John Halifax, Gentleman
Dinah Maria Mulock (Mrs. Craik)
Part 9 out of 12
life had been created, unto the Creator of all.
Surely, distinct and peculiar from every other grief, every other
renunciation, must be that of a woman who is thus chosen to give her
very flesh and blood, the fruit of her own womb, unto the Lord!
This dignity, this sanctity, seemed gradually to fall upon the
mourning mother, as she talked about her lost one; repeating often--
"I tell you this, because you were so fond of Muriel."
He listened silently. At length he said, "I want to see Muriel."
The mother lit a candle, and he followed her up-stairs.
Just the same homely room--half-bedchamber, half-nursery--the same
little curtainless bed where, for a week past, we had been accustomed
to see the wasted figure and small pale face lying, in smiling
quietude, all day long.
It lay there still. In it, and in the room, was hardly any change.
One of Walter's playthings was in a corner of the window-sill, and on
the chest of drawers stood the nosegay of Christmas roses which Guy
had brought for his sister yesterday morning. Nay, her shawl--a
white, soft, furry shawl, that she was fond of wearing--remained
still hanging up behind the door. One could almost fancy the little
maid had just been said "good-night" to, and left to dream the
childish dreams on her nursery pillow, where the small head rested so
peacefully, with that pretty babyish nightcap tied over the pretty
There she was, the child who had gone out of the number of our
children--our earthly children--for ever.
Her mother sat down at the side of the bed, her father at its foot,
looking at her. Lord Ravenel stood by, motionless; then stooping
down, he kissed the small marble hand.
"Good-bye, good-bye, my little Muriel!"
And he left the room abruptly, in such an anguish of grief that the
mother rose and followed him.
John went to the door and locked it, almost with a sort of
impatience; then came back and stood by his darling, alone. Me he
never saw--no, nor anything in the world except that little face,
even in death so strangely like his own. The face which had been for
eleven years the joy of his heart, the very apple of his eye.
For a long time he remained gazing, in a stupor of silence; then,
sinking on his knee, he stretched out his arms across the bed, with a
"Come back to me, my darling, my first-born! Come back to me,
Muriel, my little daughter--my own little daughter!"
But thou wert with the angels, Muriel--Muriel!
We went home, leaving all that was mortal of our darling sleeping at
Enderley, underneath the snows.
For twelve years after then, we lived at Longfield; in such unbroken,
uneventful peace, that looking back seems like looking back over a
level sea, whose leagues of tiny ripples make one smooth glassy
Let me recall--as the first wave that rose, ominous of change--a
certain spring evening, when Mrs. Halifax and I were sitting, as was
our wont, under the walnut-tree. The same old walnut-tree, hardly a
bough altered, though many of its neighbours and kindred had grown
from saplings into trees--even as some of us had grown from children
almost into young men.
"Edwin is late home from Norton Bury," said Ursula.
"So is his father."
"No--this is just John's time. Hark! there are the carriage-wheels!"
For Mr. Halifax, a prosperous man now, drove daily to and from his
mills, in as tasteful an equipage as any of the country gentry
between here and Enderley.
His wife went down to the stream to meet him, as usual, and they came
up the field-path together.
Both were changed from the John and Ursula of whom I last wrote.
She, active and fresh-looking still, but settling into that fair
largeness which is not unbecoming a lady of middle-age, he, inclined
to a slight stoop, with the lines of his face more sharply defined,
and the hair wearing away off his forehead up to the crown. Though
still not a grey thread was discernible in the crisp locks at the
back, which successively five little ones had pulled, and played
with, and nestled in; not a sign of age, as yet, in "father's curls."
As soon as he had spoken to me, he looked round as usual for his
children, and asked if the boys and Maud would be home to tea?
"I think Guy and Walter never do come home in time when they go over
to the manor-house."
"They're young--let them enjoy themselves," said the father, smiling.
"And you know, love, of all our 'fine' friends, there are none you so
heartily approve of as the Oldtowers."
These were not of the former race. Good old Sir Ralph had gone to
his rest, and Sir Herbert reigned in his stead; Sir Herbert, who in
his dignified gratitude never forgot a certain election day, when he
first made the personal acquaintance of Mr. Halifax. The manor-house
family brought several other "county families" to our notice, or us
to theirs. These, when John's fortunes grew rapidly--as many another
fortune grew, in the beginning of the thirty years' peace, when
unknown, petty manufacturers first rose into merchant princes and
cotton lords--these gentry made a perceptible distinction, often
amusing enough to us, between John Halifax, the tanner of Norton
Bury, and Mr. Halifax, the prosperous owner of Enderley Mills. Some
of them, too, were clever enough to discover, what a pleasant and
altogether "visitable" lady was Mrs. Halifax, daughter of the late
Mr. March, a governor in the West Indies, and cousin of Mr. Brithwood
of the Mythe. But Mrs. Halifax, with quiet tenacity, altogether
declined being visited as anything but Mrs. Halifax, wife of John
Halifax, tanner, or mill-owner, or whatever he might be. All honours
and all civilities that did not come through him, and with him, were
utterly valueless to her.
To this her peculiarity was added another of John's own, namely, that
all his life he had been averse to what is called "society;" had
eschewed "acquaintances,"--and--but most men might easily count upon
their fingers the number of those who, during a life-time, are found
worthy of the sacred name of "friend." Consequently, our circle of
associations was far more limited than that of many families holding
an equal position with us--on which circumstance our neighbours
commented a good deal. But little we cared; no more than we had
cared for the chit-chat of Norton Bury. Our whole hearts were bound
up within our own home--our happy Longfield.
"I do think this place is growing prettier than ever," said John,
when, tea being over--a rather quiet meal, without a single child--we
elders went out again to the walnut-tree bench. "Certainly, prettier
than ever;" and his eye wandered over the quaint, low house, all odds
and ends--for nearly every year something had been built, or
something pulled down; then crossing the smooth bit of lawn, Jem
Watkins's special pride, it rested on the sloping field, yellow with
tall buttercups, wavy with growing grass. "Let me see--how long have
we lived here? Phineas, you are the one for remembering dates. What
year was it we came to Longfield?"
"Eighteen hundred and twelve. Thirteen years ago."
"Ah, so long!"
"Not too long," said Mrs. Halifax, earnestly. "I hope we may end our
days here. Do not you, John?"
He paused a little before answering. "Yes, I wish it; but I am not
sure how far it would be right to do it."
"We will not open that subject again," said the mother, uneasily. "I
thought we had all made up our minds that little Longfield was a
thousand times pleasanter than Beechwood, grand as it is. But John
thinks he never can do enough for his people at Enderley."
"Not that alone, love. Other reasons combined. Do you know,
Phineas," he continued, musingly, as he watched the sun set over
Leckington Hill--"sometimes I fancy my life is too easy--that I am
not a wise steward of the riches that have multiplied so fast. By
fifty, a man so blest as I have been, ought to have done really
something of use in the world--and I am forty-five. Once, I hoped to
have done wonderful things ere I was forty-five. But somehow the
His wife and I were silent. We both knew the truth; that calm as had
flowed his outer existence, in which was omitted not one actual duty,
still, for these twelve years, all the high aims which make the glory
and charm of life as duties make its strength, all the active
energies and noble ambitions which especially belong to the prime of
manhood, in him had been, not dead perhaps, but sleeping. Sleeping,
beyond the power of any human voice to waken them, under the daisies
of a child's grave at Enderley.
I know not if this was right--but it was scarcely unnatural. In that
heart, which loved as few men love, and remembered as few men
remember, so deep a wound could never be thoroughly healed. A
certain something in him seemed different ever after, as if a portion
of the father's own life had been taken away with Muriel, and lay
buried in the little dead bosom of his first-born, his dearest child.
"You forget," said Mrs. Halifax, tenderly--"you forget, John, how
much you have been doing, and intend to do. What with your
improvements at Enderley, and your Catholic Emancipation--your
Abolition of Slavery and your Parliamentary Reform--why, there is
hardly any scheme for good, public or private, to which you do not
lend a helping hand."
"A helping purse, perhaps, which is an easier thing, much."
"I will not have you blaming yourself. Ask Phineas, there--our
"Thank you, Ursula," said I, submitting to the not rare fortune of
being loved and laughed at.
"Uncle Phineas, what better could John have done in all these years,
than look after his mills and educate his three sons?"
"Have them educated, rather," corrected he, sensitive over his own
painfully-gained and limited acquirements. Yet this feeling had made
him doubly careful to give his boys every possible advantage of
study, short of sending them from home, to which he had an invincible
objection. And three finer lads, or better educated, there could not
be found in the whole country.
"I think, John, Guy has quite got over his fancy of going to
Cambridge with Ralph Oldtower."
"Yes; college life would not have done for Guy," said the father
"Hush! we must not talk about them, for here come the children."
It was now a mere figure of speech to call them so, though in their
home-taught, loving simplicity, they would neither have been ashamed
nor annoyed at the epithet--these two tall lads, who in the dusk
looked as man-like as their father.
"Where is your sister, boys?"
"Maud stopped at the stream with Edwin," answered Guy, rather
carelessly. His heart had kept its childish faith; the youngest, pet
as she was, was never anything to him but "little Maud." One--whom
the boys still talked of, softly and tenderly, in fireside evening
talks, when the winter winds came and the snow was falling--one only
was ever spoken of by Guy as "sister."
