HELSEA Hospital, or, as the old soldiers prefer to call it, "Chelsea College," appears much the same at all seasons of the year; its simple, dignified, and, if the phrase be permitted, healthful and useful, style of architecture, suggests the same ideas, under the hot sun of June and amid the snows of bleak December; bringing conviction that the venerable structure is a safe, suitable, comfortable, and happy, as well as honourable, retreat for the brave men who have so effectually "kept the foreigner from fooling us." The simple story I have to tell, commences with a morning in April, 1838. It was a warm, soft morning, of the first spring month; the sun shone along the colonnade of "the Royal College." Some of the veterans—who, fearing rheumatism more than they ever feared cold steel or leaden bullet, had kept close quarters all the winter, in their comfortable nooks up stairs—were now slowly pacing beside the stately pillars of their own palace, inhaling the refreshing breeze that crossed the water-garden from the Thames, and talking cheerfully of the coming summer. Truly the "pensioners" seem, to the full, aware of their privileges, and of their claims—far less upon our sympathies than upon our gratitude and respect. The college is theirs; they look, walk, and talk, in perfect and indisputable consciousness that it is their house, and that those who cross its courts, loiter in its gardens, or view its halls, chapel, and dormitories, are but visitors—graciously admitted, and generously instructed by them. And who will dare to question their right?
The veterans are, as they may well be, proud of their country and their hospital; they are too natural to disguise the feeling that they love a good listener; to such they will tell how Madam Gwyn asked the king—the second Charles—to endow a last earthly home for his brave soldiers; and how rejoiced she was to have it built at Chelsea, because she was born there, for that all human souls love the places where they were born! They point to the tattered flags in the noble hall and sacred chapel, as if the trophies were actually won by their own hands; they will digress from them to Sir Christopher Wren, not seeming to know very clearly whether the great architect or Charles the Second planned the structure—they are apt to confound Henry the Eighth with the second James, who presented to their church such splendid communion plate; but make no mistake at all about Queen Victoria, who came herself to see them—"God bless her Majesty!" I never met one who was not proud of his quarters; they praise the freshness and sweetness of the air, the liberality of the treatment, and point out, with gratitude, their little gardens which occupy the site of the famous Ranelagh of fashionable memory, where they can follow their own fancies, cultivating, in their plots of ground, the flowers, or herbs, or shrubs that please them best; the summer-house, which they say Lord John Russell built for them, occupies a prominent position there; it was worthy a descendant of the noble house of Bedford to care for brave soldiers in the evening of their days. If you have patience, and feel interested in the cheerful garrulities of age, they will hint that they fear the new embankment of "The Thames" will still more dry up the land-springs, and injure their fine old trees. Some can describe the ancient conduit which supplied Winchester Palace and Beaufort House with water, and point out (if you will extend your walk so far) the various sites of houses in the immediate vicinity, where dwelt the great men of old times,—chiefest among them all, the wise Sir Thomas More, Lord High Chancellor of England, who lived "hard by," and had for his near neighbours the Earl of Essex, the Princess Elizabeth; and, farther down, at Old Brompton, Oliver Cromwell and Lord Burleigh. But those who would know more than the pensioners can tell them concerning Chelsea, and its neighbourhood—that suburb of London most rich in honourable and interesting associations with the past—may consult good Mr. Faulkner, the accurate and pains-taking Historian of the district, who lives in a small book-shop near at hand, flourishing, as he ought to, in the very centre of places he has so effectually aided to commemorate.
The story of "Mistress Nelly's" prayer that an asylum might be provided for aged veterans, "whose work was done," rests mainly on tradition; but there is nothing of improbability about it. Her influence over the voluptuous monarch,
"Who never said a foolish thing
And never did a wise one,"
was, at one period, unbounded. It was in this instance, at least, exerted in the cause of mercy and virtue, as well as gratitude; the College remains a lasting contradiction to the memorable epigram I have quoted; inasmuch as a "wiser thing" than its foundation, to say nothing of its justice, is not recorded in the chronicles of the reign of any British sovereign. Many a victory has been won for these kingdoms by the knowledge that the maimed soldier will not be a deserted beggar—by the certainty that honourable "scars" will he healed by other ointment than that of mere pity! Chelsea and Greenwich are enduring monuments to prove that a Nation knows how to be grateful. The brave men who pace along these corridors may "talk o'er their wounds," and while shouldering their crutches, to "show how fields were won," point to the recompense as a stimulus to younger candidates for glory. Who can sufficiently estimate the value of this reward? Let us ask what it has done for our country; but let us ask it on the battle fields, where French eagles were taken: eagles, a score of which are now the trophies of our triumphs, in the very halls which the veterans, who won them, tread up and down.
The pensioners—though, as human beings, each may have a distinctive character—are, to a certain degree, alike; clean and orderly, erect in their carriage for a much longer period than civilians of equal ages, and disputing all the encroachments of time, inch by inch—fighting with as much determination for life as formerly they did for glory. When they die, they die of old age.
The month I have said was April—the April of 1838: old James Hardy and John Coyne were walking beneath the colonnade that faces the water-garden. They were both old, yet John considered James a mere boy. John's face had been "broken up" by a gun-shot wound at Seringapatam, which anticipated time; and James "stumped" very vigorously along on a brace of wooden legs, his eyes bright and twinkling, his laugh ringing out, at the conclusion of each of his brief, pithy, stories, which he told as earnestly as if John could hear them; John, however, had heard them all before he became deaf, and as James only re-drew upon his ancient store, John had no great loss. He looked up in his comrade's face, caught the cheerful infection of his comrade's laugh, by sight though not by sound, and laughed also—not as James laughed, but in a little quiet way, something like the rattle of a baby's drum—and then James would wind it up by saying—"There! did you ever hear the like of that before!" and bestow a sounding slap on his friend's shoulder. They were comrades in every sense of the word, for they inhabited the same dormitory, nest by nest; John cherishing a canary, whose song he had never heard, though he used to declare it sang like a nightingale, with a woodlark's note—while James had ranged all manner of curious crockery on the shelf over his bed, filling up the intermediate spaces with caricatures of the French, the iron head of a halbert, the buckle of a French cuirass, a fragment of an ensign's gorget, and a few other reliques of a "foughten field,"—
"The treasures of a soldier, bought with blood,
And kept at life's expense."
