PER CRUCEM AD LUCEM
THE school at Chudleigh broke up early and Teresa had arranged to spend the Christmas holidays at Neston, leaving on the morning of December 14th. She was all ready for the journey; her box was packed; she had given Rough his breakfast and was waiting for the cab to take her to the station, when she was seized with a sudden stroke. When the cab came, she was found lying on the floor, the little dog trying pathetically to rouse her with a bone. The neighbours carried her up to bed. She was fully conscious but quite helpless. Her speech was somewhat affected and her mouth drawn a little to one side, but this soon passed off. Father Dowsett at once wired both to Father Snow and to her sisters. He told them that there was no real danger and that he was arranging for careful attention, and so, as the school at Neston was not yet closed, her sisters decided not to go at once but to wait until she was able to travel and they could bring her home. The doctor hoped she might be well enough to undertake the journey in a few weeks' time. Meanwhile Father Dowsett suggested that the Canon should come and stay with him in order to see her, but it was a busy season and the Canon could not get away.
For a week she was left to the care of the neighbouring women, who were well meaning enough, but quite unskilled in nursing. Then, seeing that further attention was necessary, a nurse was sent for. Father Dowsett himself went into Newton Abbot in search of one and engaged Miss Casey, who was a Catholic. She has described her feelings when first offered the case. It was close on Christmas and great festivities were being planned in the hospital. She was looking forward eagerly to these entertainments and had sent to London for a new blouse for the occasion. It was, not unnaturally, rather a blow to her to be asked to go instead to a lonely cottage in the heart of the country to nurse an unknown patient, one, moreover, whom she had already heard spoken of as an "eccentric old Frump"! She would gladly have refused the case, but her mother persuaded her that it was her duty to accept it, and to her lasting joy she did so. Still, all the way to Chudleigh she nursed her disappointment, until, on reaching the cottage, her better feelings got the upper hand, and she went in with a bright smile determined to think only of her patient. She at once had her reward, for the moment she entered the room a great feeling of awe and reverence came over her, almost as though she had come into the presence of God. All her regrets vanished — rather they were changed into thanksgiving for the wonderful favour which had been bestowed upon her in being allowed to tend one whom she felt to be so near to God. Later, on Christmas Day, Teresa asked her if she regretted the festivities she had missed, and on being assured that she would not resign her post for all the pleasures of the world, Teresa smilingly told her she had known of her struggle and had begged our Lord to make it up to her. Then she added that, although leaving herself entirely in the hands of God to arrange for her as He knew best, she had asked Him to send her a Catholic nurse and one who knew and loved Him, and as soon as Miss Casey came into the room she felt her prayer had been answered.
The nurse found her patient in a sadly neglected condition. She had not been washed or her bed made, nor had her room been dusted since she was taken ill a week before. She had been carried down to the sitting-room and an old towel horse put by her bed to keep off the draughts. Teresa said no word of complaint and insisted that nothing should be done for her until nurse had first had some tea. Then only would she allow herself to be made comfortable. Nurse soon set things right and made the room cosy, borrowing a screen from Lord Clifford's house and covering the table with a dainty little cloth made by Teresa herself.
Father Dowsett was very attentive and brought the Communion when he could, but he was lame and not able to manage the distance very often. Her longing for Communion was intense and during the night nurse would hear her say repeatedly: "Oh when will He come, when will He be here?" After receiving the blessed Sacrament she would be completely unconscious of her surroundings, sometimes for hours. At first nurse, not understanding, would gently rouse her and she obeyed as simply as a child. She had no wishes of her own. Her one thought was the will of her divine Spouse, and when Canon Snow wrote to her that it was her duty to do all in her power to get well in order to do more for God, she readily obeyed to the smallest detail. The doctor ordered her nourishing food, and tempting delicacies were sent her from Lord Clifford's house. She took whatever nurse gave her without a word, but the unaccustomed food merely produced the most violent indigestion, and both nurse and doctor were much puzzled until she at last explained. The doctor said he had never seen anyone so childlike, and Mrs. Statt, the nurse's sister, who came over to visit her, said she could not help feeling all the time that she was in the presence of a beautiful innocent little child. Mrs. Statt loved to sit and talk with her. One day she was speaking of her house in Newton Abbot and Teresa told her that she had once been passing that very house and been impelled to stop and pray for its inmates, feeling sure she would some day be brought into touch with them. She had stood outside while she said a decade of the rosary. Mrs. Statt, like Teresa, was a tertiary of St. Francis, and when Teresa happened to say that in case of her death she had no habit in which to be buried, having already given away three in succession, Mrs. Statt gladly promised to give her hers should she require it first.
