Susan Warner.

The Old Helmet, Volume II online

. (page 4 of 25)
Online LibrarySusan WarnerThe Old Helmet, Volume II → online text (page 4 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


your fear of Mr. Rhys, Eleanor?"

"Aunt Caxton, I don't think I ever feared him!"

"He used to have a 'quieting influence' upon you," Mrs. Caxton said
smiling.

"Well, - he does now, ma'am. At least I am sure Mr. Rhys is one of the
persons I should never care to contradict."

"I should think not," said Mrs. Caxton quietly. Eleanor had coloured a
little.

"But that is not because, merely, I do not think myself wise; because
there are other persons before whom I think myself no wiser, whom I
_would_ contradict - I mean, in a polite way - if it came into my head."

"We shall miss him when he goes," said Mrs. Caxton with a little bit of
a sigh. Eleanor wanted to ask a question, but the words did not come.
The ornamenting of the strawberry dish was finished. She turned from
it, and looked down where the long train of cows came winding through
the meadows and over the bridge. Pretty, peaceful, lovely, was this
gentle rural scene; what was the connection that made but a step in
Eleanor's thoughts between the meadows of Plassy and some far-off
islands in distant Polynesia? Eleanor had changed since some time ago.
She could understand now why Mr. Rhys wanted to go there; she could
comprehend it; she could understand how it was that he was not afraid
to go and did not shrink from leaving all this loveliness at her feet.
All that was no mystery now; but her thoughts fastened on her aunt's
words - how they would "miss him." She was very still, and so was Mrs.
Caxton; till a step brought both heads round to the door.

It was only a servant that came out, bringing letters; one for Eleanor,
one for Mrs. Caxton. Standing where she was, Eleanor broke hers open.
It was from her mother, and it contained something both new and
unexpected; an urgent injunction on her to return immediately home. The
family were going at once to Brighton, the letter said; Mrs. Powle
wished Eleanor to lose no time, in order that her wardrobe might be
properly cared for. Thomas was sent with the letter, and her mother
desired that Eleanor would immediately on the receipt of it, "without
an hour's delay," set off to come home with him. Reasons for this
sudden proceeding there were none given; and it came with the
suddenness of a hurricane upon Eleanor. Up to this time there had been
no intimation of her mother's wish to have her at home again ever; an
interval of several weeks had elapsed since any letters; now Mrs. Powle
said "she had been gone long enough," and they all wanted her, and must
have her at once to go to Brighton. So suddenly affectionate?

Eleanor stood looking at her letter some time after she had ceased to
read it, with a face that shewed turmoil. Mrs. Caxton came up to her.
Eleanor dropped the letter in her hand, but her eye avoided her aunt's.

"What is all this haste, Eleanor?" Mrs. Caxton said gravely.

"I don't know, ma'am."

"At any rate, my child, you cannot leave me to-night. It is too late."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Does your mother assign no reason for this sudden demand of you? She
gives me none."

"She gives me none, ma'am."

"Eleanor - "

It brought Eleanor's eye up, and that brought her head down on Mrs.
Caxton's shoulder. Her aunt clasped her tenderly for a moment, and then
said,

"Had you not better see your mother's servant, my dear, and give your
orders? - and then we will have tea."

Eleanor steadied herself immediately; went out and had an interview
with old Thomas, which however brought her no enlightenment; made her
arrangements with him, and returned to her aunt. Mrs. Caxton ordered
tea; they would not wait for Mr. Rhys any longer. The aunt and niece
sat down to the table behind the honeysuckle drapery of the pillars;
the sunlight had left the landscape; the breath of the flowers floated
up cool and sweet from the terraced garden and waved about them with
every stir of the long rose and honeysuckle sprays. Eleanor sat by the
table and looked out. Mrs. Caxton poured out the tea and looked at her.

"Aren't you going to take some strawberries, my love?"

"Shall I give you some, aunt Caxton?"

"And yourself, my dear."

She watched while Eleanor slowly broke up the heath and ivy adornment
of the strawberry dish, and carefully afterwards replaced the sprays
and leaves she had dislodged. It is no harm for a lady's hand to be
white; but travelling from the hand to the face, Mrs. Caxton's eye
found too little colour there. Eleanor's cheeks were not generally
wanting in a fine healthy tinge. The tinge was fainter than usual
to-night. Nevertheless she was eating strawberries with apparent
regularity.

