Susan Warner.

The Old Helmet, Volume II online

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"May I stay here?"

"Certainly. You can fasten the door, and then if any visiters come they
will think I am not at home. I will give Solomon directions."

"Who is Solomon?"

"Solomon is - I will introduce him to you!" and with a very bright face
Mr. Rhys went off into his study, coming back again in a moment and
with his hat. He went to a door opposite that by which Eleanor had
entered the house, and blew a shrill whistle.

"Solomon is my fast friend and very faithful servant," he said
returning to Eleanor. "You saw him at dinner - but it is time he should
know you."

In came Solomon; a very black specimen of the islanders, in a dress
something like that which Eleanor had noticed on the man in the canoe.
Solomon's features were undeniably good, if somewhat heavy; they had
sense and manliness; and his eye was mildly quiet and genial in its
expression. It brightened, Eleanor saw, as he listened to Mr. Rhys's
words; to which she also listened without being able to understand
them, and wondering at the warm feeling of her cheeks. Solomon's
gratulations were mainly given with his face, for all the English words
he could get out were, "glad - see - Misi Risi" - Mr. Rhys laughed and
dismissed him, and went off himself.

Eleanor was half glad to be left alone for a time. She fastened the
door, not for fear, but that her solitude might not be intruded upon;
then walked up and down over the soft mats of the centre room and tried
to bring her spirits to some quiet of realization. But she could not.
The change had been so sudden, from her wandering state of uncertainty
and expectation to absolute content and rest, of body and mind at once,
that her mental like her actual footing seemed to sway and heave yet
with the upheavings that were past. She could not settle down to
anything like a composed state of mind. She could not get accustomed
yet to Mr. Rhys in his new character. As the children say, it was "too
good to be true."

A little unready to be still, she went off again into the room
specially prepared for her, where the green jalousies shaded the
windows. One window here was at the end; a direction in which Eleanor
had not looked. She softly raised the jalousies a little, expecting to
see just the waving bananas and other plants of the tropical garden
that surrounded the house; or perhaps servants' offices, about which
she had a good deal of curiosity.

Instead of that, the window revealed a landscape of such beauty that
Eleanor involuntarily pulled up the blind and sat entranced before it.
No such thing as servants or servants' offices. A wide receding stretch
of broken country, rising in the distance to the dignity of blue
precipitous hills; a gorge of which opened far away, to delight and
draw the eye into its misty depth; a middle distance of lordly forest,
with patches of clearing; bits of tropical vegetation at hand, and over
them and over it all a tropical sky. In one direction the view was very
open. Eleanor could discern a bit of a pathway winding through it, and
once or twice a dark figure moving along its course. This was Vuliva!
this was her foreign home! the region where darkness and light were
struggling foot by foot for the mastery; where heathen temples were
falling and heathen misery giving place to the joy of the gospel, but
where the gospel had to fight them yet. Eleanor looked till her heart
was too full to look any longer; and then turned aside to get the only
possible relief in prayer.

The hour was near gone when she went to her window again. The day was
cooling towards the evening. Well she guessed that this window had been
specially arranged for her. In everything that had been done in the
house she had seen that same watchful care for her pleasure and
comfort. There never was a house that seemed to be so love's work; Mr.
Rhys's own hand had most manifestly been everywhere; and the furniture
that Mrs. Caxton had sent he had placed. But Mrs. Caxton had not sent
all. Eleanor's eye rested on a dressing-table that certainly never came
from England. It was pretty enough; it was very pretty, even to her
notions; yet it had cost nothing, and was as nearly as possible made of
nothing. Yes, for she looked; the frame was only some native reeds or
canes and a bit of board; the rest was white muslin drapery, which
would pack away in a very few square inches of room, but now hung in
pretty folds around the glass and covered the frame. Eleanor just
looked and wondered; no more; for the hour was up, and she went to her
window and raised the jalousies again. She was more quiet now, she
thought; but her heart throbbed with the thought of Mr. Rhys and his
return.

She looked over the beautiful wild country, watching for him. The light
was fair on the blue hills; the sea-breeze fluttered the leaves of the
cocoanut trees and waved the long thick leaves of the banana. She heard
no other sound near or far, till the quick swift tread she was
listening for came to her ear. Nobody was to be seen; but the step was
not to be mistaken. Eleanor got to the front door and had it open just
in time to see him come.

