Having carried this act of idolatry safely through, I waited to see what would happen. It was a fine day, and I gazed up at the slip of white sky above the houses opposite, and expected something to appear in it. God would certainly exhibit his anger in some terrible form, and would chastise my impious and willful action. I was very much alarmed, but still more excited; I breathed the high, sharp air of defiance. But nothing happened; there was not a cloud in the sky, not an unusual sound in the street. Presently, I was quite sure that nothing would happen. I had committed idolatry, flagrantly and deliberately, and God did not care.
The result of this ridiculous act was not to make me question the existence and power of God; those were forces which I did not dream of ignoring. But what it did was to lessen still further my confidence in my Father’s knowledge of the Divine mind. My Father had said, positively, that if I worshipped a thing made of wood, God would manifest his anger. I had then worshipped a chair, made (or partly made) of wood, and God had made no sign whatever. My Father, therefore, was not really acquainted with the Divine practice in cases of idolatry. And with that, dismissing the subject, I dived again into the unplumbed depths of the Penny Cyclopaedia.
That I might die in my early childhood was a thought which frequently recurred to the mind of my Mother. She endeavoured, with a Roman fortitude, to face it without apprehension. Soon after I had completed my fifth year, she had written as follows in her secret journal:
’Should we be called on to weep over the early grave of the dear one whom now we are endeavouring to train for heaven, may we be able to remember that we never ceased to pray for and watch over him. It is easy, comparatively, to watch over an infant. Yet shall I be sufficient for these things? I am not. But God is sufficient. In his strength I have begun the warfare, in his strength I will persevere, and I will faint not until either I myself or my little one is beyond the reach of earthly solicitude.’
That either she or I would be called away from earth, and that our physical separation was at hand, seems to have been always vaguely present in my Mother’s dreams, as an obstinate conviction to be carefully recognized and jealously guarded against.
It was not, however, until the course of my seventh year that the tragedy occurred, which altered the whole course of our family existence. My Mother had hitherto seemed strong and in good health; she had even made the remark to my Father, that ’sorrow and pain, the badges of Christian discipleship’, appeared to be withheld from her. On her birthday, which was to be her last, she had written these ejaculations in her locked diary:
’Lord, forgive the sins of the past, and help me to be faithful in future! May this be a year of much blessing, a year of jubilee! May I be kept lowly, trusting, loving! May I have more blessing than in all former years combined! May I be happier as a wife, mother, sister, writer, mistress, friend!’