John Halifax, Gentleman, by Dinah Craik

Chapter 37

It was not many weeks after this departure of Lord Ravenel’s — the pain of which was almost forgotten in the comfort of Guy’s first long home letter, which came about this time — that John one morning, suddenly dropping his newspaper, exclaimed:

“Lord Luxmore is dead.”

Yes, he had returned to his dust, this old bad man; so old, that people had begun to think he would never die. He was gone; the man who, if we owned an enemy in the world, had certainly proved himself that enemy. Something peculiar is there in a decease like this — of one whom, living, we have almost felt ourselves justified in condemning, avoiding — perhaps hating. Until Death, stepping in between, removes him to another tribunal than this petty justice of ours, and laying a solemn finger on our mouths, forbids us either to think or utter a word of hatred against that which is now — what? — a disembodied spirit — a handful of corrupting clay.

Lord Luxmore was dead. He had gone to his account; it was not ours to judge him. We never knew — I believe no one except his son ever fully knew — the history of his death-bed.

John sat in silence, the paper before him, long after we had passed the news and discussed it, not without awe, all round the breakfast-table.

Maud stole up — hesitatingly, and asked to see the announcement of the earl’s decease.

“No, my child; but you shall hear it read aloud, if you choose.”

I guessed the reason of his refusal; when, looking over him as he read, I saw, after the long list of titles owned by the new Earl of Luxmore, one bitter line; how it must have cut to the heart of him whom we first heard of as “poor William!”

“HAD LIKEWISE ISSUE, CAROLINE, MARRIED IN 17 — TO RICHARD BRITHWOOD, ESQUIRE, AFTERWARDS DIVORCED.”

And by a curious coincidence, about twenty lines further down I read among the fashionable marriages:

“AT THE BRITISH EMBASSY, PARIS, SIR GERARD VERMILYE, BART., TO THE YOUTHFUL AND BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER OF—”

I forget who. I only saw that the name was not her name, of whom the “youthful and beautiful” bride had most likely never heard. He had not married Lady Caroline.

This morning’s intelligence brought the Luxmore family so much to our thoughts, that driving out after breakfast, John and I involuntarily recurred to the subject. Nay, talking on, in the solitude of our front seat — for Mrs. Halifax, Miss Halifax, and Mrs. Edwin Halifax, in the carriage behind, were deep in some other subject — we fell upon a topic which by tacit consent had been laid aside, as in our household we held it good to lay aside any inevitable regret.

“Poor Maud! how eager she was to hear the news today. She little thinks how vitally it might have concerned her.”

“No,” John answered thoughtfully; then asked me with some abruptness, “Why did you say ‘poor Maud’?”

I really could not tell; it was a mere accident, the unwitting indication of some crotchets of mine, which had often come into my mind lately. Crotchets, perhaps peculiar to one, who, never having known a certain possession, found himself rather prone to over-rate its value. But it sometimes struck me as hard, considering how little honest and sincere love there is in the world, that Maud should never have known of Lord Ravenel’s.

Possibly, against my will, my answer implied something of this; for John was a long time silent. Then he began to talk of various matters; telling me of many improvements he was planning and executing, on his property, and among his people. In all his plans, and in the carrying out of them, I noticed one peculiarity, strong in him throughout his life, but latterly grown stronger than ever — namely, that whatever he found to do, he did immediately. Procrastination had never been one of his faults; now, he seemed to have a horror of putting anything off even for a single hour. Nothing that could be done did he lay aside until it was done; his business affairs were kept in perfect order, each day’s work being completed with the day. And in the thousand-and-one little things that were constantly arising, from his position as magistrate and land-owner, and his general interest in the movements of the time, the same system was invariably pursued. In his relations with the world outside, as in his own little valley, he seemed determined to “work while it was day.” If he could possibly avoid it, no application was ever unattended to; no duty left unfinished; no good unacknowledged; no evil unremedied, or at least unforgiven.

“John,” I said, as today this peculiarity of his struck me more than usual, “thou art certainly one of the faithful servants whom the Master when He cometh will find watching.”

“I hope so. It ought to be thus with all men — but especially with me.”

I imagined from his tone that he was thinking of his responsibility as father, master, owner of large wealth. How could I know — how could I guess — beyond this!

