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HOME > Biographical > A Lady of England-The Life and Letters of Charlotte Maria Tucker > CHAPTER VIII
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CHAPTER VIII
A.D. 1854-1857
CRIMEA, AND THE INDIAN MUTINY

In the year 1854 Mr. St. George Tucker again came home from India; and in the autumn he took his Mother and sisters for three months to The Mote, an old country house about six miles north of Tonbridge, hoping that the change would do good to Mrs. Tucker’s health and spirits. Those were the terrible days of the Crimean War; and in that autumn the battles of Balaclava and Inkerman were fought. Several letters of interest belong to about this period.

TO MISS BELLA F. TUCKER. 1853.

‘I have found out a much better hero for you than your friend Lord Marmion,—who, by-the-bye, had he lived in these days, would have run a great chance of being transported for fourteen years, or imprisoned for one with hard labour, for forgery. Mere courage does not make a hero.... When I was about as old as you are now, I had—besides Montrose, for whom I have a great regard still—a great hero, a pirate! About as respectable a man perhaps as Lord Marmion, and I was so fond of him, that I remember jumping out of bed one night, when one of my sisters laughed at him.

‘But I have grown older, dear, and have seen so many bubbles break in my time that I am more on my guard. I look for something more solid now. If you are allowed to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or any part of it, pause when you have done, and compare the old negro with Lord Marmion. You laugh at the idea. What!—“the falcon crest and morion,”—“the scar on his dark brow”—will not all this[101] throw the poor ignorant thick-lipped hero quite into the shade? Yes,—if a sparkling bubble is more glorious than a diamond shut up in a black case. Time touches the bubble, and it breaks,—I have given up my pirate-hero,—but the diamond—never mind the black case! “Uncle Tom” is a hero, and one worthy of the name.’

TO MRS HAMILTON—(LAURA).

‘The Mote, Sept. 1, 1854.

‘Your and your dear husband’s nice sunshiny notes reached me this morning.... I believe that you are wise not to come here, for the roads are very bad, and the climate not very bracing. Sweet Mother says that it suits her very well, and I thrive on it like anything, but not every one might be the better for “water, water everywhere.” We have four pieces of water close by us, besides the moat just under our windows. The Mote nestles so curiously in a hollow of the hill, that when you have walked a few hundred yards from it, and naturally turn round to look at the noble mansion which you have left,—it is actually non inventus. You would not know that you were near the Mote at all. “What has become of our great house?” say you. It has vanished like Aladdin’s fairy palace.

‘I feel sure that this is the identical old place that Mrs. D’Oyly took us to see, where they said that some of the rooms had not been opened for one hundred years. This suits me exactly. As the boys say, “I am in clover.” Damp hurts me no more than if I were a water-wagtail; but the same might not be the case with you....

‘What a good thing it has been for your little darling being at so healthy a place during the trying time of teething. I shall expect to see her still more improved, when I have the pleasure of kissing her sweet lips again. How diverting it will be to watch her when she first runs alone!...

‘Such nice letters from India! Dear Henry is having my Tales translated into Hindustani, for the poor natives. Oh, pray, my Laura, that a blessing may go with them. Dear Robin preaches to upwards of a hundred blind, and bears the hot weather wonderfully well.’

TO THE SAME.

‘The Mote, Sept. 12, 1854.

‘Many thanks for your welcome letter, your good news, and your kind invitation. I should not wonder if the last were very thankfully[102] accepted some time next month; for it is quite uncertain whether the L——s will let us remain here beyond the six weeks, and almost quite certain that No. 3 will not be ready for us then, in which case we had better scatter. The boys indeed talk of standing a siege here, rather than give the place up; but you see we are afraid of treachery in the camp, having so many of the L——‘s servants. Then we might have difficulty about provisions, for we should all grow desperately thin upon the fish which Charlie catches. Besides which, the moat might be waded, although it is a doubtful point whether the wader could get on through the weeds and mud. I think, all things considered, that we had better not stand a siege.

‘My heart can quite re-echo the cheerful tone of your note, love. I do indeed feel that we are loaded with blessings. I enjoy this place exceedingly, it is so pretty; just the place to “moon” about in. Don’t you remember Mrs. D’Oyly taking us to see it, when we drove here in two carriages, and you were with the sprightly, and I with the sedate party? I feel sure that this was the identical old house. My room ought to be haunted, only it is not. It is such a pity that you have not the fairy carpet to come here without fatigue. But, as it is, you serve as a magnet, to help to draw me back to Middlesex without regret.

‘Kind love to dear Mr. Hamilton, and twenty kisses to the Princess of babies. I can well imagine the pleasure that she is to you—a large lump of sugar in your cup!’

TO MISS BELLA F. TUCKER.

‘Dec. 12, 1854.

‘We went to St. James’ Park to-day, to see Her Majesty on her way to open Parliament. I had an excellent view of our poor dear Queen; and the sight of her mournful subdued countenance, as she bowed graciously to her people, but without the shadow of a smile, quite touched my heart. This war weighs very heavily upon her; and I am anxious to know whether she was able to get through her speech without breaking down altogether. She looked to-day as though it would have taken less to make her weep than laugh.

