Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

John Halifax, gentleman : a novel online

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gave no assent.

"Lady Caroline you should willingly stay, were it not, as
you must know, so fatal a step. In your position, you should
be most careful to leave the world and your husband no single
handle against you."

"Mr. Halifax, what right have you "

"None, save that of an honest man, who sees a woman cruel-
ly wronged, and desperate with her wrong; who would thank-
fully save her if he could."

"Save me? From what or whom?"

"From Mr. Gerard Vermilye, who is now waiting down the
road, and whom, if Lady Caroline Brithwood once flies to, or
even sees, at this crisis, she loses her place among honorable
English matrons forever."

John said this, with no air of virtuous anger or contempt,
but as the simple statement of a fact. The convicted woman
dropped her face between her hands.

Ursula, greatly shocked, was some time before she spoke.

"Is it true, Caroline?"

"What is true?"

"That which my husband has heard of you?"

"Yes!" she cried springing up and dashing back her beauti-


ful hair beautiful still, though she must have been five or
six and thirty at least. "Yes, it is true; it shall be true! I
shall break my bonds, and live the life I was made for. I
would have done it long ago, but for no matter. Why, Ur-
sula, he adores me; young and handsome as he is, he adores me.
He will give me my youth back again, ay, he will."

And she sang out a French chanson, something about "la
liberte et ses plaisirs, lajeunesse I' amour."

The mother grew sterner any such wife and mother would.
Then and there, compassion might have died out of even her
good heart, had it not been for the sudden noise overhead of
children's feet children's chattering. Once more the pitiful
thought came "She has no children."

"Caroline," she said, catching her gown as she ^passed,
"when I was with you, you had a child which only breathed
and died. It died spotless. When you die, how dare you
meet that little baby?"

The singing changed to sobbing. "I had forgotten. My
little baby! Oh, mon Dieu! mon Dieu!"

Mrs. Halifax, taking in earnest those meaningless French
ejaculations, whispered something about Him who alone can
comfort and help us all.

"Him! I never knew Him, if indeed He be. No, no, there
is no after-life."

Ursula turned away in horror. "John, what shall we do
with her? No home! no husband! no God!"

"He never leaves Himself without a witness. Look, love."

The wretched woman sat rocking to and fro weeping and
wringing her hands. "It was cruel cruel! You should not
have spoken about my baby. Now "

"Tell me just one word I will not believe anybody's word
except your own. Caroline, are you still innocent?"

Lady Caroline shrank from her touch. "Don't hold me so.
You may have one standard of virtue, I another."

"Still, tell me."

"And if I did, you, an 'honorable English matron' was not
that your husband's word? would turn from me, most

"She will not," John said. "She has been happy, and you
most miserable."

"Oh, most miserable."

That bitter groan went to both their hearts, Ursula leaned
over her herself almost in tears. "Cousin Caroline, John


says true I will not turn from you. I know you have been
sinned against cruelly cruelly. Only tell me that you
yourself have not sinned."

"1 have 'sinned/ as you call it."

Ursula started drew closer to her husband. Neither

"Mrs. Halifax why don't you take away your hand?"

"I? let me think. This is terrible. Oh, John!"

Again Lady Caroline said in her sharp, bold tone, "Take
away your hand!"

"Husband, shall I?"


For some minutes they stood together, both silent, with this
poor woman. I call her "poor," as did they; knowing that if
a sufferer needs pity, how tenfold more does a sinner.

John spoke first: "Cousin Caroline." She lifted up her
head in amazement. "We are your cousins, and we wish to be
your friends, my wife and I. Will you listen to us?"

She sobbed still, but less violently.

"Only, first you must promise to renounce forever guilt
and disgrace."

"I feel it none. He is an honorable gentleman he lovo?
me and I love him. That is the true marriage. No, I will
make you no such promise. Let me go."

"Pardon me, not yet. I cannot suffer my wife's kinswoman
to elope from my own house without trying to prevent it."

"Prevent! sir! Mr. Halifax! You forget who you arc
and who I am the daughter of the Earl of Luxmore."

"Were you the king's daughter it would make no difference.
I will save you in spite of yourself, if I can. I have already
spoken to Mr. Yermilye, and he has gone aAvay."

"Gone away the only living soul that loves me! Gone
away! I must follow him quick quick!"