As they strutted lovingly together, delighting, as children do, in sunshine, while James talked and laughed incessantly, a tall, thin, military-looking man, as hard and erect as a ramrod, marched up to them, with as measured a tread as if he were in the ranks; then, wheeling about, presented James with a leaf of laurel, one of many he held in his hand; there was a wild sparkle in his eyes, and a bright flush upon his cheek.
"What for, serjeant-major?" inquired James, taking the leaf, and giving a military salute.
"Toulouse!" answered the veteran, in a voice of triumph; yet the tone was full of music, and rendered ample justice to the musical word. "Toulouse! my old fellow," he repeated.
"So it is!" answered James Hardy; "it is the anniversary, sure enough. And yet, master, if we are to mount a fresh laurel for every day we gained a victory, we shall have to get as many as there are days in the year."
"Right, Hardy, right," replied the sergeant-major. "Right; three hundred and sixty-five laurel-leaves per annum. Right, that was well said. Lucy walked out this morning and gathered me a basketful; she knew I'd want them for my old comrades, as soon as I could get down to the college. She's worthy to be a soldier's daughter."
"Ah, ah! and a soldier's wife," responded James; "isn't she, John?" And John, thinking James had been telling a story, laughed his little laugh as usual.
"Worthy to be anything, thank God," said the sergeant-major; but the expression of his face changed; it lost its flush and its proud glance of triumph; anxiety for his only child obliterated even the memory of "Toulouse;"—the soldier was absorbed in the father,—and he continued, "No: I should not like her to be a soldier's wife, Jem, I should not; she hasn't strength for campaigning. It killed her poor mother; they said it was consumption; but it was no such thing. It was the wet and dry, heat and cold, ups and downs of campaigning; she would not leave me—not she: it is a wonderful thing, the abiding love that links a frail, delicate woman to the rough soldier and his life of hardships; and such a loving mother as she had, and such a home; she never heard anything louder than the ripple of the mountain rill, and the coo of the ringdove, until, a girl of seventeen, she plunged with me into the hot war. You remember her, Jem?" The sergeant-major's seventeen years of widowhood had not dried up the sources of his grief; he drew his hand across his eyes, and then began, hastily and with a tremulous hand, to fit the laurel leaves, which he still held, one within the other.
"That I do—remember her—and well;" answered James Hardy.
"What is it?" inquired old John. James made him understand they were speaking of poor Mrs. Joyce.
"Ah!" said John, "she was an angel,—Miss Lucy is very like her mother—very like her—even to the way she has in church of laying her hand on her heart—so,—as if it beat too fast."
"She does not do that, does she, James?" inquired the sergeant-major, eagerly; "I never saw her do that."
"Likely not," replied James; "John sees a deal more than those who hear; he is obliged to amuse himself with something; and, as he cannot hear, he sees."
The sergeant-major paused, and his companions with him; he became abstracted—the leaves dropped from his fingers—and, at last, turning abruptly away, he retraced his steps homewards.
Old John touched his brow with his forefinger significantly, and James muttered to himself—"The wound in his head may have damaged the sergeant-major, to be sure,—but, it is his daughter, poor thing, for all the roses on her cheek, and her sweet voice——!" John did not hear a word his comrade spoke, but his thoughts were in the same channel. "He loves to see us all the same," he said, "as when he was with the old 'half-hundred,' and takes a march through the college every morning, keeping wonderful count of our victories; and then mounts guard over his daughter, as regularly as beat of drum;—he's constant with her; if the sun's too hot, under the shade of the avenue trees; or, if it is too cold, in the warmth of Cheyne-walk, or with old Mr. Anderson in the botanic garden, gathering the virtues of the herbs, and telling each other tales of the cedars and plane trees of foreign parts; may be, looking through the old water gate, or at the statue of Sir Hans Sloane. I hear tell that Miss Lucy has great knowledge of such things; but she'll not live—not she—no more than her mother; I'm sure of that."
"Who knows?" said James Hardy, "if she had a milder climate, or proper care."
"Ah! the poor sergeant-major! He's always leading some forlorn hope!"
The sergeant-major was one of eighty-three thousand men who are pensioned by a grateful country; an honourable boon—honourable alike to "those who give, and those who take." A wound in the head had rendered him, at an early period of life, unfit for future service, and he had taken up his quarters in his native village, only to watch by the dying bed of a beloved wife, who, after a few years of gradual decline, left him the fatal legacy of a child as delicate as herself.
Of all the evils that wait on poor humanity, the most sad and the most hopeless, in its progress and its result, is that disease which may be described as peculiar to our climate; acting as a dreadful counterpoise to numerous blessed privileges; the one terrible "set-off." against the plague, the pestilence, the famine, the storm, the earthquake, the wars, which so continually devastate other countries, but from which a merciful Providence has, in a great degree, exempted ours. The raging fever of the blood or the brain, brings the suspense of but a week or two, and busies the mournful watcher; all the ills that "flesh is heir to" have inseparably linked with them some sources of consolation, some motives for hope; they may be borne by the sufferer, and by those who often suffer more intensely than the patient, because of the knowledge that skill and care are mighty to save. But consumption—lingering, wasting, "slow but sure"—when the victim has been marked out, the work is, as it were, done! The hectic cheek is as a registered death-doom from which there is no appeal!
Should I not, rather, say that, hitherto, it has been so considered:—the Despair engendered by a belief that "all hope" was to be "abandoned," having—no one can doubt it—largely aided in preventing cure.
The poor sergeant-major! strong and brave as a lion though he was,a single word had made him feeble as a child. He had defied death, when death assumed appalling shapes; but the memory of his wife's sufferings was ever a sudden chill upon his heart; he shrank, as at an adders's touch, from the thought that his child might be the inheritor of the mother's fatal dowry. Thus, the sound of a hollow cough would shake his rugged nature like an ague fit; his very life was bound up in that of his dear daughter; and, for a moment, the thought that there might be truth in what his aged comrade said, seemed as awful in its consequences as an actual death-knell.
