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CHAPTER XIV
1875
AN UNEXPECTED RESOLVE

It is not quite easy to say at what precise date the idea first seriously presented itself to the mind of Charlotte Tucker, that she might go out to India as a Missionary. Some years earlier, after the death of her sister Fanny, she had evidently regretted that she could not do so, looking upon herself as too old. But the question again arose—Was she really too old? That question Charlotte now faced steadily.

The plan of living in her brother’s house, never looked upon as entirely permanent, had lasted several years; but various causes pointed to a change before long as probably necessary. In January 1875, Mr. Hamilton, who had long been in failing health, passed away; and Charlotte seems, either in anticipation of the event, or directly after, to have had some floating ideas of making a home with her widowed favourite sister. Here also, however, there were certain difficulties in the way of an entirely permanent arrangement; and meanwhile the thought of India was becoming prominent.

Charlotte was now close upon fifty-four years old,—an age at which few women dream of making an absolutely fresh start in life. Some are and some are not elderly at that age; but as a general rule no doubt a woman’s best and most vigorous days are then over, and she is more or[174] less disposed for an easy existence. Many at that period can thoroughly enjoy travelling for pleasure. But to make a new home amid new surroundings, to learn a new language, to enter upon a new line of work,—these things after the fiftieth birthday have a somewhat alarming sound.

Not so with A.L.O.E.! For her these fifty years and more of quiet English existence had been years of preparation, of training, of patience. For her parents’ sake she had dutifully held back, during the noontide and early afternoon of her history, from much that she would fain have done; and though the latter part of her ‘afternoon’ had been full and busy, with freedom to do what she willed, yet even this was not enough. At fifty-four she stood practically alone, with no near relative entirely dependent on her kind offices. She was absolutely necessary to none. Had she been, she would not have gone to India. But finding herself thus unfettered, the thought came up,—Why not devote the Evening of her life to Missionary work? Why not set an example to others who, like herself, might with advancing years be left free of ties? Or at least, why not put the matter to the test of actual trial, and prove whether or not elderly women, and not younger ones only, might go forth to work among the Heathen?

There was the question of health. Could she stand the trying climate of India? Would she not be a mere burden on others?—an additional care instead of a help?

Well, at least she could try. If her health failed to stand the climate, she could but return home. If she succeeded, she might be the Pioneer of many more, who would perhaps venture to tread in her footsteps.

Had it been a question of going out at the expense of the Society’s funds, the Society might rightly have hesitated; but Charlotte Tucker had enough of her own. While[175] placing herself under the authority of the Zenana Society, and obeying orders, she would pay her own way; therefore, no risking of Missionary funds was involved.

No doubt she was peculiarly well adapted for the attempt. Although thin and delicate-looking, she was distinctly wiry, with much underlying strength, and an immense amount of vigour and vitality. A woman of fifty, who can lightly dance the gavotte, with springs which a child cannot emulate, is not quite an ordinary specimen of advancing years. The failure of power which had followed upon the death of Letitia, lasting more or less during some years, had now pretty well passed off; and there seemed to be good promise of a healthy old age.

She was generally sound, with no especial delicacy; she did not suffer from any tendency to headache; she was not fussy, or self-indulgent, or dainty as to her eating, or particular as to personal comforts, or squeamish as to her surroundings, or shy in making new friends, or afraid of toil and trouble. All these things were in her favour. She was in fact no timid shrinking Miss Toosey,—dear little old lady that Miss Toosey was!—but a fine spirited specimen of A middle-aged Lady of England,—well fitted, it might be, to become even then A Lady of India. Those who think of following the example of A. L. O. E. ought to possess at least some of her qualifications. Had a Miss Toosey, instead of a Miss Tucker, been the Pioneer of elderly ladies in the Mission-field, the attempt would have been a disastrous failure.

Although the matter was not definitely settled until the spring of 1875, it had plainly been for some time in Charlotte’s mind as something more than a bare possibility; for during many weeks she had been studying Hindustani. She had, however, said not a word about it to any of her relatives, beyond privately consulting her elder brother, Mr. Henry Carre Tucker. She thought[176] much, prayed much, and waited to be shown her right path: meanwhile beginning to prepare for what might be her duty.

When at length she gave out her intention, as a matter already decided, the announcement fell among friends and relatives like the bursting of a bomb. Nobody had dreamt of such a career for ‘Auntie Char.’

LAURA

About the Year 1871

The following letter contains her first intimation of what was coming to her sister, Mrs. Hamilton:—

‘March 24, 1875.

‘My beloved Laura,—I do not know when I shall send this, for I hardly hope that when you know my plans for the future you will say, as Henry did, a month ago, “Selfishly I should be delighted,”—but I hope that when you have quietly thought and prayed over the subject, you will not let your tender affection make you wish to keep me back from the work for our dear Lord for which I have for some time been preparing myself by hard study.

