Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

John Halifax, gentleman : a novel online

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74 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

Abel Fletcher hesitated, looked at the poor lad before him
(oh, David! how unlike to thee), then said, "No, I do not
wish that. At least, not at present."

I cried out in the joy and relief of my heart. John came
over to me, and we clasped hands.

"John, you will not go?"

"No, I will stay to redeem my character with your father.
Be content, Phineas, I won't part with you."

"Young man, thou must," said my father, turning round.

"But."

"I have said it, Phineas. I accuse him of no dishonesty, no
crime but of weakly yielding, and selfishly causing another to
yield, to the temptation of the world. Therefore, as my
clerk I retain him; as my son's companion never!"

We felt that "never" was irrevocable.

Yet I tried, blindly and despairingly, to wrestle with it; I
might as well have flung myself against a stone wall.

John stood perfectly silent.

"Don't, Phineas," he whispered at last; "never mind me.
Your father is right at least so far as he sees. Let me go
perhaps I may come back to you some time. If not

I moaned out bitter words I hardly knew what I was say-
ing. My father took no notice of them, only went to the door
and called Jael.

Then, before the woman came, I had strength enough to
bid John go.

"Good-by don't forget me, don't v

"I will not," he said; "and if I live, we shall be friends
again. Good-by, Phineas." He was gone.

After that day, though he kept his word, and remained in
the tan-yard, and though from time to time I heard of him,
always accidentally after that day, for two long years I
never once saw the face of John Halifax.



CHAPTEE VII.



It was the year 1800, long known in English households as
"the dear year." The present generation can have no con-
ception of what a terrible time that was war, famine and
tumult stalking hand in hand, and no one to stay them. For



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 76

between the upper and lower classes there was a great gulf
fixed; the rich ground the faces of the poor and the poor
hated, yet meanly succumbed to the rich. Neither had
Christianity enough boldly to cross the line of demarcation,
and prove, the humbler, that they were men the higher and
wiser, that they were gentlemen.

These troubles, which were everywhere abroad, reached us
even in our quiet town of Norton Bury. For myself, per-
sonally, they touched me not, or, at least, only kept fluttering
like evil birds outside the dear home-tabernacle, where I and
Patience sat, keeping our solemn counsel together for these
two years with me had been very hard.

Though I had to bear so much bodily suffering that I was
seldom told of any worldly cares, still I often fancied things
were going ill both within and without our doors. Jael com-
plained in an under-key of stinted housekeeping, or boasted
aloud of her own ingenuity in making ends meet; and my
father's brow grew continually heavier, graver, sterner; some-
times so stern that I dared not wage, what was, openly or se-
cretly, the quiet but incessant crusade of my existence the
bringing back of John Halifax.

He still remained my father's clerk nay, I sometimes
thought he was even advancing in duties and trusts, for I
heard of his being sent long journeys up and down England
to buy grain Abel Fletcher having added to his tanning
business the flour-mill hard by whose lazy whir was so fa-
miliar to John and me in our boyhood. But of these journeys
my father never spoke; indeed he rarely mentioned John at
all. However he might employ and even trust him in busi-
ness relations, I knew that in every other way he was inexor-
able.

And John Halifax was as inexorable as he. No underhand
or clandestine friendship would he admit no, not even for
my sake. I knew quite well that until he could walk in
openly, honorably, proudly, he never would re-enter my fa-
ther's door. Twice only he had written to me on my two
birthdays my father himself giving me in silence the un-
sealed letters. They told me what I already was sure of
that I held, and always should hold, my steadfast place in his
friendship. Nothing more.

One other fact I noticed; that a little lad, afterward dis-
covered to be Jem Watkins, to whom had fallen the hard



76 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

working lot of the lost Bill, had somehow crept into our
household as errand-boy, or gardener's boy, and being "cute,"
and a "scholard," was greatly patronized by Jael. I noticed,
too, that the said Jem, whenever he came in my way, in house
or garden, was the most capital "little foot-page" that ever
invalid had, knowing intuitively all my needs, and serving me
with an unfailing devotion which quite surprised and puzzled
me at the time. It did not afterward.

Summer was passing. People began to watch with anxious
looks the thin 'harvest-fields as Jael often told me, when
she came home from her afternoon walks. "It was piteous
to see them," she said; "only July, and the quartern loaf
nearly three shillings, and meal four shillings a peck."

