“The Leaves of Memory seem to make a mournful rustling in the dark.”
. . . . . . . . . .
“We try in the darkness of Sorrow the wings that shall bear us out of it.”
We took leave of the Isle of Man with heavy hearts, and sailed direct from Douglas to Whitehaven, landing there in the evening of a wet August day. The town was finely situated, and the wide haven filled with ships of all kinds. There was even a man-of-war lying at the long new pier. But the scene was not cheerful; how could it be, after a steady, soft rain from morning to night? Two officers of the church met us, and, in a few minutes, we were at the dwelling which was to be our home for the next three years. It was a handsome-looking house, and stood midway in a block of similar ones. There was a table laid for supper in the living-room, but the room itself was a dreary one. I do not know why, unless it was the want of fire on the hearth, and the dark-green moreen curtaining. A gray-haired woman served tea, and said she was ready to stay with us, if so be Mr. and Mrs. Huddleston were agreeable.
So in a few days the house was in order, and Mother professed to be much pleased with our new quarters. She pointed out the large size and number of the rooms, and the quiet of the locality, and, with a pleasant laugh, said she supposed we were among the aristocrats of Whitehaven.
“My cousin’s curate lives two doors below us,” Father said, and then, for the first time, he spoke of his cousin, Dr. Andrew Huddleston, who was at that time rector of the parish of Whitehaven, and also had the living of another parish a few miles distant, both being the presentation of the Earl of Lonsdale. He said he was a bachelor, of about fifty years of age, and was seldom in England; his curates performed his duties for him. But he was in Whitehaven when we arrived there, for I saw him walking up Duke Street with Father, two or three days after our arrival. There was a singular resemblance between them, though Dr. Andrew Huddleston was portly and robust, and dressed in extreme clerical fashion, while my Father was tall and thin, and ascetic in appearance, with the slight stoop forward of one used to looking into things invisible. But the tie was felt and acknowledged; I knew it by the way they stood with clasped hands a moment or two at our open door.
There were many other Huddleston families in Whitehaven, all of them sailors, excepting one fine young man whom the Earl was educating, and who was painting a portrait of Lonsdale the first time I saw him. It happened that my father and mother received an invitation to dine at Captain Thomas Huddleston’s. Father said the thing was impossible, that the company and the conversation alike, would be antagonistic to his office, and his personal feelings; and the kindness which was intended, would be turned into offence. So I was sent with a note of regrets, and orders to make myself as agreeable as possible.
The latter injunction was easy to obey. I found that Captain Huddleston’s family consisted of his mother, and sister, and the youth I have mentioned, who was the grandson of Captain Huddleston. Their house was a large one, in a queer court close to the waters of the harbor, and the big low rooms looked like museums; for it seemed as if every rare and lovely thing from strange lands and strange seas were there; and the footstool of the old lady was a living tortoise of great size, which had an inscription on its shell, showing it to be nearly ninety years old.
The old lady was dressed in a gown of gay colors, open very low in front, and filled in with clear-starched muslin. Her apron was of black silk, trimmed with black Spanish lace, and she had a cap of white Spanish lace on her plentiful white hair, and a very long gold chain around her neck. Her knitting lay on the table beside her, but she was adding up a bill as I entered the room, and though she looked at me, she did not speak until the total was satisfactorily reached.
With this family I became familiar, and I wish I had space to say more about them. I spent much time in their company, and liked nothing better; especially when young Tom Huddleston, a midshipman on The Royal George, came home. This handsome young sailor was my first dream of a lover. I cried when he went away, and was not comforted by his promise to bring me “lots of lace from Malta.” Poor lad! He never came home, but died in the West Indies of yellow fever.
There was really a little sailor settlement around Captain Tom’s home, and I was soon welcome in it, a strange, happy-go-lucky company, full of sharp transitions; for in their lives they knew not what a day or an hour might bring forth. However unexpectedly my visits were made, I was sure to find some gathering rejoicing over the return of a husband or son, or perhaps mourning over his detention or death. And among people so affectionate and emotional it was easy for me to rejoice with those who did rejoice, and to weep with those who wept. They did not attract Jane; they were too extravagant and reckless, and Jane liked everything done decently and in order.
Perhaps this sailor society prevented me from making as high an estimate of the Reverend William Morley Punshon as I ought to have done. He came a great deal to our home, and used to recite for our entertainment fine examples of prose and poetry from the great writers. As long as John was able to bear it, he frequently read aloud, and I considered him an extraordinarily clever man. And, if one looked only at his fine eyes and forehead, he was also a very handsome man. I am sure all the religious young women in Whitehaven thought so, and he was much praised and courted, the chapel being crowded whenever he preached. Young ladies wore white veils then, and I used to watch them from the organ loft coming into the chapel, and compare them to an army with white banners; for I played the organ, which was immediately behind the pulpit, so that everything was before my vision.
