Susan Warner.

The Old Helmet, Volume II online

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anything.

"Mr. Carlisle," she said, "you are the cause of all the trouble that
has come upon me."

He did not ask her what trouble. He only gently and gravely disclaimed
the truth of her assertion.

"Mr. Carlisle," said Eleanor facing him, "do you want the hand without
the heart?" There was brave beauty in her face and air.

"Yes!" he said. "You do not know yourself, Eleanor - you do not see
yourself at this moment - or you would know better how impossible it is
to give other than one answer to such a question."

His look had faced hers as frankly; there was no evil expression in it.
Eleanor's head and her gaze sank a little. She hesitated, and then
turned away. But Mr. Carlisle with a quick motion intercepted her.

"Eleanor, have you nothing kind to say to me?" he asked, taking her
hand. And he said it well.

"Not just now," said Eleanor slowly; "but I will try not to think
unkindly of you, Mr. Carlisle."

Perhaps he understood that differently from her meaning; perhaps he
chose to misinterpret it; at all events he stooped forward and kissed
her. It brought a flash of colour into Eleanor's face, and she went up
stairs much more angry with her suitor than her last words had spoke
her. The angry mood faded fast when she reached her own room and could
be alone and be still. She sat down and thought how, while he stood
there and held her hand, there had been a swift presentation to her
mind, swift and clear, of all she would be giving up when she turned
away from him. In one instant the whole view had come; the rank, the
ease, the worldly luxury, the affection; and the question came too,
waywardly, as impertinent questions will come, whether she was after
all giving it up for sufficient cause? She was relinquishing if she
quitted him, all that the world values. Not quite that, perhaps; if
turned out from her father's family even, she was in no danger of
wanting food or shelter or protection; for she would be sure of those
and more in Mrs. Caxton's house. But looking forward into the course of
future years that might lie before her, the one alternative offered for
her choice presented all that is pleasant in worldly estimation; and on
the other side there was a lonely life, and duty, and the affection of
one old woman. But though the two views came with startling clearness
before Eleanor just at this moment, the more attractive one brought no
shadow of temptation with it. She saw it, that was all, and turned away
from it to consider present circumstances.

Would her father keep to his word? It seemed impossible; yet coolly
reflecting, Eleanor thought from what she knew of him that he would; so
far at least as to send her into immediate banishment. That such
banishment would be more than temporary she did not believe. Mr.
Carlisle would get over his disappointment, would marry somebody else;
and in course of time her mother and father, the latter of whom
certainly loved her, would find out that they wanted her at home again.
But how long first? That no one could tell, nor what might happen in
the interval; and when she had got so far in her thoughts, Eleanor's
tears began to flow. She let them flow; it relieved her; and somehow
there was a good fountain head of them. And again those two pictures of
future life rose up before her; not as matters of choice, to take one
and leave the other - but as matters of contrast, in somewhat that
entered the spring of tears and made them bitter. Was something gone
from her life, that could never be got back again? had she lost
something that could never be found again? Was there a "bloom and
fragrance" waving before her on the one hand, though unattainable,
which the other path of life with all its beauty did not offer? To
judge by Eleanor's tears she had some such thoughts. But after a time
the tears cleared away, and her bowed face looked up as fair as a blue
sky after a storm. And Eleanor never had another time of weeping during
the month.

It was a dull month to other people. It would have been a dreary one to
her, only that there is a private sunshine in some hearts that defies
cloudy weather. There is an anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast, by
which one rides contentedly in rough water; there is a hope of glory,
in the presence of which no darkness can abide; and there is a word
with which Eleanor dried her tears that day and upon which she steadied
her heart all the days after. It was written by one who knew trouble.
"The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him."
It is hard to take that portion away from a man, or to make him poor
while he has it.

