Susan Warner.

The Old Helmet, Volume II online

. (page 2 of 25)
Online LibrarySusan WarnerThe Old Helmet, Volume II → online text (page 2 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Bible itself to ground hope upon."

"Yes, but a good warm testimony of personal experience, coming from the
heart, often goes to the heart. I hope you tried that."

Eleanor had not; she was silent. The testimony she had given in the
class-meeting somehow she had been shy of uttering unasked in the ear
of the dying woman. Was that humility - or something else? Again Mr.
Rhys had done for her what he so often did for her and for
others - probed her thoughts.

"It is a good plan," said Mrs. Caxton, "to have a storehouse in one's
memory of such things as may be needed upon occasion; passages of
Scripture and hymns; to be brought out when books are not at hand. I
was made to learn a great deal out of the Bible when I was a girl; and
I have often made a practice of it since; and it always comes into
play."

"I never set myself lessons to get by heart," said Mr. Rhys. "I never
could learn anything in that way. Or perhaps I should say, I never
_liked_ to do it. I never did it."

"What is your art, then?" said Mrs. Caxton, looking curious.

"No art. It is only that when anything impresses itself strongly on my
feelings, the words seem to engrave themselves in my memory. It is an
unconscious and purely natural operation."

Eleanor remembered the multitudinous quoting of the Bible she had at
different times heard from Mr. Rhys; and again wondered mentally. All
that, all those parts of the Bible, he had not set himself to study,
but had _felt_ them into his memory! They had been put in like gold
letters, with a hot iron.

"Where is this woman?" Mr. Rhys went on.

"She lives alone, in the narrow dell that stretches behind Bengarten
Castle - and nearly in a straight line with it, from here. Do not go
there this morning - you want rest, and it is too far for you to walk. I
am going to take you into my garden, to see how my flowers go."

"Won't you take me into your dairy?"

"If you like it," said Mrs. Caxton smiling.

"I like it exceedingly. It is something like a musical box to me, Miss
Powle, to see Mrs. Caxton's cheese-making. It soothes my nerves, the
noiseless order of everything. Do you know that wonderful cheese-house,
where they stand in ranks like yellow millstones? I never can get over
my surprise at going in there. Certainly we, as a nation, are fond of
cheese!"

"You think so because you are not," said Mrs. Caxton. "It is too late
for the dairy to-day. You shall give me help in my garden, where I want
it."

"I understand," says Mr. Rhys. "But it is my business to make flowers
grow in the Lord's garden - wherever I can. I wish I could do more of
_that_ gardening work!"

Eleanor gave a quick glance up at the speaker. His brow rested on his
hand for the moment; she noticed the sharply drawn lines of the face,
the thin cheeks, the complexion, which all witnessed to _over_-work
already attempted and done. The brow and eyes were marked with lines of
watching and fatigue. It was but a glance, and Eleanor's eyes went down
again; with an additional lesson of unconscious testimony carried deep
home. This man lived as he talked. The good of existence was not one
thing in his lips and another in his practice. Eleanor looked at her
plate with her heart burning. In her old fancy for studying, or at
least reading, hands, she had noticed too in her glance the hand on
which the head rested; and with surprise. It was almost a feminine hand
in make, with long slim fingers; white withal, and beautifully cared
for. Certain refinements were clearly necessary to this man, who was
ready to plunge himself into a country of savages nevertheless, where
all the refinement would be his own. To some natures it would be easier
to part with a hand altogether, than to forego the necessity of having
it clean. This was one. And he was going to give himself up to
Polynesia and its practices. Eleanor eat with the rest of her breakfast
and swallowed with her tea, the remembered words of the apostle - "But
what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for
Christ." - "Neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I may
finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of
the Lord Jesus, to be faithful." - Eleanor's heart swelled. Tears were
very near.

After breakfast, a large part of the morning was spent by her aunt and
Mr. Rhys in the garden; as Mrs. Caxton had said; and very busy they
were. Eleanor was not asked to join them, and she did not choose to
volunteer; she watched them from the house. They were very honestly
busy; planting and removing and consulting; in real garden work; yet it
was manifest their minds had also much more in common, in matters of
greater interest; they stood and talked for long intervals when the
flowers were forgotten. They were very near each other, those two,
evidently, in regard and mutual confidence and probably mutual
admiration also. It was very strange Eleanor should never have come to
the knowledge of it till to-day. And yet, why should she? She had never
mentioned the name of Mr. Rhys to her aunt in any of her stories of
Wiglands.

