Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

John Halifax, gentleman : a novel online

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who would have recoiled at the accusation of match-making.
Yet I knew she was thinking of her great favorite, pretty
Grace Oldtower, who was Grace Oldtower still, and had re-
fused, gossip said, half the brilliant matches in the county,
to the amazement and strong disapprobation of all her friends
excepting Mrs. Halifax.

"Come away, Phineas!" slightly sighing, as if her joy
weighed her down; or as if conscious that she was letting
fancy carry her too far into the unknown future. "His room
is quite ready now, whatever time the boy arrives. Come

She shut and locked the door. To be opened when?

Morning broke, and none could have desired a brighter
marriage-morning. Sunshine out-of-doors sunshine on all
the faces within; only family faces for no other guests had
been invited, and we had kept the day as secret as we could;
there was nothing John disliked more than a show wedding.
Therefore it was with some surprise that while they were all
upstairs adorning themselves for church, Maud and I, stand-


ing at the hall-door, saw Lord Ravenel's traveling-carriage
drive up to it, and Lord Ravenel himself, with a quicker and
more decided gesture than was natural to him, spring out.

Maud ran into the porch, startling him much, apparently;
for indeed she was a sweet vision of youth, happiness, and
grace, in her pretty bridesmaid's dress.

"Is this the wedding morning? I did not know, I will
come again to-morrow;" and he seemed eager to escape back
to his carriage.

This action relieved me from a vague apprehension of ill
tidings, and made less painful the first question which rose
to my lips, "Had he seen Guy?"


"We thought for the moment it might be Guy come
home," Maud cried. "We are expecting him. Have you
heard of him since we saw you? Is he quite well?"

"I believe so."

I thought the answer brief; but then he was looking in-
tently upon Guy's sister, who held his hands in her childish,
affectionate way; she had not yet relinquished her privilege
of being Lord Ravenel's "pet." When, hesitatingly, he pro-
posed returning to Luxmore, unwilling to intrude upon the
marriage, the little lady would not hear of it for a moment.
She took the unexpected guest to the study, left him there
with her father, explained to her mother all about his ar-
rival and his having missed seeing Guy appearing entirely

I came into the drawing-room and sat watching the sun
shining on marriage-garments and marriage-faces, all as
bright as bright could be including the mother's. It had
clouded over for a few moments, when the postman's ring
was heard; but she said at once that it was most unlikely Guy
would write; she had told him there was no need to write.
So she stood content, smoothing down the soft folds of her
beautiful shawl, which Guy meant her to wear to-day. This,
together with his fond remembrance of her, seemed almost
as comfortable as the visible presence of her boy. Her boy,
who was sure to come to-morrow.

"John, is that you? How softly you came in! And Lord
Ravenel? He knows we are glad to see him. Shall we make
him one of our own family for the time being, and take him
with us to see Edwin married?"


Lord Eavenel bowed.

"Maud tells us you have not seen Guy. I doubt if he will
be able to arrive to-day; but we fully expect him to-morrow."

Lord Eavenel bowed again. Mrs. Halifax said something
about this unexpected arrival of his.

"He came on business/' John answered quickly, and Ur-
sula made no more inquiries.

She stood talking with Lord Eavenel as I could see her
stand now, playing with the deep fringe of her shawl; the
sun glancing on that rich silk dress of her favorite silver-
gray; a picture of matronly grace and calm content, as
charming as even the handsome, happy bride.

I was still looking at her when John called me aside. I
followed him into the study.

"Shut the door."

By his tone and look I knew in a moment that something
had happened.

"Yes. I'll tell you presently if there's time."

While he was speaking, some violent pain physical or
mental, or both seemed to seize him. I had my hand on
the door to call Ursula, but he held me fast, with a kind of

"Call no one. I am used to it. Water!"

He drank a glassful, which stood by, breathed once or
twice heavily, and gradually recovered himself. The color
had scarcely come back into his face when we heard Maud
run laughing through the hall.

"Father, where are you? We are waiting for you."

"I will come in two minutes, my child."

Having said this, in his own natural voice, he closed the
door again, and spoke to me rapidly.

