Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

John Halifax, gentleman : a novel online

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to and fro without any worse sacrifice than -that of leaving
Jenny now Mrs. Jem "Watkins, but our cook still in the
house at Norton Bury, and doing with one servant instead of
two. Also, though this was not publicly known till afterward,
by the mother's renouncing a long-promised silk dress the
only one since her marriage in which she had determined to
astonish John by choosing the same color as that identical
gray gown he had seen hanging up in the kitchen at Ender-

"But one would give up anything," she said, "that the
children might have such a treat, and that father might have
rides backward and forward through green lanes all summer.
Oh, I wish we could always live in the country!"

"Do you?" And John looked much as he had looked
at long-tailed gray ponies in his bridegroom days longing
to give her everything she desired. "Well, perhaps we may
manage it sometime."

"When our ship comes in namely that money which Rich-
ard Brithwood will not pay, and John Halifax will not go to
law to make him. Nay, father dear, I am not going to quarrel
with any one of your crotchets." She spoke with a fond pride,
as she did always, even when arguing against the too Quixotic
carrying out of the said crotchets. "Perhaps, as the reward
of forbearance, the money will come some day when we least
expect it; then John shall have his heart's desire, and start
the cloth-mills at Enderley."

John smiled half sadly. Every man has his hobby this
was his, and had been for fifteen years. Not merely the
making a fortune, as he still firmly believed it could be made,
but the position of useful power, the wide range of influence,
the infinite opportunities of doing good.

"No, love; I shall never be 'patriarch of the valley,' as
Phineas used to call it. The yew-hedge is too thick for me,

"No!" cried Ursula we had told her this little incident
of our boyhood "you have got half through it already. Ev-
erybody in Norton Bury knows and respects you. I am sure,


Phineas, you might have heard a pin fall at the meeting last
night, when he spoke against hanging the Luddites. And
such a shout as rose when he ended oh, how proud I was!"

"Of the shout, love?"

"Nonsense! but of the cause of it. Proud to see my hus-
band defending the poor and the oppressed proud to see
him honored and looked up to, more and more every year,
till "

"Till it may come at last to the prophecy in your birth-
day verse 'Her husband is known in the gates; he sitteth
among the elders of the land.' ''

Mrs. Halifax laughed at me for reminding her of this, but
allowed that she would not dislike its being fulfilled.

"And it will be, too. He is already 'known in the gates;'
known far and near. Think how many of our neighbors come
to John to settle their differences, instead of going to law!
And how many poachers has he not persuaded out of their
dishonest "

"Illegal," corrected John.

"Well, their illegal ways, and made decent, respectable men
of them! Then, see how he is consulted, and his opinion fol-
lowed, by rich folk as well as poor folk, all about the neigh-
borhood. I am sure John is as popular, and has as much in-
fluence as many a member of Parliament."

John smiled with an amused twitch about his mouth, but
he said nothing. He rarely did say anything about himself
not even in his own household. The glory of his life was its
unconsciousness like our own silent Severn, however broad
and grand it current might be, that course seemed the natural
channel into which it flowed.

"There's Muriel," said the father, listening.

Often thus the child slipped away, and suddenly we heard
all over the house the sweet sounds of "Muriel's voice," as
some one had called the harpsichord. When almost a baby,
she would feel her way to it, and find out first harmonies, then
tunes, with that quickness and delicacy of ear peculiar to the

"How well she plays! I wish I could buy her one of those
new instruments they call 'piano-fortes;' I was looking into
the mechanism of one the other day."

"She would like an organ better. You should have seen
her face in the Abbey church this morning."


"Hark! she has stopped playing. Guy, run and bring your
sister here/' said the father, ever yearning after his darling.

Guy came back with a wonderful story of two gentlemen
in the parlor, one of whom had patted his head "such a
grand gentleman, a great deal grander than father!"

That was true as regarded the bright nankeens, the blue
coat with gold buttons, and the showiest of cambric kerchiefs
swathing him up to the very chin. To this "grand" person-
age John bowed formally, but his wife flushed up in surprised

"It is so long since I have had the happiness of meeting
Miss March, that I conclude Mrs. Halifax has forgotten me ?"

"No, Lord Luxmore; allow me to introduce my husband."

