WE now come to a time in the Bishop's correspondence which is too sacred for many words other than his own. On December 6th, 1896, Mrs. Ridley, after some time of weakness and suffering, passed straight from work to rest, for to the last her bright example and loving words were a blessed influence for good on all around her. What were the depths of her courage and self-devotion maybe gleaned from the following extract from one of the Bishop's letters, written a few months before her death, and published in the S.P.G. Report. He had been in 1880-81 at a remote place on the Skeena River, and had returned to Metlakatla after placing there a clergyman and his wife. He wrote:--
"They recoiled from the horrors of savage life, and to our great surprise, at the end of one year suddenly appeared at my house on the coast en route, to England. Then, (in November) it was too late to find a clergyman to succeed him, and a long winter's break would probably ruin the work and prospects. Before they had been in my house an hour I had a volunteer. She said, 'Let me go, I will hold it together until you find somebody else.' 'Do you mean it?' I asked. 'Yes!' 'Then wait till morning, and we will discuss it!' So before breakfast, being pressed for an answer, I said, 'Yes.'
"It was difficult to get a crew to face a November 'Skeena,' which freezes in hummocks from end to end; but that same day, with a year's provision, we started.... It was a dismal journey for both of us, camping and sleeping on the snow being but the least of the discomforts. At the end of fifteen days we arrived, and packed the provisions in the snug log house. I offered my crew an extra pound a-piece if they would delay their return but a single day, but nothing would induce them to wait. So I left her behind among Indians and miners, the only white woman within 170 miles, and the first to ascend the river. The isolation was complete. Events forced me to visit England, but I had returned before she knew I had left the diocese, and travelled 14,000 miles!... At the end of a year I had found an excellent man for the new Mission, so that I was able to fetch away my wife. The miners said she was the best parson they ever had, and the Indians call her 'mother' to this day. It was a hard time. Her entire household consisted of two Indian schoolboys."
In the letter announcing his great loss, the following touching particulars are given:--
"Metlakatla, Dec. 11th, 1896.
"The Indians, feeling their great loss, have already clustered round Miss West to know if she will always stay with them, and as they put it, wear my dear one's clothes, or as we should say, her mantle. 'I am not worthy,' she replied, 'but I will do my best.' So she will take up the pastoral work, and all the classes that have lost their head will gather round the chosen successor of her who first formed them. Indeed Miss West is the only one here who is competent to do these things, because she alone can speak the Native tongue. When the Indians found to their joy that she consented to this new order they at once said they would love her as Mrs. Ridley's 'keepsake.'
"My darling laid down her work yesterday at 11 a.m., leading many souls to Jesus with her dying breath. Heaven came down to us all. She was taken to church the Sunday before in Mr. Hogan's strong arms, when it was noticed that she looked much changed. In the afternoon of that day she was taken into the chapel, and she took her women's class as usual. They say she spoke to them like a prophetess on St. John xiv. 1-7. Nearly all are aged women and quite illiterate, but they can all repeat the first three verses. It was her custom to help them to commit such passages to memory every week, they repeating them after her till fixed in their wonderful memories. In this way she has filled them with great stores of Holy Scripture. Two of the strongest of the women brought her from the chapel to her easy-chair in the great dining-room. For a long time she has been unable to stand alone or walk, but she never remitted any duty or missed public worship, though of late she generally slept through much of the service from sheer inability to sustain attention.
"When Mr. Hogan came in some hours before evening service to ask if he should take her to church, his tone was deprecating, because he felt her helplessness in the morning; she hesitated at first, and then rather mournfully said she thought she would stay at home that evening. It was not my turn to preach, but I had intended as usual to share the service with Mr. Hogan. Then I thought of keeping back one of the servants to keep her company at home, but she disallowed it, saying she did not mind being alone for a time. I felt a secret misgiving, and finally insisted on staying with her, and I read the service in English with her. She said she would read one of the Lessons, but when I found she misread a verse or two in the Psalms, which I half thought might be attributed to failing sight, I would not let her attempt a Lesson. I was so uneasy that I shortened the service, and but briefly commented on the love of Jesus for Lazarus and his sisters, and the significance of His tears. But she fastened on Him as the Resurrection and the Life.
"After the service the two ladies, sitting with us as usual at that hour round the fire, became anxious about her, though she seemed bright, but there were signs of special effort to keep up. Before bed-time she showed great signs of physical distress, and we tried to carry her upstairs to her bedroom, but she fainted in our arms. I ordered a bed to be made up for her where we were, because it is a fine airy room, and there we laid her. When she revived we perceived signs of real agony, which she strove to conceal. By midnight we thought she was dying.
"She passed from that night of exhaustion, and her eye became bright, and her conversation full of animation and spiritual profit. Next day (Tuesday) crowds of Indians hung round her bed, and she was delighted. Wednesday she was a little weaker, but had a small set of five Indian women in for informal instruction. Thursday afternoon she was placed in a chair to share the Bible-reading I am used to give to all, and she spoke beautifully on Romans viii. 17. All this time the chapel was full of Indians, night and day, praying for her recovery. We could hear their singing, and she was much touched by their love.
