XVIII

RECALLED TO TEACH

AFTER Miss Garnett's death, Teresa returned to Neston and began once more to look out for a school. It was sixteen years since she had last had a definite post, and in the interval her life had been composed of trivial duties and little acts of kindness, but she had long learnt that human measures are of no account in the things of God and that the tiniest action will weigh down the scale, if undertaken in accordance with His holy Will. During these years of seeming uselessness our Lord had taken her up into a high mountain apart and shown her things which eye hath not seen nor ear heard, and now, as a last token of His favour, He was bidding her come down again into the plains — to an obscure cottage school, there once more to take up her high calling of "teaching little children how to love Him".

On November 23rd, 1903, she wrote to Father Snow:

[568] "Today I received a letter from Sister M St Philip. I went to see her and she told she had sent a letter to you the copy of which she enclosed. It was from the chaplain at Chudleigh. What shall I do? I told Sister I was grateful to her but that I should prefer a convent, but she said the nuns she had written to did not answer, so she thinks they may perhaps have got someone. She also says there is no hurry and if in the meantime she is applied to by the nuns, she will at once let me know. She talked for a long time and thinks that any teacher who can manage it at all ought to look upon it as a sacred duty, for protestant teachers have in several cases been installed in Catholic Schools."

The enclosure she refers to is as follows:

"DEC. 6 1903

"The rev. H. J. Dowsett has applied to rev. Mother of Mount Pleasant Training-College Liverpool respecting a mistress for the school of the rt. hon. Lord Clifford and has been advised to write to Miss Higginson.

"The school is a small one, at present only 24 children on the books, but the number after Christmas should be close on 30, though it could not for a long time at least exceed that number. The children are clean, bright and exceedingly well-behaved. They are all children of the people employed on Lord Clifford's estate. A mistress is required fully certificated to take up the school after Christmas. The school has not yet been definitely accepted by the County Council, but there is no doubt that it will be. The buildings and other parts of the school are in good repair, but Lord Clifford is awaiting the report of the County Council when he will erect new schools as they may wish. At present the mistress, Article 50, is receiving 40 per an. with three furnished rooms (one sitting-room and two bedrooms) and firing. The caretaker is required to make up the mistress's fire and do up the rooms each morning and the sum of 5 extra is given the mistress to engage the caretaker or anyone she chooses to do her cooking or other work required. A fully certificated mistress would of course receive such a salary as her position demanded.

"The school is not very far from the church and in future would probably be nearer. The country is very beautiful and the climate soft and healthy.

"If Miss Higginson would care to know more about the school, Fr Dowsett will supply information. He would like to know Miss Higginson's qualifications, past schools, and salary required with or without the arrangement made between the present mistress and caretaker. These are not necessary adjuncts of the position." He then gives a list of the services in the church, and continues: "The school-house adjoins the school. The fact of having three rooms allows the mistress the pleasure of having one of her friends to stay with her.

"On receipt of the County Council's requirements, the probability is that a new school and house will be begun as soon as possible. The rooms were furnished throughout in 1902. Fr Dowsett would like an early reply to put before Lord Clifford."

Teresa seemed irresistibly drawn to this lonely spot in far-off Devon, so far removed from friends and advisors. She felt that her divine Spouse was asking something special of her and never for a moment doubted that the call would lead her still further along the road of suffering. Accordingly, with the consent of Canon Snow, she accepted the position. When she went to say goodbye to him he writes, "She asked if I would come to her when she was dying. I said I would if I knew. She said she wanted to take an oath when receiving viaticum that all her writings were true."1

She set off on her long journey in January, 1904, and having missed her connection at Exeter, she spent the night there, and took the opportunity of visiting the cathedral.

[570] "I did go into the old cathedral at Exeter and prayed, and asked all in heaven to intercede, for the restoration of the Church, all who prayed and received the Sacraments there who had learnt the truths of our holy faith and enjoyed the peace and blessedness that can only be found in the Church of Peter."

She arrived at Chudleigh in pouring rain and there is a note of desolation in her first letter to Father Snow:

[569] "Thank God I have been very sick all the week but feel rather better tonight. We begin school on Monday, so I am sure you will make a special offering of me and my work to our dear divine Lord... I do not know how I am to get stamps here as there is no post office nearer than Chudleigh and no letter box in the wall nearer than 2 miles off. The house is between two hills and no other house near that I can see. I shall be most grateful for a few penny and half penny stamps. I shall write again after tomorrow... I am writing under difficulties — have no lamp and only a very thin candle."

