Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

John Halifax, gentleman : a novel online

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without ranking any more fruitless efforts I should be sure to
see him. I kne^v enough of himself, and was too jealous over
his dignity, to wish either to force him by entreaties, or bring
him by stratagem, into a house where he was not welcome,
even though it were the house of my own father.

One February day, when the frost had at last broken up,
and soft, plentiful rain had half melted the great snowdrifts
which, Jael told me, lay about the country everywhere I
thought I would just put my head out-of-doors to see how
long the blessed spirit would be in coming. So I crawled
down into the parlor, and out of the parlor into the garden;
Jael scolding, my father roughly encouraging. My poor fa-
ther! he always had the belief that people need not be ill unless
they chose, and that I could do a great deal if I would.

I felt very strong to-day. It was delicious to see again the
green grass which had been hidden for weeks; delicious to


walk up and down in the sunshine, under the shelter of the
yew-hedge. I amused myself by watching a pale line of snow-
drops, which had come up one by one, like prisoner? of war
to their execution.

But the next moment I felt ashamed of the heartless simile,
for it reminded me of poor Bill Watkins, who, taken after the
battle of Mentz, last December, had been shot by the French
as a spy. Poor, rosy, burly Bill! better had he still been in-
gloriously driving our cart of skins.

"Have you been to see Sally lately?" said I to Jael, who
was cutting winter cabbages hard by; "is she getting over her

"She bean't rich, to afford fretting. There's Jem and
three little 'uns yet to feed, to say naught of another big lad
as lives there, and eats a deal more than he pays, I'm sure."

1 took the insinuation quietly, for I knew that my father
had lately raised John's wages, and he his rent to Sally.
This, together with a few other facts which lay between Sally
and me, made me quite easy in the mind as to his being no
burden, but rather a help to the widow so I let Jael have her
say; it did no harm to me or anybody.

"What bold little things snow-drops are stop, Jael, you
are setting your foot on them."

But I was too late; she had crushed them under the high-
heeled shoe. She was even near pulling me down, as she
stepped back in great hurry and consternation.

"Look at that young gentleman coming down the garden;
and here I be in my dirty gown, and my apron full o' cab-

And she dropped the vegetables all over the path, as the
"gentleman," came toward us.

I smiled for, in spite of his transformation, I, at least,
had no difficulty in recognizing John Halifax.

He had on new clothes let me give the credit due to that
wonderful civilizer, the tailor clothes neat, decent, and
plain, such as any 'prentice lad might wear. They fitted well
his figure, which had increased both in height, compactness,
and grace. Round his neck was a coarse but white shirt frill:
and over it fell, carefully arranged, the bright curls of his
bonny hair. Easily might Jael or any one else have "mis-
taken" him, as she cuttingly said, for a young gentleman.



She looked very indignant though., when she found out
the aforesaid "mistake."

"What may be thy business here?" she said, roughly.

"Abel Fletcher sent me on a message."

"Out with it, then don't be stopping with Phineas here.
Thee bean't company for him, and his father don't choose it."

"Jael!" I cried, indignantly. John never spoke, but his
cheek burned furiously. I took his hand, and told him how
ulad I was to see him but, for a minute, I doubt if he heard

"Abel Fletcher sent me here," he repeated, in a well-con-
trolled voice, "that I might go out with Phineas; if he objects
to my company, it's easy to say so."

And he turned to me. I think he must have been satisfied

Jael retired discomfited, and in her wrath again dropped
half of her cabbages. John picked them up and restored
them; but got for thanks only a parting thrust.

"Thee art mighty civil in thy new clothes. Be off, and be
back again sharp; and I say, don't thee be leaving the cart o'
skins again under the parlor windows."

"I don't drive the cart now," was all he replied.

"Not drive the cart?" I asked, eagerly, when Jael had dis-
appeared, for I was afraid some ill chance had happened.

"Only, that this winter I've managed to teach myself to read
and add up, out of your books, you know; and your father
found it out, and he says I shall go round collecting money
instead of skins, and it's much better wages, and I like it
better, that's all."

But, little as he said, his whole face beamed with pride
and pleasure. It was, in truth, a great step forward.

"He must trust you very much, John," said I, at last,
knowing how exceedingly particular my father was in his col-

"That's it; that's what pleases me so. He is very good to
me, Phineas, and he gave me a special holiday, that I might
go out with you. Isn't that grand?"

