Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

John Halifax, gentleman : a novel online

. (page 9 of 41)
Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikJohn Halifax, gentleman : a novel → online text (page 9 of 41)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

at John Halifax.

"Eh, young man oh! I remember. Where is my son
where's my Phineas?

I fell on his neck as if I had been a child. And almost
as if it had been a child's feeble head, mechanically he
smoothed and patted mine.

"Thee art not hurt? Nor any one?"

"No," John answered; "nor is either the house or the
tan-yard injured."

He looked amazed. "How has that been?"

"Phineas will tell you. Or, stay better wait till you are
at home."

But my father insisted on hearing. I told the whole, with-
out any comments on John's behavior; he would not have
liked it; and, besides, the facts spoke for themselves. I told
the simple, plain story nothing more.

Abel Fletcher listened at first in silence. As I proceeded,
he felt about for his hat, put it on, and drew its broad brim
close down over his eyes. Not even when I told him of the
flour we had promised in his name, the giving of which
would, as we had calculated, cost him considerable loss, did he
utter a word or move a muscle.

John, at length, asked him if he were satisfied.

"Quite satisfied."

But having said this, he sat so long, his hands locked to-
gether on his knees, and his hat drawn down, hiding all the
face except the rigid mouth and chin sat so long, so mo-
tionless, that we became uneasy.

John spoke to him, gently almost as a son would have

"Are you very lame still? Could I help you to walk home?"

My father looked up and slowly held out his hand.

"Thee hast been a good lad and a kind lad to us; I
thank thee."



There was no answer none. But all the words in the
world could not match that happy silence.

By degrees we got my father home. It was just such an-
other summer morning as the one, two years back, when we
too had stood, exhausted and trembling, before that sternly-
bolted door. We both thought of that day; I knew not if
my father did also.

He entered, leaning heavily on John. He sat down in
the very seat, in the very room, where he had so harshly
judged us judged him.

Something, perhaps, of that bitterness rankled in the young
man's spirit now, for he stopped on the threshold.

"Come in," said my father, looking up.

"If I am welcome; not otherwise."

"Thee art welcome."

He came in I drew him in and sat down with us. But
his manner was irresolute, his fingers closed and unclosed
nervously. My father, too, sat leaning his head on his two
hands, not unmoved. I stole up to him and thanked him
softly for the welcome he had given.

"There is nothing to thank me for," said he, with some-
thing of his old hardness. "What I once did was only justice
or I then believed so. What I have done, and am about
to do, is still mere justice. John, how old art thee now ?"


"Then for one year from this time I will take thee as my
'prentice, though thee knowest already nearly as much of
the business as I do. At twenty-one thee will be able to
set up for thyself, or I may take thee into partnership we'll
see. But" and he looked at me, then sternly, nay, fiercely,
into John's steadfast eyes "remember, thee hast in some
measure taken that lad's place. May God deal with thee
as thou dealest with my son Phineas my only son!"

"Amen!" was the solemn answer.

And God who sees us both now ay, now! and, perhaps,
not so far apart as some may deem He knows whether or
no John Halifax kept that vow.



"Well done, Phineas, to walk round the garden without
once resting! Now I call that grand, after an individual has
been ill a month. However, you must cairn your superabund-
ant energies and be quiet."

I was not unwilling, for I still felt very weak. But sick-
ness did not now take that heavy, overpowering grip of me,
mind and body, that it once used to do. It never did when
John was by. He gave me strength, mentally tnd physically.
He was life and health to me, with his brave cheerfulness,
his way of turning all minor troubles into pleasantries, till
they seemed to break and vanish away, sparkling, like the
foam on the top of a wave. Yet, all the while, one knew
well that he could meet any great evil as gallantly as a good
ship meets a heavy sea breasting it, plunging through it,
or riding over it, as only a good ship can.

When I recovered just a month after the bread-riot, and
that month was a great triumph to John's kind care I felt
that if I always had him beside me I should never be ill any
more; I said as much in a laughing sort of way.

"Very well; I shall keep you to that bargain. Now, sit
down; listen to the newspaper, and improve your mind as
to what the world is doing. It ought to be doing something,
with the new century it began this year. Did it not seem
very odd at first to have to write '1800?' "

"John, what a capital hand you write now!"

"Do I? That's somebody's credit. Do you remember my
first lesson on the top of the Mythe?"

