Read CHAPTER II - AT THE GARDEN-DOOR of The Old Helmet‚ Volume I , free online book, by Susan Warner, on ReadCentral.com.

  “To die ­to sleep. 
  To sleep! perchance to dream; ay, there’s the rub;
  For in that sleep of death what dreams may come” ­

The family at Ivy Lodge gathered round the tea-table with spirits rather whetted, apparently for both talking and eating.  Certainly the one exercise had been intermitted for some hours; the other however had gone on without cessation.  It went on still.  The party was now reduced to the home party, with the addition of Miss Broadus; which lady, with her sister, was at home at Ivy Lodge, as she was everywhere else.  Elderly, respectable and respected old ladies they were; and though they dealt in gossip, would not willingly have hurt a fly.  They dealt in receipts and in jellies too; in fashions, and in many kindnesses, both received and given by all the neighbourhood.  They were daughters of a former rector of the parish, and poor, and asked nobody to help them; which indeed they had no need to ask.

“You seemed to like your afternoon’s acquaintance, papa?” said Eleanor.

“He is a fine fellow,” said the squire.  “He’s a fine fellow.  Knows something.  My dear, he teaches a small school at Wiglands, I hear.”

“Does he.  I wonder who goes to it,” said Mrs. Powle.

“I don’t know,” said the squire; “but I mean to send Alfred.”

“My dear Mr. Powle! to such a school as that?  Nobody can go to it but some of the farmers’ children around ­there is no one else.”

“It won’t hurt him, for a little while,” said the squire.  “I like the master, and that’s of more importance than the children.  Don’t you worry.”

“My dear Mr. Powle!  But I never heard of such a thing in my life.  I do not believe Dr. Cairnes will like it at all.  He will think it very strange, your sending your boy to a man that is not a Churchman, and is not anything, that anybody knows of.”

“Dr. Cairnes be hanged!” said the squire, ­“and mind his own affairs.  He wouldn’t want me to send Alfred to him.”

“My dear Mrs. Powle,” said Miss Broadus, “I can tell you this for your comfort ­there are two sons of Mr. Churchill, the Independent minister of Eastcombe ­that come over to him; besides one or two more that are quite respectable.”

“Why does not Mr. Churchill send his boys to school it Eastcombe?”

“O well, it doesn’t suit him, I suppose; and like goes to like, you know, my dear.”

“That is what I think,” said Mrs. Powle, looking at her husband, ­“and I wonder Mr. Powle does not think so too.”

“If you mean me,” said the squire, “I am not ‘like’ anybody ­that I can tell you.  A good schoolmaster is a good schoolmaster ­I don’t care what else he calls himself.”

“And Mr. Rhys is a good schoolmaster, I have no doubt,” said Miss Broadus.

“I know what he is,” said Julia; “he is a nice man, I like him.”

“I saw he kept you quiet,” said Eleanor.  “How did he manage it?”

“He didn’t manage it.  He told me about things,” said Julia; “and he got flowers for me, and told me about ferns.  You never saw such lovely ferns as we found; and you would not know where to look for them, either.  I never saw such a nice man as Mr. Rhys in my life.”

“There, my dear,” said her mother, “do not encourage Julia in talking.  She is always too ready.”

“I am going to walk with him again, to get flowers,” said the child.

“I shall invite him to the Lodge,” said the squire.  “He is a very sensible man, and knows what he is about.”

“Do you know anything more about him, Mr. Powle?”

“He does more than teach three or four boys,” said Miss Broadus.  “He serves a little Dissenting Chapel of some sort, over at Lily Vale.”

“Why does he not live there then?” said Mrs. Powle.  “Lily Vale is two and a half miles off.  Not very convenient, I should think.”

“I don’t know, my dear.  Perhaps he finds living cheap at Wiglands, and I am sure he may.  Do you know, I get butter for less than one-half what I paid when I was in Leicester?”

“It is summer time now, Miss Broadus,” said the squire.

“Yes, I know, but still ­I am sure Wiglands is the nicest, easiest place for poor people to live, that ever was.”

“Why you are not poor, Miss Broadus,” said the squire.

