Read CHAPTER III - IN THE DRAWING-ROOM of The Old Helmet‚ Volume I , free online book, by Susan Warner, on ReadCentral.com.

  “Why, all the souls that were were forfeit once;
  And he that might the vantage best have took,
  Found out the remedy.”

“You can come down stairs to-night, Eleanor,” said Mrs. Powle the next morning.

“I was down stairs last night ­in the afternoon, I mean ­mamma.”

“Yes, but you did not stay.  I want you in the drawing-room this evening.  You can bear it now.”

“I am in no hurry, mamma.”

“Other people are, however.  If you wear a white dress, do put a rose or some pink ribbands somewhere, to give yourself a little colour.”

“Have you invited any one for this evening?”

“No, but people have promised themselves without being asked.  Dr.
Cairnes wants to see you; he said he would bring Mrs. Wycherly.  Miss
Broadus will be here of course; she declared she would; both of them. 
And Mr. Carlisle desired my permission to present himself.”

“Mr. Rhys is coming,” said Julia.

“I dare say.  Mr. Powle wants him here all the time.  It is a mercy the man has a little consideration ­or some business to keep him at home ­or he would be the sauce to every dish.  As it is, he really is not obtrusive.”

“Are all these people coming with the hope and intent of seeing me, mamma?”

“I can only guess at people’s hopes, Eleanor.  I am guiltless of anything but confessing that you were to make your appearance.”

“Mr. Rhys is not coming to see you,” said Julia.  “He wants to see the books ­that is what he wants.”

There was some promise for Eleanor in the company announced for the evening.  If anybody could be useful to her in the matter of her late doubts and wishes, it ought to be Dr. Cairnes, the rector.  He at least was the only one she knew whom she could talk to about them; the only friend.  Mr. Rhys was a stranger and her brother’s tutor; that was all; a chance of speaking to him again was possible, but not to be depended on.  Dr. Cairnes was her pastor and old friend; it is true, she knew him best, out of the pulpit, as an antiquarian; then she had never tried him on religious questions.  Nor he her, she remembered; it was a doubtful hope altogether; nevertheless the evening offered what another evening might not in many a day.  So Eleanor dressed, and with her slow languid step made her way down stairs to the scene of the social gayeties which had been so long interrupted for her.

Ivy Lodge was a respectable, comfortable, old house; pretty by the combination of those advantages; and pleasant by the fact of making no pretensions beyond what it was worth.  It was not disturbed by the rage after new fashions, nor the race after distant greatness.  Quiet respectability was the characteristic of the family; Mrs. Powle alone being burdened with the consciousness of higher birth than belonged to the name of Powle generally.  She fell into her husband’s ways, however, outwardly, well enough; did not dislodge the old furniture, nor introduce new extravagances; and the Lodge was a pleasant place.  “A most enjoyable house, my dear,” ­as Miss Broadus expressed it.  So the gentry of the neighbourhood found it universally.

The drawing-room was a pretty, spacious apartment; light and bright; opening upon the lawn directly without intervention of piazza or terrace.  Windows, or rather glass doors, in deep recesses, stood open; the company seemed to be half in and half out.  Dr. Cairnes was there, talking with the squire.  In another place Mrs. Powle was engaged with Mr. Carlisle.  Further than those two groups, Eleanor’s eye had no chance to go; those who composed the latter greeted her instantly.  Mrs. Powle’s exclamation was of doubtful pleasure at Eleanor’s appearance; there was no question of her companion’s gratification.  He came forward to Eleanor, gave her his chair; brought her a cup of tea, and then sat down to see her drink it; with a manner which bespoke pleasure in every step of the proceedings.  A manner which had rather the effect of a barrier to Eleanor’s vision.  It was gratifying certainly; Eleanor felt it; only she felt it a little too gratifying.  Mr. Carlisle was getting on somewhat too fast for her.  She drank her tea and kept very quiet; while Mrs. Powle sat by and fanned herself, as contentedly as a mother duck swims that sees all her young ones taking to the water kindly.

Now and then Eleanor’s eyes went out of the window.  On the lawn at a little distance was a group of people, sitting close together and seeming very busy.  They were Mr. Rhys, Miss Broadus, Alfred and Julia.  Something interesting was going forward; they were talking and listening, and looking at something they seemed to be turning over.  Eleanor would have liked to join them; but here was Mr. Carlisle; and remembering the expression which had once crossed his face at the mention of Mr. Rhys’s name, she would not draw attention to the group even by her eyes; though they wandered that way stealthily whenever they could.  What a good time those people were having there on the grass; and she sitting fenced in by Mr. Carlisle.  Other members of the party who had not seen Eleanor, came up one after another to congratulate and welcome her; but Mr. Carlisle kept his place.  Dr. Cairnes came, and Eleanor wanted a chance to talk to him.  None was given her.  Mr. Carlisle left his place for a moment to carry Eleanor’s cup away, and Dr. Cairnes thoughtlessly took the vacated chair; but Mr. Carlisle stationed himself on the other side in the window; and she was as far from her opportunity as ever.