"You cannot. He is miles distant by this time. He is
afraid lest this story should come out to-morrow at Kingswell;
and to be an M. P. and safe from arrest is better to Mr. Yer-
milye than even yourself, Lady Caroline."

John's wife, unaccustomed to hear him take that cool,
worldly, half-sarcastic tone, turned to him somewhat reproach-
fully; but he judged best. For the moment, this tone had
more weight with the woman of the world than any homilies.
She began to be afraid of Mr. Halifax. Impulse, rather than


resolution, guided her, and even these impulses were feeble
and easily governed. She sat down again, muttering:

"My will is free. You cannot control me."

"Only so far as my conscience justifies me in preventing a

"A crime?"

"It would be such. No sophistries of French philosophy on
your part, no cruelt} T on your husband's, can abrogate the one
law, which, if you disown it as God's, is still man's being
necessary for the peace, honor, and safety of society."

"What law?"

"Thou shalt not commit adultery."

People do not often utter this plain Bible word. It made
Ursula start, even when spoken solemnly by her own husband.
It tore from the self -convicted woman all the sentimental dis-
guises with which the world then hid, and still hides, its cor-
ruptions. Her sin arose and stared her blackly in the face
as sin. She cowered before it.

"Am I that? And William will know it. Poor William!"
She looked up at Ursula for the first time with the guilty
look; hitherto, it had been only one of pain or despair. "No-
body knows it, except you. Don't tell William. I would
have gone long ago, but for him. He is a good boy; don't let
him guess his sister was "

She left the word unspoken. Shame seemed to crush her
down to the earth; shame, the precursor of saving penitence
at least, John thought so. He quitted the room, leaving her
to the ministry of his other self, his wife. As he sat down
with me, and told me in a few words what indeed I had al-
ready more than half guessed, I could not but notice the ex-
pression of his own face. And I recognized how a man can be
at once righteous to judge, tender to pity, and strong to save;
a man, the principle of whose life is, as John's was that it
should be made "conformable to the image" of Him, who was
Himself on earth the image of God.

Ursula came out and called her husband. They talked for
*ome time together. I guessed, from what I heard, that she
wished Lady Caroline to stay the night here, but that he with
better judgment was urging the necessity of her retttrnmg to
the protection of her husband's home without an hour's delay.

"It is her only chance of saving her reputation. She must
do it, at least temporarily, till some better measure can be
taken. Tell her so, Ursula."



After a few minutes Mrs. Halifax came out again.

"I have persuaded her at last. She says she will do what-
ever you think best. Only before she goes she wants to look
at the children. May she?"

"Poor soul! yes," John murmured, turning away.

Stepping out of sight, we saw the poor lady pass through
the quiet, empty house into the children's bedroom. We
heard her smothered sob, at times, the whole way.

Then I went down to the stream, and helped John to saddle
his horse, with Mrs. Halifax's old saddle; in her girlish days,
Ursula used to be very fond of riding.

"She can ride back again from the Mythe," said John.

"She wishes to go, and it is best she should; so that nothing
need be said, except that Lady Caroline spent a day at Long-
field, and that my wife and I accompanied her safe home."

While he spoke, the two ladies came down the field-path. I
fancied I heard, even now, a faint echo of that peculiarly sweet
and careless laugh, indicating how light were all impressions
on a temperament so plastic and weak so easily remolded by
the very next influence that fate might throw across her peril-
ous way.

John Halifax assisted her on horseback, took the bridle un-
der one arm and gave the other to his wife. Thus they passed
up the path, and out at the White Gate.

I delayed a little while, listening to the wind, and to the
prattle of the stream, that went singing along in daylight or
in darkness by our happy home at Longfield. And I sighed
to myself: "Poor Lady Caroline!"


Midnight though it was I sat up until John and his wife
came home. They said scarcely anything but straightway re-
tired. In the morning all went on in the house as usual and
no one ever knew of this night's episode, except us three.

In the morning, Guy looked wistfully around him, asking
for the "pretty lady;" and being told that she was gone, and
that he would not be likely to see her again, seemed disap-
pointed for a minute; but soon he went down to play at the
stream, and forgot all.

Once or twice I fancied the mother's clear voice about the


house was rarer than its wont; that her quick, active, cheerful
presence penetrating every nook, and visiting every creature,
as with the freshness of an April wind was this day softer
and sadder; but she did not say anything to me, nor I to her.

