Susan Warner.

The Old Helmet, Volume II online

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"I should like to see you before a committee of the House of Commons,"
said Mr. Carlisle, taking two or three steps away and then returning.
"Well?"

"Well - the missionary put the child with some decent people, where he
was washed and clothed. But it is impossible for met to tell, as it was
too bad to be told to me, the state to which squalor, starvation, and
all that goes with it, had brought the child. He went to school; and
two years after was well, healthy, flourishing, intelligent, one of the
best and most useful lads at the establishment where he was employed.
Now Lord Cushley has sent him to Australia."

"Eleanor, I will never say anything against Ragged schools again."

"Then I have not spoken in vain," said Eleanor rising.

He took her hand, held it, bowed his lips to it, held it still, too
firmly for Eleanor to disengage it without violence.

"Will you grant me one little favour?"

"You take without asking, Mr. Carlisle!"

He smiled and kissed her hand again, not releasing it, however.

"Let me go with you to Field-Lane in future."

"What would you do there?"

"Take care of you."

"As I do not need it, you would be exceedingly bored; finding yourself
without either business or pleasure."

"Do you think that what interests you will not interest me?"

A change came over her face - a high grave light, as she answered, - "Not
till you love the Master I do. Not till his service is your delight, as
it is mine. - Mr. Carlisle, if you will allow me, I will ring the bell
for tea."

He rang the bell for her instantly, and then came to her side again,
and waited till the servant was withdrawn.

"Eleanor, seriously, I am not satisfied to have you go to that place
alone."

"I do not. I am always attended."

"By a servant. Have you never been frightened?"

"Never."

"Do you not meet a very ugly sort of crowd sometimes, on your way?"

"Yes - sometimes."

"And never feel afraid?"

"No. Mr. Carlisle, would you like a cup of tea, if you could get it?"

She had met his questions with a full clear look of her eyes, in which
certainly there lay no lurking shadow. He read them, and drank his tea
rather moodily.

"So, Eleanor," said Mrs. Powle the next day, "you have enlisted Mr.
Carlisle on your side as usual, and he will have you go to your absurd
school as you want to do. How did people get along before Ragged
schools were invented, I should like to know?"

"You would not like to know, mamma. It was in misery and ignorance and
crime, such as you would be made sick to hear of."

"Well, they live in it yet, I suppose; or are they all reclaimed
already?"

"They live in it yet - many a one."

"And it is among such people you go! Well, I wash my hands of it. Mr.
Carlisle will not have you molested. He must have his own way."

"What has he to do with it, mamma?" Eleanor asked, a little indignantly.

"A good deal, I should say. You are not such a fool as not to know what
he is with you all the time for, Eleanor."

A hot colour came up in Eleanor's cheeks.

"It is not by my wish, mamma."

"It is rather late to say so. Don't you like him, Eleanor?"

"Yes, ma'am - very much - if only he would be content with that."

"Answer me only one thing. Do you like any one else better? He is as
jealous as a bear, and afraid you do."

"Mamma," said Eleanor, a burning colour again rising to her brow, - "you
know yourself that I see no one that I favour more than I do Mr.
Carlisle. I do not hold him just in the regard he wishes, nevertheless."

"But do you like any one else better? tell me that. I just want that
question answered."

"Mamma, why? Answering it will not help the matter. In all England
there is not a person out of my own family whom I like so well; - but
that does not put Mr. Carlisle in the place where he wishes to be."

"I just wanted that question answered," said Mrs. Powle.




CHAPTER VI.

AT FIELD-LANE.

"Still all the day the iron wheels go onward,
Grinding life down from its mark;
And the children's souls, which God is calling sunward,
Spin on blindly in the dark."


"She declares there is not anybody in the world she likes better than
she does you - nor so well."

Mrs. Powle's fair curls hung on either side of a perplexed face. Mr.
Carlisle stood opposite to her. His eye brightened and fired, but he
made no answer.

"It is only her absurd fanaticism that makes all the trouble."

"There will be no trouble to fear, my dear madam, if that is true."

"Well I asked her the question, and she told me in so many words; and
you know Eleanor. What she says she means."

Mr. Carlisle was silent, and Mrs. Powle went on. He was seldom
loquacious in his consultations with her.

