Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

John Halifax, gentleman : a novel online

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blushes tried him sore. "Sir, I'll tell you; it's no disgrace.
Though I am such a big fellow, I can't write; and your son
was good enough to try and teach me. I was afraid of for-
getting the letters; so I tried to make them all over again,
with a bit of chalk, on the bark-shed wall. It did nobody
any harm that I know of."

The boy's tone, even though it was rather quick and angry
won no reproof. At last, my father said, gently enough:

"Is that all, lad?"


Again Abel Fletcher fell into a brown study. We two lads
talked softly to each other afraid to interrupt. He smoked
through a whole pipe his great and almost his only luxury,
and then again called out:

"John Halifax."

"I'm here."

"It's time thee went away to thy work."

"I'm going this minute. Good-by, Phineas. Good-day,
sir; is there anything you want done?"

He stood before his master, cap in hand, with an honest
manliness pleasant to see. Any master might have been
proud of such a servant any father of such a son. My poor
father no, he did not once look from John Halifax to me.
He would not have owned for the world that smothered sigh,
or murmured because Heaven had kept back from him as,
Heaven knows why, it often does from us all the one desire
of the heart.


"John Halifax, thee hast been of great service to me this
night. What reward shall I give thee?"

And instinctively his hand dived down into his pocket.
John turned away.

"Thank you Fd rather not. It is quite enough reward
that I have been useful to my master, and that he acknowl-
edges it."

My father thought a minute, and then offered his hand.
"Thee'rt in the right, lad. I am very much obliged to thee,
and I will not forget it/'*

And John blushing brightly once -more went away,
looking as proud as an emperor, and as happy as a poor man
with a bag of gold.

"Is there nothing thou canst think of, Phineas, that would
pleasure the lad ?" said my father, after we had been talking
some time though not about John.

I had thought of something something I had long de-
sired, but which seemed then all but an impossibility. Even
now, it was with some doubt and hesitation that I made the
suggestion that he should spend every Sunday at our house.

"Nonsense! thou know'st naught of Norton Bury lads. He
would not care. He had rather lounge about all First-day at
street-corners with his acquaintances."

"John has none, father. He knows nobody cares for no-
body but me. Do let him come."

"We'll see about it."

My father never broke or retracted his word. So after
that, John Halifax came to us every Sunday; and for one
day of the week, at least, was received in his master's house-
hold as our equal, and my friend.


Summers and winters slipped by, lazily enough, as the
years seemed always to crawl round at Norton Bury. Ho\v
things went in the outside world, I little knew or cared. My
father lived his life, mechanical and steady as clock-work, and
we two, John Halifax and Phineas Fletcher, lived our lives
the one so active and busy, the other so useless and dull.


Neither of us counted the days,, nor looked backward or for-

One June morning I woke to the consciousness that I was
twenty years old, and that John Halifax was a man; the
difference between us being precisely as I have expressed it.

Our birthdays fell within a week of each other, and it was
in remembering his the one which advanced him to the dig-
nity of eighteen that I called to mind my own. I say, "ad-
vanced him to the dignity" but in truth that is an idle
speech; for any dignity which the maturity of eighteen may
be supposed to confer, he had already in possession. Man-
hood had come to him, both in character and demeanor, not
as it comes to most young lads, an eagerly-desired and pre-
sumptuously-asserted claim, but as a rightful inheritance, to
be received humbly, and worn simply and naturally. So
naturally that I never seemed to think of him as anything but
a boy, until this one June Sunday, when, as before stated, 1
myself became twenty years old.

I was talking over that last fact, in a rather dreamy mood,
as he and I sat in our long-familiar summer seat, the clematis
arbor by the garden-wall.

"It seems very strange, John, but so it is I am actually

"Well, and what of that?"

I sat looking down into the river, which flowed on, as my
years were flowing, monotonous, dark, and slow; as they must
flow on forever. John asked me what I was thinking of.

"Of myself; what a fine specimen of the noble genus homo
I am."

I spoke bitterly, but John knew how to meet that mood.
Very patient he was, with it and with every ill mood of mine.
And I was grateful, with that deep gratitude we feel to those
who bear with us, and forgive us, and laugh at us, and correct
us; all alike for love.

"Self-investigation is good on birthdays. Phineas, here
goes for a catalogue of your qualities, internal and external."

