John Halifax, Gentleman
Dinah Maria Mulock (Mrs. Craik)
Part 10 out of 12
"Do not go," Guy exclaimed, anxiously.
"Pray do not," his mother added; "we were just talking about you,
Miss Silver. My son hopes you will accept this book from him, and
from us all, with all kind birthday wishes."
And rising, with a little more gravity than was her wont, Mrs.
Halifax touched the girl's forehead with her lips, and gave her the
Miss Silver coloured, and drew back. "You are very good, but indeed
I would much rather not have it."
"Why so? Do you dislike gifts, or this gift in particular?"
"Oh, no; certainly not."
"Then," said John, as he too came forward and shook hands with her
with an air of hearty kindness, "pray take the book. Do let us show
how much we respect you; how entirely we regard you as one of the
Guy turned a look of grateful pleasure to his father; but Miss
Silver, colouring more than ever, still held back.
"No, I cannot; indeed I cannot."
"Why can you not?"
"For several reasons."
"Give me only one of them--as much as can be expected from a young
lady," said Mr. Halifax, good-humouredly.
"Mr. Guy ordered the Flora for himself. I must not allow him to
renounce his pleasure for me."
"It would not be renouncing it if YOU had it," returned the lad, in a
low tone, at which once more his younger brother looked up, angrily.
"What folly about nothing! how can one read with such a clatter going
"You old book-worm! you care for nothing and nobody but yourself,"
Guy answered, laughing. But Edwin, really incensed, rose and settled
himself in the far corner of the room.
"Edwin is right," said the father, in a tone which indicated his
determination to end the discussion, a tone which even Miss Silver
obeyed. "My dear young lady, I hope you will like your book; Guy,
write her name in it at once."
Guy willingly obeyed, but was a good while over the task; his mother
came and looked over his shoulder.
"Louisa Eugenie--how did you know that, Guy? Louisa Eugenie Sil--is
that your name, my dear?"
The question, simple as it was, seemed to throw the governess into
much confusion, even agitation. At last, she drew herself up with
the old repulsive gesture, which of late had been slowly wearing off.
"No--I will not deceive you any longer. My right name is Louise
Mrs. Halifax started. "Are you a Frenchwoman?"
"On my father's side--yes."
"Why did you not tell me so?"
"Because, if you remember, at our first interview, you said no
Frenchwoman should educate your daughter. And I was homeless--
"Better starve than tell a falsehood," cried the mother, indignantly.
"I told no falsehood. You never asked me of my parentage."
"Nay," said John, interfering, "you must not speak in that manner to
Mrs. Halifax. Why did you renounce your father's name?"
"Because English people would have scouted my father's daughter. You
knew him--everybody knew him--he was D'Argent the Jacobin--D'Argent
the Bonnet Rouge."
She threw out these words defiantly, and quitted the room.
"This is a dreadful discovery. Edwin, you have seen most of her--did
you ever imagine--"
"I knew it, mother," said Edwin, without lifting his eyes from his
book. "After all, French or English, it makes no difference."
"I should think not, indeed!" cried Guy, angrily. "Whatever her
father is, if any one dared to think the worse of her--"
"Hush!--till another time," said the father, with a glance at Maud,
who, with wide-open eyes, in which the tears were just springing, had
been listening to all these revelations about her governess.
But Maud's tears were soon stopped, as well as this painful
conversation, by the entrance of our daily, or rather nightly,
visitor for these six weeks past, Lord Ravenel. His presence, always
welcome, was a great relief now. We never discussed family affairs
before people. The boys began to talk to Lord Ravenel: and Maud
took her privileged place on a footstool beside him. From the first
sight she had been his favourite, he said, because of her resemblance
to Muriel. But I think, more than any fancied likeness to that sweet
lost face, which he never spoke of without tenderness inexpressible,
there was something in Maud's buoyant youth--just between childhood
and girlhood, having the charms of one and the immunities of the
other--which was especially attractive to this man, who, at
three-and-thirty, found life a weariness and a burthen--at least, he
Life was never either weary or burthensome in our house--not even
to-night, though our friend found us less lively than usual--though
John maintained more than his usual silence, and Mrs. Halifax fell
into troubled reveries. Guy and Edwin, both considerably excited,
argued and contradicted one another more warmly than even the
Beechwood liberty of speech allowed. For Miss Silver, she did not
Lord Ravenel seemed to take these slight desagremens very calmly. He
stayed his customary time, smiling languidly as ever at the boys'
controversies, or listening with a half-pleased, half-melancholy
laziness to Maud's gay prattle, his eye following her about the room
with the privileged tenderness that twenty years' seniority allows a
man to feel and show towards a child. At his wonted hour he rode
away, sighingly contrasting pleasant Beechwood with dreary and
After his departure we did not again close round the fire. Maud
vanished; the younger boys also; Guy settled himself on his sofa,
having first taken the pains to limp across the room and fetch the
Flora, which Edwin had carefully stowed away in the book-case. Then
making himself comfortable, as the pleasure-loving lad liked well
enough to do, he lay dreamily gazing at the title-page, where was
written her name, and "From Guy Halifax, with--"
"What are you going to add, my son?"
He, glancing up at his mother, made her no answer, and hastily closed
She looked hurt; but, saying nothing more, began moving about the
room, putting things in order before retiring. John sat in the
arm-chair--meditative. She asked him what he was thinking about?
"About that man, Jacques D'Argent."
"You have heard of him, then?"
"Few had not, twenty years ago. He was one of the most 'blatant
beasts' of the Reign of Terror. A fellow without honesty,
conscience, or even common decency."
"And that man's daughter we have had in our house, teaching our
Alarm and disgust were written on every feature of the mother's face.
It was scarcely surprising. Now that the ferment which had convulsed
society in our younger days was settling down,--though still we were
far from that ultimate calm which enables posterity to judge fully
and fairly such a remarkable historical crisis as the French
Revolution,--most English people looked back with horror on the
extreme opinions of that time. If Mrs. Halifax had a weak point, it
was her prejudice against anything French or Jacobinical. Partly,
from that tendency to moral conservatism which in most persons,
especially women, strengthens as old age advances; partly, I believe,
from the terrible warning given by the fate of one--of whom for years
we had never heard--whose very name was either unknown to, or
forgotten by, our children.
"John, can't you speak? Don't you see the frightful danger?"
"Love, try and be calmer."
"How can I? Remember--remember Caroline."
"Nay, we are not talking of her, but of a girl whom we know, and have
had good opportunity of knowing. A girl, who, whatever may have been
her antecedents, has lived for six months blamelessly in our house."
"Would to Heaven she had never entered it! But it is not too late.
She may leave--she shall leave, immediately."
"Mother!" burst out Guy. Never since she bore him had his mother
heard her name uttered in such a tone.
She stood petrified.
"Mother, you are unjust, heartless, cruel. She shall NOT leave; she
shall NOT, I say!"
"Guy, how dare you speak to your mother in that way?"
"Yes, father, I dare. I'll dare anything rather than--"
"Stop. Mind what you are saying--or you may repent it."
And Mr. Halifax, speaking in that low tone to which his voice fell in
serious displeasure, laid a heavy hand on the lad's shoulder. Father
and son exchanged fiery glances. The mother, terrified, rushed
"Don't, John! Don't be angry with him. He could not help it,--my
At her piteous look Guy and his father both drew back. John put his
arm round his wife, and made her sit down. She was trembling
"You see, Guy, how wrong you have been. How could you wound your
"I did not mean to wound her," the lad answered. "I only wished to
prevent her from being unjust and unkind to one to whom she must show
all justice and kindness. One whom I respect, esteem--whom I LOVE."
"Yes, mother! Yes, father! I love her. I intend to marry her."
Guy said this with an air of quiet determination, very different from
the usual impetuosity of his character. It was easy to perceive that
a great change had come over him; that in this passion, the silent
growth of which no one had suspected, he was most thoroughly in
earnest. From the boy he had suddenly started up into the man; and
his parents saw it.
They looked at him, and then mournfully at one another. The father
was the first to speak.
"All this is very sudden. You should have told us of it before."
"I did not know it myself till--till very lately," the youth answered
more softly, lowering his head and blushing.