Another visitor was Father Dawson, the priest from Teignmouth, who had made her acquaintance when she took the children there for an outing. He was at once impressed with her saintliness and when she was taken ill went to see her. For a long time he sat beside her and they talked of holy things, and he said afterwards that he had learnt many lessons from her and was loath to leave. Among other things she told him was that at one time she used to pray for suffering, feeling she could not live without it, "But now", she added, "I do not feel like that. I just take whatever our Lord sends."
At first the patient seemed to make rapid progress. Father Dowsett wrote to her sister: "There is a still further improvement in your sister's condition. She has, of course, to be kept very quiet, but she is bright and cheery. It is best not to let her know how ill she is at present."
On December 26th nurse wrote to Canon Snow: "Deo gratias she is getting much better and the doctor is very pleased at the rapid progress she is making. She wishes me to tell you that our Lord has sent her every comfort, screens, curtains, etc. everything to make her cosy and keep out the draughts. She is so touched with the loving sympathy of the little children and their parents. Everyone has been so kind and considerate."
During the following night she took a turn for the worse, and nurse sent a hurried line to Canon Snow:
"7 a.m. There is a decided change in her since I wrote your letter. The use of her limbs is quite gone again for the present. She has had a very bad night. I don't wish to alarm you but she certainly appears worse than I have seen her yet. I am just sending a note to Fr Dowsett asking him to come at once. If there is another change for the worse, I will wire immediately."
Father Dowsett came up and gave her the last Sacraments, some of the older girls being brought in to assist at the ceremony. On January 6th nurse wrote again:
"It will comfort you to know that Miss Higginson is much better. There was a marvellous change in her since she received Extreme Unction and holy Viaticum, which Fr Dowsett administered early on the Wednesday morning that I wrote to you. Our Lord has again restored the use of her limbs. She was able to use her hands almost immediately after the reception of the holy Sacraments. Deo gratias."
Canon Snow replied:
"Your welcome letter with the good news came on Saturday night and I am very grateful to you for writing. I trust Miss Higginson will now speedily get better and be able to travel. You will be sorry to part from her but you must comfort yourself with having made so good a friend and thank our Lord for what He has done for you through her. She will not forget you. Tell her I both sympathise with her and congratulate her: sympathise with her because the going home day is deferred, and congratulate with her because she will have further time to do more for her Spouse and merit more for herself."
She continued to improve slowly and her sisters were very anxious to get her home, but the doctor was afraid to risk the long journey and it was proposed that nurse should first take her for a little change to Teignmouth.
But again she seemed to fail and Miss Casey wrote on January 16th:
"Miss Higginson is not nearly so well again. She has been suffering very acute pains in the head since last Thursday 12th, and it affects her eyes so that I am obliged to keep the room almost in perpetual darkness. She cannot even bear the fire in at night, for the glare, although shaded by a screen, seems to make her as she says seasick. The doctor says the heart is much weaker and is the cause of these severe pains in the head. It prevents her from sleeping. She can neither sleep night nor day."
These fearful sufferings m the head were no doubt allowed to be her final offering for the promotion of the great Devotion whose Apostle she was sent to be.
This state of things continued until the 31st when nurse again wrote:
"She is still very up and down. One day the tiniest bit stronger and the next down at the lowest. She has had one or two very bad turns since I wrote before asking permission to move to Teignmouth, and at present her heart is in such a weak state and her nerves are so unstrung that I doubt that we shall have to postpone our going to Teignmouth at least for a few days more... She cannot do anything for herself, but she is not helpless. She has recovered from the seizure but it has left her nervous system in a frightfully weak state. She cannot bear now the least sound and light is a torture to her. She suffers acute pain in the head and flatulence is another great trouble to her."
