The Old Helmet. Volume II
"Nothing. We will enjoy the flowers ourselves."
"But he thought he would be at home to-night, aunt Caxton?"
"He could not be sure. He might easily be detained. You have got over your fear of Mr. Rhys, Eleanor?"
"Aunt Caxton, I don't think I ever feared him!"
"He used to have a 'quieting influence' upon you," Mrs. Caxton said smiling.
"Well, – he does now, ma'am. At least I am sure Mr. Rhys is one of the persons I should never care to contradict."
"I should think not," said Mrs. Caxton quietly. Eleanor had coloured a little.
"But that is not because, merely, I do not think myself wise; because there are other persons before whom I think myself no wiser, whom Iwould contradict – I mean, in a polite way – if it came into my head."
"We shall miss him when he goes," said Mrs. Caxton with a little bit of a sigh. Eleanor wanted to ask a question, but the words did not come. The ornamenting of the strawberry dish was finished. She turned from it, and looked down where the long train of cows came winding through the meadows and over the bridge. Pretty, peaceful, lovely, was this gentle rural scene; what was the connection that made but a step in Eleanor's thoughts between the meadows of Plassy and some far-off islands in distant Polynesia? Eleanor had changed since some time ago. She could understand now why Mr. Rhys wanted to go there; she could comprehend it; she could understand how it was that he was not afraid to go and did not shrink from leaving all this loveliness at her feet. All that was no mystery now; but her thoughts fastened on her aunt's words – how they would "miss him." She was very still, and so was Mrs. Caxton; till a step brought both heads round to the door.
It was only a servant that came out, bringing letters; one for Eleanor, one for Mrs. Caxton. Standing where she was, Eleanor broke hers open. It was from her mother, and it contained something both new and unexpected; an urgent injunction on her to return immediately home. The family were going at once to Brighton, the letter said; Mrs. Powle wished Eleanor to lose no time, in order that her wardrobe might be properly cared for. Thomas was sent with the letter, and her mother desired that Eleanor would immediately on the receipt of it, "without an hour's delay," set off to come home with him. Reasons for this sudden proceeding there were none given; and it came with the suddenness of a hurricane upon Eleanor. Up to this time there had been no intimation of her mother's wish to have her at home again ever; an interval of several weeks had elapsed since any letters; now Mrs. Powle said "she had been gone long enough," and they all wanted her, and must have her at once to go to Brighton. So suddenly affectionate?
Eleanor stood looking at her letter some time after she had ceased to read it, with a face that shewed turmoil. Mrs. Caxton came up to her. Eleanor dropped the letter in her hand, but her eye avoided her aunt's.
"What is all this haste, Eleanor?" Mrs. Caxton said gravely.
"I don't know, ma'am."
"At any rate, my child, you cannot leave me to-night. It is too late."
"Does your mother assign no reason for this sudden demand of you? She gives me none."
"She gives me none, ma'am."
"Eleanor – "
It brought Eleanor's eye up, and that brought her head down on Mrs. Caxton's shoulder. Her aunt clasped her tenderly for a moment, and then said,
"Had you not better see your mother's servant, my dear, and give your orders? – and then we will have tea."
Eleanor steadied herself immediately; went out and had an interview with old Thomas, which however brought her no enlightenment; made her arrangements with him, and returned to her aunt. Mrs. Caxton ordered tea; they would not wait for Mr. Rhys any longer. The aunt and niece sat down to the table behind the honeysuckle drapery of the pillars; the sunlight had left the landscape; the breath of the flowers floated up cool and sweet from the terraced garden and waved about them with every stir of the long rose and honeysuckle sprays. Eleanor sat by the table and looked out. Mrs. Caxton poured out the tea and looked at her.
"Aren't you going to take some strawberries, my love?"
"Shall I give you some, aunt Caxton?"
"And yourself, my dear."
She watched while Eleanor slowly broke up the heath and ivy adornment of the strawberry dish, and carefully afterwards replaced the sprays and leaves she had dislodged. It is no harm for a lady's hand to be white; but travelling from the hand to the face, Mrs. Caxton's eye found too little colour there. Eleanor's cheeks were not generally wanting in a fine healthy tinge. The tinge was fainter than usual to-night. Nevertheless she was eating strawberries with apparent regularity.
"Eleanor, I do not understand this sudden recall. Have you any clue?"
"No ma'am, not the least."
"What arrangements have you made, my dear?"
"For to-morrow morning, ma'am. I had no choice."
"No, my dear, you had not; and I have not a word to say. I hope Mr.
Rhys will come back before you go."
Absolute silence on Eleanor's part.
"You would like to bid him good bye before you leave Plassy."
There was a cessation of any attention to the strawberries, and
Eleanor's hand took a position which rather hindered observations of her face. You might have heard a slight little sigh come from behind
Mrs. Caxton's tea-pot.
"Eleanor, have you learned that the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord? My love, they are not left to our own disposal, and we should not know how to manage it. You are going to do the Lord's work, are you not, wherever you may be?"
"I hope so."
"Then trust him to place you where he wants the work to be done. Can you, Eleanor?"
Eleanor left her seat, came round and knelt down by Mrs. Caxton's side, putting her face in her lap.
"It is not like a good soldier, dear, to wish to play general. You have something now to do at home – perhaps not more for others than for yourself. Are you willing to do it?"
"Don't ask me if I am willing, aunt Caxton! I have been too happy – But
I shall be willing."
"That is all we live for, my dear – to do the Lord's work; and I am sure that in service as in everything else, God loves a cheerful giver. Let us give him that now, Eleanor; and trust him for the rest. My child, you are not the only one who has to give up something."
And though Mrs. Caxton said little more than that word on the subject of what Eleanor's departure cost herself, she manifested it in a different way by the kind incessant solicitude and care with which she watched over Eleanor and helped her and kept with her that night and the next morning. Eleanor made her preparations and indulged in very few words. There was too much to think of, in the last evening's society, the last night in her happy room, the last morning hours. And yet Eleanor did very little thinking. She was to go immediately after breakfast. The early prayers were over, and the aunt and niece were left by themselves a moment before the meal was served.
"And what shall I say to Mr. Rhys?" enquired Mrs. Caxton, as they stood silent together. Eleanor hesitated, and hesitated; and finally said,
"I believe, nothing, ma'am."
"You have given me messages for so many other people, you know," said
Mrs. Caxton quietly.
"Yes, ma'am. I don't know how to make a message for him."