Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

John Halifax, gentleman : a novel online

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He evidently still practiced his old mechanical arts. There
was lying in the window a telescope the cylinder made of
pasteboard into which the lenses were ingeniously fitted! A
rough telescope-stand of common deal, stood on the ledge of
the roof, from which the field of view must have been satis-
factory enough to the young astronomer. Other fragments
of skillful handiwork, chiefly meant for machinery on a
Lilliputian scale, were strewn about the floor; on a chair, just
as he had left it that morning, stood a loom, very small in size,
but perfect in its neat workmanship, with a few threads
already woven, making some fabric not so very unlike cloth.

I had gone over all these things, without noticing that my
father was awake, and that his sharp eye had observed them

"The lad works hard," said he, half to "himself . "He has
useful hands, and a clear head." I smiled, but took no notice

Evening began to close in less peacefully than usual
over Norton Bury; for, whenever I ventured to open the win-
dow, we heard unusual and ominous sounds abroad in the
town. I trembled inwardly. But John was prudent as well
as brave; besides, "everybody knew him." Surely he was

Faithfully at supper-time Jem entered. But he could tell
us no news; he had kept watch all the time on the staircase,
by desire of "Mr. Halifax," so he informed me. My father
asked 110 questions, not even about his mill. From his look,
sometimes I fancied he yet beheld in fancy these starving
men fighting over the precious food, destroyed so willfully
nay, wickedly. Heaven forgive me, his son, if I too harshly
use the word; for I think, till the day of his death, that cruel
sight never wholly vanished from the eyes of my poor father.

Jem seemed talkatively inclined. He observed that "mas-


ter was looking sprack agin; and warn't this a tidy room,

I praised it; and supposed his mother was better off now.

"Ay, she be. Mr. Halifax pays her a good rent; and she
sees 'im made comfortable. Not that he wants much, being
out pretty much all day."

"What is he busy about of nights?"

"Laming," said Jem, with an awed look. "He's terrible
wise. But for all that, sometimes he'll teach Charley and me
a bit o' the Readamadeasy." (Reading-made-easy, 1 suppose
John's hopeful pupil meant). "He's very kind to we, and to
mother, too. Her says, that her do, Mr. Halifax "

"Send the fellow away, Phineas," muttered my father,
turning his face to the wall.

I obeyed. But first I asked in a whisper, if Jem had any
idea when "Mr. Halifax" would be back.

"He said, maybe not till morning. Them's bad folk about.
He was going to stop all night, either at your house or at the
tan-yard, for fear of a blaze."

The word made my father start; for in these times well we
knew what poor folk meant by "a blaze."

"My house my tan-yard I must get up this instant
help me. He ought to come back that lad Halifax. There's
a score of my men at hand Wilkes and Johnson, and Jacob
Baines I say, Phineas But thee know'st nothing."

He tried to dress, and to drag on his heavy shoes; but fell
back, sick with exhaustion and pain. I made him lie down
again on the bed.

"Phineas, lad," said he, brokenly, "thy old father is getting
as helpless as thee."

So we kept watch together, all the night through; some-
times dozing, sometimes waking up at some slight noise be-
low, or at the flicker of the long-wicked candle, which fear
converted into the glare of some incendiary fire doubtless
our own home. Now and then I heard my father mutter
something about "the lad being safe." I said nothing. I
only prayed.

Thus the night wore away.



After midnight I know not how long, for I lost count of
the hours by the Abbey chimes, and our light had gone out
after midnight I heard by my father's breathing that he was
asleep. I was thankful to see it for his sake, and also for
another reason.

I could not sleep all my faculties were preternaturally
alive; my weak body and timid mind became strong and
active, able to compass anything. For that one night, at
least, I felt myself a man.

My father was a very sound sleeper. I knew nothing
would disturb him till daylight; therefore my divided duty
was at an end. I left him, and crept down-stairs into Sally
Watkins' kitchen. It was silent, only the faithful warder,
Jem, dozed over the dull fire. I touched him on the shoul-
der at which he collared me and nearly knocked me down.

"Beg pardon, Mr. Phineas hope I didn't hurt'ee, sir?"
cried he, all but whimpering; for Jem, a big lad of fifteen,
was the most tender-hearted fellow imaginable. "I thought
it were some of them folk that Mr. Halifax ha' gone among/'

"Where is Mr. Halifax?"

