THE FARM PURCHASED BY ONE RALPH CHANNELL

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
fancies.

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
Father’s house.”

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
narrow experience.

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.

Continue Reading

DISPOSING OF HELEN’S JEWELS

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
lion.

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
Helen’s child.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

HELEN UNDER A NEW ASPECT

On Friday afternoon, Helen’s chamber-door chanced to be left open, and
Rhoda caught a glimpse of a delicate silk dress lying on the bed. She
went straight into the room and examined it. Bodice and sleeves were
trimmed profusely with costly lace; the rich lilac folds might have
stood alone, so thick was the texture. It was not the sort of dress
that should have belonged to the wife of a merchant’s clerk. Rhoda was
perplexed.

“Isn’t it handsome!” asked Helen’s voice behind her.

“I hope you are not thinking of wearing it this evening,” said Rhoda.
“It’s a most unsuitable dress for a country merry-making. Do put on
something plainer, Helen.”

“O Rhoda,” she pleaded, “I am not like you; I can’t abide browns and
greys! I want to be dressed as the flowers are! You loved the lilacs
when they were in bloom; why may I not copy them?”

“Their dress costs nothing,” said Rhoda, “and the silk is a poor
imitation of them. Even Solomon in all his glory wasn’t arrayed like
the lilies of the field. This gown must have been very expensive,
Helen.”

“It is the best I have,” answered Helen, flushing slightly. “I should
like to give it an airing, Rhoda. I own I am fond of fine clothes, but
you are so kind that you won’t be angry with a poor silly thing like
me!”

Again Rhoda’s strength was no match for her cousin’s weakness. She
went out of the room without saying another word about the lilac
silk. An hour or two later William Gill’s chaise stopped at the gate,
and Helen came downstairs. She was enveloped in a large cloak which
completely hid her dress from the eyes of her uncle and aunt. Her face
was flushed; she was in high spirits. William Gill–a prosperous young
farmer–looked sheepishly pleased as she seated herself by his side.

Rhoda sat on the back seat with Mrs. Gill. It was a still, sultry
evening. The languor of the waning summer seemed to have stolen upon
her unawares, and the good woman found her a dull companion. Mrs. Gill
was proud of her son, proud of his fine horse, a fiery young chestnut,
proud of the chaise, which had been newly painted and varnished. But
these subjects had little interest for Miss Farren. And the worthy
matron became convinced that she was giving herself airs on the
strength of her annuity. By the time they had reached the foot of
Huntsdean hill, she was as silent as Rhoda could desire.

The church clock was striking seven as they turned in at the gates of
Dykeley Park. Groups of people were scattered about under the trees.
The hall door of Dykeley House stood open, and the sound of music
swept forth into the evening air. Out of doors there was the crimson
of sunset staining the skies, reddening the faces of the countryfolk,
and lighting up the west front of the old mansion, till its red bricks
seemed to burn among the dark ivy and overblown white roses. Quiet
pools, lying here and there about the park, glittered as if the old
Cana miracle had been wrought upon them, and their waters were changed
to wine. The colour was too intense, too fiery. It made Rhoda think of
burning cities, or of the glare of beacons, blazing up to warn the land
that the foe had crossed the border.

Squire Derrick’s old banqueting hall had been cleared out for the
dancers. The squire himself, a bachelor of sixty, received his guests
as Sir Roger de Coverley might have done. Rhoda saw his eyes rest
on beautiful Helen in the lilac silk, and his glance followed her
wonderingly as she went sweeping away to a distant part of the great
room. Other looks followed her too.

Nor could Rhoda keep her own gaze from dwelling on her companion.
When the long cloak had been laid aside, and Helen appeared in the
lighted room, her cousin could hardly restrain an exclamation. There
were jewels on her wrists and bosom, jewels on the white fingers that
flashed when she took off her gloves to display them. A miserable
sense of shame and confusion overwhelmed Miss Farren. Here was Helen
bedizened like a Begum, and here were many of the Huntsdean folk who
knew her husband’s story! The air seemed full of whispers. Rhoda grew
hot beneath the broad stare of eyes. Yet few glanced at her; the brown
wren, reluctantly perched beside the glittering peacock, was sheltered
from observation.

The musicians struck up a lively tune, and then Rhoda saw that there
were several gay young officers in the room. They had come, by the
squire’s invitation, from the neighbouring garrison town, and were
evidently prepared to enjoy themselves.

She was scarcely surprised to see two or three of them bearing down
upon Helen, bent on securing her for a partner. She heard their
entreaties, and Helen’s denials–very prettily uttered. But at that
moment an old friend of Farmer Farren’s crossed the room, and gave
Rhoda a hearty greeting. Then followed a score of questions about
herself and her parents, and in the midst of them Rhoda heard Helen’s
voice saying–




“Only one dance, Rhoda; you’ll forgive me, I know.”