"Phineas, I want you to stay away from church; make
some excuse, or I will for you. Write a letter for me to this
address in Paris. Say Guy Halifax's father will be there
without fail, within a week, to answer all demands."

"All demands!" I echoed, bewildered.

He repeated the sentence word for word. "Can you re-
member it? Literally, mind! And post it at once, before we
return from church."

Here the mother's call was heard. "John, are you com-

"In a moment, love," for her hand was on the door out-



side; but her husband held the other handle fast. He then
went on, breathlessly. '"You understand, Phineas? And
you will be careful very careful? She must not know
not till to-night."

"One word. Guy is alive and well?"

"Yet yes."

"Thank God!"

But Guy's father was gone while I spoke. Heavy as the
news might be this ill news, which had struck me with ap-
prehension the moment I saw Lord Ravenel it was still en-
durable. I could not conjure up any grief so bitter as the
boy's dying.

Therefore, with a quietness that came naturally under the
compulsion of such a necessity as the present, I rejoined the
rest, made my excuses, and answered all objections. I
watched the marriage party leave the house. A simple pro-
cession the mother first, leaning on Edwin; then Maud,
Walter, and Lord Eavenel; John walked last, with Louise
upon his arm. Thus I saw them move up the garden and
through the beech-wood, to the little church on the hill.

I then wrote the letter and sent it off. That done, I went
back into the study. Knowing nothing, able to guess noth-
ing, a dull patience came over me, the patience with which
we often wait for unknown, inevitable misfortunes. Some-
times I almost forgot Guy in my startled remembrance of his
father's look as he called me away, and sat down or rather
dropped down into his chair. Was it illness? yet he had
not complained; he hardly ever complained, and scarcely had
a day's sickness from year to year. And as I watched him
and Louise up the garden, I had noticed his free, firm gait,
without the least sign of unsteadiness or weakness. Besides,
he was not one to keep any but a necessary secret from those
who loved him. He could not be seriously ill, or we should
have known it.

Thus I pondered, until I heard the church bells ring out
merrily. The marriage was over.

I was just in time to meet them at the front gates, which
they entered our Edwin and his wife through a living line
of smiling faces, treading upon the carpet of strewn flowers.
Enderley would not be defrauded of its welcome; all the
village escorted the young couple in triumph home. I have
a misty recollection of how happy everybody looked, how the


sun was shining, and the bells ringing, and the people cheer-
ing a mingled phantasmagoria of sights and sounds, in
which I only saw one person distinctly John.

He waited while the young folks passed in stood on the
hall-steps in a few words thanked his people, and bade them
to the general rejoicing. They, uproarious, answered in loud
hurrahs, and one energetic voice cried out:

"One cheer more for Master Guy!"

Guy's mother turned, delighted; her eyes shining with
proud tears.

"John, thank them; tell them that Guy will thank them
himself to-morrow."

The master thanked them, but either he did not explain,
or the honest, rude voices drowned all mention of the latter
fact that Guy would be home to-morrow.

All this while, and at the marriage-breakfast likewise, Mr.
Halifax kept the same calm demeanor. Once only, when the
rest were all gathered round the bride and bridegroom, he
said to me:

"Phineas, is it done?"

"What is done?" asked Ursula, suddenly pausing.

"A letter I asked him to write for me this morning."

Now I had all my life been proud of John's face that it
was a safe face to trust in that it could not, or, if it could,
it would not, boast that stony calm under which some men
are so proud of disguising themselves and their emotions
from those nearest and dearest to them. If he were sad, we
knew it; if he were happy, we knew it too. It was his prin-
ciple, that nothing but the strongest motive should make a
man stoop to even the smallest hypocrisy.

Therefore, hearing him thus speak to his wife, I was struck
with great alarm. Mrs. Halifax herself seemed uneasy.

"A business letter, I suppose?"

"Partly on business. I will tell you all about it this even-

She looked reassured. "Just as you like; you know I am
not curious." But passing on, she turned back. "John, if
it was anything important to be done anything that I ought
to know at once, you would not keep me in ignorance?"

"No, my dearest! No!"

