Part 11 out of 12
and her quick, distrustful glance at Lord Ravenel, what she imagined
it was--that the boy had confessed to his father. With an instinct
of concealment--the mother's instinct--for the moment she asked no
We were all still standing at the hall-door. Unresisting, she
suffered her husband to take her arm in his and bring her into the
"Now--the letter, please! Children, go away; I want to speak to your
father. The letter, John?"
Her hand, which she held out, shook much. She tried to unfold the
paper--stopped, and looked up piteously.
"It is not to tell me he is not coming home? I can bear anything,
you know--but he MUST come."
John only answered, "Read,"--and took firm hold of her hand while she
read--as we hold the hand of one undergoing great torture,--which
must be undergone, and which no human love can either prepare for, or
remove, or alleviate.
The letter, which I saw afterwards, was thus;
"DEAR FATHER AND MOTHER,
"I have disgraced you all. I have been drunk--in a gaming-
house. A man insulted me--it was about my father--but you will hear-
-all the world will hear presently. I struck him--there was
something in my hand, and--the man was hurt.
"He may be dead by this time. I don't know.
"I am away to America to-night. I shall never come home any
more. God bless you all.
"P.S. I got my mother's letter to-day. Mother--I was not in my
right senses, or I should not have done it. Mother, darling! forget
me. Don't let me have broken your heart."
Alas, he had broken it!
"Never come home any more!--Never come home any more!"
She repeated this over and over again, vacantly: nothing but these
Nature refused to bear it; or rather, Nature mercifully helped her to
bear it. When John took his wife in his arms she was insensible; and
remained so, with intervals, for hours.
This was the end of Edwin's wedding-day.
Lord Ravenel knew--as all Paris did by this time--the whole story.
Though, as he truly said, he had not seen Guy. The lad was hurried
off immediately, for fear of justice: but he had written from
shipboard to Lord Ravenel, begging him himself to take the letter and
break the news to us at Beechwood.
The man he had struck was not one of Lord Luxmore's set--though it
was through some of his "noble" friends Guy had fallen into his
company. He was an Englishman, lately succeeded to a baronetcy and
estate; his name--how we started to hear it, though by Lord Ravenel
and by us, for his sake, it was both pronounced and listened to, as
if none of us had ever heard it before--Sir Gerard Vermilye.
As soon as Ursula recovered, Mr. Halifax and Lord Ravenel went to
Paris together. This was necessary, not only to meet justice, but to
track the boy--to whose destination we had no clue but the wide
world, America. Guy's mother hurried them away--his mother, who rose
from her bed, and moved about the house like a ghost--up-stairs and
down-stairs--everywhere--excepting in that room, which was now once
more locked, and the outer blind drawn down, as if Death himself had
taken possession there.
Alas! we learned now that there may be sorrows bitterer even than
Mr. Halifax went away. Then followed a long season of torpid gloom--
days or weeks, I hardly remember--during which we, living shut up at
Beechwood, knew that our name--John's stainless, honourable name--was
in everybody's mouth--parrotted abroad in every society--canvassed in
every newspaper. We tried, Walter and I, to stop them at first,
dreading lest the mother might read in some foul print or other
scurrilous tales about her boy; or, as long remained doubtful, learn
that he was proclaimed through France and England as a homicide--an
assassin. But concealments were idle--she would read everything--
hear everything--meet everything--even those neighbours who out of
curiosity or sympathy called at Beechwood. Not many times, though;
they said they could not understand Mrs. Halifax. So, after a while,
they all left her alone, except good little Grace Oldtower.
"Come often," I heard her say to this girl, whom she was fond of:
they had sat talking a whole morning--idly and pensively; of little
things around them, never once referring to things outside. "Come
often, though the house is dull. Does it not feel strange, with Mr.
Ay, this was the change--stranger at first than what had befallen
Guy--for that long seemed a thing we could not realise; like a story
told of some other family than ours. The present tangible blank was
the house with its head and master away.
Curiously enough, but from his domestic habits easily accountable, he
had scarcely ever been more than a few days absent from home before.
We missed him continually; in his place at the head of the table; in
his chair by the fire; his quick ring at the hall bell, when he came
up from the mills--his step--his voice--his laugh. The life and soul
of the house seemed to have gone out of it from the hour the father
I think in the wonderful workings of things--as we know all things do
work together for good--this fact was good for Ursula. It taught her
that, in losing Guy, she had not lost all her blessings. It showed
her what in the passion of her mother-love she might have been
tempted to forget--many mothers do--that beyond all maternal duty, is
the duty that a woman owes to her husband: beyond all loves, is the
love that was hers before any of them were born.
So, gradually, as every day John's letters came,--and she used to
watch for them and seize them as if they had been love-letters; as
every day she seemed to miss him more, and count more upon his
return; referring all decisions, and all little pleasures planned for
her, to the time "when your father comes home;"--hope and comfort
began to dawn in the heart of the mourning mother.
And when at last John fixed the day of his coming back, I saw Ursula
tying up the small bundle of his letters--his letters, of which in
all her happy life she had had so few--his tender, comforting,
"I hope I shall never need to have any more," she said, half-smiling-
-the faint smile which began to dawn in her poor face, as if she must
accustom it to look bright again in time for her husband's coming.
And when the day arrived, she put all the house in trim order,
dressed herself in her prettiest gown, sat patient while Maud brushed
and curled her hair--how white it had turned of late!--and then
waited, with a flush on her cheek--like that of a young girl waiting
for her lover--for the sound of carriage-wheels.
All that had to be told about Guy--and it was better news than any
one of us had hoped for--John had already told in his letters. When
he came back, therefore, he was burthened with no trouble
undisclosed--greeted with no anguish of fear or bitter remembrance.
As he sprang out of the post-chaise, it was to find his wife standing
at the door, and his home smiling for him its brightest welcome. No
blessing on earth could be like the blessing of the father's return.
John looked pale, but not paler than might have been expected.
Grave, too--but it was a soft seriousness altogether free from the
restlessness of keen anxiety. The first shock of this heavy
misfortune was over. He had paid all his son's debts; he had, as far
as was possible, saved his good name; he had made a safe home for the
lad, and heard of his safely reaching it, in the New World. Nothing
more was left but to cover over the inevitable grief, and hope that
time would blot out the intolerable shame. That since Guy's hand was
clear of blood--and, since his recovery, Sir Gerard Vermilye had
risen into a positive hero of society--men's minds would gradually
lose the impression of a deed committed in heat of youth, and
repented of with such bitter atonement.
So the father took his old place, and looked round on the remnant of
his children, grave indeed, but not weighed down by incurable
suffering. Something, deeper even than the hard time he had recently
passed through, seemed to have made his home more than ever dear to
him. He sat in his arm-chair, never weary of noticing everything
pleasant about him, of saying how pretty Beechwood looked, and how
delicious it was to be at home. And perpetually, if any chance
unlinked it, his hand would return to its clasp of Ursula's; the
minute she left her place by his side, his restless "Love, where are
you going?" would call her back again. And once, when the children
were out of the room, and I, sitting in a dark corner, was probably
thought absent likewise, I saw John take his wife's face between his
two hands, and look in it--the fondest, most lingering, saddest
look!--then fold her tightly to his breast.
"I must never be away from her again. Mine--for as long as I live,
mine--MY wife, MY Ursula!"
She took it all naturally, as she had taken every expression of his
love these nine-and-twenty years. I left them, standing eye to eye,
heart to heart, as if nothing in this world could ever part them.
Next morning was as gay as any of our mornings used to be, for,
before breakfast, came Edwin and Louise. And after breakfast, the
father and mother and I walked up and down the garden for an hour,
talking over the prospects of the young couple. Then the post came--
but we had no need to watch for it now. It only brought a letter
from Lord Ravenel.
John read it, somewhat more seriously than he had been used to read
these letters--which for the last year or so had come often enough--
the boys usually quizzing, and Mistress Maud vehemently defending,
the delicate small hand-writing, the exquisite paper, the coronetted
seal, and the frank in the corner. John liked to have them, and his
wife also--she being not indifferent to the fact, confirmed by many
other facts, that if there was one man in the world whom Lord Ravenel
honoured and admired, it was John Halifax of Beechwood. But this
time her pleasure was apparently damped; and when Maud, claiming the
letter as usual, spread abroad, delightedly, the news that "her" Lord
Ravenel was coming shortly, I imagined this visit was not so welcome
as usual to the parents.
Yet still, as many a time before, when Mr. Halifax closed the letter,
he sighed, looked sorrowful, saying only, "Poor Lord Ravenel!"
"John," asked his wife, speaking in a whisper, for by tacit consent
all public allusion to his doings at Paris was avoided in the family-
-"did you, by any chance, hear anything of--You know whom I mean?"
"Not one syllable."
"You inquired?" He assented. "I knew you would. She must be almost
an old woman now, or perhaps she is dead. Poor Caroline!"
It was the first time for years and years that this name had been
breathed in our household. Involuntarily it carried me back--perhaps
others besides me--to the day at Longfield when little Guy had
devoted himself to his "pretty lady;" when we first heard that other
name, which by a curious conjuncture of circumstances had since
become so fatally familiar, and which would henceforward be like the
sound of a death-bell in our family--Gerard Vermilye.
