Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

John Halifax, gentleman : a novel online

. (page 30 of 41)
Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikJohn Halifax, gentleman : a novel → online text (page 30 of 41)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


lapsed into satisfied undivided attention.

"I have again been over Beechwood Hall. You all remem-
ber Beechwood?"

Yes. It was the "great house" at Enderley, just on the
slope of the hill, below Rose Cottage. The beech-wood itself
was part of its pleasure ground, and from its gardens honest
James Tod who had them in keeping, had brought many a
pocketful of pears for the boys, many a sweet-scented nosegay
for Muriel.

"Beechwood has been empty a great many years, father?
Would it be a safe investment to buy it?"

"I think so, Edwin, my practical lad," answered the father,
smiling. "What say you, children? Would you like living
there?"

Each one made his or her comment. Guy's countenance
brightened at the notion of "lots of shooting and fishing"
about Enderley, especially at Luxmore; and Maud counted on
the numerous visitors that would come to John Halifax, Es-
quire, of Beechwood Hall.

"Neither of which excellent reasons happen to be your
father's," said Mrs. Halifax, shortly. But John, often ten-
derer over youthful frivolities than she, answered:

"I will tell you, boys, what are my reasons. When I was a
young man, before your mother and I were married, indeed
before I had ever seen her, I had strongly impressed on my
mind the wish to gain influence in the world riches if I could
but, at all events, influence. I thought I could use it well,
better than most men; those can beet help the poor who un-



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 333

derstand the poor. And I can; since, you know, when Uncle
Phineas found me, I was "

"Father," said Guy, flushing scarlet, "we may as well pass
over that fact. We are gentlefolks now."

"We always were, my son."

The rebuke, out of its very mildness, cut the youth to the
heart. He dropped his eyes, coloring now with a different
and a holier shame.

"I know that. Please, will you go on, father?"

"And now," the father continued, speaking as much out of
his own thoughts as aloud to his children; "now, twenty-five
years of labor have won for me the position I desired. That
is, I might have it for the claiming. I might take my place
among the men who have lately risen from the people to guide
and help the people the Cannings, Husldssons, Peels."

"Would you enter Parliament? Sir Herbert asked me to-
day if you ever intended it. He said there was nothing you
might not attain to if you would give yourself up entirely to
politics."

"No, Guy, no. Wisdom, like charity, begins at home. Let
me learn to rule in my own valley, among my own people,
before I attempt to guide the State. And that brings me
back again to the pros and cons about Beechwood Hall."

"Tell them, John; tell all out plainly to the children."

The reasons were first, the advantage of the boys them-
selves; for John Halifax was not one of those philanthropists
who would benefit all the world except their own household
and their own kin. He wished since the higher a man rises
the wider and nobler grows his sphere of usefulness not only
to lift himself, but his sons after him; lift them high enough
to help on the ever-advancing tide of human improvement,
among their own people first, and thence extending outward
in the world whithersoever their talents or circumstances
might call them.

"I understand," cried the eldest son, his eyes sparkling,
"you want to found a family. And so it shall be we will set-
tle at Beechwood Hall; all coming generations shall live to the
honor and glory of your name our name "

"My boy, there is only one Name to whose honor we should
all live. One Name 'in whom all the generations of the earth
are blessed.' In thus far only do I wish to 'found a family/
as you call it, that our light may shine before men that we



334 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

may be a city set on a hill that we may say plainly unto all
that ask us, 'For me and my house, we will serve the Lord.' "

It was not often that John Halifax spoke thus; adopting
solemnly the literal language of the Book his and our life's
guide, no word of which was ever used lightly in our family.
We all listened, as in his earnestness he rose, and, standing up-
right in the fire-light, spoke on.

"I believe, with His blessing, that one may 'serve the Lord'
as well in wealth as in poverty, in a great house as in a cottage
like this. I am not doubtful, even though my possessions are
increased. I am not afraid of being a rich man. Nor a great
man, neither, if I were called to such a destiny."

"It may be who knows?" said Ursula, softly.

John caught his wife's eyes, and smiled.