During the Christmas holidays of this year, 1844, my brother Henry was born. We welcomed him as a gift and a compensation, and the shadow of suffering and death passed gradually away. After the holidays I went to a fashionable school kept by Miss Penelope Flinders. I only remained there three months, and, as far as study was concerned, they were of little service to me; for Miss Flinders had a lawsuit in progress at this time, and she made me her confidant, and discussed endlessly the pros and cons with me. I was very sorry for her, and feverishly anxious that she might succeed. She told me that her lover had been prevented from marrying her by the bitter opposition of his mother; that he had left England in consequence, and, when dying in India had made a will, leaving every shilling of his wealth to her. The mother was fighting the carrying out of this will, and Miss Flinders could not sleep or eat, and how, then, could she teach pending the court’s verdict? One morning I went to school a little late, and found the class rooms empty. The school had been dismissed forever. She had won her case. I sat and talked with her a long time, and she told me she would never teach another hour, for she had now five thousand pounds a year to be happy with.
I went to no other school, but I read a great deal, and kept up the practice of my music and drawing. There was a good public library, and there was my father’s library, and the public one suited me best now; for I wanted Scott, Dickens and Thackeray, and I also read many novels by Mrs. Gore, a writer nearly forgotten, but whose pictures of the lives led by the highest society of that day were interesting and instructive. One day Mr. Punshon was sitting in our parlor when I came in with my hands full of books. He looked at them and asked, “Does your father know, Amelia?” I answered, “No, but Mother does. She says it is right. We do not trouble Father about little things. He is not very well lately.”
“Amelia,” he continued, “I want some books out of the library, but I do not like to go for them.”
“Novels?” I asked.
“Yes,” he answered.
“I will get them for you. I am sorry for people who want novels, and do not feel able to ask for them.”
He said something about his position, and my father not liking him to go to a public library for novels, and I understood the situation. I wonder now why I did not fall in love with him. He could be so charming, and I certainly thought his recitations marvelous, and his own poetry full of genius. But I liked Tom Huddleston in his open collar, and sailor jacket, with a sailor’s song on his lips, far better. Once I wondered about it to Jane, and she looked at me incredulously, if not scornfully, as she answered, “The idea of being in love with Mr. Punshon!”
“Why not?” I demanded.
“For one thing, Milly, he does not wear straps.” Gentlemen at that time wore their trousers strapped down under their feet. “His trousers are sloppy, and he looks quite common.”
“He is handsome,” I returned, “and he has fine eyes, and beautiful brown hair; it is curly, too.”
“I dare say he puts it in papers every night. Miss Annie Townley thinks so. But if he was ten times as handsome, I would not marry him. He is a Wesleyan preacher, and could never give his wife a home of her own. I hate living in a Chapel House.”
Under conditions and surroundings like these, our lives went on. John was dying daily, and Mother was very anxious about Father, who seemed possessed by a never ceasing passion for preaching. It appeared to her, that he worked and preached as if he feared he would not have time to say all he wanted to say. The “sensations” of which he had complained at intervals, grew more frequent, and in the autumn of our second year in Whitehaven, he partially lost the use of his right hand. Then I wrote his letters and sermons as he dictated them to me. But, oh, how it pained him! I could not bear to see the sorrow in his eyes, and what was coming he knew not; for the doom that walks by our side from the cradle to the grave, never warns us. At this time of my life my thoughts turn to his memory with a great tenderness. His heart was then given to all humanity, his soul was all God’s, and his life but a flesh and blood conductor of eternal spirit.
At the close of the second year, John died after great suffering, and he was laid among his kindred in a small cemetery in Charles Street. As a burial ground it was no longer used, except by the families who had originated it more than one hundred years previously. It was a neglected enclosure, over-grown with tall grasses and rank weeds, and surrounded by the decaying untidy houses of poverty. A more dreary, ghastly place I never saw, and my heart ached for the little lad laid there. I was thankful my mother was too ill to go to the mournful service, but Father was consoled by the fact, that he was among his kindred; and it seemed to me, there was no one but Huddlestons buried there. Every stone I read was in memoriam of a Huddleston, and always that same persistence of the name “Henry.”
Not more than a month afterwards, our baby Henry was laid beside his brother in the desolate place. I have no heart to write of his death. He was taken in the midst of health, and went laughing to seize the bowl of boiling milk, from which he drank a cruel death. It is better to be silent about such calamities; at the time we were all dumb with grief. Yet it was an accident, and accident is always God’s part in any event; so to this knowledge we bowed our hearts in submission. There is a difference, however, in silence. Mother’s quiet was full of heavenly hope and trust; Father’s speechless, tearless grief, was almost despair, and many times afterward, I heard Mother rejoice over a trouble treading close upon Henry’s death, because it roused the physical man to wrath, and broke up the spiritual torpor into which Father had fallen.