On Lord Ravenel's re-appearance at Beechwood--and he seemed eager and
glad to come--I was tempted to wish him away. He never crossed the
threshold but his presence brought a shadow over the parents' looks--
and no wonder. The young people were gay and friendly as ever; made
him always welcome with us; and he rode over daily from desolate,
long-uninhabited Luxmore, where, in all its desolation, he appeared
so fond of abiding.
He wanted to take Maud and Walter over there one day, to see some
magnificent firs that were being cut down in a wholesale massacre,
leaving the grand old Hall as bare as a workhouse front. But the
father objected; he was clearly determined that all the hospitalities
between Luxmore and Beechwood should be on the Beechwood side.
Lord Ravenel apparently perceived this. "Luxmore is not Compiegne,"
he said to me, with his dreary smile, half-sad, half-cynical. "Mr.
Halifax might indulge me with the society of his children."
And as he lay on the grass--it was full summer now--watching Maud's
white dress flit about under the trees, I saw, or fancied I saw,
something different to any former expression that had ever lighted up
the soft languid mien of William Lord Ravenel.
"How tall that child has grown lately! She is about nineteen, I
"Not seventeen till December."
"Ah, so young?--Well, it is pleasant to be young!--Dear little Maud!"
He turned on one side, hiding the sun from his eyes with those
delicate ringed hands--which many a time our boys had laughed at,
saying they were mere lady's hands, fit for no work at all.
Perhaps Lord Ravenel felt the cloud that had come over our
intercourse with him; a cloud which, considering late events, was
scarcely unnatural: for when evening came, his leave-taking, always
a regret, seemed now as painful as his blase indifference to all
emotions, pleasant or unpleasant, could allow. He lingered--he
hesitated--he repeated many times how glad he should be to see
Beechwood again; how all the world was to him "flat, stale, and
unprofitable," except Beechwood.
John made no special answer; except that frank smile not without a
certain kindly satire, under which the young nobleman's Byronic
affectations generally melted away like mists in the morning. He
kindled up into warmth and manliness.
"I thank you, Mr. Halifax--I thank you heartily for all you and your
household have been to me. I trust I shall enjoy your friendship for
many years. And if, in any way, I might offer mine, or any small
influence in the world--"
"Your influence is not small," John returned earnestly. "I have
often told you so. I know no man who has wider opportunities than
"But I have let them slip--for ever."
"No, not for ever. You are young still; you have half a lifetime
"Have I?" And for the moment one would hardly have recognized the
sallow, spiritless face, that with all the delicacy of boyhood still,
at times looked so exceedingly old. "No, no, Mr. Halifax, who ever
heard of a man beginning life at seven-and-thirty?"
"Are you really seven-and-thirty?" asked Maud.
"Yes--yes, my girl. Is it so very old?"
He patted her on the shoulder, took her hand, gazed at it--the round,
rosy, girlish hand--with a melancholy tenderness; then bade
"Good-bye" to us all generally, and rode off.
It struck me then, though I hurried the thought away--it struck me
afterwards, and does now with renewed surprise--how strange it was
that the mother never noticed or took into account certain
possibilities that would have occurred naturally to any worldly
mother. I can only explain it by remembering the unworldliness of
our lives at Beechwood, the heavy cares which now pressed upon us
from without, and the notable fact--which our own family experience
ought to have taught us, yet did not--that in cases like this, often
those whom one would have expected to be most quick-sighted, are the
most strangely, irretrievably, mournfully blind.
When, the very next day, Lord Ravenel, not on horse-back but in his
rarely-used luxurious coronetted carriage, drove up to Beechwood,
every one in the house except myself was inconceivably astonished to
see him back again.
He said that he had delayed his journey to Paris, and gave no
explanation of that delay. He joined as usual in our midday dinner;
and after dinner, still as usual, took a walk with me and Maud. It
happened to be through the beech-wood, almost the identical path that
I remembered taking, years and years ago, with John and Ursula. I
was surprised to hear Lord Ravenel allude to the fact, a well-known
fact in our family; for I think all fathers and mothers like to
relate, and all children to hear, the slightest incidents of the
parents' courting days.
"You did not know father and mother when they were young?" said Maud,
catching our conversation and flashing back her innocent, merry face
"No, scarcely likely." And he smiled. "Oh, yes--it might have been-
-I forget, I am not a young man now. How old were Mr. and Mrs.
Halifax when they married?"
"Father was twenty-one and mother was eighteen--only a year older
than I." And Maud, half ashamed of this suggestive remark, ran away.
Her gay candour proved to me--perhaps to others besides me--the
girl's entire free-heartedness. The frank innocence of childhood was
Lord Ravenel looked after her and sighed. "It is good to marry
early; do you not think so, Mr. Fletcher?"
I told him--(I was rather sorry after I had said it, if one ought to
be sorry for having, when questioned, given one's honest opinion)--I
told him that I thought those happiest who found their happiness
early, but that I did not see why happiness should be rejected
because it was the will of Providence that it should not be found
"I wonder," he said, dreamily, "I wonder whether I shall ever find
I asked him--it was by an impulse irresistible--why he had never
"Because I never found any woman either to love or to believe in.
Worse," he added, bitterly, "I did not think there lived the woman
who could be believed in."
We had come out of the beech-wood and were standing by the low
churchyard wall; the sun glittered on the white marble head-stone on
which was inscribed, "Muriel Joy Halifax."
Lord Ravenel leaned over the wall, his eyes fixed upon that little
grave. After a while, he said, sighing:
"Do you know, I have thought sometimes that, had she lived, I could
have loved--I might have married--that child!"
Here Maud sprang towards us. In her playful tyranny, which she loved
to exercise and he to submit to, she insisted on knowing what Lord
Ravenel was talking about.
"I was saying," he answered, taking both her hands and looking down
into her bright, unshrinking eyes, "I was saying, how dearly I loved
your sister Muriel."
"I know that," and Maud became grave at once. "I know you care for
me because I am like my sister Muriel."
"If it were so, would you be sorry or glad?"
"Glad, and proud too. But you said, or you were going to say,
something more. What was it?"
He hesitated long, then answered:
"I will tell you another time."
Maud went away, rather cross and dissatisfied, but evidently
suspecting nothing. For me, I began to be seriously uneasy about her
and Lord Ravenel.
Of all kinds of love, there is one which common sense and romance
have often combined to hold obnoxious, improbable, or ridiculous, but
which has always seemed to me the most real and pathetic form that
the passion ever takes--I mean, love in spite of great disparity of
age. Even when this is on the woman's side, I can imagine
circumstances that would make it far less ludicrous and pitiful; and
there are few things to me more touching, more full of sad earnest,
than to see an old man in love with a young girl.
Lord Ravenel's case would hardly come under this category; yet the
difference between seventeen and thirty-seven was sufficient to
warrant in him a trembling uncertainty, and eager catching at the
skirts of that vanishing youth whose preciousness he never seemed to
have recognized till now. It was with a mournful interest that all
day I watched him follow the child about, gather her posies, help her
to water her flowers, and accommodate himself to those whims and
fancies, of which, as the pet and the youngest, Mistress Maud had her
When, at her usual hour of half-past nine, the little lady was
summoned away to bed, "to keep up her roses," he looked half
resentful of the mother's interference.
"Maud is not a child now; and this may be my last night--" he
stopped, sensitively, at the involuntary foreboding.
"Your last night? Nonsense! you will come back soon again. You
must--you shall!" said Maud, decisively.
"I hope I may--I trust in Heaven I may!"
He spoke low, holding her hand distantly and reverently, not
attempting to kiss it, as in all his former farewells he had
"Maud, remember me! However or whenever I come back, dearest child,
be faithful, and remember me!"
Maud fled away with a sob of childish pain--partly anger, the mother
thought--and slightly apologized to the guest for her daughter's
Lord Ravenel sat silent for a long, long time.
Just when we thought he purposed leaving, he said, abruptly, "Mr.
Halifax, may I have five minutes' speech with you in the study?"
The five minutes extended to half an hour. Mrs. Halifax wondered
what on earth they were talking about. I held my peace. At last the
father came in alone.
"John, is Lord Ravenel gone?"
"What could he have wanted to say to you?"
John sat down by his wife, picked up the ball of her knitting, rolled
and unrolled it. She saw at once that something had grieved and
perplexed him exceedingly. Her heart shrunk back--that still sore
heart!--recoiled with a not unnatural fear.
"Oh, husband, is it any new misfortune?"
"No, love," cheering her with a smile; "nothing that fathers and
mothers in general would consider as such. He has asked me for our
"What for?" was the mother's first exceedingly simple question--and
then she guessed its answer. "Impossible! Ridiculous--absolutely
ridiculous! She is only a child."
"Nevertheless, Lord Ravenel wishes to marry our little Maud!"
"Lord Ravenel wishes to marry our Maud!"
Mrs. Halifax repeated this to herself more than once before she was
able to entertain it as a reality. When she did, the first
impression it made upon her mind was altogether pain.
"Oh, John! I hoped we had done with these sort of things; I thought
we should have been left in peace with the rest of our children."
John smiled again; for, indeed, there was a comical side to her view
of the subject; but its serious phase soon returned; doubly so, when,
looking up, they both saw Lord Ravenel standing before them. Firm
his attitude was, firmer than usual; and it was with something of his
father's stately air, mingled with a more chivalric and sincerer
grace, that he stooped forward and kissed the hand of Maud's mother.
"Mr. Halifax has told you all, I believe?"
"May I then, with entire trust in you both, await my answer?"
