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HOME > Biographical > A Lady of England-The Life and Letters of Charlotte Maria Tucker > CHAPTER VII
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CHAPTER VII
A.D. 1849-1853
THE FIRST GREAT SORROW, AND THE FIRST BOOK

It must have been at about this time that Charlotte became increasingly anxious for more of definite outdoor work among the poor. Her wish was to be allowed to visit in the Marylebone Workhouse; but difficulties for a while barred her way. Mr. Tucker objected strongly, fearing the risk of infectious diseases for his daughters; and no doubt the risk in those days was far greater than in these, considering the then condition of Workhouses generally.

So long as permission was refused, Charlotte seems to have contented herself with the simple duties of home-life. She was not one who would restlessly fight for and insist upon her own way at all costs, under the plea of doing what was right. Rather, one may be sure, she counted the prohibition as in itself sufficient indication of the Divine Will. However, while submitting, she probably used from time to time some little pressure to bring about another state of things; and somewhere about the beginning of 1851 her parents’ ‘reluctant consent’ was, we are told, at length given. From that time she and Fanny visited regularly in the Workhouse.

In 1849 Charlotte’s eldest sister, Sibella, was married to the Rev. Frederick Hamilton, for some time Curate to Mr. Garnier, the Vicar of Holy Trinity Church, which they all regularly attended. Mr. Garnier and his wife, Lady[84] Caroline, were especial friends of Charlotte, through many a long year. Thus the first break in the charmed circle of sisters was made; and Fanny was now ‘Miss Tucker,’ Charlotte being the second home-daughter.

Until the spring of 1850 Mr. Tucker kept his health and vigour to a marvellous extent for a man eighty years old,—for one too who had worked more or less hard through life from the age of fourteen or fifteen. He still attended to his India House business, not seeming to find it too much for his strength; and in the April of that year, after making a speech in Court, he was congratulated by a brother-Director upon the force and energy with which he had spoken. ‘Ah,’ he replied, ‘it is only the last flicker of the taper before it goes out.’

No one had noticed aught to be wrong with him, but perhaps he had himself been conscious of failing power. Soon afterwards a sharp attack of fever and inflammation laid him low, and most serious fears for his life were felt. It was a time of terrible suspense to his own family; not least so to Charlotte, who had always loved him with an intense devotion. Probably few fathers are quite so devotedly beloved as was old Mr. Tucker; but not many men, and especially not many men of his years, can throw themselves into the interests and amusements of their children, as he was able to do.

They had till then hardly realised how suddenly the call might come. As his biographer says, he had been always ‘so full of life, there had been so much activity of body, so much energy of mind, so much elasticity of spirit, that they had never associated with all this vitality a thought of the stillness of death.’ Now, without warning, the foe was at their very door; and the shadow of his great danger weighed heavily upon them all.

In answer to many prayers he was given back to them again, just for a little while. But they could never quite[85] forget how nearly he had been taken from them, how unexpectedly the great separation might come.

Another event of 1850 was the marriage of Charlotte’s brother, William Tucker, at Brussels. It came almost immediately upon Mr. Tucker’s rally from his severe illness; and Charlotte had the pleasure of being taken to Brussels for the wedding by her brother, St. George Tucker, then home for a short time from India. It would be interesting to know her first impressions of the Continent, but not many letters of this date are available. The two which follow are among the last belonging to her unshadowed younger life, before the true meaning of loss and sorrow had dawned upon her. One black cloud had gathered and dispersed; but it was soon to roll up again; and then the storm would break.

‘Oct. 3, 1850.

‘Dearest Laura,—We have finished the volume of stories which we were reading—which by the way resembled the pottles of strawberries sold in the streets, capital at the beginning, but as one gets further on, miserably inferior—and now Fanny has gone to her dear Will-making, so I keep her pen in company by writing to you. I soon knocked off my Will, and we have just the same sum to dispose of, but her large sheets of paper are not covered yet.

‘Now what shall I write to you about, dear—for we write so often that it is impossible that we should often have much to write about? The sun shines one day, and does not shine another; the sea is rough one morning and calm the next. I may have to follow the style of Letitia in her well-known note, “sometimes we pass Fummity, and sometimes we do not.” Things go on quietly, nothing changed but my half-sovereign. I had to buy new ribbons for Letitia to-day, and fear that I shall have to supply the children with fresh gloves.