Nearly all her life had been spent amidst the busy stir of great cities, and now to find herself buried in the very heart of the country in the depths of winter must have seemed strange indeed. But the greatest blow was her distance from the church. For so many years she had lived almost within touch of the tabernacle, and here she found herself far away, for the little church was attached to Lord Clifford's house over a mile distant. The road was very hilly, though there was a shorter way across the fields, and this she used except when, in wet weather, it became so swampy as to be impassable. Her very soul seemed to bleed in the anguish of her desolation, but she knew she had come here to share the Cross, "and what could really be a cross, only something that could keep me from Him?"

The schoolhouse stood at the head of a little valley, or coombe as it is called locally, and was reached by a steep path leading down from the road. The building consisted of two houses under one roof with a wide stone passage in between. The door on the left opened into the house of the caretaker (a Protestant woman with a large family). The other door led into the teacher's sitting-room, a pleasant, low-ceilinged room with two windows looking out over the meadows. The two bedrooms were upstairs and the school premises round to the back. There was a nice garden and a porch which in summer was covered with climbing roses, but when Teresa arrived in the middle of winter and in pouring rain the place must have looked sadly desolate. The house was terribly damp and the buildings were in bad repair and infested with rats and it was a long time before anything was done to put them right.

As usual in country places there was considerable curiosity about the new teacher, and one of the Catholics remembers her first sight of Teresa and the feeling, half of consternation and half of amusement caused by her appearance. It was a Sunday morning and on her way to Mass she overtook a little shrunken woman looking far older than her years, creeping along the road in a tall old-fashioned hat, wearing galoshes and huddled up in no fewer than three shawls! The woman could not help wondering how one so frail and simple-looking would be able to deal with her own big, unruly children.

On the Monday after her arrival Teresa attended a Christmas party given by Lady Clifford to the Catholic children on the estate. There was a grand tea and one of the monks from Buckfast showed a magic lantern.

[570] "Between the tea and lantern Lady Clifford played for the children to dance. It was a real farce for they had not the slightest notion of dancing. I think they can never have seen anyone dance. However they seemed to enjoy it and that was everything.

"Lady Clifford said she hoped I would be very comfortable and that I would stay with them for many years, to which I made no reply. I am afraid I shall not be able to manage the walk to and from the church. It is a great distance for me and up and down hill all the way, and no made road up to the highway, nothing but ruts and puddle mud over the shoe tops. It has rained every day since I came and rev. H. Dowsett says that this part of Devon is called the watering can of England.

"There are rats in the house and as soon as I put out the candle I can hear them at it and they eat it all or take it away. Today Fr. Dowsett has sent up a lamp and a coal scuttle. There are only six geographical readers and Burns and Oates' Catholic History of England to read from and these all torn. A register recording three whole years attendances and room for another. I have been busy adding the years attendances as none had been added. There is no summary and an old admission book with record of baptisms in it. No timetable, conscience clause and hardly anything for the children to work with. I gave Fr. Dowsett a list of books etc. required but have not heard anything about them. He came into school for a short time on Monday morning and said he would bring some charts of Lord Clifford's estates which they must learn for geography — he said that grammar, geography, and history was all bosh for that class of children and too much reading was not good for them either. He said that he wished me to work up the prayers, catechism and religious knowledge of the children as they had utterly failed at the religious examination. He said also he could not believe children could be so ignorant of the simplest truths. He blames the parents and teacher. I do not find them so bad as he makes them. They are very good children and above the average for intelligence in country children. Not having tools to work with, I have found it rather hard work to keep all the children well employed. When I get books it will be much easier.

"Do pray very earnestly for me. Rev. H. Dowsett kindly gives me holy Communion before Mass and I leave the church at the post communion and am only back in time to open school and I get a cup of tea at the play time. As soon as Lord and Lady Clifford go away, holy Mass will be at a quarter to eight so that I shall be better off. Last Sunday when I was going for holy Communion, I fell in all the slutch and had to go back and change my dress, etc. and wash myself, so of course I was late, but Fr. Dowsett came to me as he came down from the altar and said he would come out again in about a quarter of an hour. He really is very kind in that way.

"I think I have now told you everything about the school, children, and other things. Mrs — and Mrs — are in a great stew about me. They say I will soon go to the next world if I stay here. But I must be about our Father's business — whatever He has for me to do here. His holy Will is all I desire."

At the end of the month Teresa wrote again to Canon Snow:

[571] "It is a month tomorrow since I came south and no one has been to see me since I came. The pane of glass has not been put in nor the window frames mended, so each morning I have to wash up large pools of water both upstairs and down. Last week was the worst — on Monday it was freezing and bitterly cold, on Monday night there was a thaw and regular storm of rain and wind which has continued with more or less violence all the week, and what is worse I have not been able to get to holy Mass except Monday and Saturday. The latter and today I really had to wade through the water ankle deep in some places. Fr Dowsett said I was not to attempt to go down for Benediction as I have a very bad cold, stiff neck and swollen face and black and inflamed eye. I am telling you these little things that you may thank our dear Lord with me. For our dear divine Spouse will not be outdone in generosity and for the little I can give to Him He lavishes in abundance. I feel so keenly not being able to get to holy Mass and holy Communion that I told Him that my very soul bled with anguish. And I knelt to assist in spirit at your holy Sacrifice and others, and He filled me so with His adorable presence that I feel certain it is His Will that I remain here in spite of everything. And right glad I am that I have so much to remind me of Bethlehem. Deo gratias. I can teach these little ones to know and love Him, for they are good children and anxious to learn."

