Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

John Halifax, gentleman : a novel online

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ing his work-people feel that he was a friend as well as a

"What is that?"

"To pay attention and consideration to all they say; and
always to take care and remember to call them by their right
Christian names."

I could not help smiling it was an answer so like Mrs.
Halifax, who never indulged in any verbal sentimentalism.
Her part in the world was deeds.

It was already evening, when, having each contributed our
quota, great or small, to the entertainment, we all came and
sat on the long bench under the walnut-tree. The sun went
down red behind us, throwing a last glint on the upland field,
where, from top to bottom, the young men and women were
running in a long "thread-the-needle." Their voices and
laughter came faintly down to us.


"I think they have had a happy day, John. They will work
all the better to-morrow/'

"I am quite sure of it."

"So am I," said Guy, who had heen acting the young master
all day, condescendingly stating his will and giving his opin-
ion on every subject, greatly petted and looked up to by all,
to the no small amusement of us elders.

"Why, my son?" asked the father, smiling.

But here Master Guy was posed, and everybody laughed at
him. He colored up with childish anger, and crept nearer
his mother. She made a place for him at her side, looking
appealingly at John.

"Guy has got out of his depth we must help him into
safe waters again," said the father. "Look here, my son,
this is the reason and it is well not to be 'quite sure' of a
thing unless one knows the reason. Our people will work the
better, because they will work from love. Not merely doing
their duty, and obeying their master in a blind way, but
feeling an interest in him and all that belong to him; knowing
that he feels the same in them. Knowing, too, that although,
being their superior in many things, he is their master and
they his servants, he never forgets that saying, which I read
out of the Bible, children, this morning: 'One is your master
even Christ, and all ye are brethren.' Do you understand?"

I think they did, for he was accustomed to talk with them
thus even beyond their years. Not in the way of preachify-
ing for these little ones had in their childish days scarcely
any so-called "religious instruction," save the daily chapter
out of the New Testament, and the father and mother's daily
life, which was a simple and literal carrying out of the same.
To that one test was brought all that was thought, or said,
or done, in our household, where it often seemed as if the
Master were as visibly obeyed and followed as in the household
which He loved at Bethany.

As to what doctrinal creed we held, or what sect we belonged
to, I can give but the plain answer which John gave to all
such inquiries that we were Christians.

After these words from the Holy Book (which the children
always listened to with great reverence, as to the Book which
their parents most loved and honored, the reading and learn-
ing of which was granted as a high reward and favor, and
never carelessly allowed, or horrible to think! inflicted as
a punishment), we ceased smiling at Guy, who in his turn


ceased to frown. The little storm blew over, as our domestic
storms usually did, leaving a clear free heaven. Loving one
another, of course we quarreled sometimes; but we always
made it up again, because we loved one another.

"Father, I hear the click of the gate. There's somebody
coming/' said Muriel.

The father paused in a great romp with his sons paused,
as he ever did when his little daughter's soft voice was heard.
" 'Tis only a poor boy who can he be?"

"One of the folk that come for milk, most likely but we
have none to give away to-day. What do you want, my lad?"

The lad, who looked miserable and scared, opened his mouth
with a stupid "Eh?"

Ursula repeated the question.

"I wants Jacob Baines."

"You'll find him with the rest, in front of that hay-rick,
over his pipe and ale."

The lad was off like a shot.

"He is from Kingswell, I think. Can anything be the
matter, John?"

"I will go and see. No, boys, no more games I will be
back presently."

He went, apparently rather anxious as was easy to find
out by only a glance at the face of Ursula. Soon she rose
and went after him. I followed her.

We saw, close by the hay-rick, a group of men angrily talk-
ing. The gossiping mothers were just joining them. Far off
in the field the younger folk were still dancing merrily down
their long line of "thread-the-needle."

As we approached, we heard sobbing from one or two wom-
en, and loud curses from the men.

"What's amiss?" said Mr. Halifax, as he came in the midst
and both curses and sobbings were silenced. All began a
confused tale of wrongs. "Stop, Jacob I can't make it

"This lad ha* seen it all. And he bean't a liar in big
things speak up, Billy."