Sergeant-major Joyce was a veteran soldier, who had gained the respect and esteem of his whole regiment—officers and men. There was a bond between him and them which his withdrawal from active service could not cancel. So, after his wife's death, timing that a few of his old companions in arms were inmates of Chelsea College, he removed to its vicinity; passing his time between the lofty corridors of the palace-hospital and the small sitting-room of his child; ever walking with and talking to "the pensioners," or that dear and delicate "copy" of the wife he had so truly loved. And Lucy was a girl of whom any parent might have been proud. Delicacy of constitution had given refinement to her mind as well as to her appearance: she read, perhaps, more than was good for her, if she had been destined to live the usual term of life, in her proper sphere. She thought, also, but she thought well; and this, happily for herself, made her humble. Faith is the foundation of that righteous affection, without which nought is pure; her faith was clear and firm—in nothing wavering; she believed, and belief had given her, without an effort, tenfold the strength which those who rely for strength upon the broken and bending reed of human reason, seek for in vain. You inquire, who taught her this? Was it her kindly but half-crazed father? No: he was full of a rough soldier's honour, mingled, at times, with the more than woman's softness, which often tempers dispositions fierce as his; but in all this faith, in the trust and purity, the meek, cheerful, warm spirit of love and tenderness, Lucy—I say it with deep reverence—Lucy, in all these things—the fruits of a regenerate nature—was taught of God. She made no show of piety; but her father knew that every night her Bible was placed beneath her pillow; for he had often seen it there, when stealing into her little room to be assured she slept. She read much besides, and had that youthful leaning towards poetry which is often the sure evidence of a good and highly tempered mind; but many a time she shut her "poesy book" with something like distate, to fill out her heart with the inspired numbers of Isaiah, or the glories of the holy Psalms. Well might she be her father's darling; she was more than that, though he did not know it; she was his ministering angel. At times her heart would throb wildly at tales of the wars in which he had borne a part. And even on the sabbath day she seldom knelt beneath the shadow of the trophies of our country's prowess—trophies which glorify the old Hospital-Chapel of Chelsea—without feeling proudly thankful they were there; but her care was ever to soothe and tranquillize, to watch for and avert her father's stormy moods, and be ready with a word in season, to recall him to himself.
Mr. Joyce soon reached his home after he left his comrades. "Mary," he inquired of an Irishwoman, the widow of a soldier, who had nursed his daughter from her birth, and never left them—one of those devotees—half-friend, half-servant—which are found only among the Irish: "Mary, did you ever perceive that Lucy pressed her hand upon her heart—as—as—her mother used to do?"
"Is it her heart? Ah, then, did ye ever know any girl, let alone such a purty one as Miss Lucy, count all out twenty years without feeling she had a heart sometimes?"
The sergeant-major turned upon the faithful woman with a scrutinizing look; but the half-smile, the total absence of anxiety from her features, re-assured him; long as Mary had lived in his service, he was unaccustomed to her national evasions.
"Who was it tould you about her heart bating, masther?" she inquired.
"It was old John Coyne, who said she pressed her hand thus—"
"Is it ould John?" repeated the woman; "ould John that would sware the crosses off a donkey's back? Ah, sure! you're not going to b'lieve what ould John says."
"You think she is quite well, then?"
"She was singing like the first lark in spring after you went out, sir, and I never see her trip more lightly than she did down to the botany garden, not two minutes agone; unless you quick march, you'll not overtake her." Mr. Joyce wheeled round in his usually abrupt manner, and Mary stood at the door, shading the sun from her eyes with her hand, until he was out of sight. "I hate to have him look at me that way," she said, "seeing right through and through a body, more than what's in them! The bird of his bosom, poor man, may wear it out awhile, but not for long—and it's himself that will be lost then! But where's the good of looking out for sorrow; its heavy and hard enough when it comes: may the Lord keep it off' as long as it's good for us; and it is hard to fancy so bright a crathure marked for death."
Mary returned to her work—and the old sergeant-major overtook his daughter, just as she had lifted her hand to pull the great bell of the botanic garden. He said it
would be pleasanter to stroll along Cheyne-walk, over the old bridge of Battersea
So over the old bridge they went; resting now and then upon the worn ballustrades of the rough structure, to gaze over the bosom of the richest and most glorious—to my thinking, I may add, the most calmly beautiful—of all the rivers of the world. Standing upon this bridge, a forest of masts is seen in the distance;—indications of the traffic which brings the wealth of a thousand seaports to our city quays. "The mighty heart" of a great Nation is sending thence its life-streams over earth. Glorious and mighty, and—spite of its few drawbacks—good and happy England! Turning westward, the tranquil and gentle waters of
"The most loved of all the ocean's sons,"
are washing the banks of many a lordly villa and cottage, where the hands of industry are busied every day. And within sight, too, are places memorable in the annals of "holiday folk." How closely linked with remembrances of hosts of "honest citizens," is "the Red House, at Battersea,"—relic of those ancient "tea-gardens," which even now are beginning to belong to the history of the past. "Pleasant village of Chelsea," how abundant is its treasure of associations with the olden time! Not a house is there, or within view of it, to which some worthy memory may not be traced. Alas! they grow less and less in number every day!
But I have made a long digression from my story. During their walk the old soldier narrowly watched his child, to ascertain if she placed her hand on her heart, or her side; but she did not. She spoke kindly to the little children who crossed their path; and the dogs wagged their tails when they looked into her face. She walked, he thought, stoutly for a woman; and seemed so well, that he began talking to her about sieges, and marches, and of his early adventures; and then they sat down and rested; Lucy getting in a word, now and then, about the freshness and beauty of the country, and the goodness of God, and looking so happy and so animated that her father forgot all his fears on her account. Many persons, attracted by the fineness of the day, were strolling up and down Cheyne-walk as the father and daughter returned; and a group at the entrance to the famous Don Saltero Coffee-house, regarded her, as she passed, with such evident respect and admiration, that the sergeant-major felt more proud and happy than he had done for a very long time. In the evening, he smoked his long inlaid foreign pipe (which the little children, as well as the "big people" of Chelsea, regarded with peculiar admiration,) out of the parlour window. Lucy always brought him his pipe, but he never smoked it in the room, thinking it made her cough. And then, after he had finished, he shut down the window, and she drew the white muslin curtain; those who passed and repassed saw their shadows; the girl bending over a large book, and her father seated opposite to her; listening while she read, his elbow placed on the table, and his head resting on his hand. The drapery was so transparent that they could see his sword and sash hanging on the wall above his hat; and the branch of laurel with which Lucy had adorned the looking-glass that morning in commemoration of the battle of Toulouse. Before the sergeant-major went to bed that night he called old Mary, and whispered, "You were quite right about old John Coyne. Lucy never marched better than she did to-day; and her voice, both in reading, and the little hymn she sung, was as strong as a trumpet. I'll give it well to old John, to-morrow;"—but he never did. The sergeant-major was usually up the first in the house; yet, the next morning, when Mary took hot water to his room she stepped back, seeing he was kneeling, dressed, by his bed side; half an hour passed; she went again. Mr. Joyce had never undressed, never laid upon the bed since it had been turned down; he was dead and cold; his hands clasped in prayer. Some of the vessels of the heart, or head, had given way; the wonderful machine was disturbed; its power destroyed in an instant.
