The Old Helmet. Volume II
Mrs. Caxton said little; she only rejoiced with Eleanor so tenderly as if she had been her own mother. Though that is speaking very coolly on the present occasion. Mrs. Powle had never shewed her daughter so much of that quality in her life, as Eleanor's aunt shewed now.
The breakfast next morning was unusually quiet. Happiness does not always make people talkative.
"How do you do, my love?" said Mrs. Caxton when they were left alone.
"After being up half the night?"
"More fresh than I have felt for a year, aunt Caxton. Did you hear that nightingale last night?"
"I heard him. I listened to him and thought of you."
"He sang – I cannot tell you what his song sounded like to me, aunt
Caxton. I could almost have fancied there was an angel out there."
"There were a great many rejoicing somewhere else. What glory to think of it!" They were silent again till near the end of breakfast; then Mrs. Caxton said, – "Eleanor, I shall be engaged the whole of this morning. This afternoon, if you will, I will go with you into the garden."
"This afternoon – is Wednesday, aunt Caxton."
"So it is. Well, before or after you go to the village, I want you to dress some dishes of flowers for me – will you?"
"With great pleasure, ma'am. And I can get some hawthorn blossoms, I know. I will do it before I go, ma'am."
Was it pleasant, that morning's work? Eleanor went out early to get her sprays of May blossoms; and in the tender beauty of the day and season was lured on and on, and tempted to gather other wild bits of loveliness, till she at last found her hands full, and came home laden with tokens of where she had been. "O'er the muir, amang the heather," Eleanor's walk had gone; and her basket was gay with gorse and broom just opening; but from grassy banks on her way she had brought the bright blue speedwell; and clematis and bryony from the hedges, and from under them wild hyacinth and white campion and crane's-bill and primroses; and a meadow she had passed over gave her one or two pretty kinds of orchis, with daisies and cowslips, and grasses of various kinds. Eleanor was dressing these in flower baskets and dishes, in the open gallery that overlooked the meadows, when Mrs. Caxton passing through on her own business stopped a moment to look at her.
"All those from your walk, my dear! Do you not mean to apply to the garden?"
"Aunty, I could have got a great many more, if I could have gone into the woods – but my walk did not lie that way. Yes, ma'am, I am going into the garden presently, when I have ordered these dishes well. Where are they to go, aunt Caxton?"
"Some in one place and some in another. You may leave them here, Eleanor, when they are done, and I will take care of them. Shall I have the garden flowers cut for you?"
"O no, ma'am, if you please!"
Mrs. Caxton stood a moment longer watching Eleanor; the pretty work and the pretty worker; the confusion of fair and sweet things around her and under her fingers, with the very fine and fair human creature busy about them. Eleanor's face was gravely happy; more bright than Mrs. Caxton had ever seen it; very much of kin to the flowers. She watched her a moment, and then went nearer to kiss Eleanor's forehead. The flowers fell from the fingers, while the two exchanged a look of mute sympathy; then on one part and on the other, business went forward.
Eleanor's work held her all the morning. For after the wild beauties had been disposed to her mind, there was another turn with their more pretentious sisters of the garden. Azaleas and honeysuckles, lilies of the valley, hyacinths and pomponium lilies, with Scotch roses and white broom, and others, made superb floral assemblages, out of doors or in; and Eleanor looked at her work lovingly when it was done.
So went the morning of that day, and Eleanor's ride in the afternoon was a fit continuation. May was abroad in the bursting leaves as well as in opening flowers; the breath of Eden seemed to sweep down the valley of Plassy. Ay, there is a partial return to the lost paradise, for those whom Christ leads thither, even before we get to the everlasting hills.
Eleanor this day was the first person addressed in the meeting. It had never happened so before. But now Mr. Rhys asked her first of all, "How do you do to-day?"
Eleanor looked up and answered, "Well. And all changed."
"Will you tell us how you mean?"
"It was when you were preaching last night. It all I came to me. I saw my mistake, when you told about I the love of Christ to sinners. I saw I had been trying to make myself good."