And I fancied some of Miss March's old hauteur returned
to the mother's softened and matronly mien; pride, but not
for herself or in herself^ now. For, truly, as the two men
stood together though Lord Luxmore had been handsome
in his youth, and was universally said to have as fine manners
as the Prince Regent himself any woman might well have
held her head loftily, introducing John Halifax as "my hus-

Of the two, the nobleman was least at his ease, for the
welcome of both Mr. and Mrs. Halifax, though courteous,
was decidedly cold. They did not seem to feel, and, if rumor
spoke truth, I doubt if any honest, virtuous, middle-class
fathers and mothers would have felt that their house was
greatly honored or sanctified by the presence of the Earl of

But the nobleman was, as I have said, wonderfully fine-
mannered. He broke the ice at once.

"Mr. Halifax, I have long wished to know you. Mrs. Hali-
fax, my daughter encouraged me to pay this impromptu visit."

Here ensued polite inquiries after Lady Caroline Brith-
wood; we learned that she was just returned from abroad,
and was entertaining, at the Mythe House, her father and

"Pardon I was forgetting my son Lord Ravenel."

The youth thus presented merely bowed. He was about
eighteen or so, tall and spare, with thin features, and large
soft eyes. He soon retreated to the garden-door, where he
stood, watching the boys play, and shyly attempting to make
friends with Muriel.

"I believe Ravenel has seen you years ago, Mrs. Halifax.


His sister made a great pet of him as a child. He has just
completed his education at the college of St. Omer, was it
not, William?"

"The Catholic college of St. Omer," repeated the boy.

"Tut what matters!" said the father, sharply. "Mr. Hali-
fax, do not imagine we are a Catholic family still. I hope
the next Earl of Luxmore will be able to take the oaths and
his seat, whether or no we get Emancipation. By-the-by, you
uphold the Bill?"

John assented; expressing his conviction, then uphappily
a rare one, that every one's conscience is free; and that all
men of blameless life ought to be protected by, and allowed
to serve the State, whatever be their religious opinions.

"Mr. Halifax I entirely agree with you. A wise man es-
teems all faiths alike worthless."

"Excuse me, my lord, that was the very last thing I meant
to say. I hold every man's faith so sacred, that no other
man has a right to interfere with it, or to question it. The
matter lies solely between himself and his Maker."

"Exactly! What facility of expression your husband has,
Mrs. Halifax! He must be indeed, I have heard he is a
first-rate public speaker."

The wife smiled, wife-like; but John said hurriedly:

"I have no pretension or ambition of the kind. I merely
now and then try to put plain truths, or what I believe to
be such, before the people, in a form they are able to under-

"Ay, that is it. My dear sir, the people have no more
brains than the head of my cane (his Royal Highness' gift,
Mrs. Halifax); they must be led or driven like a flock of sheep.
We" a lordly "we!" "are their proper shepherds. But, then,

we want a middle class, at least, an occasional voice from it,

"A shepherd's dog, to give tongue," said John, dryly. "In
short, a public orator. In the House, or out of it?"

"Both." And the earl tapped his boot with that royal cane,
smiling. "Yes; I see you apprehend me. But, before we
commence that somewhat delicate subject, there was another
on which I desired my agent, Mr. Brown, to obtain your
valuable opinion."

"You mean, when, yesterday, he offered me, by your lord-
ship's express desire, the lease, lately fallen in, of your cloth-
mills at Enderley?"


Now, John had not told us that! why, his manner too
plainly showed.

"And all will be arranged, I trust. Brown says you have
long wished to take the mills; I shall be most happy to have
you for a tenant."

"My lord, as I told your agent, it is impossible. "We will
iy no more about it."

John crossed over to his wife with a cheerful air. She S;H
looking grave and sad.

Lord Luxmore had the reputation of being a keen-witted
diplomatic personage; undoubtedly he owned or could assuuio,
that winning charm of manner which had descended in per-
fection to his daughter. Both qualities it pleased him to
exercise now. He rose, addressing with kindly frankness Hie
husband and wife.

"If I may ask being a most sincere well-wisher of yours,
and a sort of connection of Mrs. Halifax's too why is it im-
possible ?"

"I have no wish to disguise the reason; it is because I have
no capital."

