On my Father's books and lectures, therefore, the whole weight now rested, and that at a moment when he was depressed and unnerved by anxiety. It was contrary to his principles to borrow money, so that it became necessary to pay doctor's and chemist's bills punctually, and yet to carry on the little household with the very small margin. Each artifice of economy was now exercised to enable this to be done without falling into debt, and every branch of expenditure was cut down, clothes, books, the little garden which was my Father's pride, all felt the pressure of new poverty. Even our food, which had always been simple, now became Spartan indeed, and I am sure that my Mother often pretended to have no appetite that there might remain enough to satisfy my hunger. Fortunately my Father was able to take us away in the autumn for six weeks by the sea in Wales, the expenses of this tour being paid for by a professional engagement, so that my seventh birthday was spent in an ecstasy of happiness, on golden sands, under a brilliant sky, and in sight of the glorious azure ocean beating in from an infinitude of melting horizons. Here, too, my Mother, perched in a nook of the high rocks, surveyed the west, and forgot for a little while her weakness and the gnawing, grinding pain.
But in October, our sorrows seemed to close in upon us. We went back to London, and for the first time in their married life, my parents were divided. My Mother was now so seriously weaker that the omnibus journeys to Pimlico became impossible. My Father could not leave his work and so my Mother and I had to take a gloomy lodging close to the doctor's house. The experiences upon which I presently entered were of a nature in which childhood rarely takes a part. I was now my Mother's sole and ceaseless companion; the silent witness of her suffering, of her patience, of her vain and delusive attempts to obtain alleviation of her anguish. For nearly three months I breathed the atmosphere of pain, saw no other light, heard no other sounds, thought no other thoughts than those which accompany physical suffering and weariness. To my memory these weeks seem years; I have no measure of their monotony. The lodgings were bare and yet tawdry; out of dingy windows we looked from a second storey upon a dull small street, drowned in autumnal fog. My Father came to see us when he could, but otherwise, save when we made our morning expedition to the doctor, or when a slatternly girl waited upon us with our distasteful meals, we were alone, without any other occupation than to look forward to that occasional abatement of suffering which was what we hoped for most.
It is difficult for me to recollect how these interminable hours were spent. But I read aloud in a great part of them. I have now in my mind's cabinet a picture of my chair turned towards the window, partly that I might see the book more distinctly, partly not to see quite so distinctly that dear patient figure rocking on her sofa, or leaning, like a funeral statue, like a muse upon a monument, with her head on her arms against the mantelpiece. I read the Bible every day, and at much length; also,--with I cannot but think some praiseworthy patience,--a book of incommunicable dreariness, called Newton's Thoughts on the Apocalypse. Newton bore a great resemblance to my old aversion, Jukes, and I made a sort of playful compact with my Mother that if I read aloud a certain number of pages out of Thoughts on the Apocalypse, as a reward I should be allowed to recite 'my own favourite hymns'. Among these there was one which united her suffrages with mine. Both of us extremely admired the piece by Toplady which begins:
What though my frail eyelids refuse Continual watchings to keep, And, punctual as midnight renews, Demand the refreshment of sleep.
To this day, I cannot repeat this hymn without a sense of poignant emotion, nor can I pretend to decide how much of this is due to its merit and how much to the peculiar nature of the memories it recalls. But it might be as rude as I genuinely think it to be skilful, and I should continue to regard it as a sacred poem. Among all my childish memories none is clearer than my looking up,--after reading, in my high treble,
Kind Author and Ground of my hope, Thee, Thee for my God I avow; My glad Ebenezer set up, And own Thou hast help'd me till now; I muse on the years that are past, Wherein my defence Thou hast prov'd, Nor wilt Thou relinquish at last A sinner so signally lov'd,--
and hearing my Mother, her eyes brimming with tears and her alabastrine fingers tightly locked together, murmur in unconscious repetition:
Nor wilt Thou relinquish at last A sinner so signally lov'd.