"For all that, she is just as fixed in her ways as a mountain; and I
don't know how to manage her. Eleanor always was a hard child to
manage; and now she has got these fanatical notions in her head she is
worse than ever."

There was a slight perceptible closing in of the fingers of Mr.
Carlisle's hand, but his words were quiet.

"Do not oppose them. Fanaticism opposed grows rigid, and dies a martyr.
Let her alone; these things will all pass away by and by. I am not
afraid of them."

"Then you would let her go on with her absurd Ragged schools and such
flummery? I am positively afraid she will bring something dreadful into
the house, or be insulted herself some day. I do think charity begins
at home. I wish Lord Cushley, or whoever it is, had been in better
business. Such an example of course sets other people wild."

"I will be there myself, and see that no harm comes to Eleanor. I think
I can manage that."

"Eleanor of all girls!" said Mrs. Powle. "That she should be infected
with religious fanaticism! She was just the girl most unlike it that
could possibly be; none of these meek tame spirits, that seem to have
nothing better to do."

"No, you are wrong," said Mr. Carlisle. "It is the enthusiastic
character, that takes everything strongly, that is strong in this as in
all the rest. Her fanaticism will give me no trouble - if it will once
let her be mine!"

"Then you would let her alone?" said Mrs. Powle.

"Let her alone."

"She is spoiling Julia as fast as she can; but I stopped that. Would
you believe it? the minx objected to taking lessons in dancing, because
her sister had taught her that dancing assemblies were not good places
to go to! But I take care that they are not together now. Julia is
completely under her influence."

"So am I," said Mr. Carlisle laughing; "so much that I believe I cannot
bear to hear any more against her than is necessary. I will be with her
at Field-Lane next Sunday."

He did not however this time insist on going with her. He went by
himself. It is certain that the misery of London disclosed to him by
this drive to Field-Lane, the course of which gave him a good sample of
it, did almost shake him in his opinion that Eleanor ought to be let
alone. Mr. Carlisle had not seen such a view of London in his life
before; he had not been in such a district of crime and wretchedness;
or if by chance he had touched upon it, he had made a principle of not
seeing what was before him. Now he looked; for he was going where
Eleanor was accustomed to go, and what he saw she was obliged to meet
also. He reached the building where the Field-Lane school was held, in
a somewhat excited state of mind.

He found at the door several policemen, who warned him to guard well
and in a safe place anything of value he might have about his person.
Then he was ushered up stairs to the place where the school was held.
He entered a very large room, looking like a factory room, with bare
beams and rough sides, but spacious and convenient for the purpose it
was used for. Down the length of this room ran rows of square forms,
with alleys left between the rows; and the forms were in good measure
filled with the rough scholars. There must have been hundreds collected
there; three-fourths of them perhaps were girls, the rest boys and
young men, from seven years old and upwards. But the roughness of the
scholars bore no proportion to the roughness of the room. _That_ had
order, shape, and some decency of preparation. The poor young human
creatures that clustered within it were in every stage of squalor,
rags, and mental distortion. With a kind of wonder Mr. Carlisle's eye
went from one to another to note the individual varieties of the
general character; and as it took in the details, wandered
horror-stricken, from the nameless dirt and shapeless rags which
covered the person, to the wild or stupid or cunning or devilish
expression of vice in the face. Beyond description, both. There were
many there who had never slept in a bed in their lives; many who never
had their clothes off from one month's end to another; the very large
proportion lived day and night by a course of wickedness. There they
were gathered now, these wretches, eight or ten in a form, listening
with more or less of interest to the instructions of their teachers who
sat before them; and many, Mr. Carlisle saw, were shewing deep interest
in face and manner. Others were full of mischief, and shewed that too.
And others, who were interested, were yet also restless; and would
manifest it by the occasional irregularity of jumping up and turning a
somerset in the midst of the lesson. That frequently happened.
Suddenly, without note or warning, in the midst of the most earnest
deliverances of the teacher, a boy would leap up and throw himself
over; come up all right; and sit down again and listen, as if he had
only been making himself comfortable; which was very likely the real
state of the case in some instances. When however a general prevalence
of somersets throughout the room indicated that too large a proportion
of the assemblage were growing uneasy in their minds, or their seats,
the director of the school stood up and gave the signal for singing.
Instantly the whole were on their feet, and some verse or two of a hymn
were shouted heartily by the united lungs of the company. That seemed
to be a great safety valve; they were quite brought into order, and
somersets not called for, till some time had passed again.

