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HOME > Biographical > A Lady of England-The Life and Letters of Charlotte Maria Tucker > CHAPTER XIV
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CHAPTER XIV
A.D. 1885-1886
ON THE RIVER’S BRINK

Changes again were impending. Mr. and Mrs. Weitbrecht, after two years’ work in Batala, were to quit the place; and in their stead would come Mr. and Mrs. Corfield,—the former as new Principal of the High School. It is singular to note one Missionary after another thus coming and going, while Charlotte Tucker, with resolute perseverance, held to her post.

At last she too began to think of a change. Not of leaving Batala; not of going home, for even the shortest of furloughs! Such an idea perhaps never so much as occurred to her mind. She simply began to think of altering her residence in Batala. At Anarkalli she had lived with Miss Swainson, with Mr. and Mrs. Beutel, with Natives alone, with Mr. Baring, with Mr. Baring and his wife, with Mr. and Mrs. Weitbrecht; and now another ‘upheaval’ had become imminent.

The notion of a move was apparently at first her own, though others soon looked upon it as desirable. Two German ladies, Miss Hoernle and Miss Krapf, dwelt together in the cosy little Mission Bungalow, which they had named ‘Sonnenschein’ or ‘Sunshine.’ No room remained for a third inmate; but Miss Tucker formed a plan of building a small annexe to the west of ‘Sunshine,’ for her own use; and to this tiny annexe she resolved to give the name of ‘Gurub i Aftab,’ or ‘Sunset.’

[396]

Mrs. Hamilton, on first hearing of the scheme, was somewhat distressed at the thought of such a change for her ‘Char’; but Miss Tucker wrote to assure her of no move until the new building should be perfectly dry. Also a long letter from Mr. Weitbrecht set before Mrs. Hamilton, with kind clearness, the advantages of the plan. Among other reasons urged was the overcrowded state of the palace, where more room for the School was urgently needed; and also the desirability that Miss Tucker, in advancing years, should not constantly have to climb a steep and awkward staircase, which had of late greatly tried her strength.

It is probable that for some little time past there had been a certain failure of power, evidenced by such facts as this, though made very little of by herself, and perhaps little marked by others, because of her determined cheerfulness and persistence in work.

Still, as always, she rose at six in winter, and at half-past four in summer; had her little breakfast of cocoa and sweet biscuits; then read and studied till eight. At 8 A.M., whether in summer or in winter, she seldom failed to take her rapid ‘Devotional walk’ out of doors, up and down, till summoned to Prayers by the Chapel gong. Then came breakfast proper; after which she would still, as always, go out in her duli for three or four hours of Zenana-visiting. Next followed correspondence; lunch; classes of English history and English literature for the elder boys; then afternoon tea; then sometimes more reading of a Native language, and visiting of Native Christians. This was the manner of day that she spent, week in, week out, month after month, often for ten or eleven months at a stretch; varied only by itinerating expeditions into neighbouring villages, or an occasional trip to Amritsar,—the latter seldom, except on business of some kind. And she had been living this life now for[397] at least eight or nine years! Small wonder that a breakdown should come at last. The marvel was that it had not come sooner. A chill and a bad smell were the immediate cause,—they usually are in such cases, acting upon exhausted powers.

Up to Thursday, December 10, things were much as usual. That morning she went on her ordinary city round, and then to a Native wedding, where she was very much tried by a bad smell from a drain, though her innate courtesy would not allow her to hurry away. On reaching home she was in a chilled and shivering condition, with the beginning of a sore throat. In the afternoon fever and drowsiness came on.

For a day or two there seemed to be an improvement. Mrs. Weitbrecht, who was to have left Batala before Sunday, on account of health, deferred her journey until Monday.