Although she did not know for what purpose she had come, she was quite sure our Lord had called her here and she wrote again to Father Snow:

[572] "Although it is not my turn to write, I thought I would do so tonight if I possibly could, for I wish you to pray for me more earnestly than ever. I am quite convinced that this is the place I had to come to and that I saw some years ago. The school is what I thought was a little white church on a hill side — for as I came along the low road and looked up at it and saw the four windows and a door at each end on a line with the windows and looked at the roof etc., I felt quite convinced that this was the place in which God wished me to do something for His glory and the good of souls. If it were not for this certainty, I do not think that I should venture to stay here as Lent is approaching, and be so far from the church and such a difficult road to go to it. Besides before I came I felt and knew quite well that I was going to have a share of the Cross. And what could really be a cross, only something that could keep me from Him? And several times I have not been able to get to holy Mass and holy Communion — I must try and welcome these disappointments and try to thank and bless Him for them. I know I am not worthy of any or all of His great gifts, but I have been so spoiled and He has lavished so many favours upon me that I look for them as a matter of course, though I hope that I do not look for anything that is not His adorable Will."

Lent was drawing near and she was alone in a strange land far from friends, far from her director, and, above all, far from our Lord Himself in the blessed Sacrament of His love. She had said some time before that each year she found herself able to bear more and to show it less, and we have no record of this her last Lent on earth. She wrote to Father Snow:

"And now dear rev. Father I must beg of you to renew your earnestness and please do all you can for your poor child during these next few weeks. I think I need prayers more than ever I did and as you know what a fearful coward I am, I trust very much to your intercession for me...

"If we have all Easter week as a holiday, I propose going to Lancashire on the Monday and returning on Friday, at least if you think I should. Of course it is a long time to look forward to and we do not know whether we shall be here or not at that time or what might happen between this and then. But if it is for the best, I think I should like to go."

She did go home and on her return fell ill with an attack of bronchitis:

[576] "I have had a rather bad bronchial cold ever since I returned and had linseed and mustard poultices on day and night, and, as the congestion did not give way, I gave a holiday and tried turpentine. I am a little better today but very weak. I have not been out all the week. I wrote and told Fr. Dowsett but I have neither seen nor heard anything from him. No one ever comes near school or house. The place is so damp that a pair of slippers that I left in a cupboard near the fire had long blue and green hairs about half an inch long grown from them when I returned on Saturday. I do hope that you may have fine and warm weather all your holidays and that the change and rest may really do you both permanent good.

"I am really grateful to our dear b. Lord for whatever He sends or permits. May His holy Name be praised for ever and ever."

A week later she wrote:

[577] "Thank you for your kind and sympathetic letter. ... I am a great deal better today. I have been to holy Mass etc. and Benediction was immediately after Mass. It is the first time since last Sunday that I have been. I did not get to Benediction on Sunday for I could hardly get home from Church in the morning I was so faint and my heart was so bad. I sent for rev. H. Dowsett and he came up yesterday, Friday morning. He says he will see that the house is made airtight. The rat holes are made up and tarred and a shed is built up over the passage to the school. I succeeded in getting him into the house and I showed him the doors etc. and he says I shall have curtains also and some other things.

"Lord and Lady Clifford will be home for the first week in May, Sunday or Monday, Fr Dowsett says, and I will then see Lady Clifford and know what is going to be done. I do not know that I have done what ever it is that our dear Lord wishes me to do here. If I did, I should leave at once, but under the circumstances, as I am somewhat better and the weather is more settled, with your prayers and blessing I shall wait a little longer."

She recovered very slowly. On May 8th she wrote:

[579] "I hope that I am among your offerings to our dear and Immaculate Mother this month and that you are uniting my intentions with yours in your May devotions. We had a singing votive Mass of the blessed Virgin this morning. Somehow I always feel great joy when a feast of the glorious St. Michael falls on one of our dear blessed Lady's like today.

"I am still on the sick list, but I have been able under great difficulties to get to holy Mass these last three days, though I shall not be able to get back again to Benediction, the distance is too great for me at present. I keep so very weak and my heart is bad and cough also. Thank and praise the adorable Trinity with me and for me. I wish only what They appoint and I say very often with St. Peter, 'Lord it is good for me to be here', but I do not finish the quotation, for I really wish to go home where there will not be any danger of offending Him Whom I love above all things."