Rhoda started, and half rose from her seat. Such a distressed and angry
look crossed her face that the old farmer was astonished. Helen had
gone off on her partner’s arm. It was too late to call her back. She
must take it as quietly as she could, and avoid making a scene.

“Who is that lovely young woman? Any relation of yours, Miss Farren?”
asked the old man by her side.

“My cousin,” Rhoda answered.

Several persons near were listening for her reply. Rhoda hoped that
her questioner would drop the subject, but he did not.

“Let me see; didn’t I know her when she was a child in your father’s
house?”

“Very likely,” Rhoda said. “She used to live with us when she was a
little girl.”

“And did I hear that she had married?” he persisted.

“She is married,” said Rhoda, desperately. “Her husband is in
Australia.”

Obtuse as he was, the old gentleman could yet perceive that he had
touched upon an awkward topic. Poor Rhoda was a bad actress. Her face
always betrayed her feelings. She sat bolt upright against the wall,
looking so intensely uncomfortable that her companion quitted her in
dismay.

There she remained for three long hours; sometimes catching a glimpse
of the lilac silk among the dancers. From fragments of talk that went
on around her, she learned that Helen was the centre of attention. And
at last, when a galop was over, and the groups parted to left and
right, she caught sight of her cousin surrounded by the officers.

She now saw Helen under a new aspect. Her looks and gestures were those
of a practised coquette, who had spent half her life in ball-rooms.
People were looking on–smiling, whispering, wondering. The squire
himself was evidently amused and astonished. Even if she had been less
beautiful, Helen’s dress and jewellery would have attracted general
notice. It was, perhaps, the most miserable evening that Rhoda had ever
passed. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” was the question that she asked
herself a hundred times. Was she indeed to blame for suffering Helen
to come to this place? The music and dancing and flattering speeches
had fired Helen’s blood like wine. The gaiety that would have been
innocuous to many was poisonous to her.

At last a loud gong sounded the summons to supper. The repast was
spread in a large tent which had been erected in the park. Out swept
the crowd into the balmy August night, Helen still clinging to the arm
of her last partner, and carefully avoiding a glance in her cousin’s
direction. Rhoda strove in vain to get nearer to her; the press was
too great. But she contrived to reach William Gill, and to say to him
earnestly–

“We must go away as soon as supper is over, Mr. Gill. I promised father
that we would come back early.” The moon had risen, large and red, and
the night was perfectly still. Chinese lanterns illuminated the great
supper-tent from end to end. Flowers and evergreens, mingled with wheat
ears, decorated the long tables. The light fell on rows of flushed and
smiling faces. Rhoda, pale and sad, sat down on the end of a bench
close to the tent entrance.

“I’m ‘most worn out,” said Mrs. Gill’s voice beside her. “I’m downright
glad that you’re for going home early, Miss Farren. Old women like
me are better a-bed than a-junketing at this time o’ night! Mercy on
us, how your cousin _has_ been a-going on, my dear! And brought up so
strict too!”

The words cut Rhoda like a knife. There she sat, lonely and miserable,
amid a merry crowd. The golden moonshine flooded the park, and the
sweet air kissed her face as she turned it wearily towards the
tent-entrance. Once a sudden rush of perfume came in and overwhelmed
her. It was the breath of the fast fading roses that hung in white
clusters about the squire’s windows, and shed their petals on the
ground below.

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AN INVITATION FROM SQUIRE DERRICK

As the summer advanced, Helen’s spirits rose. She was not the pale,
plaintive woman that Rhoda had found on her return from London. Her
beauty brightened visibly, and more than one neighbour remarked that it
was a sin and a shame for such a pretty creature to be tied up to a man
who was nothing but a cross to her.

Perhaps Helen herself was of the same opinion. The baby was given up
more and more to Rhoda’s care, while its mother went freely to the
villagers’ houses. She was one of those women to whom admiration is
as necessary as their daily food. Her pleasure in her own loveliness
amused while it saddened her cousin. There was something in it that
seemed akin to the delight of a child in its fine clothes. Helen’s
mind had never grown with her body. But Rhoda and the others had
got into the habit of viewing her weaknesses indulgently. And they
gratified the little fancies that were, as a rule, harmless enough.

They had their first disagreement at the end of August. There was an
early harvest that year. In the southern counties most of the wheat was
cut and stacked before September set in. The crops were plentiful, and
there was rejoicing on all sides. But it was not always the right kind
of rejoicing.

“It’s a strange way that some folks have got of thanking the Lord of
the harvest,” remarked Farmer Farren one day. “He gives them bread
enough to satisfy all their wants, and they must needs show their
gratitude by stupefying themselves with beer! I used to think, when
I was a lad, that ’twas an odd thing for King David to go a-dancing
before the Almighty with all his might. But there’s more sense in
dancing than in drinking for joy.”

