The state of my dear mother’s health had from time to time made us anxious, but during the summer of 1863 she was not more feeble than usual, and was able to enjoy the prospect of a visit from my uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Richey. The very day they arrived, however, she had a fall, but as such an accident had often happened before without any serious consequences, we were not made unusually anxious.
She recovered from the shock, and was looking as well and as sweet as we could wish when our dear visitors came. She greeted them with her cheery smile, and said, “You have come to help me to thank the Lord.” It was remarkable that they should have come just then, not having been in Ireland for many years; but surely it was God’s gracious ordering, that when my dear father’s time of deep sorrow came, he should have his much-loved sister’s presence to comfort him.
My uncle could only remain a short time. I remember how he was struck by the picture made by my mother and Aunt Alice (then 93), sitting together, my mother reading aloud with some difficulty from the large Bible that was between them, and Aunt Alice listening with deep attention. He said it was “a picture of innocent love.”
My mother continued in her usual state of health for a few weeks; then one of the sharp attacks to which she had been subject for years, came, as they always did, suddenly. We did not at first apprehend danger, though there was always a certain amount at such times; but as the hours wore on, the illness became more serious. The doctor could do nothing; and instead of recovering, as usual, she remained unconscious for forty-eight hours, and then, apparently without suffering, passed gently away from us on September 23rd, 1868.
What this was to my dear father, only those who knew the devotion of his heart to her could understand. It was now that the presence of my aunt was such an unspeakable solace to him, and to us all. Her tenderness, her wisdom, knowing when to speak and when to give silent sympathy, her own love for my mother, her readiness to follow my father’s thoughts wherever they might lead at any moment, the comfort and help she was to all in the house, made her, indeed, the ministering angel he so sorely needed. It was a sweet relief to him to talk to her of past years, of early days, of my mother when they first knew her—none could have entered so fully into it all; and she was the one sent to him for those days of deepest sorrow. Dr. Cronin, my mother’s cousin, and Dr. Drury, her nephew, came from London to be with us at the funeral, and we felt the comfort of their presence.
I cannot recall much about the weeks that followed; but it was a sad day when we took leave of my dear aunt. We little thought that the brother and sister were never again to meet in this world, or that before a year had passed, my dear father would be ministered to with all her love and tenderness—not, indeed, in the time of sorrow, but in that of daily increasing weakness—by the other brother, so loved by them both.
By degrees my father resumed his daily visiting and usual ministry, and after a time, I think he was able to enjoy his work with a measure of his former interest; but the brightness was gone from his life.
I have one or two letters from him, written about this time, to my uncle and aunt in Devonshire:
“My dearest James,—Our days pass on pretty equably. Each day of the week has some appropriate service for me, except Wednesday.
“We are all conscious of a void, and my heart carries the sense of it very deeply. How sweet it was that we had dearest Bessy with us, and it was strange, too, after an interval of so many years, just to return to us at such a time. But the hand of Him who sits in the sovereign disposal of all things, orders such things at times, though they may he small in themselves. The recovery of an axe’s head from the water was as worthy of His hand as the smiting of a hostile army with blindness.
“How truly I hope you may have dear James with you ere the spring closes. It will, indeed, be a great treat to you all. I hope, too, that you may see your dear Robert and Maud at this time.
“Love to dear Annie. If she have again any stray sheep from Loxbeare or Stoodleigh, in barracks or hospitals here, tell her to employ Uncle John to look after them for her.
“The Lord bless you, and keep us both on the edge and the surface. Where else should we be? and yet, the foot betrays its feebleness on such ground.
“May the good hand of the Lord be over the rest of the journey, and the prospect of His presence be still brighter and clearer. Our city and its Protestant poor, have suffered an immense loss in dear Surgeon Smyly. No one life, I believe, was so important to them. But he was safe under the shelter of the blood-sprinkled lintel—soon following one of his precious patients.”25
“My dearest Sister,—Dear Aunt continues in that critical state that I judge neither dear L—— or I can be in London next week. She is in a peculiar condition—to-day bright, to-morrow weak and panting. Two months have now passed since she took to her bed in bronchitis.
“I am now hoping that your dear Jemmy may soon appear in the midst of you. The Lord grant you, dearest Sister, a happy meeting and a happy sojourn together… Just six months since my tabernacle was so spoiled, and yet I am going on without her. But the recollection of her is sweet, beyond what I can say.”