" Doan't know, sir wish I did! wouldn't be long a finding
out, though on'y he says: 'Jem, you stop 'ere wi' they" 3
(pointing his thumb up the staircase). "So, Master Phineas,
I stop."

And Jem settled himself, with a doggedly obedient, but
most dissatisfied air, down by the fire-place. It was evident
nothing would move him thence; so he was as safe a guard
over my poor father's slumber as the mastiff in the tan-yard,
who was as brave as a lion, and as docile as a child. My last
lingering hesitation ended.

"Jem, lend me your coat and hat. I'm going out into
the town."

Jem was so astonished that he stood with open mouth
while I took the said garments from him, and unbolted the
door. At last it seemed to occur to him that he ought to
intercept me.

"But, sir, Mr. Halifax said "


"I'm going to look for Mr. Halifax."

And I escaped outside. Anything beyond his literal duty
did not strike the faithful Jem. He stood on the door-sill
and gazed after me with a hopeless expression.

"I s'pose you mun have your way, sir; but Mr. Halifax
said, 'Jem, you stop y'ere,' and y'ere I stop."

He went in, and I heard him bolting the door, with a sul-
len determination, as if he would have kept guard against
it waiting for John until doomsday.

I stole along the dark alley into the street. It was very
silent I need not have borrowed Jem's exterior in order to
creep through a throng of maddened rioters. There was
no sign of any such, except that under one of the three oil-
lamps that lit the night darkness of Norton Bury, lay a few
smoldering hanks of hemp, well resined. They, then, had
thought of that dreadful engine of destruction fire. Had
my terrors been true? Our house and perhaps John within

On I ran, speeded by a dull murmur, which I fancied I
heard; and still there was no one in the street no one ex-
cept the Abbey-watchman lounging in his box. I roused
him, and asked if all was safe? where were the rioters?

"What rioters?'"'

"At Abel Fletcher's mill; they may be at his house
now "

"Ay, I think they be."

"And will not one man in the town help him? no con-
stables no law?"

"Oh! he's a Quaker; the law don't help Quakers."

That was the truth the hard, grinding truth in those
days. Liberty, justice, were idle names to Non-conform-
ists of every kind; and all they knew of the glorious con-
stitution of English law was when its iron hand was turned
against them.

I had forgotten this: bitterly I remembered it now. So,
wasting no more words, I flew along the church-yard until
I saw, shining against the boles of the chestnut-trees, a red
light. It was one of the hempen torches. Now, at last, I
had got into the midst of that small body of men, u the

They were a mere handful not above two score appar-
ently the relics of the band which had attacked ihe mill,


joined with a few plow-lads from the country around. But
they were desperate; they had come up the Coltham road
so quietly that except this faint murmur, neither I nor any
one in the town could have told they were near. Wherever
they had been ransacking, as yet they had not attacked my
father's house; it stood up on the other side the road barred,
black, silent.

I heard a muttering "Th' old man bean't there."

"Nobody knows where he be." No, thank God!

"Be us all y'ere?" said the man with the torch, holding
it up so as to see round him. It was well then that I ap-
peared as Jem Watkins. But no one noticed me, except
one man, who skulked behind a tree, and of whom I was
rather afraid, as he was apparently intent on watching.

"Ready, lads? Now for the resin! Blaze 'un out!"

But in the eager scuffle the torch, the only one alight,
was knocked down and trodden out. A volley of oaths arose,
though whose fault it was no one seemed to know; but I
missed my man from behind the tree nor found him till after
the angry throng had rushed on to the nearest lamp. One
of them was left behind, standing close to our own railings.
He looked round to see if none were by, and then sprang
over the gate. Dark as it was, I thought I recognized him.


"Phineas?" He was beside me in a bound. "How could
you do "

"I could do anything to-night. But you are safe; no one
has harmed you? Oh, thank God, you are not hurt!"

And I clung to his arm my friend, whom I had missed
so long, so sorely.

He held me tight his heart felt as mine, only more

"Now, Phineas, we have a minute's time. I must have
you safe we must go into the house."

"Who is there?"

"Jael; she is as good as a host of constables; she has braved
the fellows once to-night, but they're back again, or will
be directlv."

"And the mill?"

"Safe, as yet; I have had three of the tan-yard men there
since yesterday morning, though your father did not know.
I have been going to and fro all night between there and


here, waiting till the rioters should come back from the Severn
Mills. Hist! here they are I say, Jael?"