This trouble came in a letter, which was handed into the parlor where we were together one afternoon three weeks after Henry’s death. Mother and Jane were sewing. I was copying music—a song of Balfe’s, I believe, and father was walking up and down—up and down the room. All was so still I could hear the ashes dropping from the grate to the hearth. Then came the postman’s knock, and the delivery of the letter to Father.
He read it without a word, growing every moment grayer and more angry. As he finished, he slowly tore the paper into fragments, his passion growing with every movement of his hands, and stamping on them, gave way to an inconceivable rage, accompanied by words that shocked and terrified us. It was not Father, it was some madman who had taken possession of him. Mother went to him, put her hands on his shoulders, and said softly, “William! William!”
“Mary! Forgive me!” he cried. “You see now, what I have to struggle against. Every day I have this temper to fight; it will conquer me some time, and then I shall be lost—but this trouble is my own fault. You have warned me, and I would not listen to you. Yes, I have been warned twice by dreams I understood, but would not obey. If I could suffer alone! If I could suffer alone, I would not care. It is my great punishment. You and the children must suffer with me.”
“What punishment? What has happened, William?” asked Mother.
“I have lost every shilling. That scoundrel Philip Blackpool has gone to Australia with my money, a month ago.”
“My dear, we can live without it.”
“We cannot live without it, Mary,” he answered. “What is the good of talking nonsense?”
Then Mother was silent. She sat down and lifted her work, Jane followed her example, and I went on copying my song, while from the next room came the faint sounds of Alethia and Mary playing. Before our silence and assumed indifference his anger waned; he said again, “Forgive me, Mary! I will go to my study now, and come down when I am better. Disturb me for nothing.”
Mother was wretched. She put down her work, and I went to her. “What does Father mean?” I asked.
“He means that we shall now be poor, Milly. This money stolen from him was the best part of our living. I do not know how much it was, for he never told me the amount, and often I have advised him to put it in some reputable bank. But Philip Blackpool was his friend, at least he supposed so. I have always doubted it. We must send away one servant to-morrow; we shall have to do with much less new clothing, and many good things that we have thought necessary, we must learn to do without. Great changes will have to be made; my dear girls, let us make them cheerfully.”
Then I spoke to Mother about turning my education into money, and she was pleased with my readiness. “Father is ill,” she said, “and I fear he will not be able to preach much longer. I have thought of these things often,” she continued, “and wondered how we were to live, when he had only his retiring income, and this idea has come to me—that if we knew how to conduct a small ladies’ boarding-school, it might suffice. Jane and I could look after the house and children, and you, Milly, could, with the help of teachers, conduct the school. Of course you would have to be trained for such a task.”
We were all pleased with this idea, and discussed it over our tea, in which Father did not join us. Then it appeared that this school project was an old thought with Mother. She asked us if we remembered a certain Miss Sarah Berners who stayed a week with us when we were in Penrith, adding, “She was my friend through all the years in which I was at school, and we used to talk of starting a school together, and being independent of our stepmothers; for we both had stepmothers, and not very kind ones—but I married, you know.”
“Yes,” said Jane, “and what did Miss Berners do?”
“She opened a school at Downham Market, Norfolk, fifteen years ago, and has done well. Suppose, Milly, you went to her for a year, and learned how to manage a school.”
I answered, “I would like to do so, Mother. I would like it very much.”
So Mother wrote to Miss Berners, and received a glad consent to her wish. I was to go as second teacher, and assist in the music, drawing and English classes; and she promised to give me twenty-five pounds a year with my board and lodging, and the opportunity to study the French language if I wished, as I would room with Miss Stromberg, a Russian, who spoke it, and nearly every other European language, perfectly.
When this news came, Father was told of our plans. There was some opposition, but not much, and I began with a hopeful heart to prepare for the change before me. This event appeared to break up the storm of sorrow and ill fortune which had assailed us. We had feared Father’s next appointment lest it should be some large manufacturing city, demanding more strength than he had to give, but when it came, it was to Kendal. Nothing could have been better. It was my mother’s birthplace; she had many friends there, and my father was a great favorite with Kendal Methodists; and there was a pleasant preacher’s house in a pretty garden, surrounded by poplar trees.
It was a joyful removal. We bid farewell to the little graves we had to leave behind us, and then turned our faces, as it were, homeward. And as I was not wanted in Norfolk, until early in September, I went to Kendal with my family, and helped to settle them in their new home. I was very happy in my own prospects. I had no fears, and I had a great many hopes and pleasant expectations. My life was yet to me like a book of uncut leaves. I had finished the preface, and the first chapter was to open in Norfolk. I put behind me all past sorrows, and was just an eager girl leaning over the narrow rim of my small world, and gladly anticipating the wide, wide world into which I was going. And I was made strangely happy, because on the night before I left home, when I lifted the little red Bible that lay upon my dressing-table, my eyes lighted on this verse, “Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.” (Isaiah, 43:1.)
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