John Halifax, Gentleman
Dinah Maria Mulock (Mrs. Craik)
Part 12 out of 12
Guy half smiled. "I will by and by. It's a long story. Just now I
don't want to think of anybody or anything except my mother."
He turned, as he did twenty times a day, to press his rough cheek
upon her hand and look up into her thin face, his eyes overflowing
"You must get well now, mother. Promise!"
Her smile promised--and even began the fulfilment of the same.
"I think she looks stronger already--does she, Maud? You know her
looks better than I; I don't ever remember her being ill in old
times. Oh, mother, I will never leave you again--never!"
"No, my boy."
"No, Guy, no."--John came in, and stood watching them both
contentedly. "No, my son, you must never leave your mother."
"I will not leave either of you, father," said Guy, with a reverent
affection that must have gladdened the mother's heart to the very
core. Resigning his place by her, Guy took Maud's, facing them; and
father and son began to talk of various matters concerning their home
and business arrangements; taking counsel together, as father and son
ought to do. These eight years of separation seemed to have brought
them nearer together; the difference between them--in age, far less
than between most fathers and sons, had narrowed into a
meeting-point. Never in all his life had Guy been so deferent, so
loving, to his father. And with a peculiar trust and tenderness,
John's heart turned to his eldest son, the heir of his name, his
successor at Enderley Mills. For, in order that Guy might at once
take his natural place, and feel no longer a waif and stray upon the
world, already a plan had been started, that the firm of Halifax and
Sons should become Halifax Brothers. Perhaps, ere very long--only
the mother said privately, rather anxiously too, that she did not
wish this part of the scheme to be mentioned to Guy just now--
perhaps, ere long it would be "Guy Halifax, Esquire, of Beechwood;"
and "the old people" at happy little Longfield.
As yet Guy had seen nobody but ourselves, and nobody had seen Guy.
Though his mother gave various good reasons why he should not make
his public appearance as a "ship-wrecked mariner," costume and all,
yet it was easy to perceive that she looked forward not without
apprehension to some meetings which must necessarily soon occur, but
to which Guy made not the smallest allusion. He had asked, cursorily
and generally, after "all my brothers and sisters," and been answered
in the same tone; but neither he nor we had as yet mentioned the
names of Edwin or Louise.
They knew he was come home; but how and where the first momentous
meeting should take place we left entirely to chance, or, more
rightly speaking, to Providence.
So it happened thus. Guy was sitting quietly on the sofa at his
mother's feet, and his father and he were planning together in what
way could best be celebrated, by our school-children, tenants, and
work-people, an event which we took a great interest in, though not
greater than in this year was taken by all classes throughout the
kingdom--the day fixed for the abolition of Negro Slavery in our
Colonies--the 1st of August, 1834. He sat in an attitude that
reminded me of his boyish lounging ways; the picture of content;
though a stream of sunshine pouring in upon his head, through the
closed Venetian blind, showed many a deep line of care on his
forehead, and more than one silver thread among his brown hair.
In a pause--during which no one exactly liked to ask what we were all
thinking about--there came a little tap at the door, and a little
"Please, me want to come in."
Maud jumped up to refuse admission; but Mr. Halifax forbade her, and
himself went and opened the door. A little child stood there--a
little girl of three years old.
Apparently guessing who she was, Guy rose up hastily, and sat down in
his place again.
"Come in, little maid," said the father; "come in, and tell us what
"Me want to see Grannie and Uncle Guy."
Guy started, but still he kept his seat. The mother took her
grandchild in her feeble arms, and kissed her, saying softly,
"There--that is Uncle Guy. Go and speak to him."
And then, touching his knees, Guy felt the tiny, fearless hand. He
turned round, and looked at the little thing, reluctantly,
inquisitively. Still he did not speak to or touch her.
"Are you Uncle Guy?"
"Why don't you kiss me? Everybody kisses me," said everybody's pet;
neither frightened nor shy; never dreaming of a repulse.
Nor did she find it. Her little fingers were suffered to cling round
the tightly-closed hand.
"What is your name, my dear?"
"Louise--mamma's little Louise."
