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The Hallam Succession By Amelia E. Barr Characters: 17878

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


"The evening of life brings with it its lamp."-TOUBERT.

"And there arrives a lull in the hot race:

And an unwonted calm pervades the breast.

And then he thinks he knows

The hills where his life rose,

And the sea, where it goes."-ARNOLD

"She has passed

To where, beyond these voices, there is peace."

It is the greatest folly to think that the only time worth writing about is youth. It is an equal folly to imagine that love is the only passion universally interesting. Elizabeth's years were no less vivid, no less full of feeling and of changes, after her marriage than before it. Indeed, she never quite lost the interests of her maiden life. Hallam demanded an oversight she did not fail to give it. Three times during the twelve years of its confiscation to Antony's creditors she visited it. In these visits she was accompanied by Richard, and Harry, and her own children. Then the Whaleys' accounts were carefully gone over, and found always to be perfectly honorable and satisfactory. And it is needless to say how happy Martha was at such times.

Gradually all ill-feeling passed away. The young squire, though educated abroad, had just such a training as made him popular. For he passed part of every year in Texas with Dick Millard, and all that could be known about horses and hunting and woodcraft, Harry Hallam knew. He had also taken on very easily the Texan manner, frank, yet rather proud and phlegmatic: "Evidently a young man who knows what he wants, and will be apt to get it," said Whaley.

"Nine Yorkshire jockeys knocked into one couldn't blind him on a horse," said young Horton.

"And I'll lay a guinea he'll lead in every hunting field."

"And they do say, he's a first-rate scholar besides."

Such conversations regarding him were indefinitely repeated, and varied.

When he was in his eighteenth year the estate was absolutely free of every claim, and in a condition which reflected the greatest credit upon those in whose care it had been placed. It was at this time that Richard and Elizabeth took the young man into his grandfather's room, and laid before him the title deeds of his patrimony and the schedule of its various incomes. Then, also, they told him, with infinite kindness and forbearance, the story of his father's efforts and failures, and the manner in which the estate had been handled, so that it might be made over to him free of all debt and stain.

Harry said very little. His adopted parents liked him the better for that. But he was profoundly amazed and grateful. Then he went to Cambridge, and for three years Elizabeth did not see him. It had been arranged, however, that the whole family should meet at Hallam on the anniversary of his majority, and the occurrence was celebrated with every public festivity that had always attended that event in the Hallam family. There was nothing to dim the occasion. Every one, Far and near, took the opportunity to show that ill-thoughts and ill-feelings were forever buried, and Elizabeth and Richard were feted with especial honor.

"Few women would hev done so well by t' land and t' family," admitted even Lord Eltham, "and if I wasn't so old and feeble, I'd go and tell her so; and to be foreign-born, that Mr. Fontaine has been varry square, that he hes. He shows t' English blood in him."

"Ay, it's hard to wear Yorkshire out. It bears a deal o' waterin', and is still strong and straight-for'ard," answered Whaley.

"Now he'll hev to wed and settle down."

"He'll do that. I've seen a deal o' him, and I've noticed that he has neither eyes nor ears but for our little lass, a varry bonny lass she is!"

"It'll be Alice Horton, happen?"

"Nay, it isn't. It's his cousin, Bessie Fontaine. She's but a girl yet, but she's t' varry image o' her mother, just what Elizabeth Hallam was at sixteen-happen only a bit slighter and more delicate-looking."

"And no wonder, Whaley. To be brought up i' a place like that New Orleans. Why-a! they do say that t' winter weather there is like our haymakin' time! Poor thing! She'll get a bit o' color here, I'se warrant."

The Yorkshire lawyer had seen even into a love affair, with clear eyes. Bessie and Harry had already confided their affection to Elizabeth, but she was quite determined that there should be no engagement until after Harry returned from a three-years' travel in Europe and Asia.

"Then, Harry," she said, "you will have seen the women of many lands. And Bessie will also have seen something of the world, and of the society around her. She must choose you from among all others, and not simply because habit and contiguity and family relations have thrown you together."

Still it pleased her, that from every part of the world came regularly and constantly letters and tokens of Harry's love for her daughter. She would not force, she would not even desire, such a consummation; but yet, if a true and tried affection should unite the cousins, it would be a wonderful settlement of that succession which had so troubled and perplexed her father, and which at last he had humbly left to the wisdom and direction of a higher Power.

Therefore, when Harry, in his twenty-fourth year, browned and bearded with much travel, came back to New Orleans, to ask the hand of the only woman he had ever loved, Elizabeth was very happy. Her daughter was going back to her old home, going to be the mistress of its fair sunny rooms, and renew in her young life the hopes and memories of a by-gone generation.

