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PAYING THE COST
'But oh! the difference to me.'--WORDSWORTH.
So Clarence was gone, and our new life begun in its changed aspect. Emily showed an almost feverish eagerness to make it busy and cheerful, getting up a sewing class in the village, resuming the study of Greek, grappling with the natural system in botany, all of which had been fitfully proposed but hindered by interruptions and my father's feebleness.
On a suggestion of Mr. Stafford's, we set to work on that History of Letter Writing which, what with collecting materials, and making translations, lasted us three years altogether, and was a great resource and pleasure, besides ultimately bringing in a fraction towards the great purpose. Emily has confessed that she worked away a good deal of vague, weary depression, and sense of monotony into those Greek choruses: but to us she was always a sunbeam, with her ever ready attention, and the playfulness which resumed more of genuine mirth after the first effort and strain of spirits were over.
Then journal-letters on either side began to bridge the gulf of separation,--those which, minus all the specially interesting portions, are to be seen in the volume we culled from them, and which had considerable success in its day.
Martyn worked in the parish and read with Mr. Henderson till he was old enough for Ordination, and then took the curacy of St. Wulstan's, under a hardworking London vicar, and thenceforth his holidays were our festivals. Our old London friends pitied us for what they viewed as a fearfully dull life, and in the visits they occasionally paid us thought they were doing us a great favour by bringing us new ideas and shooting our partridges.
We hardly deserved their compassion: our lives were full of interest to ourselves--that interest which comes of doing ever so feeble a stroke of work in one great cause; and there was much keen participation in the general life of the Church in the crisis through which she was passing. We found that, what with drawing pictures, writing little books, preparing lessons for teachers, and much besides which is now ready done by the National Society and Sunday School Institute, we could do a good deal to assist Martyn in his London work, and our own grew upon us.
For the first year of her widowhood, my mother shrank from society, and afterwards had only spasmodic fits of doubt whether it were not her duty to make my sister go out more. So that now and then Emily did go to a party, or to make a visit of some days or weeks from home, and then we knew how valuable she was. It would be hard to say whether my mother were relieved or disappointed when Emily refused James Eastwood, in spite of many persuasions, not only from himself, but his family. I believe mamma thought it selfish to be glad, and that it was a failure in duty not to have performed that weighty matter of marrying her daughter; feeling in some way inferior to ladies who had disposed of a whole flock under five and twenty, whereas she had not been able to get rid of a single one!
Of Clarence's doings in China I need not speak; you have read of them in the book for yourselves, and you know how his work prospered, so that the results more than fulfilled his expectations, and raised the firm to the pitch of greatness and reputation which it has ever since preserved, and this without soiling his hands with the miserable opium traffic. Some of the subordinates were so set on the gains to be thus obtained, that he and Lawrence Frith had a severe struggle with them to prevent it, and were forced conjointly to use all their authority as principals to make it impossible. Those two were the greatest of friends. Their chief relaxation was one another's company, and their earnest aim was to support the Christian mission, and to keep up the tone of their English dependants, a terribly difficult matter, and one that made the time of their return somewhat doubtful, even when Walter Castleford was gone out to relieve them. Their health had kept up so well that we had ceased to be anxious on that point, and it was through the Castlefords that we received the first hint that Clarence might not be as well as his absence of complaint had led us to believe.
In fact he had never been well since a terrible tempest, when he had worked hard and exposed himself to save life. I never could hear the particulars, for Lawrence was away, and Clarence could not write about it himself, having been prostrated by one of those chills so perilous in hot countries; but from all I have heard, no resident in Hong-Kong would have believed that Mr. Winslow's courage could ever have been called in question. He ought to have come home immediately after that attack of fever; for the five years were over, and his work nearly done; but there was need to consolidate his achievements, and a strong man is only too apt to trifle with his health. We might have guessed something by the languor and brevity of his letters, but we thought the absence of detail owing to his expectation of soon seeing us; and had gone on for months expecting the announcement of a speedy return, when an unexpected shock fell on us. Our dear mother was still an active woman, with few signs of age about her, when, in her sixty-seventh year, she was almost suddenly taken from us by an attack of gout in the stomach.