Somehow or other, we extracted the news brought by ragged
Billy, who on this day had been left in charge of the five
dwellings rented of Lord Luxmore. During the owners' ab-
sence there had been a distraint for rent; every bit of the
furniture was carried off; two or three aged and sick folk were


left lying on the bare floor; and the poor families here would
have to go home to nothing but their four walls.

Again, at repetition of the stcry, the women wept and the
men swore.

"Be quiet," said Mr. Halifax again. But I saw that his
honest English blood was boiling within him. "Jem" and
Jem Watkins started, so unusually sharp and commanding
was his master's tone "saddle the mare quick! I shall ride
to Kingswell, and thence to the sheriff's."

"God bless 'ee, sir!" sobbed Jacob Baines' widowed daugh-
ter-in-law, who had left, as I overheard her telling Mrs. Hali-
fax, a sick child to-day at home.

Jacob Baines took up a heavy knobbed stick which hap-
pened to be leaning against the hay-rick, and eyed it with
savage meaning.

"Who be they as has done this, master?"

"Put that bludgeon down, Jacob."

The man hesitated, met his master's determined eye, and
obeyed him, meek as a lamb.

"But what is us to do, sir?"

"Nothing. Stay here till I return; you shall come to no
harm. You will trust me, my men?"

They gathered round him those big, fierce-looking fel-
lows, in whom was brute force enough to attack or resist any-
thing yet he made them listen to reason. He explained
as much as he could of the injustice which had apparently
been done them injustice which had overstepped the law,
and could only be met by keeping absolutely within the

"It is partly my fault that I did not pay the rent to-day.
I will do so at once. I will get your goods back to-night, if
I can. If not, you hale fellows can rough it, and we'll take
the women and children in till morning can we not, love?"

"Ay, readily!" said the mother. "Don't cry, my good wom-
en. Mary Baines, give me your baby. Cheer up; the master
will set all right!"

John smiled at her in fond thanks the wife who hindered
him by no selfishness or weakness, but was his right hand
and support in everything. As he mounted she gave him his
whip, whispering:

"Take care of yourself, mind. Come back as soon as
you can."

And lingeringly she watched him gallop down the field.


It was a strange three hours we passed in his absence. The
misty night came down and round about the house crept wail-
ing the loud September wind. We brought the women into
the kitchen the men lit a fire in the farm-yard and sat sul-
lenly round it. It was as much as I could do to persuade
Guy and Edwin to go to bed instead of watching that "beau-
tiful blaze." There, more than once, I saw the mother stand-
ing, with a shawl over her head and her white gown blowing,
trying to reason into patience those poor fellows, savage with
their wrongs.

"How far have they been wronged, Phineas? What is the
strict law of the case? Will any harm come to John for

I told her no, so far as I knew. That the cruelty and il-
legality lay in the haste of the distraint, and in the goods hav-
ing been carried off at once, giving no opportunity of redeem-
ing them. It was easy to grind the faces of the poor, who
had no helper.

"Never mind; my husband will see them righted at all

"But Lord Luxmore is his landlord."

She looked troubled. "I see what you mean. It is easy to
make an enemy. No matter I fear not. I fear nothing
while John does what he feels to be right as I know he will.
The issue is in higher hands than ours or Lord Luxmore's.
But where's Muriel?"

For as we sat talking, the little girl whom nothing could
persuade to go to bed till her father came home had slipped
from my hand, and gone out into the blustering night. We
found her standing all by herself under the walnut-tree.

"I wanted to listen for father. When will he come?"

"Soon, I hope," answered the mother, with a sigh. "You
must not stay out in the cold and the dark, my child."

"I am not cold, and I know no dark," said Muriel, softly.

And thus so it was with her always. In her spirit, as in
her outward life, so innocent and harmless, she knew no dark.
No cold looks no sorrowful sights no winter no age. The
hand laid upon her dear eyes, pressed eternal peace down on
her soul. I believe she was, if ever human being was, purely
and entirely happy. It was always sweet for us to know this
it is very sweet still, Muriel, our beloved!

We brought her within the house, but she persisted in
sitting in her usual place, on the door-sill, "waiting" for her


father. It was she who first heard the white gate swing, and
told us he was coming.

Ursula ran down to the stream to meet him.