Eleanor had little else the remaining twenty-one days of that month.
What troubled her much, she could by no means see Julia; and she found
that her sister had been sent home, to the Lodge at Wiglands, under
charge of a governess; Mrs. Powle averring that it was time she should
be in the country. London was not good for Julia. Was it good for any
of them, Eleanor thought? But parliament was still sitting; Mr.
Carlisle was in attendance; it was manifest they must be so too.
Everything went on much as usual. Eleanor attended her father after his
early dinner, for Mr. Powle would not come into London hours; and Mr.
Carlisle as usual shared her office with her, except when he was
obliged to be in the House. When he was, Mrs. Powle now took his place.
The Squire was surly and gloomy; only brought out of those moods by Mr.
Carlisle himself. That gentleman held his ground, with excellent grace
and self-control, and made Eleanor more than ever feel his power. But
she kept her ground too; not without an effort and a good deal of that
old arm of defence which is called "all-prayer;" yet she kept it; was
gentle and humble and kind to them all, to Mr. Carlisle himself, while
he was sensible her grave gentleness had no yielding in it. How he
admired her, those days! how he loved her; with a little fierce desire
of triumph mingling, it must be confessed, with his love and
admiration, and heightened by them; for now pride was touched, and some
other feeling which he did not analyse. He had nobody to be jealous of,
that he knew; unless it were Eleanor herself; yet her indifference
piqued him. He could not brook to be baffled. He shewed not a symptom
of all this; but every line of her fine figure, every fold of her rich,
beautiful hair, every self-possessed movement, at times was torment to
him. Her very dress was a subject of irritation. It was so plain, so
evidently unworldly in its simplicity, that unreasonably enough, for
Eleanor looked well in it, it put Mr. Carlisle in a fume every day. She
should not dress so when he had control of her; and to get the control
seemed not easy; and the dress kept reminding him that he had it not.
On the whole probably all parties were glad when the sweet month of May
for that season came to an end. Even Eleanor was glad; for though she
had made up her mind what June would bring her, it is easier to grasp a
fear in one's hand, like a nettle, than to touch it constantly by
anticipation. So the first of June came.




CHAPTER VIII.

IN MAY.


"Come spur away!
I have no patience for a longer stay,
But must go down,
And leave the changeable noise of this great town;
I will the country see,
Where old simplicity,
Though hid in grey,
Doth look more gay
Than foppery in plush and scarlet clad."


Although Eleanor's judgment had said what the issue would be of that
day's conference, she had made no preparation to leave home. That she
could not do. She could not make certain before it came the weary
foreboding that pressed upon her. She went to her father's room after
dinner as usual, leaning her heart on that word which had been her
walking-staff for three weeks past. "The Lord is my portion, saith my
soul; therefore will I hope in him!"

Mrs. Powle was there, quietly knitting. The Squire had gathered himself
up into a heap in his easy chair, denoting a contracted state of mind;
after that curious fashion which bodily attitudes have, of repeating
the mental. Eleanor took the newspaper and sat down.

"Is there anything there particular?" growled the Squire.

"I do not see anything very particular, sir. Here is the continuation
of the debate on - "

"How about that bill of yours and Mr. Carlisle's?" broke in Mrs. Powle.

"It was ordered to be printed, mamma - it has not reached the second
reading yet. It will not for some time."

"What do you suppose will become of it then?"

"What the Lord pleases. I do not know," said Eleanor with a pang at her
heart. "I have done my part - all I could - so far."

"I suppose you expect Mr. Carlisle will take it up as his own cause,
after it has ceased to be yours?"

Eleanor understood this, and was silent. She took up the paper again to
find where to read.

"Put that down, Eleanor Powle," said her father who was evidently in a
very bad humour, as he had cause, poor old gentleman; there is nobody
so bad to be out of humour with as yourself; - "put that down! until we
know whether you are going to read to me any more or no. I should like
to know your decision."

Eleanor hesitated, for it was difficult to speak.

"Come! - out with it. Time's up. Now for your answer. Are you going to
be an obedient child, and give Mr. Carlisle a good wife? Hey? Speak!"

"An obedient child, sir, in everything but this. I can give Mr.
Carlisle nothing, any more than he has."

"Any more than he has? What is that?"

"A certain degree of esteem and regard, sir - and perhaps, forgiveness."

"Then you will not marry him, as I command you?"

"No - I cannot."

"And you won't give up being a Methodist?"

"I cannot help being what I am. I will not go to church, papa, anywhere
that you forbid me."

She spoke low, endeavouring to keep calm. The Squire got up out of his
chair. He had no calmness to keep, and he spoke loud.

"Have you taught your sister to think there is any harm in dancing?"

"In dancing parties, I suppose I have."