"I wonder what has become of those two gentlemen?"

"Oh! did you never hear? Young Mr. Brithwood is the
'squire now. He married, last month, Lady Somebody Some-
thing, a fine lady from abroad."

"And Mr. March what of him?"

"I haven't the least idea. Come now, shall I read the

He read well, and I liked to listen to him. It was, I re-
member, something about "the spacious new quadrangles


to be called Russell and Tavistock Squares, with elegantly
laid-out nursery-grounds adjoining."

"It must be a fine place, London."

"Ay; I should like to see it. Your father says, perhaps
he shall have to send me, this winter, on business won't
that be fine? If only you would go too."

I shook my head. I had the strongest disinclination to
stir from my quiet home, which now held within it, or about
it, all I wished for and all I loved. It seemed as if any
change must be to something worse.

"Nevertheless, you must have a change. Dr. Jessop insists
upon it. Here have I been beating up and down the country
for a week past 'Adventures in Search of a Country Resi-
dence' and, do you know, I think I've found one at last.
Shouldn't you like^to hear about it?"

I assented to please him.

"Such a nice, nice place, on the slope of Enderley Hill. A
cottage Rose Cottage for it's all in a bush of cluster-roses,
up to the very roof."

"Where is Enderley?"

"Did you never hear of Enderley Flat, the highest table-
land in England? Such a fresh, free, breezy spot how
the wind sweeps over it! I can feel it in my face still!"

And even the description was refreshing, this heavy, sultry
day, with not a breath of air moving across the level valley in
which Norton Bury lay.

"Shouldn't you like to live on a hill-side, to be at the top
of everything, overlooking everything? Well, that's Ender-
ley; the village lies just under the brow of the Flat."

"Is there a village?"

"A dozen cottages or so, at each door of which half a dozen
white little heads, and a dozen round eyes appeared staring
at me. But oh, the blessed quiet and solitude of the place!
No fights in filthy alleys! no tan-yards I mean," he added,
correcting himself, "that it's a thorough country spot; and I
like the country better than the town."

"Do you, still? Would you really like to take to the 'shep-
herd's life and state,' upon which my namesake here is so
eloquent! Let us see what he says."

And from the handful of books that usually lay strewn
about wherever we two sat, I took up one he had lately got,
with no small pains, I was sure, and had had bound in its


own proper color, and presented it to me 'The Purple
Island;' and 'Sicelides,' of Phineas Fletcher. People seldom
read this wise, tender, and sweet-voiced old fellow now; so
I will even copy the verses I found for John to read.

"Here is the place. Thyrsis is just ending his 'broken

" 'Lest that the stealing night his later song might stay' "

"Stop a minute," interrupted John. "Apropos of 'stealing
night,' the sun is already down below the yew-hedge. Are
you cold?"

"Not a bit of it."

"Then we'll begin:

" 'Thrice, oh, thrice happy, shepherd's life and state:
When courts are happiness, unhappy pawns!'

"That's not clear," said John, laying down the book. ''Now
I do like poetry to be intelligible. A poet ought to see things
more widelv, and express them more vividly, than ordinary

"Don't you perceive he means the pawns on the chess-
board the common people."

"Phineas, don't say the common people. I'm a common
person myself. But to continue:

" 'His cottage low, and safely humble gate,

Shuts out proud Fortune with her scorns and fawns:
No feared treason breaks his quiet sleep.
Singing all day, his flocks he learns to keep,
Himself as innocent as are his quiet sheep.'

("Not many sheep at Enderley, I fancy; the Flat chiefly
abounds in donkeys. Well )

" 'No Serian worms he knows, that with their thread,
Drew out their silken lives nor silken pride '

"WTrich reminds me that "

"David, how can you make me laugh at my reverend an-
cestor in this way? I'm ashamed of you."

"Only let me tell you this one fact very interesting, you'll
allow that I saw a silken gown hanging up in the kitchen


at Rose Cottage. _ Now, though Mrs. Tod is a decent, comely
woman, I don't think it belonged to her."

"She may have lodgers/'

"I think she said she had an old gentleman but he
wouldn't wear a silk gown."

"His wife might. Now do go on reading/'

"Certainly; I only wish to draw a parallel between Thyrsis
and ourselves, in our future summer life at Enderley. So
the old gentleman's wife may appropriate the 'silken pride,'
while we emulate the shepherd.

