The Old Helmet. Volume II
"I think he will feel it," said Mrs. Caxton in the same manner.
Then she saw, for her eyes were good, the lightning flash of emotion which worked in Eleanor's face. Proud self-control kept it down, and she stood motionless, though it did not prevent the perceptible paling of her cheek which Mrs. Caxton had noticed last night. She stood silent, then she said slowly, —
"If I thought that– You may give him any message for me that you think good, aunt Caxton."
The breakfast arrived, and few more words passed on any topic. Another hour, and Eleanor was on her journey.
She felt in a confusion of spirits and would not let herself think, till they reached her stopping place for the night. And then, instead of thinking, Eleanor to say the truth could do nothing but weep. It was her time for tears; to-morrow would end such an indulgence. At an early hour the next day she met her father's carriage which had been sent so far for her; and the remaining hours of her way Eleanor did think. Her thoughts are her own. But at the bottom of some that were sorrowful lay one deep subject of joy. That she was not going helmet-less into the fight which she felt might be before her. Of that she had an inward presentiment, though what form it would take she was entirely uncertain.
Julia was the first person that met her, and that meeting was rapturous.
"O Nell! it has been so dreadful and dull since you have been gone! I'm so glad to have you home! I'm so glad to have you home!" – she repeated, with her arms round Eleanor's neck.
"But what are you going to Brighton for?" said Eleanor after the first salutations had satisfied the first eagerness of the sisters.
"O I don't know. Papa isn't just well, I believe; and mamma thought it would do him good. Mamma's in here."
It was to Eleanor's relief that her reception in this quarter also was perfectly cordial. Mrs. Powle seemed to have forgotten, or to be disposed to forget, old causes of trouble; and to begin again as if nothing had happened.
"You look well, Eleanor. Bless me, I never saw your complexion better! but how your hair is dressed! That isn't the way now; but you'll get to rights soon. I've got a purple muslin for you that will be beautiful. Your whole wardrobe will want attention, but I have everything ready – dress-maker and all – only waiting for you. Think of your being gone seven months and more! But never mind – we'll let bygones be bygones. I am not going to rake up anything. We'll go to Brighton and have everything pleasant."
"How soon, mamma?"
"Just as soon as I can get you dressed. And Eleanor! I wish you would immediately take a review of all your wardrobe and all I have got for you, and see if I have omitted anything."
"What has put you into the notion of Brighton, mamma?"
"Everybody is there now – and we want a change. I think it will do your father good."
To see her father was the next thing; and here there was some comfort. The squire was undoubtedly rejoiced to see his daughter and welcomed her back right heartily. Made much of her in his way. He was the only one too who cared much to hear of Mrs. Caxton and her way of life and her farm. The squire did care. Eleanor was kept a long time answering questions and giving details. It cost her some hard work.
"She is a good woman, is my sister Caxton," said the Squire; "and she has pluck enough for half a dozen. The only thing I have against her is her being a Methodist. She hasn't made a Methodist of you, hey, Eleanor?"
"I don't think she has, papa," Eleanor answered slowly.
"That's the only fault I have to find with her," the Squire went on; "but I suppose women must have an empty corner of their heads, where they will stick fancies if they don't stick flowers. I think flowers are the most becoming of the two. Wears a brown gown always, don't she?"
"I thought they did," said the Squire; "but she's a clever woman, for all that, or she wouldn't carry on that business of the farm as she does. Your mother don't like the farm; but I think my sister is right. Better be independent and ask leave of nobody. Well, you must get dressed, must you. I am glad to have you home, child!"
"Why are we going to leave home, papa?"
"St. George and the Dragon! Ask your mother."
So Eleanor did not get much wiser on the subject till dinner-time; nor then either, though it was nearly the only thing talked about, both directly and indirectly. A great weariness came over her, as the contrast rose up of Mrs. Caxton's dinner-table and the three faces round it; with the sweet play of talk, on things natural or philosophical, religious or civil, but always sensible, fresh, and original and strong. Always that; the party might lapse into silence; if one of them was tired it often did; but when the words came again, they came with a ready life and purpose – with a sort of perfume of love and purity – that it made Eleanor's heart ache now to think of. Her mother was descanting on lodgings, on the people already at Brighton, or coming there; on dresses ready and unready; and to vary this topic the Squire complained that his wine was not cooled properly. Eleanor sank into silence and then into extreme depression of spirits; which grew more and more, until she caught her little sister's eye looking at her wistfully. Julia had hardly said a word all dinner-time. The look smote Eleanor's conscience. "Is this the way I am doing the work given me?" she thought; "this selfish forgetting of all others in myself? Am I standing in my post like a good soldier? Is this 'pleasing all men for their good?'" Conscience thumped like a hammer; and Eleanor roused up, entered into what was going, talked and made herself pleasant to both father and mother, who grew sunshiny under the influence. Mrs. Powle eat the remainder of her dinner with more appetite; and the Squire declared Eleanor had grown handsome and Plassy had done her no harm. But Julia looked and listened and said never a word. It was very hard work to Eleanor, though it brought its reward as she went along, not only in comments but in the sense of duty performed. She would not run away from her post; she kept at it; when her father had gone away to smoke she stayed by her mother; till Mrs. Powle dropped off into her usual after dinner nap in her chair. Eleanor sat still a minute or two longer, then made an escape. She sought her old garden, by the way of her old summer parlour. Things were not changed there, except that the garden was a little neglected. It brought painful things back, though the flowers were sweet and the summer sunset glow was over them all. So it used to be in old times. So it used to be in nearer times, last summer. And now was another change. Eleanor paced slowly down one walk and up another, looking sorrowfully at her old friends, the roses, carnations and petunias, which looked at her as cheerfully as ever; when a hand touched hers and she found Julia at her side.
"Eleanor," she said wistfully, "are you sorry to be at home again?"
"I am glad to see you, darling; and papa, and mamma."
"But you don't look glad. Was it so much pleasanter where you have been?"
Eleanor struggled with herself.
"It was very different, Julia – and there were things that you and I both love, that there are not here."
"Here all is for the world, Julia; there, at Plassy, nothing is for the world. I feel the difference just at first – I suppose I shall get a little used to it presently."
"I have not thought so much about all that," said Julia soberly, "since
Mr. Rhys went away. But you must have loved aunt Caxton very much,
Eleanor, to make you sorry to come home."
Julia spoke almost sadly. Eleanor felt bitterly reproached. Was there not work at home here for her to do! Yet she could hardly speak at first. Putting her arm round Julia she drew her down beside her on a green bank and took her little sister in her arms.
"You and I will help each other, Julia, will we not?"
"To love Christ, and please him."
"Why, do you love him?" said Julia. "Are you like Mr. Rhys?"
"Not much. But I do love the same Master he loves, Julia; and I have come home to serve him. You will help me?"
"Mamma don't like all that," remarked Julia.
Eleanor sighed. The burden on her heart seemed growing heavy. Julia half rose up and putting both arms round her neck covered her lips with kisses.
"You don't seem like yourself!" she said; "and you look as grave as if you had found us all dead. Eleanor – are you afraid?" she said with an earnest look.
"Afraid of what, dear?"
"Of that man – afraid of Mr. Carlisle?"
"No, I am not afraid of him, or of anything. Besides, he is hundreds of miles away, in Switzerland or somewhere."
"No he isn't; he is here."
"What do you mean by 'here?'"
"In England, I mean. He isn't at the Priory; but he was here at the
Lodge the other day."