[From Manx Recollections, 1894]
ELEANOR ELLIOTT !-what associations crowd around that name! It stands alone and prominent beyond almost all others in my heart and memory. It was in 1870 I first became really acquainted with this friend of friends. I had heard of her before this date, for she was well known in Douglas, Isle of Man, where we both lived. I had also met her before, first at the house of Mr. Thomas Cheslyn Callow, an honoured member of the Manx bar; but I remember, on the occasion I first saw her at Mr. Callow's, I felt very shy and half guilty in the presence of one who, I had heard, had passed through much sorrow. Instinctively I realised that my contrasted youth and inexperience, and repute, perhaps, for frivolity and love of pleasure, might cause me to appear a creature out of tune and very contemptible in the estimation of this sedate lady. Consequently, when Mrs. Callow introduced me to Mrs. Elliott as a young friend who had recently returned from school in France, and the daughter of a valued and mutual acquaintance, I felt very sheepish, and glad when the opportunity offered to make my escape from her presence. Yet nothing could have been milder and less awe-inspiring than the appearance of this quiet quakeress-looking gentlewoman.
Another time that I specially recall having met my friend during the early days of our acquaintance, was at a picnic given by the Rev. William and Mrs. Hawley. I do not remember at this time having had any conversation with her beyond the mere commonplaces of social intercourse, yet the impression on my mind was, Mrs. Elliott is my friend, and she will do me nothing but good. There was that about her words and mamler which conveyed to the mind the idea that one occupied her thoughts, and elicited her regard.
Again, about this time, I frequently-weekly, I may say -saw her at St. George's Girls' Sunday-school. Her place here, as teacher of elder girls, was at one end of the room, and mine at the other; but from my far-away corner I could see that benign-looking figure, and I could occasionally catch a glimpse unobserved of the absorbed earnest look on that calm, passionless face. I used to watch her when occasionally she spoke to Mrs. Hawley and some of the older teachers, and I envied them the privilege of her notice and words. I was once afraid of-now my desire was to know Mrs. Elliott, to peer into her heart and share the incentive of her life. But I was still too shy to put myself in her way. Fortunately a circumstance arose that bridged this feeling of separation; but as reference will be made to it elsewhere, suffice it in the meantime to mention one incident which put the seal on my growing interest in, and affection for, my ideal acquaintance.
One Sunday I had been holding forth to my class of juveniles with extraordinary fluency, substituting, I have no doubt, imaginary details for veritable facts, and riveting the children's attention with the glow of my own fervour, making up with emotion for what I lacked in knowledge and true experience. I do not remember what gave rise to it, but I recollect one of the teachers speaking about preparing one's lessons before attempting to teach: "Oh," said I, " 1 never prepare." " You never prepare, Katie ~ " she said, " then you ought to do so. I wonder how you can think of sitting down to teach without seriously considering the solemn importance of the work, and without studying the lesson beforehand." The rebuke was honest and well meant, but I was nettled. I thought my wise Mentor very interfering. Mrs. Elliott drew near at this juncture, and noticed, I have no doubt, the vexed colour rise to my cheeks, and my hot retort. " If I were to prepare as you propose I should feel stiff and awkward, and forget everything I had to say-my thoughts J[ow--" I said, indicating by a sweep of my hand the facility of my powers !
Mrs. Elliott smiled. I think I see her now; it was half an amused, half a conciliatory smile. " You are like me," she said; "if I were to map out my sentences beforehand, I should feel stiff and awkward too." This was, of course, not the point in question; but what more was said by any one I do not remember; all I remember is, that we trio finally left the school together, and when parting from Mrs. Elliott at her door in Athol Street, she took my hand in hers and held it for some time in a long warm clasp. The other lady noticed the endearing hand-shake, and turning to me as we walked home she said, "Mrs. Elliott seems to have taken a fancy to you, Katie."
If, subsequently, when these two ladies met again, reference was made to the incident of the Sunday-school, and Mrs Elliott was better informed on the debatable point, I can imagine her saying: "Poor foolish young thing, it would have been too discouraging for us both to have come down upon her; and depend upon it, Miss - , she will not think the less of your good advice that I did not join issues with you against her-she will weigh your words and act upon them all in good time! "
The Sunday just mentioned was by no means the last that I accompanied Mrs. Elliott to the door of her house after the close of school. It now became almost a habit with me to do so. Usually Miss - the lady before mentioned, formed one of our number, but often Mrs. Elliott and I were alone On these occasions, when we paused at her door, I wished she would ask me to come in and have a little talk with her.
I had so many questions to ask that I felt she, and she alone, could answer; but she never gave me any encouragement to do so; probably, I afterwards ascertained, because she would not countenance anything approaching to Sunday visiting.
