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John Halifax, gentleman : a novel online

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434 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

hold think of Maud. People will talk so. It is hard to
know how to act."

"Nay; how did One act how would He act now if He
stood in the street this day? If we take care of aught of
His, will He not take care of us and of our children?"

Mrs. Halifax paused, thought a moment, hesitated
yielded.

"John, you are right; you are always right. I will do any-
thing you please."

And then I saw, through the astonished crowd, in face
of scores of window-gazers, all of whom knew them, and a
great number of whom they also knew, Mr. Halifax and his
wife walk up to where the miserable woman lay.

John touched her lightly on the shoulder she screamed
and cowered down.

"Are you the constable? He said he would send the con-
stable."

"Hush do not be afraid. Cousin Cousin Caroline."

God knows how long it was since any woman had spoken
to her in that tone. It seemed to startle back her shattered
wits. She rose to her feet, smiling airily.

"Madame, you are very kind. I believe I have had the
pleasure of seeing you somewhere. Your name is

"Ursula Halifax. Do you remember?" speaking gently,
as she would have done to a child.

Lady Caroline bowed a ghastly mockery of her former
sprightly grace. "Not exactly; but I dare say I shall presently
an revoir, madame!"

She was going away, kissing her hand that yellow,
wrinkled old woman's hand but John stopped her.

"My wife wants to speak to you, Lady Caroline. She wishes
you to come home with us."

"Plait-il? oh yes; I understand. I shall be happy-
most happy."

John offered her his arm with an air of grave deference;
Mrs. Halifax supported her on the other side. Without more
ado, they put her in the carriage and drove home, leaving
Maud in my charge, and leaving astonished Norton Bury to
think and say exactly what it pleased.



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 435



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

For nearly three years Lady Caroline lived in our house
if that miserable existence of hers could be called living
bed-ridden, fallen into second childhood:

"Pleased with a rattle, tickled with a straw;"

oblivious to both past and present, recognizing none of us,
and taking no notice of anybody, except now and then Ed-
win's little daughter, baby Louise.

We knew that all our neighbors talked us over, making far
more than a nine days' wonder of the "very extraordinary
conduct" of Mr. and Mrs. Halifax. That even good Lady
Oldtower hesitated a little before she suffered her tribe of
fair daughters to visit under the same roof where lay, quite
out of the way, that poor wreck of womanhood, which would
hardly have tainted any woman now. But in process of time
the gossip ceased of itself; and when, one summer day, a
small decent funeral moved out of our garden gate to En-
derley church-yard, all the comment was:

"Oh! is she dead? What a relief it must be! How very
kind of Mr. and Mrs. Halifax!"

Yes, she was dead, and had "made no sign," either of re-
pentance, grief or gratitude. Unless one could consider as
such a moment's lightening before death, which Maud de-
clared she saw in her Maud, who had tended her with a
devotedness which neither father nor mother forbade; be-
lieving that a woman cannot too soon learn womanhood's
best "mission" usefulness, tenderness and charity. Miss
Halifax was certain that a few minutes before the last minute,
she saw a gleam of sense in the filmy eyes, and stooping down,
had caught some feeble murmur about "William poor Will-
iam!"

She did not tell me this; she spoke of it to no one but her
mother, and to her briefly. So the wretched life, once beauti-
ful and loveful, was now ended, or perhaps borne into some
new sphere to begin again its struggle after the highest
beauty, the only perfect love. What are we that we should



436 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

place limits to the infinite mercy of the Lord and Giver of
Life, unto whom all life returns!

We buried her and left her; poor Lady Caroline!

No one interfered with us, and we appealed to no one. In
truth, there was no one unto whom we could appeal. Lord
Luxmore, immediately after his father's funeral, had disap-
peared, whither, no one knew except his solicitor; who treated
with and entirely satisfied the host of creditors, and into
whose hands the sole debtor, John Halifax, paid his yearly
rent. Therewith, he wrote several times to Lord Luxmore;
but the letters were simply acknowledged through the lawyer:
never answered. Whether in any of them John alluded to
Lady Caroline, I do not know; but I rather think not, as it
would have served no purpose and only inflicted pain. No
doubt, her brother had long since believed her dead, as we
and the world had done.