In the spring of 1864 my father twice went to visit some of the Brethren in the country parts of Ireland, though he had been suffering from a slight attack on his chest. He went to Mr. Waller at Prior Park, to Mr. W. H. Darby, and to other friends at Nenagh, Clonmel, Mount Mellick, Tullamore, Moate, and Buttevant.
From Tullamore he wrote:
“Had a good night after a large meeting last evening. I conclude that as I get no letter dearest Aunt is at least not worse,26 My chest is better, but still sensitive, but the work does not distress me.”
The mention of dear Aunt Alice in these notes leads me to speak more particularly of her.
She used often to tell me little things about her early days, and was filled with thankfulness for the gracious care that had watched over her in youth; for, being early left an orphan, she was under the care of guardians who did not trouble themselves much about her.
My grandmother was ten years her senior; and until her marriage, as soon as Aunt Alice had left school, they both lived with an uncle in London, where they had pretty much their own way; and Aunt Alice used to speak of their extravagant notions. Even in old age, when I first remember her, she was full of animation and brightness; and I could well understand how in early days she had enjoyed pleasure and gaiety. She had a most affectionate nature, and was quickly drawn to people, especially any friend of my father’s. I never remember her except as bright and cheerful; and one of my earliest recollections is seeing my mother reading to her. Of late years both were very much confined to the house, and spent many a cheery hour together.
I do not know exactly at what time Aunt Alice’s mind first became anxious about the things of God; but Mr. Kearney’s influence and preaching were helpful to her as well as to others. She told me that once in those early days at North Lodge she was much troubled because of some heavy responsibility that weighed upon her for a time, and in despair she knelt down and said, “Oh, what shall I say to be heard”! And then she seemed to hear a voice repeating these words from the Te Deum, “Lord, help Thy servant, whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy precious blood.” She was comforted; and very soon after by some means the great trouble was removed. This was, perhaps, the beginning of her delight and earnest continuance in prayer. It is beautiful to remember what it was to her. When from increasing age other occupations dropped off, prayer continued with more or less energy to the end.
On one occasion I was much struck by her telling me of the great enjoyment she had had one Sunday morning. She had not been able to attend the meeting which was always such a pleasure to her; but she told me what a happy time she had had alone. I cannot recall her words; but the impression on my mind was that it had been a very blessed experience of the presence and nearness of God, and also of His love. She was then past eighty.
She had great delight in hymns; and when her sight failed so that she could scarcely read, she would walk up and down the room repeating one after another with great enjoyment. This continued almost to the last. She liked those best that were most full of praise, and longed for more expression of it in the generality of hymns.
Miss Elliott, the authoress of “Just as I am,” hearing of her desire, wrote a short hymn of praise especially for her, which pleased her much.
One which she used to repeat with great fervour was sent to her with the following inscription:
“Copied for dear Miss Dyer, by S. R. M., with prayer that this love may be more and more shed abroad in the heart of each by the Holy Spirit.
“The Love Of God
“Could I with ink the ocean fill,
Were the wide world a parchment made,
Were every stick on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God most high
Would drain the mighty ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll
Contain the whole,
Though it were stretch’d from pole to pole.”
I think Aunt Alice was appreciated by all our friends, to whom she was always ready to give a hearty welcome. Her quaint little figure, in old-fashioned dress may still be remembered by some.
Her bright, courteous manner; the ease with which she would converse, even at her advanced age; her dark eyes, full of expression, which would light up with merriment at any little passing pleasantry, or shew tender sympathy for any tale of sorrow, all made her a delightful companion. She greatly enjoyed being read to, and was a most appreciative listener.
Two or three years before her death she had a sharp attack of illness, from which we did not think she could recover. She was in a very happy state of mind. One day when Robert, our old Roman Catholic servant, who had lived with my grandfather at North Lodge, came up to see her, we were surprised by the earnest way in which she spoke to him of her Saviour.
We expected the end might be near; but after a very trying time of suffering from irritation of the skin (which she said was just the illness she needed to teach her patience) she recovered.
The visit of my dear aunt and uncle in September, 1863, already referred to, was a great happiness to her. Though she had not seen them for many years, her heart had lost none of its affection for them; and the little times of reading and prayer which she had with “her dear ‘Bloss’”(the old pet name by which she called my aunt) were happy to both of them.
