Susan Warner.

The Old Helmet, Volume II online

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"It is almost a year," said Mrs. Caxton.

Neither added anything to these two very unremarkable remarks; and
silence fell with the evening light, as the servants were clearing away
the table. Perhaps the mountains with the clear paling sky beyond them,
were suggestive. Both the ladies looked so.


"My dear," said Mrs. Caxton then, "let me understand a little better
about this affair that gives you to me. Do you come, or are you sent?"

"It is formal banishment, aunt Caxton. I am sent from them at home; but
sent to go whither I will. So I come, to you."

"What is the term assigned to this banishment?"

"None. It is absolute - unless or until I will grant Mr. Carlisle's
wishes, or giving up being, as papa says, a Methodist. But that makes
it final - as far as I am concerned."

"They will think better of it by and by."

"I hope so," said Eleanor faintly. "It seems a strange thing to me,
aunt Caxton, that this should have happened to me - just now when I am
so needed at home. Papa is unwell - and I was beginning to get his
ear, - and I have great influence over Julia, who only wants leading to
go in the right way. And I am taken away from all that. I cannot help
wondering why."

"Let it be to the glory of God, Eleanor; that is all your concern. The
rest you will understand by and by."

"But that is the very thing. It is hard to see how it can be to his
glory."

"Do not try," said Mrs. Caxton smiling. "The Lord never puts his
children anywhere where they cannot glorify him; and he never sends
them where they have not work to do or a lesson to learn. Perhaps this
is your lesson, Eleanor - to learn to have no home but in him."

Eleanor's eyes filled very full; she made no answer.

But one thing is certain; peace settled down upon her heart. It would
be difficult to help that at Plassy. We all know the effect of going
home to the place of our childhood after a time spent in other
atmosphere; and there is a native air of the spirit, in which it feels
the like renovating influence. Eleanor breathed it while they sat at
the table; she felt she had got back into her element. She felt it more
and more when at family prayer the whole household were met together,
and she heard her aunt's sweet and high petitions again. And the
blessing of peace fully settled down upon Eleanor when she was gone up
to her room and had recalled and prayed over her aunt's words. She went
to sleep with that glorious saying running through her thoughts - "Lord,
thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations."




CHAPTER IX.

IN CORRESPONDENCE.


"But there be million hearts accurst, where no sweet sunbursts shine,
And there be million hearts athirst for Love's immortal wine;
This world is full of beauty, as other worlds above,
And if we did our duty, it might be full of love."


Peace had unbroken reign at Plassy from that time. Eleanor threw
herself again eagerly into all her aunt's labours and schemes for the
good and comfort of those around her. There was plenty to do; and she
was Mrs. Caxton's excellent helper. Powis came into requisition anew;
and as before, Eleanor traversed the dales and the hills on her various
errands, swift and busy. That was not the only business going. Her aunt
and she returned to their old literary habits, and read books and
talked; and it was hard if Eleanor in her rides over the hills and over
the meadows and along the streams did not bring back one hand full of
wild flowers. She dressed the house with them, getting help from the
garden when necessary; botanized a good deal; and began to grow as
knowing in plants almost as Mrs. Caxton herself. She would come home
loaded with wild thyme and gorse and black bryony and saxifrage and
orchis flowers, having scoured hill and meadow and robbed the
hedge-rows for them, which also gave her great tribute of wild roses.
Then later came crimson campion and eyebright, dog roses and
honeysuckles, columbine and centaury, grasses of all kinds, and
harebell, and a multitude impossible to name; though the very naming is
pleasant. Eleanor lived very much out of doors, and was likened by her
aunt to a rural Flora or Proserpine that summer; though when in the
house she was just the most sonsy, sensible, companionable little
earthly maiden that could be fancied. Eleanor was not under size
indeed; but so much like her own wild flowers in pure simpleness and
sweet natural good qualities that Mrs. Caxton was sometimes inclined to
bestow the endearing diminutive upon her; so sound and sweet she was.

"And what are all these?" said Mrs. Caxton one day stopping before an
elegant basket.

"Don't you like them?"

"Very much. Why you have got a good many kinds here."

"That is Hart's Tongue, you know - that is wall spleenwort, and that is
the other kind; handsome things are they not?"

"And this?"

