The Old Helmet. Volume II
"Nanny, Nanny, the blood of Christ will take all that fear away – if only you will trust in it. He shed it for you – to pay your debts to justice. There is no condemnation to them which are in him."
Nanny did not know exactly what so big a word as condemnation meant; Eleanor was obliged to explain it; then what was meant by being "in Christ." Towards morning Nanny seemed somewhat soothed and fell into a doze. Eleanor went to the cottage door and softly opened it, to see how the night went.
The dawn was breaking fair over the hills, the tops of which shewed the unearthly brightness of coming day. It took Eleanor's eyes and thoughts right up. O for the night of darkness to pass away from this weary earth! Down in the valley the shadows lay thicker; how thick they lay about the poor head just now resting in sleep. How thick they lay but a day or two ago upon Eleanor herself! Now she looked up. The light was flushing upon the mountain tops every moment stronger. The dewy scents of the May morning were filling the air with their nameless and numberless tokens of rich nature's bounty. The voice of a cataract, close at hand, made merry down the rocks along with the song of the blackbird, woodpecker and titmouse. And still, as Eleanor stood there and looked and listened, the rush and the stir of sweet life grew more and more; the spring breeze wakened up and floated past her face bringing the breath of the flowers fresher and nearer; and the hill tops ever kindled into more and more glow. "It is Spring! and it is Day!" thought Eleanor, – "and so it is in my heart. The darkness is gone; the light is like that light, – promising more; my life is full of sweetness I never knew. Surely this month shall be the month of months to me for ever. O for this day – O for this morning – to waken over all the world!"
She stood there, for Nanny still slept, till the sunbeams struck the hills and crept down the sides of them; and till John and Jane came in sight round the angle of the road. John had brought the pony to take Eleanor home; and a few minutes' ride brought her there. Morning prayers were however done, before Eleanor could refresh herself with cold water and a change of dress. When she came down to the sitting-room Mrs. Caxton had stepped out on some business; and in her place, sitting alone with a book, Eleanor was greatly surprised to see Mr. Rhys.
He was not at all surprised to see her; rose up and gave her a very cordial grasp of the hand, and stirred up the wood fire; which, May morning though it was, the thick walls of the old stone house and the neighbourhood of the mountains made useful and agreeable. In silence and with a good deal of skill Mr. Rhys laid the logs together so that a fresh blaze sprang up; then after a remark upon the morning he went back to his book. Eleanor sat down, also silent, feeling very much delighted to see him there, and to think that they would have his company at breakfast; but not at all inclined, nor indeed competent, to open a conversation. She looked into the fire and wondered at the turns that had brought about this meeting; wondered over the past year of her life; remembered her longing for the "helmet of salvation" which her acquaintance with Mr. Rhys had begun; and sang for joy in her heart that now she had it. Yes, it was hers, she believed; a deep rest and peace had taken place of craving and anxiety, such as even now disturbed poor dying Nanny. Eleanor felt very happy, in the midst of all her care for her. The fire burned beautifully.
"I was not aware," said Mr. Rhys looking up from his book, "I was not aware till last night that you lived with Mrs. Caxton."
Very odd, Eleanor thought; most people would have found out; however she took it simply.
"I am her niece."
"So I find, – so I am glad to find. I can wish nothing better for any one, in that kind, than to be connected with Mrs. Caxton."
He sat with his finger between the leaves of his book, and Eleanor again wondered at the silence; till Mrs. Caxton came in. It was not very flattering; but Eleanor was not troubled with vanity; she dismissed it with a thought compounded of good-humour and humility. At breakfast the talk went on pretty briskly; it was all between the other two and left her on one side; yet it was good enough to listen to it. Eleanor was well satisfied. Mr. Rhys was the principal talker; he was telling Mrs. Caxton of different people and things in the course of his labours; which constantly gave a reflex gleam of light upon those labours themselves and upon the labourer. Unconsciously of course, and merely from the necessity of the case; but it was very interesting to Eleanor, and probably to Mrs. Caxton; she looked so. At last she turned to her niece.
"How did you leave Nanny?"
"A little easier towards morning, I think; at least she went to sleep, which all the night she could not do."
"Nor you neither."
"O that's nothing. I don't mind that at all. It was worth watching, to see the dawn."
"Was the woman in so much pain?" Mr. Rhys asked.
"No; not bodily; she was uneasy in mind."
"In what way."
"Afraid of what lies before her; seeing dimly, if at all."
"Was she comforted by what you told her?"
"I had very little to tell her," said Eleanor; "I had no Bible; I had forgotten to take it; and hers was gone. I had to get what I could from memory, for I did not like to give her anything but the words of the Bible itself to ground hope upon."
"Yes, but a good warm testimony of personal experience, coming from the heart, often goes to the heart. I hope you tried that."
Eleanor had not; she was silent. The testimony she had given in the class-meeting somehow she had been shy of uttering unasked in the ear of the dying woman. Was that humility – or something else? Again Mr. Rhys had done for her what he so often did for her and for others – probed her thoughts.
"It is a good plan," said Mrs. Caxton, "to have a storehouse in one's memory of such things as may be needed upon occasion; passages of Scripture and hymns; to be brought out when books are not at hand. I was made to learn a great deal out of the Bible when I was a girl; and I have often made a practice of it since; and it always comes into play."
