We were just in time

I had kept my vow, for though I was again within the park of Devereux,
and in sight of the grand old mansion, my father was by my side. A
splendid constitution had saved him from the very jaws of death, and he
had recovered to find his country ringing with his name, and himself a
hero. Our journey had been like a triumphal progress. Distinguished
men, amongst whom old General Luxton, had met us at London to welcome
my father back to his country, and all the way down we had been
besieged by newspaper reporters, and little knots of people were
gathered on the platform at every station, to gaze at us and shout a
welcome; and at the little wayside station such crowds of the country
folk were gathered together that progress along the narrow winding lane
was almost an impossibility. And now we were at the last sweep of the
drive, surrounded by lines of shouting tenants and servants, who stood
uncovered as we approached, and made the air vibrate with lusty
Yorkshire cheers.

It was one of those days which a man may live to be a hundred years
old, and never forget; and yet it would dwell in his mind less by its
actual events than by the effect which it left. I remember a
noble-looking, grey-haired old man standing out in the sunlight, with
outstretched hands and a great joy in his face, and I remember a deep
hush falling upon the assembled crowd as father and son met after so
many years–a hush which lasted until they stood there, hand grasping
hand, and the first words were spoken–then it gave place to a shout
which seemed to shake the air.

And I remember Maud’s greeting–how could I ever forget it? Cold she
was at first, cold but kind–after the manner of the days when I was
Hugh Arbuthnot, a presumptuous boy. But when I told her of my
interview with her father on the night before the battle, when I took
her into my arms with words of passionate love, and bade her recall our
last parting, then she yielded and became my Maud, and mine she has
been ever since.

* * * * *

Had I told this story of mine as a professed story-writer, there are
many things now omitted which would in their proper place have been
recounted. I should have said more of Marian, the happiest of young
wives, and of the joy with which she welcomed us home. I should have
told of Lady Olive’s brilliant marriage to the Earl of —-, and of
Francis Devereux’s reformation and success at the Bar, and of Burton
Leigh’s extraordinary reappearance in the world after having long been
mourned as dead, and of my father’s joy at meeting again his old
companion. There are other things, too, which should have been told,
but let them pass! One more incident alone shall I relate.

* * * * *

Again I stood in the grand old picture gallery of the Court, amongst
the shades of many generations of Devereux. We three were there–Sir
Francis, my father, and I; Sir Francis out of sight, my father and I
bending over a curious piece of armour.

Suddenly we both looked up. Out of the dark shades of the lower end of
the chamber my grandfather was coming towards us, walking steadily down
between the long rows of pictures, with measured military tramp and
head thrown back. But we could see by his fixed gaze, and the strange
rapt look on his face, that something was wrong, and almost
simultaneously we sprang forward to him.

We were just in time. Suddenly he threw up his arms over his head, and
cried out with a loud voice: “It was a lie! It was a lie! Thank God,
Herbert, my son! Hugh, my boy. God bless you both.”

He sank back into my arms. And the moon-light, streaming in upon his
face, showed it gentle and peaceful as a child’s. Death struggle there
was none. With a calm, satisfied smile of perfect happiness the life
seemed to glide away from him, and with his last breath we heard him
murmur softly–

“Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace–in peace.”

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