"Grand, indeed. What fun we'll have! I almost think I
could take a walk myself."

For the lad's company invariably gave me new life, and
strength, and hope. The very sight of him was as good as
the coming oi spring.


"Where shall we go?" said he, when we were fairly off, and
he was guiding my carriage down Norton Bury streets.

"I think to the Mythe." The Mythe was a little hill
on the outskirts of the town, breezy and fresh, where 'Squire
Brithwood had built himself a fine house, ten years ago.

"Ay, that will do; and as we go, you will see the floods out
a wonderful sight, isn't it? The river is rising still, I
hear; at the tan-yard they are busy making a dam against it.
How high are the floods here, generally, Phineas?"

"I'm sure I can't remember. But don't look so serious.
Let us enjoy ourselves."

And I did enjoy, intensely, that pleasant stroll. The mere
sunshine was delicious; delicious, too, to pause on the bridge
at the other end of the town, and feel the breeze brought in
by the rising waters, and hear the loud sound of them as they
poured in a cataract over the flood-gates hard by.

"Your lazy, muddy Avon looks splendid now. What
masses of white foam it makes, and what wreaths of spray;
and see! ever so much of the Ham is under water. How it
sparkles in the sun."

"John, you like looking at anything pretty."

"Ah! don't I!" cried he, with his whole heart. My heart
leaped too, to see him so happy.

"You can't think how fine this is from my window; I have
watched it for a week. Every morning the water seems to
have made itself a fresh channel. Look at that one, by the
willow-tree how savagely it pours!"

"Oh, we at Norton Bury are used to floods."

"Are they ever very serious?"

"Have been but not in my time. Now, John, tell me
what you have been doing all winter."

It was a brief and simple chronicle of hard work all day
over, and from the Monday to the Saturday too hard work
to do anything of nights, save to drop into the sound, dream-
less sleep of youth and labor.

"But how did vou teach yourself to read and add up,

"Generally, at odd minutes going along the road. It's
astonishing what a lot of odd minutes one can catch during
the day, if one really sets about it. And then I had Sunday
afternoons besides I did not think it wrong "


"No," said I, decisively. "What books have you got

"All you sent Pilgrim's Progress, Robinson Crusoe and
the Arabian Nights. That's fine, isn't it?" and his eyes

"Any more?"

"Also the one you gave me Christmas. I have read it a
good deal."

I liked the tone of quiet reverence in which he spoke; I
liked to hear him own, nor be ashamed to awn that he read
"a good deal" in that rare book for a boy to read the Bible.

But on this subject I did not ask him any more questions;
indeed, it seemed to me, and seems still, that no more were

"And you can read quite easily now, John?"

"Pretty well, considering." Then, turning suddenly to me:
"You read a great deal, don't you? I overheard your father
say you were very clever. How much do you know?"

"Oh nonsense!" But he pressed me and I told him. The
list was short enough; I almost wished it were shorter, when
I saw John's face.

"For me I can only just read, and I shall be fifteen

The accent of shame, despondency, even despair, went to
my very heart.

"Don't mind," I said, laying my feeble, useless hand upon
that which guided me on, so steady and so strong; "how could
you have had time, working as hard as you do ?"

"But I ought to learn; I must learn."

"You shall. It's little I can teach; but, if you like, I'll
teach you all I know."

"0, Phineas!"

One flash of those bright, moist eyes, and he walked hastily
across the road. Thence he came back in a minute or two,
armed with the tallest, straightest of brier-rose shoots.

"You like a rose-switch, don't you? I do. Nay, stop till
I've cut off the thorns." And he walked on beside me, work-
ing at it with his knife in silence.

I was silent, too, but I stole a glance at his mouth, as seen
in profile. I could almost always guess at his thoughts by
that mouth, so flexible, sensitive, and at time$ so infinitely


sweet. It wore that expression now. I was satisfied, for I
knew the lad was happy.

We reached the Mythe. "David," I said (I had got into a
habit of calling him "David;" and now he had read a certain
history in that Book, I supposed he had guessed why, for he
Hked the name), "I don't think I can go any farther up the

"Oh! but you shall! I'll push behind; and when we come
to the stile, I'll carry you. It's lovely on the top of the My the
look at the sunset. You cannot have seen a sunset for ever
so long."