‘Years ago I said that if I were not too old to learn a new language I should probably—after sweet Fanny had departed—have gone out as a Missionary. This year the question came to my mind, Am I really unable to learn a new language? I find that I can learn, and the only real objection to my going is taken away. Yes, sweet Laura, the only real objection; for I can leave you rich in the devoted love of your children. Thank God, you are not lonely; and circumstances might easily arise to make it undesirable that I should make a third or fourth lady in—perhaps—a Curate’s dear little home.

‘I have not come to my present decision in a hurried moment. In the second week of February I made my Missionary project a subject of special prayer; on the 24th I had an important interview with Henry, with whom I had corresponded on the subject. He had no fears as to my health standing the climate, or as to my being able to learn the language. I began to learn it on the 14th February, and by many hours of diligent study have nearly gone through St. Matthew in Hindustani, besides making a vocabulary of more than three hundred words, learning by heart, etc. I have thrown my soul into the work, thankful and happy in the hope that the Lord would open my lips, that my mouth should show forth His praise to the poor Zenana prisoners in India. The enclosed, being the two last letters[177] which I have received from the Secretary of the Zenana Mission, will show you how graciously God has smoothed the way for me, providing an escort all the way to the place which I now think of as my home—Amritsar.

‘But you will say—“Why choose India? Why at your age be not content to work in England?”

‘I will give you a few reasons for my thinking it desirable for me to go to the East:—

‘1. In that corner of the Vineyard the labourers are indeed fearfully few; scarcely one to many, many thousands of perishing heathen.

‘2. Not one Englishwoman in ten is so well suited to bear heat as myself.

‘3. Not one woman in a hundred at least is so free from home-ties as myself.

‘4. There is a terrible want of suitable literature for Indian women. If God enabled me still to use my pen, intimate knowledge of even one Zenana might be an immense help to me in writing for my Indian sisters.

‘Do not grudge me, dear one, to the work for which my soul yearns. You see by the enclosed that my arrangements are made, and that expostulation would but pain me. I would have told you of my plan some time ago, only I feared to distress you when you have had so much of trial. But why should you expostulate, or why should you be distressed? Is not Missionary work of all work the highest? I only fear that I am presumptuous in coming forward; but it seems as if my dear Lord were calling me to it; and my heart says,—“Here am I; send me.” I own with shame that much that is unworthy mingles with my desire to serve the Lord in India; but the desire itself has, I trust, been put into my mind by Him.

‘Cheer and encourage and pray for me, my Laura, that my Autumn may be better than my Spring and Summer—that the richest harvest come in the latter days. Ask the Lord to give me Indian gems in the crown which He has bought for His servants.

‘On the 28th February, at Holy Communion, I devoted myself to the Zenana Mission. But I am bound by no vows. I go out free, an honorary Agent of the Society.—Your loving

‘C. M. Tucker.’

Writing again on the 7th of May, she said: ‘I have been formally presented to the Committee of my own[178] Society, who were very courteous.’ The Society was then known under the cumbrous name of ‘The Indian Female Normal School and Instruction Society.’ A few years later it separated into two distinct Societies; one of which, ‘The Church of England Zenana Society,’ Charlotte Tucker joined.

As was to be expected, her new plan met with some opposition. Many who dearly loved her were most sincerely grieved at the thought of such a parting; and others were disposed to look upon the scheme at her age as somewhat crazy. Small marvel if they did. Such an attempt had not been made before; and the untried always contains unmeasured elements of danger and difficulty. Probably her unusual fitness for the undertaking was hardly realised as yet even by many of those who knew her best. She had not, however, the pain of opposition from her best-loved sister, Mrs. Hamilton. ‘It will be a sore pang to her to part with me,’ she wrote to her niece, Mrs. Boswell; ‘but her feeling will be that she gives me to God. And to my great comfort she does not attempt to stay me.’

Before going to India, she resolved to take another voyage—a trip to Canada, for a farewell sight of her nephew, ‘Charley’; the youngest of ‘The Robins.’ She would have his brother, her other nephew, Louis Tucker, for a companion on this preliminary journey. Of its perils and pleasures Charlotte Tucker’s own pen can best tell the tale.

TO MRS. J. BOSWELL.

‘May 24.

‘I had more than an hour to wait at Paddington, but ——, who was with me, gave me a little lesson in Hindustani. P. E. did the same yesterday; he let me repeat and read from the Testament to him, and then he read a little to me. I generally understood what he was reading when he went slowly. I am so thankful to snatch lessons in[179] pronunciation.... Louis and I are, if all be well, to start in the Nova Scotia on Thursday,............
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