John Halifax, Gentleman
Dinah Maria Mulock (Mrs. Craik)
Part 5 out of 12
for myself that you were a gentleman. I do not think the two facts
incompatible, nor does my husband. We shall be happy to see you at
our house at all times and under all circumstances."
She offered him her hand. John bowed over it in silence, but it was
long since I had seen him look more pleased.
"Well, then, suppose you come this evening, both of you?"
We assented; and on her further invitation John and I and the little
old lady walked on together.
I could not help watching Mrs. Jessop with some amusement. Norton
Bury said she had been a poor governess all her days; but that hard
life had left no shadow on the cheerful sunset of her existence now.
It was a frank, bright, happy face, in spite of its wrinkles, and its
somewhat hard Welsh features. And it was pleasant to hear her talk,
even though she talked a good deal, and in a decidedly Welsh accent.
Sometimes a tone or two reminded me slightly of--Ay, it was easy to
guess why John evidently liked the old lady.
"I know this road well, Mr. Halifax. Once I spent a summer here,
with an old pupil, now grown up. I am going to-day to inquire about
her at the Mythe House. The Brithwoods came home yesterday."
I was afraid to look at John. Even to me the news was startling.
How I blessed Mrs. Jessop's innocent garrulousness.
"I hope they will remain here some time. I have a special interest
in their stay. Not on Lady Caroline's account, though. She
patronizes me very kindly; but I doubt if she ever forgets--what Tom
says I am rather too proud of remembering--that I was the poor
governess, Jane Cardigan."
"Jane Cardigan!" I exclaimed.
"What, Mr. Fletcher, you know my name! And really, now I think of
it, I believe I have heard yours. Not from Tom, either. It couldn't
possibly be--Yes! it certainly was--How strange! Did you ever hear
tell of a Miss Ursula March?"
The live crimson rushed madly over John's face. Mrs. Jessop saw it;
she could not but see. At first she looked astounded, then
I replied, "that we had had the honour of meeting Miss March last
summer at Enderley."
"Yes," the old lady continued, somewhat formally. "Now I recollect,
Miss March told me of the circumstance; of two gentlemen there, who
were very kind to her when her father died; a Mr. Fletcher and his
friend--was that Mr. Halifax?"
"It was," I answered: for John was speechless. Alas! I saw at once
that all my hopes for him, all the design of my long silence on this
subject, had been in vain. No, he had not forgotten her. It was not
in his nature to forget.
Mrs. Jessop went on, still addressing herself to me.
"I am sure I ought, on behalf of my dear pupil, to offer you both my
warmest thanks. Hers was a most trying position. She never told me
of it till afterwards, poor child! I am thankful her trouble was
softened to her by finding that STRANGERS" (was it only my fancy that
detected a slight stress on the word?) "mere strangers could be at
once so thoughtful and so kind."
"No one could be otherwise to Miss March. Is she well? Has she
recovered from her trial?"
"I hope so. Happily, few sorrows, few feelings of any kind, take
lasting hold at eighteen. She is a noble girl. She did her duty,
and it was no light one, to him who is gone; now her life begins
anew. It is sure to be prosperous--I trust it may be very happy.--
Now I must bid you both good-bye."
She stopped at the gates of the Mythe House; great iron gates, a
barrier as proud and impassable as that which in these times the rich
shut against the poor, the aristocrat against the plebeian. John,
glancing once up at them, hurriedly moved on.
"Stay; you will come and see us, Mr. Halifax? Promise!"
"If you wish it."
"And promise, too, that under all circumstances you will tell me, as
you did this morning, the 'plain truth'? Yes, I see you will.
The iron gates closed upon her, and against us. We took our silent
way up to the Mythe to our favourite stile. There we leaned--still
in silence, for many minutes.
"The wind is keen, Phineas; you must be cold."
Now I could speak to him--could ask him to tell me of his pain.