[580] "We are having very nice weather just now and I am feeling a good deal better and have been able to get to holy Mass each morning, and I trust that with the next week's rest and the good weather I shall get all right and strong again. I have really been very ill, Deo gratias, but am picking up nicely again. I am grateful that you had such nice weather at Ventnor and hope you may long feel the benefit of it. Even when I was so bad and could not get out, yet I had a great joy in knowing that I was doing His adorable Will during the darkest days. This may seem very contradictory but I always have a kind of peaceful joy whether I am in joy, light or darkness. I mean a real joy and desolation together."

She loved the beautiful flowers which grew with such profusion in that soft climate and often packed off boxes of roses to Canon Snow for his church, sending, as she used to say, a little message in each petal of every flower. She does not say what arrangements she came to with Lord and Lady Clifford, but she must have agreed to remain on, for after the Summer holidays which she spent at Neston, she returned to Chudleigh. Various alterations appear to have been made, and she says the school was much improved and the valley had also been drained and was much better.

She had completely won her way with the children, whom she constantly refers to in her letters as her "dear chicks". She had her own way of managing them. There were several big boys in the school at the time, and no doubt at first they expected to have things all their own way with their gentle little teacher, but they soon found she was not to be trifled with. She could be severe enough when necessary, and her own evident distress when they were naughty worked upon their better feelings. She once caught one of the older boys playing the fool during prayers in order to make the others laugh. She at once punished him, but the rest of the children were so astonished to see that teacher herself was crying that they ran home to tell their mothers that the boy had done something terrible indeed. Teresa, fearing the mother would be seriously alarmed sent for her to talk the matter over.

The girls were devoted to her and she would often keep them after school hours to give them lessons in cooking, allowing them to take home the results of their efforts. In wet weather she was always careful to have something dry for each child to put on, and would give them hot cocoa and provide meals for the poorer ones, and when she came back from her holidays she brought each of them a nice present. For the rest she kept very much to herself and never went into the neighbours' houses, unless they were ill or needed help, when she would be the first to go to them. She was always busy, and did a great deal of needlework, making vestments for the Canon or clothes for the children. Her sewing was most beautiful. She once made a baby's dress which was sent up for some competition of Queen Alexandra's and won the first prize. She hardly ever went anywhere except to church, and the impression grew that she wanted to avoid attention. Accordingly little heed was paid to her and she got the name of being somewhat eccentric. Her chief companion was a little dog called Rough which Fr Dowsett had sent her to keep away the rats.

In September, 1904, she wrote to Canon Snow:

[588] "Adore, thank and praise Him for me, and offer Him my whole being, my heart with all its love and affections, every beating and desire, my soul with all its powers, my body and mind with all its senses, that every action of mine may be one perfect act of resignation love and glory to Him who is my Lord and God, my Spouse and only Treasure, here and in heaven. Oh how I loved the minutes I spent before Him the last few years, and how I treasure them now that I cannot be actually present with you during the Quarant Ore, but I shall be with you in spirit...

"We are to have Confirmation here on the 9th Oct. so I am sure you will pray for my little chicks. Thank you for the prayers you have already said for them and their unworthy teacher. The religious examination is to take place on the 10th and the Bishop and Lord Clifford will be present, so I hope the children won't be too shy to answer."

After the Bishop's visit she wrote again:

[589] "The Bishop administered Confirmation to seven of the school children and one boy made his first Communion last Sunday. The Bishop and Lord Clifford visited the school on Tuesday afternoon and seemed well pleased with the children. The religious examination is postponed till Oct. 26th, Wednesday week, in the morning. I am sure you will remember us all on that day."

Her letters grow very homely and simple and are full of inquiries for her far-off friends. Her thoughts often dwelt on her early days, and the feast of the Presentation carried her back to the wonderful occasion when almighty God had first made Himself known to her as a tiny child.

[590] "I wish you the very happiest of feasts, and I am sure you thank the adorable Trinity for me in an especial manner on this feast of the Presentation, for I always feel that I owe so much to God and our dear Blessed Mother for the great grace that was given to me on this feast day, and my whole soul and heart feels bursting with loving gratitude to our dear good God for all He has done for His poor little worm. I think I did write to you the last, but it appears such a long time since I heard from you that I must write." She then sends love and messages to many friends and closes: "Asking a continuance of your good prayers for all my poor people here and also for myself, and thanking you again and again for all your kindness in the past, begging your prayers and blessing, I remain dear rev. Father your obedient and devoted child

"in the sacred Head and loving Heart

"TERESA HIGGINSON,
"Enfant de Marie, Tertiary of St. Francis.
"L D S."             

And now at last the long awaited time was at hand and she was to learn the purpose for which her divine Spouse had led her to this distant, lonely spot.


1. Letter to Father O'Sullivan.