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John Halifax, gentleman : a novel online

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it; while, at the same time, I had no possible right to use any
of those disguises or prevarications which are foolish and per-
ilous and very frequently wrong. Nor, even had I desired,
was Miss March the woman to which one dared offer the like:
therefore I said to her plainly:

"I know the reason. I would tell you, but I think John
would prefer telling you himself."

"As he pleases," returned Miss March, a slight reserve tem-
pering her frank manner; but it soon vanished, and she began
talking to me in her usual friendly way, asking me many ques-



154 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

tions about the Brithwoods and about Norton Bury. I an-
swered them freely, my only reservation being that I took care
not to give any information concerning ourselves. Soon af-
terward, as John did not return, I took leave of her and went
to our parlor.

He was not there. He had left word with little Jack, who
had met him on the common, that he was gone a long walk,
and should not return till dinner-time. Dinner-time came,
but I had to dine alone. It was the first time I ever knew him
to break even such a trivial promise. My heart misgave me
I spent a miserable day. I was afraid to go in search of him,
lest he should return to a dreary, empty parlor. Better, when
he did come in, that he should find a cheerful hearth and
me.

Me, his friend and brother, who had loved him these six
years better than anything else in the whole world. Yet what
could I do now? Fate had taken the scepter out of my hands
I was utterly powerless; I could neither give him comfort
nor save him pain any more.

What I felt then in those long, still hours, many a one has
felt likewise; many a parent over a child, many a sister over
a brother, many a friend over a friend a feeling natural and
universal. Let those who suffer take it patiently, as the com-
mon lot; let those who win hold the former ties in tenderness
and reverence, nor dare to flaunt the new bond cruelly in face
of the old.

Having said this, which, being the truth, it struck me as
right to say, I will no more allude to the subject.

In the afternoon there occurred an incident. A coach-and-
four, resplendent in liveries, stopped at the door: I knew it
well, and so did all Norton Bury. It was empty; but Lady
Caroline's own maid so I heard afterward sat in the rum-
ble, and Lady Caroline's own black-eyed Neapolitan page
leaped down, bearing a large letter, which I concluded was for
Miss March. I was glad that John was not at home; glad that
the coach, with all its fine paraphernalia, was away, empty as
it had arrived, before John came up.

He did not come until it was nearly dusk. I was at the
window, looking at my four poplar-trees, as they pointed sky-
ward like long fingers stretching up out of the gloom, when T
saw him crossing the common. At first I was going to meet
him at the gate, but on second thoughts I remained within and



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 155

only stirred up the fire, which could be seen shining ever so
far.

"What a bright blaze! Nay, you have not waited dinner,
I hope? Tea yes, that's far better; I have had such a long
walk, and am so tired."

The words were cheerful, so was the tone. Too cheerful
oh, by far! The sort of cheerfulness that strikes to a friend's
heart, like the piping of soldiers as they go away back from a
newly-filled grave.

"Where have you been, John?"

"All over Nunnely Hill. I must take you there such ex-
pansive views! As Mrs. Tod informed me, quoting some local
ballad, which she said was written by an uncle of hers:

'There you may spy
Twenty-three churches with the glass and the eye.'

Remarkable fact, isn't it?"

Thus he kept on talking all tea-time, incessantly, rapidly
talking. It was enough to make one weep.

After tea, I insisted on his taking my arm-chair, saying,
that after such a walk, in that raw day, he must be very cold.

"Not the least quite the contrary feel my hand." It
was burning. "But I am tired thoroughly tired."

He leaned back and shut his eyes. Oh, the utter weariness
of body and soul that was written on his face!

"Why did you go out alone? John, you know that you
have always me."

He looked up, smiling. But the momentary brightness
passed. Alas! I was not enough to make him happy now.

We sat silent. I knew he would speak to me in time; but
the gates of his heart were close locked. It seemed as if he
dared not open them, lest the flood should burst forth and
overwhelm us.

At nine o'clock, Mrs. Tod came in with supper. She had
always something or other to say, especially since the late
events had drawn the whole household of Eose Cottage so
closely together; now she was brimful of news.

She had been all that evening packing up for poor, dear
Miss March; though why she should call her "poor," truly,
she didn't know. Who would have thought Mr. March had
such grand relations! Had we seen Lady Caroline Brith-
wood's coach come that day? Such a beautiful coach it was!



