Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

John Halifax, gentleman : a novel online

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altogether unmoved. One might foresee a good deal, even in
the knowing side-glance of the servant, whom he startled with
his name, "Mr. Halifax."

"Mr. Brithwood's bus} 7 , sir; better come to-morrow," sug-
gested the man, evident]y knowing enough upon his masters

"I am sorry to trouble him, but I must see Mr. Brithwood

And John determinedly followed the man into the grand
empty dining-room, where on crimson velvet chairs, we sat and
contemplated the great stag's head with its branching horns,
the silver flagons and tankards, and the throstles hopping out-
side across the rainy lawn at our fall leisure too for the
space of fifteen minutes.

"This will not do," said John, quietly enough, though this
time it was with a less steady hand that he pulled the bell.

"Did you tell your master I was here?"

"Yes, sir." And the grin with which the footman came in
somehow slid away from his mouth's corners.

"How soon may I have the honor of seeing him?"

"He says, sir, you must send up your business by me."

John paused, evidently subduing something within him
something unworthy of Ursula's lover of Ursula's husband
that was to be.

"Tell your master, my business is solely with himself, and I
must request to see him. It is important, say, or I would not
thus intrude upon his time."

"Very well, sir."

Ere long, the man brought word that Mr. Brithwood would
be at liberty, for five minutes only, in the justice-room. We


were led out, crossing the court-yard once more where, just
riding out, I saw two ladies, one of whom kissed her hand gay-
ly to John Halifax to the magistrate's office. There, safe-
ly separated from his own noble mansion, Mr. Brithwood ad-
ministered justice. In the outer room a stout young fellow
a poacher, probably sat heavily ironed, sullen and fierce; and
by the door a girl with a child in her arms, and God pity her!
no ring on her finger stood crying; another ill-looking fellow,
maudlin drunk, with a constable by him, called out to us as we
passed for a "drop o' beer."

These were the people whom Richard Brithwood, Esquire,
magistrate for the county of , had to judge and punish, ac-
cording to his own sense of equity and his knowledge of his
country's law.

He sat behind his office-table, thoroughly magisterial, dic-
tating so energetically to his clerk behind him, that we had
both entered, and John had crossed the room, before he saw
us, or seemed to see.

"Mr. Brithwood."

"Oh Mr. Halifax. Good-morning."

John returned the salutation, which was evidently meant to
show that the giver bore no grudge; that, indeed, it was im-
possible so dignified a personage as Richard Brithwood, Es-
quire, in his public capacity, too, could bear a grudge against
so inferior an individual as John Halifax.

"I should be glad, sir, of a few minutes' speech with you."

"Certainly certainly; speak on;" and he lent a magisterial

"Excuse me, my business is private," said John, looking at
the clerk.

"No business is private here," returned the 'squire haugh-

"Then shall I speak with you elsewhere? But I must have
the honor of an interview with you, and immediately."

Whether Mr. Brithwood was seized with some indefinite
alarm, he himself best knew why, or whether John's manner
irresistibly compelled him to civility, as the stronger always
compels the weaker, I cannot tell but he signed to the clerk
to leave the room.

"And Jones, send back all the others to the lock-up house
till to-morrow. Bless my life! it's near three o'clock. They
can't expect to keep a gentleman's dinner waiting these low


I suppose this referred only to the culprits outside; at all
events, we chose to take it so.

"Xow you, sir perhaps you'll dispatch your business; the
sooner the better."

"It will not take long. It is a mere matter of form, which
nevertheless I felt it my duty to be the first to inform you.
Mr. Brithwood, I have the honor of bearing a message to you
from your cousin Miss Ursula March."

"She's nothing to me I never wish to see her face again,
the the vixen!"

"You will be kind enough, if you please, to avoid all such
epithets; at least, in my hearing."

"Your hearing! And pray who are you, sir?"

"You know quite well who I am."

"Oh, yes! And how goes the tanning? Any offers in the
horse-flesh line? Always happy to meet you in the way of
business. But what can you possibly have to do with me, or
with any member of my family?"

John bit his lip; the 'squire's manner was extremely galling;
more so, perhaps, in its outside civility than any gross rude-

"Mr. Brithwood, I was not speaking of myself, but of the
lady whose message I have the honor to bring you."

"That lady, sir, has chosen to put herself away from her
family, and her family can hold no further intercourse with
her," said the 'squire, loftily.

