John Halifax, Gentleman, by Dinah Craik

Chapter 23

Not many weeks afterwards we went to live at Longfield, which henceforth became the family home for many years.

Longfield! happy Longfield! little nest of love, and joy, and peace — where the children grew up, and we grew old — where season after season brought some new change ripening in us and around us — where summer and winter, day and night, the hand of God’s providence was over our roof, blessing our goings out and our comings in, our basket and our store; crowning us with the richest blessing of all, that we were made a household where “brethren dwelt together in unity.” Beloved Longfield! my heart, slow pulsing as befits one near the grave, thrills warm and young as I remember thee!

Yet how shall I describe it — the familiar spot; so familiar that it seems to need no description at all.

It was but a small place when we first came there. It led out of the high-road by a field-gate — the White Gate; from which a narrow path wound down to a stream, thence up a green slope to the house; a mere farm-house, nothing more. It had one parlour, three decent bedrooms, kitchen and out-houses; we built extempore chambers out of the barn and cheese-room. In one of these the boys, Guy and Edwin, slept, against the low roof of which the father generally knocked his head every morning when he came to call the lads. Its windows were open all summer round, and birds and bats used oftentimes to fly in, to the great delight of the youthful inmates.

Another infinite pleasure to the little folk was that for the first year, the farm-house kitchen was made our dining-room. There, through the open door, Edwin’s pigeons, Muriel’s two doves, and sometimes a stately hen, walked in and out at pleasure. Whether our live stock, brought up in the law of kindness, were as well-trained and well-behaved as our children, I cannot tell; but certain it is that we never found any harm from this system, necessitated by our early straits at Longfield — this “liberty, fraternity, and equality.”

Those words, in themselves true and lovely, but wrested to false meaning, whose fatal sound was now dying out of Europe, merged in the equally false and fatal shout of “Gloire! gloire!” remind me of an event which I believe was the first that broke the delicious monotony of our new life.

It was one September morning. Mrs. Halifax, the children, and I were down at the stream, planning a bridge across it, and a sort of stable, where John’s horse might be put up — the mother had steadily resisted the long-tailed grey ponies. For with all the necessary improvements at Longfield, with the large settlement that John insisted upon making on his wife and children, before he would use in his business any portion of her fortune, we found we were by no means so rich as to make any great change in our way of life advisable. And, after all, the mother’s best luxuries were to see her children merry and strong, her husband’s face lightened of its care, and to know he was now placed beyond doubt in the position he had always longed for; for was he not this very day gone to sign the lease of Enderley Mills?

Mrs. Halifax had just looked at her watch, and she and I were wondering, with quite a childish pleasure, whether he were not now signing the important deed, when Guy came running to say a coach-and-four was trying to enter the White Gate.

“Who can it be? — But they must be stopped, or they’ll spoil John’s new gravel road that he takes such pride in. Uncle Phineas, would you mind going to see?”

Who should I see, but almost the last person I expected — who had not been beheld, hardly spoken of, in our household these ten years — Lady Caroline Brithwood, in her travelling-habit of green cloth, her velvet riding-hat, with its Prince of Wales’ feathers, gayer than ever — though her pretty face was withering under the paint, and her lively manner growing coarse and bold.

“Is this Longfield? — Does Mr. Halifax — mon Dieu, Mr. Fletcher, is that you?”

She held out her hand with the frankest condescension, and in the brightest humour in the world. She insisted on sending on the carriage, and accompanying me down to the stream, for a “surprise”— a “scene.”

Mrs. Halifax, seeing the coach drive on, had evidently forgotten all about it. She stood in the little dell which the stream had made, Walter in her arms — her figure thrown back, so as to poise the child’s weight. Her right hand kept firm hold of Guy, who was paddling barefoot in the stream: Edwin, the only one of the boys who never gave any trouble, was soberly digging away, beside little Muriel.

The lady clapped her hands. “Brava! bravissima! a charming family picture, Mrs. Halifax.”

“Lady Caroline!”

Ursula left her children, and came to greet her old acquaintance, whom she had never once seen since she was Ursula Halifax. Perhaps that fact touched her, and it was with a kind of involuntary tenderness that she looked into the sickly face, where all the smiles could not hide the wrinkles.

“It is many years since we met; and we are both somewhat altered, Cousin Caroline.”

“You are, with those three great boys. The little girl yours also? — Oh yes, I remember William told me — poor little thing!” And with uneasy awe she turned from our blind Muriel, our child of peace.

