Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

John Halifax, gentleman : a novel online

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"Who your wife?"

"No Maud. My little Maud."

It was but lately that he called her "his" little Maud; since
with that extreme tenacity of attachment which was a part of
his nature refusing to put any one love in another love's place
his second daughter had never been to him like the first.
Now, however, I had noticed that he took Maud nearer to his
heart, made her more often his companion, watching her with
a sedulous tenderness it was easy to guess why.

"She may have looked a little paler of late, a little more
thoughtful. But I am sure she is not unhappy."

"I believe not thank God!"

"Surely," I said, anxiously, "you have never repented what
you did about Lord Ravenel?"

"No not once. It cost me so much that I know it was
right to be done."

"But if things had been otherwise if you had not been so
sure of Maud's feelings "

He started painfully; then answered "I think I should
have done it still."

I was silent. The paramount right, the high prerogative
of love, which he held as strongly as I did, seemed attacked
in its liberty divine. For the moment, it was as if he too had
in his middle-age gone over to the cold-blooded ranks of harsh
parental prudence, despotic paternal rule; as if Ursula March's


lover and Maud's father were two distinct beings. One finds
it so, often enough, with men.

"John," I said, "could you have done it? could you have
broken the child's heart?"

"Yes, if it were to save her peace, perhaps her soul, I could
have broken my child's heart."

He spoke solemnly, with an accent of inexpressible pain, as
if this were not the first time by many that he had pondered
over such a possibility.

"I wish, Phineas, to make clear to you, in ease of of any
future misconceptions my mind on this matter. One right
alone I hold superior to the right of love duty. It is a fa-
ther's duty, at all risks, at all costs, to save his child from any-
thing which he believes would peril her duty so long as she
is too young to understand fully how beyond the claim of any
human being, be it father or lover, is God's claim to herself
and her immortal soul. Anything which would endanger
that should be cut off though it be the right hand the right
eye. But, thank God, it was not thus with my little Maud."

"Nor with him, either. He bore his disappointment well."

"Nobly. It may make a true nobleman of him yet. But,
being what he is, and for as long as he remains so, he must
not be trusted with my little Maud. I must take care of her
while I live; afterward "

His smile faded, or rather was transmitted into that grave
thoughtfulness which I had lately noticed in him. when, as
now, he fell into one of his long silences. There was nothing
sad about it; rather a serenity which reminded me of that
sweet look of his boyhood, which had vanished during the
manifold cares of his middle life. The expression of his
mouth, as I saw it in profile close and calm almost inclined
me to go back to the fanciful follies of our youth, and call
him "David."

We drove through Norton Bury, and left Mrs. Edwin there.
Then on, along the familiar road toward the Manor-house;
past the white gate, within sight of little Longfield.

"It looks just the same; the tenant takes good care of it."
And John's eyes turned fondly to his old home.

"Ay, just the same. Do you know your wife was saying to
me this morning that when Guy comes back, when all the
young folks are married, and you retire from business and
settle into the otium cum dignitate, the learned leisure you


used to plan, she would like to give up Beech wood? She
said she hopes you and she will end your days together at little

"Did she? Yes, I know that has been always her dream."

"Scarcely a dream, or one that is not unlikely to be ful-
filled. I like to fancy you both two old people sitting on
either side the fire, or on the same side, if you like it best;
very cheerful you will make such a merry old man, John,
with all your children round you, and indefinite grand-chil-
dren about the house continually. Or else you two will sit
alone together, just as in your early married days you ami
your old wife the dearest and handsomest old lady that was
ever seen."

"Phineas, don't don't!" I was startled by the tone in
which he answered the lightness of mine. "I mean don't
be planning out the future. It is foolish; it is almost wrong.
God's will is not as our will; and He knows best."

I would have spoken, but just then we reached the Manor-
house gate, and plunged at once into present life, and into
the hospitable circle of the Oldtowers.

They were all in the excitement of a wonderful piece of
gossip gossip so strange, sudden, and unprecedented that it
absorbed all lesser matters. It burst out before we had been
in the house five minutes.

"Have you heard this extraordinary report about the Lux-
more family?"

I could see Maud turn with eager attention, fixing her eyes
wistfully on Lady Oldtower.

