Susan Warner.

The Old Helmet, Volume II online

. (page 24 of 25)
Online LibrarySusan WarnerThe Old Helmet, Volume II → online text (page 24 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


that I hope you are instructed in English."

He carried her off to his study to get it. The lesson was a matter of
amusement to Mr. Rhys, but Eleanor set herself earnestly to learn. Then
he said he supposed she might as well see her establishment at once,
and took her out to the side of the house where she had not been.

It was a plantation wilderness here too, though particularly devoted to
all that in Fiji could belong to a kitchen garden. English beans and
peas had been sown, and were flourishing; most of the luxuriance that
met the eye had a foreign character. Beautiful order was noticeable
everywhere. Mr. Rhys seemed to have forgotten all about the servants;
he pleased himself with leading Eleanor through the walks and shewing
her which were the plants of the yam and the kumera and other native
fruits and vegetables. Bananas were here too, and the graceful stems of
the sugar cane; and overhead the cocoa-nut trees waved their feathery
plumes in the air.

"Who did all this?" Eleanor asked admiringly.

"Solomon - with a head gardener over him."

"Solomon is - I saw him yesterday?"

"Yes. He came with me from Vulanga. He is a nice fellow. He is a
Christian, as I told you; and a true labourer in the great vineyard. I
believe he never misses an opportunity to speak to his countrymen in a
quiet way and tell them the truth. He has brought a great many to know
it. In my service he is very faithful."

"No wonder this garden looks nice," said Eleanor.

"I asked Solomon one day about his religious experience. He said he was
very happy; he had enjoyed religion all the day. He said he rose early
in the morning and prayed that the Lord would greatly bless him and
keep him; and that it had been so, and generally was so when he
attended to religious duties early in the morning. 'But if I neglect
and rush into the world,' he said, 'without properly attending to my
religious duties, nothing goes right. I am wrong in my own heart, and
no one round me is right.'"

"Good testimony," said Eleanor. "Is he your cook as well as your
gardener?"

"I had forgotten all about the cook," said Mr. Rhys. "Come and see the
kitchen."

Near the main dwelling house, in this planted enclosure, were several
smaller houses. Mr. Rhys at last took Eleanor that way, and permitted
her to inspect them. The one nearest the main building was fitted for a
laundry. The furthest was a sleeping house for the servants. The middle
one was the kitchen. It was a Fijian kitchen. Here was a large
fireplace, of the original fashion which had moved Eleanor's wonder in
the dining-room; with a Fijian framework of wood at one side of it,
holding native vessels of pottery, larger and smaller, and variously
shaped, for cooking purposes. Some more homelike iron utensils were to
be seen also; with other kitchen appurtenances, water jars and so
forth. A fire had been in the fireplace, and the signs of cookery were
remaining; but in all the houses, nobody was anywhere visible.

"Solomon is gone to collect your servants," said Mr. Rhys. "That
explains the present solitude."

"Did he cook that fish?"

"I have not tried him in cooking," said Mr. Rhys with a gravity that
was perfect. "I do not know what he could do if he was tried."

"Who did it then?"

His smile was wonderfully pleasant - now that it could be no longer kept
back - as he answered, "Your servant."

"_You_, Rowland! And the dinner yesterday?"

"Do not praise me," he said with the same look, "lest I should spoil
the dinner to-day. I do not expect there will be anybody here till
afternoon."

"Then you shall see what I can do!"

"I do not believe you know how. I have been long enough in the
wilderness to learn all trades. You never learned how to cook at
Wiglands."

"But at Plassy I did."

"Did aunt Caxton let you into her kitchen?"

"Yes."

"I shall not let you into mine."

"She went with me there. I have not come out here to be useless. I will
take care of the dinner to-day."

"No, you shall not," said Mr. Rhys, drawing her away from the kitchen.
"You have got enough to do to-day in unpacking boxes. There will be
servants this evening to attend to all you want; and for the present
you are my care."

"Rowland, I should like it."

Which view of the case did not seem to be material. At least it was
answered in a silencing kind of way, as with his arm about her he led
her in through the bananas to the house. It silenced Eleanor
effectually, in spite of being very serious in her wish. She put it
away to bide another opportunity.