"Eleanor, I do not understand this sudden recall. Have you any clue?"

"No ma'am, not the least."

"What arrangements have you made, my dear?"

"For to-morrow morning, ma'am. I had no choice."

"No, my dear, you had not; and I have not a word to say. I hope Mr.
Rhys will come back before you go."

Absolute silence on Eleanor's part.

"You would like to bid him good bye before you leave Plassy."

There was a cessation of any attention to the strawberries, and
Eleanor's hand took a position which rather hindered observations of
her face. You might have heard a slight little sigh come from behind
Mrs. Caxton's tea-pot.

"Eleanor, have you learned that the steps of a good man are ordered by
the Lord? My love, they are not left to our own disposal, and we should
not know how to manage it. You are going to do the Lord's work, are you
not, wherever you may be?"

"I hope so."

"Then trust him to place you where he wants the work to be done. Can
you, Eleanor?"

Eleanor left her seat, came round and knelt down by Mrs. Caxton's side,
putting her face in her lap.

"It is not like a good soldier, dear, to wish to play general. You have
something now to do at home - perhaps not more for others than for
yourself. Are you willing to do it?"

"Don't ask me if I am willing, aunt Caxton! I have been too happy - But
I shall be willing."

"That is all we live for, my dear - to do the Lord's work; and I am sure
that in service as in everything else, God loves a cheerful giver. Let
us give him that now, Eleanor; and trust him for the rest. My child,
you are not the only one who has to give up something."

And though Mrs. Caxton said little more than that word on the subject
of what Eleanor's departure cost herself, she manifested it in a
different way by the kind incessant solicitude and care with which she
watched over Eleanor and helped her and kept with her that night and
the next morning. Eleanor made her preparations and indulged in very
few words. There was too much to think of, in the last evening's
society, the last night in her happy room, the last morning hours. And
yet Eleanor did very little thinking. She was to go immediately after
breakfast. The early prayers were over, and the aunt and niece were
left by themselves a moment before the meal was served.

"And what shall I say to Mr. Rhys?" enquired Mrs. Caxton, as they stood
silent together. Eleanor hesitated, and hesitated; and finally said,

"I believe, nothing, ma'am."

"You have given me messages for so many other people, you know," said
Mrs. Caxton quietly.

"Yes, ma'am. I don't know how to make a message for him."

"I think he will feel it," said Mrs. Caxton in the same manner.

Then she saw, for her eyes were good, the lightning flash of emotion
which worked in Eleanor's face. Proud self-control kept it down, and
she stood motionless, though it did not prevent the perceptible paling
of her cheek which Mrs. Caxton had noticed last night. She stood
silent, then she said slowly, -

"If I thought _that_ - You may give him any message for me that you
think good, aunt Caxton."

The breakfast arrived, and few more words passed on any topic. Another
hour, and Eleanor was on her journey.

She felt in a confusion of spirits and would not let herself think,
till they reached her stopping place for the night. And then, instead
of thinking, Eleanor to say the truth could do nothing but weep. It was
her time for tears; to-morrow would end such an indulgence. At an early
hour the next day she met her father's carriage which had been sent so
far for her; and the remaining hours of her way Eleanor did think. Her
thoughts are her own. But at the bottom of some that were sorrowful lay
one deep subject of joy. That she was not going helmet-less into the
fight which she felt might be before her. Of that she had an inward
presentiment, though what form it would take she was entirely uncertain.

Julia was the first person that met her, and that meeting was rapturous.

"O Nell! it has been so dreadful and dull since you have been gone! I'm
so glad to have you home! I'm so glad to have you home!" - she repeated,
with her arms round Eleanor's neck.

"But what are you going to Brighton for?" said Eleanor after the first
salutations had satisfied the first eagerness of the sisters.

"O I don't know. Papa isn't just well, I believe; and mamma thought it
would do him good. Mamma's in here."

It was to Eleanor's relief that her reception in this quarter also was
perfectly cordial. Mrs. Powle seemed to have forgotten, or to be
disposed to forget, old causes of trouble; and to begin again as if
nothing had happened.

"You look well, Eleanor. Bless me, I never saw your complexion better!
but how your hair is dressed! That isn't the way now; but you'll get to
rights soon. I've got a purple muslin for you that will be beautiful.
Your whole wardrobe will want attention, but I have everything
ready - dress-maker and all - only waiting for you. Think of your being
gone seven months and more! But never mind - we'll let bygones be
bygones. I am not going to rake up anything. We'll go to Brighton and
have everything pleasant."


