Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

John Halifax, gentleman : a novel online

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Miss Silver obeyed. "My dear young lady, I hope you will
like your book; Guy, write her name in it at once."

Guy willingly obeyed, but was a good while over the task;
his mother came and looked over his shoulder.



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 365

"Louise Eugenie how did you know that, Guy? Louise
Eugenie Sil , is that your name, my dear?"

The question simple as it was, seemed to throw the govern-
ess into much confusion, even agitation. At last she drew
herself up with the old repulsive gesture, which of late had
been slowly wearing off.

"No I will not deceive you any longer. My right name is
Louise Eugenie d' Argent."

Mrs. Halifax started. "Are you a Frenchwoman?"

"On my father's side yes."

"Why did you not tell me so?"

"Because if you remember, at our first interview, you said no
Frenchwoman should educate your daughter. And I was
homeless friendless."

"Better starve than tell a falsehood," cried the mother, in-
dignantly.

"I told no falsehood. You never asked me of my parent-
age."

"Nay," said John, interfering, "you must not speak in that
manner to Mrs. Halifax. Why did you renounce your father's
name?"

"Because English people would have scouted my father's
daughter. You knew him everybody knew him he was
D' Argent the Jacobin D' Argent the Rouge."

She threw out these words defiantly, and quitted the room.

"This is a dreadful discovery. Edwin, you have seen most
of her did you ever imagine "

"I knew it, mother," said Edwin, without lifting his eyes
from his book. "After all, French or English, it makes no
difference."

"I should think not, indeed!" cried Guy, angrily. "What-
ever her father is, if any one dared to think the worse of her
)>

"Hush till another time," said the father, with a glance at
Maud, who, with wide-open eyes, in which the tears were just
springing, had been listening to all these revelations about her
governess.

But Maud's tears were soon stopped, as well as this painful
conversation, by the entrance of our daily, or rather nightly,
visitor for these six weeks past, Lord Ravenel. His presence,
always welcome, was a great relief now. We never discussed
family affairs before people. The boys began to talk to Lord
RaveneJ: and Maud took her privileged place on a foot-stool



366 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

beside him. From the first sight she had been his favorite, he
said, because of her resemblance to Muriel. But I think, more
than any fancied likeness to that sweet lost face, which he
never spoke of without tenderness inexpressible, there was
something in Maud's buoyant youth just between childhood
and girlhood, having the charms of one and the immunities of
the other which was especially attractive to this man, who,
at three-and-thirty, found life a weariness nnd a burden at
least he said so.

Life was never either weary or burdensome in our house
not even to-night, though our friend found us less lively than
usual though John maintained more than his usual silence,
and Mrs. Halifax fell into troubled reveries. Guy and Ed-
win, both considerably excited, argued and contradicted one
another more warmly than even the Beechwood liberty of
speech allowed. For Miss Silver, she did not appear again.

Lord Ravenel seemed to take these slight de&agrt/mens
very calmly. He stayed his customary time, smiling languid-
ly as ever at the boys' controversies, or listening with a half-
pleased, half-melancholy laziness to Maud's gay prattle, his
eye following her about the room with the privileged tender-
ness that twenty years' seniority allows a man to feel and show
toward a child. At his wonted hour he rode away, sighingly
contrasting pleasant Beechwood with dreary and solitary Lux-
rnore.

After his departure, we did not again close round the fire.
Maud vanished; the younger boys also; Guy settled himself on
his sofa, having first taken the pains to limp across the room
and fetch the "Flora," which Edwin had carefully stowed
away in the book-case. Then making himself comfortable, as
the pleasure-loving lad liked well enough to do. he lay dream-
ily gazing at the title-page, where was written her name, and
"From Guy Halifax, with "

"What are you going to add, my son?"

He, glancing up at his mother, made her no answer, and
hastily closed the book.

She looked hurt; but saying nothing more, began moving
about the room, putting things in order before retiring. John
sat in the arm-chair meditative. She asked him what he
was thinking about?

"About that man, Jacques d' Argent."

"You have heard of him, then?"

had not, twenty years ago. He was one of the most



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 367

^blatant beasts,' of the Eeign of Terror. A fellow without
honesty, conscience, or even common decency."

"And that man's daughter we have had in our house, teach-
ing our innocent child!"