Lucy Joyce was now utterly alone in the world; of her father's relatives she knew little or nothing; her mother was an only child, and her grandmother and grandfather were both dead. A generous and benevolent lady, aware of the circumstances under which she was placed, offered to provide Lucy with a situation:—but what situation? She looked too delicate, too refined for service; and she was not sufficiently accomplished to undertake the duties of even a nursery governess. "Have none of their slavery, dear," exclaimed poor Mary, while weeping bitterly; "take your pick of the things to furnish two little rooms, Miss Lucy, and sell the rest. I've a power of friends, and can get constant work; turn my hand to anything, from chafing to clear-starching, or if the noise wouldn't bother you, sure I could have a mangle; it would exercise me of an evening when I'd be done work: don't lave me, Miss, don't darling, any way, till you gather a little strength after all you've gone through; the voice of the stranger is harsh, and the look of the stranger is cold, to those who have lived all their days in the light of a father's love. I took you from your mother's breast a wee-some, woe-some, babby, and sure, my jewel own, I have some right to you. I'll never gainsay you. And to please you, dear, I'll listen to any chapter you'll read out of the Book; nor never let the echo even of a white, let alone a black, oath cross my lips." But Lucy Joyce was too right-minded to live on the labour of an old servant. She retained barely enough to furnish for Mary a comfortable room, and accepted, much to the faithful creature's mortification, a "place" in a family—one of the hardest "places" to endure, and yet as good, perhaps, as, from her father's position, she could have expected—as half-teacher, half-servant; a mingling of opposite duties; against the mingling of which, reason utterly revolts; inasmuch as the one must inevitably destroy the influence of the other.
It was not in the thick atmosphere of the crowded city—where the most healthful find it difficult to breathe, and where the panting sufferer's agony is increased fourfold—that Lucy undertook the duties and labours of her new occupation; her way lay through
the venerable and picturesque old village of Fulham
, and so, beneath the arch and over the "wooden way," to Putney. Pleasant and happy the sister villages looked; divided by the noble Thames, and joined by the bridge—the most primitive of all the bridges which cross the broad river. Mary walked respectfully behind; but, now and then, spoke words of encouragement, while the tears ran down her cheeks. They paused to look down upon the water, so broad and glassy, athwart whose bosom the long light
boats were sporting; the clock of Putney church struck the hour, and Lucy remembered that, for the first time in her life, she was bound to note its chime as the voice of an
employer. The village of Putney
was soon passed, yet not without some difficulty to the poor girl; her chest heaved and panted as she endeavoured to walk lightly up the rising ground towards the Heath, where her future home was situated; poor Mary whispering, "Take it asy, dear; don't hurry yourself, avourneen." They parted at the gate.
Time would pass almost unregistered by us, but for the abruptness of some of its movements. Every country has its great national datas, which fix a period. Of late, in France, "the revolution," and "three glorious days;" in Ireland, "the ninety-eight;" in Scotland "the forty-five;" in England, "the restoration," "the riots." These stormy doings are History's high places. Yet events which effect changes as entire and as wonderful, continue untalked about or unthought of, because they have not been heralded by beat of drum, and written in fields of slaughter. So, in private life, time would pass for ever unregistered by us, but for the abruptness of some of its movements—things that seem either to stop its course or send it dashing forward. The most humble have their "great events"—their mental land marks. "It was just before I was married," or "immediately after our eldest boy was born," is the frequent observation of the wife and mother. The widow says, "before my husband died." Poor Lucy, when the sufferings of pain were increased by the anxieties of duty, and retrospection was forced upon her, could only say, or think, "when my dear father was alive,"—that was her land mark! The duties incident to her new position; the exertion which children require, and which is perpetual, though parents are the only persons who do not feel it to be so; the exercise, the necessity for amusing and instructing the young, the high-spirited, and the active; these added to the change of repose for inquietude, of being the one cared for, to the having to care for others; the entire loneliness of spirit, all combined to make her worse, to crush utterly the already bruised reed.
Lucy was fully sensible of the consoling power—the great pleasure of being useful; and her mind was both practically and theoretically Christian; so, she never yielded to fretfulness or impatience; she knew that, through all her trials—through her waking hours of pain, through the weary time of total incapacity for the fulfilment of her duties—God was with her, was her stay, was her support; was trying her, as pure gold is tried in the fire; would sustain her in spirit unto the end: she knew all this, she never doubted, but she suffered; her heart fluttered like an imprisoned bird, as she toiled and panted up the high stairs, while the children laughed and sported, with the spirit and energy of health, and called to her to 'come faster.' Night brought rest without refreshment; she could not sleep; and, stifling her cough, lest she should disturb others, she would look up to the starry sky, often repeating—
"Oh! that I had wings like a dove;"
but hardly had she so prayed, when a sense of her own unworthiness, of the duty of watching and waiting for God's appointed time, would come upon her, and she would add, "Not my will, but Thine be done." No one was cruel, no one even unkind to her; the cross cook (all good cooks are cross), would often make her lemonade, or reserve something she thought the young girl might eat; the lady's-maid, who had regarded her, at first, as a rival beauty, won by her cheerful patience, said, that even when her eyes were full of tears, there was a smile upon her lip; all the servants felt for her; and, at length, her mistress requested her own physician to see what was the matter with "poor Joyce."
There are exceptions, no doubt; but, taken as a body, medical men—God bless them for so being!—are the very souls of kindness and generous humanity; how many have I known whose voices were as music in a sick chamber; who, instead of taking, gave; ever ready to alleviate and to sustain.
