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John Halifax, gentleman : a novel online

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ent stole gradually into the circle round her; men and women
alike charmed by the fascination of her ripe beauty, her lively
manner, her exquisite smile and laugh.

I wondered what John thought of Lady Caroline Brith-
wood. She could not easily see him, even though her acute
glance seemed to take in everything and everybody in the
room. But on her entrance John had drawn back a little,
and our half-dozen of fellow-guests, who had been conversing
with him, crept shyly out of his way; as if, now tho visible
reality appeared, they were aghast at the great gulf that lay
between John Halifax, the tanner, and the Brithwoods of the
Mythe. A few even looked askance at our hostess, as though
some terrible judgment must fall upon poor ignorant Mrs.
Jessop, who had dared to amalgamate such opposite ranks.

So it came to pass that while everybody gathered round
the Brithwoods, John and I stood alone and half -concealed by
the window.

Very soon I heard Lady Caroline's loud whisper:



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 177

"Mrs. Jessop, my good friend, one moment. Where is your
'jeune heros,' 'I'homme du peuple?' I do not see him. Does
he wear clouted shoes and woollen stockings? Has he a
broad face and turned-up nose, like your 'pay sans Anglais f'

"Judge for yourself, my lady he stands at your elbow.
Mr. Halifax, let me present you to Lady Caroline Brithwood."

If Lord Luxmore's fair daughter ever looked confounded in
her life, she certainly did at this minute.

"Lui? Mon Dieu! Lui!" And her shrug of amazement
was stopped, her half-extended hand drawn back. No, it was
quite impossible to patronize John Halifax. -

He bowed gravely she made a gracious courtesy; they met
on equal terms, a lady and gentleman.

Soon her lively manner returned. She buckled on her
spurs for new conquest, and left the already vanquished gen-
tilities of Norton Bury to amuse themselves as they best might.

"I am enchanted to meet you, Mr. Halifax; I adore 'le peu-
ple.' Especially" with a sly glance at her husband, who,
with Tory Dr. Jessop, was vehemently exalting Mr. Pitt, and
'abusing the First Consul Bonaparte 'especially le peuple
Franyais. Me comprenez vous?"

"Madame, je vous comprends."

Her ladyship looked surprised. French was not very com-
mon among the honest trading class, or indeed any but the
higher classes in England.

"But," John continued, "I must dissent from Lady Caroline
Brithwood, if she mingles the English people with 'le peuple
Francais,' They are a very different class of beings."

"Ah ca ira, pa ira" she laughed, humming beneath her
breath a few notes out of that terrible song. "But you know
French let us talk in that language; we shall horrify no one
then."

"I cannot speak it readil^ I am chiefly self-taught."

"The best teaching. Mon Dieu! Truly you are made to
be 'un hero' just the last touch of grace that a woman's hand
gives had you ever a woman for your friend? and you
would be complete. But I cannot flatter plain, blunt, hon-
esty for me. You must you shall be 'le homme du peu-
ple.' Were you born such? Who were your parents?"

I saw John hesitate; I knew how rarely he ever uttered
those names written in the old Bible; how infinitely sacred
they were to him. Could he blazon them out now, to gratify
this woman's idle curiosity?

a



178 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

"Madam," he said gravely, "I was introduced to you simply
as John Halifax. It seems to me, that so long as I do no dis-
credit to it, the name suffices to the world."

"Ah I see! I see!" But he, with his downcast eyes, di
not detect the meaning smile that just flushed in hers, was
changed into a tone of soft sympathy. "You are right; rank
is nothing a cold, glittering marble, with no soul under.
Give me the rich flesh-and-blood life of the people. Liberte
fraternite egalite. I would rather be a gamin in Paris
streets, than my brother William at Luxmore Hall."

Thus talked she, sometimes in French, sometimes in Eng-
lish, the young man answering little. She only threw her
shining nets abroad the more; she seemed determined to
please. And Nature fitted her for it. Even if not born an
earl's daughter, Lady Caroline would have been everywhere
the magic center of any society wherein she chose to move.
Not that her conversation was brilliant or deep, but she said
the most frivolous things in a way that made them appear
witty; and the grand art, to charm by appearing charmed, was
hers in perfection. She seemed to float altogether upon and
among the pleasantness of life; pain, either endured or inflict-
ed, was to her an impossibility.

Thus her character struck me on this first meeting, and
thus, after many years, it strikes me still. I look back upon
what she appeared that evening lovely, gay, attractive in
the zenith of her rich maturity. What her old age was, the
world knows or thinks it knows. But Heaven may be more
merciful I cannot tell. Whatever is now said of her, I can
only say, "Poor Lady Caroline."

