It seems almost impossible to describe the ending of The General’s life, because there was not even the semblance of an end within a week of his death.
The last time I talked with him, just as I was leaving for Canada in January, he for the first time made a remark that indicated a doubt of his continuance in office. He hardly hinted at death; but, referring to the sensations of exhaustion he had felt a few days previously, he said: “I sometimes fancy, you know, that I may be getting to a halt, and then”—with his usual pause when he was going to tease—“we shall have a chance to see what some of you can do!”
We laughed together, and I went off expecting to hear of his fully recovering his activity “after the operation,” to which we were always looking forward. Oh, that operation! It was to be the simplest thing in the world, when the eye was just ready for it, as simple and as complete a deliverance from blindness as the other one had seemed, for a few days, to be. But this time he would be fully warned, and most cautious after it, and I really fancied the joy he would have after so long an eclipse.
It seemed to me that he never realised how great his own blindness already was, so strong was his resolution to make the best of it, and so eager his perception, really by other means, of everything he could in any way notice. We had difficulty in remembering that he really could not see when he turned so rapidly towards anybody approaching him or whose voice he recognised!
To Colonel Kitching during this dark period he wrote one day: “Anybody can believe in the sunshine. We, that is you and I and a few more of whom we know, ought to be desperate believers by this time—Saviours of men—against their will, nay, compellers of the Almighty.”
And his writing was always so marvellous, both for quantity and quality. His very last letters to several of us consisted of a number of pages all written with perfect clearness and regularity with his own hand. It was, perhaps, the greatest triumph of his own unfailing faith and sunny optimism that he kept even those who were nearest to him full of hope as to his complete recovery of strength till within a few days of his death; and then, gliding down into the valley, surprised all by sinking suddenly into eternal peace without any distinct warning that the end was so near. His youngest daughter, Mrs. Commissioner Booth-Hellberg, was with him during the last days.
But, really, it would be only fair to describe his end as having begun from the day when, during his Sixth Motor Tour, the eye which had been operated upon became blind. Though after having it taken out, he very largely rallied, and passed through grand Campaigns for some years, he was ever looking forward to the operation on the other eye, which was to restore him to partial sight. His cheeriness through those years and his marvellous energy astonished all.