In the long and cheerful life of my dear mother there at last came a change. At 94 she fell and broke her wrist. The local doctor (a stranger), who was called in, not knowing her wonderful constitution, was averse from setting the wrist, and said that she would never be able to use the hand. But I insisted, and in six, weeks she was able to resume her knitting, and never felt any ill effects. At 95 she had a fall, apparently without cause, and was never able to stand again. She had to stay in bed for the last 13 months of her life, with a gradual decay of the faculties which had previously been so keen. My mother wanted me with her always. Her talk was all of times far back in her life--not of Melrose, where she had lived for 25 years, but of Scoryhall (pronounced Scole), where she had lived as a girl. I had been shown through the house by my aunt Handyside in 1865, and I could follow her mind wanderings and answer her questions. As she suffered so little pain it was difficult for my mother to realize the seriousness of her illness; and, tiring of her bedroom, she begged to be taken to the study, where, with her reading and knitting, she had spent so many happy hours while I did my writing. Delighted though she was at the change, a return to her bed--as to all invalids--was a comfort, and she never left it again. Miss Goodham--an English nurse and a charming woman, who has since remained a friend and correspondent of the family--was sent to help us for a few days at the last. Another sorrow came to us at this time in the loss of my ward's husband, and Rose Hood--nee Duval--returned to live near me with her three small children. Her commercial training enabled her to take a position as clerk in the State Children's Department, which she retained until her death. The little ones were very sweet and good, but the supervision of them during the day added a somewhat heavy responsibility to our already overburdened household. In these days, when one hears so much of the worthlessness of servants, it is a joy to remember how our faithful maid--we kept only one for that large house--at her own request, did all the laundry work for the family of five, and all through the three years of Eleanor's illness waited on her with untiring devotion.
An amusing episode which would have delighted the heart of my dear friend Judge Lindsay occurred about this time. The fruit from our orange trees which grew along the wall bordering an adjoining paddock was an irresistible temptation to wandering juveniles, and many and grievous were the depredations. Patience, long drawn out, at last gave way, and when the milkman caught two delinquents one Saturday afternoon with bulging blouses of forbidden fruit it became necessary to make an example of some one. The trouble was to devise a fitting punishment. A Police Court, I had always maintained, was no place for children; corporal punishment was out of the question; and the culprits stood tremblingly awaiting their fate till a young doctor present suggested a dose of Gregory's powder. His lawyer friend acquiesced, and Gregory's powder it was. A moment's hesitation and the nauseous draught was swallowed to the accompaniment of openly expressed sympathy, one dear old lady remarking, "Poor children and not so much as a taste of sugar." Probably, however, the unkindest cut of all was the carrying away by the milkman of the stolen fruit! The cure was swift and effective; and ever after the youth of the district, like the Pharisee of old, passed by on the other side.
My dear mother died about 8 o'clock on the evening of December 8, 1887, quietly and painlessly. With her death, which was an exceedingly great loss to me, practically ended my quiet life of literary work. Henceforth I was free to devote my efforts to the fuller public work for which I had so often longed, but which my mother's devotion to and dependence on me rendered impossible. But I missed her untiring sympathy, for with all her love for the old days and the old friends there was no movement for the advancement of her adopted land that did not claim her devoted attention. But though I was now free to take up public work, the long strain of my mother's illness and death had affected my usually robust health, and I took things quietly. I had been asked by the University Shakspeare Society to give a lecture on Donnelly's book, "The Great Cryptogram;" or "Who Wrote Shakspeare's Plays?" and it was prepared during this period, and has frequently been delivered since. October of the year following my mothers death found me again in Melbourne, where I rejoiced in the renewal of a friendship with Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Walker, the former of whom had been connected with the construction of the overland railway. They were delightful literary people, and I had met them at the hospitable house of the Barr-Smiths, and been introduced as "a literary lady." "Then perhaps," said Mr. Walker, "you can give us the information we have long sought in vain--who wrote 'Clara Morrison?'" Their surprise at my "I did" was equalled by the pleasure I felt at their kind appreciation of my book, and that meeting was the foundation of a lifelong friendship. Before my visit closed I was summoned to Gippsland through the death by accident of my dear sister Jessie--the widow of Andrew Murray, once editor of The Argus--and the year 1888 ended as sadly for me as the previous one had done. The following year saw the marriage of my nephew, Charles Wren of the E.S. and A. Bank, to Miss Hall, of Melbourne. On his deciding to live on in the old home, I, with Ellen Gregory, whom I had brought out in 1867 to reside with relations, but who has remained to be the prop and mainstay of my old age--and Mrs. Hood and her three children, moved to a smaller and more suitable house I had in another part of East Adelaide. A placid flowing of the river of life for a year or two led on to my being elected, in 1892, President of the Girls' Literary Society. This position I filled with joy to myself and, I hope, with advantage to others, until some years later the society ceased to exist.
An Autobiography -by- Catherine Helen Spence