John had ridden off early to the flour-mill, which he still
kept on, together with the house at Norton Bury he always
disliked giving up any old associations. At dinner-time he
came home, saying he was going out again immediately.

Ursula looked uneasy. A few minutes after, she followed
me under the walnut-tree, where I was sitting with Muriel,
and asked me if I would go with John to Kingswell.

"The election takes place to-day, and he thinks it right to
be there. He will meet Mr. Brithwood and Lord Luxmore;
and though there is not the slightest need my husband can
do all that he has to do alone still, for my own satisfaction, I
would like his brother to be near him."

They invariably called me their brother now; and it seemed
as if the name had been mine by right of blood always.

Of course, I went to Kingswell, riding John's brown mare,
he himself walking by my side. It was not often that we were
thus alone together, and I enjoyed it much. All the old days
seemed to come back again as we passed along the quiet roads
and green lanes, just as when we were boys together, when I
had none I cared for but David, and David cared only for me.
The natural growth of things had made a difference in this,
but our affection had changed its outward form only, not its
essence. I often think that all loves and friendships need a
certain three days' burial before we can be quite sure of their
truth and immortality. Mine it happened just after John's
marriage, and I may confess it now had likewise its entomb-
ment, bitter as brief. Many cruel hours sat I in darkness,
weeping at the door of its sepulcher, thinking that I should
never see it again; but, in the dawn of the morning it rose, and
I met it in the desolate garden, different, yet the very same.
And after that, it walked with me continually, secure and im-
perishable evermore.

I rode, and John sauntered beside me along the foot-path,
now and then plucking a leaf or branch off the hedge, and
playing with it, as was his habit when a lad. Often I caught
the old smile not one of his three boys, not even handsome
Guy, had their father's smile.

He was telling me about Enderley Mill, and all his plans
there, in the which he seemed very happy. At last his long


life of duty was merging into the life he loved. He looked as
proud and pleased as a boy, in talking of the new inventions
he meant to apply in cloth-weaving; and how he and his wife
had agreed together to live for some years to come at little
Longfield, strictly within their settled income, that all the re-
mainder of his capital might go to the improvement of Ender-
ley Mills and mill people.

"I shall be master of nearly a hundred men and women.
Think what good we may do! She has half a dozen plans on
foot already bless her dear heart!"

It was easy to guess whom he referred to the one who
went hand-in-hand with him in everything.

"Was the dinner in the barn, next Monday, her plan, too?"

"Partly. I thought we would begin a sort of yearly festi-
val for the old tan-yard people, and those about the flour-mill,
and the Kingswell tenants ah, Phineas, wasn't I right about
those Kingswell folk?"

These were about a dozen poor families, whom, when our
mortgage fell in, he had lured out of Sally Watkins' miserable
alley to these old houses, where they had at least fresh coun-
try air, and space enough to live wholesomely and decently,
instead of herding together like pigs in a sty.

"You ought to be proud of your tenants, Phineas. 1 assure
you, they form quite a contrast to their neighbors, who are
Lord Luxmore's."

"And his voters, likewise, I suppose? the 'free and inde-
pendent burgesses' who are to send Mr. Vermilye to Parlia-

"If they can," said John, biting his lip with that resolute
half -combative air which I now saw in him at times, roused by
things which continually met him in his dealings with the
world things repugnant alike to his feelings and his princi-
ples, but which he had still to endure, not having risen high
enough to oppose, single-handed, the great mass of social cor-
ruption which at this crisis of English history kept gathering
and gathering, until out of the very horror and loathsomeness
of it, an outcry for purification arose.

"Do you know, Phineas, I might last week have sold your
houses for double price? They are valuable, this election year,
since your five tenants are the only voters in Kingswell who
are not likewise tenants of Lord Luxmore. Don't you see how
the matter stands?"

It was not difficult, for that sort of game was played all over


England, connived at, or at least winked at, by those who had
political influence to sell or obtain, until the Keform Bill
opened up the election system in all its rottenness and enor-

"Of course I knew you would not sell your houses; and I
shall use every influence I have to prevent your tenants sell-
ing their votes. Whatever may be the consequence, the sort
of thing that this Kingswell election bids fair to be is what an
honest Englishman ought to set his face against and prevent if
he can."

"Can you?"