“Do you think she looks pale, Phineas?” he asked suddenly.

“Who — your wife?”

“No — Maud. My little Maud.”

It was but lately that he called her “his” little Maud; since with that extreme tenacity of attachment which was a part of his nature — refusing to put any one love in another love’s place — his second daughter had never been to him like the first. Now, however, I had noticed that he took Maud nearer to his heart, made her more often his companion, watching her with a sedulous tenderness — it was easy to guess why.

“She may have looked a little paler of late, a little more thoughtful. But I am sure she is not unhappy.”

“I believe not — thank God!”

“Surely,” I said anxiously, “you have never repented what you did about Lord Ravenel?”

“No — not once. It cost me so much, that I know it was right to be done.”

“But if things had been otherwise — if you had not been so sure of Maud’s feelings —”

He started, painfully; then answered —“I think I should have done it still.”

I was silent. The paramount right, the high prerogative of love, which he held as strongly as I did, seemed attacked in its liberty divine. For the moment, it was as if he too had in his middle-age gone over to the cold-blooded ranks of harsh parental prudence, despotic paternal rule; as if Ursula March’s lover and Maud’s father were two distinct beings. One finds it so, often enough, with men.

“John,” I said, “could you have done it? could you have broken the child’s heart?”

“Yes, if it was to save her peace, perhaps her soul, I could have broken my child’s heart.”

He spoke solemnly, with an accent of inexpressible pain, as if this were not the first time by many that he had pondered over such a possibility.

“I wish, Phineas, to make clear to you, in case of — of any future misconceptions — my mind on this matter. One right alone I hold superior to the right of love — duty. It is a father’s duty, at all risks, at all costs, to save his child from anything which he believes would peril her duty — so long as she is too young to understand fully how beyond the claim of any human being, be it father or lover, is God’s claim to herself and her immortal soul. Anything which would endanger that should be cut off — though it be the right hand — the right eye. But, thank God, it was not thus with my little Maud.”

“Nor with him either. He bore his disappointment well.”

“Nobly. It may make a true nobleman of him yet. But, being what he is, and for as long as he remains so, he must not be trusted with my little Maud. I must take care of her while I live: afterwards —”

His smile faded, or rather was transmuted into that grave thoughtfulness which I had lately noticed in him, when, as now, he fell into one of his long silences. There was nothing sad about it; rather a serenity which reminded me of that sweet look of his boyhood, which had vanished during the manifold cares of his middle life. The expression of the mouth, as I saw it in profile — close and calm — almost inclined me to go back to the fanciful follies of our youth, and call him “David.”

We drove through Norton Bury, and left Mrs. Edwin there. Then on, along the familiar road, towards the manor-house; past the white gate, within sight of little Longfield.

“It looks just the same — the tenant takes good care of it.” And John’s eyes turned fondly to his old home.

“Ay, just the same. Do you know your wife was saying to me this morning, that when Guy comes back, when all the young folk are married, and you retire from business and settle into the otium cum dignitate, the learned leisure you used to plan — she would like to give up Beechwood. She said, she hopes you and she will end your days together at little Longfield.”

“Did she? Yes, I know that has been always her dream.”

“Scarcely a dream, or one that is not unlikely to be fulfilled. I like to fancy you both two old people, sitting on either side the fire — or on the same side if you like it best; very cheerful — you will make such a merry old man, John, with all your children round you, and indefinite grandchildren about the house continually. Or else you two will sit alone together, just as in your early married days — you and your old wife — the dearest and handsomest old lady that ever was seen.”

“Phineas — don’t — don’t.” I was startled by the tone in which he answered the lightness of mine. “I mean — don’t be planning out the future. It is foolish — it is almost wrong. God’s will is not as our will; and He knows best.”

I would have spoken; but just then we reached the manor-house gate, and plunged at once into present life, and into the hospitable circle of the Oldtowers.

They were all in the excitement of a wonderful piece of gossip; gossip so strange, sudden, and unprecedented, that it absorbed all lesser matters. It burst out before we had been in the house five minutes.

“Have you heard this extraordinary report about the Luxmore family?”

I could see Maud turn with eager attention — fixing her eyes wistfully on Lady Oldtower.

“About the earl’s death. Yes, we saw it in the newspaper.” And John passed on to some other point of conversation. In vain.

