Sarah K. Bolton,
Author of Poor Boys Who Became Famous, Social Studies in England, etc.
Ten thousand are killed on either side, and the Saxons pass forever under foreign rule. Harold's mother comes and begs the body of her son, and pays for it, some historians say, its weight in gold.
Every foot of ground at Battle Abbey is historic, and all the country round most interesting. We drive over the smoothest of roads to a palace in the distance,--Normanhurst, the home of Lady Brassey, the distinguished author and traveller. Towers are at either corner and in the centre, and ivy climbs over the spacious vestibule to the roof. Great buildings for waterworks, conservatories, and the like, are adjoining, in the midst of flower-gardens and acres of lawn and forest. It is a place fit for the abode of royalty itself.
One room, called the Marie Antoinette room, has the curtains and furniture, in yellow, of this unfortunate queen. Here are pictures by Sir Frederick Leighton, Landseer, and others; stuffed birds and fishes and animals from every clime, with flowers in profusion. In the dining-room, with its gray walls and red furniture, is a large painting of the mistress of this superb home, with her favorite horse and dogs. The views from the windows are beautiful, Battle Abbey ruin in the distance, and rivers flowing to the sea. The house is rich in color, one room being blue, another red, a third yellow, while large mirrors seem to repeat the apartments again and again. As we leave the home, not the least of its attractions come up the grounds,--a load of merry children, all in sailor hats; the Mabelle and Muriel and Marie whom we have learned to know in Lady Brassey's books.
Sir Thomas is the eldest son of the late Mr. Brassey, "the leviathan contractor, the employer of untold thousands of navvies, the genie of the spade and pick, and almost the pioneer of railway builders, not only in his own country, but from one end of the continent to the other." Of superior education, having been at Rugby and University College, Oxford, Sir Thomas was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1864, and was elected to Parliament from Devonport the following year, and from Hastings three years later, in 1868, which position he has filled ever since.
Exceedingly fond of the sea, he determined to be a practical sailor, and qualified himself as a master-marine, by passing the requisite Board of Trade examination, and receiving a certificate as a seaman and navigator. In 1869 he was made Honorary Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve.
"Soon after this adventure," says Lady Brassey, "we all went to bed, full of thanksgiving that it had ended as well as it did; but, alas, not, so far as I was concerned, to rest in peace. In about two hours I was awakened by a tremendous weight of water suddenly descending upon me and flooding the bed. I immediately sprang out, only to find myself in another pool on the floor. It was pitch dark, and I could not think what had happened; so I rushed on deck, and found that the weather having moderated a little, some kind sailor, knowing my love of fresh air, had opened the skylight rather too soon, and one of the angry waves had popped on board, deluging the cabin.
"I got a light, and proceeded to mop up, as best I could, and then endeavored to find a dry place to sleep in. This, however, was no easy task, for my own bed was drenched, and every other berth occupied. The deck, too, was ankle-deep in water, as I found when I tried to get across to the deck-house sofa. At last I lay down on the floor, wrapped in my ulster, and wedged between the foot stanchion of our swing bed and the wardrobe athwart-ship; so that as the yacht rolled heavily, my feet were often higher than my head."
No wonder that a woman who could make the best of such circumstances could make a year's trip on the Sunbeam a delight to all on board. Their first visits were to the Madeira, Teneriffe, and Cape de Verde Islands, off the coast of Africa. With simplicity, the charm of all writing, and naturalness, Lady Brassey describes the people, the bathing where the sharks were plentiful, and the masses of wild geranium, hydrangea, and fuchsia. They climb to the top of the lava Peak of Teneriffe, over twelve thousand feet high; they rise at five o'clock to see the beautiful sunrises; they watch the slaves at coffee-raising at Rio de Janeiro, in South America, and Lady Brassey is attracted toward the nineteen tiny babies by the side of their mothers; "the youngest, a dear, little woolly-headed thing, as black as jet, and only three weeks old."
