Susan Warner.

The Old Helmet, Volume II online

. (page 12 of 25)
Online LibrarySusan WarnerThe Old Helmet, Volume II → online text (page 12 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

with hindrances because of the very nice points of their own nature."

"I don't think you need wish any better for him, aunt Caxton, than to
judge by his letters he has and enjoys as he is. He seems to me, and
always did, a very enviable person."

"Can you tell why?"

"Good - happy - and useful," said Eleanor. But her voice was a little

"You know grace is free," said Mrs. Caxton. "He would tell you so. Ring
the bell, my dear. And a sinner saved in England is as precious as one
saved in Fiji. Let us work where our place is, and thank the Lord!"



"Speak, is't so?
If it be so, you have wound a goodly clue;
If it be not, forswear't: howe'er, I charge thee,
As heaven shall work in me for thine avail,
To tell me truly."

Mr. Morrison's visit had drifted off into the distance of time; and the
subject of South Sea missions had passed out of sight, for all that
appeared. Mrs. Caxton did not bring it up again after that evening, and
Eleanor did not. The household went on with its quiet ways. Perhaps
Mrs. Caxton was a trifle more silent and ruminative, and Eleanor more
persistently busy. She had been used to be busy; in these weeks she
seemed to have forgotten how to rest. She looked tired accordingly
sometimes; and Mrs. Caxton noticed it.

"What became of your bill, Eleanor?" she said suddenly one evening.
They had both been sitting at work some time without a word.

"My bill, ma'am? What do you mean, aunt Caxton?"

"Your Ragged school bill."

"It reached its second reading, ma'am; and there it met with

"And fell through?"

"I suppose so - for the present. Its time will come, I hope; the time
for its essential provisions, I mean."

"Do you think Mr. Carlisle could have secured its passage?"

"From what I know and have heard of him, I have no doubt he could."

"His love is not very generous," remarked Mrs. Caxton.

"It never was, aunt Caxton. After I left London I had little hope of my
bill. I am not disappointed."

"My dear, are you weary to-night?"

"No ma'am! not particularly."

"I shall have to find some play-work for you to do. Your voice speaks
something like weariness."

"I do not feel it, aunt Caxton."

"Eleanor, have you any regret for any part of your decision and action
with respect to Mr. Carlisle?"

"Never, aunt Caxton. How can you ask me?"

"I did not know but you might feel weariness now at your long stay in
Plassy and the prospect of a continued life here."

Eleanor put down her work, came to Mrs. Caxton, kneeled down and put
her arms about her; kissing her with kisses that certainly carried
conviction with them.

"It is the most wicked word I ever heard you say, aunt Caxton. I love
Plassy beyond all places in the world, that I have ever been in. No
part of my life has been so pleasant as the part spent here. If I am
weary, I sometimes feel as if my life were singularly cut off from its
natural duties and stranded somehow, all alone; but that is an
unbelieving thought, and I do not give it harbour at all. I am very
content - very happy."

Mrs. Caxton brought her hand tenderly down the side of the smooth cheek
before her, and her eyes grew somewhat misty. But that was a rare
occurrence, and the exhibition of it immediately dismissed. She kissed
Eleanor and returned to her ordinary manner.

"Talking about stranded lives," she said; "to take another subject, you
must forgive me for that one, dear - I think of Mr. Rhys very often."

"His life is not stranded," said Eleanor; "it is under full sail."

"He is alone, though."

"I do not believe he feels alone, aunt Caxton."

"I do not know," said Mrs. Caxton. "A man of a sensitive nature must
feel, I should think, in his circumstances, that he has put an immense
distance between himself and all whom he loves."

"But I thought he had almost no family relations left?"

"Did it never occur to you," said Mrs. Caxton, "when you used to see
him here, that there was somebody, somewhere, who had a piece of his

"No, ma'am, - never!" Eleanor said with some energy. "I never thought he
seemed like it."

"I did not know anything about it," Mrs. Caxton went on slowly, "until
a little while before he went away - some time after you were here. Then
I learned that it was the truth."

Eleanor worked away very diligently and made no answer. Mrs. Caxton
furtively watched her; Eleanor's head was bent down over her sewing;
but when she raised it to change the position of her work, Mrs. Caxton
saw a set of her lips that was not natural.

"You never suspected anything of the kind?" she repeated.