They stood then together in the doorway, for the view was fair on the
river side too. The opposite shore was beautiful, and the houses of the
heathen village had a great interest for Eleanor, aside from their
effect as part of the landscape; but her shyness was upon her again,
and she had a thorough consciousness that Mr. Rhys did not see how the
light fell on either shore. At last he put his arm round her and drew
her up to his side, saying,

"And so you did not get my letters in Sydney. - Poor little dove!"

It struck Eleanor with a curious pleasure, these words. They would have
been true, she knew, in the lips of no other mortal, as also certainly
to no other mortal would it have occurred to use them. She was not the
sort of person by any means to whom such an appellation would generally
be given. To be sure her temper was of the finest, but then also it had
a body to it. Yet here she knew it was true; and he knew; it was spoken
not by any arrogance, but by a purely frank and natural understanding
of their mutual natures and relations. She answered by a smile,
exceeding sweet and sparkling, as well as conscious, to the face that
was looking down at her with a little bit of provoking archness upon
its gravity; and their lips met in a long sealing kiss. Husband and
wife understood each other.

Perhaps Mr. Rhys knew it, for it seemed as if his lips could hardly
leave hers; and Eleanor's face was all manner of lights.

"What has become of Alfred?" he asked, in an irrelevant kind of manner,
by way of parenthesis.

"I have not seen him - hardly - since you left England. He is not under
mamma's care now."

"And my friend Julia? You have told me but a mite yet about everybody."

"Julia is your friend still. But Julia - I have not seen her in a long,
long time."

"How is that?"

"Mamma would not let me. O Mr. Rhys! - we have been kept apart. I could
not even see her when I came away."

"Why?"

"Mamma - she was afraid of my influence over her."

"Is it possible!"

"Julia was going on well - setting her face to do right. Now - I do not
know how it will be. Even our letters are overlooked."

"I need not ask how your mother is. I suppose she is trying to save one
of her daughters for the world."

Eleanor's thoughts swept a wide course in a few minutes; remembered
whose hand instrumentality had saved her from such a fate and had
striven for Julia. With a sigh that was part sorrow and part gratitude,
Eleanor laid her head softly on Mr. Rhys's shoulder. With such
tenderness as one gives to a child, and yet rarer, because deeper and
graver, she was made at home there.

"Don't you want to take a walk to the chapel?"

"O yes!" - But she was held fast still.

"And shall we give sister Balliol the pleasure of our company to tea,
as we come back?"

"If you please - if you like."

"I do not like it at all," said Mr. Rhys frankly - "but I suppose we
must."

"Think of finding the restraints of society even in Fiji!" said Eleanor
trying to laugh, as she brought her bonnet and they set out.

"You must find them everywhere - unless you live to please yourself;"
said Mr. Rhys, with his sweet grave look; and Eleanor was consoled.

The walk to the church was not very long, and she could have desired it
longer. The river shore, and the view on the other side, and the
village by which they passed, the trees and the vegetable gardens and
the odd thatched roofs - everything was pretty and new to Eleanor's
eyes. They passed all they had seen in coming from the landing that
morning, taking this time a path outside the mission premises. Past the
house with the row of pillars in front, which Eleanor learned was a
building for the use of the various schools. A little further on stood
the chapel. It was neat and tasteful enough to please even an English
eye; and indeed looked more English than foreign on a distant view; and
standing there in the wilderness, with its little bell-tower rising
like a witness for all that was good in the midst of a heathen land,
the feelings of those who looked upon it had need be very tender and
very deep.

"This chapel is dear to our eyes," said Mr. Rhys. "Everything is, that
costs such pains. This poor people have made it; and it is one of the
best pieces of work in Fiji. It was all done by the labour of their
hearts and hands."

"That seems to be the style of carpentry in this country," said Eleanor.