And to the happy bridal came John and Phyllis, and all their handsome sons and daughters, and never was there a more sweetly, solemn marriage-feast. For many wise thoughts had come to Elizabeth as her children grew up at her side, and one of them was a conviction that marriage is too sacred a thing to be entered into amid laughter and dancing and thoughtless feasting. "If Jesus was asked to the marriage, as he was in Cana of Galilee, there would be fewer unhappy marriages," she said. So the young bride was sent away with smiles and kisses and loving joyful wishes, but not in a whirl of dancing and champagne gayety and noisy selfish merriment.

And the years came and went, and none of them were alike. In one, it was the marriage of her eldest son, Richard, to Lulu Millard; in another, the death of a baby girl very dear to her. She had her daily crosses and her daily blessings, and her daily portion of duties. But in the main, it may be said, for Richard and Elizabeth Fontaine, that they had "borne the yoke in their youth," and learned the great lessons of life, before the days came in which their strength began to fail them.

The last year of any life may generally be taken as the verdict upon that life. Elizabeth's was a very happy one. She was one of those women on whom time lays a consecrating hand. Her beauty, in one sense, had gone; in another sense, she was fairer than ever. Her noble face had lost its bloom and its fine contour, but her mouth was sweeter and stronger, and her eyes full of the light of a soul standing in the promise of heaven. She had much of her old energy and activity. In the spring of the year she went to Texas to see a son and daughter who had settled there; and, with one of her grandchildren, rode thoughtfully, but not unhappily, over all the pleasant places she had been with Richard that first happy year of their marriage. Richard had been six years dead, but she had never mourned him as those mourn who part hands in mid-life, when the way is still long before the lonely heart. In a short time they would meet again, for

"As the pale waste widens around us,

And the banks fade dimmer away,

As the stars come out, the night wind

Brings up the stream

Murmurs and scents of the infinite sea."

Yet there had been a very solemn parting between her and Phyllis; and when Phyllis stooped twice to the face in the departing carriage, and the two women kissed each other so silently, John was somehow touched into an unusual thoughtfulness; and for the first time realized that his sweet Phyllis was fading away. He could not talk in his usual cheery manner, and when he said, "Farewell, Elizabeth," and held her hand, he involuntarily glanced at his wife, and walked away with his eyes full of tears.

But as the brain grows by knowledge, so the heart is made larger by loving; and Elizabeth was rich and happy in the treasures she had garnered. The past no prayer could bring back; the future she counted not; but she enjoyed in every hour the blessing they brought her. The voyage across the ocean was delightful; she found young hearts to counsel, and aged ones to change experiences with. Every one desired to talk to her, and counted it a favor to sit or to walk by her side. So beautiful is true piety; so lovely is the soul that comes into daily life fresh from the presence of the Deity.

She had left Texas in May; she arrived at

Hallam in June. And how beautiful the dear old place was! But Martha had gone to her reward two years previously, and Elizabeth missed her. She had lived to be eighty-eight years old, and had not so much died as fallen asleep. She had never left the hall, but, as long as she was able, had taken charge of all its treasures and of every thing concerning the children. Even when confined to her room, they had come to her with their troubles and their joys, and her fingers were busy for them unto the last day.

Yet no one missed Martha as Elizabeth missed her. With Martha she talked on subjects she mentioned to no one else. They had confidences no others could share. It seemed as if the last link which bound her to her youth was broken. But one morning, as her daughter was slowly driving her through Hallam village, she saw an old man who had been very pleasantly linked with the by-gone years, and she said, "That is a very dear friend, I must speak to him, Bessie."

He was a slight old man, with thin hair white as wool falling on his shoulders, and a face full of calm contemplation. "Mr. North," said Elizabeth, tremulously, "do you remember me?"

He removed his hat, and looked attentively in the face bending toward him. Then, with a smile, "Ah, yes, I remember Miss Hallam. God is good to let me see you again. I am very glad, indeed."

"You must come to the hall with me, if you can; I have a great deal to say to you."

And thus it happened that after this meeting Bessie frequently stopped for him in the village, and that gradually he spent more and more time at the hall. There he always occupied the large room called the "Chamber of Peace," hallowed by the memory of the apostle of his faith.

One hot August day he had gone to its cool, calm shelter, after spending an hour with Elizabeth. Their conversation had been in heaven, and specially of the early dead and blessed, who went in the serenity of the morning; whose love for God had known no treachery, and who took the hand of Jesus and followed him with all their heart.

"I think theirs will be the radiant habitations, and the swift obedience of the seraphim. They will know and love and work, as do the angels."

"In middle life," said Elizabeth, "heaven seems farther away from us."

"True, my sister. At midday the workman may think of the evening, but it is his work that chiefly I engrosses him. Not that the Christian ever forgets God in his labor, but he needs to be on the alert, and to keep every faculty busy. But when the shades of evening gather, he begins to think of going home, and of the result of his labor."

"In middle life, too, death amazes us. In the moment of hearing of such a death I always found my heart protest against it. But as I grow older I can feel that all the cords binding to life grow slack. How will it be at the end?"

"I think as soon as heaven is seen, we shall tend toward it. We will not go away in sadness, dear sister; we shall depart in the joy of his salvation. If I was by your side, I should not say, "Farewell;" I should speak of our meeting again."