"John, don't be foolish."

"I will, if I like; though perhaps not quite so foolish as
some other people; so listen: 'Imprimis,' as saith Shakes-
peare Imprimis, height, full five feet four; a stature histori-
cally appertaining to great men, including Alexander of
Macedon and the First Consul."


"Oh! oh!" said I, reproachfully; for this was our chief bone
of contention I hating, he rather admiring, the great ogre
of the day, Napoleon Bonaparte.

"Imprimis, of a slight, delicate person, but not lame, as
once was "

"No, thank God!"

"Thin, rather "

"Very, a mere skeleton!"

"Face elongated and pale "

"Sallow, John, decidedly sallow."

"Be it so sallow. Big eyes, much given, to observation,
which means hard staring. Take them off me, Phineas, or
I'll not lie on the grass a minute longer. Thank you. To
return: Imprimis, and finis (I'm grand at Latin now, you
see) long hair, which, since the powder tax, has resumed its
original blackness, and is any young damsel would say, only
we count not a single one among our acquaintance exceed-
ingly bewitching."

I smiled, feeling myself color a little too, weak invalid as I
was. I was, nevertheless, twenty years old; and although
Jael and Sally were the only specimens of the other sex
which had risen on my horizon, yet once or twice, since I had
read Shakespeare, I had had a boy's lovely dreams of the
divinity of womanhood. They began, and ended mere
dreams. Soon dawned the bare, hard truth that my character
was too feeble and womanish to be likely to win any woman's
reverence or love. Or, even had this been possible, one
sickly as I was, stricken with hereditary disease, ought never
seek to perpetuate it by marriage. I therefore put from me,
at once and forever, every feeling of that kind; and during
my whole life I thank God! have never faltered in my reso-
lution. Friendship was given me for love duty for happi-
ness. So best, and I was satisfied.

This conviction, and the struggle succeeding it for,
though brief, it was but natural that it should have been a
hard struggle was the only secret that I had kept from
John. It had happened some months now, and was quite
over and gone, so that I could smile at his fun, and shake at
him my "bewitching" black locks, calling him a foolish boy.
And while I said it, the notion slowly dawning during the long
gaze he had complained of, forced itself upon me clear as
daylight, that he was not a "boy" any longer.


"Xow let me turn the tables. How old are you, John?"

"You know. Eighteen next week."

"And how tall?"

"Five feet eleven inches and a half." And rising, he ex-
hibited to its full advantage that very creditable altitude,
more tall perhaps than graceful at present; since, like most
youth?., he did not as yet quite know what to do with his legs
and arms. But he was

I cannot describe what he was. I could not then. I only
remember that when I looked at him, and began jocularly
"Imprimis," my heart came up into my throat and choked

It was almost with sadness that I said, "Ah! David, you are
quite a young man now."

He smiled, of course only with pleasure, looking forward
to the new world into which he was going forth; the world
into which, as I knew well, I could never follow him.

"I am glad I look rather old for my years," said he, when,
after a pause, he had again flung himself down on the grass.
"It tells well in the tan-yard. People would be slow to trust
a clerk who looked a mere boy. Still, your father trusts me."

"He does, indeed. You need never have any doubt of
that. It was only yesterday he said to me that now he was
no longer dissatisfied with your working at all sorts of studies,
in leisure hours, since it made you none the worse man of

"No, I hope not, or I should be much ashamed. It would
not be doing my duty to myself any more than to my master,
if I shirked his work for my own. I am glad he does not
complain now, Phineas."

"On the contrary; I think he intends to give you a rise this
miflsuminer. But oh!" I cried, recurring to a thought which
would often come when I looked at the lad, though he always
combated it so strongly, that I often owned my prejudices
were unjust: "How I wish you were something better than
a clerk in a tan-yard. I have a plan, John."

But what that plan was was fated to remain unrevealed.
Jael came to us in the garden, looking very serious. She
had been summoned, I knew, to a long conference with her
master the day before, the subject of which she would not
tell me, though she acknowledged it concerned myself. Ever
since she had followed me about very softly, for her, and


called me more than once, as when I was a child, "my dear."
She now came with half-dolorous, half-angry looks, to sum-
mon me to an interview with my father and Dr. Jessop.