Maud, or Miss Halifax, as from the first she was naturally called--as
naturally as our lost darling was never called anything else than
Muriel--came up, hanging on Edwin's arm, which she was fond of doing,
both because it happened to be the only arm low enough to suit her
childish stature, and because she was more especially "Edwin's girl,"
and had been so always. She had grown out of the likeness that we
longed for in her cradle days, or else we had grown out of the
perception of it; for though the external resemblance in hair and
complexion still remained, nothing could be more unlike in spirit
than this sprightly elf, at once the plague and pet of the family--to
"Edwin's girl" stole away with him, merrily chattering. Guy sat down
beside his mother, and slipped his arm round her waist. They still
fondled her with a child-like simplicity--these her almost grown-up
sons; who had never been sent to school for a day, and had never
learned from other sons of far different mothers, that a young man's
chief manliness ought to consist in despising the tender charities of
"Guy, you foolish boy!" as she took his cap off and pushed back his
hair, trying not to look proud of his handsome face, "what have you
been doing all day?"
"Making myself agreeable, of course, mother."
"That he has," corroborated Walter, whose great object of hero-
worship was his eldest brother. "He talked with Lady Oldtower, and
he sang with Miss Oldtower and Miss Grace. Never was there such a
fellow as our Guy."
"Nonsense!" said his mother, while Guy only laughed, too accustomed
to this family admiration to be much disconcerted or harmed thereby.
"When does Ralph return to Cambridge?"
"Not at all. He is going to leave college, and be off to help the
Greeks. Father, do you know everybody is joining the Greeks? Even
Lord Byron is off with the rest. I only wish I were."
"Heaven forbid!" muttered the mother.
"Why not? I should have made a capital soldier, and liked it too,
better than anything."
"Better than being my right hand at the mills, and your mother's at
home?--Better than growing up to be our eldest son, our comfort and
our hope?--I think not, Guy."
"You are right, father," was the answer, with an uneasy look. For
this description seemed less what Guy was than what we desired him to
be. With his easy, happy temper, generous but uncertain, and his
showy, brilliant parts, he was not nearly so much to be depended on
as the grave Edwin, who was already a thorough man of business, and
plodded between Enderley mills and a smaller one which had taken the
place of the flour mill at Norton Bury, with indomitable
Guy fell into a brown study, not unnoticed by those anxious eyes,
which lingered oftener upon his face than on that of any of her sons.
Mrs. Halifax said, in her quick, decisive way, that it was "time to
So the sunset picture outside changed to the home-group within; the
mother sitting at her little table, where the tall silver candlestick
shed a subdued light on her work-basket, that never was empty, and
her busy fingers, that never were still. The father sat beside her;
he kept his old habit of liking to have her close to him; ay, even
though he was falling into the middle-aged comforts of an arm-chair
and newspaper. There he sat, sometimes reading aloud, or talking;
sometimes lazily watching her, with silent, loving eyes, that saw
beauty in his old wife still.
The young folk scattered themselves about the room. Guy and Walter
at the unshuttered window--we had a habit of never hiding our
home-light--were looking at the moon, and laying bets, sotto voce,
upon how many minutes she would be in climbing over the oak on the
top of One-tree Hill. Edwin sat, reading hard--his shoulders up to
his ears, and his fingers stuck through his hair, developing the
whole of his broad, knobbed, knotted forehead, where, Maud declared,
the wrinkles had already begun to show. For Mistress Maud herself,
she flitted about in all directions, interrupting everything, and
"Maud," said her father, at last, "I am afraid you give a great deal
of trouble to Uncle Phineas."
Uncle Phineas tried to soften the fact, but the little lady was
certainly the most trying of his pupils. Her mother she had long
escaped from, for the advantage of both. For, to tell the truth,
while in the invisible atmosphere of moral training the mother's
influence was invaluable, in the minor branch of lesson-learning
there might have been found many a better teacher than Ursula
Halifax. So the children's education was chiefly left to me; other
tutors succeeding as was necessary; and it had just begun to be
considered whether a lady governess ought not to "finish" the
education of Miss Halifax. But always at home. Not for all the
knowledge and all the accomplishments in the world would these
parents have suffered either son or daughter--living souls intrusted
them by the Divine Father--to be brought up anywhere out of their own
sight, out of the shelter and safeguard of their own natural home.
"Love, when I was waiting to-day in Jessop's bank--"
(Ah! that was another change, to which we were even yet not familiar,
the passing away of our good doctor and his wife, and his brother and
heir turning the old dining-room into a "County Bank--open from ten
"While waiting there I heard of a lady who struck me as likely to be
an excellent governess for Maud."
"Indeed!" said Mrs. Halifax, not over-enthusiastically. Maud became
eager to know "what the lady was like?" I at the same time inquiring
"who she was?"
"Who? I really did not ask," John answered, smiling. "But of what
she is, Jessop gave me first-rate evidence--a good daughter, who
teaches in Norton Bury anybody's children for any sort of pay, in
order to maintain an ailing mother. Ursula, you would let her teach
our Maud, I know?"
"Is she an Englishwoman?"--For Mrs. Halifax, prejudiced by a certain
French lady who had for a few months completely upset the peace of
the manor-house, and even slightly tainted her own favourite, pretty
Grace Oldtower, had received coldly this governess plan from the
beginning. "Would she have to live with us?"
"I think so, decidedly."
"Then it can't be. The house will not accommodate her. It will
hardly hold even ourselves. No, we cannot take in anybody else at
"But--we may have to leave Longfield."
The boys here turned to listen; for this question had already been
mooted, as all family questions were. In our house we had no
secrets: the young folk, being trusted, were ever trustworthy; and
the parents, clean-handed and pure-hearted, had nothing that they
were afraid to tell their children.
"Leave Longfield!" repeated Mrs. Halifax; "surely--surely--" But
glancing at her husband, her tone of impatience ceased.
He sat gazing into the fire with an anxious air.
"Don't let us discuss that question--at least, not to-night. It
troubles you, John. Put it off till to-morrow."
No, that was never his habit. He was one of the very few who, a
thing being to be done, will not trust it to uncertain "to-morrows."
His wife saw that he wanted to talk to her, and listened.
"Yes, the question does trouble me a good deal. Whether, now that
our children are growing up, and our income is doubling and trebling
year by year, we ought to widen our circle of usefulness, or close it
up permanently within the quiet bound of little Longfield. Love,
which say you?"
"The latter, the latter--because it is far the happiest."
"I am afraid, NOT the latter, because it IS the happiest."
He spoke gently, laying his hand on his wife's shoulder, and looking
down on her with that peculiar look which he always had when telling
her things that he knew were sore to hear. I never saw that look on
any living face save John's; but I have seen it once in a picture--of
two Huguenot lovers. The woman is trying to fasten round the man's
neck the white badge that will save him from the massacre (of St.
Bartholomew)--he, clasping her the while, gently puts it aside--not
stern, but smiling. That quiet, tender smile, firmer than any frown,
will, you feel sure, soon control the woman's anguish, so that she
will sob out--any faithful woman would--"Go, die! Dearer to me than
even thyself are thy honour and thy duty!"
When I saw this noble picture, it touched to the core this old heart
of mine--for the painter, in that rare expression, might have caught
John's. Just as in a few crises of his life I have seen it, and
especially in this one, when he first told to his wife that
determination which he had slowly come to--that it was both right and
expedient for us to quit Longfield, our happy home for so many years,
of which the mother loved every flower in the garden, every nook and
stone in the walls.
"Leave Longfield!" she repeated again, with a bitter sigh.
"Leave Longfield!" echoed the children, first the youngest, then the
eldest, but rather in curiosity than regret. Edwin's keen, bright
eyes were just lifted from his book, and fell again; he was not a lad
of much speech, or much demonstration of any kind.
"Boys, come and let us talk over the matter."
They came at once and joined in the circle; respectfully, yet with
entire freedom, they looked towards their father--these, the sons of
his youth, to whom he had been from their birth, not only parent and
head, but companion, guide, and familiar friend. They honoured him,
they trusted him, they loved him; not, perhaps, in the exact way that
they loved their mother; for it often seems Nature's own ordinance,
that a mother's influence should be strongest over her sons, while
the father's is greatest over his daughters. But even a stranger
could not glance from each to each of those attentive faces, so
different, yet with a curious "family look" running through them all,
without seeing in what deep, reverent affection, such as naturally
takes the place of childish fondness, these youths held their father.
"Yes, I am afraid, after much serious thought on the matter, and much
consultation with your mother here,--that we ought to leave
"So I think," said Mistress Maud, from her footstool; which putting
forward of her important opinion shook us all from gravity to
merriment, that compelled even Mrs. Halifax to join. Then, laying
aside her work, and with it the saddened air with which she had bent
over it, she drew her chair closer to her husband, slipping her hand
in his, and leaning against his shoulder. Upon which Guy, who had at
first watched his mother anxiously, doubtful whether or no his
father's plan had her approval, and therefore ought to be assented
to,--relapsed into satisfied, undivided attention.
"I have again been over Beechwood Hall. You all remember Beechwood?"
Yes. It was the "great house" at Enderley, just on the slope of the
hill, below Rose Cottage. The beech-wood itself was part of its
pleasure ground, and from its gardens honest James Tod, who had them
in keeping, had brought many a pocketful of pears for the boys, many
a sweet-scented nosegay for Muriel.
"Beechwood has been empty a great many years, father? Would it be a
safe investment to buy it?"
"I think so, Edwin, my practical lad," answered the father, smiling.
"What say you, children? Would you like living there?"
Each one made his or her comment. Guy's countenance brightened at
the notion of "lots of shooting and fishing" about Enderley,
especially at Luxmore; and Maud counted on the numerous visitors that
would come to John Halifax, Esquire, of Beechwood Hall.
"Neither of which excellent reasons happen to be your father's," said
Mrs. Halifax, shortly. But John, often tenderer over youthful
frivolities than she, answered:
"I will tell you, boys, what are my reasons. When I was a young man,
before your mother and I were married, indeed before I had ever seen
her, I had strongly impressed on my mind the wish to gain influence
in the world--riches if I could--but at all events, influence. I
thought I could use it well, better than most men; those can best
help the poor who understand the poor. And I can; since, you know,
when Uncle Phineas found me, I was--"
"Father," said Guy, flushing scarlet, "we may as well pass over that
fact. We are gentlefolks now."