"Have you no friends?" he inquired.
"None, sir," she replied; "at least none to support me; and," she added, "I know I am unable to remain here." While she said this, she looked with her blue, truthful, earnest eyes, into his face; then paused, hoping, without knowing what manner of hope was in her, that he would say—"she was able;" but he did not; and she continued, "there is no one to whom I can go, except an old servant of my poor father's; so, if—" there came, perhaps, a flush of pride to her cheek, or it might be she was ashamed to ask a favour—"if, sir, you could get me into an hospital, I should be most grateful."
"I wish I could," he answered, "with all my heart. We have hospitals enough; yet, I fear—indeed, I know—there is not one that would receive you, when aware of the exact nature of your complaint. You must have a warm, mild atmosphere; perfect quiet, and a particular diet; and that for some considerable time."
"My mother, sir," said Lucy, "died of consumption."
"Well, but you are not going to die," he replied, smiling; "only you must let your father's old servant take care of you, and you may soon get better."
Lucy shook her head, and her eyes overflowed with tears; the physician cheered her, after the usual fashion. "I am not afraid of death, sir," said the young woman; "indeed, I am not; but I fear, more than I ought, the passage which leads to it; the burden I must be to the poor faithful creature who nursed me from my birth. I thought there was an hospital for the cure of every disease; and this consumption is so general, so helpless, so tedious."
"The very thing,"—said the doctor, who, with all his kindness, was one of those who think "so and so," because "all the faculty" thought "so and so," for such a number of years;—"its being tedious is the very thing; it is quite a forlorn hope."
"But, sir," answered the soldier's daughter, "Forlorn hopes have sometimes led to great victories, when they have been forlorn, but not forsaken."
The doctor pressed into her hand the latest fee he had received, and descended the stairs. "That is a very extraordinary girl, madam, in the nursery," he said to the lady, "something very superior about her; but she will get worse and worse; nothing for her but a more genial climate, constant care, perfect rest, careful diet: if she lives through the winter she must go in the spring. Lungs! chest! blisters will relieve her; and if we could produce the climate of Madeira here for a winter or so, she might revive; but, poor thing, in her situation—"
The lady shook her head, and repeated, "Ay; in her situation."
"It is really frightful," he continued, "the hundreds—thousands, I may say—who drop off in this dreadful disease; the flower of our maidens; the finest of our youths; no age, no sex, exempt from it. We have only casual practice to instruct us in it; we have no opportunity of watching and analyzing it, en masse, as we have with other complaints; it is turned out of our hospitals before we do what we even fancy might be done; it is indeed, as she said just now, 'forlorn' and 'forsaken.' Why, I know not; I really wish some one would establish an hospital for the cure, or, at least, the investigation of this disease; many, if taken in time, would be saved. Suffering, the most intense, but, perhaps, the best endured, from the very nature of the complaint, would be materially lessened, and a fresh and noble field opened for an almost new branch of our profession."
The physician prescribed for Lucy. He saw her again, and would have seen her repeatedly, but the family left town suddenly, in consequence of the death of a near relative, and the very belief that nothing could be done for her, circumstanced as she was, contributed to her being forgotten. The human mind has a natural desire to blot out from memory objects that are hopeless. Lucy went to Mary's humble lodging, and fancied, for a day or two, she was much better. She had the repose which such illness so naturally seeks. Mary's room was on the ground floor of a small house, in a little street leading off "Paradise-row." The old pensioners frequently passed the window; she could hear the beat of the Asylum drums; sometimes they awoke her out of her sleep in the morning; but she liked them none the less for that. Mary put away her poor master's hat (which she brushed every morning), his sword and sash, and his gloves, in her own box, when Lucy came, least the sight of them should make her melancholy; but Lucy saw their marks upon the wall, and begged she would replace them there. She gave her little store, amounting to a few pounds, into the nurse's hands, who spent it scrupulously for her—and yet not prudently; for she ran after every nostrum, and insisted upon Lucy's swallowing them all. Sometimes the fading girl would creep along in the sunshine, and so changed was she, in little more than a year, that no one recognised her, though some would look after her, and endeavour to call to mind who it was she so strongly resembled.
The only living thing that rejoiced with Mary over her return, was a lean, hungry dog, the favourite of an out-pensioner who died about six months before the sergeant-major. It was ill-favoured, but faithful, remaining many nights upon its master's grave. Lucy coaxed it home and fed it; and though the creature's erratic disposition prevented its accepting the refuge she then offered, he would come in occasionally for a night's lodging, or a breakfast, and depart without a single wag of his stunted tail. When Lucy left Chelsea, Mary almost lost sight of the dog, though she met him sometimes, and then he would look to her—a sort of recognition—and walk on. The morning after Lucy's return, while she lay upon her nurse's bed, the door was poked open by a thick, grizzled nose, and in another instant the pensioner's dog rushed to her, expressing his joy by the most uncouth sounds and motions, screaming while licking her hands, and, when his excitement subsided, lying down inside the door. with his eyes fixed upon her, baffling all Mary's efforts to turn him out. Beauty, after all, has very little to do with the affections; after its first sun stroke, it loses most of its power. Lucy had the keen apppreciation of the beautiful which belongs to a refined mind in every situation of life; yet the gratitude of that poor ugly dog attached her to him; through all her sufferings, when her nurse was out at work, he was a companion, something to speak to. The little store was soon expended, though Mary would not confess it; Lucy, skilled in the womanly craft of needlework, laboured unceasingly; and, as long as she was able to apply to it, Mary found a market for her industry. But as the disease gained ground, her efforts became more feeble, and then the faithful nurse put forth all her strength, all her ingenuity, to disguise the nature of their situation; the expense of the necessary medicine, inefficient as it was, would have procured her every alleviating comfort—if there had been an Institution to supply it.