"No, ma'am - and it would take strong testimony to make me believe it."

"Why so, pray?"

"I should have thought - but it is no matter what I thought about it!"

"Nay, if I ask you, it is matter. Why should it be hard to believe, of
Mr. Rhys especially?"

"Nothing; only - I should have thought, if he liked any one, a
woman, - that she would have gone with him."

"You forget where he was bound to go. Do you think many women would
have chosen to go with him to such a home - perhaps for the remainder of
their lives? I think many would have hesitated."

"But _you_ forget for what he was going; and any woman whom he would
have liked, would have liked his object too."

"You think so," said Mrs. Caxton; "but I cannot wonder at his having
doubted. There are a great many questions about going such a journey,
my dear."

"And did the lady refuse to go?" said Eleanor bending over her work and
speaking huskily.

"I do not think he ever asked her. I almost wish he had."

"_Almost_, aunt Caxton? Why he may have done her the greatest wrong.
She might like him without his knowing it; it was not fair to go
without giving her the chance of saying what she would do."

"Well, he is gone," said Mrs. Caxton; "and he went alone. I think men
make mistakes sometimes."

Eleanor sewed on nervously, with a more desperate haste than she knew,
or than was in the least called for by the work in hand. Mrs. Caxton
watched her, and turned away to the contemplation of the fire.

"Did the thought ever occur to you, Eleanor," she went on very gravely,
"that he fancied _you?_"

Eleanor's glance up was even pitiful in its startled appeal.

"No, ma'am, of course not!" she said hastily. "Except - O aunt Caxton,
why do you ask me such a thing!"

"_Except_, - my dear?"

"Except a foolish fancy of an hour," said Eleanor in overwhelmed
confusion. "One day, for a little time - aunt Caxton, how can you ask me
such a thing?"

"I had a little story to tell you, my dear; and I wanted to make sure
that I should do no harm in telling it. What is there so dreadful in
such a question?"

But Eleanor only brushed away a hot tear from her flushed face and went
on with her sewing. Or essayed to do it, for Mrs. Caxton thought her
vision seemed to be not very clear.

"What made you think so that time, Eleanor? and what is the matter, my

"It hurts me, aunt Caxton, the question. You know we were friends, and
I liked him very much, as I had reason; but I _never_ had cause to
fancy that he thought anything of me - only once I fancied it without

"On what occasion, my love?"

"It was only a little thing - a nothing - a chance word. I saw
immediately that I was mistaken."

"Did the thought displease you?"

"Aunt Caxton, why should you bring up such a thing now?" said Eleanor
in very great distress.

"Did it displease you, Eleanor?"

"No aunty" - said the girl; and her head dropped in her hands then.

"My love," Mrs. Caxton said very tenderly, "I knew this before; I
thought I did; but it was best to bring it out openly, for I could not
else have executed my commission. I lave a message from Mr. Rhys to
you, Eleanor."

"A message to me?" said Eleanor without raising her head.

"Yes. You were not mistaken."

"In what?"

Eleanor looked up; and amidst sorrow and shame and confusion, there was
a light of fire, like the touch the summer sun gives to the mountain
tops before he gets up. Mrs. Caxton looked at her flushed tearful face,
and the hidden light in her eye; and her next words were as gentle as
the very fall of the sunbeams themselves.

"My love, it is true."

"What, aunt Caxton?"

"You were not mistaken."

"In what, ma'am?"

"In thinking what you thought that day, when something - a mere
nothing - made you think that Mr. Rhys liked you."

"But, aunty," said Eleanor, a scarlet flood refilling the cheeks which
had partially faded, - "I had never the least reason to think so again."

"That is Mr. Rhys's affair. But you may believe it now, for he told me;
and I give it to you on his own testimony."

It was curious to Mrs. Caxton to see Eleanor's face. She did not hide
it; she turned it a little away from her aunt's fill view and sat very
still, while the intense flush passed away and left only a nameless
rosy glow, that almost reminded Mrs. Caxton of the perfume as well as
of the colour of the flower it was likened to. There was a certain
unfolding sweetness in Eleanor's face, that was most like the opening
of a rosebud just getting into full blossom; but the lips, unbent into
happy lines, were a little shame-faced, and would not open to speak a
word or ask another question. So they both sat still; the younger and
elder lady.

"Do you want me to tell you any more, Eleanor?"