"I am aware of that," was the reply, with at least equal

"Are you? And pray what right may you have to be ac-
quainted with Miss March's private concerns?"

"The right which, indeed, was the purport of her message
to you that in a few months I shall become her husband."

John said this very quietly; so quietly that, at first, the
'squire seemed hardly to credit his senses. At last he burst
into a horse-laugh.

"Well, that is the best joke I ever did hear!"

"Pardon me, I am perfectly serious."

"Bah! how much money do you want, fellow? A pretty
tale! you'll not get me to believe it ha! ha! She wouldn't
be so mad. To be sure, women have their fancies, as we
know, and you're a likely young fellow enough; but to marry
you "


John sprang up, his whole frame quivering with fury.
"Take care, sir! take care how you insult my wife!"

He stood over the wretch the cowardly, shrinking wretch;
he did not touch him, but he stood over him till, terrified out
of his life, Eichard Brithwood gasped out some apology.

"Sit down pray sit down again. Let us proceed in our

John Halifax sat down.

"So my cousin is your wife, I think you were saying?"

"She will be, some months hence. We were engaged a
week ago, with the full knowledge and consent of Dr. and
Mrs. Jessop, her nearest friends."

"And of yours?" asked Mr. Brithwood, with as much sar-
casm as his blunt wits could furnish him.

"I have no relatives."

"So I always understood. And that being the case, may
I ask the meaning of this visit? Where are your lawyers,
your marriage settlements, hey? I say, young man ha! ha!
I should like to know what you can possibly want with me,
Miss March's trustee?"

"Nothing whatever. Miss March, as you are aware, is, by
her father's will, left perfectly free in her choice of marriage;
and she has chosen. But since, under certain circumstances,
I wish to act with perfect openness, I came to tell you, as her
cousin and the executor of this will, that she is about to be-
come my wife."

And he lingered over that name, as if its very utterance
strengthened and calmed him.

"May I inquire into those ' certain circumstances?' " asked
the other, still derisively.

"You know them already. Miss March has a fortune and I
have none; and though I wish that difference were on the
other side though it might and did hinder me from seeking
her yet, now she is sought and won, it shall not hinder my
marrying her."

"Likely not," sneered Mr. Brithwood.

John's passion was rising again.

"I repeat, it shall not hinder me. The world may say what
it chooses; we follow a higher law than the world she and I.
She knows me; am I to be afraid to trust her? Am I to be
such a coward as not to dare to marry the woman I love, be-
cause the world might say I married her for her money?"

He stood, his clinched hand resting on the table, looking


full into Richard Brithwood's face. The 'squire sat dum-
founded at the young man's vehemence.

"Your pardon/' John added, more calmly. "Perhaps I
owe her some pardon, too, for bringing her name thus into
discussion; but I wished to have everything clear between my-
self and you, her nearest relative. You now know exactly
how the matter stands. I will detain you no longer I have
nothing more to say."

"But I have!" roared out the 'squire; at length, recovering
himself, seeing his opponent had quitted the field. "Stop a

John paused at the door.

"Tell Ursula March she may marry you, or any other vaga-
bond she pleases it's no business of mine. But her fortune
is my business, and it's in my hands, too. Might's right, and
possession's nine-tentks of the law. Not one penny shall she
get out of my fingers as long as I can keep hold of it."

John bowed, his hand still on the door. "As you please,
Mr. Brithwood. That was not the subject of our interview.

And we were away.

Recrossing the iron gates and out into the open road, John
breathed freely.

"That's over all is well."

"Do you think what he threatened is true? Can he do it?"

"Very likely; don't let us talk about that." And he walked
on lightly, as if a load were taken off his mind, and body and
soul leaped up to meet the glory of the summer sunshine, the
freshness of the summer air.

"Oh what a day this is! after the rain, too! .How ehe will
enjoy it!"

And coming home through Norton Bury, we met her, walk-
ing with Mrs. Jessop. No need to dread that meeting now.

Yet she looked up, questioning, through her blushes. Of
course he had told her where we were going to-day: her who
had a right to know every one of his concerns now.

"Yes, dear, all is quite right. Do not be afraid."

Afraid, indeed! Not the least fear was in those clear eyes.
Nothing but perfect content perfect trust.