I have often borne testimony to that which I have more often witnessed—the deep, earnest, and steadfast fidelity of the humbler Irish! yet I have never been able to render half justice to the theme. If they be found wanting in all other good or great qualities, they are still true in this—ever faithful, enduring, unwearied, unmoved; past all telling is their fidelity! The woman whose character I am now describing, was but one example of a most numerous class. Well she would have known, if she had given the matter a thought, that no chance or change could ever enable Lucy to repay her services, or recompence her for her sacrifices and cares; yet her devotion was a thousand times more fervent than if it had been purchased by all the bribes that a kingdom's wealth could yield. By the mere power of her zeal—her earnest and utterly unselfish love—she obtained a hearing from many governors of hospitals; stated the case of "her young lady," as she called her, the child of a brave man, who had served his country, who died before his time, from the effects of that service; and she, his child, was dying now, from want of proper treatment. In all her statements, Mary set forth everything to create sympathy for Lucy, but, nothing that tended to show her own exertions; how she toiled for her, night and day; how she was pledging, piece by piece, everything she had, to support her; how her wedding-ring was gone from off her finger, and the cherished Waterloo medal of her dead husband (which, by some peculiarly Irish effort of the imagination, she said "was his very picture") had disappeared from her box. She whispered nothing of all this, though she prayed and petitioned at almost every hospital for medicine and advice. Dismissed from one, Mary would go to another, urging that "sure if they could cure one thing they could cure another, anyhow they might try;" and if she, the beloved of her heart, was raised up from a bed of sickness, "God's fresh blessing" would be about them, day and night. "They got up hospitals," she would add, "for the suddenly struck for death; for the lame, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind; for the vicious! but there were none to comfort those who deserved and needed more than any! She did not want them to take her darling from her. She only asked advice and medicine." She implored for nothing more. The Irish never seem to feel ashamed of obtaining assistance from any source, except that which the English fly to, as their legitimate refuge—the Parish; and Mary would have imagined she heaped the bitterest wrong upon Lucy, if she had consulted "the parish doctor;" thus, her national prejudice shut her out from the only relief, trifling as it might have been, which she could obtain for the poor girl she so tenderly cherished.
Mary had such an aversion to the "Poor-house" that she would go round the public road rather than pass the rambling building close to the burying-ground, where the Chelsea poor find shelter; and was never beguiled but once to look through the gate at the Workhouse in the Fulham Road. It was formerly the residence of the second Lord Shaftesbury; where Locke, and other great men of his time, congregated. "I stopped to look in at it, Miss Lucy, dear," she said, "through a fine ould ancient gate—and the flower-pots, up the steps, were filled with beautiful flowers—and an old residenter—a blind woman, that a slip of a girl held by the hand, was standing on the top; and there came out a fine-dressed lady, for all the world like a full-blown trumpet; and the dark woman courtesied, and asked lave to 'come out'—think of one craythur asking another for lave to breathe the air of heaven outside an ould gate!—and, I suppose she got it, for the lady in red threw some words at her, and she gave another courtesy, and came down the steps—her and the girleen. I had seen enough, and turned away, for my heart was full. I have never lived in slavery, and, plase God, I won't die in it, Miss Lucy—and none I love shall ever be behoulden to a parish." This was reasoning—more of the heart than of the head. And yet, who can say that poor Mary was very wrong? True, that a roof shelters, and food keeps in existence the English pauper; but all the feelings that are cherished and honoured without the workhouse walls, are insulted and uprooted within; the holy law of wedded life—the command, what God hath joined let not man separate—is there outraged; fifty years have that aged man and woman paid the tithe and the tax; half a century have they laboured honestly; the grave has closed over their children and their early friends, and they are forced to durance in the poor man's prison; but they must no longer quench their thirst from the same cup, or pray beside the same couch; the law of man divides what can be re-united only in the presence of the Creator! No wonder then, if, like poor Mary, many turn away from unjust judgment, and resolve not to "die in slavery," having been guilty of no sin but that of being poor. Oh! but it is a grievous augmentation of evil when sympathy is diverted from its natural channel, and the sufferer is taught daily the sad knowledge that to want is to be criminal.
And so the fell disease, pale and ghastly, stalked on, grasping its panting and unresisting victim, closer and more close; wasting her form—infusing the thirsty fever into her veins—parching her quivering lips into whiteness—drawing her breath—steeping her in unwholesome dews—and, at times, with a most cruel mockery, painting her cheek and lighting an ignis fatuus in her eyes, to bewilder with false hopes of life, while life was failing! Sometimes she would talk of this life as if it were everlasting, and—looking over a worn memorandum-book of her father's, in which all the battles he was engaged in were chronicled after a soldier's fashion; the day of the month noted, the name of the place, which added another to our wreath of glories, illuminated by the colours of his regiment rudely indicated by a star or an "hurra," in a peculiarly cramped hand—she would become excited, and weave imaginary trophies, calling to her broken-hearted nurse to bring her the green laurel which her father loved to distribute among his comrades; these fever fits, however, were at long intervals, and brief; gradually as "the spring," the physician had spoken of, advanced, the mingled hopes of this world, which are but as the faint shadowings of the great hereafter, strengthened and spiritualized; and her thoughts were prayer, prayer to Him the Saviour and Redeemer; prayerful and patient she was, gentle and grateful; her perceptions which had been, for a time, clouded, quickened as her end drew near; she saw the furniture departing, piece by piece; at last she missed her father's sash and sword; and when poor Mary would have framed excuses, she placed her quivering fingers on her lips, and spoke more than she had done for many days. "God will reward you for your steadfast love of a poor parentless girl; you spared my treasure as long as you could, caring nothing for yourself, working and starving, and all for me. Oh, that the world could know, and have belief in the fervent enduring virtues that sanctify such rooms as this, that decorate bare walls, and make a bright and warming light when the coal is burnt to ashes, and the thin candle, despite our watching, flickers before the night is done. I have not thought it night, when I felt your hand or heard you breathe." Oh! what liberal charities are there of which the world knows nothing! How generous, and how mighty in extent and value, are the gifts given by the poor to the poor!
It is useless as well as painful to note what followed; she faded and faded; yet the weaker her body grew, the clearer grew her mind, the more deep became her faith; she would lie for hours, sleepless, with her eyes fixed on what we should call vacancy—but which, to her, seemed a bright world of angels, with the Redeemer in the midst—murmuring prayers, and broken fragments of hymns, and listening to words of peace which no ear but her own could hear—her mind only returning to this world to bless Mary, when she came from her daily toil, or with the fruits of that solicitation, which she employed for her sake, to the last. The dog, too, the poor old dog, that had partaken of her bounty, shared in her poverty, and would stand with his paws on the bed, looking with his dim eyes into her face, and licking her hand whenever she moved or moaned.
