Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/39

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EARLY FRIENDSHIPS

not know the names of any of the flowers. It was afterwards arranged that Miranda should give the girls lessons for an hour or so each afternoon."[1]

In 1854 Dr. Southwood Smith left Hillside and moved to Weybridge, where his grandchildren were always welcomed in the same loving way that they had been at Highgate.

But, before he could move, he was seized with a severe illness which necessitated an operation. A few weeks later his granddaughter Emily was attacked by scarlet fever, and her life was despaired of by two doctors. Then her grandfather, in spite of his weak state, came back to London, and saved her life; and when she could be removed, took her to Weybridge to watch over her convalescence. This of course withdrew her from the toy work, and threw more of the burden on Octavia. A year later her youngest sister Florence was also withdrawn from the work by ill-health, and taken to Italy by her aunt, Miss Emily Smith, who gave her loving care for six years. It was in the summer of 1855 that an expedition of the toy-workers into the country led to the formation of some important friendships. Mrs. Harrison, to whose house at Romford they were invited, was the sister of Mrs. Howitt, and she and her family became warm friends of Octavia's. Some of the letters given further on were written to Mary, the eldest daughter, who was very artistic.

But even more important was the friendship then formed with Miss Mary Harris, a member of the Society of Friends, who was a great deal older than Octavia, and whose calm, loving nature was a great rest to her. From the time they first met till 1893, when Miss Harris died, Octavia poured out more of her secret thoughts to her than to anyone else, and when they were away from each other wrote to her constantly.

On the occasion of this visit to Romford another guest was Mr. Ellis Yarnall, the American, whose letters to Lord Coleridge have lately been published. He recorded in his diary the following description of Miranda and Octavia.

"Some young ladies were expected, and with them about

  1. A vivid account of the life of the toy-workers appeared on May 17th, 1856, in Household Words, under the title of "Ragged Robin."