Eight years passed away. In Huntsdean churchyard the grass had grown
over Helen’s grave, covering up the bare, brown earth, as new interests
cover an old sorrow.
Little Nelly had never realized her loss. It contented her to know that
her mother had been laid to rest in a sweet place, and would rise again
some day when the Lord called her. She always hoped that Helen might
rise in the spring, and find the primroses blooming round her pretty
grave. She might have fancied that, like Keats, her mother could “feel
the flowers growing over her.” Children and poets often have the same
November had come again; and with it came a new anxiety.
The small farm, rented by Farmer Farren, had passed into new hands.
Squire Derrick was dead, and “another king arose, who knew not Joseph.”
The heir was a needy, grasping man. Old tenants were nothing to him,
and he was in want of ready money.
He had made up his mind to sell the little farm. It was more than
likely, therefore, that the Farrens would be turned out of the old
nest. For the young, it is easy to build new homes, and gather new
associations around them; but for the old, it is well-nigh impossible.
Their very lives are built into the ancient walls. When they leave a
familiar dwelling, they long to go straight to “a house not made with
hands, eternal in the heavens.”
John was now bailiff to a rich landowner in Sussex. He had a wife and
child; but he was not unmindful of other ties. “Come to me,” he wrote,
“if you are turned out of the old place.” But the parents sighed and
shook their heads. They had not greatly prospered in Huntsdean, yet no
other spot on earth could be so dear to them.
“Whatever the Lord means me to do, I’ll strive to do it willingly,”
said the farmer, bravely. “Oftentimes I’m mighty vexed with myself for
clinging so hard to these old bricks and mortar, and those few fields
yonder. If I leave them, I shan’t leave my Lord behind me; and if I
stay with them, He’ll soon be calling me away. But you see, an old man
has his whims; and I wanted to step out of this old cottage into my
In this time of uncertainty, a new duty suddenly called Rhoda from
home. Her father’s only sister–a childless widow–lay dying in
Norfolk, and sent for her niece to come and nurse her.
It was decided that she must go. Her aunt had no other relatives, and
could not be left alone in her need. But it was with a heavy heart that
Rhoda said farewell to the three whom she loved best on earth, and set
out on her long, solitary journey.
It was a keen, clear morning when she went away. A brisk wind was
blowing; the brown leaves fled before it, as the hosts of the Amorites
before the sword of Joshua. In dire confusion they hurried along over
soft turf and stony ground. It was a day on which all things seemed
to be astir. Crows were cawing, and flying from tree to tree; magpies
flashed across the road; flocks of small birds assembled on the sear
hedges. And far off could be heard the clamour of foxhounds and shouts
of the huntsmen.
Rhoda wondered, with a pang, how it would be when she came back. Do we
ever leave any beloved place without fearing that a change may fall
upon it in our absence? It is at such times as these that the heart
loves to rest itself upon the Immutable. “Lord, Thou hast been our
dwelling-place from all generations.” “Thou art the same, and Thy years
shall not fail.”
It was a weary sojourn in Norfolk. The widow’s illness was long and
trying. But God has a way of making hard work seem easy; and He
lightened Rhoda’s labour with good news from home.
Two months passed by, and her aunt still hovered between life and
death. Mrs. Farren’s letters had not given any definite reason for
hope; and yet hopefulness pervaded every line, and clung to every
sentence like a sweet perfume. Rhoda felt its influence and rejoiced.
And at last, when January came to an end, the mother spoke out plainly.
The farm was purchased by one Ralph Channell. He was a prosperous man
who had come from Australia, and had been settled in England about
a year. He was quite alone in the world, and had proposed to take
up his abode with the Farrens in the old cottage. The farmer was to
manage everything as usual. No change would be made in any of their
household ways. Mr. Channell had been acquainted with Robert Clarris in
Australia, and it was through Clarris that he had first heard of the
Farrens. What he asked of them was a home. They might have the old
house rent-free, if they would let him live in it with them.
Thus, a heavy burden was lifted from Rhoda’s heart. Mrs. Farren’s
letter was a psalm of thanksgiving from beginning to end. “In the day
when I cried, Thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength
in my soul,” she wrote, in her gladness. And Rhoda’s spirit caught up
the joyful strain. Yet she once found herself wishing that Mr. Channell
had not been one of Robert Clarris’s friends. True, Clarris had long
ago restored the three hundred pounds, and had regularly sent money for
his child’s support. But was not the old taint upon him still?