Mr. Rhys gave her something else to do, as he had said. The boxes had
in part been brought from the schooner, and there was employment for
both of them. He drew out nails, and took off covers, and did the rough
unpacking; while the arranging and bestowing of the goods thus put
under her disposal kept Eleanor very busy. His part of the work was
finished long before hers, and Mr. Rhys withdrew to his study for some
other work. Eleanor, happy and busy, with touched thoughts of Mrs.
Caxton, put away blankets and clothes and linen and calicos, and
unpacked glass, and stowed on her shelves a whole store of home
comforts and necessaries; marvelling between whiles at Mr. Rhys's
varieties of power in making himself useful and wishing she could do
what she thought was better her work than his - the work to be done in
the kitchen before the servants came home. By and by, Mr. Rhys came out
of the study again, and found Eleanor sitting on the mat before a huge
round hamper, uncovered, filled with Australian fruit. This was a late
arrival, brought while he had been shut up at his work. Grapes and
peaches and pears and apricots were crowded side by side in rich and
beautiful abundance and confusion. Eleanor sat looking at it. She was
in a working dress, of the brown stuff her aunt's maids wore at home;
short sleeves left her arms bare to the elbow; and the full jacket and
hoopless skirt did no wrong to a figure the soft outlines of which they
only disclosed. Mr. Rhys stopped and stood still. Eleanor looked up.

"Mr. Esthwaite has sent these on in the schooner unknown to me! What
shall I do with them all?"

"I don't know," said Mr. Rhys. "It is the penalty that attaches to
wealth."

"But you said you never were poor?" said Eleanor, laughing at his look.

"I never was, in feeling. I never was in an embarrassment of riches,
either. I can't help you!"

"But these are yours, Rowland. What are you talking of?"

"Are you going to make me a present of the whole?" said Mr. Rhys,
stooping down for a grape.

"No, Mr. Esthwaite has done that. The embarrassment is yours."

"I am in no embarrassment; you are mistaken. By what right do you say
that Mr. Esthwaite has sent these to me?"

"Because he sent them to me," said Eleanor. "It is the same thing."

"That is dutiful, and loyal, and all that sort of thing," said Mr.
Rhys, helping himself to another grape, and looking with his keen eyes
and imperturbable gravity at Eleanor. Perhaps _he_ liked to see the
scarlet bloom he could so easily call up in her cheeks, which was now
accompanied with a little impatient glance at him. "Nevertheless, I do
not consider myself to be within the scope of the gift. The disposition
of it remains with you. I do not like the responsibilities of other
people's wealth to rest on my shoulders."

"But this fruit is different from what we have on the island; is there
not something you would like to have done with it?"

"I should like you to give me one bunch of grapes - to be chosen by
yourself."

He looked on, with a satisfied expression of face, while Eleanor's
fingers separated and overhauled the fruit till she had got a bunch to
her mind; and stood still in his place to let her bring it to him. Then
took possession of her and the grapes at once, neglecting the latter
however entirely, to consider her.

"What would you like to have done with the rest, Rowland?" said
Eleanor, while her face glowed under his caresses and examination.

"This is a very becoming dress you have on!"

"I did not know you noticed ladies' dresses."

"I always notice my own."

Eleanor's head drooped a little, to hide the rush of pleasure and shame.

"But, Rowland," she said with gentle persistence, "what _would_ you
like to have done with that basket? Isn't there some meaning behind
your words about it?"

"What makes you think so?" said he, curling the corners of his mouth in
an amused way.

"I thought so. Please tell it me! You have something to tell me."

"The fruit is yours, Eleanor."

"And what am I?"

The tears came into her eyes with a little vexed earnestness, for she
fancied that Mr. Rhys would not speak _because_ the fruit was hers. His
manner changed again, to the deep tenderness which he had shewn so
frequently; holding her close and looking down into her face; not
answering at once; half enjoying, half soothing, the feeling he had
raised.

"Eleanor," he said, "I do not want that fruit."

"Tell me what to do with it."

"If you like to send some of those grapes to sister Balliol, at the
other house, I think they would do a great deal of good."

"I will just take out a few for you, and I will send the whole basket
over there just as it is. Is there anybody to take it?"

"Do not save any for me."

"Why not?"

"Because I do not want anything more than I have got."

"I suppose I may do about that as I please?" said Eleanor, laughing a
little.

"No - you may not. I only want this bunch that I have in my hand, for a
poor sick fellow whom I think they will comfort. If you feel as I do,
and like to send the rest over to the mission house, I think they will
be well and gratefully used."