"Is Miss Silver--is the lady aware of it?"
"That is well," said the father, after a pause. "In this silence you
have acted as an honourable lover should towards her; as a dutiful
son should act towards his parents."
Guy looked pleased. He stole his hand nearer his mother's, but she
neither took it nor repelled it; she seemed quite stunned.
At this point I noticed that Maud had crept into the room;--I sent
her out again as quickly as I could. Alas! this was the first secret
that needed to be kept from her; the first painful mystery in our
happy, happy home!
In any such home the "first falling in love," whether of son or
daughter, necessarily makes a great change. Greater if the former
than the latter. There is often a pitiful truth--I know not why it
should be so, but so it is--in the foolish rhyme which the mother had
laughingly said over to me this morning!
"My son's my son till he gets him a wife,
My daughter's my daughter all her life."
And when, as in this case, the son wishes to marry one whom his
father may not wholly approve, whom his mother does not heartily
love, surely the pain is deepened tenfold.
Those who in the dazzled vision of youth see only the beauty and
splendour of love--first love, who deem it comprises the whole of
life, beginning, aim, and end--may marvel that I, who have been young
and now am old, see as I saw that night, not only the lover's but the
parents' side of the question. I felt overwhelmed with sadness, as,
viewing the three, I counted up in all its bearings and consequences,
near and remote, this attachment of poor Guy's.
"Well, father," he said at last, guessing by intuition that the
father's heart would best understand his own.
"Well, my son," John answered, sadly.
"YOU were young once."
"So I was;" with a tender glance upon the lad's heated and excited
countenance. "Do not suppose I cannot feel with you. Still, I wish
you had been less precipitate."
"You were little older than I am when you married?"
"But my marriage was rather different from this projected one of
yours. I knew your mother well, and she knew me. Both of us had
been tried--by trouble which we shared together, by absence, by many
and various cares. We chose one another, not hastily or blindly, but
with free will and open eyes. No, Guy," he added, speaking earnestly
and softly, "mine was no sudden fancy, no frantic passion. I
honoured your mother above all women. I loved her as my own soul."
"So do I love Louise. I would die for her any day."
At the son's impetuosity the father smiled; not incredulously, only
All this while the mother had sat motionless, never uttering a sound.
Suddenly, hearing a footstep and a light knock at the door, she
darted forward and locked it, crying, in a voice that one could
hardly have recognized as hers--
"No admittance! Go away."
A note was pushed in under the door. Mrs. Halifax picked it up--
opened it, read it mechanically, and sat down again; taking no
notice, even when Guy, catching sight of the hand-writing, eagerly
seized the paper.
It was merely a line, stating Miss Silver's wish to leave Beechwood
immediately; signed, with her full name--her right name--"Louise
A postscript added: "Your silence I shall take as permission to
depart; and shall be gone early to-morrow."
"To-morrow! Gone to-morrow! And she does not even know that--that I
love her. Mother, you have ruined my happiness. I will never
Never forgive his mother! His mother, who had borne him, nursed him,
reared him; who had loved him with that love--like none other in the
world--the love of a woman for her firstborn son, all these
It was hard. I think the most passionate lover, in reasonable
moments, would allow that it was hard. No marvel that even her
husband's clasp could not remove the look of heart-broken, speechless
suffering which settled stonily down in Ursula's face, as she watched
her boy--storming about, furious with uncontrollable passion and
At last, mother-like, she forgot the passion in pity of the pain.
"He is not strong yet; he will do himself harm. Let me go to him!
John, let me!" Her husband released her.
Faintly, with a weak, uncertain walk, she went up to Guy and touched
"You must keep quiet, or you will be ill. I cannot have my son ill--
not for any girl. Come, sit down--here, beside your mother."
She was obeyed. Looking into her eyes, and seeing no anger there,
nothing but grief and love, the young man's right spirit came into
"O mother, mother, forgive me! I am so miserable--so miserable."
He laid his head on her shoulder. She kissed and clasped him close--
her boy who never could be wholly hers again, who had learned to love
some one else dearer than his mother.
After a while she said, "Father, shake hands with Guy. Tell him that
we forgive his being angry with us; that perhaps, some day--"
She stopped, uncertain as to the father's mind, or seeking strength
for her own.
"Some day," John continued, "Guy will find out that we can have
nothing in the world--except our children's good--so dear to us as
Guy looked up, beaming with hope and joy. "O father! O mother! will
"We will indeed say nothing," the father answered, smiling; "nothing,
until to-morrow. Then we will all three talk the matter quietly
over, and see what can be done."
Of course I knew to a certainty the conclusion they would come to.
Late that night, as I sat up pondering over all that had happened,
Mrs. Halifax came into my room.
She looked round; asked me, according to her wont, if there was
anything I wanted before she retired for the night?--(Ursula was as
good to me as any sister)--then stood by my easy-chair. I would not
meet her eyes, but I saw her hands fluttering in their restless way.
I pointed to her accustomed chair.
"No, I can't sit down. I must say good-night." Then, coming at once
to the point--"Phineas, you are always up first in the morning. Will
you--John thinks it had better be you--will you give a message from
us to--Maud's governess?"
"Yes. What shall I say?"
"Merely, that we request she will not leave Beechwood until we have
If Miss Silver had overheard the manner and tone of that "request," I
doubt if it would not have hastened rather than delayed her
departure. But, God help the poor mother! her wounds were still
"Would it not be better," I suggested, "if you were to write to her?"
"I can't; no, I can't,"--spoken with the sharpness of exceeding pain.
Soon after, as in faint apology, she added, "I am so tired; we are
very late to-night."
"Yes; it is almost morning. I thought you were both in bed."
"No; we have been sitting talking in Guy's room. His father thought
it would be better."
"And is all settled?"
Having told me this, and having as it were by such a conclusion
confessed it was right the question should be thus "settled," Guy's
mother seemed more herself.
"Yes," she repeated; "John thinks it ought to be. At least, that she
should know Guy's--the feeling with which Guy regards her. If, after
the probation of a year, it still remains, and he is content to begin
life on a small income, we have given our consent to our son's
It struck me how the mother's mind entirely dwelt on the one party in
this matter--"Guy's feelings"--"Our son's marriage"--and so on. The
other side of the question, or the possibility of any hindrance
there, never seemed to enter her imagination. Perhaps it would not,
even into mine, for I shared the family faith in its best-beloved
Guy; but for Mrs. Halifax's so entirely ignoring the idea that any
consent except her son's and his parents' was necessary to this
"It will not part him from us so very much, you see, Phineas," she
said, evidently trying to view the bright side--"and she has no
relatives living--not one. For income--Guy will have the entire
profit of the Norton Bury mills; and they might begin, as we did, in
the old Norton Bury house--the dear old house."
The thought of her own young days seemed to come, soothingly and
sweet, taking the sting out of her pain, showing her how it was but
right and justice that Nature's holy law should be fulfilled--that
children, in their turn, should love, and marry, and be happy, like
"Yes," she answered, as I gently hinted this; "I know you are right;
all is quite right, and as it should be, though it was a shock at
first. No matter: John esteems her--John likes her. For me--oh, I
shall make a capital--what is it?--a capital MOTHER-IN-LAW--in time!"
With that smile, which was almost cheerful, she bade me good-night--
rather hastily, perhaps, as if she wished to leave me while her
cheerfulness lasted. Then I heard her step along the passage,
pausing once--most likely at Guy's room door; her own closed, and the
house was in silence.
I rose early in the morning;--not one whit too early, for I met Miss
Silver in the hall, bonneted and shawled, carrying down with her own
hands a portion of her chattels. She evidently contemplated an
immediate departure. It was with the greatest difficulty that,
without betraying my reasons, which, of course, was impossible, I
could persuade her to change her determination.
Poor girl! last night's events had apparently shaken her from that
indifference which she seemed to think the best armour of a helpless,
proud governess against the world. She would scarcely listen to a
word. She was in extreme agitation; half-a-dozen times she insisted
on leaving, and then sat down again.