“Will you come up to the house? my husband has only ridden over to Enderley; he will be home soon.”

“And glad to see me, I wonder? For I am rather afraid of that husband of yours — eh, Ursula? Yet I should greatly like to stay.”

Ursula laughed, and repeated the welcome. She was so happy herself — she longed to distribute her happiness. They walked, the children following, towards the house.

Under the great walnut-tree, by the sunk fence which guarded the flower-garden from the sheep and cows, Mrs. Halifax stopped and pointed down the green slope of the field, across the valley, to the wooded hills opposite.

“Isn’t it a pretty view?” said Guy, creeping up and touching the stranger’s gown; our children had lived too much in an atmosphere of love to know either shyness or fear.

“Very pretty, my little friend.”

“That’s One-tree Hill. Father is going to take us all a walk there this afternoon.”

“Do you like going walks with your father?”

“Oh, don’t we!” An electric smile ran through the whole circle. It told enough of the blessed home-tale.

Lady Caroline laughed a sharp laugh. “Eh, my dear, I see how things are. You don’t regret having married John Halifax, the tanner?”

“Regret!”

“Nay, be not impetuous. I always said he was a noble fellow — so does the earl now. And William — you can’t think what a hero your husband is to William.”

“Lord Ravenel?”

“Ay, my little brother that was — growing a young man now — a frightful bigot, wanting to make our house as Catholic as when two or three of us lost our heads for King James. But he is a good boy — poor William! I had rather not talk about him.”

Ursula inquired courteously if her Cousin Richard were well.

“Bah! — I suppose he is; he is always well. His late astonishing honesty to Mr. Halifax cost him a fit of gout — mais n’importe. If they meet, I suppose all things will be smooth between them?”

“My husband never had any ill-feeling to Mr. Brithwood.”

“I should not bear him an undying enmity if he had. But you see, ’tis election time, and the earl wishes to put in a gentleman, a friend of ours, for Kingswell. Mr. Halifax owns some cottages there, eh?”

“Mr. Fletcher does. My husband transacts business —”

“Stop! stop!” cried Lady Caroline. “I don’t understand business; I only know that they want your husband to be friendly with mine. Is this plain enough?”

“Certainly: be under no apprehension. Mr. Halifax never bears malice against any one. Was this the reason of your visit, Lady Caroline?”

“Eh — mon Dieu! what would become of us if we were all as straightforward as you, Mistress Ursula? But it sounds charming — in the country. No, my dear; I came — nay, I hardly know why. Probably, because I liked to come — my usual reason for most actions. Is that your salle-a-manger? Won’t you ask me to dinner, ma cousine?”

“Of course,” the mother said, though I fancied, afterwards, the invitation rather weighed upon her mind, probably from the doubt whether or no John would like it. But in little things, as in great, she had always this safe trust in him — that conscientiously to do what she felt to be right was the surest way to be right in her husband’s eyes.

So Lady Caroline was our guest for the day — a novel guest — but she made herself at once familiar and pleasant. Guy, a little gentleman from his cradle, installed himself her admiring knight attendant everywhere: Edwin brought her to see his pigeons; Walter, with sweet, shy blushes, offered her “a ‘ittle f’ower!” and the three, as the greatest of all favours, insisted on escorting her to pay a visit to the beautiful calf not a week old.

Laughing, she followed the boys; telling them how lately in Sicily she had been presented to a week-old prince, son of Louis Philippe the young Duke of Orleans and the Princess Marie–Amelie. “And truly, children, he was not half so pretty as your little calf. Ursula, I am sick of courts sometimes. I would turn shepherdess myself, if we could find a tolerable Arcadia.”

“Is there any Arcadia like home?”

“Home!”— Her face expressed the utmost loathing, fear, and scorn. I remembered hearing that the ‘Squire since his return from abroad had grown just like his father; was drunk every day and all day long. “Is your husband altered, Ursula? He must be quite a young man still. Oh, what it is to be young!”

“John looks much older, people say; but I don’t see it.”

“Arcadia again! Can such things be? especially in England, that paradise of husbands, where the first husband in the realm sets such an illustrious example. How do you stay-at-home British matrons feel towards my friend the Princess of Wales?”

“God help her, and make her as good a woman as she is a wronged and miserable wife,” said Ursula, sadly.

“Query, Can a ‘good woman’ be made out of a ‘wronged and miserable wife’? If so, Mrs. Halifax, you should certainly take out a patent for the manufacture.”

The subject touched too near home. Ursula wisely avoided it, by inquiring if Lady Caroline meant to remain in England.