Alarm and disgust were written on every feature of the
mother's face. It was scarcely surprising. Now that the fer-
ment which had convulsed society in our younger days was
settling down, though we were still far from that ultimate
calm which enables posterity to judge fully and fairly such a
remarkable historical crisis as the French Eevolution, most
English people looked back with horror on the extreme opin-
ions of that time. If Mrs. Halifax had a weak point, it was
her prejudice against anything French or Jacobinical. Partly
from that tendency to moral conversation which in most per-
sons, especially women, strengthens as old age advances;
partly, I believe, from the terrible warning given by the fate
of one, of whom for years we had never heard, whose very
name was either unknown to, or forgotten by, our children.

"John, can't you speak? Don't you see the frightful dan-
ger?"

"Love, try and be calmer."

"How can I? Eemember remember Caroline."

"Nay, we are not talking of her, but of a girl whom we
know, and have had good opportunity of knowing a girl who,
whatever may have been her antecedents, has lived for six
months blamelessly in our house."

"Would to Heaven she had never entered it. But it is not
too late. She may leave she shall leave immediately."

"Mother!" burst out Guy. Never since she bore him, had
his mother heard her name uttered in such a tone.

She stood petrified.

"Mother, you are unjust, heartless, cruel! She shall not
leave; she shall not, I say!"

"Guy, how dare you speak to your mother in that way?"

"Yes, father, I dare. I'll dare anything rather than "

"Stop. Mind what you are saying or you may repent
it."

And Mr. Halifax, speaking in that low tone to which his
voice fell in serious displeasure, laid a heavy hand on the
lad's shoulder. Father and son exchanged fiery glances.
The mother, terrified, rushed between them.

"Don't, John. Don't be angry with him. He could not
help it my poor boy!"



368 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

At her piteous look, Guy and his father both drew back.
John put his arm round his wife, and made her sit down.
She was trembling exceedingly.

"You see, Guy, how wrong you have been. How could
you wound your mother so?"

"I did not mean to wound her/' the lad answered. "I only
wished to prevent her from being unjust and unkind to one
to whom she must show all justice and kindness. One
Avhom I respect, esteem whom I love."

"Love!"

"Yes, mother! Yes, father! I love her. I intend to
marry her."

Guy said this with an air of quiet determination very differ-
ent from the usual impetuosity of his character. It was easy
to perceive that a great change had come over him; that in
this passion, the silent growth of which no one had sus-
pected, he was most thoroughly in earnest. From the boy,
he had suddenly started up into the man; and his parents saw
it.

They looked at him, and then mournfully at one another.
The father was the first to speak.

"All this is very sudden. You should have told us of it
before."

"I did not know of it myself till till very lately," the
youth answered more softly, lowering his head and blushing.

"Is Miss Silver is the lady aware of it?"

"No."

"That is well," said, the father, after a pause. "In this
.silence you have acted as an honorable lover should, toward
her; as a dutiful son should act toward his parents."

Guy looked pleased. He stole his hand nearer his
mother's, but she neither took it nor repelled it; she seemed
quite stunned.

At this point I noticed that Maud had crept into the room;
I sent her out again as quickly as I could. Alas! this was the
first secret that needed to be kept from her; the first painful
mystery in our happy, happy home!

In any such home the first "falling in love," whether of
son or daughter, necessarily makes a great change. Greater
if the former than the latter. There is often a pitiful truth
I know not why it should be so, but so it is in the foolish



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 369

rhyme, which the mother had laughingly said over to me
this morning:

"My son's my son till he gets him a wife,
My daughter's my daughter all her life."

And when, as in this case, the son wishes to marry one
whom his father may not wholly approve, whom his mother
does not heartily love, surely the pain is deepened tenfold.

Those who in the dazzled vision of youth see only the
beauty and splendor of love first love, who deem it com-
prises the whole of life, beginning, aim, and end may mar-
vel that I, who have been young, and now am old, see as I
saw that night, not only the lover's, but the parents' side of
the question. I felt overwhelmed with sadness, as viewing
the three, I counted up in all its bearings and consequences,
near and remote, this attachment of poor Guy's.

"Well, father," he said at last, guessing by intuition that
the father's heart would best understand his own.

"Well, my son," John answered, sadly.

"You were young once."