I had not given her credit for so much wholesome irresolution--so
much genuine feeling. Her manner almost convinced me of a fact which
every one else seemed to hold as certain, but which I myself should
have liked to see proved; namely, that Guy, in asking her love, would
have--what in every right and happy marriage a man ought to have--the
knowledge that the love was his before he asked for it.
Seeing this, my heart warmed to the girl. I respected her brave
departure--I rejoiced that it was needless. Willingly I would have
quieted her distress with some hopeful, ambiguous word, but that
would have been trenching, as no one ever ought to trench, on the
lover's sole right. So I held my tongue, watching with an amused
pleasure the colour hovering to and fro over that usually impassive
face. At last, at the opening of the study-door--we stood in the
hall still--those blushes rose up to her forehead in one involuntary
But it was only Edwin, who had lately taken to a habit of getting up
very early,--to study mathematics. He looked surprised at seeing me
with Miss Silver.
"What is that box? She is not going?"
"No; I have been entreating her not. Add your persuasions, Edwin."
For Edwin, with all his quietness, was a lad of much wisdom, great
influence, and no little penetration. I felt inclined to believe
that though as yet he had not been let into the secret of last night,
he guessed it pretty well already.
He might have done, by the peculiar manner in which he went up to the
governess and took her hand.
"Pray stay; I beg of you."
She made no more ado, but stayed.
I left her with Edwin, and took my usual morning walk, up and down
the garden, till breakfast-time.
A strange and painful breakfast it was, even though the most
important element in its painfulness, Guy, was happily absent. The
rest of us kept up a fragmentary, awkward conversation, every one
round the table looking as indeed one might have expected they would
look--with one exception.
Miss Silver, who, from her behaviour last night, and her demeanour to
me this morning, I had supposed would now have gathered up all her
haughtiness to resist Guy's parents--as, ignorant both of his
feelings and their intentions towards her, a young lady of her proud
spirit might well resist--was, to my astonishment, as mild and meek
as this soft spring morning. Nay, like it, seemed often on the very
verge of the melting mood. More than once her drooping eyelashes
were gemmed with tears. And when, the breakfast-table being quickly
deserted--Edwin, indeed, had left it almost immediately--she, sitting
absently in her place, was gently touched by Mrs. Halifax, she
started up, with the same vivid rush of colour that I had before
noticed. It completely altered the expression of her face; made her
look ten years younger--ten years happier, and, being happier, ten
times more amiable.
This expression--I was not the only one to notice it--was, by some
intuition, reflected on the mother's. It made softer than any speech
of hers to Miss Silver--the few words--
"My dear, will you come with me into the study?"
"To lessons? Yes. I beg your pardon! Maud--where is Maud?"
"Never mind lessons just yet. We will have a little chat with my
son. Uncle Phineas, you'll come? Will you come, too, my dear?"
"If you wish it." And with an air of unwonted obedience, she
followed Mrs. Halifax.
Poor Guy!--confused young lover!--meeting for the first time after
his confession the acknowledged object of his preference--I really
felt sorry for him! And, except that women have generally twice as
much self-control in such cases as men--and Miss Silver proved it--I
might even have been sorry for her. But then her uncertainties would
soon be over. She had not to make--all her family being aware she
was then and there making it--that terrible "offer of marriage,"
which, I am given to understand, is, even under the most favourable
circumstances, as formidable as going up to the cannon's mouth.
I speak of it jestingly, as we all jested uneasily that morning, save
Mrs. Halifax, who scarcely spoke a word. At length, when Miss
Silver, growing painfully restless, again referred to "lessons," she
"Not yet. I want Maud for half an hour. Will you be so kind as to
take my place, and sit with my son the while?"
I was vexed with her--really vexed--for that ready assent; but then,
who knows the ins and outs of women's ways? At any rate, for Guy's
sake this must be got over--the quicker the better. His mother rose.
"My son, my dear boy!" She leant over him, whispering--I think she
kissed him--then slowly, quietly, she walked out of the study. I
followed. Outside the door we parted, and I heard her go up-stairs
to her own room.
It might have been half an hour afterwards, when Maud and I, coming
in from the garden, met her standing in the hall. No one was with
her, and she was doing nothing; two very remarkable facts in the
daily life of the mother of the family.
Maud ran up to her with some primroses.
"Very pretty, very pretty, my child."
"But you don't look at them--you don't care for them--I'll go and
show them to Miss Silver."
"No," was the hasty answer. "Come back, Maud--Miss Silver is
Making some excuse, I sent the child away, for I saw that even Maud's
presence was intolerable to her mother. That poor mother, whose
suspense was growing into positive agony.
She waited--standing at the dining-room window--listening--going in
and out of the hall,--for another ten minutes.
"It is very strange--very strange indeed. He promised to come and
tell me; surely at least he ought to come and tell me first--me, his
She stopped at the word, oppressed by exceeding pain.
"Hark! was that the study door?"
"I think so; one minute more and you will be quite certain."
Ay! one minute more, and we WERE quite certain. The young lover
entered--his bitter tidings written on his face.
"She has refused me, mother. I never shall be happy more."
Poor Guy!--I slipped out of his sight and left the lad alone with his
Another hour passed of this strange, strange day. The house seemed
painfully quiet. Maud, disconsolate and cross, had taken herself
away to the beech-wood with Walter; the father and Edwin were busy at
the mills, and had sent word that neither would return to dinner. I
wandered from room to room, always excepting that shut-up room where,
as I took care, no one should disturb the mother and son.
At last I heard them both going up-stairs--Guy was still too lame to
walk without assistance. I heard the poor lad's fretful tones, and
the soothing, cheerful voice that answered them. "Verily," thought
I, "if, since he must fall in love, Guy had only fixed his ideal
standard of womanhood a little nearer home--if he had only chosen for
his wife a woman a little more like his mother!" But I suppose that
would have been expecting impossibilities.
Well, he had been refused!--our Guy, whom we all would have imagined
irresistible--our Guy, "whom to look on was to love." Some harsh
folk might say this might be a good lesson for the lad--nay, for most
lads; but I deny it.--I doubt if any young man, meeting at the outset
of life a rejection like this, which either ignorance or heedlessness
on the woman's part had made totally unexpected, ever is the better
for it: perhaps, for many years, cruelly the worse. For, most women
being quick-sighted about love, and most men--especially young men--
blind enough in its betrayal,--any woman who wilfully allows an offer
only to refuse it, lowers not only herself but her whole sex, for a
long, long time after, in the lover's eyes. At least, I think so;--
as I was thinking, in the way old bachelors are prone to moralize
over such things, when, coming out of Guy's room, I met Mrs. Halifax.
She crossed the passage, hastily but noiselessly, to a small
ante-room which Miss Silver had for her own private study--out of
which half-a-dozen stairs led to the chamber where she and her pupil
slept. The ante-room was open, the bed-chamber door closed.
"She is in there?"
"I believe she is."
Guy's mother stood irresolute. Her knit brow and nervous manner
betrayed some determination she had come to, which had cost her hard:
suddenly she turned to me.
"Keep the children out of the way, will you, Phineas? Don't let them
know--don't let anybody know--about Guy."
"Of course not."
"There is some mistake--there MUST be some mistake. Perhaps she is
not sure of our consent--his father's and mine; very right of her--
very right! I honour her for her indecision. But she must be
assured to the contrary--my boy's peace must not be sacrificed. You
Ay, perhaps better than she did herself, poor mother!
Yet, when in answer to the hasty knock, I caught a glimpse of Miss
Silver opening the door--Miss Silver, with hair all falling down
dishevelled, and features swollen with crying,--I went away
completely at fault, as the standers-by seemed doomed to be in all
love affairs. I began to hope that this would settle itself somehow-
-in all parties understanding one another after the good old romantic
fashion, and "living very happy to the end of their lives."
I saw nothing more of any one until tea-time; when Mrs. Halifax and
the governess came in together. Something in their manner struck me-
-one being subdued and gentle, the other tender and kind. Both,
however, were exceedingly grave--nay, sad, but it appeared to be that
sadness which is received as inevitable, and is quite distinct from
either anger or resentment.
Neither Guy nor Edwin, nor the father were present. When John's
voice was heard in the hall, Miss Silver had just risen to retire
"Good-night, for I shall not come down-stairs again," she said
"Good-night," the mother answered in the same whisper--rose, kissed
her kindly, and let her go.