“Well my dear,” said the doctor, “you have had a hard time, eh?  We are glad to have you amongst us again.”

“Hardly,” put in Mrs. Powle.  “She looks like a ghost.”

“Rather a substantial kind of a ghost,” said the doctor, pinching Eleanor’s cheek; “some flesh and blood here yet ­flesh at least; ­and now the blood speaks for itself!  That’s right, my dear ­you are better so.”

Mr. Carlisle’s smile said so too, as the doctor glanced at him.  But the momentary colour faded again.  Eleanor remembered how near she had come to being a ghost actually.  Just then Mr. Carlisle’s attention was forcibly claimed, and Mrs. Powle moved away.  Eleanor seized her chance.

“Dr. Cairnes, I want your instruction in something.”

“Well, my dear,” said the doctor, lowering his tone in imitation of Eleanor’s ­“I shall be happy to be your instructor.  I have been that, in some sort, ever since you were five years old ­a little tot down in your mother’s pew, sitting under my ministrations.  What is it, Miss Eleanor?”

“I am afraid I did not receive much in those days, sir.”

“Probably not.  Hardly to be expected.  I have no doubt you received as much as a child could, from the mysteries which were above its comprehension.  What is it now, Miss Eleanor?”

“Something in your line, sir.  Dr. Cairnes, you remember the helmet spoken of in the Bible?”

“Helmet?” said the doctor.  “Goliath’s?  He had a helmet of brass upon his head.  Must have been heavy, but I suppose he could carry it.  The same thing essentially as those worn by our ancestors ­a little variation in form.  What about it, my dear?  I am glad to see you smiling again.”

“Nothing about that.  I am speaking of another sort of helmet ­do you not remember? ­it is called somewhere the helmet of salvation.”

That? O! ­um! That helmet!  Yes ­it is in, let me see ­it is in the description of Christian armour, in a fine passage in Ephesians, I think.  What about that, Miss Eleanor?”

“I want to know, sir, what shape that helmet takes.”

It was odd, with what difficulty Eleanor brought out her questions.  It was touching, the concealed earnestness which lingered behind her glance and smile.

“Shape?” said the doctor, descending into his cravat; ­“um! a fair question; easier asked than answered.  Why my dear, you should read a commentary.”

“I like living commentaries, Dr. Cairnes.”

“Do you?  Ha, ha! ­well.  Living commentaries, eh? and shapes of helmets.  Well.  What shape does it take?  Why, my dear, you know of course that those expressions are figurative.  I think it takes the shape of a certain composure and peace of mind which the Christian soul feels, and justly feels, in regarding the provision made for its welfare in the gospel.  It is spoken of as the helmet of salvation; and there is the shield of faith; and so forth.”

Eleanor felt utterly worried, and did not in the least know how to frame her next question.

“What has put you upon thinking of helmets, Miss Eleanor?”

“I was curious ­” said Eleanor.

“You had some serious thoughts in your illness?” said the doctor.  “Well, my dear ­I am glad of it.  Serious thoughts do not in the least interfere with all proper present enjoyments; and with improper ones you would not wish to have anything to do.”

“May we not say that serious thoughts are the foundation of all true present enjoyment?” said another voice.  It was Mr. Rhys who spoke.  Eleanor started to hear him, and to see him suddenly in the place where Mr. Carlisle had been, standing in the window.

“Eh?  Well ­no, ­not just that,” said Dr. Cairnes coolly.  “I have a good deal of enjoyment in various things ­this fair day and this fair company, for example, and Mrs. Powle’s excellent cup of tea ­with which I apprehend, serious thoughts have nothing to do.”

“But we are commanded to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

“Well ­um!  That is to be taken of course in its rational significance.  A cup of tea is a cup of tea ­and nothing more.  There is nothing at the bottom of it ­ha, ha! ­but a little sugar.  Nothing more serious.”

Mr. Rhys’s figure standing in the window certainly hindered a part of the light.  To judge by the doctor’s face, he was keeping out the whole.

“What do you suppose the apostle means, sir, when he says, ‘Henceforward know I no man after the flesh?’”

“Hum! ­Ah, ­well, he was an apostle.  I am not.  Perhaps you are?”

There was a degree of covert disdain in this speech, which Eleanor wondered at in so well-bred a man as Dr. Cairnes.  Mr. Rhys answered with perfect steadiness, with no change of tone or manner.

“Without being inspired ­I think, in the sense of messenger, every minister of Christ is his apostle.”

