The Old Helmet. Volume II
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.
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 detainedher, 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?"
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 you are at home. Now be quick!"
"But, mamma – "
"Well? Put your hair lower, Eleanor; that will not do."
"Mamma, isn't Mr. Carlisle there?"
"Mr. Carlisle? What if he is? I hope he is. You are well in that hat,
"Mamma, if Mr. Carlisle is there, – "
"Hold your tongue, Eleanor! – take your whip and go. They are all waiting. You may talk to me when you come back, but now you must go. I should think Mr. Carlisle would like to be of the party, for there isn't such another figure on the ride. Now kiss me and go. You are a good girl."
Mrs. Powle said it with some feeling. She had never found Eleanor so obediently tractable as since her return; she had never got from her such ready and willing cooperation, even in matters that her mother knew were not after Eleanor's heart, as now when her heart was less in them than ever. And at this moment she was gratified by the quiet grave obedience rendered her, in doing what she saw plainly enough Eleanor did not like to do. She followed her daughter down stairs with a proud heart.
It happened again, as it was always happening, that Mr. Carlisle was Eleanor's special attendant. Eleanor meditated possible ways of hindering this in future; but for the present there was no remedy. Mr. Carlisle put her on her horse; it was not till she was taking the reins in her left hand that something struck her with a sense of familiarity.
"What horse is this?" she asked.
"No other than your old friend and servant – I hope you have not forgotten her. She has not forgotten you."
Eleanor perceived that. As surely as it was Black Maggie, Maggie knew her; and displeased though Eleanor was with the master, she could not forbear a little caress of recognition to the beautiful creature he had once given her. Maggie was faultless; she and Eleanor were accustomed to each other; it was an undeniable pleasure to be so mounted again, as Eleanor could not but acknowledge to herself during the first few dainty dancing steps that Maggie made with her wonted burden. Nevertheless it was a great deal too much like old times that were destroyed; and glancing at Mr. Carlisle Eleanor saw that he was on Tippoo, and furthermore that there was a sparkle in his eye which meant hope, or triumph. Something put Eleanor on her mettle; she rode well that day. She rode with a careless grace and ease that even drew a compliment from Mr. Carlisle; but beyond that, his companion at first gave him little satisfaction. She was grave and cold to all his conversational efforts. However, there she was on his black mare; and Mr. Carlisle probably found an antidote to whatever discouragement she threw in his way. Chance threw something else in his way.
They had turned into one of the less frequented streets of the town, in their way to get out of it, when Eleanor's eye was seized by a figure on the sidewalk. It startled her inexpressibly; and before she could be sure her eyes did not deceive her the figure had almost passed, or they had almost passed the person. But in passing he had raised his bat; she knew then he had recognized her, as she had known him; and he had recognized her in such company. And he was in Brighton. Without a moment for thought or delay, Eleanor wheeled her horse's head sharply round and in one or two smart steps brought herself alongside of Mr. Rhys. He stopped, came up to her stirrup and shook hands. He looked grave, Eleanor thought. She hastened to speak.
"I could not pass you, Mr. Rhys. I had to leave Plassy without bidding you good bye."
"I am glad to meet you now," he said, – "before I go."
"Do you leave Brighton very soon?"
"To-morrow. I go up to London, and in a few days I expect to sail from there."
"For – ?"
"Yes, – for my post in the Southern Ocean. I have an unexpected opportunity."
Eleanor was silent. She could not find anything to say. She knew also that Mr. Carlisle had wheeled his horse after her, and that Tippoo was taking steps somewhere in her close neighbourhood. But she sat motionless, unable to move as well as to speak.
"I must not detain you," said Mr. Rhys. "Do you find it as easy to live well at Brighton as at Plassy?"
Eleanor answered a low and grave "no;" bending down over her saddlebow.
"Keep that which is committed to thy charge," he said gently.