"We always were, my son."
The rebuke, out of its very mildness, cut the youth to the heart. He
dropped his eyes, colouring now with a different and a holier shame.
"I know that. Please will you go on, father."
"And now," the father continued, speaking as much out of his own
thoughts as aloud to his children--"now, twenty-five years of labour
have won for me the position I desired. That is, I might have it for
the claiming. I might take my place among the men who have lately
risen from the people, to guide and help the people--the Cannings,
"Would you enter parliament? Sir Herbert asked me to-day if you ever
intended it. He said there was nothing you might not attain to if
you would give yourself up entirely to politics."
"No, Guy, no. Wisdom, like charity, begins at home. Let me learn to
rule in my own valley, among my own people, before I attempt to guide
the state. And that brings me back again to the pros and cons about
"Tell them, John; tell all out plainly to the children."
The reasons were--first, the advantage of the boys themselves; for
John Halifax was not one of those philanthropists who would benefit
all the world except their own household and their own kin. He
wished--since the higher a man rises, the wider and nobler grows his
sphere of usefulness--not only to lift himself, but his sons after
him; lift them high enough to help on the ever-advancing tide of
human improvement, among their own people first, and thence extending
outward in the world whithersoever their talents or circumstances
might call them.
"I understand," cried the eldest son, his eyes sparkling; "you want
to found a family. And so it shall be--we will settle at Beechwood
Hall; all coming generations shall live to the honour and glory of
your name--our name--"
"My boy, there is only one Name to whose honour we should all live.
One Name 'in whom all the generations of the earth are blessed.' In
thus far only do I wish to 'found a family,' as you call it, that our
light may shine before men--that we may be a city set on a hill--that
we may say plainly unto all that ask us, 'For me and my house, we
will serve the Lord.'"
It was not often that John Halifax spoke thus; adopting solemnly the
literal language of the Book--his and our life's guide, no word of
which was ever used lightly in our family. We all listened, as in
his earnestness he rose, and, standing upright in the firelight,
"I believe, with His blessing, that one may 'serve the Lord' as well
in wealth as in poverty, in a great house as in a cottage like this.
I am not doubtful, even though my possessions are increased. I am
not afraid of being a rich man. Nor a great man neither, if I were
called to such a destiny."
"It may be--who knows?" said Ursula, softly.
John caught his wife's eyes, and smiled.
"Love, you were a true prophet once, with a certain 'Yes, you will,'
but now--Children, you know when I married your mother I had nothing,
and she gave up everything for me. I said I would yet make her as
high as any lady in the land,--in fortune I then meant, thinking it
would make her happier; but she and I are wiser now. We know that we
never can be happier than we were in the old house at Norton Bury, or
in this little Longfield. By making her lady of Beechwood I should
double her responsibilities and treble her cares; give her an
infinitude of new duties, and no pleasures half so sweet as those we
leave behind. Still, of herself and for herself, my wife shall
Ursula looked up at him; tears stood in her eyes, though through them
shone all the steadfastness of faithful love. "Thank you, John. I
have decided. If you wish it, if you think it right, we will leave
Longfield and go to Beechwood."
He stooped and kissed her forehead, saying only: "We will go."
Guy looked up, half-reproachfully, as if the father were exacting a
sacrifice; but I question whether the greater sacrifice were not his
who took rather than hers who gave.
So all was settled--we were to leave beloved Longfield. It was to be
let, not sold; let to a person we knew, who would take jealous care
of all that was ours, and we might come back and see it continually;
but it would be ours--our own home--no more.
Very sad--sadder even than I had thought--was the leaving all the
familiar things; the orchard and the flower-garden, the meadow and
the stream, the woody hills beyond, every line and wave of which was
pleasant and dear almost as our children's faces. Ay, almost as that
face which for a year--one little year, had lived in sight of, but
never beheld, their beauty; the child who one spring day had gone
away merrily out of the white gate with her three brothers, and never
came back to Longfield any more.
Perhaps this circumstance, that her fading away and her departure
happened away from home, was the cause why her memory--the memory of
our living Muriel, in her human childhood--afterwards clung more
especially about the house at Longfield. The other children altered,
imperceptibly, yet so swiftly, that from year to year we half forgot
their old likenesses. But Muriel's never changed. Her image, only a
shade, yet often more real than any of these living children, seemed
perpetually among us. It crept through the house at dusk; in winter
fire-light it sat smiling in dim corners; in spring mornings it moved
about the garden borders, with tiny soft footsteps neither seen nor
heard. The others grew up--would be men and women shortly--but the
one child that "was not," remained to us always a child.
I thought, even the last evening--the very last evening that John
returned from Enderley, and his wife went down to the stream to meet
him, and they came up the field together, as they had done so for
many, many years;--ay, even then I thought I saw his eyes turn to the
spot where a little pale figure used to sit on the door-sill,
listening and waiting for him, with her dove in her bosom. We never
kept doves now.
And the same night, when all the household was in bed--even the
mother, who had gone about with a restless activity, trying to
persuade herself that there would be at least no possibility of
accomplishing the flitting to-morrow--the last night, when John went
as usual to fasten the house-door, he stood a long time outside,
looking down the valley.
"How quiet everything is. You can almost hear the tinkle of the
stream. Poor old Longfield!" And I sighed, thinking we should never
again have such another home.
John did not answer. He had been mechanically bending aside and
training into its place a long shoot of wild clematis--virgin's
bower, which Guy and Muriel had brought in from the fields and
planted, a tiny root; it covered the whole front of the house now.
Then he came and leaned beside me over the wicket-gate, looking
fixedly up into the moon-light blue.
"I wonder if she knows we are leaving Longfield?"
"Who?" said I; for a moment forgetting.
Father and son--a goodly sight, as they paced side by side up and
down the gravel walk--(alas! the pretty field-path belonged to days
that were!)--up and down the broad, sunshiny walk, in front of the
breakfast-room windows of Beechwood Hall.
It was early--little past eight o'clock; but we kept Longfield hours
and Longfield ways still. And besides, this was a grand day--the day
of Guy's coming of age. Curious it seemed to watch him, as he walked
along by his father, looking every inch "the young heir;" and perhaps
not unconscious that he did so;--curious enough, remembering how
meekly the boy had come into the world, at a certain old house at
Norton Bury, one rainy December morning, twenty-one years ago.
It was a bright day to-day--bright as all our faces were, I think, as
we gathered round the cosy breakfast-table. There, as heretofore, it
was the mother's pride and the father's pleasure that not one face
should be missing--that, summer and winter, all should assemble for
an hour of family fun and family chat, before the busy cares of the
day; and by general consent, which had grown into habit, every one
tried to keep unclouded this little bit of early sunshine, before the
father and brothers went away. No sour or dreary looks, no painful
topics, were ever brought to the breakfast-table.
Thus it was against all custom when Mr. Halifax, laying down his
paper with a grave countenance, said:
"This is very ill news. Ten Bank failures in the Gazette to-day."
"But it will not harm us, father."
"Edwin is always thinking of 'us,' and 'our business,'" remarked Guy,
rather sharply. It was one of the slight--the very slight--jars in
our household, that these two lads, excellent lads both, as they grew
into manhood did not exactly "pull together."
"Edwin is scarcely wrong in thinking of 'us,' since upon us depend so
many," observed the father, in that quiet tone with which, when he
did happen to interfere between his sons, he generally smoothed
matters down and kept the balance even. "Yet though we are ourselves
secure, I trust the losses everywhere around us make it the more
necessary that we should not parade our good fortune by launching out
into any of Guy's magnificences--eh, my boy?"
The youth looked down. It was well known in the family that since we
came to Beechwood his pleasure-loving temperament had wanted all
sorts of improvements on our style of living--fox-hounds,
dinner-parties, balls; that the father's ways, which, though extended
to liberal hospitalities, forbade outward show, and made our life a
thorough family life still--were somewhat distasteful to that most
fascinating young gentleman, Guy Halifax, Esquire, heir of Beechwood
"You may call it 'magnificence,' or what you choose; but I know I
should like to live a little more as our neighbours do. And I think
we ought too--we that are known to be the wealthiest family--"
He stopped abruptly--for the door opened; and Guy had too much good
taste and good feeling to discuss our riches before Maud's poor
governess--the tall, grave, sad-looking, sad-clothed Miss Silver; the
same whom John had seen at Mr. Jessop's bank; and who had been with
us four months--ever since we came to Beechwood.
One of the boys rose and offered her a chair; for the parents set the
example of treating her with entire respect--nay, would gladly have
made her altogether one of the family, had she not been so very
Miss Silver came forward with the daily nosegay which Mrs. Halifax
had confided to her superintendence.
"They are the best I can find, madam--I believe Watkins keeps all his
greenhouse flowers for to-night."
"Thank you, my dear. These will do very well.--Yes, Guy, persuade
Miss Silver to take your place by the fire. She looks so cold."
But Miss Silver, declining the kindness, passed on to her own seat
Ursula busied herself over the breakfast equipage rather nervously.
Though an admirable person, Miss Silver in her extreme and all but
repellant quietness was one whom the mother found it difficult to get
on with. She was scrupulously kind to her; and the governess was as
scrupulously exact in all courtesy and attention; still that
impassible, self-contained demeanour, that great reticence--it might
be shyness, it might be pride--sometimes, Ursula privately admitted,
To-day was to be a general holiday for both masters and servants; a
dinner at the mills; and in the evening something which, though we
call it a tea-drinking, began to look, I was amused to see,
exceedingly like "a ball." But on this occasion both parents had
yielded to their young people's wishes, and half the neighbourhood
had been invited, by the universally-popular Mr. Guy Halifax to
celebrate his coming of age.
