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Elsie Inglis
Chapter VI - "Her Children"


"Wonderful courage," "intrepidity of action," "strength of purpose," "no weakening pity"—these are terms that are often used in describing Elsie Inglis. But there is another side to her character, not so well known, from its very nature bound to be less known, which it is the purpose of this chapter to discover.

Elsie Inglis was a very loving woman, and she was a child-lover. From every source that touched her life, and, touching it, brought her into contact with child-life, she, by her interest in children, drew to herself this healing link with the future. The children of her poorer patients knew well the place they held in her heart. "They would watch from the windows, on her dispensary days, for her, and she would wave to them across the street. She would often stop them in the street, and ask after their mother, and even after she had been to Serbia and had returned to Edinburgh she remembered them and their home affairs."

The daily letters to her father, written from Glasgow and London and Dublin, are full of stories about the children of her patients. Who but a genuine child-lover could have found time to write to a little niece, under twelve, letters from Serbia and Russia—one in August, 1915, during "The Long, Peaceful Summer," and the other in an ambulance train near Odessa?

Her book, The Story of a Modern Woman, contains many descriptions which reveal a mind to whom the ways of children are of deep interest. We draw once more from the pages of the novel, as in no other way can we show so well the mother-heart that was hers.

One of Hildeguard's friends, dying in India, leaves three small children, whom she commends to her pity. Hildeguard's heart responds at once, and the orphans find their home with her. Her first meeting with the frightened children and their black nurse is described in detail:

"'Just let's wait a minute or two,' said Hildeguard. 'Let them get used to me. Well, Baby,' she said, turning to the ayah, and holding out her arms.

"With a great leap and a gurgle Baby precipitated himself towards her, his strong little hands clutching uncertainly at the brooch at her throat. Then the buttons distracted him, and then, after a serious look at her face, his eyes suddenly caught sight of the hat above it, and the irresistible gleam of some ornament on it. With wildly working hands he pulled himself to his feet, and, with one fat little hand on her face, grabbed at the shining jet.

"Hildeguard, laughing, and submitting herself half resistingly to the onslaught, felt her hat dragged sideways by the uncertain little hand.

"She held the little one close to her, still laughing, kissing the firm little arms and hands, and talking baby nonsense as if it had been her mother-tongue for years.

"The brooch again caught Baby's eye, and he made another determined raid on it. He seized it and pricked his finger. Down went the corners of his mouth.

"'There now,' said Hildeguard, 'I knew you'd do that, you duckie boy,' kissing the pricked hand over and over again. 'And good little sonnie is not to cry. A watch is much safer than a brooch: now let's see if we can get at it,' feeling in her belt.

"The watch was grabbed at and went straight to his mouth.

"'Does your watch blow open?' asked Rex.

"'Come and see,' said Hildeguard.

"Rex came without a moment's hesitation. Eileen was forgotten in the interest of a new investigation. The watch did blow open. How exceedingly exciting! He leaned both arms on Hildeguard's knee while he defended the watch from Baby's greedy attacks. Then he suddenly remembered something of more importance.

"'I've got a watch too.' He wriggled wildly with excitement, and pulled out a Waterbury.

"'Well, you are a lucky boy!' said Hildeguard.

"Eileen had come forward too, but Hildeguard waited for her to speak before noticing the advance. Rex was standing near to her, pointing out the beauties of the watch, the hands, etc.

"'And—and—bigger like that'—stretching his arms wide—'bigger like that than your watch.'

"'Your watch,' said Eileen, 'is little and tiny, like Mummy's watch. But Mummy's watch pins on here,' dabbing at Hildeguard's blouse. Then suddenly she raised swimming eyes to Hildeguard's: 'I do want Mummy,' she said.

"'Darling,' cried Hildeguard, catching Baby with her right arm, so as to free the other to draw Eileen to her—'Darling, so we all do.'"

It is a simple account of the little ways of shy children. Many a mother could have written it equally well.

But the interest of Elsie Inglis's descriptions of children lies in the fact that they come from the pen of a woman of action, a woman of iron nerve, and they give us the other side of her character.

And then—she was a woman whom no child called mother! But thank God the instinct is not one that can be dammed up or lost, and in these writings we get a glimpse of that motherhood which was hers, and which her life showed to be deep enough and wide enough to sweep under its wing the human souls, men, women, and children, who, passing near it, and being in need, cried out for help, and never cried in vain. To quote a fellow-woman:

"The emotions which are the strongest force in a woman must not live in the past; they must not be used introspectively, nor for personal pleasure and gratification. Used thus, they destroy the woman and weaken the race. But flung forward, flung into interests outside of the woman herself, and thus transmuted into power, they become to her her salvation, and to the race a constructive element."


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