"So I was," with a tender glance upon the lad's heated and
excited countenance. "Do not suppose I cannot feel with
you. Still, I wish you had been less precipitate."

"You were little older than I am when you married?"

"But my marriage was rather different from this projected
one of yours. I knew your mother well, and she knew me.
Both of us had been tried by trouble which we shared to-
gether, by absence, by many and various cares. We chose
one another, not hastily or blindly, but with free-will and
open eyes. No, Guy," he added, speaking earnestly and
softly, "mine was no sudden fancy, no frantic passion. I hon-
ored your mother above all women. I loved her as my own
soul."

"So do I love Louise. I would die for her any day."

At the son's impetuosity the father smiled; not incredu-
lously, only sadly.

All this while the mother had sat motionless, never utter-
ing a sound. Suddenly, hearing a footstep and a light
knock at the door, she darted forward and locked it, cry-
ing, in a voice that one could have hardly recognized as hers:

"$0 admittance! Go away."

24



370 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

A note was pushed in under the door. Mrs. Halifax picked
it up, opened it, read it mechanically, and sat down agaiu,
taking no notice even when Guy, catching sight of the hand-
writing, eagerly seized the paper.

It was merely a line, stating Miss Silver's wish to leave
F>eechwood immediately; signed with her full name her
right name "Louise Eugenie d'Argent."

A postscript added: "Your silence I shall take as permis-
sion to depart; and shall be gone early to-morrow."

"To-morrow! Gone to-morrow! And she does not even
know that that I love her. Mother, you have ruined my
happpiness. I will never forgive you never!"

Never forgive his mother. His mother, who had borne
him, nursed him, reared him; who had loved him with that
love like none other in the world the love of a woman for
her first-born son, all these twenty-one years!

It was hard. I think the most passionate lover, in reas-
onable moments, would allow that it was hard. No marvel
that even her husband's clasp could not remove the look of
heart-broken, speechless suffering which settled stonily down
in Ursula's face, as she watched her boy storming about,
furious with uncontrollable passion and pain.

At last, mother-like, she forgot the passion in pity of the
pain.

"He is not strong yet; he will do himself harm. Let me
go to him! John, let me!" Her husband released her.

Faintly, with a weak, uncertain walk, she went up to Guy
and touched his arm.

"You must keep quiet, or you will be ill. I cannot have my
son ill not for any girl. Come, sit down here, beside your
mother."

She was obeyed. Looking into her eyes, and seeing no anger
there, nothing but grief and love, the young man' right spir-
its came back into him again.

"0, mother, mother, forgive me! I am so miserable so
miserable!"

He laid his head on her shoulder. She kissed and clasped
him close her boy who never could be wholly hers again,
who had learned to love some one else dearer than his
mother.

After a while she said, "Father, shake hands with Guy.



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 871

Tell him that we forgive his being angry with us; thai per-
haps some day "

She stopped, uncertain as to the father's mind, or seeking
strength for her own.

'Some day," John continued, "Guy will find out that we
can have nothing in the world, except our children's good,
so dear to us as their happiness."

Guy looked up, beaming with hope and joy. "0, father!
0. mother! will you, indeed "

"We will indeed say nothing," the father answered, smil-
ing; "nothing until to-morrow. Then we will all three talk
the matter quietly over, and see what can be done."

Of course I knew to a certainty, the conclusion they would
come to.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

Late last night, as .1 sat up pondering over all that had hap-
pened, Mrs. Halifax came into my room.

She looked round, asked rne, according to her wont, if there
was anything I wanted before she retired for the night?
Ursula was as good to me as any sister then stood by my
easy-chair. I would not meet her eyes, but I saw her hands
fluttering in their restless way.

I pointed to her accustomed chair.

"No, I can't sit down. I must say good-night." Then
coming at once to the point "Phineas, you are always up first
in the morning. Will you John thinks it had better be
from you will you give a message from us to Maud's gov-
erness?"

"Yes. What shall I say?"

"Merely, that we request she will not leave Beechwood un-
til we have seen her."

If Miss Silver had overheard the manner and tone of that
"request," I doubt if it would not have hastened rather than
delayed her departure. But God help the poor mother! her
wounds were still fresh.

"Would it not be better," I suggested, "if you were to
write to her?"

"I can't; no, I can't" spoken with the sharpness of ex-



372 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

ceeding pain. Soon after, as in a faint apology, she added,
1 "I am so tired; we are very late to-night."

