Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

John Halifax, gentleman : a novel online

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hands, as trustee, according to the will of the late Kenry March,
Esquire. I am, sir, yours, etc., RICHARD BRITHWOOD."

"Wonderful wonderful !"

It was all I could say. That one bad man, for his own
purposes, should influence another bad man to an act of jus-
tice and that their double evil should be made to work out
our good! Also, that this should come just in our time of
need when John's strength seemed ready to fail.

"Oh, John, John! now you need not work so hard!"

That was his wife's first cry, as she clung to him almost in

He too was a good deal agitated. This sudden lifting of
the burden made him feel how heavy it had been; how ter-
rible the responsibility; how sickening the fear.

"Thank God! In any case, you are quite safe now you
and the children!" ,

He sat down, very pale. His wife knelt beside him, and
put her arms round his neck. I quietly went out of the room.

When I came in again, they were standing by the fireside
both cheerful, as two people to whom had happened such un-
expected good-fortune might naturally be expected to appear.
I offered my congratulations in rather a comical vein than
otherwise; we all of us had caught John's habit of putting
things in a comic light whenever he felt them keenly.

"Yes, he is a rich man now; mind you treat your brother
with extra respect, Phineas."

"And your sister, too

" 'For she sail walk in silk attire,
And siller hae to spare.'

She's quite young and handsome still, isn't she? How mag-
nificent she'll look in that gray silk gown!"

"John, you ought to be ashamed of yourself! You the
father of a family! You that are to be the largest mill-
owner at Enderley "


He looked at her fondly, half deprecatingly. "Not till I
have made you and the children all safe, as I said."

"We are safe, quite safe, when we have you. Oh, Phineas!
make him see it as I do. Make him understand that it will bo
the happiest day in his wife's life when she knows him happy
in his heart's desire."

We sat a little while longer, talking over the strange change
in our fortunes; for they wished to make me feel that now,
as ever, what was theirs was mine; then Ursula took her candle
to depart.

"Love!" John cried, calling her back as she shut the door,
and watching her stand there patient watching with some-
thing of the old mischievous twinkle in his eyes. "Mrs. Hali-
fax, when shall I have the honor of ordering your long-tailed
gray ponies?"


Not many weeks afterward, we went to live at Longfield,
which henceforth became the family home for many years.

Longfield! happy Longfield! little nest of love, and joy,
and peace where the children grew up, and we grew old
where season after season brought some new change ripen-
ing in us and around us where summer and winter, day and
night, the hand of God's providence was over our roof, bless-
ing our goings out and comings in, our basket and our store;
crowning us with the richest blessing of all, that we were made
a household where "brethren dwelt together in unity." Be-
loved Longfield! my heart, slow pulsing as befits one near
the grave, thrills warm and young as I remember thee!

Yet how shall I describe it the familiar spot; so familiar
that it seems to need no description at all.

It was but a small place when we first came there. It led
out of the high-road by a field-gate the White Gate; from
which a narrow path wound down to a stream, thence up a
green slope to the house; a mere farm-house, nothing more.
It had one parlor, three decent bedrooms, kitchen, and out-
houses; we built extempore chambers out of the barn and
cheese-room. In one of these the boys, Guy and Edwin, slept;
against the low roof of which the father generally knocked
his head every morning when he came to call the lads. Its
windows were open all summer round, and birds and bats


used oftentimes to fly in, to the great delight of the youthful

Another infinite pleasure to the little folk was that, for
the first year, the farm-house kitchen was made our dining-
room. There, through the open door, Edwin's pigeons,
Muriel's two doves, and sometimes a stately hen, walked in
and out at pleasure. Whether our live-stock, brought up in
the law of kindness, were as well-trained and well-behaved as
our children, I cannot tell; but certain it is that we never
found any harm from this system, necessitated by our early
straits at Longfield this "liberty, fraternity, and equality."

These words, in themselves true and lovely, but wrested
to such false meaning, whose fatal sound was now dying out
of Europe, merged in the equally false and fatal shout of
"Gloire! gloire!" remind me of an event which I believe was
the first that broke the delicious monotony of our new life.

