Susan Warner.

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Produced by Daniel Fromont









[Transcriber's note: Susan Warner (1819-1885), _The Old Helmet_ (1864),
Tauchnitz edition 1864, volume 1]





THE OLD HELMET.

BY

THE AUTHOR OF "WIDE, WIDE WORLD."



AUTHORIZED EDITION.

IN TWO VOLUMES

VOL. I.



LEIPZIG

BERNHARD TAUCHNITZ

1864.



NOTE TO THE READER.

The incidents and testimonies given in this work as matters of fact,
are not drawn from imagination, but reported from excellent
authority - though I have used my own words. And in the cases of
reported words of third parties, the words stand unchanged, without any
meddling.


THE AUTHOR.



THE OLD HELMET.




CHAPTER I.

THE RUINS.


"She look'd and saw that all was ruinous,
Here stood a shattered archway plumed with fern;
And here had fall'n a great part of a tower,
Whole, like a crag that tumbles from the cliff,
And like a crag was gay with wilding flowers,
And high above a piece of turret stair,
Worn by the feet that now were silent,
Bare to the sun."


The first thing noticeable is a gleam of white teeth. Now that is a
pleasant thing generally; yet its pleasantness depends, after all, upon
the way the lips part over the ivory. There is a world of character
discoverable in the curve of those soft lines. In the present case,
that of a lady, as it is undoubtedly the very first thing you notice,
the matter must be investigated. The mouth is rather large, with well
cut lips however; and in the smile which comes not infrequently, the
lips part freely and frankly, though not too far, over a wealth of
white, beautiful teeth. So free is the curve of the upper lip, and so
ready its revelation of the treasures beneath, that there is an instant
suspicion of a certain frankness and daring, and perhaps of a little
mischief, on the part of their possessor; so free, at the same time, as
to forbid the least notion of consciousness or design in that beautiful
revelation. But how fine and full and regular are those white treasures
of hers! seeming to speak for a strong and perfect physical
organisation; and if your eye goes further, for her flat hat is on the
ground, you will see in the bountiful rich head of hair another token
of the same thing. Her figure is finely developed; her colour clear and
healthy; not blonde; the full-brown hair and eyes agree with the notion
of a nature more lively than we assign to the other extreme of
complexion. The features are not those of a beauty, though better than
that, perhaps; there is a world of life and sense and spirit in them.

It speaks for her good nature and feeling, that her smile is as frank
as ever just now, and as pleasant as ever; for she is with about the
last one of her party on whom she would have chosen to bestow herself.
The occasion is a visit to some celebrated ruins; a day of pleasure;
and Eleanor would a good deal rather be walking and talking with
another much more interesting member of the company, in whose society
indeed her day had begun; but Mr. Carlisle had been obliged suddenly to
return home for an hour or two; and Eleanor is sitting on a grassy
bank, with a gentleman beside her whom she knows very little and does
not care about at all. That is, she has no idea he can be very
interesting; and he _is_ a grave-looking personage, but we are not
going to describe him at present.

A word must be given to the place where they are. It is a little
paradise. If the view is not very extended, it is rich in its parts;
and the eye and the mind are filled. The grass is shaven smooth on the
bank where the two are sitting; so it is all around, under trees which
stand with wilful wildness of luxuriance, grouped and scattered
apparently as they would. They are very old, in several varieties of
kind, and in the perfect development and thrift of each kind. Among
them are the ruins of an old priory. They peep forth here and there
from the trees. One broken tower stands free, with ivy masking its
sides and crumbling top, and stains of weather and the hues of lichen
and moss enriching what was once its plain grey colour. Other portions
of the ruins are seen by glimpses further on among the trees. Standing
somewhat off by itself, yet encompassed by the congeners of those same
trees, almost swallowed up among them, is a comfortable, picturesque
little building, not in ruins; though it has been built up from the
ruins. It is the parsonage, where the rector of the parish lives.
Beyond this wood and these buildings, old and new, the eye can catch
only bits of hills and woods that promise beauty further on; but nearer
than they, and making a boundary line between the present and the
distant, the flash of a little river is seen, which curves about the
old priory lands. A somewhat doubtful sunlight is struggling over it
all; casting a stray beam on the grass, and a light on the ivy of the
old tower.

