Susan Warner.

The Old Helmet, Volume II online

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time. Mr. Amos owned that he had heard of no opportunity, near or far.
The talk lasted a good while and it was not till he was taking leave
that Eleanor contrived to follow him out and gain a word to herself.

"There are no letters for you," said Mr. Amos, speaking under his
breath, and turning a cheerful but concerned face towards Eleanor. "I
have made every enquiry - at the post-office, and of everybody likely to
know about such things. There are none, and they know of none."

Eleanor said nothing; her face grew perceptibly white.

"There is nothing the matter with brother Rhys," said Mr. Amos hastily;
"we have plenty of news from him - all right - he is quite well, and for
a year past has been on another station; different from the one he was
on when you last heard from him. There is nothing the matter - only
there are no letters for you; and there must be some explanation of
that."

He paused, but Eleanor was silent, only her colour returned a little.

"We want to get away from here as soon as possible, I suppose," Mr.
Amos went on half under breath; "but as yet I see no opening. It will
come."

"Yes," said Eleanor somewhat mechanically. "You will let me know - "

"Certainly - as soon as I know anything myself; and I will continue to
make enquiry for those letters. Mr. Armitage is away in the country - he
might know something about them, but nobody else does; and he ought to
have left them with somebody else if he had them. But there can be
nothing wrong about it; there is only some mistake, or mischance; the
letters from Vuliva where brother Rhys is, are quite recent and
everything is going on most prosperously; himself included. And we are
to proceed to the same station. I am very glad for ourselves and for
you."

"Thank you - " Eleanor said; but she was not equal to saying much. She
listened quietly, and with her usual air, and Mr. Amos never discovered
the work his tidings wrought; he told his wife, sister Powle looked a
little blank, he thought, at missing her expected despatches, and no
wonder. It was an awkward thing.

Eleanor slowly made her way up to her room and sat down, feeling as if
the foundations of the earth, to _her_ standing, had given way. She was
more overwhelmed with dismay than she would have herself anticipated in
England, if she could have looked forward to such a catastrophe. Reason
said there was not sufficient cause; but poor Eleanor was to feel the
truth of Mrs. Caxton's prediction, that she would find out again that
certain feelings might be natural that were not reasonable. Nay, reason
said on this occasion that the failure of letters proved too much to
justify the distress she felt; it proved a combination of things, that
no carelessness nor indifference nor unwillingness to write, on the
part of Mr. Rhys, could possibly have produced. Let him feel how he
would, he would have written, he _must_ have written to meet her there;
all his own delicacy and his knowledge of hers affirmed and reaffirmed
that letters were in existence somewhere, though it might be at the
bottom of the ocean. Reason fought well; to what use, when nature
trembled, and shivered, and shrank. Poor Eleanor! she felt alone now,
without a mother and without shelter; and the fair shores of Port
Jackson looked very strange and desolate to her; a very foreign land,
far from home. What if Mr. Rhys, with his fastidious notions of
delicacy, did not fancy so bold a proceeding as her coming out to him?
what if he disapproved? What if, on further knowledge of the place and
the work, he had judged both unfit for her; and did not, for his own
sake only in a selfish point of view, choose to encourage her coming?
in that case her being _come_ would make no difference; he would not
shelter himself from a judgment displeasing to him, because the escape
from its decisions was rendered easy. What if _for his own sake_ his
feeling had changed, and he wanted her no longer? years had gone by
since he had seen her; it must have been a wayward fancy that could
ever have made him think of her at first; and now, about his grave work
in a distant land, and with leisure to correct blunders of fancy,
perhaps he had settled into the opinion that it was just as well that
his coming away had separated them; and did not feel able to welcome
her appearance in Australia, and was too sincere to write what he did
not feel; so wrote nothing? Not very like Mr. Rhys, reason whispered;
but reason's whisper, though heard, could not quiet the sensitive
delicacy which trembled at doubt. So miserable, so chilled, so forlorn,
Eleanor had never felt in her life; not when the 'Diana' first carried
her away from the shores of her native land.

What was she to do? that question throbbed at her heart; but it
answered itself soon. Stay in Australia she could not; go home to
England she could not; no, not upon this mere deficiency of testimony.
There was only one alternative left; she must go on whenever Mr. and
Mrs. Amos should move. Nature might tremble and quiver, and all
Eleanor's nerves did; but there was no other course to pursue. "I can
tell," she thought, - "I shall know - the first word, the first look,
will tell me the whole; I cannot be deceived. I must go on and meet
that word and look, whatever it costs me - I must; and then, if it
is - if it is not satisfying to me, then aunt Caxton shall have me! I
can go back, as well as I have come. Shame and misery would not hinder
me - they would not be so bad as my staying here then."

