Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

John Halifax, gentleman : a novel online

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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 op-
portunities than you have."

"But I have let them slip forever."

"No, not forever. You are young still; you have half a life-
time before you."

"Have I?" And for the moment one would hardly have
recognized the sallow, spiritless face, that, with all the deli-
cacy 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, girKsh hand with a melancholy tender-
ness; then bade "Good-by" to us all generally, and rode off.

It struck me then, though I hurried the thought away
it struck me afterward, 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 natur-
ally to any worldly mother. I can only explain it by remem-
bering the unworldliness of our lives at Beechwood, the heavy
cares which now pressed upon us from without, and the nota-
ble 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 Eavenal, not on horseback,
but in his rarely-used, luxurious coroneted carriage, drove up
to Beechwood, every one in the house except myself was in-
conceivably astonished to see him back again.

He said that he had delayed his journey to Paris, but gave
no explanation of that delay. He joined as usual in our
mid-day 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 Eavenel 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 upon us.

"No, scarcely likely." And he smiled. "Oh, yes, it might
have heen; I forget, I am not a young man now. How old
were Mr. and Mrs. Halifax when they were married?"

"Father was twenty-one and mother was eighteen; only a
year older than I." And Maud, half-ashamed of this sugges-
tive remark, ran away. Her gay candor proved to me, per-
haps to others besides me, the girl's entire free-heartedness.
The frank innocence of childhood was still hers.

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 Provi-
dence that it should not be found till late.

"I wonder, he said, dreamily, "I wonder whether I shall
ever find it."

I asked him it was by an impulse irresistible why he had
never married.

"Because I never found any woman either to love or to be-
lieve 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 church-yard wall; the sun glittered on the white mar-
ble headstone 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

Here Maud sprung toward 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 say-
ing 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 Eavenel.

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 Eavenel's case would hardly come under this cate-
gory; yet the difference between seventeen and thirty-seven
was sufficient to warrant in him a trembling uncertainty, an
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 fol-
low 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 full share.

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
invariably done.

"Maud, remember me! However or whenever I come back,
dearest child, be faithful, and remember me!"


Maud flew away with a sob of childish paiii partly anger,
the mother thought and slightly apologized to the guest for
her daughter's "naughtiness."

Lord Ravenel sat silent for a long time.

Just when we thought he proposed leaving, he said, ab-
ruptly, "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 Eavenel gone?"

"Not yet."

"What could he have wanted to say to you?"

John sat down by his wife, picked up the ball of her knit-
ting, 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

"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 Maud."

"What for?" was the mother's first exceedingly simple ques-
tion and then she guessed its answer. "Impossible! Bidic-
ulous absolutely ridiculous! She is only a child."

"Nevertheless, Lord Eavenel wishes to marry our little

"Lord Eavenel 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 Eavenel
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?"

"He has."

"May I, then, with entire trust in you both, await my an-

He waited it, patiently enough, with little apparent doubt
as to what it would be. Besides, it was only the prior ques-
tion of parental consent, not the vital point of Maud's prefer-
ence. And, with all his natural humility, Lord Eavenel
might be forgiven, if, brought up in the world, he was aware
of his position therein; nor quite unconscious that he was not
merely William Eavenel, 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 un-
disguised 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 Eavenel," 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 Hali-

The young nobleman colored, as if with ingenuous shame
at what he had been implying. "I'm glad of it. Let me as-
sure you there will be no impediments on the side of my fam-
ily. The earl has long wished me to marry. He knows well


enough that I can marry whom I please and shall marry 1'or
love only. Give me your leave to win your little Maud."

A dead silence.

"Again pardon me/' Lord Kavenel 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 toward one who worthily woos her daughter
but she replied distinctly:

"I feel, with my husband, that such a marriage would be

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 Eavenel, 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, noth-
ing 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 BavenePs 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 Bavenel, and in course of
time Countess of Luxmore?"

"I believe it would. Her mother and I ;vould rather see
our little Maud lying beside her sister Muriel than see her
Countess of Luxmore."

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 ven-
geance, was only a bitter necessity.

All he did was to repeat, in a subdued manner "Your

"Ah, Lord Kavenel!" 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,

Lord Ravenel started. "Would you imply that anything in
my past life, aimless and useless as it may have been, is un-
worthy of my honor the honor of our house?"

Saying this, he stopped recoiled as if suddenly made
aware by the very words himself had uttered what con-
trasted 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 "honor" 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 longer."

John intercepted the young man's departure.

"No, you do not understand me. I hold no man account-
able for any errors, any shortcomings, except his own."

"I am to conclude, then, that it is to myself you refuse your

"It is."

Lord Ravenel once more bowedj with sarcastic emphasis.

"I entreat you not to mistake me," John continued, most
earnestly. "I know nothing of you that the world would con-
demn, 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 Eavenel made no answer. His new-born energy, his
pride, his sarcasm, had successively vanished; dead, passive



melancholy resumed its empire over him. Mr. Halifax re-
garded him with mournful compassion.

"Oh, that I had forseen this! I would have placed the
breadth of all England between you and my child."

"Would you?"

"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 be perfect unity; one
aim, one faith, one love, or the marriage is incomplete, un-
holy a mere civil contract, and no more."

Lord Ravenel looked up amazed at this doctrine, then sat
awhile, pondering drearily.

"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 fable say? I forget Che
sard, sara! I am but as others; I am but what I was born to

"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 learned, 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 too late!' *

As John spoke, in much more excitement than was usual
to him, a sudden flush or rather spasm of color 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 Eavenel " His voice was faint, as though speech

was painful to him.

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 Eavenel, 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

He sat silent, his clasped hands listlessly dropping, his
countenance dreamy; yet, it seemed to me, less hopelessly sad;
then with a sudden effort 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 per-
haps I may prove some day. If not, try to believe the best of
me you can. Good-by."

They both said good-by, and bade God bless him; with
scarcely less tenderness than if things had ended as he de-
sired, 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 ab-
sence 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 Ra-
venel's the pain of which was almost forgotten in the com-
fort of Guy's first long home letter, which came about this
time that John one morning, suddenly dropping his news-
paper, 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 al-
ways felt ourselves justified in condemning, avoiding per-
haps hating. Until death, stepping in between, removes him
to another tribunal than this petty justice of ours, and laying
a solemn finger upon 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 table.

Maud stole up, hesitatingly, and asked to see the announce-
ment of the earl's decease.

"No, my child; but you shall hear it read aloud, if you

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 Rich-
ard Brithwood, Esquire, afterward 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, talk-
ing 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 unwrit-
ten 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 him-
self rather prone to overrate 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
tins; 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 peo-
ple. In all his plans, and in the carrying out of them, I no-
ticed 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 com-
pleted with the day. And in the thousand-and-one little
things that were constantly arising from his position as magis-
trate <xnci land-owner, and his general interest in the move-


ments 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 unf orgiven.

"John," I said, as to-day this peculiarity of his struck me
more than usual, "thou art certainly one of the faithful ser-
vants whom the Master when He cometh will find watching."

"I hope so. It ought to be thus with all men but espe-
cially with me."

I imagined from his tone, that he was thinking of his re-
sponsibility 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, sud-

Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikJohn Halifax, gentleman : a novel → online text (page 37 of 41)