Susan Warner.

The Old Helmet, Volume II online

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was sunk a foot deep in the earth and bordered massively with a frame
of logs of hard wood.

"What do you think of that?"

"Mr. Rhys, what is it?"

"You would not take it for a fireplace?" he said with a comical look.

"But is it a fireplace?"

"That is what it is intended for. The Fijians make their fireplaces in
this manner."

"And you are a Fijian, I suppose."

"So are you."

"But Mr. Rhys, can a fireplace of this sort be useful in an English
house?"

"No. But in a Fijian house it may - as I have proved. The natives would
have a wooden frame here, at one side, to hold cooking vessels. You do
not need that, for you have a kitchen."

"With a fireplace like this?"

"Yes," he said, with a smile that had some raillery in it, which
Eleanor would not provoke.

"Suppose you come and look at something that is not Fijian," he went
on. "You must vary your attention."

He drew her before a little unostentatious piece of furniture, that
looked certainly as if it was made out of a good bit of English oak.
What it was, did not appear; it was very plain and rather massively
made. Now Mr. Rhys produced keys, and opened first doors; then a
drawer, which displayed all the characteristic contents and
arrangements of a lady's work-box on an extended scale. Love's work;
Eleanor could see her adopted mother in every carefully disposed supply
of needles and silks and braids and glittering Sheffield ware, and the
thousand and one appliances and provisions for one who was to be at a
very large distance from Sheffield and every home source of needle
furniture. Love recognized love's work, as Eleanor looked into the
drawer.

"Now you are ready to say this is a small thread and needle shop," said
Mr. Rhys; "but you will be mistaken if you do. Look further."

And that she might, he unlocked a pair of smaller inner doors; the
little piece of furniture developed itself immediately into a capital
secretary. As thoroughgoing as the work-box, but still more
comprehensive, here were more than mere materials and conveniences for
writing; it was a depository for several small but very precious
treasures of a scientific and other kinds; and even a few books lay
nestling among them, and there was room for more.

"What is this!" Eleanor exclaimed when she had got her breath.

"This is - Mrs. Caxton! I do not know whether she expected you to turn
sempstress immediately for the colony - or whether she intended you for
another vocation, as I do."

"She sent this from England!"

"It was made by nobody worse than a London cabinet-maker. I did not
know whether you would choose to have it stand in this place, or in the
only room that can properly be called your own. Come in here; - the
other part of the house is, you will find, pretty much public."

"Even your study?"

"That is no exception, sometimes. I am a public man, myself."

The partition wall of this room was nicely lined with mats; the door
was like a piece of the wall, swinging to noiselessly, but Mr. Rhys
shewed Eleanor how she could fasten it securely on the inside. Eleanor
had been taken into this room on her first arrival; but had then been
unable to see anything. Now her eyes were in requisition. Here there
was even more attention paid to comfort and appearances than in the
dining-room. In the simplest possible manner; but somebody had been at
work there who knew that elegance is attainable without the help of
opulence; and that eye and hand can do what money cannot. Eye and hand
had been busy everywhere. Very pretty and soft native mats were on the
floor; the windows were shaded with East Indian _jalousies;_ and not
only personal convenience but tastes were regarded in the various
articles of furniture and the arrangement of them. Good sense was
regarded too. Camp chairs and tables were useful for packing and
moving, as well as neat to the eye; white draperies relieved their
simplicity; shelves were hung against the wall in one place for books,
and filled; and in the floor stood an easy chair of excellent
workmanship, into which Mr. Rhys immediately put Eleanor. But she
started up to look at it.

"Did aunt Caxton send all these things?" she said with a tear in her
eye.

"She has sent almost too many. These are but the beginning, Look here,
Eleanor."

He opened a door at one end of the room, hidden under mat hangings like
the other, which disclosed a large space lined with shelves; several
articles reposing on them, and on the floor below sundry chests and
boxes.

"This is your storeroom. Here you may revel in the riches you do not
immediately wish to display. This is yours; I have a storeroom on my
own part."

"And what is in those chests and boxes, Mr. Rhys?"

"I don't know! except that it is aunt Caxton again. You will find
tablecloths and napkins - I can certify that - for I stumbled upon them;
but I thought they had best not see the light till their owner came. So
I locked them up - and here are the keys."