Lord Luxmore looked surprised. "Surely excuse me, bul
1 had the honor of being well acquainted with the late Mr.
March surely your wife's fortune

Ursula rose, in her old impetuous way "His wife's for-
tune! (John, let me say it? I will, I must!) Of his wife's
fortune, Lord Luxmore, he has never received one farthing.
Richard Brithwood keeps it back, and my husband would
work day and night for me and our children, rather than go
to law." '

"Oh! on principle I suppose. I have heard of such opin-
ions," said the earl, with the slightest perceptible sneer. "And
you agree with him?"

"I do, heartily. I would rather we lived poor all our days
than that he should wear his wife out, trouble his spirit, per-
haps even soil his conscience, by squabbling with a bad man
over money matters."

It was good to see Ursula as she spoke; good to see the look
that husband and wife interchanged husband and wife
different in many points, yet so blessedly, so safely one! Then
John said:

"Love, perhaps another subject than our own affairs would
be more interesting to Lord Luxmore."

"Not at all, not at all!" And the earl was evidently puzzled


and annoyed. "Such extraordinary conduct/' he muttered:
''so very ahem! unwise. If the matter were known caught
up by these newspapers I must really have a little conversa-
tion with Brithwood."

The conversation paused, and John changed it entirely,
by making some remarks on the present minister, Mr. Perci-

"I liked his last speech much. He seems a clear-headed,
honest man, for all his dogged opposition to the Bill."

"He will never oppose it more."

"Nay, I think he will, my lord to the death."

"That may be and yet " his lordship smiled. "Mr.

Halifax, I have just had news by a carrier-pigeon my birds
fly well most important news for us and our party. Yester-
day, in the lobby of the House of Commons, Mr. Percival was

We all started. An hour ago we had been reading his
speech. Mr. Percival shot!

"Oh, John," cried the mother, her eyes full of tears, "his
fatherless children!"

And for many minutes they stood, hearing the lamentable
history, and looking at their little ones at play in the garden;
thinking, as many an English father and mother did that day,
of the stately house in London, where the widow and orphans
bewailed their dead. He might or might not be a great
statesman, but he was undoubtedly a good man; many still
remember the shock of his untimely death, and how, whether
or not they liked him living, all the honest hearts of England
mourned for Mr. Percival.

Possibly that number did not include the Earl of Lux-

"Requiescat in pace! I shall propose the canonization of
poor Bellingham. For now Percival in dead, there will be
an immediate election; and on that election depends Catholic
Emancipation. Mr. Halifax," turning quickly round to him,
"you would be of great use to us in Parliament."

"Should I?"

"Will you I like plain speaking will you enter it?"

Enter Parliament! John Halifax in Parliament! His wife
and I were both astounded by the suddenness of the possi-
bility; which, however, John himself seemed to receive as no
novel idea.

Lord Luxmore continued; "I assure you nothing is more


easy; I can bring you in at once for a borough near here
my family borough."

"Which you wish to be held by some convenient person
till Lord Ravenel comes of age? So Mr. Brown informed me

Lord Luxmore slightly frowned. Such transactions, as
common then in the service of the councry as they still are
in the service of the Church, were yet generally glossed over,
as if a certain discredit attached to them. The young lord
seemed to feel it; at sound of his name he turned round to
listen, and turned back again, blushing scarlet. Not so the
earl, his father.

"Brown is (may I offer you a pinch, Mr. Halifax? What!
not the Prince Eegent's own mixture?) Brown is indeed a
worthy fellow, but too hasty in his conclusions. As it happens,
my son is yet undecided between the church that is, the
priesthood and politics. But to our conversation Mrs. Hal-
ifax, may I not enlist you on my side? We could easily re-
move all difficulties, such as qualification, etc. Would you
not like to see your husband member for the old and honorable
borough of Kingswell?"

"Kingswell!" It was a tumble-down village where John
held and managed for me the sole remnant of landed property
which my poor father had left me. "Kingswell! Why there
are not half a dozen houses in the place."

"The fewer the better, my dear madam. The election would
cost me scarcely any trouble; and the country be vastly the
gainer by your husband's talents and probity. Of course, he
will give up the I forget what is his business now and live
independent. He is made to shine as a politician; it will be
both happiness and honor to myself to have in some way con-
tributed to that end. Mr. Halifax, you will accept my bor-

"Not on any consideration your lordship could offer me."

