Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

John Halifax, gentleman : a novel online

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observed the proud little handmaid, Jenny Jem \Vatkins'
sweetheart. I had begged the place for her myself of Mistress
Ursula.) Though only a few rooms were furnished, and that
very simply, almost poorly, all was done with taste and care;
the colors were mingled, the wood-work graceful and good.

They were out gardening, John Halifax and his wife.

Ay, his wife; he was a husband now. They looked so young,
both of them, he kneeling, planting box-edging, she standing
by him with her hand on his shoulder the hand with the
ring on it. He was laughing at something she had said, thy
very laugh of old, David! Neither heard me come till I stood
close by.

"Phineas, welcome, welcome!" He wrung my hand fer-
vently many times; so did Ursula, blushing rosy red. They
both called me "brother," and both were as fond and warm as
any brother and sister could be.


few minutes after Ursula "Mrs. Halifax," as I said I
ought to call her now slipped away into the house, and John
and I were left together. He glanced after his wife till she
was out of sight, played with the spade, threw it down, placed
his two hands on my shoulders, and looked hard in my face.
He was trembling with deep emotion.

"Art thou happy, David?"

"Ay, lad, almost afraid of my happiness. God make me
worthy of it and of her!"

He lifted his eyes upward; there was in them a new look,
sweet and solemn a look which expressed the satisfied con-
tent of a life now rounded and completed by that other dear
life which it had received into and united with its own, mak-
ing a full and perfect whole, which, however kindly and fond-
ly it may look on friends and kindred outside, has no absolute
need of any, but is complete in and sufficient to itself, as true
marriage should be. A look, unconsciously fulfilling the law
God's own law that a man shall leave father and mother,
brethren and companions, and shall cleave unto his wife, and
"they two shall become one flesh."

And although I rejoiced in his joy, still I felt half-sadly,
for a moment, the vague, fine line of division which was thus
for evermore drawn between him and me of no fault on either
side, and of which he himself was unaware. It was but the
right and natural law of things, the difference between the
married and unmarried, which only the latter feel which,
perhaps, the Divine One meant them to feel; that out of their
great solitude of this world may grow a little inner Eden,
where they may hear His voice, "walking in the garden in the
cool of the day."

We went round John's garden; there was nothing Eden-like
about it, being somewhat of a waste still, divided between an-
cient cabbage-beds, empty flower-beds, and great old orchard-
trees, very thinly laden with fruit.

"We'll make them better next year," said John, hopefully.
"We may have a very decent garden here in time." He looked
round his little domain with the eye of a master, and put his
arm, half -proudly, half -shyly, round his wife's shoulders; she
had sidled up to him, ostensibly bringing him a letter, though
possibly only for an excuse, because in those sweet early days
they naturally liked to be in each other's sight continually.
It was very beautiful to see what a demure, soft, meek, matron-


liness had come over the high spirit of the "nut-browne

"May I read?" she said, peeping oyer him.

"Of course you may, little one." A comical pet-name for
him to give her, who was anything but small. I could have
smiled, remembering the time when John Halifax bowed to
the stately and dignified young gentlewoman who stood at Mrs.
Tod's door. To think he should ever have come to call Miss
Ursula March "little one!"

But this was not exactly a time for jesting, since, on reading
the letter, I saw the young wife flush an angry red, then look
grave. Until John, crumbling up the paper, and dropping it
almost with a boyish frolic into the middle of a large rosemary
bush, took his wife by both her hands, and gazed down into
her troubled face, smiling.

"You surely don't mind this, love? We knew it all before.
It can make no possible difference."

"No! But it is so wrong so unjust. I never believed he
dared do it to you."

"Hear her, Phineas! She thinks nobody dare do anything
ill to her husband not even Eichard Brithwood."

"He is a "

"Hush, dear! we will not talk about him; since, for all his
threats, he can do us no harm; and, poor man! he never will
be half as happy as we."

That was true. So Mr. Brithwood's insulting letter was
left to molder harmlessly away in the rosemary bush and we
all walked up and down the garden, talking over a thousand
plans for making ends meet in that little household. To their
young hopefulness even poverty itself became a jest, and was
met cheerfully, like an honest, hard-featured, hard-handed
friend, whose rough face was often kindly, and whose harsh
grasp made one feel the strength of one's own.