"How soon, mamma?"

"Just as soon as I can get you dressed. And Eleanor! I wish you would
immediately take a review of all your wardrobe and all I have got for
you, and see if I have omitted anything."

"What has put you into the notion of Brighton, mamma?"

"Everybody is there now - and we want a change. I think it will do your
father good."

To see her father was the next thing; and here there was some comfort.
The squire was undoubtedly rejoiced to see his daughter and welcomed
her back right heartily. Made much of her in his way. He was the only
one too who cared much to hear of Mrs. Caxton and her way of life and
her farm. The squire did care. Eleanor was kept a long time answering
questions and giving details. It cost her some hard work.

"She is a good woman, is my sister Caxton," said the Squire; "and she
has pluck enough for half a dozen. The only thing I have against her is
her being a Methodist. She hasn't made a Methodist of you, hey,
Eleanor?"

"I don't think she has, papa," Eleanor answered slowly.

"That's the only fault _I_ have to find with her," the Squire went on;
"but I suppose women must have an empty corner of their heads, where
they will stick fancies if they don't stick flowers. I think flowers
are the most becoming of the two. Wears a brown gown always, don't she?"

"No, sir."

"I thought they did," said the Squire; "but she's a clever woman, for
all that, or she wouldn't carry on that business of the farm as she
does. Your mother don't like the farm; but I think my sister is right.
Better be independent and ask leave of nobody. Well, you must get
dressed, must you. I am glad to have you home, child!"

"Why are we going to leave home, papa?"

"St. George and the Dragon! Ask your mother."

So Eleanor did not get much wiser on the subject till dinner-time; nor
then either, though it was nearly the only thing talked about, both
directly and indirectly. A great weariness came over her, as the
contrast rose up of Mrs. Caxton's dinner-table and the three faces
round it; with the sweet play of talk, on things natural or
philosophical, religious or civil, but always sensible, fresh, and
original and strong. Always that; the party might lapse into silence;
if one of them was tired it often did; but when the words came again,
they came with a ready life and purpose - with a sort of perfume of love
and purity - that it made Eleanor's heart ache now to think of. Her
mother was descanting on lodgings, on the people already at Brighton,
or coming there; on dresses ready and unready; and to vary this topic
the Squire complained that his wine was not cooled properly. Eleanor
sank into silence and then into extreme depression of spirits; which
grew more and more, until she caught her little sister's eye looking at
her wistfully. Julia had hardly said a word all dinner-time. The look
smote Eleanor's conscience. "Is this the way I am doing the work given
me?" she thought; "this selfish forgetting of all others in myself? Am
I standing in my post like a good soldier? Is _this_ 'pleasing all men
for their good?'" Conscience thumped like a hammer; and Eleanor roused
up, entered into what was going, talked and made herself pleasant to
both father and mother, who grew sunshiny under the influence. Mrs.
Powle eat the remainder of her dinner with more appetite; and the
Squire declared Eleanor had grown handsome and Plassy had done her no
harm. But Julia looked and listened and said never a word. It was very
hard work to Eleanor, though it brought its reward as she went along,
not only in comments but in the sense of duty performed. She would not
run away from her post; she kept at it; when her father had gone away
to smoke she stayed by her mother; till Mrs. Powle dropped off into her
usual after dinner nap in her chair. Eleanor sat still a minute or two
longer, then made an escape. She sought her old garden, by the way of
her old summer parlour. Things were not changed there, except that the
garden was a little neglected. It brought painful things back, though
the flowers were sweet and the summer sunset glow was over them all. So
it used to be in old times. So it used to be in nearer times, last
summer. And now was another change. Eleanor paced slowly down one walk
and up another, looking sorrowfully at her old friends, the roses,
carnations and petunias, which looked at her as cheerfully as ever;
when a hand touched hers and she found Julia at her side.

"Eleanor," she said wistfully, "are you _sorry_ to be at home again?"

"I am glad to see you, darling; and papa, and mamma."

"But you don't look glad. Was it so much pleasanter where you have
been?"

Eleanor struggled with herself.

"It was very different, Julia - and there were things that you and I
both love, that there are not here."

"What?"

