How noble too was the picture he painted of the life of self-sacrifice and high endeavour that lay open to her sex. She would like to lead that higher life, being in truth a good-hearted little thing full of righteous impulses; only unfortunately she did not know how, for her present mild and tentative efforts had been somewhat disappointing in their fruits.
Then an inspiration seized her; she would consult Mr. Bull.
She did so, with results that might have been anticipated. Within three months she and her mentor were engaged and within six married.
It was during those fervid weeks of engagement that the pair agreed, not without a little hesitation upon the part of Dorcas, that in due course he would become a missionary and set forth to convert the heathen in what he called “Blackest Africa.” First, however, there was much to be done; he must go through a long course of training; he must acquaint himself with various savage languages, such as Swahili and Zulu, and so must she.
Oh! how poor Dorcas, who was not very clever and had no gift of tongues came to loathe those barbaric dialects. Still she worked away at them like a heroine, confining herself ultimately, with a wise and practical prescience, to learning words and sentences that dealt with domestic affairs, as as “Light the fire.” “Put the kettle on to boil.” “Sister, have you chopped the wood?” “Cease making so much noise in the kitchen-hut.” “Wake me if you hear the lion eating our cow.” And so forth.
For more than a year after their marriage these preliminaries continued while Thomas worked like a horse, though it is true that Dorcas slackened her attention to Swahili and Zulu grammar in the pressure of more immediate affairs. Especially was this so after the baby was born, a girl, flaxen-haired like her mother, whom Thomas christened by the name of Tabitha, and who in after years became the “Little Flower” of this history. Then as the time of departure drew near another thing happened. Her stepmother, Mrs. Humphreys, insisted upon going to a ball in Lent, where she caught a chill that developed into inflammation of the lungs and killed her.
The result of this visitation of Providence, as Thomas called it, was that Dorcas suddenly found herself a rich woman with an income of quite 2000 pounds a year, for her father had been wealthier than she knew. Now temptation took hold of her. Why, she asked herself, should Thomas depart to Africa to teach black people, when with his gifts and her means he could stop at home comfortably and before very long become a bishop, or at the least a dean?
Greatly daring, she propounded this matter to her husband, only to find that she might better have tried to knock down a stone wall with her head than induce him to change his plans. He listened to her patiently–unless over-irritated, a perfectly exasperating patience was one of his gifts–then said in a cold voice that he was astonished at her.
“When you were poor,” he went on, “you vowed yourself to this service, and now because we are rich you wish to turn traitor and become a seeker after the fleshpots of Egypt. Never let me hear you mention the matter again.”
“But there is the baby,” she exclaimed. “Africa is hot and might not agree with her.”
“Heaven will look after the baby,” he answered.
“That’s just what I am afraid of,” wailed Dorcas.
Then they had their first quarrel, in the course of which, be it admitted, she said one or two spiteful things. For instance, she suggested that the real reason he wished to go abroad was because he was so unpopular with his brother clergymen at home, and especially with his superiors, to whom he was fond of administering lectures and reproofs.
It ended, of course, in her being crushed as flat as is a broken-winged butterfly that comes in the path of a garden roller. He stood up and towered over her.
“Dorcas,” he said, “do what you will. Stay here if you wish, and enjoy your money and your luxuries. I sail on the first of next month for Africa. Because you are weak, do I cease to be strong?”
“I think not,” she replied, sobbing, and gave in.
So they sailed, first class–this was a concession, for he had intended to go third–but without a nurse; on that point he stood firm.
“You must learn to look after your own children,” he said, a remark at which she made a little face that meant more than he knew.