"And who put up all these nice shelves?"

"Your head carpenter."

"And have you been doing all this for me?" said Eleanor.

He laughed and took her in his arms again, looking at her with that
mixture of expressions.

"I wish I could give you some of my content!" he said.

"I do not want it!" said Eleanor laughing.

"Is that declaration entirely generous?"

Eleanor had no mind, like a wise woman, to answer this question; but
she was held under the inspection of an eye that she knew of old clear
and keen beyond all others to untie the knot of anybody's meaning. She
flushed up very much and tried to turn it off, for she saw he had a
mind to have the answer.

"You do not want me to give account of every idle word after that
fashion?" she said lightly.

"Hush - hush," he said, with a gravity that had much sweetness in it. "I
cannot have you speak in that way."

"I will not - " said Eleanor, suddenly much more sober than he was.

"There are too many that have the habit of using their Master's words
to point their own sentences. Do not let us use it. Come to my
study - you did not see it before dinner, I think."

Eleanor was glad he could smile again, for at that minute she could
not. She felt whirled back to Plassy, and to Wiglands, to the time of
their old and very different relations. She could not realize the new,
nor quietly understand her own happiness; and a very fresh vivid sense
of his character made her feel almost as much awe of him as affection.
That was according to old habit too. But if she felt shy and strange,
she was the only one; for Mr. Rhys was in a very gay mood. As they went
through the dining-room he stopped to shew and display to her numerous
odd little contrivances and arrangements; here a cupboard of rustic,
and very pretty too, native work; or at least native materials. There a
more sophisticated beaufet, which had come from Sydney by Mrs. Caxton's
order. "Dear Mrs. Caxton!" said Mr. Rhys, - "she has forgotten nothing.
I am only in astonishment what she can have found to fill your new
invoice of boxes."

"Why there are not many," said Eleanor.

He looked at her and laughed. "You will be doing nothing but unpacking
for days to come," he said. "I have done what I never thought I should
do - married a rich wife."

"Why aunt Caxton sends the things quite as much to you as to me."

"Does she?"

"I am sure, if anybody is poor, I am."

"If that speech means _me_," said Mr. Rhys with a little bit of
provokingness in the corners of his mouth, - "I don't take it. I do not
feel poor; and never did. Not to-day certainly, with whole shiploads
coming in."

"I do not know of a single unnecessary thing but your microscope."

"Have you brought that?" he said with a change of tone. "It would be
just like Mrs. Caxton to come out and make us a visit some day! I
cannot think of anything else she could give us, that she has not
given. Look at my book-cases."

Eleanor did, thinking of their owner. They were of plainest
construction, but so made that they would take to pieces in five
minutes and become packing cases with the books packed, all ready for
travel; or at pleasure, as now, stand up in their place in the study in
the form of very neat bookcases. They were not large; a Fijian
missionary's library had need be not too extensive; but Eleanor looked
over their contents with hurried delight.

The rest of the room also spoke of Mrs. Caxton; in light neat tables
and chairs and other things. Here too, though not a hand's turn had
apparently been wasted, everything, simple as it was, had a sort of
pleasantness of order and fitness which left the eye gratified. Eleanor
read that and the meaning of it. Here were contrivances again that Mr.
Rhys had done; shelves, and brackets, and pins to hang things; nothing
out of use, but all so contrived as to give a certain elegant effect to
this plain work-room. Even the book and paper disorder was not that of
a careless man. Still it was not like the room at the other end of the
house. The mats that floored and lined it were coarser; there were no
_jalousies_ at the windows; and no easy chair anywhere. One thing it
had like the other; a storeroom cut off from it. This was a large one,
like Eleanor's, and filled. His money-drawer, Mr. Rhys called it. All
sorts of articles valued by the natives were there; Mrs. Caxton had
taken care to send a large supply. These were to serve the purposes of
barter. Mr. Rhys displayed to Eleanor the stores of iron tools, cotton
prints, blankets, and articles of clothing, that were stowed away
there; stowed away with an absolute order and method which again she
looked at as significant of one side at least of Mr. Rhys's character.
He amused himself with displaying everything; shewed her the whole of
the new and strangely appointed establishment over which she had come
to preside, so far at least as the house contained it; and when he had
brought her to something like an apparent share in his own gay mood, at
last placed her in a camp chair in the dining-room, which he had set in
the middle of the floor, and opened the door of the house. It gave
Eleanor a lovely view. The plantations had been left open, so that the
eye had a fair range down to the river and to the opposite shore, where
another village stood. It was seen under bright sunshine now. Mr. Rhys
let her look a moment, then shut the door, and came and sat down before
her, taking both her hands in his own; and Eleanor knew from a glance
at his face that the same thoughts were working within him that had
wrought that moved look before dinner - when she first came. She felt
her colour mounting; it tried her to be silent under his eye in that
way.

