John Halifax, Gentleman/Chapter XXXVI
Lord Ravenel knew—as all Paris did by this time—the whole story. Though, as he truly said, he had not seen Guy. The lad was hurried off immediately, for fear of justice: but he had written from shipboard to Lord Ravenel, begging him himself to take the letter and break the news to us at Beechwood.
The man he had struck was not one of Lord Luxmore's set—though it was through some of his "noble" friends Guy had fallen into his company. He was an Englishman, lately succeeded to a baronetcy and estate; his name—how we started to hear it, though by Lord Ravenel and by us, for his sake, it was both pronounced and listened to, as if none of us had ever heard it before—Sir Gerard Vermilye.
As soon as Ursula recovered, Mr. Halifax and Lord Ravenel went to Paris together. This was necessary, not only to meet justice, but to track the boy—to whose destination we had no clue but the wide world, America. Guy's mother hurried them away—his mother, who rose from her bed, and moved about the house like a ghost—up-stairs and down-stairs—everywhere—excepting in that room, which was now once more locked, and the outer blind drawn down, as if Death himself had taken possession there.
Alas! we learned now that there may be sorrows bitterer even than death.
Mr. Halifax went away. Then followed a long season of torpid gloom— days or weeks, I hardly remember—during which we, living shut up at Beechwood, knew that our name—John's stainless, honourable name—was in everybody's mouth—parrotted abroad in every society—canvassed in every newspaper. We tried, Walter and I, to stop them at first, dreading lest the mother might read in some foul print or other scurrilous tales about her boy; or, as long remained doubtful, learn that he was proclaimed through France and England as a homicide—an assassin. But concealments were idle—she would read everything— hear everything—meet everything—even those neighbours who out of curiosity or sympathy called at Beechwood. Not many times, though; they said they could not understand Mrs. Halifax. So, after a while, they all left her alone, except good little Grace Oldtower.
"Come often," I heard her say to this girl, whom she was fond of: they had sat talking a whole morning—idly and pensively; of little things around them, never once referring to things outside. "Come often, though the house is dull. Does it not feel strange, with Mr. Halifax away?"
Ay, this was the change—stranger at first than what had befallen Guy—for that long seemed a thing we could not realise; like a story told of some other family than ours. The present tangible blank was the house with its head and master away.
Curiously enough, but from his domestic habits easily accountable, he had scarcely ever been more than a few days absent from home before. We missed him continually; in his place at the head of the table; in his chair by the fire; his quick ring at the hall bell, when he came up from the mills—his step—his voice—his laugh. The life and soul of the house seemed to have gone out of it from the hour the father went away.
I think in the wonderful workings of things—as we know all things do work together for good—this fact was good for Ursula. It taught her that, in losing Guy, she had not lost all her blessings. It showed her what in the passion of her mother-love she might have been tempted to forget—many mothers do—that beyond all maternal duty, is the duty that a woman owes to her husband: beyond all loves, is the love that was hers before any of them were born.
So, gradually, as every day John's letters came,—and she used to watch for them and seize them as if they had been love-letters; as every day she seemed to miss him more, and count more upon his return; referring all decisions, and all little pleasures planned for her, to the time "when your father comes home;"—hope and comfort began to dawn in the heart of the mourning mother.
And when at last John fixed the day of his coming back, I saw Ursula tying up the small bundle of his letters—his letters, of which in all her happy life she had had so few—his tender, comforting, comfortable letters.
"I hope I shall never need to have any more," she said, half-smiling- -the faint smile which began to dawn in her poor face, as if she must accustom it to look bright again in time for her husband's coming.
And when the day arrived, she put all the house in trim order, dressed herself in her prettiest gown, sat patient while Maud brushed and curled her hair—how white it had turned of late!—and then waited, with a flush on her cheek—like that of a young girl waiting for her lover—for the sound of carriage-wheels.
All that had to be told about Guy—and it was better news than any one of us had hoped for—John had already told in his letters. When he came back, therefore, he was burthened with no trouble undisclosed—greeted with no anguish of fear or bitter remembrance. As he sprang out of the post-chaise, it was to find his wife standing at the door, and his home smiling for him its brightest welcome. No blessing on earth could be like the blessing of the father's return.