In the midst of this great assemblage of strange figures, small and
large, Mr. Carlisle's eye sought for Eleanor. He could not immediately
find her, standing at the back of the room as he was; and he did not
choose the recognition to be first on her side, so would not go
forward. No bonnet or cloak there recalled the image of Eleanor; he had
seen her once in her school trim, it is true, but that signified
nothing. He had seen her only, not her dress. It was only by a careful
scrutiny that he was able to satisfy himself which bonnet and which
outline of a cloak was Eleanor's. But once his attention had alighted
on the right figure, and he was sure, by a kind of instinct. The turns
of the head, the fine proportions of the shoulders, could be none but
her's; and Mr. Carlisle moved somewhat nearer and took up a position a
little in the rear of that form, so that he could watch all that went
on there.

He scanned with infinite disgust one after another of the miserable
figures ranged upon it. They were well-grown boys, young thieves some
of them, to judge by their looks; and dirty and ragged so as to be
objects of abhorrence much more than of anything else to his eye. Yet
to these squalid, filthy, hardened looking little wretches, scarcely
decent in their rags, Eleanor was most earnestly talking; there was no
avoidance in her air. Her face he could not see; he could guess at its
expression, from the turns of her head to one and another, and the
motions of her hands, with which she was evidently helping out the
meaning of her words; and also from the earnest gaze that her
unpromising hearers bent upon her. He could hear the soft varying play
of her voice as she addressed them. Mr. Carlisle grew restless. There
was a more evident and tremendous gap between himself and her than he
had counted upon. Was she doing this like a Catholic, for penance, or
to work out good deeds to earn heaven like a philanthropist? While he
pondered the matter, in increasing restlessness, mind and body helping
each other; for the atmosphere of the room was heavy and stifling from
the foul human beings congregated there, and it must require a very
strong motive in anybody to be there at all; he could hardly bear it
himself; an incident occurred which gave a little variety to his
thoughts. As he stood in the alley, leaning on the end of a form where
no one sat, a boy came in and passed him; brushing so near that Mr.
Carlisle involuntarily shrank back. Such a looking fellow-creature he
had never seen until that day. Mr. Carlisle had lived in the other half
of the world. This was a half-grown boy, inexpressibly forlorn in his
rags and wretchedness. An old coat hung about him, much too large and
long, that yet did not hide a great rent in his trowsers which shewed
that there was no shirt beneath. But the face! The indescribable
brutalized, stolid, dirty, dumb look of badness and hardness! Mr.
Carlisle thought he had never seen such a face. One round portion of it
had been washed, leaving the dark ring of dirt all circling it like a
border, where the blessed touch of water had not come. The boy moved
on, with a shambling kind of gait, and to Mr. Carlisle's horror, paused
at the form of Eleanor's class. Yes, - he was going in there, he
belonged there; for she looked up and spoke to him; Mr. Carlisle could
hear her soft voice saying something about his being late. Then came a
transformation such as Mr. Carlisle would never have believed possible.
A light broke upon that brutalized face; actually a light; a smile that
was like a heavenly sunbeam in the midst of those rags and dirt
irradiated; as a rough thick voice spoke out in answer to her - "Yes - if
I didn't come, I knowed you would be disappointed."

Evidently they were friends, Eleanor and that boy; young thief, young
rascal, though Mr. Carlisle's eye pronounced him. They were on good
terms, even of affection; for only love begets love. The lesson went
on, but the gentleman stood in a maze till it was finished. The notes
of Eleanor's voice in the closing hymn, which he was sure he could
distinguish, brought him quite back to himself. Now he might speak to
her again. He had felt as if there were a barrier between them. Now he
would test it.

He had to wait yet a little while, for Eleanor was talking to one or
two elderly gentlemen. Nobody to move his jealousy however; so Mr.
Carlisle bore the delay with what patience he could; which in that
stifling atmosphere was not much. How could Eleanor endure it? As at
last she came down the room, he met her and offered his arm. Eleanor
took it, and they went out together.

