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CHAPTER X
A.D. 1864-1866
A HEAVY SHADOW

The afternoon shadows were again to darken around Charlotte Tucker; and one blow after another had to fall. Her mother was growing old, and in no long time would be called away. The health of her gentle sister, Fanny, had begun to fail, never to be entirely restored. But a yet sharper sorrow, because utterly unlooked for, was to come before the loss of either her mother or her sister, like a flash of lightning into the midst of clear sunshine.

Of all the many whom she dearly loved, none perhaps lay closer to her heart than Letitia, the only daughter of her brother Robert,—the youngest of ‘the Robins.’ The two boys were now out in the world, one in India, one at sea; but Letitia hitherto had never left her, except for visits here or there among relatives and friends. One who knew them both well describes the contrast between aunt and niece at this period,—Charlotte Tucker, ‘so upright and animated, very thin, fair, with auburn hair, not very abundant, but which curled slightly, naturally,’—and Letitia, ‘grave, with beautiful dark eyes and hair, and rather dark complexion.’ Another speaks of Letitia as tall and handsome, with dark eyes, dark chestnut hair, regular features, and sweet smile.

The gravity seems to have been a marked characteristic of this gifted young girl. From very babyhood she was[127] earnestly religious, and of a peculiarly serious temperament; though at the same time energetic and sometimes even lively. She had not her aunt’s spirit of fun; but the two were alike in generosity and in determination. Perhaps Charlotte Tucker’s training had especially developed these traits in her niece. A favourite proverb of Letitia’s was—‘Perseverance conquers difficulties’;—and it would have served equally well for A. L. O. E.

Letitia was also very fond of little children, and she worked much among the poor. She was an exceedingly good and fearless rider; and at twenty years old there was already promise of a literary gift. Her passion for reading was so great that Hallam’s History was a recreation in her eyes. She had written at least one short story, which had found its way into print, and many pretty, simple verses, chiefly of a religious character. One of her hymns, composed at the age of eighteen, may be given here:—
‘My soul was dark, for o’er its sight
The shades of sorrow fell;—
In Thee alone there still was light,
Jesus, Immanuel!
‘And all around me and above
There hung a gloomy spell;—
I should have died without Thy love,
Jesus, Immanuel!
‘For in my sinking heart there beat
An ever-sounding knell;—
But still I knew the “promise sweet,”
Jesus, Immanuel!
‘I looked to Thee through all my fears,
The pain and grief to quell;—
Thy Hand hath wiped away my tears,
Jesus, Immanuel!
[128]
‘I heard a low, “a still small voice,”
Soft whisper, “It is well”;—
And knew the Saviour of my choice,
Jesus, Immanuel!
‘And still, o’er all life’s changing sea,
In calm or stormy swell,
I’ll look in faith straight up to Thee,
Jesus, Immanuel!’

On November 28, 1864, Letitia left English shores, to join her uncle, Mr. St. George Tucker and his family, in India. Letters of Charlotte Tucker, referring to the event, have not come to hand; but she must have felt the separation very keenly, whatever might have been the precise reasons which led to the move. Letitia had now been practically her child for eighteen years; and a close tie existed between the two. But no doubt Charlotte looked upon the parting as of a very temporary nature; as merely sending her child away for a longer visit than any preceding. The real anguish of separation came a year later, when suddenly the young girl was summoned to her true Home.

The few following extracts lie between these two dates,—the going of Letitia to India, and the tidings of her death.

TO MISS ‘LEILA’ HAMILTON.

‘Jan. 3, 1865.

‘Many thanks, my dear Leila, for your affectionate note.... There was another nice cheerful note from my Letitia to-day. She wrote it when on the Red Sea, which she evidently found very warm, for she described the ship as a “hothouse,” and said that she and her fellow-passengers would be “fine exotics” before they arrived. There had been two Services on board on Sunday, and Letitia had heard two excellent sermons. Mary Egerton had her harmonium on board, which had been brought up from the hold, so there was nice hymn-singing too. How sweet the music must have sounded on the water![129] I think that, steaming over the Red Sea, one would have liked to have raised the song of the Israelites—
“Sound the loud timbrel o’er Egypt’s dark sea,
Jehovah hath triumphed, His people are free!”

‘My dear sailor is to leave us on the 17th or 18th for China. I believe that he is to travel part of the journey in the same vessel as the Cuthbert Thornhills, who were to have taken charge of Letitia had our first arrangements held good. They will have one Robin instead of the other. Poor dear Mrs. Thornhill, what a sad parting is before her! I had a loving note very lately from my Louis. He fears that he will not get leave to see his dear sister for a twelve-month.