Miss Broadus chuckled.  The fact was, that the Miss Broadus’s not being poor was a standing pleasant joke with them; it being well known that they were not largely supplied with means, but contrived to make a little do the apparent work of much more than they had.  A way of achieving respectability upon which they prided themselves.

“Eleanor,” said her mother as they left the table, “you look pale.  Did you get your feet wet?”

“Yes, mamma ­there was no helping that.”

“Then you’ll be laid up!”

“She must not, just now, my dear,” said Miss Broadus smilingly.

Eleanor could not laugh off the prophecy, which an internal warning told her was well founded.  She went to bed thinking of Mr. Rhys’s helmet.  She did not know why; she was not given to such thoughts; neither did she comprehend exactly what the helmet might be; yet now the thought came uneasily across her mind, that just such a cold as she had taken had been many a one’s death; and with that came a strange feeling of unprotectedness ­of want of defence.  It was very uncomfortable to go to bed with that slight sensation of sore throat and feverishness, and to remember that the beginning of multitudes of last sicknesses had been no other and no greater; and it was most unlike Eleanor to have such a cause make her uncomfortable.  She charged it upon the conversation of the morning, and supposed herself nervous or feverish; but this, if an explanation, was no cure; and through the frequent wakings of a disturbed night, the thought of that piece of armour which made one of her fellow creatures so blessedly calm, came up again and again to her mind.

“I am feverish ­this is nightmare,” said Eleanor to herself.  But it must be good to have no such nightmare.  And when the broad daylight had come, and she was pronounced to be very ill, and the doctor was sent for, Eleanor found her night’s visions would not take their departure.  She could not get up; she was a prisoner; would she ever be free?

She was very ill; the fever gained head; and the old doctor, who was a friend of the family, looked very grave at her.  Eleanor saw it.  She knew that a battle was to be fought between the powers of life and death; and the thought that no one could tell how the victory would be, came like an ice wind upon flowers.  Her spirit shrank and cowered before it.  Hopes and pleasures and plans, of which she was so full yesterday, were chilled to the ground; and across the cleared pathway of vision, what appeared?  Eleanor would not look.

But the battle must be fought; and it had to be fought amid pain and fever and weariness and the anxious looks of friends; and it was not soon decided.  And the wish for that helmet of shelter, whatever it might be, came at times bitterly strong over Eleanor’s heart.  Many a heavily drawn sigh, which her mother charged to the body’s weariness, came from the mind’s longing.  And in the solitude of the night, when her breath was quick and her pulse was high and she knew everything was going wrong, the thought came with a sting of agony, ­if there was such a helmet, and she could not have it.  O to be well and strong, and need none! ­or while lying before death’s door to see if it would open, O to have that talisman that would make its opening peace!  It was not at Eleanor’s hand, and she did not know where to find it.  And when the daylight came again, and the doctor looked grave, and her mother turned away the anxious face she did not wish Eleanor to read, the cold chill of fear crept over Eleanor’s heart.  She hid it there.  No creature in the house, she knew, could meet or quiet it; if indeed her explanation of it could have been understood.  She banished it as often as it was possible; but during many days that Eleanor lay on a sick bed, it was so frequent a visiter that her heart grew sore for its coming.

There were June roses and summer sunshine outside; and sweet breaths came in at the open windows, telling the time of year.  Julia reported how fine the strawberries were, and went and came with words about walks and flowers and joyous doings; while Eleanor’s room was darkened, and phials of medicine and glasses stood on the table, and the doctor went and carne, and Mrs. Powle hardly left her by day, and at night tile nurse slept, and Eleanor tossed and turned on her pillow and thought of another “night” that “cometh.”

The struggle with fever and pain was over at last.  Then came weakness; and though hope revived, fear would not die.  Besides, Eleanor said to herself, though she should get entirely well of this sickness, who would guaranty her that another would not come?  And must not one come ­some time ­that must be final?  And how should that be met?  Nay, though getting well again and out of present danger, she would have liked to have that armour of shelter still!

“What are you crying for?” said her little sister coming suddenly into her room one day.  Eleanor was so far recovered as to be up.