He was away all the afternoon and the evening, and came back again
late; a tired and exhausted man. He said nothing, except to officiate
at family prayers; but Eleanor was delighted that he was to spend the
night at the farm and they would have him at breakfast. Only to see him
and hear him talk to others, only the tones of his voice, brought up to
her everything that was good and strong and pure and happy. He did not
seem inclined to advance at all upon their Wiglands acquaintance. He
made no allusion to it. As far as she was concerned, Eleanor thought
that there was more reserve in his manner towards her than he had
shewed there. No matter. With Mrs. Caxton he was very much at home; and
she could study him at her ease all the better for not talking to him.




CHAPTER II.

WITH THE BASKET.


"The flush of life may well be seen
Thrilling back over hills and valleys;
The cowslip startles in meadows green,
The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice,
And there's never a leaf or a blade too mean
To be some happy creature's palace."


"Mrs. Caxton," said Mr. Rhys the next morning, when half the breakfast
had been passed in silence, "have you such a thing as a microscope in
the house?"

"I am afraid not. Why do you ask?"

"Only, that I have suddenly discovered myself to be very ignorant, in a
department of knowledge where it would be very pleasant as well as
proper to be otherwise. I have been reading a book on some of the forms
of life which are only to be known through the help of glasses; and I
find there is a world there I know nothing about. That book has made a
boy of me."

"How?" said Mrs. Caxton smiling.

"You think I always retain more or less of that character! Well - it has
made me doubly a boy then; in my eagerness to put myself to school, on
the one hand, and my desire to see something new on the other. Miss
Powle, have you ever studied the invisible inhabitants of pools, and
ponds, and sea-weeds?"

"Not at all," said Eleanor.

"You do not know much more than the names, then, of Infusoria,
Rotifera, and Pedunculata, and such things?"

"Not so much as the names - except Infusoria. I hope they are better
than they sound."

"If the accounts are true - Mrs. Caxton, the world that we do not see,
because of the imperfection of our organs, is even far more wonderful
than the world that we do see. Perhaps it seems so, because of the
finiteness of our own powers. But I never had a single thing give me
such a view of the infinite glory of God, as one of the things detailed
in that book - one of the discoveries of the microscope."

"His glory in creation," said Mrs. Caxton.

"More than that - There is to be sure the infiniteness of wisdom and of
power, that makes your brain dizzy when you think of it; but there is
an infinite moral glory also."

"What was the thing that struck you so much?" Eleanor inquired.

"It was a little fellow that lives in the water. He is not bigger than
the diameter of the slenderest needle - and that is saying as much as I
can for his size. This fellow builds himself a house of bricks, which
he makes himself; and under his head he carries a little cup mould in
which the bricks are made."

"Mr. Rhys," said Eleanor, "I am wondering what is the slenderest needle
of your acquaintance!"

"No," said he laughing, "you are mistaken. I have seen my mother hem
thin ruffles of muslin; and you know with what sort of a needle that
should be done."

"Aunt Caxton," said Eleanor, "it is inconceivable!"

Mrs. Caxton did not make much answer, and the conversation turned.
After breakfast, and after, as Eleanor judged, they had been a good
while in the dairy, the two went out together in the car. Eleanor
supposed it was to visit Nanny; and so she found when her aunt came
home.

"I knew he would go," said Mrs. Caxton; "and then we made another call.
Nanny is hopeful, and comfortable; but the other - - Mr. Rhys came away
very much agitated. He is not fit for it. I wish I could keep him from
work for a few weeks. It's the best economy. But I will keep him here
as long as I can, at least."

"Is he going to stay here?"

"Yes; he was not comfortably situated in the village; and now I will
have him at the farm, I hope, till he goes. I shall trust you to keep
the flowers fresh in his room, Eleanor. - No, my dear; Jane will stay
with Nanny to-night."