He tapped at the window. In a few seconds Jael had un-
barred the door, let us in, and closed it again securely, mount-
ing guard behind it with something that looked very like
my father's pistols, though I would not discredit her among
our peaceful Society by positively stating the fact.

"Bravo!" said John, when we stood altogether in the barri-
caded house, and heard the threatening murmur of voices
and feet outside. "Bravo, Jael! The wife of Heber the
Kenite was no braver woman than you!"

She looked gratified, and followed John obediently from
room to room.

"I have done all as thee bade me thee art a sensible lad,
John Halifax. We are secure, I think."

Secure? bolts and bars secure against fire? For that was
threatening us now.

"They can't mean it surely they can't mean it," repeated
John, as the cry of "Burn 'un out!" rose louder and louder.

But they did mean it. From the attic window we
watched them light torch after torch, sometimes throwing
one at the house but it fell harmless against the stanch
oaken door, and blazed itself out on our stone steps. All
it did was to show more plainly than even daylight had shown,
the gaunt, ragged forms and pinched faces, furious with
famine. John, as well as I, recoiled at that miserable sight.

"I'll speak to them," he said. "Unbar the window, Jael;"
and before I could hinder, he was leaning right out, "Halloo,

At his loud and commanding voice a wave of upturned
faces surged forward, expectant.

"My men, do you know what you are about? To burn
down a gentleman's house is hanging."

There was a hush, and then a shout of derision.
"Not a Quaker's! nobody'll get hanged for burning out a

"That be true enough," muttered Jael between her teeth.
"We must e'en fight, as Mordecai's people fought, hand to
hand, until they slew their enemies."

"Fight!" repeated John, half to himself, as he stood at
the now closed window, against which more than one blazing


torch began to rattle. "Fight with these? What are you
doing, Jael?"

For she had taken down a large Book the last Book in
the house she would have taken under less critical circum-
stances, and with it was trying to stop up a broken pane.

"No, my good Jael, not this;" and he carefully replaced
the volume; that volume in which he might have read, as
day after day, and year after year, we Christians generally
do read, such plain words as these: "Love your enemies;"
"bless them that curse you;" "pray for them that despitefully
use you and persecute you."

A minute or two John stood with his hand on the Book,
thinking. Then he touched me on the shoulder.

"Phineas, I'm going to try a new plan at least, one so
old that it's almost new. Whether it succeeds or no, you'll
bear me witness to your father that I did it for the best, and
did it because I thought it right. Now for it."

To my horror, he threw up the window wide, and leaned

"My men, I want to speak to you."

He might as well have spoken to the roaring sea. The
only answer was a shower of missiles, which missed their
aim. The rioters were too far off our spiked iron railings,
eight feet high or more, being a barrier which none had yet
ventured to climb. But at length one random stone hit
John on the chest.

I pulled him in, but he declared he was not hurt. Ter-
rified, I implored him not to risk his life.

"Life is not always the first thing to be thought of," said
he, gently. "Don't be afraid I shall corne to no harm. But
I must do what 1 think right, if it is to be done."

While he spoke, I could hardly hear him for the bellow-
ings outside. More savage still grew the cry:

"Burn 'em out! burn 'em out! They be only Quakers!"

"There's not a minute to lose stop let me think Jaei,
is that a pistol?"

"Loaded," she said, handing it over to him with a kind
of stern delight. Certainly, Jael was not meant to be a

John ran down-stairs, and before I guessad bis purpose,
had unbolted the hall-door, and stood on the flight of steps
in full view of the mob.


There was no bringing him back, so of course I followed.
A pillar sheltered me I do not think he saw me, though I
stood close behind him.

So sudden had been his act, that even the rioters did not
seem to have noticed, or clearly understood it, till the next
lighted torch showed them the young man standing there
with his back to the door outside the door.

The sight fairly confounded them. Even I felt that for
the moment he was safe. They were awed nay, paralyzed,
by his daring.

But the storm raged too fiercely to be lulled, except for
one brief minute. A confusion of voices burst out afresh:

"Who be thee?" "It's one o' the Quakers." "No, he bean't."
"Burn 'un anyhow." "Touch 'un, if ye dare."

There was evidently a division arising. One big man, who
had made himself very prominent all along, seemed trying
to calm the tumult.

John stood his ground. Once a torch was flung at him;
he stooped and picked it up. I thought he was going to
hurl it back again, but he did not; he only threw it down
and stamped it out safely with his foot. This simple action
had a wonderful effect on the crowd.