“I am weak and nervous, ­foolish.”

“I wouldn’t be foolish,” said Julia.

“I do not think I am foolish,” said Eleanor slowly.

“Then why do you say you are?  But what is the matter with you?”

“Like all the rest of the world, child, ­I want something I cannot get. 
What have you there?”

“Ferns,” said Julia.  “Do you know what ferns are?”

“I suppose I do ­when I see them.”

“No, but when you don’t see them; that’s the thing.”

“Do you, pray.”

“Yes!  A fern is a plant which has its seeds come on the back of the leaf, and no flower; and it comes up curled like a caterpillar.  Aren’t those pretty?”

“Where did you learn all that?”

“I know more than that.  This leaf is called a frond.”

“Who told you?”

“Mr. Rhys.”

“Did you learn it from Mr. Rhys?”

“Yes, to be sure I did, and a great deal more.  He is going to teach me all about ferns.”

“Where do you see Mr. Rhys?”

“Why! wherever I have a mind.  Alfred goes walking with him, and the other boys, and I go too; and he tells us things.  I always go along with Mr. Rhys, and he takes care of me.”

“Does mamma know?”

“Yes, but papa lets Mr. Rhys do just what he pleases.  Papa says Mr. Rhys is a wonderful man.”

“What is he wonderful for?” said Eleanor languidly.

“Well, I think, because he is making Alfred a good boy.”

“I wonder how he has done it,” said Eleanor.

“So do I. He knows how.  What do you think ­he punished Alfred one day right before papa.”

“Where?” said Eleanor, in astonishment.

“Down at the school.  Papa was there.  Papa told about it.  Alfred thought he wouldn’t dare, when papa was there; and Alfred took the opportunity to be impudent; and Mr. Rhys just took him up by his waistband and laid him down on the floor at his feet; and Alfred has behaved himself ever since.”

“Was not papa angry?”

“He said he was at first, and I think it is likely; but after that, he said Mr. Rhys was a great man, and he would not interfere with him.”

“And how does Alfred like Mr. Rhys?”

“He likes him ­” said Julia, turning over her ferns.  “I like him.  Mr. Rhys said he was sorry you were sick.  Now, that is a frond.  That is what it is called.  Do you see, those are the seeds.”

Eleanor sighed.  She would have liked to take lessons of Mr. Rhys on another subject.  She half envied Julia’s liberty.  There seemed a great wall built up between her and the knowledge she wanted.  Must it be so always?

“Julia, when are you going to take a walk with Mr. Rhys again?”

“To-morrow,” was the quick answer.

“I will give you something to ask him about.”

“I don’t want it.  I always have enough to ask him.  We are going after ferns; we always have enough to talk about.”

“But there is a question I would like you to ask.”

“What is it?  Why don’t you ask him yourself?”

Eleanor was silent, watching Julia’s uncompromising business-like air as she turned over her bunch of ferns.  The little one was full of her own affairs; her long locks of hair waving with every turn of her busy head.  Suddenly she looked up.

“What is your question, Eleanor?”

“You must not ask it as if from me.”

“How then?”

“Just ask it ­as if you wanted to know yourself; without saying anything.”

“As if I wanted to know what?”

Eleanor hesitated, and Mrs. Powle came into the room.

“What, Eleanor ­what?” Julia repeated.

“Nothing.  Study your ferns.”

“I have studied them.  This is the rachis ­and down here below this, is the rhizoma; and the little seed places that come on the back of the frond, are thecae.  I forget what Mr. Rhys called the seeds now.  I’ll ask him.”

“What nonsense is that you are talking, Julia?”

“Sense, mamma.  Or rather, it is knowledge.”

“Mamma, how do you like Mr. Rhys?  Julia says he is often here.”

“He is a pleasant man,” said Mrs. Powle.  “I have nothing against him ­except that your father and the children are crazy about him.  I see nothing in him to be crazy about.”

“Alfred is a good deal less crazy than he used to be,” remarked Julia; “and I think papa hasn’t lost anything.”

“You are a saucy girl,” said her mother.  “Mr. Carlisle is very anxious to know when you will be down stairs again, Eleanor.”