I caught her parting mutterings as she marched behind me:
"Kill or cure, indeed" "No more fit than a baby" "Abel
Fletcher be clean mad" "Hope Thomas Jessop will speak
out plain and tell him so," and the like. From these, and
from her strange fit of tenderness, I guessed what was loom-
ing in the distance a future which my father constantly held
in terrorem over me, though successive illnesses had kept it in
abeyance. Alas! I knew that my poor father's hopes and
plans were vain! I went into his presence with a heavy heart.

There is no need to detail that interview. Enough, that
after it he set aside forever his last lingering hope of having
a son able to assist, and fmallly succeed him in his business,
and that I set aside every dream of growing up to be a help
and comfort to my father. It cost something on both our
parts; but after that day's discussion we tacitly covered over
the pain and referred to it no more.

I came back into the garden and told John Halifax all. He
listened, with his hand on my shoulder, and his grave, sweet
look dearer sympathy than any words! Though he added
thereto a few, in his own wise way, then he and I, also, drew
the curtain over an inevitable grief, and laid it in the peace-
ful chamber of silence.

When my father, Dr. Jessop, John Halifax and I met at
dinner, the subject had passed into seeming oblivion and was
never afterward revived.

But dinner being over, and the chatty little doctor gone,
while Abel Fletcher sat mutely smoking his pipe, and we two
at the window maintained that respectful and decorous silence
which in my younger days was rigidly exacted by elders and
superiors, I noticed my father's eyes frequently resting, with
keen observance, upon John Halifax. Could it be that there
had recurred to him a hint of mine, given faintly that morn-
ing, as faintly as if it had only just entered my mind, instead
of having for months continually dwelt there, until a fitting
moment should arrive Could it be that this hint, which he
had indignantly scouted at the time, was germinating in his
acute brain, and might bear fruit in future days? I hoped so
I earnestly prayed so. And to that end I took no notice,
but let it silently grow,


The June evening came and went. The service-bell rang
out and ceased. First,, deep shadows, and then a bright star
appeared over the Abbey tower. We watched it from the
garden, where, Sunday after Sunday, in fine weather we used
to lounge, and talk over all manner of things in heaven and
in earth, chiefly ending with the former, as on Sunday nights,
with stars over our heads, was natural and fit we should do.

"Phineas," said John, sitting on the grass with his hands
upon his knees, and the one star, I think it was Jupiter, shin-
ing down into his eyes, deepening them into that peculiar
look, worth any so-called "handsome eyes;" "Phineas, I won-
der how soon we shall have to rise up from this quiet, easy
life, and fight our battles in the world. Also, I wonder if we
are ready for it."

"I think you are."

"I don't know. I'm not clear how far I could resist doing
anything wrong, if it were pleasant. So many wrong things
are pleasant just now, instead of rising to-morrow, and go-
ing into the little dark counting-house, and scratching paper
from eight till six, shouldn't I like to break away! Dash out
into the world, take to all sorts of wild freaks, do all sorts of
grand things, and perhaps never come back to the tanning
any more."

"Never, any more."

"No, no! I spoke hastily. I did not mean I ever should
do such a wrong thing; but merely that I sometimes feel the
wish to do it. I can't help it; it's my Apollyon that I have to
fight with everybody keeps a private Apollyon, I fancy.
Now, Phineas, be content; my Apollyon is beaten down."

He rose up, but I thought that, in the red glow of the
twilight, he looked rather pale. He stretched his hand to
help me up from the grass. We went into the house together,

After supper, when the chimes struck half-past nine, John
prepared to leave as usual. He went to bid good-night to my
father, who was sitting meditatively over the fireless hearth-
place, sometimes poking the great bow-pot of fennel and
asparagus, as in winter he did the coals; an instance of
obliviousness which, in my sensible and acute father, argued
very deep cogitation on some subject or other.

"Good-night,'' said John, twice over, before his master heard


"Eh? Oh, good-night, good-night, lad. Stay! Halifax,
what hast thee got to do to-morrow?"

"Not much, unless the Russian hides should come in; I
cleared off the week's accounts last night, as usual."

"Ay, to-morrow I shall look over all thy books, and see how
thee stand'st, and what further work thou art n't for. There-
fore, take a day's holiday, if thee likes."