“Cela depend.” She turned suddenly grave. “Your fresh air makes me feel weary. Shall we go indoors?”

Dinner was ready laid out — a plain meal; since neither the father nor any of us cared for table dainties; but I think if we had lived in a hut, and fed off wooden platters on potatoes and salt, our repast would have been fair and orderly, and our hut the neatest that a hut could be. For the mother of the family had in perfection almost the best genius a woman can have — the genius of tidiness.

We were not in the least ashamed of our simple dinner-table, where no difference was ever made for anybody. We had little plate, but plenty of snow-white napery and pretty china; and what with the scents of the flower-garden on one side, and the green waving of the elm-tree on the other, it was as good as dining out-of-doors.

The boys were still gathered round Lady Caroline, in the little closet off the dining-room where lessons were learnt; Muriel sat as usual on the door-sill, petting one of her doves that used to come and perch on her head and her shoulder, of their own accord, when I heard the child say to herself:

“Father’s coming.”

“Where, darling?”

“Up the farm-yard way. There — he is on the gravel-walk. He has stopped; I dare say it is to pull some of the jessamine that grows over the well. Now, fly away, dove! Father’s here.”

And the next minute a general shout echoed, “Father’s here!”

He stood in the doorway, lifting one after the other up in his arms; having a kiss and a merry word for all — this good father!

O solemn name, which Deity Himself claims and owns! Happy these children, who in its fullest sense could understand the word “father!” to whom, from the dawn of their little lives, their father was what all fathers should be-the truest representative here on earth of that Father in heaven, who is at once justice, wisdom, and perfect love.

Happy, too — most blessed among women — the woman who gave her children such a father!

Ursula came — for his eye was wandering in search of her — and received the embrace, without which he never left her, or returned.

“All rightly settled, John?”

“Quite settled.”

“I am so glad.” With a second kiss, not often bestowed in public, as congratulation. He was going to tell more, when Ursula said, rather hesitatingly, “We have a visitor today.”

Lady Caroline came out of her corner, laughing. “You did not expect me, I see. Am I welcome?”

“Any welcome that Mrs. Halifax has given is also mine.”

But John’s manner, though polite, was somewhat constrained; and he felt, as it seemed to my observant eye, more surprise than gratification in this incursion on his quiet home. Also I noticed that when Lady Caroline, in the height of her condescension, would have Muriel close to her at dinner, he involuntarily drew his little daughter to her accustomed place beside himself,

“She always sits here, thank you.”

The table-talk was chiefly between the lady and her host; she rarely talked to women when a man was to be had. Conversation veered between the Emperor Napoleon and Lord Wellington, Lord William Bentinck and Sardinian policy, the conjugal squabbles of Carlton House, and the one-absorbing political question of this year — Catholic emancipation.

“You are a staunch supporter of the Bill, my father says. Of course, you aid him in the Kingswell election tomorrow?”

“I can scarcely call it an election,” returned John. He had been commenting on it to us that morning rather severely. An election! it was merely a talk in the King’s Head parlour, a nomination, and show of hands by some dozen poor labourers, tenants of Mr. Brithwood and Lord Luxmore, who got a few pounds a-piece for their services — and the thing was done.

“Who is the nominee, Lady Caroline?”

“A young gentleman of small fortune, but excellent parts, who returned with us from Naples.”

The lady’s manner being rather more formal than she generally used, John looked up quickly.

“The election being tomorrow, of course his name is no secret?”

“Oh, no! Vermilye. Mr. Gerard Vermilye. Do you know him?”

“I have heard of him.”

As he spoke — either intentionally or no — John looked full at Lady Caroline. She dropped her eyes and began playing with her bracelets. Both immediately quitted the subject of Kingswell election.

Soon after we rose from table; and Guy, who had all dinner-time fixed his admiring gaze upon the “pretty lady,” insisted on taking her down the garden and gathering for her a magnificent arum lily, the mother’s favourite lily. I suggested gaining permission first; and was sent to ask the question.

I found John and his wife in serious, even painful conversation.

“Love,” he was saying, “I have known it for very long; but if she had not come here, I would never have grieved you by telling it.”

“Perhaps it is not true,” said Ursula, warmly. “The world is ready enough to invent cruel falsehoods about us women.”

“‘Us women!’ Don’t say that, Ursula. I will not have my wife named in the same breath with HER.”

“John!”

“I will not, I say. You don’t know what it cost me even to see her touch your hand.”

“John!”