"Mr. Rhys, do you remember preaching to me one day at Plassy - when we
were out walking?"

"Yes," he said with a half laugh.

"I wish you would do it again."

"I will preach you a sermon every morning if you like."

"No, but now. I wish you would, so as to make me realize that you are
the same person."

"I am not the same person at all!" he said.

"Why are you not?" said Eleanor opening her eyes at him.

"In those days I was your pastor and friend simply. The difference is,
that I have acquired the right to love you - take care of you - and scold
you."

"It seems to me that last was a privilege you exercised occasionally in
those times," said Eleanor archly.

"Not at all! In those days I was a poor fellow that did not dare say a
word to you."

Eleanor's recollections were of sundry exceptions to this rule, so
marked and prominent in her memory that she could not help laughing.

"O Mr. Rhys, don't you remember - "

"What?" said he with the utmost gravity.

But Eleanor had stopped, and coloured now brilliantly.

"It seems that your recollections are of a questionable character," he
said. Eleanor did not deny it.

"What is it you wish me _not_ to remember?"

"It was a time when you said I was very wrong," said Eleanor meekly,
"so do not call it back."

He bent forward to kiss her, which did not steady Eleanor's thoughts at
all.

"Do you want preaching?" he said.

"Yes indeed! It will do me good."

"I will give you some words to think of, that I lived in all yesterday.
'Beloved of God.' They are wonderful words, that Paul says belong to
all the saints; and they were about me yesterday like a halo of glory,
from morning to night."

Now Eleanor was all right; now she recognized Mr. Rhys and herself, and
listened to every word with her old delight in them. Now she could use
her eyes and look at him, though she well saw that he was considering
her with that full, moved tenderness that she had felt in him all day;
even when he was talking and thinking of other things he did not cease
to remember _her_.

"Eleanor, what do you know about the meaning of those words?"

"Little!" she said. "And yet, a little."

"You know that _we_ were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb
idols - or after others in our own hearts - as helplessly as the poor
heathen around us. But we have got the benefit of that word, - 'I will
call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which
was not beloved.'"

"Yes!"

"Then look at our privileges - 'The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in
safety by him; and the Lord shall cover him all the day long, and he
shall dwell between is shoulders.' - Heavenly security; unearthly joy; a
hiding-place where the troubles of earth cannot reach us."

Mr. Rhys left his position before Eleanor at this, and with a brow all
alight with its thoughts began to pace up and down in front of her;
just as he had done at Plassy, she remembered. She ventured not a word.
Her heart was very full.

"Then look how we are bidden to increase our rejoicing and to delight
ourselves in the store laid up for us; we are not only safe and happy,
but fed with dainties. All things are ready; Christ says he will sup
with us; and we are bidden - 'Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink
abundantly, O beloved.' 'He that cometh to me shall never hunger, and
he that believeth on me shall never thirst.'

"And then, Eleanor, if we are the elect of God, holy and beloved, what
bowels of mercies should be in us; how precious all other beloved of
him should be to us; how we should be constrained by his love. Are you?
I am. I am willing to spend and be spent for these people among whom we
are. I am sure there are many, many children of God among them, come
and coming. I seek no better than to labour for them. It is the delight
of my soul! Eleanor, how is it with you?"

He had stood still before her during these last words, and now sat down
again, taking her hands and looking with his undeceivable gaze into her
face.

"I desire the same thing. I dare not say, I desire it as strongly as
you do, - but it is my very wish."

"Is it for the love of Christ - or for love of these poor creatures? or
for any other reason?"