Lord Luxmore scarcely credited his ears. "My dear sir
you are the most extraordinary may I again inquire your

"1 have several; one will suffice. Though I wish to gain
influence power, perhaps; still, the last thing I should desire
would be political influence."

"You might possibly escape that unwelcome possession,"
returned the earl. "Half the House of Commons is made up
of harmless dummies who vote as we bid them."


"A character, my lord, for which I am decidedly unfitted.
Until political conscience ceases to be a thing of traffic, until
the people are allowed honestly to choose their own honest
representatives, I must decline being of that number. Shall
we dismiss the subject?"

"With pleasure, sir."

And courtesy being met by courtesy, the question so mo-
mentous was passed over, and merged into trivialties. Perhaps
the earl, who, as his pleasure palled, was understood to be
fixing his keen wits upon the pet profligacy of old age, politics
saw, clearly enough, that in these chaotic days of contending
parties, when the maddened outcry of the "people" was just
being heard and listened to, it might be as well not to make
an enemy of this young man, who, with a few more, stood,
as it were, midway in the gulf, now slowly beginning to nar-
row, between the commonalty and the aristocracy.

He stayed some time longer, and then bowed himself away
with a gracious condescension worthy of the Prince of Wales
himself, carrying with him the shy gentle Lord Eavenel, who
had spoken scarcely six words the whole time.

When he was gone, the father and mother seemed both

a Truly, John, he has gained little by his visit, and I hope
it may be long before we see an earl in our quiet house again.
Come in to dinner, my children."

But- his lordship had left an uncomfortable impression be-
hind him. It lasted even until that quiet hour often the
quietest and happiest of our day when, the children being
all in bed, we elders closed in round the fire.

Ursula and I sat there longer alone than usual.

"John is late to-night," she said more than once; and I
could see her start, listening to every foot under the window,
every touch at the door-bell; not stirring, though; she knew
his foot and his ring quite well always.

"There he is!" we both said at once, much relieved; and
John came in.

Brightness always came in with him. Whatever cares he
had without and they were heavy enough, God knows they
always seemed to slip of! the moment he entered his own
door; and whatever slight cares we had at home, we put them
aside, as they could not but be put aside, nay, forgotten, at
the sight of him.


"Well, Uncle Phineas! Children all right, my darling? A
fire! I am glad of it. Truly, to-night is as cold as November."

"John, if you have a weakness, it is for fire. You're a
regular salamander."

He laughed warming his hands at the blaze. "Yes, I
would rather be hungry than cold, any day. Love, our one
extravagance is certainly coals. A grand fire this! I do like
it so!"

She called him "foolish;" but smoothed down with a quiet
kiss the forehead he lifted up to her as she stood beside him,
looking as if she would any day have converted the whole
house into fuel for his own private and particular benefit.

"Little ones all in bed, of course?"

"Indeed, they would have lain awake half the night
those naughty boys talking of Longfield. You never saw
children so delighted."

"Are they?" I thought the tone was rather sad, and that
the father sat listening with less interest than usual to the
pleasant little household chronicle, always wonderful nd
always new, which it was his custom to ask for and have,
night after night, when he came home saying it was to him,
after his day's toil, like a "babbling o' green fields." Soon it

"John, dear, you are very tired?"


"Have you been very busy all day?"

"Very busy."

I understood, almost as well as his wife did, what those
brief answers indicated; so, stealing away to the table where
Guy's blurred copy-book and Edwin's astonishing addition-
sums were greatly in need of Uncle Phineas, I left the fire-side
corner to those two. Soon John settled himself in my cr.sv-
chair, and then one saw how very weary he was weary in body
and soul alike weary as we seldom beheld Jiim. It went to my
heart to watch the listless stretch of his large, strong frame
the sharp lines about his mouth lines which ought not to
have come there in his two-and-thirty years. And his eyes
they hardly looked like John's eyes, as they gazed in a sort of
dull quietude, too anxious to be dreamy, into the red coals
and nowhere else.

At last he roused himself, and took up his wife's work.

"More little coats! Love, you are always sewing."

"Mothers must, you know. And I think never did boys


outgrow their things like our boys. It is so pleasant, too. If
only clothes did not wear out so fast."

"Ah!" A sigh from the very depth of the father's heart.

