Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

John Halifax, gentleman : a novel online

. (page 27 of 41)
Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikJohn Halifax, gentleman : a novel → online text (page 27 of 41)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

"I followed Mrs. Halifax. I have often watched her and
your children. But you don't remember me."

Yes; when he came underneath the light of the one tallow-


candle we all recognized the face more wan than ever with
a sadder and more hopeless look in the large gray eyes.

"I am surprised to see you here, Lord Ravenel."

"Hush! I hate the very sound of the name. I would have
renounced it long ago. I would have hid myself away from
him and from the world if he would have let me/'

"He do you mean your father?"

The boy no, he was a young man now, but scarcely looked
more than a boy assented silently, as if afraid to utter the

"Would not your coming here displease him?" said John,
always tenacious of trenching a hair's breadth upon any law-
ful authority.

"It matters not he is away. He has left me these six
months alone at Luxmore."

"Have you offended him?" asked Ursula who had cast kind-
ly looks on the thin face, which perhaps reminded her of an-
other now forever banished from our sight and his also.

"He hates me because I am a Catholic and wish to become
a monk."

The youth crossed himself, then started and looked round,
in terror of observers. "You will not betray me? You are a
good man, Mr. Halifax, and you spoke warmly for us. Tell
me I will keep your secret are you a Catholic, too?"

"No, indeed."

"Ah! I hoped you were. But you are sure you will not be-
tray me?"

Mr. Halifax smiled at such a possibility. Yet, in truth,
there was some reason for the young man's fears; since, even
in those days, Catholics were hunted down both by law and by
public opinion as virulently as Protestant non-conformists.
All who kept out of the pale of the national Church were de-
nounced as schismatics, deists, atheists it was all one.

"But why do you wish to leave the world?"

"I am sick of it. There never was but one in it I cared for,
or who cared for me; and now Sancta Maria, or a pro nobis."

His lips moved in a paroxysm of prayer helpless, parrot-
learned, Latin prayer; yet, being in earnest, it seemed to do
him good. The mother, as if she heard in fancy that pitiful
cry, which rose to my memory too "Poor William!" "don't
tell William!" turned and spoke to him kindly, asking him if
he would go home with us.


He looked exceedingly surprised. "I you cannot mean it?
After Lord Luxmore has done you all this evil?"'

"Is that any reason why I should not do good to his son
that is if I could? Can I?"

The lad lifted up those soft gray eyes and then I remem-
bered what his sister had said of Lord Ravenel's enthusiastic
admiration of Mr. Halifax. "Oh, you could you could!"

"But I and mine are heretics, you know."

"I will pray for you. Only let me come and see you you
and your children."

"Come, and welcome."

"Heartily welcome Lord '

"No not that name, Mrs. Halifax? Call me as they used
to call me at St. Omer Brother Anselmo."

The mother was half inclined to smile; but John never
smiled at any one's religious beliefs, howsoever foolish. He
held in universal sacredness that one rare thing sincerity.

So henceforward "Brother Anselmo" was almost domesti-
cated at Eose Cottage. What would the earl have said had a
little bird flown over to London and told him that his only
son, the heir-apparent to his title and political opinions, was
in constant and open association for clandestine acquaint-
ance was against all our laws and rules with John Halifax
the mill owner, John Halifax the radical, as he was still called
sometimes; imbibing principles, modes of life and of thought,
which, to say the least, were decidedly different from those of
the House of Luxmore!

Above all, what would that noble parent have said, had he
been aware that this, his only son, for whom, report whis-
pered, he was already planning a splendid marriage as grand
in a financial point of view as that he planned for his only
daughter that Lord Ravenel was spending all the love of his
loving nature in the half-paternal, half lover-like sentiment
which a young man will sometimes lavish on a mere child
upon John Halifax's little blind daughter, Muriel!

He said, "She made him good" our child of peace. He
would sit gazing on her almost as if she were his guardian
angel, his patron saint. And the little maid in her quiet way
was very fond of him; delighting in his company when her
father was not by. But no one ever was to her like her father.