And then she would glance at our flour-mill, where for
several days a week the water-wheel was as quiet as on Sun-
days; for my father kept his grain locked, up, waiting for
what he wisely judged might be a worse harvest than the
last. But Jael, though she said nothing, often looked at the
flour-mill, and shook her head. And after one market-day
when she came in rather "flustered," saying there had been a
mob outside the mill, until "that young man, Halifax," had
gone out and spoken to them she never once allowed me to
take my rare walk under the trees in the Abbey yard; nor, if
she could help it, would she even let me sit watching the lazy
Avon from the garden- wall.

One Sunday it was the first of August, for my father had
just come back from meeting, very much later than usual;
and Jael said he had gone, as was his usual custom on that his
wedding day to the Friends' burial-ground in St. Mary's Lane,
where, far away from her own kindred and people, my poor
young mother had been 'laid: on this one Sunday I began to
see that things were going wrong. Abel Fletcher sat at din-
ner, wearing the heavy, hard look which had grown upon his
face, not unmingled with the wrinkles planted by physical
pain. For, with all his temperance, he could not quite keep
down his hereditary enemy, gout; and this week it had
clutched him. pretty hard.

Dr. Jessop came in, and I stole away gladly enough,, and sat
for an hour in my old place in the garden, idly watching the
stretch of meadow, pasture, and harvest land. Noticing, too,
more as a pretty bit in the landscape, than as a fact of vital



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 77

importance, in how many places the half -ripe corn was already
cut, and piled in thinly-scattered sheaves over the fields.

After the doctor left my father sent for me and all his
household; in the which, creeping humbly after the woman-
kind, was now numbered the lad Jem. That Abel Fletcher
was not quite himself was proved by the fact that his un-
lighted pipe lay on the table, and his afternoon tankard of
ale sank from foam to flatness, untouched.

He first addressed Jael. "Woman, was it thee who cooked
the dinner to-day?"

She gave a dignified affirmative.

"Thee must give us no more such dinners. No cakes, no
pastry kickshaws, and only wheaten bread enough for abso-
lute necessity. Our neighbors shall not say that Abel
Fletcher has flour in his mill, and plenty in his house while
there is famine abroad in the land. So take heed."

"I do take heed," answered Jael, stanchly. " Thee canst
not say I waste a penny of thine. And for myself, do I not
ity the poor? On First-day a woman cried after me about
wasting good flour in starch to-day, behold!"

And with a spasmodic bridling up, she pointed to the bouf-
fante which used to stand up stiffly round her withered old
throat and stick out in front like a pouter-pigeon. Alas! its
glory and starch were alike departed; it now appeared nothing
but a heap of crumpled and yellowish muslin. Poor Jael!
I knew this was the most heroic personal sacrifice she could
have made, yet I could not help smiling; even my father did
the same.

"Dost thee mock me, Abel Fletcher?" cried she, angrily.
"Preach not to others while the sin lies on thy own head."

And I am sure poor Jael was innocent of any jocular inten-
tion, as, advancing sternly, she pointed to her master's pate,
where his long-worn powder was scarcely distinguishable from
the snows of age. He bore the assault gravely and unshrink-
ingly, merely saying, "Woman, peace!"

"Nor while," pursued Jael, driven apparently to the last
and most poisoned arrow in her quiver of wrath "while the
poor folk be starving in scores about Norton Bury, and the
rich folk there will not sell their wheat tinder famine price.
Take heed to thyself, Abel Fletcher."

My father winced, either from a twinge of gout or con-
science; and then Jael suddenly ceased the attack, sent the



78 JOHN HALIFAX. GENTLEMAN.

other servants out of the room, and tended her master as care-
fully as if she had not insulted him. In his fits of gout, my
father, unlike most men, became the quieter and easier to
manage, the more he suffered. He had a long fit of pain,
which left him considerably exhausted. When, being at last
relieved, he and I were sitting in the room alone, he said to
me:

"Phineas, the tan-yard has thriven ill of late, and I thought
the mill would make up for it. But if it will not, it will not.
Wouldst thee mind, my son, being left a little poorer when I
am gone?"

"Father!"

"Well, then, in a few days I will begin selling my wheat,
as that lad has advised and begged me to do these weeks past.
He is a sharp lad, and I am getting old. Perhaps he is
right."