"Xot a bit too fast for my clever fingers, though," said
Ursula, quickly. "Look, John, at this lovely braiding. But
I'm not going to do any more of it. I shall certainly have no
time to waste over fineries at Longfield."

Her husband took up the fanciful work, admired it, and
laid it down again. After a pause he said:

"Should you be very much disappointed if if we do not
go to Longfield, after all?"

"Not go to Longfield!" The involuntary exclamation
showed how deep her longing had been.

"Because I'm afraid it's hard I know but I'm afraid we
cannot manage it. Are you very sorry?"

"Yes," she said, frankly and truthfully. "Not so much
for myself, but the children."

"Ay, the poor children."

Ursula stitched away rapidly for some moments, till the
grieved look faded out of her face; then she turned it, all
cheerful once more, to her husband. "Now, John, tell me.
Xevtr mind about the children. Tell me."

He told her, as was his habit at all times, of some losses
which had to-day befallen him bad debts in his business
which would make it, if not impracticable, at least imprudent
to enter on any new expenses that year. Nay, he must, if
possible, retrench a little. Ursula listened, without question,
comment, or complaint.

"Is that all?" she said at last, very gently.


"Then never mind. I do not. We will find some other
pleasures for the children. We have so many pleasures
ay. all of us, husband it is not so hard to give up this one."

He said, in a whisper, low almost as a lover's, "I could give
up anything in the world but them and thee."

So, with a brief information to me at supper-time "Uncle
Phineas, did you hear? we cannot go to Longfield" the re-
nunciation was made, and the subject ended. For this year, at
least, our Arcadian dream was over.

But John's troubled looks did not pass away. It seemed
as if this night his long toil had come to that crisis when the
strongest man breaks down or trembles within a hair's-
breadth of breaking down; conscious, too horribly conscious,



that if so, himself will be the least part of the universal ruin.
His face was haggard, his movements irritable and restless;
he started nervously at every sound. Sometimes even a hasty
word, and uneasiness about trifles, showed how strong was
the effort he made at self-control. Ursula, usually by far the
most quick-tempered of the two, became to-night mild and
patient. She neither watched nor questioned him wise wom-
an as she was; she only sat still, busying herself over her work,
speaking now and then of little things, lest he should notice
her anxiety about him. He did at last.

"Nay, I am not ill; do not be afraid. Only my head aches
so let me lay it here, as the children do."

His wife made a place for it on her shoulder; there it rested
the pool tired head, until gradually the hard and painful
expression of the features relaxed, and it became John's own
natural face as quiet as any of the little faces on their pillows
upstairs, whence, doubtless, slumber had long banished all
anticipation of Longfield. At last, he too, fell asleep.

Ursula held up her finger, that I might not stir. The
clock in the corner, and the soft sobbing of the flame on the
hearth were the only sounds in the parlor. She sewed on
quietly to the end of her work; then let it drop on her lap,
and sat still. Her cheek leaned itself softly against John's hair,
and in her eyes, which seemed so intently contemplating the
little frock, 1 saw large bright tears gather fall. But her
look was serene, nay, happy; as if she thought of those beloved
ones, husband and children her very own preserved to her
in health and peace ay, and in that which is better than
either, the unity of love. For that priceless blessing, for the
comfort of being his comfort, for the sweetness of bringing
up these his children in the fear of God and in the honor of
their father she, true wife and mother as she was, would not
have exchanged the wealth of the whole world.

"What's that?" "We all started, as a sudden ring at the
bell pealed through the house, waking John, and frightening
the very children in their beds. All for a mere letter, too,
brought by a lackey of Lord Luxmore's. Having somewhat
indignantly ascertained this fact, the mother ran upstairs
to quiet her little ones. When she came down, John still
stood with the letter in his hand. He had not told me what
it was; when I chanced to ask, he answered in a low tone,
"Presently!" On his wife's entrance he gave her the letter
udthout a word.


Well might it startle her into a cry of joy. Truly the deal-
ings of Heaven to us were wonderful!

"Mr. John Halifax.

"Sir: Your wife, Ursula Halifax, having some time since at-
tained the age fixed by her late father as her majority, I will,
within a month after date, pay over to your order all moneys,
principal and interest, accruing to her, and hitherto left in my

Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikJohn Halifax, gentleman : a novel → online text (page 21 of 41)