John drew her arm through his. "Come, we need not
mind Norton Bury now," he said, smiling.

So they two walked forward, talking, as we could see, earn-


estly and rather seriously to one another; while Mrs. Jessop
and I followed behind.

"Bless their dear hearts!" said the old lady, as she sat rest-
ing on the stile of a bean-field. "Well, we have all been
young once."

Not all, good Mrs. Jessop, thought I; not all.

Yet, surely it was most pleasant to see them, as it is to see
all true-lovers young lovers, too, in the morning of their
days. Pleasant to see written on every line of their happy
faces the blessedness of Nature's law of love love begun in
youth-time, sincere and pure, free from all sentimental shams,
or follies, or shames love mutually plighted, the next strong-
est bond to that in which it will end, and is meant to end
God's holy ordinance of marriage.

We came back across the fields to tea at Mrs. Jessop's. It
was John's custom to go there almost every evening; though
certainly he could not be said to "go a-courting." Nothing
could be more unlike it than his demeanor, or indeed the de-
meanor of both. They were very quiet lovers, never making
much of one another "before folk." No whispering in cor-
ners, or stealing away down garden-walks. No public show
of caresses caresses whose very sweetness must consist in
their entire sacredness; at least, I should think so. No co-
quettish exactions, no testing of cither's power over the other,
in those perilous small quarrels which may be the renewal of
passion, but are the death of true love.

No, our young couple were well-behaved always. She sat
at her work, and he made himself generally pleasant, falling in
kindly to the Jessops' household ways. But whatever he was
about, at Ursula's lightest movement, at the least sound of h er
voice, I could see him lift a quiet glance, as if always conscious
of her presence; she who was the delight of his eyes.

To-night, more than ever before, this soft, invisible link
seemed to be drawn closer between them, though they spoke
little together, and even sat at opposite sides of the table; but
whenever their looks met, one could trace a soft, smiling inter-
change, full of trust, and peace, and joy. He had evidently
told her all that had happened to-day, and she was satisfied.

More, perhaps, than I was; for I knew how little John
would have to live upon besides what means his wife brought
him; but that was their own affair, and I had no business to
make public my doubts or fears.

We all sat round the tea-table, talking gayly together, and


then John left us, reluctantly enough; but he always made a
point of going to the tan-yard for an hour or two, in my fath-
er's stead, every evening. Ursula let him out at the front door;
this was her right, silently claimed, which nobody either jested
at or interfered with.

When she returned, and perhaps she had been away a min-
ute or two longer than was absolutely necessary, there was a
wonderful brightness on her young face; though she listened
with a degree of attention most creditable in its gravity to a
long dissertation of Mrs. Jessop's on the best and cheapest way
of making jam and pickles.

"You know, my dear, you ought to begin and learn all about
such things now."

"Yes," said Miss March, with a little droop of the head.

"I assure you" turning to me "she comes every day into
the kitchen never mind, my dear, one can say anything to
Mr. Fletcher. And what lady need be ashamed of knowing
how a dinner is cooked and a household kept in order?"

"Nay, she should rather be proud; I know John thinks so."

At this answer of mine Ursula half-smiled; but there was a
color in her cheek and a thoughtfulness in her eyes deeper
than any that our conversation warranted or occasioned. I
was planning how to divert Mrs. Jessop from the subject,
when it was broken at once by a sudden entrance, which
startled us all like a flash of lightning.

"Stole away! stole away! as my husband would say. Here
have I come in the dusk, all through the streets, to Dr. Jes-
sop's very door. How is she where is she, ma petite?"


"Ah, come forward. I haven't seen you for an age."

And Lady Caroline kissed her on both cheeks in her lively,
French fashion, which Ursula received patiently and returned
no, I will not be certain whether she returned it or not.

"Pardon how do you do, Mrs. Jessop, my dear woman?
What trouble I have had in coming! Are you not glad to see
me, Ursula?"

"Yes, very." In that sincere voice which never either fal-
sified or exaggerated a syllable.

"Did you ever expect to see me again?"

"No, certainly I did not. And I would almost rather not
see you now, if "

"Richard Brithwood did not approve of it? Bah! what


notions you always had of marital supremacy. So, ma chere,
you are going to be married yourself, I hear?"


