Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

John Halifax, gentleman : a novel online

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by any chance "Louise," or "Mademoiselle D'Argent."

Before she left Beechwood, Edwin came in and hurriedly
spoke to his mother. What he said was evidently painful to

"I am not aware of it, Edwin; I had not the slightest in-
tention of offending her. Is she already made your judge
and referee as to the actions of your mother?"

Edwin was a good lad, though perhaps a little less loving
than the rest of the boys. His self-restraint, his exceeding
patience, lulled the threatened storm.

"But you will be kind to her, mother I know you will."

"Did I not say so?"

"And may I bring her to you here?"

"If you choose."

It was the first open recognition between the mother and
her son's betrothed. Their other meeting had been in public,
when, with a sedulous dread, both had behaved exactly as
usual, and no word or manner had betrayed their altered re-
lations. Now, when for the first time it was needful for
Miss Silver to be received as a daughter elect, with all the
natural sympathy due from one woman to another under
similar circumstances, all the warmth of kindness due from
a mother to her son's chosen wife then the want, the mourn-
ful want, made itself felt.

Mrs. Halifax stood at the dining-room window, trying
vainly to regain self-control.

"If I could only love her. If only she had made me love
her!" she muttered over and over again.

I hoped from the bottom of my soul that Edwin had not
heard her had not seen her involuntarily recoil, as he led to
his mother his handsome girl that he seemed so proud of, his
happy affianced wife. Happiness melts some natures like
spring and sunshine. Louise looked up with swimming eyes,


"Oh, be kind to me! Nobody was ever kind to me till
I came here!"

The good heart gave way. Mrs. Halifax opened her arms.

"Be true to Edwin love Edwin, and I shall love you
I am sure I shall."

Kissing her once or twice, the mother let fall a few tears;
then sat down, still keeping the girl's hand, and busying her-
self with various little kindnesses about her.

"Are you sure you are well wrapped up? Edwin, see that
she has my fur cloak in the carriage. What cold fingers!
Have some wine before you start, my dear."

Miss Silver altogether melted; sobbing, she murmured
something about forgiveness.

"Nay, did I say a word about forgiveness? Then do not
you. Let us be patient we shall all be happy in time."

"And Guy?"

"Guy will be himself soon," returned the mother, rather
proudly. "We will not mention him, if you please, my dear."

At this moment Guy must have heard the carriage wheels
and guessed Miss Silver was going, for he appeared at the
parlor door. He found his mother toying with Miss Silver's
hand Edwin standing by, proud and glad, with his arm
clasped round Louise.

He did not remove it. In his brother's very face per-
haps because of the expression of that face the lover held
fast his own.

Mrs. Halifax rose up, alarmed. "She is just going, Guy.
Shake hands and bid her good-by."

The girl's hand, which was sorrowfully and kindly ex-
tended, Guy snatched and held fast.

"Let her pass," cried Edwin, angrily.

"Most certainly. I have not the least wish to detain her.
Good-by! A pleasant journey!" And still keeping her hand,
he gazed with burning eyes on the features he had so loved
as boys do love with a wild, imaginative passion, kindled
by beauty alone. "I shall claim my right, just for once may
I, sister Louise?"

With a glance of defiance at Edwin, Guy caught his
brother's betrothed round the waist and kissed her once
twice savagely.

It was done so suddenly and under such an ingenious dis-
guise of "right," that open vengeance was impossible. But


as Edwin hurried Louise away, the look that passed between
the two young men was enough to blot out henceforward
all friendship, all brotherhood. That insult would never be

She was gone the house was free of her and Edwin too.
Guy was left alone with me and his mother.

Mrs. Halifax sat sewing. She seemed to take no note of
his comings and goings, his restless starts, his fits of dark
musing, when his face grew like the face of some stranger,
some one whom she would have shrunk from any one but
our own merry Guy.

"Mother" the voice startled me such irritable, intoler-
able bitterness marred its once pleasant tones. "When do
they come back!"

"Do you mean "

"I mean those people."

"In a week or so. Your brother returns to-night, of

"My brother, eh? Better not say it it's an ugly word."

Mrs. Halifax attempted no reproof; she knew that it would
have been useless worse than useless then.

