Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

John Halifax, gentleman : a novel online

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

told at all."

"Would you rather, then, that she "

John calmly took up the word I shrank from uttering.
"Yes, I would rather of the two that she went away first.
She would suffer less, and it would be such a short parting."

He spoke as one would speak of a new abode, an impend-
ing journey. To him the great change, the last terror of
humanity, was a thought solemn indeed, but long familiar
and altogether without fear. And, as we sat there, something
of his spirit passed into mine; I felt how narrow is the span


between life mortal and the life immortal how, in truthj
both are one with God.

"Ay/' he said, "that is exactly what I mean. To me there
is always something impious in the 'preparing for death' that
people talk about; as if we were not continually, whether in
the flesh or out of it, living in the Father's presence; as if,
come when He will, the Master should not find all of us
watching. Do you remember saying so to me one day?"

Ah, that day!

"Does it pain you, my talking thus? Because if so, we will

"No go on."

"That is right. I thought, this attack having been some-
what worse than my last, some one ought to be told. It has
been a comfort to me to tell you a great comfort, Phineas.
Always remember that."

I have remembered it.

"Now, one thing more, and my mind is at ease. You see,
though I may have years of life I hope I shall many busy
years I am never sure of a day, and I have to take many pre-
cautions. At home I shall be quite safe now." He smiled
again with evident relief. "And I rarely go anywhere with-
out having one of my boys with me. Still, for fear look

He showed me his pocket-book; on a card bearing his name
and address, was written in his own legible hand, "Home
and tell my wife carefully."

I returned the book. As I did so, there dropped out a little
note all yellow and faded his wife's only love-letter, signed,
"Yours sincerely, Ursula March."

John picked it up, looked at it, and put it back in its place.

"Poor darling! poor darling!" He sighed, and was silent
for a while. "I am very glad Guy has come home! very glad
that my little Maud is so happily settled Hark! how those
children are laughing!"

For the moment a natural shade of regret crossed the fa-
ther's face, the father to whom all the delights of home had
been so dear. But it soon vanished.

"How merry they are! how strangely things have come
about for us and ours! As Ursula was saying to-night, at
this moment we have not a single care."

I grasped at that, for Dr. K had declared that if John


had a quiet life a life without any anxieties he might,
humanly speaking, attain a good old age.

"Ay, your father did. Who knows? we may both be old
men yet, Phineas."

And as he rose he looked strong in body and mind, full of
health and cheer scarcely even on the verge of that old age
of which he spoke. And I was older than he.

"Now will you come with me to say good-night to the chil-

At first I thought I could not then, I could. After the
rest had merrily dispersed, John and I stood for a long time
in the empty parlor, his hand on my shoulder, as he used to
stand when we were boys, talking.

What we said I shall not write, but I remember it, every
word. And he I know he remembers it still.

Then we clasped hands.

"Good-night, Phineas."

"Good-night, John."


Friday, the first of August, 1834.

Many may remember that day; what a soft, gray, summer
morning it was, and how it broke out into brightness; how
everywhere bells were ringing, club fraternities walking witli
bands and banners, school-children having feasts and work-
people holidays; how, in town and country, there was spread
abroad a general sense of benevolent rejoicing because hon-
est old England had lifted up her generous voice, nay, had
paid down cheerfully her twenty millions, and in all her col-
onies the negro was free.

Many may still find, in some forgotten drawer, the medal
bought by thousands and tens of thousands, of all classes, in
copper, silver, or gold distributed in charity-schools, and
given by old people to their grandchildren. I saw Mrs.
Halifax tying one with a piece of blue ribbon round little
Louise's neck, in remembrance of this day. The pretty
medal, with the slave standing upright, stretching out to
heaven free hands, from which the fetters are dropping as I
overheard John say to his wife, he could fancy the freeman
Paul would stand in the Roman prison, when he answered to


those that loved him, "I have fought the good fight. I have
finished my course. I have kept the faith."

Now, with my quickened ears, I often heard John talking
quietly to his wife on this wise.

He remained hy her side the whole forenoon, wheeling her
about in her garden-chair; taking her to see her school-chil-
dren in their glory on our lawn, to hear the shouts rising up
from the people at the mill-yard below. For all Enderley,
following the master's example, took an interest, hearty even
among hearty hard-working England, in the emancipation of
the slaves.

We had our own young people around us, and the day was
a glorious day, they declared one and all.

John was happy too infinitely happy. x\fter dinner, he
carried his wife to her chair beside the weeping-ash, where
she could smell the late hay in the meadow, and hear the
ripple of the stream in the beech-wood faint, for it was al-
most dried up now, but pleasant still. Her husband sat on
the grass, making her laugh with his quaint sayings admir-
ing her in her new bonnet, and in the lovely white shawl
Guy's shawl which Mr. Guy himself had really no time for
admiring. He had gone off to the school tea-drinking, escort-
ing his sister and sister-in-law, and another lady, whose eyes
brightened with most "sisterly" joy whenever she glanced at
her old playfellow. Guy's "sister" she nevertheless was not,
nor was ever likely to be and I questioned whether, in his
secret heart, he had not begun already to feel particularly
thankful for that circumstance.