"About the earl's death? Yes, we saw it in the news-
paper." And John passed on to some other point of conver-
sation. In vain.

"This news relates to the present earl. I never heard of
such a thing never. In fact, if true, his conduct is some-
thing which in its self-denial approaches absolute insanity. Is
it possible that, being so great a friend of your family, he has
not informed you of the circumstances?"

These circumstances, with some patience, we extracted
from the voluble Lady Oldtower. She had learned them I
forget how; but ill news never wants a tongue to carry it.

It seemed that on the earl's death it was discovered what
had already been long suspected that his liabilities, like his
extravagances, were enormous; that he was obliged to live


abroad to escape in some degree the clamorous haunting of
the hundreds he had ruined; poor tradespeople, who knew
that their only chance of payment was during the old man's
lifetime, for his whole property was entailed on the son.

Whether Lord Eavenel had ever been acquainted with this
state of things, or whether, being in ignorance of it, his own
style of living had in a degree imitated his father's, rumor did
not say, nor, indeed, was it of much consequence. The facts
subsequently becoming known immediately after Lord Lux-
more's death, made all former conjectures unnecessary.

Not a week before he died, the late earl and his son
chiefly, it was believed, on the tatter's instigation had cut off
the entail, thereby making the whole property salable, and
available for the payment of creditors. Thus, by his own act,
and, as some one had told somebody that somebody else had
heard Lord Eavenel say, "for the honor of the family," the
present earl had succeeded to an empty title, and beggary.

"Or," Lady Oldtower added, "what to a man of rank will
be the same as beggary a paltry two hundred a year or so
which he has reserved, they say, just to keep him from desti-
tution. Ah, here comes Mr. Jessop; I thought he would. He
can tell us all about it."

Old Mr. Jessop was as much excited as any one present.

"Ay it's all true only too true, Mr. Halifax. He was at
my house last night."

"Last night!" I do not think anybody caught the child's
exclamation but me; I could not help watching little Maud,
noticing what strong emotion, still perfectly childlike and un-
guarded in its demonstration, was shaking her innocent bo-
som and overflowing at her eyes, However, as she sat still in
the corner, nobody observed her.

"Yes, he slept at my house Lord Eavenel, the Earl of
Luxmore, I mean. Much good will his title do him! My
head clerk is better off than he. He has stripped himself of
every penny, except bless me, I forgot Mr. Halifax, he
gave me a letter for you."

John walked to the window to read it; but having read it,
passed it openly round the circle, as indeed was best.

"My Dear Friend; You will have heard that my father is no


("He used always to say 'the Earl/ " whispered Maud, as
she looked over my shoulder.)

"I write this merely to say what I feel sure you will already
have believed that anything which you learn concerning his
affairs, I was myself unaware of, except in a very slight degree,
when I last visited Beechwood.

"Will you likewise believe that in all I have done or intend
doing, your interests as my tenant which I hope you will re-
main have been, and shall be, sedulously guarded.

"My grateful remembrance to all your household.

"Faithfully yours, and theirs,


"Give me back the letter, Maud, my child."

She had been taking possession of it, as in right of being
his "pet/' she generally did of all Lord Eavenel's letters.
But now, without a word of objection, she surrendered it to
her father.

"What does he mean, Mr. Jessop, about my interests as his

"Bless me I am so grieved about the matter, that every-
thing goes astray in my head. He wished me to explain to
you that he has reserved one portion of the Luxmore property
intact Enderley mills. The rent you pay will, he says, be
a sufficient income for him, and then while your lease lasts no
other landlord can injure you. Very thoughtful of him
very thoughtful indeed, Mr. Halifax."

John made no answer.

"I never saw a man so altered. He went over some mat-
ters with me private charities, in which I have been his
agent, you know grave, clear-headed, business-like; my clerk
himself could not have done better. Afterward we sat and
talked, and I tried foolishly enough, when the thing was
done to show him what a frantic act it was both toward him-
self and his heirs. But he could not see it. He said cutting
off the entail would harm nobody for that he did not intend
ever to marry. Poor fellow!"

"Is he with you still?" John asked, in a low tone.

"No; he left this morning for Paris; his father is to be
buried there. Afterward, he said, his movements were quite
uncertain. He bade me good-by. I I didn't like it, I can
assure you."