John looked pale, but not paler than might have been expected. Grave, too—but it was a soft seriousness altogether free from the restlessness of keen anxiety. The first shock of this heavy misfortune was over. He had paid all his son's debts; he had, as far as was possible, saved his good name; he had made a safe home for the lad, and heard of his safely reaching it, in the New World. Nothing more was left but to cover over the inevitable grief, and hope that time would blot out the intolerable shame. That since Guy's hand was clear of blood—and, since his recovery, Sir Gerard Vermilye had risen into a positive hero of society—men's minds would gradually lose the impression of a deed committed in heat of youth, and repented of with such bitter atonement.
So the father took his old place, and looked round on the remnant of his children, grave indeed, but not weighed down by incurable suffering. Something, deeper even than the hard time he had recently passed through, seemed to have made his home more than ever dear to him. He sat in his arm-chair, never weary of noticing everything pleasant about him, of saying how pretty Beechwood looked, and how delicious it was to be at home. And perpetually, if any chance unlinked it, his hand would return to its clasp of Ursula's; the minute she left her place by his side, his restless "Love, where are you going?" would call her back again. And once, when the children were out of the room, and I, sitting in a dark corner, was probably thought absent likewise, I saw John take his wife's face between his two hands, and look in it—the fondest, most lingering, saddest look!—then fold her tightly to his breast.
"I must never be away from her again. Mine—for as long as I live, mine—MY wife, MY Ursula!"
She took it all naturally, as she had taken every expression of his love these nine-and-twenty years. I left them, standing eye to eye, heart to heart, as if nothing in this world could ever part them.
Next morning was as gay as any of our mornings used to be, for, before breakfast, came Edwin and Louise. And after breakfast, the father and mother and I walked up and down the garden for an hour, talking over the prospects of the young couple. Then the post came— but we had no need to watch for it now. It only brought a letter from Lord Ravenel.
John read it, somewhat more seriously than he had been used to read these letters—which for the last year or so had come often enough— the boys usually quizzing, and Mistress Maud vehemently defending, the delicate small hand-writing, the exquisite paper, the coronetted seal, and the frank in the corner. John liked to have them, and his wife also—she being not indifferent to the fact, confirmed by many other facts, that if there was one man in the world whom Lord Ravenel honoured and admired, it was John Halifax of Beechwood. But this time her pleasure was apparently damped; and when Maud, claiming the letter as usual, spread abroad, delightedly, the news that "her" Lord Ravenel was coming shortly, I imagined this visit was not so welcome as usual to the parents.
Yet still, as many a time before, when Mr. Halifax closed the letter, he sighed, looked sorrowful, saying only, "Poor Lord Ravenel!"
"John," asked his wife, speaking in a whisper, for by tacit consent all public allusion to his doings at Paris was avoided in the family- -"did you, by any chance, hear anything of—You know whom I mean?"
"Not one syllable."
"You inquired?" He assented. "I knew you would. She must be almost an old woman now, or perhaps she is dead. Poor Caroline!"
It was the first time for years and years that this name had been breathed in our household. Involuntarily it carried me back—perhaps others besides me—to the day at Longfield when little Guy had devoted himself to his "pretty lady;" when we first heard that other name, which by a curious conjuncture of circumstances had since become so fatally familiar, and which would henceforward be like the sound of a death-bell in our family—Gerard Vermilye.
On Lord Ravenel's re-appearance at Beechwood—and he seemed eager and glad to come—I was tempted to wish him away. He never crossed the threshold but his presence brought a shadow over the parents' looks— and no wonder. The young people were gay and friendly as ever; made him always welcome with us; and he rode over daily from desolate, long-uninhabited Luxmore, where, in all its desolation, he appeared so fond of abiding.
He wanted to take Maud and Walter over there one day, to see some magnificent firs that were being cut down in a wholesale massacre, leaving the grand old Hall as bare as a workhouse front. But the father objected; he was clearly determined that all the hospitalities between Luxmore and Beechwood should be on the Beechwood side.
Lord Ravenel apparently perceived this. "Luxmore is not Compiegne," he said to me, with his dreary smile, half-sad, half-cynical. "Mr. Halifax might indulge me with the society of his children."
And as he lay on the grass—it was full summer now—watching Maud's white dress flit about under the trees, I saw, or fancied I saw, something different to any former expression that had ever lighted up the soft languid mien of William Lord Ravenel.
"How tall that child has grown lately! She is about nineteen, I think?"