In that same world, one man, even a nobleman, is of little
account. Lord Ravenel sank in its wide waste of waters, and
they closed over him. Whether he were drowned or saved,
was of small moment to any one. He was soon forgotten,
everywhere except at Beechwood; arid sometimes it seemed as
if he were even forgotten there; save that in our family we
found it hard to learn this easy, convenient habit to forget.

Hard, though seven years had passed since we saw Guy's
merry face, to avoid missing it keenly still. The mother,
as her years crept on, oftentimes wearied for him with a
yearning that could not be told. The father, as Edwin be-
came engrossed in his own affairs, and Walter's undecided
temperament kept him a boy long after boyhood, often
seemed to look round vaguely for an eldest son's young
strength to lean upon: often said anxiously, "I wish Guy
were at home."

Yet still there was no hint of his coming; "better he never
came at all than come against his will, or come to meet the
least pain, the shadow of disgrace. And he was contented
and prosperous in the Western world, leading an active and
useful life, earning an honorable name. He had taken a
partner, he told us; there was real friendship between them,
and they were doing well; perhaps might make, in a few
years, one of those rapid fortunes which clever men of busi-
ness do make in America, and did especially at that time.

He was so eager and earnest upon other and higher cares



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 43t

than mere business; entered warmly into his father's sym-
pathy about many political measures now occupying men's
minds. A great number of comparative facts concerning the
factory children in England and America; a mass of evidence
used by Mr. Fowell Buxton in his arguments for the aboli-
tion of slavery, and many other things, originated in the im-
pulsive activity, now settled into mature manly energy, of
Mr. Guy Halifax, of Boston, U. S. "our Guy." '

"The lad is making a stir in the world," said his father
one day, when we had read his last letter. "I shall not won-
der if, when he comes home, a deputation from his native
Norton Bury were to appear, requesting him to accept the
honor of representing them in Parliament. He would suit
them at least, as regards the canvassing and the ladies a
great deal better than his old father eh, love?"

Mrs. Halifax smiled, rather unwillingly, for her husband
referred to a subject which had cost her some pain at the
time. After the Keform Bill passed, many of our neigh-
bors, who had long desired that one of John's high char-
acter, practical knowledge, and influence in the town, should
be its M. P., and were aware that his sole objection to entering
the House was the said question of Reform, urged him very
earnestly to stand for Norton Bury.

To everybody's surprise, and none more than our own, he
refused.

Publicly he assigned no reason for this, except his con-
viction that he could not discharge as he ought, and as he
would once have done, duties which he held so sacred and
indispensable. His letter, brief and simple, thanking his
"good neighbors," and wishing them "a younger and worth-
ier" member, might be found in some old file of the Norton
Bury Herald still. Even the Norton Bury Mercury, in re-
printing it, commented on its touching honesty and brevity,
and concluding his political career was ended with it con-
descended to bestow on Mr. Halifax the usual obituary line:

"We could have better spared a better man."

When his family, and even his wife, reasoned with him,
knowing that to enter Parliament had long been his thought,
nay, his desire, and perhaps herself taking a natural pride
in the idea of seeing M. P. M. P. of a new and unbribed



438 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

House of Commons after his well-beloved name to us and
to her he gave no clearer motive for his refusal than to the
electors of Norton Bury.

"But you are not old, John," I argued with him one day;
"you possess to the full the mens sana in corpcre sano. No
man can be more fitted than yourself to serve his country, as
you used to say it might be served, and you yourself might
serve it, after Reform was gained."

He smiled, and jocularly thanked me for my good opinion.

"Nay, such service is almost your duty; you yourself once
thought so too. Why have you changed your mind?"

"I have not changed my mind, but circumstances have
changed my actions. _As for duty duty begins at home.
Believe me, I have thought well over the subject. Brother,
we will not refer to it again."

I saw that something in the matter pained him, and
obeyed his wish. Even when, a few days after, perhaps as
some compensation for the mother's disappointment, he gave
this hint of Guy's taking his place and entering Parliament
in his room.

For any one nay, his own son to take John's place, to
stand in John's room, was not a pleasant thought, even in
jest; we let it pass by unanswered, and John himself did
not recur to it.