And the old man, blowing his nose with his yellow pocket-


handkerchief, and twitching his features into all manner of
shapes, seemed determined to put side the melancholy subject,
and dilated on the earl and his affairs no more.

Nor did any one. Something in this young nobleman's
noble act it has since been not without a parallel among our
aristocracy silenced the tongue of gossip itself. The deed
was so new so unlike anything that had been conceived pos-
sible, especially in a man like Lord Ravenel, who had always
borne the character of a harmless, idle, misanthropic nonen-
tity that society was really nonplussed concerning it. Of
the many loquacious visitors who came that morning to pour
upon Lady Oldtower all the curiosity of Coltham fashion-
able Coltham, famous for all the scandal of haut ton there
was none who did not speak of Lord Luxmore and his affairs
with an uncomfortable, wondering awe. Some suggested he
was going mad others, raking up stories current of his early
youth, thought he had turned Catholic again and was about
to enter a monastery. One or two honest hearts protested
that he was a noble fellow, and it was a pity he had deter-
mined to be the last of the Luxmores.

For ourselves Mr. and Mrs. Halifax, Maud and I we
never spoke to one another on the subject all morning. Not
until after luncheon, when John and I had somehow stolen
out of the way of the visitors, and were walking to and fro
in the garden. The sunny fruit-garden ancient, Dutch
and square with its barricade of a high hedge, a stone wall,
and between it and the house a shining fence of great laurel-

Maud appeared suddenly before us from among these laur-
els, breathless.

"I got away after you, father. I I wanted to find some
strawberries and I wanted to speak to you."

"Speak on, little lady."

He linked her arm in his, and she paced between us up and
down the broad walk but without diverging to the straw-
berry beds. She was grave and paler than ordinary. Her
father asked if she were tired?

"No, but my head aches. Those Coltham people do talk
so! Father, I want you to explain to me, for I can't well
understand it, all this that they have been saying about Lord

John explained as simply and briefly as he could.


"I understand. Then, though he is Earl of Luxmore, he
is quite poor poorer than any of us? And he has made him-
self poor in order to pay his own and his father's debts, and
keep other people from suffering from any fault of his? Is
it so?"

"Yes, my child."

"Is it not a very noble act, father?"

"Very noble."

"I think it is the noblest act I ever heard of. I should like
to tell him so. When is he coming to Beech wood?"

Maud spoke quickly, with flushed cheeks, in the impetuous
mannner she inherited from her mother. Her question not
being immediately answered, she repeated it still more

Her father replied "I do not know."

"How very strange! I thought he would come at once
to-night probably."

I reminded her that Lord Ravenel had left for Paris, bid-
ding good-by to Mr. Jessop.

"He ought to have come to us instead of to Mr. Jessop.
Write and tell him so, father. Tell him how glad we shall be
to see him. And perhaps you can help him; you who help
everybody. He always said you were his best friend."

"Did he?"

"Ah, now, do write, father dear I am sure you will."

John looked down on the little maid who hung on his arm
so persuasively, then looked sorrowfully away.

"My child I cannot."

"What, not write to him? When he is poor and in
trouble? That is not like you, father," and Maud half loosed
her arm.

Her father quietly put the little rebellious hand back again
to its place. He was evidently debating within himself
whether he should tell her the whole truth, or how much of it.
Not that the debate was new, for he must already have fore-
seen this possible, nay, certain, conjuncture; especially as all
his dealings with his family had hitherto been open as day-
light. He held that to prevaricate, or willfully to give the
impression of a falsehood, is almost as mean as a direct lie.
When anything occurred that he could not tell his children,
he always said plainly, "I can not tell you," and they asked no


I wondered exceedingly how he would deal with Maud.

She walked with him, submissive yet not satisfied, glancing
at him from time to time, waiting for him to speak. At last
she could wait no longer.

"I am sure there is something wrong. You do not care for
Lord Ravenel as much as you used to do."

"More, if possible."

"Then write to him. Say we want to see him I want to
see him. Ask him to come and stay a long while at Beech-

"I cannot, Maud. It would be impossible for him to come.
I do not think he is likely to visit Beechwood for some time."

"How long? Six months? A year, perhaps?"