"Only once in a way," said the mother, half ashamed of herself for
thus indulging the boy--as, giving his shoulder a fond shake, she
called him "a foolish fellow."
Then we all dispersed; Guy and Walter to ride to the manor-house,
Edwin vanishing with his sister, to whom he was giving daily Latin
lessons in the school-room.
John asked me to take a walk on the hill with him.
"Go, Phineas," whispered his wife--"it will do him good. And don't
let him talk too much of old times. This is a hard week for him."
The mother's eyes were mournful, for Guy and "the child" had been
born within a year and three days of each other; but she never
hinted--it never would have struck her to hint--"this is a hard week
That grief--the one great grief of their life, had come to her more
wholesomely than to her husband: either because men, the very best
of men, can only suffer, while women can endure; or because in the
mysterious ordinance of nature Maud's baby lips had sucked away the
bitterness of the pang from the bereaved mother, while her loss was
yet new. It had never been left to rankle in that warm heart, which
had room for every living child, while it cherished, in tenderness
above all sorrow, the child that was no more.
John and I, in our walk, stood a moment by the low churchyard wall,
and looked over at that plain white stone, where was inscribed her
name, "Muriel Joy Halifax,"--a line out of that New Testament
miracle-story she delighted in, "WHEREAS I WAS BLIND, NOW I SEE,"--
and the date when SHE SAW. Nothing more: it was not needed.
"December 5, 1813," said the father, reading the date. "She would
have been quite a woman now. How strange! My little Muriel!"
And he walked thoughtfully along, almost in the same footprints where
he had been used to carry his darling up the hillside to the brow of
Enderley Flat. He seemed in fancy to bear her in his arms still--
this little one, whom, as I have before said, Heaven in its
compensating mercy, year by year, through all changes, had made the
one treasure that none could take away--the one child left to be a
child for ever.
I think, as we rested in the self-same place, the sunshiny nook where
we used to sit with her for hours together, the father's heart took
this consolation so closely and surely into itself that memory
altogether ceased to be pain. He began talking about the other
children--especially Maud--and then of Miss Silver, her governess.
"I wish she were more likeable, John. It vexes me sometimes to see
how coldly she returns the mother's kindness."
"Poor thing!--she has evidently not been used to kindness. You
should have seen how amazed she looked yesterday when we paid her a
little more than her salary, and my wife gave her a pretty silk dress
to wear to-night. I hardly knew whether she would refuse it, or
burst out crying--in girlish fashion."
"Is she a girl? Why, the boys say she looks thirty at least. Guy
and Walter laugh amazingly at her dowdy dress and her solemn, haughty
"That will not do, Phineas. I must speak to them. They ought to
make allowance for poor Miss Silver, of whom I think most highly."
"I know you do; but do you heartily like her?"
"For most things, yes. And I sincerely respect her, or, of course,
she would not be here. I think people should be as particular over
choosing their daughter's governess as their son's wife; and having
chosen, should show her almost equal honour."
"You'll have your sons choosing themselves wives soon, John. I fancy
Guy has a soft place in his heart for that pretty Grace Oldtower."
But the father made no answer. He was always tenacious over the
slightest approach to such jests as these. And besides, just at this
moment Mr. Brown, Lord Luxmore's steward, passed--riding solemnly
along. He barely touched his hat to Mr. Halifax.
"Poor Mr. Brown! He has a grudge against me for those Mexican
speculations I refused to embark in; he did, and lost everything but
what he gets from Lord Luxmore. I do think, Phineas, the country has
been running mad this year after speculation. There is sure to come
a panic afterwards, and indeed it seems already beginning."
"But you are secure? You have not joined in the mania, the crash
cannot harm you? Did I not hear you say that you were not afraid of
losing a single penny?"
"Yes--unfortunately," with a troubled smile.
"John, what do you mean?"
"I mean, that to stand upright while one's neighbours are falling on
all sides is a most trying position. Misfortune makes people unjust.
The other day at the sessions I got cold looks enough from my brother
magistrates--looks that would have set my blood boiling twenty years
ago. And--you saw in the Norton Bury Mercury that article about
'grasping plebeian millionaires'--'wool-spinners, spinning out of
their country's vitals.' That's meant for me, Phineas. Don't look
incredulous. Yes--for me."
"Perhaps so--but to them more than to me. I feel sorry, because of
the harm it may do me--especially among working people, who know
nothing but what they hear, and believe everything that is told them.
They see I thrive and others fail--that my mills are the only cloth
mills in full work, and I have more hands than I can employ. Every
week I am obliged to send new-comers away. Then they raise the old
cry--that my machinery has ruined labour. So, you see, for all that
Guy says about our prosperity, his father does not sleep exactly upon
a bed of roses."
"It is wicked--atrocious!"
"Not at all. Only natural--the penalty one has to pay for success.
It will die out most likely; meantime, we will mind it as little as
"But are you safe?--your life--" For a sudden fear crossed me--a
fear not unwarranted by more than one event of this year--this
"Safe?--Yes--" and his eyes were lifted, "I believe my life is safe--
if I have work to do. Still, for others' sake, I have carried this
month past whenever I go to and from the Coltham bank, besides my
He showed me, peering out of his breast-pocket, a small pistol.
I was greatly startled.
"Does your wife know?"
"Of course. But she knows too that nothing but the last extremity
would force me to use it: also that my carrying it, and its being
noised about that I do so, may prevent my ever having occasion to use
it. God grant I never may! Don't let us talk about this."
He stopped, gazing with a sad abstraction down the sunshiny valley--
most part of which was already his own property. For whatever
capital he could spare from his business he never sunk in
speculation, but took a patriarchal pleasure in investing it in land,
chiefly for the benefit of his mills and those concerned therein.
"My poor people--they might have known me better! But I suppose one
never attains one's desire without its being leavened with some
bitterness. If there was one point I was anxious over in my youth,
it was to keep up through life a name like the Chevalier Bayard--how
folk would smile to hear of a tradesman emulating Bayard--'sans peur
et sans reproche!' And so things might be--ought to be. So perhaps
they shall be yet, in spite of this calumny."
"How shall you meet it? What shall you do?"
"Nothing. Live it down."
He stood still, looking across the valley to where the frosty line of
the hill-tops met the steel-blue, steadfast sky. Yes, I felt sure he
WOULD 'live it down.'
We dismissed the subject, and spent an hour more in pleasant chat,
about many things. Passing homeward through the beech-wood, where
through the bare tree-tops a light snow was beginning to fall, John
"It will be a hard winter--we shall have to help our poor people a
great deal. Christmas dinners will be much in request."
"There's a saying, that the way to an Englishman's heart is through
his stomach. So, perhaps, you'll get justice by spring."
"Don't be angry, Phineas. As I tell my wife, it is not worth while.
Half the wrongs people do to us are through sheer ignorance. We must
be patient. 'IN YOUR PATIENCE POSSESS YE YOUR SOULS.'"
He said this, more to himself than aloud, as if carrying out the
thread of his own thought. Mine following it, and observing him,
involuntarily turned to another passage in our Book of books, about
the blessedness of some men, even when reviled and persecuted.
Ay, and for all his many cares, John Halifax looked like a man who
Blessed, and happy too, throughout that day, especially in the midst
of the mill-yard dinner--which reminded me forcibly of that feast at
which guests were gathered out of the highways and hedges--guests
such as John Halifax liked to have--guests who could not, by any
possibility, "recompense"' him. Yet it did one's heart good to hear
the cheer that greeted the master, ay, and the young master too, who
was to-day for the first time presented as such: as the firm
henceforward was to be, "Halifax and Son."
And full of smiling satisfaction was the father's look, when in the
evening he stood in the midst of his children waiting for "Guy's
visitors," as he pertinaciously declared them to be--these fine
people, for whose entertainment our house had been these three days
turned upside down; the sober old dining-room converted into a
glittering ball-room, and the entrance-hall a very "bower of bliss"--
all green boughs and Chinese lanterns. John protested he should not
have known his own study again; and that, if these festive
transformations were to happen frequently he should soon not even
Yet for all that, and in spite of the comical horror he testified at
this first bouleversement of our quiet home ways, I think he had a
real pleasure in his children's delight; in wandering with them
through the decorated rooms, tapestried with ivy and laurel, and
arbor vitae; in making them all pass in review before him, and
admiring their handiwork and themselves.
A goodly group they made--our young folk; there were no "children"
now--for even Maud, who was tall and womanly for her age, had bloomed
out in a ball dress, all white muslin and camellias, and appeared
every inch "Miss Halifax." Walter, too, had lately eschewed jackets,
and began to borrow razors; while Edwin, though still small, had a
keen, old-man-like look, which made him seem--as he was, indeed, in
character--the eldest of the three. Altogether, they were "a fine
family," such as any man might rejoice to see growing, or grown up,
But my eyes naturally sought the father as he stood among his boys,
taller than any of them, and possessing far more than they that
quality for which John Halifax had always been remarkable--dignity.
True, Nature had favoured him beyond most men, giving him the
stately, handsome presence, befitting middle age, throwing a kind of
apostolic grace over the high, half-bald crown, and touching with a
softened grey the still curly locks behind. But these were mere
accidents; the true dignity lay in himself and his own personal
character, independent of any exterior.
It was pleasant to watch him, and note how advancing years had given
rather than taken away from his outward mien. As ever, he was
distinguishable from other men, even to his dress--which had
something of the Quaker about it still, in its sober colour, its
rarely-changed fashion, and its exceeding neatness. Mrs. Halifax
used now and then to laugh at him for being so particular over his
daintiest of cambric and finest of lawn--but secretly she took the
greatest pride in his appearance.