The chief bond between her and Lord Ravenel or "An-
selmo," as he would have us call him was music. He taught
her to play on the organ, in the empty church close by. There,


during the long midsummer evenings, they two would sit
down for hours in the organ-gallery, while I listened down
below; hardly believing that such heavenly sounds could
come from those small child-fingers; almost ready to fancy
she had called down some celestial harmonist to aid her in
playing; since, as we used to say but by some instinct never
said now Muriel was so fond of "talking with the angels."

Just at this time her father saw somewhat less of her than
usual. He Avas oppressed with business cares; daily, hourly
vexations. Only twice a week the great water-wheel, the de-
light of our little Edwin, as it had once been of his father,
might be seen slowly turning; and the water-courses along the
meadows, with their mechanically forced channels and their
pretty sham cataracts, were almost always low or dry. It ceased
to be a pleasure to walk in the green hollow, between the two
grassy hills which heretofore Muriel and I had liked even bet-
ter than the Flat. Xow she missed the noise of the water, the
cry of the water-hens, the stirring of the reeds. Above all,
she missed her father, who was too busy to come out of his
mill to us, and hardly ever had a spare minute even for his lit-
tle daughter.

He was setting up that wonderful novelty a steam engine.
He had already been to Manchester and elsewhere, and seen
how the new power was applied by Arkwright, Hargreaves, and
others; his own ingenuity and mechanical knowledge fur-
nished the rest. He worked early and late often with his
own hands aided by the men he brought with him from
Manchester. For it was necessary to keep the secret, espe-
cially in our primitive valley, until the thing was complete.
So the ignorant, simple mill people, when they came for their
easy Saturday's wages, only stood and gaped at the mass of
iron and the curiously-shaped brick-work, and wondered what
on earth "the master" was about. But he was so thoroughly
the "master," with all his kindness, than no one ventured
either to question or interfere.


Summer waned. Already the beech-wood began to turn
red and the little yellow autumn flowers to show themselves
all over the common, while in the midst of them looked up the
large purple eye of the ground-thistle. The mornings grew


ha/y and dewy. We ceased to take Muriel out with us in our
slow walk along John's favorite "terrace" before any one else
was stirring. Her father at first missed her sorely; but al-
ways kept repeating that "early walks were not good for
children." At last he gave up the walk altogether, and used
to sit with her on his knee in front of the cottage till break-
fast time.

After that, saying with a kind of jealousy "that every one
of us had more of his little daughter than he," he got into a
habit of fetching her down to the mill every day at noon, and
carrying her about in his arms, wherever he went, during the
rest of his work.

Many a time I have seen the rough, coarse, blue-handed,
blue-pinafored women of the mill stop and look wistfully after
"Master and little blind miss." I often think that the quiet
way in which the Enderley mill people took the introduction
of machinery, and the peaceableness with which they watched
for weeks the setting up of the steam engine, was partly ow-
ing to their strong impression of Mr. Halifax's goodness as a
father, and the vague, almost superstitious interest which at-
tached to the pale, sweet face of Muriel.

Enderley was growing dreary, and we began to anticipate
the cosy fireside of Longfield.

"The children will all go home looking better than they
came; do you not think so, Uncle Phineas? especially Muriel?"

To that sentence I had to answer with a vague assent; after
which I was fain to rise and walk away, thinking how blind
love was all love save mine, which had a gift for seeing the
saddest side of things.

When I came back, I found the mother and daughter talk-
ing mysteriously apart. I guessed what it was about, for I
had overheard Ursula saying they had better tell the child; it
would be "something for her to look forward to something
to amuse her next winter."

"It is a great secret, mind/' the mother whispered, after its

"Oh yes!" The tiny face smaller than ever, I thought,
flushed brightly. "But I would much rather have a little
sister, if you please. Only" and the child suddenly grew
earnest "will she be like me?"

"Possibly; sisters often are alike."

"No, I don't mean that; but you know?" And Muriel
touched her own eyes., -


"I "cannot tell, my daughter. In all things else pray God
she may be like you, Muriel, my darling my child of peace!"
said L 1 rsula, embracing her with tears.

After this confidence, of which Muriel was very proud, and
only condescended, upon gaining express permission, to re-
confide it to me, she talked incessantly of the sister that was
coming, until "little Maud" the name she chose for her
became an absolute entity in the household.