"It is so long since you have told me anything. It might do you
"Nothing can do me good. Nothing but bearing it. My God! what have
I not borne! Five whole months to be dying of thirst, and not a drop
of water to cool my tongue."
He bared his head and throat to the cutting wind--his chest heaved,
his eyes seemed in a flame.
"God forgive me!--but I sometimes think I would give myself body and
soul to the devil for one glimpse of her face, one touch of her
I made no answer. What answer could be made to such words as these?
I waited--all I could do--till the paroxysm had gone by. Then I
hinted--as indeed seemed not unlikely--that he might see her soon.
"Yes, a great way off, like that cloud up there. But I want her
near--close--in my home--at my heart;--Phineas," he gasped, "talk to
me--about something else--anything. Don't let me think, or I shall
go clean mad."
And indeed he looked so. I was terrified. So quiet as I had always
seen him when we met, so steadily as he had pursued his daily duties;
and with all this underneath--this torment, conflict, despair, of a
young man's love. It must come out--better it should.
"And you have gone on working all this while?"
"I was obliged. Nothing but work kept me in my senses. Besides"--
and he laughed hoarsely--"I was safest in the tan-yard. The thought
of her could not come there. I was glad of it. I tried to be solely
and altogether what I am--a 'prentice lad--a mere clown."
"Nay, that was wrong."
"Was it? Well, at last it struck me so. I thought I would be a
gentleman again--just for a pretence, you know--a dream--a bit of the
old dream back again. So I went to London."
"And met the Jessops there?"
"Yes; though I did not know she was Jane Cardigan. But I liked her--
I liked my life with them. It was like breathing a higher air, the
same air that--Oh, Phineas, it was horrible to come back to my life
here--to that accursed tan-yard!"
I said nothing.
"You see, now"--and that hard laugh smote me to the heart again--"you
see, Phineas, how wicked I am growing. You will have to cut my
"Tell me the rest--I mean, the rest of your life in London," I said,
after a pause. "Did you ever hear of her?"
"Of course not; though I knew she was there. I saw it in the Court
Circular. Fancy a lady, whose name was in the Court Circular, being
inquired after by a tanner's lad! But I wanted to look at her--any
beggar might do that, you know--so I watched in streets and parks, by
theatre-doors at night, and by church-doors on Sunday mornings; yet I
never saw her once. Only think, not once for five whole months."
"John, how could you tell me you were happy?"
"I don't know. Perhaps because of my pride; perhaps because--Ah,
don't look so wretched! Why did you let me say all this? You are
too good for such as I."
Of course I took no heed of idle words like these. I let him stand
there, leaning against the stile, now and then grasping it with his
nervous, muscular hands, as if he would tear it down; then I said
"What do you intend to do?"
"Do? Nothing! What can I do? Though sometimes a score of wild
plans rush into my mind, such as to run away to the Indies, like that
young Warren Hastings we were talking of, come back twenty years
hence a nabob, and--marry her."
"Marry her," I repeated, mournfully.
"Ay, I could. That is what maddens me. If now she and I were to
meet and stand together, equal man and woman, I could make her love
me; I feel I could. Instead of crawling after her thus I would go
boldly in at those very gates--do you think she is there?"
He trembled, actually trembled, at the mere thought of her being so
"Oh, it's hard, hard! I could despise myself. Why cannot I trust my
manhood, my honest manhood that I was born with, go straight to her
and tell her that I love her; that God meant her for me and me for
her--true husband and true wife? Phineas, mark my words"--and, wild
as his manner was, it had a certain force which sounded almost like
prophecy--"if ever Ursula March marries she will be my wife--MY
I could only murmur--"Heaven grant it!"
"But we shall never marry, neither one nor the other of us; we shall
go on apart and alone till the next world. Perhaps she will come to
me then: I may have her in my heart there."
John looked upward: there was in the west a broad, red frosty cloud,
and just beyond it, nay, all but resting on it, the new moon--a
little, wintry, soft new moon. A sight that might well have hushed
the maddest storm of passion: it hushed his. He stood, still
looking up, for many minutes, then his eyes closed, the lashes all
"We'll never speak of this again, Phineas; I'll not grieve thee any
more; I'll try and be a better brother to thee for the future. Come
He drew my arm in his, and we went home.