"John looks well to-night," she said, coming in and sitting down by
me, her eyes following mine. One would not have guessed from her
quiet gaze that she knew--what John had told me she knew, this
morning. But these two in their perfect union had a wonderful
strength--a wonderful fearlessness. And she had learned from him--
what perhaps originally was foreign to her impressible and somewhat
anxious mind--that steadfast faith, which, while ready to meet every
ill when the time comes, until the time waits cheerfully, and will
not disquiet itself in vain.
Thus, for all their cares, her face as well as his, was calm and
bright. Bright, even with the prettiest girlish blush, when John
came up to his wife and admired her--as indeed was not surprising.
She laughed at him, and declared she always intended to grow lovely
in her old age. "I thought I ought to dress myself grandly, too, on
Guy's birthday. Do you like me, John?"
"Very much: I like that black velvet gown, substantial, soft, and
rich, without any show. And that lace frill round your throat--what
sort of lace is it?"
"Valenciennes. When I was a girl, if I had a weakness it was for
black velvet and Valenciennes."
John smiled, with visible pleasure that she had even a "weakness"
gratified now. "And you have put on my brooch at last, I see."
"Yes; but--" and she shook her head--"remember your promise!"
"Phineas, this wife of mine is a vain woman. She knows her own price
is 'far above rubies'--or diamonds either. No, Mrs. Halifax, be not
afraid; I shall give you no more jewels."
She did not need them. She stood amidst her three sons with the
smile of a Cornelia. She felt her husband's eyes rest on her, with
that quiet perfectness of love--better than any lover's love--
"The fulness of a stream that knew no fall"--
the love of a husband who has been married nearly twenty-five years.
Here a troop of company arrived, and John left me to assume his duty
No easy duty, as I soon perceived; for times were hard, and men's
minds troubled. Every one, except the light-heeled, light-hearted
youngsters, looked grave.
Many yet alive remember this year--1825--the panic year. War having
ceased, commerce, in its worst form, started into sudden and
unhealthy overgrowth. Speculations of all kinds sprung up like
fungi, out of dead wood, flourished a little, and dropped away. Then
came ruin, not of hundreds, but thousands, of all ranks and classes.
This year, and this month in this year, the breaking of many
established firms, especially bankers, told that the universal crash
had just begun.
It was felt even in our retired country neighbourhood, and among our
friendly guests this night, both gentle and simple--and there was a
mixture of both, as only a man in Mr. Halifax's position could mix
such heterogeneous elements--towns-people and country-people,
dissenters and church-folk, professional men and men of business.
John dared to do it--and did it. But though through his own personal
influence many of different ranks whom he liked and respected,
meeting in his own house, learned to like and respect one another,
still, even to-night, he could not remove the cloud which seemed to
hang over all--a cloud so heavy that none present liked referring to
it. They hit upon all sorts of extraneous subjects, keeping far
aloof from the one which evidently pressed upon all minds--the
universal distress abroad, the fear that was knocking at almost every
man's door but ours.
Of course the talk fell on our neighbours--country talk always does.
I sat still, listening to Sir Herbert Oldtower, who was wondering
that Lord Luxmore suffered the Hall to drop into disgraceful decay,
and had begun cutting down the pine-woods round it.
"Woods, older than his title by many a century--downright sacrilege!
And the property being entailed, too--actual robbery of the heir!
But I understand anybody may do anything with Lord Ravenel--a mere
selfish, cynical, idle voluptuary!"
"Indeed you are mistaken, Sir Herbert!" cried Mr. Jessop of Norton
Bury--a very honest fellow was Josiah Jessop. "He banks with me--
that is, there are some poor Catholics in this neighbourhood whom I
pay--but bless me! he told me not to tell. No, indeed. Cynical he
may be; idle, perhaps--most men of fashion are--but Lord Ravenel is
not the least like his father--is he, Mr. Halifax?"
"I have not seen Lord Ravenel for many years."
And as if, even to this day, the mention of the young man's name
brought back thoughts of the last day we had seen him--a day which,
its sadness having gone by, still kept its unspoken sacredness,
distinct from all other days--John moved away and went and talked to
a girl whom both he and the mother liked above most young girls we
knew--simple, sunny-faced Grace Oldtower.
Dancing began. Spite of my Quaker education, or perhaps for that
very reason, I delighted to see dancing. Dancing, such as it was
then, when young folk moved breezily and lightly, as if they loved
it; skimming like swallows down the long lines of the Triumph--
gracefully winding in and out through the graceful country dance--
lively always, but always decorous. In those days people did not
think it necessary to the pleasures of dancing that any stranger
should have liberty to snatch a shy, innocent girl round the waist,
and whirl her about in mad waltz or awkward polka, till she stops,
giddy and breathless, with burning cheek and tossed hair, looking,--
as I would not have liked to see our pretty Maud look.
No; though while watching the little lady to-night, I was inclined to
say to her:
"When you do dance, I wish you
A wave o' the sea, that you might ever do
Nothing but that."
And in her unwearied spirits she seemed as if she would readily have
responded to the wish.
We did not see Guy among the dancers, who were now forming in a
somewhat confused square, in order to execute a new dance called
quadrilles, of which Miss Grace Oldtower was to be the instructress.
"Where is Guy?" said the mother, who would have missed him among a
room full of people. "Have you seen Guy anywhere, Miss Silver?"
Miss Silver, who sat playing tunes--she had declined dancing--turned,
"Yes, I have seen him; he is in the study."
"Would you be so kind as to fetch him?"
The governess rose and crossed the room, with a stately walk--
statelier than usual. Her silk gown, of some rich soft colour,
fashioned after Mrs. Halifax's taste, and the chaplet of bay-leaves,
which Maud had insisted upon putting in her dark hair, made an
astonishing change in Miss Silver. I could not help noticing it to
"Yes, indeed, she looks well. John says her features are fine; but
for my part, I don't care for your statuesque faces; I like colour--
expression. See that bright little Grace Oldtower!--a thoroughly
English rose;--I like HER. Poor Miss Silver! I wish--"
What, out of compunction for a certain sharpness with which she had
spoken, Mrs. Halifax was about to wish, remained undeclared. For,
just this minute, Guy entered, and leaning his handsome head and his
tender petits soins over the "English rose," as his mother called
her, led her out to the dancing.
We sat down and looked on.
"Guy dances lazily; he is rather pale too, I fancy."
"Tired, probably. He was out far too long on the ice to-day, with
Maud and Miss Silver. What a pretty creature his partner is!" added
"The children are growing up fast," I said.
"Ay, indeed. To think that Guy is actually twenty-one--the age when
his father was married!"
"Guy will be reminding you of that fact some day soon."
Mrs. Halifax smiled. "The sooner the better, if only he makes a
worthy choice--if only he brings me a daughter whom I can love."
And I fancied there was love--motherly love--in the eyes that
followed through the graceful mazes of her dancing, the bonny English
Guy and his partner sat down beside us. His mother noticed that he
had turned very pale again, and the lad owned to be in some pain: he
had twisted his foot that morning, in helping Maud and Miss Silver
across the ice; but it was a mere trifle--not worth mentioning.
It passed over, with one or two anxious inquiries on the mother's
part, and a soft, dewy shadow over the down-dropped cheek of the
little rose, who evidently did not like to think of any harm coming
to her old play-fellow. Then Sir Herbert appeared to lead Mrs.
Halifax in to supper, Guy limped along with pretty Grace on his arm,
and all the guests, just enough to fill our longest table in John's
study, came thronging round in a buzz of mirthfulness.
Either the warm, hospitable atmosphere, or the sight of the merry
youngsters, or the general influence of social pleasantness, had for
the time being dispelled the cloud. But certainly it was dispelled.
The master of the feast looked down two long lines of happy faces--
his own as bright as theirs--down to where, at the foot of the table,
the mother and mistress sat. She had been slightly nervous at times
during the evening, but now she appeared thoroughly at ease and glad-
-glad to see her husband take his place at the head of his own
hospitable board, in the midst of his own friends and his own people
honoured and beloved. It seemed a good omen--an omen that the bitter
things outside would pass away.
How bitter they had been, and how sore the wife's heart still felt, I
could see from the jealous way in which, smiling and cheerful as her
demeanour was, she caught every look, every word of those around her
which might chance to bear reference to her husband; in her quick
avoidance of every topic connected with these disastrous times, and,
above all, in her hurried grasp of a newspaper that some careless
servant brought in fresh from the night-mail, wet with sleet and
"Do you get your country paper regularly?" asked some one at table.
And then some others appeared to recollect the Norton Bury Mercury,
and its virulent attacks on their host--for there ensued an awkward
pause, during which I saw Ursula's face beginning to burn. But she
conquered her wrath.
"There is often much interest in our provincial papers, Sir Herbert.
My husband makes a point of taking them all in--bad and good--of
every shade of politics. He believes it is only by hearing all sides
that you can truly judge of the state of the country."
"Just as a physician must hear all symptoms before he decides on the
patient's case. At least, so our good old friend Doctor Jessop used
"Eh?" said Mr. Jessop the banker, catching his own name, and waking
up from a brown study, in which he had seemed to see nothing--except,
perhaps, the newspaper, which, in its printed cover, lay between
himself and Mrs. Halifax. "Eh? did any one--Oh, I beg pardon--beg
pardon--Sir Herbert," hastily added the old man; who was a very meek
and worthy soul, and had been perhaps more subdued than usual this
"I was referring," said Sir Herbert, with his usual ponderous
civility, "to your excellent brother, who was so much respected among
us,--for which respect, allow me to say, he did not leave us without
The old banker answered the formal bow with a kind of nervous hurry;
and then Sir Herbert, with a loud premise of his right as the oldest
friend of our family, tried to obtain silence for the customary
speech, prefatory to the customary toast of "Health and prosperity to
the heir of Beechwood."
There was great applause and filling of glasses; great smiling and
whispering; everybody glancing at poor Guy, who turned red and white,
and evidently wished himself a hundred miles off. In the confusion I
felt my sleeve touched, and saw leaning towards me, hidden by Maud's
laughing happy face, the old banker. He held in his hand the
newspaper which seemed to have so fascinated him.