"But Rowland, why did you not tell me that just at first?" she said a
little wistfully.

"Do you feel as I do? Tell me that first."

But as Eleanor was not ready with her answer to this question, of
course her own got the go-by. Mr. Rhys laughed at her a little, and
then told her she might get the house ready for dinner. Very much
Eleanor wished she could rather get the dinner ready for the house; yet
somehow she had an instinctive knowledge that it would be no use to ask
him; and she had a curious unwillingness to make the request.

"Do you know," she said, looking up in his face, "I do not know how it
is, but you are the only person I ever was afraid of, where my natural
courage had full play?"

"Does that sentiment possess you at present?"

"Yes - a little."

He laughed again, and said it was wholesome; and went off without
seeming in the least dismayed by the intelligence. If Eleanor had
ventured that remark as a feeler, she was utterly discomfited. She went
about her pretty work of getting the little table ready and acquainting
herself with the details of her cupboard arrangements, feeling a little
amused at herself, and with many deeper thoughts about Mr. Rhys and the
basket of fruit.

They were sitting in the study after dinner, alternately talking and
studying Fijian, when Mr. Rhys suddenly asked,

"Of whom have you ever been afraid, Eleanor, where your natural courage
did not have full play?"

"Mr. Carlisle."

"How was that?"

"I was in a false position."

"I feared that, at one time," said Mr. Rhys thoughtfully.

"I was a bond woman - under engagements that tied me - I did not dare do
as I felt. I understand it all now."

"Do you like to tell me how it happened?"

"I like it very much. I want that you should know just how it was. I
was pressed into those engagements without my heart being in them, and
indeed very much against my will; but I was dazzled by a vision of
worldly glory that made me too weak to resist. Then thoughts of another
kind began to rise within me; I saw that worldly glory was not the
sufficient thing I had thought it; and as my eyes got clear, I found I
had given no love where I had given my promise. Then that consciousness
hampered me in every action."

"But you did not break with him - with Mr. Carlisle?"

"Because I was such a bondwoman, as I told you. I did not know what I
might do - what was right, - and I wanted to do right then; till I went
to Plassy. Aunt Caxton set me free."

Mr. Rhys was silent a little.

"Do you remember coming to visit the old window in the ruins, just
before you went to Plassy that time?" he said, looking round at her
with a smile.

His wife though she was, Eleanor could not help a warm flush of
consciousness coming over her at the recollection.

"I remember," she said demurely. "It was in December."

"What were you afraid of at that time?"

"Mr. Carlisle."

"Did you think it was _he_ whom you heard?'

"No. I thought it was you."

"Then why were you afraid?"

"I had reason enough," said Eleanor, in a low voice. "Mr. Carlisle had
taken it into his head to become jealous of you."

She answered with a certain straightforward dignity, but Mr. Rhys had a
view of dyed cheeks and a face which shrank from his eye. He beheld it,
no doubt, for a little while; at least he was silent; and ended with
one or two kisses which to Eleanor's feeling, for she dared not look,
spoke him very full of satisfaction. But he never brought up the
subject again.

The thoughts raised by the talk about the basket of fruit recurred
again a few days later. Eleanor had got into full train of her island
life by this time. She was studying hard to learn the language, and
beginning to speak words of it with her strange muster of servants.
Housekeeping duties were fairly in hand. She had begun to find out,
too, what Mr. Rhys had foretold her respecting visitors. They came in
groups and singly, at all hours nearly on some days, to see the new
house and the new furniture and the new wife of "Misi Risi." Eleanor
could not talk to them; she could only be looked at, and answer through
an interpreter their questions and requests, and watch with unspeakable
interest these strange poor people, and admire with unceasing
admiration Mr. Rhys's untiring kindness, patience, and skill, in
receiving and entertaining them. They wanted to see and understand
every new thing and every new custom. They were polite in their
curiosity, but insatiable; and Mr. Rhys would shew and explain and
talk, and never seem annoyed or weary; and then, whenever he got a
chance, put in his own claim for attention, and tell them of the
Gospel. Eleanor always knew from his face and manner, and from theirs,
when this sort of talk was going on; and she listened strangely to the
unknown words in which her heart went along so blindly. When he thought
her not needed, or when he thought her tired, Mr. Rhys would dismiss
her to her own room, which he would not have invaded; and Eleanor's
reverence for her husband grew with every day, although she would not
at the beginning have thought that possible.