“This news relates to the present earl. I never heard of such a thing — never. In fact, if true, his conduct is something which in its self-denial approaches absolute insanity. Is it possible that, being so great a friend of your family, he has not informed you of the circumstances?”

These circumstances, with some patience, we extracted from the voluble Lady Oldtower. She had learnt them — I forget how: but news never wants a tongue to carry it.

It seemed that on the earl’s death it was discovered, what had already been long suspected, that his liabilities, like his extravagances, were enormous. That he was obliged to live abroad to escape in some degree the clamorous haunting of the hundreds he had ruined: poor tradespeople, who knew that their only chance of payment was during the old man’s life-time, for his whole property was entailed on the son.

Whether Lord Ravenel had ever been acquainted with the state of things, or whether, being in ignorance of it, his own style of living had in degree imitated his father’s, rumour did not say, nor indeed was it of much consequence. The facts subsequently becoming known immediately after Lord Luxmore’s death, made all former conjectures unnecessary.

Not a week before he died, the late earl and his son — chiefly it was believed on the latter’s instigation — had cut off the entail, thereby making the whole property saleable, and available for the payment of creditors. Thus by his own act, and — as some one had told somebody that somebody else had heard Lord Ravenel say: “for the honour of the family,” the present earl had succeeded to an empty title, and — beggary.

“Or,” Lady Oldtower added, “what to a man of rank will be the same as beggary — a paltry two hundred a year or so — which he has reserved, they say, just to keep him from destitution. Ah — here comes Mr. Jessop; I thought he would. He can tell us all about it.”

Old Mr. Jessop was as much excited as any one present.

“Ay — it’s all true — only too true, Mr. Halifax. He was at my house last night.”

“Last night!” I do not think anybody caught the child’s exclamation but me; I could not help watching little Maud, noticing what strong emotion, still perfectly child-like and unguarded in its demonstration, was shaking her innocent bosom, and overflowing at her eyes. However, as she sat still in the corner, nobody observed her.

“Yes, he slept at my house — Lord Ravenel, the Earl of Luxmore, I mean. Much good will his title do him! My head clerk is better off than he. He has stripped himself of every penny, except — bless me, I forgot; Mr. Halifax, he gave me a letter for you.”

John walked to the window to read it; but having read it, passed it openly round the circle; as indeed was best.

“MY DEAR FRIEND,

“You will have heard that my father is no more.”

(“He used always to say ‘the earl,’” whispered Maud, as she looked over my shoulder.)

“I write this merely to say, what I feel sure you will already have believed — that anything which you may learn concerning his affairs, I was myself unaware of, except in a very slight degree, when I last visited Beechwood.

“Will you likewise believe that in all I have done, or intend doing, your interests as my tenant — which I hope you will remain — have been, and shall be, sedulously guarded?

“My grateful remembrance to all your household.

“Faithfully yours and theirs,

“LUXMORE.”

“Give me back the letter, Maud my child.”

She had been taking possession of it, as in right of being his “pet” she generally did of all Lord Ravenel’s letters. But now, without a word of objection, she surrendered it to her father.

“What does he mean, Mr. Jessop, about my interests as his tenant?”

“Bless me — I am so grieved about the matter that everything goes astray in my head. He wished me to explain to you that he has reserved one portion of the Luxmore property intact — Enderley Mills. The rent you pay will, he says, be a sufficient income for him; and then while your lease lasts no other landlord can injure you. Very thoughtful of him — very thoughtful indeed, Mr. Halifax.”

John made no answer.

“I never saw a man so altered. He went over some matters with me — private charities, in which I have been his agent, you know — grave, clear-headed, business-like; my clerk himself could not have done better. Afterwards we sat and talked, and I tried — foolishly enough, when the thing was done! — to show him what a frantic act it was both towards himself and his heirs. But he could not see it. He said cutting off the entail would harm nobody — for that he did not intend ever to marry. Poor fellow!”

“Is he with you still?” John asked in a low tone.

“No; he left this morning for Paris; his father is to be buried there. Afterwards, he said, his movements were quite uncertain. He bade me good-bye — I— I didn’t like it, I can assure you.”

And the old man, blowing his nose with his yellow pocket-handkerchief, and twitching his features into all manner of shapes, seemed determined to put aside the melancholy subject, and dilated on the earl and his affairs no more.