He waited it, patiently enough, with little apparent doubt as to what
it would be. Besides, it was only the prior question of parental
consent, not the vital point of Maud's preference. And, with all his
natural humility, Lord Ravenel might be forgiven if, brought up in
the world, he was aware of his position therein--nor quite
unconscious that it was not merely William Ravenel, but the only son
and heir of the Earl of Luxmore, who came a-wooing.
Not till after a long pause, and even a whispered word or two between
the husband and wife, who knew each other's minds so well that no
more consultation was needed--did the suitor again, with a more
formal air, ask for an answer.
"It is difficult to give. I find that my wife, like myself, had no
idea of your feelings. The extreme suddenness--"
"Pardon me; my intention has not been sudden. It is the growth of
many months--years, I might almost say."
"We are the more grieved."
Lord Ravenel's extreme surprise startled him from the mere suitor
into the lover; he glanced from one to the other in undisguised
alarm. John hesitated: the mother said something about the "great
difference between them."
"In age, do you mean? I am aware of that," he answered, with some
sadness. "But twenty years is not an insuperable bar in marriage."
"No," said Mrs. Halifax, thoughtfully.
"And for any other disparity--in fortune--or rank--"
"I think, Lord Ravenel,"--and the mother spoke with her "dignified"
air--"you know enough of my husband's character and opinions to be
assured how lightly he would hold such a disparity--if you allude to
that supposed to exist between the son of the Earl of Luxmore and the
daughter of John Halifax."
The young nobleman coloured, as if with ingenuous shame at what he
had been implying. "I am glad of it. Let me assure you there will
be no impediments on the side of my family. The earl has long wished
me to marry. He knows well enough that I can marry whom I please--
and shall marry for love only. Give me your leave to win your little
A dead silence.
"Again pardon me," Lord Ravenel said with some hauteur; "I cannot
have clearly explained myself. Let me repeat, Mr. Halifax, that I
ask your permission to win your daughter's affection, and, in due
time, her hand."
"I would that you had asked of me anything that it could be less
impossible to give you."
"Impossible! What do you mean?--Mrs. Halifax--" He turned
instinctively to the woman--the mother.
Ursula's eyes were full of a sad kindness--the kindness any mother
must feel towards one who worthily woos her daughter--but she replied
"I feel, with my husband, that such a marriage would be impossible."
Lord Ravenel grew scarlet--sat down--rose again, and stood facing
them, pale and haughty.
"If I may ask--your reasons?"
"Since you ask--certainly," John replied. "Though, believe me, I
give them with the deepest pain. Lord Ravenel, do you not yourself
see that our Maud--"
"Wait one moment," he interrupted. "There is not, there cannot be,
any previous attachment?"
The supposition made the parents smile. "Indeed, nothing of the
kind: she is a mere child."
"You think her too young for marriage, then?" was the eager answer.
"Be it so. I will wait, though my youth, alas! is slipping from me;
but I will wait--two years, three--any time you choose to name."
John needed not to reply. The very sorrow of his decision showed how
inevitable and irrevocable it was.
Lord Ravenel's pride rose against it.
"I fear in this my novel position I am somewhat slow of
comprehension. Would it be so great a misfortune to your daughter if
I made her Viscountess Ravenel, and in course of time Countess of
"I believe it would. Her mother and I would rather see our little
Maud lying beside her sister Muriel than see her Countess of
These words, hard as they were, John uttered so softly and with such
infinite grief and pain, that they struck the young man, not with
anger, but with an indefinite awe, as if a ghost from his youth--his
wasted youth--had risen up to point out that truth, and show him that
what seemed insult or vengeance was only a bitter necessity.
All he did was to repeat, in a subdued manner--"Your reasons?"
"Ah, Lord Ravenel!" John answered sadly, "do you not see yourself
that the distance between us and you is wide as the poles? Not in
worldly things, but in things far deeper;--personal things, which
strike at the root of love, home--nay, honour."
Lord Ravenel started. "Would you imply that anything in my past
life, aimless and useless as it may have been, is unworthy of my
honour--the honour of our house?"
Saying this he stopped--recoiled--as if suddenly made aware by the
very words himself had uttered, what--contrasted with the unsullied
dignity of the tradesman's life, the spotless innocence of the
tradesman's daughter--what a foul tattered rag, fit to be torn down
by an honest gust, was that flaunting emblazonment, the so-called
"honour" of Luxmore!
"I understand you now. 'The sins of the fathers shall be visited
upon the children,' as your Bible says--your Bible, that I had half
begun to believe in. Be it so. Mr. Halifax, I will detain you no
John intercepted the young man's departure.
"No, you do NOT understand me. I hold no man accountable for any
errors, any shortcomings, except his own."
"I am to conclude, then, that it is to myself you refuse your
Lord Ravenel once more bowed, with sarcastic emphasis.
"I entreat you not to mistake me," John continued, most earnestly.
"I know nothing of you that the world would condemn, much that it
would even admire; but your world is not our world, nor your aims our
aims. If I gave you my little Maud, it would confer on you no
lasting happiness, and it would be thrusting my child, my own flesh
and blood, to the brink of that whirlpool where, soon or late, every
miserable life must go down."
Lord Ravenel made no answer. His new-born energy, his pride, his
sarcasm, had successively vanished; dead, passive melancholy resumed
its empire over him. Mr. Halifax regarded him with mournful
"Oh, that I had foreseen this! I would have placed the breadth of
all England between you and my child."
"Understand me. Not because you do not possess our warm interest,
our friendship: both will always be yours. But these are external
ties, which may exist through many differences. In marriage there
must he perfect unity; one aim, one faith, one love, or the marriage
is incomplete, unholy--a mere civil contract and no more."
Lord Ravenel looked up amazed at this doctrine, then sat awhile
"Yes, you may be right," at last he said. "Your Maud is not for me,
nor those like me. Between us and you is that 'great gulf fixed;'--
what did the old fable say? I forget.--Che sara sara! I am but as
others: I am but what I was born to be."
"Do you recognize what you were born to be? Not only a nobleman, but
a gentleman; not only a gentleman, but a man--man, made in the image
of God. How can you, how dare you, give the lie to your Creator?"
"What has He given me? What have I to thank Him for?"
"First, manhood; the manhood His Son disdained not to wear; worldly
gifts, such as rank, riches, influence, things which others have to
spend half an existence in earning; life in its best prime, with much
of youth yet remaining--with grief endured, wisdom learnt, experience
won. Would to Heaven, that by any poor word of mine I could make you
feel all that you are--all that you might be!"
A gleam, bright as a boy's hope, wild as a boy's daring, flashed from
those listless eyes--then faded.
"You mean, Mr. Halifax, what I might have been. Now it is too late."
"There is no such word as 'too late,' in the wide world--nay, not in
the universe. What! shall we, whose atom of time is but a fragment
out of an ever-present eternity--shall we, so long as we live, or
even at our life's ending, dare to cry out to the Eternal One, 'It is
As John spoke, in much more excitement than was usual to him, a
sudden flush or rather spasm of colour flushed his face, then faded
away, leaving him pallid to the very lips. He sat down hastily, in
his frequent attitude, with the left arm passed across his breast.
"Lord Ravenel." His voice was faint, as though speech was painful to
The other looked up, the old look of reverent attention, which I
remembered in the boy-lord who came to see us at Norton Bury; in the
young "Anselmo," whose enthusiastic hero-worship had fixed itself,
with an almost unreasoning trust, on Muriel's father,
"Lord Ravenel, forgive anything I have said that may have hurt you.
It would grieve me inexpressibly if we did not part as friends."
"For a time, we must. I dare not risk further either your happiness
or my child's."
"No, not hers. Guard it. I blame you not. The lovely, innocent
child! God forbid she should ever have a life like mine!"
He sat silent, his clasped hands listlessly dropping, his countenance
dreamy; yet, it seemed to me, less hopelessly sad: then with a
sudden effort he rose.
"I must go now."
Crossing over to Mrs. Halifax, he thanked her, with much emotion, for
all her kindness.
"For your husband, I owe him more than kindness, as perhaps I may
prove some day. If not, try to believe the best of me you can.
They both said good-bye, and bade God bless him; with scarcely less
tenderness than if things had ended as he desired, and, instead of
this farewell, sad and indefinite beyond most farewells, they were
giving the parental welcome to a newly-chosen son.
Ere finally quitting us, Lord Ravenel turned back to speak to John
once more, hesitatingly and mournfully.
"If she--if the child should ask or wonder about my absence--she
likes me in her innocent way you know--you will tell her--What shall
you tell her?"
"Nothing. It is best not."
"Ay, it is, it is."
He shook hands with us all three, without saying anything else; then
the carriage rolled away, and we saw his face--that pale, gentle,
melancholy face--no more.
It was years and years before any one beyond ourselves knew what a
near escape our little Maud had had of becoming Viscountess Ravenel--
future Countess of Luxmore.
It was not many weeks after this departure of Lord Ravenel's--the
pain of which was almost forgotten in the comfort of Guy's first long
home letter, which came about this time--that John one morning,
suddenly dropping his newspaper, exclaimed:
"Lord Luxmore is dead."