Guy put back the curls, and gazed long and wistfully into the
childish face, where the inherited beauty was repeated line for line.
But softened, spiritualised, as, years after its burial, some ghost
of a man's old sorrows may rise up and meet him, the very spirit of
peace shining out of its celestial eyes.
"Little Louise, you are very like--"
He stopped--and bending down, kissed her. In that kiss vanished for
ever the last shadow of his boyhood's love. Not that he forgot it--
God forbid that any good man should ever either forget or be ashamed
of his first love! But it and all its pain fled far away, back into
the sacred eternities of dreamland.
When, looking up at last, he saw a large, fair, matronly lady sitting
by his mother's sofa, Guy neither started nor turned pale. It was
another, and not his lost Louise. He rose and offered her his hand.
"You see, your little daughter has made friends with me already. She
is very like you; only she has Edwin's hair. Where is my brother
"Here, old fellow. Welcome home."
The two brothers met warmly, nay, affectionately. Edwin was not
given to demonstration; but I saw how his features twitched, and how
he busied himself over the knots in his little girl's pinafore for a
minute or more. When he spoke again it was as if nothing had
happened and Guy had never been away.
For the mother, she lay with her arms folded, looking from one to the
other mutely, or closing her eyes with a faint stirring of the lips,
like prayer. It seemed as if she dared only THUS to meet her
Soon, Edwin and Louise left us for an hour or two, and Guy went on
with the history of his life in America and his partner who had come
home with him, and, like himself, had lost his all.
"Harder for him than for me; he is older than I am. He knew nothing
whatever of business when he offered himself as my clerk; since then
he has worked like a slave. In a fever I had he nursed me; he has
been to me these three years the best, truest friend. He is the
noblest fellow. Father, if you only knew--"
"Well, my son, let me know him. Invite the gentleman to Beechwood;
or shall I write and ask him? Maud, fetch me your mother's desk.
Now then, Guy--you are a very forgetful fellow still; you have never
yet told us your friend's name."
Guy looked steadily at his father, in his own straightforward way;
hesitated--then apparently made up his mind.
"I did not tell you because he wished me not; not till you understood
him as well as I do. You knew him yourself once--but he has wisely
dropped his title. Since he came over to me in America he has been
only Mr. William Ravenel."
This discovery--natural enough when one began to think over it, but
incredible at first, astounded us all. For Maud--well was it that
the little Louise seated in her lap hid and controlled in some
measure the violent agitation of poor Auntie Maud.
Ay--Maud loved him. Perhaps she had guessed the secret cause of his
departure, and love creates love often times. Then his brave
renunciation of rank, fortune, even of herself--women glory in a
moral hero--one who has strength to lose even love, and bear its
loss, for the sake of duty or of honour. His absence, too, might
have done much:--absence which smothers into decay a rootless fancy,
but often nourishes the least seed of a true affection into full-
flowering love. Ay--Maud loved him. How, or why, or when, at first
no one could tell--perhaps not even herself; but so it was, and her
parents saw it.
Both were deeply moved--her brother likewise.
"Father," he whispered, "have I done wrong? I did not know--how
could I guess?"
"No, no--my son. It is very strange--all things just now seem so
strange. Maud, my child,"--and John roused himself out of a long
silence into which he was falling,--"go, and take Louise to her
The girl rose, eager to get away. As she crossed the room--the
little creature clinging round her neck, and she clasping it close,
in the sweet motherliness of character which had come to her so
early--I thought--I hoped--
"Maud!" said John, catching her hand as she passed him by--"Maud is
not afraid of her father?"
"No,"--in troubled uncertainty--then with a passionate decision, as
if ashamed of herself--
She leaned over his chair-back and kissed him--then went out.
Guy told, in his own frank way, all the history of himself and
William Ravenel; how the latter had come to America, determined to
throw his lot for good or ill, to sink or swim, with Maud's brother--
chiefly, as Guy had slowly discovered, because he was Maud's brother.
At last--in the open boat, on the Atlantic, with death the great
revealer of all things staring them in the face--the whole secret
came out. It made them better than friends--brothers.