"I do not feel sure, but I mean to try. First, for simple
right and conscience; secondly, because if Mr. Vermilye is not
saved from arrest by being placed in Parliament, he will be
outlawed and driven safe out of the country. You see?"

Ay, I did, only too well. Though I foresaw that whatever
John was about to do, it must necessarily be something that
would run directly counter to Lord Luxmore and he had
only just signed the lease of Enderley Mills. Still, if right to
be done, he ought to do it at all risks, at all costs; and I knew
his wife would say so.

We came to the foot of Kingswell Hill and saw the little
hamlet, with its gray old houses, its small, ancient church,
guarded by enormous yew-trees, and clothed with ivy that in-
dicated centuries of growth.

A carriage overtook us; in it were two gentlemen, one of
whom bowed in a friendly manner to John. He returned it.

"This is well; I shall have one honest gentleman to deal with

"Who is he?"

"Sir Ealph Oldtower, from whom I bought Longfield. An
excellent man I like him even his fine old Eoman face, like
one of his knightly ancestors on the tomb of KingsAvell church.
There's something pleasant about his stiff courtesy and his
stanch Toryism; for he fully believes in it, and acts up to his
belief. A true English gentleman, and I respect him."

"Yet, John, Norton Bury calls you a democrat/'

"So I am, for I belong to the people. But I nevertheless
uphold a true aristocracy the best men of the country: do
you remember our Greeks of old? These ought to govern,
and will govern, one day, whether their patent of nobility be
birth and titles, or only honesty and brains."

Thus he talked on, and I liked to hear him, for talking was


rare in his busy life of constant action. I liked to observe
how during these ten years his mind had brooded over many
things; how it had grown, strengthened, and settled itself, en-
larging both its vision and its aspirations; as a man does, who,
his heart at rest in a happy home, has time and will to look out
from thence into the troublous world outside, ready to do his
work there likewise. That John was able to do it ay, beyond
most men few would doubt who looked into his face; strong
with the strength of an intellect which owed all its develop-
ment to himself alone; calm with the wisdom which, if a man
is ever to be wise, comes to him after he has crossed the line of
thirty years. In that face, where day by day Time was writ-
ing its fit lesson beautiful, because they were so fit I ceased
to miss the boyish grace, and rejoiced in the manhood present,
in the old age that was to be.

It seemed almost too short a journey, when, putting his
hand on the mare's bridle the creature loved him, and
turned to lick his arm the minute he came near John stopped
me to see the views from across Kingswell church-yard.

"Look, what a broad valley, rich in woods, and meadow-
land, and corn. How quiet and blue lie the Welsh hills far
away! It does one good to look at them. Nay, it brings back
a little bit of me which rarely comes uppermost now, as it
used to come long ago, when you read your namesake, and
Shakespeare, and that Anonymous Friend who has since made
such a noise in the world. I delight in him still! Think of
a man of business liking Coleridge."

"I don't see why he should not/'

"!N"or I. Well, my poetic tastes may come out more at En-
derley. Or perhaps when I am an old man, and have fought
the good fight, and halloo there! Matthew Hales, have they
made you drunk already?"

The man he was an old workman of ours touched his
hat, and tried to walk steadily past "the master," who looked
at once both stern and sad.

"I thought it would be so! I doubt if there is a voter in all
Kingswell who has not got a bribe."

"It is the same everywhere," I said. "What can one man
do against it single-handed?"

"Single-handed or not, every man ought to do what he can.
And no man knows how much he can do until he tries."

So saying he went into the large parlor of the Luxmore
Arms, where the election was going on.


A very simple thing, that election! Sir Ealph Oldtower,
who was sheriff, sat at a table, with his son, the grave-looking
young man who had been with him in the carriage; near them
were Mr. Brithwood, of the Mythe, and the Earl of Luxmore.

The room was pretty well filled with farmers' laborers and
the like. We entered, making little noise; but John's head
was taller than most heads present; the sheriff saw him at
once, and bowed courteously. So did young Mr. Herbert Old-
tower, so did the Earl of Luxmore. Richard Brithwood alone
took no notice, but turned his back and looked another way.

It was now many years since I had seen the 'squire, Lady
Caroline's husband. He had fulfilled the promise of his
youth, and grown into a bloated, coarse-featured middle-aged
man; such a man as one rarely meets with nowadays; for even
I, Phineas Fletcher, have lived to see so great a change in
manners and morals, that intemperance, instead of being the
usual characteristic of a "gentleman," has become a rare fail-
ing, a universally contemned disgrace.