Nor did any one. Something in this young nobleman’s noble act — it has since been not without a parallel among our aristocracy — silenced the tongue of gossip itself. The deed was so new — so unlike anything that had been conceived possible, especially in a man like Lord Ravenel, who had always borne the character of a harmless, idle misanthropic nonentity — that society was really nonplussed concerning it. Of the many loquacious visitors who came that morning to pour upon Lady Oldtower all the curiosity of Coltham — fashionable Coltham, famous for all the scandal of haut ton — there was none who did not speak of Lord Luxmore and his affairs with an uncomfortable, wondering awe. Some suggested he was going mad — others, raking up stories current of his early youth, thought he had turned Catholic again, and was about to enter a monastery. One or two honest hearts protested that he was a noble fellow, and it was a pity he had determined to be the last of the Luxmores.

For ourselves — Mr. and Mrs. Halifax, Maud and I— we never spoke to one another on the subject all the morning. Not until after luncheon, when John and I had somehow stolen out of the way of the visitors, and were walking to and fro in the garden. The sunny fruit garden — ancient, Dutch, and square — with its barricade of a high hedge, a stone wall, and between it and the house a shining fence of great laurel trees.

Maud appeared suddenly before us from among these laurels, breathless.

“I got away after you, father. I— I wanted to find some strawberries — and — I wanted to speak to you.”

“Speak on, little lady.”

He linked her arm in his, and she paced between us up and down the broad walk — but without diverging to the strawberry-beds. She was grave, and paler than ordinary. Her father asked if she were tired?

“No, but my head aches. Those Coltham people do talk so. Father, I want you to explain to me, for I can’t well understand all this that they have been saying about Lord Ravenel.”

John explained, as simply and briefly as he could.

“I understand. Then, though he is Earl of Luxmore, he is quite poor — poorer than any of us? And he has made himself poor in order to pay his own and his father’s debts, and keep other people from suffering from any fault of his? Is it so?”

“Yes, my child.”

“Is it not a very noble act, father?”

“Very noble.”

“I think it is the noblest act I ever heard of. I should like to tell him so. When is he coming to Beechwood?”

Maud spoke quickly, with flushed cheeks, in the impetuous manner she inherited from her mother. Her question not being immediately answered, she repeated it still more eagerly.

Her father replied —“I do not know.”

“How very strange! I thought he would come at once — to-night, probably.”

I reminded her that Lord Ravenel had left for Paris, bidding goodbye to Mr. Jessop.

“He ought to have come to us instead of to Mr. Jessop. Write and tell him so, father. Tell him how glad we shall be to see him. And perhaps you can help him: you who help everybody. He always said you were his best friend.”

“Did he?”

“Ah now, do write, father dear — I am sure you will.”

John looked down on the little maid who hung on his arm so persuasively, then looked sorrowfully away.

“My child — I cannot.”

“What, not write to him? When he is poor and in trouble? That is not like you, father,” and Maud half-loosed her arm.

Her father quietly put the little rebellious hand back again to its place. He was evidently debating within himself whether he should tell her the whole truth, or how much of it. Not that the debate was new, for he must already have foreseen this possible, nay, certain, conjuncture. Especially as all his dealings with his family had hitherto been open as daylight. He held that to prevaricate, or wilfully to give the impression of a falsehood, is almost as mean as a direct lie. When anything occurred that he could not tell his children, he always said plainly, “I cannot tell you,” and they asked no more.

I wondered exceedingly how he would deal with Maud.

She walked with him, submissive yet not satisfied, glancing at him from time to time, waiting for him to speak. At last she could wait no longer.

“I am sure there is something wrong. You do not care for Lord Ravenel as much as you used to do.”

“More, if possible.”

“Then write to him. Say, we want to see him — I want to see him. Ask him to come and stay a long while at Beechwood.”

“I cannot, Maud. It would be impossible for him to come. I do not think he is likely to visit Beechwood for some time.”

“How long? Six months? A year, perhaps?”

“It may be several years.”

“Then, I was right. Something HAS happened; you are not friends with him any longer. And he is poor — in trouble — oh, father!”