This was Guy's story, told with a certain spice of determination too,
as if--let his father's will be what it might, his own, which had now
also settled into the strong "family" will, was resolute on his
friend's behalf. Yet when he saw how grave, nay sad, the father sat,
he became humble again, and ended his tale even as he had begun, with
the entreaty--"Father, if you only knew--"
"My knowing and my judging seem to have been of little value, my son.
Be it so. There is One wiser than I--One in whose hands are the
issues of all things."
The sort of contrition with which he spoke--thus retracting, as it
costs most men so much to retract, a decision given however justly at
the time, but which fate has afterwards pronounced unjust, affected
his son deeply.
"Father, your decision was right--William says it was. He says also,
that it could not have been otherwise; that whatever he has become
since, he owes it all to you, and to what passed that day. Though he
loves her still, will never love any one else; yet he declares his
loss of her has proved his salvation."
"He is right," said Mrs. Halifax. "Love is worth nothing that will
not stand trial--a fiery trial, if needs be. And as I have heard
John say many and many a time--as he said that very night--in this
world there is not, ought not to be, any such words as 'too late.'"
John made no answer. He sat, his chin propped on his right hand, the
other pressed against his bosom--his favourite attitude. Once or
twice, with a deep-drawn, painful breath, he sighed.
Guy's eagerness could not rest. "Father, I told him I would either
write to or see him to-day."
"Where is he?"
"At Norton Bury. Nothing could induce him to come here, unless
certain that you desired it."
"I do desire it."
Guy started up with great joy. "Shall I write, then?"
"I will write myself."
But John's hand shook so much, that instead of his customary free,
bold writing, he left only blots upon the page. He leant back in his
chair, and said faintly--
"I am getting an old man, I see. Guy, it was high time you came
Mrs. Halifax thought he was tired, and made a place for his head on
her pillow, where he rested some minutes, "just to please her," he
said. Then he rose and declared he would himself drive over to
Norton Bury for our old friend.
"Nay, let me write, father. To-morrow will do just as well."
The father shook his head. "No--it must be to-day."
Bidding good-bye to his wife--he never by any chance quitted her for
an hour without a special tender leave-taking--John went away.
Guy was, he avouched, "as happy as a king." His old liveliness
returned; he declared that in this matter, which had long weighed
heavily on his mind, he had acted like a great diplomatist, or like
the gods themselves, whom some unexacting, humble youth calls upon to
"Annihilate both time and space,
And make two lovers happy!"
"And I'm sure I shall be happy too, in seeing them. They shall be
married immediately. And we'll take William into partnership--that
was a whim of his, mother--we call one another 'Guy' and 'William,'
just like brothers. Heigho! I'm very glad. Are not you?"
The mother smiled.
"You will soon have nobody left but me. No matter. I shall have you
all to myself, and be at once a spoiled child, and an uncommonly
merry old bachelor."
Again the mother smiled, without reply. She, too, doubtless thought
herself a great diplomatist.
William Ravenel--he was henceforward never anything to us but
William--came home with Mr. Halifax. First, the mother saw him; then
I heard the father go to the maiden bower where Maud had shut herself
up all day--poor child!--and fetch his daughter down. Lastly, I
watched the two--Mr. Ravenel and Miss Halifax--walk together down the
garden and into the beech-wood, where the leaves were whispering and
the stock-doves cooing; and where, I suppose, they told and listened
to the old tale--old as Adam--yet for ever beautiful and new.
That day was a wonderful day. That night we gathered, as we never
thought we should gather again in this world, round the family table-
-Guy, Edwin, Walter, Maud, Louise, and William Ravenel--all changed,
yet not one lost. A true love-feast it was: a renewed celebration
of the family bond, which had lasted through so much sorrow, now
knitted up once more, never to be broken.
When we came quietly to examine one another and fall into one
another's old ways, there was less than one might have expected even
of outward change. The table appeared the same; all took
instinctively their old places, except that the mother lay on her
sofa and Maud presided at the urn.
