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HOME > Biographical > A Lady of England-The Life and Letters of Charlotte Maria Tucker > CHAPTER XV
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CHAPTER XV
1875
BESIDE NIAGARA

There can be no mistake about Charlotte Tucker’s enjoyment of fresh sights and scenes across the Atlantic, or about the fact that increasing years had at least not dimmed her appreciation of beauty. Most kind and warm hospitality was shown to her at Quebec, at Montreal, and at Toronto. She was met at Oakville Station by her younger nephew, Charles Tucker,—the latter in ‘a state of joyous expectation’ which had kept him awake through three previous nights. Then followed a welcome from his wife, in their ‘pretty little home,’ elsewhere described by her as ‘a Canadian settler’s little farmhouse.’

While there, finding the life quiet, and plenty of time on her hands, she ‘took to Persian characters,’ as ‘an interesting riddle to solve,’ and also worked hard at her Hindustani, spending many hours over both.

Also she insisted on doing in Canada as Canadians do,—making her own bed, and even essaying to accomplish some ironing. Perhaps the last attempt did not meet with brilliant success. She wrote home about it:—
‘“‘Though seldom sure if e’er before
That hand had ironed linen o’er ...”

the great matter is that the things are clean; but I own I am glad that I shall have a dhobi in India.’

[185]

Another day she wrote to Mrs. Hamilton: ‘The little maid here amuses me. She is very fond of music, and likes me to sing for her. She asked me—kindly—if I would like my boots cleaned, and as I thought that I should, the little dear cleaned them, and brought them to me to show off her work,—as a six-year-old child of the house might have done. She looks such an innocent duck!’

An expedition to Niagara was achieved with much success; after which she wrote to one of her aunts in England: ‘My nephews think me amazingly strong, and yet I have become almost a teetotaller. Except your little bottle of sherry, I have only tasted wine twice since I left you. How I did enjoy your lemon-juice!’

Her glowing description of the Falls themselves, sent to Mrs. Hamilton, must be at least in part quoted. Though an oft-related tale, it may perhaps gain some freshness from her mode of telling it:—

‘Clifton House, Niagara Falls,
‘June 22, 1875.

‘I must write to some dear one while the sound of Niagara is in my ears, whilst the impression of Niagara is fresh in my mind; and I direct my letter to you, sweet Laura, knowing that you will let others see it....

‘I have looked on the most glorious scene, I believe, that is to be seen on this planet. How can I attempt to describe Niagara? When I gaze on what is called “The American Fall,” I ask myself a dozen times, “Is it possible that there can be anything more beautiful?” ... though I have only to turn my head a little to behold the “Horse-Shoe Fall,” which is even more gloriously beautiful. The American Fall would make in itself twenty or thirty cascades that would delight us in England. O the sparkling rush of diamonds,—the white misty foam breaking on the picturesque rocks beneath,—the accessories so beautiful,—the cloud-like veil so transparently lovely!

‘Earth here is so fair, with bold crags draperied with the richest foliage, that one could imagine her contending for the palm with[186] water; but water carries the victory at Niagara; Earth but serves to frame and set off her magnificence. If Earth be green, so is water. Where Niagara plunges over her Horse-Shoe-shaped rocks, the colour of the water is often brilliant, crystal-like green. Then as the river emerges from its veil of spray,—spray sometimes rising pyramid-like for hundreds of feet,—it assumes a deeper green, more blue than that of the surrounding foliage, but pure in tint.

‘A lovely, most verdant island, Goat Island, divides the two grand Falls,—or, I may rather say, three, for one glorious cascade is called Central Fall. In this exquisite island, and other smaller ones, you wander amongst silent shady woods, or stand so close to the rushing waters, that one or two steps would send you over the brink into the cloudy chasm below. Perhaps, Laura, nothing can better convey to you the impression left on me, than to tell you what was my repeatedly recurring thought. “If I had to suffer martyrdom, in no form could it appear more attractive than by being thrown over Niagara!” To be launched into eternity, shrouded in that cascade of diamonds, would rouse such a thrilling sense of the beautiful and the sublime, that half one’s fears would be swallowed up in something almost like joy. It would seem ten times more horrible to be flung from a high tower on to the hard, cold earth. This is not a mere fancy of my own. I find that I am not alone in thinking that death would appear less repulsive at Niagara than elsewhere.[23]