So the question of action was settled; but the question of feeling not
so soon. Eleanor's enjoyment was gone, of all the things she had
enjoyed those first twenty-four hours, and of all others which her
entertainers brought forward for her pleasure. Yet Eleanor kept her own
counsel, and as they did not know the cause she had for trouble, so
neither did they discover any tokens of it. She did not withdraw
herself from their kind efforts to please her, and they spared no
pains. They took her in boat excursions round the beautiful harbour.
They shewed her the pretty environs of the Parramatta river. Nay,
though it was not very easy for him to leave his business, Mr.
Esthwaite went with her and his wife to the beautiful Illawarra
district; put the whole party on horses, and shewed Eleanor a land of
tropical beauty under the clear, bracing, delicious warm weather of
Australia. Fern trees springing up to the dimensions of trees indeed,
with the very fern foliage she was accustomed to in low herbaceous
growth at home; only magnified superbly. There were elegant palms, too,
with other evergreens, and magnificent creepers; and floating out and
in among them in great numbers were gay red-crested cockatoos and other
tropical birds. The character of the scenery was exquisite. Eleanor saw
one or two of the fair lake-like lagoons of that district, eat of the
fish from them; for they made a kind of gypsey expedition, camping out
and providing for themselves fascinatingly; and finally returned in the
steamer from Wollongong to Sydney. Her friends would have taken her to
see the gold diggings if it had been possible. But Eleanor saw it all,
all they could shew her, with half a heart. She had learned long ago to
conceal what she felt.

"I think she wants to get away," said Mrs. Esthwaite one night, half
vexed, wholly sorry.

"That's what it is to be in love!" said her husband. "You won't keep
her in Sydney. Do you notice she has given up smiling?"

"No!" said his wife indignantly; "I notice no such thing. She is as
ready to smile as anybody I ever saw." - And I wish I had as good
reason! was the mental conclusion; for Eleanor and she had had many an
evening talk by that time, and many a hymn had been listened to.

"All very well," said Mr. Esthwaite; "but she don't smile as she did at
first. Don't you remember? - that full smile she used to give once in a
while, with a little world of mischief in the corners? I would like to
see it the next time! - "

"I declare," said Mrs. Esthwaite, "I think you take quite an
impertinent interest in people's concerns. She wouldn't let you see it,
besides."

At which Mr. Esthwaite laughed.

So near people came to it; and Eleanor covered up her troublesome
thoughts within her own heart, and gave Mr. Esthwaite the benefit of
that impenetrable coolness and sweetness of manner which a good while
ago had used to bewitch London circles. In the effort to hide her real
thoughts and feelings she did not quite accommodate it to the different
latitude of New South Wales; and Mr. Esthwaite was a good deal struck
and somewhat bewildered.

"You have mistaken your calling," he said one evening, standing before
Eleanor and considering her.

"Do you think so?"

"There! Yes, I do. I think you were born to govern."

"I am sadly out of my line then," said Eleanor laughing.

"Yes. You are. That is what I say. You ought to be this minute a
duchess - or a governor's lady - or something else in the imperial line."

"You mistake my tastes, if you think so."

"I do not mistake something else," muttered Mr. Esthwaite; and then Mr.
Amos entered the room.

"Here, Amos," said he, "you have made an error in judging of this
lady - she is no more fit to go a missionary than I am. She - she goes
about with the air of a princess!"

Mrs. Esthwaite exclaimed, and Mr. Amos took a look at the supposed
princess's face, as if to reassure or inform his judgment. Apparently
he saw nothing to alarm him.

"I am come to prove the question," he said composedly; then turning to
Eleanor, - "I have heard at last of a schooner that is going to Fiji, or
will go, if we desire it."

This simple announcement shot through Eleanor's head and heart with the
force of a hundred pounder. An extreme and painful flush of colour
answered it; nobody guessed at the pain.

"What's that?" exclaimed Mr. Esthwaite getting up again and standing
before Mr. Amos, - "you have found a vessel, you say?"

"Yes. A small schooner, to sail in a day or two."

"What schooner? whom does she belong to? Lawsons, or Hildreth?"