"It's the London Gazette. Mr. Halifax gets it three hours before any
of us. I may open it? It is important to me. Mrs. Halifax would
Of course she would. Especially if she had seen the old man's look,
as his trembling fingers vainly tried to unfold the sheet without a
single rustle's betraying his surreptitious curiosity.
Sir Herbert rose, cleared his throat, and began:
"Ladies and gentlemen, I speak as a father myself, and as son of a
father whom--whom I will not refer to here, except to say that his
good heart would have rejoiced to see this day. The high esteem in
which Sir Ralph always held Mr. Halifax, has descended, and will
Here some one called out:
"Mr. Jessop! Look at Mr. Jessop!"
The old man had suddenly sank back, with a sort of choking groan.
His eyes were staring blankly, his cheek was the colour of ashes.
But when he saw every one looking at him he tried desperately to
"'Tis nothing. Nothing of the slightest moment. Eh?" clutching
tightly at the paper which Mrs. Halifax was kindly removing out of
his hand. "There's no news in it--none, I assure you."
But from his agitation--from the pitiful effort he made to disguise
it--it was plain enough that there was news. Plain also, as in these
dangerous and critical times men were only too quick to divine, in
what that news consisted. Tidings, which now made every newspaper a
sight of fear,--especially this--the London Gazette.
Edwin caught and read the fatal page--the fatal column--known only
"W----'s have stopped payment."
W----'s was a great London house, the favourite banking-house in our
country, with which many provincial banks, and Jessop's especially,
were widely connected, and would be no one knew how widely involved.
"W----'s stopped payment!"
A murmur--a hush of momentary suspense, as the Gazette was passed
hurriedly from hand to hand; and then our guests, one and all, sat
looking at one another in breathless fear, suspicion, or assured
dismay. For, as every one was aware (we knew our neighbours' affairs
so well about innocent Enderley), there was not a single household of
that merry little company upon whom, near or remote, the blow would
not fall--except ours.
No polite disguise could gloss over the general consternation. Few
thought of Jessop--only of themselves. Many a father turned pale;
many a mother melted into smothered tears. More than one honest
countenance that five minutes before had beamed like the rising sun,
all friendliness and jocularity, I saw shrink into a wizened, worldly
face with greedy selfishness peering out of the corners of its eyes,
eager to conceal its own alarms and dive as far as possible into the
terrors of its neighbours.
"There will be a run on Jessop's bank to-morrow," I heard one person
saying; glancing to where the poor old banker still sat, with a
vacant, stupefied smile, assuring all around him that "nothing had
happened; really, nothing."
"A run? I suppose so. Then it will be 'Sauve qui peut,' and the
devil take the hindmost."
"What say you to all this, Mr. Halifax?"
John still kept his place. He sat perfectly quiet, and had never
spoken a syllable.
When Sir Herbert, who was the first to recover from the shock of
these ill-tidings, called him by his name, Mr. Halifax looked quickly
up. It was to see, instead of those two lines of happy faces, faces
already gathering in troubled groups, faces angry, sullen, or
miserable, all of which, with a vague distrust, seemed instinctively
turned upon him.
"Mr. Halifax," said the baronet, and one could see how, in spite of
his steadfast politeness, he too was not without his anxieties--"this
is an unpleasant breaking-in upon your kindly hospitalities. I
suppose, through this unpropitious event, each of us must make up our
minds to some loss. Let me hope yours will be trifling."
John made no answer.
"Or, perhaps--though I can hardly hope anything so fortunate--perhaps
this failure will not affect you at all?"
He waited--as did many others, for Mr. Halifax's reply; which was
long in coming. However, since all seemed to expect it, it did come
at last; but grave and sad as if it were the announcement of some
"No, Sir Herbert; it will not affect me at all."
Sir Herbert, and not he alone--looked surprised--uneasily surprised.
Some mutters there were of "congratulation." Then arose a troubled
murmur of talking, in which the master of the house was forgotten;
until the baronet said, "My friends, I think we are forgetting our
courtesy. Allow me to give you without more delay--the toast I was
about to propose,--'Health, long life, and happiness to Mr. Guy
And so poor Guy's birthday toast was drunk; almost in silence; and
the few words he said in acknowledgment were just listened to,
scarcely heard. Every one rose from table, and the festivities were
One by one all our guests began to make excuse. One by one,
involuntarily perhaps, yet not the less painfully and plainly, they
all shrunk away from us, as if in the universal trouble we, who had
nothing to fear, had no part nor lot. Formal congratulations, given
with pale lips and wandering eyes; brusque adieux, as some of the
more honest or less courteous showed but too obviously how cruelly,
even resentfully, they felt the inequalities of fortune; hasty
departures, full of a dismay that rejected angrily every shadow of
consolation;--all these things John had to meet and to bear.
He met them with composure; scarcely speaking a word, as indeed what
was there to say? To all the friendly speeches, real or pretended,
he listened with a kind of sad gravity: of all harsher words than
these--and there were not a few--he took not the least notice, but
held his place as master of the house; generously deaf and blind to
everything that it were as well the master of the house should
neither hear nor see.
At last he was left, a very Pariah of prosperity, by his own hearth,
The last carriage had rolled away; the tired household had gone to
bed; there was no one in the study but me. John came in and stood
leaning with both his arms against the fireplace, motionless and
silent. He leant there so long, that at last I touched him.
I saw this night's events had wounded him to the core.
"Are you thinking of these honest, friendly, disinterested guests of
ours? Don't! They are not worth a single thought."
"Not an angry thought, certainly." And he smiled at my wrath--a sad
"Ah, Phineas! now I begin to understand what is meant by the curse of
A great, eager, but doggedly-quiet crowd, of which each had his or
her--for it was half women--individual terror to hide, his or her
individual interest to fight for, and cared not a straw for that of
any one else.
It was market-day, and this crowd was collected and collecting every
minute, before the bank at Norton Bury. It included all classes,
from the stout farmer's wife or market-woman, to the pale, frightened
lady of "limited income," who had never been in such a throng before;
from the aproned mechanic to the gentleman who sat in his carriage at
the street corner, confident that whatever poor chance there was, his
would be the best.
Everybody was, as I have said, extremely quiet. You heard none of
the jokes that always rise in and circulate through a crowd; none of
the loud outcries of a mob. All were intent on themselves and their
own business; on that fast-bolted red-baize door, and on the green
blind of the windows, which informed them that it was "open from ten
The Abbey clock struck three quarters. Then there was a slight
stirring, a rustling here and there of paper, as some one drew out
and examined his bank notes; openly, with small fear of theft--they
were not worth stealing.
John and I, a little way off, stood looking on, where we had once
watched a far different crowd; for Mr. Jessop owned the doctor's
former house, and in sight of the green bank blinds were my dear old
father's known windows.
Guy's birthday had fallen on a Saturday. This was Monday morning.
We had driven over to Norton Bury, John and I, at an unusually early
hour. He did not exactly tell me why, but it was not difficult to
guess. Not difficult to perceive how strongly he was interested,
even affected--as any man, knowing all the circumstances, could not
but be affected--by the sight of that crowd, all the sadder for its
being such a patient, decent, respectable crowd, out of which so
large a proportion was women.
I noticed this latter fact to John.
"Yes, I was sure it would be so. Jessop's bank has such a number of
small depositors and issues so many small notes. He cannot cash
above half of them without some notice. If there comes a run, he may
have to stop payment this very day; and then, how wide the misery
would spread among the poor, God knows."
His eye wandered pitifully over the heaving mass of anxious faces
blue with cold, and growing more and more despondent as every minute
they turned with a common impulse from the closed bank door to the
Abbey clock, glittering far up in the sunshiny atmosphere of morning.
Its finger touched the one heel of the great striding X--glided on to
the other--the ten strokes fell leisurely and regularly upon the
clear frosty air; then the chimes--Norton Bury was proud of its Abbey
chimes--burst out in the tune of "Life let us Cherish."
The bells went through all the tune, to the very last note--then
ensued silence. The crowd were silent too--almost breathless with
intent listening--but, alas! not to the merry Abbey chimes.
The bank door remained closed--not a rattle at the bolts, not a
clerk's face peering out above the blind. The house was as shut-up
and desolate as if it were entirely empty.
Five whole minutes--by the Abbey clock--did that poor, patient crowd
wait on the pavement. Then a murmur arose. One or two men hammered
at the door; some frightened women, jostled in the press, begun to
John could bear it no longer. "Come along with me," he said,
hurriedly. "I must see Jessop--we can get in at the garden door."
This was a little gate round the corner of the street, well known to
us both in those brief "courting days," when we came to tea of
evenings, and found Mrs. Jessop and Ursula March in the garden
watering the plants and tying up the roses. Nay, we passed out of it
into the same summer parlour, where--I cannot tell if John ever knew
of the incident, at all events he never mentioned it to me--there had
been transacted a certain momentous event in Ursula's life and mine.
Entering by the French window, there rose up to my mental vision, in
vivid contrast to all present scenes, the picture of a young girl I
had once seen sitting there, with head drooped, knitting. Could that
day be twenty-five years ago?
No summer parlour now--its atmosphere was totally changed. It was a
dull, dusty room, of which the only lively object was a large fire,
the under half of which had burnt itself away unstirred into black
dingy caverns. Before it, with breakfast untasted, sat Josiah
Jessop--his feet on the fender, his elbows on his knees, the picture
"Mr. Jessop, my good friend!"
"No, I haven't a friend in the world, or shall not have an hour
hence. Oh! it's you, Mr. Halifax?--You have not an account to close?
You don't hold any notes of mine, do you?"
John put his hand on the old man's shoulder, and repeated that he
only came as a friend.