"And you think they are wicked, and won't go to them?"

"I do not like them. I cannot go to them, papa; for I am a servant of
Christ; and I can do no work for my Master there at all; but if I go, I
bear witness that they are good."

"Now hear me, Eleanor Powle - " the Squire spoke with suppressed
rage - "No such foolery will I have in my house, and no such disrespect
to people that are better than you. I told you what would come of all
this if you did not give it up - and I stand to my word. You come here
to-morrow morning, prepared to put your hand in Mr. Carlisle's and let
him know that you will be his obedient servant - or, you quit my house.
To-morrow morning you do one thing or the other. And when you go, you
will stay. I will never have you back, except as Mr. Carlisle's wife.
Now go! I don't want your paper any more."

Eleanor went slowly away. She paused in the drawing-room; there was no
one there this time; rang the bell and ordered Thomas to be sent to
her. Thomas came, and received orders to be in readiness and have
everything in readiness to attend her on a journey the next day. The
orders were given clearly and distinctly as usual; but Thomas shook his
head as he went down from her presence at the white face his young
mistress had worn. "She don't use to look that way," he said to
himself, "for she is one of them ladies that carry a hearty brave
colour in their cheeks; and now there wasn't a bit of it." But the old
servant kept his own counsel and obeyed directions.

Eleanor went through the evening and much of the night without giving
herself a moment to think. Packing occupied all that time and the early
hours of the next day; she was afraid to be idle, and even dreaded the
times of prayer; because whenever she stopped to think, the tears would
come. But she grew quiet; and was only pale still, when at an early
hour in the morning she left the house. She could not bear to go
through a parting scene with her father; she knew him better than to
try it; and she shrank from one with her mother. She bid nobody
good-bye, for she could not tell anybody that she was going. London
streets looked very gloomy to Eleanor that morning as she drove through
them to the railway station.

She had still another reason for slipping away, in the fear that else
she would be detained to meet Mr. Carlisle again. The evening before
she had had a note from him, promising her all freedom for all her
religious predilections and opinions - leave to do what she would, if
she would only be his wife. She guessed he would endeavour to see her,
if she staid long enough in London after the receipt of that note.
Eleanor made her escape.

Thomas was sorry at heart to see her cheeks so white yet when they set
off; and he noticed that his young mistress hid her face during the
first part of the journey. He watched to see it raised up again; and
then saw with content that Eleanor's gaze was earnestly fixed on the
things without the window. Yes, there was something there. She felt she
was out of London; and that whatever might be before her, one sorrowful
and disagreeable page of life's book was turned over. London was gone,
and she was in the midst of the country again, and the country was at
the beginning of June. Green fields and roses and flowery hedge-rows,
and sweet air, all wooed her back to hopefulness. Hopefulness for the
moment stole in. Eleanor thought things could hardly continue so bad as
they seemed. It was not natural. It could not be. And yet - Mr. Carlisle
was in the business, and mother and father were set on her making a
splendid match and being a great lady. It might be indeed, that there
would be no return for Eleanor, that she must remain in banishment,
until Mr. Carlisle should take a new fancy or forget her. How long
would that be? A field for calculation over which Eleanor's thoughts
roamed for some time.

One comfort she had promised herself, in seeing Julia on the way; so
she turned out of her direct course to go to Wiglands. She was
disappointed. Julia and her governess had left the Lodge only the day
before to pay a visit of a week at some distance. By order, Eleanor
could not help suspecting it had been; of set purpose, to prevent the
sisters meeting. This disappointment was bitter. It was hard to keep
from angry thoughts. Eleanor fought them resolutely, but she felt more
desolate than she had ever known in her life before. The old place of
her home, empty and still, had so many reminders of childish and happy
times; careless times; days when nobody thought of great marriages or
settlements, or when such thoughts lay all hidden in Mrs. Powle's mind.
Every tree and room and book was so full of good and homely
associations of the past, that it half broke Eleanor's heart. Home
associations now so broken up; the family divided, literally and
otherwise; and worst of all, and over which Eleanor's tears flowed
bitterest, her own ministrations and influence were cut off from those
who most needed them and whom she most wished to benefit. Eleanor's day
at home was a day of tears; it was impossible to help it. The roses
with their sweet faces looked remonstrance at her; the roads and walks
and fields where she had been so happy invited her back to them; the
very grey tower of the Priory rising above the trees held out worldly
temptation and worldly reproof, with a mocking embodiment of her causes
of trouble. Eleanor could not bear it; she spent one night at home;
wrote a letter to Julia which she entrusted to a servant's hands for
her; and the next morning set her face towards Plassy. Julia lay on her
heart. That conversation they had held together the morning when
Eleanor waylaid her - it was the last that had been allowed. They had
never had a good talk since then. Was that the last chance indeed, for
ever? It was impossible to know.