We thanked him warmly. "There, John,'' whispered I,
"you may have your wish, and run wild to-morrow."

He said, "the wish had gone out of him." So we planned
a sweet lazy day under the midsummer sky, in some fields
about a mile off, called the Vineyards.

The morning came and we took our way thither, under
the Abbey walls, and along a lane, shaded on one side by the
"willows in the water-courses." We came out in those quiet
hay-fields, which, tradition says, had once grown wine for the
rosy monks close by, and, history avers, were_ afterward wa-
tered by a darker stream than the blood of grapes. The
Vineyards had been a battle-field; and under the long wavy
grass, and the roots of the wild apple-trees, slept many a York-
ist and Lancastrian. Sometimes an unusually deep furrow
turned out a white bone but more often the relics were un-
disturbed, and the meadows used as pastures or hay-fields.

John and I lay down on some wind-rows, and sunned our-
selves in the warm and delicious air. How beautiful even -
thing was! so very still! with the Abbey tower always the
most picturesque point in our Norton Bury views showing
so near, that it almost seemed to rise up out of the fields and

"Well, David," and 1 turned to the long, lazy figure beside
me, which had considerablv flattened the hay; are you sat-


Thus we lounged out all the summer morning, recurring
to a few of the infinitude of subjects we used to compare notes
upon; though we were neither of us given to wordiness, and
never talked but when we had something to say. Often as
on this day we sat for hours in a pleasant dreaminess,
scarcely exchanging a word; nevertheless, I could generally
track John's thoughts, as they went wandering on, ay, as
clearly as one might track a stream through a wood; some-
times like to-day I failed.


In the afternoon, when we had finished our bread and
cheese eaten slowly and with graceful dignity, in order to
make dinner a more important and lengthy affair he said

"Phineas, don't you think this field is rather dull? Shall
we go somewhere else? not if it tires you, though."

I protested the contrary, my health being much above the
average this summer. But just as we were quitting the field
we met two rather odd-looking persons entering it, young-
old persons they seemed, who might own to any age or any oc-
cupation. Their dress, especially that of the younger,
amused us by its queer mixture of fashionableness and home-
liness, such as gray ribbed stockings and shining paste shoe-
buckles, rusty velvet small-clothes and a coat of blue cloth.
But the wearer carried off this anomalous costume with an
easy, condescending air, full of pleasantness, humor, and

"Sir," said he, approaching John Halifax, with" a bow that
I feel sure the "first gentleman of his day," as loyal folk then
entitled the Prince Regent, could not have surpassed "Sir,
will you favor me by informing us how far it is to Coltham?"

"Ten miles, and the stage will pass here in three hours."

"Thank you; at present I have little to do with the at
least with that stage. Young gentleman, excuse our continu-
ing our dessert, in fact, I may say our dinner. Are you con-
noisseurs in turnips?"

He offered us with a polite gesture one of the "swedes"
he was munching. I declined; but John, out of a deeper deli-
cacy than I could boast, accepted it.

"One might dine worse," he said; "I have done, some-

"It was a whim of mine, sir. But I am not the first re-
markable person who has eaten turnips in your Norton Bury
fields ay, and turned field-preacher afterward the cele-
brated John Philip-
Here the elder and less agreeable of the two wayfarers in-
terposed with a nudge, indicating silence.

"My companion is right, sir," he continued. "I will not
betray our illustrious friend by mentioning his surname; he
is a great man now, and might not wish it generally known
that he had dined off turnips. May I give you instead my
own humble name?"


He gave it me; but I, Phineas Fletcher, shall copy his
reticence, and not indulge the world therewith. It was a
name wholly out of my sphere, both then and now; but I
know it has since risen into note among the people of the
world. I believe, too, its owner has carried up to the topmost
height of celebrity always the gay, gentlemanly spirit, and
kindly heart, which he showed when sitting with us and eat-
ing swedes. Still, I will not mention his surname. I will
only call him "Mr. Charles/'

"Now, having satisfactorily 'munched, and munched, and
munched/ like the sailor's wife who had chestnuts in her lap
are you acquainted with my friend, Mr. William Shakes-
peare, young gentleman? I must try to fulfill the other
duties of existence. You said the Coltham mail passed here
in three hours? Very well. I have the honor of wishing
you a very good-day, Mr. "


"And yours?"