Thus time went on, placidly enough; the father and mother
changed into grandfather and grandmother, and little Maud
into Auntie Maud. She bore her new honors and fulfilled her
new duties with great delight and success. She had altered
much of late years: at twenty was as old as many a woman
of thirty in all the advantages of age. She was sensible,
active, resolute, and wise; sometimes thoughtful, or troubled
with fits of what in any less wholesome temperament would
have been melancholy; but as it was, her humors only be-
trayed themselves in some slight restlessness or irritability,
easily soothed by a few tender words, or a rush out to Ed-
win's, and a peaceful coming back to that happy home, whose
principal happiness she knew that she, the only daughter,
made.

She more than once had unexceptionable chances of quit-
ting it; for Miss Halifax possessed plenty of attractions, both
outwardly and inwardly, to say nothing of her not inconsid-



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 439

erable fortune. But she refused all offers, and to the best
of our knowledge was a free-hearted damsel still.

Her father and mother seemed rather glad of this than
otherwise. They Avould not have denied her any happiness
she wished for; still, it was evidently a relief to them that
she was slow in choosing it; slow in quitting their arms of
love to risk a love untried. Sometimes, such is the weak-
ness of parental humanity, I verily believe they looked for-
ward with complacency to the possibility of her remaining
always Miss Halifax. I remember one day, when Lady Old-
tower was suggesting half jest, half earnest, "better any
marriage than no marriage at all;" Maud's father replied, very
seriously:

"Better no marriage than any marriage that is less than
the best."

"How do you mean?"

"I believe," he said, smiling, "that somewhere in the world
every man has his right wife, every woman her right hus-
band. If my Maud's comes, he shall have her. If not, I
shall be well content to see her a happy old maid."

Thus, after many storms, came this lull in our lives; a
season of busy yet monotonous calm. I have heard say that
peace itself, to be perfect, ought to be monotonous. We
had enough of it to satisfy our daily need; we looked forward
to more of it in time to come, when Guy should be at home,
when we should see safely secured the futures of all the chil-
dren, and for ourselves a green old age



"Journeying in long serenity away."

A time of heavenly calm which, as I look back upon it,
grows heavenlier still! Soft summer days and autumn after-
noons, spent under the beech-wood, or on the Flat. Quiet
winter evenings, all to ourselves; Maud and her mother work-
ing, Walter drawing. The father sitting with his back to
the lamp, its light making a radiance over his brow and
white bald crown, and as it thrilled through the curls behind
restoring somewhat of the youthful color to his fading hair.
Nay, the old youthful ring of his voice I caught at times,
when he found something funny in his book and read it
out aloud to us; or laying it down, sat talking, as he liked
to talk, about things speculative, philosophical, or poetical;



440 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

things which he had necessarily let slip in the hurry and
press of his business life, in the burden and heat of the day;
but which now, as the cool shadows of evening were drawing
on, assumed a beauty and a nearness, and were again caught
up by him precious as the dreams of his youth.

Happy, happy time sunshiny summer, peaceful winter
we marked neither as they passed; but now we hold both
in a sacredness inexpressible a foretaste of that Land where
there is neither summer nor winter, neither days nor years.

The first break in our repose came early in the new year.
There had been no Christmas letter from Guy, and he never
once in all his wanderings had missed writing home at Christ-
mas-time. When the usual monthly mail came in, and no
word from him a second month, and yet nothing, we began
to wonder about his omission less openly to cease scolding
him for his carelessness. Though over and over again we
still eagerly brought up instances of the latter "Guy is such
a thoughtless boy about his correspondence."

Gradually, as his mother's cheek grew paler, and his father
more anxious-eyed, more compulsorily cheerful, we gave up
discussing publicly the many excellent reasons why no letters
should come from Guy. We had written as usual, by every
mail. By the last by the March mail I saw that in ad-
dition to the usual packet for Mr. Guy Halifax his father,
taking another precautionary measure, had written in busi-
ness form to "Messrs. Guy Halifax & Co." Guy had always,
"just like his carelessness/' omitted to give the name of his
partner; but addressed thus, in case of any sudden journey
or illness of Guy's, the partner, whoever he was, would be sure
to write.