"I never set myself lessons to get by heart," said Mr. Rhys. "I never could learn anything in that way. Or perhaps I should say, I neverliked to do it. I never did it."
"What is your art, then?" said Mrs. Caxton, looking curious.
"No art. It is only that when anything impresses itself strongly on my feelings, the words seem to engrave themselves in my memory. It is an unconscious and purely natural operation."
Eleanor remembered the multitudinous quoting of the Bible she had at different times heard from Mr. Rhys; and again wondered mentally. All that, all those parts of the Bible, he had not set himself to study, but had felt them into his memory! They had been put in like gold letters, with a hot iron.
"Where is this woman?" Mr. Rhys went on.
"She lives alone, in the narrow dell that stretches behind Bengarten Castle – and nearly in a straight line with it, from here. Do not go there this morning – you want rest, and it is too far for you to walk. I am going to take you into my garden, to see how my flowers go."
"Won't you take me into your dairy?"
"If you like it," said Mrs. Caxton smiling.
"I like it exceedingly. It is something like a musical box to me, Miss Powle, to see Mrs. Caxton's cheese-making. It soothes my nerves, the noiseless order of everything. Do you know that wonderful cheese-house, where they stand in ranks like yellow millstones? I never can get over my surprise at going in there. Certainly we, as a nation, are fond of cheese!"
"You think so because you are not," said Mrs. Caxton. "It is too late for the dairy to-day. You shall give me help in my garden, where I want it."
"I understand," says Mr. Rhys. "But it is my business to make flowers grow in the Lord's garden – wherever I can. I wish I could do more ofthat gardening work!"
Eleanor gave a quick glance up at the speaker. His brow rested on his hand for the moment; she noticed the sharply drawn lines of the face, the thin cheeks, the complexion, which all witnessed to over-work already attempted and done. The brow and eyes were marked with lines of watching and fatigue. It was but a glance, and Eleanor's eyes went down again; with an additional lesson of unconscious testimony carried deep home. This man lived as he talked. The good of existence was not one thing in his lips and another in his practice. Eleanor looked at her plate with her heart burning. In her old fancy for studying, or at least reading, hands, she had noticed too in her glance the hand on which the head rested; and with surprise. It was almost a feminine hand in make, with long slim fingers; white withal, and beautifully cared for. Certain refinements were clearly necessary to this man, who was ready to plunge himself into a country of savages nevertheless, where all the refinement would be his own. To some natures it would be easier to part with a hand altogether, than to forego the necessity of having it clean. This was one. And he was going to give himself up to Polynesia and its practices. Eleanor eat with the rest of her breakfast and swallowed with her tea, the remembered words of the apostle – "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ." – "Neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I may finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to be faithful." – Eleanor's heart swelled. Tears were very near.
After breakfast, a large part of the morning was spent by her aunt and Mr. Rhys in the garden; as Mrs. Caxton had said; and very busy they were. Eleanor was not asked to join them, and she did not choose to volunteer; she watched them from the house. They were very honestly busy; planting and removing and consulting; in real garden work; yet it was manifest their minds had also much more in common, in matters of greater interest; they stood and talked for long intervals when the flowers were forgotten. They were very near each other, those two, evidently, in regard and mutual confidence and probably mutual admiration also. It was very strange Eleanor should never have come to the knowledge of it till to-day. And yet, why should she? She had never mentioned the name of Mr. Rhys to her aunt in any of her stories of Wiglands.
He was away all the afternoon and the evening, and came back again late; a tired and exhausted man. He said nothing, except to officiate at family prayers; but Eleanor was delighted that he was to spend the night at the farm and they would have him at breakfast. Only to see him and hear him talk to others, only the tones of his voice, brought up to her everything that was good and strong and pure and happy. He did not seem inclined to advance at all upon their Wiglands acquaintance. He made no allusion to it. As far as she was concerned, Eleanor thought that there was more reserve in his manner towards her than he had shewed there. No matter. With Mrs. Caxton he was very much at home; and she could study him at her ease all the better for not talking to him.
WITH THE BASKET
"The flush of life may well be seen
Thrilling back over hills and valleys;
The cowslip startles in meadows green,
The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice,
And there's never a leaf or a blade too mean
To be some happy creature's palace."
"Mrs. Caxton," said Mr. Rhys the next morning, when half the breakfast had been passed in silence, "have you such a thing as a microscope in the house?"
"I am afraid not. Why do you ask?"
"Only, that I have suddenly discovered myself to be very ignorant, in a department of knowledge where it would be very pleasant as well as proper to be otherwise. I have been reading a book on some of the forms of life which are only to be known through the help of glasses; and I find there is a world there I know nothing about. That book has made a boy of me."
"How?" said Mrs. Caxton smiling.
"You think I always retain more or less of that character! Well – it has made me doubly a boy then; in my eagerness to put myself to school, on the one hand, and my desire to see something new on the other. Miss Powle, have you ever studied the invisible inhabitants of pools, and ponds, and sea-weeds?"
"Not at all," said Eleanor.
"You do not know much more than the names, then, of Infusoria,
Rotifera, and Pedunculata, and such things?"