"Less noise there!" growled Mr. Brithwood. "Silence, you
fellows at the door! ISTow, Sir Ealph, let's get the business
over, and be back for dinner."

Sir Ralph turned his stately gray head to the light, put on
his gold spectacles, and began to read the writ of election. As
he finished, the small audience set up a feeble cheer.

The sheriff acknowledged it, then leaned over the table,
talking with rather frosty civility to Lord Luxmore. Their
acquaintance seemed solely that of business. People whis-
pered that Sir Ralph never forgot that the Oldtowers were
crusaders when the Ravenels were nobody. Also, the baro-
net, whose ancestors were all honorable men and stainless
women, found it hard to overlook a certain royal bar-sinister,
which had originated the Luxmore earldom, together with a
few other blots which had tarnished that escutcheon since.
So folks said; but probably Sir Ralph's high principle was at
least as strong as his pride, and that the real cause of his dis-
like was founded on the too well-known character of the Earl
of Luxmore.

They ceased talking; the sheriff rose and briefly stated that
Richard Brithwood, Esquire, of the Mythe, would nominate a

The candidate was Gerard Vermilye, Esquire; at the men-
tion of whose name one Norton Bury man broke into a horse-


laugh, which was quenched by his immediate ejection from
the meeting.

Then Mr. Thomas Brown, steward of the Earl of Luxmore,
seconded the nomination.

After a few words between the sheriff, his son, and Lord
Luxmore, the result of which seemed rather unsatisfactory
than otherwise, Sir Ealph Oldtower again rose.

"Gentlemen and electors, there being no other candidate
proposed, nothing is left me but to declare Gerard Vermilye,
Esquire "

John Halifax made his way to the table. "Sir Ralph, par-
don my interruption, but may I speak a few words?"

Mr. Brithwood started up with an angry oath.

"My good sir," said the baronet, with a look of reprehension
which proved him of the minority who thought swearing un-

"By , Sir Ralph, you shall not hear that low fellow!"

"Excuse me, I must, if he has a right to be heard. Mr.
Halifax, are you a freeman of Kingswell?"

"I am."

This fact surprised none more than myself.

Brithwood furiously exclaimed that it was a falsehood.
"The fellow does not belong to this neighborhood at all. He
was picked up in Norton Bury streets a beggar, a thief, for
all I know."

"You do not know very well, Mr. Brithwood. Sir Ralph, I
was never either a beggar or a thief. I began life as a work-
ing lad a farm laborer until Mr. Fletcher, the tanner, took
me into his employ."

"So I have always understood," said Sir Ralph, courteously.
"And next to the man who is fortunate enough to boast a no-
ble origin, I respect the man who is not ashamed of an ignoble

"That is not exactly my position, either," said John, with
a half smile. "But we are passing from the question in hand,
which is simply my claim to be a freeman of this borough."

"On what ground?"

"You will find in the charter, a clause seldom put in force,
that the daughter of a freeman can confer the freedom on her
husband. My wife's late father, Mr. Henry March, was a
burgess of Kingswell. I claimed my rights, and registered
this year. Ask your clerk, Sir Ralph, if I have not spoken


The old white-headed clerk allowed the fact.

Lord Luxmore looked considerably surprised, and politely
incredulous still. His son-in-law broke out into loud abuse
of this "knavery."

"I will pass over this ugly word, Mr. Brithwood, . merely
stating that "

"We are quite satisfied," interrupted Lord Luxmore, bland-
ly. "My dear sir, may I request so useful a vote and so pow-
erful an interest as yours, for our friend, Mr. Vermilye?"

"My lord, I should be very sorry for you to misapprehend
me for a moment. It is not my intention, except at the last
extremity, to vote at all. If I do, it will certainly not be for
Mr. Brithwood's nominee. Sir Ralph, I doubt if, under some
circumstances, which by your permission I am about to state,
Mr. Gerard Vermilye can keep his seat even if elected."

A murmur arose from the crowd of mechanics and laborers,
who, awed by such propinquity to gentry and even nobility,
had hitherto hung sheepishly back; but now, like all English

Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikJohn Halifax, gentleman : a novel → online text (page 23 of 41)