‘I have seen the many beauties of this place well.... I have looked on the rapids above the Falls. They seemed to me an emblem of human life. Such a rushing,—such a hurry,—chafing against obstacles,—impatience, passion, excitement. Then comes the grand leap—boldly, almost joyously, taken,—the leap into cloud and mystery,—and below, the river emerges from froth and foam, comparatively calm. One wonders that it is as quiet as it appears to be after such a plunge!

‘Yes, I shall never see such a sight again, till I behold the Great White Throne, and the Sea of Glass, like unto crystal.

‘We all wandered about yesterday, till we were too much tired to wander more. We had intended to sit up to see moonlight on Niagara; but instead of so doing we separated at 9. I soon fell asleep, but I woke in the dim twilight, I suppose at about 3 A.M. The[187] opportunity was not to be lost. I washed and dressed, as much by feeling as by sight, opened my venetian shutters, and walked out into the verandah which commands a fine view of both Falls.

‘I was in utter solitude, under the light of the moon. Not in silence, for the sound of many waters is unceasing. I suppose that for thousands of years Niagara has been praising her Creator, as she does now. The sound is not at all noisy; on the contrary, it does not disturb conversation, which surprises me.

‘I sang snatches of the Hallelujah Chorus, as I looked on the waterfall by moonlight. There was no distinct play of moonbeams on the water; there was an immense amount of mist,—one felt as if looking down on clouds. Presently the clouds in the sky flushed rosy in the dawn; the moon grew pale; Niagara with her emerald green more distinct. I waited till I had seen the sunrise—it was not a very bright one—and then I retired to my room, and went to sleep again.... Solitude is congenial at Niagara.... I do not care to write on trifling themes now....

‘A thought came to my mind as I was resting just now. As photographs, however faithful, convey but a very inadequate idea of the real Niagara, so must our highest conceptions of Heaven fall short of Heaven itself. Who that has merely seen a photograph, or many photographs, of the Falls, can drink in the beauty of the living, bounding, changing, glorious miracle of Nature, which is beheld here? Yet Niagara itself is but a bubble, compared with “the glory which shall be revealed.”’

Towards the end of July she returned home, to spend a few last weeks with her dear ones before bidding them a long farewell and going forth to her Indian campaign. Through all these weeks she does not seem to have relaxed in her persevering study of Hindustani, or in her struggle with the difficult gutturals which had to be mastered. Apart from this she must have had enough to occupy her time. Among lesser employments, she is said to have spent hours at a time in looking through her papers and letters—the collection of a literary lifetime—and consigning masses of the same to destruction. One cannot but wish that the destruction had been less wholesale.

[188]

The Dismissal Meeting of Missionaries was on the 11th of October; and two or three days later the Strathclyde sailed.

To most of her relatives the parting was a good deal softened by the conviction that Charlotte Tucker would surely soon find herself compelled to give in, and to return to England. One of her nieces can say: ‘We all thought, when she left us for India, that she would fail in health, and be obliged to come home again. And so I could stand at the doorway, and watch her as she turned round in our carriage to wave her last good-bye, without any misgiving that it was indeed the last time that I should see that bright smile.’

But her sister, Mrs. Hamilton, the loved Laura of early days, had a truer prescience of how things would be. Speaking afterwards to a friend about that day of parting, and about the intense, loving devotion which had always existed between them, she said: ‘When my sister and I parted from one another, it was a parting for ever on Earth. My sister will not return to England on furlough, as other Missionaries do, for the reason that she could not again go through the pain of separation.’

At the time little was said in letters about that heart-rending pain. It had to be endured, and it was endured courageously.

So ended the fifty-four years of Charlotte Maria Tucker’s English Life. She turned herself now, with a smile of good cheer, to the eighteen years of her Indian Life—the Evening of her days. Three-quarters of her tale is told, counting by years. Only one-quarter remains to be told.

Fifty-four years o............
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