Passing the tan-yard John proposed that we should call for my father.
My poor father; now daily growing more sour and old, and daily
leaning more and more upon John, who never ceased to respect, and
make every one else respect, his master. Though still ostensibly a
'prentice, he had now the business almost entirely in his hands. It
was pleasant to see how my father brightened up at his coming--how
readily, when he turned homeward, he leaned upon John's strong arm,
now the support of both him and me. Thus we walked through Norton
Bury streets, where everybody knew us, and indeed, as it seemed to me
this morning, nearly everybody greeted us--at least, one of us; but
my father walked along soberly and sternly, frowning at almost every
salutation John Halifax received.
"Thee art making far too many friends, John. I warn thee!"
"Not FRIENDS--only friendly acquaintance," was the gentle answer: he
was well used to turn away, daily and hourly, Abel Fletcher's wrath.
But it was roused beyond control when Dr. Jessop's neat little
carriage, and neatest of little wives, stopped at the curb-stone and
"I want you and Mr. Fletcher to come to us to-morrow instead of this
evening. Lady Caroline Brithwood wishes to see you."
"Yes, you," smiled the old lady; "you, John Halifax, the hero of the
people, who quelled the bread riots, and gave evidence thereupon to
Mr. Pitt, in London. Nay! why didn't you tell me the wonderful
story? Her Ladyship is full of it. She will torment me till she
sees you--I know her ways. For my sake, you MUST come."
Waiting no refusal, Mrs. Jessop drove on.
"What's that?" said my father, sharply. "John, where art thee
I knew this was the first warning-gun of a battle which broke out
afresh every time John appeared in any livelier garb than his
favourite grey, or was suspected of any more worldly associates than
our quiet selves. He always took my father's attacks patiently--this
time peculiarly so. He made no answer, but passed his hand once or
twice over his brow, as if he could not see clearly.
Abel Fletcher repeated the question.
"Yes; that was Mrs. Jessop, sir."
"I know," grumbled my father. "The doctor is a fool in his old age.
Who did she want thee to meet?"
"She!--Oh, Lady Caroline, you mean?"
"Lady Caroline wishes particularly to see John."
Abel Fletcher stopped, planted his stick in the ground, released his
arm from John's, and eyed him from top to toe.
"Thee?--a woman of quality wanting to see THEE? Young man, thee art
"I knew it! I foresaw how thy fine ways would end! Going to London-
--crawling at the heels of grand folk--despising thy honest trade--
trying to make thyself appear a gentleman!"
"I hope I am a gentleman."
Words could not describe my father's horrified astonishment. "Oh,
lad!" he cried; "poor, misguided lad!--the Lord have mercy upon
John smiled--his mind evidently full of other things. Abel
Fletcher's anger grew.
"And thee wants to hang on to the tail of other 'gentlemen,' such as
Richard Brithwood, forsooth!--a fox-hunting, drinking, dicing fool!"
I was shocked; I had not believed him so bad as that--the young
'squire--Miss March's cousin.
"Or," pursued my father, waxing hotter and hotter, "or a 'lady' such
as his wife is, the Jezebel daughter of an Ahab father!--brought up
in the impious atrocities of France, and the debaucheries of Naples,
where, though she keeps it close here, she abode with that vile woman
whom they call Lady Hamilton."
John started. Well he might, for even to our quiet town had come,
all this winter, foul newspaper tales about Nelson and Lady Hamilton.
"Take care," he said, in much agitation. "Any taint upon a woman's
fame harms not her alone but all connected with her. For God's sake,
sir, whether it be true or not, do not whisper in Norton Bury that
Lady Caroline Brithwood is a friend of Lady Hamilton."
"Pshaw! What is either woman to us?"
And my father climbed the steps to his own door, John following.