It must have indicated a grain of pure gold at the bottom
of the gold-seeming dross, that from the first moment she
saw him, she liked John Halifax.

They talked a long time. She drew him out, as a well-bred
woman always can draw out a young man of sense. He
looked pleased; he conversed well. Had he forgotten? No;
the restless wandering of his eyes at the slightest sound in the
room told how impossible it was he should forget. Yet he
comported himself bravely, and I was proud that Ursula's
kindred should see him as he was.

"Lady Caroline (her ladyship turned, with a slightly bored
expression, to her intrusive hostess), I fear we must give up all
expectation of our young friend to-night."

"I told you so. Post-traveling is very uncertain, and the



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 179

Bath roads are not good. Have you ever visited Bath, Mr.
Halifax?"

"But she is surely long on the road/' pursued Mrs. Jessop,
rather anxiously. "What attendance had she?"

"Her own maid, and our man Laplace. Nay, don't be
alarmed, excellent and faithful gouvernante! I assure you
your fair ex-pupil is quite safe. The furore about her has
considerably abated since the heiress-hunters at Bath discov-
ered the melancholy fact that Miss March "

"Pardon me," interrupted the other; "we are among strang-
ers. I assure you, I am quite satisfied about my dear child."

"What a charming thing is affectionate fidelity," observed
her ladyship, turning once more to John, with a sweet, lazy
dropping of the eyelids.

The young man only bowed. They resumed their conver-
sation at least, she did, talking volubly; satisfied with mono-
syllabic answers.

It was now almost supper-time held a glorious hour at
Norton Bury parties. People began to look anxiously to the
door.

"Before we adjourn," said Lady Caroline, "I must do what
it will be difficult to accomplish after supper;" and for the
first time a sharp, sarcastic tone jarred in her smooth voice.
"'I must introduce you especially to my husband. Mr. Brith-
wood?"

"Madam." He lounged up to her. They were a diverse
pair. She, in her well-preserved beauty, and Gallic artificial
grace he, in his coarse, bloated youth, coarser and worse than
the sensualism of middle age.

"Mr. Brithwood, let me introduce you to a new friend of
mine."

The 'squire bowed, rather awkwardly; proving the truth of
what Norton Bury often whispered, that Richard Brithwood
was more at home with grooms than gentlemen.

"He belongs to this your town. You must have heard of
hirn, perhaps met him."

"I have more than had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Brith-
wood, but he has doubtless forgotten it."

"By Jove! I have. What might your name be, sir?"

"John Halifax."

"What, Halifax, the tanner?"

"The same."

"Phew!" He began a low whistle, and turned on his heel.



180 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

John changed color a little. Lady Caroline laughed a
thoughtless, amused laugh, with a pleasant murmur of "JBete!"
" Anglais!" Nevertheless, she whispered her husband:

"Mon ami you forget; I have introduced you to this gen-
tleman."

"Gentleman, indeed! Pooh! rubbish! Lady Caroline I'm
busy talking."

"And so are we most pleasantly. I only called you as a
matter of form, to ratify my invitation. Mr. Halifax, will, I
hope, dine with us next Sunday."

"The devil he will!"

"Eichard, you hurt me!" with a little scream, as she pushed
his rough fingers from her arm, so soft, and round, and fair.

"Madam, you must be crazy. The young man is a trades-
man a tanner. Not fit for my society."

"Precisely; I invite him for my own."

But the whispers and responses were alike unheeded by
their object. For, at the- door-way, entering with Mrs. Jessop,
was a tall girl in deep mourning. We knew her we both
knew her our dream at Enderley our "nut-browne mayde."

John was near to the door their eyes met. She bowed, he
returned it. He was very pale. For Miss March, her face
and neck were all in a glow. Neither spoke, nor offered more
than this passing acknowledgment, and she moved on.

She came and sat down beside me, accidentally, I believe;
but when she saw me, she held out her hand. We exchanged
a word or two her manner was unaltered; but she spoke hur-
riedly, and 'her fingers had their old nervous twitch. She said
this meeting was to her "unexpected," but "she was very glad
to see me."

So she sat, and I looked sideways at her dropped eyes, her
forehead with its coronet of chestnut curls. How would ho
bear the sight he of whose heart mine was the mere faint
echo? Yet truly an echo, repeating with cruel faithfulness
every throb.