"Why, how quietly you seem to take it! The news perfectly
electrified me this morning. I always said that young man
was 'un heros de romans!" Ma foil this is the prettiest little
episode I ever heard of. Just King Cophetua and the beggar-
maid only reversed. How do vou feel, my Queen Cophe-

"I do not quite understand you, Caroline."

"Neither should I you, for the tale seems incredible. Only
you gave me such an honest 'yes,' and I know you never tell
even white lies. But it can't be true; at least, not certain. A
little affaire de coeur, maybe ah! I had several before I
was twenty very pleasant, chivalrous, romantic, and all that;
and such a brave young fellow, too! Helas! love is sweet at
your age!" with a little sigh "but marriage! My dear
child, you are not surely promised to this youth?"

"I am."

"How sharply you say it. Nay, don't be angry. I liked
him greatly. A very pretty fellow. But then he belongs to
the people."

"So do I."

"Naughty child, you will not comprehend me. I mean the
lower orders, the bourgeoisie. My husband says he is a tan-
ner's 'prentice-boy."

"He was an apprentice; he is now partner in Mr. Fletcher's

"That is nearly as bad. And so you are actually going to
marry a tanner!"

"I am going to marry Mr. Halifax. We will, if you please,
cease to discuss him, Lady Caroline."

"La belle sauvage!" laughed the lady; and, in the dusk, I
fancied I saw her reach over to pat Ursula's hand in her care-
less pretty way. "Nay; I meant no harm."

"I am sure you did not; but we will change the subject."

"Not at all. I came to talk about it. I couldn't sleep till
I had. Je t'aime Men, iu lasais, ma petite Ursula"

"Thank you," said Ursula gently.

"And I would like well to see you married. Truly, we wo-
men must marry or be nothing at all. But as to marrying for
love, as we used to think of, and as charming poets make be-
lieve my dear, nowadays, nous avons change tout cela."


Ursula replied nothing.

"I suppose my young friend, the bourgeois, is very much in
love with you? With 'les beaux yeux de votre cassette,' Eich-
ard swears; but I know better. What of that? All men say
they love one; but it will not last. It burns itself out. It will
be over in a year, as we wives all know. Do we not, Mrs. Jes-
sop? Ah! she is gone away."

Probably they thought I was away, too, or else they took no
notice of me, and went talking on.

"Jane would not have agreed with you, Cousin Caroline;
vshe loved her husband very dearly when she was a girl. They
were poor, and he was afraid to marry; so he let her go. That
was wrong, I think."

"How wise we are growing in these things now!" laughed
Lady Caroline. "But come, I am not interested in old turtle-
doves. Say about yourself."

"I have nothing more to say."

"Nothing more? Mon Dieu! are you aware that Eichard
is furious; that he vows he will keep every sou he has of yours
law or no law for as long as ever he can? He declared so
this morning. Did young Halifax tell you?"

"Mr. Halifax has told me."

" 'Mr. Halifax!' how proudly she says it! And are you still
going to be married to him?"


"What! a bourgeois, a tradesman? with no more money than
those sort of people usually have, I believe. You, who have
had all sorts of comforts, have always lived as a gentlewoman.
Truly, though I adore a love-marriage in theory, practically I
think you are quite mad quite mad, my dear."

"Do you?"

"And he, too. Verily, what men are! Especially men in
love. All selfish together."


"Isn't it selfish to drag a pretty creature down and make
her a drudge, a slave, a mere poor man's wife?"

"She is proud of being such!" burst in the indignant young
voice. "Lady Caroline, you may say what you like to me;
you were kind always, and I was fond of you; but you shall not
say a word against Mr. Halifax. You do not know him how
could you?"

"And you do? Ah! ma petite, we all think that, till we
find out to the contrary. And so he urges you to be married


at once, rich or poor, at all risks, at all costs? How lover-like,
how like a man! I guess it all. Half -beseeches, half -per-
suades "

"He does not!" And the girl's voice was sharp with pain.
"I would not have told you, but I must, for his sake. He
asked me this afternoon if I was afraid of being poor, if I
would like to wait and let him work hard alone till he could
give me a home like that I was born to? He did, Caroline."

"And you answered "

"No a thousand times, no! He will have a hard battle to
fight would I let him fight it alone, when I can help him
when he says I can?"

"Ah, child! you that know nothing of poverty, how can you
bear it?"

"I will try."

"You that never ruled a house in your life "

"I can learn."