Julia ran off with her ferns; Eleanor went into a muse; and the conversation ceased.

It happened a few days after this, that the event about which Mr. Carlisle was anxious came to pass.  Eleanor was able to leave her room.  However, feeling yet very wanting in strength, and not quite ready to face a company of gay talkers, she shunned the drawing-room where such a company was gathered, and betook herself to a small summer-parlour in another part of the house.  This room she had somewhat appropriated to her own use.  It had once been a school-room.  Since the misbehaviour of one governess, years ago, Mr. Powle had vowed that he would never have another in the house, come what would.  Julia might run wild at home; he should be satisfied if she learned to read, to ride, and to walk; and when she was old enough, he would send her to boarding-school.  What the squire considered old enough, did not appear.  Julia was a fine child of eleven, and still practising her accomplishments of riding and walking to her heart’s content at home; with little progress made in the other branches to which reading is the door.  The old schoolroom had long forgotten even its name, and had been fitted up simply and pleasantly for summer occupation.  It opened on one side by a glass door upon a gay flower-garden; Eleanor’s special pet and concern; where she did a great deal of work herself.  It was after an elaborate geometrical pattern; and beds of all sorts of angles were filled and bright with different coloured verbenas, phloxes, geraniums, heliotrope, and other flowers fit for such work; making a brilliant mosaic of scarlet, purple and gold, in Eastern gorgeousness, as the whole was seen from the glass door.  Eleanor sat down there to look at it and realise the fact that she was getting well again; with the dreamy realization that goes along with present weakness and remembered past pain.

On another side the room opened to a small lawn; it was quite shut off by its situation and by the plantations of shrubbery, from the other part of the house; and very rarely visited by the chance comers who were frequent there.  So Eleanor was a good deal surprised this evening to see a tall strange figure appear at the further side of her flower garden; then not at all surprised to see that it was Mr. Rhys accompanied by her sister, Julia.  Julia flitted about through the garden, in very irregular fashion, followed by her friend; till their wanderings brought them near the open door within which Eleanor sat.  To the door Julia immediately darted, drawing her companion with her; and as soon as she came up exclaimed, as if she had been armed with a search warrant and had brought her man, ­

“Here’s Mr. Rhys, Eleanor.  Now you can ask him yourself whatever you like.”

Eleanor felt startled.  But it was with such a pleasant face that Mr. Rhys came up, such a cordial grasp of the hand greeted her, that the feeling vanished immediately.  Perhaps that hand-clasp was all the warmer for Eleanor’s changed appearance.  She was very unlike the girl of superb health who had wandered over the old priory grounds a few weeks before.  Eleanor’s colour was gone; the blue veins shewed distinctly on the temples; the full lips, instead of their brilliant gay smile, had a languid and much soberer line.  She made quite a different impression now, of a fair delicate young creature, who had lost and felt she had lost the proud strength in which she had been so luxuriant a little while before.  Mr. Rhys looked at her attentively.

“You have been very ill, Miss Powle.”

“I suppose I have ­some of the time.”

“I am rejoiced to see you well again.”

“Thank you.”

“Julia has been leading me over the garden and grounds.  I did not know where she was bringing me.”

“How do you like my garden?”

“For a garden of that sort ­it seems to me well arranged.”

He was very cool, certainly, in giving his opinion, Eleanor thought.  Her gardening pride was touched.  This was a pet of her own.

“Then you do not fancy gardens of this sort.”

“I believe I think Nature is the best artist of all.”

“But would you let Nature have her own way entirely?”

“No more in the vegetable than I would in the moral world.  She would grow weeds.”

The quick clear sense and decision, in the eye and accent, were just what Eleanor did not want to cope with.  She was silent.  So were her two companions; for Julia was busy with a nosegay she was making up.  Then Mr. Rhys turned to Eleanor,

“Julia said you had a question to ask of me, Miss Powle.”

“Yes, I had,” ­said Eleanor, colouring slightly and hesitating.  “But you cannot answer it standing ­will you come in, Mr. Rhys?”