"Not the first 'friend' I have received this morning. I knew I
should be early honoured with visitors;" and the banker attempted a
dreary smile. "Sir Herbert and half-a-dozen more are waiting for me
up-stairs. The biggest fish must have the first bite--eh, you know?"
"I know," said John, gloomily.
"Hark! those people outside will hammer my door down!--Speak to them,
Mr. Halifax--tell them I'm an old man--that I was always an honest
man--always. If only they would give me time--hark--just hark!
Heaven help me! do they want to tear me in pieces?"
John went out for a few moments, then came back and sat down beside
"Compose yourself,"--the old man was shaking like an aspen leaf.
"Tell me, if you have no objection to give me this confidence,
exactly how your affairs stand."
With a gasp of helpless thankfulness, looking up in John's face,
while his own quivered like a frightened child's--the banker obeyed.
It seemed that great as was his loss by W----'s failure, it was not
absolute ruin to him. In effect, he was at this moment perfectly
solvent, and by calling in mortgages, etc., could meet both the
accounts of the gentry who banked with him, together with all his own
notes now afloat in the country, principally among the humbler ranks,
petty tradespeople, and such like, if only both classes of customers
would give him time to pay them.
"But they will not. There will be a run upon the bank and then all's
over with me. It's a hard case--solvent as I am--ready and able to
pay every farthing--if only I had a week's time. As it is I must
stop payment to-day. Hark! they are at the door again! Mr. Halifax,
for God's sake quiet them!"
"I will; only tell me first what sum, added to the cash you have
available, would keep the bank open--just for a day or two."
At once guided and calmed, the old man's business faculties seemed to
return. He began to calculate, and soon stated the sum he needed; I
think it was three or four thousand pounds.
"Very well; I have thought of a plan. But first--those poor fellows
outside. Thank Heaven, I am a rich man, and everybody knows it.
Phineas, that inkstand, please."
He sat down and wrote: curiously the attitude and manner reminded me
of his sitting down and writing at my father's table, after the bread
riot--years and years ago. Soon a notice, signed by Josiah Jessop,
and afterwards by himself, to the effect that the bank would open,
"without fail," at one o'clock this day,--was given by John to the
astonished clerk, to be posted in the window.
A responsive cheer outside showed how readily those outside had
caught at even this gleam of hope. Also--how implicitly they trusted
in the mere name of a gentleman who all over the country was known
for "his word being as good as his bond,"--John Halifax.
The banker breathed freer; but his respite was short: an imperative
message came from the gentlemen above-stairs, desiring his presence.
With a kind of blind dependence he looked towards John.
"Let me go in your stead. You can trust me to manage matters to the
best of my power?"
The banker overwhelmed him with gratitude.
"Nay, that ought to be my word, standing in this house, and
remembering"--His eyes turned to the two portraits--grimly-coloured
daubs, yet with a certain apology of likeness too, which broadly
smiled at one another from opposite walls--the only memorials now
remaining of the good doctor and his cheery little old wife. "Come,
Mr. Jessop, leave the matter with me; believe me, it is not only a
pleasure, but a duty."
The old man melted into senile tears.
I do not know how John managed the provincial magnates, who were
sitting in council considering how best to save, first themselves,
then the bank, lastly--If the poor public outside had been made
acquainted with that ominous "lastly!" Or if to the respectable
conclave above-stairs, who would have recoiled indignantly at the
vulgar word "jobbing," had been hinted a phrase--which ran oddly in
and out of the nooks of my brain, keeping time to the murmur in the
street, "Vox populi, vox Dei"--truly, I should have got little credit
for my Latinity.
John came out in about half an hour, with a cheerful countenance;
told me he was going over to Coltham for an hour or two--would I wait
"And all is settled?" I asked.
"Will be soon, I trust. I can't stay to tell you more now.
I was no man of business, and could assist in nothing. So I thought
the best I could do was to pass the time in wandering up and down the
familiar garden, idly watching the hoar-frost on the arbutus leaves,
and on the dry stems of what had been dear little Mrs. Jessop's
favourite roses--the same roses I had seen her among on that
momentous evening--the evening when Ursula's bent neck flushed more
crimson than the sunset itself, as I told her John Halifax was "too
noble to die for any woman's love."
No--he had lived for it--earned it--won it. And musing over these
long-ago times, my heart melted--foolish old heart that it was! with
a trembling joy, to think that Providence had, in some way, used my
poor useless hand to give to him this blessing, a man's chiefest
blessing of a virtuous and loving wife--which had crowned his life
for all these wonderful years.
As it neared one o'clock, I could see my ancient friend the Abbey
clock with not a wrinkle in his old face, staring at me through the
bare Abbey trees. I began to feel rather anxious. I went into the
deserted office; and thence, none forbidding, ensconced myself behind
the sheltering bank blinds.
The crowd had scarcely moved; a very honest, patient, weary crowd
dense in the centre, thinning towards the edges. On its extremest
verge, waiting in a curricle, was a gentleman, who seemed observing
it with a lazy curiosity. I, having like himself apparently nothing
better to do, observed this gentleman.
He was dressed in the height of the mode, combined with a novel and
eccentric fashion, which had been lately set by that extraordinary
young nobleman whom everybody talked about--my Lord Byron. His
neckcloth was loose, his throat bare, and his hair fell long and
untidy. His face, that of a man about thirty--I fancied I had seen
it before, but could not recall where,--was delicate, thin, with an
expression at once cynical and melancholy. He sat in his carriage,
wrapped in furs, or looked carelessly out on the scene before him, as
if he had no interest therein--as if there was nothing in life worth
"Poor fellow!" said I to myself, recalling the bright, busy, laughing
faces of our growing up lads, recalling especially their father's--
full of all that active energy and wise cheerfulness which gives zest
to existence; God forbid any man should die till he has lived to
learn it!--"poor fellow! I wish his moodiness could take a lesson
from us at home!"
But the gentleman soon retired from my observation under his furs;
for the sky had gloomed over, and snow began to fall. Those on the
pavement shook it drearily off, and kept turning every minute to the
Abbey clock--I feared it would take the patience of Job to enable
them to hold out another quarter of an hour.
At length some determined hand again battered at the door. I fancied
I heard a clerk speaking out of the first-floor window.
"Gentlemen"--how tremblingly polite the voice was!--"Gentlemen, in
five minutes--positively five minutes--the bank will--"
The rest of the speech was drowned and lost. Dashing round the
street corner, the horses all in a foam, came our Beechwood carriage.
Mr. Halifax leaped out.
Well might the crowd divide for him--well might they cheer him. For
he carried a canvas bag--a great, ugly, grimy-coloured bag--a
precious, precious bag, with the consolation--perhaps the life--of
hundreds in it!
I knew, almost by intuition, what he had done--what, in one or two
instances, was afterwards done by other rich and generous Englishmen,
during the crisis of this year.
The bank door flew open like magic. The crowd came pushing in; but
when John called out to them, "Good people, pray let me pass!" they
yielded and suffered him to go in first. He went right up to the
desk, behind which, flanked by a tolerable array of similar canvas
bags, full of gold--but nevertheless waiting in mortal fear, and as
white as his own neck-cloth--the old banker stood.
"Mr. Jessop," John said, in a loud, distinct voice, that all might
hear him, "I have the pleasure to open an account with you. I feel
satisfied that in these dangerous times no credit is more safe than
yours. Allow me to pay in to-day the sum of five thousand pounds."
"Five thousand pounds!"
The rumour of it was repeated from mouth to mouth. In a small
provincial bank, such a sum seemed unlimited. It gave universal
confidence. Many who had been scrambling, swearing, almost fighting,
to reach the counter and receive gold for their notes, put them again
into their pockets, uncashed. Others, chiefly women, got them cashed
with a trembling hand--nay, with tears of joy. A few who had come to
close accounts, changed their minds, and even paid money in. All
were satisfied--the run upon the bank ceased.
Mr. Halifax stood aside, looking on. After the first murmur of
surprise and pleasure no one seemed to take any notice of him, or of
what he had done. Only one old widow woman, as she slipped three
bright guineas under the lid of her market-basket, dropped him a
curtsey in passing by.
"It's your doing, Mr. Halifax. The Lord reward you, sir."
"Thank you," he said, and shook her by the hand. I thought to
myself, watching the many that came and went, unmindful, "ONLY THIS
No--one person more, standing by, addressed him by name. "This is
indeed your doing, and an act of benevolence which I believe no man
alive would have done, except Mr. Halifax."
And the gentleman who spoke--the same I had seen outside in his
curricle--held out a friendly hand.
"I see you do not remember me. My name is Ravenel."
John uttered this exclamation--and no more. I saw that this sudden
meeting had brought back, with a cruel tide of memory, the last time
they met--by the small nursery bed, in that upper chamber at
However, this feeling shortly passed away, as must needs be; and we
all three began to converse together.
While he talked, something of the old "Anselmo" came back into Lord
Ravenel's face: especially when John asked him if he would drive
over with us to Enderley.
"Enderley--how strange the word sounds!--yet I should like to see the
place again. Poor old Enderley!"
Irresolutely--all his gestures seemed dreamy and irresolute--he drew
his hand across his eyes--the same white long-fingered, womanish hand
which had used to guide Muriel's over the organ keys.
"Yes--I think I will go back with you to Enderley. But first I must
speak to Mr. Jessop here."
It was about some poor Catholic families, who, as we had before
learnt, had long been his pensioners.
"You are a Catholic still then?" I asked. "We heard the contrary."
"Did you?--Oh, of course. One hears such wonderful facts about
oneself. Probably you heard also that I have been to the Holy Land,
and turned Jew--called at Constantinople, and come back a
"But are you of your old faith?" John said. "Still a sincere
"If you take Catholic in its original sense, certainly. I am a
Universalist. I believe everything--and nothing. Let us change the
subject." The contemptuous scepticism of his manner altered, as he
inquired after Mrs. Halifax and the children. "No longer children
now, I suppose?"
