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CHAPTER XII
A.D. 1868-1872
THE OLD HOME BROKEN UP

One letter at about this time gives particulars of how Charlotte tried to influence, not without results, a poor Roman Catholic woman, whom she came across in the Infirmary. Another makes allusion to the Ragged Schools and their work, in which she was always greatly interested. Yet another contains the answer to an inquiry from a niece about a book which should be bought, probably for a gift. The suggested choice ranges between Sir Walter Scott, Felicia Hemans, Jean Ingelow, the Author of The Schonberg-Cotta Family, and Miss Sewell,—a rather curious mixture.

TO MISS ‘LEILA’ HAMILTON.

‘July 7, 1868.

‘I met a mole the other day in a field. It did not attempt to get away, but let me stroke it; and had I chosen I could easily have taken it up in my hand. This seems quite a country for moles. I have seen them repeatedly. I take a greater interest in them, from that book, Homes Without Hands, which your father kindly gave me.’

TO THE SAME.

‘Aug. 11, 1868.

‘We have strange pets here. There are numbers of wasps; I never saw so many at any one time, I think. They sting our poor maids in the kitchen, but behave in such a gentlemanly way in the drawing-room, that, instead of a plague, they seem a pleasure to[147] dear Grandmamma. She watches them, feeds them, admires their beauty, and calls them her babies. One got within Aunt C——‘s jacket, which naturally rather alarmed her. She drew the jacket off, and I found the wasp in the sleeve. It had been between it and C——‘s bare skin, and yet had never stung her.

‘I dare say that you are rather impatient to be settled in Firlands.’

TO THE SAME.

‘Sept. 21, 1868.

‘On Saturday —— and I read my Castle of Carlsmont aloud to dear Grandmamma. I have been amused at ——‘s little criticisms, and shall like to know how far yours agree with hers, if you read my Tragedy. —— says that “Clara is rather stupid”; that she likes Agnes best. “I have rather a sneaking likeness for Agnes,” says she. She says that the ending disappoints her; she would cut off the last page and the four preceding lines, which would completely alter the whole ending. The ending stood originally just as she would have it; but years afterwards I added the page and four lines, which I think an improvement.

‘Tell me frankly what you think, and whether you approve of the style of binding. You remember when I talked to you about the Tragedy, as we sat together in the garden. The two things that occurred to you were,—how could I get the work, when printed, sold; and that people would not like it in pamphlet shape. Messrs. Nelson have obviated the first difficulty; and by having covers put on by the Jewish Society, I have obviated the second. I am sure my wee book will have your good wishes, dear, that it may bring in a little sum to dear Auntie Fanny’s Mission purse.

‘You will wonder what has become of that work of mine, of which I read part to you last year. I can only warn you, my dear Leila, when you write a story, don’t call it On the Way,—for it seems to be always on the way, and never to arrive.

‘What a long note I have written! Pay me back by a review of my Tragedy, and be as blunt as ever you like; for if you tell me that my poor lady is “very stupid,” instead of “rather stupid,” you will only make me smile.’

TO THE SAME.

‘Feb. 4, 1869.

‘It is only fair that I should send you a long account of the wedding.[16] I thought that I should be the first of the party in[148] church, for I went early; but I was mistaken. Gradually a large family party gathered.... There was a good deal of how-d’ye-doing and kissing and that kind of thing, before the word was heard, “The bride is coming.”

‘Dear Bella looked nice and sweet, leaning on the arm of her father. A large Honiton lace veil fell over her pure white silk dress; her lovely hair plaited, instead of made into an ugly chignon, appeared graceful under the white wreath, from which a spray drooped down her neck. I did not think the bridesmaids looking picturesque; there was too square a look about the purple trimming of their white alpacas. The bridegroom and bride stood side by side. I could see Bella’s profile distinctly, and could hear every sentence, both when James and when she repeated their vows.... There was no crying that I could see.... You know that there were eight little children present, four little boys and four little girls. Some of them were given flowers from an ornamental basket, to strew in the path of the bride, as her husband led her down the aisle.’

TO MISS ‘LEILA’ HAMILTON.

‘June 12, 1869.

‘Sweet Grandmamma continues much the same,—serene,—without pain, not exactly ill, but so delicate that she is still carried up and down stairs, and sees none of the family but Aunt Clara and myself, and only a little of me.... Dear Grandmamma sent for me while I was writing the above; and to my surprise I found her, pen in hand, busy with a note to welcome Uncle Willy. I am much pleased that she should send him one, though I should not have thought of asking her to make so great an effort. Of course the note is very short.’

TO THE SAME.

‘July 10, 1869.

‘My heart should be full of thankfulness, for to-day dear Aunt Fanny was able to pay her first visit here to see Grandmamma. Uncle and Aunt St. George[17] drove her here in their pony-chaise; and she had quite enjoyed the drive. I thought Aunt Fanny decidedly better; but dear Grandmamma—who has scarcely realised the severity of her late illness,—said to me, with evident disappointment,[149] “I was surprised to see my own Fanny look so pallid. I think she looks worse than I do.” This is true; but then the fact is that Grandmamma’s lovely pink and white complexion often makes her look stronger than she is....