" 'His lambs' warm fleece well fits his little need '

"I wear a tolerably good coat now, don't I, Phineas?"

"You are incorrigible."

Yet, through all his fun, I detected a certain undertone
of seriousness, observable in him ever since my father's decla-
ration of his intentions concerning him had, so to speak,
settled John's future career. He seemed aware of some crisis
in his life, arrived or impending, which disturbed the gen-
erally even balance of his temperament.

"Nay, I'll be serious;" and passing over the unfinished
verse, with another or two following, he began afresh in a new
place, and in an altogether changed tone.

" 'His certain life, that never can deceive him,

Is full of thousand sweets and rich content;

The smooth-leaved beeches in the field receive him

With coolest shades till noon-tide's rage is spent;
His life is neither tost on boisterous seas
Of troublous worlds, nor lost in slothful ease.

Pleased and full blest he lives, when he his God can please.

" 'His bed of wool yields safe and quiet sleep,
While by his side his faithful spouse hath place;

His little son into his bosom creeps,
The lively image of his father's face;

Never his humble house or state torment him;

Less he could like, if less his God had sent him;
And when he dies, green turfs with grassy tomb content him.' "

John ceased. He was a good reader; but I had never heard
him read like this before. Ending, one missed it like the
breaking off of music, or like the inner voice of one's own
heart talking when nobody is by.


"David," I said, after a pause, "what are you thinking -

He started, with his old, quick blush "Oh, nothing no,
that's not quite true. I was thinking that, so far as happiness
goes, this 'shepherd's' is my ideal of happy life ay, down
to the 'grassy tomb.' "

"Your fancy leaps at once to the grassy tomb; but the
shepherd enjoyed a few intermediate stages of felicity before

"I was thinking of those likewise."

"Then you do intend some day to have a "faithful spouse
and a little son?"

"I hope so God willing."

It may seem strange, but this was the first time our con-
versation had ever wandered in a similar direction. Though
he was twenty, and I twenty-two, to us both and I thank
Heaven that we both could look up in the face of Heaven
and say so! to us both, the follies and wickednesses of youth
were, if not equally unknown, equally alike hateful. Many
may doubt, or smile at the fact; but I state it now, in my
old age, with honor and pride, that we two young men that
day trembled on the subject of love as shyly, as reverently,
as delicately, as any two young maidens of innocent sixteen.

After John's serious "God willing," there was a good long
silence. Afterward, I said:

"Then you propose to marry?"

"Certainly! as soon as I can."

"Have you ever" and, while speaking, I watched him
narrowly, for a sudden possibility flashed across my mind
"Have you ever seen any one whom you would like for your


I was satisfied. John's single "No" was as conclusive as
a score of asseverations.

We said no more; but after one of those pauses of conver-
sation which were habitual to us John used to say, that the
true test of friendship was to be able to sit or walk together
for a whole hour, in perfect silence, without wearying of one
another's company we again began talking about Enderley.

I soon found that in this plan my part was simply acqui-
escence; my father and John had already arranged it all. I
was to be in charge of the latter; nothing could induce Abel


Fletcher to leave, even for a day, his house, liis garden, and
his tan-yard. We two young men were to set up for a month
or two our bachelor establishment at Mrs. Tod's; John riding
thrice a week over to Norton Bury to bring news of me, and
to fulfill his duties at the tan-yard. One could see plain
enough and very grateful to me was the sight that
whether or no Abel Fletcher acknowledged it, his right hand
in all his business affairs was the lad John Halifax.

On a lovely August day, we started for Enderley. It was
about eight miles off, on a hilly, cross-country road. We
lumbered slowly along in our post-chaise; I leaning back, en-
j eying the fresh air, the changing views, and chiefly to see
how intensely John enjoyed them too.

He looked extremely well to-day handsome, I was about
to write; but John was never, even in his youth, ''handsome."
Nay, I have heard people call him "plain;" but that was not
true. His face had that charm, perhaps the greatest, cer-
tainly the most lasting, either in women or men, of infinite
variety. You were always finding out something an expres-
sion strange as tender, or the track of a swift brilliant
thought, or an indication of feeling different from, perhaps
deeper than, anything which appeared before. When you be-
lieved you had learned it line by line, it would startle you
by a phase quite new, and beautiful as new. For it was not
one of your impassive faces, whose owners count it pride to
harden into a mass of stone those lineaments which nature
made as the flesh-and-blood representation of the man's soul.
True, it had its reticences, its sacred disguises, its noble pow-
ers of silence and self-control. It was a fair-written, open
book; only, to read it clearly, you must come from its own
country, and understand the same language.