Yes, he had returned to his dust, this old bad man; so old, that
people had begun to think he would never die. He was gone; the man
who, if we owned an enemy in the world, had certainly proved himself
that enemy. Something peculiar is there in a decease like this--of
one whom, living, we have almost felt ourselves justified in
condemning, avoiding--perhaps hating. Until Death, stepping in
between, removes him to another tribunal than this petty justice of
ours, and laying a solemn finger on our mouths, forbids us either to
think or utter a word of hatred against that which is now--what?--a
disembodied spirit--a handful of corrupting clay.
Lord Luxmore was dead. He had gone to his account; it was not ours
to judge him. We never knew--I believe no one except his son ever
fully knew--the history of his death-bed.
John sat in silence, the paper before him, long after we had passed
the news and discussed it, not without awe, all round the breakfast-
Maud stole up--hesitatingly, and asked to see the announcement of the
"No, my child; but you shall hear it read aloud, if you choose."
I guessed the reason of his refusal; when, looking over him as he
read, I saw, after the long list of titles owned by the new Earl of
Luxmore, one bitter line; how it must have cut to the heart of him
whom we first heard of as "poor William!"
"HAD LIKEWISE ISSUE, CAROLINE, MARRIED IN 17--, TO RICHARD BRITHWOOD,
ESQUIRE, AFTERWARDS DIVORCED."
And by a curious coincidence, about twenty lines further down I read
among the fashionable marriages:
"AT THE BRITISH EMBASSY, PARIS, SIR GERARD VERMILYE, BART., TO THE
YOUTHFUL AND BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER OF--"
I forget who. I only saw that the name was not her name, of whom the
"youthful and beautiful" bride had most likely never heard. He had
not married Lady Caroline.
This morning's intelligence brought the Luxmore family so much to our
thoughts, that driving out after breakfast, John and I involuntarily
recurred to the subject. Nay, talking on, in the solitude of our
front seat--for Mrs. Halifax, Miss Halifax, and Mrs. Edwin Halifax,
in the carriage behind, were deep in some other subject--we fell upon
a topic which by tacit consent had been laid aside, as in our
household we held it good to lay aside any inevitable regret.
"Poor Maud! how eager she was to hear the news to-day. She little
thinks how vitally it might have concerned her."
"No," John answered thoughtfully; then asked me with some abruptness,
"Why did you say 'poor Maud'?"
I really could not tell; it was a mere accident, the unwitting
indication of some crotchets of mine, which had often come into my
mind lately. Crotchets, perhaps peculiar to one, who, never having
known a certain possession, found himself rather prone to over-rate
its value. But it sometimes struck me as hard, considering how
little honest and sincere love there is in the world, that Maud
should never have known of Lord Ravenel's.
Possibly, against my will, my answer implied something of this; for
John was a long time silent. Then he began to talk of various
matters; telling me of many improvements he was planning and
executing, on his property, and among his people. In all his plans,
and in the carrying out of them, I noticed one peculiarity, strong in
him throughout his life, but latterly grown stronger than ever--
namely, that whatever he found to do, he did immediately.
Procrastination had never been one of his faults; now, he seemed to
have a horror of putting anything off even for a single hour.
Nothing that could be done did he lay aside until it was done; his
business affairs were kept in perfect order, each day's work being
completed with the day. And in the thousand-and-one little things
that were constantly arising, from his position as magistrate and
land-owner, and his general interest in the movements of the time,
the same system was invariably pursued. In his relations with the
world outside, as in his own little valley, he seemed determined to
"work while it was day." If he could possibly avoid it, no
application was ever unattended to; no duty left unfinished; no good
unacknowledged; no evil unremedied, or at least unforgiven.
"John," I said, as to-day this peculiarity of his struck me more than
usual, "thou art certainly one of the faithful servants whom the
Master when He cometh will find watching."
"I hope so. It ought to be thus with all men--but especially with
I imagined from his tone that he was thinking of his responsibility
as father, master, owner of large wealth. How could I know--how
could I guess--beyond this!
"Do you think she looks pale, Phineas?" he asked suddenly.
"No--Maud. My little Maud."
It was but lately that he called her "his" little Maud; since with
that extreme tenacity of attachment which was a part of his nature--
refusing to put any one love in another love's place--his second
daughter had never been to him like the first. Now, however, I had
noticed that he took Maud nearer to his heart, made her more often
his companion, watching her with a sedulous tenderness--it was easy
to guess why.
"She may have looked a little paler of late, a little more
thoughtful. But I am sure she is not unhappy."
"I believe not--thank God!"
"Surely," I said anxiously, "you have never repented what you did
about Lord Ravenel?"
"No--not once. It cost me so much, that I know it was right to be
"But if things had been otherwise--if you had not been so sure of
He started, painfully; then answered--"I think I should have done it
I was silent. The paramount right, the high prerogative of love,
which he held as strongly as I did, seemed attacked in its liberty
divine. For the moment, it was as if he too had in his middle-age
gone over to the cold-blooded ranks of harsh parental prudence,
despotic paternal rule; as if Ursula March's lover and Maud's father
were two distinct beings. One finds it so, often enough, with men.
"John," I said, "could you have done it? could you have broken the
"Yes, if it was to save her peace, perhaps her soul, I could have
broken my child's heart."
He spoke solemnly, with an accent of inexpressible pain, as if this
were not the first time by many that he had pondered over such a
"I wish, Phineas, to make clear to you, in case of--of any future
misconceptions--my mind on this matter. One right alone I hold
superior to the right of love,--duty. It is a father's duty, at all
risks, at all costs, to save his child from anything which he
believes would peril her duty--so long as she is too young to
understand fully how beyond the claim of any human being, be it
father or lover, is God's claim to herself and her immortal soul.
Anything which would endanger that should be cut off--though it be
the right hand--the right eye. But, thank God, it was not thus with
my little Maud."
"Nor with him either. He bore his disappointment well."
"Nobly. It may make a true nobleman of him yet. But, being what he
is, and for as long as he remains so, he must not be trusted with my
little Maud. I must take care of her while I live: afterwards--"
His smile faded, or rather was transmuted into that grave
thoughtfulness which I had lately noticed in him, when, as now, he
fell into one of his long silences. There was nothing sad about it;
rather a serenity which reminded me of that sweet look of his
boyhood, which had vanished during the manifold cares of his middle
life. The expression of the mouth, as I saw it in profile--close and
calm--almost inclined me to go back to the fanciful follies of our
youth, and call him "David."
We drove through Norton Bury, and left Mrs. Edwin there. Then on,
along the familiar road, towards the manor-house; past the white
gate, within sight of little Longfield.
"It looks just the same--the tenant takes good care of it." And
John's eyes turned fondly to his old home.
"Ay, just the same. Do you know your wife was saying to me this
morning, that when Guy comes back, when all the young folk are
married, and you retire from business and settle into the otium cum
dignitate, the learned leisure you used to plan--she would like to
give up Beechwood. She said, she hopes you and she will end your
days together at little Longfield."
"Did she? Yes, I know that has been always her dream."
"Scarcely a dream, or one that is not unlikely to be fulfilled. I
like to fancy you both two old people, sitting on either side the
fire--or on the same side if you like it best; very cheerful--you
will make such a merry old man, John, with all your children round
you, and indefinite grandchildren about the house continually. Or
else you two will sit alone together, just as in your early married
days--you and your old wife--the dearest and handsomest old lady that
ever was seen."
"Phineas--don't--don't." I was startled by the tone in which he
answered the lightness of mine. "I mean--don't be planning out the
future. It is foolish--it is almost wrong. God's will is not as our
will; and He knows best."
I would have spoken; but just then we reached the manor-house gate,
and plunged at once into present life, and into the hospitable circle
of the Oldtowers.
They were all in the excitement of a wonderful piece of gossip;
gossip so strange, sudden, and unprecedented, that it absorbed all
lesser matters. It burst out before we had been in the house five
"Have you heard this extraordinary report about the Luxmore family?"
I could see Maud turn with eager attention--fixing her eyes wistfully
on Lady Oldtower.
"About the earl's death. Yes, we saw it in the newspaper." And John
passed on to some other point of conversation. In vain.
"This news relates to the present earl. I never heard of such a
thing--never. In fact, if true, his conduct is something which in
its self-denial approaches absolute insanity. Is it possible that,
being so great a friend of your family, he has not informed you of
These circumstances, with some patience, we extracted from the
voluble Lady Oldtower. She had learnt them--I forget how: but news
never wants a tongue to carry it.
It seemed that on the earl's death it was discovered, what had
already been long suspected, that his liabilities, like his
extravagances, were enormous. That he was obliged to live abroad to
escape in some degree the clamorous haunting of the hundreds he had
ruined: poor tradespeople, who knew that their only chance of
payment was during the old man's life-time, for his whole property
was entailed on the son.
Whether Lord Ravenel had ever been acquainted with the state of
things, or whether, being in ignorance of it, his own style of living
had in degree imitated his father's, rumour did not say, nor indeed
was it of much consequence. The facts subsequently becoming known
immediately after Lord Luxmore's death, made all former conjectures
Not a week before he died, the late earl and his son--chiefly it was
believed on the latter's instigation--had cut off the entail, thereby
making the whole property saleable, and available for the payment of
creditors. Thus by his own act, and--as some one had told somebody
that somebody else had heard Lord Ravenel say: "for the honour of
the family," the present earl had succeeded to an empty title, and--
"Or," Lady Oldtower added, "what to a man of rank will be the same as
beggary--a paltry two hundred a year or so--which he has reserved,
they say, just to keep him from destitution. Ah--here comes Mr.
Jessop; I thought he would. He can tell us all about it."