"Not seventeen till December."
"Ah, so young?—Well, it is pleasant to be young!—Dear little Maud!"
He turned on one side, hiding the sun from his eyes with those delicate ringed hands—which many a time our boys had laughed at, saying they were mere lady's hands, fit for no work at all.
Perhaps Lord Ravenel felt the cloud that had come over our intercourse with him; a cloud which, considering late events, was scarcely unnatural: for when evening came, his leave-taking, always a regret, seemed now as painful as his blase indifference to all emotions, pleasant or unpleasant, could allow. He lingered—he hesitated—he repeated many times how glad he should be to see Beechwood again; how all the world was to him "flat, stale, and unprofitable," except Beechwood.
John made no special answer; except that frank smile not without a certain kindly satire, under which the young nobleman's Byronic affectations generally melted away like mists in the morning. He kindled up into warmth and manliness.
"I thank you, Mr. Halifax—I thank you heartily for all you and your household have been to me. I trust I shall enjoy your friendship for many years. And if, in any way, I might offer mine, or any small influence in the world—"
"Your influence is not small," John returned earnestly. "I have often told you so. I know no man who has wider opportunities than you have."
"But I have let them slip—for ever."
"No, not for ever. You are young still; you have half a lifetime before you."
"Have I?" And for the moment one would hardly have recognized the sallow, spiritless face, that with all the delicacy of boyhood still, at times looked so exceedingly old. "No, no, Mr. Halifax, who ever heard of a man beginning life at seven-and-thirty?"
"Are you really seven-and-thirty?" asked Maud.
"Yes—yes, my girl. Is it so very old?"
He patted her on the shoulder, took her hand, gazed at it—the round, rosy, girlish hand—with a melancholy tenderness; then bade "Good-bye" to us all generally, and rode off.
It struck me then, though I hurried the thought away—it struck me afterwards, and does now with renewed surprise—how strange it was that the mother never noticed or took into account certain possibilities that would have occurred naturally to any worldly mother. I can only explain it by remembering the unworldliness of our lives at Beechwood, the heavy cares which now pressed upon us from without, and the notable fact—which our own family experience ought to have taught us, yet did not—that in cases like this, often those whom one would have expected to be most quick-sighted, are the most strangely, irretrievably, mournfully blind.
When, the very next day, Lord Ravenel, not on horse-back but in his rarely-used luxurious coronetted carriage, drove up to Beechwood, every one in the house except myself was inconceivably astonished to see him back again.
He said that he had delayed his journey to Paris, and gave no explanation of that delay. He joined as usual in our midday dinner; and after dinner, still as usual, took a walk with me and Maud. It happened to be through the beech-wood, almost the identical path that I remembered taking, years and years ago, with John and Ursula. I was surprised to hear Lord Ravenel allude to the fact, a well-known fact in our family; for I think all fathers and mothers like to relate, and all children to hear, the slightest incidents of the parents' courting days.
"You did not know father and mother when they were young?" said Maud, catching our conversation and flashing back her innocent, merry face upon us.
"No, scarcely likely." And he smiled. "Oh, yes—it might have been- -I forget, I am not a young man now. How old were Mr. and Mrs. Halifax when they married?"
"Father was twenty-one and mother was eighteen—only a year older than I." And Maud, half ashamed of this suggestive remark, ran away. Her gay candour proved to me—perhaps to others besides me—the girl's entire free-heartedness. The frank innocence of childhood was still hers.
Lord Ravenel looked after her and sighed. "It is good to marry early; do you not think so, Mr. Fletcher?"
I told him—(I was rather sorry after I had said it, if one ought to be sorry for having, when questioned, given one's honest opinion)—I told him that I thought those happiest who found their happiness early, but that I did not see why happiness should be rejected because it was the will of Providence that it should not be found till late.
"I wonder," he said, dreamily, "I wonder whether I shall ever find it."
I asked him—it was by an impulse irresistible—why he had never married?
"Because I never found any woman either to love or to believe in. Worse," he added, bitterly, "I did not think there lived the woman who could be believed in."
We had come out of the beech-wood and were standing by the low churchyard wall; the sun glittered on the white marble head-stone on which was inscribed, "Muriel Joy Halifax."
Lord Ravenel leaned over the wall, his eyes fixed upon that little grave. After a while, he said, sighing:
"Do you know, I have thought sometimes that, had she lived, I could have loved—I might have married—that child!"
