Ezekiel, prophesying at the same time. This difference only makes the homogeneity of the Bible more remarkable.
But the method of inspiration, though so important, was not the question Deborah felt laid upon her own soul: her message was the reign of Law — Law inexorable — law, not a series of mandates (though these are used to express its action) but inevitable Force. "We can’t break Law," she would say. "We break ourselves against it." Law, in all its aspects, the expression and manifestation of God. Not the Law written in stone, but Law all-pervading. This was at the base of the series of papers before mentioned, called "The Silence and the Word." The chapters were headed: — "The Word that Breaks the Silence," "On This Side of the Silence," "The Word of Revelation — of Redemption — of Reconciliation — of Restoration — finally, of Retribution."
Miss Alcock worked on these chapters in fragments, as the thoughts came and strength allowed, through the winter of 1911-12. But her strength was so small now, the day’s routine, with letters and people, often left her little power for anything else.
Through that year of 1912 we watched her failing — very slowly — and prayed she might live to see Mrs. Robert Ashe when she came home. That was granted: she and her daughter Mary, Deborah’s godchild, came in the summer for a visit very precious to both. And one and another of the dearest and nearest came. I think every one must have felt it was a farewell; and yet the life that flashed up in talk and love was so bright — one hoped it might yet keep the dear frame living — perhaps even till "The Silence and the Word" was written. There was all the old playfulness still. Once, on pay-day, while the mistress was slowly drawing the month’s wages from her purse, the maid happened to be obliged to sneeze. "Mary," said Miss Alcock very gravely, "money is not to be sneezed at."
In the summer, a young cousin of mine in the next generation came over from New Zealand with her husband and little girl. Among the sweetest things in our united life was the way in which dear Miss Alcock welcomed my friends and made them hers. When these were on their way from afar, she had been so ill, I feared to think of their coming; but a relative of the husband, who also lived in St. Leonard’s, shared the entertainment, so kindly that I had the great pleasure of receiving these dear ones without harm to my dear friend — and they carried away the warmest remembrance of their few days with her. "She was such a great woman, and so delightfully cheery," my cousin wrote. I am glad to remember that their coming, and that of other visitors from New Zealand gave her pleasure also.
In the autumn came a quiet time, and I asked her to bring out her papers. She did, despondingly. "It is all confusion," she said. But when we examined, we found that though the papers were mixed, the stream of thought ran clear, and we could track it. I dare not write of this, except to say that as far as the argument went, it was drawn clearly; but there are many passages wanting to make it complete. If we could have had one month more, she might have done it, and even now I am hoping to track the missing thoughts, in her letters or notes of lessons — or my own memory — enough to fill the gaps. But the last chapter — Retribution — she gave up. "You must write the rest of that," she said.
Christmas was drawing near, with the long list of presents to be chosen. Martha and her husband were to come for the days of his holiday, and their fine little baby boy with them. It was late when they arrived. In the morning Martha came up to Miss Alcock, the baby in her arms — and how pleased the mistress was!
We had had many talks in those days when she was not strong enough to write much, and hardly ever able to go out on Sunday. One day — but I see it was before this time — she asked me to sit down by her and have a talk over a point in theology. What did I think about sins — not Sin? She was always deeply conscious of sin in herself; but in her daily life, except in thought, she could not honestly convict herself of sins. She seemed afraid there must be something wrong in her on this account. I did not like to tell her that certainly nobody else could. Instead, I repeated a saying of Dr. Burns Thomson when he and his wife were staying at Tunbridge Wells, while Mrs. Pennefather was also there, and ourselves too — Father, Mother and I. Speaking of the question then in the air, whether Christians ought to expect themselves never to sin, he said he thought it easy enough to avoid sinning, under some conditions. "Look at the life we have here," he said, "out on a beautiful holiday, with only good people to speak to — resting and being taken out for lovely drives — how can we sin?"
This seemed rather to ease her conscience. She felt that her own quiet life partook of the same character. "Only good people to speak to." All the dear friends about us were children of the Kingdom. "I find omissions often, and commissions sometimes, but I seem to have no way of — making any splash at sinning," which set us off laughing. But I could not help thinking what temptation she had to fretfulness, with every movement a weariness — so short was her breath, from the little space in the lungs left to breathe with — and the constant frustrations and privations from want of strength. She did not think of that: she had love; and she had Him in Whom was all her desire. What He willed was sweet.
And yet she went on to speak of her temptations in thought. "I fear I may have done wrong in my anger against wrong," she said, mentioning instances in real life. And then the waves of doubt! Again she spoke of them and said — how often have I heard her say it with trembling voice! "At least I can always take my stand with Ittai the Gittite. ‘Wheresoever my Lord the King shall be, there also will Thy servant be.’ "
How was it that she, whose faith was so strong and vivid, could think she doubted? God allowed her to suffer, that she might know better how to help others; but where did the possibility come in, intellectually? I think it must have been from her intensely vivid imagination, coupled with having had no responsibilities in childhood. I well remember myself the vain struggle to realize that I was I — anything different from the dream-figures in my mind. I was "She" to myself, as much as they were. But every touch of responsibility restored the "I," while it lasted. I had everything to bring home the Real and stop the dreaming. Deborah, for seventeen years, had everything to drive her into the dream life, and this reacted upon the spirit.
But as to her wronging anyone — in two or three instances she did, in thought, I believe — and she saw it and blamed herself afterwards: but very few have been as just as she — on principle. When she had been reading The Case of Richard Meynell, she came to dinner very silent. Presently she broke silence with "I should have thought myself a cad altogether if ever I had not given my opponents a better look-in than Mrs. Humphrey Ward has hers," and added that all the Christians in her book, especially the Evangelicals, were either wicked or fools, or very disagreeable. She was sorry, as Mrs. Humphrey Ward had given her very many pleasant hours of reading.