“Ah!  Well! ­I am not even apostolic,” said the doctor, with one or two contented and discontented grunts.  Eleanor understood them; the content was his own, the discontent referred to the speaker whose words were so inopportune.  The doctor rose and left the ground.  Mr. Rhys had gone even before him; and Eleanor wondered anew whether this man were indeed shy or not.  He was so little seen and heard; yet spoke, when he spoke, with such clearness and self-possession.  He was gone now, and Mr. Carlisle was still busy.  Up came Miss Broadus and took the vacant seat.

It is impossible to describe Miss Broadus’s face.  It was in a certain sense fair, and fat, and fresh-coloured; but the “windows of her soul” shewed very little light from within; they let out nothing but a little gleam now and then.  However, her tongue was fluent, and matter for speech never wanting.  She was kindly too, in manner at least; and extremely sociable with all her neighbours, low as well as high; none of whose affairs wanted interest for her.  It was in fact owing to Miss Broadus’s good offices with Mrs. Powle, that Mr. Rhys had been invited to join the pleasure party with which the adventures of this book begin.  The good lady was as neat as a pink in her dress; and very fond of being as shewy, in a modest way.

“Among us again, Eleanor?” she said.  “We are glad to see you.  So is Mr. Carlisle, I should judge.  We have missed you badly.  You have been terribly ill, haven’t you?  Yes, you shew it.  But that will soon pass away, my dear.  I longed to get in to do something for you ­but Mrs. Powle would not let me; and I knew you had the best of everything all the while.  Only I thought I would bring you a pot of my grape jelly; for Mrs. Powle don’t make it; and it is so refreshing.”

“It was very nice, thank you.”

“O it was nothing, my dear; only we wanted to do something.  I have been having such an interesting time out there; didn’t you see us sitting on the grass?  Mr. Rhys is quite a botanist ­or a naturalist ­or something; and he was quite the centre of our entertainment.  He was shewing us ferns ­fern leaves, my dear; and talking about them.  Do you know, as I told him, I never looked at a fern leaf before; but now really it’s quite curious; and he has almost made me believe I could see a certain kind of beauty in them.  You know there is a sort of beauty which some people think they find in a great many things; and when they are enthusiastic, they almost make you think as they do.  I think there is great power in enthusiasm.”

“Is Mr. Rhys enthusiastic?”

“O I don’t know, my dear, ­I don’t know what you would call it; I am not a philosopher; but he is very fond of ferns himself.  He is a very fine man.  He is a great deal too good to go and throw himself away.”

“Is that what he is going to do?”

“Why yes, my dear; that is what I should call it.  It is a great deal more than that.  I never can remember the place; but it is the most dreadful place, I do suppose, that ever was heard of.  I never heard of such a place.  They do every horrible thing there ­my dear, the accounts make your blood creep.  I think Mr. Rhys is a great deal too valuable a man to be lost there, among such a set of creatures ­they are more like devils than men.  And Eleanor,” said Miss Broadus, looking round to see that nobody was within hearing of her communication, ­“you have no idea what a pleasant man he is.  I asked him to tea with Juliana and me ­you know one must be kind and neighbourly at any rate ­and he has no friends here; I sometimes wonder if he has any anywhere; but he came to tea, and he was as agreeable as possible.  He was really excellent company, and very well behaved.  I think Juliana quite fell in love with him; but I tell her it’s no use; she never would go off to that dreadful place with him.”

And Miss Broadus laughed a laugh of simple amusement; Miss Juliana being, though younger than herself, still very near the age of an old lady.  They kept the light-hearted simplicity of young years, however, in a remarkable degree; and so had contrived to dispense with wrinkles on their fresh old faces.

“Where is that place, Miss Broadus?”

“My dear, I never can remember the name of it.  They do say the country is beautiful, and the fruit, and all that; it is described to be a beautiful place, where, as Heber’s hymn says, ‘only man is vile.’  But he is as vile as he can be, there.  And I am sure Mr. Rhys would be a great loss at Wiglands.  My dear, how pleasant it would be, I said to Juliana this morning, how pleasant it would be, if Mr. Rhys were only in the Church, and could help good Dr. Cairnes.  ’Tisn’t likely they will let him live long out there, if he goes.”

“When is he going?”

“O I don’t know when, my dear; he is waiting for something.  And I never can remember the name of the place; if a word has many syllables I cannot keep them together in my memory; only I know the vegetables there grow to an enormous size, and as if that wasn’t enough, men devour each other.  It seems like an abusing the gifts of providence, don’t it?  But there is nothing they do not abuse.  I am afraid they will abuse poor Mr. Rhys.  And his boys would miss him very much, and I am sure we all should.  I have got quite acquainted with him, seeing him here; and now Juliana has taken a fancy to ask him to our cottage ­and I have come to quite like him.  What a different looking man he is from Mr. Carlisle ­now look at them talking together! ­”

“Where did you learn all this, Miss Broadus? did Mr. Rhys tell you?”

