Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

John Halifax, gentleman : a novel online

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any great hold on the house. John was firm in his belief in
Dr. Jenner and vaccination. "We went to bed greatly com-
forted, and the household sank into quiet slumbers, even
though under its roof slept in deeper sleep the little dead

That small closet, which was next to the nursery I occu-


pied, safely shut out by it from the rest of the house, seemed
very still now. I went to sleep thinking of it, and dreamed
of it afterward.

In the middle of the night a slight noise woke me, and
I almost fancied I was dreaming still; for there I saw a
little white figure gliding past my bed's foot, so softly and
soundlessly it might have been the ghost of a child, and it
went into the dead child's room.

For a moment that superstitious instinct which I believe
we all have paralyzed me. Then I tried to listen. There was
most certainly a sound in the next room a faint cry, quickly
smothered a very human cry. All the stories I had ever
heard of supposed death and premature burial rushed hor-
ribly into my mind. Conquering alike my superstitious dread
or fear of entering the infected room, I leaped out of bed,
threw on some clothes, got a light, and went in.

There lay the little corpse all safe and still, forever. And,
like its own spirit, watching in the night at the head of the
forsaken clay, sat Muriel.

I snatched her up and ran with her out of the room in an
agony of fear.

She hid her face on my shoulder, trembling. "I have not
done wrong, have I? I wanted to know what it was like
that which you said was left of little Tommy. I touched it
it was so cold! Oh! Uncle Phineas, that isn't poor little Tom-

"No, my blessed one no, my dearest child! Don't think
of it any more."

And, hardly knowing what was best to be done, I called
John, and told him where I had found his little daughter. He
never spoke, but snatched her out of my arms into his own,
took her in his room, and shut the door.

From that time our fears never slumbered. For one whole
week we waited, watching the children hour by hour, noting
each change in each little face; then Muriel sickened.

It was I who was to tell her father, when as he came home
in the evening I met him by the stream. It seemed to him
almost like the stroke of death.

"Oh, my God! not her! Any but her!" And by that I.
knew, what I had long guessed, that she was the dearest of all
his children.

Edwin and Walter took the disease likewise, though lightly.
No one was in absolute danger except Muriel. But for weeks


we had what people call "sickness in the house;" that terrible
overhanging shadow which mothers and fathers well know;
under which one must live and move, never resting night nor
day. This mother and father hore their portion, and bore it
well. When she broke down, which was not often, he sus-
tained her. If I were to tell of all he did how, after being
out all day, night after night he would sit up watching by and
nursing each little fretful sufferer, patient as a woman, and
pleasant as a child playmate perhaps those who talk loftily
of "the dignity of man" would smile. I pardon them.

The hardest minute of the twenty-four hours was, I think,
that when, coming home, he caught sight of me afar off wait-
ing for him, as I always did, at the White Gate; and many a
time, as we walked down to the stream, I saw what no one
else saw but God. After such times I used often to ponder
over what great love His must be, who, as the clearest revela-
tion of it and of its nature, calls Himself "the Father."

And He brought us safe through our time of anguish: He
left us every one of our little ones.

One November Sunday when all the fields were in a mist,
and the rain came pouring softly and incessantly upon the pa-
tient earth, which had been so torn and dried up by east
winds that she seemed glad enough to put aside the mockery
of sunshine and melt in quiet tears, we once more gathered
our flock together in thankfulness and joy.

Muriel came down stairs triumphantly in her father's arms
and lay on the sofa smiling; the fire-light dancing on her small
white face white and unscarred. The disease had been kind
to the blind child; she was, I think, more sweet-looking than
ever. Older, perhaps; the round prettiness of childhood gone;
but her whole appearance wore that inexpressible expression in
which, for want of a suitable word, we all embody our vague
notions of the unknown world and call "angelic."

"Does Muriel feel quite well quite strong and well?" the
father and mother both kept saying every now and then as
they looked at her. She always answered, "Quite well."

In the afternoon, when the boys were playing in the kitch-
en, and John and I were standing at the open door, listening
to the dropping of the rain in the garden, we heard, after its
long silence, Muriel's "voice."