Old Mr. Jessop was as much excited as any one present.
"Ay--it's all true--only too true, Mr. Halifax. He was at my house
"Last night!" I do not think anybody caught the child's exclamation
but me; I could not help watching little Maud, noticing what strong
emotion, still perfectly child-like and unguarded in its
demonstration, was shaking her innocent bosom, and overflowing at her
eyes. However, as she sat still in the corner, nobody observed her.
"Yes, he slept at my house--Lord Ravenel, the Earl of Luxmore, I
mean. Much good will his title do him! My head clerk is better off
than he. He has stripped himself of every penny, except--bless me, I
forgot; Mr. Halifax, he gave me a letter for you."
John walked to the window to read it; but having read it, passed it
openly round the circle; as indeed was best.
"MY DEAR FRIEND,
"You will have heard that my father is no more."
("He used always to say 'the earl,'" whispered Maud, as she looked
over my shoulder.)
"I write this merely to say, what I feel sure you will already
have believed--that anything which you may learn concerning his
affairs, I was myself unaware of, except in a very slight degree,
when I last visited Beechwood.
"Will you likewise believe that in all I have done, or intend
doing, your interests as my tenant--which I hope you will remain--
have been, and shall be, sedulously guarded?
"My grateful remembrance to all your household.
"Faithfully yours and theirs,
"Give me back the letter, Maud my child."
She had been taking possession of it, as in right of being his "pet"
she generally did of all Lord Ravenel's letters. But now, without a
word of objection, she surrendered it to her father.
"What does he mean, Mr. Jessop, about my interests as his tenant?"
"Bless me--I am so grieved about the matter that everything goes
astray in my head. He wished me to explain to you that he has
reserved one portion of the Luxmore property intact--Enderley Mills.
The rent you pay will, he says, be a sufficient income for him; and
then while your lease lasts no other landlord can injure you. Very
thoughtful of him--very thoughtful indeed, Mr. Halifax."
John made no answer.
"I never saw a man so altered. He went over some matters with me--
private charities, in which I have been his agent, you know--grave,
clear-headed, business-like; my clerk himself could not have done
better. Afterwards we sat and talked, and I tried--foolishly enough,
when the thing was done!--to show him what a frantic act it was both
towards himself and his heirs. But he could not see it. He said
cutting off the entail would harm nobody--for that he did not intend
ever to marry. Poor fellow!"
"Is he with you still?" John asked in a low tone.
"No; he left this morning for Paris; his father is to be buried
there. Afterwards, he said, his movements were quite uncertain. He
bade me good-bye--I--I didn't like it, I can assure you."
And the old man, blowing his nose with his yellow
pocket-handkerchief, and twitching his features into all manner of
shapes, seemed determined to put aside the melancholy subject, and
dilated on the earl and his affairs no more.
Nor did any one. Something in this young nobleman's noble act--it
has since been not without a parallel among our aristocracy--silenced
the tongue of gossip itself. The deed was so new--so unlike anything
that had been conceived possible, especially in a man like Lord
Ravenel, who had always borne the character of a harmless, idle
misanthropic nonentity--that society was really nonplussed concerning
it. Of the many loquacious visitors who came that morning to pour
upon Lady Oldtower all the curiosity of Coltham--fashionable Coltham,
famous for all the scandal of haut ton--there was none who did not
speak of Lord Luxmore and his affairs with an uncomfortable,
wondering awe. Some suggested he was going mad--others, raking up
stories current of his early youth, thought he had turned Catholic
again, and was about to enter a monastery. One or two honest hearts
protested that he was a noble fellow, and it was a pity he had
determined to be the last of the Luxmores.
For ourselves--Mr. and Mrs. Halifax, Maud and I--we never spoke to
one another on the subject all the morning. Not until after
luncheon, when John and I had somehow stolen out of the way of the
visitors, and were walking to and fro in the garden. The sunny fruit
garden--ancient, Dutch, and square--with its barricade of a high
hedge, a stone wall, and between it and the house a shining fence of
great laurel trees.
Maud appeared suddenly before us from among these laurels,
"I got away after you, father. I--I wanted to find some
strawberries--and--I wanted to speak to you."
"Speak on, little lady."
He linked her arm in his, and she paced between us up and down the
broad walk--but without diverging to the strawberry-beds. She was
grave, and paler than ordinary. Her father asked if she were tired?
"No, but my head aches. Those Coltham people do talk so. Father, I
want you to explain to me, for I can't well understand all this that
they have been saying about Lord Ravenel."
John explained, as simply and briefly as he could.
"I understand. Then, though he is Earl of Luxmore, he is quite poor-
-poorer than any of us? And he has made himself poor in order to pay
his own and his father's debts, and keep other people from suffering
from any fault of his? Is it so?"
"Yes, my child."
"Is it not a very noble act, father?"
"I think it is the noblest act I ever heard of. I should like to
tell him so. When is he coming to Beechwood?"
Maud spoke quickly, with flushed cheeks, in the impetuous manner she
inherited from her mother. Her question not being immediately
answered, she repeated it still more eagerly.
Her father replied--"I do not know."
"How very strange! I thought he would come at once--to-night,
I reminded her that Lord Ravenel had left for Paris, bidding goodbye
to Mr. Jessop.
"He ought to have come to us instead of to Mr. Jessop. Write and
tell him so, father. Tell him how glad we shall be to see him. And
perhaps you can help him: you who help everybody. He always said
you were his best friend."
"Ah now, do write, father dear--I am sure you will."
John looked down on the little maid who hung on his arm so
persuasively, then looked sorrowfully away.
"My child--I cannot."
"What, not write to him? When he is poor and in trouble? That is
not like you, father," and Maud half-loosed her arm.
Her father quietly put the little rebellious hand back again to its
place. He was evidently debating within himself whether he should
tell her the whole truth, or how much of it. Not that the debate was
new, for he must already have foreseen this possible, nay, certain,
conjuncture. Especially as all his dealings with his family had
hitherto been open as daylight. He held that to prevaricate, or
wilfully to give the impression of a falsehood, is almost as mean as
a direct lie. When anything occurred that he could not tell his
children, he always said plainly, "I cannot tell you," and they asked
I wondered exceedingly how he would deal with Maud.
She walked with him, submissive yet not satisfied, glancing at him
from time to time, waiting for him to speak. At last she could wait
"I am sure there is something wrong. You do not care for Lord
Ravenel as much as you used to do."
"More, if possible."
"Then write to him. Say, we want to see him--I want to see him. Ask
him to come and stay a long while at Beechwood."
"I cannot, Maud. It would be impossible for him to come. I do not
think he is likely to visit Beechwood for some time."
"How long? Six months? A year, perhaps?"
"It may be several years."
"Then, I was right. Something HAS happened; you are not friends with
him any longer. And he is poor--in trouble--oh, father!"
She snatched her hand away, and flashed upon him reproachful eyes.
John took her gently by the arm, and made her sit down upon the wall
of a little stone bridge, under which the moat slipped with a quiet
murmur. Maud's tears dropped into it fast and free.
That very outburst, brief and thundery as a child's passion, gave
consolation both to her father and me. When it lessened, John spoke.
"Now has my little Maud ceased to be angry with her father?"
"I did not mean to be angry--only I was so startled--so grieved.
Tell me what has happened, please, father?"
"I will tell you--so far as I can. Lord Ravenel and myself had some
conversation, of a very painful kind, the last night he was with us.
After it, we both considered it advisable he should not visit us
again for the present."
"Why not? Had you quarrelled? or if you had, I thought my father was
always the first to forgive everybody."
"No, Maud, we had not quarrelled."
"Then, what was it?"
"My child, you must not ask, for indeed I cannot tell you."
Maud sprang up--the rebellious spirit flashing out again. "Not tell
me--me, his pet--me, that cared for him more than any of you did. I
think you ought to tell me, father."
"You must allow me to decide that, if you please."
After this answer Maud paused, and said humbly, "Does any one else
"Your mother, and your uncle Phineas, who happened to be present at
the time. No one else: and no one else shall know."
John spoke with that slight quivering and blueness of the lips which
any mental excitement usually produced in him. He sat down by his
daughter's side and took her hand.
"I knew this would grieve you, and I kept it from you as long as I
could. Now you must only be patient, and like a good child trust
Something in his manner quieted her. She only sighed and said, "she
could not understand it."
"Neither can I--often times, my poor little Maud. There are so many
sad things in life that we have to take upon trust, and bear, and be
patient with--yet never understand. I suppose we shall some day."
His eyes wandered upward to the wide-arched blue sky, which in its
calm beauty makes us fancy that Paradise is there, even though we
know that "THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS WITHIN US," and that the kingdom
of spirits may be around us and about us everywhere.
Maud looked at her father, and crept closer to him--into his arms.
"I did not mean to be naughty. I will try not to mind losing him.
But I liked Lord Ravenel so much--and he was so fond of me."
"Child"--and her father himself could not help smiling at the
simplicity of her speech--"it is often easiest to lose those we are
fond of and who are fond of us, because, in one sense, we never can
really lose them. Nothing in this world, nor, I believe, in any
other, can part those who truly and faithfully love."
I think he was hardly aware how much he was implying, at least not in
its relation to her, else he would not have said it. And he would
surely have noticed, as I did, that the word "love," which had not
been mentioned before--it was "liking," "fond of," "care for," or
some such round-about, childish phrase--the word "love" made Maud
start. She darted from one to the other of us a keen glance of
inquiry, and then turned the colour of a July rose.