No that was true. I let John do as he would with me
he who brought into my pale life the only brightness it had
ever known.

Ere long we stood on the top of the steep mound. I know
not if it be a natural hill, or one of those old Roman or Brit-
ish remains, plentiful enough hereabouts, but it was always
called the Mythe. Close below it", at the foot of a precipitous
slope, ran the Severn, there broad and deep enough, and grad-
uallygrowingbroader and deeper as it flowed on, through a wide
plain of level country, toward the line of hills that bounded
the horizon. Severn looked beautiful here; neither grand nor
striking, but certainly beautiful; a calm, gracious, generous
river, bearing strength in its tide and plenty in its bosom,
rolling on through the land slowly and surely, like a good
man's life, and fertilizing wherever it flows.

"Do you like Severn still, John?"

"I love it."

I wondered if his thoughts had been anything like mine.

"What is that?" he cried, suddenly, pointing to a new
sight, which even I had not often seen on our river. It was a
mass of water, three or four feet high, which came surging
along the mid-stream, upright as a wall.

"It is the eger; I've often seen it on Severn, where the
swift seaward current meets the spring-tide. Look what a
crest of foam it has, like a wild-boar's mane. We often call
it the river-boar."

"But it's only a big wave."

"Big enough to swamp a boat, though."

And while I spoke I saw, to my horror, that there actually
was a boat, with two men in it, trying to get out of the way
of the eger.


"They never can I they'll assuredly be drowned! Oh,

But he had already slipped from my side and swung him-
self by furze-bushes and grass down the steep slope to the wa-
ter's edge.

It was a breathless moment. The eger traveled slowly in
its passage, changing the smooth, sparkling river to a whirl
of conflicting currents, in which no boat could live least of
all, that light pleasure-boat, with its toppling sail. In it was
a youth I knew by sight, Mr. Brithwood, of the Mythe House,
and another gentleman.

They both pulled hard they got out of the mid-stream,
but not close enough to land, and already there was but two
oars' length between them and the "boar."

"Swim for it!" I heard one cry to the other, but swimming
would not have saved them.

"Hold there!" shouted John at the top of his voice, "throw
that rope out, and I will pull you in!"

It was a hard tug; I shuddered to see him wade, knee-
deep, in the stream but he succeeded. Both gentlemen
leaped on shore. The younger tried desperately to save his
boat, but it was too late. Already the "waterboar" had
clutched it the rope broke like a gossamer-thread the trim,
white sail was dragged down rose up once, broken and torn,
like a butterfly caught in a mill-stream then disappeared.

"So it's all over with her, j)oor thing!"

"Who cares? We might have lost our lives," sharply said
the other, an older and sickly-looking gentleman, dressed in
mourning, to whom life did not seem a particularly pleasant
thing, though he appeared to value it so highly.

They both scrambled up the Mythe without noticing John
Halifax; then the elder turned.

"But who pulled us ashore? Was it you, my young

John Halifax, emptying his soaked boots, answered, "I
suppose so."

"Indeed, we owe you much."

"Not more than a crown will pay," said young Brithwood,
gruffly; "I know him, Cousin March. He works in Fletcher
the Quaker's tan -yard!"

"Nonsense!" cried Mr. March, who had stood looking at
the boy with a kindly, even half -sad air. "Impossible,


Young man, will you tell me to whom I am so much obliged?"

fC M.y name is John Halifax."

"Yes; but what are you?"

"What he said. Mr. Brithwood knows me well enough.
I work in the tan-yard."

"Oh!" Mr. March turned away with a resumption of dig-
nity, though evidently both surprised and disappointed.
Young Brithwood laughed.

"I told you so, cousin. Hey, lad!" eying John over,
"you've been out at grass, and changed your coat for the
better; but you're certainly the same lad that my curricle
nearly ran over one day; you were driving a cart of skins
pah! I remember."

"So do I," said John, fiercely; but when the youth's in-
solent laughter broke out again, he controlled himself. The
laughter ceased.

"Well, you've done me a good turn for an ill one, young
what's your name, so here's a guinea for you." He threw
it toward him; it fell on the ground, and lay there.

"Nay, nay, Richard," expostulated the sickly gentleman,
who, after all, was a gentleman. He stood, apparently strug-
gling with conflicting intentions, and not very easy in his
mind. "My good fellow," he said, at last, in a constrained
voice, "I won't forget your bravery. If I could do anything .

for you and, meanwhile, if a trifle like this " and he

slipped something into John's hand.