"To nobody, I think, but her master. I believe he sails the vessel for
his own ends and profits."

"What schooner is it? what name?"

"The 'Queen Esther,' I think."

"You cannot go in that!" said Mr. Esthwaite turning off. "The 'Queen
Esther'! - I know her. She's not fit for you; she's a leaky old thing,
that that man Hawkins sails on all sorts of petty business; she'll go
to pieces some day. She ain't sea-worthy, I don't believe."

"It is not as good a chance as might be, but it is the first that has
offered, and the first that is likely to offer for an unknown time,"
Mr. Amos said, looking again to Eleanor.

"When does she sail?"

"In two days. She is small, and not in first-rate order; but the voyage
is not for very long. I think we had better go in her."

"Certainly. How long is the voyage, regularly?"

"A fortnight in a good ship, and a month in a bad one," struck in Mr.
Esthwaite. "You'll never get there, if you depend on the 'Queen Esther'
to bring you."

"We go to Tonga first," said Mr. Amos. "The 'Queen Esther' sails with
stores for the stations at Tonga and the neighbourhood; and will carry
us further only by special agreement; but the master is willing, and I
came to know your mind about it."

"I will go," said Eleanor. "Tell Mrs. Amos I will meet her on
board - when?"

"Day after to-morrow morning."

"Very well. I will be there. Will she take the additional lading of my
boxes?"

"O yes; no difficulty about that. It's all right."

"How can I do with the things you have stored for me?" Eleanor said to
Mr. Esthwaite. "Can the schooner take them too?"

"What things?"

"Excuse me - perhaps I misunderstood you. I thought you said you had
half your warehouse, one loft of it, taken up with things for me?"

"Those things are gone, long ago," said Mr. Esthwaite, in a dogged kind
of mood which did not approve of the proposed journey or conveyance.

"Gone?"

"Yes. According to order. Mrs. Caxton wrote, Forward as soon as
possible; so I did."

Again Eleanor's brow and cheeks and her very throat were covered with a
rush of crimson; but when Mr. Amos took her hand on going away its
touch made him ask involuntarily if she were well?

"Perfectly well," Eleanor answered, with something in her manner that
reminded Mr. Amos, though he could not tell why, of the charge Mr.
Esthwaite had brought. Another look into Eleanor's eyes quieted the
thought.

"Your hand is very cold!" he said.

"It's a sign of" - Mr. Esthwaite would have said "fever," but Eleanor
had composedly faced him and he was silent; only busied himself in
shewing Mr. Amos out, without a word that he ought not to have spoken.
Mr. Amos went home and told his wife.

"I think she is all right," he said; "but she does not look to me just
as she did before we landed. I dare say she has had a great deal of
admiration here - "

"I dare say she feels bad," said good Mrs. Amos.

"Why?"

"If you were not a man, you would know," Mrs. Amos said laughing. "She
is in a very trying situation."

"Is she? O, those letters! It is unfortunate, to be sure. But there
must be some explanation."

"The explanation will be good when she gets it," Mrs. Amos remarked. "I
hope somebody who is expecting her is worthy of her. Poor thing! I
couldn't have done it, I believe, even for you."




CHAPTER XVII.

IN SMOOTH WATER.


"But soon I heard the dash of oars,
I heard the pilot's cheer;
My head was turned perforce away,
And I saw a boat appear."


The morning came for the "Queen Esther" to sail. Mr. and Mrs. Amos were
on board first, and watched with eyes both kind and anxious to see
Eleanor when she should come. The little bonnet with chocolate ribbands
did not keep them waiting and the first smile and kiss to Mrs. Amos
made _her_ sure that all was right. She had been able to see scarce
anything of Eleanor during the weeks on shore; it was a refreshment to
have her near again. But Eleanor had turned immediately to attend to
Mr. Esthwaite.

"This is the meanest, most abominable thing of a vessel," he said,
"that ever Christians travelled in! It is an absurd proceeding
altogether. Why if the boards don't part company and go to pieces
before you get to Tonga - which I think they will - they don't give room
for all three of you to sit down in the cabin at once."

"The deck is of better capacity," Eleanor told him briskly.

"Such a deck! I wonder _you_, cousin Eleanor, can make up your mind to
endure it. There is not a man living who is worth such a sacrifice.
Horrid!"

"We hope it won't last a great while," Mr. Amos told him.