"That is the forked spleenwort. You don't know it? I rode away, away up
the mountain for it yesterday That is where I got those Woodsia's
too - aren't they beautiful? I was gay to find those; they are not
common."

"No. And this is not common, to me."

"Don't you know it, aunt Caxton? It grows just it the spray of a
waterfall - this and this; they are polypodies. That is another - that
came from the old round tower."

"And where did you get these? - these waterfall ferns?"

"I got them at the Bandel of Helig."

"There? My dear child! how could you, without risk?"

"Without much risk, aunty."

"How did you ever know the Bandel?"

"I have been there before, aunt Caxton."

"I think I never shewed it to you?"

"No ma'am; - but Mr. Rhys did."

His name had scarcely been mentioned before since Eleanor had come to
the farm. It was mentioned now with a cognizance of that fact. Mrs.
Caxton was silent a little.

"Why have you put these green things here without a rose or two? they
are all alone in their greenness."

"I like them better so, aunty. They are beautiful enough by themselves;
but if you put a rose there, you cannot help looking at it."

Mrs. Caxton smiled and turned away.

One thing in the midst of all these natural explorations, remained
unused; and that a thing most likely, one would have thought, to be
applied to for help. The microscope stood on one side apparently
forgotten. It always stood there, in the sitting parlour, in full view;
but nobody seemed to be conscious of its existence. Eleanor never
touched it; Mrs. Caxton never spoke of it.

From home meantime, Eleanor heard little that was satisfactory. Julia
was the only one that wrote, and her letters gave painful subjects for
thought. Her father was very unlike himself, Julia said, and growing
more feeble and more ill every day; though by slow degrees. She wished
Eleanor would write her letters without any religion in them; for she
supposed _that_ was what her mother would not let her read; so she
never had the comfort of seeing Eleanor's letters for herself, but Mrs.
Powle read aloud bits from them. "Very little bits, too," added Julia,
"I guess your letters have more religion in them than anything else.
But you see it is no use." Eleanor read this passage aloud to Mrs.
Caxton.

"Is that true, Eleanor?"

"No, ma'am. I write to Julia of everything that I do, all day long, and
of everything and everybody that interests me. What mamma does not like
comes in, of course, with it all; but I do very little preaching, aunt
Caxton."

"I would go on just so, my dear. I would not alter the style of my
letters."

So the flowers of June were replaced by the flowers of July; and the
beauties of July gave place to the purple "ling" of August, with
gentian and centaury and St. John's wort; and then came the Autumn
changes, with the less delicate blossoms of that later time, amidst
which the eclipsed meadow-sweet came quite into favour again. Still
Eleanor brought wild things from the hills and the streams, though she
applied more now to Mrs. Caxton's home store in the garden; wild mints
and Artemisias and the Michaelmas daisy still came home with her from
her rides and walks; the rides and walks in which Eleanor was a
ministering angel to many a poor house, many an ignorant soul and many
a failing or ailing body.

Then came October; and with the first days of October the news that her
father was dead.

It added much bitterness to Eleanor's grief, that Mrs. Powle entirely
declined to have her come home, even for a brief stay. If she chose to
submit to conditions, her mother wrote, she would be welcome; it was
not too late; but if she held to her perversity, she must bear the
consequences. She did not own her nor want her. She gave her up to her
aunt Caxton. Her remaining daughter was in her hands, and she meant to
keep her there. Eleanor, she knew, if she came home would come to sow
rebellion. She should not come to do that, either then or at all.

Mildly quiet and decided Mrs. Powle's letter was; very decided, and so
cool as to give every assurance the decision would be persisted in.
Eleanor felt this very much. She kept on her usual way of life without
any variation; but the radiant bright look of her face was permanently
saddened. She was just as sweet and companionable an assistant to her
aunt as ever; but from month to month Mrs. Caxton saw that a shadow lay
deep upon her heart. No shadow could have less of anything like hard
edges.

They had been sitting at work one night late in the winter, those two,
the aunt and the niece; and having at last put up her work Eleanor sat
gravely poring into the red coals on the hearth; those
thought-provoking, life-stirring, strange things, glowing and sparkling
between life and death like ourselves. Eleanor's face was very sober.

"Aunt Caxton," she said at length, - "my life seems such a confusion to
me!"

"So everything seems that we do not understand," Mrs. Caxton said.