John returned it with a bow, merely saying, "That he
would rather not take any money."

The gentleman looked very much astonished. There was
a little more of persistence on one side and resistence on the
other; and then Mr. March put the guinea irresolutely back
into his pocket, looking the while lingeringly at the boy
at his tall figure, and flushed, proud face.

"How old are you?"

"Fifteen, nearly."

"Ah!" it was almost a sigh. He turned away, and turned
back again. My name is March Henry March; if you
should ever "

"Thank you, sir. Good-day."

"Good-day." I fancied he was half-inclined to shake
hands bui John did not, or would not, see it. Mr. March
walked on, following young Brithwood; but at the stile he


turned round once more and glanced at John. Then they

"I'm glad they are gone; now we can be comfortable." He
flung himself down, wrung out his wet stockings, laughed at
me for being so afraid he would take cold, and so angry at
young Brithwood's insults. I sat wrapped in my cloak, and
watched him making idle circles in the sandy path with the
rose-switch he had cut.

A thought struck me. "John, hand me the stick, and I'll
give you your first writing lesson."

So there, on the smooth gravel, and with the rose-stem for a
pen, I taught him how to form the letters of the alphabet and
join them together. He learned them very quickly so
quickly that in a little while the simple copybook that Mother
Earth obliged us with was covered in all directions with
"J, 0, H, N John."

"Bravo!" he cried, as we turned homeward, he flourishing
his gigantic pen, which had done such good service, "bravo, I
have gained something to-day."

Crossing the bridge over the Avon, we stood once more to
look at the waters that were "out." They had risen con-
siderably, even in that short time, and were now pouring in
several new channels, one of which was alongside of the high-
road; we stopped a good while, watching it. The current was
harmless enough, merely flooding a part of the Ham; but it
awed us to see the fierce power of waters let loose. An old
willow-tree about whose roots I had often watched the king-
cups growing, was now in the center of a stream as broad as
the Avon by our tan-yard, and thrice as rapid. The torrent
rushed round it impatient of the divisions its great roots
caused eager to undermine and tear it up. Inevitably, if
the flood did not abate, within a few hours more there would
be nothing left of the fine old tree.

"I don't quite like this," said John, meditatively, as his
quick eye- swept down the course of the river, with the houses
and wharves which abutted it, all along one bank. "Did you
see the waters thus high before?"

"Yes, I believe I have; nobody minds it at Norton Bury; it
is only the sudden thaw, my father says, and he ought to
know, for he has had plenty of experience, the tan-yard being
so close to the river."

"I was thinking of that; but come, it is getting cold." He


took me safe home, and we parted cordially nay affection-
ately at my own door.

"When will you come again, David?"

"When your father sends me."

And I felt that he felt that our intercourse was always to
be limited to this. Nothing clandestine, nothing obtrusive,
was possible, even for friendship's sake, to John Halifax.

My father came in late that evening; he looked tired and
uneasy, and instead of going to bed, though it was after nine
o'clock, sat down to his pipe in the chimney-corner.

"Is the river rising still, father? Will it do any harm to
the tan-yard?"

"What dost thee know about the tan-yard?"

"Only, John Halifax was saying "

"John Halifax had better hold his tongue."

I held mine.

My father puffed away in silence till I came to bid him
good-night. I think the sound of my crutches on the floor
stirred him out of a long meditation, in which his ill-humor
had ebbed away.

"Where didst thee go out to-day, Phineas? thee and the
lad I sent."

"To the Mythe;" and I told him the incident that had hap-
pened there. He listened without reply.

"Wasn't it a brave thing to do, father?"

"Um!" and a few meditative puffs. "Phineas, the lad
thee hast such a hankering after is a good lad a very decent
lad if thee doesn't make too much of him. Remember, he
is but my servant; thee'rt my son my only son."

Alas! my poor father, it was hard enough for him to have
such an "only son" as I.

In the middle of the night or else to me, lying awake, it
seemed so there was a knocking at our hall-door. I slcpi.
on the ground-flat, in a little room opposite the parlor. Ere
I could well collect my thoughts, I saw my father pass, fully
dressed, with a light in his hand. And, man of peace though
lie was, I was very sure I saw in the other something which
always lay near his strong-box, at his bed's head at night.
Because, ten years ago, a large sum had been stolen from him,
and the burglar had gone free of punishment. The law re-
fused to receive Abel Fletcher's testimony he was "only a


The knocking grew louder, as if the person had no time to
hesitate at making a noise.