Here Maud sprang towards us. In her playful tyranny, which she loved to exercise and he to submit to, she insisted on knowing what Lord Ravenel was talking about.
"I was saying," he answered, taking both her hands and looking down into her bright, unshrinking eyes, "I was saying, how dearly I loved your sister Muriel."
"I know that," and Maud became grave at once. "I know you care for me because I am like my sister Muriel."
"If it were so, would you be sorry or glad?"
"Glad, and proud too. But you said, or you were going to say, something more. What was it?"
He hesitated long, then answered:
"I will tell you another time."
Maud went away, rather cross and dissatisfied, but evidently suspecting nothing. For me, I began to be seriously uneasy about her and Lord Ravenel.
Of all kinds of love, there is one which common sense and romance have often combined to hold obnoxious, improbable, or ridiculous, but which has always seemed to me the most real and pathetic form that the passion ever takes—I mean, love in spite of great disparity of age. Even when this is on the woman's side, I can imagine circumstances that would make it far less ludicrous and pitiful; and there are few things to me more touching, more full of sad earnest, than to see an old man in love with a young girl.
Lord Ravenel's case would hardly come under this category; yet the difference between seventeen and thirty-seven was sufficient to warrant in him a trembling uncertainty, and eager catching at the skirts of that vanishing youth whose preciousness he never seemed to have recognized till now. It was with a mournful interest that all day I watched him follow the child about, gather her posies, help her to water her flowers, and accommodate himself to those whims and fancies, of which, as the pet and the youngest, Mistress Maud had her full share.
When, at her usual hour of half-past nine, the little lady was summoned away to bed, "to keep up her roses," he looked half resentful of the mother's interference.
"Maud is not a child now; and this may be my last night—" he stopped, sensitively, at the involuntary foreboding.
"Your last night? Nonsense! you will come back soon again. You must—you shall!" said Maud, decisively.
"I hope I may—I trust in Heaven I may!"
He spoke low, holding her hand distantly and reverently, not attempting to kiss it, as in all his former farewells he had invariably done.
"Maud, remember me! However or whenever I come back, dearest child, be faithful, and remember me!"
Maud fled away with a sob of childish pain—partly anger, the mother thought—and slightly apologized to the guest for her daughter's "naughtiness."
Lord Ravenel sat silent for a long, long time.
Just when we thought he purposed leaving, he said, abruptly, "Mr. Halifax, may I have five minutes' speech with you in the study?"
The five minutes extended to half an hour. Mrs. Halifax wondered what on earth they were talking about. I held my peace. At last the father came in alone.
"John, is Lord Ravenel gone?"
"What could he have wanted to say to you?"
John sat down by his wife, picked up the ball of her knitting, rolled and unrolled it. She saw at once that something had grieved and perplexed him exceedingly. Her heart shrunk back—that still sore heart!—recoiled with a not unnatural fear.
"Oh, husband, is it any new misfortune?"
"No, love," cheering her with a smile; "nothing that fathers and mothers in general would consider as such. He has asked me for our Maud."
"What for?" was the mother's first exceedingly simple question—and then she guessed its answer. "Impossible! Ridiculous—absolutely ridiculous! She is only a child."
"Nevertheless, Lord Ravenel wishes to marry our little Maud!"
"Lord Ravenel wishes to marry our Maud!"
Mrs. Halifax repeated this to herself more than once before she was able to entertain it as a reality. When she did, the first impression it made upon her mind was altogether pain.
"Oh, John! I hoped we had done with these sort of things; I thought we should have been left in peace with the rest of our children."
John smiled again; for, indeed, there was a comical side to her view of the subject; but its serious phase soon returned; doubly so, when, looking up, they both saw Lord Ravenel standing before them. Firm his attitude was, firmer than usual; and it was with something of his father's stately air, mingled with a more chivalric and sincerer grace, that he stooped forward and kissed the hand of Maud's mother.
"Mr. Halifax has told you all, I believe?"
"May I then, with entire trust in you both, await my answer?"
He waited it, patiently enough, with little apparent doubt as to what it would be. Besides, it was only the prior question of parental consent, not the vital point of Maud's preference. And, with all his natural humility, Lord Ravenel might be forgiven if, brought up in the world, he was aware of his position therein—nor quite unconscious that it was not merely William Ravenel, but the only son and heir of the Earl of Luxmore, who came a-wooing.