"I did not know you were in the school," she said.

"I would not disturb you. Thomas is not here - Mrs. Powle wanted him at
home."

Which was Mr. Carlisle's apology for taking his place. Or somewhat more
than Thomas's place; for he not only put Eleanor in a carriage, but
took a seat beside her. The drive began with a few moments of silence.

"How do you do?" was his first question.

"Very well."

"Must I take it on trust? or do you not mean I shall see for myself?"
said he. For there had been a hidden music in Eleanor's voice, and she
had not turned her face from the window of the carriage. At this
request however she gave him a view of it. The hidden sweetness was
there too; he could not conceive what made her look so happy. Yet the
look was at once too frank and too deep for his personal vanity to get
any food from it; no surface work, but a lovely light on brow and lip
that came from within. It had nothing to do with him. It was something
though, that she was not displeased at his being there; his own face
lightened.

"What effect does Field-Lane generally have upon you?" said he.

"It tires me a little - generally. Not to-day."

"No, I see it has not; and how you come out of that den, looking as you
do, I confess is an incomprehensible thing to me. What has pleased you
there?"

A smile came upon Eleanor's face, so bright as shewed it was but the
outbreaking of the light he had seen there before. His question she met
with another.

"Did nothing there please you?"

"Do you mean to evade my inquiry?"

"I will tell you what pleased me," said Eleanor. "Perhaps you
remarked - whereabouts were you?"

"A few feet behind you and your scholars."

"Then perhaps you remarked a boy who came in when the lesson was partly
done - midway in the time - a boy who came in and took his seat in my
class."

"I remarked him - and you will excuse me for saying, I do not understand
how pleasure can be connected in anybody's mind with the sight of him."

"Of course you do not. That boy has been a most notorious pickpocket
and thief."

"Exactly what I should have supposed."

"Did you observe that he had washed his face?"

"I think I observed how imperfectly it was done."

"Ah, but it is the first time probably in years that it has touched
water, except when his lips touched it to drink. Do you know, that is a
sign of reformation?"

"Water?"

"Washing. It is the hardest thing in the world to get them to forego
the seal and the bond of dirt. It is a badge of the community of guilt.
If they will be brought to wash, it is a sign that the bond is
broken - that they are willing to be out of the community; which will I
suppose regard them as suspected persons from that time. Now you can
understand why I was glad."

Hardly; for the fire and water sparkling together in Eleanor's eyes
expressed so much gladness that it quite went beyond Mr. Carlisle's
power of sympathy. He remained silent a few moments.

"Eleanor, I wish you would answer one question, which puzzles me. Why
do you go to that place?"

"You do not like it?"

"No, nor do you. What takes you there?"

"There are more to be taught than there are teachers for," said Eleanor
looking at her questioner. "They want help. You must have seen, there
are none too many to take care of the crowds that come; and many of
those teachers are fatigued with attendance in the week."

"Do you go in the week?"

"No, not hitherto."

"You must not think of it! It is as much as your life is worth to go
Sundays. I met several companies of most disorderly people on my
way - do you not meet such?"

"Yes."

"What takes you there, Eleanor, through such horrors?"

"I have no fear."

"No, I suppose not; but will you answer my question?"

"You will hardly be able to understand me," said Eleanor hesitating. "I
like to go to these poor wretches, because I love them. And if you ask
me why I love them, - I know that the Lord Jesus loves them; and he is
not willing they should be in this forlorn condition; and so I go to
try to help get them out of it."

"If the Supreme Ruler is not willing there should be this class of
people, Eleanor, how come they to exist?"

"You are too good a philosopher, Mr. Carlisle, not to know that men are
free agents, and that God leaves them the exercise of their free
agency, even though others as well as themselves suffer by it. I
suppose, if those a little above them in the social scale had lived
according to the gospel rule, this class of people never would have
existed."

"What a reformer you would make, Eleanor!"

"I should not suit you? Yes - I do not believe in any radical way of
reform but one."

"And that is, what? - counsellor."

"Do unto others as you would that others should do unto you."

"Radical enough! You must reform the reformers first, I suppose you
know."

"I know it."

"Then, hard as it is for me to believe it, you do not go to Field-Lane
by way of penance?"

"The penance would be, to make me stay away."