"And how is it now?"
"Now," – said Eleanor looking up again with full eyes, – "I will know nothing but Christ."
The murmur of thanksgiving heard from one or two voices brought her head down. It had nearly overcome her. But she controlled herself, and presently went on; though not daring to look again into Mr. Rhys's face, the expression of whose eyes of gladness was harder to meet than the spoken thanksgivings.
"I see I have nothing, and am nothing," she said. "I see that Christ is all, and will do all for me. I wish to be his servant. All is changed. The very hills are changed. I never saw such colours or such sunlight, as I have seen as I rode along this afternoon."
"A true judgment," said Mr. Rhys. "It has been often said, that the eye sees what the eye brings the means of seeing; and the love of Christ puts a glory upon all nature that far surpasses the glory of the sun. It is a changed world, for those who know that love for the first time! Friends, most of us profess to have that knowledge. Do we have it so that it puts a glory on all the outer world, in the midst of which we live and walk and attend to our business?"
"It does to me, sir," said the venerable old man whom Eleanor had noticed; – "it does to me. Praise the Lord!" Instead of any other answer they broke out singing, —
"O how happy are they
Who the Saviour obey,
And have laid up their treasure above.
Tongue can never express
The sweet comfort and peace
Of a soul in its earliest love."
"The way to keep that joy," said Mr. Rhys returning to Eleanor, "and to know more of it, is to take every succeeding step in the Christian life exactly as you took the first one; – in self-renunciation, in entire dependence. As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him. It is a simple and humble way, the way along which the heavenly light shines. Do everything for Christ – do everything in his strength; – and you will soon know that the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him. Blessed be his name! He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength."
It was easy to see that the speaker made a personal application here, with reference to himself; but after that there was no more said directly to Eleanor. The subject went round the circle, receiving the various testimony of the persons there. Eleanor's heart gave quick sympathy to many utterances, and took home with intent interest the answering counsels and remarks, which in some instances were framed to put a guard against self-deception or mistake. One or two of her neighbours when the exercises were over, came and took her hand, with a warm simple expression of feeling which made Eleanor's heart hot; and then she rode home.
"Did you have a pleasant time?" said her aunt.
"Aunt Caxton, I think that room where we meet is the pleasantest place in the world!"
"What do you think of the chapel at Glanog?"
"I don't know. I believe that is as good or better."
"Are you too tired to go out again?"
"Not at all. Who wants me?"
"Nanny Croghan is very sick. I have been with her all the afternoon; and Jane is going to sit up with her to-night; but Jane cannot go yet."
"She need not. I will stay there myself. I like it, aunt Caxton."
"Then I will send for you early in the morning."
Nanny Croghan lived a mile or two from the farmhouse. Eleanor walked there, attended by John with a basket. The place was a narrow dell between two uprising hills covered with heather; as wild and secluded as it is possible to imagine. The poor woman who lived there alone was dying of lingering disease. John delivered the basket, and left Eleanor alone with her charge and the mountains.
It was not a night like that she had spent by the bedside of her old nurse's daughter. Nanny was dying fast; and she needed something done for her constantly. Through all the hours of the darkness Eleanor was kept on the watch or actively employed, in administering medicine, or food, or comfort. For when Nanny wanted nothing else, she wanted that.
"Tell me something I can fix my mind onto," she would say. "It seems slipping away from me, like. And then I gets cold with fear."
Eleanor was new at the business; she had forgotten to bring her Bible with her, and she could find none in the house; "her sister had been there," Nanny said, "and had carried it away." Eleanor was obliged to draw on the slender stores of her memory; and to make the most of those, she was obliged to explain them to Nanny, and go them over and over, and pick them to pieces, and make her rest upon each clause and almost each word of a verse. There were some words that surely Eleanor became well acquainted with that night. For Nanny could sleep very little, and when she could not sleep she wanted talking incessantly. Eleanor urged her to accept the promises and she would have the peace. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him."
"Ay, but I never did fear him, you see, – till a bit agone; and now it's all fear. I fear furder'n I can see."