"We mean," John said, gayly, "to be two living Essays on
the Advantages of Poverty. We are not going to be afraid of
it, or ashamed of it. We don't care who knows it. We con-
sider that our respectability lies solely in our two selves."

"But our neighbors?"

"Our neighbors may think of us exactly what they like. Half
the sting of poverty is gone when one keeps house for one's
own comfort and not for the comments of one's neighbors."

"I should think not," Ursula cried, tossing back her head


in merry defiance. "Besides, we are young, we have few
wants, and we can easily reduce our wants to our havings."

"And no more gray silk gowns," said her husband, half-
fondly, half -sadly.

"You will not he so rude as to say I shall not look equally
well in a cotton one? And as for being as happy in it why I
know best."

He smiled at her once more that tender, manly smile,
which made all soft and lustrous the inmost depths of his
brown eyes; truly no woman need be afraid, with a smile like
that to be the strength, the guidance, the sunshine of her

We w t ent in, and the young mistress showed us her new
house; we investigated and admired all, down to the very
scullery; then we adjourned to the sitting-room the only one
and, after tea, Ursula arranged her books, some on stained
shelves, which she proudly informed me were of John's own
making, and some on an old spinnet, which he had picked up,
and which, he said, was of no other use than to hold books,
since she was not an accomplished young lady, and could nei-
ther sing nor play.

"But you don't dislike the spinnet, Ursula? It caught my
fancy. Do you know I have a faint remembrance that once,
on such a thing as this, my mother used to play?"

He spoke in a low voice; Ursula stole up to him with a fond,
awed look.

"You never told me anything about your mother?"
"Dear, I had little to tell. Long ago you knew who you
were going to marry John Halifax, who had no friends, no
kindred, whose parents left him nothing but his name."
"And you cannot remember them?"
"My father, not at all; my mother, very little."
"And have you nothing belonging to them?"
"Only one thing. Should you like to see it?"
"Very much." She still spoke slowly and with slight hesi-
tation. "It was hard for him not to have known his parents,"
she added, when John had left the room. "I should like to

have known them, too. But still when I know him "

She smiled, tossed back the coronet of curls from her fore-
head her proud, pure forehead, that would have worn a coro-
net of jewels more meekly than it now wore the unadorned
honor of being John Halifax's wife. I wish he could have
seen her.


That minute he reappeared.

"Here, Ursula, is all I have of my parents. No one has
seen it, except Phineas there, until now."

He held in his hand the little Greek Testament which he
had shown me years before. Carefully, and with the same
fond, reverent look as when he was a boy, he undid the case,
made of silk, with ribbon strings doubtless a woman's work
it must have been his mother's. His wife touched it, softly
and tenderly. He showed her the fly-leaf; she looked over the
inscription, and then repeated it aloud.

" 'Guy Halifax, gentleman/ I thought I thought "

Her manner betrayed a pleased surprise; she would not have
been a woman, especially a woman reared in pride of birth,
not to have felt and testified the like pleasure for a moment.

"You thought that I was only a laborer's son; or nobody's.
Well, does it signify?"

"No," she cried, as clinging round his neck and throwing
her head back, she looked at him with all her heart in her
eyes. "No, it does not signify. Were your father the king
on his throne, or the beggar in the streets, it would be all the
same to me; you would still be yourself my husband my
John Halifax."

"God bless thee my own wife that He has given me!" John
murmured, through his close embrace.

They had altogether forgotten any one's presence, dear
souls! so I kept them in that happy oblivion by slipping out to
Jenny in the kitchen, and planning with her how we could at
least spare Jem Watkins two days a week to help in the gar-
den, under Mr. Halifax's orders.

"Only, Jenny," smiled I, with a warning finger, "no idling
and chattering. Young folk must work hard, if they want
to come to the happy ending of your master and mistress."

The little maid grew the color of her swain's pet peonies,
and promised obedience. Conscientious Jem there was no
fear of all the rosy-cheeked damsels in Christendom
would not have turned him aside from one iota of his duty to
Mr. Halifax. Thus there was love in the parlor, and love in
the kitchen. But, I verily believe, the young married couple
were served all the better for their kindness and sympathy to
the humble pair of sweethearts in the rank below them.