I feel as if I had not done her justice, and as if she might seem stern, unsympathising, and lacking in tenderness. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. She was an old-fashioned mother, who held it her duty to keep up her authority, and counted over- familiarity and indulgence as sins. To her 'the holy spirit of discipline was the beginning of wisdom,' and to make her children godly, truthful, and honourable was a much greater object than to win their love. And their love she had, and kept to a far higher degree than seems to be the case with those who court affection by caresses and indulgence. We knew that her approval was of a generous kind, we prized enthusiastically her rare betrayals of her motherly tenderness, and we depended on her in a manner we only realised in the desolation, dreariness, and helplessness that fell upon us, when we knew that she was gone. She had not, nor had any of us, understood that she was dying, and she had uttered only a few words that could imply any such thought. On hearing that there was a letter from Clarence, she said, 'Poor Clarence! I should like to have seen him. He is a good boy after all. I've been hard on him, but it will all be right now. God Almighty bless him!'
That was the only formal blessing she left among us. Indeed, the last time I saw her was with an ordinary good-night at the foot of the stairs. Emily said she was glad that I had not to carry with me the remembrance of those paroxysms of suffering. My dear Emily had alone the whole force of that trial--or shall I call it privilege? Martyn did not reach home till some hours after all was over, poor boy.
And in the midst of our desolateness, just as we had let the daylight in again upon our diminished numbers round the table, came a letter from Hong-Kong, addressed to me in Lawrence Frith's writing, and the first thing I saw was a scrawl, as follows:-
'DEAREST TED--All is in your hands. You can do IT. God bless you all. W. C. W.'
When I came to myself, and could see and hear, Martyn was impressing on me that where there is life there is hope, though indeed, according to poor Lawrence's letter, there was little of either. He feared our hearing indirectly, and therefore wrote to prepare us.
He had been summoned to Hong-Kong to find Clarence lying desperately ill, for the most part semi-delirious, holding converse with invisible forms, or entreating some one to let him alone--he had done his best. In one of his more lucid intervals he had made Lawrence find that note in a case that lay near him, and promise to send it; and he had tried to send some messages, but they had become confused, and he was too weak to speak further.
The next mail was sure to bring the last tidings of one who had given his life for right and justice. It was only a reprieve that what it actually brought was the intelligence that he was still alive, and more sensible, and had been able to take much pleasure in seeing the friend of his youth, Captain Coles, who was there with his ship, the Douro. Then there had been a relapse. Captain Coles had brought his doctor to see him, and it had been pronounced that the best chance of saving him was a sea-voyage. The Douro had just received orders to return to England, and Coles had offered to take home both the friends as guests, though there was evidently little hope that our brother would reach any earthly home. As we knew afterwards, he had smiled and said it was like rehabilitation to have the chance of dying on board one of H.M. ships. And he was held in such respect, and was so entirely one of the leading men of the little growing colony, and had been known as such a friend to the naval men, and had so gallantly aided a Queen's ship in that hurricane, that his passage home in this manner only seemed a natural tribute of respect. A few last words from Lawrence told us that he was safely on board, all unconscious of the silent, almost weeping, procession that had escorted his litter to the Douro's boat, only too much as if it were his bier. In fact, Captain Coles actually promised him that if he died at sea he should be buried with the old flag.
We could not hope to hear more for at least six weeks, since our letter had come by overland mail, and the Douro would take her time. It was a comfort in this waiting time that Martyn could be with us. His rector had been promoted; there was a general change of curates; and as Martyn had been working up to the utmost limits of his strength, we had no scruple in inducing him to remain with us, and undertake nothing fresh till this crisis was past. Though as to rest, not one Sunday passed without requests for his assistance from one or more of the neighbouring clergy.
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