It was one September morning. Mrs. Halifax, the children
and I were down at the stream, planning a bridge across it, and
a sort of stable, where John's horse might be put up the
mother had steadily resisted the long-tailed gray ponies. For
with all the necessary improvements at Longfield, with the
large settlement that John insisted upon making on his wife
and children, before he would use in his business any portion
of her fortune, we found we were by no means so rich as to
make any great change in our way of life advisable. And,
after all, the mother's best luxuries were to see her children
merry and strong, her husband's face lightened of its care, and
to know he was now placed beyond doubt in the position he
had always longed for; for was he not this very day gone to
sign the lease of Enderley Mills?

Mrs. Halifax had just looked at her watch, and she and
I were wondering, with quite a childish pleasure, whether he
were not now signing the important deed, when Guy came
running to say a coach-and-four was trying to enter the
White Gate.

"Who can it be? But they must be stopped, or they'll spoil
John's new gravel-road that he takes such pride in. Uncle
Phineas, would you mind going to see?"

Who should 1 see but almost the last person I expected
who had not been beheld, hardly spoken of, in our household
these ten years Lady Caroline Brithwood, in her traveling-
habit of green cloth, her velvet riding-hat, with its Prince of
Wales' feathers, gayer than ever though her pretty face was


withering under the paint, and her lively manner grooving
coarse and bold.

"Is this Longfield? Does Mr. Halifax Mon Dieu, Mr.
Fletcher, is that you?"

She held out her hand with the frankest condescension and
in the brightest humor in the world. She insisted on sending
on the carriage, and accompanj'ing me down to the stream
for a "surprise" a "scene."

Mrs. Halifax, seeing the coach drive on, had evidently for-
gotten all about it. She stood in the little dell which the
stream had made, Walter in her arms her figure thrown
back, so as to poise the child's weight. Her right hand kept
firm hold of Guy, who was paddling barefoot in the stream;
Edwin, the only one of the boys who never gave any trouble,
was soberly digging away beside little Muriel.

The lady clapped her hands. "JBrava! bravi-ssima! a charm-
ing family picture, Mrs. Halifax!"

"Lady Caroline!"

Ursula left her children and came to greet her old acquaint-
ance whom she had never once seen since she was Ursula
March. Perhaps that fact touched her, and it was with a
kind of involuntary tenderness that she looked into the sickly
face, where all the smiles could not hide the wrinkles.

"It is many years since we met; and we are both somewhat
altered, Cousin Caroline."

"You are, with those three great boys. The little girl yours
also? Oh, yes; I remember William told me poor little
thing!" And with uneasy awe she turned from our blind
Muriel, our child of peace.

"Will you. come up to the house? My husband has only
ridden over to Enderley; he will be home soon."

"And glad to see me, I wonder? For I am rather afraid
of that husband of yours eh, Ursula? Yet I should greatly
like to stay."

Ursula laughed, and repeated the welcome. She was so
happy herself, she longed to distribute her happiness. They
walked, the children following, toward the house.

Under the great walnut-tree, by the sunk fence which
guarded the flower-garden from the sheep and cows, Mrs.
Halifax stopped and pointed down the green slope of the field,
across the valley, to the wooded hills opposite.

"Isn't it a pretty view?" said Guy, creeping up and touch-


ing the stranger's gown. Our children had lived too much in
an atmosphere of love to know either shyness or fear.

"Very pretty, my little friend."

"That's One-tree Hill. Father is going to take us all a
walk there this afternoon."

"Do you like going walks with your father?"

"Oh, don't we!" An electric smile ran through the whole
circle. It told enough of the blessed home-tale.

Lady Caroline laughed a sharp laugh. "Eh, my dear, I see
how things are. You don't regret having married John Hali-
fax, the tanner?"


"Nay, be not impetuous. I always said he was a noble fel-
low, so does the earl now. And William, you can't think what
a hero your husband is to William."

"Lord Ravenel?"

"Ay, my little brother that was growing a young man
now a frightful bigot, wanting to make our house as Catholic
as when two or three of us lost our heads for King James.
But he is a good boy poor William! I had rather not talk
about him."

Ursula inquired courteously if her cousin Richard were

"Bah! I suppose he is; he is always well. His late as-
tonishing honesty to Mr. Halifax cost him a fit of gout mais
n'importe. If they meet, I suppose all things will be smooth
between them?"

"My husband never had any ill-feeling to Mr. Brithwood."