"Yes; it is almost morning. I thought you were both in
bed."

"No; we have been sitting talking in Guy's room. His fa-
ther thought it would be better."

"And is all settled?"

"Yes."

Having told me this, and having, as it were, by such a
conclusion confessed it was right the question should be thus;
"settled," Guy's mother seemed more herself.

"Yes," she repeated, "John thinks it ought to be. At
least, that she should know Guy's the feeling with which Guy
regards her. If, after the probation of a year, it still remains,
and he is content to begin life on a small income, we have
given our consent to our son's marriage."

It struck me how the mother's mind entirely dwelt on the
one party in this matter "Guy's feelings" "Our son's mar-
riage" and so on. The other side of the question, or the
possibility of any hinderance there, never seemed to enter
her imagination. Perhaps, it would not, even into mine, for
I shared the family faith in its best-beloved Guy, but for Mrs.
Halifax's so entirely ignoring the idea that any consent ex-
cept her son's and his parents' was necessary to this mar-
riage.

"It will not part him from us so very much, you see, Phin-
eas," she said, evidently trying to view the bright side "and
she has no relatives living not one. For income Guy will
have the entire profit of the Norton Bury mills; and they
might begin, as we did, in the old Norton Bury house the
dear old house."

The thought of her own young days seemed to come,
soothingly and sweet, taking the sting out of her pain, show-
ing her how it was but right and justice that Nature's holy
law should be fulfilled that children, in their turn, should
love, and marry, and be happy, like their parents.

"Yes," she answered, as I gently hinted this; "I know
you are right; all is quite right, and as it should be, though
it was a shock at first. No matter; John esteems her John
likes her. For me oh, I shall make a capital what is it?
a capital mother-in-law in time!"

"With that smile, which was almost cheerful, she bade me



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 373

good-night rather hastily, perhaps, as if she wished to leave
me while her cheerfulness lasted. Then I heard her step
along the passage, pausing once most likely at Guy's room
door; her own closed, and the house was in silence.

I rose earl}' in the morning not one whit too early, for
I met Miss Silver in the hall, bonneted and shawled, carrying
down with her own hands a portion of her chattels. She
evidently contemplated an immediate departure. It was with
the greutest difficulty that, without betraying my reasons,
which, of course, was impossible, I could persuade her to
change her determination.

Poor girl! last night's events had apparently shaken her
from that indifference which she seemed to think the best
armor of a helpless, proud governess against the world. She
would scarcely listen to a word. She was in extreme agita-
tion: half a dozen times she insisted on leaving, and then sat
down again.

I had not given her credit for so much wholesome irreso-
lution so much genuine feeling. Her manner almost con-
vinced me of a fact which every one else seemed to hold as
certain, but which I myself should have liked to see proved;
namely, that Guy, in asking her love, would have what in
every right and happy marriage a man ought to have the
knowledge that the love was his before he asked for it.

Seeing this, my heart warmed to the girl. I respected
her brave departure. I rejoiced that it was needless. Will-
ingly I would have quieted her distress with some hopeful,
ambiguous word, but that would have been trenching, as
no one ever ought to trench, on the lover's sole right. So
I held my tongue, watching with an amused pleasure ihe
color hovering to and fro over that usually impassive face.

At last, at the opening of the study door we stood in the
hall still those blushes rose up to her forehead in one in-
voluntary tide.

But it was only Edwin, who had lately taken to a habit of
getting up very early to study mathematics. He looked sur-
prised at seeing me with Miss Silver.

"What is that box? She is not going?"

"No; I have been entreating her not. Add your persua-
sions, Edwin."

For Edwin, with all his quietness, was a lad of much wis-
dom, great influence, and no little penetration. 1 felt in-



874 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

clined to believe that though as yet he had not been let into
the secret of last night, he guessed it pretty well already.

He might have done, by the peculiar manner in which he
went up to the governess and took her hand.

"Pray stay; I beg of you."

She made no more ado, but stayed.

I left her with Edwin, and took my usual walk, up and
down the garden, till breakfast-time.

A strange and painful breakfast it was, even though the
most important element of its painfulness Guy was hap-
pily absent. The rest of us kept up a fragmentary, awkward
conversation, every one round the room looking, as, indeed,
one might have expected they would look, with one excep-
tion.