"del! 'tis wonderful! Ana ihis young man nas no friends,
no connections, no fortune! only himself."

"Only himself,** said Ursula, with a proud contempt.

"Will you tell me, my dear, why you marry him?"

"Because" and Ursula spoke in low tones, that seemed
wrung out of her almost against her will "because I honor
him, because I trust him; and, young as I am, I have seen
enough of the world to be thankful that there is in it one man
whom I can trust, can honor, entirely. Also though I am
often ashamed lest this be selfish because when I was in
trouble he helped me; when I was misjudged he believed in
me; when I was sad and desolate, he loved me. And I am
proud of his love I glory in it. No one shall take it from me
no one will no one can, unless I cease to deserve it."

Lady Caroline was silent. Despite her will, you might hear
a sigh breaking from some deep corner of that light, frivolous

"B-ien! chacun a son gotit! But you have never stated one
trifle not unnecessary, perhaps, though most married folk
get on quite well without it. 'Honor,' 'trust,' pshaw! My
child, do you love Mr. Halifax?"

No answer.

"ISTay, why be shy? In England, they say, and among the
people no offense, ma petite one does sometimes happen
to care for the man one "marries. Tell me, for I must be gone,
do you love him? one word whether or no?"


Just then the light coming in, showed Ursula's face, beau-
tiful with more than happiness, uplifted even with a religious
thankfulness, as she said simply:

"John knows."


In the late autumn, John married Ursula March. He was
twenty-one, and she eighteen. It was very young too young,
perhaps, prudent folk might say; and yet sometimes I think a
double blessing falls on unions like this. A right and holy
marriage, a true love-marriage, be it early or late, is must be
sanctified and happy; yet those have the best chance of hap-
piness, who, meeting on the very threshold of life, enter upon
its duties together; with free, fresh hearts, easily molded the
one to the other, rich in all the riches of youth, acute to enjoy,
brave and hopeful to endure.

Such were these two God bless them!

They were married quite privately, neither having any near
kindred. Besides, John held strongly the opinion that so
solemn a festival as marriage is only desecrated by outward
show. And so, one golden autumn morning, Ursula walked
quietly up the Abbey aisle, in her plain white muslin gown;
and John and she plighted their faithful vows, no one being
present except the Jessops and I. They then went away for
a brief holiday went away without either pomp or tears, en-
tirely happy husband and wife together.

When I came home, and said what had happened, my good
father seemed little surprised. He had expressly desired not
to be told anything of the wedding till all was over he hated

"But since it is done, maybe 'tis as well/' said he, grimly.
"She seems a kindly young thing; wise, even for a woman."

"And pleasant, too, father?"

"Ay, but favor is deceitful and beauty vain. So the lad's
gone;" and he looked round, as if missing John, who had lived
in our house eyer since his illness. "I thought as much, when
he bade me good-night, and asked my leave to take a journey.
So he's married and gone! Come, Phineas, sit thee down by
thy old father: I am glad thee wilt always remain a bachelor."

We settled ourselves, my father and I; and while the old
man smoked his meditative pipe, I sat thinking of the winter


evenings when we two lads had read by the fireside; the sum-
mer days when we had lounged on the garden-wall. He was
a married man now, the head of a household; others had a
right the first, best, holiest right to the love that used to
be all mine; and though it was a marriage entirely happy and
hopeful, though all that day and every day I rejoiced both
with and for my brother, still it was rather sad to miss him
from our house, to feel that his boyish days were quite over
that his boyish place would know him no more.

But, of course, I had fully overcome, or at least suppressed
this feeling, when, John having brought his wife home, I went
to see them in their own house.

I had seen it once before; it was an old dwelling-house
which my father bought with the flour-mill, situated in the
middle of the town, the front windows looking on the street,
the desolate garden behind shut in by four brick walls. A
most unbridal-like abode. I feared they would find it so,
even though John had been busy there the last two months, in
early mornings and late evenings, keeping a comical secrecy
over the matter, as if he were jealous that any one but himself
should lend an eye, or put a finger to the dear task of making
ready for his young wife.

There could not be greater preparations, I kneAV, for the
third of my father's business promised but a small income.
Yet the gloomy outside being once passed, the house looked
wonderfully bright and clean; the walls and doors newly paint-
ed and delicately stencilled. ("Master did all that himsel',"

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