"I should not bear him an undying enmity if he had. But
you see 'tis election-time, and the earl wishes to put in a
gentleman, a friend of ours, for Kingswell. Mr. Halifax owns
some cottages there, eh?"

"Mr. Fletcher does. My husband transacts business "

"Stop! stop!" cried Lady Caroline. "I don't understand
business; I only know that they want your husband to be
friendly with mine. Is this plain enough ?"

"Certainly; be under no apprehension. Mr. Halifax never
bears malice against any one. Was this the reason of your
visit, Lady Caroline?"

"Eh Mon Dieu! what would become of us if we were all
as straightforward as you, Mistress Ursula? But it sounds
charming in the country. No, my dear; I came nay, I
hardly know why. Probably because I liked to come my


usual reason for most actions. Is that your salle-a-manger?
Won't you ask me to dinner, ma cousine?"

"Of course/' the mother said, though I fancied afterward
the invitation rather weighed upon her mind, probably from
the doubt whether or no John would like it. But in little
things, as in great, she had always this safe trust in him that
conscientiously to do what she felt to be right was the surest
\vay to be right in her husband's eyes.

So Lady Caroline was our guest for the day a novel guest
but she made herself at once familiar and pleasant. Guy,
a little gentleman from his cradle, installed himself her ad-
miring knight attendant everywhere; Edwin brought her to
see his pigeons; Walter, with sweet, shy blushes, offered her
"a 'ittle f'ower;" and the three, as the greatest of all favors,
insisted on escorting her to pay a visit to the beautiful calf
not a week old.

Laughing, she followed the boys; telling them how lately
in Sicily she had been presented to a week-old prince, son of
Louis Philippe, the young Duke of Orleans, and the Princess
Marie- Amelie. "And truly, children, he was not half so pretty
as your little calf. Ursula, I am sick of courts sometimes. I
would turn shepherdess myself, if we could find a tolerable

"Is there any Arcadia like home?"

"Home!" Her face expressed the utmost loathing, fear, and
scorn. I remember hearing that the 'squire since his return
from abroad had grown just like his father; was drunk every
day and all day long. "Is your husband altered, Ursula ? He
must be quite a young man still. Oh, what it is to be young."

"John looks much older, people say; but I don't see it."

"Arcadia again! Can such things be? especially in Eng-
land, that paradise of husbands, where the first husband in
the realm sets such an illustrious example? How do you stay-
at-home British matrons feel toward my friend, the Princess of

"God help her, and make her as good a woman as she is a
wronged and miserable wife," said Ursula, sadly.

"Query, Can a 'good woman' be made out of a 'wronged
and miserable wife?' If so, Mrs. Halifax, you should cer-
tainly take out a patent for the manufacture."

The subject touched too near home. Ursula wisely avoided
it by inquiring if Lady Caroline meant to remain in England,


"Cela depend." She turned suddenly grave. "Your fresh air
makes me feel weary. Shall we go in-doors?"

Dinner was ready laid out a plain meal; since neither the
father nor any of us cared for table dainties. But I think
if we had lived in a hut, and fed off wooden platters on pota-
toes and salt, our repast would have been fair and orderly,
and our hut the neatest that a hut could be. For the mother
of the family had in perfection almost the best genius a woman
can have the genius of tidiness.

We were not in the least ashamed of our simple dinner-
table, where no difference was ever made for anybody. We
had little place, but plenty of snow-white napery and pretty
china; and what with the scents of the flower-garden on one
side, and the green waving of the elm-tree on the other, it was
as good as dining out-of-doors.

The boys were still gathered round Lady Caroline, in the
little closet of the dining-room where lessons were learned;
Muriel sat as usual on the door-sill, petting one of her doves,
that used to come and perch on her head and her shoulder,
of their own accord, when I heard the child say to herself:

"Father's coming."

"Where darling?"

"Up the farm-yard way. There he is on the gravel-walk.
He has stopped; I dare say it is to pull some of the jasmine
that grows over the well. Now, fly away, dove! Father's

And the next minute a general shout echoed "Father's

He stood in the door-way, lifting one after the other up
in his arms; having a kiss and a merry word for all this
good father!

Oh solemn name, which Deity himself claims and owns!
Happy these children, who in its fullest sense could under-
stand the word "father!" to whom from the dawn of their
little lives their father was what all fathers should be the
truest representative here on earth of that Father in heaven,
who is at once justice, wisdom and perfect love.