"Scarcely. Guy and Walter are as tall as yourself; and my daughter--
"Your daughter?"--with a start--"oh yes, I recollect. Baby Maud. Is
she at all like--like--"
Neither said more than this; but it seemed as if their hearts warmed
to one another, knitted by the same tender remembrance.
We drove home. Lord Ravenel muffled himself up in his furs,
complaining bitterly of the snow and sleet.
"Yes, the winter is setting in sharply," John replied, as he reined
in his horses at the turnpike gate. "This will be a hard Christmas
"Ay, indeed, sir," said the gate-keeper, touching his hat.
"And if I might make so bold--it's a dark night and the road's
lonely--" he added, in a mysterious whisper.
"Thank you, my friend. I am aware of all that." But as John drove
on, he remained for some time very silent.
On, across the bleak country, with the snow pelting in our faces--
along roads so deserted, that our carriage-wheels made the only sound
audible, and that might have been heard distinctly for miles.
All of a sudden, the horses were pulled up. Three or four ill-
looking figures had started out of a ditch-bank, and caught hold of
"Holloa there!--What do you want?"
"Let go my horses! They're spirited beasts. You'll get trampled
This brief colloquy passed in less than a minute. It showed at once
our position--miles away from any house--on this desolate moor;
showed plainly our danger--John's danger.
He himself did not seem to recognize it. He stood upright on the box
seat, the whip in his hand.
"Get away, you fellows, or I must drive over you!"
"Thee'd better!" With a yell, one of the men leaped up and clung to
the neck of the plunging mare--then was dashed to the ground between
her feet. The poor wretch uttered one groan and no more. John
sprang out of his carriage, caught the mare's head, and backed her.
"Hold off!--the poor fellow is killed, or may be in a minute. Hold
off, I say."
If ever these men, planning perhaps their first ill deed, were struck
dumb with astonishment, it was to see the gentleman they were
intending to rob take up their comrade in his arms, drag him towards
the carriage-lamps, rub snow on his face, and chafe his heavy hands.
But all in vain. The blood trickled down from a wound in the
temples--the head, with its open mouth dropping, fell back upon
"He is quite dead."
The others gathered round in silence, watching Mr. Halifax, as he
still knelt, with the dead man's head leaning against him, mournfully
"I think I know him. Where does his wife live?"
Some one pointed across the moor, to a light, faint as a glow-worm.
"Take that rug out of my carriage--wrap him in it." The order was at
once obeyed. "Now carry him home. I will follow presently."
"Surely not," expostulated Lord Ravenel, who had got out of the
carriage and stood, shivering and much shocked, beside Mr. Halifax.
"You would not surely put yourself in the power of these scoundrels?
What brutes they are--the lower orders!"
"Not altogether--when you know them. Phineas, will you drive Lord
Ravenel on to Beechwood?"
"Excuse me--certainly not," said Lord Ravenel, with dignity. "We
will stay to see the result of the affair. What a singular man Mr.
Halifax is, and always was," he added, thoughtfully, as he muffled
himself up again in his furs, and relapsed into silence.
Soon, following the track of those black figures across the snow, we
came to a cluster of peat huts, alongside of the moorland road. John
took one of the carriage-lamps in his hand, and went in, without
saying a word. To my surprise Lord Ravenel presently dismounted and
followed him. I was left with the reins in my hand, and two or three
of those ill-visaged men hovered about the carriage; but no one
attempted to do me any harm. Nay, when John reappeared, after a
lapse of some minutes, one of them civilly picked up the whip and put
it into his hand.
"Thank you. Now, my men, tell me what did you want with me just
"Money," cried one. "Work," shouted another.
"And a likely way you went about to get it! Stopping me in the dark,
on a lonely road, just like common robbers. I did not think any
Enderley men would have done a thing so cowardly."
"We bean't cowards," was the surly answer. "Thee carries pistols,
"You forced me to do it. My life is as precious to my wife and
children, as--as that poor fellow's to his." John stopped. "God
help us, my men! it's a hard world for us all sometimes. Why did you
not know me better? Why not come to my house and ask honestly for a
dinner and a half-crown?--you should have had both, any day."
"Thank'ee sir," was the general cry. "And, sir," begged one old man,
"you'll hush up the 'crowner's 'quest--you and this gentleman here.
You won't put us in jail, for taking to the road, Mr. Halifax?"
"No;--unless you attack me again. But I am not afraid--I'll trust
you. Look here!" He took the pistol out of his breast-pocket,
cocked it, and fired its two barrels harmlessly into the air. "Now,
good-night; and if ever I carry fire-arms again, it will be your
fault, not mine."
So saying, he held the carriage-door open for Lord Ravenel, who took
his place with a subdued and thoughtful air: then mounting the
box-seat, John drove, in somewhat melancholy silence, across the
snowy, starlit moors to Beechwood.
In the home-light.
It was a scene--glowing almost as those evening pictures at
Longfield. Those pictures, photographed on memory by the summer sun
of our lives, and which no paler after-sun could have power to
reproduce. Nothing earthly is ever reproduced in the same form. I
suppose Heaven meant it to be so; that in the perpetual progression
of our existence we should be reconciled to loss, and taught that
change itself is but another form for aspiration. Aspiration which
never can rest, or ought to rest, in anything short of the One
absolute Perfection--the One all-satisfying Good "IN WHOM IS NO
VARIABLENESS, NEITHER SHADOW OF TURNING."
I say this, to excuse myself for thoughts, which at times made me
grave--even in the happy home-light of John's study; where, for
several weeks after the last incident I have recorded, the family
were in the habit of gathering every evening. For poor Guy was a
captive. The "mere trifle" had turned out to be a sprained foot,
which happening to a tall and strong young man became serious. He
bore his imprisonment restlessly enough at first, but afterwards grew
more reconciled--took to reading, drawing, and society--and even
began to interest himself in the pursuits of his sister Maud, who
every morning had her lessons in the study.
Miss Silver first proposed this. She had evinced more feeling than
was usual to her, since Guy's accident; showed him many little
feminine kindnesses--out of compunction, it seemed; and altogether
was much improved. Of evenings, as now, she always made one of the
"young people," who were generally grouped together round Guy's sofa-
-Edwin, Walter, and little Maud. The father and mother sat opposite-
-as usual, side by side, he with his newspaper, she with her work.
Or sometimes, falling into pleasant idleness, they would slip hand in
hand, and sit talking to one another in an under-tone, or silently
and smilingly watch the humours of their children.
For me, I generally took to my nook in the chimney-corner--it was a
very ancient fire-place, with settles on each side, and dogs instead
of a grate, upon which many a faggot hissed and crackled its merry
brief life away. Nothing could be more cheery and comfortable than
this old-fashioned, low-roofed room, three sides of which were
peopled with books--all the books which John had gathered up during
the course of his life. Perhaps it was their long-familiar, friendly
faces which made this his favourite room, his own especial domain.
But he did not keep it tabooed from his family; he liked to have them
about him, even in his studious hours.
So, of evenings, we all sat together as now, each busy, and none
interrupting the rest. At intervals, flashes of talk or laughter
broke out, chiefly from Guy, Walter, or Maud, when Edwin would look
up from his everlasting book, and even the grave governess relax into
a smile. Since she had learnt to smile, it became more and more
apparent how very handsome Miss Silver was. "Handsome" is, I think,
the fittest word for her; that correctness of form and colour which
attracts the eye chiefly, and perhaps the eye of men rather than of
women;--at least, Mrs. Halifax could never be brought to see it. But
then her peculiar taste was for slender, small brunettes, like Grace
Oldtower; whereas Miss Silver was large and fair.
Fair, in every sense, most decidedly. And now that she evidently
began to pay a little more attention to her dress and her looks, we
found out that she was also young.
"Only twenty-one to-day, Guy says," I remarked one day to Ursula.
"How did Guy know it?"
"I believe he discovered the wonderful secret from Maud."
"Maud and her brother Guy have grown wonderful friends since his
illness. Do you not think so?"
"Yes, I found the two of them--and even Miss Silver--as merry as
possible, when I came into the study this morning."
"Did you?" said the mother, with an involuntary glance at the group
There was nothing particular to observe. They all sat in most
harmless quietude, Edwin reading, Maud at his feet, playing with the
cat, Miss Silver busy at a piece of that delicate muslin-work with
which young women then used to ornament their gowns. Guy had been
drawing a pattern from it, and now leant back upon his sofa, shading
off the fire with his hand, and from behind it gazing, as I had often
seen him gaze lately, with a curious intentness--at the young
"Guy," said his mother (and Guy started), "what were you thinking
"Oh, nothing; that is--" here, by some accident, Miss Silver quitted
the room. "Mother, come over here, I want your opinion. There, sit
down--though it's nothing of the least importance."
Nevertheless, it was with some hesitation that he brought out the
mighty question, namely, that it was Miss Silver's birthday to-day;
that he thought we ought to remember it, and give her some trifle as
"And I was considering this large Flora I ordered from London,--she
would like it extremely: she is so fond of botany."
"What do you know about botany?" said Edwin, sharply and rather
irrelevantly as it seemed, till I remembered how he plumed himself
upon his knowledge of this science, and how he had persisted in
taking Maud, and her governess also, long wintry walks across the
country, "in order to study the cryptogamia."
Guy vouchsafed no answer to his brother; he was too much absorbed in
turning over the pages of the beautiful Flora on his knee.
"What do you say, all of you? Father, don't you think she would like
it? Then, suppose you give it to her?"
At this inopportune moment Miss Silver returned.
She might have been aware that she was under discussion--at least so
much of discussion as was implied by Guy's eager words and his
mother's silence, for she looked around her uneasily, and was about
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