"Ah, mother;" cried the father, smiling, "you'll see how it
will end; all of our young birds will soon be flown there will
be nobody but you and me."

"Never mind, John;" and stooping over him, she gave him
one of her quiet, soft kisses, precious now she was an old wo-
man as they had been in the days of her bloom. "Never
mind. Once there were only our two selves now there are
only our two selves again. We shall be very happy. We only
need one another."

"Only one another, my darling."

This last word, and the manner of his saying it, I can hear
if I listen in silence, clear as if yet I heard its sound. This
last sight of them sitting under the ash-tree, the sun mak-
ing still whiter Ursula's white shawl, brightening the mar-


riage-ring on her bare hand, and throwing, instead of silver,
some of their boyish gold-color into the edges of John's curls
this picture I see with my shut eyes, vivid as yesterday.

I sat for some time in my room, then John came to fetch
me for our customary walk along his favorite "terrace" on
the Flat. He rarely liked to miss it; he said the day hardly
seemed complete or perfect unless one had seen the sun set.
Thus, almost every evening, we used to spend an hour or more
pacing up and down, or sitting in that little hollow under the
bow of the Flat, where, as from the topmost seat of a natural
amphitheater, one could see Rose Cottage and the old well-
head where the cattle drank; our own green garden gate, the
dark mass of the beech-wood, and far away beyond that, Nun-
nely Hill, where the sun went down.

There, having walked somewhat less time that usual, for
the evening was warm, and it had been a fatiguing day, John
and I sat down together. We talked a little, ramblingly;
chiefly of Longfield; how I was to have my old room again,
and how a new nursery was to be planned for the grandchil-

"We can't get out of the way of children, I see clearly," he
said, laughing. "We shall have Longfield just as full as ever
it was, all summer-time. But in winter we'll be quiet, and
sit by the chimney-corner, and plunge into my dusty desert
of books eh, Phineas? You shall help me to make notes
for those lectures I have intended giving at Norton Bury,
these ten years past. And we'll rub up our old Latin, and
dip into modern poetry great rubbish, I fear! Nobody like
our old friend Will of Avon, or even your namesake, worthy
Phineas Fletcher."

I reminded him of the "Shepherd's life and fate," which
he always liked so much, and used to say was his ideal of
peaceful happiness.

"Well, and I think so still. 'Keep true to the dreams of
thy youth/ saith the old German; I have not been false to
mine. I have had a happy life, thank God; ay, and what few
men can say, it has been the very sort of happiness I myself
would have chosen. I think most lives, if, while faithfully do-
ing our little best day by day, we were content to leave their
thread in wiser hands than ours, would thus weave themselves
out; until, looked back upon as a whole, they would seem as
bright a web as mine."


He sat, talking thns, resting his chin on his hands his
eyes, calm and sweet, looking out westward, where the sun was
about an hour from the horizon.

"Do you remember how we used to lie on the grass in your
father's garden, and how we never could catch the sunset ex-
cept in fragments, between the Abbey trees? I wonder if
they keep the yew-hedge clipped as round as ever."

I told him Edwin had said to-day that some strange tenants
were going to make an inn of the old house, and turn the
lawn into a bowling-green.

"What a shame! I wish I could prevent it. And yet, per-
haps not," he added, after a silence. "Ought we not rather
to recognize and submit to the universal law of change? How
each in his place is fulfilling his day, and passing away, just
as that sun is passing. Only we know not whither he passes;
while whither we go we know, and the Way we know the
same yesterday, to-day, and forever."

Almost before he had done speaking (God grant that in
the Kingdom I may hear that voice, not a tone altered I
would not wish it altered even there) a whole troop of our
young people came out of Mrs. Tod's cottage, and nodded to
us from below.

There was Mrs. Edwin, standing talking to the good old
soul, who admired her baby-boy very much, but wouldn't al-
low that there could be any children like Mrs. Halifax's chil-

There was Edwin, deep in converse with his brother Guy,
while beside them prettier and younger-looking than ever
Grace Oldtower was making a posy for little Louise.

Further down the slope, walking slowly, side by side, evi-
dently seeing nobody but one another, were another couple.

"I think, sometimes, John, that those two, William and
Maud, will be the happiest of all the children."

He smiled, looked after them for a minute, and then laid
himself quietly down on his back along the slope, his eyes still
directed toward the sunset. When, brightening as it de-
scended, the sun shone level upon the place where we were
sitting, I saw John pull his broad straw hat over his face, and
compose himself, with both hands clasped upon his breast,
in the attitude of sleep.

I knew he was very tired, so I spoke no more, but threw
my cloak over him, He looked up, thanked me silently, with


his old familiar smile. One day one day I shall know him
by that smile! I sat for half an hour or more watching the
sun, which sank steadily, slowly, round and red, without a
single cloud. Beautiful, as I had never before seen it; so
clear, that one could note the very instant its disk touched
the horizon's gray.