"It won't! That's what I say. You will all be deposited in the bottom
of the ocean, to pay you for not having been contented on shore. I
would not send a dog to sea in such a ship!"

"Cousin Esthwaite, you had better not stay in a situation so
disagreeable to you. You harass yourself for nothing. Shake hands. You
see the skipper is going to make sail directly."

Eleanor with a little play in the manner of this dismissal, was enough
in earnest to secure her point. Mr. Esthwaite felt in a manner
constrained to take his departure. He presumed however in the
circumstances to make interest for a cousinly kiss for good bye; which
was refused him with a cooler demonstration of dignity than he had yet
met with. It nettled him.

"There was the princess," whispered Mr. Amos to his wife.

"Good!" said Mrs. Amos.

"Good bye!" cried Mr. Esthwaite, disappearing over the schooner's side.
"_You_ are not fit for a missionary! I told you so before."

Eleanor turned to Mrs. Amos, ignoring entirely this little transaction,
and smiled at her. "I hope he has not made you nervous," she said.

"No," said Mrs. Amos; "I am not nervous. If I did not get sick I should
enjoy it; but I suppose I shall be sick as soon as we get out of the
harbour."

"Let us take the good of it then, until we are out of the harbour,"
said Eleanor. "If the real 'Queen Esther' was at all like her namesake,
Ahasuerus must have had a disorderly household."

They sat down together on the little vessel's deck, and watched the
beautiful shores from which they were gliding away. Eleanor was glad to
be off. The stay at Sydney had become oppressive to her; she wanted to
be at the end of her journey and know her fate; and hope and reason
whispered that she had reason to be glad. For all that, the poor child
had a great many shrinkings of heart. A vision of Mr. Rhys never came
up in one of its aspects, - that of stern and fastidious
delicacy, - without her heart seeming to die away within her. She could
not talk now. She watched the sunny islands and promontories of the
bay, changing and passing as the vessel slowly moved on; watched the
white houses of Sydney, grateful for the home she had found there,
longing exceedingly for a home once again that should be hers by right;
hope and tremulousness holding her heart together. This was a conflict
that prayer and faith did not quell; she could only come to a state of
humble submissiveness; and she never thought of reaching Vuliva without
a painful thrill that almost took away her breath. But she was glad to
be on the way.

The vessel was very small, not of so much as eighty tons burthen; its
accommodations were of course a good deal as Mr. Esthwaite had said;
and more than that, the condition of the vessel and of its appointments
was such that Mrs. Amos felt as if she could hardly endure to shut
herself up in the cabin. Eleanor resolved immediately that _she_ would
not; the deck was a better plate; and she prevailed to have a mattress
brought there for Mrs. Amos, where the good lady, though miserably ill
as soon as they were upon the ocean roll, yet could be spared the close
air and other horrors of the place below deck. Eleanor wrapped herself
in her sea cloak, and lived as she could on deck with her; having a
fine opportunity to read the stars at night, and using it. The weather
was very fine; the wind favouring and steady; and in the Southern
Ocean, under such conditions, there were some good things to be had,
even on board the "Queen Esther." There were glorious hymn-singings in
the early night-time; and Eleanor had never sung with more power on the
"Diana." There were beautiful Bible discussions between her and Mr.
Amos - Bible contemplations, rather; in which they brought Scripture to
Scripture to illustrate their point; until Mr. Amos declared he thought
it would be a grand way of holding a Bible-class; and poor Mrs. Amos
listened, delighted, though too sick to put in more than a word now and
then. And Eleanor's heart gave a throb every time she recollected that
another day had gone, - so many more miles were travelled over, - they
were so much nearer the journey's end. Her companions found no fault in
her. There was nothing of the princess now, but a gentle, thoughtful,
excellent nurse, and capital cook. On board the "Diana" there had been
little need of her services for Mrs. Amos; little indeed that could be
done. Now, in the fresh air on the open deck of the little schooner,
Mrs. Amos suffered less in one way; but all the party were sharers in
the discomforts of close accommodations and utter want of nicety in
anything done or furnished on board. The condition of everything was
such that it was scarcely possible to eat at all for well people. Poor
Mrs. Amos would have had no chance except for Eleanor's helpfulness and
clever management. As on board the "Diana," there was nobody in the
schooner that would refuse her anything; and Mr. Amos smiled to himself
to see where she would go and what she would do to secure some little
comfort for her sick friend, and how placidly she herself munched sea
biscuit and bad bread, after their little stock of fruit from Sydney
had given out. She would bring a cup of tea and a bit of toast to Mrs.
Amos, and herself take a crust with the equanimity of a philosopher.
Eleanor did not care much what she eat, those days. Her own good times
were when everybody else was asleep except the man at the wheel; and
she would kneel by the guards and watch the strange constellations, and
pray, and sometimes weep a flood of tears. Julia, her mother and
Alfred, Mrs. Caxton, her own intense loneliness and shrinking delicacy
in the uncertainty of her position, they were all well watered in tears
at some of those watching hours when nobody saw.