Not till after a long pause, and even a whispered word or two between the husband and wife, who knew each other's minds so well that no more consultation was needed—did the suitor again, with a more formal air, ask for an answer.
"It is difficult to give. I find that my wife, like myself, had no idea of your feelings. The extreme suddenness—"
"Pardon me; my intention has not been sudden. It is the growth of many months—years, I might almost say."
"We are the more grieved."
Lord Ravenel's extreme surprise startled him from the mere suitor into the lover; he glanced from one to the other in undisguised alarm. John hesitated: the mother said something about the "great difference between them."
"In age, do you mean? I am aware of that," he answered, with some sadness. "But twenty years is not an insuperable bar in marriage."
"No," said Mrs. Halifax, thoughtfully.
"And for any other disparity—in fortune—or rank—"
"I think, Lord Ravenel,"—and the mother spoke with her "dignified" air—"you know enough of my husband's character and opinions to be assured how lightly he would hold such a disparity—if you allude to that supposed to exist between the son of the Earl of Luxmore and the daughter of John Halifax."
The young nobleman coloured, as if with ingenuous shame at what he had been implying. "I am glad of it. Let me assure you there will be no impediments on the side of my family. The earl has long wished me to marry. He knows well enough that I can marry whom I please— and shall marry for love only. Give me your leave to win your little Maud."
A dead silence.
"Again pardon me," Lord Ravenel said with some hauteur; "I cannot have clearly explained myself. Let me repeat, Mr. Halifax, that I ask your permission to win your daughter's affection, and, in due time, her hand."
"I would that you had asked of me anything that it could be less impossible to give you."
"Impossible! What do you mean?—Mrs. Halifax—" He turned instinctively to the woman—the mother.
Ursula's eyes were full of a sad kindness—the kindness any mother must feel towards one who worthily woos her daughter—but she replied distinctly—
"I feel, with my husband, that such a marriage would be impossible."
Lord Ravenel grew scarlet—sat down—rose again, and stood facing them, pale and haughty.
"If I may ask—your reasons?"
"Since you ask—certainly," John replied. "Though, believe me, I give them with the deepest pain. Lord Ravenel, do you not yourself see that our Maud—"
"Wait one moment," he interrupted. "There is not, there cannot be, any previous attachment?"
The supposition made the parents smile. "Indeed, nothing of the kind: she is a mere child."
"You think her too young for marriage, then?" was the eager answer. "Be it so. I will wait, though my youth, alas! is slipping from me; but I will wait—two years, three—any time you choose to name."
John needed not to reply. The very sorrow of his decision showed how inevitable and irrevocable it was.
Lord Ravenel's pride rose against it.
"I fear in this my novel position I am somewhat slow of comprehension. Would it be so great a misfortune to your daughter if I made her Viscountess Ravenel, and in course of time Countess of Luxmore?"
"I believe it would. Her mother and I would rather see our little Maud lying beside her sister Muriel than see her Countess of Luxmore."
These words, hard as they were, John uttered so softly and with such infinite grief and pain, that they struck the young man, not with anger, but with an indefinite awe, as if a ghost from his youth—his wasted youth—had risen up to point out that truth, and show him that what seemed insult or vengeance was only a bitter necessity.
All he did was to repeat, in a subdued manner—"Your reasons?"
"Ah, Lord Ravenel!" John answered sadly, "do you not see yourself that the distance between us and you is wide as the poles? Not in worldly things, but in things far deeper;—personal things, which strike at the root of love, home—nay, honour."
Lord Ravenel started. "Would you imply that anything in my past life, aimless and useless as it may have been, is unworthy of my honour—the honour of our house?"
Saying this he stopped—recoiled—as if suddenly made aware by the very words himself had uttered, what—contrasted with the unsullied dignity of the tradesman's life, the spotless innocence of the tradesman's daughter—what a foul tattered rag, fit to be torn down by an honest gust, was that flaunting emblazonment, the so-called "honour" of Luxmore!
"I understand you now. 'The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the children,' as your Bible says—your Bible, that I had half begun to believe in. Be it so. Mr. Halifax, I will detain you no longer.
John intercepted the young man's departure.