He kept his position, a little aloof from the Brith woods, who
were holding a slight altercation though more of looks than
words. John heeded them not. I was sure, though he had
never looked directly toward us, that he had heard every
syllable Miss March said to me.

The 'squire called across the room, in a patronizing tone,
"My good fellow that is, ahem! I say, young Halifax!"

"Were you addressing me, Mr. Brithwood?"



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 181

"I was. I want a quiet word or two between ourselves."

"Certainly."

They stood face to face. The one seemed uncomfortable,
the other was his natural self a little graver, perhaps, as if
he felt what was coining, and prepared to meet it, knowing in
whose presence he had to prove himself what Richard Brith-
wood, with all his broad acres could never be a gentleman.

Few could doubt that fact who looked at the two young men,
as all were looking now.

"On my soul, it's awkward I'll call at the tan-yard and
explain."

"I had rather you would explain here."

"Well, then, though it's a confounded unpleasant thing to
say and I really wish I had not been brought into such a po-
sition you'll not heed my wife's nonsense?"

"I do not understand you."

"Come, it's no use running to cover in that way. Let's be
open and plain. I mean no offense. You may be a very re-
spectable young man for aught I know, still rank is rank. Of
course, Dr. Jessop asks whom he likes to his house and, by
George! I'm always civil to everybody but really, in spite of
my lady's likings, I can't well invite you to my table!"

"Nor could I humiliate myself by accepting any such invi-
tation."

He said the words distinctly, so that the whole circle might
have heard, and was turning away, when Mr. Brithwood fired
up as an angry man does in a losing game.

"Humiliate yourself! What do you mean, sir? Wouldn't
you be only too thankful to crawl into the houses of your bet-
ters, anyhow, by hook or by crook? Ha! ha! I know you
would. It's always the way with you common folk, you riot-
ers, you revolutionists. By the Lord! I wish you were all
hanged."

The young blood rose fiercely in John's cheek, but he re-
strained himself. "Sir, I am neither rioter nor revolutionist."

"But you are a tradesman. You used to drive Fletcher's
cart of skins."

"I did."

"And are you not I remember you now the very lad, the
tanner's lad, that once pulled us ashore from the eger Cousin
March and me?"

I heard a quick exclamation beside me, and saw Ursula lis-
tening intently I had not noticed how intently till now.



1S2 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

Her eyes were fixed on John, waiting for his answer. It came.

"Your memory is correct; I was that lad."

"Thank'ee for it, too. Lord! what a jolly life I should have
missed! You got no reward, though. You threw away the
guinea I offered you; come, I'll make it twenty guineas to-
morrow."

The insult was too much. "Sir, you forget that whatever
we may have been, to-night we meet as equals."

"Equals!"

"As guests in the same house most certainly for the time
being, equals."

Richard Brithwood stared, literally dumb with fury. The
standers-by were dumb, too, though such fracas were then
not uncommon even in drawing-rooms, and in women's pres-
ence, especially with men of Mr. Brithwood's stamp. His wife
seemed quite used to it. She merely shrugged her shoulders
and hummed a note or two of "Caira" It irritated the hus-
band beyond all bounds.

"Hold your tongue, my lady. What, because a 'prentice-
lad once saved my life, and you choose to patronize him as you
do many an other vagabond, with your cursed liberty and
equality, am I to have him at my table, and treat him as a
gentleman? By , madam, never!"

He spoke savagely and loud. John was silent; he had
locked his hands together convulsively; but it was easy to see
that his blood was at boiling heat, and that, did he once slip
the leash of his passions, it would go hard with Richard Brith-
wood.

The latter came up to him with clinched fist. "Now mark
me, you you vagabond!"

Ursula March crossed the room, and caught his arm, her
eyes gleaming fire.

"Cousin, in my presence this gentleman shall be treated as
a gentleman. He was kind to my father."

"Curse your father!"

John's right hand burst free; he clutched the savage by the
shoulder.

"Be silent. You had better."

Brithwood shook off the grasp, turned and struck him; that
last fatal insult, which offered from man to man, in those days,
could only be wiped out with blood.

John staggered. For a moment he seemed as if he would



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 183

have sprung on his adversary and felled him to the ground,
but he did it not.

Some one whispered, "He won't fight. He is a Quaker."

"No!" he said, and stood erect; though he was ghastly pale,
and his voice sounded hoarse and strange. "But I am a
Christian. I shall not return blow for blow; I am a Chris-
tian."