The soft tone recalled him to his better self.

“Forgive me! but I would not have the least taint come near this wife of mine. I could not bear to think of her holding intercourse with a light woman — a woman false to her husband.”

“I do not believe it. Caroline was foolish, she was never wicked. Listen! — If this were true, how could she be laughing with our children now? Oh! John — think — she has no children.”

The deep pity passed from Ursula’s heart to her husband’s. John clasped fondly the two hands that were laid on his shoulders, as, looking up in his face, the happy wife pleaded silently for one whom all the world knew was so wronged and so unhappy.

“We will wait a little before we judge. Love, you are a better Christian than I.”

All afternoon they both showed more than courtesy — kindness, to this woman, at whom, as any one out of our retired household would have known, and as John did know well — all the world was already pointing the finger, on account of Mr. Gerard Vermilye. She, on her part, with her chameleon power of seizing and sunning herself in the delight of the moment, was in a state of the highest enjoyment. She turned “shepherdess,” fed the poultry with Edwin, pulled off her jewelled ornaments, and gave them to Walter for playthings; nay, she even washed off her rouge at the spring, and came in with faint natural roses upon her faded cheeks. So happy she seemed, so innocently, childishly happy; that more than once I saw John and Ursula exchange satisfied looks, rejoicing that they had followed after the divine charity which “thinketh no evil.”

After tea we all turned out, as was our wont on summer evenings; the children playing about; while the father and mother strolled up and down the sloping field-path, arm in arm like lovers, or sometimes he fondly leaning upon her. Thus they would walk and talk together in the twilight, for hours.

Lady Caroline pointed to them. “Look! Adam and Eve modernized; Baucis and Philemon when they were young. Bon Dieu! what it is to be young!”

She said this in a gasp, as if wild with terror of the days that were coming upon her — the dark days.

“People are always young,” I answered, “who love one another as these do.”

“Love! what an old-fashioned word. I hate it! It is so — what would you say in English? — so dechirant. I would not cultivate une grande passion for the world.”

I smiled at the idea of the bond between Mr. and Mrs. Halifax taking the Frenchified character of “une grande passion.”

“But home-love, married love, love among children and at the fire-side; — you believe in that?”

She turned upon me her beautiful eyes; they had a scared look, like a bird’s driven right into the fowler’s net.

“C’est impossible — impossible!”

The word hissed itself out between her shut teeth —“impossible.” Then she walked quickly on, and was her lively self once more.

When the evening closed, and the younger children were gone to bed, she became rather restless about the non-appearance of her coach. At last a lacquey arrived on foot. She angrily inquired why a carriage had not been sent for her?

“Master didn’t give orders, my lady,” answered the man, somewhat rudely.

Lady Caroline turned pale — with anger or fear — perhaps both.

“You have not properly answered your mistress’s question,” said Mr. Halifax.

“Master says, sir — begging my lady’s pardon for repeating it — but he says, ‘My lady went out against his will, and she may come home when and how she likes.’”

“My lady” burst out laughing, and laughed violently and long.

“Tell him I will. Be sure you tell him I will. It is the last and the easiest obedience.”

John sent the lacquey out of the room; and Ursula said something about “not speaking thus before a servant.”

“Before a servant! Why, my dear, we furnish entertainment for our whole establishment, my husband and I. We are at the Mythe what the Prince Regent and the Princess of Wales are to the country at large. We divide our people between us; I fascinate — he bribes. Ha! ha! Well done, Richard Brithwood! I may come home ‘when and how I like!’ Truly, I’ll use that kind permission.”

Her eyes glittered with an evil fire: her cheeks were hot and red.

“Mrs. Halifax, I shall be thrown on your hospitality for an hour or two longer. Could you send a letter for me?”

“To your husband? Certainly.”

“My husband? — Never! — Yes, to MY HUSBAND.” The first part of the sentence was full of fierce contempt; the latter, smothered, and slowly desperate. “Tell me, Ursula, what constitutes a man one’s husband? Brutality, tyranny — the tyranny which the law sanctions? Or kindness, sympathy, devotion, everything that makes life beautiful — everything that constitutes happiness and —”

“Sin.”

The word in her ear was so low, that she started as if conscience only had uttered it — conscience, to whom only her intents were known.

John came forward, speaking gravely, but not unkindly.

“Lady Caroline, I am deeply grieved that this should have happened in my house, and through your visiting us against your husband’s will.”

“His will!”

“Pardon me; but I think a wife is bound to the very last to obey in all things, not absolutely wrong, her husband’s will. I am glad you thought of writing to Mr. Brithwood.”