"Why do you tell me this at all now, aunt Caxton?" Eleanor said very
slowly and without stirring.

"Mr. Rhys desired I should."

"Why, aunt Caxton?"

"Why do gentlemen generally desire such things to be made known to
young ladies?"

"But ma'am" - said Eleanor, the crimson starting again.

"Well, my dear?"

"There is the whole breadth of the earth between us."

"Ships traverse it," said Mrs. Caxton coolly.

"Do you mean that he is coming home?" said Eleanor. Her face was a
study, for its changing lights; too quick, too mingled, too subtle in
their expression, to be described. So it was at this instant. Half
eager, and half shame-faced; an unmistakeable glow of delight, and yet
something that was very like shrinking.

"No, my love," Mrs. Caxton made answer - "I do not mean that. He would
not leave his place and his work, even for you."

"But then, ma'am - "

"What all this signifies? you would ask. Are you sorry - do you feel any
regret - that it should be made known to you?"

"No, ma'am," said Eleanor low, and hanging her head.

"What it signifies, I do not know. That depends upon the answer to a
very practical question which I must now put to you. If Mr. Rhys were
stationed in England and could tell you all this himself, what would
you say to him in answer?"

"I could give him but one, aunt Caxton," said Eleanor in the same

"And that would be a grant of his demand?"

"You know it would, ma'am, without asking me."

"Now we come to the question. He cannot leave his work to come to you.
Is your regard for him enough to make you go to Fiji?"

"Not without asking, aunt Caxton," Eleanor said, turning away.

"Suppose he has asked you."

"But dear aunt Caxton," Eleanor said in a troubled voice, "he never
said one word to me of his liking for me, nor to draw out my feeling
towards him."

"Suppose he has said it."

"How, ma'am? By word, or in writing?"

"In writing."

Eleanor was silent a little, with her head turned away; then she said
in a subdued way, "May I have it, aunt Caxton?"

"My dear, I was not to give them to you except I found that you were
favourably disposed towards the object of them. If you ask me for them
again, it must be upon that understanding."

"Will you please to give them to me, aunt Caxton," Eleanor said in the
same subdued tone.

Mrs. Caxton rose and went to a secretary in the room for one or two
papers, which she brought and put in Eleanor's hand. Then folding her
arms round her, stooped down and kissed the turned-away face. Eleanor
rose up to meet the embrace, and they held each other fast for a little
while, neither in any condition to speak.

"The Lord bless you, my child!" said Mrs. Caxton as she released her.
"You must make these letters a matter of prayer. And take care that you
do the Lord's will in this business - not your own."

"Aunt Caxton," said Eleanor presently, "why was this not told me long
ago - before Mr. Rhys went away?" She spoke the words with difficulty.

"It is too long a story to tell to-night," Mrs. Caxton said after
hesitating. "He was entirely ignorant of what your feeling might be
towards him - ignorant too how far you might be willing to do and dare
for Christ's sake - and doubtful how far the world and Mr. Carlisle
might be able to prevail with you if they had a fair chance. He could
not risk taking a wife to Fiji who had not fairly counted the cost."

"He was so doubtful of me, and yet liked me?" said Eleanor.

"My love, there is no accounting for these things," Mrs. Caxton said
with a smile.

"And he left these with you to give to me?"

"One was left - the other was sent. One comes from Fiji. I will tell you
about them to-morrow. It is too long a story for to-night; and you have
quite enough to think about already. My dear Eleanor!"

They parted without more words, only with another speaking embrace,
more expressive than words; and without looking at the other each went
to her own room. Eleanor's was cosy and bright in winter as well as in
summer; a fire of the peculiar fuel used in the region of the
neighbourhood, made of cakes of coal and sand, glowed in the grate, and
the whole colouring of the drapery and the furniture was of that warm
rich cast which comforts the eye and not a little disposes the mind to
be comfortable in conformity. The only wood fire used in the house was
the one in the sitting parlour. Before her grate-full of glowing coals
Eleanor sat down; and looked at the two letters she held in her hand.
Looked at the handwriting too, with curious scrutiny, before she
ventured to open and read either paper. Wondered too, with an odd side
thought, why her fingers should tremble so in handling these, when no
letter of Mr. Carlisle's writing had ever reminded her that her fingers
had nerves belonging to them. One was a little letter, which Mrs.
Caxton had told her was the first to be read; it was addressed, "In the
hand of Mrs. Caxton, for Miss Eleanor Powle." That note Eleanor's
little fingers opened with as slight tearing of the paper as might be.
It was in few words indeed.

