Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/20

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4
chap.
LIFE OF OCTAVIA HILL

incapable of supporting his family. Under these circumstances Dr. Southwood Smith became responsible for the care of his daughter and her children, and placed them in a little cottage at Finchley. Mrs. Hill maintained that it had been a great advantage to her daughters and herself that poverty had deprived her of the help of servants, and compelled her to do everything for the children herself; and they heartily responded to her care. Her daughter Miranda in later years wrote as follows. "It is difficult to express to those who never knew Mrs. Hill what her influence was on those who came in contact with her. On her children it left an indelible impression as deep as life itself, and as lasting. From her book 'Notes on Education' it will be seen how entirely she felt the spirit to be everything in education. She seldom gave a distinct order or made a rule; but her children felt that she lived continually in the presence of God, and that in her there was an atmosphere of goodness, and that moral beauty was a delight to her in the same way that outward beauty is to so many people. She was ardent and yet so serene that to come into her room was like entering a haven of peace where evil and bitterness could not live. Her children also learned from early infancy, from her attitude of mind, that if a thing was right it must be done; there ceased to be any question about it, and how great a help that feeling is to timid natures or weak wills only those know who have experienced it."

The children spent nearly all their time out of doors in the meadows, and on the common, and were described by one of the villagers as "the young ladies who are always up in the hedges."

Octavia early developed presence of mind and resourcefulness. One day she and Emily were sailing walnut-shell boats in a large water butt, when Emily fell in head foremost. Octavia instantly ran back to the other end of the garden to give impulse to her jump, and then, leaping on to the butt, pulled it over, so that she was able to drag her sister out. At an even earlier age, she saved another sister, who had fallen into a deep stream in Epping Forest. The nurse-maid ran away screaming, but Octavia stepped down the bank and held out a stick to her