"Nay, young gentleman, my poor house is hardly good enough for such
John turned, cruelly galled, but recovered himself.
"You are unjust to me, Abel Fletcher; and you yourself will think so
soon. May I come in?"
My father made no answer, and I brought John in as usual. In truth,
we had both more to think of than Abel Fletcher's temporary
displeasure. This strange chance--what might it imply?--to what
might it not lead? But no: if I judged Mrs. Jessop aright, it
neither implied, nor would lead to, what I saw John's fancy had at
once sprang toward, and revelled in, madly. A lover's fancy--a
lover's hope. Even I could see what will-o'-the-wisps they were.
But the doctor's good wife, Ursula March's wise governess, would
never lure a young man with such phantoms as these. I felt sure--
certain--that if we met the Brithwoods we should meet no one else.
Certain, even when, as we sat at our dish of tea, there came in two
little dainty notes--the first invitations to worldly festivity that
had ever tempted our Quaker household, and which Jael flung out of
her fingers as if they had been coals from Gehenna. Notes, bidding
us to a "little supper" at Dr. Jessop's, with Mr. and Lady Caroline
Brithwood, of the Mythe House.
"Give them to your father, Phineas." And John vainly tried to hide
the flash of his eye--the smiles that came and went like summer
lightning--"To-morrow--you see, it is to-morrow."
Poor lad! he had forgotten every worldly thing in the hope of that
My father's sharp voice roused him. "Phineas, thee'lt stay at home.
Tell the woman I say so."
"And John, father?"
"John may go to ruin if he chooses. He is his own master."
"I have been always." And the answer came less in pride than
sadness. "I might have gone to ruin years ago, but for the mercy of
Heaven and your kindness. Do not let us be at warfare now."
"All thy own fault, lad. Why cannot thee keep in thy own rank?
Respect thyself. Be an honest tradesman, as I have been."
"And as I trust always to be. But that is only my calling, not me.
I--John Halifax--am just the same, whether in the tan-yard or Dr.
Jessop's drawing-room. The one position cannot degrade, nor the
other elevate, me. I should not 'respect myself' if I believed
"Eh?"--my father absolutely dropped his pipe in amazement. "Then,
thee thinkest thyself already quite a gentleman?"
"As I told you before, sir--I hope I am."
"Fit to associate with the finest folk in the land?"
"If they desire it, and I choose it, certainly."
Now, Abel Fletcher, like all honest men, liked honesty; and something
in John's bold spirit, and free bright eye, seemed to-day to strike
him more than ordinarily.
"Lad, lad, thee art young. But it won't last--no, it won't last."
He knocked the white ashes out of his pipe--it had been curling in
brave wreaths to the very ceiling two minutes before--and sat musing.
"But about to-morrow?" persisted John, after watching him some little
time. "I could go--I could have gone, without either your knowledge
or permission; but I had rather deal openly with you. You know I
always do. You have been the kindest master--the truest friend to
me; I hope, as long as I live, rarely to oppose, and never to deceive
His manner---earnest, yet most respectful--his candid looks, under
which lurked an evident anxiety and pain, might have mollified a
harder man than Abel Fletcher.
"John, why dost thee want to go among those grand folk?"
"Not because they are grand folk. I have other reasons--strong
"Be honest. Tell me thy strong reasons."
Here was a strait.
"Why dost thee blush, young man? Is it aught thee art ashamed of?"
"Is it a secret, then, the telling of which would be to thee, or to
any else, dishonour?"
"Dishonour!" And the bright eye shot an indignant gleam.
"Then, tell the truth."
"I will. I wish first to find out, for myself, whether Lady Caroline
Brithwood is fitted to have under her charge one who is young--
"Has she such an one? One thee knows?"
"Man or woman?"
My father turned, and looked John full in the eyes. Stern as that
look was, I traced in it a strange compassion.
"Lad, I thought so. Thee hast found the curse of man's life--woman."