"Love, you were a true prophet once, with a certain *Yes,

you will;' but now . Children, you know when I married

your mother I had nothing, and she gave up everything for
me. I said I would yet make her as high as any lady in the
land in fortune, I then meant, thinking it would make her
happier; but she and I are wiser now. We know that we can
never be happier than we were in the old house at Norton
Bury, or in this little Longfield. By making her lady of
Beechwood, I should double her responsibilities and treble her
cares; give her an infinitude of new duties, and no pleasures
half so sweet as those we left behind. Still, of herself and for
herself, my wife shall decide."

Ursula looked up at him; tears stood in her eyes, though
through them shone all the steadfastness of faithful love.
"Thank you, John. I have decided. If you wish it, if you
think it right, we will leave Longfield and go to Beechwood."

He stooped and kissed her forehead, saying only, "We will

go."

Guy looked up, half -reproachfully, as if the father were ex-
acting a sacrifice; but I question whether the greater sacrifice
were not his who took, rather than hers who gave.

So all was settled we were to leave beloved Longfield. It
was to be let, not sold; let to a person we knew, who would
take jealous care of all that was ours, and we might come back
and see it continually; but it would be ours, our own home, no
more.

Very sad sadder even than I had thought was the leav-
ing all the familiar things; the orchard and the flower garden,
the meadow and the stream, the woody hills beyond, every line



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 335

and wave of which was pleasant and dear almost as our chil-
dren's faces. Ay, almost as that face which for a year, one little
year, had lived in sight of but never beheld, their beauty; the
child who one spring day had gone away merrily out of the
white gate with her three brothers, and never came back to
Longfield any more.

Perhaps this circumstance, that her fading away and her de-
parture happened away from home, was the cause why her
memory the memory of our living Muriel, in her human
childhood afterward clung more especially about the house
at Longfield. The other children altered, imperceptibly, yet
so swiftly, that from year to year we half forgot their old like-
nesses. But Muriel's never changed. Her image, only a
shade, yet often more real than any of these living children,
seemed perpetually among us. It crept through the house at
dusk; in winter fire-light it sat smiling in dim corners; in
spring mornings it moved about the garden borders, with tiny
soft footsteps, neither seen nor heard. The others grew up
would be men and women shortly but the one child "that
was not," remained to us always a child.

I thought, even the last evening the very last evening that
John returned from Enderley, and his wife went down to the
stream to meet him, and they came up the field together, as
they had done for so many, many years ay, even then 1
thought I saw his eyes turn to the spot where a little pale fig-
ure used to sit on the door-sill, listening and waiting for him,
with her dove in her bosom. "We never kept doves now.

And the same night, when all the household was in bed
even the mother, who had gone about with restless activity,
trying to persuade herself that there would be at least no possi-
bility of accomplishing the flitting to-morrow the last night,
when John went as usual to fasten the house-door, he stood a
long time outside, looking down the valley.

"'How quiet everything is! You can almost hear the tinkle
of the stream. Poor old Longfield!" And I sighed, thinking
we should never again have such another home.

John did not answer. He had been mechanically bending
aside and training into its place a long shoot of wild clematis
virgin's-bower which Guy and Muriel had brought in
from the fields and planted, a tiny root; it covered the whole
front of the house now. Then he came and leaned beside me
over the wicket-gate, looking fixedly up into the moonlight
blue.



236 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

"I wonder if she knows we are leaving Longfield?"
"Who?" said I, for a moment forgetting.
"The child."



CHAPTER XXX.

Father and son a goodly sight, as they paced side by side
tip and down the gravel walk (alas! the pretty field-path be-
longed to days that were!) up and down the broad sunshiny
walk, in front of the breakfast-room windows of Beechwood
Hall.

It was early little past eight o'clock; but we kept Long-
field hours and Longfield ways still. And besides this was a
grand day the day of Guy's coming of age. Curious it
seemed to watch him, as he walked along by his father, looking
every inch "the young heir;" and perhaps not unconscious
that he did so; curious enough, remembering how meekly the
boy had come into the world at a certain old house at Norton
Bury, one rainy December morning twenty-one years ago.

It was a bright day to-day bright as all our faces were, I
think, as we gathered round the cosy breakfast-table. There,
as heretofore, it was the mother's pride and the father's pleas-
ure that not one face should be missing that, summer and
winter, all should assemble for an hour of family fun and
family chat, before the busy cares of the day; and by general
consent, which had grown into habit, every one tried to keep
unclouded this little bit of early sunshine, before the father
and brothers went away. No sour or dreary looks, no painful
topics were ever brought to the breakfast-table.