"But is it not, aunty? I seem taken from everything that I ought most
naturally to do - papa, Julia, mamma. I feel like a banished person, I
suppose; only I have the strange feeling of being banished from my
place in the world."

"What do you think of such a life as Mr. Rhys is leading?"

"I think it is straight, and beautiful," - Eleanor answered, looking
still into the fire. "Nothing can be further from confusion. He is in
_his_ place."

"He is in a sort of banishment, however."

"Not from that! And it is voluntary banishment - for his Master's sake.
_That_ is not sorrowful, aunt Caxton."

"Not when the Lord's banished ones make their home in him. And I do not
doubt but Mr. Rhys does that."

"Have you ever heard from him, aunt Caxton."

"Not yet. It is almost time, I think."

"It is almost a year and a half since he went."

"The communication is slow and uncertain," said Mrs. Caxton. "They do
not get letters there, often, till they are a year old."

"How impossible it used to be to me," said Eleanor, "to comprehend such
a life; how impossible to understand, that anybody should leave home
and friends and comfort, and take his place voluntarily in distance and
danger and heathendom. It was an utter enigma to me."

"And you understand it now?"

"O yes, aunty," Eleanor went on in the same tone; and she had not
ceased gazing into the coals; - "I see that Christ is all; and with him
one is never alone, and under his hand one can never be in danger. I
know now how his love keeps one even from fear."

"You are no coward naturally."

"No, aunt Caxton - not about ordinary things, except when conscience
made me so, some time ago."

"That is over now?"

Eleanor took her eyes from the fire, to give Mrs. Caxton a smile with
the words - "Thank the Lord!"

"Mr. Rhys is among scenes that might try any natural courage," said
Mrs. Caxton. "They are a desperate set of savages to whom he is
ministering."

"What a glory, to carry the name of Christ to them!"

"They are hearing it, too," said Mrs. Caxton. "But there is enough of
the devil's worst work going on there to try any tender heart; and
horrors enough to shock stout nerves. So it has been. I hope Mr. Rhys
finds it better."

"I don't know much about them," said Eleanor. "Are they much worse than
savages in general, aunt Caxton?"

"I think they are, - and better too, in being more intellectually
developed. Morally, I think I never read of a lower fallen set of human
beings. Human life is of no account; such a thing as respect to
humanity is unknown, for the eating of human bodies has gone on to a
most wonderful extent, and the destroying them for that purpose. With
all that, there is a very careful respect paid to descent and rank; but
it is the observance of fear. That one fact gives you the key to the
whole. Where a man is thought of no more worth than to be killed and
eaten, a woman is not thought worth anything at all; and society
becomes a lively representation of the infernal regions, without the
knowledge and without the remorse."

"Poor creatures!" said Eleanor.

"You comprehend that there must be a great deal of trial to a person of
fine sensibilities, in making a home amongst such a people, for an
indefinite length of time."

"Yes, aunty, - but the Lord will make it all up to him."

"Blessed be the name of the Lord!" it was Mrs. Caxton's turn to answer;
and she said it with deep feeling and emphasis.

"It seems the most glorious thing to me, aunt Caxton, to tell the love
of Christ to those that don't know it. I wish I could do it."

"My love, you do."

"I do very little, ma'am. I wish I could do a thousand times more!"

The conversation stopped there. Both ladies remained very gravely
thoughtful a little while longer and then separated for the night. But
the next evening when they were seated at tea alone, Mrs. Caxton
recurred to the subject.

"You said last night, Eleanor, that you wished you could do a great
deal more work of a certain kind than you do."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Did your words mean, my love, that you are discontented with your own
sphere of duty, or find it too narrow?"

Eleanor's eyes opened a little at that. "Aunt Caxton, I never thought
of such a thing. I do not remember that I was considering my own sphere
of duty at all. I was thinking of the pleasure of preaching
Christ - yes, and the glory and honour - to such poor wretches as those
we were talking of, who have never had a glimpse of the truth before."

"Then for your part you are satisfied with England?"

"Why yes, ma'am. I am satisfied, I think, - I mean to be, - with any
place that is given me. I should be sorry to choose for myself."

"But if you had a clear call, you would like it, to go to the Cape of
Good Hope and teach the Hottentots?"