John walked home with me a pleasure I had hardly ex-
pected, but which was insisted upon both by him and Ursula.
For from the very first of her betrothal, there had been a thor-


ough brother-and-sisterly bond established between her and
me. Her womanly, generous nature would have scorned to
do what, as I have heard, many young wives do seek to make
coldness between her husband and his old friends. No; se-
cure in her riches, in her rightful possession of his whole
heart, she took into hers everything that belonged to John,
every one he cared for; to be forever held sacred and beloved,
being his, and therefore her own. Thus, we were the very
best of friends, my sister Ursula and me.

John and I talked a little about her, of her rosy looks,
which he hoped would not fade in their town dwelling, and of
good Mrs. Tod's wonderful delight at seeing her, when, last
week, they had stayed two days in the dear old cottage at En-
defley. But he seemed slow to speak about his wife, or to
dilate on a joy so new that it was hardly to be breathed on,
lest it might melt into air.

Only when, as we were crossing the street, a fine equipage
passed, he looked after it with a smile.

"Gray ponies! she is so fond of long-tailed gray ponies.
Poor child! when shall I be able to give her a carriage? Per-
haps, some day who knows?"

He turned the conversation and began telling me about the
cloth-mill his old place of resort; which he had been over
once again, when they were at Eose Cottage.

"And do you know, while I was looking at the machinery,
a notion came into my head that, instead of that great water-
wheel you remember it it might be worked by steam."

"What sort of steam?"

"Phineas, your memory is no better, I see. Have you for-
gotten my telling you how, last year, some Scotch engineer
tried to move boats by steam on the Forth and Clyde canal?
Why should not the same power be turned to account in a
cloth-mill? I know it could; I have got the plan of the ma-
chinery in my head already. I made a drawing of it last
night, and showed it to Ursula; and she understood it di-

I smiled.

"And I do believe, by common patience and skill, a man
might make his fortune with it at those Enderley cloth-

"Suppose you try!" I said, in half jest, and was surprised to
see how seriously John took it.

"I wish I could try; if it were only practicable. Once or


twice I have thought it might be. The mill belongs to Lord
Luxmore. His steward works it. Now, if one could get to be
a foreman or overseer "

"Try you can do anything you try."

"No, I must not think of it she and I have agreed that I
must not/' said he, steadily. "It's my weakness my hobby,
you know. But no hobbies now. Above all, I must not, for a
mere fancy, give up the work that lies under my hand. What
of the tan-yard, Phineas?"

"My father missed you, and grumbled after you a good deal.
He looks anxious, I think. He vexes himself more than he
need about business."

"Don't let him. Keep him as much at home as you can.
I'll manage the tan-yard; you know and he knows too that
everything which can be done for us all I shall do."

I looked up, surprised at the extreme earnestness of his

"Surely, John "

"Nay, there is nothing to be uneasy about nothing more
than there has been for this year past. All trade is bad just
now. Never fear, we'll weather the storm. I'm not afraid."

Cheerfully as he spoke, I began to guess what he already
must have known that our fortunes were as a slowly leaking
ship, of which the helm had slipped from my old father's
feeble hand. But John had taken it; John stood firm at the
wheel. Perhaps, with God's blessing, he might yet guide us
safe to land.

I had not time to say more, when, with its pretty gray po-
nies, the curricle once more passed our way. Two ladies were
in it; one leaned out and bowed. Presently a lackey came to
beg Mr. Halifax to come and speak with Lady Caroline Brith-

"Shall you go, John?"

"Certainly; why not?" And he stepped forward to the car-

"Ah! delighted to see mon lean cousin. This is he, Em-
ma," turning to the lady who sat by her oh, what a lovely
face that lady had! no wonder it drove men mad; ay, even that
brave man, in whose honest life can be chronicled only this
one sin, of being bewitched by her.

John caught the name perhaps, too, he recognized the face
it was only too public, alas! His own took a sternness such


as I had never before seen, and yet there was a trace of pity in
it, too.

"You are quite well. Indeed, he looks son'est-ce pas, ma

John bore gravely the eyes of the two ladies fixed on him,
in rather too plain admiration very gravely, too, he bowed.

"And what of our young bride, our treasure that was stole
nay, it was quite fair quite fair. How is Ursula?"

"I thank you, Mrs. Halifax is well."