She snatched her hand away, and flashed upon him reproachful eyes. John took her gently by the arm, and made her sit down upon the wall of a little stone bridge, under which the moat slipped with a quiet murmur. Maud’s tears dropped into it fast and free.

That very outburst, brief and thundery as a child’s passion, gave consolation both to her father and me. When it lessened, John spoke.

“Now has my little Maud ceased to be angry with her father?”

“I did not mean to be angry — only I was so startled — so grieved. Tell me what has happened, please, father?”

“I will tell you — so far as I can. Lord Ravenel and myself had some conversation, of a very painful kind, the last night he was with us. After it, we both considered it advisable he should not visit us again for the present.”

“Why not? Had you quarrelled? or if you had, I thought my father was always the first to forgive everybody.”

“No, Maud, we had not quarrelled.”

“Then, what was it?”

“My child, you must not ask, for indeed I cannot tell you.”

Maud sprang up — the rebellious spirit flashing out again. “Not tell me — me, his pet — me, that cared for him more than any of you did. I think you ought to tell me, father.”

“You must allow me to decide that, if you please.”

After this answer Maud paused, and said humbly, “Does any one else know?”

“Your mother, and your uncle Phineas, who happened to be present at the time. No one else: and no one else shall know.”

John spoke with that slight quivering and blueness of the lips which any mental excitement usually produced in him. He sat down by his daughter’s side and took her hand.

“I knew this would grieve you, and I kept it from you as long as I could. Now you must only be patient, and like a good child trust your father.”

Something in his manner quieted her. She only sighed and said, “she could not understand it.”

“Neither can I— often times, my poor little Maud. There are so many sad things in life that we have to take upon trust, and bear, and be patient with — yet never understand. I suppose we shall some day.”

His eyes wandered upward to the wide-arched blue sky, which in its calm beauty makes us fancy that Paradise is there, even though we know that “THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS WITHIN US,” and that the kingdom of spirits may be around us and about us everywhere.

Maud looked at her father, and crept closer to him — into his arms.

“I did not mean to be naughty. I will try not to mind losing him. But I liked Lord Ravenel so much — and he was so fond of me.”

“Child”— and her father himself could not help smiling at the simplicity of her speech —“it is often easiest to lose those we are fond of and who are fond of us, because, in one sense, we never can really lose them. Nothing in this world, nor, I believe, in any other, can part those who truly and faithfully love.”

I think he was hardly aware how much he was implying, at least not in its relation to her, else he would not have said it. And he would surely have noticed, as I did, that the word “love,” which had not been mentioned before — it was “liking,” “fond of,” “care for,” or some such round-about, childish phrase — the word “love” made Maud start. She darted from one to the other of us a keen glance of inquiry, and then turned the colour of a July rose.

Her attitude, her blushes, the shy tremble about her mouth, reminded me vividly, too vividly, of her mother twenty-eight years ago.

Alarmed, I tried to hasten the end of our conversation, lest, voluntarily or involuntarily, it might produce the very results which, though they might not have altered John’s determination, would almost have broken his heart.

So, begging her to “kiss and make friends,” which Maud did, timidly, and without attempting further questions, I hurried the father and daughter into the house; deferring for mature consideration, the question whether or not I should trouble John with any too-anxious doubts of mine concerning her.

As we drove back through Norton Bury, I saw that while her mother and Lady Oldtower conversed, Maud sat opposite rather more silent than her wont; but when the ladies dismounted for shopping, she was again the lively independent Miss Halifax,

“Standing with reluctant feet,

Where womanhood and childhood meet;”

and assuming at once the prerogatives and immunities of both.

Her girlish ladyship at last got tired of silks and ribbons, and stood with me at the shop-door, amusing herself with commenting on the passers-by.

These were not so plentiful as I once remembered, though still the old town wore its old face — appearing fairer than ever, as I myself grew older. The same Coltham coach stopped at the Lamb Inn, and the same group of idle loungers took an interest in its disemboguing of its contents. But railways had done an ill turn to the coach and to poor Norton Bury: where there used to be six inside passengers, today was turned out only one.

“What a queer-looking little woman! Uncle Phineas, people shouldn’t dress so fine as that when they are old.”