For the rest, John was decidedly like the "David" whose
name I still gave him now and then "a goodly person;"
tall, well-built, and strong. "The glory of a young man is
his strength;" and so I used often to think, when I looked at
him. He always dressed with extreme simplicity; generally
in gray, he was fond of gray; and in something of our Quaker
fashion. On this day, I remember, I noticed an especial care-
fulness of attire, at his age neither unnatural nor unbecom-
ing. His well-fitting coat and long-flapped vest, garnished
with the snowiest of lawn frills and ruffles; his knee-breeches,
black silk hose, and shoes adorned with the largest and


brightest of steel buckles, made up a costume, which, quaint
as it would now appear, still is, to my mind, the most suitable
and graceful that a young man can wear. I never see any
young men now who come at all near the picture which
still remains in my mind's eye of John Halifax as he looked
that day.

Once, with the natural sensitiveness of youth, especially
of youth that has struggled up through so many opposing
circumstances as his had done, he noticed my glance.

"Anything amiss about me, Phineas? You see I am not
much used to holidays and holiday clothes."

"I have nothing to say against either you or your clothes,"
replied I, smiling.

"That's all right; I beg to state, it is entirely in honor
of you and of Enderley that I have slipped off my tan-yard
husk, and put on the gentleman."

"You couldn't do that, John. You couldn't put on what
you were born with."

He laughed; but I think he was pleased.

\Ve had now come into a hilty region. John leaped out
and gained the top of the steep road long before the_ post-
chaise did. I watched him standing, balancing in his hands
the riding-whip which had replaced the everlasting rose-
switch, or willow-wand, of his boyhood. His figure was out-
lined sharply against the sky, his head thrown backward a
little, as he gazed, evidently with the keenest zest, on the
breezy flat before him. His hair a little darker than it
used to be, but of the true Saxon color still, and curly as
ever was blown about by the wind, under his broad hat.
His whole appearance was full of life, health, energy, and

I thought any father might have been proud of such a son,
any sister of such a brother, any young girl of such a lover.
Ay, that last tie, the only one of the three that was possible
to him I wondered how long it would be before times
changed, and I ceased to be the only one who was proud of

We drove on a little further, and came to the chief land-
mark of the high moorland a quaint hostelry, called the
"Bear." Bruin swung aloft, pole in hand, brown and fierce,
on an old-fashioned sign, as he and his progenitors had prob-
ably swung for two centuries or more,


"Is this Enderley?" I asked.

"Xot quite, but near it. You never saw the sea? "Well,
from this point I can show you something very like it. Do
you see that gleaming bit in the landscape far away? That's
water that's our very own Severn, swelled to an estuary.
But you must imagine the estuary you can only get that
tiny peep of water, glittering like a great diamond that some
voung Titaness has flung out of her necklace down among
the hills."

"David, you are actually growing poetical."

"Am I? Well, I do feel rather strange to-day crazy like;
a high wind always sends me half-crazy with delight. Did
you ever feel such a breeze? And there's something so glo-
riously free in this high level common as flat as if my
Titaness had found a little Mont Blanc, and amused herself
with patting it down like a dough-cake."

"A very culinary goddess."

"Yes! but a goddess after all. And her dough-cake, her
mushroom, her flattened Mont Blanc, is very fine. What a
broad green sweep- nothing but sky and common, common
and sky. This is Enderley Flat. We shall come to its edge
scon, where it drops abruptly into such a pretty valley.
There, look down; that's the church. We are on a level with
the top of its tower. Take care, my lad," to the post-boy,
who was crossing with difficulty the literally "pathless waste,"
"don't lurch us into the quarry-pits, or topple us at once
down the slope, where we shall roll over and over -facilis
descensus Averni and lodge in Mrs. Tod's garden hedge."

"Mrs. Tod would feel flattered if she knew Latin. You
don't look upon our future habitation as a sort of Avernus?"

John laughed "merrily. "No, as I told you before, I like
Enderley Hill. I can't tell why, but I like it. It seems as if
I had known the place before. I feel as if we were going
to have great happiness here."

