A month went by. The household fell back into its old ways. The little
child laughed and played, and grew dearer and dearer to them all.
Mrs. Farren had taken upon herself the task of looking over Helen’s
things. She performed this duty without any aid from Rhoda; and not one
word did she say about the jewels. The farmer had written to Australia,
breaking the sad news to Robert Clarris as gently as he could. How
would he receive it? Rhoda wondered. They had left off speaking of
him in her hearing. They were aware of all the bitter dislike that
she cherished, but they never sought to soften her heart. They were
content–as the wisest people are–to leave most things to time. We do
not know how often we wrong a friend by hotly defending him, nor how
we help an enemy by running him down.
Now that Helen was gone, Rhoda was harassed by a new fear. She dreaded
lest Robert should take away the child.
It was more than probable that he would marry again one day. A
hard-natured, selfish man–such as she believed him to be–would need
a wife to slave for him. Then he would send for Rhoda’s ewe lamb, and
there would be an end to her dream of future happiness. She did not
realize that God seldom makes us happy in our own way. Blessings, like
crosses, nearly always come from unexpected quarters. We search for
honey in an empty hive, and find it at last in the carcase of a dead
The Gills, mother and son, were little the worse for that night’s
catastrophe. Like all tragedies, Helen’s death was a nine days’ wonder.
There was plenty of sympathy; there were condolences from all sides.
And then the excitement died out; the small topics of daily life
resumed their old importance. And so the time went on.
At the end of October, the farmer received a reply to his letter. Rhoda
refrained from asking any questions, and they did not tell her how the
widower had borne the blow. She saw tears in her mother’s eyes, and
thought that a great deal of love and pity are wasted in the world.
Long afterwards, her opinion changed, and she understood that money is
often wasted–love and pity never. Thank God, it is only the things
that “perish in the using” which we ever can waste!
On the very day after the Australian letter came, the black mare
was put into the light cart. The farmer dressed himself in his best
clothes, and carefully examined the harness. These were signs that he
was going to drive to the town.
“Maybe it would do you no harm to come, Rhoda,” he said, suddenly. “Put
on your bonnet, and bring the little one.”
Rhoda ran up into her room, and dressed herself in haste. Little Nelly
crowed with glee when her small black pelisse was buttoned on. She was
quite unconscious of the compassion that her mourning garments excited.
And even when she was fairly seated in the cart, her shrill cries of
delight brought a smile into the farmer’s grave face.
It was one of the last, peaceful autumn days. The early morning sky had
been covered with a grey curtain, whose golden fringes swept the hills
from east to west. As the sun rose higher, the clouds were lifted, the
bright fringes broadened, and there was light upon all the land.
Rhoda and her father did not talk much. Her instincts told her that he
was disposed to be silent; and there was a great deal to occupy eyes
and mind. The bindweed hung its large white flowers across the yellow
hedges. The wild honeysuckle, in its second bloom, was like an old
friend who comes back to comfort us in our declining fortunes. They
reached at length the brow of the great chalk hill that overlooks the
harbour. There lay the sea–a waste of soft blue-grey, touched with
gleams of gold and dashes of silver. There, too, lay the Isle of Wight
in the tranquil sunshine. The mare trotted on, down hill all the way,
till they entered the noisy streets of the busy seaport, and left peace
and poetry behind.
The farmer stopped at last before a silversmith’s shop. He put the
reins into Rhoda’s hand, took a little wooden box from under his seat,
and descended from the cart. For a few seconds his daughter was utterly
bewildered. The stock of family plate was limited to a cream-jug and
spoons. And even if they had made up their minds to part with those
treasures, the proceeds would hardly have recompensed them for the
sacrifice. Yet what could be the contents of the wooden box that her
father had carried into the shop? The truth flashed upon Rhoda. He was
disposing of Helen’s jewels. He had obtained her husband’s permission
to sell them.
He came out again with a sober face. The silversmith came too, rubbing
his hands as if he were not ill satisfied with his bargain. He wished
the farmer good day, and the mare jogged steadily back to Huntsdean.
But Rhoda learnt, long afterwards, that the money for which the jewels
were sold did not go to Mr. Elton. It went towards the maintenance of