The death of Mary

In the autumn of 1899, Mary went to Wycombe Abbey School: she had grown into a beautiful young girl, so full of promise and hope. Her letters home told of a happy life at school; and her keen enthusiasm for outdoor games at which she excelled. We were all at home for the Christmas Holidays, and we had a mixed dance for children and adults, just about Christmas Eve. Fleming Spence was with us, and we had a large family party. On the night of the dance, Mary fell dangerously ill with pneumonia, then a very dread disease. She had caught a severe chill in her last week at School. The fever ran its course to the crisis; but there was no rallying of strength, and she died on the 2nd January 1900, aged 15 years, 11 months and 11 days: so, with the beginning of the new century, came a new and sadder life for us all. I scarcely dare record the marvellous revelation witnessed by us all in her last hour. We had been hoping against hope for many days; but, when on the night of the 2nd she was sinking fast, we were all called upstairs to her room, where she lay so flushed and frail and beautiful on her bed. Her breath came in gasps; but she knew us all and was perfectly conscious. She saw me standing at the foot of her bed and said;- "Poor Harold!", and then, a few minutes later she half raised her head from her pillow, and, with such a happy adoring look upwards, as if she saw some wonderful vision, her whole attitude was as if she were saying:- "I come!" She may have actually said those very words. Then she fell back and died.

In that solemn, deeply tragic hour I know I felt that principalities and powers and all earthly pomp and splendour, all our material universe, was as nothing in the presence of that supreme vision of life and love after death. Doubtless, similar feelings were shared by others of our dear, stricken family circle. I have some recollection of Minister Watson speaking of it with Mother and Father, and I have no doubt what was in all their thoughts. In this vale of tears it is not given to us to peer beyond the veil; but who shall deny that to a pure white soul like Mary's power was given to see the Unseen. On that night, for the first and only time, Father prayed in the presence of his family: and another revelation was made of his strong, deep, spirituality and faith: for he was a man of deep reserve and one whose great example was always stronger and better than any precept.

A day or two later came such a sweet letter from Grandmother at Horbling, which she concluded by saying:-

"I believe always that Underneath are the Everlasting Arms"
And, before the end of the month, she too had passed away. She was almost exactly coeval with Queen Victoria, being eighty years old. For the next six months we were what is called 'in mourning': that is, we wore black suits, black ties, and thick black bands round our tall silk hats - yes and black kid gloves, and notepaper and envelopes had black edges. It was the same for women - everything black - even children wore black, except in summer when they had white dresses with black sashes - widows wore crape-covered bonnets, and a widow's cap when indoors. All terribly gloomy and depressing. Mercifully this barbarous custom is now practically dead; and there is no need to advertise a grief to the world at large.

Those who share a great sorrow are often drawn closer together, and it was so with us: we looked upon each other as being perhaps more precious because we were human and mortal. May's character shone more brightly than ever; and her sympathy and friendship for Father especially were good to behold. She had such a wise and sane outlook on the world, and such a cheerful spirit. We were still a very happy family. That summer, we went again to St Andrews. Tram and I went thither by steamer from London to Dundee. On our first visit with Mary the year before, we had a house close to the famous links. It was a delightful place for a holiday. We all played golf assiduously and watched some famous players. F.G.Tait, the splendid brave upstanding giant was fascinating to watch as he strode along the links, doing colossal distances with his mighty swing, supple as a young tree. He fell in the South African War. Then we met old Tom Morris, who always had a smile and a kind work for us all. One day, Mother and I had the privilege of playing against him and the pretty young lady champion Rhona Adair. Old Tom was then nearly eighty; but he could still play a very sound and steady game.

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