The big fellow advanced to the gate, and called John by
his name.

"Is that you, Jacob Baines? I am sorry to see you here."

"Be ye, sir?"

"What do you want?"

"Naught wi' thee. We wants Abel Fletcher. Where is

"I shall certainly not tell you."

As John said this, again the noise arose, and again Jacob
Baines seemed to have power to quiet the rest.

John Halifax never stirred. Evidently he was pretty well
known. I caught many a stray sentence, such as, "Don't hurt
the lad." "He were kind to my lad, he were." "No, he be
a real gentleman." "No, he corned here as poor as us," and
the like. At length, one voice, sharp and shrill, was heard
above the rest.

"I zay, young man, didst ever know what it was to be
pretty nigh varnished?"

"Ay, many a time."


The answer, so brief, so unexpected, struck a great hush
into the throng. Then the same voice cried:

"Speak up, man! we won't hurt 'ee! You be one 'o we."

"No, I am not one of you. I'd be ashamed to come in the
night and burn my master's house down."

I expected an outbreak, but none came. They listened,
as it were, by compulsion, to the clear, manly voice that had
not in it one shade of fear.

"What do you do it for?" John continued. "All because
he would not sell you, or give you his wheat. Even so it
was his wheat, not yours. May not a man do what he likes
with his own?"

The argument seemed to strike home. There is always
a lurking sense of rude justice in a mob at least a British

"Don't you see how foolish you were? You tried threats,
too. Now you all know Mr. Fletcher; you are his men
some of you. He is not a man to be threatened."

This seemed to be taken rather angrily; but John went
on speaking, as if he did not observe the fact.

"Nor am I one to be threatened, neither. Look here the
first one of you who attempted to break into Mr. Fletcher's
house, I should most certainly have shot. But I'd rather
not shoot you, poor, starving fellows! I know what it is to
be hungry. I'm sorry for you sorry from the bottom of
my heart."

There was no mistaking that compassionate accent, nor
the murmur which followed it.

"But what must us do, Mr. Halifax?" cried Jacob Baines:
"us be starved, a'most. What's the good o' talking to we?"

John's countenance relaxed. I saw him lift his head and
shake his hair back, with that pleased gesture I remembered
so well of old. He went down to the locked gate.

"Suppose I gave you something to eat, would you listen
to. me afterward?"

There rose up a frenzied shout of assent. Poor wretches!
they were fighting for no principle, true or false, only for
bare life. They would have bartered their very souls for
a mouthful of bread.

"You must promise to be peaceable," said John, again,
very resolutely, as soon as he could obtain a hearing. "You
are Norton Bury folk, I know you, I could get every one oi


you hanged, even though Abel Fletcher is a Quaker. Mind,
you'll be peaceable?"

"Ay ay! Some'at to eat; give us some'at to eat."

John Halifax called out to Jael; bade her bring all the
food of every kind that there was in the house, and give it
to him out of the parlor window. She obeyed 1 marvel now
to think of . it but she implicitly obeyed. Only I
heard her fix the bar to the closed front-door, and go back
with a strange, sharp sob, to her station at the hall window.

"Now, my lads, come in!" and he unlocked the gate.

They came thronging up the steps, not more than two
score, I imagined in spite of the noise they had made. But
two score of such famished, desperate men, God grant I may
never again see!

John divided the food as well as he could among them;
they fell to it like wild beasts. Meat, cooked, or raw, loaves,
vegetables, meal; all came alike, and were clutched, gnawed,
and scrambled for, in the fierce selfishness of hunger. After-
ward there was a call for drink.

"Water, Jael; bring them water."

"Beer!" shouted some.

"Water," repeated John. "Nothing but water. I'll have
no drunkards rioting at my master's door."

And, either by chance or design, he let them hear the click
of his pistol. But it was hardly needed. They were all
cowed by a mightier weapon still the best weapon a man
can use his own firm, indomitable will.

At length all the food we had in the house was con-
sumed. John told them so; and they believed him. Little
enough, indeed, was sufficient for some of them; wasted with
long famine, they turned sick and faint, and dropped down
e'en with bread in their mouths, unable to swallow it. Others
gorged themselves to the full, and then lay along the steps,
supine as satisfied brutes. Only a few sat and ate like ra-
tional human beings; and there was but one, the little, shrill-
voiced man, who asked me if he might "tak' a bit o' bread to
the old wench at home?"

John, hearing, turned, and for the first time noticed me.