When they came up the path, it was not alone John was
helping a lame old woman, and his wife carried in her arms
a sick child, on whom, when they entered the kitchen, Mary
Baines threw herself in a passion of crying.

'"What have they been doing to 'ee, Tommy? 'ee warn't
like this when I left 'ee. they've been killing my lad, they

"Hush!" said Mrs. Halifax; "we'll get him well again, please
God. Listen to what the master's saying."

He was telling to the men who gathered round the kitchen-
door the results of his journey.

It was as I had expected from his countenance the first
minute he appeared fruitless. He had found all things at
Kingswell as stated. Then he rode to the sheriff's; but Sir
Ralph was absent, sent for to Luxmore Hall on very painful

"My friends," said the master, stopping abruptly in his
narrative, "for a few hours you must make up your minds
to sit still and bear it. Every man has to learn that lesson
at times. Your landlord has I would rather be the poorest
among you than Lord Luxmore this night. Be patient; we'll
lodge you all, somehow. To-morrow I will pay your rent, get
your goods back, and you shall begin the world again, as my
tenant, not Lord Luxmore's."

"Hurrah!" shouted the men, easily satisfied, as working
people are, who have been used all their days to live from
hand to mouth, and to whom the present is all in all. They
followed the master, who settled them in the barn, and then
came back to consult with his wife as to where the women
could be stowed away. So, in a short time, the five homeless
families were cheerily disposed of all but Mary Baines and
her sick boy.

"What can we do with them?" said John, questioningly,
to Ursula.

"I see but one course. We must take him in; his mother
says hunger is the chief thing that ails the lad. She fancies
that he has had the measles; but our children have had it too,
so there's no fear. Come upstairs, Mary Baines."

Passing, with a thankful look, the room where her own
boys slept, the good mother established this forlorn young


mother and her two children in a little closet outside the
nursery door; cheered her with comforting words; helped her
ignorance with wise counsels for Ursula was the general
doctress of all the poor folk round. It was almost midnight
before she came down to the parlor where John and I sat,
he with little Muriel asleep in his arms. The child would
gladly have slumbered away all night there with the delicate,
pale profile pressed close into his breast.

"Is all right, love? How tired you must be!" John put
his left arm round his wife as she came and knelt by him, in
front of the cheerful fire.

"Tired? Oh, of course; but you can't think how com-
fortable they are upstairs. Only poor Mary Baines does noth-
ing but cry, and keep telling me that nothing ails her lad but
hunger. Are they so very poor?"

John did not immediately answer; I fancied he looked sud-
denly uneasy and imperceptibly pressed his little girl closer
to him.

"The lad seems very ill. Much worse than our children
were with measles."

"Yet how they suffered, poor pets! especially Walter. It
was the thought of them made me pity her so. Surely I have
not done wrong?"

"No, love; quite right and kind. Acting so, I think one
need not fear. See, mother, how soundly Muriel sleeps. It's
almost a pity to waken her, but we must go to bed now."

"Stay one minute," I said. "Tell us, John I quite forgot
to ask till now what is that 'painful business' you men-
tioned, which called the sheriff to Lord Luxmore's?"

John glanced at his wife, leaning fondly against him, her
face full of sweet peace, then at his little daughter asleep, then
round the cheerful fire-lit room, outside which the autumn
night-wind went howling furiously.

"Love, that we are so happy, we must not, dare not, con-

She looked at him with a shocked inquiry. "You don't
mean No; it is impossible!"

"It is true. She has gone away."

Ursula sank down, hiding her face. "Horrible! And only
two days since she was here, kissing our children."

We all three kept a long silence; then I ventured to ask
when she went away?

"This morning, early. They took at least Mr. Vermilye


did a ll the property of Lord Luxmore's that he could lay his
hands upon family jewels, and money to a considerable
amount. The earl is pursuing him now, not only as his daugh-
ter's seducer, but as a swindler and a thief/'

"And Richard Brithwood?"

"Drinks and drinks and drinks. That is the beginning
and the end of all."

There was no more to be said. She had dropped forever
out of her old life, as completely as a star out of the sky.
Henceforth for years and years, neither in her home, nor,
I believe, in any other, was there the slightest mention made
of Lady Caroline Brithwood.