When Edwin and his father appeared, they too looked remarkably grave-
-as grave as if they had known by intuition all the trouble in the
house. Of course, no one referred to it. The mother merely noticed
how late they were, and how tired they both looked. Supper passed in
silence, and then Edwin took up his candle to go to bed.
His father called him back. "Edwin, you will remember?"
"I will, father."
"Something is amiss with Edwin," said his mother, when the two
younger boys had closed the door behind them. "What did you wish him
Her husband's sole reply was to draw her to him with that peculiarly
tender gaze, which she knew well to be the forewarning of trouble;
trouble he could not save her from--could only help her to bear.
Ursula laid her head on his shoulder with one deep sob of long-
"I suppose you know all. I thought you would soon guess. Oh, John,
our happy days are over! Our children are children no more."
"But ours still, love--always will be ours."
"What of that when we can no longer make them happy? When they look
for happiness to others and not to us? My own poor boy! To think
that his mother can neither give him comfort, nor save him pain, any
She wept bitterly.
When she was somewhat soothed, John, making her sit down by him, but
turning a little from her, bade her tell him all that had happened
to-day. A few words explained the history of Guy's rejection and its
"She loves some one else. When I--as his mother--went and asked her
the question she confessed this."
"And what did you say?"
"What could I say? I could not blame her. I was even sorry for her.
She cried so bitterly, and begged me to forgive her. I said I did
freely, and hoped she would be happy."
"That was right. I am glad you said so. Did she tell you who he--
this lover, was?"
"No. She said she could not, until he gave her permission. That
whether they would ever be married she did not know. She knew
nothing, save that he was good and kind, and the only creature in the
world who had ever cared for her."
"John,"--startled by his manner--"you have something to tell me? You
know who this is--this man who has stood between my son and his
"Yes, I do know."
I cannot say how far the mother saw--what, as if by a flash of
lightning, _I_ did; but she looked up in her husband's face, with a
sudden speechless dread.
"Love, it is a great misfortune, but it is no one's blame--neither
ours, nor theirs--they never thought of Guy's loving her. He says
"Is it Edwin?"--in a cry as if her heart was breaking. "His own
brother--his very own brother! Oh, my poor Guy!"
Well might the mother mourn! Well might the father look as if years
of care had been added to his life that day! For a disaster like
this happening in any household--especially a household where love is
recognized as a tangible truth, neither to be laughed at, passed
carelessly over, nor lectured down--makes the family cease to be a
family, in many things, from henceforward. The two strongest
feelings of life clash; the bond of brotherly unity, in its
perfectness, is broken for ever.
For some minutes we sat, bewildered as it were, thinking of the tale
as if it had been told of some other family than ours. Mechanically
the mother raised her eyes; the first object they chanced to meet was
a rude water-colour drawing, kept, coarse daub as it was, because it
was the only reminder we had of what never could be recalled--one
red-cheeked child with a hoop, staring at another red-cheeked child
with a nosegay--supposed to represent little Edwin and little Guy.
"Guy taught Edwin to walk. Edwin made Guy learn his letters. How
fond they were of one another--those two boys. Now--brother will be
set against brother! They will never feel like brothers--never
"Don't, John! don't speak to me just yet. It is so terrible to think
of. Both my boys--both my two noble boys! to be made miserable for
that girl's sake. Oh! that she had never darkened our doors. Oh!
that she had never been born."
"Nay, you must not speak thus. Remember--Edwin loves her--she will
be Edwin's wife."
"Never!" cried the mother, desperately; "I will not allow it. Guy is
the eldest. His brother has acted meanly. So has she. No, John, I
will NOT allow it."
"You will not allow what has already happened--what Providence has
permitted to happen? Ursula, you forget--they love one another."
This one fact--this solemn upholding of the pre-eminent right and law
of love,--which law John believed in, they both believed in, so
sacredly and firmly--appeared to force itself upon Mrs. Halifax's
mind. Her passion subsided.
"I cannot judge clearly. You can--always. Husband, help me!"
"Poor wife!--poor mother!" he muttered, caressing her, and in that
caress himself all but giving way--"Alas! that I should have brought
thee into such a sea of trouble."
Perhaps he referred to the circumstance of his bringing Miss Silver
into our house; perhaps to his own blindness, or want of parental
caution, in throwing the young people continually together. However,
John was not one to lament over things inevitable; or by overweening
blame of his own want of foresight, to imply a doubt of the
foreseeing of Providence.
"Love," he said, "I fear we have been too anxious to play Deus ex
machina with our children, forgetting in whose Hands are marrying and
giving in marriage--life's crosses and life's crowns. Trouble has
come when we looked not for it. We can but try to see the right
course, and seeing it, to act upon it."
Ursula assented--with a bursting heart it seemed--but still she
assented, believing, even as in her young days, that her husband's
will was wisest, best.
He told her, in few words, all that Edwin had that day confessed to
his father; how these two, being much together, had become attached
to one another, as young folks will--couples whom no one would ever
think suited each for each, except Nature, and the instinct of their
own hearts. Absorbed in this love--which, Edwin solemnly declared,
was never openly declared till this morning--they neither of them
thought of Guy. And thus things had befallen--things which no
earthly power could remove or obliterate--things in which, whatever
way we looked, all seemed darkness. We could but walk blindly on, a
step at a time, trusting to that Faith, of which all our lives past
had borne confirmation--the firm faith that evil itself is to the
simple and God-fearing but the disguised messenger of good.
Something like this John said, talking as his wife loved to hear him
talk--every quiet, low word dropping like balm upon her grieved
heart; not trying to deceive her into the notion that pain is not
pain, but showing her how best to bear it. At length she looked up,
as if with God's help--and her husband's comforting--she could bear
"Only one thing--Guy does not know. He need not know just yet--not
till he is stronger. Surely, Edwin will not tell him?"
"No; he promised me he would not. Do not start so. Indeed, there is
But that very assurance seemed to rouse it. She began straining her
ears to catch the least noise in the rooms overhead--the boys' rooms.
Guy and Walter shared one; Edwin had his to himself,
"They surely will not meet. Yet Guy sometimes likes sitting over
Edwin's fire. Hark!--was not that the creaking of Guy's room-door?"
"Love--" detaining her.
"I know, John. I am not thinking of going. Guy might suspect
something. No, indeed I am not afraid. They were always fond of one
She sat down, violently forcing herself not to listen, not to fear.
But the truth was too strong for her.
"Hark! I am sure they are talking. John, you said Edwin promised?"
"But if, by some accident, Guy found out the truth? Hark! they are
talking very loud. That is a chair fallen. Oh, John--don't keep me!
My boys--my boys." And she ran up-stairs in an agony.
What a sight for a mother's eyes. Two brothers of whom it had been
our boast that from babyhood they had never been known to lift a hand
against each other--now struggling together like Cain and Abel. And
from the fury in their faces, the quarrel might have had a similar
"Guy!--Edwin!" But the mother might as well have shrieked to the
The father came and parted them. "Boys, are you gone mad? fighting
like brutes in this way. Shame, Guy! Edwin, I trusted you."
"I could not help it, father. He had no right to steal into my room;
no right to snatch her letter from me."
"It was her letter, then?" cried Guy, furiously. "She writes to you?
You were writing back to her?"
Edwin made no answer; but held out his hand for the letter, with that
look of white passion in him so rarely seen--perhaps not thrice since
his infancy. Guy took no heed.
"Give it me back, Guy; I warn you."
"Not till I have read it. I have a right."
"You have none. She is mine."
"Yours?" Guy laughed in his face.
"Yes, mine. Ask my father--ask my mother. They know."
"Mother!"--the letter fell from the poor lad's hand. "Mother, YOU
would not deceive me. He only says it to vex me. I was in a
passion, I know. Mother, it isn't true?"
His piteous tone--the almost childish way in which he caught at her
sleeve, as she turned from him--ah, poor Guy!
"Edwin, is it my brother Edwin? Who would have thought it?"
Half-bewildered, he looked from one to the other of us all; but no
one spoke, no one contradicted him.