"Father, listen!" whispered the mother, linking her arm
through his as he stood at the door. Soft and slow came the
notes of the old harpsichord she was playing one of the Ab-



bey anthems. Then it melted away into melodies we knew
not sweet and strange. Her parents looked at one another
their hearts were full of thankfulness and joy.
"And Mary Baines' little lad is in the church-yard."


"What a comfort! the daylight is lengthening. I think
this has been the very dreariest winter I ever knew. Has it
not, my little daughter? Who brought her these violets?"

And John placed himself on a corner of my own particular
arm-chair, where, somehow or other, Muriel always lay curled
up at tea-time now (ay, and many hours in the day-time,
though we hardly noticed it at first). Taking between his
hands the little face, which broke into smiles at the merest
touch of the father's fingers, he asked her "when she intended
to go a walk with him?"


"So we have said for a great many to-morrows, but it is al-
ways put off. What do you think, mother is the little maid
strong enough?"

Mrs. Halifax hesitated; said something about "east winds."

"Yet I think it would do her good if she braved east winds,
and played out-of-doors as the boys do. Would you not like
it, Muriel?"

The child shrank back with an involuntary "Oh no!"

"That is because she is a little girl, necessarily less strong
than the lads are. Is it not so, Uncle Phineas?" continued
her father, hastily, for I was watching them.

"Muriel will be quite strong when the warm weather comes.
We have had such a severe winter. Every one of the children
has suffered," said the mother, in a cheerful tone, as she
poured out a cup of cream for her daughter, to whom was
now given, by common consent, all the richest and rarest of
the house.

"I think every one has," said John, looking round on his
apple-cheeked boys. It must have been a sharp eye that de-
tected any decrease of health, or increase of suffering, there.
"But my plan will set all to rights. I spoke to Mrs. Tod yes-
terday. She will be ready to take us all in. Boys, shall you


like going to Enderley? You shall go as soon as ever the
larch-wood is green."

For, at Longlield, already we began to make a natural al-
manac and chronological table. "When the May was out"
"When Guy found the first robin's nest" "When the field
was all cowslips" and so on.

"Is it absolutely necessary we should go ?" said the mother,
who had a strong home-clinging, and already began to hold
tiny Longfield as the apple of her eye.

"I think so, unless you will consent to let me go alone to

She shook her head.

"What! with those troubles at the mills? How can you
speak so lightly?"

"Not lightly, love only cheerfully. The troubles must be
borne; why not bear them with as good heart as possible?
They cannot last, let Lord Luxmore do what he will. If, as I
told you, we relet Longfield for this one summer to Sir Ealph,
we shall save enough to put the mill in thorough repair." If
my landlord will not do it, I will; and add a steam-engine,

Now the last was a daring scheme, discussed many a winter
night by us three in Longfield parlor. At first Mrs. Halifax
had looked grave; most women would, especially wives and
mothers, in those days when every innovation was regarded
with horror, and improvement and ruin were held synony-
mous. She might have thought so, too, had she not believed
in her husband. But now, at mention of the steam-engine,
she looked up and smiled.

"Lady Oldtower asked me about it to-day. She said, f she
hoped you would not ruin yourself like Mr. Miller, of Glas-
gow!' I said I was not afraid."

Her husband returned a bright look. "It is easy to make
the world trust one, when one is trusted by one's own house-

"Ah! never fear; you will make your fortune yet, in spite of
Lord Luxmore/'

For, all winter, John had found out how many cares come
with an attained wish. Chiefly because, as the earl had said,
his lordship possessed an "excellent memory." The Kings-
well election had worked its results in a hundred small ways,
wherein the heavy hand of the landlord could be laid upon
the tenant. He bore up bravely against it; but hard was the


struggle between might and right, oppression and stanch re-
sistance. It would have gone harder but for one whom John
now began to call his "friend;" at least, one who invariably
called Mr. Halifax so our neighbor, Sir Ealph Oldtower.

"How often has Lady Oldtower been here, Ursula?"

"She called first, you remember, after our trouble with the
children; she has been twice since, I think. To-day she
wanted me to bring Muriel and take luncheon at the Manor
House. I shall not go; I told her so."

"But gently, I hope? you are so very outspoken, love. You
made her clearly understand that it is not from incivility we
decline her invitations? Well, never mind. Some day we
will take our place, and so shall our children, with any gentry
in the land."