"Who's there?" called out my father; and at the answer he
opened the front-door, first shutting mine.

A minute afterward, I heard some one in my room.

"Phineas, are you here? Don't be frightened."

I was not as soon as his voice reached me, John's own
familiar voice. "It's something about the tan-yard?"

"Yes; the waters are rising, and I have come to fetch your
father; he may save a good deal yet I'm ready, sir' in an-
swer to a loud call. "Now Phineas, you lie down again i\ie
night's bitter cold. Don't stir you'll promise? I'll see after
your father."

They went out of the house together, and did not return
the whole night.

That night ? February 5, 1795, was one long remembered at
Norton Bury. Bridges were destroyed, boats carried away,
houses inundated, or sapped at their foundations. The loss
of life was small, but that of property was very great. Six
hours did the work of ruin, and then the flood began to turn.

It was a long waiting until they came home my father and
John. At daybreak, I saw them standing on the doorstep.
A blessed sight!

"0 father! my dear father!" and I drew him in, holding
fast his hands faster and closer than I had done since I
was a child. He did not repel me.

"Thee'rt up early, and it's a cold morning for thee, my son.
Go back to the fire."

His voice was gentle; his ruddy countenance pale; two
strange things in Abel Fletcher.

"Father, tell me what has befallen thee?"

"Nothing, my son, save that the Giver of all worldly goods
has seen fit to take back a portion of mine. I, like many
another in this town, am poorer by some thousands than when
I went to bed last night."

He sat down. I knew he loved his money, for it had been
hardly earned. I had not thought he would have borne its
loss so quietly.

"Father, never mind; it might have been worse."

"Of a surety. I should have lost everything I had in the


world save for Where is the lad? What art thee standing
outside for? Come in, John, and shut the door."

John obeyed, though without advancing. He was cold and
wet. I wanted him to sit down by the fireside.

"Ay! do, lad," said my father, kindly.

John came.

1 stood between the two afraid to ask what they had un-
dergone; but sure, from the old man's grave face and the lad's
bright one flushed all over with that excitement of danger
so delicious to the young that the peril had not been small.

"Jael," cried my father, rousing himself, "give us some
breakfast, the lad and me we have had a hard night's work

Jael brought the mug of ale and the bread and cheese; but
either did not or could not notice that the meal had been
ordered for more than one.

"Another plate," said my father, sharply.

"The lad can go into the kitchen, Abel Fletcher; his
breakfast is waiting there."

My father winced even her master was sometimes rather
afraid of Jael. But conscience or his will conquered.

"Woman, do as I desire. Bring another plate and another
mug of ale."

And so, to Jael's great wrath, and to my great joy, John
Halifax was bidden, and sat down to the same board as his
master. The fact made an ineffaceable impression on our

After breakfast, as we sat by the fire, in the pale haze of that
February morning, my father, contrary to his wont, explained
to me all his losses; and how, but for the timely warning he
had received, the flood might have nearly ruined him.

"So it was well John came," I said, half afraid to say more.

"Ay, and the lad has been useful, too; it is an old head on
young shoulders."

John looked very proud of this praise, though it was
grimly given. But directly after it, some ill, or suspicious
thought seemed to come into Abel Fletcher's mind.

"Lad," suddenly turning round on John Halifax, "thee
told me thee saw the river rising, by the light of the moon.
What was thee doing then, out o' thy honest bed and thy
quiet sleep, at eleven o'clock at night?"

John colored violently; the quick young blood was always


ready enough to rise in his face. It spoke ill for him with
my father.

"Answer. I will not be hard upon thee to-night, at

"As you like, Abel Fletcher," answered the boy, sturdily.
"I was doing no harm. I was in the tan-yard."

"Thy business there?"

"None at all. I was with the men they were watching
and had a candle; and I wanted to sit up and had no light."

"What didst thee want to sit up for?" pursued my father
keen and sharp as a ferret at a field-rat's hole, or a barrister
hunting a witness in those courts of law that were never used
by, though often used against, us Quakers.

John hesitated, and again his painful, falsely-accusing

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