Edwin, his passion quite gone, stooped in a sorrowful and humble way
to pick up his betrothed's letter. Then Guy flew at him, and caught
him by the collar.
"You coward!--how dared you?--No, I won't hurt him; she is fond of
him. Go away, every one of you. Oh, mother, mother, mother!"
He fell on her neck, sobbing. She gathered him in her arms, as she
had used to do in his childhood; and so we left them.
"AS ONE WHOM HIS MOTHER COMFORTETH."
Ay, Prophet of Israel, thou wert wise.
John and I sat over the study fire till long after midnight.
Many an anxious watch I had kept with him, but none sadder than this.
Because now, for the first time, our house was divided against
itself. A sorrow had entered it, not from without but from within--a
sorrow which we could not meet and bear, as a family. Alas! darker
and darker had the bitter truth forced itself upon us, that neither
joy nor affliction would ever find us as a family again.
I think all parents must feel cruelly a pang like this--the first
trouble in which they cannot help their children--the first time when
those children must learn to stand alone, each for himself, compelled
to carry his own burthen and work out, well or ill, his individual
life. When the utmost the wisest or tenderest father can do, is to
keep near with outstretched hand that the child may cling to, assured
of finding sympathy, counsel, and love.
If this father had stood aloof all his life, on some pinnacle of
paternal "pride," paternal "dignity"--if he had not made himself his
boys' companion, counsellor, and friend, how great would have been
his terrors now!
For, as we both knew well--too well to trust ourselves to say it--if
there was one thing in the world that ruins a lad, drives him to
desperation, shuts the door of home upon him, and opens many another
door, of which the entrance is the very gate of hell--it is such a
disappointment as this which had happened to our Guy.
His father saw it all. Saw it clearer, crueller, than even his
mother could see. Yet when, very late, almost at dawn, she came in,
with the tidings that Guy was himself again now--sleeping as quietly
as a child--her husband was able to join in her deep thankfulness,
and give her hope for the days to come.
"But what is to be done with Guy?"
"God knows," John answered. But his tone expressed a meaning
different from that generally conveyed in the words: a meaning which
the mother caught at once, and rested on.
"Ay--you are right. He knows!"--And so they went away together,
Next morning, I woke late; the sunshine falling across my bed, and
the sparrows chattering loud in the ivy. I had been dreaming, with a
curious pertinacity, of the old days at Rose Cottage, the days when
John first fell in love with Ursula.
"Uncle Phineas." I heard myself called.
It was John's son, who sat opposite, with wan, wild eyes, and a
settled anguish on his mouth--that merry, handsome mouth--the only
really handsome mouth in the family.
"You are up early, my boy."
"What was the good of lying in bed? I am not ill. Besides, I wish
to go about as usual. I don't wish anybody to think that--that I
He stopped--evidently fighting hard against himself. A new lesson,
alas! for our Guy.
"Was I too violent last night? I did not mean it. I mean to be a
man. Not the first man whom a lady has refused--eh?" And braving it
out, he began to whistle; but the lips fell--the frank brow grew
knotted with pain. The lad broke into a passion of misery.
The chief bitterness was that he had been deceived. Unwittingly, we
well believed--but still deceived. Many little things he told me--
Guy's was a nature that at once spent and soothed itself by talking--
of Miss Silver's extreme gentleness and kindness towards him; a
kindness which seemed so like, so cruelly like love.
"Love!--Oh, she loved me. She told me so. Of course!--I was Edwin's
Ay, there was the sting, which never could be removed; which might
rankle in the boy's heart for life. He had not only lost his love,
but what is more precious than love--faith in womankind. He began to
make light of his losings--to think the prize was not so great after
all. He sat on my bed, singing--Guy had a fine voice and ear--
singing out of mockery, songs which I had an especial aversion to--
light songs written by an Irishman, Mr. Thomas Moore, about girls and
wine, and being "far from the lips we love," but always ready enough
"to make love to the lips we are near." Then, laughing at me, he
threw up the window and looked out.
I think it was wrong of those two, wrong and selfish, as all lovers
are--young lovers in the flush of their happiness; I think it was
cruel of Edwin and Louise to walk up and down there in the elder
brother's very eyes.
For a moment he struggled against his passion.
"Uncle Phineas, just look here. How charming! Ha, ha! Did you ever
see such a couple of fools?"
Fools, maybe, but happy; happy to the very core--thoroughly engrossed
in their happiness. The elder brother was almost maddened by it.
"He must mind what he does--tell him so, Uncle Phineas--it would be
safer. He MUST mind, or I will not answer for myself. I was fond of
Edwin--I was indeed--but now it seems sometimes as if I HATED him."
"Oh, if it had been a stranger, and not he! If it had been any one
in the world except my brother!"
And in that bitter cry the lad's heart melted again; it was such a
tender heart--his mother's heart.
After a time he recovered himself, and came down with me to
breakfast, as he had insisted upon doing; met them all, even Miss
Silver--and Edwin, who had placed himself by her side with an air of
right. These lovers, however deeply grieved they looked--and, to do
justice, it was really so--needed not to be grieved over by any of
Nor, looking at the father and mother, would we have dared to grieve
over THEM. In the silent watches of the night, heart to heart,
husband and wife had taken council together; together had carried
their sorrow to the only Lightener of burthens. It seemed that
theirs was lightened; that even in this strange entanglement of fate
they were able to wait patiently--trusting unto the Almighty Mercy
not only themselves but the children He had given them.
When, breakfast being over, John according to his custom read the
chapter and the prayer--no one rose up or went out; no one refused,
even in this anguish of strife, jealousy, and disunion--to repeat
after him the "Our Father" of their childhood.
I believe every one of us remembered for years, with an awe that was
not altogether pain, this morning's chapter and prayer.
When it was ended, worldly troubles closed round us again.
Nothing seemed natural. We hung about in twos and threes, uncertain
what to do. Guy walked up and down, alone. His mother asked him if,
seeing his foot was so well, he would like to go down to the mills as
usual; but he declined. Miss Silver made some suggestion about
"lessons," which Edwin jealously negatived immediately, and proposed
that she and Maud should take a drive somewhere.
Mrs. Halifax eagerly assented. "Lady Oldtower has been wanting them
both for some time. You would like to go, would you not, for a day
or two?" said she, addressing the governess.
Guy caught at this. "Going away, are you? When?"
He put the question to Miss Silver direct--his eyes blazing right
into her own. She made some confused reply, about "leaving
"In the carriage, of course? Shall I have the honour of driving
"No," said Edwin, decisively.
A fierce, vindictive look passed between the brothers--a look
terrible in itself--more terrible in its warning of days to come. No
wonder the mother shuddered--no wonder the young betrothed, pale and
alarmed, slipped out of the room. Edwin followed her. Then Guy,
snatching up his sister, lifted her roughly on his knee.
"Come along, Maud. You'll be my girl now. Nobody else wants you.
Kiss me, child."
But the little lady drew back.
"So, you hate me too? Edwin has been teaching you? Very well. Get
away, you cheat!"
He pushed her violently aside. Maud began to cry.
Her father looked up from his book--the book he had not been reading-
-though he had seemingly thought it best to take no notice of what
was passing around him.
"Come here, Maud, my child. Guy, you should not be unkind to your
little sister. Try and command yourself, my dear boy!"
The words, though spoken gently, almost in a whisper, were more than
the lad's chafed spirit could brook.
"Father, you insult me. I will not bear it. I will quit the room."
He went out, shutting the door passionately after him. His mother
rose up to follow him--then sat down again. The eyes that she lifted
to her husband were deprecating, beseeching, heavy with a speechless
For John--he said nothing. Not though, as was plain to see, this,
the first angry or disrespectful word he had ever received from any
one of his children, struck him like an arrow; for a moment stirred
him even to wrath--holy wrath--the just displeasure of a father who
feels that the least portion of his child's sin is the sin against
him. Perhaps this very feeling, distinct from, and far beyond, all
personal indignation, all sense of offended dignity, made the anger
strangely brief--so brief, that when the other children, awed and
startled, looked for some ebullition of it--lo! it was all gone. In
its stead was something at which the children, more awed still, crept
out of the room.
Ursula even, alarmed, looked in his face as if for the first time she
could not comprehend her husband.