Happy, too most blessed among women the woman who
gave her children such a father!

Ursula came for his eye was wandering in search of her
and received the embrace without which he never left her or

"All rightly settled, John?"


"Quite settled."

"I am so glad!" "With a second kiss, not often bestowed
in public, as congratulation. He was going to tell more, when
Ursula said, rather hesitatingly, "We have a visitor to-day."

Lady Caroline came out of her corner, laughing. "You
did not expect me, I see. Am I welcome?"

"Any welcome that Mrs. Halifax has given is also mine."

But John's manner though polite, was somewhat con-
strained; and he felt, as it seemed to my observant eye, more
surprise than gratification in this incursion on his quiet home.
Also I noticed that when Lady Caroline, in the height of her
condescension, would have Muriel close to her at dinner, he
involuntarily drew his little daughter to her accustomed place
beside himself.

"She always sits here, thank you."

The table-talk was chiefly between the lady and her host;
she rarely talked to women when a man was to be had. Con-
versation veered between the Emperor Napoleon and Lord
Wellington, Lord William Bentinck, and Sardinian policy,
the conjugal squabbles of Carlton House, and the one-absorb-
ing political question of this year Catholic emancipation.

"You are a stanch supporter of the bill, my father says. Of
course you aid him in the Kingswell election to-morrow ?"

"I can scarcely call it an election," returned John, He
had been commenting on it to us that morning rather severely.
An election! it was merely a talk in the King's Head parlor, a
nomination, and show of hands by some dozen poor laborers,
tenants of Mr. Brithwood and Lord Luxmore, who got a few
pounds apiece for their services and the thing was done.

"Who is the nominee, Lady Caroline?"

"A young gentleman of small fortune, but excellent parts,
who returned with us from Naples."

The lady's manner being rather more formal than she gen-
erally used, John looked up quickly.

"The election being to-morrow, of course his name is no

"Oh, no! Vermilye. Mr. Gerard Vermilye. Do you know

"I have heard of him."

As he spoke, either intentionally or no, John looked full at
Lady Caroline. She dropped her eyes, and began playing
with her bracelets. Both immediately quitted the subject of
Kingswell election.


Soon after, \ve rose from table; and Guy, who had all dinner-
time fixed his admiring gaze upon the "pretty lady," insisted
on taking her down the garden and gathering for her a mag-
nificent arum lily, the mother's favorite lily. I suggested
gaining permission first; and was sent to ask the question.

I found John and his wife in serious, even painful conversa-

"Love," he was saying, "I have known it for very long; but
if she had not come here, I would never have grieved you by
telling it."

"Perhaps it is not true," cried Ursula, warmly. "The world
is ready enough to invent cruel falsehoods about us women."

"Us women! Don't say that, Ursula. I will not have my
wife named in the same breath with her."


"I will not, I say. You don't know what it cost me even to
see her touch your hand."


The soft tone recalled him to his better self.

"Forgive me ! but I would not have the least taint come near
this wife of mine. I could not bear to think of her holding
intercourse with a light woman a woman false to her hus-

"I do not believe it. Caroline was foolish, she was never
wicked. Listen! if this were true, how could she be laughing
with our children now? Oh, John think she has no child-

The deep pity passed from Ursula's heart to her husband's.
John clasped fondly the two hands that were laid on his shoul-
ders, as, looking up in his face, the happy wife pleaded silently
for one who all the world knew was so wronged and so un-

"We will wait a little before we judge. Love, you are a bet-
ter Christian than I."

All afternoon they both showed more than courtesy kind-
ness, to this woman, at whom, as any one out of our retired
household would have known, and as John did know well all
the world was already pointing the finger, on account of Mr.
Gerard Vermilye. She, on her part, with her chameleon
power of seizing and sunning herself in the delight of the mo-
ment, was in a state of the highest enjoyment. She turned
"shepherdess," fed the poultry with Edwin, pulled off her jew-
eled ornaments and gave them to Walter for playthings; nay,


she even washed off her rouge at the spring, and came in with
faint natural roses upon her faded cheeks. So happy she
seemed, so innocently, childishly happy, that more than once I
saw John and Ursula exchange satisfied looks, rejoicing that
they had followed after the divine charity which "thinketh no

After tea all turned out, as was our wont on summer even-
ings; the children playing about; while the father and mother
sstrolled up and down the sloping field-path, arm-in-arm like
lovers, or sometimes he fondly leaning upon her. Thus they
would walk and talk together in the twilight for hours.