156 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

sent on purpose for Miss March, only she wouldn't go. "But
now she has made up her mind, poor dear. She is leaving to-
morrow."

When John heard this, he was helping Mrs. Tod, as usual,
to fasten the heavy shutters. He stood, with his hand on the-
bolt, motionless, till the good woman was gone. Then IK;
staggered to the mantel-piece, and leaned on it with both his
elbows, his hands covering his face.

But there was no disguise now, no attempt to make it. A
young man's first love not first fancy, but first love in all
its passion, desperation, and pain, had come to him, as it comes
to all. I saw him writhing under it saw, and could not help
him. The next few silent minutes were very bitter to us both.

Then I said, gently, "David!"

"Well?"

"I thought things were so."

"Yes."

"Suppose you were to talk to me a little, it might do you
good."

"Another time. Let me go out out into the air I'm
choking."

Snatching up his hat, he rushed from me. I did not dare
to follow.

After waiting some time, and listening till all was quiet in
the house, I could bear the suspense no longer, and went out.

I thought I should find him on the Flat, probably in his
favorite walk, his "terrace," as he called it, where he had first
seen, and must have seen many a day after, that girlish figure
tripping lightly along through the morning sunshine and
morning dew. I had a sort of instinct that he would be there
now; so I climbed up the shortest way, often losing my foot-
ing; for it was a pitch-dark night, and the common looked as
wide and black and still as a midnight sea.

John was not there; indeed, if he had been, I could scarce-
ly have seen him; I could see nothing but void expanse of the
Flat, or, looking down, the broad river of mist that rolled
through the valley, on the other side of which twinkled a few
cottage lights, like unearthly beacons from the farthest shore
of an impassable flood.

Suddenly I remembered hearing Mrs. Tod say that, on ac-
count of its pits and quarries, the common was extremely
dangerous after dark, except to those who knew it well. In
a horrible dread I called out John's name but no one an-



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 157

swered. I went on blindly, desperately, shouting as I went.
At length, in one of the Eoman fosses, I stumbled and fell.
Some one came, darting with great leaps through the mist,
and lifted me up.

"Oh! David David!"

"Phineas, is that you? You have come out this bitter night
why did you?"

His tenderness over me, even then, made me break down.
I forgot my manhood, or else it slipped from me unawares.
In the old Bible language, "I fell on his neck and wept."

Afterward I was not sorry for this, because I think my
weakness gave him strength. I think, amid the whirl of pas-
sion that racked him, it was good for him to feel that the one
crowning cup of life is not inevitably life's sole sustenance;
that it was something to have a friend and brother who loved
him with a love like Jonathan's "passing the love of wo-
men."

"I have been very wrong," he kept repeating, in a broken
voice; "but I was not myself. I am better now. Come let
us go home."

He put his arm round me to keep me warm. He even sat
down by the fire to talk with me. Whatever struggle there
had been, I saw it was over; he looked his own self, only so
very, very pale, and spoke in his natural voice; ay, even when
mentioning her, which he was the first to do."

"She goes to-morrow, you are sure, Phineas?"

"I believe so. Shall you see her again?"

"If she desires it."

"Shall you say anything to her?"

"Nothing. If for a little while not knowing or not think-
ing of all the truth I felt I had strength to remove all im-
pediments, I now see that even to dream of such things makes
me a fool, or possibly worse a knave. I will be neither; I
will be a man."

I replied not; how could one answer such words? calmly
uttered, though each syllable must have been torn out like a
piece of his heart.

"Did she say anything to you? Did she ask why I left her
so abruptly this morning?"

"She did; I said you would probably tell her the reason
yourself."

f 'l will. She must no longer be kept in ignorance about



168 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

me or my position. I shall tell her the whole truth save one
thing. She need never know that."

I guessed by his broken voice what the "one thing" was;
which he counted as nothing, but which, I think, any true
woman would have counted worth everything the priceless
gift of a good man's love. Love that in such a nature as his,
if once conceived, would last a lifetime. And she was not to
know it! I felt sorry, ay, very sorry, for Ursula March.

"Do you not think I am right, Phineas?"

"Perhaps. I cannot say. You are the best judge."

"It is right," said he, firmly. "There can be no possible
hope for me; nothing remains but silence."