"Mother," Guy said at last, coming up and leaning against
her chair, "you must let me go."

"Where, my son?"

"Anywhere out of their sight those two. You see, I
cannot bear it. It maddens me makes me wicked makes
me not myself. Or rather makes me truly myself, which is
altogether wicked."

"No, Guy no, my own boy. Have patience all this will
pass away."

"It might, if I had anything to do. Mother," kneeling
down by her with a piteous gaze, "mother, you need not
look so wretched. I wouldn't harm Edwin would not take
from him his happiness; but to live in sight of it day after
day, hour after hour I can't do it! Do not ask me let me
get away."

"But where?"

"Anywhere, as I said; only let me go far away from them,
where no possible news of them can reach me. In some
place, oh, mother darling! where I can trouble no one and
make no one miserable."


The mother feebly shook her head. As if such a spot could
be found on earth, while she lived!

But she saw that Guy was right. To expect him to re-
main at home was cruelty. As he had said, he could not bear
it few could; few even among women of men much fewer.
One great renunciation is possible, sometimes easy, as death
may be; but to "die daily?" In youth, too, with all the pas-
sions vehement, the self-knowledge and the self-control
small? No; Nature herself, in that universal desire to es-
cape, which comes with such a trial, hints at the unnatural-
ness of the ordeal; in which, soon or late, the weak become
paralyzed or callous; the strong God help them! are apt
to turn wicked.

Guy's instinct of flight was, his mother felt, wisest, safest,

"My boy, you shall have your desire; you shall go."

I had not expected it of her at least, not so immediately.
I had thought, bound up in him as she was, accustomed to his
daily sight, his daily fondness for he was more with her, and
"petted" her more than any other of the children I had
thought to have seen some reluctance, some grieved entreaty
but no! Not even when, gaining her consent, the boy
looked up as if her allowing him to quit her was the greatest
kindness she had ever in his life bestowed.

"And when shall I go?"

"Whenever you choose."

"To-day, perhaps, I might get away to-day?"

"You can, if you wish, my dear boy."

But no sooner had she said it, than the full force and mean-
ing of the renunciation seemed to burst upon her. Her fin-
gers, which had been smoothing Guy's hand as it lay on her
lap, tightly closed round it; with the other hand she put back
his hair, gazing gazing as if it were impossible to part with

"Guy oh, Guy, my heart is breaking! Promise that you
will try to be yourself again that you will never be anything
other than my own good boy if I agree to let you go?" What
he answered, or what further passed between them, was not
for me either to hear or know. I left the room immediately.

When, sometime after John's hour for returning from the
mills, I also returned to the house, I found that everything
was settled for Guy's immediate departure.


There was some business in Spain something about An-
dalusian wool which his father made the ostensible reason
for the journey. It would occupy him and distract his mind,
besides giving him constant necessity of change. And they
say travel is the best cure for the heartache. We hoped it
might prove so.

Perhaps the sorest point, and one that had been left un-
decided till both parents saw that in Guy's present mood any
opposition was hurtful, even dangerous, was the lad's obsti-
nate determination to depart alone. He refused his mother's
companionship to London, even his father's across the coun-
try to the nearest point where one of those new and dangerous
things called railways tempted travelers to their destruction.
But Guy would go by it the maddest and strangest way of
locomotion pleased him best. So it was settled he should go,
as he pleaded, this very day.

A strange day it seemed long and yet how short! Mrs.
Halifax was incessantly busy. I caught sight of her now and
then, flitting from room to room, with Guy's books in her
hand, Guy's linen thrown across her arm. Sometimes she
stood a few minutes by the window, doing a few stitches of
necessary work, which, when even nurse Watkins offered to
do Jenny, who had been a rosy lass when Guy was born she
refused abruptly, and went stitching on.

There were no regular meals that day; better not, perhaps.
I saw John come up to his wife as she stood sewing, and
"bring her a piece of bread and a glass of wine, but she could
not touch either.

"Mother, try/' whispered Guy, mournfully. "What will
become of me if I have made you ill?"

"Oh, no fear, no fear!" She smiled, took the wine and
swallowed it broke off a bit of the bread, and went on with
her work.