Thus it was against all custom, when Mr. Halifax, laying
down his newspaper with a grave countenance, said:

"This is very ill news. Ten bank failures in the Gazette to-
day."

"But it will not harm us, father."

"Edwin is always thinking of 'us' and 'our business,' " re-
marked Guy, rather sharply. It was one of the slight the
very slight jars in our household, that these two lads, excel-
lent lads both, as they grew into manhood, did not exactly
"pull together."

"Edwin is scarcely wrong in thinking of 'us,' since upon us
depend so many," observed the father, in that quiet tone with
which, when he did happen to interfere between his sons, he



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 337

generally smoothed matters down and kept the balance even.
"Yet, though we are ourselves secure, I trust, the losses every-
where around us make it the more necessary that we should not
parade our good fortune by launching out into any of Guy's
magnificences; eh, my boy?"

The youth looked down. It was well known in the family,
that since we came to Beechwood his pleasure-loving tempera-
ment had wanted all sorts of improvements on our style of liv-
ing fox-hounds, dinner parties, balls; that the father's ways,
which, though extended to liberal hospitalities, forbade out-
ward show, and made our life a thorough family life still
were somewhat distasteful to that most fascinating young
gentleman, Guy Halifax, Esquire, heir of Beechwood Hall.

"You may call it 'magnificence/ or what you choose; but I
know I should like to live a little more as our neighbors do.
And I think we ought to we that are known to be the wealth-
iest family "

He stopped abruptly for the door opened; and Guy had
too much good taste and good feeling to discuss our riches be-
fore Maud's poor governess the tall, grave, sad-looking, sad-
clothed Miss Silver; the same whom John had seen at Mr. Jes-
sop's bank; and who had been with us four months ever
since we came to Beechwood.

One of the boys rose and offered her a chair; for the parents
set the example of treating her with entire respect nay,
would gladly have made her altogether one of the family had
she not been so very reserved.

Miss Silver came forward with the daily nosegay which
Mrs. Halifax had confided to her superintendence.

"They are the best I can find, madam. I believe Watkins
keeps all his greenhouse flowers for to-night."

"Thank you, my dear. These will do very well. Yes, Guy,
persuade Miss Silver to take your place by the fire. She looks
so cold/'

But Miss Silver, declining the kindness, passed on to her
own seat opposite.

Ursula busied herself over the breakfast equipage rather
nervously. Though an admirable person, Miss Silver, in her
extreme and all but repellent quietness, was one whom the
mother found it difficult to get on with. She was scrupu-
lously kind to her; and the governess was as scrupulously ex-
act in all courtesy and attention; still that impassible, self -con-



338 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

tained demeanor, that great reticence it might be shyness, it
might be pride sometimes, Ursula privately admitted, "fidg-
eted" her.

To-day was to be a general holiday for both masters and
servants; a dinner at the mills; and in the evening something
which, though we called it a tea-drinking, began to look, I
was amused to see, exceedingly like "a ball." But on this oc-
casion both parents had yielded to their young people's wishes,
and half the neighborhood had been invited by the universally
popular Mr. Guy Halifax to celebrate his coming of age.

"Only once in the way," said the mother, half-ashamed of
herself for thus indulging the boy as, giving his shoulder a
fond shake, she called him "a foolish fellow."

Then we all dispersed; Guy and Walter to ride to the Manor
House, Edwin vanishing with his sister, to whom he was giv-
ing daily Latin lessons in the school room.

John asked me to take a walk on the hill with him.

"Go, Phineas," whispered his wife, "it will do him good.
And don't let him talk too much of old times. This is a hard
week for him."

The mother's eyes were mournful, for Guy and "the child"
had been born within a year and three days of each other; but
she never hinted it never would have struck her to hint
"this is a hard week for me."

That grief the one great grief of their life, had come
to her more wholesomely than to her husband; either be-
cause men, the very best of men, can only suffer, while
women can endure; or because in the mysterious ordinance of
nature Maud's baby lips had sucked away the bitterness of
the pang from the bereaved mother, while her loss was yet
new. It had never been left to rankle in that warm heart,
which had room for every living child, while it cherished,
in tenderness above all sorrow, the child that was no more.