"Any connection with him who went partnership with the
worthy Beaumont?"

"My father has no partner, sir," said I. But John, whose
reading had latterly surpassed mine, and whom nothing ever
puzzled, explained that I came from the same old stock as
the brothers Phineas and Giles Fletcher. Upon which Mr.
Charles, who till now had somewhat overlooked me, took oil
his hat, and congratulated me on my illustrious descent.

"That man has evidently seen a good deal of the world,"
said John, smiling; "I wonder what the world is like!"

"Did you not see something of it as a child?"

"Only the worst and lowest side: not the one I want to see
now. What business do you think that Mr. Charles is in? A
clever man, anyhow; I should like to see him again."

"So should I."

Thus talking at intervals and speculating upon our now
acquaintance, we strolled along till we came to a spot called
by the country people "the Bloody Meadow," from being,
like several other places in the neighborhood, the scene of
one of those terrible slaughters chronicled in the wars of the
Roses. It was a sloping field, through the middle of which
ran a little stream down to the meadow's end, where, fringed
and hidden by a plantation of trees, the Avon flowed. Here,


too, in all directions, the hay-fields lay, either in green swathes,
or tedded, or in the luxuriously-scented quiles. The lane
was quite populous with wagons and hay-makers the men in
their corduroys and blue hose the women in their trim jack-
ets and bright calamanco petticoats. There were more wo-
men than men, by far, for the flower of the peasant youth of
England had been drafted off to fight against "Bonyparty."
Still hay-time was a glorious season, when half our little town
turned out, and made holiday in the sunshine.

"I think we will go to a quieter place, John. There seems
a crowd down in the meadow; and who is that man standing
on the hay-cart, on the other side of the stream?"

"Don't you remember the bright blue coat? 'Tis Mr.
Charles. How he is talking and gesticulating! What can
he be at?"

Without more ado, John leaped the low hedge, and ran
down the slope of the Bloody Meadow. I followed less

There, of a surety, stood our new friend, on one of the sim-
ple-fashioned hay-carts that we used about Norton Bury, a
low frame-work on wheels, with a.pole stuck at either of the
four corners. He was bareheaded, and his hair hung in grace-
ful curls, well powdered. I only hope he had honestly paid
the tax, which we were all then exclaiming against so fondly
does custom cling to deformity. Despite the powder, the
blue coat, and the shabby velvet breeches, Mr. Charles was a
very handsome and striking-looking man. No wonder the
poor hay-makers had collected from all parts to hear him

What was he haranguing upon? Could it be, that like
his friend, "John Philip," whoever that personage might be,
his vocation was that of a field-preacher? It seemed like it,
especially judging from the sanctified demeanor of the elder
and inferior person who accompanied him, and who sat in the
front of the cart, and folded his hands and groaned, after the
most approved fashion of a Methodistical "revival."

We listened, expecting every minute to be disgusted and
shocked; but no! I must say this for Mr. Charles, that in no
way did he trespass the bounds of reverence and decorum.
His harangue, though given as a sermon, was strictly and
simply a moral essay, such as might have emanated from any
professor's chair. In fact, as I afterward learned, he had


given for his text one which the simple rustics received in all
respect, as coming from a higher and holier volume than

"Mercy is twice blessed:

It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.
Tis mightiest in the mightiest."

And on that text did he dilate; gradually warming with his
subject, till his gestures which at first had seemed burdened
with a queer constraint, that now and then resulted in an
irrepressible twitch of the corners of his flexible mouth be-
came those of a man beguiled into real earnestness. We of
Norton Bury had never heard such eloquence.

"Who can he be, John? Isn't it wonderful?"

But John never heard me. His whole attention was riveted
on the speaker. Such oratory a compound of graceful ac-
tion, polished language, and brilliant imagination, came to
him as a positive revelation a revelation from the world of
intellect, the world which he longed after with all the ardor
of youth.

What that harangue would have seemed like, could we
have heard it with maturer ears, I know not; but at eighteen
and twenty it literally dazzled us. No wonder it affected the
rest of the audience. Feeble men, leaning on forks and
rakes, shook their old heads sagely, as if they understood it
all. And when the speaker alluded to the horrors of war

Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikJohn Halifax, gentleman : a novel → online text (page 5 of 41)