Miss Silver, who, from her behavior last night and her
demeanor to me this morning, I had supposed would now
have gathered up all her haughtiness to resist Guy's parents
as, ignorant both of his feelings and their intentions
toward her, a young lady of her proud spirit might well resist
was, to my astonishment, as mild and meek as this soft
spring morning. Nay, like it, seemed often on the very verge
of the melting mood. More than once her drooping eyelashes
were gemmed with tears. And when, the breakfast-table
being quickly deserted Edwin, indeed, had left it almost
immediately she, sitting absently in her place, was gently
touched by Mrs. Halifax; she started up, with the same vivid
rush of color that I had before noticed. It completely altered
the expression of her face; made her look ten years younger
ten years happier, and, being happier, ten times more
amiable.

This expression I was not the only one to notice it
was, by some intuition, reflected on the mother's. It made
softer than any speech of hers to Miss Silver, the few words:

"My dear, will you come with me into the study?"

"To lessons? Yes. I beg your pardon! Maud where
is Maud?"

"Never mind lessons just yet. We will have a little chat
with my son. Uncle Phineas, you'll come? Will you come,
too, my dear?"

"If you wish it." And with an air of unwonted obedi-
ence, she followed Mrs. Halifax.

Poor Guy! Confused young lover, meeting for the first



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 375

time after his confession the acknowledged object of his
preference, I really felt sorry for him! And, except that
women have generally twice as much self-control in such
cases as men and Miss Silver proved it I might even have
been sorry for her. But then her uncertainties would soon be
over. She had not to make all her family being aware she
was then and there making it that terrible "offer of mar-
riage," which, I am given to understand, is, even under the
most favorable circumstances, as formidable as going up to
the cannon's mouth.

I speak of it jestingly, as we all jested uneasily that morn-
ing save Mrs. Halifax, who scarcely spoke a word. At length,
when Miss Silver, growing painfully restless, again referred
to "lessons," she said:

, "Not yet. I want Maud for half an hour. Will you be
so kind as to take my place, and sit with my son, the while?"

"Oh, certainly!"

I was vexed with her really vexed for that ready assent;
but then, who knows the ins and outs of women's ways? At
any rate, for Guy's sake, this must be got over the quicker
the better. His mother rose.

"My son, my dear boy!" She leaned over him, whispering
I think she kissed him then slowly, quietly, she walked
out of the study. I followed. Outside the door we parted,
and I heard her go upstairs to her own room.

It might have been half an hour afterward, when Maud
and I, coming in from the garden, met her standing in the
hall. No one was with her, and she was doing nothing; two
very remarkable facts in the daily life of the mother of the
family.

Maud ran up to her with some primroses.

"Very pretty, very pretty, my child."

"But you don't look at them; you don't care for them;
I'll go and show them to Miss Silver."

"No," was the hasty answer. "Come back, Maud, Miss
Silver is occupied."

Making some excuse, I sent the child away, for I saw that
even Maud's presence was intolerable to her mother. That
poor mother, whose suspense was growing into positive
agony!

She waited, standing at the dining-room window, listen-
ing, going in and out of the hall, for another ten minutes.



376 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

"It is very strange, very strange indeed. He promised to
come to tell me; surely at least he ought to come and tell me
first me, his mother "

She stopped at the word, oppressed by exceeding pain.

"Hark! was that the study door?"

"I think so; one minute more and you will be quite cer-
tain."

Ay! one minute more, and we were quite certain. The
young lover entered, his bitter tidings written on his face.

"She has refused me, mother. I never shall be happy
more!"

Poor Guy! I slipped out of his sight and left the lad alone
with his mother.

Another hour passed of this strange, strange day. The
house seemed painfully quiet. Maud, disconsolate and cross,
had taken herself away to the beech-wood with Walter; the
father and Edwin were busy at the mills, and had sent word
that neither would return to dinner. I wandered from room
to room, always excepting that shut-up room where, as I took
care, no one should disturb the mother and son.

At last I heard them both going upstairs Guy was still too
lame to walk without assistance. I heard the poor lad's fret-
ful tones, and the soothing, cheerful voice that answered
them. "Verily," thought I, "if, since he must fall in love,



Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikJohn Halifax, gentleman : a novel → online text (page 33 of 41)