One day, however, as our intimacy ripened, I received a note from her, asking me to spend the evening with her and Dr. Elliott, and to bring a volume of Eugene Bersier, that I might read to her one of his sermons.
I well remember that evening; it dated a new era in my life. If I loved Bersier before for the beauty and power of his literary productions, I loved him now for the additional reason that he was the golden link that knit me to the heart of one of the noblest and most interesting of women.
At the hour appointed I made my appearance at 31 Athol Street. What a harm enthusiastic reception I was greeted with ! How charming and bright were the words, " Mademoiselle, vous etes la bien venue ! "
Then the introduction took place with the Doctor; but shame be it said, the Doctor, good man! was soon forgotten. I had only ears and eyes for Mrs. Elliott. Yet, strange contradiction, delighted and happy as I was to find myself the guest of my revered acquaintance, I was not altogether at my ease-not at my best. I felt conscious of making an effort to stretch myself to her matured and intellectual height, and of failing miserably in the attempt. Her conversation was so easy, so sustained, so elevated, and set so sunny; I could in-no way cope with its grace, nor respond in any suitable degree to the loftiness of thought and the apparent profundity of the knowledge at my hostess's disposal. I kept thinking in the strength of my desire to please, how stupid and dull I must appear to her-how unutterably insipid must all my remarks be. I virtually bowed before an influence that I felt with my whole being, but could not then wholly fathom, much less define or analyse.
I was in a sense relieved when she asked me to begin and read. Here, I thought, I shall be something more of her match, French being pretty much like my own tongue What was my surprise, however, to find that she followed me with the same facility as if I had been reading English, and stopped me every now and then to comment upon and discuss the various passages that specially arrested her attention. What clear, beautiful, additional light she threw on those glowing passages; they appeared to start into new life and wealth of beauty beneath the magic of her seemingly inspired thoughts and wonderful powers of expression. She did not speak in French, which led me to ask her how it was she did not do so, when she was al,le to follow by ear with such ease and correctness. "Oh," she said, "my attempts at speech would be very bungling; you would have no patience to listen to me "
" Have you not been to France ~ " I asked.
" No," she said, " I have not, I regret to say, but I purpose to go shortly-there is a special reason why I must go to Germany; and Mr. Elliott's and my intention is to pass through Paris on our way. I am looking forward with intense delight to hear Bersier preach."
The special reason for this journey afterwards transpired. A cataract was forming on one of her eyes, and she had been ordered to consult a celebrated German oculist as to its removal. This calamity to her sight was evidently a sad subject, and she did not care to allude to it.
The feeling of restraint that got the better of me in the presence of Mrs. Elliott-a feeling engendered entirely by my own self-consciousness-soon disappeared under the genial simple lovableness of this motherly though accompl~shed woman. It melted like snow beneath the beams of her ready smile and winning attractiveness of manner and speech. Soon, very soon, I had won my place in her large heart, and she had filled my life with the atmosphere of her individuality. What Mrs. Elliott thought and said I echoed. I had no alternative-I could not fail to bow before a judgment in which I saw no flaw, and to be actuated by a spirit that drank hourly from the fountainhead of Divine love and wisdom. Mrs. Elliott dwelt in the secret presence of the Most High; and everything that she said and did was an offering laid on the altar of heavenly devotion and sacrifice. No heart that had been moved by the impulse Divine, and quickened into life by the Spirit of regeneration, but must more or less come under the sway and gracious influence of this pure woman, who knew no law but that of the indwelling Spirit of God, and the word of His truth! No heart that had in it the essence of the milk of human kindness but what instinctively answered to hers and bowed in sweet accord; no mind enlivened by the gift of a capable and bright intelligence but hailed in hers a superiority that was in most cases absolute, and felt its own vivified and strengthened by contact therewith; no simple, gentle nature but soon learned to rest its shrinking timidity on the heart of this tender, sympathetic friend; no crushed, broken spirit but found solace and restoring health in the breast of one who could point with unerring finger to the Hand that wounds but to heal, to the balm of Gilead that never fails.
Eleanor Elliott ! name ever dear and precious !-the synonym of all that was spiritually lofty, morally pure and engaging, intellectually good and forcible!-A star in the firmament of Mona's excellent of the earth!-A crystal dewdrop on the fair cheek of the sunny isle of other days -sparkling and reflecting, as we recall it, a myriad effulgent beams of heavenly and enduring character perpetuated in heart and memory!-A celestial ray-that beloved name- illuminating with chaste brilliancy the history of the past, and flooding with its lingering and beautiful light the path and chequered story of the future!
Such remind us, we too-
". . . can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us,
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints that perhaps another
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwreeked brother,
Seeing shall take heart again."