At the end of these first few days, Eleanor went one afternoon into Mr.
Rhys's study. He was in full tide of work now. The softly swinging door
let her in without much noise, and she stood still in the middle of the
room, in doubt whether to disturb him or no. He was busy at his
writing-table. But Mr. Rhys had good ears, even when he was busy. While
she stood there, he looked up at her. She was a pretty vision for a man
to see and call wife. She was in one of the white dresses that had
stirred Mrs. Esthwaite's admiration; its spotless draperies were in as
elegant order as ever they had been for Mrs. Powle's drawing room; the
rich banded brown hair was in as graceful order. She stood there very
bright, very still, looking at him.

"You have been working a long time, Rowland. You want to stop and rest."

"Come here, and rest me," he answered stretching out his hand.

"Rowland," said Eleanor when she had been standing a minute beside him.
"Mrs. Balliol wants me to cut off my hair."

Mr. Rhys looked up at her, for with one arm round her he was still
bending attention upon his work. He glanced up as if in doubt or wonder.

"I have been over to see her," Eleanor repeated, "and she counsels me
to cut off my hair; cut it short."

"See you don't!" he said sententiously.

"Why?" said Eleanor.

"It would be the cause of our first and last quarrel."

"Our first," said Eleanor stifling some hidden amusement; "but how
could you tell that it would be the last?"

"It would be so very disagreeable!" Mr. Rhys said, with a gravity so
dryly comic that Eleanor's gravity was destroyed.

"Mrs. Balliol says I shall find it, my hair, I mean, very much in my
way."

"It would be in _my way_, if it was cut off."

"She says it will take a great deal of precious time. She thinks that
your razor would be better applied to my head."

"Than to what other object?"

"Than to its legitimate use and application. She wants me to get you to
let your beard grow, and to cut off my hair. 'It's unekal' - as Sam
Weller says."

Eleanor was laughing; she could not see Mr. Rhys's face very well; it
was somewhat bent over his papers; but the side view was of
unprovokable gravity. A gravity however which she had learned to know
covered a wealth of amusement or of mischief, as the case might be. She
knelt down to bring herself within better speaking and seeing distance.

"Rowland, what sort of people are your coadjutors?"

"They are the Lord's people," he answered.

Eleanor felt somewhat checked; the gravity of this answer was of a
different character; but she could not refrain from carrying the matter
further; she could not let it rest there.

"Do you mean," she said a little timidly, but persistently, "that you
are not willing to speak of them as they are, _to me?_"

He was quite silent half a minute, and Eleanor grew increasingly sober.
He said then, gently but decidedly,

"There are two persons in the field, of whose faults I am willing to
talk to you; yours and my own."

"And of others you think it is wrong, then, to speak even so privately
and kindly as we are speaking?" Eleanor was very much chagrined. Mr.
Rhys waited a moment, and then said, in the same manner,

"I cannot do it, Eleanor."

He got up a moment after and went out of the room. Eleanor felt almost
stunned with surprise and discomfort. This was the second time, in the
few days that she had been with him, that he had found her wrong in
something. It troubled her strangely; and the sense of how much he was
better than she - how much higher his sphere of living than the one she
moved in - pressed her heart down almost to the ground. She stood by the
writing-table where she had risen to her feet, with her eyes brimful of
tears, but so still even to her eyelids that the tears had not
overflowed. She supposed Mr. Rhys had gone out. In another moment
however she heard his step returning and he entered the study. Eleanor
moved instantly to leave it, but he met and stayed her with a look
infinitely sweet; turned her about, and made her kneel down with him.
And then he poured out a prayer for charity; not merely the kindness
that throws a covering over the failings of others, or that holds back
the report of what they have been; but the overabounding heavenly love
that will send its brightness into the dark places of human society and
with its own richness fill the barren spots; and above all, for that
love of Jesus the King, that makes all his servants dear, for that
spirit of Christ that looks with his own love and forbearance on all
that need it. And so, as the speaker prayed, he shewed his own
possession of that which he asked for; so revealed the tender and high
walk of his own mind and its near familiarity with heavenly things,
that Eleanor thought her heart would break. The feeling, how far he
stood above her in knowledge and in goodness, while it was a secret and
deep joy, yet gave her acute pain such as she never had felt before.
She would not weep; it was a dry aching pain, that took part of its
strength from the thought of having done or shewn something that he did
not like. But Mr. Rhys went on to pray for her alone; and Eleanor was
conquered then. Tears came and she cried like a little child, and all
the hard pain of pride or of fear was washed away; like the dust from
the leaves in a summer shower.