Maud and Mr. Eavenel were coming up the slope. I beck-
oned them to come softly, not to disturb the father. They
and I sat in silence, facing the west. The sun journeyed
down to his setting lower lower; there was a crescent, a line,
a dim sparkle of light; then he was gone. And still we sat
grave, but not sad looking into the brightness he had left
behind; believing, yea, knowing, we should see his glorious
face again to-morrow.

"How cold it has grown/' said Maud. "I think we ought
to wake my father."

She went up to him, laid her hand upon his that were
folded together over the cloak drew back startled alarmed.


I put the child aside. It was I who moved the hat from
John's face the face, for John himself was far, far away.
Gone from us unto Him whose faithful servant he was.
While he was sleeping thus, the Master had called him.

His two sons carried him down the slope. They laid him
in the upper room in Mrs. Tod's cottage. Then I went home
to tell his wife.

She was at last composed, as we thought, lying on her bed,
death-like almost, but calm. It was ten o'clock at night. I
left her with all her children watching round her.

I went out, up to Eose Cottage, to sit an hour by myself
alone, looking at him whom I should not see again for, as he
had said, "a little while."

"A little while a little while." I comforted myself with
those words. I fancied I could almost hear John saying
them, standing near me, with his hand on my shoulder
John himself, quite distinct from that which lay so still be-
fore me; beautiful as nothing but death can be, younger
much than he had looked this very morning younger by
twenty years.

Farewell, John! Farewell, my more than brother! It ia
but for a little while,


As I sat, thinking how peacefully the hands lay, clasped
together still, how sweet was the expression of the closed
mouth, and what a strange shadowy likeness the whole face
bore to Muriel's little face, which I had seen resting in the
same deep rest on the same pillow; some one touched me. It
was Mrs. Halifax.

How she came I do not know; nor how she had managed
to steal out from among her children; nor how she, who had
not walked for weeks, had found her way up hither, in the
dark, all alone; nor what strength, almost more than mortal,
helped her to stand there as she did stand, upright and calm
gazing gazing as I had done.

"It is very like him; don't you think so, Phineas?" The
voice low and soft, unbroken by any sob. "He once told me,
in case of this, he would rather I did not come and look at
him; but I can, you see."

I gave her my place, and she sat down by the bed. It
might have been ten minutes or more that she and I re-
mained thus, without exchanging a word.

"I think I hear some one at the door. Brother, will you
call in the children?"

Guy, altogether overcome, knelt down beside his mother,
and besought her to let him take her home.

"Presently presently, my son. You are very good to me;
but your father. Children, come in and look at your fa-

They all gathered round her weeping; but she spoke with-
out a single tear.

"I was a girl, younger than any of you, when first I met
your father. Next month we shall* have been married thirty-
three years. Thirty-three years."

Her eyes grew dreamy, as if fancy had led her back all that
space of time; her fingers moved to and fro, mechanically,
over her wedding-ring.

"Children, we were so happy, you cannot tell. He was
so good; he loved me so. Better than that, he made me
good; that was why I loved him. Oh, what his love was to
me from the first! strength, hope, peace; comfort and help in
trouble, sweetness in prosperity. How my life became happy
and complete how I grew worthier to myself because he had
taken me for his own! And what he was Children, no one
but me ever knew all his goodness, no one but himself ever


knew how dearly I loved your father. We were more precious
each to each than anything on earth except His service,
who gave us to one another."

Her voice dropped all but inaudible; but she roused herself,
and made it once more clear and firm, the mother's natural

"Guy, Edwin, all of you, must never forget your father.
You must do as he wishes, and live as he lived in all ways.
You must love him, and love one another. Children, you
will never do anything that need make you ashamed to meet
your father."

As they hung round her, she kissed them all her three
sons and her daughter one by one; then, her mind being
perhaps led astray by the room we were in, looked feebly
round for one more child remembered smiled

"How glad her father will be to have her again his own
little Muriel."

"Mother! mother, darling! come home," whispered Guy,
almost in a sob.

His mother stooped over him, gave him one kiss more
him her favorite of all her children and repeated the old

"Presently, presently! "Now go away all of you; I want to
be left for a little while alone with my husband."

As we went out I saw her turn toward the bed "John,
John!" the same tone; almost the same words with which
she had crept up to him years before, the day they were be-
trothed. Just a low, low murmur, like a tired child creep-
ing to fond protecting arms. "John, John!"

We closed the door. We all sat on the stairs outside; it
might have been for minutes, it might have been for hours.
Within or without no one spoke nothing stirred.

At last Guy softly went in.

She was still in the same place by the bedside, but half
lying on the bed, as I had seen her turn when I was shutting
the door. Her arm was round her husband's neck; her face,
pressed inward to the pillow, was nestled close to his hair.
They might have been asleep both of them.

One of her children called her, but she neither answered
nor stirred.

Guy lifted her up very tenderly; his mother, who had no
stay left but him his mother a widow

No, thank God! she was not a widow now.


A" ' 000 137 810 8

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