The dignity and glory of being sole depository of this mo-
mentous fact seemed for a time to put new life bright human
life into this little maid of eleven years old. She grew
quite womanly, as it were; tried to help her mother in a thou-
sand little ways, and especially by her own solitary branch of
feminine industry poor darling! She set on a pair of the
daintiest elfin socks that ever were knitted. I found them
years after one finished, one with the needles (all rusty)
stuck through the fine worsted ball, just as the child had laid
it out of her hand. Ah, Muriel, Muriel!

The father took great delight in this change in her re-
suming her simple work, and going about constantly with her

"What a comfort she will be to Ursula one day; an eldest
daughter always is. So will she; will she not, Uncle Phin-

I smiled assentingly. Alas! his burdens were heavy
enough! I think I did right to smile.

"We must take her down with us to see the steam engine
first worked. I wish Ursula would have gone home without
waiting for to-morrow. But there is no fear my men are so
quiet and good-humored. What in most mills has been a day
of outrage and dread, is with us quite a festival. Boys, shall
you like to come? Edwin, my practical lad, my lad that is to
carry on the mills will you promise to hold fast by Uncle
Phineas, if I let you see the steam engine work?"

Edwin lifted up from his slate bright, penetrating eyes. He
was quite an old man in his ways wise even from his baby-
hood, and quiet even when Guy snubbed him; but I noticed
he did not come to "kiss and make friends" so soon as Guy.
And though Guy was much the naughtiest, we all loved him
best. Poor Guy! he had the frankest, warmest, tenderest boy-
heart; always struggling to be good, and never able to accom-
plish it.

"Father," cried Guy, "I want to see the steam engine move;


but I'll not be a baby like Edwin! I'll not hold Uncle Phineas*

Hereupon ensued one of those summer storms which some-
times swept across the family horizon, in the midst of which
Muriel and I stole out into the empty church, where, almost
in the dark which was no dark to her for a long hour she
sat and played. By-and-by the moon looked in, showing the
great gilt pipes of the organ and the little fairy figure sitting

Once or twice she stooped from the organ-loft to ask me
where was Brother Anselmo, who usually met us in the church
of evenings, and whom to-night this last night before the
general household moved back to Longfield we had fully ex-

At last he came, sat down by me, and listened. She was
playing a fragment of one of his Catholic masses. When it
ended he called "Muriel!"

Her soft, glad answer came down from the gallery.

"Child, play the 'Miserere' I taught you."

She obeyed, making the organ wail like a tormented soul.
Truly, no tales I ever heard of young Wesley and the infant
Mozart ever surpassed the wonderful playing of our blind

"Now the 'Dies Irae/ It will come," he muttered, "to us

The child struck a few notes, heavy and dolorous, filling the
church like a thunder-cloud, then suddenly left off, and open-
ing the flute-stop, burst into altogether different music. "That
is Handel *I know that my Eedeemer liveth.' "

Exquisitely she played it, the clear treble notes seeming to
utter like a human voice, the very words:

"I know that my Redeemer liveth. He shall stand at the latter
day upon the earth."

"And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I
see God."

With that she ceased.
"More, more!" we both cried.
"Not now no more now."

And we heard her shutting up the stops and closing the
"But my little Muriel has not finished her tune?"


"She will some day," said the child.

So she came down from the organ loft, feeling her way
along the aisles; and we all went out together, locking the
church door.

Lord Eavenel was rather sad that night; he was going away
from Luxmore for some time. We guessed why because the
earl was coining. Bidding us good-bye he said mournfully, to
his little pet: "I wish I were not leaving you. Will you re-
member me, Muriel?"

"Stoop down; I want to see you."

This was her phrase for a way she had of passing her ex-
tremely sensitive fingers over the faces of those she liked.
After which she always said she "saw" them.

"Yes; I shall remember you."

"And love me?"

"And love you, Brother Anselmo."

He kissed, not her cheek or mouth, but her little child-
hands, reverently, as if she had been the saint he worshiped,
or perhaps, the woman whom afterward he would learn to
adore. Then he went away.

"Truly," said the mother, in an amused aside to me, as with
a kind of motherly pride she watched him walk hastily down
between those chestnut trees known of old "truly, time flies
fast. Things begin to look serious eh, father?"

"Five years hence we shall have that young man falling in
love with Muriel."

But John and I looked at the still, soft face, half a child's
and half an angel's.