It was again the anniversary of the battle of Toulouse, and Lucy remembered it; she begged the old woman not to leave her; it would be her last day; her mind wandered a little; and then she asked for a bough of laurel—and to sit up—and Mary went out to seek for a few green leaves. As she past hastily along, she met James Hardy stumping joyously onwards, and talking to himself, as if poor old John Coyne, who had been dead a year, was by his side; she saw he had something green in his hand, and she asked him to share it with her, for a poor girl, her "young lady," the sergeant-major's daughter, who was dying!
The veteran did as she desired; but the bow was yew, not laurel. Well versed in omens, she returned it to him, burst into tears, and ran on. He had heard that Miss Lucy was ill; but age is often forgetful; he had not thought of it; yet now, the memory of the past rushed into his heart, and he discovered so quickly where "Irish Mary" lived, that when she was home again, with a fresh green sprig of laurel, James Hardy was weeping bitterly by Lucy's side, while Lucy was in an ecstacy of joy. "Her father," she said, "had come for her; there should be no more sorrow, no more pain; no more want for Mary or for her; her dear father had come for her." By a strong effort, she laid her head on James Hardy's shoulder, and grasped her nurse's hard, honest hand. "I come, my father!" she exclaimed, and all was over.
"To die so, in her prime, her youth, her beauty; to be left to die, because they say there's no cure for it; they never tried to cure her!" exclaimed the nurse, between her bursts of grief—"no place to shelter her—no one to see to her—no proper food, or air, or care—my heart's jewel—who cared for all, when she had it! Still, the Lord is merciful; another week, and I should have had nothing but a drop of cold water to moisten her lips, and no bed for her to lie on. I kept that to the last, anyhow; and now it may go; it must go; small loss; what matter what comes of the likes of me, when such as her could have no help! I'll beg from door to door, 'till I raise enough to lay her by her father's side, in the churchyard of ould Chelsea." But that effort, at all events, was not needed; the hospital was astir; the sergeant-major was remembered; and the church-bell tolled when Lucy was laid in her father's grave, in the Churchyard of Old Chelsea.
HE reader of this little book must not close it with a sad aspect. Thank God, there are few griefs without some counterbalancing comforts; and this afflicting subject, so long without hope, is now full of hope. The contrasts of life, the lights and shadows of existence, are sometimes so strong as to be absolutely painful; yet their strength and rapidity of change are, in many cases, blessings. Our church bell the other morning had been tolling, at intervals, for a funeral; the morning was dull and clouded, and the sound, instead of rising through the atmosphere, boomed heavily and gloomily along it. A cessation followed: I was so occupied that I hardly noted how long it was, when, suddenly, the joy bells struck up, ringing out such merry music that I remembered, at once, there was a wedding going forward that day; a right gay bridal; rank, fashion, and wealth; love also, I had been told, was, of a surety, there; all that young hearts desire being gathered together; and the bells again and again rang forth, until the air vibrated. At first the change was very painful; so sudden, and startling, and jarring, that I longed to shut it out; but when I opened my window and looked forth, the contrast of sight was as great as was that of sound; the clouds were floating away in the distance, and around us all was light! I was almost angry with myself for feeling so immediately happy; but, after the lapse of a few minutes, the heaviness of the past was superseded by the joyfulness of the present. The evening came in due time, with its sober hues and tones, and I had leisure to think over the doleful knell and the marriage ringings; and then, indeed, I saw, with gratitude to Him who orders all things for the best, how wise it is that the tear should be followed by the smile, and that cause for sorrow should be succeeded by motive for joy!
How many and how marvellous are the changes that ten years have wrought. New sympathies have been awakened; a new spirit has been hovering above us and around us, with "healing on its wings." Ten years ago—women and children slaved in our coal mines, degraded far below the level of "brutes that perish;" women, harnessed to their loads, crawling like reptiles along damps and slimes, underneath the earth: children, whose weak and "winking" eyes had never seen the light, with minds as dark as the strata wherein they toiled! Ten years ago—the loom, too, hid its victims far away out of Humanity's sight, in the sole keeping of those who, in their thirst for "gold, more gold," made their alchemy of infant sinews, and sweats from the brow of age. Ten years ago—the shopman—in the hot summer time, centred in the crowded thoroughfare, where dust and air so closely mingle that they are inhaled together from sunrise to midnight—laboured for eighteen hours; an item of God's creation for whom there was no care; never, during the six days of his master's week, seeing the faces of his children, save in sleep, and too worn, too weary, when the sabbath came, to find it a day of rest. How long was the prayer unanswered,—
""Give me one hour of rest from toil,
From daily toil for daily bread;
Untwisting Labour's heavy coil
From round the heart and head;"
Ten years ago—no voice was raised for mercy to the lone sempstress; sure "slave of the lamp;" working from "weary chime to chime;" bearing her cross in solitude—toiling, while starving, for the few soiled pence, the very touch of which would be contamination to the kidded hands of tawdry footmen; these poor women sunk into their graves, they and their famished children, unmissed of any, for there were none to ask where they were gone. Ten years ago—and the governess, in age, in poverty, in sickness, had no refuge—no shelter, even from a storm that might have been a passing one. Her life of labour—labour of head, eyes, hands, and tongue; toil without rest—uncheered, unappreciated, unrecompensed, which left
"No leisure to be gay or glad,"
followed by a deserted sick bed; a death, unmarked by any kindly eye, and a coffin grudged for its cost. Such was her too common lot! Ten years ago, the poor dressmaker fagged out her life; fainting during her brief minutes of "rest;" standing when sleepy, while one, of more robust strength than her companions, stalked about the thronged and ill-ventilated work-room, till past midnight, touching those whose fingers relax, and whispering the warning sound—"Wake up—wake up!"
Need we prolong this list—this contrast, appalling yet glorious, of the present time with ten years ago? One more must be added to it presently.
Ten years have, indeed, wrought many and marvellous changes. A cry has been raised throughout the Empire, not by the poor but for the poor; not by the oppressed, but for them! It was a righteous cry, and holy are the sympathies it has awakened; sympathies which convey our superfluous riches to that storehouse where neither moth nor rust can corrupt; convincing us that, while a closed heart is never happy, a hand open as day to melting charity, secures a mightier reward than the wealth of Crœsus can purchase!