The last hour or two passed so confusedly that I do not well
remember them. I can only call to mind seeing Guy and his
mother everywhere side by side, doing everything together as
if grudging each instant remaining till the final instant came.
I have also a vivid impression of her astonishing composure,
of her calm voice when talking to Guy about indefinite trifles,
or, though that was seldom, to any other of us. It never fal-
tered never lost its rich, round, cheerfulness of tone: as if


she wished him to carry it as such, and no other the familiar
mother's voice in his memory across the seas.

Once only it grew sharp, when Walter, who hovered about
disconsolately, knelt down to fasten his brother's portman-

"No! Let go! I can do everything myself."

And now the time was fast flying her boy must depart.

All the household collected in the hall to bid Mr. Guy good-
by Mr. Guy, whom everybody was so fond of. They be-
lieved which was all that any one, save ourselves, ever knew
that sudden business h#d called him away on a long and
anxious journey. They lingered about him, respectful!!) 7 ,
with eager, honest blessings, such as it was good the lad should
have good that he should bear away with him from England
and from home. _

Finally, Guy, his father and his mother, went into the study
by themselves. Soon even his father came out and shut the
door, that there should not be a single witness to the last
words between mother and son. These being over, they
both came into the hall together, brave and calm which
calmness was maintained even to the last good-by.

Thus we sent our Guy away, cheerfully and with blessings
away into the wide, dangerous world; alone, with no guard
or restraint, except (and in that except lay the whole mystery
of our cheerfulness) the fear of God, his father's counsels, and
his mother's prayers.


Two years rolled over Beechwood two eventful years.
The last of the children ceased to be a child; and we pre-
pared for that great era in all household history, the first
marriage in the family. It was to be celebrated very quietly,
as Edwin and Louise both desired. Time had healed over
many a pang, and taught many a soothing lesson; still, it
could not be supposed that this marriage was without its

Guy still remained abroad; his going had produced the
happy result intended. Month after month his letters came,
each more hopeful than the last, each bringing balm to the
mother's heart. Then he wrote to others beside his mother;


Maud and Walter replied to him in long home histories, and
began to talk without hesitation nay, with great pride and
pleasure "of my brother who is abroad."

The family wound was closing, the family peace about to
be restored; Maud even fancied Guy ought to come home to
"our wedding;" but then she had never been told the whole
of past circumstances; and, besides, she was still too
young to understand love-matters. Yet so mercifully had
time smoothed down all things that it sometimes appeared
even to us elders as if those three days of bitterness were a
mere dream as if the year we dreaded had passed as calmly
as any other year. Save that in this interval Ursula's hair had
begun to turn from brown to gray; and John first mentioned,
so cursorily that I cannot even now remember when or where,
that slight pain, almost too slight to complain of, which he
said warned him in climbing Enderley Hill that he could not
climb so fast as when he was young. And I returned his
smile, telling him we were evidently growing old men, and
must soon set our faces to descend the hill of life. Easy
enough I was in saying this, thinking as 1 often did, with
great content, that there was not the faintest doubt which of
us would reach the bottom first.

Yet I was glad to have safely passed my half century of
life glad to have seen many of John's cares laid to rest, more
especially those external troubles which I have not lately re-
ferred to for, indeed, they were absorbed and forgotten in
the home-troubles that came after. He had lived down all
slanders, as he said he would. Far and near traveled the
story of the day when Jessop's bank was near breaking; far
and near, though secretly for we found it out chiefly by its
results poor people whispered the tale of a gentleman who
had been attacked on the high-roads, and whose only attempt
at bringing the robbers to justice was to help the widow of one
and send the others safe out of the country at his own ex-
pense, not government's. None of these were notable or
showy deeds scarcely one of them got, even under the dis-
guise of asterisks, into the newspaper; the Norton Bury Mer-
cury, for its last dying sting, still complained (and very
justly), that there was not a gentleman in the county whose
name so seldom headed a charity subscription as that of John
Halifax, Esquire, of Beechwood. But the right made its
way, as, soon or late, the right always does; he believed his


good name was able to defend itself, and it did defend itself;
he had faith in the only victory worth having the universal
victory of Truth; and truth conquered at last.