“Thank you ­if you will allow me, I will take this instead,” said he, sitting down on one of the steps before the glass door.  “What was the question?”

“That was the other day, when she brought in her ferns ­it was a wish I had.  But she ought not to have troubled you with it.”

“It will give me great pleasure to answer you ­if I can.”

Eleanor half fancied he knew what the question was; and she hesitated again, feeling a good deal confused.  But when should she have another chance?  She made a bold push.

“I felt a curiosity to ask you ­I did not know any one else who could tell me ­what that ‘helmet’ was, you spoke of one day; ­that day at the old priory?”

Eleanor could not look up.  She felt as if the clear eyes opposite her were reading down in the depth of her heart.  They were very unflinching about it.  It was curiously disagreeable and agreeable both at once.

“Have you wanted it, these weeks past?” said he.

The question was unexpected.  It was put with a penetrating sympathy.  Eleanor felt if she opened her lips to speak she could not command their steadiness.  She gave no answer but silence.

“A helmet?” said Julia looking up.  “What is a helmet?”

“The warriors of old time,” said Mr. Rhys, “used to wear a helmet to protect their heads from danger.  It was a covering of leather and steel.  With this head-piece on, they felt safe; where their lives would not have been worth a penny without it.”

“But Eleanor ­what does Eleanor want of a helmet?” said Julia.  And she went off into a shout of ringing laughter.

“Perhaps you want one,” said Mr. Rhys composedly.

“No, I don’t.  What should I want it for?  What should I cover my head with leather and steel for, Mr. Rhys?”

“You want something stronger than that.”

“Something stronger?  What do I want, Mr. Rhys?”

“To know that, you must find out first what the danger is.”

“I am not in any danger.”

“How do you know that?”

“Am I, Mr. Rhys?”

“Let us see.  Do you know what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us all?”

“No.”

“Do you know whether God has given us any commandments?”

“Yes; I know the ten commandments.  I have learned them once, but I don’t remember them.”

“Have you obeyed them?”

“Me?”

“Yes.  You.”

“I never thought about it.”

“Have you disobeyed them then?”

Eleanor breathed more freely, and listened.  It was curious to her to see the wayward, giddy child stand and look into the eyes of her questioner as if fascinated.  The ordinary answer from Julia would have been a toss and a fling.  Now she stood and said sedately, “I don’t know.”

“We can soon tell,” said her friend.  “One of the commandments is, to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.  Have you always done that?”

“No,” said Julia bluntly.  “I don’t think anybody else does.”

“Never mind anybody else.  Have you always honoured the word and wish of your father and mother?  That is another command.”

“I have done it more than Alfred has.”

“Let Alfred alone.  Have you always done it?”

“No, sir.”

“Have you loved the good God all your life, with all your heart?”

“No.”

“You have loved to please yourself, rather than anything else?”

The nod with which Julia answered this, if not polite, was at least significant, accompanied with an emphatic “Always!” Mr. Rhys could not help smiling at her, but he went on gravely enough.

“What is to keep you then from being afraid?”

“From being afraid?”

“Yes.  You want a helmet.”

“Afraid?” said Julia.

“Yes.  Afraid of the justice of God.  He never lets a sin go unpunished.  He is perfectly just.”

“But I can’t help it,” said Julia.

“Then what is to become of you?  You need a helmet.”

“A helmet?” said Julia again.  “What sort of a helmet?”

“You want to know that God has forgiven you; that he is not angry with you; that he loves you, and has made you his child.”

“How can I?” said the child, pressing closer to the speaker where he sat on the step of the door.  And no wonder, for the words were given with a sweet earnest utterance which drew the hearts of both bearers.  He went on without looking at Eleanor; or without seeming to look that way.

“How can you what?”

“How can I have that?”

“That helmet?  There is only one way.”

“What is it, Mr. Rhys?”

They were silent a minute, looking at each other, the man and the child; the child with her eyes bent on his.

“Suppose somebody had taken your punishment for you? borne the displeasure of God for your sins?”

“Who would?” said Julia.  “Nobody would.”

“One has.”

“Who, Mr. Rhys?”