She was so far healed, but she would have run way when they rose from
their knees if he had permitted her. He had no such intention. Keeping
fast hold of her hand he brought her to a seat by the window, opened
it, for the day was now cooling off and the sea-breeze was fresh; and
taking the book of their studies he put her into a lesson of Fijian
practice; till Eleanor's spirits were thoroughly restored. Then
throwing away the book and taking her in his arms he almost kissed the
tears back again.

"Eleanor - - " he said, when he saw that her eyes were wet, and her
colour and her voice were fluttering together.

"What?"

"You must bear the inconvenience of your hair for my sake. Tell sister
Balliol you wear it by my express orders."

Eleanor's look was lovely. She saw that the gentleness of this speech
was intended to give her back just that liberty she might think was
forbidden. Humbleness and affection danced in her face together.

"And you do not object to white dresses, Rowland?"

"Never - when they are white - " he said with one of his peculiar smiles.

"Rowland," said Eleanor, now completely happy again, "you ought to have
those jalousie blinds at these windows. You want them here much more
than I do."

"How will you prove that?"

"By putting them here; and then you will confess it."

"Don't you do it!" said he smiling, seeing that Eleanor's eye was in
earnest.

"Please let me! Do let me! You want them much more than I do, Rowland."

"Then you will have to let them stand; for they are just where I want
them."

"But the shade of them is much more needed here."

"I could have had it. You need not disturb yourself. There is a whole
stack of them lying under the shelves in your store-room."

"Why are they lying there?" said Eleanor in great surprise.

"I did not want them. I left them for you to dispose of."

"For me! Then I shall dispose some of them here."

"Not with my leave."

"May I not know why?" said Eleanor putting her hand in his to plead for
it.

"I do not want to fare too much better than my brethren," he answered
with a smile of infinite pleasantness at her. Eleanor's face shewed a
sudden accession of intelligence.

"Then, Rowland, let us send the other jalousies to Mr. Balliol to shade
his study - with all my heart; and you put up mine here. I did not think
about that before. Will you do it?"

"There are plenty of them without taking yours, child."

"Then, O Rowland, why did you not do it before?"

"I have an objection to using other people's property - even for the
benefit of my neighbours" - he said, with the provoking smile in the
corners of his mouth.

"But it is yours now."

"Well, I make it over to you, to be offered and presented as it seems
good to you, to brother Balliol, or to sister Balliol, for his use and
behoof."

"Do you mean that I must do it?"

"If it is your pleasure."

"Then I will speak of it immediately."

"You can have an opportunity to-night. But Eleanor, - you must call her,
sister Balliol."

"I can't, Rowland!"

Silence fell between the parties. Mr. Rhys's face was impenetrable.
Eleanor glanced at it and again glanced at it; got no help. Finally she
laid her hand on his shoulder and spoke a little apprehensively.

"Rowland - are you serious?"

"Perfectly." So he was, outwardly.

"Do you think it matters really whether I call her one thing or
another? If it were Mrs. Amos, I should not have the least difficulty.
I could call her sister Amos. What does it matter?"

"Why can't you use a Christian form of address with her as well as with
me?"

"Do you consider it a matter of _principle?_"

"Only as it regards the feelings of the individual, in either case."
Mr. Rhys's mouth was looking very comical.

"Would she care, Rowland?"

"I should like to have you try," he said, getting up and arranging his
papers to leave. And Eleanor saw he was not going to tell her any more.

"What is the opportunity you spoke of, Rowland?"

"This is our evening for being together - it has hardly been a Class
before this, we were so few; but we met to talk and think together, and
usually considered some given subject. To-night it is, the 'glory to be
revealed.'"

"That is what Mr. Amos and I used to do on board the schooner; and we
had that subject too, just after we left Tonga. So we shall be ready."

"We ought to go there to tea; but I have to go over first to Nawaile;
it will keep me till after tea-time. Do not wait for me, unless you


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 24

Online LibrarySusan WarnerThe Old Helmet, Volume II → online text (page 24 of 25)