To drive him across the country he never carried pistols
now or to walk with him, as one day before Edwin's wed-
ding we walked, a goodly procession, through the familiar
streets of Xorton Bury, was a perpetual pleasure to the rest
of the family. Everybody knew him, everybody greeted him,
everybody smiled as he passed as though his presence and
his recognition were good things to have and to win. His
wife often laughed, and said she doubted whether even Mr.
O'Connell of Derryname, who was just now making a com-
motion in Ireland, lighting the fire of religious and political
discord from one end to the other of County Clare she
doubted if even Daniel O'Connell had more popularity among
his own people than John Halifax had in the primitive neigh-
borhood where he had lived so long.

Mrs. Halifax herself was remarkably gay this morning.
She had had letters from Guy; together with a lovely pres-
ent, for which he said he had ransacked all the magasins dex
modes in Paris a white embroidered China shawl. It had
arrived this morning Lord Raveiiel being the bearer. This
was not the first time by many that he had brought us news
of our Guy, and thereby made himself welcome at Beech-
wood. More welcome than he might have been otherwise:
for his manner of_life was so different from ours. Not that
Lord Ravenel could be accused of any liKeness to his father;
but blood is blood, and education and habits are not to be
easily overcome. The boys laughed at him for his aristocratic,
Janguid ways; Maud teased him for his mild cynicism and
the little interest he seemed to take in anything; while the
mother herself was somewhat restless about his coming, won-
dering what possible good his acquaintance could do to us, or
ours to him, seeing we moved in totally different spheres.
But John himself was invariably kind, nay, tender over him
we all guessed Avhy. And perhaps even had not the young
man had so many good points, while his faults were more
negations than positive ill qualities, we likewise should have
been tender over him for Muriel's sake.

He had arrived at Beechwood this morning, and falling
as usual into our family routine, had come with us to Nor-
ton Bury. He looked up with more interest than usual in


his pensive eyes as he crossed the threshold of our old house,
and told Maud how he had come there many years ago with
his father.

"That was the first time I ever met your father," I over-
heard him say to Maud, not without feeling; as if he thought
he owed fate some gratitude for the meeting.

Mrs. Halifax, in the casual civil inquiry which was all the
old earl ever won in our house, asked after the health of Lord

"He is still at Compiegne. Does not Guy mention him?
Lord Luxmore takes the greatest pleasure in Guy's society."

By her start this was evidently new and not welcome tid-
ings to Guy's mother. No wonder. Any mother in England
would have shrunk from the thought that her best-beloved
son especially a young man of Guy's temperament, and un-
der Guy's present circumstances was thrown into the socie-
ty which now surrounded the debauched dotage of the too
notorious Earl of Luxmore.

"My son did not mention it. He has been too much oc-
cupied in business matters to write home frequently since
he reached Paris. However, his stay there is limited;" and
this seemed to relieve her. "I doubt if he will have much
time left to visit Compiegne."

She said no more than this, of course, to Lord Luxmore's
son; but her disquiet was sufficiently apparent.

"It was I who brought your son to Compiegne where he
is a universal favorite, from his Wit and liveliness. I know
no one who is a more pleasant companion than Guy."

Guy's mother bowed, but coldly.

"I think, Mrs. Halifax, you are aware that the earl's tastes
and mine differ widely have always differed. But he is an
old man, and I am his only son. He likes to see me some-
times, and I go; though, I must confess, I take little pleas-
ure in the circle he has around him."

"In which circle, as I understand, my son is constantly in-

"Why not? It is a very brilliant circle. The whole court
of Charles Dix can afford none more amusing. For the rest,
what matters? One learns to take things as they seem, with-
out peering below the surface. One wearies of impotent
Quixotism against unconquerable evils."

"That is not our creed at Beechwood," said Mrs. Halifax,


abruptly, as she ceased the conversation. But ever and anon
it seemed to recur to her mind; ay, through all the mirth
of the young people, all the graver pleasure which the father
took in the happiness of his son Edwin; his good son, who
had never given him a single care. He declared that this set-
tling of Edwin had been to him almost like the days when
he himself used to come of evenings, hammer in hand, to
put up shelves in the house, or nail the currant-bushes
against the wall, doing everything con amore, and with the
utmost care, knowing it would come under the quick, observ-
ant eye of Ursula March.