I think though John rarely betrayed it he had strongly
this presentiment of future power, which may often be no-
ticed in men who have carved out their own fortunes. They
have in them the instinct to rise; and as surely as water regains
its own level, so do they, from however low a source, ascend to

Not many weeks after, we removed in a body to Enderley.
Though the chief reason was, that John might be constantly
on thu spot, superintending his mills, yet I fancied I could
detect a secondary reason, which he would not own even to
himself; but which peered out unconsciously in his anxious
looks. I saw it when he tried to rouse Muriel into energy by
telling her how much she would enjoy Enderley Hill; how
sweet the primroses grew in the beech-wood, and how wild and
fresh the wind swept over the common, morning and night.
His daily longing seemed to be to make her love the world and
the things therein. He used to turn away, almost in pain,
from her smile, as she would listen to all he said, then steal
off to the harpischord, and begin that soft, dreamy music
which the children called "talking to angels."

We came to Enderley through the valley, where was John's
cloth mill. Many a time in our walks he and I had passed it,
and stopped to listen to the drowsy fall of the miniature
Niagara, or watch the incessant turning, turning, of the great
water wheel. Little we thought he should ever own it, or that
John would be pointing it out to his own boys, lecturing them
on "undershot" and "overshot," as he used to lecture me.

It was sweet, though half melancholy, to see Enderley again;
to climb the steep meadows, and narrow mule-paths, up which


he used to help me so kindly. He could not now; he had his
little daughter in his arms. It had come, alas! to be a regular
thing that Muriel should be carried up every slight ascent, and
along every hard road. We paused half way up on a low wall,
where I had many a time rested, watching the sunset over
ISTunneley Hill watching for John to come home. Every
night at least after Miss March went away he usually found
me sitting there.

He turned to me and smiled. "Dost remember lad?" at
which appellation Guy widely stared. But, for a minute, how
strangely it brought back old times, when there were neither
wife nor children only he and I! This seat on the wall,
with its small twilight picture of the valley below the mill, and
jSTunneley heights, with that sentinel row of sunset trees, was
all mine mine solely for evermore.

"Enderley is just the same, Phineas. Twelve years have
made no change except in us." And he looked fondly at his
wife, who stood a little way off, holding firmly on the wall, in
a hazardous group, her three boys. "I think the chorus and
comment on all life might be included in two brief phrases
given by our friend Shakespeare, one to Hamlet, the other to
Othello ' 'Tis very strange,' and ' 'Tis better as it is.' "

"Ay, ay," said I, thoughtfully. "Better as it was; better, a
thousand times."

I went to Mrs. Halifax, and helped her to describe the pros-
pect to the inquisitive boys; finally coaxing the refractory Guy
up the winding road, where, just as if it had been yesterday,
stood my old friends, my four Lombardy poplars, three to-
gether and one apart.

Mrs. Tod descried us afar off, and was waiting at the gate;
a little stouter, a little rosier that was all. In her delight
she absolutely forgot herself as to address the mother as Miss
March; at which long-unspoken name Ursula started, her col-
or went and came, and her eyes turned restlessly toward the
church hard by.

"It is all right, Miss Ma'am, I mean. Tod bears in mind
Mr. Halifax's orders, and has planted lots o' flower-roots and

"Yes, I know."

And when she had put all her little ones to bed, we, won-
dering where the mother was went out toward the little
church-yard, and found her quietly sitting there.

We were very happy at Enderley. Muriel brightened up


before she had been there many days. She began to throw off
her listlessness, and go about with me everywhere. It was
the season she enjoyed most the time of the singing of birds,
and the springing of delicate scented flowers. I myself never
loved the beech-wood better than did our Muriel. She used
continually to tell us, this was the happiest spring she had
ever had in her life.

John was much occupied now. He left his Norton Bury
business under efficient care and devoted himself almost
wholly to the cloth mill. Early and late he was there. Very
often Muriel and I followed him, and spent whole mornings
in the mill meadows. Through them the stream on which
the machinery depended was led by various contrivances,
checked or increased in its flow, making small ponds, or locks,
or water-falls. We used to stay for hours listening to its
murmur, to the sharp, strange cry of the swans that were kept
there, and the twitter of the water-hen to her young among
the reeds. Then the father would come to us and remain a
few minutes, fondling Muriel, and telling me how things went
on at the mill.