Aunt Alice had for years been free from any great sorrow until my dear mother was taken from us; and, truly as she felt this, I think her great age, perhaps, made the grief less acute.
During the months that followed we noticed little symptoms of general decline. Though she had in a measure recovered from the illness mentioned in my father’s letter, she had not her usual vigour of mind or body. She used still to walk up and down the room repeating her hymns, and also liked being read to, but she could not learn anything new. The last verse she tried to learn was 1 Peter 5:10, but though it was read to her over and over again, her power of retaining words in her memory, which had been remarkable, seemed to be gone.
She lingered with us till May 19, 1864; but we felt for some time that she was gradually failing. One day, when he thought her very ill, my father took her hand and said, “We are all with you, dear Aunt.” She opened her eyes and replied, “And He is with us all.” He said again, “He is very near to you.” “Very dear to me,” she replied.
Once she spoke of her father with tears, her remembrance of more than 80 years was so vivid: he died when she was about ten years old.
The end came sooner than we expected. One night after a painful gasping for breath she began to repeat her favourite hymn, “Oh, for a heart to praise my God,” and laid, as she always did, special emphasis on the line, “So freely shed for me.”
The following morning she seemed much relieved, was taken out of bed for a short time, and placed in a chair by the open window. While sitting with her I turned to the “Silent Comforter “which was hanging near, and read one of the texts for the day, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” In her usual fervent way she went over the words. “Who shall separate?”
Thinking she was better we left her to go to the evening meeting. During that time she was constantly repeating different lines of hymns, and was much pleased when Mary Perrott repeated for her the verse:
“Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God,
He to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.”
Some little time after we had left her, as we thought, comfortably settled for the night, in the care of the faithful servant, who had slept in her room for thirty years, we were summoned, and saw at once that a change had taken place. She soon became unconscious, and, after breathing quietly for a few moments, she was taken from us.
During my dear father’s second visit to the country, he complained of not feeling well. In a note from Clonmel he wrote—
“I am feeling weak, and not able to go round to places where I might go.
“I need not say what kindness and care I meet everywhere. Francis returns this day. He has been taking every care of me.”
This “taking care “was the beginning of that service of love rendered by Mr. Cavenagh during the months that followed, especially during the time of greatest weakness, which called forth my own deep gratitude, and can never be forgotten. He had known my father for many years, and had been, amongst others, early united with him in the meetings of the Brethren. Through all the questions and discussions at the time of the “Division,” and afterwards, he and my father were almost entirely of one mind; and this friendship remained unbroken.
My father did not leave home again, except when we went together to stay for a short time with our kind friends in the County of Wicklow. Nothing could exceed the thoughtful care and love shown him by Mr. and Mrs. Truell at Clonrannon, and by Mr. and Mrs. Synge at Glanmore. He sweetly appreciated it all, but his strength was gradually failing.
Another visitor came to Glanmore during our stay there, about whom my father was much interested, having been told by Mr. Synge that this young girl seemed to be truly wishing to live as a servant of the Lord, though her surroundings were worldly. She was only there for a few days, and just before she left, he put into her hand the following letter, a copy of which I had taken without telling him:—
“The Lord bless you, dear Miss——. If you confess Christ, you must let the world know that, while you own your relationships in it, and the duties which attach to them, in its course, and spirit, and vanities, you and it have parted company. Seek a sense of the presence of Christ, and indulge thoughts of Him, and cultivate affections towards Him. You are young, and many fascinations are before you, but the presence of Christ is worth a world of pleasures. Meditate on His Word, and as far as you can, make those who know Him your companions. I write unfeignedly commending you to His blessing.
“Yours very sincerely,
“J. G. Bellett.
“Glanmore, July, 1864.”
I cannot tell exactly when it was that our kind friend, Dr. Walter, began to feel my dear father’s illness was becoming serious. In its early stages it took the form of pneumonia; and he was never quite free from cough; but there was more general weakness than any distinct disease.
From the beginning of the summer, Dr. W. was in constant attendance, and full of the kindest consideration. Dr. Law also showed much kindness in his occasional visits.
The weakness at last became too great to allow of his attending the Sunday morning meetings. This was a trial to him; and I remember his once saying that he almost thought he should get some of the young men to carry him, that he might again partake of the Supper of the Lord with his brethren. This, however, was never done.27
The last passage on which he gave a short lecture was 2 Cor. 12.