Rhoda could never get rid of the notion that he had been too leniently
dealt with. Hers was a mind which always clings to an idea. Moreover,
her life, from its very beginning, had been a narrow life. She had
never been called upon to battle with a strong temptation. But, like
all whose strength has not been tried, she believed that she could
have stood any test. It is easy for him who sits in peace to cry shame
on the soldier who deserts his post. There are few of us who cannot
be heroes in imagination. And most of our harsh judgments come from a
We can only learn something of the power of Divine Love by knowing the
evil against which it contends. Those who want to see what God’s grace
can do must look for its light in dark places.
When February and March had gone by, Rhoda found herself free to go
home. She went back to the sweet lights and shadows of April; to the
glitter of fresh showers, and the scent of hyacinths and wall-flowers.
Her mother’s arms were opened to her. Nelly clung to her neck,
half-crying for joy. Her father and Mr. Channell were out in the
meadows, they told her; they would come indoors for tea. It was Nelly
who had most to say about the stranger.
“You never knew anybody so kind, Rhoda,” she said, earnestly. “He makes
us all happy, and he’s taken me to see mother’s grave every Sunday
while you were away.”
Rhoda was standing at the back-door when she saw them coming from the
fields. Nelly, with her pinafore full of kittens, still chattered by
her side. Just in front of the door was the old cherry-tree, covered
with silvery blossoms and spangled with rain-drops. It looked like a
bridal bouquet hung with diamonds. Men were sowing barley in the acres
beyond the fence. Rhoda was watching the blossoms and the sowers, and
yet she saw those two figures.
The first glance told her that Mr. Channell was a strong man. In his
younger days he might have been almost handsome, but he was one of
those men who had lost youth early in life. It was a face with which
sorrow had been very busy, and hard work had put the finishing touches
to the lines that sorrow had begun. Rhoda did not know what it was
in this man that made her think of Luther. But when she looked at him
she saw the same kind of peace that the reformer’s features might
have worn. It may be that there is a family likeness among all God’s
Greathearts. For all those who have fought the good fight must show
“the seal of the living God” on their foreheads as well as the scars
of the conflict. Even our dim eyes may see the difference between the
marks that are got in the devil’s service and those that have been won
in the battles of the Lord.
From that very day there was a change in Rhoda’s life. Some of us,
in looking back on our lives, can remember the exact spot where the
old straight road took a turn at last. It had run on so long in the
same even line, that we thought there would never be any change at
all. Other roads had always been crooked–full of twists and ups and
downs; ours never varied. But at last, when it looked straightest and
smoothest, the turn came.
Rhoda began to think that the world was widening, as we all do when an
expanding process is going on within ourselves.
First she found out that the old cottage was a much pleasanter place
than it used to be, and that the parents seemed growing younger
instead of older. Mr. Channell discovered all their little likings
and dislikings and carefully studied them. Some folks think they have
done wonders if they scatter flowers in a friend’s path, but Ralph
Channell’s work was the quiet removal of the thorns. Perhaps the best
labourers in the world are those who have striven to undo evil rather
than to do good, but they are not those who have had the most praise.
He had brought a goodly number of books to Huntsdean, but Rhoda learnt
more from the life-histories that he told her than from the printed
volumes. They helped her to read the books by a new light.
In his way–and it was a very unassuming way–he had been doing
missionary work in Melbourne. And in listening to him Rhoda first
understood how Christ’s love follows the sinner, and hunts him into the
darkest corners of the earth rather than lose him. In this universe,
where wheat and tares grow together, and angels and devils strive
together, mercy never rests. For the prince of darkness is not so
active as He who hath said, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the
end of the world.” If the devil “goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking
those whom he may devour,” the Good Shepherd is seeking, too, to save
them that are lost. There is only one power stronger than hate, and
that is love.
In this strain did Mr. Channell talk to Rhoda. The spring passed away,
summer days came and went, and still no mention had ever been made
by either of them of Robert Clarris. At last, however, his name was
brought up abruptly by Rhoda herself.