"It may be several years."

"Then I was right. Something has happened; you are
not friends with him any longer. And he is poor in trouble
oh, father!"

She snatched her hand away, and flashed upon him re-
proachful eyes. John took her gently by the arm, and made
her sit down upon the wall of a little stone bridge, under
which the moat slipped with a quiet murmur. Maud's tears
dropped into it fast and free.

That very outburst, brief and thundery as a child's pas-
sion, gave consolation both to her father and me. When it
lessened, John spoke.

"Now has my little Maud ceased to be angry with her fa-

"I did not mean to be angry only I was so startled so
grieved. Tell me what has happened, please, father?"

"I will tell you so far as I can. Lord Ravenel and my-
self had some conversation, of a very painful kind, the last
night he was with us. After it, we both considered it ad-
visable he should not visit us again for the present."

"Why not? Had you quarreled? or if you had, I thought
my father was always the first to forgive everybody."

"No, Maud, we had not quarreled."

"Then, what was it?"

"My child, you must not ask, for indeed I cannot tell you."

Maud sprang up the rebellious spirit flashing out again.

"Not tell me me, his pet me, that cared for him more
than any of you did. I think you ought to tell me, father,"

"You must allow me to decide that, if you please,"


After this answer Maud paused, and said, humbly, "Does
any one else know?"

"Your mother, and your Uncle Phineas, who happened to
be present at the time. No one else; and no one else shall

John spoke with that slight quivering and blueness of the
lips which any mental excitement usually produced in him.
He sat down by his daughter's side and took her hand.

"I knew this would grieve you, and I kept it from you as
long as I could. Now you must only be patient, and like a
good child trust your father."

Something in his manner quieted her. She only sighed,
and said, "She could not understand it."

"Neither can I, oftentimes, my poor little Maud. There
are so many sad things in life that we have to take upon trust,
and bear, and be patient with yet never understand. I sup-
pose we shall some day."

His eyes wandered upward to the wide-arched blue sky,
which in its calm beauty makes us fancy that Paradise is
there, even though we know that "the kingdom of Heaven
is within us," and that the kingdom of spirits may be around
us and about us, everywhere.

Maud looked at her father, and crept closer to him into
his arms.

"I did not mean to be naughty. I will try not to mind
losing him. But I liked Lord Eavenel so much and he was
so fond of me."

"Child" and her father himself could not help smiling
at the simplicity of her speech "it is often easiest to lose
those we are fond of and who are fond of us, because in one
sense we never can really lose them. Nothing in this world,
nor, I believe, in any other, can part those who truly and
faithfully love."

I think he was hardly aware how much he was implying,
at least not in its relation to her, or else he would not have
said it. And he would surely have noticed, as I did, that the
word "love" which had not been mentioned before it was
"liking," "fond of," "care for," or some such roundabout
childish phrase the word "love" made Maud start. She
darted from one to the other of us a keen glance of inquiry,
and then turned tfce color of a July rose.

Her attitude, her blushes, the shy trembling about her


mouth,- reminded me vividly, too vividly, of her mother
twenty-eight years ago.

Alarmed, I tried to hasten the end of our conversation,
lest, voluntarily or involuntarily, it might produce the very
results which, though they might not have altered John's
determination, would have almost broken his heart.

So, begging her to "kiss and make friends," which Maud
did, timidly, and without attempting further questions, I
hurried the father and daughter into the house; deferring for
mature consideration the question whether or not I should
trouble John with any too-anxious doubts of mine concerning

As we drove back through Norton Bury, I saw that while
her mother and Lady Oldtower conversed, Maud sat opposite
rather more silent than her wont; but when the ladies dis-
mounted for shopping, she was again the lively, independ-
ent Miss Halifax,

"Standing with reluctant feet,
Where womanhood and childhood meet,"

and assuming at once the prerogatives and immunities of

Her girlish ladyship at last got tired of silks and ribbons,
and stood with me at the shop-door, amusing herself with
commenting on the passers-by.

These were not so plentiful as I once remembered, though
still the old town wore its old face appearing fairer than
ever as I myself grew older. The same Coltham coach stopped
at the Lamb Inn, and the same group of idle loungers took
an interest in its disemboguing of its contents. But railways
had done an ill turn to the coach and to poor Norton Bury;
where there used to be six inside passengers, to-day was
turned out only one.