All the next day John was from home, settling the Kings-
well affair. The ejected tenants our tenants now left us
at last, giving a parting cheer for Mr. Halifax, the best master
in all England.

Sitting down to tea with no small relief that all was over,
John asked his wife after the sick lad.

"He is very ill still, I think."

"Are you sure it is measles?"

"I imagine so; and I have seen nearly all childish diseases,
except no, that is quite impossible!" added the mother has-
tily. She cast an anxious glance on her little ones; her hand
slightly shook as she poured out their cups of milk. "Do you
think, John it was hard to do it when the child is so ill I
ought to have sent them away with the others?"

"Certainly not. If it were anything dangerous, of course
Mary Baines would have told us. What are the lad's symp-

As Ursula informed him, I thought he looked more and
more serious; but he did not let her see.

"Make your mind easy, love; a word from Dr. Jessop will
decide all. I will fetch him after tea. Cheer up! Please God,
no harm will come to our little ones!"

The mother brightened again; with her all the rest; and
the tea-table clatter went on, merry as ever. Then, it being a
wet night, Mrs. Halifax gathered her boys round her knee for
an evening chat over the kitchen-fire, while through the open
door, out of the dim parlor, came "Muriel's voice," as we called
the harpsichord. It seemed sweeter than ever this night, like
as her father once said, but checked himself, and never said
it afterward like Muriel talking with the angels.


He sat listening awhile, then, without any remark, put
on his coat and went out to fetch the good doctor. I fol-
lowed him down to the stream.

'Thineas," he said, "will you mind don't notice it to the
mother but mind and keep her and the children down-
stairs till I come back?"

I promised. "Are you uneasy about Mary Barnes' lad?"

"No; I have full trust in human means, and, above all, in
what I need not speak of. Still, precautions are wise. Do
you remember that day when, rather against Ursula's wish,
J vaccinated the children?"

I remembered. Also that the virus had taken effect with all
but Muriel; and we had lately talked of repeating the much-
blamed and miraculous experiment upon her. I hinted this.

"Phineas, you mistake," he answered, rather sharply. "She
is quite safe as safe as the others. I wrote to Dr. Jenner
himself. But don't mention that I spoke about this."


"Because to-day I heard that they have had the small-pox
at Kingswell."

I felt a cold shudder. Though inoculation and vaccination
had made it less fatal among the upper classes, this frightful
scourge still decimated the poor, especially children. Great
was the obstinacy in refusing relief; and loud the outcry in
Norton Bury, when Mr. Halifax, who had met and known Dr.
Jenner in London, finding no practitioner that would do it,
persisted in administering the vaccine virus himself to his
children. But still, with natural fear, he had kept them out
of all risk of taking the small-pox until now.

"John, do you think "

"No; I will not allow myself to think. Not a word of
this at home, mind. Good-bye!"

He walked away, and I returned up the path heavily, as
if a cloud of terror and dole were visibly hanging over our
happy Longfield.

The doctor appeared; he went up to the sick lad; then he
and Mr. Halifax were closeted together for a long time. After
he was gone, John came into the kitchen, where Ursula sat
with Walter on her knee. The child was in his little white
night-gown, playing with his elder brothers, and warming
his rosy toes.

The mother had recovered herself entirely: was content


and gay. I saw John's glance at her, and then and then I

"What does the doctor say? The child will soon be well?"

"We must hope so."

"John, what do you mean? I thought the little fellow
looked better when I went up to see him last. And there
I hear the poor mother upstairs crying."

"She may cry; she has need," said John, bitterly. "She
knew it all the while. She never thought of our children;
but they are safe. Be content, love please God, they are
quite safe. Very few take it after vaccination."

"It do you mean the small-pox? Has the lad got small-
pox? Oh, God help us! My children! my children!"

She grew white as death; long shivers came over her from
head to foot. The little boys, frightened, crept up to her;
she clasped them all together in her arms, turning her head
with a wild, savage look, as if some one were stealing behind
to take them from her.

Muriel, perceiving the silence, felt her way across the room,
and touching her mother's face, said, anxiously, "Has anybody
been naughty?"

"No, my darling; no."

"Then never mind. Father says, nothing will harm us
except being naughty. Did you not, father?"