"Here all is for the world, Julia; there, at Plassy, nothing is for the
world. I feel the difference just at first - I suppose I shall get a
little used to it presently."

"I have not thought so much about all that," said Julia soberly, "since
Mr. Rhys went away. But you must have loved aunt Caxton very much,
Eleanor, to make you sorry to come home."

Julia spoke almost sadly. Eleanor felt bitterly reproached. Was there
not work at home here for her to do! Yet she could hardly speak at
first. Putting her arm round Julia she drew her down beside her on a
green bank and took her little sister in her arms.

"You and I will help each other, Julia, will we not?"

"In what?"

"To love Christ, and please him."

"Why, do you love him?" said Julia. "Are you like Mr. Rhys?"

"Not much. But I do love the same Master he loves, Julia; and I have
come home to serve him. You will help me?"

"Mamma don't like all that," remarked Julia.

Eleanor sighed. The burden on her heart seemed growing heavy. Julia
half rose up and putting both arms round her neck covered her lips with
kisses.

"You don't seem like yourself!" she said; "and you look as grave as if
you had found us all dead. Eleanor - are you afraid?" she said with an
earnest look.

"Afraid of what, dear?"

"Of that man - afraid of Mr. Carlisle?"

"No, I am not afraid of him, or of anything. Besides, he is hundreds of
miles away, in Switzerland or somewhere."

"No he isn't; he is here."

"What do you mean by 'here?'"

"In England, I mean. He isn't at the Priory; but he was here at the
Lodge the other day."

Eleanor's heart made two or three springs one way and another.

"No dear, I am not afraid of him," she repeated, with a quietness that
was convincing; and Julia passed to other subjects. Eleanor did not
forget that one; and as Julia ran on with her talk, she pondered it,
and made a secret thanksgiving that she was so escaped both from danger
and from fear. Nevertheless she could not help thinking about the
subject. It seemed that Mr. Carlisle's wound had healed very rapidly.
And moreover she had not given him credit for finding any attraction in
that house, beyond her own personal presence in it. However, she
reflected that Mr. Carlisle was busy in politics, and perhaps
cultivated her father. They went in again, to take up the subject of
Brighton.

And what followed? Muslins, flowers, laces, bonnets and ribbands. They
were very irksome days to Eleanor, that were spent in getting ready for
Brighton; and the thought of the calm purity of Plassy with its
different occupations sometimes came over her and for the moment
unnerved her hands for the finery they had to handle. Once Eleanor took
a long rambling ride alone on her old pony; she did not try it again.
Business and bustle was better, at least was less painful, than such a
time for thinking and feeling. So the dresses were made, and they went
to Brighton.




CHAPTER IV.

AT A WATERING-PLACE.


"In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!"


Eleanor was at once plunged into a whirl of engagements, with
acquaintances new and old. And the former class multiplied very
rapidly. Mrs. Powle's fair curls hung on either side of her face with
almost their full measure of complacency, as she saw and beheld her
daughter's successful attractions. It was true. Eleanor was found to
have something unique about her; some said it was her beauty, some said
it was her manners; some insisted it was neither, but had a deeper
origin; at any rate she was fresh. Something out of the common line and
that piqued curiosity, was delightful; and in despite of her very
moderate worldly advantages, compared with many others who were there,
Eleanor Powle seemed likely to become in a little while the belle of
Brighton. Certain rumours which were afloat no doubt facilitated and
expedited this progress of things. Happily Eleanor did not hear them.

The rush of engagements and whirl of society at first was very wearying
and painful to her. No heart had Eleanor to give to it. Only by putting
a force upon herself, to please her father and mother, she managed to
enter with some spirit into the amusements going forward, in which she
was expected to take an active part. Perhaps this very fact had
something to do with the noble and sweet disengagedness of manner which
marked her unlike those about her, in a world where self-interest of
some sort is the ruling motive. It was not Eleanor's world; it had
nothing to do with the interests that were dear in her regard; and
something of that carelessness which she brought to it conferred a
grace that the world imitates in vain. Eleanor found however after a
little, that the rush and hurry of her life and of all the people about
her had a contagion in it; her own thoughts were beginning to be
absorbed in what absorbed everybody; her own cherished interests were
getting pushed into a corner. Eleanor resolved to make a stand then,
and secure time enough to herself to let her own inner life have play
and breathing room. But it was very difficult to make such a stand.
Mrs. Powle ever stood like a watchman at the door to drive Eleanor out
when she wanted to be in. Time! there seemed to be no time.

