Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/22

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6
chap.
LIFE OF OCTAVIA HILL

and sister led to a children's party being given to celebrate her twenty-second birthday on January 15th, 1846. The five little grandchildren of Dr. Southwood Smith were amongst the guests, henceforward to become our cherished friends for life. It was simply owing to suitability of age that Octavia became immediately the chosen playmate of my brother Charlton and myself; she was his junior by eleven months, my senior by eight. Although she was a very ardent, eager child, with a quick sense of the ludicrous that was partially hidden under a precise determined manner, she never forgot a smile of sympathy or a word of kindness bestowed upon her. . . . On her two playmates, though quite unconsciously to herself, Octavia enforced an exacting discipline of high aims and self-improvement, against which, I, being of a more ordinary mould than Charlton, often chafed; and more especially because her lofty standard was coupled with a quite startling humility.

"I had secretly parcelled out the house to spirits both good and bad; and I think now it must have been to humour me that Octavia joined in my daily rites of propitiation to those invisibles. I can see her now in the dim light of the cellar, the domain of hob-goblins, following Charlton who led the way, whilst I brought up the rear, with an awe-inspiring countenance either induced by some preoccupation, or by the thoroughness with which she would join in any pastime.

"When Octavia visited us later on, her sense of humour was as keen as ever, but life seemed already to have for her a set purpose. . . . At the beginning of the 'fifties, awakening one night, I saw by the light of a lamp in the road a young statuesque figure seated with folded hands in the sister bed.

"'What are you about, Ockey?' I said.

"'Praying for Poland,' was the reply."

This last story was, in one way, less characteristic of Octavia than it would have been of Miranda, but the wave of feeling about such subjects, which passed over her friends and relations, was often reflected in Octavia both then and in later times.

At this time, however, her chief contact with those problems of public life which were afterwards most to interest her was confined to her visits to her grandfather, where she occasionally assisted Gertrude in copying Dr. Smith's papers on Sanitary