‘The weather here has been chilly. None of the ladies have ventured out of the house since Saturday; but Charley has in vain longed for skating. Ice forms, then melts again. Dear Grandmamma keeps wonderfully free from cold; but then she remains in the house.’

TO MRS. HAMILTON. (Undated.)

‘My loved boy left us yesterday, quiet and firm, shedding no tear. We (Mamma) had a little note from him this morning,—such a simple one,—you might have fancied that he had only left us for a week. Dear boy! I trust that he is going into sunshine; above all I hope and pray that his Father’s God will ever be with him. It would not have been well for him to have remained much longer in London with nothing particular to do. Active life is most wholesome to a fine strong man like my Charley....

‘Dear Mother keeps well. Sweet Fan I cannot give so good an account of. I have urged Mother to have further advice; and I believe that there will be a little consultation on Friday; but perhaps you had better not write about this, except to me.’

TO THE SAME.

‘Nov. 15, 1865.

‘What a bright account you give of your dear busy young party! Tell dear Otho that I shall be charmed if he makes the discovery of a magenta-coloured caterpillar, or a mauve earwig; and that as it will be ten times as curious as the Spongmenta Padella, it ought to have a Latin name ten times as long. I don’t despair of the great sea-serpent[130] Did I tell you that dear Mrs. Thornhill had, when a girl, conversed with a Mrs. Hodgeson, wife of one of the Governors of our West Indian possessions, who had watched the movements of two that were fighting in the waves for about ten minutes?
“’Twere worth ten years of peaceful life,
One glance at such a fray!—”

I took down the particulars, as I thought them very curious....

‘This is my sweet Letitia’s birthday; she is just twenty.... My Letitia is going to pay Louis a visit at Moultan.’

No foreboding whisper in her heart spoke of what that visit to Moultan, so lightly mentioned, would mean to them all. When the two next letters were penned, little as Charlotte dreamt of what was coming, the blow had already fallen, and Letitia had passed away.

TO MRS. HAMILTON.

‘Jan. 2, 1866.

‘May the best blessings of the opening year rest upon my beloved Laura, and her dear circle.

‘I hope that dear Leila received my Rescued from Egypt in the Christmas box. I put it up for her, and to the best of my knowledge it went to Bournemouth; but as neither she nor you have mentioned seeing it, I feel half afraid that in some way I cannot imagine it has missed its destination, and the dear girl has fancied that when sending little remembrances to her brothers I had forgotten her.

‘Such a delightful budget of letters I had from Letitia by last Southampton mail! She writes that she is “very very happy.”’

TO THE SAME.

‘Jan. 3, 1866.

‘I feel that I have not said half enough to your dear husband for his splendid book. I was in such a hurry to write and thank him, that I only gave myself time for a cursory glance.... Dear Fanny enjoyed looking at the pictures with me; and to-day I carried up my book to dear Mother, that she might have the pleasure also. She admires your dear husband’s gift greatly, and we agree that it is just the book to take to the Cottage. It seems to be quite a treasure of curious and interesting knowledge; a volume to keep for reference as[131] well as for perusal. Do thank dear Mr. Hamilton again for me, and tell him that I consider Homes Without Hands as a family acquisition.

‘We are all much in statu quo. Our time is now passing swiftly and pleasantly. Mother looks so bright and bonny and young! We were talking together to-day of your and your dear husband’s kindness to sweet Fanny. I am sure that it has not been lost.’

Then came the mournful news; and a hasty short scrawl conveyed the first intimation of it from Charlotte Tucker to her niece, ‘Leila’ Hamilton; a note without any formal beginning:—

‘Break to your sweet Mother and Aunt Mina that God has taken my darling Letitia. His Will be done,—Your sorrowing Aunt,

‘C. M. T.

‘All was peace,—smiling!’

The illness had been short,—a severe attack of erysipelas, while Letitia was in her brother’s house at Moultan. Somewhat early in the illness she had said,—‘I am sure I shall die; but one ought not to mind, you know.’ While delirious she was heard to say distinctly,—‘Ta,’—her pet name in the past for her aunt Charlotte; but the message, if there were one, could not be distinguished.

After much wandering, she regained sufficient consciousness to assure those around that she was suffering no pain; and five or six times she repeated to her brother,—‘I am very fond of you!’ This was on a Wednesday. The next day, Thursday, she was too weak for speech; though in the morning, recognising her brother, she gave him a sweet smile. Thenceforward the dying girl was entirely peaceful; as said by one of those present,—‘constantly smiling. Her whole face was lighted up as with extreme pleasure.’ All day this continued, as she slowly sank; the face remaining perfectly calm and untroubled; till at length, when she passed away, soon after eleven o’clock at night, ‘she ceased to breathe so gently that she............
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