"Who father?" I asked, rather hypocritically.

"Thee knowest well enough John Halifax."

I thought it best to say no more; but I never let go one
thread of hope which could draw me nearer to my fondest
desire.

On the Monday morning my father went to the tan-yard as
usual. I spent the day in my bed-room, which looked over
the garden, where I saw nothing but the waving of the trees
and the birds hopping over the smooth grass; heard nothing
but the soft chime, hour after hour, of the Abbey bells.
What was passing in the world, in the town, or even in the
next street, was to me faint as dreams.

At dinner-time I rose, went down-stairs, and waited for my
father; waited one, two, three hours. It was very strange.
He never by any chance overstated his time without sending
a message home. So, after some consideration as to whether
I dare encroach upon his formal habits so much, and after
much advice from Jael, who betrayed more anxiety than was
at all warranted by the cause she assigned, viz., the spoiled
dinner, I despatched Jem Watkins to the tan-yard to see after
his master.

He came back with ill news. The lane leading to the tan-
yard was blocked up with a wild mob. Even the stolid,
starved patience of our Norton Bury poor had come to an
end at last they had followed the example of many others,
There was a bread-riot in the town.



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 79

God only knows how terrible those "riots" were; when the
people rose in desperation, not from some delusion of crazy,
blood-thirsty "patriotism," but to get food for themselves,
their wives, and children. God only knows what madness
was in each individual heart of that concourse of poor
wretches, styled '"the mob," when every man took up arms,
certain that there were before him but two alternatives, starv-
ing or hanging.

The riot here was scarcely universal. Norton Bury was
not a large place, and had always abundance of small-pox and
fevers to keep the poor down numerically. Jem said it was
chiefly about our mill and our tan-yard that the disturbance
lay.

"And where is my father?"

Jem "didn't know," and looked very much as if he didn't
care.

"Jael, somebody must go at once, and find my father."

"I am going," said Jael, who had already put on her cloak
and hood. Of course, despite all her opposition, I went too.

The tan-yard was deserted; the mob had divided and gone,
one-half to our mill, the rest to another that was lower down
the river. I asked of a poor frightened bark-cutter if she
knew where my father was? She thought he was gone for the
"millingtary," but Mr. Halifax was at the mill now she
hoped no harm would come to Mr. Halifax.

Even in that moment of alarm I felt a sense of pleasure.
I had not been in the tan-yard for nearly three years. I did
not know John had come already to be called "Mr. Halifax."

There was nothing for me but to wait here till my father
returned. He could not surely be so insane as to go to the
mill and John was there. Terribly was my heart divided,
but my duty lay with my father.

Jael sat down in the shed, or marched restlessly between
the tan-pits. I went to the end of the yard, and looked down
toward the mill. What a half -hour it was!

At last, exhausted, I sat down on the bark-heap where John
and I had once sat as lads. He must now be more than
twenty; I wondered if he were altered.

"Oh, David, David!" I thought, as I listened eagerly for
any sounds abroad in the town; "what should I do if any
harm came to thee?"

This minute I heard a footstep crossing the yard. No, it



80 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

was not my father's it was firmer, quicker, younger. I
sprang from the bark-heap.

"Phinea-j!"

"John!"

What a grasp that was both hands! and how fondly and
proudly I looked up in his face the still boyish face. But
the figure was quite that of a man, now.

For a minute we forgot ourselves in our joy, and then he
let go my hands, saying hurriedly:

"Where is your father?"

"I wish I knew! Gone for the soldiers, they say."

"No, not that he would never do that. I must go and
look for him. Good-by."

"Nay, dear John!"

"Can't can't/' said he, firmly, "not while your father for-
bids. I must go." And he was gone.

Though my heart rebelled, my conscience defended him;
marvelling how it was that he who had never known his fa-
ther, should uphold so sternly the duty of filial obedience. I
think it ought to act as a solemn warning to those who exact
so much from the mere fact and name of parenthood, without
having in any way fulfilled its duties, that orphans from birth
often revere the ideal of that bond far more than those who
have known it in realit} r . Always excepting those children
to whose blessed lot it has fallen to have the ideal realized.

In a few minutes I saw him and my father enter the tan-
yard together. He was talking earnestly, and my father was
listening ay, listening and to John Halifax! But what-
ever the argument was it failed to move him. Greatly troub-
led, but stanch as a rock, my old father stood, resting his lame
foot on a heap of hides. I went to meet him.