So Mr. Rhys stayed at the farm, and certainly wanted for no comfort
that the mistress of it could secure to him. Neither did Eleanor
neglect the flowers. Mr. Rhys made his home there, and went out to his
preaching and visiting and teaching as vigorously as ever; and was
often a tired man when he came home. Nevertheless he gained ground, to
Mrs. Caxton's great satisfaction. He grew stronger; and was less often
a silent, prostrated, done-over member of their little circle. At first
he was very often that. But when he felt well he was exceedingly social
and conversational; and the Plassy farmhouse had never been so
pleasant, nor the evenings and mornings and meal times so full of
interest. In all which however Mrs. Caxton thought Eleanor took a very
quiet part.

"You do not do your share, Eleanor," she said one day; "you are become
nothing of a talker; and I can bear witness you had a tongue once. Has
religion made you silent, my dear?"

"No, aunty," said Eleanor laughing; "but you forget - you have somebody
else to talk to now."

"I am sure, and so have you."

"No ma'am - Mr. Rhys does not talk to me generally."

"I would return good for evil, then; and not silence for silence."

"I can't, aunty. Don't you know, there are some people that have a sort
of quieting effect upon one?"

"I don't think anybody ever did upon me," said Mrs. Caxton; "and I am
sure Mr. Rhys would be shocked if he knew the effect of his presence."

One morning Mrs. Caxton asked Mr. Rhys at breakfast if he had leisure
to unpack a box for her. He said yes, with great alacrity; and Mrs.
Caxton had the box brought in.

"What is it?" said Mr. Rhys as he began his work. "Am I to take care of
china and glass - or to find gardener's plants nicely done up - or best
of all, books?"

"I hope, something better yet," said Mrs. Caxton.

"There is a good deal of it, whatever it is," said Mr. Rhys, taking out
one and another and another carefully wrapped up bit of something.
"Curiosity can go no further!"

He stopped unpacking, and took the wrapping papers off one or two
odd-looking little pieces of brass; paused, - then suddenly exclaimed,
"Mrs. Caxton! - "

"Well?" said that lady smiling.

"It is just like you! I might have known the other morning what all
that talk would end in."

Mrs. Caxton smiled in silence, and the gentleman went on with his
unpacking; with added zeal and tenderness now, it was evident. It stood
full in view at last, an exquisitely made and mounted microscope of one
of the best London makers. Now was Mr. Rhys in his element; and proved
how justly he had declared himself a _boy_. He got the microscope all
into place and arranged, and then set himself to find out its powers
and method of management.. There were some prepared objects sent with
the instrument, which gave him enough to work with; and over them he
was in an absorbed state for hours; not selfishly, however, for he
allowed Eleanor to take her full share of the pleasure of looking, when
once he had brought objects into view. At last he broke off and hurried
away to an engagement.

The next day at breakfast, Eleanor was a good deal surprised to be
asked if she would take a walk?

"Now?" said Eleanor. "You mean immediately after breakfast?"

"It is the only time I have to-day. All the time before dinner, I have;
but I supposed we should want the whole of it. I am going after objects
for the microscope - and I thought it would be selfish to go alone.
Besides, we may help one another."

"I shall be very glad to go," said Eleanor laughing; "but don't expect
any _help_ of me; unless it be in the way of finding out such places as
you want."

"I fancy I know those better than you do. Miss Powle, a small basket
would be desirable to hold phials of water."

"And phials."

"I will take care of those."

Much amused, and a little excited, Eleanor made ready for the walk, and
in the matter of the basket at least proved helpful. It was bright and
early when they set out. Among those mountains and valleys, the dew was
not off the fields yet, while the air was freshly sweet from roses and
wild thyme, and primroses lingering, and numberless other sweet things;
for hedgerow and meadow and mountain side were gay and rich with a
multitude of flowers. There was a mingling of shadow and sunshine too,
at that early time in the morning; and as the two walkers passed along
they were sometimes in one, sometimes in the other. There was little
conversation at first. Mr. Rhys went not with a lingering step, but as
if with some purpose to reach a definite locality. Eleanor was musing
to herself over the old walks taken with Julia by her present
companion; never but once Eleanor's walking companion till now. How
often Julia had gone with him; what a new and strange pleasure it was
for herself; and how oddly life changes about things; that the
impossible thing at Wiglands should be possible at Plassy.

"What sort of places are you looking for, Mr. Rhys?" Eleanor inquired
at last.

"All sorts of places," he said smiling. "All sorts at least of wet
places. But I know nothing about it, you know, except what I have read.
They say, wherever water is found, some or other species of these
minute wonders may be met with; standing pools, and rivers, and ditches
all have them; and some particularly beautiful are to be found in bog
water; so with, I am afraid you will think, a not very commendable
impatience, I am pointing my steps towards a bog that I know - in the
wish to get some of the best first."