Nothing could induce Miss Tucker to remain at home on Saturday. She started as usual for the city; and on her return she told Mrs. Weitbrecht ‘how glad she was to have gone,’ adding, ‘I am always especially glad when I go to the city, feeling it a little effort to do so.’ One is disposed to imagine that it must have been more than a little effort, on that particular day; and the words contain a revelation as to past ‘efforts’ when unfit for the work which she never would neglect. Dr. H. M. Clark had been asked to come over, but she utterly declined to see him, except as a friend, refusing to consider herself ill. On Sunday she was at both the Church Services, ‘kept up,’ as Mr. Bateman said, ‘by her indomitable spirit’; and in the afternoon she had, as always, her Class of boys. On Monday morning she made her appearance early, to see Mrs. Weitbrecht off,—very bright and cheery, wrapping up sandwiches, and determinedly hiding how ill she really felt, for fear Mrs. Weitbrecht’s departure should be again delayed.

Things could not go on thus much longer. Miss Tucker[398] had made a brave fight,—too brave for her own good!—but illness was now fast gaining the upper hand. She did not again attempt city visiting,—a sure sign of her condition; and much time that day was spent in a half-doze. Towards night she became light-headed, and was so weak that they had to carry her to bed. Miss Hoernle decided to sleep at the palace, so as to be within easy call if needed; but in the early morning she found her patient up, writing a letter, and of course avowing herself ‘better.’ The improvement, if it existed, was very brief. Fever again set in, with weakness and delirium; and Dr. H. M. Clark was sent for. On Tuesday Mr. Clark came too, and that evening he sent for Miss Wauton to go over from Amritsar on Wednesday morning. Mr. Rowland Bateman also was speedily on the spot. Somewhat later in the week a telegram summoned A. L. O. E.’s nephew and niece, Major Louis Tucker and Mrs. Tucker.

For three days the greatest possible anxiety was felt; and on the Thursday another medical man was telegraphed for, that a consultation might take place. The result of the consultation was not favourable. Dr. P. on first seeing Miss Tucker thought she might live a week, but when going away he expressed a fear that half that time would see the end.

Both before and after Dr. P.’s coming there was excessive restlessness, and a great deal of delirium, though the latter was never of a painful kind, and she always knew those who were about her. She was at times extremely anxious to get up, and she showed vexation at not being allowed to do so. Once, when thus controlled, she said to Mr. Weitbrecht with respect to her nurses:

‘Couldn’t you take them to see the Church?’

‘But, Auntie dear, we have seen the Church already,’ they assured her.

‘Then take them somewhere else,’ she said,—‘only take them a long way off!’

[399]

This evidently remained on her mind; for the next day she began to talk about the Salvation Army, and the doctrine of Perfection in this life, as taught by its devotees.

‘It is a doctrine of the devil,’ she said emphatically. ‘Tell —— that I had an outbreak of anger and petulance only yesterday. I wanted to go to my own room, and I was quite cross when they would not let me. I think the Lord let that be, that we might see how weak and sinful we are. I am sixty-four years old,—and they who are so much younger than I am would not let me get up! They treated me just as if I were a child; and I could not bear to be made into a little child; and so the Lord put me down. These doctrines are the snare of the devil. They make presumptuous people more presumptuous; and they are calculated to drive conscientious people mad!’ The last words were repeated; and Miss Tucker went on to mention two cases, known to herself, where individuals had become actually insane through ‘perfectionist’ teaching.

She talked in her delirium almost incessantly, showing extreme mental activity, an activity which never failed, even when exhaustion was greatest. She dictated letters; she composed verses and comic parodies; she repeated texts and long sentences in Hindustani; she sang with animation a cricket-song for the boys, and then a hymn in Hindustani or English. Sometimes her drollery was so intense that her nurses, in all their anxiety, shook with laughter to hear the things she said. And all through, from beginning to end, one thing never failed,—her radiant happiness in the thought of going Home.

While recognising those who were really present, she fancied that others were there also, and talked to them. Generally she could reason quietly about these appearances, saying that she knew they were ‘shadows.’ She does not seem to have felt thus about the evil spirits, which she thought she saw. She pointed to where she[400] believed them to be, asking, ‘Do you see them?’ Then addressing the spirits, she continued: ‘I am not afraid of you! You can do nothing to me! I belong to Jesus! Don’t sit there, at the foot of my bed. Go away; you cannot touch me!’

The strong doses of quinine made her very deaf, so that she could hear little of what went on around her bed; but she heard what others could not hear,—sounds of music filling the room.