"What a queer-looking little woman! Uncle Phineas, peo-
ple shouldn't dress so fine as that when they are old."

Maud's criticism was scarcely just. The light-colored,
flimsy-gown, shorter than even Coltham fashionables would
have esteemed decent, the fluttering bonnet, the abundance
of flaunting curls no wonder {hat the stranger attracted
considerable notice in quiet Norton Bury. As she tripped
mincingly along, in her silk stockings and light shoes, a
smothered jeer arose.


"People should not laugh at an old woman, however con-
ceited she may be," said Maud, indignantly.

"Is she old?"

"Just look."

And surely when, as she turned from side to side, I caught
her full face what a face it was! withered, thin, sallow
almost to deathliness, with a bright rouge-spot on each cheek,
a broad smile on the ghastly mouth.

"Is she crazy, Uncle Phineas?"

"Possibly. Do not look at her." For I was sure this must
be the wreck of such a life as womanhood does sometimes
sink to a life, the mere knowledge of which had never yet
entered Maud's pure world.

She seemed surprised, but obeyed me and went in. I
stood at the shop-door, watching the increasing crowd,
and pitying, with that pity mixed with shame that every hon-
est man must feel toward a degraded woman, the wretched
object of their jeers. Half-frightened, she still kept up that
set smile, skipping daintily from side to side of the pavement,
darting at and peering into every carriage that passed. Mis-
erable creature as she looked, there was a certain grace and
ease in her movements, as if she had fallen from some far
higher estate.

At the moment the Mythe carriage, with Mr. Brithwood
in it, dozing his daily drive away, his gouty foot propped
up before him, slowly lumbered up the street. The woman
made a dart at it, but was held back.

"Canaille! I always hated your Norton Bury! Call my
carriage. I will go home."

Through its coarse discordance, its insane rage, I thought
I knew the voice. Especially when, assuming a voice of
command, she addressed the old coachman:

"Draw up, Peter; you are very late. People, give way!
Don't you see my carriage?"

There was a roar of laughter, so loud that even Mr. Brith-
wood opened his dull, drunken eyes and stared about him.

"Canaille!" and the scream was more of terror than anger
as she almost flung herself under the horses' heads in her
eagerness to escape from the mob. "Let me go! My carriage
is waiting. I am Lady Caroline Brithwood!"

The 'squire heard her. For a single instant they gazed
at one another besotted husband, dishonored, divorced wife


gazed with horror and fear, as two sinners who had been
each other's undoing might meet in the poetic torments of
Dante's "Inferno," or the tangible fire and brimstone of
many a blind but honest Christian's hell. One single instant,
and then Eichard Brithwood made up his mind.

"Coachman, drive on!"

But the man he was an old man seemed to hesitate at
urging his horses right over "my lady." He even looked
down on her with a sort of compassion. I remembered hav-
ing heard say that she was always kind and affable to her

"Drive on, you fool! Here," and Mr. Brithwood threw
some coin among the mob, "fetch the constable some of
you; take the woman to the watch-house!"

And the carriage rolled on, leaving her there, crouched
on the curbstone, gazing after it with something between a
laugh and a moan.

Nobody touched her. Perhaps some had heard of her;
a few might even have seen her driving through Norton
Bury in her pristine state, as the young 'squire's handsome
wife the charming Lady Caroline.

I was so absorbed in the sickening sight that I did not
perceive how John and Ursula, standing behind me, had
seen it likewise evidently seen and understood it all.

"What is to be done?" she whispered to him.

"What ought we to do?"

Here Maud came running out to see what was amiss in
the street.

"Go in, child," said Mrs. Halifax, sharply. "Stay till
I fetch you."

Lady Oldtower also advanced to the door; but catching
some notion of what the disturbance was, shocked and scan-
dalized, retired into the shop again.

John looked earnestly at his wife, but for once she did
not or would not understand his meaning; she drew back

"What must be done I mean, what do you want me to

"What only a woman -can do a woman like you in your

"Yes, if it were only myself. But think of the house-

Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikJohn Halifax, gentleman : a novel → online text (page 38 of 41)