Her attitude, her blushes, the shy tremble about her mouth, reminded
me vividly, too vividly, of her mother twenty-eight years ago.
Alarmed, I tried to hasten the end of our conversation, lest,
voluntarily or involuntarily, it might produce the very results
which, though they might not have altered John's determination, would
almost have broken his heart.
So, begging her to "kiss and make friends," which Maud did, timidly,
and without attempting further questions, I hurried the father and
daughter into the house; deferring for mature consideration, the
question whether or not I should trouble John with any too-anxious
doubts of mine concerning her.
As we drove back through Norton Bury, I saw that while her mother and
Lady Oldtower conversed, Maud sat opposite rather more silent than
her wont; but when the ladies dismounted for shopping, she was again
the lively independent Miss Halifax,
"Standing with reluctant feet,
Where womanhood and childhood meet;"
and assuming at once the prerogatives and immunities of both.
Her girlish ladyship at last got tired of silks and ribbons, and
stood with me at the shop-door, amusing herself with commenting on
These were not so plentiful as I once remembered, though still the
old town wore its old face--appearing fairer than ever, as I myself
grew older. The same Coltham coach stopped at the Lamb Inn, and the
same group of idle loungers took an interest in its disemboguing of
its contents. But railways had done an ill turn to the coach and to
poor Norton Bury: where there used to be six inside passengers,
to-day was turned out only one.
"What a queer-looking little woman! Uncle Phineas, people shouldn't
dress so fine as that when they are old."
Maud's criticism was scarcely unjust. The light-coloured flimsy
gown, shorter than even Coltham fashionables would have esteemed
decent, the fluttering bonnet, the abundance of flaunting curls--no
wonder that the stranger attracted considerable notice in quiet
Norton Bury. As she tripped mincingly along, in her silk stockings
and light shoes, a smothered jeer arose.
"People should not laugh at an old woman, however conceited she may
be," said Maud, indignantly.
"Is she old?"
And surely when, as she turned from side to side, I caught her full
face--what a face it was! withered, thin, sallow almost to
deathliness, with a bright rouge-spot on each cheek, a broad smile on
the ghastly mouth.
"Is she crazy, Uncle Phineas?"
"Possibly. Do not look at her." For I was sure this must be the
wreck of such a life as womanhood does sometimes sink to--a life, the
mere knowledge of which had never yet entered our Maud's pure world.
She seemed surprised, but obeyed me and went in. I stood at the
shop-door, watching the increasing crowd, and pitying, with that pity
mixed with shame that every honest man must feel towards a degraded
woman, the wretched object of their jeers. Half-frightened, she
still kept up that set smile, skipping daintily from side to side of
the pavement, darting at and peering into every carriage that passed.
Miserable creature as she looked, there was a certain grace and ease
in her movements, as if she had fallen from some far higher estate.
At that moment, the Mythe carriage, with Mr. Brithwood in it, dozing
his daily drive away, his gouty foot propped up before him--slowly
lumbered up the street. The woman made a dart at it, but was held
"Canaille! I always hated your Norton Bury! Call my carriage. I
will go home."
Through its coarse discordance, its insane rage, I thought I knew the
voice. Especially when, assuming a tone of command, she addressed
the old coachman:
"Draw up, Peter; you are very late. People, give way! Don't you see
There was a roar of laughter, so loud that even Mr. Brithwood opened
his dull, drunken eyes and stared about him.
"Canaille!"--the scream was more of terror than anger, as she almost
flung herself under the horses' heads in her eagerness to escape from
the mob. "Let me go! My carriage is waiting. I am Lady Caroline
The 'squire heard her. For a single instant they gazed at one
another--besotted husband, dishonoured, divorced wife--gazed with
horror and fear, as two sinners who had been each other's undoing,
might meet in the poetic torments of Dante's "Inferno," or the
tangible fire and brimstone of many a blind but honest Christian's
hell. One single instant,--and then Richard Brithwood made up his
"Coachman, drive on!"
But the man--he was an old man--seemed to hesitate at urging his
horses right over "my lady." He even looked down on her with a sort
of compassion--I remembered having heard say that she was always kind
and affable to her servants.
"Drive on, you fool! Here"--and Mr. Brithwood threw some coin
amongst the mob--"Fetch the constable--some of you; take the woman to
And the carriage rolled on, leaving her there, crouched on the
kerbstone, gazing after it with something between a laugh and a moan.
Nobody touched her. Perhaps some had heard of her; a few might even
have seen her--driving through Norton Bury in her pristine state, as
the young 'squire's handsome wife--the charming Lady Caroline.
I was so absorbed in the sickening sight, that I did not perceive how
John and Ursula, standing behind me, had seen it likewise--evidently
seen and understood it all.
"What is to be done?" she whispered to him.
"What ought we to do?"
Here Maud came running out to see what was amiss in the street.
"Go in, child," said Mrs. Halifax, sharply. "Stay till I fetch you."
Lady Oldtower also advanced to the door; but catching some notion of
what the disturbance was, shocked and scandalised, retired into the
John looked earnestly at his wife, but for once she did not or would
not understand his meaning; she drew back uneasily.
"What must be done?--I mean, what do you want me to do?"
"What only a woman can do--a woman like you, and in your position."
"Yes, if it were only myself. But think of the household--think of
Maud. People will talk so. It is hard to know how to act."
"Nay; how did One act--how would He act now, if He stood in the
street this day? If we take care of aught of His, will He not take
care of us and of our children?"
Mrs. Halifax paused, thought a moment, hesitated--yielded.
"John, you are right; you are always right. I will do anything you
And then I saw, through the astonished crowd, in face of scores of
window-gazers, all of whom knew them, and a great number of whom they
also knew, Mr. Halifax and his wife walk up to where the miserable
John touched her lightly on the shoulder--she screamed and cowered
"Are you the constable? He said he would send the constable."
"Hush--do not be afraid. Cousin--Cousin Caroline."
God knows how long it was since any woman had spoken to her in that
tone. It seemed to startle back her shattered wits. She rose to her
feet, smiling airily.
"Madam, you are very kind. I believe I have had the pleasure of
seeing you somewhere. Your name is--"
"Ursula Halifax. Do you remember?"--speaking gently as she would
have done to a child.
Lady Caroline bowed--a ghastly mockery of her former sprightly grace.
"Not exactly; but I dare say I shall presently--au revoir, madame!"
She was going away, kissing her hand--that yellow, wrinkled, old
woman's hand,--but John stopped her.
"My wife wants to speak to you, Lady Caroline. She wishes you to
come home with us."
"Plait il?--oh yes; I understand. I shall be happy--most happy."
John offered her his arm with an air of grave deference; Mrs. Halifax
supported her on the other side. Without more ado, they put her in
the carriage and drove home, leaving Maud in my charge, and leaving
astounded Norton Bury to think and say exactly what it pleased.
For nearly three years Lady Caroline lived in our house--if that
miserable existence of hers could be called living--bedridden, fallen
into second childhood:
"Pleased with a rattle, tickled with a straw;"
oblivious to both past and present, recognising none of us, and
taking no notice of anybody, except now and then of Edwin's little
daughter, baby Louise.
We knew that all our neighbours talked us over, making far more than
a nine days' wonder of the "very extraordinary conduct" of Mr. and
Mrs. Halifax. That even good Lady Oldtower hesitated a little before
she suffered her tribe of fair daughters to visit under the same roof
where lay, quite out of the way, that poor wreck of womanhood, which
would hardly have tainted any woman now. But in process of time the
gossip ceased of itself; and when, one summer day, a small decent
funeral moved out of our garden gate to Enderley churchyard, all the
"Oh! is she dead?--What a relief it must be! How very kind of Mr.
and Mrs. Halifax!"
Yes, she was dead, and had "made no sign," either of repentance,
grief, or gratitude. Unless one could consider as such a moment's
lightening before death, which Maud declared she saw in her--Maud,
who had tended her with a devotedness which neither father nor mother
forbade, believing that a woman cannot too soon learn womanhood's
best "mission"--usefulness, tenderness, and charity. Miss Halifax
was certain that a few minutes before the last minute, she saw a
gleam of sense in the filmy eyes, and stooping down, had caught some
feeble murmur about "William--poor William!"
She did not tell me this; she spoke of it to no one but her mother,
and to her briefly. So the wretched life, once beautiful and
loveful, was now ended, or perhaps born in some new sphere to begin
again its struggle after the highest beauty, the only perfect love.
What are we that we should place limits to the infinite mercy of the
Lord and Giver of Life, unto whom all life returns?
We buried her and left her--poor Lady Caroline!
No one interfered with us, and we appealed to no one. In truth,
there was no one unto whom we could appeal. Lord Luxmore,
immediately after his father's funeral, had disappeared, whither, no
one knew except his solicitor; who treated with and entirely
satisfied the host of creditors, and into whose hands the sole
debtor, John Halifax, paid his yearly rent. Therewith, he wrote
several times to Lord Luxmore; but the letters were simply
acknowledged through the lawyer: never answered. Whether in any of
them John alluded to Lady Caroline I do not know; but I rather think
not, as it would have served no purpose and only inflicted pain. No
doubt, her brother had long since believed her dead, as we and the
world had done.
In that same world one man, even a nobleman, is of little account.