"What a queer old place it must have been," said Eleanor.

"How old is it?"

"O I don't know - ages! Do you mean really how old? I am sure I can't
tell; I never can keep those things in my head. If Dr. Cairnes would
come out, he could tell you all about it, and more."

"Dr. Cairnes, the rector?"

"Yes. He keeps it all in _his_ head, I know. The ruins are instead of a
family to him."

"They must date back pretty far, judging by those Norman arches."

"Norman arches? - what, those round ones? O, they do. The priory was
founded by some old courtier or soldier in the time of Henry the First,
who got disgusted with the world. That is the beginning of all these
places, isn't it?"

"Do you mean, that it is the beginning of all religious feeling?"

"I really think it is. I wouldn't tell Dr. Cairnes so however. How
sweet these violets are. Dear little blue things!"

"Do you suppose,", said the young man, stooping to pick one or two,
"that they are less sweet to me than to you?"

"Why should they be?"

"Because, religion is the most precious thing in the world to me; and
by your rule, I must be disgusted with the world, and all sweet things
have lost their savour."

He spoke with quiet gravity, and Eleanor's eye went to his face with a
bright glance of inquiry. It came back with no change of opinion.

"You don't convert me," she said. "I do not know what you have given up
for religion, so I cannot judge. But all the other people I ever saw,
grew religious only because they had lost all care about everything
else."

"I wonder how that discontented old soldier found himself, when he got
into these solitudes?" said the young man, with a smile of his own
then. It was sweet, and a little arch, and withal harmonised completely
with the ordinary gravity of his face, not denying it at all. Eleanor
looked, once and again, with some curiosity, but the smile passed away
as quietly as it had come.

"The solitude was not _this_ solitude then."

"O no, it was very wild."

"These were Augustine canons, were they not?"

"Who?"

"The monks of this priory."

"I am sure I don't know. I forget. What was the difference?"

"You know there were many orders of religious houses. The Augustines
were less severe in their rule, and more genial in their allowed way of
life, than most of the others?"

"What was their rule?"

"Beginning with discontent of the world, you know, they went on with
the principle that nothing worldly was good."

"Well, isn't that the principle of all religious people now?"

"I like violets" - said the young man, smiling again.

"But do tell me, what did those old monks do? What was their 'rule?' I
don't know anything about it, nor about them."

"Another old discontented soldier, who founded an abbey in Wales, is
said by the historian to have dismissed all his former companions, and
devoted himself to God. For his military belt, he tied a rope about his
waist; instead of fine linen he put on haircloth. And it is recorded of
him, that the massive suit of armour which he had been used to wear in
battle, to protect him against the arrows and spears and axes of the
enemy, he put on now and wore as a defence against the wiles and
assaults of the devil - and wore it till it rusted away with age."

"Poor old soul!" said Eleanor.

"Does that meet your ideas of a religious life?"

Eleanor laughed, but answered by another question. "Was _that_ the rule
of all the Augustine monks?"

"It gives the key to it. Is that your notion of a religious life? You
don't answer me."

"Well," said Eleanor laughing again, "_it gives the key to it_, as you
say. I do not suppose you wear a suit of armour to protect yourself."

"I beg your pardon. I do."

"_Armour?_" said Eleanor, looking incredulous. But her friend fairly
burst into a little laugh at that.

"Are you rested?" said he.

And Eleanor got up, feeling a little indignant and a little curious.
Strolling towards the ruins, however, there was too much to start
conversation and too much to give delight, to permit either silence or
pique to last.

"Isn't it beautiful!" burst from both at once.

"How exquisite that ivy is, climbing up that old tower!"

"And what a pity it is crumbling away so!" said Eleanor. "See that
nearer angle - it is breaking down fast. I wish it would stay as it is."

"Nothing will do that for you. What is all that collection of rubbish
yonder?"

"That is where Mr. Carlisle is going to build a cottage for one of his
people - somebody to take care of the ruins, I believe."

"And he takes the ruins to build it with, and the old priory grounds
too!"

Eleanor looked again at her companion.

"I think it is better than to have the broken stones lying all
over - don't you?"

"I do not."

"Mr. Carlisle thinks so. Now here we are in the body of the
church - there you see where the roof went, by the slanting lines on the
tower wall; and we are standing where the congregation used to
assemble."