Then what had happened must be something in which no
help availed? something altogether past and irremediable;


something which he rightly wished to keep concealed, for a
few hours at least, from his other children, so as not to mar
the happiness of this day, of which there could be no second,
this crowning day of their lives this wedding-day of Edwin
and Louise.

So he sat at the marriage-table; he drank the marriage-
health; he gave them both a marriage-blessing. Finally he
sent them away smiling and sorrowful as is the bounden
duty of young married couples to depart Edwin pausing
on the carriage-step to embrace his mother with especial ten-
derness, and whisper her to "give his love to Guy."

"It reminds one of Guy's leaving," said the mother, hastily
brushing back the tears that would spring and roll down her
smiling face. She had never, until this moment, reverted to
that miserable day. "John, do you think it possible the boy
can be at home to-night?"

John answered emphatically, but very softly, "No."

"Why not? My letter would reach him in full time. Lord
Eavenel has been to Paris and back since then. But," turn-
ing full upon the young nobleman, "I think you said you
had not seen Guy?"


"Did you hear anything of him?"

"I Mrs. Halifax "

Exceedingly distressed, almost beyond his power of self-
restraint, the young man looked appealingly to John, who
replied for him:

"Lord Eavenel brought me a letter from Guy this morn-

"A letter from Guy and you never told me! How very

Still, she seemed only to think it "strange." Some diffi-
culty or folly, perhaps you could see by the sudden flushing
of her cheeks and her quick, distrustful glance at Lord Eave-
nel, what she imagined it was that the boy had confessed
to his father. With an instinct of concealment the moth-
er's instinct for the moment she asked no questions.

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 study.

"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 home."

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 hu-
man love can either prepare for, remove, or alleviate.

The letter, which I saw afterward, was thus:

"Dear Father and Mother: I have disgraced you all. I have
been drunk in a gambling-house. A man insulted me it was
about my father but you will hear all the world will hear pres-
ently. 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. GUY HALIFAX.

"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

She repeated this over and over again vacantly: nothing
but these five words.

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

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

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 start-
ed 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 Rave-
nel 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 word, America. Guy's mother hur-
ried them away his mother, who rose from her bed, and
moved about the house like a ghost upstairs 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 death.

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 Beech wood, knew' that our name
John's stainless, honorable name was in everybody's
mouth parroted 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, learned 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 neighbors who, out of curiosity
or sympathy, called at Beechwood. Not many times, though;
they said they could not understand Mrs. Halifax. So, after
awhile, they all left her alone, except good little Grace Old-

"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. Halifax away?"

Ay, this was the change stranger at first than what had
befallen Guy for that long seemed a thing we could not
realize; like a story told" of some other family than ours. The


present tangible blank was the house with its head and mas-
ter away.

Curiously enough, but from his domestic habits easily ac-
countable, 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 went

I think in the wonderful working 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
tender, comforting, comfortable letters.

"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

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 burdened


with no trouble undisclosed greeted with no anguish of
fear or bitter remembrance. As he sprung 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 ex-
pected. 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 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 the 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 de-
licious 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, stand-
ing 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
bej, 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 Rave-

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 handwriting,
the exquisite paper, the coroneted seal and the frank in the
corner. John liked to have them, and his wife also she be-
ing not indifferent to the fact, confirmed by many other
facts, that if there was one man in the world whom Lord
Ravenel honored and admired, it was John Halifax, of
Beechwood. But this time her pleasure was apparently
dampened; and when Maud, claiming the letter as usual,
spread abroad, delightedly, the news that "her" Lord Rave-
nel was coming shortly, I imagined this visit was not so wel-
come 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 him-
self 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 dead-bell in our family Gerard Vermilye.

On Lord Ravenel's reappearance 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
work-house 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 so-
ciety 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 expres-
sion that had ever lighted up the soft languid mien of Wil-
liam Lord Ravenel.

"How tall that child has grown lately! She is about nine-
teen, I think?"

"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

John made no special answer, except that frank smile, not
without a certain kindly satire, under which the young noble-
man's Byronic affections generally melted away like mists in

Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikJohn Halifax, gentleman : a novel → online text (page 36 of 41)