"That is being very impatient," said Eleanor laughing. "I should be
satisfied with almost anything, for the first."

"So you will very probably have to be. I am by no means sure of
accomplishing my design. Am I walking too fast for you, in the
meanwhile?"

"Not at all. I am thinking, Mr. Rhys, how we are to bring home the bog
water when we have found it."

In answer to which, he put his hand in his pocket and brought out
thence and deposited in his basket one after another of half a dozen or
more little phials, all duly corked. Eleanor was very much amused.

"And what is this stick to do, that you wanted me to bring?"

"You will see."

The bog was reached in due time, after a walk over a most delicious
country, for the most part new to Eleanor. Water was found, though not
exactly with the conditions Mr. Rhys desired; however a phial of it was
dipped up, corked and marked. Then they retraced their steps partially,
diverging right and left. Just the right sort of pool was found at
last; covered with duck-weed. Here Mr. Rhys stopped and tied one of the
phials to the end of the stick. With this he dipped water from the
surface, then he dipped from the bottom; he took from one side and from
another side, where there was sunshine and where there was shade;
pouring each dipping into a fresh phial, while Eleanor in a great state
of amusement corked and labelled each as it was filled. At last it was
done. Mr. Rhys filled his last phial, looked at Eleanor's face, and
smiled.

"You do not think much is going to come of all this?" he said.

"Yes I do," said Eleanor. "At least I hope so."

"I know it. Look through that."

He put a pocket lens into her hand and bade her survey one of the
phials with it. Eleanor's scepticism fled. That _something_ was there,
in pretty active life, was evident. Somethings. The kinds were plural.

"It was like Mrs. Caxton, to order this lens with the microscope," Mr.
Rhys went on. "I suppose she made her order general - to include
everything that would be necessary for a naturalist in making his
observations. I not being a naturalist. Did you ever see the 'Bundle'
of Helig?"

"I do not know what it is."

"'Bundle' or 'Bandel' - I do not know how it got the name, I am sure;
but I suppose it is a corruption of something. Would you like to go a
little out of your way to see it?"

"You can judge better than I, Mr. Rhys!" Eleanor said with her full,
rich smile, which that gentleman had not often seen before. He answered
it with his own very peculiar one, sober and sweet.

"I will take so much responsibility. You ought not to come so near and
miss it."

Turning from the course of their return way, they followed a wild woody
dell for a little distance; then making a sudden angle with that, a few
steps brought them in sight of a waterfall. It poured over a rocky
barrier of considerable height, the face of which was corrugated, as it
were, with great projecting ridges of rock. Separated of necessity by
these, the waters left the top of the precipice in four or five
distinct bands or ribbands of bright wave and foam, soon dashed into
whiteness; and towards the bottom of the fall at last found their way
all together; which they celebrated with a rush and a dance and a
sparkle and a roar that filled all the rocky abyss into which they
plunged. The life, the brightness, the peculiar form, the wild
surroundings, of this cataract made it a noted beauty. In front of it
the rocks closed in so nearly that spectators could only look at it
through a wild narrow gap. Above, beyond the top of the fall, the
waving branches could be seen of the trees and bushes that stood on the
borders of the water; to reach which was a mere impossibility, unless
by taking a very long way round. At the foot, the waters turned off
suddenly and sought their course where the eye could not follow them.

It was out of the question to talk in the presence of the shout of
those glad waters. Mr. Rhys leaned against the rock, and looked at
them, so motionless that more than once the eye of Eleanor went from
them to him with a little note-taking. When at last he turned away and
they got back into the stillness of the glen, he asked her, "how
looking at such a thing made her feel?"

"Nothing but surprise and pleasure, I think," said Eleanor; "but a
great deal of both those." Then as he still remained silent, she went
on, - "To tell the truth, Mr. Rhys, I think my mental eye is only
beginning to get educated. I used always to enjoy natural beauty, but I
think it was in a superficial kind of way. Since I have been at
Plassy - and especially since a few weeks back, - all nature is much more
to me than it was."

"It is sure to be so," he said. "Nature without and nature within are
made for each other; and till the two are set to the same key, you
cannot have a good tune. - There is a fellow who is in pretty good
order! Do you hear that blackbird?"