John and I, in our walk, stood a moment by the low church-
yard wall and looked over at that plain white stone, where
was inscribed her name, "Muriel Joy Halifax" a line out of
that New Testament miracle-story she delighted in, "Whereas
I was blind, now I see" and ihe date when she saw. Noth-
ing more; it was not needed.

"December 5th, 1813," said the father, reading the date.
"She would have been quite a woman now. How strange!
My little Muriel!"

And he walked thoughfully along, almost in the same foot-



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 339

prints where he had been used to carry his darling up the
nill-side to the brow of Enderley Flat. He seemed in fancy
to bear her in his arms still this little one, whom, as I have
before said, Heaven, in its compensating mercy, year by year,
through all changes, had made the one treasure that none
could take away the only child left to be a child forever.

I think, as we rested in the self-same place, the sunshiny
nook where we used to sit with her for hours together, the
father's heart took this consolation so closely and surely into
itself, that memory altogether ceased to be pain. He began
talking about the other children especially Maud and then
of Miss Silver, her governess.

"I wish she were more likeable, John. It vexes me some-
times to see how coldly she returns the mother's kindness."

"Poor thing! she has evidently not been used to kindness.
You should have seen how amazed she looked yesterday when
we paid her a little more than her salary, and my wife gave
her a pretty silk dress to wear to-night. I hardly knew
whether she would refuse it, or burst out crying, in girlish
fashion."

"Is she a girl? Why, the boys say she looks thirty at least.
Guy and Walter laugh amazingly at her dowdy dress and her
solemn, haughty ways."

"That will do. Phineas. I must speak to them. They
ought to make allowances for poor Miss Silver, of whom I
think most highly."

"I know you do; but do you heartily like her?"

"For most things, yes. And I sincerely respect her, or, of
course, she would not be here. I think people should be as
particular over choosing their daughter's governess as their
son's wife; and having chosen, should show her almost equal
honor."

"You'll have your sons choosing themselves wives soon,
John. I fancy Guy has a soft place in his heart for that pretty
Grace Oldtower."

But the father made no answer. He was always tenacious
over the lightest approach to such jests as these. And be-
sides, just at this moment Mr. Brown, Lord Luxmore's stew-
ard, passed riding solemnly along. He barely touched his
hat to Mr. Halifax.

"Poor Mr. Brown! He has a grudge against me for those
Mexican speculations I refused to embark in; he did, and
lost everything but what he gets from Lord Luxmore. I do



340 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

think, Phineas, the country has been running mad this year
after speculation. There is sure to come a panic afterward,
and, indeed, it seems already beginning."

"But you are secure? You have not joined in the mania,
and the crash cannot harm you? Did I not hear you say that
you were not afraid of losing a single penny?"

"Yes unfortunately," with a troubled smile.

"John, what do you mean?"

"I mean that to stand upright while one's neighbors are fall-
ing on all sides, is a most trying position. Misfortune makes
people unjust. The other day at the sessions I got cold looks
enough from my brother magistrates looks that would have
set my blood boiling twenty years ago. And you saw in
the Norton Bury Mercury that article about 'grasping plebeian
millionaires' 'wool-spinners, spinning out of their country's
vitals/ That's meant for me, Phineas. Don't look incred-
ulous. Yes for me."

"How disgraceful!"

"Perhaps so but to them more than to me. I feel sorry,
because of the harm it may do me especially among working
people, who know nothing but what they hear, and believe
everything that is told them. They see I thrive and others
fail that my mills are the only cloth-mills in full work, and
I have more hands than I can employ. Every week I am
obliged to send new-comers away. Then they raise the old cry
that my machinery has ruined labor. So, you see, for all that
Guy says about our prosperity, his father does not sleep ex-
actly upon a bed of roses."

"It is wicked atrocious!"

"Not at all. Only natural the penalty one has to pay for
success. It will die out most likely; meantime, we will mind
it as little as we can."

"But are you safe? your life " For a sudden fear

crossed me a fear not unwarranted by more than one event
of this year this terrible 1825.

"Safe? yes" and his eyes were lifted. "I believe my life
is safe if I have work to do. Still, for others' sake, I have
carried this month past whenever I go to and from the Colt-
ham bank besides my cash-box this."