“One that loved you, and that loved all of us, well enough to pay the price of saving us.”

“What price did he pay?”

“His own life.  He gave it up cruelly ­that ours might be redeemed.”

“What for, Mr. Rhys? what made him?”

“Because he loved us.  There was no other reason.”

“Then people will be saved” ­said Julia.

“Every one who will take the conditions.  It depends upon that.  There are conditions.”

“What conditions, Mr. Rhys?”

“Do you know who did this for you?”

“No.”

“It is the Lord himself ­the Lord Jesus Christ ­the Lord of glory.  He thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but he made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death ­even the death of the cross.  So now he is exalted a Prince and a Saviour ­able to save all who will accept his conditions.”

“What are the conditions, Mr. Rhys?”

“You must be his servant.  And you must trust all your little heart and life to him.”

“I must be his servant?” said Julia.

“Yes, heart and soul, to obey him.  And you must trust him to forgive you and save you for his blood’s sake.”

Doubtless there had been something in the speaker himself that had held the child’s attention so fast all this while.  Her eyes had never wandered from his face; she had stood in docile wise looking at him and answering his questions and listening, won by the commentary she read in his face on what her friend was saying.  A strange light kindled in it as he spoke; there were lines of affection and tenderness that came in the play of lips and eyes; and when he named his Master, there had shined in his face as it were the reflection of the glory he alluded to.  Julia’s eyes were not the only ones that had been held; though it was only Julia’s tongue that said anything in reply.  Standing now and looking still into the face she had been reading, her words were an unconscious rendering of what she found there.

“Mr. Rhys, I think he was very good.”

The water filled those clear eyes at that, but he only returned the child’s gaze and said nothing.

“I will take the conditions, Mr. Rhys,” Julia went on.

“The Lord make it so!” he said gravely.

“But what is the helmet, Mr. Rhys?”

“When you have taken the conditions, little one, you will know.”  He rose up.

“Mr. Rhys,” said Eleanor rising also, “I have listened to you, but I do not quite understand you.”

“I recommend you to ask better teaching, Miss Powle.”

“But I would like to know exactly what you mean, and what you meant, by that ‘helmet’ you speak of so often?”

He looked steadily now at the fair young face beside him, which told so plainly of the danger lately passed through.  Eleanor could not return, though she suffered the examination.  His answer was delayed while he made it.

“Do you ask from a sense of need?” he said.

Eleanor looked up then and answered, “Yes.”

“To say, ’I know that my Redeemer liveth’ ­that is it,” he said.  “Then the head is covered ­even from fear of evil.”

It was impossible that Eleanor ever should forget the look that went with the words, and which had prevented her own gaze from seeking the ground again.  The look of inward rejoicing and outward fearlessness; the fire and the softness that at once overspread his face.  “He was looking at his Master then” ­was the secret conclusion of Eleanor’s mind.  Even while she thought it, he had turned and was gone again with Julia.  She stood still some minutes, weak as she was.  She was not sure that she perfectly comprehended what that helmet might be, but of its reality there could be no questioning.  She had seen its plumes wave over one brow!

“I know that my Redeemer liveth” ­Eleanor sat down and mused over the words.  She had heard them before; they were an expression of somebody’s faith, she was not sure whose; but what faith was it?  Faith that the Redeemer lived?  Eleanor did not question that.  She had repeated the Apostle’s Creed many a time.  Yet a vague feeling from the words she could not analyze ­or arising perhaps from the look that had interpreted them ­floated over her mind, disturbing it with an exceeding sense of want.  She felt desolate and forlorn.  What was to be done?  Julia and Mr. Rhys were gone.  The garden was empty.  There was no more chance of counsel-taking to-night.  Eleanor felt in no mood for gay gossip, and slowly mounted the stairs to her own room, from whence she declined to come down again that night.  She would like to find the settlement of this question, before she went back into the business of the world and was swallowed up by it, as she would soon be.  Eleanor locked the door, and took up a Bible, and tried to find some good by reading in it.  Her eyes and head were tired before her mind received any light.  She was weak yet.  She found the Bible very unsatisfactory; and gave it up.