The "Queen Esther" made the Friendly Islands in something less than a
month, notwithstanding Mr. Esthwaite's unfavourable predictions. At
Tonga she was detained a week and more; unlading and taking in stores.
The party improved the time in a survey of the island and mission
premises and in pleasant intercourse with their friends stationed
there. Or what would have been pleasant intercourse; it was impossible
for Eleanor to enjoy it. So near her destination now, she was impatient
to be off; and drew short breaths until the days of delay were ended,
and the little schooner once more made sail and turned her head towards
Vuliva. She had seen Tonga with but half an eye.

Two or three days would finish their journey now. The weather and wind
continued fair; they dipped Tonga in the salt wave, and stood on and on
towards the unseen haven of their hopes and duties. A new change came
over Eleanor. It could not be reason, for reason had striven in vain.
Perhaps it was nature, which turning a corner took a new view of the
subject. But from the time of their leaving Tonga, she was unable to
entertain such troublesome apprehensions of what the end of the voyage
might have in store for her. Something whispered it could be nothing
very bad; and that point that she had so dreaded began to gather a glow
of widely different promise. A little nervousness and trepidation
remained about the thought of it; the determination abode fast to see
the very first word and look and know what they portended; but in place
of the rest of Eleanor's downhearted fear, there came now an
overwhelming sense of shamefacedness. This was something quite new and
unexpected; she had never known in her life more than a slight touch of
it before; and now it consumed her. Even before Mr. and Mrs. Amos she
felt it; and her eyes shunned theirs the last day or two as if she had
been a shy child. Why was it? She could not help it. This seemed to be
as natural and as unreasonable as the other; and in her lonely night
watches, instead of trembling and sinking of heart, Eleanor was
conscious that her cheeks dyed themselves with that unconquerable
feeling of shame. Very inconsistent indeed with her former state of
feeling; and that was according to Mrs. Caxton's words; not being
reasonable, reason could not be expected from them in anything. Her
friends had not penetrated her former mood; this they saw and smiled
at; and indeed it made Eleanor very lovely. There was a shy, blushing
grace about her the last day or two of the voyage which touched all she
did; indeed Mrs. Amos declared she could see it through the little
close straw bonnet, and it made her want to take Eleanor in her arms
and keep her there. Mr. Amos responded in his way of subdued fun, that
it was lucky she could not; as it would be likely to be a disputed
possession, and he did not want to get into a quarrel with his brethren
the first minute of his getting to land.

Up came Eleanor with some trifle for Mrs. Amos which she had been
preparing.

"We are almost in, sister Eleanor!" said Mr. Amos. "The captain says he
sees the land."

Eleanor's start was somewhat prompt, to look in the direction of 'Queen
Esther's' figure-head.

"The light is failing - I don't believe you can see it," said Mr. Amos;
"not to know it from the clouds. The captain says he shall stand off
and on through the night, so as to have daylight to go in. The entrance
is narrow. I suppose, if all is well, we shall have a wedding
to-morrow?"

Eleanor asked Mrs. Amos somewhat hastily, if what she had brought her
was good?

"Delicious!" Mrs. Amos said; and pulling Eleanor's face down to her she
gave it a kiss which spoke more things than her mere thanks. She was
rewarded with the sight of that crimson veil which spread itself over
Eleanor's cheeks, which most people thought it was a pleasure to see.

Eleanor thought she should get little sleep that night; but she was
disappointed. She slept long and sweetly on her mattress; and awoke to
find it quite day, with fair wind, and the schooner setting her head
full on the land which rose up before her fresh and green, yes, and
exceeding lovely. Eleanor got up and shook herself out; her companions
were still sleeping. She rolled her mattress together and sat down upon


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Online LibrarySusan WarnerThe Old Helmet, Volume II → online text (page 19 of 25)