"Hush!" he said, as if Ursula's fancy were profanity: then
eagerly snatched it up and laughed, confessing how angry he
should be if anybody dared to "fall in love" with Muriel.

Next day was the one fixed for the trial of the new steam
engine; which trial being successful, we were to start at once
in a post-chaise for Longfield; for the mother longed to be at
home, and so did we all.

There was rather a dolorous good-bye and much lamenting
from good M.rs. Tod, who, her own bairns grown up, thought
there were no children worthy to compare with our children.
And truly, as the three boys scampered down the road their
few regrets soon over, eager for anything new three finer
lads could not be seen in the whole country.

Mrs. Halifax looked after them proudly mother-like, she
gloried in her sons; while John, walking slowly, and assuring


Mrs. Tod over and over again that we should all come back
next summer, went down the steep hill, carrying, hidden un-
der many wraps and nestled close to his warm shoulder, his
little frail winter-rose his only daughter.

In front of the mill we found a considerable crowd; for the
time being ripe,, Mr. Halifax had made public the fact that he
meant to work his looms by steam, the only way in which he
could carry on the mill at all. The announcement had been
received with great surprise and remarkable quietness, both by
his own work people and all along the Enderley valley. Still
there was the usual amount of contemptuous scepticism, in-
cident on any new experiment. Men were peering about the
locked door of the engine room with a surly curiosity; and one
village oracle, to prove how impossible it was that such a thing
as steam could work anything, had taken the trouble to light
a fire in the yard and set thereon his wife's best tea-kettle,
which, as she snatched angrily away, scalded him slightly, and
caused him to limp away swearing, a painful illustration of the
adage, that "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing."

"Make way, my good people," said Mr. Halifax; and he
crossed the mill-yard, his wife on his arm, followed by an in-
voluntary murmur of respect.

"He be a fine fellow, the master; he sticks at nothing," was
the comment heard made upon him by one of his people, and
probably it expressed the feeling of the rest. There are few
things which give a man more power over his fellows than the
thoroughly English quality of daring.

Perhaps this was the secret why John had as yet passed
safely through the crisis which had been the destruction of so
many mill-owners, namely, the introduction of a power which
the mill people were convinced would ruin hand labor. Or
else the folk in our valley, out of their very primitiveness,
had more faith in the master, for certainly, as John passed
through the small crowd, there was only one present who
raised the old fatal cry of "Down with machinery."

"Who said that?"

At the master's voice at the flash of the master's eye the
little knot of work-people drew back, and the malcontent,
whoever he was, shrunk into silence.

Mr. Halifax walked past them, entered his mill, and un-
locked the door of the room which he had turned into an en-
gine room, and where, along with the two men he had
brought from Manchester, he had been busy almost night and


day, for this week past, in setting up his machinery. They
worked as the Manchester fellows said they had often been
obliged to work under lock and key.

"Your folk be queer 'uns, Mr. Halifax. They say there's
six devils inside on her, theer."

And the man pointed to the great boiler which had been
built up in an out-house adjoining.

"Six devils, say they? Well, I'll be Maister Michael Scot,
eh, Phineas? and make my devils work hard/'

He laughed, but he was much excited. He went over, piece
by piece, the complicated but delicate machinery; rubbed here
and there at the brass-work, which shone as bright as a mir-
ror; then stepped back and eyed it with pride, almost with af-

"Isn't it a pretty thing? If only I have it set up right if
it will but work!""

His hands shook, his cheeks were burning little Edwin
came peering about at his knee; but he pushed the child has-
tily away; then he found some slight fault with the machinery,
and while the workmen rectified it stood watching them
breathless with anxiety. His wife came to his side.

"Don't speak to medon't Ursula. If it fails I am ruined."

"John!" She just whispered his name, and the soft, firm
hold of her fingers closed round his, strengthening, cheering.
Her husband faintly smiled.

"Here!" He unlocked the door and called to the people
outside. "Come in, two of you fellows, and see how my dev-
ils work. Now, then! Boys, keep out of the way; my little
girl" his voice softened "my pet will not be frightened?
Now, my men ready?"

He opened the valve.

With a strange noise, that made the two Enderley men
spring back as if the six devils were really let loose upon them,
the steam came rushing into the cylinder. There was a slight
motion of the piston-rod.

