His sterling, jovial acquiescence in man's destiny was a delight to Fleeming. 'My visit to Stowting has been a very strange but not at all a painful one,' he wrote. 'In case you ever wish to make a person die as he ought to die in a novel,' he said to me, 'I must tell you all about my old uncle.' He was to see a nearer instance before long; for this family of Jenkin, if they were not very aptly fitted to live, had the art of manly dying. Uncle John was but an outsider after all; he had dropped out of hail of his nephew's way of life and station in society, and was more like some shrewd, old, humble friend who should have kept a lodge; yet he led the procession of becoming deaths, and began in the mind of Fleeming that train of tender and grateful thought, which was like a preparation for his own. Already I find him writing in the plural of 'these impending deaths'; already I find him in quest of consolation. 'There is little pain in store for these wayfarers,' he wrote, 'and we have hope - more than hope, trust.'

On May 19, 1884, Mr. Austin was taken. He was seventy-eight years of age, suffered sharply with all his old firmness, and died happy in the knowledge that he had left his wife well cared for. This had always been a bosom concern; for the Barrons were long-lived and he believed that she would long survive him. But their union had been so full and quiet that Mrs. Austin languished under the separation. In their last years, they would sit all evening in their own drawing-room hand in hand: two old people who, for all their fundamental differences, had yet grown together and become all the world in each other's eyes and hearts; and it was felt to be a kind release, when eight months after, on January 14, 1885, Eliza Barron followed Alfred Austin. 'I wish I could save you from all pain,' wrote Fleeming six days later to his sorrowing wife, 'I would if I could - but my way is not God's way; and of this be assured, - God's way is best.'

In the end of the same month, Captain Jenkin caught cold and was confined to bed. He was so unchanged in spirit that at first there seemed no ground of fear; but his great age began to tell, and presently it was plain he had a summons. The charm of his sailor's cheerfulness and ancient courtesy, as he lay dying, is not to be described. There he lay, singing his old sea songs; watching the poultry from the window with a child's delight; scribbling on the slate little messages to his wife, who lay bed-ridden in another room; glad to have Psalms read aloud to him, if they were of a pious strain - checking, with an 'I don't think we need read that, my dear,' any that were gloomy or bloody. Fleeming's wife coming to the house and asking one of the nurses for news of Mrs. Jenkin, 'Madam, I do not know,' said the nurse; 'for I am really so carried away by the Captain that I can think of nothing else.' One of the last messages scribbled to his wife and sent her with a glass of the champagne that had been ordered for himself, ran, in his most finished vein of childish madrigal: 'The Captain bows to you, my love, across the table.' When the end was near and it was thought best that Fleeming should no longer go home but sleep at Merchiston, he broke his news to the Captain with some trepidation, knowing that it carried sentence of death. 'Charming, charming - charming arrangement,' was the Captain's only commentary. It was the proper thing for a dying man, of Captain Jenkin's school of manners, to make some expression of his spiritual state; nor did he neglect the observance. With his usual abruptness, 'Fleeming,' said he, 'I suppose you and I feel about all this as two Christian gentlemen should.' A last pleasure was secured for him. He had been waiting with painful interest for news of Gordon and Khartoum; and by great good fortune, a false report reached him that the city was relieved, and the men of Sussex (his old neighbours) had been the first to enter. He sat up in bed and gave three cheers for the Sussex regiment.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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