“No, my dear; he never will talk about it or about himself.  He lent me a pamphlet or something. ­Mr. Rhys is the tallest ­but Mr. Carlisle is a splendid looking man, ­don’t you think so, Eleanor?”

Miss Broadus’s energetic whisper Eleanor thought fit to ignore, though she did not fail to note the contrast which a moment’s colloquy between the two men presented.  There was little in common between them; between the marked features and grave keen expression of the one face, and the cool, bright, somewhat supercilious eye and smile of the other.  There was power in both faces, Eleanor thought, of different kinds; and power is attractive.  Her eye was held till they parted from each other.  Two very different walks in life claimed the two men; so much Eleanor could see.  For some time after she was obliged to attend exclusively to that walk of life which Mr. Carlisle represented, and to look at the views he brought forward for her notice.

They were not so engrossing, however, that Eleanor entirely forgot the earlier conversation of the afternoon or the question which had troubled her.  The evening had been baffling.  She had not had a word with Mr. Rhys, and he had disappeared long since from the party.  So had Dr. Cairnes.  There was no more chance of talk upon that subject to-night; and Eleanor feeling very feeble still, thought best to cut short Mr. Carlisle’s enjoyment of other subjects for the evening.  She left the company, and slowly passed through the house, from room to room, to get to her own.  In the course of this progress she came to the library.  There, seated at one of the tables and bending over a volume, was Mr. Rhys.  He jumped up as she passed through, and came forward with extended hand and a word of kindly inquiry.  His “good night” was so genial, his clasp of her hand so frank and friendly, that instead of going on, Eleanor stood still.

“Are you studying?”

“Your father has kindly given me liberty to avail myself of his treasures here.  My time is very scanty ­I was tempted to seize the moment that offered itself.  It is a very precious privilege to me, and one which I shall not abuse.”

“Pray do not speak of abusing,” said Eleanor; “nobody minds the books here; I am glad they are good to anybody else. ­I am interrupting you.”

“Not at all!” said he, bringing up a great chair for her, ­“or only agreeably.  Pray sit down ­you are not fit to stand.”

Eleanor however remained standing, and hesitating, for a moment.

“I wish you would tell me a little more about what we were talking of,” she said with some effort.

“Do you feel your want of the helmet?” he said gravely.

“I feel that I haven’t it,” said Eleanor.

“What is it that you are conscious of wanting?”

She hesitated; it was a home question; and very unaccustomed to speak of her secret thoughts and feelings to any one, especially on religious subjects, which however had never occupied her before, Eleanor was hardly ready to answer.  Yet in the tones of the question there was a certain quiet assurance and simplicity before which she yielded.

“I felt ­a little while ago ­when I was sick ­that I was not exactly safe.”

Eleanor spoke, hesitating between every few words, looking down, and falling her voice at the end.  So she did not see the keen intentness of the look that was fixed upon her.

“You felt that there was something wanting between you and God?”

“I believe so.”

His accent was as deliberately clear as her’s was hesitating.  Every word went into Eleanor’s soul.

“Then you can understand now, that when one can say, joyfully, ’I know that my Redeemer liveth’; ­when he is no vague abstraction, but felt to be a Redeemer; ­when one can say assuredly, he is my Redeemer; I know he has bought back my soul from sin and from the punishment of sin, which is death; I feel I am forgiven; and I know he liveth ­my Redeemer ­and according to his promise lives to deliver me from every evil and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom; ­do you see, now, that one who can say this has on his head the covering of an infinite protection ­an infinite shelter from both danger and fear? ­a helmet, placed on his head by his Lord’s own hand, and of such heavenly temper that no blows can break through it.”

Eleanor was a little time silent, with downcast eyes.

“You do not mean to say, that this protection is against all evil; do you? sickness and pain are evils are they not?”

“Not to him.”

“Not to him?”

“No.  The evil of them is gone.  They can do him no harm; if they come, they will do good.  He that wears this helmet has absolutely no evil to fear.  All things shall work good to him.  There shall no evil happen to the just.  Blessed be the Lord, who only doeth wondrous things!”

Eleanor stood silenced, humbled, convinced; till she recollected she must not stand there so, and she lifted her eyes to bid good-night.  Then the face she met gave a new turn to her thoughts.  It was a changed face; such a light of pure joy and deep triumph shone over it, not hiding nor hindering the loving care with which those penetrating eyes were reading herself.  It gave Eleanor a strange compression of heart; it told her more than his words had done; it shewed her the very reality of which he spoke.  Eleanor went away overwhelmed.

“Mr. Rhys is a happy man!” she said to herself; ­“happy, happy!  I wish, ­I wish, I were as happy as he!”