Lady Caroline smiled at the manner, courteous through all
its coldness, which not ill became the young man. But she
would not be repelled.

"I am delighted to have met you. Indeed, we must be
friends. One's friends need not always be the same to one's
husband's eh, Emma? You will be enchanted with our fair
bride. We must both seize the first opportunity and come as
disguised princesses to visit Mrs. Halifax.

"Again let me thank you, Lady Caroline. But "

"No 'but's.' I am resolved. Mr. Brithwood will never find
it out. And if he does why, he may. I like you both; I in-
tend us to be excellent friends, whenever I chance to be at
Xorton Bury. Don't be proud and reject me, there's good
people the only good people I ever knew who were not dis-

And leaning on her large ermine muff, she looked right into
John's face, with the winning sweetness which Nature, not
courts, lent to those fair features already beginning to fade,
already trying to hide by art their painful, premature decay.

John returned the look, half sorrowfully; it was so hard to
give back harshness to kindliness. But a light laugh from
the other lady caught his ear, and his hesitation if hesitation
he had felt was over.

"No, Lady Caroline, it cannot be. You will soon see your-
self that it cannot. Living, as we do, in the same neighbor-
hood, we may meet occasionally, by chance, and always, I
hope, with kindly feeling; but, under present circumstances,
indeed, under any circumstances, intimacy between your house
and ours would be impossible."

Lady Caroline shrugged her shoulders with a pretty air of
pique. "As you will! I never trouble myself to court the
friendship of any one. Lejeu ne vaut pas la chandeUe."

"Do not mistake me," John said, earnestly. "Do not sup-
pose I am ungrateful for your former kindness to my wife; but


the difference between her and you between your life and
hers is so extreme."

" Vraiment! 'with another shrug and smile rather a bitter

"Our two paths lie wide apart wide as the poles; our house
and our society would not suit you; and that my wife should
ever enter yours," glancing from one to the other of those two
faces, painted with false roses, lit by false smiles. "5So, Lady
Caroline," he adder, firmly, "it is impossible."

She looked mortified for a moment, and then resumed her
gayety, which nothing could ever banish long.

"Hear him, Emma! So young and so unkindly! Mais
nous verrons. You will change your mind. Au revoir, mon
beau cousin."

They drove off quickly, and were gone.

"John, what will Mrs. Halifax say?"

"My innocent girl! thank God she is safe away from them
all safe in a poor man's honest breast." He spoke with
much emotion.

"Yet Lady Caroline "

"Did you see who sat beside her?"

"That beautiful woman?"

"Poor soul! alas for her beauty! Phineas, that was Lady

He said no more, nor I. At my own door he left me, with
his old merry laugh, his old familiar grasp of my shoulder.

"Lad, take care of thyself, though I'm not by to see. Re-
member, I am just as much thy tyrant as if I were living here

I smiled, and he went his way to his own quiet, blessed,
married home.


The winter and spring passed calmly by. I had much ill
health, and could go out very little; but they came constantly
to me, John and Ursula, especially the latter. During this
illness, when I learned to watch longingly for her kind face,
and listen for her cheerful voice talking pleasantlv and sisterly
beside my chair, she taught me to give up "Mrs. Halifax" and
call her Ursula. It was only by slow degrees I did so, truly;
for she was not one of those gentle creatures whom, married


or single, one calls instinctively by their Christian names. Her
manner in girlhood was not exactly either "meek" or "gentle;"
except toward him, the only one who ever ruled her, and to
whom she was, through life, the meekest and tenderest of
women. To every one else she comported herself, at least in
youth, with a dignity and decision a certain stand-off -ishness
so that, as I said, it was not quite easy to think of her as
"Ursula." Afterward, when seen in the light of g, new char-
acter, for which Heaven destined and especially fitted her, and
in which she appeared altogether beautiful I began to give
her another name but it will come by-and-by.