"Sweet!" said Eleanor. "And what is that other note - 'chee chee, chee,'
so many times?"

"That is a green wren."

"You are _something_ of a naturalist, Mr. Rhys," said Eleanor.

"Not at all! no more than my acquaintance with you and Mrs. Caxton
makes me a philosopher."

Eleanor wanted to ask what looking at the cataract made _him_ think of;
but as she had told her aunt, Mr. Rhys exercised a sort of quieting
influence over her. No natural audacity, of which she had an innocent
share, remained to her in his company. She walked along in demure
silence. And to say the truth, the sun was now growing warm, and the
two had walked not a few good miles that morning; which also has a
quieting influence. Eleanor queried with herself whether all the bright
part of the walk were over.

"I think it is time we varied our attention," said Mr. Rhys breaking
silence. "We have been upon one class of subjects a good
while; - suppose we try another. Don't you want to rest?"

"I am not tired, - but I have no objection."

"You are not easily tired?"

"Not about anything I like."

"You have struck a great secret of power and usefulness," he said
gravely. "What do you think of this bank? - it is dry, and it is
pleasant."

It would have been hardly possible to find a spot in all their way that
would not have been pleasant; and from this bank they looked over a
wide rich valley bordered with hills. It was not the valley where the
farmhouse of Plassy stood, with its meadows and river; this was
different in its features, and moreover some miles distant. Eleanor and
Mr. Rhys sat down on the moss at the foot of the trees, which gave both
shade and rest. It was the edge of a piece of woods, and a blackbird
was again heard saluting them.

"Now if you want refreshment," said Mr. Rhys, "I can give it to you;
but only of one kind."

"I don't know - I should say of several kinds," said Eleanor looking
into the basket - "but the quality doubtful."

"Did you think I meant _that?_"

Eleanor laughed at the earnest gravity of this speech. "Mr. Rhys, I saw
no other refreshment you had to offer me; but indeed I do not want
any - more than I am taking."

"I was going to offer it to you of another kind, but there is no kind
like it. What is your way of reading the Bible?"

"I have no particular 'way,'" said Eleanor in some surprise. "I read
several chapters a day - or at least always a chapter at morning and
another at evening. What 'way' do you mean?"

"There are a great many ways; and it is good to use them all at
different times. But what way would be good for a half hour's
refreshment, at such a time as this?"

"I am sure, I don't know," said Eleanor. "I have no way but the one."

"Yes, but we should not have seen the 'Bandel' of Helig, if we had not
turned aside to look at it; and you would not have heard the blackbird
and the wren perhaps, unless you had stopped to listen to them. I
suppose we have missed a million of other things, for want of looking."

"Yes, but we could not look at everything all along these miles of our
way," said Eleanor, her smile breaking forth again.

"Very true. On the other hand, if we go but a very little way, we can
examine all around us. Have you a Bible with you?"

"No. I never carry one."

"I am better off than you. Let us try a little of this - the first
chapter of Romans. Will you read the first verse, and consider it."

He handed her his Bible and Eleanor read.

"'Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated
unto the gospel of God' - "

"What do you find there?" said her companion.

"Not much. This verse seems to be a sort of opening, or introduction to
the rest. Paul tells who he is, or what he is."

"And what does he say he is?"

"A servant of Jesus Christ."

"You think that is 'not much?'"

"Certainly it is much, in itself; but here I took it for a mere
statement of fact."

"But what a fact. _A servant of Jesus Christ_. Only that! Do you know
what a fact that is? What is it, to be a servant of Jesus Christ?"

Without waiting for the answer, which was not ready, Mr. Rhys rose up
from his seat and began an abstracted exploration of the bit of
woodland at the edge of which they had been sitting; wandering in and
out among the trees, and stooping now and then to pluck a flower or a
fern or to examine one; apparently too full of his thoughts to be
quiet. Eleanor heard him sometimes and watched him when she could; he
was very busy; she wished he I would give some of his thoughts to her.

"I thought you wanted rest, Mr. Rhys," she said boldly, when she got a
chance. "Please sit down here and take it, along with your other
refreshment."

He smiled and came immediately with a bunch of Myosotis in his hand,



Online LibrarySusan WarnerThe Old Helmet, Volume II → online text (page 2 of 25)