Lord Ravenel sank in its wide waste of waters, and they closed over
him. Whether he were drowned or saved was of small moment to any
one. He was soon forgotten--everywhere except at Beechwood; and
sometimes it seemed as if he were even forgotten there. Save that in
our family we found it hard to learn this easy, convenient habit--to
Hard, though seven years had passed since we saw Guy's merry face, to
avoid missing it keenly still. The mother, as her years crept on,
oftentimes wearied for him with a yearning that could not be told.
The father, as Edwin became engrossed in his own affairs, and
Walter's undecided temperament kept him a boy long after boyhood,
often seemed to look round vaguely for an eldest son's young strength
to lean upon, often said anxiously, "I wish Guy were at home."
Yet still there was no hint of his coming; better he never came at
all than came against his will, or came to meet the least pain, the
shadow of disgrace. And he was contented and prosperous in the
western world, leading an active and useful life, earning an
honourable name. He had taken a partner, he told us; there was real
friendship between them, and they were doing well; perhaps might
make, in a few years, one of those rapid fortunes which clever men of
business do make in America, and did especially at that time.
He was also eager and earnest upon other and higher cares than mere
business; entered warmly into his father's sympathy about many
political measures now occupying men's minds. A great number of
comparative facts concerning the factory children in England and
America; a mass of evidence used by Mr. Fowell Buxton in his
arguments for the abolition of slavery; and many other things,
originated in the impulsive activity, now settled into mature manly
energy, of Mr. Guy Halifax, of Boston, U.S.--"our Guy."
"The lad is making a stir in the world," said his father one day,
when we had read his last letter. "I shall not wonder if when he
comes home a deputation from his native Norton Bury were to appear,
requesting him to accept the honour of representing them in
Parliament. He would suit them--at least, as regards the canvassing
and the ladies--a great deal better than his old father--eh, love?"
Mrs. Halifax smiled, rather unwillingly, for her husband referred to
a subject which had cost her some pain at the time. After the Reform
Bill passed, many of our neighbours, who had long desired that one of
John's high character, practical knowledge, and influence in the
town, should be its M.P., and were aware that his sole objection to
entering the House was the said question of Reform, urged him very
earnestly to stand for Norton Bury.
To everybody's surprise, and none more than our own, he refused.
Publicly he assigned no reason for this except his conviction that he
could not discharge as he ought, and as he would once have done,
duties which he held so sacred and indispensable. His letter, brief
and simple, thanking his "good neighbours," and wishing them "a
younger and worthier" member, might be found in some old file of the
Norton Bury Herald still. Even the Norton Bury Mercury, in
reprinting it, commented on its touching honesty and brevity, and--
concluding his political career was ended with it--condescended to
bestow on Mr. Halifax the usual obituary line--
"We could have better spared a better man."
When his family, and even his wife, reasoned with him, knowing that
to enter Parliament had long been his thought, nay, his desire, and
perhaps herself taking a natural pride in the idea of seeing M.P.--
M.P. of a new and unbribed House of Commons--after his well-beloved
name; to us and to her he gave no clearer motive for his refusal than
to the electors of Norton Bury.
"But you are not old, John," I argued with him one day; "you possess
to the full the mens sana in corpore sano. No man can be more fitted
than yourself to serve his country, as you used to say it might be
served, and you yourself might serve it, after Reform was gained."
He smiled, and jocularly thanked me for my good opinion.
"Nay, such service is almost your duty; you yourself once thought so
too. Why have you changed your mind?"
"I have not changed my mind, but circumstances have changed my
actions. As for duty--duty begins at home. Believe me, I have
thought well over the subject. Brother, we will not refer to it
I saw that something in the matter pained him, and obeyed his wish.
Even when, a few days after, perhaps as some compensation for the
mother's disappointment, he gave this hint of Guy's taking his place
and entering Parliament in his room.
For any one--nay, his own son--to take John's place, to stand in
John's room, was not a pleasant thought, even in jest; we let it pass
by unanswered, and John himself did not recur to it.
Thus time went on, placidly enough; the father and mother changed
into grandfather and grandmother, and little Maud into Auntie Maud.
She bore her new honours and fulfilled her new duties with great
delight and success. She had altered much of late years: at twenty
was as old as many a woman of thirty--in all the advantages of age.
She was sensible, active, resolute, and wise; sometimes thoughtful,
or troubled with fits of what in any less wholesome temperament would
have been melancholy; but as it was, her humours only betrayed
themselves in some slight restlessness or irritability, easily
soothed by a few tender words or a rush out to Edwin's, and a
peaceful coming back to that happy home, whose principal happiness
she knew that she, the only daughter, made.
She more than once had unexceptionable chances of quitting it; for
Miss Halifax possessed plenty of attractions, both outwardly and
inwardly, to say nothing of her not inconsiderable fortune. But she
refused all offers, and to the best of our knowledge was a
free-hearted damsel still. Her father and mother seemed rather glad
of this than otherwise. They would not have denied her any happiness
she wished for; still it was evidently a relief to them that she was
slow in choosing it; slow in quitting their arms of love to risk a
love untried. Sometimes, such is the weakness of parental humanity,
I verily believe they looked forward with complacency to the
possibility of her remaining always Miss Halifax. I remember one
day, when Lady Oldtower was suggesting--half jest, half earnest--
"better any marriage than no marriage at all;" Maud's father replied,
"Better no marriage, than any marriage that is less than the best."
"How do you mean?"
"I believe," he said, smiling, "that somewhere in the world every man
has his right wife, every woman her right husband. If my Maud's come
he shall have her. If not, I shall be well content to see her a
happy old maid."
Thus after many storms, came this lull in our lives; a season of busy
yet monotonous calm,--I have heard say that peace itself, to be
perfect, ought to be monotonous. We had enough of it to satisfy our
daily need; we looked forward to more of it in time to come, when Guy
should be at home, when we should see safely secured the futures of
all the children, and for ourselves a green old age,
"Journeying in long serenity away."
A time of heavenly calm--which as I look back upon it grows
heavenlier still! Soft summer days and autumn afternoons, spent
under the beech-wood, or on the Flat. Quiet winter evenings, all to
ourselves--Maud and her mother working, Walter drawing. The father
sitting with his back to the lamp--its light making a radiance over
his brow and white bald crown, and as it thrilled through the curls
behind, restoring somewhat of the youthful colour to his fading hair.
Nay, the old youthful ring of his voice I caught at times, when he
found something funny in his book and read it out loud to us; or
laying it down, sat talking as he liked to talk about things
speculative, philosophical, or poetical--things which he had
necessarily let slip in the hurry and press of his business life, in
the burthen and heat of the day; but which now, as the cool shadows
of evening were drawing on, assumed a beauty and a nearness, and were
again caught up by him--precious as the dreams of his youth.
Happy, happy time--sunshiny summer, peaceful winter--we marked
neither as they passed; but now we hold both--in a sacredness
inexpressible--a foretaste of that Land where there is neither summer
nor winter, neither days nor years.
The first break in our repose came early in the new year. There had
been no Christmas letter from Guy, and he never once in all his
wanderings had missed writing home at Christmas time. When the usual
monthly mail came in, and no word from him--a second month, and yet
nothing, we began to wonder about his omission less openly--to cease
scolding him for his carelessness. Though over and over again we
still eagerly brought up instances of the latter--"Guy is such a
thoughtless boy about his correspondence."
Gradually, as his mother's cheek grew paler, and his father more
anxious-eyed, more compulsorily cheerful, we gave up discussing
publicly the many excellent reasons why no letters should come from
Guy. We had written, as usual, by every mail. By the last--by the
March mail, I saw that in addition to the usual packet for Mr. Guy
Halifax--his father, taking another precautionary measure, had
written in business form to "Messrs. Guy Halifax and Co." Guy had
always, "just like his carelessness!" omitted to give the name of his
partner; but addressed thus, in case of any sudden journey or illness
of Guy's, the partner, whoever he was, would be sure to write.
In May--nay, it was on May day, I remember, for we were down in the
mill-meadows with Louise and her little ones going a-maying--there
came in the American mail.
It brought a large packet--all our letters of this year sent back
again, directed in a strange hand, to "John Halifax, Esquire,
Beechwood," with the annotation, "By Mr. Guy Halifax's desire."
Among the rest--though the sickening sight of them had blinded even
his mother at first, so that her eye did not catch it, was one that
explained--most satisfactorily explained, we said--the reason they
were thus returned. It was a few lines from Guy himself, stating
that unexpected good fortune had made him determine to come home at
once. If circumstances thwarted this intention, he would write
without fail; otherwise he should most likely sail by an American
"Then he is coming home. On his way home!"
And the mother, as with one shaking hand she held fast the letter,
with the other steadied herself by the rail of John's desk--I guessed
now why he had ordered all the letters to be brought first to his
counting-house. "When do you think we shall see--Guy?"
At thought of that happy sight, her bravery broke down. She wept
heartily and long.
John sat still, leaning over the front of his desk. By his sigh,
deep and glad, one could tell what a load was lifted off the father's
heart at the prospect of his son's return.
"The liners are only a month in sailing; but this is a barque most
likely, which takes longer time. Love, show me the date of the boy's
She looked for it herself. It was in JANUARY!
The sudden fall from certainty to uncertainty--the wild clutch at
that which hardly seemed a real joy until seen fading down to a mere
hope, a chance, a possibility--who has not known all this?