"The chief made up his mind on a good principle - that for a house of
the true God, neither time nor material could be too precious. On that
principle they went to work. The timber used in the building is what we
call green-heart - the best there is in Fiji. To find it, they had to
travel over many a mile of the country; and remember, there are no oxen
here, no horses; they had no teams to help them. All must be done by
the labour of the hands. I think there were about eighty beams of
green-heart timber needed for the house - some of them twelve and some
of them fifty feet long. In about three months these were collected;
found and brought in from the woods and hills, sometimes from ten miles
away. While the young men were doing this, the old men at home were all
day beating cocoanut husk, to separate the fibre for making sinnet. All
day long I used to hear their beaters going; it was good music; and
when at the end of every few days the woodcutters came home with their
timber - so soon as they were heard shouting the news of their
coming - there was a general burst and cry and every creature in the
village set off to meet them and help drag the logs home. Women and
children and all went; and you never saw people so happy.

"Then the building was done in the same spirit. Many a time when I was
busy with them, overlooking their work, I have heard them chanting to
each other words from the Bible - band against band. One side would
sing - 'But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, the heaven of
heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have
builded.' - Then the other side would answer, 'The Lord hath chosen
Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation.' I cannot tell you how
sweet it was. There was another chant they were very fond of. A few
would begin with Solomon's petition - 'Have thou respect unto the prayer
of thy servant, and to his supplication, O Lord my God, to hearken unto
the cry and to the prayer, which thy servant prayeth before thee
to-day: that thine eyes may be open toward this house night and day,
even toward the place of which thou hast said, My name shall be there:
that thou mayest hearken unto the prayer which thy servant shall make
toward this place,' - and here a number of the other builders would join
in with their cry - 'Hearken unto the prayer which thy servant shall
make!' And so in the next verse, when it came near the end the others
would join in - 'And when thou hearest, forgive!' - "

"I should think you would love it!" said Eleanor, with her eyes full of
tears. "And I should think the Lord would love it."

"Come in, and see how it looks on the inside."

The inside was both simple and elegant, after a quaint fashion; for it
was Fijian elegance and Fijian simplicity. A double row of columns led
down the centre of the building; they looked like mahogany, but it was
only native wood; and the ornamental work at top which served for their
capitals, was done in sinnet. Over the doors and windows triangular
pediments were elaborately wrought in black with the same sinnet. The
roof was both quaint and elegant. It was done in alternate open and
close reed-work, with broad black lines dividing it; and ornamental
lashings and bandings of sinnet were used about the fastenings and
groinings of spars and beams. Then the wings of the communion rail were
made of reed-work, ornamented; the rail was a beautiful piece of nut
timber, and the balusters of sweet sandal wood. The whole effect
exceeding pretty and graceful, though produced with such simple means.

"Mr. Ruskin ought to have had this as an illustration of his 'Lamp of
Sacrifice,'" said Eleanor. "How beautiful! - "

"The 'Lamp of Truth,' too," said Mr. Rhys. "It is all honest work. That
side was done by our heathen neighbours. The heathen chief sent us his
compliments, said he heard we were engaged in a great work, and if we
pleased he would come and help us. So he did. They built that side of
the wall and the roof."

"Did they do it well?"

"Heartily."

"Do they come to attend worship in it?"

"The chapel is a great attraction. Strangers come to see - if not to
worship, - and then we get a chance to tell the truth to them."

"And Mr. Rhys, how is the truth prospering generally?"

"Eleanor, we want men! - and that seems to be all we want. My heart
feels ready to break sometimes, for the want of helpers. I am glad of
brother Amos coming - very glad! - but we want a hundred where we have
one. It is but a few weeks since a young man came over from one of the
islands, a large and important island, bringing tidings that a number
of towns there had given up heathenism - all wanting teachers - and there
were no teachers for them. In one place the people had built a chapel;
they had gone so far as that; it was at Koroivonu - and they gathered
together the next Sunday after it was finished, great numbers of the
people, filled the chapel and stood under some bread-fruit trees in
front of it, and stood there waiting to have some one come and tell
them the truth - and there was no one. My heart is ready to weep blood
when I think of these things! The Tongan who came with the news came
with his eyes full of tears. And this is no strange nor solitary case
of Koroivonu."

Mr. Rhys walked the floor of the little chapel, his features working,
his breast heaving. Eleanor sat thinking how little she could do - how
much she would!

"You have native helpers - ?" she said gently.