I did not quite agree with him. I could not see that to any
young man, only twenty years old, with the world all before
him, any love could be absolutely hopeless; especially to a
young man like John Halifax. But as things now stood, I
deemed it best to leave him altogether to himself, offering
neither advice nor opinion. What Providence willed, through
his will, would happen: for me to interfere either way would
be at once idle and perilous; nay, in some sense, exceedingly
wrong.

So I kept my thoughts to myself, and preserved a total si-
lence.

John broke it talking to himself as if he had forgotten I
was by.

"To think it was she who did it that first kindness to a
poor friendless boy! I never forgot it never. It did me
more good than I can tell. And that scar on her poor arm
her dear little tender arm! how this morning I would have
given all the world to "

He broke off, instinctively as it were, with the sort of feel-
ing every good man has, that the sacred passion, the inmost
tenderness of his love, should be kept wholly between himself
and the woman he has chosen.

I knew that, too; knew that in his heart had grown up a se-
cret, a necessity, a desire, stronger than any friendship closer
than the closest bond of brotherly love. Perhaps, I hardly
know why, I sighed.

John turned round "Phineas, you must not think, because
of this, which you will understand for yourself, I hope one
day; you must not think I could ever think less, or feel less,
about my brother."

He spoke earnestly, with a full heart. We clasped hands



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 159

warmly and silently. Thus was healed my last lingering pain;
I was thenceforward entirely satisfied.

I think we parted that night as we had never parted before;
feeling that the trial of our friendship the great trial, per-
haps, of any friendship had come and passed, safely; that
whatever new ties might gather round each, our two hearts
would cleave together until death.

The next morning rose, as I have seen many a morning rise
at Enderley, misty and gray; but oh, so heavenly fair; with a
pearly net-work of dewy gossamer underfoot, and overhead
countless thistle-downs flying about, like fairy chariots, hur-
rying out of sight of the sun, which had only mounted high
enough above the Flat to touch the horizon of hills opposite,
and the tops of my four poplars, leaving Eose Cottage and the
valley below it all in morning shadow. John called me to go
with him on the common; his voice sounded so cheerful out-
side my door, that it was with a glad heart I rose and went.

He chose his old walk his "terrace." No chance now of
meeting the light figure coming tripping along the level hill.
All that dream was now over. He did not speak of it nor I.
He seemed contented or, at least, thoroughly calmed down;
except that the sweet composure of his mien had settled into
the harder gravity of manhood. The crisis and climax of
youth had been gone through he never could be a boy again.

We came to that part of John's terrace which overhung the
church-yard. Both of us glanced instinctively down to the
heap of loose red earth the as yet nameless grave. Some one
stood beside it the only one who was likely to be there.

Even had I not recognized her, John's manner would have
told me who it was. A deadly paleness overspread his face
its quietness was gone every feature trembled it almost
broke my heart to see how deeply this love had struck its
roots down to the very core of his; twisting them with every
fiber of his being. A love which, though it had sprung up so
early, and come to maturity so fast, might yet be the curse of
his whole existence. Save that no love conceived virtuously,
for a good woman, be it ever so hopeless, can be rightly con-
sidered as a curse.

"Shall we go away?" I whispered "a long walk to the
other side of the Flat? She will have left Eose Cottage
soon."

"When?"

"Before noon, I heard. Come, David."



160 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

He suffered me to put my arm in his, and draw him away
for a step or two, then turned.

"I can't, Phineas, I can't! I must look at her again only
for one minute one little minute."

But he stayed we were standing where she could not see
us till she had slowly left the grave. We heard the click of
the church-yard gate; where she went afterward, we could not
discern.

John moved away. I asked him if we should take our walk
now? But he did not seem to hear me; so I let him follow his
own way perhaps it might be for good who could tell?

He descended from the Flat, and came quickly round the
corner of the cottage. Miss March stood there, trying to find
one fresh rose among the fast-withering clusters about what
had been our parlor window and now was hers.

She saw us, acknowledged us, but hurriedly, and not with-
out some momentary signs of agitation.

"The roses are all gone," she said, rather sadly.

"Perhaps, higher up, I can reach one shall I try?"

I marvelled to see that John's manner as he addressed her
was just like his manner always with her.

"Thank you that will do. I wanted to take some away
with me. I am leaving Kose Cottage to-day, Mr. Halifax."