"Not much of a congregation," said her companion. "The neighbouring
country furnished few attendants, I fancy; the old monks and their
retainers were about all. The choir would hold most of them; the nave,
where we are standing, would have been of little use except for
processions."

"Processions?" said Eleanor.

"On particular days there were processions of the brotherhood, with
lighted candles - round and round in the church. In the church at York
twelve rounds made a mile, and there were twelve holes at the great
door, with a little peg, so that any one curious about the matter might
reckon the miles."

"And so they used to go up and down here, burning their fingers with
melted tallow!" said Eleanor. "Poor creatures! What a melancholy
existence! Are you preparing to renounce the world yourself, Mr. Rhys?"

He smiled, but it was a compound smile, light and earnest both at once,
which Eleanor did not comprehend.

"Why do you suspect me?" he asked.

"You seem to be studying the thing. Are you going to be a white or a
black monk - or a grey friar?"

"There is a prior question. It is coming on to rain, Miss Powle."

"Rain! It is beginning this minute! And all the umbrellas are nobody
knows where - only that it is where we ought to be. I was glad just now
that the old roof in gone - but I think I would like a piece of it back."

"You can take shelter at the parsonage."

"No, I cannot - they have got fever there."

"Then come with me. I believe I can find you a piece of roof somewhere."

Eleanor smiled to herself that he should think so, as all traces of
beam and rafter had long since disappeared from the priory and its
dependencies. However she followed her conductor, who strode along
among the ruins at a pace which it taxed her powers to keep up with.
Presently he plunged down into a wilderness of bushes and wild thorn
and piled up stones which the crumbling walls had left in confusion
strewn over the ground. It was difficult walking. Eleanor had never
been there; for in that quarter the decay of the buildings was more
entire, and the growth of shrubs and brambles had been allowed to mask
the disorder. As they went on, the footing grew very rough; they were
obliged to go over heaps and layers of the crumbling, moss-grown ruins.
Eleanor's conductor turned and gave her his hand to help; it was a
strong hand and quickened her progress. Presently turning a sharp
corner, through a thicket of thorn and holly bushes, with young larches
and beeches, a small space of clearance was gained, bounded on the
other side by a thick wall, one angle of which was standing. On this
clear spot the rain drops were falling fast. The hand that held
Eleanor's hurried her across it, to where an old window remained sunk
in the wall. The arch over the window was still entire, and as the wall
was one of the outer walls and very thick, the shelter of a "piece of
roof" was literally afforded. Eleanor's conductor seated her on the
deep window sill, where she was perfectly screened from the rain; and
apologising for the necessity of the occasion, took his place beside
her. The window was narrow as well as deep; and the two, who hardly
knew each other, were brought into very familiar neighbourhood. Eleanor
would have been privately amused, if the first passing consciousness of
amusement had not been immediately chased away by one or two other
thoughts. The first was the extreme beauty of her position as a point
of view.

The ruins were all behind them. As they looked out of the window,
nothing was seen but the most exquisite order and the most dainty
perfection of nature. The ground, shaven and smooth, sloped away down
to a fringe of young wood, amidst which peeped out a pretty cottage and
above which a curl of smoke floated. The cottage stood so low, and the
trees were so open, that above and beyond appeared the receding slopes
and hills of the river valley, in their various shades of colour, grass
and foliage. There was no sun on all this now, but a beautiful light
under the rain cloud from the distant horizon. And the dark old stone
window was the frame for this picture. It was very perfect. It was very
rare. Eleanor exclaimed in delight.

"But I never was here - I never saw this before! How did you know of it,
Mr. Rhys?"

"I have studied the ruins," he said lightly.

"But you have been at Wiglands only a few months."

"I come here very often," he answered. "Happily for you."

He might add that well enough, for the clouds poured down their rain
now in torrents, or in sheets; the light which had come from the
horizon a few minutes before was hidden, and the grey gloom of a summer
storm was over everything. The little window seemed dark, with the two
people sitting there. Then there came a blinding flash of lightning.
Eleanor started and cowered, and the thunder rolled its deep tones over
them, and under them, for the earth shook. She raised her head again,
but only to shrink back the second time, when the lightning and the
thunder were repeated. This time her head was not raised again, and she
kept her hand covered over her eyes. Yet whenever the sound of the
thunder came, Eleanor's frame answered it by a start. She said nothing;
it was merely the involuntary answer of the nerves. The storm was a
severe one, and when the severity of it passed a little further off,
the torrents of rain still fell.