She shook her head, in mocking denial.

“May I ask, then — since I am to have the honour of sending it — to whom is this letter?”

“To —” I think she would have told a falsehood, if John’s eyes had not been so keenly fixed upon her. “To — a friend.”

“Friends are at all times dangerous to a lady who —”

“Hates her husband — ha! ha! Especially male friends?”

“Especially male friends.”

Here Guy, who had lingered out of his little bed most unlawfully — hovering about, ready to do any chivalrous duty to his idol of the day — came up to bid her good-night, and held up his rosy mouth, eagerly.

“I— kiss a little child! I!”— and from her violent laughter she burst into a passion of tears.

The mother signed me to carry Guy away; she and John took Lady Caroline into the parlour, and shut the door.

Of course I did not then learn what passed — but I did afterwards.

Lady Caroline’s tears were evanescent, like all her emotions. Soon she became composed — asked again for writing materials — then countermanded the request.

“No, I will wait till tomorrow. Ursula, you will take me in for the night?”

Mrs. Halifax looked appealingly to her husband, but he gave no assent.

“Lady Caroline, you should willingly stay, were it not, as you must know, so fatal a step. In your position, you should be most careful to leave the world and your husband no single handle against you.”

“Mr. Halifax, what right have you —”

“None, save that of an honest man, who sees a woman cruelly wronged, and desperate with her wrong; who would thankfully save her if he could.”

“Save me? From what — or whom?”

“From Mr. Gerard Vermilye, who is now waiting down the road, and whom, if Lady Caroline Brithwood once flies to, or even sees, at this crisis, she loses her place among honourable English matrons for ever.”

John said this, with no air of virtuous anger or contempt, but as the simple statement of a fact. The convicted woman dropped her face between her hands.

Ursula, greatly shocked, was some time before she spoke.

“Is it true, Caroline?”

“What is true?”

“That which my husband has heard of you?”

“Yes,” she cried, springing up, and dashing back her beautiful hair — beautiful still, though she must have been five or six and thirty at least —“Yes, it is true — it shall be true. I will break my bonds and live the life I was made for. I would have done it long ago, but for — no matter. Why, Ursula, he adores me; young and handsome as he is, he adores me. He will give me my youth back again, ay, he will.”

And she sang out a French chanson, something about “la liberte et ses plaisirs, la jeunesse, l’amour.”

The mother grew sterner — any such wife and mother would. Then and there, compassion might have died out of even her good heart, had it not been for the sudden noise over-head of children’s feet — children’s chattering. Once more the pitiful thought came —“She has no children.”

“Caroline,” she said, catching her gown as she passed, “when I was with you, you had a child which only breathed and died. It died spotless. When you die, how dare you meet that little baby?”

The singing changed to sobbing. “I had forgotten. My little baby! Oh, mon Dieu, mon Dieu!”

Mrs. Halifax, taking in earnest those meaningless French ejaculations, whispered something about Him who alone can comfort and help us all.

“Him! I never knew Him, if indeed He be. No, no, there is no after-life.”

Ursula turned away in horror. “John, what shall we do with her? No home! — no husband! — no God!”

“He never leaves Himself without a witness. Look, love.”

The wretched woman sat rocking to and fro — weeping and wringing her hands. “It was cruel — cruel! You should not have spoken about my baby. Now —”

“Tell me — just one word — I will not believe anybody’s word except your own. Caroline, are you — still innocent?”

Lady Caroline shrank from her touch. “Don’t hold me so. You may have one standard of virtue, I another.”

“Still, tell me.”

“And if I did, you, an ‘honourable English matron’— was not that your husband’s word? — would turn from me, most likely.”

“She will not,” John said. “She has been happy, and you most miserable.”

“Oh, most miserable.”

That bitter groan went to both their hearts, Ursula leaned over her — herself almost in tears. “Cousin Caroline, John says true — I will not turn from you. I know you have been sinned against — cruelly — cruelly. Only tell me that you yourself have not sinned.”

“I HAVE ‘sinned,’ as you call it.”

Ursula started — drew closer to her husband. Neither spoke.

“Mrs. Halifax, why don’t you take away your hand?”

“I? — let me think. This is terrible. Oh, John!”

Again Lady Caroline said, in her sharp, bold tone, “Take away your hand.”

“Husband, shall I?”

“No.”

For some minutes they stood together, both silent, with this poor woman. I call her “poor,” as did they, knowing, that if a sufferer needs pity, how tenfold more does a sinner!

