THE MASTER IS COME, AND CALLETH FOR THEE.

Rhoda seized upon her cousin as she was passing out of the tent. She
was resolved that Helen should not go back to the dancing-room. What
was done could not be undone. But she would take her away before the
crowd had begun to disperse.

“Come, Helen,” she said, “I have your cloak and hat; you needn’t go
into the house again. Mr. Gill will get the chaise ready at once.”

“O Rhoda, the fun is only just beginning,” pleaded Helen. “And I have
promised to dance—-”

“Then you must break the promise. It won’t be the first that you have
broken to-night,” added Rhoda, sharply.

She wrapped Helen in her cloak, and tied her bonnet strings with
her own hands. As they stood there, in the strange mingling of
lamplight and moonlight, she could see that the lovely face looked
half-frightened and half-mutinous. In an instant Rhoda repented of her
momentary harshness; somehow she had never loved Helen better than she
did at that instant.

“I’m sorry to spoil your pleasure, darling,” she whispered; “but what
will the father say if we are late?”

Helen’s brow cleared. Without a word she walked straight to the place
where the chaise was standing, and climbed up into her seat. William
Gill, assisted by one of the squire’s stable helpers, proceeded to
harness the chestnut horse, and in a few moments more they had driven
out of the park.

It was such a relief to Rhoda to be going homewards, that for some
moments she could think of nothing else. The cool night air soothed and
refreshed her. The rattle of wheels and the quick tramp of hoofs were
the only sounds that broke the silence. Cottages by the wayside were
dark and still. The firs that bordered the road stood up rugged and
black; not a tree-top rocked, not a branch rustled. The level highway
was barred with deep shadows here and there. Overhead there was a soft,
purple sky, and the moon hung like a globe of gold above the faintly
outlined hills.

As they drew near the end of the three-mile drive, Rhoda’s troubled
thoughts came flocking back. All Huntsdean and Dykeley would be talking
of Helen Clarris to-morrow. Her dress, her jewels, her levity, would
give the tongues of the gossips plenty of work for months to come. The
Farrens were a proud family in their way. They were over-sensitive–as
such people always are–and hated to be talked about. Rhoda knew that
the village chatter could not fail to reach her father’s ears, and she
knew, too, that it would vex him more than he would care to say. As
Mrs. Gill had said, Helen had been strictly brought up. She had lived
under her uncle’s roof in her childhood, and had gone to school with
her cousin. All that had been done for Rhoda had been also done for her.

And then the jewels. Little as Miss Farren knew of the worth of such
things, she had felt sure that they were of considerable value.
Moreover, they were new and fashionable, and could not be mistaken
for family heirlooms. Had Robert Clarris purchased them in his doting
fondness for his wife? Were they love-gifts made soon after their
marriage? Anyhow, Helen ought not to retain them. It was plainly her
duty to dispose of them, and send the proceeds to Mr. Elton. Rhoda
determined to speak to her about this matter on the morrow.

Just as she had formed this resolution, they turned out of the highway
and entered the lane leading to Huntsdean. The road dipped suddenly; a
sharp hill, overshadowed by trees, led into the village.

“Nearly home,” said Mrs. Gill, rousing herself from a doze. The words
had hardly passed her lips, when the chestnut horse started forward
with a mad bound. It might have been that William Gill’s brain was
confused with the squire’s strong ale. A buckle had been carelessly
fastened, and had given way. The horse’s flanks were scourged and stung
by the flapping strap. There was a wild plunge into the darkness of the
lane, a terrible swaying from side to side, and then a jerk and a crash
at the bottom of the hill.

For a few seconds Rhoda lay half stunned upon the wet grass and bracken
by the wayside. She rose with a calmness that afterwards seemed the
strangest part of that night’s history. Mrs. Gill was sitting on the
sod staring around her in a helpless way. The other two, William and
Helen, were stretched motionless upon the stony road.

Still with that strange composure which never lasts long, Rhoda ran to
the nearest cottage. Its windows were closed, and all was silent; but
she beat hard upon the door with her clenched hands. A voice called to
her from within, but she never ceased knocking until a labourer came
forth.

“Hoskins,” she said, as the man confronted her, “my cousin has been
thrown out of Farmer Gill’s chaise. You must come and carry her home.”

The man came with her to the foot of the hill, and lifted Helen in his
strong arms. Other help was forthcoming. The labourer’s wife had roused
her sons, and Mrs. Gill had collected her scattered senses.

They were but a quarter of a mile from home, but the distance seemed
interminable to Rhoda as she sped on to the house. The familiar way
appeared to lengthen as she ran; and when at last her hand touched
the latch of the garden gate, her firmness suddenly broke down. She
tottered as she reached the door, and then fell into John’s arms,
crying out that Helen was coming.