‘I have been reading about our poor friend, the first of the Blacks, to-day; and it appears that his character was very fairly drawn by Miss Martineau. I was glad to know a little about the after doings in Hayti, and find that Dessalines—that fierce fellow, husband of Theresa—was made first Emperor, and killed in about two years. He was a great savage, but his wife an amiable lady. Then came[86] King Henri I.—our friend Christopher the Cook—who was king at the time that my informant wrote, that is to say, in 1819. A famous king he seems to be, or have been, with a good palace, standing army of 25,000 men kept in strict discipline, a hereditary aristocracy—all of the colour of coal—and ecclesiastical establishment. He was considered in person very much like King George III.—barring complexion, I suppose—and, in short, that part of Hayti which owned him for king seemed in a very flourishing condition in 1819.

‘Do you remember the name of Thaurepas (?), the blacky General who weakly surrendered his post to the French? What do you think the grateful Monsieurs did to him? Nailed epaulettes on his shoulders and a cocked hat on his head, and then threw him with his wife and children into the sea! Would one believe such things of men in the 19th century? I should like to know something of the present state of Hayti, and whether the throne is filled by a son of Henri I., for I suppose that Christopher is hardly living still. If he were, would you not like to have his autograph?

‘I have told you all this about Hayti, because I thought that, like myself, you would be pleased to know what really became of the characters in Miss Martineau’s Romance, and one seldom meets with a book which throws any light upon such an out-of-the-way subject.’

‘Oct. 18, 1850.

‘Dearest Laura,—We have been luxuriating in the letters from Paris.... All things look so bright and joyous! I have twice sung “The World is so Bright” to-day con amore, and my heart is so lightsome that I could dance. I do not think that I have once seen precious Father dull since my return. He desires me to say that he cannot quite countenance a visit to Lebanon. It is rather too far, and Lord Ellesmere was very ill on his way thither; so dear —— must give up her Blackbeard, and content herself with Sir Peter. Now Mamma is reading St. George’s note. Papa is smiling away,—his dear lips apart. He looks so nice in Clara’s beautiful cap!

‘Henry thinks so much of you, dear. He says that you are a sweet girl, and that he loves you extremely. I cannot tell you all the kind things he says of you....

‘We are such a comfortable party, and our loved absent ones help to make us more so.... This is a very disconnected sort of note, a sort of patchwork, for my ears are as much employed as my hand, and I have every now and then a message to darn in,—then, O my chilblains! But I am determined to complain of nothing, for I am[87] so overloaded with blessings. Dearest Parents are just going out. The weather is delicious. The world is so bright, the world is so fair! Yes, even now, when she has only a wreath of dahlias, and decks herself in yellow like the sweet little Blossom!...

‘I should like to think that our dear trio are enjoying themselves as much at Paris as I am at home. I hope and trust that we may all have such a happy winter together, when “Love’s shining circlet” has all its gems complete except the dear Indian absentees.’

This was written in the autumn following Mr. Tucker’s dangerous illness. After a long and tedious convalescence, his health had steadily improved through the summer months, and during the autumn he seemed to be almost himself again,—able to walk out regularly, able to read much and thoroughly to enjoy being read to by his wife and daughters. In the evenings he would delight in their music, varied by merry talk and by an occasional rubber of whist.

With the coming of winter acute neuralgic pains took possession of him; and though some little improvement was seen with the advent of spring, it was not permanent. In the end of May 1851 he was taken to Brighton for a few days’ change; after which he became worse and then again better. Amid these fluctuations, which included at times very severe suffering, his manly courage and patience were never known to fail.

On the tenth of June he seemed so far improved as to talk of going next day to the India House, for the Wednesday’s Council. The Doctor strongly opposed this; and Mr. Tucker went instead to a Flower-Show, with his daughters. For two days afterward he seemed particularly well. On Friday night there was no apparent change for the worse; and his usual tender good-night to them all had in it no shadow of approaching calamity.

But the end was at hand. Before morning sharp illness[88] had seized upon him; and before twelve o’clock he had passed away.

It was a heavy blow to all who knew him; above all to his wife and children. He had been the very life of the house, the very spring of home-brightness. Charlotte’s little niece, Bella Frances, daughter of the elder brother, Henry Carre Tucker, came to spend her first English holidays in the house, not long after Mr. Tucker’s death, and she found the whole family ‘plunged in gloom,’—Charlotte Tucker being exceedingly sad and grave. The only one, indeed, of the whole party who was able to speak cheerfully was Laura. It is probable that Laura had at that date a dawning outside interest in her life, not possessed by any of the others, which may have enabled her to bear up somewhat better than they could.