"Mrs. Powle will do that, unless I contrive to disturb the action of
her free agency; but I think I shall plunge into the question of
reform, Eleanor. Speaking of that, how much reformation has been
effected by these Ragged institutions?"

"Very much; and they are only as it were beginning, you must remember."

"Room for amendment still," said Mr. Carlisle. "I never saw such a
disorderly set of scholars in my life before. How do you find an
occasional somersault helps a boy's understanding of his lesson?"

"Those things were constant at first; not occasional," said Eleanor
smiling; "somersaults, and leaping over the forms, and shouts and
catcalls, and all manner of uproarious behaviour. That was before I
ever knew them. But now, think of that boy's washed face!"

"That was the most partial reformation I ever saw rejoiced in," said
Mr. Carlisle.

"It gives hope of everything else, though. You have no idea what a bond
that community of dirt is. But there are plenty of statistics, if you
want those, Mr. Carlisle. I can give you enough of them; shewing what
has been done."

"Will you shew them to me to-night?"

"To-night? it is Sunday. No, but to-morrow night, Mr. Carlisle; or any
other time."

"Eleanor, you are very strict!"

"Not at all. That is not strictness; but Sunday is too good to waste
upon statistics."

She said it somewhat playfully, with a shilling of her old arch smile,
which did not at all reassure her companion.

"Besides, Mr. Carlisle, you like strictness a great deal better than I
do. There is not a law made in our Queen's reign or administered under
her sceptre, that you would not have fulfilled to the letter - even down
to the regulations that keep little boys off the grass. It is only the
laws of the Great King which you do not think should be strictly kept."

She was grave enough now, and Mr. Carlisle swallowed the reproof as
best he might.

"Eleanor, you are going to turn preacher too, as well as reformer?
Well, I will come to you, dear, and put myself under your influences.
You shall do what you please with me."

Too much of a promise, and more of a responsibility than Eleanor chose
to take. She went into the house with a sober sense that she had a
difficult part to play; that between Mr. Carlisle and her mother, she
must walk very warily or she would yet find herself entangled before
she was aware. And Mr. Carlisle too had a sober sense that Eleanor's
religious character was not of a kind to exhale, like a volatile oil,
under the sun of prosperity or the breezes of flattery. Nevertheless,
the more hard to reach the prize, the more of a treasure when reached.
He never wanted her more than now; and Mr. Carlisle had always, by
skill and power, obtained what he wanted. He made no doubt he would
find this instance like the others.

For the present, the thing was to bring a bill into parliament "for the
reformation of juvenile offenders" - and upon its various provisions Mr.
Carlisle came daily to consult Eleanor, and take advice and receive
information. Doubtless there was a great deal to be considered about
the bill, to make it just what it should be; to secure enough and not
insist upon too much; its bearings would be very important, and every
point merited well the deepest care and most circumspect management. It
enlisted Eleanor's heart and mind thoroughly; how should it not? She
spent hours and hours with Mr. Carlisle over it; wrote for him, read
for him, or rather for those the bill wrought for; talked and discussed
and argued, for and against various points which she felt would make
for or against its best success. Capital for M. Carlisle. All this
brought him into constant close intercourse with her, and gave him
opportunities of recommending himself. And not in vain. Eleanor saw and
appreciated the cool, clear business head; the calm executive talent,
which seeing its ends in the distance, made no hurry but took the steps
and the measures surest to attain them, with patient foresight. She
admired it, and sometimes also could almost have trembled when she
thought of its being turned towards herself. And was it not, all the
while? Was not Eleanor tacitly, by little and little, yielding the
ground she fought so hard to keep? Was she not quietly giving her
affirmative to the world's question, - and to Mr. Carlisle's too? To the
former, yes; for the latter, she knew and Mr. Carlisle knew that she
shewed him no more than the regard that would not satisfy him. But
then, if this went on indefinitely, would not he, and the world, and
her mother, all say that she had given him a sort of prescriptive right
to her? Ay, and Eleanor must count her father too now as among her
adversaries' ranks. She saw it and felt it somewhat bitterly. She had
begun to gain his ear and his heart; by and by he might have listened



Online LibrarySusan WarnerThe Old Helmet, Volume II → online text (page 7 of 25)