"That night another attack came on, and we thought again that she was dying. After the choking was over she desired to take leave of all. She first blessed all our lady-workers, and commended Miss Davies to Miss West's care. All were weeping, she alone calm. 'Kiss me,' she said to me, and she held my face close to her, when she into my ear privately spoke words of love and encouragement. I can only remember, and cannot write beyond this which I can venture on: 'The work of God must not suffer through my departure.' Shall it? She saw our Chinese cook standing near with bent head. It is the Cha Li I have before written of, when he was the doctor's servant. Some one said to him, 'Mrs. Ridley speaks.' She then again said, 'My Cha Li, my dear Cha Li.' He ran to her side, knelt down, kissed her hand, and rained his tears on it only to kiss them away. At the same moment one of our old house-boys (now with a family of his own), hearing her say, 'My own dear boy, my son, Herbert,' was likewise overcome, and six foot as he is, he burst into tears as he pressed his face on her other hand. Immediately behind her was a young Kitikshan maiden, a tall and powerful girl of about eighteen years of age. To her she turned slightly, saying, 'Mary is such a blessing to me,' which convulsed the dear creature, who owes her salvation from savagery at Hazelton to the saint whom she has often of late borne along in her arms. Four races at the same moment held her in their hands and mingled their tears as she blessed them all. Besides all the Mission party kneeling around, the room, a very large and airy one, was covered with silently praying crowds of Indians. My heart was like melting wax as I saw such fruits of her long and loving labour, and their wonderful love for her. At one moment we thought she was near the last gasp, but again she slightly rallied. From that time onward to her death all work in the town was suspended. For the three days and nights when she lay a-dying, often nearly choked, the prayer-meeting in the chapel adjoining our house never once flagged. It was always full, and the overflow in other rooms. Every ten minutes messengers passed from the bedside to the supplicating crowds, reporting her actual condition. They had changed their petition when they saw it was God's will to take her, and prayed that she might have a peaceful, painless end, and that I might be upheld by the everlasting Arms. Many souls found the light during the death-struggle. In her death she, by her beautiful and tender words, and patient endurance of agony at times through choking, drew more souls to Jesus than ever. It was victory on victory, triumph on triumph. Quite two hundred souls shared in the blessing, including our new lady-helpers.
"I have given her body to the Indians to do entirely what they like with it, and they have taken their treasure as a most precious trust. They have sent off a canoe to fetch the Archdeacon, another for Mr. Gurd, and a boat for Mr. Stephenson. I have just heard that hundreds of Indians at Fort Simpson are keeping up prayer continually for her recovery. They have not heard yet of the end.
"What I have written will have a pathetic interest for you, and call out your prayers on behalf of the bereaved people and myself.
"If you ever see a copy of the notes I have made of what the Indians have said to me to-day, I am sure you will agree with me in the conviction that only the Holy Spirit could have taught these dear people as they are taught. It reads like inspired poetry. Here I will add a saying or two, and cease writing.
"Hannah said, 'God has driven the nail in, blow after blow; quite in; it hurts, but it fastens.... She passed into the breakers from the shore, but has gone up on the further side, beyond the dark arch, into the peace of angels.'
"The mother of Henry said, 'We see fulfilled after many years the first promise of the Gospel among the Zimshians. It burnt nearly out when she brought her torch. She held it aloft. She never let it drop. It never shone so before, and most splendidly as she lay down to die, her work done. She never kept back from us provision (zilöm) for our rough voyage in life. She saw us lying in the stones and dirt, and put her pure hands under us to lift us up.'
"S. L. said, 'I have most reason to grieve. When in my sin all kicked me and trod me under their feet, she alone came to me and took me in her loving arms and told me to rise up again and walk with God. She was the humblest soul we ever saw, and God has exalted her. She saw no one too bad to love and help.'
"Nansh A. said to me, 'Your anchor is now cast in these waters. You can never leave us.'
"Roger said, 'She has gone from the waves to the top of the rock... we are orphaned. Thou God art also our Father and wilt help those who help us sinful Zimshians.' He added in his prayer, 'God bless the Society and bless the Church which sent so pure a soul to land on our shores and walk like an angel among us.'
"C. Powell said, 'Our mother gave her life for us; you now give her flesh to our keeping. Our hearts open wide at the thought of our rich charge. We feel it more than white men think. Her grave will be holy. Our children will have a place to learn how to live, and what is new to us--how to die. Our children will hear of the humble life of the greatest chieftainess, who lifted dirty Zimshians up and led thorn to Jesus.'
"Albert L. said, 'Jesus said, "I am the Way;" now have we seen pure feet on it--a humble soul walking straight along it. We can now only see her back; her face is in the glory.... She kept all the commandments of God. We never saw it so before.'
"But I must stop, though there is pleasure in dwelling on the story of her great love and complete self-abnegation."