Then he went away, and Elizabeth, with a happy face, drew her chair to the open window of her room and lifted her work. It was a piece of silken patch-work, made of dresses and scarfs and sashes, that each had a history in her memory. There were circles from Phyllis's and her own wedding dresses, one from a baby sash of her son Charles. Charles hung his sword from a captain's belt then, but she kept the blue ribbon of his babyhood. There was a bit from Jack's first cravat, and Dick's flag, and her dear husband's wedding vest, and from the small silken shoes of the little Maya-dear little Maya, who

"From the nursery door,

Climbed up with clay cold feet

Unto the golden floor."

Any wife and mother can imagine the thousand silken strips that would gather in a life of love.

She had often said that in her old age she would sew together these memorials of her sorrow and her joy; and Bessie frequently stood beside her, listening to events which this or that piece called forth, and watching, the gay beautiful squares, as they grew in the summer sunshine and by the glinting winter firelight.

After Mr. North left her she lifted her work and sat sewing and singing. It was an unusually hot day; the perfume from the August lilies and the lavender and the rich carnations almost made the heart faint. All the birds were still; but the bees were busy, and far off there was the soft tinkling of the water falling into the two fountains on the terrace. Harry came in, and said, "I am going into Hallam, mother, so I kiss you before I go;" and she rose up and kissed the handsome fellow, and watched him away, and when he turned and lifted his hat to her, she blessed him, and thanked God that he had let her live to see Antony's son so good and worthy an inheritor of the old name and place.

By and by her thoughts drifted westward to her son Charles, with his regiment on the Colorado plains, to her son Richard in his Texan home, to Phyllis and John, to her daughter Netta, to the graves of Richard and the little Maya. It seemed to her as if all her work was finished. How wonderfully the wrong had been put right! How worthy Harry was! How happy her own dear Bessie! If her father could see the home he had left with anxious fears, she thought he would be satisfied. "I shall be glad to see him," she said, softly; "he will say to me, 'Thou did right, Elizabeth!' I think that his praise will be sweet, even after the Master's."

At this point in her reflections Bessie came into her room. She had her arms full of myrtles and glowing dahlias, of every color; and she stooped and kissed her mother, and praised the beauty of her work, and then began to arrange the flowers in the large vases which stood upon the hearth and upon the table.

"It is a most beautiful day, mother! a most beautiful world! I wonder why God says he will make a new world! How can a new one be fairer?"

"His tabernacle will be in it, Bessie. Think of that, my child. An intimate happiness with him. No more sin. All tears wiped away. Bessie, there may be grander worlds among the countless stars, but O earth! fair happy earth, that has such hope of heaven!" and she began to sing to the sweet old tune of "Immanuel."

"There is a land of pure delight,

Where saints-"

There was a sudden pause, and Bessie lifted the strain, but ere the verse was finished, turned suddenly and looked at her mother. The next moment she was at her side. With the needle in her fingers, with the song upon her lips, Elizabeth had gone to "Immanuel's Land," without even a parting sigh.

It seemed almost wrong to weep for such a death. Bessie knelt praying by her mother's side, holding her hands, and gazing into the dear face, fast settling into those solemn curves which death makes firm and sharp-cut, as if they were to endure for ages, until the transition was quite complete. Then she called in the old servants who most loved her mother, and they dressed her for her burial, and laid her upon the small, snowy bed which had been hers from her girlhood. And the children gathered the white odorous everlastings and the white flowers in all the garden, and with soft steps and tender hands spread them over the still breast, and the pure drapery. And when Mr. North came in with Harry, though Harry wept, the preacher could not. With a face full of triumph, he looked at her, and said only, "Go in peace; soul beautiful and blessed!"

It had been well known for more than a year that Elizabeth's life was held at a moment's tenure. It was a little singular that Phyllis was suffering, also, from a complaint almost analogous; and when they had bid each other a farewell in the spring, they had understood it to be the last of earth. Indeed, Phyllis had whispered to Elizabeth in that parting moment, "I give you a rendezvous in heaven, my darling!"

Often also during the summer Bessie had heard her mother softly singing to herself:

"I look unto the gates of His high place,

Beyond the sea;

For I know he is coming shortly,

To summon me.

And when a shadow falls across the window,

Of my room,

Where I am working my appointed task,

I lift my head to watch the door, and ask

If he is come?

And the Angel answers sweetly,

In my home,

Only a few more shadows,

And he will come."

She was laid with her fathers in the old churchyard at Hallam. And O, how sweet is the sleep of those whom the King causeth to rest! Neither lands nor houses nor gold, nor yet the joy of a fond and Faithful lover, tempted Elizabeth Hallam to leave the path of honor and rectitude; but when her trial was finished, bear witness how God blessed her! giving her abundantly of all good things in this life, and an inheritance, incorruptible, undefiled, and which shall never pass away from her.

THE END.

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