John snatched his little daughter up to his bosom, and
called her for the hundredth time the name my poor old
father had named her, the "blessed" child.

We all grew calmer; the mother wept a little, and it did
her good; we comforted the boys and Muriel, telling them
that in truth nothing was the matter, only we were afraid
of their catching the little lad's sickness, and they must not
go near him.

"Yes; she shall quit the house this minute this very min-
ute!" said the mother sternly, but with a sort of wildness

Her husband made no immediate answer; but as she rose
to leave the room, he detained her. "Ursula, do you know the
child is all but dying?"

"Let him die! The wicked woman! She knew it, and
she let me bring him among my children my own poor chil-

"I would she had never come. But what is done is done.


Love, think if you were turned out of doors this bleak, rainy
night with a dying child."

"Hush ! hush !" She sank down with a sob.

"My darling!" whispered John, as he made her lean against
him her support and comfort in all things; "do you think
my heart is not ready to break, like yours? But I trust in
God. This trouble came upon us while we were doing right;
let us do right still and we need not fear. Humanly speaking,
our children are safe; it is only our own terror which exag-
gerates the danger. They may not take the disease at all.
Then, how could we answer it to our conscience if we turned
out this poor soul, and her child died?"

"No! no!"

"We will use all precautions. The boys shall be moved to
the other end of the house."

I proposed that they should occupy my room as I had had
small-pox, and was safe.

"Thank you, Phineas: and even should they take it, Dr.
Jenner has assured me that in every case after vaccination
it has been the very slightest form of the complaint. Be pa-
tient, love; trust in God and have no fear."

Her husband's voice gradually calmed her. At last she
turned and clung round his neck, silently and long. Then
she rose up and went about her usual duties, just as if this
horrible dread were not upon us.

Mary Baines and her children stayed in the house. Next
day, about noon, the little lad died.

It was the first death that had ever happened under our
roof. It shocked us all very much, especially the children.
We kept them far away on the other side of the house out
of the house when possible; but still they would be coming
back and looking up at the window, at which, as Muriel de-
clared, the little sick boy "had turned into an angel and flown
away." The mother allowed the fancy to remain; she thought
it wrong and horrible that a child's first idea of death should
be "putting into the pit-hole." Truer and more beautiful
was Muriel's instinctive notion of "turning into an angel and
flying away." So we arranged that the poor little body should
be coffined and removed before the children rose next morn-

It was a very quiet tea-time. A sense of awe was upon
the little ones, they knew not why. Many questions they asked
about poor Tommy Baines, and where he had gone to; which


the mother only answered after the simple manner of Scrip-
ture he "was not, for God took him." But when they saw
Mary Baines go crying down the field-path, Muriel asked "why
she cried? how could she cry, when it was God who had taken
little Tommy?"

Afterward she tried to learn of me, privately, what sort
of a place it was he had gone to, and how he went; whether
he had carried with him all his clothes, and especially the
great bunch of woodbine she sent to him yesterday; and,
above all, whether he had gone by himself, or if some of the
"angels," which held so large a place in Muriel's thoughts,
and of which she was ever talking, had come to fetch him
and take care of him. She hoped indeed, she felt sure
they had. She wished she had met them, or heard them about
in the house.

And seeing how the child's mind was running on the sub-
ject, I thought it best to explain to her as simply as I could
the solemn putting off of life and putting on of immortality.
I wished that my darling, who could never visibly behold
death, should understand it as no image of terror, but only
as a calm sleep and a joyful waking in another country, the
glories of which eye had not seen nor ear heard.

"Eye has not seen," repeated Muriel, thoughtfully; "can
people see there, Uncle Phineas?"

"Yes, my child. There is no darkness at all."

She paused a minute and said earnestly, "I want to go
I very much want to go. How long do you think it will be
before the angels come for me?"

"Many, many years, my precious one," said I shuddering;
for truly she looked so like them that I began to fear they were
close at hand.

But a few minutes afterward she was playing with her
brothers and talking to her pet doves so sweet and human-
like that the fear passed away.

We sent the children early to bed that night and sat
long by the fire, consulting how best to remove infection, and
almost satisfied that in these two days it could not have taken

Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikJohn Halifax, gentleman : a novel → online text (page 25 of 41)