On their way to the Straits of Magellan, they see a ship on fire. They send out a boat to her, and bring in the suffering crew of fifteen men, almost wild with joy to be rescued. Their cargo of coal had been on fire for four days. The men were exhausted, the fires beneath their feet were constantly growing hotter, and finally they gave up in despair and lay down to die. But the captain said, "There is One above who looks after us all," and again they took courage. They lashed the two apprentice boys in one of the little boats, for fear they would be washed overboard, for one was the "only son of his mother, and she a widow."
"The captain," says Lady Brassey, "drowned his favorite dog, a splendid Newfoundland, just before leaving the ship; for although a capital watchdog and very faithful, he was rather large and fierce; and when it was known that the Sunbeam was a yacht with ladies and children on board, he feared to introduce him. Poor fellow! I wish I had known about it in time to save his life!"
They "steamed past the low sandy coast of Patagonia and the rugged mountains of Tierra del Fuego, literally, Land of Fire, so called from the custom the inhabitants have of lighting fires on prominent points as signals of assembly." The people are cannibals, and naked. "Their food is of the most meagre description, and consists mainly of shell-fish, sea-eggs, for which the women dive with much dexterity, and fish, which they train their dogs to assist them in catching. These dogs are sent into the water at the entrance of a narrow creek or small bay, and they then bark and flounder about and drive the fish before them into shallow water, where they are caught."
Three of these Fuegians, a man, woman, and lad, come out to the yacht in a craft made of planks rudely tied together with the sinews of animals, and give otter skins for "tobáco and galléta" (biscuit), for which they call. When Lady Brassey gives the lad and his mother some strings of blue, red, and green glass beads, they laugh and jabber most enthusiastically. Their paddles are "split branches of trees, with wider pieces tied on at one end, with the sinews of birds or beasts." At the various places where they land, all go armed, Lady Brassey herself being well skilled in their use.
In Santiago she describes a visit to the ruin of the Jesuit church, where, Dec. 8, 1863, at the Feast of the Virgin, two thousand persons, mostly women and children, were burned to death. A few were drawn up through a hole in the roof and thus saved.
In Tahiti a feast is given in their honor, in a house seemingly made of banana-trees, "the floor covered with the finest mats, and the centre strewn with broad green plantain leaves, to form the table-cloth.... Before each guest was placed a half-cocoanut full of salt water, another full of chopped cocoanut, a third full of fresh water, and another full of milk, two pieces of bamboo, a basket of poi, half a breadfruit, and a platter of green leaves, the latter being changed with each course. We took our seats on the ground round the green table. The first operation was to mix the salt water and the chopped cocoanut together, so as to make an appetizing sauce, into which we were supposed to dip each morsel we ate. We were tolerably successful in the use of our fingers as substitutes for knives and forks."
At the Sandwich Islands, in Hilo, they visit the volcano of Kilauea. They descend the precipice, three hundred feet, which forms the wall of the old crater. They ascend the present crater, and stand on the "edge of a precipice, overhanging a lake of molten fire, a hundred feet below us, and nearly a mile across. Dashing against the cliffs on the opposite side, with a noise like the roar of a stormy ocean, waves of blood-red, fiery liquid lava hurled their billows upon an iron-bound headland, and then rushed up the face of the cliffs to toss their gory spray high in the air."
They pass the island of Molokai, where the poor lepers end their days away from home and kindred. At Honolulu they are entertained by the Prince, and then sail for Japan, China, Ceylon, through Suez, stopping in Egypt, and then home. On their arrival, Lady Brassey says, "How can I describe the warm greetings that met us everywhere, or the crowd that surrounded us; how, along the whole ten miles from Hastings to Battle, people were standing by the roadside and at the cottage doors to welcome us; how the Battle bell-ringers never stopped ringing except during service time; or how the warmest of welcomes ended our delightful year of travel and made us feel we were home at last, with thankful hearts for the providential care which had watched over us whithersoever we roamed!"