"Phineas," said John, anxiously, "come and help me. "No,
Abel Fletcher," he added, rather proudly, in reply to a sharp
suspicious glance at us both, "your son and I only met ten
minutes ago, and have scarcely exchanged a word. But we
cannot waste time over that matter now. Phinea.-'. help me
to persuade your father to eave his property. He will not call
for the aid of the law because he is a Friend. Besides, for
the same reason it might be useless asking."

"Verily!" said my father, with a bitter and meaning smile.

"But he might get his own men to defend his property, and
need not do what he is bent on doing go to the mill himself."



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 81

"Surely," was all Abel Fletcher said, planting his oaken
stick firmly, as firmly as his will, and taking his way to the
river-side, in the direction of the mill.

I caught his arm "Father, don't go."

"My son," said he, turning on me one of his "iron looks,"
as I used to call them tokens of a nature that might have
run molten once, and had settled into a hard, molded mass,
of which nothing could afterward alter one form or erase one
line. "My son, no opposition. Any who try that with me will
fail. If those fellows had waited two days more I would have
sold all my wheat at a hundred shillings the quarter; now they
shall have nothing. It will teach them wisdom another time.
Get thee safe home, Phineas, my son; Jael, go thou likewise."

But neither went. John held me back as I was following
my father.

"He will do it, Phineas, and I suppose he must. Please
God, I'll take care no harm touches him but you go home."

That was not to be thought of. Fortunately the time was
too brief for argument, so the discussion soon ended. He fol-
lowed my father, and I followed him. For Jael, she disap-
peared.

There was a private path from the tan-yard to the mill,
along the river-side; by this we went in silence. When we
reached the spot, it was deserted; but further down the river
we heard a scuffling, and saw a number of men breaking down
our garden-wall.

"They think he is gone home," whispered John; "we'll
get in here the safer. Quick, Phineas."

We crossed the little bridge; John took a key out of his
pocket, and let us into the mill by a small door the only en-
trance, and that was barred and trebly barred within. It had
good need to be, in such times.

The mill was a queer, musty, silent place, especially the
machinery room, the sole flooring of which was the dark,
dangerous stream. We waited there a good while it was the
safest place, having no windows. Then we followed my
father to the top story, where he kept his bags of grain.
There were very many; enough, in these times, to make a
large fortune by a cursed fortune, wrung out of human
lives.

"Oh! how could my father "

6



82 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

"Hush!" whispered John, "it was for his son's sake, you
know."

But while we stood, and with a meaning, but rather grim
smile, Abel Fletcher counted his bags, worth almost as much
as bags of gold we heard a hammering at the door below.
The rioters were come.

Miserable "rioters?" A handful of weak, starved men,
pelting us with stones and words. One pistol-shot might
have routed them all; but my father's doctrine of non-resis-
tance forbade. Small as their force seemed, there was some-
thing at once formidable and pitiful in the low howl that
reached us at times.

"Bring out the bags! Us mun have bread!"

"Throw down thy corn, Abel Fletcher!"

"Abel Fletcher will throw it down to ye, ye knaves," said
my father, leaning out of the upper window; while a sound,
half curses, half cheers of triumph, answered him from be-
low.

"That is well!" exclaimed John, eagerly. "Thank you
thank you, Mr. Fletcher I knew you would yield at last."

"Didst thee, lad?" said my father, stopping short.

"Not because they forced you not to save your life but
because it was right."

"Help me with this bag," was all the reply.

It was a great weight, but not too great for John's young
arm, nervous and strong. He hauled it up.

"Now, open the window dash the panes through it mat-
ters not. On to the window, I tell thee."

"But if I do, the bag will fall into the river. You can-
not oh, no you cannot mean that!"

"Haul it up to the window, John Halifax."

But John remained immovable.

"I must do it myself, then;" and in the desperate effort he
made somehow the bag of grain fell, and fell on his lame foot.
Tortured into frenzy with the pain or else, I will still be-
lieve, my old father would not have done such a deed
his failing strength seemed doubled and trebled. In an in-
stant more he had got the bag half through the window, and
the next sound we heard was its heavy splash in the river
below.