I remember how we all stood, mute and panic-struck, in the dark
little counting-house. I remember seeing Louise, with her children
in the door-way, trying to hush their laughing, and whispering to
them something about "poor Uncle Guy."
John was the first to grasp the unspoken dread, and show that it was
less than at first appeared.
"We ought to have had this letter two months ago; this shows how
often delays occur--we ought not to be surprised or uneasy at
anything. Guy does not say when the ship was to sail--she may be on
her voyage still. If he had but given the name of her owners! But I
can write to Lloyd's and find out everything. Cheer up, mother.
Please God, you shall have that wandering, heedless boy of yours back
He replaced the letters in their enclosure--held a general
consultation, into which he threw a passing gleam of faint gaiety, as
to whether being ours we had a right to burn them, or whether having
passed through the post-office they were not the writer's but the
owner's property, and Guy could claim them, with all their useless
news, on his arrival in England. This was finally decided, and the
mother, with faint smile, declared that nobody should touch them; she
would put them under lock and key "till Guy came home."
Then she took her husband's arm; and the rest of us followed them as
they walked slowly up the hill to Beechwood.
But after that day Mrs. Halifax's strength decayed. Not suddenly,
scarcely perceptibly; not with any outward complaint, except what she
jested over as "the natural weakness of old age;" but there was an
evident change. Week by week her long walks shortened; she gave up
her village school to me; and though she went about the house still
and insisted on keeping the keys, gradually, "just for the sake of
practice," the domestic surveillance fell into the hands of Maud.
An answer arrived from Lloyd's: the "Stars-and-Stripes" was an
American vessel, probably of small tonnage and importance, was the
under-writers knew nothing of it.
More delay--more suspense. The summer days came--but not Guy. No
news of him--not a word--not a line.
His father wrote to America--pursuing inquiries in all directions.
At last some tangible clue was caught. The "Stars-and-Stripes" had
sailed, had been spoken with about the Windward Isles--and never
heard of afterwards.
Still, there was a hope. John told the hope first, before he
ventured to speak of the missing ship, and even then had to break the
news gently, for the mother had grown frail and weak, and could not
bear things as she used to do. She clung as if they had been words
of life or death to the ship-owner's postscript--"that they had no
recollection of the name of Halifax; there might have been such a
gentleman on board--they could not say. But it was not probable; for
the 'Stars-and-Stripes' was a trading vessel, and had not good
accommodation for passengers."
Then came week after week--I know not how they went by--one never
does, afterwards. At the time they were frightfully vivid, hour by
hour; we rose each morning, sure that some hope would come in the
course of the day; we went to bed at night, heavily, as if there were
no such thing as hope in the world. Gradually, and I think that was
the worst consciousness of all, our life of suspense became perfectly
natural; and everything in and about the house went on as usual, just
as though we knew quite well--what the Almighty Father alone knew!--
where our poor lad was, and what had become of him. Or rather, as if
we had settled in the certainty, which perhaps the end of our own
lives alone would bring us, that he had slipped out of life
altogether, and there was no such being as Guy Halifax under this
The mother's heart was breaking. She made no moan, but we saw it in
her face. One morning--it was the morning after John's birthday,
which we had made a feint of keeping, with Grace Oldtower, the two
little grandchildren, Edwin and Louise--she was absent at breakfast
and dinner; she had not slept well, and was too tired to rise. Many
days following it happened the same; with the same faint excuse, or
with no excuse at all. How we missed her about the house!--ay,
changed as she had been. How her husband wandered about, ghost-like,
from room to room!--could not rest anywhere, or do anything.
Finally, he left our company altogether, and during the hours that he
was at home rarely quitted for more than a few minutes the quiet bed-
chamber, where, every time his foot entered it, the poor pale face
looked up and smiled.
Ay, smiled; for I noticed, as many another may have done in similar
cases, that when her physical health definitely gave way, her mental
health returned. The heavy burthen was lighter; she grew more
cheerful, more patient; seemed to submit herself to the Almighty
will, whatever it might be. As she lay on her sofa in the study,
where one or two evenings John carried her down, almost as easily as
he used to carry little Muriel, his wife would rest content with her
hand in his, listening to his reading, or quietly looking at him, as
though her lost son's face, which a few weeks since she said haunted
her continually, were now forgotten in his father's. Perhaps she
thought the one she should soon see--while the other--
"Phineas," she whispered one day, when I was putting a shawl over her
feet, or doing some other trifle that she thanked me for,--"Phineas,
if anything happens to me, you will comfort John!"
Then first I began seriously to contemplate a possibility, hitherto
as impossible and undreamed of as that the moon should drop out of
the height of heaven--What would the house be without the mother?
Her children never suspected this, I saw; but they were young. For
I could not understand John. He, so quick-sighted; he who meeting
any sorrow looked steadily up at the Hand that smote him, knowing
neither the coward's dread nor the unbeliever's disguise of pain--
surely he must see what was impending. Yet he was as calm as if he
saw it not. Calm, as no man could be contemplating the supreme
parting between two who nearly all their lives had been not two, but
Yet I had once heard him say that a great love, and only that, makes
parting easy. Could it be that this love of his, which had clasped
his wife so firmly, faithfully, and long, fearlessly clasped her
still, by its own perfectness assured of its immortality?
But all the while his human love clung about her, showing itself in a
thousand forms of watchful tenderness. And hers clung to him,
closely, dependently; she let herself be taken care of, ruled and
guided, as if with him she found helplessness restful and submission
sweet. Many a little outward fondness, that when people have been
long married naturally drops into disuse, was revived again; he would
bring her flowers out of the garden, or new books from the town; and
many a time, when no one noticed, I have seen him stoop and press his
lips upon the faded hand, where the wedding-ring hung so loosely;--
his own for so many years, his own till the dust claimed it, that
Ay, he was right. Loss, affliction, death itself, are powerless in
the presence of such a love as theirs.
It was already the middle of July. From January to July--six months!
Our neighbours without--and there were many who felt for us--never
asked now, "Is there any news of Mr. Guy?" Even pretty Grace
Oldtower--pretty still, but youthful no longer--only lifted her eyes
inquiringly as she crossed our doorway, and dropped them again with a
hopeless sigh. She had loved us all, faithfully and well, for a
great many years.
One night, when Miss Oldtower had just gone home after staying with
us the whole day--Maud and I sat in the study by ourselves, where we
generally sat now. The father spent all his evenings up-stairs. We
could hear his step overhead as he crossed the room or opened the
window, then drew his chair back to its constant place by his wife's
bedside. Sometimes there was a faint murmur of reading or talk; then
Maud and I sat in silence too. She had her own thoughts--I mine.
Perhaps they were often one and the same: perhaps--for youth is
youth after all--they may have diverged widely. Hers were deep,
absorbed thoughts, at any rate, travelling fast--fast as her needle
travelled; for she had imperceptibly fallen into her mother's ways
and her mother's work.
We had the lamp lit, but the windows were wide open; and through the
sultry summer night we could hear the trickle of the stream and the
rustle of the leaves in the beech-wood. We sat very still, waiting
for nothing, expecting nothing; in the dull patience which always
fell upon us about this hour--the hour before bed-time, when nothing
more was to be looked for but how best to meet another dreary day.
"Maud, was that the click of the front gate swinging?"
"No, I told Walter to lock it before he went to bed. Last night it
disturbed my mother."
Again silence. So deep that the maid's opening the door made us both
"Miss Halifax--there's a gentleman wanting to see Miss Halifax."
Maud sprung up in her chair, breathless.
"Any one you know, is it?"
"Show the gentleman in."
He stood already in the doorway,--tall, brown, bearded. Maud just
glanced at him, then rose, bending stiffly, after the manner of Miss
Halifax of Beechwood.
"Will you be seated? My father--"
"Maud, don't you know me? Where's my mother? I am Guy."
Guy and his mother were together. She lay on a sofa in her
dressing-room; he sat on a stool beside her, so that her arm could
rest on his neck and she could now and then turn his face towards her
and look at it--oh, what a look!
She had had him with her for two whole days--two days to be set
against eight years! Yet the eight years seemed already to have
collapsed into a span of time, and the two days to have risen up a
great mountain of happiness, making a barrier complete against the
woeful past, as happiness can do--thanks to the All-merciful for His
mercies. Most especially for that mercy--true as His truth to the
experience of all pure hearts--that one bright, brief season of joy
can outweigh, in reality and even in remembrance, whole years of
apparently interminable pain.
Two days only since the night Guy came home, and yet it seemed months
ago! Already we had grown familiar to the tall, bearded figure; the
strange step and voice about the house; all except Maud, who was
rather shy and reserved still. We had ceased the endeavour to
reconcile this our Guy--this tall, grave man of nearly thirty,
looking thirty-five and more--with Guy, the boy that left us, the boy
that in all our lives we never should find again. Nevertheless, we
took him, just as he was, to our hearts, rejoicing in him one and all
with inexpressible joy.
He was much altered, certainly. It was natural, nay, right, that he
should be. He had suffered much; a great deal more than he ever told
us--at least, not till long after; had gone through poverty, labour,
sickness, shipwreck. He had written home by the "Stars-and-Stripes"-
-sailed a fortnight later by another vessel--been cast away--picked
up by an outward-bound ship--and finally landed in England, he and
his partner, as penniless as they left it.
"Was your partner an Englishman, then?" said Maud, who sat at the
foot of the sofa, listening. "You have not told us anything about