It did one's heart good to look at Maud, as she busied herself about,
in her capacity as vice-reine of the household; perhaps, with a
natural feeling, liking to show some one present how mature and
sedate she was--not so very young after all. You could see she felt
deeply how much he loved her--how her love was to him like the
restoring of his youth. The responsibility, sweet as it was, made
her womanly, made her grave. She would be to him at once wife and
child, plaything and comforter, sustainer and sustained. Ay, love
levels all things. They were not ill-matched, in spite of those
And so I left them, and went and sat with John and Ursula--we, the
generation passing away, or ready to pass, in Heaven's good time, to
make room for these. We talked but little, our hearts were too full.
Early, before anybody thought of moving, John carried his wife
up-stairs again, saying that, well as she looked, she must be
compelled to economise both her good looks and her happiness.
When he came down again he stood talking for some time with Mr.
Ravenel. While he talked I thought he looked wearied--pallid even to
exhaustion; a minute or two afterwards he silently left the room.
I followed him, and found him leaning against the chimney-piece in
"Who's that?" He spoke feebly; he looked--ghastly!
I called him by his name.
"Come in. Fetch no one. Shut the door."
The words were hoarse and abrupt, but I obeyed.
"Phineas," he said, again holding out a hand, as if he thought he had
grieved me; "don't mind. I shall be better presently. I know quite
well what it is--ah, my God--my God!"
Sharp, horrible pain--such as human nature shrinks from--such as
makes poor mortal flesh cry out in its agony to its Maker, as if, for
the time being, life itself were worthless at such a price. I know
now what it must have been; I know now what he must have endured.
He held me fast, half unconscious as he was, lest I should summon
help; and when a step was heard in the passage, as once before--the
day Edwin was married--how, on a sudden, I remembered all!--he
tottered forward and locked, double-locked, the door.
After a few minutes the worst suffering abated, and he sat down again
in his chair. I got some water; he drank, and let me bathe his face
with it--his face, grey and death-like--John's face!
But I am telling the bare facts--nothing more.
A few heavy sighs, gasped as it were for life, and he was himself
"Thank God, it is over now! Phineas, you must try and forget all you
have seen. I wish you had not come to the door."
He said this, not in any tone that could wound me, but tenderly, as
if he were very sorry for me.
"What is it?"
"There is no need for alarm;--no more than that day--you recollect?--
in this room. I had an attack once before then--a few times since.
It is horrible pain while it lasts, you see; I can hardly bear it.
But it goes away again, as you also see. It would be a pity to tell
my wife, or anybody; in fact, I had rather not. You understand?"
He spoke thus in a matter-of-fact way, as if he thought the
explanation would satisfy me and prevent my asking further. He was
"John, what is it?"
"What is it? Why, something like what I had then; but it comes
rarely, and I am well again directly. I had much rather not talk
about it. Pray forget it."
But I could not; nor, I thought, could he. He took up a book and sat
still; though often times I caught his eyes fixed on my face with a
peculiar earnestness, as if he would fain test my strength--fain find
out how much I loved him; and loving, how much I could bear.
"You are not reading, John; you are thinking--what about?"
He paused a little, as if undetermined whether or not to tell me;
then said: "About your father. Do you remember him?"
I looked surprised at the question.
"I mean, do you remember how he died?"
Somehow--though, God knows, not at that dear and sacred remembrance--
I shuddered. "Yes; but why should we talk of it now?"
"Why not? I have often thought what a happy death it was--painless,
instantaneous, without any wasting sickness beforehand--his sudden
passing from life present to life eternal. Phineas, your father's
was the happiest death I ever knew."
"It may be--I am not sure. John," for again something in his look
and manner struck me--"why do you say this to me?"
"I scarcely know. Yes, I do know."
"Tell me, then."
He looked at me across the table--steadily, eye to eye, as if he
would fain impart to my spirit the calmness that was in his own. "I
believe, Phineas, that when I die my death will be not unlike your
Something came wildly to my lips about "impossibility," the utter
impossibility, of any man's thus settling the manner of his death, or
"I know that. I know that I may live ten or twenty years, and die of
another disease after all."
"Nay--it is nothing to be afraid of. You see I am not afraid. I
have guessed it for many years. I have known it for a certainty ever
since I was in Paris."