Father and daughter stood side by side, leaning against the garden
wall; for it was evening, and the farmer’s work was done. Just before
he spoke, some drunken shouts disturbed the quiet air. Labourers were
roystering in the village tavern, and many a wife’s temper was sorely
tried that night.

“O Uncle, I am glad you don’t think it’s wrong to dance!” cried Helen,
coming suddenly out of the house. “Here’s good news! Squire Derrick is
going to give a feast in his park next Friday. I know that John can’t
go, because of his sprained ankle; but William Gill will drive us to
the park in his chaise. There’ll be room for Rhoda and me and Mrs.
Gill.”

“But, Helen, I don’t go to merry-makings,” said Rhoda, gravely. “We
have never taken part in anything of that kind. And as to father’s
remark, King David’s sort of dancing was very different from the
waltzes and polkas and galops that there will be on Friday night.”

Helen’s face clouded like that of a disappointed child.

“O Uncle, would there be any harm in my dancing?” she asked.

“No harm exactly, my girl,” responded the farmer uneasily, as he picked
a piece of dry moss off the wall. “But even when things are lawful,
they are not always expedient. You are a married woman, you see, and
your husband’s under a cloud, and miles away–poor fellow!”

“Ah!” sighed Helen, “I’m always doomed to suffer for his sins! I
thought that perhaps a little bit of fun would help me to forget my
troubles.”

Poor Helen was still grovelling at the foot of her mountain.

Large tears stood in her soft eyes. The farmer gave her a quick glance,
then looked away, and busied himself with the little cushion of moss
that still lay in his broad palm. At heart he was more than half a
Puritan, and hated jigs and feastings as lustily as did the Gideons
and Grace-be-heres of Cromwell’s day. But he was far too tender-natured
a man to bear the sight of a woman’s tears.




But for that unfortunate allusion which her father had made to Robert
Clarris, Rhoda would have set her face as a flint against going to
the fête. But his tone of pity stirred up all her old resentment.
Why was this young wife, lovely and foolish, left without her lawful
protector? Had she not said truly that she was doomed to suffer for
his sins? After all, it was scarcely her fault, perhaps, that she was
not elevated by her trial. To “erect ourselves above ourselves” is a
bliss that we do not all reach. And it is a bliss which bears such
a close relationship to pain, that one has no right to be hard on a
fellow-mortal who chooses the lower ground.

Thoughts like these were passing through Rhoda’s mind, while Helen
still wept silently. But it did not occur to Miss Farren that the
truest kindness that can be done to another is to raise him. She forgot
that it is better to stretch out a hand and say, “Friend, come up
higher,” than to step down to his level. At that moment she thought
only of pacifying Helen. Of late her cousin had grown very dear to
her, partly, perhaps, for the sake of her little child. Her whole soul
recoiled from the harvest-feast. She hated the clownish merriment, and
the dancing and drinking; and yet, to please Helen, she was willing to
endure much that was distasteful.

“If you would promise not to dance, Helen,” she began, hesitatingly.
Her father looked up in undisguised astonishment.

“Why, Rhoda,” he said, “I didn’t think anything in the world would have
made you go!”

“O Rhoda, how good of you to give way!” cried Helen, brightening.
“Of course I’ll promise. It’s just like her, Uncle: she was always
the most unselfish girl on earth! She doesn’t despise me because I’m
weak-minded, and like a little bit of pleasure. Ah, how kind she is!”

The farmer said no more. He had a great reverence for his daughter, and
would not take the matter out of her hands. But he went indoors with a
grave face; and Helen followed him in a flutter of delight.

As Rhoda lingered that evening in the dewy twilight, she began to
charge herself with cowardice. It would have been hard to have held out
against Helen’s desires. And yet–for Helen’s own sake–ought she not
to have been firm? Most of us suffer if we stifle our instincts; and
hers had told her that this feast was no place for her cousin.

“It shall be the last time that I am weak,” she thought, hoping to
atone for the present by the future. “I will let her have her way this
once, and then I will set myself to guide her in a better path.”

The grey, transparent veil of dusk stole down, and the clear stars
shone through it. A little wind came creeping up the garden like a
human sigh. One or two white moths flitted past, and a bird uttered
a sleepy, smothered note. For a minute she loitered in the porch,
listening to the pleasant, household stir within. Helen’s laugh mingled
with John’s cheery tones and the clatter of supper-plates.

“Where is Rhoda?” she heard her mother say.

The jessamine, which grew all over the porch, swung its slender sprays
into her face. The sweet, chill blossoms kissed her lips as she passed
beneath them; but she went indoors with an unquiet mind.

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