Her physical sufferings were visible to all. Of her spiritual trials none can tell. She could not write and she never spoke of them, but it is evident that they continued to the end. A great sadness would at times come over her and she seemed quite changed, so that nurse was sure she must be sharing the sufferings of our Lord in His agony, or taking on herself the punishment of other souls. She would implore for prayers saying again and again: "Oh why do you not continue to pray for me. Do pray for me", and one day Father Dowsett came out of her room after hearing her confession in deep distress saying: "The poor soul is suffering terribly. Go in and try to comfort her", but human consolation was of small avail. She was the "Spouse of the Crucified". Our Lord had brought her to this far off lonely spot to accompany Him on His way of the Cross, and where else could it lead her save to the summit of Calvary?
All her life she had begged our Lord most earnestly to remove all external signs of the great favours He had bestowed upon her and her prayer was granted, for no outward marvels marked the course of her last illness. Even the marks of the sacred Stigmata were withdrawn and nurse knew nothing of them. The only thing she noticed was the reserved way in which Teresa shook hands. She never allowed more than the tips of her fingers to be taken, and this struck both Miss Casey and her sister as very strange in one who was so warm-hearted. She was often rapt in prayer and a wonderful atmosphere of sanctity seemed to radiate from her, but that was all. Even the Devil appeared to have little power, though he still came at times to torment her. Nurse relates how one night he kept throwing water over Teresa's bed. Time after time she woke up to find her patient's coverings all wet. She was completely mystified until Teresa explained to her that it was only the Devil trying to annoy her. Nurse, with not unnatural impatience, exclaimed: "Well I wish he would go to sleep and let us get a little sleep too!" "My dear, he never sleeps", said Teresa with a smile.
Meanwhile rooms had been engaged at Teignmouth, but both Father Dowsett and the doctor doubted the wisdom of moving her. The former wrote to Father Snow:
"Feb. 4th. I do not think Miss Higginson is quite well enough for a day or two to take the journey to Teignmouth. Is there a possibility of your being able to come down here and see her within the next few days? I should be very pleased to put you up. I will let you know how things progress. Her heart is so very uncertain and I am consulting the doctor as to the possibility of Miss Higginson being removed without any danger of catching a chill, as the weather is not very propitious here. Please do not think I want to interfere with any arrangements made for Miss Higginson. The truth is that Lord Clifford and I are under a great obligation to Miss Higginson for all she has done, and I could not risk her being removed unless the doctor not only gave the permission but really advised the removal. I am sending for the doctor to ask him to call and see me, then I will telegraph you the result. I think Miss Higginson would far prefer your opinion than even that of her sister. This is my reason for writing to you. I could not in a letter tell you all the circumstances of the case. I do not think there is any danger of death, but such a valuable life deserves all the care and consideration that those who know Miss Higginson can possibly give.
"Yours truly H. J. DOWSETT."
Canon Snow was unable to accept Father Dowsett's invitation as he had just lost his own brother and could not get away. The nurse knew how Teresa would have rejoiced to see him and sympathised with her on her disappointment, but Teresa seemed almost surprised at the idea of being disappointed at anything that happened to her. "My dear", she said, "how can I be disappointed at anything our dear Lord sends to me? He is Wisdom and Love and I can only press His hands a little closer in mine and say, 'Dear Lord Thou knowest best'."