"Were you ill in Paris?--You never said so."
"No--because--Phineas, do you think you could bear the truth? You
know it makes no real difference. I shall not die an hour sooner for
being aware of it."
"Aware of--what? Say quickly."
"Dr. K---- told me--I was determined to be told--that I had the
disease I suspected; beyond medical power to cure. It is not
immediately fatal; he said I might live many years, even to old age;
and I might die, suddenly, at any moment, just as your father died."
He said this gently and quietly--more quietly than I am writing the
words down now; and I listened--I listened.
I felt the pressure of his warm hand on my shoulder--the hand which
had led me like a brother's all my life.
"Phineas, we have known one another these forty years. Is our love,
our faith, so small, that either of us, for himself or his brother,
need be afraid of death?--"
"Phineas!"--and the second time he spoke there was some faint
reproach in the tone; "no one knows this but you. I see I was right
to hesitate; I almost wish I had not told you at all."
Then I rose.
At my urgent request, he explained to me fully and clearly the whole
truth. It was, as most truths are, less terrible when wholly known.
It had involved little suffering as yet, the paroxysms being few and
rare. They had always occurred when he was alone, or when feeling
them coming on he could go away and bear them in solitude.
"I have always been able to do so until to-night. She has not the
least idea--my wife, I mean."
His voice failed.
"It has been terrible to me at times, the thought of my wife.
Perhaps I ought to have told her. Often I resolved I would, and then
changed my mind. Latterly, since she has been ill, I have believed,
almost hoped, that she would not need to be told at all."
"Would you rather, then, that she--"
John calmly took up the word I shrank from uttering. "Yes; I would
rather of the two that she went away first. She would suffer less,
and it would be such a short parting."
He spoke as one would speak of a new abode, an impending journey. To
him the great change, the last terror of humanity, was a thought--
solemn indeed, but long familiar and altogether without fear. And,
as we sat there, something of his spirit passed into mine; I felt how
narrow is the span between the life mortal and the life immortal--
how, in truth, both are one with God.
"Ay," he said, "that is exactly what I mean. To me there is always
something impious in the 'preparing for death' that people talk
about; as if we were not continually, whether in the flesh or out of
it, living in the Father's presence; as if, come when He will, the
Master should not find all of us watching? Do you remember saying so
to me, one day?"
Ah, that day!
"Does it pain you, my talking thus? Because if so, we will cease."
"That is right. I thought, this attack having been somewhat worse
than my last, some one ought to be told. It has been a comfort to me
to tell you--a great comfort, Phineas. Always remember that."
I have remembered it.
"Now, one thing more, and my mind is at ease. You see, though I may
have years of life--I hope I shall--many busy years--I am never sure
of a day, and I have to take many precautions. At home I shall be
quite safe now." He smiled again, with evident relief. "And rarely
I go anywhere without having one of my boys with me. Still, for
He showed me his pocket-book; on a card bearing his name and address
was written in his own legible hand, "HOME, AND TELL MY WIFE
I returned the book. As I did so, there dropped out a little note--
all yellow and faded--his wife's only "love-letter,"--signed, "Yours
sincerely, Ursula March."
John picked it up, looked at it, and put it back in its place.
"Poor darling! poor darling!" He sighed, and was silent for a while.
"I am very glad Guy has come home; very glad that my little Maud is
so happily settled. Hark! how those children are laughing!"
For the moment a natural shade of regret crossed the father's face,
the father to whom all the delights of home had been so dear. But it
"How merry they are!--how strangely things have come about for us and
ours! As Ursula was saying to-night, at this moment we have not a
I grasped at that, for Dr. K---- had declared that if John had a
quiet life--a life without many anxieties--he might, humanly
speaking, attain a good old age.
"Ay, your father did. Who knows? we may both be old men yet,
And as he rose, he looked strong in body and mind, full of health and
cheer--scarcely even on the verge of that old age of which he spoke.
And I was older than he.
"Now, will you come with me to say good-night to the children?"