"You do not like thunder storms" - Mr. Rhys remarked, when the
lightnings had ceased to be so vivid or so near.

"Does anybody like them?"

"Yes. I like everything."

"You are happy" - said Eleanor.

"Why are not you?"

"I can't help it," said the girl, lifting up her head, though she did
not let her eyes go out of the window. "I cannot bear to see the
lightning. It is foolish, but I cannot help it."

"Are you sure it is foolish? Is there not some reason at the bottom of
it?"

"I think there is a reason, though still it is foolish. There was a man
killed by lightning just by our door, once - when I was a child. I saw
him - I never can forget it, never!"

And a sort of shudder ran over Eleanor's shoulders as she spoke.

"You want my armour," said her companion. The tone of voice was not
only grave but sympathising. Eleanor looked up at him.

"Your armour?"

"You charged me with wearing armour - and I confessed it," he said with
something of a smile. "It is a sort of armour that makes people safe in
all circumstances."

He looked so quiet, so grave, so cool, and his eye had such a light in
it, that Eleanor could not throw off his words. He _looked_ like a man
in armour. But no mail of brass was to be seen.

"What _do_ you mean?" she said.

"Did you never hear of the helmet of salvation?"

"I don't know," said Eleanor wonderingly. "I think I have heard the
words. I do not think I ever attached any meaning to them."

"Did you never feel," he said, speaking with a peculiar deliberation of
manner, "that you were exposed to danger - and to death - from which no
effort of yours could free you; and that after death, there is a great
white throne to meet, for which you are not ready?"

While he spoke slowly, his eyes were fixed upon Eleanor with a clear
piercing glance which she felt read her through and through; but she
was fascinated instead of angered, and submitted her own eyes to the
reading without wishing to turn them away. Carrying on two trains of
thought at the same time, as the mind will, her inward reflection was,
"I had no idea that you were so good-looking!" - the answer in words was
a sober, "I have felt so."

"Was the feeling a happy one?"

Eleanor's lip suddenly trembled; then she put down that involuntary
natural answer, and said evasively, looking out of the window, "I
suppose everybody has such feelings sometimes."

"Not with that helmet on" - said her companion.

With all the quietness of his speech, and it was very unimpassioned,
his accent had a clear ring to it, which came from some unsounded
spirit-depth of power; and Eleanor's heart for a moment sunk before it
in a secret convulsion of pain. She concealed this feeling, as she
thought, successfully; but that single ray of light had shewed her the
darkness; it was keen as an arrow, and the arrow rankled. And her
neighbour's next words made her feel that her heart lay bare; so
quietly they touched it.

"You feel that you want something, Miss Powle."

Eleanor's head drooped, as well as her heart. She wondered at herself;
but there was a spell of power upon her, and she could by no means lift
up either. It was not only that his words were true, but that he knew
them to be so.

"Do you know _what_ you want?" her friend went on, in tons that were
tender, along with that deliberate utterance that carried so much force
with it. "You know yourself an offender before the Lord - and you want
the sense of forgiveness in your heart. You know yourself inclined to
be an offender again - and you want the renewing grace of God to make
your heart clean, and set it free from the power of sin. Then you want
also something to make you happy; and the love of Jesus alone can do
that."

"What is the use of telling over the things one has not got?" - said
Eleanor in somewhat smothered tones. The words of her companion came
again clear as a bell -

"Because you may have them if you want them."

Eleanor struggled with herself, for her self-possession was endangered,
and she was angry at herself for being such a fool; but she could not
help it; yet she would not let her agitation come any more to the
surface. She waited for clearness of voice, and then could not forbear
the question,

"How, Mr. Rhys?"

"Jesus said, 'If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.' There
is all fulness in him. Go to him for light - go to him for strength - go
to him for forgiveness, for healing, for sanctification. 'Whosoever
will, let him take of the water of life freely.'"

"'Go to him?'" repeated Eleanor vaguely.

"Ask him."