In May nay, it was on May-day, I remember, for we were
down in the mill-meadows with Louise and her little ones,
going a-maying there came in the American mail.

It brought a large packet all our letters of this year sent
back again, directed, in a strange hand, to "John Halifax,
Esquire, Beech wood," with the annotation, "By Mr. Guy
Halifax's desire."

Among the rest though the sickening sight of them had
blinded even his mother at first, so that her eye did not catch
it, was one that explained most satisfactorily explained, we
said the reason they were thus returned. It was a few lines
from Guy himself., stating that unexpected good-fortune had



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 441

made him determine to come home at once. If circumstances
thwarted his intention, he would write without fail; otherwise
he should most likely sail by an American merchantman the
Stars and Stripes.

"Then he is coming home! On his way home!"

And the mother, as with one shaking hand she held fast the
letter, with the other steadied herself by the rail of John's
desk I guessed now why he had ordered all the letters to
be brought first to his counting-house. "When do you think
we shall see Guy?"

At thought of the happy sight, her bravery broke down.
She wept heartily and long.

John sat still, leaning over the front of his desk. By his
sigh, deep and glad, one could tell what a load was lifted off
the father's heart at prospect of his son's .return.

"The liners are only a month in sailing; but this is a bark,
most likely, which takes longer time. Love, show me the
date of the boy's letter."

She looked for it herself. It was in January!

The sudden fall from certainty to uncertainty the wild
clutch at that which hardly seemed a real joy until seen
fading down to a mere hope, a chance, a possibility who
has not known all this?

I remember how we all stood mute and panic-struck, in
the dark little counting-house. I remember seeing Louise,
with her children, in the door-way, trying to hush their laugh-
ing, and whispering to them something about "poor Uncle
Guy."

John was the first to grasp the unspoken dread, and show
that it was less than at first appeared.

"We ought to have had this letter two months ago; this
shows how often delays occur we ought not to be surprised
or uneasy at anything. Guy does not say when the ship was
to sail she may be on her voyage still. If he had but given
the name of her owners. But I can write to Lloyd's and find
out everything. Cheer up, mother. Please God, you shall
have that wandering, heedless boy of yours back before long."

He replaced the letters in their enclosure held a gen-
eral consultation, into which he threw a passing gleam of
faint gayety, as to whether, being ours, we had a right to
burn them, or whether, having passed through the post-
office, they were not the writer's but the owner's property,



442 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

and Guy could claim them, with all their useless news, on
his arrival in England. This was finally decided, and the
mother, with a faint smile, declared that nobody should
touch them; she would put them under lock and key "till
Guy came home/'

Then she took her husband's arm, and the rest of us fol-
lowed them as they walked slowly up the hill to Beechwood.

But after that day Mrs. Halifax's strength decayed. Not
suddenly, scarcely perceptibly; not with any outward com-
plaint, except what she jested over as "the natural weakness
of old age;" but there was an evident change. Week by
week her long walks shortened; she gave up her village school
to me; and though she went about the house still and insisted
on keeping the keys, gradually, "just for the sake of practice,"
the domestic surveillance fell into the hands of Maud.

An answer arrived from Lloyd's; the Stars and Stripes was
an American vessel, probably of small tonnage and import-
ance, for the underwriters knew nothing of it.

More delay, more suspense. The summer days came, but
not Guy. No news of him not a word not a, line.

His father wrote to America pursuing inquiries in all
directions. At last some tangible clew was caught. The
Stars and Stripes had sailed, had been spoken with about
the Windward Isles, and never heard of afterward.

Still, there was hope John told the hope first, before
he ventured to speak of the missing ship, and even then
had to break the news gently, for the mother had grown frail
and weak, and could not bear things as she used to do. She
clung, as if they had been words of life or death, to the ship-
owner's postscript "that they had no recollection of the
name of Halifax; there might have been such a gentleman
on board they could not say. But it was not probable, for
She Stars and Stripes was a trading vessel, and had not good
accommodations for passengers."