"John, you should forgive poor Guy! he did not intend any harm."
"And he is so very miserable. Never before did he fail in his duty
"But what if I have failed in mine to him?--What if--you used to say
I could not understand Guy--what if I have come short towards him?
I, that am accountable to God for every one of my children."
"John--John"--she knelt down and put her arms round his neck.
"Husband, do not look unhappy. I did not mean to blame you--we may
be wrong, both of us--all of us. But we will not be afraid. We know
Who pities us, even as we pity our children."
Thus she spoke, and more to the same purport; but it was a long time
before her words brought any consolation. Then the parents talked
together, trying to arrange some plan whereby Guy's mind might be
occupied and soothed, or else Edwin removed out of his sight for a
little while. Once I hinted at the advantage of Guy's leaving home;
but Mrs. Halifax seemed to shrink from this project as though it were
a foreboding of perpetual exile.
"No, no; anything but that. Beside, Guy would not wish it. He has
never left me in his life. His going would seem like the general
breaking up of the family."
Alas! she did not, would not see that the family was already
"broken." Broken, more than either absence, marriage, or death
itself could have effected.
One thing more we had to consider--a thing at once natural and right
in any family, namely, how to hide its wounds from the chattering,
scandalous world. And so, when by a happy chance there came over
that morning our good friend Lady Oldtower and her carriage full of
daughters, Mrs. Halifax communicated, with a simple dignity that
quelled all comment, the fact of "my son Edwin's engagement," and
accepted the invitation for Maud and Miss Silver, which was willingly
repeated and pressed.
One thing I noticed, that in speaking of or to the girl who in a
single day from merely the governess had become, and was sedulously
treated as, our own, Mrs. Halifax invariably called her, as
heretofore, "Miss Silver," or "my dear;" never by any chance
"Louise," or "Mademoiselle D'Argent."
Before she left Beechwood, Edwin came in and hurriedly spoke to his
mother. What he said was evidently painful to both.
"I am not aware of it, Edwin; I had not the slightest intention of
offending her. Is she already made your judge and referee as to the
actions of your mother?"
Edwin was a good lad, though perhaps a little less loving than the
rest of the boys. His self-restraint, his exceeding patience, lulled
the threatened storm.
"But you will be kind to her, mother?--I know you will."
"Did I not say so?"
"And may I bring her to you here?"
"If you choose."
It was the first open recognition between the mother and her son's
betrothed. Their other meeting had been in public, when, with a
sedulous dread, both had behaved exactly as usual, and no word or
manner had betrayed their altered relations. Now, when for the first
time it was needful for Miss Silver to be received as a daughter
elect, with all the natural sympathy due from one woman to another
under similar circumstances, all the warmth of kindness due from a
mother to her son's chosen wife--then the want, the mournful want,
made itself felt.
Mrs. Halifax stood at the dining-room window, trying vainly to regain
"If I could only love her! If only she had made me love her!" she
muttered, over and over again.
I hoped, from the bottom of my soul, that Edwin had not heard her--
had not seen her involuntarily recoil, as he led to his mother his
handsome girl that he seemed so proud of, his happy, affianced wife.
Happiness melts some natures, like spring and sunshine. Louise
looked up with swimming eyes.
"Oh! be kind to me! Nobody was ever kind to me till I came here!"
The good heart gave way: Mrs. Halifax opened her arms.
"Be true to Edwin--love Edwin, and I shall love you--I am sure I
Kissing her once or twice, the mother let fall a few tears; then sat
down, still keeping the girl's hand, and busying herself with various
little kindnesses about her.
"Are you sure you are well wrapped up? Edwin, see that she has my
fur cloak in the carriage. What cold fingers! Have some wine before
you start, my dear."
Miss Silver altogether melted; sobbing, she murmured something about
"Nay, did I say a word about forgiveness? Then, do not you. Let us
be patient--we shall all be happy in time."
"Guy will be himself soon," returned the mother, rather proudly. "We
will not mention him, if you please, my dear."
At this moment, Guy must have heard the carriage-wheels and guessed
Miss Silver was going, for he appeared at the parlour door. He found
his mother toying with Miss Silver's hand; Edwin standing by, proud
and glad, with his arm clasped round Louise.
He did not remove it. In his brother's very face--perhaps because of
the expression of that face--the lover held fast his own.
Mrs. Halifax rose up, alarmed. "She is just going, Guy. Shake
hands, and bid her good-bye."
The girl's hand, which was sorrowfully and kindly extended, Guy
snatched and held fast.
"Let her pass," cried Edwin, angrily.
"Most certainly. I have not the least wish to detain her. Good-bye!
A pleasant journey!" And, still keeping her hand, he gazed with
burning eyes on the features he had so loved--as boys do love--with a
wild imaginative passion, kindled by beauty alone. "I shall claim my
right--just for once--may I, sister Louise?"
With a glance of defiance at Edwin, Guy caught his brother's
betrothed round the waist and kissed her--once--twice--savagely.
It was done so suddenly and under such an ingenious disguise of
"right," that open vengeance was impossible. But as Edwin hurried
Louise away, the look that passed between the two young men was
enough to blot out henceforward all friendship, all brotherhood.
That insult would never be forgotten.
She was gone--the house was free of her and Edwin too. Guy was left
alone with me and his mother.
Mrs. Halifax sat sewing. She seemed to take no note of his comings
and goings--his restless starts--his fits of dark musing, when his
face grew like the face of some stranger, some one whom he would have
shrunk from--any one but our own merry Guy.
"Mother,"--the voice startled me, such irritable, intolerable
bitterness marred its once pleasant tones--"when do they come back?"
"Do you mean--"
"I mean those people."
"In a week or so. Your brother returns to-night, of course."
"My BROTHER, eh? Better not say it--it's an ugly word."
Mrs. Halifax attempted no reproof; she knew that it would have been
useless--worse than useless--then.
"Mother," Guy said at last, coming up and leaning against her chair,
"you must let me go."
"Where, my son?"
"Anywhere--out of their sight--those two. You see, I cannot bear it.
It maddens me--makes me wicked--makes me not myself. Or rather makes
me truly MYSELF, which is altogether wicked."
"No, Guy--no, my own boy. Have patience--all this will pass away."
"It might, if I had anything to do. Mother," kneeling down by her
with a piteous gaze--"mother, you need not look so wretched. I
wouldn't harm Edwin--would not take from him his happiness; but to
live in sight of it day after day, hour after hour--I can't do it!
Do not ask me--let me get away."
"Anywhere, as I said; only let me go far away from them, where no
possible news of them can reach me. In some place, oh, mother
darling! where I can trouble no one and make no one miserable."
The mother feebly shook her head. As if such a spot could be found
on earth, while SHE lived.
But she saw that Guy was right. To expect him to remain at home was
cruelty. As he had said, he could not bear it--few could. Few even
among women--of men much fewer. One great renunciation is possible,
sometimes easy, as death may be; but to "die daily?" In youth, too,
with all the passions vehement, the self-knowledge and self-control
small? No; Nature herself, in that universal desire to escape, which
comes with such a trial, hints at the unnaturalness of the ordeal; in
which, soon or late, the weak become paralysed or callous; the
strong--God help them!--are apt to turn wicked.
Guy's instinct of flight was, his mother felt, wisest, safest, best.
"My boy, you shall have your desire; you shall go."
I had not expected it of her--at least, not so immediately. I had
thought, bound up in him as she was, accustomed to his daily sight,
his daily fondness--for he was more with her, and "petted" her more
than any other of the children--I had thought to have seen some
reluctance, some grieved entreaty--but no! Not even when, gaining
her consent, the boy looked up as if her allowing him to quit her was
the greatest kindness she had ever in his life bestowed.
"And when shall I go?"
"Whenever you choose."
"To-day; perhaps I might get away to-day?"
"You can, if you wish, my dear boy."
But no sooner had she said it, than the full force and meaning of the
renunciation seemed to burst upon her. Her fingers, which had been
smoothing Guy's hand as it lay on her lap, tightly closed round it;
with the other hand she put back his hair, gazing--gazing, as if it
were impossible to part with him.