"All's right! it will work!"

No, it stopped.

John drew a deep breath.

It went on again, beginning to move slowly up and down
like the strong right arm of some automaton giant. Greater
and lesser cog-wheels caught up the motive power, revolving
slowly and majestically, and with steady, regular rotation, or
whirling round so fast you could hardly see that they stirred


at all. Of a sudden a soul had been put into that wonderful
creature of man's making, that inert mass of wood and metal,
mysteriously combined. The monster was alive.

Speechless John stood watching it. Their trial over, his
energies collapsed; he sat down by his wife's side, and taking
Muriel on his knee, bent his head over hers.

"Is all right, father?" the child whispered.

"All quite right, my own."

"You said you could do it, and you have done it," cried his
wife, her eyes glowing with triumph, her head erect and

John dropped liis lower, lower still. "Yes," he murmured ;
"yes, thank God."

Then he opened the door, and let all the people in to see
the wondrous sight.

They crowded in by dozens, staring about in blank won-
der, gaping curiosity, ill-disguised alarm. John took pains
to explain the machinery, stage by stage, till some of the more
intelligent caught up the principle, and made merry at the
notion of "devils." But they all looked with great awe at
the master, as if he were something more than man. They
listened open-mouthed to every word he uttered, cramming
the small engine room till it was scarcely possible to breathe,
but keeping at a respectful distance from the iron-armed
monster, that went working, working on, as if ready and able
to work on to everlasting.

John took his wife and children out into the open air.
Muriel, who had stood for the last few minutes by her father's
side, listening with a pleased look to the monotonous regular
sound, like the breathing of the demon, was unwilling to go.

"I am very glad I was with you to-day; very glad, father,"
she kept saying.

He said, as often twice as often that next summer, when
he came back to Enderley, she should be with him at the
mills every day, and all day over, if she liked.

There was nothing to be done but to hasten as quickly and
merrily as possible to our well-beloved Longfield.

Waiting for the post-chaise, Mrs. Halifax and the boys sat
down on the bridge over the defunct and silenced water-fall,
on the muddy steps of which, where the stream used to dash
musically over, weeds and long grasses, mingled with the
drooping water-fern, were already beginning to grow,


"It looks desolate, but we need not mind that now," said
Mrs. Halifax.

"No" her husband answered. "Steam-power once ob-
tained, I can apply it in any way I choose. My people will
not hinder; they trust me they like me."

"And, perhaps, are just a little afraid of you. No matter,
it is a wholesome fear. I should not like to have married a
man whom nobody was afraid of."

John smiled; he was looking at the horseman riding toward
us along the high road. "I do believe that is Lord Luxmore.
I wonder whether he has heard of my steam engine. Love,
will you go back into the mill or not?"

"Certainly not." The mother seated herself on the bridge,
her boys around her; John avouched with an air like the
mother of the Gracchi, or like the Highland woman who
trained one son after another to fight and slay their enemy,
their father's murderer.

"Don't jest," said Ursula. She was much more excited
than her husband. Two angry spots burned on her cheeks
when Lord Luxmore came up, and, in passing, bowed.

Mrs. Halifax returned it, haughtily enough. But at the
moment a loud cheer broke out from the mill hard by, and
"Hurrah for the master!" "Hurrah for Mr. Halifax!" was dis-
tinctly heard. The mother smiled right proudly.

Lord Luxmore turned to his tenant they might have been
on the best of terms imaginable, from his bland air.

"What is that rather harsh noise I hear, Mr. Halifax?"

"It is my men cheering me."

"Oh, how charming! so grateful to the feelings! And why
do they cheer you, may I ask?"

John briefly told him, speaking with perfect courtesy as he
was addressed.

"And this steam-engine I have heard of it before will
greatly advantage your mills?"

"It will, my Lord. It renders me quite independent of
your stream, of which the fountains at Luxmore can now
have the full monopoly."

It would not have been human nature if a spice of harm-
less malice even triumph had not sparkled in John's eye
as he said this. He was walking by the horse's side, as Lord
Luxmore had politely requested him.

They went a little way up the hill together, out of sight


Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikJohn Halifax, gentleman : a novel → online text (page 27 of 41)