"I can hardly separate the first two," said Eleanor, looking a little
wistfully. "The love of Christ is at the bottom of it all."

"There is no other motive," he said; "no other that will do the work;
nothing else that will work true love to them. But when I think of my
Master - I am willing to do or be anything, I think, in his service!"

He quitted her hands and began slowly walking up and down again.

"Mr. Rhys," said Eleanor, "what can I do?"

"Are you ready to encounter disagreeablenesses, and hardships, and
privations, in the work?"

"Yes; and discouragements."

"There are no such things. There ought to be no such things. I never
feel nor have felt discouraged. That is want of faith. Do you remember,
Eleanor, 'The clouds are the dust of his feet?' Think - our eyes are
blinded by the dust, we look at nothing else, and we do not see the
glory of the steps that are taken."

"That is true. O Mr. Rhys, that is glorious!"

"Then you are not afraid? I forewarn you, little annoyances are
sometimes harder to bear than great ones. It is one of the most trying
things that I have to meet," said Mr. Rhys standing still with a funny
face, - "to have Ra Mbombo's beard sweep my plate when I am at dinner."

"What does he do that for?"

"He is so fond of me."

"That is being too fond, certainly."

"It is an excess of affectionate attention, - he gets so close to me
that we have a community of things. And you will have, Eleanor, some
days, a perpetual levee of visitors. But what is all that, for Christ?"

"I am not afraid," said Eleanor with a most unruffled smile.

"I wrote to frighten you."

"But I was not frightened. Are things no better in the islands than
when you wrote?"

"Changing - changing every day; from darkness to light, and from the
power of Satan to God. Literally. There are heathen temples here, in
which a few years ago if a woman or a child had dared cross the
threshold they would have been done to death immediately. Now those
very temples are used as our schools. On our way to the chapel we shall
pass almost over a place where there used to be one of the ovens for
cooking human bodies; now the grass and wild tomatoes are growing over
it. I can take you to house after house, where men and women used to be
eaten, where now if you stand to listen you may hear hymns of praise to
Jesus and prayer going up in his name. Praise the Lord! It is grand to
be permitted to live in Fiji now!" -

Eleanor was hushed and silent a few minutes, while Mr. Rhys walked
slowly up and down. Then she spoke with her eyes full of sympathetic
tears.

"Mr. Rhys, what can I do?"

"What you have to do at present," he said with a change of tone, "is to
take care of me and learn the language, - both languages, I should say!
And in the mean while you had better take care of your pins," - he
stooped as he spoke, to pick up one at her feet and presented it with
comical gravity. "You must remember you are not in England. Here you
could not spend pin-money even if you had it."

"If I were inclined to be extravagant," said Eleanor laughing at him,
"your admonition would be thrown away; I have brought such quantities
with me."

"Of pins?"

"Yes."

"I hope you will not ever use them!"

"Why not?"

"I do not see what a properly made dress has to do with pins."

But at this confession of masculine ignorance Eleanor first looked and
then laughed and covered her face, till he came and sat down again and
by forcible possession took her hands away.

"You have no particular present occasion to laugh at me," he said.
"Eleanor, what made you first willing to quit England and go anywhere?"

The answer to this was first an innocent look, and then an extreme
scarlet flush. She could not hide it, with her hands prisoners; she sat
in a pretty state of abashment. A slight giving way of the mouth bore
witness that he read and understood it, though his immediate words were
reassuringly grave and unchanged in tone.

"I remember, you did not comprehend such a thing as possible, at one
time. When was that changed? You used to have a great fear."

"I lost part of that at Plassy."

"Where did you lose the rest of it, Eleanor?"

"It was in London."

He saw by the light in Eleanor's eyes, which looked at him now, that
there was something behind. Yet she hesitated.

"Sealed lips?" said he bending forward again to her face. "You must
unseal them, Eleanor."

"Do you want me to tell you all that?" she asked questioningly.

"I want you to tell me everything."

"It is only a long story."

"Do not make it short."

An easy matter! to go on and tell it with her two hands prisoners, and
those particularly clear eyes looking into her face. It served to shew
the grace that belonged to Eleanor, the way that in these circumstances
she began what she had to say. Where another woman would have been
awkward, she spoke with the simple sweet poise of manner that had been
the admiration of many a company, and that made Mr. Rhys now press the
little hands closer in his own. A little evident shy reluctance only
added to the grace.