"Guy--oh, Guy, my heart is breaking! Promise that you will try to be
yourself again--that you will never be anything other than my own
good boy, if I agree to let you go?" What he answered, or what
further passed between them, was not for me either to hear or to
know. I left the room immediately.
When, some time after John's hour for returning from the mills, I
also returned to the house, I found that everything was settled for
Guy's immediate departure.
There was some business in Spain--something about Andalusian wool--
which his father made the ostensible reason for the journey. It
would occupy him and distract his mind, besides giving him constant
necessity of change. And, they say, travel is the best cure for the
heart-ache. We hoped it might prove so.
Perhaps the sorest point, and one that had been left undecided till
both parents saw that in Guy's present mood any opposition was
hurtful, even dangerous, was the lad's obstinate determination to
depart alone. He refused his mother's companionship to London, even
his father's across the country to the nearest point where one of
those new and dangerous things called railways tempted travellers to
their destruction. But Guy would go by it--the maddest and strangest
way of locomotion pleased him best. So it was settled he should go,
as he pleaded, this very day.
A strange day it seemed--long and yet how short! Mrs. Halifax was
incessantly busy. I caught sight of her now and then, flitting from
room to room, with Guy's books in her hand--Guy's linen thrown across
her arm. Sometimes she stood a few minutes by the window, doing a
few stitches of necessary work, which, when even nurse Watkins
offered to do--Jenny, who had been a rosy lass when Guy was born--she
refused abruptly, and went stitching on.
There were no regular meals that day; better not, perhaps. I saw
John come up to his wife as she stood sewing, and bring her a piece
of bread and a glass of wine--but she could not touch either.
"Mother, try," whispered Guy, mournfully. "What will become of me if
I have made you ill?"
"Oh, no fear, no fear!" She smiled, took the wine and swallowed it--
broke off a bit of the bread,--and went on with her work.
The last hour or two passed so confusedly that I do not well remember
them. I can only call to mind seeing Guy and his mother everywhere
side by side, doing everything together, as if grudging each instant
remaining till the final instant came. I have also a vivid
impression of her astonishing composure, of her calm voice when
talking to Guy about indefinite trifles, or, though that was seldom,
to any other of us. It never faltered--never lost its rich, round,
cheerfulness of tone; as if she wished him to carry it as such, and
no other--the familiar mother's voice--in his memory across the seas.
Once only it grew sharp, when Walter, who hovered about
disconsolately, knelt down to fasten his brother's portmanteau.
"No! Let go! I can do everything myself."
And now the time was fast flying--her boy must depart.
All the household collected in the hall to bid Mr. Guy good-bye--Mr.
Guy whom everybody was so fond of. They believed--which was all that
any one, save ourselves, ever knew--that sudden business had called
him away on a long and anxious journey. They lingered about him,
respectfully, with eager, honest blessings, such as it was good the
lad should have--good that he should bear away with him from England
and from home.
Finally, Guy, his father, and his mother went into the study by
themselves. Soon even his father came out and shut the door, that
there should be not a single witness to the last few words between
mother and son. These being over, they both came into the hall
together, brave and calm--which calmness was maintained even to the
Thus we sent our Guy away, cheerfully and with blessings--away into
the wide, dangerous world; alone, with no guard or restraint, except
(and in that EXCEPT lay the whole mystery of our cheerfulness)--the
fear of God, his father's counsels, and his mother's prayers.
Two years rolled over Beechwood--two uneventful years. The last of
the children ceased to be a child; and we prepared for that great era
in all household history, the first marriage in the family. It was
to be celebrated very quietly, as Edwin and Louise both desired.
Time had healed over many a pang, and taught many a soothing lesson;
still it could not be supposed that this marriage was without its
Guy still remained abroad; his going had produced the happy result
intended. Month after month his letters came, each more hopeful than
the last, each bringing balm to the mother's heart. Then he wrote to
others beside his mother: Maud and Walter replied to him in long
home-histories; and began to talk without hesitation--nay, with great
pride and pleasure--"of my brother who is abroad."
The family wound was closing, the family peace about to be restored;
Maud even fancied Guy ought to come home to "our wedding;"--but then
she had never been told the whole of past circumstances; and,
besides, she was still too young to understand love matters. Yet so
mercifully had time smoothed down all things, that it sometimes
appeared even to us elders as if those three days of bitterness were
a mere dream--as if the year we dreaded had passed as calmly as any
other year. Save that in this interval Ursula's hair had begun to
turn from brown to grey; and John first mentioned, so cursorily that
I cannot even now remember when or where, that slight pain, almost
too slight to complain of, which he said warned him in climbing
Enderley Hill that he could not climb so fast as when he was young.
And I returned his smile, telling him we were evidently growing old
men; and must soon set our faces to descend the hill of life. Easy
enough I was in saying this, thinking, as I often did, with great
content, that there was not the faintest doubt which of us would
reach the bottom first.
Yet I was glad to have safely passed my half century of life--glad to
have seen many of John's cares laid to rest, more especially those
external troubles which I have not lately referred to--for, indeed,
they were absorbed and forgotten in the home-troubles that came
after. He had lived down all slanders, as he said he would. Far and
near travelled the story of the day when Jessop's bank was near
breaking; far and near, though secretly--for we found it out chiefly
by its results--poor people whispered the tale of a gentleman who had
been attacked on the high roads, and whose only attempt at bringing
the robbers to justice was to help the widow of one and send the
others safe out of the country, at his own expense, not Government's.
None of these were notable or showy deeds--scarcely one of them got,
even under the disguise of asterisks, into the newspaper; the Norton
Bury Mercury, for its last dying sting, still complained (and very
justly) that there was not a gentleman in the county whose name so
seldom headed a charity subscription as that of John Halifax,
Esquire, of Beechwood. But the right made its way, as, soon or late,
the right always does; he believed his good name was able to defend
itself, and it did defend itself; he had faith in the only victory
worth having--the universal victory of Truth; and Truth conquered at
To drive with him across the country--he never carried pistols now,--
or to walk with him, as one day before Edwin's wedding we walked, a
goodly procession, through the familiar streets of Norton Bury, was a
perpetual pleasure to the rest of the family. Everybody knew him,
everybody greeted him, everybody smiled as he passed--as though his
presence and his recognition were good things to have and to win.
His wife often laughed, and said she doubted whether even Mr.
O'Connell of Derrynane, who was just now making a commotion in
Ireland, lighting the fire of religious and political discord from
one end to the other of County Clare;--she doubted if even Daniel
O'Connell had more popularity among his own people than John Halifax
had in the primitive neighbourhood where he had lived so long.
Mrs. Halifax herself was remarkably gay this morning. She had had
letters from Guy; together with a lovely present, for which he said
he had ransacked all the magazins des modes in Paris--a white
embroidered China shawl. It had arrived this morning--Lord Ravenel
being the bearer. This was not the first time by many that he had
brought us news of our Guy, and thereby made himself welcome at
Beechwood. More welcome than he might have been otherwise; for his
manner of life was so different from ours. Not that Lord Ravenel
could be accused of any likeness to his father; but blood is blood,
and education and habits are not to be easily overcome. The boys
laughed at him for his aristocratic, languid ways; Maud teased him
for his mild cynicism and the little interest he seemed to take in
anything; while the mother herself was somewhat restless about his
coming, wondering what possible good his acquaintance could do to us,
or ours to him, seeing we moved in totally different spheres. But
John himself was invariably kind, nay, tender over him--we all
guessed why. And perhaps even had not the young man had so many good
points, while his faults were more negations than positive ill
qualities, we likewise should have been tender over him--for Muriel's
He had arrived at Beechwood this morning, and falling as usual into
our family routine, had come with us to Norton Bury. He looked up
with more interest than usual in his pensive eyes, as he crossed the
threshold of our old house, and told Maud how he had come there many
years ago with his father.
"That was the first time I ever met your father," I overheard him say
to Maud--not without feeling; as if he thought he owed fate some
gratitude for the meeting.
Mrs. Halifax, in the casual civil inquiry which was all the old earl
ever won in our house, asked after the health of Lord Luxmore.
"He is still at Compiegne. Does not Guy mention him? Lord Luxmore
takes the greatest pleasure in Guy's society."