He showed me, peering out of his breast-pocket, a small
pistol.

I was greatly startled.

"Does your wife know?"



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 341

"Of course. But she knows, too, that nothing but the last
extremity would force me to use it: also that my carrying it,
and its being noised about that I do so, may prevent my ever
having occasion to use it. God grant I never may! Don't let
us talk about this."

He stopped, gazing with a sad abstraction down the sun-
shiny valley, most part of which was already his own prop-
erty. For whatever capital he could spare from his busi-
ness he never sunk in speculation, but took a patriarchal pleas-
ure in investing it in land, chiefly for the benefit of his mills
and those concerned therein.

"My poor people they might have known me better! But
I suppose one never attains one's desire without its being
leavened with some bitterness. If there was one point I was
anxious over in my youth, it was to keep up through life a
name like the Chevalier Bayard how folk would smile to
hear of a tradesman emulating Bayard 'Sans peur et sans re-
proche!' And so things might be ought to be. So per-
haps they shall be yet, in spite of this calumny."

"How shall you meet it? What shall you do?"

"Nothing. Live it down."

He stood still, looking across the valley to where the frosty
line of the hill-tops met the steel-blue, steadfast sky.

Yes, I felt sure he would "live it down."

We dismissed the subject, and spent an hour or more in
pleasant chat about many things. Passing homeward through
the beech-wood, where through the bare tree-tops a light
snow was beginning to fall, John said, musingly:

"It will be a hard winter we shall have to help our poor
people a great deal. Christmas dinners will be much in re-
quest."

"There's a saying that the way to an Englishman's heart
is through his stomach. So, perhaps, you'll get justice by
spring."

"Don't be angry, Phineas. As I tell my wife, it is not worth
while. Half the wrongs people do to us are through sheer
ignorance. We must be patient. 'In your patience possess
ye your souls.' ''

He said this more to himself than aloud, as if carrying out
the thread of his own thought. Mine following it, and ob-
serving him, involuntarily turned to another passage in our
Book of books, about the blessedness of some men, even when
reviled and persecuted.



342 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

Ay, and for all his many cares, John Halifax looked like a
man who was "blessed."

Blessed, and happy too, throughout that day, especially in
the midst of the mill-yard dinner which reminded me forci-
bly of that feast at which guests were gathered out of the
highways and hedges guests, such as John Halifax liked to
have guests who could not, by any possibility, "recompense"
him. Yet it did one's heart good to hear the cheer that
greeted the master, ay, and the young master too, who was
to-day for the first time presented as such a& the firm hence-
forth was to be "Halifax & Son."

And full of smiling satisfaction was the father's look, when
in the evening he stood in the midst of his children, waiting
for "Guy's visitors," as he pertinaciously declared them to be
these fine people, for whose entertainment our house has been
these three days turned upside down; the sober old dining-
room converted into a glittering ball-room, and the entrance-
hall a very "bower of bliss" all green boughs and Chinese-
lanterns. John protested he should not have knoAvn his own
study again; and that, if these festive transformations were
to happen frequently, he should soon not even know him-
self!

Yet for all that, and in spite of the comical horror he testi-
fied at this first bouleversement of our quiet home ways, I
think he had a real pleasure in his children's delight; in
wandering with them through the decorated rooms, tapestried
with ivy, and laurel, and arbor- vitae: in making them all
pass in review before him, and admiring their handiwork and
themselves.

A goodly group they made our young folk: there were no
"children" now; for even Maud, who was tall and woman-
ly for her age, had bloomed out in a ball-dress, all white mus-
lin and camelias, and appeared every inch "Miss Halifax."
Walter, too, had lately eschewed jackets, and began to bor-
row razors; while Edwin, though still small, had a keen, old-
man-like look, which made him seem as he was, indeed,' in
character the eldest of the three. Altogether, they were
"a fine family," such as any man might rejoice to see growing
or grown up around him.

But my eyes naturally sought the father, as he stood among
his boys, taller than any of them, and possessing far more than
they that quality for which John Halifax had always been re-
markabledignity. True, Nature had favored him beyond



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 343

most men, giving him the stately, handsome presence befit-
ting middle age, throwing a kind of apostolic grace over the



Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikJohn Halifax, gentleman : a novel → online text (page 30 of 41)