In the long midsummer days, when our house was very quiet
and rather dreary, I got into the habit of creeping over to
John's home and sitting for hours under the apple trees in his
garden. It was now different from the wilderness he found it;
the old trees were pruned and tended, and young ones planted.
Mrs. Halifax called it proudly "'our orchard," though the top
of the tallest sapling could be reached with her hand. Then,
in addition to the indigenous cabbages, came long rows of
white-blossomed peas, big-headed cauliflowers, and all vege-
tables easy of cultivation. My father sent contributions from
his celebrated gooseberry bushes, and his wall fruit, the pride
of Norton Bury; Mrs. Jessop stocked the borders from her
great parterres of sweet-scented common flowers; so that,
walled in as it was, and in the midst of a town likewise, it was
growing into a very tolerable garden. Just the kind of garden
that I love half-trim, half-wild fruits, flowers, and vege-
tables living in comfortable equality and fraternity, none be-
ing too choice to be harmed by their neighbors, none esteemed
too mean to be restricted in their natural profusion. Oh, dear
old-fashioned garden! full of sweet-williams and white-nancies,
and larkspur and London-pride, and yard-wide beds of snowy
saxifrage, and tall, pale evening primroses, and hollyhocks six
or seven feet high, many-tinted, from yellow to darkest ruby-
color; while for scents, large blushing cabbage-roses, pinks,
gillyflowers, with here and there a great bush of southernwood
or rosemary, or a border of thyme, or a sweetbrier hedge a
pleasant garden, where all colors and perfumes were blended
together; ay, even a stray dandelion, that stood boldly up in
his yellow waistcoat, like a young country bumpkin, who feels
himself a decent lad in his way or a plant of wild marjoram
that had somehow got in, and kept meekly in the corner of the
bed, trying to turn into a respectable cultivated herb. Dear old


garden such as one rarely sees nowadays I would give the
finest modern pleasure-ground for the like of thee!

This was what John's garden became; its every inch and
every flower still live in more memories than mine, and will for
a generation yet; but I am speaking of it when it was young,
like its gardeners. These were Mrs. Halifax and her husband,
Jem and Jenny. The master could not do much; he had long,
long hours in his business; but I used to watch TJrsula, morn-
ing after morning, superintending her domain, with her faith-
ful attendant Jem Jem adored his "missis." Or else, when
it was hot noon, I used to lie in their cool parlor, and listen to
her voice and step about the house, teaching Jenny, or learn-
ing from her for the young gentlewoman had much to learn,
and was not ashamed of it, either. She laughed at her own
mistakes, and tried again; she never was idle or dull for a min-
ute. She did a great deal in the house herself. Often she
would sit chatting with me, having on her lap a coarse brown
pan, shelling peas, slicing beans, picking gooseberries; her
fingers Miss March's fair fingers looking fairer for the con-
trast with their unaccustomed work. Or else, in the sum-
mer evenings, she would be at the window sewing always sew-
ing but so placed, that with one glance she could see down
the street where John was coming. Far, far off she always
saw him, and at the sight her whole face would change and
brighten, like a meadow when the sun comes out. Then she
ran to open the door, and I could hear his low "my darling!''
and a long, long pause in the hall.

They were very, very happy in those early days those quiet
days of poverty; when they visited nobody, and nobody visited
them; when their whole world was bounded by the dark old
house and the garden, with its four high walls.

One July night, I remember, John and I were walking up
and down the paths by starlight. It was very hot weather,
inclining one to stay without doors half the night. Ursula
had been with us a good while, strolling about on her hus-
band's arm; then he had sent her in to bed, and we two re-
mained out together.

How soft they were, those faint, misty, summer stars! what
a mysterious, perfumy haze they let fall over us! A haze
through which all around seemed melting away in delicious in-
tangible sweetness, in which the very sky above our heads
the shining, world-besprinkled sky was a thing felt rather
than seen.


"How strange all seems! how unreal!" said John, in a low
voice, when he had walked the length of the garden in silence.
"Phineas, how very strange it seems I"

"What seems?"

"What? oh, everything. He hesitated a minute. "No,
not everything but something which to me seems now to fill
and be mixed up with all I do, or think, or feel. Something
you do not know but to-night Ursula said I might tell you."

Nevertheless he was several minutes before he told me.

"This pear-tree is full of fruit is it not? How thick they
hang! and yet it seems but yesterday that Ursula and I were
standing here trying to count the blossoms."

He stopped touching a branch with his hand. His voice
sank so I could hardly hear it.

"Do you know, Phineas, that when this tree is bare we
shall, if with God's blessing all goes well we shall have a
little child."

I wrung his hand in silence.

"You cannot imagine how strange it feels. A child hers

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