Before writing some details of the weeks that followed, I wish to give some remembered words of my dear father’s, uttered from day to day, the last few weeks of his life.
Most of the following sentences, which were put down at the time, were spoken as if he were thinking aloud, or were utterances of prayer and praise, as though none were present but his Lord:—
“Lord, how perfect are all Thy ways! How delightful it is to look at Thee! So unlike any other object.
“When I think of His mercies, I’m hurried away to Himself.
“If I had not His cross for my sins and His person for my portion.
“Lord, I have spoken of Thee to others; I have loved Thee; I desire to be with Thee; but I can’t say I’m ready to suffer for Thee.
“Patience is God’s hero.”
Speaking at one time of how indefinitely we speak of that which lies beyond death, and saying that Scripture had not been so “indefinite,” he added:—
“It has defined it simply, accurately, and in holy detail. It first informs us that the moment death has done its business with the old creation, Body, the Lord receives the new creation, Spirit, and the simple commentary it passes upon that is, ‘’tis far better.’ Is that indefinite’? Death introduces the spirit to the solitary presence of Christ, but afterwards it is as if He said, ‘My presence is not the only source of satisfaction (dear, unjealous Lord!), you must enjoy your brethren and your Father’s house.’ We shall meet our brethren in the air to be with them, as well as with Him, and then the Father’s house will be entered.
“He has been here to tell us what He is; and there is not a single feature that ought not to be a band of love between our hearts and Him.
“Accustom your mind to think of the Jesus of Nazareth who walked through the cities and villages of the land, as the One who is to receive you to His glory.
“Do I fear Thee, Lord Jesus?—Let every passage of Thy life give the answer.
“Have I any service to make me acceptable?—Let every passage of my poor life give the answer.
“When I think of the corruption, the vanity of my ministry, to think that in the day of my weakness Thou should’st come and thus shew Thyself to me! ’Tis wonderful!
“Oh that volume! That precious volume! To think that a man should question its truth!
“Lord Jesus! it is a precious casket, an infinitely precious casket that encloses Thee.
“Looking beyond the river, ’tis Thee, Lord Jesus, that I see.
“Trust Him for the hour of weakness, come it in what shape it may.
“We shall meet where Jesus will be everything to everyone.
(To Mr. Cavenagh). “Oh, Francis, tell sinners, tell them boldly while you convict them deeply, of the folly of not believing Him.
“For years my soul has never conversed with any evidence but the moral glories of the Word, and the perfection of that wondrous scheme revealed from beginning to end.
“Oh, to have the association of the heart with the Lord of the heavenly country!”
One time he spoke of the gentle way in which he was dealt with—he had often wished, and (he supposed) prayed for it, but added, “It is not His providence that binds us to the Lord, but His moral perfections,” and then he spoke of the “precious blood “as “the one alone title,” while the Holy Ghost had given him on the ground of that title to apprehend the glories of his Lord.
One would surely be surprised that in these utterances he never spoke of meeting with those gone before, but for the vivid remembrance that the thought of meeting his Lord absorbed every desire, and, as he said, “filled the whole vision “of his soul.
Some one spoke to him once about meeting my dear mother. He referred to this after, and we understood that he knew this would be in the resurrection, but the One presence was all that he looked for now. If we had not seen and felt the power of this hope filling his heart, a “well of water “indeed springing up continually, so that it seemed the only natural condition for him, we should have wondered, and more especially because of the deep affection of his nature.
His heart has spoken for itself in the letters written during my brother’s illness, and his devoted love for my mother had shewn itself every moment in the life of every day, yet neither of these “gone before” seemed to mingle with his heavenly longings.
During all those weeks I was continually reminded of the reaping that follows the spiritual sowing; for if there were one thing more than another that he seemed ever to desire, or that his ministry sought to lead others to enjoy, or that his prayers longed after, it was this personal, intimate knowledge and love of the Lord Jesus, and the satisfaction that must spring from it; and most surely this blessed experience was given to him.
25 He had attended my mother.
26 Aunt Alice had been ill.
27 I have not before spoken of my father’s feelings on this subject. It was to him a feast of joyful thanksgiving each returning Sunday, of looking “back to the cross and onward to the glory.” But he felt very strongly that it was not for the sick chamber, but for the congregation on the “first day of the week.”