At first I thought I could not--then, I could. After the rest had
merrily dispersed, John and I stood for a long time in the empty
parlour, his hand on my shoulder, as he used to stand when we were
What we said I shall not write, but I remember it, every word. And
he--I KNOW he remembers it still.
Then we clasped hands.
Friday, the first of August, 1834.
Many may remember that day; what a soft, grey, summer morning it was,
and how it broke out into brightness; how everywhere bells were
ringing, club fraternities walking with bands and banners, school-
children having feasts and work-people holidays; how, in town and
country, there was spread abroad a general sense of benevolent
rejoicing--because honest old England had lifted up her generous
voice, nay, had paid down cheerfully her twenty millions, and in all
her colonies the negro was free.
Many may still find, in some forgotten drawer, the medal bought by
thousands and tens of thousands, of all classes, in copper, silver,
or gold--distributed in charity-schools, and given by old people to
their grandchildren. I saw Mrs. Halifax tying one with a piece of
blue ribbon round little Louise's neck, in remembrance of this day.
The pretty medal, with the slave standing upright, stretching out to
Heaven free hands, from which the fetters are dropping--as I
overheard John say to his wife, he could fancy the freeman Paul would
stand in the Roman prison, when he answered to those that loved him,
"I HAVE FOUGHT THE GOOD FIGHT. I HAVE FINISHED MY COURSE. I HAVE
KEPT THE FAITH."
Now, with my quickened ears, I often heard John talking quietly to
his wife on this wise.
He remained by her side the whole forenoon--wheeling her about in
her garden-chair; taking her to see her school-children in their
glory on our lawn--to hear the shouts rising up from the people at
the mill-yard below. For all Enderley, following the master's
example, took an interest, hearty even among hearty hard-working
England, in the Emancipation of the Slaves.
We had our own young people round us, and the day was a glorious day,
they declared one and all.
John was happy too--infinitely happy. After dinner he carried his
wife to her chair beside the weeping ash, where she could smell the
late hay in the meadow, and hear the ripple of the stream in the
beech-wood--faint, for it was almost dried up now, but pleasant
still. Her husband sat on the grass, making her laugh with his
quaint sayings--admiring her in her new bonnet, and in the lovely
white shawl--Guy's shawl--which Mr. Guy himself had really no time
for admiring. He had gone off to the school tea-drinking, escorting
his sister and sister-in-law, and another lady, whose eyes brightened
with most "sisterly" joy whenever she glanced at her old playfellow.
Guy's "sister" she nevertheless was not, nor was ever likely to be--
and I questioned whether, in his secret heart, he had not begun
already to feel particularly thankful for that circumstance.
"Ah, mother," cried the father, smiling, "you'll see how it will end:
all our young birds will soon be flown--there will be nobody left but
you and me."
"Never mind, John;" and stooping over him, she gave him one of her
quiet, soft kisses, precious now she was an old woman as they had
been in the days of her bloom. "Never mind. Once there were only
our two selves--now there will be only our two selves again. We
shall be very happy. We only need one another."
"Only one another, my darling."
This last word, and the manner of his saying it, I can hear if I
listen in silence, clear as if yet I heard its sound. This last
sight--of them sitting under the ash-tree, the sun making still
whiter Ursula's white shawl, brightening the marriage ring on her
bare hand, and throwing, instead of silver, some of their boyish gold
colour into the edges of John's curls--this picture I see with my
shut eyes, vivid as yesterday.
I sat for some time in my room--then John came to fetch me for our
customary walk along his favourite "terrace" on the Flat. He rarely
liked to miss it--he said the day hardly seemed complete or perfect
unless one had seen the sun set. Thus, almost every evening, we used
to spend an hour or more, pacing up and down, or sitting in that
little hollow under the brow of the Flat, where, as from the topmost
seat of a natural amphitheatre, one could see Rose Cottage and the
old well-head where the cattle drank; our own green garden-gate, the
dark mass of the beech-wood, and far away beyond that Nunneley Hill,
where the sun went down.
There, having walked somewhat less time than usual, for the evening
was warm and it had been a fatiguing day, John and I sat down
together. We talked a little, ramblingly--chiefly of Longfield--how
I was to have my old room again--and how a new nursery was to be
planned for the grandchildren.