Love of God's holy Will was in truth the keynote of her sanctity. It was no mere question of submitting to His Will: since her Mystical Marriage she knew no other will but His. This was the great lesson she taught her nurse during those last weeks of her earthly life. "My dear", she said again and again, "Love the Will of God and you will enjoy heaven on earth." In everything she saw the hand of God. Nothing was too small or trivial to speak of Him. She who had been allowed to hear the things that it is not given to man to utter: who had seen our Lord revealed in glory, could equally discover Him in the most commonplace details of everyday life. If a little child came to the door, she saw the Infant Jesus; when the lamp was lighted, it spoke to her of the light of His countenance; even when the kettle boiled over, she thought of the overflowing of His love. In the same way everything had to be done for His sake; and nurse found that no matter how good and apparently important a work she might be doing, it must be promptly set aside for the smallest duty, until under Teresa's gentle guidance she came to understand that it was not the work itself but the fulfilling of God's holy Will which was the one thing necessary. And so, after nearly sixty years of heroic sanctity, Teresa had reached the pinnacle of perfection — that spoken of by our Lord Himself, for she, the teacher of little children, had herself become as a little child and was at last ready to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
On February 9th she said goodnight to her nurse with special tenderness, thanking her for all her devoted care. "Do not fear, dear child", she said, "but put your hand with loving confidence into your Father's Hand and He will guide you safely through every path, and where the road is rough and stony He will carry you in His arms."
They were her last words. About midnight nurse noticed that her breathing had become very quick and laboured, and asked if she were feeling ill. Receiving no reply, she got up and went to her. Teresa was unconscious and completely paralysed. The nurse called up the caretaker and sent for the doctor, but when he came he said there was nothing more that could be done. In the morning Father Dowsett wired to Canon Snow:
"10.21. Feb. 10. Patient unconscious. Sudden relapse. Can you come?"
The Canon could not get away, but her sister Louisa started at once and on her arrival wrote to him:
"Teresa is still unconscious in an uncertain heavy drowsy sleep and then apparently not breathing at all. God has been so good to her that I trust she may be spared to travel home. Unless the good God intervenes in some miraculous way, she cannot last very long. The doctor shook his head this morning and said he was not looking for this new development... Teresa does not take any nourishment. Of course she cannot. I hope consciousness may return to her before I have to return. Her teeth are clenched together and she looks so livid... The nurse is a little body and so devoted. Fr. Dowsett honoured me as her sister by sending a groom to meet me for which I was very thankful although there was a bus at the station."
On the 18th she wrote: "Tess is still unconscious although at times she seems to have lucid intervals and will press your hand although she has not known me yet."
Nurse also thought she had glimmerings of consciousness. It had been her habit every night to anoint her five senses with holy water saying at the same time the prayers for the last anointing: "By this holy anointing and by the Cross and Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ and the prayers of the Church, pardon me all the sins I have committed by my eyes, ears, etc." After she became unconscious nurse continued to do this for her, and when it came to the anointing of the palms, the hands would open and a sweet smile came over her face as though she understood and were grateful, but when spoken to she showed no signs of consciousness.
Miss Louisa wrote to Canon Snow telling him not to come, as he could do nothing for the patient in her present condition, and promising to wire to him if she showed any sign of coming to herself. On the 14th she sent a card: "No change; there was a slight improvement but not maintained today. Sleeps and breathes loudly and fitfully."
On the 15th it became obvious that the end was near, and Father Dowsett wired in the afternoon: "Patient dying. Cannot last long."
About five o'clock the last struggle began. Her face took on an expression of the most intense agony and there were continual convulsive movements of her mouth as though she were undergoing terrible sufferings in her soul. Her face every now and then became livid and distorted and her breathing was loud and laboured. Her sister and the nurse knelt beside her saying the rosary, litanies and prayers for the dying, and sprinkling her frequently with holy water, but she made no sign when they spoke to her. For six long hours she lingered thus until, at ten minutes past eleven, her beloved Lord came at last to clasp his faithful Spouse in His own everlasting embrace.
"The end came unexpectedly", wrote Louisa, "although we were looking for it all day. Sister never regained consciousness, and it was God's almighty Providence that she was in that state, for she suffered terribly."
The nurse also said that never before or since had she seen so heartrending a death agony, or one that lasted so long.
The secret of those last hours is her own. All that we may guess of them is that the "Spouse of the Crucified", who had clung so closely to our Lord through life, was allowed to follow Him unto death — even the death of the Cross.