The farmer sat in his large arm-chair. The Bible lay open on the table
before him, for he had been gathering the old strength and sweetness
from its pages. He had not guessed that the strength would so soon be
needed. But it was his way to lay up stores for days of sorrow, and
there was a look of quiet power in his face that helped those around
him.

They carried Helen upstairs, and laid her on her bed. The lilac silk
was dusty and blood-stained, the fragile lace soiled and torn. With
tender hands Rhoda unclasped her glittering necklace and bracelets;
the rings, too, slipped easily from the slight fingers. When those gay
trinkets were out of sight, Rhoda’s heart was more at ease. Helen was
their own Helen without them; the jewels had done their best to make
her like a stranger. There was little to do then but to wait until the
doctor arrived.




As it will be with the day of the Lord, so it often is with the day of
trouble. It comes “as a snare.” Frequently, like the stag in the fable,
we are looking for it in the very quarter from which it never proceeds.
It steals upon us from another direction–suddenly, swiftly, “as a
thief in the night.”

But the children of the kingdom are “not in darkness, that that day
should overtake them as a thief.” They sleep, but their hearts wake;
and there is light in their dwellings. Let the angels of death or
of sorrow come when they will, they are ready to meet them. To the
watchful and sober souls the Master’s messengers are never messengers
of wrath. Ay, though they come with dark garments and veiled faces,
they bring some token of Him who sends them. The garments “smell of
myrrh, aloes, and cassia;” the glory of celestial love shines through
the veil.

When Helen opened her eyes and looked round upon them all, they knew
that there was death in her face. They knew it even before the doctor
arrived, and told them the hard truth. She might linger a day or two
perhaps, just long enough for a leave-taking, and then she must set
forth on her lonely journey. But how were they to tell her that she
must go?

“What did the doctor say?” she asked, faintly, after a long, long
silence. The day was breaking then, but they were still gathered round
her bed–still waiting and watching with that new, calm patience that
is born of great sorrow.

“Nelly,” said the farmer, bending his head down to hers, “‘The Master
is come, and calleth for thee.’ The call is sudden, my dear, very
sudden. But it’s the Master’s voice that speaks.”

First there was a startled, distressed look, but it passed away like a
cloud. The brown eyes were full of eager inquiry.

“Must it be?” she whispered. “Ah, I see it must! Oh, I’m not ready–not
nearly ready. There’s so much to be forgiven; if I could only know that
He forgives me, I wouldn’t want to stay.”

“Nelly!” answered the farmer in a clearer tone, “the Lord has got love
and pardon for all those who want it. It’s only from those that don’t
want it that He turns away. His blood has washed out the sins of that
great multitude whom no man can number, and it will cleanse you too.
Do you think He ever expects to find any of His children who don’t need
washing? Ay, the darker they are in their own eyes, the fairer they
seem in His!”

As Rhoda listened to her father’s words, and to her cousin’s low
replies, she began to realize that poor, weak Helen had felt herself to
be a sinner for many a day. She had felt it, and had tried to forget
it. But this was not the first time that she had heard the Master’s
call, and yearned to follow Him. Yet the weakness of the flesh had
prevailed again and again, and her feet had gone on stumbling on the
dark mountains. They would never stumble any more. The great King had
come Himself to guide them over the golden pavement to the mansion
prepared in His Father’s house.

All that day Rhoda’s mother was by the bedside. Rhoda herself went to
and fro, now ministering to the baby’s wants, now hanging over her
cousin’s pillow. Once she stayed out of the room for nearly
half-an-hour, and on entering it again, she saw her mother strangely
agitated. Helen’s head was on her aunt’s bosom, and her pale lips were
moving. But Rhoda could not hear what she said.

[Illustration: “She tarried with them until the breaking of another
day.”–Page 7]

She tarried with them until the breaking of another day. The sun came
up. Shadows of jessamine sprays were drawn sharply on the white blind;
a glory of golden light fell on the chamber wall. Towards that light
the dying face was turned. To Rhoda, at that moment, came a sudden
impulse. Clearly and firmly she repeated the familiar lines that she
and Helen had learnt years ago,–

“The wide arms of Mercy are spread to enfold thee,
And sinners may hope, for the Sinless has died.”

For answer, there was a quick, bright smile, and then the half-breathed
word–

“Forgiven.”

Only an hour later, Rhoda was walking along the grassy garden-path with
Helen’s child in her arms. Was it yesterday that they were children
playing together? Had ten years or sixty minutes gone by since she
died? If she had come suddenly out of the old summer-house among the
beeches–a gay, smiling girl–Rhoda could scarcely have wondered. There
are moments in life when we put time away from us altogether.

And yet one had to come back to the everyday world again–a very fair
world on that morning. Newly-reaped fields lay bare and glistening
in the sun; thistle-down drifted about in the languid air, and the
baby stretched out her hands to grasp the butterflies. She looked up,
wonderingly, with Helen’s brown eyes, when Rhoda pressed her to her
bosom and wept.

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