‘Uncle St. George has given me such a lovely piano-piece. Grandmamma likes me to play it through every day, or I should be inclined to lend it to your dearest Mother. It would remind her so of the dear Ancient Concerts, the delight of our youth, and of good old Mrs. Burrough. It is Glück’s music, arranged by Calcott, from Half-Hours with the Best Composers, published by Lonsdale. The piece commences with the delightful chorus of Furies, Cerberus barking, etc., which your dear Mother may remember.

‘I am ashamed of such an untidy scrawl as this. I do not know how that blot on the first page made its appearance. Of course the writer was not to blame!... I could chat much longer with you, dear one, but I have other notes to write; and my pen, or ink, or paper, or something or other, will go wrong to-night, so as to make the act of writing irksome, as well as the note untidy.’

Another heavy blow, not less heavy because sooner or later inevitable, was now drawing very near. Mrs. Tucker, who had reached the age of eighty, had of late failed steadily; and Charlotte must have seen that this dear Mother was soon to pass away from their midst. Before the close of July the call came; and already every word that she spoke was treasured up by her daughter, as may be seen in the following letter:—

TO MRS. HAMILTON.

‘July 12, 1869.

‘So many thanks to my beloved Laura for her valuable and gratifying gift, which reaches me to-day. Dear Mother has heard your sweet music twice over already, and both she and Clara admire it. So do I. I wish that your song were published, that more might benefit from it. I am pleased that you occupy yourself in composing, love. I dare say Mother will often ask for her Laura’s song. “Is not she a darling?” exclaimed Mother to-day.

‘I not unfrequently sing, “Hark, my soul,” to sweet Mamma. It is better to go over and over the same than to give much variety, though I sometimes sing “Rock of Ages” also. I heard Mother[150] saying to herself one day, “Jesus speaks, and speaks to me”; and she once observed of that hymn, “That takes one to heaven.”

‘Dear Mother is much the same; not ill; with no fever, no pain; just very delicate and weak. She was so particularly sweet yesterday, Sunday. She looked lovely sitting by the large open window, with a light gauze veil to keep off the flies. Mother said that it had been “a holy day”—“a solemn day,”—and twice asked me to read the Bible to her.... Once after waking she observed that she felt “between Heaven and earth.” Mother has repeatedly alluded to her dream of being in Heaven with Mrs. Thornhill; and often talks of her father,—“such a holy man!”

‘She said yesterday, “I have been dreaming.” I observed, “I hope they were pleasant dreams.” “Mostly prayerful,” was her reply.... She is very serene and peaceful, which is such a mercy.’

TO MRS. HAMILTON.

‘July 24, 1869.

‘Beloved Laura,—So tenderly and so gently the Lord has dealt with our sweetest Mother! She woke this morning, and told Cousins that she herself had slept too long. There was a slight feeling of sickness about eight, which made Cousins call poor Clara. In about an hour she gently fell asleep.... No pain nor even consciousness at the last. I had gone to London on business, as you know. I was telegraphed to; but ere I arrived she—the sweet, the beloved—was where she had wished to be. O Laura, Laura, she has long been drinking the dregs of life, however sweetened by affection. I felt for her. But I seem as if I could hardly write connectedly. All the three dear brothers have been here. St. George still is here. Poor dear Fanny also,—she is to have my room, for she is so thankful to be here. We have, however, only been allowed one very brief glimpse and kiss of the revered remains. Only remains, my Laura. Think of her bliss! She is not here.... Your fond

‘C. M. T.’

In Charlotte’s desk, kept as one of her greatest treasures, and found there, years later, after her own death, was the last note ever written to her by Mrs. Tucker. It contained these words—‘My precious Charlotte, you have been such a comfort to me!’ No wonder the loving utterance was treasured up by the daughter through the rest of her life.

[151]

During forty-eight years Charlotte Tucker had known but one home—No. 3 Upper Portland Place. Now at length in her forty-ninth year the inevitable family break-up had come; and the dear home of her infancy, of her girlhood, of her middle age, could be hers no longer. No. 3 had to be given up; and the sisters had to go forth into fresh scenes. The trial must to all of them have been great; perhaps least so to the gentle Fanny, already on the border-land of the Life beyond.

As a first move, Charlotte and Fanny went together for about two months to Sutton. An idea had, however, arisen of a home, at least for a time, with their brother, Mr. St. George Tucker, and his wife; and the next step was to join them at Wickhill, Bracknell, in the month of September 1869. This was Fanny’s last move. She was taken thither, from Sutton, most carefully by Charlotte, in a post-chaise; and the long drive does not appear to have materially affected her. Although by this time wasted to skin and bone, Fanny still kept about in the house; spending much time in her own sitting-room, yet often coming down among the rest for a short time; and during this autumn Charlotte seems to have chiefly devoted herself to Fanny. Before the close of November, however, the end of the long illness was reached.

One day, when speaking to her brother, in allusion to her earlier good health and plumpness, Fanny observed: ‘My dear St. George, I have been imprudent.’ She did not specify what manner of imprudence hers had been. Probably, like many another in a thoroughly healthy family, she had not soon enough read the true meaning of suspicious symptoms. During some four years past she had been steadily failing............
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