"I do not mean that, aunty," said Eleanor laughing a little. "Surely
you do not suspect me of any wandering romantic notion about doing the
Lord's work in one place rather than in another. I would rather teach
English people than Hottentots. But if I saw that my place was at the
Cape of Good Hope, I would go there. If my place were there, some way
would be possible for me to get there, I suppose."

"You would have no fear?" said Mrs. Caxton.

"No aunty; I think not. Ever since I can say 'The Lord is my
Shepherd - ' I have done with fear."

"My love, I should be very sorry to have you go to the Cape of Good
Hope. I am glad there is no prospect of it. But you are right about not
choosing. As soon as we go where we are not sent, we are at our own
charges."

The door here opened, and the party and the tea-table received an
accession of one to their number. It was an elderly, homely gentleman,
to whom Mrs. Caxton gave a very cordial reception and whom she
introduced to Eleanor as the Rev. Mr. Morrison. He had a pleasant face,
Eleanor saw, and as soon as he spoke, a pleasant manner.

"I ought to be welcome, ma'am," he said, rubbing his hands with the
cold as he sat down. "I bring you letters from Brother Rhys."

"You are welcome without that, brother, as you know," Mrs. Caxton
answered. "But the letters are welcome. Of how late date are they?"

"Some pretty old - some not more than nine or ten months ago; when he
had been stationed a good while."

"How is he?"

"Well, he says; never better."

"And happy?"

"I wish I was as happy!" said Mr. Morrison. - "He had got fast hold of
his work already."

"He would do that immediately."

"He studied the language on shipboard, all the way out; and he was able
to hold a service in it for the natives only a few weeks after he had
landed. Don't you call that energy?"

"There is energy wherever he is," said Mrs. Caxton.

"Yes, you know him pretty well. I suppose they never have it so cold
out there as we have it to-night," Mr. Morrison said rubbing his hands.
"It's stinging! That fire is the pleasantest thing I have seen to-day."

"Where is Mr. Rhys stationed?"

"I forget - one of the islands down there, with an unintelligible name.
Horrid places!"

"Is the place itself disagreeable?" Eleanor asked.

"The place itself, ma'am," said Mr. Morrison, his face stiffening from
its genial unbent look into formality as he turned to her, - "the place
itself I do not understand to be very disagreeable; it is the character
of the population which must make it a hard place to live in. They are
exceedingly debased. Vile people!"

"Mr. Rhys is not alone on his station?" said Mrs Caxton.

"No, he is with Mr. and Mrs. Lefferts. His letters will tell you."

For the letters Mrs. Caxton was evidently impatient; but Mr. Morrison's
refreshment had first to be attended to. Only fair; for he had come out
of his way on purpose to bring them to her; and being one of a certain
Committee he had it in his power to bring for her perusal and pleasure
more than her own letters from Mr. Rhys, and more than Mr. Rhys's own
letters to the Committee. It was a relief to two of the party when Mr.
Morrison's cups of tea were at last disposed of, and the far-come
despatches were brought out on the green table-cloth under the light of
the lamp.

With her hand on her own particular packet of letters, as if so much
communication with them could not be put off, Mrs. Caxton sat and
listened to Mr. Morrison's reading. Eleanor had got her work. As the
particular interest which made the reading so absorbing to them may
possibly be shared in a slight degree by others, it is fair to give a
slight notion of the character of the news contained in those closely
written pages. The letters Mr. Morrison read were voluminous; from
different persons on different stations of the far-off mission field.
They told of difficulties great, and encouragements greater; of their
work and its results; and of their most pressing wants; especially the
want of more men to help. The work they said was spreading faster than
they could keep up with it. Thousands of heathen had given up
heathenism, who in miserable ignorance cried for Christian instruction;
children as wild as the wild birds, wanted teaching and were willing to
have it; native teachers needed training, who had the will without the
knowledge to aid in the service. Thirty of them, Mr. Lefferts said, he
had under his care. With all this, they told of the wonderful beauty of
the regions where their field of labour was. Mr. Lefferts wrote of a
little journey lately taken to another part of his island, which had
led him through almost every variety of natural luxuriance. Mountains
and hills and valleys, rivers and little streams, rich woods and
mangrove swamps. Mr. Lefferts' journey had been, like Paul's of old, to
establish the native churches formed at different small places by the
way. There he married couples and baptized children and met classes and
told the truth. At one place where he had preached, married several
couples, baptized over thirty, young and old, and met as many in
classes, Mr. Lefferts told of a walk he took. It led him to the top of
a little hill, from which a rich view was to be had, while a multitude
of exquisite shrubs in flower gave another refreshment in their
delicious fragrance. A little stream running down the side of the hill
was used by the natives to water their plantations of taro, for which
the side hill was formed into terraced beds. Paroquets and humming
birds flew about, and the sun was sinking brilliantly in the western
ocean line as he looked. So far, everything was fair, sweet, lovely; a
contrast to what he met when he reached the lower grounds again. There
the swarms of mosquitos compelled Mr. Lefferts to retreat for the night
within a curtain canopy for protection; and thither he was followed by
a fat savage who shared the protection with him all night long. Another
sort of experience! and another sort of neighbourhood from that of the
starry white _Gardenia_ flowers on the top of the hill.