Lady Caroline pointed to them. Look! Adam and Eve
modernized; Baucis and Philemon when they were young. Bon
Dieu! what it is to be young?"

She said this in a gasp, as if wild with terror of the days that
were coming upon her the dark days.

"People are always young," I answered, "who love one an-
other as these do."

"Love! what an old-fashioned word. I hate it! It is so
what would you say in English? so dechirant. I would not
cultivate une grande passion for the world."

I smiled at the idea of the bond between Air. and Mrs. Hali-
fax taking the Frenchified character of "une grande passion."

"But home love, married love, love among children and at
the fireside you believe in that?"

She turned upon me her beautiful eyes; they had a scared
look, like a bird's driven right into the fowler's net. "C'est
impossible impossible!"

The word hissed itself out between her shut teeth "i>n -
possible." Then she walked quickly on and was her lively
self once more.

When the evening closed, and the younger children were
gone to bed, she became rather restless about the non-appear-
ance of her coach. At last a lackey arrived on foot. She an-
grily inquired "why a carriage had not been sent for her."

"Master didn't give orders, my lady," answered the man,
somewhat rudely.

Lady Caroline turned pale with anger or fear perhaps
both. '

"You have not properly answered your mistress' question,"
said Mr. Halifax.

"Master says, sir begging my lady's pardon for repeating it


but he says, 'My lady went out against his will, and she may
come home when and how she likes/ }:

"My lady" burst out laughing, and laughed violently and

"Tell him I will. Be sure you tell him I will. It is the
last and the easiest obedience."

John sent the lackey out of the room; and Ursula said
something about "not speaking thus before a servant."

"Before a servant? Why, my dear, we furnish entertain-
ment for our whole establishment, my husband and I. We
are at the Mythe what the Prince Regent and the Princess oi'
Wales are to the county at large. We divide our people be-
tween us; I fascinate he bribes. Ha! ha! Well done, Eich-
ard Brithwood! I may come home 'when and how I like!'
Truly, I'll use that kind permission."

Her eyes glittered with an evil fire; her cheeks were hot and

"Mrs. Halifax, I shall be thrown on your hospitality for an
hour or two longer. Could you send a letter for me?"

"To your husband? Certainly."

"My husband? Never! yes, to my husband." The first
part of the sentence was full of fierce contempt; the latter
smothered and slowly desperate. "Tell me, Ursula, what
constitutes a man one's husband? Brutality, tyranny the
tyranny which the law sanctions? Or kindness, sympathy,
devotion, everything that makes life beautiful everything
that constitutes happiness and "


The word in her ear was so low, that she started as if con-
science only had uttered it conscience, to whom only her in-
tents were known.

John came forward, speaking gravely, but not unkindly.

"Lady Caroline, I am deeply grieved* that this should have
happened in my house, and through your visiting us against
your husband's will."

"His will!"

"Pardon me; but I think a wife is bound to the very last to
obey in all things not absolutely wrong, her husband's will.
I am glad you thought of writing to Mr. Brithwood."

She shook her head, in mocking deniel.

"May I ask, then since I am to have the honor of sending
it to whom is this letter?"

''To " I think she would have told a falsehood, if


John's eyes had not been so keenly fixed upon her. "To a

"Friends are at all times dangerous to a lady who "

"Hates her husband ha! ha! Especially male friends."

"Especially male friends."

Here Guy, who had lingered out of his little bed most un-
lawfully hovering about, ready to do any chivalrous duty to
his idol of the day came up to bid her good-night, and held
up his rosy mouth, eagerly.

"I kiss a little child! I!" and from her violent laughter,
she burst into a passion of tears.

The mother signed me to carry Guy away; she and John
took Lady Caroline into the parlor, and shut the door.

Of course, I did not then learn what passed but I did af-

Lady Caroline's tears were evanescent, like all her emotions.
Soon she became composed asked again for writing materials
then countermanded the request.

"No, I will wait till to-morrow. Ursula, you will take me
in for the night?"

Mrs. Halifax looked appealingly to her husband, but he

Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikJohn Halifax, gentleman : a novel → online text (page 22 of 41)