Nurse had promised Teresa that in the event of her death no other hands should touch her and so now, unaided, she performed the last offices and laid her out in the brown habit of St. Francis, given as arranged by Mrs. Statt. It seemed as though even after death Teresa would claim nothing for her own. Her body was carried into the school where the children and their parents came to pray beside her. Many of them still remember the beauty of her face, for the look of suffering she wore at first gradually gave way to one of peace and happiness. A delicate tinge of colour came into her cheeks and she looked so lifelike that they hesitated to close the coffin, doubting if she were really dead. Louisa wrote: "Sister is looking more like herself. She had such a suffering look but now she is changing." And on the following day she said: "The undertaker has brought the shell and Sister looks happy. I would like her to be left in the church over night and buried on Tuesday morning. As she is in a shell, it will not matter. There is no smell of death about her and no discolouration."
It was arranged that she should be taken back to Neston in Cheshire and buried in her mother's grave.
When all was over, Nurse Casey1 sent a long account to Canon Snow, to which he replied as follows:
"8. 3. 05.
"MY DEAR MISS CASEY,
"I cannot thank you enough for the very full account you have sent me, and this too when you were ill in bed. I expected this was the cause of the delay. I trust you are now well enough for work again. Alternate work and suffering and prayer is excellent discipline for the soul.
"Miss Higginson desired that her death might as far as possible resemble Our Lord's. Hence the desolation she suffered. That she might endure this desolation, He hid from her that she was going to die. Had she known that He was about to take her to Himself, so great would have been her joy that the most intense bodily pain and any other suffering would have been as nothing. All during her life He permitted her to participate in His Passion and it was fitting for her own greater reward and for the good of the Church and of souls that her death should be in suffering and not in consolation. You say in one place she clung to the hope she was going to get better and teach again. This was simply impossible. She had reached the highest degree of union it is possible for a soul to reach on earth and a soul in such a state cannot cling to anything but the Will of God. The Will of God and the will of the soul are one. But as I have said, our Lord concealed from her that she was going to die, and when someone about her said she would get better, then no doubt she would consider it her duty to get better as soon as possible, and, if Teignmouth was to do her good, to get there without delay. This was not undue eagerness.
"I am not in any sorrow about her death. Immediately I got the telegram I went into the church and, standing in the sanctuary, I said the Te Deum with great fervour and consolation thanking our Lord for all the marvellous graces He bestowed upon her and for her glory and happiness. I have not said one single prayer for her, being sure she is in heaven. Knowing all I do about her, I should feel I was not doing right by our Lord to imagine she was in Purgatory. Some here have told me that, when they tried to pray for her, they have found themselves praying to her. Nor do I feel any sense of loss, for I feel her nearer to me now than when she was at Biddlecombe."
And so at last the work for which our Lord had called her to Chudleigh was done, and in the darkness of a winter's morning, when the ground was white with snow, her earthly remains were taken home.
"The ground was white with snow at Biddlecombe", wrote Miss Louisa, "when we left at seven o'clock to drive the seven miles to Newton Abbott. We just had a hearse and one coach and a wagonette to take the seven carriers back, as we could not find men on the estate. Lady Clifford is abroad, but she ordered a beautiful cross of arum lilies and bunches of violets and her card attached. His Lordship came home late on Sunday evening, but he allowed us to travel through the park as it shortened the distance considerably. She was shown every mark of respect, and kind large-hearted Fr Dowsett would have liked her to have lain amongst them. Mass was said for her every day and this week also. I must tell you things more fully if ever I have the pleasure of seeing you. Sister and I at Newton Abbott were placed in a separate coach and we never left it till we reached Neston. We were several times hitched off and left for a short time. I had all her luggage placed in the carriage with me... We had only a float and a cab at Neston as the distance is so short, and she was taken straight to the church. Fr Thompson was very kind. Mass was at eight-thirty, and after Father Thompson had breakfasted, she was interred."
Thus was this great servant of God laid to her rest, simply and unnoticed even as she would have wished, her sisters and the faithful Margaret alone with her at the last. And surely her humility has been satisfied to the full, as she lies hidden in her mother's grave awaiting the good pleasure of her divine Spouse who in time of trial had said to her:
"Take courage my loved One for the Seat of divine Wisdom shall be praised, known and adored as I wish, and I will glorify My Name in thee."
1. Miss Casey is now a Poor Clare at Lynton in Devonshire.