It was a new doctrine; foreign to the practice, if familiar to
the ear, of Christian Norton Bury. No one answered him;
one or two sheered off from him with contemptuous smiles.
Then Ursula March stretched out her friendly hand. John
took it, and grew calm in a moment.

There arose a murmur, "Mr. Brithwood is going."

"Let him go!" Miss March cried, anger still glowing in her
eyes.

"Not so it is not right. I will speak to him. May I?"
John softly unloosed her detaining hand and went up to Mr.
Brithwood. "Sir, there is no need for you to leave this house
I am leaving it. You and I shall not meet again if I can
help it."

His proud courtesy, his absolute dignity and calmness, com-
pletely overwhelmed his blustering adversary; who gazed open-
mouthed, while John made his adieu to his host and to those
he knew. The women gathered round him woman's instinct
is usually true. Even Lady Caroline, amid a flutter of regrets
declared she did not believe there was a man in the universe
who would have borne so charmingly such a "degradation."

At the word Miss March fired up. "Madam," she said, in
her impetuous young voice, "no insult offered to a man can
ever degrade him; the only real degradation is when he de-
grades himself."

John, passing out at the door-way, caught her words. As
he quitted the room no crowned victor ever wore a look more
joyful, more proud.

After a minute, we followed him; the doctor's wife and I.
But now the pride and joy had both faded.

"Mrs. Jessop, you see I am right," he murmured. "I ought
not to have come here. It is a hard world for such as I. I
shall never conquer it never."

"Yes, you will." And Ursula stood by him, with crimsoned
cheek and eyes no longer flashing, but fearless still.

Mrs. Jessop put her arm round the young girl. "I also
think you need not dread the world, Mr. Halifax, if you always



184 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

act as you did to-night; though I grieve that things should
have happened thus, if only for the sake of this my child."

"Have I done any harm? oh! tell me, have 1 done any
harm?"

"No!" cried Ursula, with the old impetuosity kindling
anew in every feature of her noble face. "You have but
showed me what I remember all my life that a Christian only
can be a true gentleman."

She understood him he felt she did; understood him as, if
a man be understood by one woman in the world, he and she
too is strong, safe, and happy. They grasped hands once
more, and gazed unhesitatingly into each other's eyes. All
human passion for the time being set aside, these two recog-
nized, each in the other, one aim, one purpose, one faith;
something higher than love, something better than happiness.
It must have been a blessed moment for both.

Mrs. Jessop did not interfere. She had herself known what
true love was, if, as gossips said, she had kept constant to our
worthy doctor for thirty years. But still she was a prudent
woman, not unused to the world.

"You must go now," she said, laying her hand gently on
John's arm.

"I am going. But she what will she do?"

"Never mind me. Jane will take care of me," said Ursula,
winding her arms round her old governess, and leaning her
cheek down on Mrs. Jessop's shoulder.

We had never seen Miss March show fondness, that is, car-
essing fondness, to any one before. It revealed her in a new
light; betraying the depths there were in her nature; infinite
depths of softness and of love.

John watched her for a minute; a long, wild, greedy min-
ute, then whispered hoarsely to me, "I must go."

We made a hasty adieu, and went out together into the
night the cold, bleak night, all blast and storm.



CHAPTER XVIII.

For weeks after, then, we went on in our usual way, Ursula
March living within a stone's throw of us. She had left her
cousin's, and come to reside with Dr. Jessop and his wife,

It was a very hard trial for John,



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 185

Neither of us were again invited by Mrs. Jessop. We could
not blame her; she held a precious charge, and Norton Bury
was a horrible place for gossip. Already tale after tale had
gone abroad about Miss March's "ingratitude" to her rela-
tions. Already tongue after tongue had repeated, in every
possible form of lying, the anecdote of "Young Halifax and
the 'squire." Had it been "young Halifax and Miss March,"
I truly believe John could not have borne it.

As it was, though he saw her constantly, it was always by
chance: a momentary glimpse at the window, or a passing ac-
knowledgment in the street. I knew quite well when he had
thus met her whether he mentioned it or not knew by the
wild, troubled look, which did not wear off for hours.

I watched him closely, day by day, in an agony of doubt and
pain.

For, though he said nothing, a great change was creeping
over "the lad," as I stijl fondly called him. His strength, the
glory of a young man, was going from him; he was becom-
ing thin, weak, restless-eyed. That healthy energy and gentle
composure, which had been so beautiful in him all his life
through, were utterly lost.

"What am I to do with thee, David?" said I to him one
evening, when he had come in, looking worse than usual I
knew why; for Ursula and her friend had just passed our
house, taking their pleasant walk in the spring twilight. "Thou
art very ill, I fear."