"Praise the Lord for what they are! but we want missionaries. We want
help from England. We cannot get it from the Colonies - not fast enough.
Eleanor," - and he stopped short and faced her - "a few months ago, to
give you another instance, I was beholder of such a scene as this. I
was to preach to a community that were for the first time publicly
renouncing heathenism. It was Sunday." - Mr. Rhys spoke slowly,
evidently exercising some control over himself; how often Eleanor had
seen him do that in the pulpit! -

"I stood on the shores of a bay, reefed in from the ocean. I wish I
could put the scene before you! On the land side, one of the most
magnificent landscapes stretched back into the country, with almost
every sort of natural beauty. Before me the bay, with ten large canoes
moored in it. An island in the bay, I remember, caught the light
beautifully; and beyond that there was the white fence of breakers on
the reef barrier. The smallest of the canoes would hold a hundred men;
they were the fleet of Thakomban, one of Fiji's fiercest kings
formerly, with himself and his warriors on board.

"My preaching place was on what had been the dancing grounds of a
village. I had a mat stretched on three poles for an awning - such a mat
as they make for sails; - and around me were nine others prepared in
like manner. This was my chapel. Just at my left hand was a spot of
ground where were ten boiling springs; and until that Sunday, one of
them had been the due appointed place for cooking human bodies. That
was the place and the preparation I looked at in the still Sunday
morning, before service time.

"At that time, the time appointed for service, a drum was beat and the
conch shell blown; the same shell which had been used to give the war
call. Directly all those canoes were covered with men, and they were
plunging into the water and wading to shore. These were Thakomban and
his warriors. Not blacked and stripped and armed for fighting, but
washed and clothed. They were stopping in that place on their way
somewhere else, and now coming and gathering to hear the preaching. On
the other side came a procession from the village; and down every
hillside and along every path, I could see scattering groups and lines
of comers from the neighbouring country. _These_ were the heathen
inhabitants, coming up now to hear the truth and profess by a public
act of worship that they were heathens no longer. They all gathered
round me there under the mat awnings, and sat on the grass looking up
to hear, while I told them of Jesus."

Mr. Rhys's voice was choked and he broke off abruptly. Eleanor guessed
how he had talked to that audience; she could see it in his flushing
face and quivering lip. She could not find a word to say, and let him
lead her in silence and slowly away from the chapel and towards the
mission house. Before entering the plantation again, Eleanor stopped
and said in a low voice,

"What can I do?"

He gave her a look of that moved sweetness she had seen in him all day,
and answered with his usual abruptness,

"You can pray."

"I do that."

"Pray as Paul prayed - for your mother, and for Julia, and for Fiji, and
for me. Do you know how that was?"

"I know what some of his prayers were."

"Yes, but I never thought how Paul prayed, until the other day. You
must put the scattered hints together. Wait until we are at home - I
will shew you."

He pushed open the wicket and they went in; and the rest of the evening
Eleanor talked to Mrs. Amos or to Mr. Balliol; she sheered off a little
from his wife. There was plenty of interesting conversation going on
with one and another; but Eleanor had a little the sense of being to
that lady an object of observation, and drew into a corner or into the
shade as much as she could.

"Your wife is very handsome, brother Rhys," Mrs. Balliol remarked in an
aside, towards the end of the evening.

"That is hardly much praise from you, sister Balliol," he answered
gravely. "I know you do not set much store by appearances."

"She is very young!"

Both looked over to the opposite corner where Eleanor was talking to
Mrs. Amos, sitting on a low seat and looking up; a little drawn back
into the shade, yet not so shaded but that the womanly modest sweetness
of her face could be seen well enough. Mr. Rhys made no answer.

"I judge, brother Rhys, that she has been brought up in the great
world," - Mrs. Balliol went on, looking across to the ruffled sleeve.

"She is not in it now," Mr. Rhys observed quietly.

"No; - she is in good hands. But, brother Rhys, do you think our sister
understands exactly what sort of work she has come to do here?"

"She is teachable," he answered with great imperturbability.

"Well, you will be able to train her, if she wants it. I am glad to
know she is in such good hands. I think she has hardly yet a just
notion of what lies before her, brother Rhys."

"When did you make your observations?"

"She was with me, you know - you left her with me this morning. We were
alone, and we had a little conversation."