Sometimes she imagined herself to be in Zenanas, talking to the Bibis, and pleading earnestly with them. Or again she wondered why her kahars did not come to take her thither.

‘What to me was most remarkable,’ wrote Mr. Clark afterwards, ‘was her perfect cheerfulness and happiness; thinking of everything and every one around her, and talking of the most common things, and doing it all in the light of Eternity; standing on the very brink of another world, and yet forgetting nothing, but thinking of almost everything in this.... It was at times even amusing, for there was no sadness in her perpetual sunshine.’

On Friday morning, the day after the consultation, Miss Tucker woke very early, and asked to have her desk, that she might write. This of course could not be allowed. Later in the same day Mr. Weitbrecht went in to see her, just after an interview with Dr. Clark, and she inquired, ‘What does the doctor say?’

Mr. Weitbrecht endeavoured to avoid giving any direct reply, speaking only of one symptom which the Doctor had named as encouraging. Then came the point-blank question:

‘Yes; but does he think I shall die, or recover?’

‘He cannot tell.’

Miss Tucker was not to be so put off. An answer she would have. ‘I am very deaf with the quinine,’ she said.[401] ‘I can’t hear what you say. If he thinks I shall stay, do this!’—holding up her hand;—‘and if sinking, this!’—dropping it.

There was no choice left. Truth compelled Mr. Weitbrecht to lower gently his hand. ‘Whereupon,’ as Mr. Bateman relates, ‘a smile and an almost shout of joy escaped her.’

‘I am so glad!’ she exclaimed. ‘So glad to be dying in harness! And to think that I shall be no trouble to anybody!... It is too good to be true, that I am going Home.... The bowl is broken at the fountain!’ Then she repeated the simple verse beginning,
‘“And when I’m to die,
Receive me, I’ll cry,
For Jesus has loved me,
I cannot tell why!”’

What Charlotte Tucker experienced, on seeing that lowered hand, may be to some extent realised by reading her ‘Dream’ of the Second Advent, given in an earlier chapter. Heaven to her was ‘Home’; many of her nearest and dearest were already in Paradise; and ‘death,’ so called, would mean re-union with those dear ones. Charlotte Tucker could from her very heart re-echo the poet’s words,—with a most practical belief in them,—‘There is no Death; what seems so is Transition.’ During years past she had longed for this Transition; striving only not to be impatient, but to await cheerfully God’s own time.

And now, it seemed, she was to go! Not only to leave sin and sorrow behind; not only to be young and strong again; not only to see such beauty and glory as our Earth can never show; not only to ‘mount up with wings, as eagles,’ into splendid new spheres of knowledge and thought, of employment and work. All these things, though real, were secondary. The overwhelming delight of going Home, whether by the Coming of Christ, or through the ‘grave[402] and gate of Death,’ was that she would meet her Lord and Master face to face! That was the grand expectation which thrilled her whole being, which drew from her an ‘almost shout’ of joy, even in extreme weakness,—the prospect of seeing Him, ‘Whom, not having seen,’ she loved.

So intense was the joy that it had a remarkable result. It appeared to take the same effect as a powerful stimulant upon her sinking strength. The very delight which she had in dying brought her back to life; the very rapture with which she desired to go kept her from going.

It is not needful to suppose that this alone saved her life. Skilled physicians and devoted nurses had done and were doing their utmost; and a fresh remedy was being tried, which brought down the very high fever. But the fact remains the same, that, until Charlotte Tucker was told that she would die, hopes of her recovery had been given up, at all events by those best qualified to judge; and that, from the time when she learned the verdict of the doctors, she began to revive. At the least we must allow that the stimulant afforded by this eager rejoicing was a marked assistance to other remedies; and that, without it, in all probability she might have sunk.

Nor need it be imagined that she was immediately out of danger. Improvement was very gradual, and anxiety lasted long. Weeks later she spoke of her own life as having been on Christmas Day still ‘trembling in the balance,’ and this was nearly a week before Christmas. But hope had revived, and every day it grew stronger.

Having once made up her mind that she was to die, it was, we may be sure, no easy matter............
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