THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF BATTLE

On a Sunday afternoon these two, Ralph and Rhoda, had strayed out into
the old orchard at the back of the house. The summer world was just
then in all its glory. The meadows looked as if a flowery robe had
been shaken out over them; the orchard grass was full of tall, shiny
buttercups and large field-daisies, resplendent in their snowy frills.
A turquoise sky smiled down through the leaf-laden boughs above their
heads; bees were murmuring all around them.

“Mr. Channell,” asked Rhoda, suddenly, “you know Nelly’s father, don’t
you?”

He stooped and gathered one of the large daisies. For a moment there
was no reply. The bees filled up the pause while she waited for his
answer.

“Yes,” he said at last, “I know him well.”

“Is he really penitent?” she inquired, doubtfully. “Does he think that
what he has done has blotted out the past? It’s easy to whitewash a
dirty wall, but the stains are underneath the whitewash still.”

“There is a vast difference between the stain which is only whitewashed
over, and that which Christ’s blood has blotted out,” replied Mr.
Channell. “I don’t believe that Robert Clarris can ever forget the
past, or think that he has atoned for it. But he knows that the Lord
has put away his sin.”

“How does he know it?” Rhoda demanded.

“Until he had committed that great crime,” Ralph went on, “he knew
nothing at all of the love of Christ. He had been a moral man,
satisfied with his morality. Then came secret sorrows–then much
worldly perplexity, followed by a strong temptation–and he fell. And
when he lay grovelling in the dust, the Lord’s voice travelled to him
along the ground. While he had walked erect, he had never heard it.”

“Wasn’t Mr. Elton over-merciful to him?” asked Rhoda. “I have often
thought so.”

A sudden light seemed to kindle in Ralph’s eyes.

“There are many,” he said, “who pray Sunday after Sunday that the Lord
will raise up them that fall, and yet do all they can to keep the
fallen ones down. Mr. Elton was not one of those. He thought that if
half the blows that were spent upon sinners were bestowed upon Satan,
the Evil One would indeed be beaten down under our feet. God bless him!
He saved a sinner from the consequences of one dark hour!”

Again there was a pause. This time it was broken by little Nelly, who
came bounding in between them. Ralph bent down and clasped the child
closely in his arms.

“Oh, my darling,” he said, as he held her, “may the Lord make you one of
His handmaidens! May He send you forth to raise up them that fall, and
to bind up the broken in heart!”

Perhaps it was not the first time that Nelly had heard this prayer. It
did not surprise her as it did Rhoda. Miss Farren watched Ralph’s face
earnestly, till it had regained its usual look of peace.

“Mr. Channell,” she began, yielding to a sudden impulse, “I’m sure you
must have suffered a great deal. Forgive me for saying so much,” she
added, “but I’ve sometimes thought that you have the look of a victor.”

He turned towards the house, holding Nelly’s hand in his.




“I must answer you in another’s words,” he replied. “They are better
than any of mine. ‘To me also was given, if not victory, yet the
consciousness of battle, and the resolve to persevere therein while
life or faculty is left.'”

“The consciousness of battle,” Rhoda repeated to herself. “Perhaps that
was what St. Paul felt when he found a law in his members warring
against the law in his mind. And perhaps it’s a bad thing to be
conscious of no warfare at all.”

And then she began to wonder if she were anything like Robert Clarris
before he fell. Had she ever really heard the Lord’s voice? Were not
her ears deafened by the clamour of self-conceit? Alas, it goes ill
with us when we mistake the voice of self-congratulation for the voice
of God!

But there came a time when Rhoda reached the very bottom of the Valley
of Humiliation. She grew conscious that she, a strong, self-reliant
woman, had silently given a love that had never been asked of her. When
a man takes a woman by the hand, and lifts her above her old self, it
is ten to one that she falls in love with him.

We all know what it is to wonder at the change that love makes in a
woman. We have marvelled often what that clever man could have seen
in this commonplace girl, but we admit that he has made her a new
creature. Perhaps, like the great sculptor, he attacked the marble
block with Divine fervour, believing that an angel was imprisoned in
it. And his instincts were not wrong after all. The shapeless stone was
chipped away and the beautiful form revealed.

But Rhoda had no reason to think that Ralph Channell cared for her more
than for others. In every respect he was above her. The rector (rectors
are great persons in country villages) had found out that Mr. Channell
was a thoughtful and cultivated man. The rector’s family said that he
was charming, and they wondered why he shut himself up with the Farrens
in their dull cottage. Nobody ever intimated that he was thinking of
Rhoda. All the country people had settled that she was to be an old
maid. She was too good for the farmers, and not good enough for the
squires’ sons. And for many a year Rhoda had been very comfortably
resigned to her fate.

Bit by bit, however, she had let her heart go, and she awoke one day,
suddenly and miserably, to the knowledge that she had parted with the
best part of herself. There is no need to tell how or when she made the
discovery. A chance word, a trivial incident, may send us to look into
the casket where we kept our treasure, and we find it empty.