In spite of June beauty, it was a dreary journey to her from home to
her aunt's; and the beautiful hilly outlines beyond Plassy rose upon
her view with a new expression. Sterner, and graver; they seemed to
say, "It is life work, now, my child; you must be firm, and if
necessary rugged, like us; but truth of action has its own beauty too,
and the sunlight of Divine favour rests there always." A shadowless
sunlight lay on the crowns and shoulders of the mountains as Eleanor
drew near. She got out of the carriage to walk the last few steps and
look at the place. Plassy never was more lovely. An aromatic breath,
pure and strong, came from the hills and gathered the sweetness of the
valleys. Roses and honeysuckles and jessamines and primroses, with a
thousand others, loaded the air with their gifts to it, from Mrs.
Caxton's garden and from all the fields and hedge-rows around. And one
after another bit of hilly outline reminded Eleanor that off _there_
went the narrow valley that led to the little church at Glanog; _there_
went the road to the village, where she and Powis had gone so often of
Wednesday afternoons; and in _that_ direction lay the little cot where
she had watched all night by the dying woman. Not much time for such
remembrances was just now; for the farmhouse stood just before her. The
dear old farmhouse! looking as pretty as everything else in its dark
red stone walls and slate roof; stretching along the ground at that
rambling, picturesque, and also opulent style. Eleanor would not knock
now, and the door was not fastened to make her need it. Softly she
opened it, went in, and stood upon the tiled floor.

No sound of anything in particular; only certain tokens of life in the
house. Eleanor went on, opened the door of the sitting parlour and
looked in. Nobody there; the room in its summer state of neatness and
coolness as she had left it. Eleanor's heart began to grow warm. She
would not yet summon a servant; she left that part of the house and
wound about among the passages till she came to the back door that led
out into the long tiled porch where supper was wont to be spread. And
there was the table set this evening; and the wonted glow from the
sunny west greeted her there, and a vision of the gorgeous
flower-garden. But Eleanor hardly saw the one thing or the other; for
Mrs. Caxton was there also, standing by the tea-table, alone, putting
something on it. Eleanor moved forward without a word. Her voice would
not come out of her throat very well.

"Eleanor!" exclaimed Mrs. Caxton. "My dear love! what has given me this
happiness?"

Very strong language for Mrs. Caxton to use. Eleanor felt it, every
word of it, as well as the embrace of those kind arms and her aunt's
kisses upon her lips; but she was silent.

"How come you here, my darling?"

"They have sent me away from home."

Mrs. Caxton saw that there was some difficulty of speech, and she would
not press matters. She put Eleanor into a seat, and looked at her, and
took off her bonnet with her own hands; stooped down and kissed her
brow. Eleanor steadied herself and looked up.

"It is true, aunt Caxton. I come to you because I have nowhere else to
be."

"My love, it is a great happiness to have you, for any cause. Wait, and
tell me what the matter is by and by."

She left Eleanor for a moment, only a moment; gave some orders, and
returned to her side. She sat down and took Eleanor's hand.

"What is it, my dear?"

And then Eleanor's composure, which she had thought sure, gave way all
of a sudden; and she cried heartily for a minute, laying her head in
its old resting-place. But that did her good; and then she kissed Mrs.
Caxton over and over before she began to speak.

"They want me to make a great match, aunty; and will not be satisfied
with anything else."

"What, Mr. Carlisle?"

"Yes."

"And is that all broken off?" said Mrs. Caxton, a little tone of
eagerness discernible under her calm manner.

"It was broken off a year ago," said Eleanor - "more than a year ago. It
has always been broken since."

"I heard that it was all going on again. I expected to hear of your
marriage."