"So I have heard."

He did not say "sorry to hear." I wondered did the omis-
sion strike her? But no she evidently regarded us both as
mere acquaintances, inevitably, perhaps even tenderly, bound
up with this time; and as such, claiming a more than ordinary
place in her regard and remembrance. No man with common
sense or common feeling could for a moment dare to misinter-
pret the emotion she showed.

Ke-entering the house, she asked us if we would come in
with her; she had a few things to say to us. And then she
again referred gratefully to our "kindness."

We all went once more for the last time into the little
parlor.

"Yes, I am going away," said she, mournfully.

"We hope all good will go with you always and every-
where."

"Thank you, Mr. Fletcher."

It was strange, the grave tone our intercourse now invar-
iably assumed. We might have been three old people, who
had long fought with and endured the crosses of the world,



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 161

instead of two young men and a young woman, in the very
dawn of life.

"Circumstances have fixed my plans since I saw you yes-
terday. I am going to reside for a time with my cousins, the
Brithwoods. It seems best for me. Lady Caroline is very
kind, and I am so lonely."

She said this not in any compliment, but as if accepting the
fact, and making up her mind to endure it. A little more
fragmentary conversation passed, chielly between herself and
me John uttered scarcely a word. He sat by the window,
half shading his face with his hand. Under that covert, the
gaze which incessantly followed and dwelt on her face oh,
had she seen it!

' The moments narrowed. Would he say what he had in-
tended, concerning his position in the world? Had she
guessed or learned anything, or were we to her simply Mr.
Halifax and Mr. Fletcher two "gentlemen" of Norton Bury?
It appeared so.

"This is not a very long good-bye, I trust?" said she to me,
with something more than courtesy. "I shall remain at the
My the House some weeks, I believe. How long do you pro-
pose staying at Enderley?"

I was uncertain.

"But your home is in Norton Bury? I hope I trust, you
will allow my cousin to express in his own house his thanks
and mine for your great kindness during my trouble?"

Neither of us answered. Miss March looked surprised
hurt nay, displeased; then her eye, resting on John, lost its
haughtiness, and became humble and sweet.

"Mr. Halifax, I know nothing of my cousin, and I do know
you. Will you tell me candidly, as I know you will wheth-
er there is anything in Mr. Brithwood which you think un-
worthy of your acquaintance?"

"He would think me unworthy of his," was the low, firm
answer.

Miss March smiled incredulously. "Because you are not
very rich? What can that signify? It is enough for me that
my friends are gentlemen."

"Mr. Brithwood, and many others, would not allow my
claim to that title."

Astonished nay, somewhat more than astonished the
young gentlewoman drew back a little. "I do not quite un-
derstand you."
11



162 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

"Let me explain, then;" and her involuntary gesture seem-
ing to have brought all honest dignity and manly pride, he
faced her, once more himself. "It is right, Mies March, that
you should know who and what I am, to whom you are giving
the honor of your kindness. Perhaps you ought to have
known before; but here at Enderley we seemed to be equals
friends."

"I have indeed felt it so."

"Then, you will the sooner pardon my not telling you
what you never asked, and I was only too ready to forget
that we are not equals; that is, society would not regard us as
such, and I doubt if even you yourself would wish us to be
friends."

"Why not?"

"Because you are a gentlewoman, and I am a tradesman."

The news was evidently a shock to her; it could not but be,
reared as she had been. She sat, the eyelashes drooping over
her flushed cheeks, perfectly silent.

John's voice grew firmer prouder no hesitation now.

"My calling is, as you will soon hear at Norton Bury, that of
a tanner. I am apprentice to Abel Fletcher, Phineas' father."

"Mr. Fletcher!" She looked up at me a mingled look of
kindliness and pain.

"Ay, Phineas is a little less beneath your notice than I am.
He is rich; he has been well educated; I have had to educate
myself. I came to Norton Bury six years ago a beggar-boy.
No, not quite that, for I never begged; either worked or
starved."

The earnestness, the passion of his tone, made Miss March
lift her eyes, but they fell again.

"Yes, Phineas found me in an alley, starving. We stood in
the rain, opposite the mayor's house. A little girl you know
her, Miss March came to the door, and threw out to me a
bit of bread."

Now indeed she started. "You was that you?"