"That is, of Ursula Halifax for I don't chink I let her
see a single one of my wonderful doings until she was Ursula
Halifax. Do you remember, Phineas, when you came to
visit us the first time, and found us gardening?"

"And she had on a white gown and a straw hat with blue
ribbons. What a young thing she looked! Hardly older than
Mistress Maud here."

John put his arm round his wife's waist not so slender
as it had been, but comely and graceful still, repeating
with something of the musical cadence of his boyish readings
of poetry a line or two from the sweet old English song:

"And when with envy Time transported

Shall think to rob us of our joys,

You'll in your girls again be courted,

And I'll go wooing with my boys."

Ursula laughed, and for the time being the shadow passed
from her countenance. Her husband had happily not no-
ticed it, and apparently she did not wish to tell him her trou-
ble. She let him spend a happy day, even grew happy her-
self in response to his care to make her so, by the resolute
putting away of all painful present thoughts, and calling
back of sweet and soothing memories belonging to the old
married home. John seemed determined that, if possible,
the marriage that was to be should be as sacred and as hope-
ful as their own.

So full of it were we all, that not until the day after, when
Lord Ravenel Had left us longing apparently to be asked
to stay for the wedding, but John did not ask him I remem-
berecl what he had said about Guy's association with


Luxmore's set. . It was recalled to me by the mother's anx-
ious face as she gave me a foreign letter to post.

"Post it yourself, will you, Phineas? I would not have it
miscarry, or be late in its arrival, on any account."

No, for I saw it was to her son at Paris.

"It will be the last letter I shall need to write," she add-
ed, again lingering over it, to be certain that all was correct
the address being somewhat illegible for that free, firm hand
of hers. "My boy is coming home."

"Guy coming home! To the wedding?"

"No; but immediately after. He is quite himself now.
He longs to come home."

"And his mother?"

His mother could not speak. Like light to her eyes, like
life to her heart, was the thought of Guy's coming home.
All that week she looked ten years younger. With a step
buoyant as any girl's she went about the marriage prepara-
tions; together with other preparations, perhaps dearer still
to the motherly heart, where, if any preference did lurk, it
was for the one for whom possibly from whom she had
suffered most, of all her children.

John too, though the father's joy was graver and not un-
mixed with some anxiety anxiety which he always put aside
in his wife's presence seemed eager to have his son at home.

"He is the eldest son," he repeated more than once, when
talking to me of his hope that Guy would now settle perma-
nently at Beechwood. "After myself, the head of the fam-

After John! It was almost ridiculous to peer so far into
the future as that.

Of all the happy faces I saw the .day before the marriage, I
think the happiest was Mrs. Halifax's as I met her coming
out of Guy's room, which, ever since he left, had been locked
up, unoccupied. Now his mother threw open the door with a
cheerful air.

"You may go in if you like, Uncle Phineas. Does it not
look nice?"

It did indeed, with the fresh white curtains; the bed laid
all in order; the book-shelves arranged, and even the fowl-
ing-piece and fishing-rod put in their right places.

The room looked very neat, I said, with an amused doubt
as to how long it was to remain so.


"That is true, indeed. How he used to throw his things
about! A sad untidy boy!" And his mother laughed, but I
saw all her features were trembling with emotion.

"He will not be exactly a boy now. I wonder if we shall
find him much changed."

"Very likely. Brown, with a great beard; he said so in
one of his letters. I shall hardly know my boy again." With
a lighting-up of the eye that furnished a flat contradiction to
the mother's statement.

"Here are some of Mrs. Tod's roses, I see."

"She made me take them. She said Master Guy always
used to stop and pick a bunch as he rode past. She hopes
she shall see him ride past on Sunday next. Guy must pay
her one of his very first visits; the good old soul!"

I hinted that Guy would have to pay visits half over the
country, to judge by the number of invitations I had heard

"Yes. Everybody wants to steal my boy. Everybody has
a welcome for him. How bright old Watkins has polished
that gun! Sir Herbert says Guy must come over to the shoot-
ing next week. He used to be exceedingly fond of going to
the Manor-house."

I smiled to see the innocent smile of this good mother,

Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikJohn Halifax, gentleman : a novel → online text (page 35 of 41)