The next trip made was to the far East, and a book followed in 1880, entitled, Sunshine and Storm in the East; or, Cruises to Cyprus and Constantinople, dedicated "to the brave, true-hearted sailors of England, of all ranks and services."
Lady Brassey tells the amusing story of a visit of Eugenie to the Sultan's mother, when the Empress of the French saluted her on the cheek. The Turkish woman was furious, and said she had never been so insulted in her life. "She retired to bed at once, was bled, and had several Turkish baths, to purify her from the pollution. Fancy the Empress' feelings when, after having so far condescended as to kiss the old woman, born one of the lowest of slaves, she had her embrace received in such a manner."
The habits and customs of the people are described by Lady Brassey with all the interest of a novel. On their return home, "again the Battle bells rang out a merry peal of gladness; again everybody rushed out to welcome us. At home once again, the servants and the animals seemed equally glad to see us back; the former looked the picture of happiness, while the dogs jumped and barked; the horses and ponies neighed and whinnied; the monkeys chattered; the cockatoos and parrots screamed; the birds chirped; the bullfinches piped their little paean of welcome.... Our old Sussex cowman says that even the cows eat their food 'kind of kinder like' when the family are at home. The deer and the ostriches too, the swans and the call ducks, all came running to meet us, as we drove round the place to see them." Kindness to both man and beast bears its legitimate fruit.
At Caracas they view with interest the place which, on March 26, 1812, was nearly destroyed by an earthquake, twelve thousand persons perishing, thousands of whom were buried alive by the opening of the ground. They study the formation of coral-reefs, and witness the gathering of sponges in the Bahamas. "These are brought to the surface by hooked poles, or sometimes by diving. When first drawn from the water they are covered with a soft gelatinous substance, as black as tar and full of organic life, the sponge, as we know, being only the skeleton of the organism."
While all this travelling was being enjoyed, and made most useful as well, to hundreds of thousands of readers, Lady Brassey was not forgetting her works of philanthropy. For years she has been a leading spirit in the St. John's Ambulance Association. Last October she gave a valuable address to the members of the "Workingmen's Club and Institute Union," composed of several hundred societies of workingmen. Her desire was that each society take up the work of teaching its members how to care for the body in case of accidents. The association, now numbering over one hundred thousand persons, is an offshoot of the ancient order of St. John of Jerusalem, founded eight hundred years ago, to maintain a hospital for Christian pilgrims. She says: "The method of arresting bleeding from an artery is so easy that a child may learn it; yet thousands of lives have been lost through ignorance, the life-blood ebbing away in the presence of sorrowing spectators, perfectly helpless, because none among them had been taught one of the first rudiments of instruction of an ambulance pupil,--the application of an extemporized tourniquet. Again, how frequent is the loss of life by drowning; yet how few persons, comparatively, understand the way to treat properly the apparently drowned." Lectures are given by this association on, first, aid to the injured; also on the general management of the sick-room.
Lady Brassey, with the assistance of medical men, has held classes in all the outlying villages about her home, and has arranged that simple but useful medical appliances, like plasters, bandages, and the like, be kept at some convenient centres.
At Trindad, and Bahamas, and Bermudas, when they stayed there in their travels, she caused to be held large meetings among the most influential residents; also at Madeira and in the Azores. A class was organized on board the Sunbeam, and lectures were delivered by a physician. In the Shetland Islands she has also organized these societies, and thus many lives have been saved. When the soldiers went to the Soudan, she arranged for these helpful lectures to them on their voyage East, and among much other reading-matter which she obtained for them, sent them books and papers on this essential medical knowledge.
She carries on correspondence with India, Australia, and New Zealand, where ambulance associations have been formed. For her valued services she was elected in 1881 a Dame Chevaliere of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem.
Her work among the poor in the East End of London is admirable. Too much of this cannot be done by those who are blessed with wealth and culture. She is also interested in all that helps to educate the people, as is shown by her Museum of Natural History and Ethnological Specimens, open for inspection in the School of Fine Art at Hastings. How valuable is such a life compared with one that uses its time and money for personal gratification alone.