"No, you do NOT understand me. I hold no man accountable for any errors, any shortcomings, except his own."
"I am to conclude, then, that it is to myself you refuse your daughter?"
Lord Ravenel once more bowed, with sarcastic emphasis.
"I entreat you not to mistake me," John continued, most earnestly. "I know nothing of you that the world would condemn, much that it would even admire; but your world is not our world, nor your aims our aims. If I gave you my little Maud, it would confer on you no lasting happiness, and it would be thrusting my child, my own flesh and blood, to the brink of that whirlpool where, soon or late, every miserable life must go down."
Lord Ravenel made no answer. His new-born energy, his pride, his sarcasm, had successively vanished; dead, passive melancholy resumed its empire over him. Mr. Halifax regarded him with mournful compassion.
"Oh, that I had foreseen this! I would have placed the breadth of all England between you and my child."
"Understand me. Not because you do not possess our warm interest, our friendship: both will always be yours. But these are external ties, which may exist through many differences. In marriage there must he perfect unity; one aim, one faith, one love, or the marriage is incomplete, unholy—a mere civil contract and no more."
Lord Ravenel looked up amazed at this doctrine, then sat awhile pondering drearily.
"Yes, you may be right," at last he said. "Your Maud is not for me, nor those like me. Between us and you is that 'great gulf fixed;'— what did the old fable say? I forget.—Che sara sara! I am but as others: I am but what I was born to be."
"Do you recognize what you were born to be? Not only a nobleman, but a gentleman; not only a gentleman, but a man—man, made in the image of God. How can you, how dare you, give the lie to your Creator?"
"What has He given me? What have I to thank Him for?"
"First, manhood; the manhood His Son disdained not to wear; worldly gifts, such as rank, riches, influence, things which others have to spend half an existence in earning; life in its best prime, with much of youth yet remaining—with grief endured, wisdom learnt, experience won. Would to Heaven, that by any poor word of mine I could make you feel all that you are—all that you might be!"
A gleam, bright as a boy's hope, wild as a boy's daring, flashed from those listless eyes—then faded.
"You mean, Mr. Halifax, what I might have been. Now it is too late."
"There is no such word as 'too late,' in the wide world—nay, not in the universe. What! shall we, whose atom of time is but a fragment out of an ever-present eternity—shall we, so long as we live, or even at our life's ending, dare to cry out to the Eternal One, 'It is too late!'"
As John spoke, in much more excitement than was usual to him, a sudden flush or rather spasm of colour flushed his face, then faded away, leaving him pallid to the very lips. He sat down hastily, in his frequent attitude, with the left arm passed across his breast.
"Lord Ravenel." His voice was faint, as though speech was painful to him.
The other looked up, the old look of reverent attention, which I remembered in the boy-lord who came to see us at Norton Bury; in the young "Anselmo," whose enthusiastic hero-worship had fixed itself, with an almost unreasoning trust, on Muriel's father,
"Lord Ravenel, forgive anything I have said that may have hurt you. It would grieve me inexpressibly if we did not part as friends."
"For a time, we must. I dare not risk further either your happiness or my child's."
"No, not hers. Guard it. I blame you not. The lovely, innocent child! God forbid she should ever have a life like mine!"
He sat silent, his clasped hands listlessly dropping, his countenance dreamy; yet, it seemed to me, less hopelessly sad: then with a sudden effort he rose.
"I must go now."
Crossing over to Mrs. Halifax, he thanked her, with much emotion, for all her kindness.
"For your husband, I owe him more than kindness, as perhaps I may prove some day. If not, try to believe the best of me you can. Good-bye."
They both said good-bye, and bade God bless him; with scarcely less tenderness than if things had ended as he desired, and, instead of this farewell, sad and indefinite beyond most farewells, they were giving the parental welcome to a newly-chosen son.
Ere finally quitting us, Lord Ravenel turned back to speak to John once more, hesitatingly and mournfully.
"If she—if the child should ask or wonder about my absence—she likes me in her innocent way you know—you will tell her—What shall you tell her?"
"Nothing. It is best not."
"Ay, it is, it is."
He shook hands with us all three, without saying anything else; then the carriage rolled away, and we saw his face—that pale, gentle, melancholy face—no more.
It was years and years before any one beyond ourselves knew what a near escape our little Maud had had of becoming Viscountess Ravenel— future Countess of Luxmore.