"It was not true. But it is true, that the world had a great deal of
reason to think so; and I could not help that."

"How so, Eleanor?"

"Mamma, and papa, and Mr. Carlisle. They managed it."

"But in such a case, my dear, a woman owes it to herself and to her
suitor and to her parents too, to be explicit."

"I do not think I compromised the truth, aunt Caxton," said Eleanor,
passing her hand somewhat after a troubled fashion over her brow. "Mr.
Carlisle knew I never encouraged him with more favour than I gave
others. I could not help being with him, for mamma and he had it so;
and they were too much for me. I could not help it. So the report grew.
I had a difficult part to play," said Eleanor, repeating her troubled
gesture and seeming ready to burst into tears.

"In what way, my love?"

Eleanor did not immediately answer; sat looking off over the meadow as
if some danger existed to self-control; then, still silent, turned and
met with an eloquent soft eye the sympathizing yet questioning glance
that was fixed on her. It was curious how Eleanor's eye met it; how her
eye roved over Mrs. Caxton's face and looked into her quiet grey eyes,
with a kind of glinting of some spirit fire within, which could almost
be seen to play and flicker as thought and feeling swayed to and fro.
Her eye said that much was to be said, looked into Mrs. Caxton's face
with an intensity of half-speech, - and the lips remained silent. There
was consciousness of sympathy, consciousness of something that required
sympathy; and the seal of silence. Perhaps Mrs. Caxton's response to
this strange look came half unconsciously; it came wholly naturally.

"Poor child!" -

The colour rose on Eleanor's cheek at that; she turned her eyes away.

"I think Mr. Carlisle's plan - and mamma's - was to make circumstances
too strong for me; and to draw me by degrees. And they would, perhaps,
but for all I learned here."

"For what you learned here, my dear?"

"Yes, aunty; if they could have got me into a whirl society - if they
could have made me love dancing parties and theatres and the opera, and
I had got bewildered and forgotten that a great worldly establishment
not the best thing - perhaps temptation would have been too much for
me. - Perhaps it would. I don't know."

There was a little more colour in Eleanor's cheeks than her words
accounted for, as Mrs. Caxton noticed.

"Did you ever feel in danger from the temptation, Eleanor?"

"Never, aunty. I think it never so much as touched me."

"Then Mr. Carlisle has been at his own risk," said Mrs. Caxton. "Let us
dismiss him, my love."

"Aunt Caxton, I have a strange homeless, forlorn feeling."

For answer to that, Mrs. Caxton put her arms round Eleanor and gave her
one or two good strong kisses. There was reproof as well as affection
in them; Eleanor felt both, even without her aunt's words.

"Trust the Lord. You know who has been the dwelling-place of his
people, from all generations. They cannot be homeless. And for the
rest, remember that whatever brings you here brings a great boon to me.
My love, do you wish to go to your room before you have tea?"

Eleanor was glad to get away and be alone for a moment. How homelike
her old room seemed! - with the rose and honeysuckle breath of the air
coming in at the casements. How peaceful and undisturbed the old
furniture looked. The influence of the place began to settle down upon
Eleanor. She got rid of the dust of travel, and came down presently to
the porch with a face as quiet as a lamb.

Tea went on with the same soothing influence. There was much to tell
Eleanor, of doings in and about Plassy the year past; for the fact was,
that letters had not been frequent. Who was sick and who was well; who
had married, and who was dead; who had set out on a Christian walk, and
who were keeping up such a walk to the happiness of themselves and of
all about them. Then how Mrs. Caxton's own household had prospered; how
the dairy went on; and there were some favourite cows that Eleanor
desired to hear of. From the cows they got to the garden. And all the
while the lovely meadow valley lay spread out in its greenness before
Eleanor; the beautiful old hills drew the same loved outline across the
sunset sky; the lights and shadows were of June; and the garden at hand
was a rich mass of beauty sloping its terraced sweetness down to the
river. Just as it was a year ago, when the summons came for Eleanor to
leave it; only the garden seemed even more gorgeously rich than then.
Just the same; even to the dish of strawberries on the table. But that
was not wreathed with ivy and myrtle now.

"Aunt Caxton, this is like the very same evening that I was here last."



Online LibrarySusan WarnerThe Old Helmet, Volume II → online text (page 9 of 25)