"Although I know that these lines will never meet the eye of her for
whom they are written, unless she be favourably inclined both to them
and to me; yet in the extreme doubt which possesses me whether that
condition will be ever fulfilled, and consequently whether I am not
writing what no one will ever read, I find it very difficult to say
anything. Something charges me with foolhardiness, and something with
presumption; but there is a something else, which is stronger, that
overthrows the charges and bids me go on.

"If you ever see these lines, dear Eleanor, you will know already what
they have to tell you; but it is fit you should have it in my own
words; that - not the first place in my heart - but the second - is yours;
and yours without any rivalry. There is one thing dearer to me than
you - it is my King and his service; after that, you have all the rest.

"What is it worth to you? anything? and what will you say to me in

"When you read this I shall be at a distance - before I can read your
answer I shall be at the other side of the globe. I am not writing to
gratify a vague sentiment, but with a definite purpose - and even,
though it mocks me, a definite hope. It is much to ask - I hardly dare
put it in words - it is hardly possible - that you should come to me. But
if you are ready to do and venture anything in the service of
Christ - and if you are willing to share a life that is wholly given to
God to be spent where and how he pleases, and that is to take up its
portion for the present, and probably for long, in the depths of South
Sea barbarism - let your own heart tell you what welcome you will

"I can say no more. May my Lord bless and keep you. May you know the
fulness of joy that Jesus can give his beloved. May you want nothing
that is good for you.

"R. Rhys."

The other letter was longer. It was dated "Island Vulanga, in the South
Seas, March, 18 - ,

"My dear Eleanor -

"I do not know what presumption moves me to address you again, and from
this far-away place. I say to myself that it is presumption; and yet I
yield to the impulse. Perhaps it is partly the wish to enjoy once at
least even this fancied communion with you, before some news comes
which may shut me off from it for ever. But I yield to the temptation.
I feel very far from you to-day; the tops of the bread-fruit trees that
I see from my window, the banana tree with its bunches of fruit and
broad bright leaves just before my door - this very hot north wind that
is blowing and making it so difficult to do anything and almost to
breathe - all remind me that I am in another land, and by the very force
of contrast, the fresh Welsh mountains, the green meadows, the cool
sweet air of Plassy - and your face - come before me. Your face, most of
all. My mind can think of nothing it would be so refreshing to see. I
will write what I please; for you will never read it if the reading
would be impertinent; and something tells me you _will_ read it.

"This is one of the hot months, when exertion is at times very
difficult. The heat is oppressive and takes away strength and
endurance. But it is for my Master. That thought cures all. To be weary
for Christ, is not to be weary; it is better than any delights without
him. So each day is a boon; and each day that I have been able to fill
up well with work for God, I rejoice and give thanks. There is no limit
here to the work to be done; it presses upon us at all points. We
cannot teach all that ask for teaching; we can hardly attend to the
calls of the sick; hundreds and hundreds stand stretching out their
hands to us with the prayer that we would come and tell them about
religion, and we cannot go! Our hands are already full; our hearts
break for the multitudes who want the truth, to whom we cannot give it.
We wish that every talent we have were multiplied. We wish that we
could work all night as well as all day. Above all _I_ want to be more
like my Lord. When I am all Christ's, _then_ I shall be to the praise
of his glory, who called me out of darkness into his marvellous light.
I want to be altogether holy; then I shall be quite happy and useful,
and there is no other way. Are you satisfied with less, Eleanor? If you
are, you are satisfied with less than satisfies Christ. Find out where
you stand. Remember, it is as true for you as it was for Paul to say,
'Through Christ I can do all things.'

"There are a few native Christians here who are earnestly striving to
be holy. But around them all is darkness - blacker than you can even
conceive. Where the Sun of righteousness has shined, there the golden
beams of Fiji's morning lie; it is a bright spot here and there; but
our eyes long for the day. We know and believe it is coming. But when?
I understand out here the meaning of that recommendation - 'Pray ye
therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers
into the harvest.' You can hardly understand it in England. Do you pray
that prayer, Eleanor?