"It was I."

John paused, and his whole manner changed into softness
as he resumed. "I never forgot that little girl. Many a time,
when I was inclined to do wrong, she kept me right the re-
membrance of her sweet face and her kindness."

That face was pressed down against the sofa where she sat.
Miss March was all but weeping.

John continued.



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 163

"I am glad to have met her again glad to have been able
to do her some small good in return for the infinite good she
once did me. I shall bid her farewell now, at once and alto-
gether."

A quick involuntary turn of the hidden face asked him,
"Why?"

"Because," John answered, "the world says we are not
equals, and it would neither be for Miss March's honor nor
mine did I try to force upon it the truth, which I may prove
openly one day, that we are equals."

Miss March looked up at him it were hard to say with what
expression of pleasure, or pride, or simple astonishment; per-
haps a mingling of all. She silently offered her hand, first to
me and then to John. Whether she meant it as a friendliness,
or as a mere ceremony of adieu, I cannot tell. John took it as
the latter and rose.

His hand was on the door, but he could not go.

"Miss March," he said, "perhaps I may never see you again,
at least never as now. Let me look once more at that wrist
which was hurt."

Her left arm was hanging over the sofa, the scar being visi-
ble enough. John took the hand and held it firmly.

"Poor little hand, blessed little hand! May God bless it
evermore!"

Suddenly he pressed his lips to the place where the wound
had been, a kiss long and close, such as only a lover's kiss
could be. Surely she must have felt it known it.

A moment afterward, he was gone.

That day Miss March departed, and we remained at Ender-
ley, alone.



CHAPTER XVI.

It was winter-time. All the summer-days at Enderley
were gone, "like a dream when one awaketh." Of her who
had been the beautiful center of the dream we had never heard
nor spoken since.

John and I were walking together along the road toward
the Mythe; we could just see the frosty sunset reflected on the
windows of the Mythe House, now closed for months, the fam-
ily being away. The meadows alongside, where the Avon had
overflowed and frozen, were a popular skating ground: and



164 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

the road was alive with lookers-on of every class. All Norton
Bury seemed abroad; and half Norton Bury exchanged salu-
tations with my companion, till I was amused to notice how
large John's acquaintance had grown.

Among the rest, there overtook us a little elderly lady, as
prim and neat as an old maid, and as bright-looking as a hap-
py matron. I saw at once who it was Mrs. Jessop, our good
doctor's new wife and old love, whom he had lately brought
home, to the great amazement and curiosity of Norton Bury.

"She seems to like you very much," I said; as after a cordial
greeting, which John returned rather formally, she trotted on.

"They were both very kind to me in London, last month, as
I think I told you."

"Ay!" It was one of the few things he had mentioned
about that same London journey, for he had grown into a
painful habit of silence now. Yet I dreaded to break it, lest
any wounds rankling beneath might thereby be caused to
smart once more. And our love to one another was too faith-
ful for a little reserve to have power to influence it in any way.

We came once more upon the old lady, watching the skat-
ers. She again spoke to John, and looked at me with her
keen, kind, blue eyes.

"I think I know who your friend is, though you do not in-
troduce him." (John hastily performed that ceremony.)
"Tom and I" (how funny to hear her call our old bachelor
doctor "Tom") "were wondering what had become of you,
Mr. Halifax. Are you stronger than you were in London?"

"Was he ill in London, madam?"

"No, indeed, Phineas! Or only enough to win for me Dr.
and Mrs. Jessop's great kindness."

"Which you have never come to thank us for. Never
crossed our door-sill since we returned home! Does not your
conscience sting you for your ingratitude?"

He colored deeply.

"Indeed, Mrs. Jessop, it was not ingratitude."

"I know it; I believe it," she answered, with much kindness.
"Tell me what it was."

He hesitated.

"You ought to believe the warm interest we both take in
you. Tell me the plain truth."

"I will. It is that your kindness to me in London was no
reason for my intruding on you at Norton Bury. It might



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 165

not be agreeable for you and Dr. Jessop to have my acquaint-
ance here."

The little old lady's eyes brightened into something beyond
mere kindness as she looked at him.

"Mr. Halifax, I thank you for that 'plain truth.' Truth is
always best. Now for mine. I had heard you were a trades-
man; I found out for myself that you were a gentleman. I



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