"Not at all. There is not the least thing the matter with
me. Do let me alone."

Two minutes afterward, he begged my pardon for those
sharp-spoken words. "It was not thee that spoke, John," I
said.

"No, you are right, it was not I. It was a sort of devil that
lodges here;" he touched his breast. "The chamber he lives
in is at times a burning hell."

He spoke in a low tone of great anguish. What could I an-
swer? Nothing.

We stood at the window, looking idly out. The chestnut-
trees in the Abbey yard were budding green; there came that
faint, sweet sound of children at play, which one hears as the
days begin to lengthen.

"It's a lovely evening," he said.

"John!" I looked him in the face, He could not palm off



186 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

that kind deceit upon me. "You have heard something about
her?"

"I have," he groaned. "She is leaving Norton Bury."

"Thank God!" I muttered.

John turned fiercely upon me but only for a moment.
''Perhaps I ought to say, 'Thank God/ This could not have
lasted long, or it would have made me what I pray his
mercy to save me from, or to let me die. Oh, lad, if I could
only die!"

lie bent down over the window-sill, crushing his forehead
on his hands.

"John," 1 said, in this depth of despair snatching at an
equally desperate hope, "what if, instead of keeping this si-
lence, you were to go to her and tell her all?"

"I have thought of that: a noble thought, worthy of a poor
'prentice lad ! Why, two several evenings I have been insane
enough to walk to Dr. Jessop's door, which I have never en-
tered, and mark you well! they have never asked me to enter
since that night. But each time ere I knocked my senses
came back, and I went home luckily having made myself
neither a fool nor a knave."

There was no answer to this, either. Alas, I knew as well
as he did, that in the eye of the world's common-sense, for a
young man not twenty-one, a tradesman's apprentice, to ask
the hand of a young gentlewoman, uncertain if she loved him,
was most utter folly. Also, for a penniless youth to sue a lady
with a fortune, even though it was (the Brithwoods took care
to publish the fact) smaller than was at first supposed would,
in the eye of the world's honor, be not very much unlike knav-
ery. There was no help none!

"David," I groaned, "I would you had never seen her."

"Hush! not a word like that. If you heard all I hear of her
daily hourly her unselfishness, her energy, her generous,
warm heart! It is blessedness even to have known her. She
is an angel no, better than that, a woman! I did not want
her for a saint in a shrine; I wanted her as a helpmate, to
walk with me in my daily life, to comfort me, strengthen me,
make me pure and good. I could be a good man if I had her
for my wife. Now "

He rose, and walked rapidly up and down. His looks were
becoming altogether wild.

"Come, Phineas, suppose we go to meet her up the road
as I meet her almost every day. Sometimes she merely bends



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 187

and smiles, sometimes she holds out her little hand, and
'hopes I am quite well.' And then they pass on, and I stand
gaping and staring after them like an idiot. There look
there they are now/'

Ay; walking leisurely along the other side of the road
talking and smiling to one another, in their own merry, fa-
miliar way, were Mrs. Jessop and Miss March.

They were not thinking of us, not the least. Only, just ere
they passed our house, Ursula turned slightly round, and
looked behind; a quiet, maidenly look, with the smile still lin-
gering on her mouth. She saw nothing, and no one; for John
had pulled me from the window, and placed himself out of
sight. So, turning back again, she went on her way. They
both disappeared.

"Now, Phineas, it is all ended."

"'What do you mean?"

"I have looked on her for the last time."

"Nay she is not going yet."

"Bat I am fleeing from the devil and his angels. Hurrah,
Phineas, lad! We'll have a merry night. To-morrow I am
away to Bristol, to set sail for America."

He wrung my hands, with a long, loud, half-mad laugh, and
then dropped heavily on a chair.

A few hours after, he was lying on my bed, struck down by
the first real sickness he had ever known. It was apparently
a low, languish fever, which had been much about Norton
Bury since the famine of last year. At least, so Jael said; and
she was a wise doctress, and had cured many. He would have
no one else to attend him seemed terrified at the mere men-
tion of Dr. Jessop. I opposed him not at first, for well I
knew, whatever the proximate cause of his sickness might be,
its root was in that mental pang which no doctors could cure.
So 1 trusted to the blessed quiet of a sick-room often so heal-
ing to misery to Jael's nursing, and his brother's love.

After a few days we called in a physician a stranger from
Coltham who pronounced it to be this Norton Bury fever,



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