Eleanor had heard that Mr. Carlisle was expected at Brighton; so she
was not greatly surprised one evening to find herself in the same room
with him. It was at a public assembly. The glances that her curiosity
cast, found him moving about among people very like, and in very
exactly the manner of his old self. No difference that she could see.
She wondered whether he would have the audacity to come and speak to
her. Audacity was not a point in which Mr. Carlisle was failing. He
came; and as he came others scattered away; melted off, and left her
alone.

He came with the best air in the world; a little conscious, a little
apologetic, wholly respectful, not altogether devoid of the old
familiarity. He offered his hand; did not to be sure detain hers, which
would have been inconvenient in a public assembly; but he detained
_her_, falling into talk with an ease or an effrontery which it was
impossible not to admire. And Eleanor admired him involuntarily.
Certainly this man had capacities. He did not detain her too long;
passed away as easily as he had come up; but returned again in the
course of the evening to offer her some civility; and it was Mr.
Carlisle who put her mother and herself into their carriage. Eleanor
looked for a remark from her mother on the subject during their drive
home; but Mrs. Powle made none.

The next evening he was at Mrs. Powle's rooms, where a small company
was gathered every Tuesday. He might be excused if he watched, more
than he wished to be seen watching, the sweet unconscious grace and
ease with which Eleanor moved and spoke. Others noticed it, but Mr.
Carlisle drew comparisons; and found to his mystification that her six
months on a cheese-farm had returned Eleanor with an added charm of eye
and manner, for which he could not account; which he could not
immediately define. She was not expecting to see him this time, for she
started a little when he presented himself. He came with the same
pleasant expression that he had worn last night.

"Will you excuse me for remarking, that your winter has done you good?"
he said.

"Yes. I know it has," Eleanor answered.

"With your old frankness, you acknowledge it?"

"Willingly."

Her accent was so simple and sweet, the attraction was irresistible. He
sat down by her.

"I hope you are as willing as I am to acknowledge that all our last
winter's work was not good. We exchanged letters."

"Hardly, Mr. Carlisle."

"Will you allow me to say, that I am ashamed of my part in that
transaction. Eleanor, I want you to forget it, and to receive me as if
it had not happened."

Eleanor was in a mixture of astonishment and doubt, as to how far his
words might be taken. In the doubt, she hesitated one instant. Another
person, a lady, drew near, and Mr. Carlisle yielded to her the place he
had been occupying. The opportunity for an answer was gone. And though
he was often near her during the evening, he did not recur again to the
subject, and Eleanor could not. But the little bit of dialogue left her
something to think of.

She had occasion often to think of it. Mr. Carlisle was everywhere, of
course, in Brighton; at least he was in Eleanor's everywhere; she saw
him a great deal and was a little struck and puzzled by his manner. He
was very often in her immediate company; often attending upon her; it
constantly happened, she could not tell how, that his arm was the one
to which she was consigned, in walks and evening escorts. In a measure,
he assumed his old place beside her; his attentions were constant,
gracefully and freely paid; they just lacked the expression which would
have obliged and enabled her to throw them off. It was rather the
manner of a brother than of a lover; but it was familiar and
confidential beyond what those assume that are not brothers. Whatever
it meant, it dissatisfied Eleanor. The world, perhaps the gentleman
himself, might justly think if she permitted this state of things that
she allowed the conclusions naturally to be drawn from it. She
determined to withdraw herself. It was curiously and inexplicably
difficult. Too easily, too gracefully, too much as a matter of course,
things fell into train, for Eleanor often to do anything to alter the
train. But she was determined.

"Eleanor, do you know everybody is waiting?" Mrs. Powle exclaimed one
morning bursting into Eleanor's room. "There's the whole riding
party - and you are not ready!"

"No, mamma. I am not going."

"Not going! Just put on your riding-habit as quick as you can - Julia,
get her hat! - you said you would go, and I have no notion of
disappointing people like that. Get yourself ready immediately - do you
hear me?"

"But, mamma - "

"Put on your habit! - then talk if you like. It's all nonsense. What are
you doing? studying? Nonsense! there's time enough for studying when



Online LibrarySusan WarnerThe Old Helmet, Volume II → online text (page 4 of 25)