No, the Protestant League may consider itself to be an earnest and active body, but I can never look upon its efforts as anything but lukewarm, standing, as I do, with the light of other days around me. As a child, whatever I might question, I never doubted the turpitude of Rome. I do not think I had formed any idea whatever of the character or pretensions or practices of the Catholic Church, or indeed of what it consisted, or its nature; but I regarded it with a vague terror as a wild beast, the only good point about it being that it was very old and was soon to die. When I turned to Jukes or Newton for further detail, I could not understand what they said. Perhaps, on the whole, there was no disadvantage in that.
It is possible that someone may have observed to my Father that the conditions of our life were unfavourable to our health, although I hardly think that he would have encouraged any such advice. As I look back upon this far-away time, I am surprised at the absence in it of any figures but our own. He and I together, now in the study among the sea-anemones and starfishes; now on the canal-bridge, looking down at the ducks; now at our hard little meals, served up as those of a dreamy widower are likely to be when one maid-of-all-work provides them, now under the lamp at the maps we both loved so much, this is what I see-- no third presence is ever with us. Whether it occurred to himself that such a solitude a deux was excellent, in the long run, for neither of us, or whether any chance visitor or one of the 'Saints', who used to see me at the Room every Sunday morning, suggested that a female influence might put a little rose-colour into my pasty cheeks, I know not. All I am sure of is that one day, towards the close of the summer, as I was gazing into the street, I saw a four-wheeled cab stop outside our door, and deposit, with several packages, a strange lady, who was shown up into my Father's study and was presently brought down and introduced to me.
Miss Marks, as I shall take the liberty of calling this person, was so long a part of my life that I must pause to describe her. She was tall, rather gaunt, with high cheek-bones; her teeth were prominent and very white; her eyes were china-blue, and were always absolutely fixed, wide open, on the person she spoke to; her nose was inclined to be red at the tip. She had a kind, hearty, sharp mode of talking, but did not exercise it much, being on the whole taciturn. She was bustling and nervous, not particularly refined, not quite, I imagine, what is called 'a lady'. I supposed her, if I thought of the matter at all, to be very old, but perhaps she may have been, when we knew her first, some forty-five summers. Miss Marks was an orphan, depending upon her work for her living; she would not, in these days of examinations, have comas up to the necessary educational standards, but she had enjoyed experience in teaching, and was prepared to be a conscientious and careful governess, up to her lights. I was now informed by my Father that it was in this capacity that she would in future take her place in our household. I was not informed, what I gradually learned by observation, that she would also act in it as housekeeper.
Miss Marks was a somewhat grotesque personage, and might easily be painted as a kind of eccentric Dickens character, a mixture of Mrs. Pipchin and Miss Sally Brass. I will confess that when, in years to come, I read 'Dombey and Son', certain features of Mrs. Pipchin did irresistibly remind me of my excellent past governess. I can imagine Miss Marks saying, but with a facetious intent, that children who sniffed would not go to heaven. But I was instantly ashamed of the parallel, because my gaunt old friend was a thoroughly good and honest woman, not intelligent and not graceful, but desirous in every way to do her duty. Her duty to me she certainly did, and I am afraid I hardly rewarded her with the devotion she deserved. From the first, I was indifferent to her wishes, and, as much as was convenient, I ignored her existence. She held no power over my attention, and if I accepted her guidance along the path of instruction, it was because, odd as it may sound, I really loved knowledge. I accepted her company without objection, and though there were occasional outbreaks of tantrums on both sides, we got on very well together for several years. I did not, however, at any time surrender my inward will to the wishes of Miss Marks.
In the circle of our life the religious element took so preponderating a place, that it is impossible to avoid mentioning, what might otherwise seem unimportant, the theological views of Miss Marks. How my Father had discovered her, or from what field of educational enterprise he plucked her in her prime, I never knew, but she used to mention that my Father's ministrations had 'opened her eyes', from which 'scales' had fallen. She had accepted, on their presentation to her, the entire gamut of his principles. Miss Marks was accustomed, while putting me to bed, to dwell darkly on the incidents of her past, which had, I fear, been an afflicted one. I believe I do her rather limited intelligence no injury when I say that it was prepared to swallow, at one mouthful, whatever my Father presented to it, so delighted was its way-worn possessor to find herself in a comfortable, or, at least, an independent position. She soon bowed, if there was indeed any resistance from the first, very contentedly in the House of Rimmon, learning to repeat, with marked fluency, the customary formulas and shibboleths. On my own religious development she had no great influence. Any such guttering theological rushlight as Miss Marks might dutifully exhibit faded for me in the blaze of my Father's glaring beacon-lamp of faith.
Hardly was Miss Marks settled in the family, than my Father left us on an expedition about which my curiosity was exercised, but not until later, satisfied. He had gone, as we afterwards found, to South Devon, to a point on the coast which he had known of old. Here he had hired a horse, and had ridden about until he saw a spot he liked, where a villa was being built on speculation. Nothing equals the courage of these recluse men; my Father got off his horse, and tied it to the gate, and then he went in and bought the house on a ninety-nine years' lease. I need hardly say that he had made the matter a subject of the most earnest prayer, and had entreated the Lord for guidance. When he felt attracted to this particular villa, he did not doubt that he was directed to it in answer to his supplication, and he wasted no time in further balancing or inquiring. On my eighth birthday, with bag and baggage complete, we all made the toilful journey down into Devonshire, and I was a town-child no longer.
A NEW element now entered into my life, a fresh rival arose to compete for me with my Father's dogmatic theology. This rival was the Sea. When Wordsworth was a little child, the presence of the mountains and the clouds lighted up his spirit with gleams that were like the flashing of a shield. He has described, in the marvellous pages of the 'Prelude', the impact of nature upon the infant soul, but he has described it vaguely and faintly, with some 'infirmity of love for days disowned by memory',--I think because he was brought up in the midst of spectacular beauty, and could name no moment, mark no 'here' or 'now', when the wonder broke upon him. It was at the age of twice five summers, he thought, that he began to hold unconscious intercourse with nature, 'drinking in a pure organic pleasure' from the floating mists and winding waters. Perhaps, in his anxiety to be truthful, and in the absence of any record, he put the date of this conscious rapture too late rather than too early. Certainly my own impregnation with the obscurely-defined but keenly-felt loveliness of the open sea dates from the first week of my ninth year.
The village, on the outskirts of which we had taken up our abode, was built parallel to the cliff line above the shore, but half a mile inland. For a long time after the date I have now reached, no other form of natural scenery than the sea had any effect upon me at all. The tors of the distant moor might be drawn in deep blue against the pallor of our morning or our evening sky, but I never looked at them. It was the Sea, always the sea, nothing but the sea. From our house, or from the field at the back of our house, or from any part of the village itself, there was no appearance to suggest that there could lie anything in an easterly direction to break the infinitude of red ploughed fields. But on that earliest morning, how my heart remembers we hastened,--Miss Marks, the maid, and I between them, along a couple of high-walled lanes, when suddenly, far below us, in an immense arc of light, there stretched the enormous plain of waters. We had but to cross a step or two of downs, when the hollow sides of the great limestone cove yawned at our feet, descending, like a broken cup, down, down to the moon of snow- white shingle and the expanse of blue-green sea.