One morning as we three sat there, on the brick-work of the
little bridge underneath an elm-tree, round the roots of which
the water made a pool so clear that we could see a large pike
lying like a black shadow, half-way down, John suddenly said:

"What is the matter with the stream? Do you notice, Phin-

"I have seen it gradually lowering, these two hours. I
thought you were drawing off the water."

"Nothing of the kind. I must look after it. Good-bye,
my little daughter. Don't cling so fast; father will be back
soon: and isn't this a sweet sunny place for a little maid to be
lazy in?"

His tone was gay, but he had an anxious look. He walked
rapidly down the meadows, and went to his mill. Then I saw
him retracing his steps, examining where the stream entered
the bounds of his property. Finally he walked off toward the
little town at the head of the valley, beyond which, buried in
the woods, lay Luxmore Hall. It was twt> hours before we
saw him again.

Then he came toward us, narrowly watching the stream.
It had sunk more and more the muddy bottom was showing


"Yes, that's it; it can be nothing else. I did not think he
would have dared to do it."

"Do what, John? Who?"

"Lord Luxmore." He spoke in the smothered tones of
violent passion. "Lord Luxmore has turned out of its course
the stream that works my mill."

I tried to urge that such an act was improbable; in fact,
against the law.

"Not against the law of the great against the little! Be-
sides, he gives a decent coloring; says he only wants the use
of the stream three days a week, to make fountains at Luxmore
Hall. But I see what it is; I have seen it coming a whole year.
He has determined to ruin me!"

John said this in much excitement. He hardly felt Mur-
iel's tiny creeping hands.

"What does 'ruin' mean? Is anybody making father an-


"No, my sweet, not angry; only very, very miserable!"

He snatched her up and buried his head in her soft, childish
bosom. She kissed him and patted his hair.

"Never mind, dear father. You say nothing signifies, if we
are only good. And father is always good."

"I wish I were!"

He sat down with her on his knee; the murmur of the elm-
leaves and the slow dropping of the stream soothed him. By-
and-by his spirit rose, as it always did, the heavier it was
pressed down.

"No, Lord Luxmore shall not ruin me! I have thought of
a scheme. But first I must speak to my people; I shall have
to shorten wages for a time."

"How soon?"

"To-night. If it must be done better done at once, before
winter sets in. Poor fellows! it will go hard with them;
they'll be hard upon me. But it is only temporary; I must
reason them into patience, if I can. God knows, it is not they
alone who want it."

He almost ground his teeth as he saw the sun shining on the
far white wing of Luxmore Hall.

"Have you no way of righting yourself? If it is an unlaw-
ful act why not go to law ?"

"Phineas, you forget my principle only mine, however; I
do not force it upon any one else my firm principle, that I
will never go to law. Never. I would not like to have it


said, in contradistinction to the old saying, 'See how these
Christians fight !"'

I urged no more; since, whether abstractedly the question
be right or wrong, there can be no doubt that what a man be-
lieves to be evil, to him it is evil.

"Now, Uncle Phineas, go you home with Muriel. Tell my
wife what has occurred say I will come to tea as soon as I
can. But I may have some little trouble with my people here.
She must not alarm herself."

No, the mother never did. She wasted no time in puerile
apprehensions it was not her nature; she had the rare femi-
nine virtue of never "fidgeting" at least externally. "What
was to be borne she bore; what was to be done she did; but
she rarely madte any "fuss" about either her doings or her suf-

To-night, she heard all my explanation; understood it, I
think, more clearly than I probably from being better ac-
quainted with her husband's plans and fears. She saw at
once the position in which he was placed; a grave one, to judge
by her countenance.

"Then you think John is right?"

"Of course I do."

I had not meant it as a question, or even a doubt. But it
was pleasant to hear her thus answer. For, as I have said, Ur-
sula was not a woman to be led blindfold, even by her husband.
Sometimes they differed on minor points, and talked their dif-
ferences lovingly out; but on any great question she had al-
ways this safe trust in him that if one were right and the
other wrong, the erring one was much more likely to be her-
self than John.