"We can't get out of the way of children, I see clearly," he said,
laughing. "We shall have Longfield just as full as ever it was, all
summer time. But in winter we'll be quiet, and sit by the chimney-
corner, and plunge into my dusty desert of books--eh, Phineas? You
shall help me to make notes for those lectures I have intended giving
at Norton Bury, these ten years past. And we'll rub up our old
Latin, and dip into modern poetry--great rubbish, I fear! Nobody
like our old friend Will of Avon, or even your namesake, worthy
I reminded him of the "Shepherd's life and fate," which he always
liked so much, and used to say was his ideal of peaceful happiness.
"Well, and I think so still. 'Keep true to the dreams of thy youth,'
saith the old German; I have not been false to mine. I have had a
happy life, thank God; ay, and what few men can say, it has been the
very sort of happiness I myself would have chosen. I think most
lives, if, while faithfully doing our little best, day by day, we
were content to leave their thread in wiser hands than ours, would
thus weave themselves out; until, looked back upon as a whole, they
would seem as bright a web as mine."
He sat, talking thus, resting his chin on his hands--his eyes, calm
and sweet, looking out westward--where the sun was about an hour from
"Do you remember how we used to lie on the grass in your father's
garden, and how we never could catch the sunset except in fragments
between the abbey trees! I wonder if they keep the yew hedge clipped
as round as ever."
I told him Edwin had said to-day that some strange tenants were going
to make an inn of the old house, and turn the lawn into a bowling-
"What a shame! I wish I could prevent it. And yet, perhaps not," he
added, after a silence. "Ought we not rather to recognise and submit
to the universal law of change? How each in his place is fulfilling
his day, and passing away, just as that sun is passing. Only we know
not whither he passes; while whither we go we know, and the Way we
know--the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever."
Almost before he had done speaking--(God grant that in the Kingdom I
may hear that voice, not a tone altered--I would not wish it altered
even there)--a whole troop of our young people came out of Mrs. Tod's
cottage, and nodded to us from below.
There was Mrs. Edwin, standing talking to the good old soul, who
admired her baby-boy very much, but wouldn't allow there could be any
children like Mrs. Halifax's children.
There was Edwin, deep in converse with his brother Guy, while beside
them--prettier and younger-looking than ever--Grace Oldtower was
making a posy for little Louise.
Further down the slope, walking slowly, side by side, evidently
seeing nobody but one another, were another couple.
"I think, sometimes, John, that those two, William and Maud, will be
the happiest of all the children."
He smiled, looked after them for a minute, and then laid himself
quietly down on his back along the slope, his eyes still directed
towards the sunset. When, brightening as it descended, the sun shone
level upon the place where we were sitting, I saw John pull his broad
straw hat over his face, and compose himself, with both hands clasped
upon his breast, in the attitude of sleep.
I knew he was very tired, so I spoke no more, but threw my cloak over
him. He looked up, thanked me silently, with his old familiar smile.
One day--one day I shall know him by that smile! I sat half an hour
or more watching the sun, which sank steadily, slowly, round, and
red, without a single cloud. Beautiful, as I had never before seen
it; so clear, that one could note the very instant its disc touched
the horizon's grey.
Maud and Mr. Ravenel were coming up the slope. I beckoned them to
come softly, not to disturb the father. They and I sat in silence,
facing the west. The sun journeyed down to his setting--lower--
lower; there was a crescent, a line, a dim sparkle of light; then--he
was gone. And still we sat--grave, but not sad--looking into the
brightness he had left behind; believing, yea, knowing, we should see
his glorious face again to-morrow.
"How cold it has grown," said Maud. "I think we ought to wake my
She went up to him, laid her hand upon his, that were folded together
over the cloak--drew back startled--alarmed.
I put the child aside. It was I who moved the hat from John's face--
THE face--for John himself was far, far away. Gone from us unto Him
whose faithful servant he was. While he was sleeping thus the Master
had called him.
His two sons carried him down the slope. They laid him in the upper
room in Mrs. Tod's cottage. Then I went home to tell his wife.
