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CHAPTER XIII
VARIOUS CHARACTERISTICS

In the last few chapters we have had glimpses of Charlotte Tucker’s life rather from within than from without; chiefly in reference to her successive losses, and her own feelings connected with those losses or with passing events. Now we will try to obtain a few glimpses of her, rather from without than from within; to see her as others saw her, not so much as she saw herself. I do not for a moment mean to imply that the two views must be antagonistic. The view of a castle from within and the view of that same castle from without are totally different; yet they are not in the least antagonistic. The one is as true as the other.

In doing this it has to be remembered that A. L. O. E. was a many-sided and to some extent a complex nature. Hers was not a character to be lightly sketched in a dozen lines. Probably no character of any human being can be satisfactorily so disposed of; and there are complexities in the very simplest nature. But the main outlines of some people are more easily perceived, more ‘consistent’ according to popular notions of character-consistency, than the main outlines of some other people; merely because they happen to embrace fewer opposites. There were a good many opposites in the character of Charlotte Tucker.

All people did not see her exactly alike,—partly[160] because of necessity they looked upon her with different eyes, and partly because of necessity she was not the same in her manifestations to all of them. Being a many-sided individual, one side of her became prominent to one person, another side became prominent to another person. While one friend remembers vividly her spirit of ardent devotion, and another recalls especially her work among the poor, a third pictures her sparkling conversation, a fourth her spirited games of play with children. While one has the strongest impression of her resolute sternness, her horror of evil and self-indulgence, another cannot speak warmly enough of her intense unselfishness and her unlimited kindness, and yet another smiles over the remembrance of her irrepressible fun. All these things were included in her; but naturally not all these things were equally apparent at all times, or to everybody who knew her.

Nor need it be supposed that Charlotte Tucker was a being all light, with no shadows. She was thoroughly human. There were shadows of course,—what else could one expect?—and she had many and many a hard fight, not in girlhood only, but all through life, to overcome her faults.

Again, it is not claimed for Charlotte that everybody who crossed her path loved her. We do read in certain little books, of a particular calibre, about angelic heroines who were invariably worshipped by everybody in their small world, without a single exception. This, however, is, to say the least, uncommon; and with one of Charlotte Tucker’s strong personality it would be all but impossible. A very wide circle did most heartily esteem and admire her, did most dearly love her. But of course there were exceptions. In the course of her life some few with whom she was thrown failed ever to come within the grasp of her affectionate influence. But this was only natural. Everybody is not made to exactly suit everybody else.

[161]

Among some of her most marked features were an intense vigour and energy, an extraordinary force and vitality, together with great eagerness in whatever she undertook, and a burning desire to be useful in her age and generation. She was very resolute; very persevering; very affectionate; reserved, yet demonstrative; untidy, yet methodical; exceedingly anxious for the happiness of all around; apt often to think people better than they really were; generous to a fault; unselfishly ready at all times to put her own wishes aside; vehement and impulsive, yet never in a hurry or flurry; unyielding, yet tender; severe, yet frisky.

Of course there were other natural characteristics of a different kind; weaknesses not wholly mastered; faults not entirely conquered. She was not perfect,—who is? The strength of determination would occasionally run into obstinacy; the resolute manner could be a trifle dictatorial; the very wish to help and please others might be carried out in a way which did not gratify. With all her exceeding kindness, hers could hardly be described as the true sympathetic temperament. Opinions here vary a good deal among the friends that knew her best; but those who at different periods of her life lived for any length of time under the same roof, will be able to recall certain instances of an absence of tact, a lack of quick understanding of the feelings of others, which certainly never arose from want of a desire to understand. She had any amount of heart, of pity, of thought, to bestow; but while feeling fully for others, she could not readily so place herself in the position of others as to feel entirely with them, to see matters from their standpoint and not from her own. The highest form of sympathy is a rare and subtle gift; and it can scarcely be said that Charlotte possessed this gift. Still, if any one did bring a burden or a trouble to her, she would spare no pains to help and to comfort to the utmost of her power.

[162]

One direction in which she showed through life a marked deficiency was in the housekeeping line. Both early and late she had always an intense dislike and dread of housekeeping. Whatever else she undertook, that was if possible a thing to be avoided; and it seems to have been an understood matter between her friends and herself that anybody rather than Charlotte Tucker might be housekeeper. Probably she had an innate sense of want of power, an innate consciousness that she could not do the task efficiently. If compelled to attempt it as a duty, she would not refuse; but she never took to the occupation, or overcame her dislike.

Moreover, the gift of nursing was not hers. Although in a threatening case of scarlet fever she could be the first to offer herself as nurse, with entire unconcern about the infection; although she shared with others the watch beside Fanny’s dying bed, and later on the watch beside Mr. Hamilton’s; yet she repeatedly speaks of herself as no nurse, and alludes to her own want of experience. Experience no doubt she might have had, before the age of fifty, had her natural bent lain at all in the direction of nursing; but the necessary gifts were not hers. She had not the reposeful air, the placid voice and manner, above all, the ready tact, which for good nursing are essential. Self-indulgence, laziness, cowardliness were unknown factors in her existence, and could never have held her back; but here too there was probably an innate sense of lack of power; and here too she never through life took to the occupation, ‘as to the manner born.’ It is noticeable also that, frequently as she would offer her services in times of illness, these offers were seldom accepted. Others doubtless knew as well as she knew it herself that nursing was not in her line.