Flung into the river, the precious wheat, and in the very
sight of the famished rioters! A howl of fury and despair
arose. Some plunged into the water, ere the eddies left by



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 88

the falling mass had ceased but it was too late. A sharp
substance in the river's bed had cut the bag, and we saw
thrown up to the surface, and whirled down the Avon, thous-
ands of dancing grains. A few of the men swam, or waded
after them, clutching a handful here or there but by the
mill pool the river ran swift, and the wheat had all soon disap-
peared, except what remained in the bag when it was drawn
on shore. Over even that they fought like demons.

We could not look at them John and I. He put his hand
over his eyes, muttering the Name that, young man as he
was, I have never yet heard irreverently and thoughtlessly on
his lips. It was a sight that would move any one to cry for
pity unto the Great Father of the human family.

Abel Fletcher sat on his remaining bags, in an exhaustion
that I think was not all physical pain. The paroxysm of
anger past, he, ever a just man, could not fail to be struck
with what he had done. He seemed subdued, even to some-
thing like remorse.

John looked at him, and looked away. For a minute he
listened in silence to the shouting outside, and then turned
to my father.

"Sir, you must come now. Not a second to lose they will
fire the mill next."

"Let them."

"Let them? and Phineas is here!"

My poor father! He rose at once.

We got him down-stairs he was very lame his ruddy
face all drawn and white with pain; but he did not speak one
word of opposition, or utter a groan of complaint.

The flour-mill was built on piles, in the center of the nar-
row river. It was only a few steps of bridge-work to either
bank. The little door was on the Norton Bury side, and was
hid from the opposite shore, where the rioters had now col-
lected. In a minute we had crept forth, and dashed out of
sight, in the narrow path which had been made from the mill
to the tan-yard.

"Will you take my arm? we must get on fast."

"Home?" said my father, as John led him passively along.

"No, sir, not home; they are there before you. Your life's
not safe an hour unless, indeed, you get soldiers to guard it."

Abel Fletcher gave a decided negative. The stem old
Quaker held to his principles still.



84 JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN.

"Then you must hide for a time both of you. Come to
my room. You will be secure there. Urge him, Phineas
for your own sake and his own."

But my poor broken-down father needed no urging.
Grasping more tightly both John's arm and mine, which, for
the first time in his life, he leaned upon, he submitted to be
led whither we chose. So, after this long interval of time, I
once more stood in Sally Watkins' small attic, where, ever
since I first brought him there, John Halifax had lived.

Sally knew not of our entrance; she was out watching the
rioters. No one saw us but Jem, and Jem's honor was safe
as a rock. I knew that in the smile with which he pulled off
his cap to "Mr. Halifax."

"Now," said John, hastily smoothing his bed, so that my
father might lie down, and wrapping his cloak round me,
"you must both be very still. You will likely have to spend
the night here. Jem shall bring you a light and supper.
You will make yourself easy, Abel Fletcher?"

"Ay." It was strange to see how decidedly, yet respect-
fully, John spoke, and how quietly my father answered.

"And Phineas" he put his arm round my shoulder in his
old way "you will take care of yourself. Are you any
stronger than you used to be?"

I clasped his hand, without reply. My heart melted to
hear that tender accent, so familiar once. All was happen-
ing for the best, if it only gave me back David.

"Now good-by I must be off."

"Whither?" said my father, rousing himself.

"To try and save the house and the tan-yard." I fear we
must give up the mill. No, don't hold me, Phineas. I run
no risk, everybody knows me. Besides, I am young. There!
see after your father. I shall come back in good time."

He grasped my hands warmly, then unloosed them, and I
heard his step descending the staircase. The room seemed to
darken when he went away.

The evening passed very slowly. My father, exhausted
with pain, lay on the bed and dozed. I sat watching the sky
over the housetops, which met in the old angles, with the
same blue peeps between. I half forgot all the day's events
it seemed but two weeks, instead of two years ago, that John
and I had sat in this attic-window, conning our Shakespeare
for the first time.



JOHN HALIFAX, GENTLEMAN. 85

Ere twilight, I examined John's room. It was a good deal
changed; the furniture was improved; a score of ingenious lit-
tle contrivances made the tiny attic into a cosy bed-chamber.
One corner was full of shelves laden with books, chiefly of a
scientific and practical nature. John's taste did not lead him
into the current literature of the day; Cowper, Akenside and
Peter Pindar, were alike indifferent to him. I found among
his books no poet but Shakespeare.



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