* * *
She was at last composed, as we thought, lying on her bed, death-like
almost, but calm. It was ten o'clock at night. I left her with all
her children watching round her.
I went out, up to Rose Cottage, to sit an hour by myself alone,
looking at him whom I should not see again for--as he had said--"a
"A little while--a little while." I comforted myself with those
words. I fancied I could almost hear John saying them, standing near
me, with his hand on my shoulder. John himself, quite distinct from
that which lay so still before me; beautiful as nothing but death can
be, younger much than he had looked this very morning--younger by
Farewell, John! Farewell, my more than brother! It is but for a
As I sat, thinking how peacefully the hands lay, clasped together
still, how sweet was the expression of the close mouth, and what a
strange shadowy likeness the whole face bore to Muriel's little face,
which I had seen resting in the same deep rest on the same pillow;
some one touched me. It was Mrs. Halifax.
How she came I do not know; nor how she had managed to steal out from
among her children. Nor how she, who had not walked for weeks, had
found her way up hither, in the dark, all alone. Nor what strength,
almost more than mortal, helped her to stand there, as she did stand,
upright and calm--gazing--gazing as I had done.
"It is very like him; don't you think so, Phineas?" The voice low
and soft, unbroken by any sob. "He once told me, in case of--this,
he would rather I did not come and look at him; but I can, you see."
I gave her my place, and she sat down by the bed. It might have been
ten minutes or more that she and I remained thus, without exchanging
"I think I hear some one at the door. Brother, will you call in the
Guy, altogether overcome, knelt down beside his mother, and besought
her to let him take her home.
"Presently--presently, my son. You are very good to me; but--your
father. Children, come in and look at your father."
They all gathered round her--weeping; but she spoke without single
"I was a girl, younger than any of you, when first I met your father.
Next month we shall have been married thirty-three years. Thirty-
Her eyes grew dreamy, as if fancy had led her back all that space of
time; her fingers moved to and fro, mechanically, over her wedding-
"Children, we were so happy, you cannot tell. He was so good; he
loved me so. Better than that, he made me good; that was why I loved
him. Oh, what his love was to me from the first! strength, hope,
peace; comfort and help in trouble, sweetness in prosperity. How my
life became happy and complete--how I grew worthier to myself because
he had taken me for his own! And what HE was--Children, no one but
me ever knew all his goodness, no one but himself ever knew how
dearly I loved your father. We were more precious each to each than
anything on earth; except His service, who gave us to one another."
Her voice dropped all but inaudible; but she roused herself, and made
it once more clear and firm, the mother's natural voice.
"Guy, Edwin, all of you, must never forget your father. You must do
as he wishes, and live as he lived--in all ways. You must love him,
and love one another. Children, you will never do anything that need
make you ashamed to meet your father."
As they hung round her she kissed them all--her three sons and her
daughter, one by one; then, her mind being perhaps led astray by the
room we were in, looked feebly round for one more child--remembered--
"How glad her father will be to have her again--his own little
"Mother! mother darling! come home," whispered Guy, almost in a sob.
His mother stooped over him, gave him one kiss more--him her
favourite of all her children--and repeated the old phrase:
"Presently, presently! Now go away, all of you; I want to be left
for a little, alone with my husband."
As we went out, I saw her turn toward the bed--"John, John!" The
same tone, almost the same words, with which she had crept up to him
years before, the day they were betrothed. Just a low, low murmur,
like a tired child creeping to fond protecting arms. "John, John!"
We closed the door. We all sat on the stairs outside; it might have
been for minutes, it might have been for hours. Within or without--
no one spoke--nothing stirred.
At last Guy softly went in.
She was still in the same place by the bed-side, but half lying on
the bed, as I had seen her turn when I was shutting the door. Her
arm was round her husband's neck; her face, pressed inwards to the
pillow, was nestled close to his hair. They might have been asleep--
both of them.
One of her children called her, but she neither answered nor stirred.
Guy lifted her up, very tenderly; his mother, who had no stay left
but him--his mother--a widow--
No, thank God! she was not a widow now.
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