There is, then, one newly-awakened sympathy to be yet added to the list, of which, in preceding remarks, I have given only an abridgement. Ten years ago—nay, three years ago—the poor woman or man, who had been stricken with consumption was left to perish. For her or for him there was literally "no hope." Every other ailment was cared for—might be "taken in time." But this terrible disease was, like the leprosy of old, or the plague in modern times—a signal for the sufferer to be deserted, abandoned in despair. Blessed be the God of mercy, such is not the case now; a "new sympathy," has been awakened, and, by the aid of a merciful Providence, it has spread widely! An establishment, hitherto conducted on a small scale, but hereafter to be in a degree commensurate with the want, exists in this Metropolis, where the patient will not apply for help in vain. It is sufficiently notorious that nearly all the great projects which have given pre-eminence to this country, and have made it—as it has been, is, and, by God's help, ever will be—the envy and admiration of surrounding states, have been the births of private enterprise. It is so in science, in literature, in the arts, and, above all, in charity. Some one man, more thoughtful, more energetic, and more indefatigable than the great mass of his fellow men, stirs the hearts of others, sets himself and them to the great work of improvement, or mercy—and the thing is done. If we recur to the several leading public charities, we shall find that all, or nearly all, of them, have thus originated; the names of their founders have been handed down to posterity, and individuals, comparatively insignificant and obscure, are classed as benefactors to mankind, entitled to, and receiving, the gratitude of a whole people.
Thus the name of a poor player, whose monument is at Dulwich, has been made famous for ages; that of a humble sea-captain is identified with the preservation of the lives of tens of thousands of foundlings; while that of a simple miniature painter is for ever linked with the history of practical "Benevolence." The list might include nearly the whole of the charities of London, which, from similar small sources, have become mighty waters—spreading, healing, fertilizing, and blessing!
The absence of a hospital for the relief and cure of consumptive patients, was a national reproach; when, happily, exertions which followed the efforts of a single individual removed it. He was without rank or fortune to give weight and strength to the cause he had undertaken; he was a member of a profession which necessarily occupied much time and thought—entailed daily labour from morn till night—and is, indeed, supposed, however falsely, to check and chill the sympathies of the natural heart, engendering indifference to human suffering. Must happily, his mind and heart were both rightly directed; in him the conviction of what ought to be was followed by a resolution that it should be; his generous and merciful feelings were not limited to good intentions; he added energy to zeal, and industry to stern resolve; and, in a word, the mighty object has been accomplished. The Institution, which originated at a small meeting, in a comparatively humble house in "Hansplace, Chelsea," is now the patronized of the Queen, and the aided of the people; and its power to do good has been marvellously augmented. Even with the very limited means hitherto at the command of its Directors, prodigious service has been rendered; in numerous instances, vast relief has been afforded; in some cases restorations to health have been effected, and, in others, the passage to the grave has been made easy, tranquil, and happy.
And surely this latter consideration is one of very vital importance. Not only is the chaplain of the Institution aided earnestly by the matron and other excellent ladies, who read and pray, and soothe and comfort the fainting and struggling spirit; but no distinction of creeds is here made—where death is so often busied in levelling all distinctions; a clergyman of the Roman Catholic faith, and ministers of all Christian societies and sects, are gladly admitted whenever members of their congregations require spiritual comfort and aid. Who is there, then, with mind and heart influenced by religion, who will not rejoice at opportunities of soothing a dying-bed—removing misery, alleviating pain, and averting want, while preparing for a change of time for eternity? The yet limited chronicles of this infant Institution record many touching instances of courage, encouragement, hope, and salvation, obtained there, while passing through the valley of the shadow of death. The fatal disease gives abundant time for such consolations and such results; the tyrant advances slowly; the issue has been long foreseen; there is no need to hurry or confuse; divine grace may be infused surely—the mists of unbelief being gradually dispelled; bright and cheering gospel truths may be learned, one by one, until the last sigh wafts the soul into the haven "prepared by the blood of the Lamb."
But temporal, as well as eternal good, has been already achieved by this Institution. Several of its inmates have been discharged, fitted to become useful members of society; strengthened in constitution as well as spiritually enlightened; beneficially changed, in all respects, by a temporary residence in this blessed Asylum. I have seen, not one or two, but several, pale faces return, after a sojourn in the Hospital, to thank me for "my letter," with the hues of health upon their cheeks, and able to bless the Institution, without pausing to breathe between the breaks in every sentence.
There is, however, a consideration connected with the subject which presses sorely on the mind of every inhabitant of these islands—rich as well as poor—for no station is exempt from the influence of the subtle disease; no blood, however ancient and pure, can repel it; exemption from its attacks cannot be purchased by any excess of wealth; caution can do little to avert it; its advances are perceived afar off without a prospect of escape; it seems, indeed, the terrible vanquisher against whom it is idle to fight.
Surely, then, all are interested—deeply interested—in helping the only plan by which the disease may be so studied as to secure a remedy. It is foolish to speak of it as incurable; the term signifies only that the cure has not been yet discovered; there are scores of other diseases which, half a century ago, were regarded as consumption now is—sure steps to death, for which the physician could do nothing. How many seeming miracles has simple science worked in our day! Why have other diseases been completely conquered, while this maintains its power unchecked? Merely, because, in reference to the one, ample opportunities for studying them have been of late years afforded, while, with regard to the other, a single case at a time was all the physician could take for his guidance. Now, in this Institution, a school is forming, to which it is not too much to say, even the most healthy and beautiful children of our highest nobles may be indebted for life; for who can say how soon a slight cold may sow the seeds of consumption, which skill may fail to baffle and subdue until greater knowledge has been supplied by means more enlarged and more effectual than as yet exist in the kingdoms swayed by a royal lady, who is at once the pride and the model of British wives and mothers?
To all our interests, then—of time and of eternity—this charity makes earnest and eloquent appeal. Surely these considerations will have their weight in obtaining all-sufficient aid to create and sustain the Institution it is my happy privilege to advocate,—in humble but earnest hope that my weak advocacy may not be altogether vain.
The Rosery, Old Brompton