"It is a good while ago - I felt, Mr. Rhys, that I wanted, - just that
which makes one willing to go anywhere and do anything; though not for
that reason. I expected to live in England always. I wanted to know
more of Christ. I wanted it, not for work's sake but for happiness'
sake. I was a Christian, I suppose; but I knew - I had seen and
felt - that there were things, - there was a height of Christian life and
attainment, that I had not reached; but where I had seen other people,
with a light upon their brows that I knew never shined upon mine. I
knew whence it came - I knew what I wanted - more knowledge of Christ,
more love of him."

"When was this?"

"It is a good while ago. It is - it was, - time seems so confused to
me! - I know it was the winter after you went away. I think it was near
the spring. We were in London."

"Yes."

"I was cold at the heart of religion. I was not happy. I knew what I
wanted - more love to Christ."

"You did love him."

"Yes; but you know what it is just to love him a little. I went as duty
bade me; but the love of him did not make all duty happy. I had seen
you live differently - I saw others - and I could not be content as I was.

"We were in town then. One night I sat up all night, and gave the whole
night to it."

"To seeking Jesus?"

"I wanted to get out of my coldness and find him!"

"And you found him?"

"Not soon. I spent the night in it. I prayed - and I walked the floor
and prayed - and I shed a great many tears over the Bible. I felt as if
I must have what I wanted - but I could not seem to get any nearer to
it. The whole night passed away - and I had wearied myself - and I had
got nothing.

"The dawn was just breaking, when I got up from my knees the last time.
I was almost giving up in despair. I had done all I could - what could I
do more? I went to the window and opened it. The light was just
creeping up in the sky - there was a little streak of brightness along
the horizon, or of light rather, but it was the herald of brightness. I
felt desolate and tired, and like giving up hope and quest together.
The dull grey canopy overhead seemed just like my heart. I cannot tell
you how enviously I looked at the eastern dawn, wishing the light would
break upon my own horizon. I shall never forget it. It was dusky yet
down in the streets and over the housetops; the city had not waked up
in our quarter; it was still yet, and the breath of the morning's
freshness came to me and revived me and mocked me both at once. I could
have cried for sadness, if I had not been too down-hearted and weary.

"While I stood there, hearing the morning's promise, I suppose, without
knowing it - there came up from the streets somewhere below me, and
near, the song of a chimney-sweep. I can never tell you how it came! It
came - but not yet; at first I only knew what he was singing by the
notes of the air; but the next verse he began came up clear and strong
to me at the window. He was singing those words -

"'Twas a heaven below
My Redeemer to know;
And the angels could do nothing more,
Than to fall at his feet,
And the story repeat,
And the Lover of sinners adore.'


"I thought, it seemed that a band of angels came and carried those
words up past my window! And the dawn came in my heart. I cannot tell
you how, - I seemed to see everything at once. I saw what a heaven below
it is, to know the love of Christ. I think my heart was something like
the Ganges when the tide is coming in. I thought, if the angels could
do nothing more than praise him, neither could I! I fell at his feet
then - I do not think I have ever really left them since - not for long
at a time; and since then my great wish has been to be allowed to
glorify him. I have had no fears of anything in the way."

Eleanor had not been able to get through her "long story" without
tears; but they came very much against her will. She could not see, yet
somehow she felt the strong sympathetic emotion with which she was
listened to. She could hear it, in the subdued intonation of Mr. Rhys's
words.

"'Keep yourselves in the love of God.' How shall we do it, Eleanor?"

She answered without raising her eyes - "'The Lord is good unto them
that wait for him.'"

"And, 'if ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love.'"

There was silence a moment.

"That commandment must take me away for a while, Eleanor." She looked
up.

"I thought," he said, with his sweet arch smile, "I might take so much
of a honeymoon as one broken day - but there is a poor sick man a mile
off who wants me; and brother Balliol has had the schooner affairs to
attend to. I shall be gone an hour. Will you stay here? or shall I take
you to the other house?"


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Online LibrarySusan WarnerThe Old Helmet, Volume II → online text (page 22 of 25)