By her start, this was evidently new and not welcome tidings to Guy's
mother. No wonder. Any mother in England would have shrank from the
thought that her best-beloved son--especially a young man of Guy's
temperament, and under Guy's present circumstances--was thrown into
the society which now surrounded the debauched dotage of the
too-notorious Earl of Luxmore.
"My son did not mention it. He has been too much occupied in
business matters to write home frequently, since he reached Paris.
However his stay there is limited;" and this seemed to relieve her.
"I doubt if he will have much time left to visit Compiegne."
She said no more than this, of course, to Lord Luxmore's son; but her
disquiet was sufficiently apparent.
"It was I who brought your son to Compiegne--where he is a universal
favourite, from his wit and liveliness. I know no one who is a more
pleasant companion than Guy."
Guy's mother bowed--but coldly.
"I think, Mrs. Halifax, you are aware that the earl's tastes and mine
differ widely--have always differed. But he is an old man, and I am
his only son. He likes to see me sometimes, and I go:--though, I
must confess, I take little pleasure in the circle he has around
"In which circle, as I understand, my son is constantly included?"
"Why not? It is a very brilliant circle. The whole court of Charles
Dix can afford none more amusing. For the rest, what matters? One
learns to take things as they seem, without peering below the
surface. One wearies of impotent Quixotism against unconquerable
"That is not our creed at Beechwood," said Mrs. Halifax, abruptly, as
she ceased the conversation. But ever and anon it seemed to recur to
her mind--ay, through all the mirth of the young people, all the
graver pleasure which the father took in the happiness of his son
Edwin; his good son, who had never given him a single care. He
declared this settling of Edwin had been to him almost like the days
when he himself used to come of evenings, hammer in hand, to put up
shelves in the house, or nail the currant-bushes against the wall,
doing everything con amore, and with the utmost care, knowing it
would come under the quick observant eyes of Ursula March.
"That is, of Ursula Halifax--for I don't think I let her see a single
one of my wonderful doings until she was Ursula Halifax. Do you
remember, Phineas, when you came to visit us the first time, and
found us gardening?"
"And she had on a white gown and a straw hat with blue ribbons. What
a young thing she looked!--hardly older than Mistress Maud here."
John put his arm round his wife's waist--not so slender as it had
been, but comely and graceful still, repeating--with something of the
musical cadence of his boyish readings of poetry--a line or two from
the sweet old English song:
"And when with envy Time transported
Shall think to rob us of our joys,
You'll in your girls again be courted,
And I'll go wooing with my boys."
Ursula laughed, and for the time being the shadow passed from her
countenance. Her husband had happily not noticed it: and
apparently, she did not wish to tell him her trouble. She let him
spend a happy day, even grew happy herself in response to his care to
make her so, by the resolute putting away of all painful present
thoughts, and calling back of sweet and soothing memories belonging
to this their old married home. John seemed determined that, if
possible, the marriage that was to be should be as sacred and as
hopeful as their own.
So full of it were we all, that not until the day after, when Lord
Ravenel had left us,--longing apparently to be asked to stay for the
wedding, but John did not ask him,--I remembered what he had said
about Guy's association with Lord Luxmore's set. It was recalled to
me by the mother's anxious face, as she gave me a foreign letter to
"Post it yourself, will you, Phineas? I would not have it miscarry,
or be late in its arrival, on any account."
No, for I saw it was to her son, at Paris.
"It will be the last letter I shall need to write," she added, again
lingering over it, to be certain that all was correct--the address
being somewhat illegible for that free, firm hand of hers. "My boy
is coming home."
"Guy coming home! To the marriage?"
"No; but immediately after. He is quite himself now. He longs to
"And his mother?"
His mother could not speak. Like light to her eyes, like life to her
heart, was the thought of Guy's coming home. All that week she
looked ten years younger. With a step buoyant as any girl's she went
about the marriage preparations; together with other preparations,
perhaps dearer still to the motherly heart, where, if any preference
did lurk, it was for the one for whom--possibly from whom--she had
suffered most, of all her children.
John, too, though the father's joy was graver and not unmixed with
some anxiety--anxiety which he always put aside in his wife's
presence--seemed eager to have his son at home.
"He is the eldest son," he repeated more than once, when talking to
me of his hope that Guy would now settle permanently at Beechwood.
"After myself, the head of the family."
After John! It was almost ridiculous to peer so far into the future
Of all the happy faces I saw the day before the marriage, I think the
happiest was Mrs. Halifax's, as I met her coming out of Guy's room,
which ever since he left had been locked up, unoccupied. Now his
mother threw open the door with a cheerful air.
"You may go in if you like, Uncle Phineas. Does it not look nice?"
It did indeed, with the fresh white curtains; the bed laid all in
order; the book-shelves arranged, and even the fowling-piece and
fishing-rod put in the right places.
The room looked very neat, I said, with an amused doubt as to how
long it was to remain so.
"That is true, indeed. How he used to throw his things about! A sad
untidy boy!" And his mother laughed; but I saw all her features were
trembling with emotion.
"He will not be exactly a boy now. I wonder if we shall find him
"Very likely. Brown, with a great beard; he said so in one of his
letters. I shall hardly know my boy again."--With a lighting-up of
the eye that furnished a flat contradiction to the mother's
"Here are some of Mrs. Tod's roses, I see."
"She made me take them. She said Master Guy always used to stop and
pick a bunch as he rode past. She hopes she shall see him ride past
on Sunday next. Guy must pay her one of his very first visits; the
good old soul!"
I hinted that Guy would have to pay visits half over the country, to
judge by the number of invitations I had heard of.
"Yes. Everybody wants to steal my boy. Everybody has a welcome for
him.--How bright old Watkins has polished that gun!--Sir Herbert
says, Guy must come over to the shooting next week. He used to be
exceedingly fond of going to the manor-house."
I smiled to see the innocent smile of this good mother, who would
have recoiled at the accusation of match-making. Yet I knew she was
thinking of her great favourite, pretty Grace Oldtower; who was Grace
Oldtower still, and had refused, 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 away."
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 up-stairs adorning themselves for church, Maud
and I, standing at the hall-door, saw Lord Ravenel's travelling
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
"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
"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 intently 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 proposed 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
arrival 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
"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
Lord Ravenel 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 tomorrow."
Lord Ravenel bowed again. Mrs. Halifax said something about this
unexpected arrival of his.
"He came on business," John answered quickly, and Ursula made no more
She stood, talking with Lord Ravenel--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 favourite silver-grey; a picture of matronly
grace and calm content, as charming as even the handsome, happy
I was still looking at her, when John called me aside. I followed
him to 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 terror.
"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 colour had scarcely come back
into his face when he 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 remember it?
Literally, mind! And post it at once, before we return from church."
Here the mother's call was heard. "John, are you coming?"
"In a moment, love," for her hand was on the door outside; 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 tonight."
"One word. Guy is alive and well?"
But Guy's father was gone while I spoke. Heavy as the news might be-
-this ill news which had struck me with apprehension the moment I saw
Lord Ravenel--it was still endurable. 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 procession--the mother first, leaning on
Edwin; then Maud, Walter, and Lord Ravenel; 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 nothing--a dull patience
came over me, the patience with which we often wait for unknown,
inevitable misfortunes. Sometimes 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 a 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 cheering--a mingled phantasmagoria of sights and sounds,
in which I only saw one person distinctly,--John.
He waited while the young folk 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
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
All this while, and at the marriage-breakfast likewise, Mr. Halifax
kept the same calm demeanour. 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 passing.
"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 principle, 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 evening."
She looked re-assured. "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 even on the carriage-step to embrace
his mother with especial tenderness, 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 Ravenel has
been to Paris and back since then. But--" turning full upon the
young nobleman--"I think you said you had not seen Guy?"
"Did you hear anything of him?"
Exceedingly distressed, almost beyond his power of self-restraint,
the young man looked appealingly to John, who replied for him:
"Lord Ravenel brought me a letter from Guy this morning."
"A letter from Guy--and you never told me. How very strange!"
Still, she seemed only to think it "strange." Some difficulty or
folly perhaps--you could see by the sudden flushing of her cheek,
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