And as he spoke, his unwonted buoyancy softened into a
quietness of manner, more befitting that word "happiness."
Strange word! hardly in my vocabulary. Yet, when he
uttered it, I seemed to understand it and to be content.

We wound a little way down the slope, and came in front
of Rose Cottage. It was well named. I never in my life had
seen such a bush of bloom. They hung in clusters those
roses a dozen in a group; pressing their pinky cheeks to-


gether in a mass of family fragrance, pushing in at the*parlor
window, climbing up even to the very attic. There was a
yellow jasmine over the porch at one front door, and a wood-
bine at the other; the cottage had two entrances, each dis-
tinct. But the general impression it gave, both as to sight
and scent, was of roses nothing but roses.

"How are you, Mrs. Tod?" as a comely, middle aged body
appeared at the right-hand door-way, dressed sprucely in one
of those things Jael called a "coat and jacket," likewise a red
calamanco petticoat tucked up at the pocket-holes.

"I be pretty fair, sir be you the same? The children
ha' not forgotten you you see, Mr. Halifax."

"So much the better!" and he patted two or three little
white heads, and tossed the youngest high up in the air. It
locked very strange to see John with a child in his arms.

"Don't 'ee make jnore noise than 'ee can help, my lad,"
the good woman said to our post-boy, "because, sir, the sick
gentleman bean't so well again to-day."

"I am sorry for it. We would not have driven up to the
door, had we known. Which is his room?"

Mrs. Tod pointed to a window not on our side of the
house, but the other. A hand was just closing the casement
and pulling down the blind a hand which in the momen-
tary glimpse we had of it, seemed less like a man's than a

When we were settled in the parlor, John noticed this

"It was the wife, most likely. Poor thing! how hard to
be shut up in-doors on such a summer evening as this!"

It did seem a sad sight that closed window, outside which
was the fresh, balmy air, the sunset, and the roses.

"And how do you like Enderley?" asked John, when, tea
being over, I lay and rested, where he sat leaning his elbow
on the window-sill, and his cheek against a bunch of those
ever-intruding, inquisitive roses.

"It is very, very pretty, and so comfortable almost like

"I feel as if it were home," John said, half to himself. "Do
you know, I can hardly believe that I have only seen this
place once before; it is so familiar. I seem to know quite well
that slope of common before the door, with its black dots of
furze-bushes. And that wood below; what a clear line its


top makes against the yellow sky! There, that high ground
to the right] it's all dusky now, but it's such a view by day-
light. And between it and Enderley is the prettiest valley,
where the road slopes down just under those chestnut-trees."

"How well you seem to know the place already."

"As I tell you, I like it. I hardly ever felt so content be-
fore. We will have a Jiappy time, Phineas."

"Oh, yes!" How, even if I had felt differently, could I say
anything but "yes" to him then?

I lay until it grew quite dark, and I could only see a dim
shape sitting at the window, instead qf John's known face;
then I bade him good-night, and retired. Directly afterward,
I heard him, as I knew he would, dash out of the house, and
away up the Flat. In the deep quiet of this lonely spot 1
could distinguish, for several minutes, the diminishing sound
of his footsteps along the loose, stony road; and the notes,
clear and shrill, of his whistling. I think it was "Sally in
Our Alley," or some such pleasant old tune. At last it faded
far off, and I fell into sleep and dreams.


"That Mrs. Tod is an extraordinary woman. I repeat it
a most extraordinary woman."

And leaning his elbows on the table, from which the said
extraordinary woman had just removed breakfast, John
looked over to me with his own merry brown eyes.

"Wherefore, David?"

"She has a houseful of children, yet manages fa keep it
quiet, and her own temper likewise. Astonishing patience!
However people attain it who have to do with brats, I can't

"John! that's mean hypocrisy. I saw you myself, half an
hour ago, holding the eldest Tod boy on a refractory donkey,
and laughing till you could hardly stand."

"Did I?" said he, half-ashamed. "Well, it was only to keep
the little scamp from making a noise under the windows.
And that reminds me of another remarkable virtue in Mrs.
Tod she can hold her tongue."

"How go?"


"In two whole days she has not communicated to us a single
fact concerning our neighbors on the other half of Rose Cot-

"Did you want to know?"

Online LibraryDinah Maria Mulock CraikJohn Halifax, gentleman : a novel → online text (page 9 of 41)