"Before I left England I wrote you a note. Amid the exquisite pleasure
and pain of which lurked a hope - without which it would not have been
written, but which I now see to have been very visionary. It is
possible that circumstances may be so that the note may have been read
by you; in that case Mrs. Caxton will give you this; but at the
distance of space and time that intervenes now, and with cooler
thoughts and better knowledge, I feel it to be scarcely possible that
you should comply with the request I was daring enough to make to you.
I do not expect it. I have ceased to allow myself to hope for it. I
think I was unreasonable to ask - and I will never think you
unreasonable for refusing - so extravagant a demand. Even if you were
willing, your friends would not allow it. And I would not disguise from
you that the difficulties and dangers to be met in coming here, are
more and greater than can possibly have been represented to you.
Humanly speaking, that is; I have myself no fear, and never have felt
any. But the evils that surround us - that come to our knowledge and
under our very eyes - are real and tangible and dreadful. So much the
more reason for our being here; - but so much the less likely that you,
gently reared and delicately cared for, will be allowed to risk your
delicate nurture in this land of savages. There is cannibalism here,
and to the most dreadful extent; there is all the defilement of life
and manners that must be where human beings have no respect for
humanity; and all this must come more or less under the immediate
knowledge and notice of those that live here. The Lord God is a sun and
shield; we dwell in him and not in the darkness; nevertheless our eyes
see what our hearts grieve over. I could not shield you from it
entirely were you here; you would have to endure what in England you
could not endure. There are minor trials many and often to be
encountered; some of which you will have learned from other letters of
the mission.

"The heathen around us are not to be trusted, and will occasionally lay
their hands upon something we need very much, and carry it off. Not
long ago the house of Mr. Thomas, on a neighbouring station, was
entered at night and robbed of almost all the wearing apparel it
contained. The entrance was effected silently, by cutting into the thin
reed and grass wall of the house; and nobody knew anything of the
matter till next morning. Then the signs shewed that the depredators
had been prepared to commit violence if resisted. I do not know - but I
am inclined to think such a thing would not happen in my house. I have
been enabled to gain the good will of the people very generally, by
kindness to the sick, &c.; and two or three of the most powerful chiefs
in this vicinity have declared themselves each formally my 'friend' - a
title of honour which I scrupulously give and take with them.
Nevertheless they are not to be relied upon. What of that? The eternal
God is our refuge! After all I come back into feeling how safe we are,
rather than how exposed.

"Yet all I have told you is true, and much more. Let no one come here
who does not love Christ well enough to suffer the loss of all things
for his sake, if necessary; for it may be demanded of him. He wants the
helmet of salvation on his head; but with that, it does not matter
where we are - glory to the Captain of our salvation! Fiji is very near
heaven, Eleanor; nearer than England; and if I dared, I would say, I
wish you were here; - but I do not dare. I do not know what is best. I
leave you to your own judgment of what you ought to do, and to that
better direction which will tell you. For me, I know that I shall not
want; not so but that I can find my supply; and soon I shall be where I
shall not want at all. Meanwhile every day is a glad day to me, for it
is given to my Lord; and Jesus is with me. The people hear the word
gladly, and with some fruit of it continually our hearts are cheered. I
would not be anywhere else than I am. My choice would be, if I had my
choice, to live and die in Fiji.

"I dare not trust myself to say the thoughts that come surging up for
utterance; it is wiser not. If my first note to you was presumptuous,
this at least is the writing of a calmer and wiser man. I have resigned
the expectations of a moment. But it is no harm for me to say I love
you as well as ever; _that_ I shall do, I think, till I die; although I
shall never see you again, and dare not promise myself I shall ever
again write to you. It may be it will be best not, even as a friend, to
do that. Perhaps as a friend I could not. It is not as a friend, that I
sign myself now,

"Rowland Rhys."

Poor Eleanor! She was of all people in the world the least given to be
sentimental or soft-hearted in a foolish way; but strong as she was,
there was something in these letters - or some mixture of things - that
entered her heart like an arrow through the joints of an armour, and
found her as defenceless. Tears came with that resistless, ceaseless,
measureless flow, as when the secret nerve of tenderness has been
reached, and every barrier of pride or self-consideration is broken
down or passed over. So keen the touch was to Eleanor, that weeping

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25

Online LibrarySusan WarnerThe Old Helmet, Volume II → online text (page 12 of 25)