Ask _Him!_ It was such a far-off, strange idea to her a heart, there
seemed such a universe of distance between, Eleanor's face grew visibly
shadowed with the thought. _She?_ She could not. She did not know how.
She was silent a little while. The subject was getting unmanageable.

"I never had anybody talk to me so before, Mr. Rhys," she said,
thinking to let it pass.

"Perhaps you never will again," he said. "Hear it now. The Lord Jesus
is not far off - as you think - he is very near; he can hear the faintest
whisper of a petition that you send to him. It is his message I bring
you to-day - a message to _you_. I am his servant, and he has given me
this charge for you to-day - to tell you that he loves you - that he has
given his life for yours - and that he calls Eleanor Powle to give him
her heart, and then to give him her life, in all the obedience his
service may require."

Eleanor felt her heart strangely bowed, subdued, bent to his words. "I
will" - was the secret language of her thoughts - "but I must not let
this man see all I am feeling, if I can help it." She held herself
still, looking out of the window, where the rain fell in torrents yet,
though the thunder and the lightning were no longer near. So did he; he
added no more to his last words, and a silence lasted in the old ruined
window as if its chance occupants were gone again. As the silence
lasted, Eleanor felt it grow awkward. She was at a loss how to break
it. It was broken for her then.

"What will you do, Miss Powle?"

"I will think about it" - she answered, startled and hesitating.

"How long, before you decide?"

"How can I tell?" she said.

"You are shrinking from a decision already formed. The answer is given
in your secret thoughts, and something is rising up in the midst of
them to thwart it. Shall I tell my Master that his message is refused?"

"Mr. Rhys!" said Eleanor looking up, "I never heard any one talk so in
all my life! You speak as if - "

"As if, what?"

"You speak as if - I never heard any one speak as you do."

"I speak as if I were in the habit of telling my Master how his message
is received? I often do that."

"But it seems superfluous to tell what is known already," said Eleanor,
wondering secretly much more than she dared to say at her companion's
talk.

"Do you never, in speaking to those you love, tell them what is no
information?"

Eleanor was now dumb. There was too great a gulf of difference between
her companion and herself, to try to frame any words or thoughts that
might bridge it over. She must remain on one side and he on the other;
yet she went on wondering.

"Are you a clergyman, Mr. Rhys?" she said after a pause.

"I am not what you would call such."

"Do you not think the rain is over?"

"Nearly, for the present; but the grass is as wet as possible."

"O, I don't mind that. There is somebody now in the shrubbery yonder,
looking for me."

"He will not find you here," said Mr. Rhys. "I have this window all to
myself. But we will find him."

The rain-drops fell now but scatteringly, the last of the shower; the
sun was breaking out, and the green world was all in a glitter of wet
leaves. Wet as they were, Eleanor and Mr. Rhys pushed through the thick
bramble and holly bushes, which with honeysuckles, eglantine, and
broom, and bryony, made a sweet wild wilderness. They got plentifully
besprinkled in their way, shook that off as well as they could, and
with quick steps sought to rejoin their companions. The person Eleanor
had seen in the shrubbery was the first one found, as Mr. Rhys had
said. It was Mr. Carlisle. He at once took charge of Eleanor.

"What has become of you?"

"What has become of _you_, Mr. Carlisle?" Eleanor's gleaming smile was
as bright as ever.

"Despair, nearly," said he; "for I feared business would hold me all
day; but I broke away. Not time enough to protect you from this shower."

"Water will wet," said Eleanor, laughing; for the politeness of this
speech was more evident than its plausibility. She was on the point of
speaking of the protection that had been actually found for her, but
thought better of it. Meantime they were joined by a little girl,
bright and rather wild looking, who addressed Eleanor as her sister.

"O come!" she said, - "where have you been? We can't go on till you
come. We are going to lunch at Barton's Tower - and mamma says she will
make Mr. Carlisle build a fire, so that we may all dry ourselves."

"Julia! - how you speak!"

"She did say so," repeated the child. "Come - make haste."

Eleanor glanced at her companion, who met the glance with a smile. "I
hope Mrs. Powle will always command me," he said, somewhat meaningly;
and Eleanor hurried on.

She was destined to long _tête-à-têtes_ that day; for as soon as her
little party was seen in the distance, the larger company took up their


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Online LibrarySusan WarnerThe Old Helmet, Volume I → online text (page 1 of 23)