Many months earlier, after the sharp illness of the preceding year, Mr. Tucker had written a letter to all his children, thanking them for their ‘late unwearied and devoted attentions’ to him. After desiring them ‘not to give way to strong emotions,’ he had gone on to say,—‘I have reached a very advanced age, and must be prepared for a change. Old age has its infirmities and suffering, and a prolonged existence is not to be desired. Your care should now be to comfort and console your beloved mother, who has been everything to me and everything to you all. I trust that she will not leave this house, in which we have all enjoyed so much happiness; and I feel assured that you will all tenderly watch over her, and contribute by every means in your power to her future comfort.’

This wish was fulfilled. Mrs. Tucker never did leave No. 3 Upper Portland Place, except of course for necessary change. It remained her home, and the home of her daughters, from the year 1851, when her husband died, until her own death in the year 1869.

[89]

How much of life’s sunshine had been swept out of Charlotte’s life by the loss of her Father, it is perhaps impossible for any one to estimate who did not personally know Mr. Tucker. Not that all her sunshine had departed! Apart from her own inherent elasticity of spirit, she was devotedly attached to her Mother; and she had still the tender and satisfying companionship of Laura.

That while deeply saddened, she was not crushed, is shown by the following letter to her little niece, Bella F. Tucker, dated August 9, 1851:—

‘The sun has been shining so beautifully lately, and the reapers have been busy in the fields. It is a sight to warm the heart, to see the yellow sheaves covering the land, and we should bless God for an abundant harvest. There is a clover-field near us, and it looks like a beautiful carpet of lilac and green. I was calculating that there must be more than two million blossoms in that one field; and each blossom may be perhaps the home of many insects.... Then what is that field compared to all England, or England to Europe, or Europe to the whole world? Neither your little head, nor the wisest man’s, can imagine how many blossoms and how many insects there are on this great globe,—it makes one almost giddy to think of it,—and then to consider that all the world itself is only like a speck in God’s Creation, that there are said to be eighty millions of fixed stars, each of which has very likely worlds moving round it. And God made all. How very great and wonderful He must be! It seems surprising that He should care for every one on this little ball,—how much more astonishing that He should have condescended to come and live upon it, to have appeared as a feeble Child in one of the worlds that He had made, and then actually to die, like one of the creatures that He had formed! Is not God’s power wonderful, and His love more wonderful still?

‘When you look at the bright blue sky, do you never long to fly up like the birds,—no, much higher than the birds can fly, to your Home, to your Father which is in Heaven? I hope that time may come, sweet Bella, but now is the time to prepare. I sometimes think that this life is our school-time. We are now to learn lessons of faith and patience and love. When our education is finished we shall be allowed to go Home; and Death will be the gentle Messenger[90] to say,—“Your Heavenly Father sends for you; come and join your loved ones who have gone before. O that will be joyful, when we meet to part no more!”’

There is a tone of quiet sadness running through the letter, in marked contrast with those joyous epistles to her sister Laura quoted earlier in this chapter. The world could never again be to her ‘so bright, so fair!’ as in the days when her Father was still upon earth. No doubt as time went on the buoyancy of her temperament reasserted itself; but life was no longer unshadowed; and other troubles soon followed.

One of these must certainly have been the marriage of her sister Laura, though no letters are at hand to show what she felt. Mr. Otho Hamilton, elder brother to the Rev. Frederick Hamilton, who had married Charlotte’s eldest sister, sought Laura’s hand; and he was accepted.

Not entirely without hesitation. Perhaps few girls can say, or ought to say, ‘Yes’ at once, without time for consideration. When the offer came, Laura’s first impulse was, naturally, to go to her Mother for advice; her second impulse was to go to her friend-sister. It is not hard to realise what the thought must have been to Charlotte of losing this dearly-loved companion,—her room-mate and the constant sharer of her thoughts and interests from very infancy; nor is it difficult to believe how bravely she would put aside the recollection of herself, viewing the question from Laura’s standpoint alone. It must, however, be remembered that Charlotte was romantically enthusiastic on the subject of others’ engagements, and was through life ardently interested in the marriages of her friends. In the present case her knowledge of how highly her Father had thought of Mr. Hamilton would be an additional incentive to put no obstacle in the way. It seems that Laura’s hesitation had arisen, not from any doubt as to her own feelings, but simply from a desire to[91] be sure of her duty. The engagement took place; and on the 19th of October 1852, Laura Tucker became Mrs. Hamilton. So another leaf was turned in the story of Charlotte’s life.

And now, in the very midst of these changes and losses arose a new interest. Hitherto, Charlotte had written a good deal, but she had never published, perhaps had never even thought of publishing. What first led her to adopt the style of fiction, by which she was soon to become known, it is possible at least to conjecture. In 1850, as we have seen, she wrote another of her merry plays, full of fun and humour. Now, suddenly, she seems to have plunged into the line of children’s stories, having each a ve............
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