Somewhat late in life, when a friend, after hours of hard study, was endeavouring to rest, with a severe headache,[163] Charlotte would bring her guitar, sit near, and sing and play to the sufferer. A gentle protestation was of no avail; for so sure was she of her remedy, that she only supposed her friend to shrink from giving her trouble, and the music went on unchecked. This—which happened repeatedly—was done with the kindest and most loving intentions. Charlotte was devotedly fond of music, and she did not herself suffer from headaches. But it is an instance of the want of tact occasionally shown in small matters. The will to do good and to help others was abundantly present; only she did not always find the right mode.

It must not be forgotten, however, that, whatever her natural disqualifications for the part of a nurse might have been, she did in her old age so far overcome them as often to take a share in tending the ‘brown boys’ of the Batala High School when ill, in a manner which won their loving gratitude, although she did not prove successful as a nurse to English invalids.

One who knew her intimately has written the following short sketch, which is well worth quoting verbatim:—

‘I think one marked point, physical and mental, in her, was her tireless energy. Her very walk was indicative of this; the elastic springiness of every step. Also of another point in her character, stern determination,—the resolute folding in of her arms and hands, as she paced along a road or up and down a garden,—drawing herself up to her full height the while, with sparkling eye and compressed lips. She was teeming with life and energy;—whether it were over her favourite chess, when she would wait patiently but eagerly, thinking out each move; or enjoying the small-talk of society, watching faces and reading characters, to treasure them up for painting in one of her forthcoming volumes; or teaching a niece the beauties of sound and thought in the Italian of Dante; or playing at some game of thought with young people; or reading aloud one of her two favourite dearly-loved and untiringly-studied authors, Shakespeare and Boswell’s Life of Johnson. She was very sociable, lively, and threw her whole heart into the kindly entertaining of[164] guests of all ages. Her eldest brother used to be very much struck with the unselfish way in which she bore any interruptions and calls upon her time. Even in the midst of her literary work, she would at once rise, leave it, and give her whole attention to any subject an incomer might wish to speak to her about.

‘Clever and stern, she was not one to be trifled with. Purpose seemed woven into all her liveliness; and she tried to keep others up to her level.’

Another writes, in reference to the time when A. L. O. E. was living at Birch Hall, Windlesham, with her brother and his family, in 1870:—

‘I had just arrived on a visit, and she came into the drawing-room, kissed me, and said, “I am Aunt Charlotte.” She was not good-looking, but was always full of life. Her ready wit and charming conversational powers made her a welcome guest everywhere, and made many a dinner-party at her brother’s house go off well.... She was always thinking of others, and seemed to count time spent on herself wasted.

‘I well remember a time when I longed to see Windsor and the Queen; and Aunt Charlotte immediately said she was longing for the same thing, and gladly undertook to pioneer an expedition. I was far from strong, but could not wait for lunch in my anxiety to have a good place at the railway station, to see Her Majesty arrive. Having seen me and my young cousin safely placed, Aunt C. disappeared, and after a while made her way through the crowd, laden with cakes for us all, finally producing a glass of claret for me from under her cloak, which I was obliged to take then and there. Her enthusiastic loyalty made her enjoy the sight, no novel one to her, of our dear Queen, as much as any of us.

‘Our evenings owed much of their brightness to her presence. She could sing,—sometimes lively little songs, accompanying herself with the guitar. Her ear for music was so correct, that on one occasion she came downstairs from her room, to tell me I had played a wrong note in a chord of Beethoven, and the exact note I should have played.

‘Sometimes she thought of games for us. One was called “Statues.” We each had to pose as a statue, suggestive of some subject, such as Melancholy, Joy, Fear, etc. Whilst she, personating a visitor to the sculpture studio, would try to upset our gravity by her amusing remarks on the statues.... She also invented a geography[165] game for us, providing us with skeleton maps, and small round counters, on which the names of towns were printed. As these were drawn and the name called out, we had to claim them and give them their places on the map. Whoever had a map filled in first was the winner.... Sometimes we read Shakespeare together, each of us taking a part....

‘I think things were only a trouble to her when she had to do them for herself. Nothing was a trouble if it helped another.... Work for the Master whom she loved was her animating motive.... She was, I think, the most unselfish character I ever knew. She lived for others; whether in the great work of her life, the use of her pen, the proceeds of which went to fill her charity purse, or in the simple act of leaving her quiet room, on a dull, rainy afternoon, to play a bright country dance or Scotch reel, and set the little ones dancing to vent their superfluous spirits.’

These slight recollections are from the pen of one among her numerous adopted nieces.

Another niece, not adopted but real, says:—

‘I think the first thought that would have occurred to any stranger, as regards her appearance, was the peculiar fashion of her dress. I remember her in the days of crinolines, standing straight and dignified in her plain dress, without the least attempt at fulness in the skirt. I should think it must have been always so; her individuality and disregard of the world’s opinion were so strongly marked.’

This question of dress does not appear to have become a matter of principle with her. She was simply independent, and utterly careless of what might be said. She had not by nature the art of dressing well, and she ‘thought it a bother.’ As observed by one of her brothers, ‘Charlotte never cared what she put on. She never had the art of amalgamating the different parts of her dress!’ In plain terms, her taste in dress was not good, and she did not take trouble to improve it. Nor had she the knack of putting on to advantage what she wore. Things that would have looked well upon another did not look well upon her.

Caps were a trouble, and she was most grateful to[166] any one who made her a present of a cap. She could not make nice ones for herself, and she disliked the style of bought caps.

One little story of middle life days at No. 3 illustrates ............
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