She said no more, but put the children to bed; then came
down stairs with her bonnet on.

"Will you come with me, Phineas? or are you too tired? I
am going down to the mill."

She started, walking quickly, yet not so quick but that on
the slope of the common she stooped to pick up a crying child,
and send it home to its mother in Enderley village.

It was almost dark, and we met no one else except a young
man, whom I had occasionally seen about of evenings. He
was rather odd-looking, being invariably muffled up in a large
cloak and a foreign sort of hat.

"Who is that watching our mills?" said Mrs. Halifax hastily.

I told her all I had seen of the person,


"A Papist, most likely I mean, a Catholic." (John ob-
jected to the opprobrious word, "Papist/') "Mrs. Tod says
there are a good many hidden hereabouts. They used to find
shelter at Luxmore."

And that name set both our thoughts anxiously wandering;
so that not until we reached the foot of the hill did I notice
that the person had followed us almost to the mill gates.

In his empty mill, standing beside one of its silenced looms,
we found the master. He was very much dejected. Ursula
touched his arm before he even saw her.

"Well, love, you know what has happened?"

"Yes, John. But never mind."

"I would not, except for my poor people."

"What do you intend doing? That which you have wished
to do all the year?"

"Our wishes come as a cross to us sometimes," he said, rath-
er bitterly. "It is the only thing I can do. The water-power
being so greatly lessened, I must either stop the mills, or work
them by steam."

"Do that, then. Set up your steam-engine."

"And have all the country down upon me for destroying
hand-labor? Have a new set of Luddites coming to burn my
mill and break my machinery? That is what Lord Luxmore
wants. Did he not say he would ruin me? Worse than this,
he is ruining my good name. If you had heard those poor
people whom I sent away to-night! What must they, who
will have short work these two months and after that ma-
chinery work, which they fancy is taking the very bread out
of their mouths what must they think of the master?"

He spoke as we rarely heard John speak: as worldly cares
and worldly injustice cause even the best of men 'to speak

"Poor people!" he added, "how can I blame them? I was
actually dumb before them to-night, when they said I must
take the cost of what I do they must have bread for their
children. But so must I for mine. Lord Luxmore is the
cause of all."

Here I heard, or fancied I heard, out of the black shadow
behind the loom, a heavy sigh. John and Ursula were too
anxious to notice it.

"'Could anything be done," she asked, "just to keep things
going till your steam-engine is ready? Will it cost much?"

t nan I like to think of. But it must be; nothing


venture nothing have. You and the children are secure,
anyhow, that's one comfort. But oh, my poor people at En-

Again Ursula asked if nothing could be done?
"Yes; I did not think of one plan, but "

"John, I know what you thought of."
She laid her hand on his arm, and looked straight up at
him eye to eye. Often it seemed that from long habit they
could read one another's minds in this way, clearly as a book.
At last John said:

"Would it be too hard a sacrifice, love?"

"How can you talk so? We could do it easily, by living in
a plainer way; by giving up one or two trifles only outside
things, you know. Why need we care for outside things?"

"Why, indeed?" he said, in a low, fond tone.

So I easily found out how they meant to settle the diffi-
culty; namely, by setting aside a portion of the annual income
which John, in his almost morbid anxiety lest his family
(should take harm by any possible non-success in his business,
had settled upon his wife. Three months of little renuncia-
tions three months of the old narrow way of living, as at
Norton Bury and the poor people at Enderley might have
full wages, whether or not there was full work. Then in our
quiet valley there would be no want, no murmurings, and,
above all, no blaming of the master.

They decided it all in fewer words than I have taken to
write it it was so easy to decide when both were of one mind.

"IsTow," said John, rising, as if a load were taken off his
breast "now, do what he will, Lord Luxmore cannot do me
any harm."

"Husband, don't let us speak of Lord Luxmore."

Again that sigh quite ghostly in the darkness. They
heard it likewise this time.

"Who's there?"

"Only I. Mr. Halifax don't be angry with me!"

It was the softest, mildest voice the voice of one long used
to oppression; and the young man whom Ursula had supposed
to be a Catholic appeared from behind the loom.

"I do not know you, sir. How came you to enter mv mill?"

Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikJohn Halifax, gentleman : a novel → online text (page 26 of 41)