One last thought of hers. Speaking of some of the difficulties in Scripture, I said how much of it was given up to showing what was in the human heart. "Oh, yes," she said — then stopped, half laughing. "I was going to say an awful thing; the Lord follows my plan! He takes care to give His enemies a good look-in. He lets them put in their side." For some time past, the monthly prayer-meeting for the Irish Church Mission had been held in the Meeting-room at Frankfield. I think it was there that Miss Alcock’s voice was last heard in public — in a long and wonderfully comprehensive prayer.
Soon after, I was asked if her chairs might be had for a Protestant Conference. I told her I had given her consent without even asking her for it.
"You might have said they were Protestant chairs, ma’am," said Mary.
"Yes," said Miss Alcock, with energy. "And if they were not, I’d soon convert them into stools of repentance." She was always tired with Christmas — even with its many pleasures of love; but she did enjoy all the sweet love tokens that came, and the loving letters of thanks for her own gifts. On the Sunday after Christmas Day the sun shone brightly, and she dressed for church; but the chairman did not come, and it was well, for the wind was treacherous. All the kitchen party were out, except Mary.
"Come and talk to me," Miss Alcock said to her. She owned how tired she was. "The presents are no trouble to me, because Miss Bayly buys them, and you do them up. But oh, the cards! I shall never do it again. Some people have their cards printed, and every one gets the same."
"I don’t like that way, ma’am," said Mary, "because the same words don’t suit different people."
"Egzactly," Miss Alcock said. "For some at the time are in sorrow, and some are in joy. We all are individuals, and we like our friends to feel that, and recognize it in the cards they send us." And again, "Isn’t it beautiful to feel we are individuals with God. He knows us by name — you as Mary, and me as Deborah. I would like to feel that He speaks to me as ‘Deborah,’ just as He said ‘Mary,’ and called ‘Martha.’ "
We thought she would get rested after Christmas. But I broke down with a touch of bronchitis, and nothing would keep her from coming up to look after me. Then a camp was arranged for her upstairs — but the mischief was done. On January 6 she went to bed, and we got a night-nurse. The day after, I was up, and managed to be in her room most of every day. I had seen her very ill so often that I still thought she might rally once more. On Sunday, the 12th, she was very bright all the morning. The Rector, Mr. Askwith, came to see her in the afternoon and prayed with her. In the evening we had the time of prayer we always had together on Sunday evenings, and prayed that if it were God’s will she might yet live to finish her work. Only just before my own illness began, I had prayed that she might either be allowed to do this at full power, or not live to try: I could not bear the thought of her feeling her powers failing; and as I prayed that night for what she wished, I knew the other prayer would not be forgotten. And yet I thought she might rally — till I took her temperature an hour after, and then I could hardly doubt the call had come.
Dr. Pritchard, who both as doctor and friend had been such a comfort and help to her through the past years, came and found her worse; we must have a nurse always in the house, and one who could lift. He sent us Nurse Foster, who was a help indeed. On Monday morning Miss Alcock sat up in bed, wrote a tiny note and read In the Golden Days. She saw Mrs. de Moeller who called to inquire, and seemed quite herself, save for the short breath. I said, "You are a very good, obedient patient."
"I was well trained to obedience," she said, "and a very good thing." Tuesday morning brought almost a rally, for two or three hours, and I sent out hopeful bulletins. It was the last flicker of life: then came a downward change. She began to wander a little, now and then, and was restless. Over and over I repeated her best-loved hymns, "For ever to behold Him shine," and parts of "Come, O Thou Traveller unknown."
As usual in the dying, she wanted to get up and dress. "You promised Nurse to wait till she came back," I said — Nurse having gone to bed. Like a sweet child, she ceased tugging at her cap-strings and lay still. "You are a good patient," I truly said. Her breath was so short, speech was very feeble, but I made out, "Only right . . . I want . . . always . . . play fair by my nurses."
The ruling passion! In her stories, she had always tried to do full justice to her opponents, and to her last gasp she would "play fair."
Mary came in, and Deborah said, alluding to words she had read to her, "I think the time of my redemption draws nigh. That was why I wanted to put on my clothes and be ready for it" — spoken with many breaks. The cough, the laboured breath, must have tried her sorely, but there was never a murmur. And always, perfect courtesy, "that exquisite old-world courtesy, without a touch of old-world stiffness," a friend once called it. It drew tears from the nurse’s eyes.
She grew more restless. I tried repeating hymns again, "Jesu, lover of my soul." At once she was quiet. At the end she whispered, "Let His name be the last I hear."
We left her with Nurse, late at night; but at four o’clock Nurse called me, and Kate and Mary came too. Deborah had been wandering, but always homeward — often praying, and for others. "He will bear all burdens." And she must have thought of her loved ones, when she murmured, "He is the great Comforter. I leave all to Him." The few murmured words grew fewer: the restless movements ceased and the eyes were closed; yet, again and again they would open and gaze upwards with such a flash of light — she must have seen something beyond mortal ken. Then the bodily weakness prevailed, and the eyes were closed — to open again with the same flashing, speaking light — as though answering to a call we could not hear — till they closed for the last time. Gradually the labouring breath grew softer, the face more pale; then, while still in life, there stole over it a look of heavenly rest — fairer and fairer till the faint breath ceased. And after, as she lay with her white hands folded on her breast, it was indeed a rapture of repose.
She went out into that great Unknown — to us, the great Silence; but in whatsoever place our Lord the King is manifested, there also His servant is.
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Last modified: June 27, 2016