Nevertheless, of a neighbouring station Mr. Rhys wrote that the people
were at war, and the most horrible heathen practices were going on. At
the principal town, he said, more people were eaten perhaps than
anywhere else in the islands. The cruelties and the horrors were
impossible to be told. A few days before he wrote, twenty-eight persons
had been killed and eaten in one day. They had been caught
fishing - taken prisoners and brought home - half killed, and in that
state thrown into the ovens; still having life enough left to try to
get away from the fire.

"The first time I saw anything of this kind," wrote Mr. Rhys, "was one
evening when we had just finished a class-meeting. The evening was most
fair and peaceful as we came out of the house; a fresh air from the sea
had relieved the heat of the day; the leaves of the trees were
glittering in the sunlight; the ocean all sparkling under the breeze;
when word came that some bodies of slain people were bringing from
Lauthala. I could hardly understand the report, or credit it; but
presently the horrible procession came in sight, and eleven dead bodies
were laid on the ground immediately before us. Eleven only were brought
to this village; but great numbers are said to have been killed. Their
crime was the killing of one man; and when they would have submitted
themselves and made amends, all this recompense of death was demanded
by the offended chief. The manner in which these wretched creatures
were treated is not a thing to be described; they were not handled with
the respect which we give to brute animals. The natives have looked
dark upon us since that time, and give us reason to know that as far as
they are concerned our lives are not safe. But we know in whose hands
our lives are; they are the Lord's; and he will do with them what he
pleases - not what the heathen please. So we are under no concern about
it."

That storm appeared to have passed away; for in later letters Mr. Rhys
and Mr. Lefferts spoke of acceptable services among the people and an
evidently manifested feeling of trust and good will on their part
towards the missionaries. Indeed these were often able to turn the
natives from their devilish purposes and save life. Not always. The old
king of that part of the country had died, and all the influence and
all the offers of compensation made by the missionaries, could not
prevent the slaughter of half a dozen women, his wives, to do him
honour in his burial. The scene as Mr. Lefferts described it was
heart-sickening.

As he drew near the door of the king's house, with the intent to
prevail for the right or to protest against the wrong, he saw the biers
standing ready; and so knew that all the efforts previously made to
hinder the barbarous rites had been unavailing. The house as he entered
was in the hush of death. One woman lay strangled. Another sitting on
the floor, covered with a large veil, was in the hands of her
murderers. A cord was passed twice round her neck, and the ends were
held on each side of her by a group of eight or ten strong men, the two
groups pulling opposite ways. She was dead, the poor victim underneath
the veil, in a minute or two after the missionaries entered; and the
veil being taken off they saw that it was a woman who had professed
Christianity. Her sons were among those who had strangled her. Another
woman came forward with great shew of bravery when her name was called;
offered her hand to the missionaries as she passed them; and with great
pride of bearing submitted herself to the death which probably she knew
she could not avoid. Everybody was quiet and cheerful, and the whole
thing went on with the undisturbed order of a recognized and accustomed
necessity; only the old king's son, the reigning chief for a long time
back, was very uneasy at the part he was playing before the
missionaries; he was the only trembling or doubtful one there. Yet he
would not yield the point. Pride before all; his father must not be


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Online LibrarySusan WarnerThe Old Helmet, Volume II → online text (page 10 of 25)