‘How England is exerting herself to send comforts to her brave sons in the Crimea! A lady was here to-day who, having seen that books were thought desirable presents to the Army, made up a box of them, which was to go to a Mr. S. who had offered to receive them. But when her intended gift was known,—“O pray do not send any more books!” was the poor receiver’s cry. “We have seventy[103] thousand volumes!” and they did not know how such a tremendous library was to be forwarded. In the lint department, parcels came in at the rate of two hundred a day! Good-bye.’

TO THE SAME.

‘Jan. 13, 1855.

‘It is singular in how many ways last year I seemed to be taught a lesson of patience. I was disappointed over and over and over again. In one matter in which I was greatly interested, I was so at least five times; but before the close of the year I had cause to say with much pleasure,—“I am glad that I was disappointed.” Another time I had a very heavy heart from a different source of disappointment; and some months later I was grieved, even, I am half ashamed to say, to tears; and yet before December was out I was actually glad of both these disappointments, as well as the five others; and a good appeared to spring from the evil. Now, if I am inclined to be impatient,—and very impatient I am by nature,—I try to remember my experience, and really to get the valuable lesson by heart. I think it a good plan at the end of a year to review the whole, to try and find out what especial lesson has been set one to learn in it. I found it to be praise one year; last year patience. I know not what it will be this year. I hope that—but no, I will not write what I intended. Whatever is, is best. We have not to choose our tasks, but to learn them.’

TO MRS. HAMILTON.

‘June 15, 1855.

‘What news have I to give you? We have had a nice note from dear Henry to-day, saying nothing about health, except that Robin is well. St. G. and I have just come from a loiter at the Botanical Gardens, which showed us that we need be under no great concern, were hemp and flax exterminated from the vegetable world, and silkworms to leave off being spinsters, as we could dress cheaply and well on plantain fibre, have capital paper and excellent ropes, etc.’

In the August of 1855 she had the pleasure of going with her brother, Mr. St. George Tucker, to the great French Exhibition at Paris. This was the celebrated occasion of the Queen’s visit to Napoleon, after the close of the Crimean War; and Paris was thronged. So[104] full was the place that rooms in Paris itself were not to be had, and they went to an hotel in Versailles, occupying apartments which had once been occupied by Louis Napoleon. Charlotte’s warlike enthusiasm showed itself in the fact that she was willing to pay twenty-five francs apiece for seats at the Champs de Mars, where they might witness the review of 45,000 French troops. When Her Majesty had quitted Paris, it became possible to obtain rooms at the H?tel Bristol.

From Versailles she wrote to Mrs. Hamilton, on the 21st of August:—

‘Dearest Wifey,[5]—You wished for a letter from France, so here is one; but if you expect a description of what I have seen, I really cannot undertake to give you even a précis. Paris surpasses my expectations. All in its gala dress as it is now, swarming with people, crowded with soldiers, gay with fluttering flags and triumphal arches,—it is really a sight in itself. The grand Exposition of pictures is splendid; it is only too large. I was amused at it by a lady coming up to me, and politely requesting me to inform her who Ophelia was. An old French lady, looking at a picture of the burial of Harold, and, I suppose, feeling that the subject might be painful to me as a Saxon, politely assured me of her regret at that monarch’s death! “Let bygones be bygones,” say I.

‘Most of the French foot-soldiers are very little fellows, compared to some of our troops; but amongst the Cavalry are very fine tall men. The Zouaves are very heathenish-looking warriors. They dress something like Turks, with all about their throats so perfectly bare that they quite invite you to cut their heads off.

‘St. G. and I so enjoyed this exquisite evening in the stately gardens! A fine military band was performing, the people were happily listening, little children skipping about, the glorious sunset tints illuminating a palace fit for the “grand Monarch.”

‘We have seen our Sovereign Lady three times, which was being in great luck. I am rather tired of writing, so will only add kindest love, and beg you to believe me your ever attached,

C. M. Tucker.

‘P.S.—I told a fat funny little French baba to-day that I had a niece younger than herself, and asked her if she would not like to see her. The answer was unsatisfactory.’

[105]

The Crimean War was ended; and two years later came the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny, with its awful carnage, its heaps of slain, its tortured women and children, its heroic determination, its dauntless courage. Then was seen a Continent, lost apparently in one day, won back to the British Crown by mere handfuls of indomitable men facing armed myriads. Such a tale had never been told before.

If Charlotte’s patriotism had been stirred by the Crimean struggle, this came nearer to her yet! She had five brothers, all in India, all more or less in daily peril. Mr. Henry Carre Tucker was Commissioner at Benares; Mr. St. George Tucker was at Mirzapore; Mr. William Tucker was in a less acutely unsafe position; Mr. Charlton Tucker, after seeing his Colonel shot down, was for weeks in hiding. All these escaped. But her early companion, Robert,—the father of her ‘Robins,’—............
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