John spoke first. “Cousin Caroline.” She lifted up her head in amazement. “We are your cousins, and we wish to be your friends, my wife and I. Will you listen to us?”

She sobbed still, but less violently.

“Only, first — you must promise to renounce for ever guilt and disgrace.”

“I feel it none. He is an honourable gentleman — he loves me, and I love him. That is the true marriage. No, I will make you no such promise. Let me go.”

“Pardon me — not yet. I cannot suffer my wife’s kinswoman to elope from my own house, without trying to prevent it.”

“Prevent! — sir! — Mr. Halifax! You forget who you are, and who I am-the daughter of the Earl of Luxmore.”

“Were you the King’s daughter it would make no difference. I will save you in spite of yourself, if I can. I have already spoken to Mr. Vermilye, and he has gone away.”

“Gone away! the only living soul that loves me. Gone away! I must follow him — quick — quick.”

“You cannot. He is miles distant by this time. He is afraid lest this story should come out tomorrow at Kingswell; and to be an M.P. and safe from arrest is better to Mr. Vermilye than even yourself, Lady Caroline.”

John’s wife, unaccustomed to hear him take that cool, worldly, half-sarcastic tone, turned to him somewhat reproachfully; but he judged best. For the moment, this tone had more weight with the woman of the world than any homilies. She began to be afraid of Mr. Halifax. Impulse, rather than resolution, guided her, and even these impulses were feeble and easily governed. She sat down again, muttering:

“My will is free. You cannot control me.”

“Only so far as my conscience justifies me in preventing a crime.”

“A crime?”

“It would be such. No sophistries of French philosophy on your part, no cruelty on your husband’s, can abrogate the one law, which if you disown it as God’s, is still man’s — being necessary for the peace, honour, and safety of society.”

“What law?”

“THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY.”

People do not often utter this plain Bible word. It made Ursula start, even when spoken solemnly by her own husband. It tore from the self-convicted woman all the sentimental disguises with which the world then hid, and still hides, its corruptions. Her sin arose and stared her blackly in the face — AS SIN. She cowered before it.

“Am I— THAT? And William will know it. Poor William!” She looked up at Ursula — for the first time with the guilty look; hitherto, it had been only one of pain or despair. “Nobody knows it, except you. Don’t tell William. I would have gone long ago, but for him. He is a good boy; — don’t let him guess his sister was —”

She left the word unspoken. Shame seemed to crush her down to the earth; shame, the precursor of saving penitence — at least, John thought so. He quitted the room, leaving her to the ministry of his other self, his wife. As he sat down with me, and told me in a few words what indeed I had already more than half guessed, I could not but notice the expression of his own face. And I recognized how a man can be at once righteous to judge, tender to pity, and strong to save; a man the principle of whose life is, as John’s was — that it should be made “conformable to the image” of Him, who was Himself on earth the image of God.

Ursula came out and called her husband. They talked some time together. I guessed, from what I heard, that she wished Lady Caroline to stay the night here, but that he with better judgment was urging the necessity of her returning to the protection of her husband’s home without an hour’s delay.

“It is her only chance of saving her reputation. She must do it. Tell her so, Ursula.”

After a few minutes, Mrs. Halifax came out again.

“I have persuaded her at last. She says she will do whatever you think best. Only before she goes, she wants to look at the children. May she?”

“Poor soul! — yes,” John murmured, turning away.

Stepping out of sight, we saw the poor lady pass through the quiet, empty house into the children’s bed-room. We heard her smothered sob, at times, the whole way.

Then I went down to the stream, and helped John to saddle his horse, with Mrs. Halifax’s old saddle — in her girlish days, Ursula used to be very fond of riding.

“She can ride back again from the Mythe,” said John. “She wishes to go, and it is best she should; so that nothing need be said, except that Lady Caroline spent a day at Longfield, and that my wife and I accompanied her safe home.”

While he spoke, the two ladies came down the field-path. I fancied I heard, even now, a faint echo of that peculiarly sweet and careless laugh, indicating how light were all impressions on a temperament so plastic and weak — so easily remoulded by the very next influence that fate might throw across her perilous way.

John Halifax assisted her on horseback, took the bridle under one arm and gave the other to his wife. Thus they passed up the path, and out at the White Gate.

I delayed a little while, listening to the wind, and to the prattle of the stream, that went singing along in daylight or in darkness, by our happy home at Longfield. And I sighed to myself, “Poor Lady Caroline!”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 13:06