"Phineas, it was very wrong of you; but there is no danger

No, there was none not even for Abel Fletcher's son. I
stood safe by John's side, very happy, very proud.


"Well, my men," he said, looking round with a smile, "have
you had enough to eat?"

"Oh, ay!" they all cried.

And one man added "Thank the Lord!"

"That's right, Jacob Baines; and, another time, trust the
Lord. You wouldn't then have been abroad this summer
morning" and he pointed to the dawn just reddening in
the sky "this quiet, blessed summer morning, burning and
rioting, bringing yourselves to the gallows, and your children
to starvation."

"They be nigh that a-ready," said Jacob, sullenly. "Us
men ha' gotten a meal, thankee for it; but what'll become o'
the little 'uns at home? I say, Mr. Halifax," and he seemed
waxing desperate again, "we must get some food somehow."

John turned away, his countenance very sad. Another
of the men plucked at him from behind.

"Sir, when thee was a poor lad, I lent thee a rug to sleep
on; I doan't grudge'ee getting on; you was born for a gen-
tleman, sure-ly. But Master Fletcher be a hard man."

"And a just one," persisted John. "You that work for
him, did he ever stint you of a half -penny? If you had come
to him and said, 'Master, times are hard, we can't live upon
our wages/ he might I don't say that he would but he
might even have given you the food you tried to steal."

"D'ye think he'd give it to us now?" And Jacob Baines,
the big, gaunt, savage fellow, who had been the ringleader
the same, too, who had spoken of his "little 'uns" came
and looked steadily in John's face.

"I knew thee as a lad; thee'rt a young man now, as will
be a father some o' these days. Oh! Mr. Halifax, may'ee
ne'er want a meal o' good meat for the missus and the babbies
at home, if ee'll get a bit o' bread for our'n this day."

"My man, I'll try."

He called me aside, explained to me, and asked my ad-
vice and consent, as Abel Fletcher's son, to a plan that had
come into his mind. It was to write orders, which each man
presenting at our mill, should receive a certain amount of

"Do you think your father would agree?"

"I think he would."

"Yes," John added, pondering "I am sure he would.
And besides, if he does not give some he may lose all. But


he would not do it for fear of that. No, he is a just man
I am not afraid. Give me some paper, Jael.*'

He sat down as composedly as if he had been alone in the
counting-house, and wrote. I looked over his shoulder, ad-
miring his clear, firm handwriting; the precision, concentra-
tiveness,and quickness, with which he first seemed to arrange,
and then execute his ideas. He possessed to the full that
"business" faculty so frequently despised, but which, out of
very ordinary material, often makes a clever man; and with-
out which the cleverest man alive can never be altogether a
great man.

When about to sign the orders, John suddenly stopped.
"No; I had better not."

"Why so?"

"I have no right; your father might think it presumption."

"Presumption? after to-night!"

"Oh, that's nothing! Take the pen. It is your part to
sign them, Phineas."

I obeyed.

'Isn't this better than hanging?" said John to the men,
when he had distributed the little bits of paper precious
as pound-notes and made them all fully understand the
same. "Why, there isn't another gentleman in Norton Bury
who, if you had come to burn his house down, would not
have had the constables or the soldiers, have shot down one-
half of you like mad dogs, and sent the other half to the
county jail. Now, for all your misdoings, we let you go
quietly home, well fed, and with food for children, too. Why,
think you?"

"I don't know," said Jacob Baines, humbly.

"I'll tell you. Because Abel Fletcher is a Quaker, and
a Christian."

"Hurrah for Abel Fletcher! hurrah for the Quakers!"
shouted they, waking up the echoes down Norton Bury
streets; which, of a surety, had never echoed to that shout
before. And so the riot was over.

John Halifax closed the hall-door and came in unstead-
ily staggering. Jael placed a chair for him worthy soul!
she was wiping her old eyes. He sat down, shivering, speech-
less. I put my hand on his shoulder; he took it, and pressed
it hard.

"Oh! Phineas, lad, I'm glad it's safe over."


"Yes, thank God!"

"Ay, indeed; thank God!"

He covered his eyes for a minute or two, then rose up pale,
but quite himself again.

"Now let us go and fetch your father home."

We found him on John's bed, still asleep. But as we en-
tered he woke. The daylight shone on his face it looked ten
years older since yesterday he stared, bewildered and angry,

Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikJohn Halifax, gentleman : a novel → online text (page 8 of 41)