Maud’s criticism was scarcely unjust. The light-coloured flimsy gown, shorter than even Coltham fashionables would have esteemed decent, the fluttering bonnet, the abundance of flaunting curls — no wonder that the stranger attracted considerable notice in quiet Norton Bury. As she tripped mincingly along, in her silk stockings and light shoes, a smothered jeer arose.

“People should not laugh at an old woman, however conceited she may be,” said Maud, indignantly.

“Is she old?”

“Just look.”

And surely when, as she turned from side to side, I caught her full face — what a face it was! withered, thin, sallow almost to deathliness, with a bright rouge-spot on each cheek, a broad smile on the ghastly mouth.

“Is she crazy, Uncle Phineas?”

“Possibly. Do not look at her.” For I was sure this must be the wreck of such a life as womanhood does sometimes sink to — a life, the mere knowledge of which had never yet entered our Maud’s pure world.

She seemed surprised, but obeyed me and went in. I stood at the shop-door, watching the increasing crowd, and pitying, with that pity mixed with shame that every honest man must feel towards a degraded woman, the wretched object of their jeers. Half-frightened, she still kept up that set smile, skipping daintily from side to side of the pavement, darting at and peering into every carriage that passed. Miserable creature as she looked, there was a certain grace and ease in her movements, as if she had fallen from some far higher estate.

At that moment, the Mythe carriage, with Mr. Brithwood in it, dozing his daily drive away, his gouty foot propped up before him — slowly lumbered up the street. The woman made a dart at it, but was held back.

“Canaille! I always hated your Norton Bury! Call my carriage. I will go home.”

Through its coarse discordance, its insane rage, I thought I knew the voice. Especially when, assuming a tone of command, she addressed the old coachman:

“Draw up, Peter; you are very late. People, give way! Don’t you see my carriage?”

There was a roar of laughter, so loud that even Mr. Brithwood opened his dull, drunken eyes and stared about him.

“Canaille!”— the scream was more of terror than anger, as she almost flung herself under the horses’ heads in her eagerness to escape from the mob. “Let me go! My carriage is waiting. I am Lady Caroline Brithwood!”

The ‘squire heard her. For a single instant they gazed at one another — besotted husband, dishonoured, divorced wife — gazed with horror and fear, as two sinners who had been each other’s undoing, might meet in the poetic torments of Dante’s “Inferno,” or the tangible fire and brimstone of many a blind but honest Christian’s hell. One single instant — and then Richard Brithwood made up his mind.

“Coachman, drive on!”

But the man — he was an old man — seemed to hesitate at urging his horses right over “my lady.” He even looked down on her with a sort of compassion — I remembered having heard say that she was always kind and affable to her servants.

“Drive on, you fool! Here”— and Mr. Brithwood threw some coin amongst the mob —“Fetch the constable — some of you; take the woman to the watch-house!”

And the carriage rolled on, leaving her there, crouched on the kerbstone, gazing after it with something between a laugh and a moan.

Nobody touched her. Perhaps some had heard of her; a few might even have seen her — driving through Norton Bury in her pristine state, as the young ‘squire’s handsome wife — the charming Lady Caroline.

I was so absorbed in the sickening sight, that I did not perceive how John and Ursula, standing behind me, had seen it likewise — evidently seen and understood it all.

“What is to be done?” she whispered to him.

“What ought we to do?”

Here Maud came running out to see what was amiss in the street.

“Go in, child,” said Mrs. Halifax, sharply. “Stay till I fetch you.”

Lady Oldtower also advanced to the door; but catching some notion of what the disturbance was, shocked and scandalised, retired into the shop again.

John looked earnestly at his wife, but for once she did not or would not understand his meaning; she drew back uneasily.

“What must be done? — I mean, what do you want me to do?”

“What only a woman can do — a woman like you, and in your position.”

“Yes, if it were only myself. But think of the household — think of Maud. People will talk so. It is hard to know how to act.”

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

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

“John, you are right; you are always right. I will do anything you please.”

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

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

“Are you the constable? He said he would send the constable.”

“Hush — do not be afraid. Cousin — Cousin Caroline.”

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

“Madam, you are very kind. I believe I have had the pleasure of seeing you somewhere. Your name is —”

“Ursula Halifax. Do you remember?”— speaking gently as she would have done to a child.

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

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

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

“Plait il? — oh yes; I understand. I shall be happy — most happy.”

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

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