Then came week after week I knew not how they went
by one never does, afterward. At the time, they were fright-
fully vivid, hour by hour; we rose each morning, sure that
some hope would come in the course of the day; we went
to bed at night heavily, as if there were no such thing as hope
in the world. Gradually, and I think that was the worst con-
sciousness of all our life of suspense became perfectly natu-
ral; and everything in and about the house went on as usual,



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 443

just as though we knew quite well what the Almighty
Father alone knew! where our poor lad was, and what had
become of him. Or rather, as if we had settled in the cer-
tainty which perhaps the end of our own lives alone would
bring us, that he had slipped out of life altogether, and there
was no such being as Guy Halifax under this pitiless sun.

The mother's heart was breaking. She made no moan,
but we saw it in her face. One morning it was the morn-
ing after John's birthday, which we had made a feint of
keeping, with Grace Oldtower, the two little grandchildren,
Edwin and Louise she was absent at breakfast and at din-
ner; she had not slept well, and was too tired to rise. Many
days following it happened the same; with the same faint ex-
cuse, or with no excuse at all. How we missed her about the
house! ay, changed as she had been. How her husband
wandered about, ghost-like, from room to room! could not
rest anywhere, or do anything. Finally, he left our company
altogether, and during the hours that he was at home rarely
quitted for more than a few minutes the quiet bed-chamber,
where, every time his foot entered it, the poor pale face looked
up and smiled.

Ay, smiled; for I noticed, as many another may have
done in similar cases, that when her physical health definitely
gave way, her mental health returned. The heavy burden was
lighter; she grew more cheerful, more patient; seemed to
submit herself to the Almighty will, whatever it might be;
as she lay on her sofa in the study, where one or two evenings
John carried her down, almost as easily as he used to carry
little Muriel, his wife would rest content with her hand in
his, listening to his reading, or quietly looking at him, as
though her lost son's face, which a few week's since she said
haunted her continually, were now forgotten in his father's.
Perhaps she thought the one she should soon see while the
other

"Phineas," she whispered one day, when I was putting
a shawl over her feet, or doing some other trifle that she
thanked me for "Phineas, if anything happens to me, you
will comfort John?"

Then first I began seriously to contemplate a possibility,
hitherto as impossible and undreamed of as that the moon
should drop out of the height of heaven, what would the
house be without the mother?



444 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

Her children never suspected this, I saw; but they were
young for her husband

I could not understand John. He, so quick-sighted; he
who, meeting any sorrow, looked steadily up at the Hand
that smote him, knowing neither the coward's dread, nor the
unbeliever's disguise of pain surely he must see what was
impending. Yet he was as calm as if he saw it not. Calm,
as no man could be, contemplating the supreme parting be-
tween two who nearly all their lives had been not two, but
one flesh.

Yet I had once heard him say that a great love, and only
that, makes parting easy. Could it be that this love of his,
which had clasped his wife so firmly, faithfully and long,
fearlessly clasped her still, by its own perfectness assured of
its immortality?

But all the while his human love clung about her, show-
ing itself in a thousand forms of watchful tenderness. And
hers clung to him, closely, dependently; she let herself be
taken care of, ruled and guided, as if with him she found
helplessness restful and submission sweet. Many a little out-
ward fondness, that when people have been long married nat-
urally drops into disuse, was revived again; he would bring
her flowers out of the garden, or new books from the town;
and many a time, when no one noticed, I have seen him
stoop and press his lips upon the faded hand, where the wed-
ding-ring hung so loosely his own for so many years, his
own till the dust claimed it, that well-beloved hand!

Ay, he was right. Loss, affliction, death itself, are power-
less in the presence of such a love as theirs.

It was already the middle of July. From January to July
six months! Our neighbors without and there were many
who felt for us never asked now, "Is there any news of
Mr. Guy?" Even pretty Grace Oldtower pretty still, but
youthful no longer only lifted her eyes inquiringly as she
crossed our door-way, and dropped them again with a hope-
less sigh. She had loved us all, faithfully and well, for a
great many years.

One night, when Miss Oldtower had just gone home after
staying with us the whole day, Maud and I sat in the study
by ourselves, where we generally sat now. The father spent
all his evenings upstairs. We could hear his step overhead as
he crossed the room or opened the window, then drew his



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 445

chair back to its constant place by his wife's bedside. Some-
times there was a faint murmur of reading or talking; then



Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikJohn Halifax, gentleman : a novel → online text (page 39 of 41)