"Mrs. Balliol, do you think a just notion of _anything_ call be formed
in half an hour?"

His question was rather grave, and the lady's eyes wavered from meeting
his. She fidgeted a little.

"O you know best, of course," she said; "I have had very little
opportunity - I only judged from the want of seriousness; but that might
have been from some other cause. You must excuse me, if I spoke too
frankly."

"You can never do that to me," he said. "Thank you, sister Balliol. I
will take care of her."

Mrs. Balliol was reassured. But neither during their walk home nor ever
after, did Mr. Rhys tell Eleanor of this little bit of talk that had
concerned her.




CHAPTER XX.

AT WORK.

"My Lady comes; my Lady goes; he can see her day by day,
And bless his eyes with her beauty, and with blessings strew her way."

The breakfast-table was as much of a mystery to Eleanor as the dinner
had been. Not because it looked so homelike; though in the early
morning the doors and windows were all open and the sunlight streaming
through on Mrs. Caxton's china cups and silver spoons. It all looked
foreign enough yet, among those palm-fern pillars, and on the Fijian
mat with its border made of red worsted ends and little white feathers.
The basket of fruit, too, on the table, did not look like England. But
the tea was unexceptionable, and there was a piece of fresh fish as
perfectly broiled as if it had been brought over by some genius or
fairy, smoking hot, from an English gridiron. And in the order and
arrangements of the table, there had been something more than native
skill and taste, Eleanor was sure.

"It seems to me, Mr. Rhys," she said, "that the Fijians are remarkably
good cooks!"

"Uncommon, for savages," said Mr. Rhys with perfect gravity.

"This fish is excellent."

"There is no better fish-market in the world, for variety and
abundance, than we have here."

"But I mean, it is broiled just like an English fish. Isaac Walton
himself would be satisfied with it."

"Isaac Walton never saw such fishing as is carried on here. The natives
are at home in the water from their childhood - men and women both; - and
the women do a good deal of the fishing. But the serious business is
the turtle fishing. It is a hand to hand conflict. The men plunge into
the water and grapple bodily with the turtle, after they have brought
them into an enclosure with their nets. Four or five men lay hold of
one, if it is a large fellow, and they struggle together under water
till the turtle thinks he has the worst of the bargain, and concludes
to come to the surface."

"Does not the turtle sometimes get the better?"

"Sometimes."

"Mr. Rhys, have you any particular duty to-day?"

"I don't see how you can keep up that form of expression!" said he,
with a comic gravity of dislike.

"Why not?"

"It is not treating me with proper confidence."

Her look in reply was so very pretty, both blushing and winsome, that
the corners of his mouth were obliged to give way.

"You know what my first name is, do not you?"

"Yes," said Eleanor.

"The people about call me 'Misi Risi' - I am not going to have my wife a
Fijian to me."

The lights on Eleanor's face were very pretty. With the same contained
smile he went on.

"I gave you my name yesterday. It is yours to do what you like with;
but the greatest dishonour you can shew to a gift, is not to use it at
all."

"That is the most comical putting of the case that ever I heard," said
Eleanor, quite unable to retain her own gravity.

"Very good sense," said Mr. Rhys, with a dry preservation of his.

"But after all," said Eleanor, "you gave me your second name, if you
please - I do not know what I have to do with the first."

"You do not? Is it possible you think your name is Henry or James, or
something else? You are Rowland Rhys as truly as I am - only you are the
mistress, and I am the master."

Eleanor's look went over the table with something besides laughter in
the brown eyes, which made them a gentle thing to see.

"Mr. Rhys, I am thinking, what you will do to this part of you to make
it like the other?"

He gave her a glance, at which her eyes went down instantly.

"I do not know," he said with infinite gravity. "I will think about it.
Preaching does not seem to do you any good."

Eleanor bent her attention upon her bread and fruit. He spoke next with
a change of tone, giving up his gravity.

"Do you know _your_ particular duty to-day?"

"I thought," said Eleanor, - "that as yesterday you shewed me the
head-carpenter, perhaps this morning you would let me see the chief
cook."

"That is not the first thing. You must have a lesson in Fijian; now


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Online LibrarySusan WarnerThe Old Helmet, Volume II → online text (page 23 of 25)