To my amazement, John replied not a syllable. He seemed even as if
he had forgotten himself and his own secret--thus, for what end I
knew not, voluntarily betrayed--so absorbed was he in contemplating
the old man. And truly, in all my life I had never seen such a
convulsion pass over my father's face. It was like as if some one
had touched and revived the torment of a long-hidden, but
never-to-be-healed wound. Not till years after did I understand the
full meaning of John's gaze, or why he was so patient with my father.
The torment passed--ended in violent anger.
"Out with it. Who is deluding thee? Is it a matter of wedlock, or
"Stop!" John cried; his face all on fire. "The lady--"
"It is a 'lady'! Now I see why thee would fain be a gentleman."
"Oh, father--how can you?"
"So thee knowest it too--I see it in thy face--Wouldst thee be led
away by him a second time! But thee shall not. I'll put thee under
lock and key before thee shalt ruin thyself and disgrace thy father."
This was hard to bear; but I believe--it was John's teaching--that
one ought to bear anything, however hard, from a just and worthy
parent. And it was John himself who now grasped my hand, and
whispered patience. John--who knew, what I myself, as I have said,
did not learn for years, concerning my father's former history.
"Sir, you mistake; Phineas has nothing whatever to do with this
matter. He is altogether blameless. So am I too, if you heard all."
"Tell me all; honour is bold--shame only is silent."
"I feel no shame--an honest love is no disgrace to any man. And my
confessing it harms no one. She neither knows of it nor returns it."
As he said this, slowly, gravely, John moved a step back and sat
down. His face was in shadow; but the fire shone on his hands,
tightly locked together, motionless as stone.
My father was deeply moved. Heaven knows what ghosts of former days
came and knocked at the old man's heart. We all three sat silent for
a long time, then my father said:
"Who is she?"
"I had rather not tell you. She is above me in worldly station."
"Ah!" a fierce exclamation. "But thee wouldst not humble thyself--
ruin thy peace for life? Thee wouldst not marry her?"
"I would--if she had loved me. Even yet, if by any honourable means
I can rise to her level, so as to be able to win her love, marry her
That brave "I will"--it seemed to carry its own fulfilment. Its
indomitable resolution struck my father with wonder--nay, with a sort
"Do as thee thinks best, and God help thee," he said, kindly. "Mayst
thee never find thy desire a curse. Fear not, lad--I will keep thy
"I knew you would."
The subject ceased: my father's manner indicated that he wished it
to cease. He re-lit his pipe, and puffed away, silently and sadly.
Years afterwards, when all that remained of Abel Fletcher was a green
mound beside that other mound, in the Friends' burying-ground in St.
Mary's Lane, I learnt--what all Norton Bury, except myself, had long
known--that my poor mother, the young, thoughtless creature, whose
married life had been so unhappy and so brief, was by birth a
Mrs. Jessop's drawing-room, ruddy with fire-light, glittering with
delicate wax candle-light; a few women in pale-coloured gauzy
dresses, a few men, sublime in blue coats, gold buttons, yellow
waistcoats, and smiles--this was all I noticed of the scene, which
was quite a novel scene to me.
The doctor's wife had introduced us formally to all her guests, as
the custom then was, especially in these small cosy supper-parties.
How they greeted us I do not now remember; no doubt, with a kind of
well-bred formal surprise; but society was generally formal then. My
chief recollection is of Mrs. Jessop's saying pointedly and aloud,
though with a smile playing under the corners of her good little
"Mr. Halifax, it is kind of you to come; Lady Caroline Brithwood will
be delighted. She longs to make your acquaintance."
After that everybody began to talk with extraordinary civility to Mr.
For John, he soon took his place among them, with that modest self-
possession which best becomes youth. Society's dangerous waters
accordingly became smooth to him, as to a good swimmer who knows his
own strength, trusts it, and struggles not.
"Mr. Brithwood and Lady Caroline will be late," I overheard the
hostess say. "I think I told you that Miss March--"
But here the door was flung open, and the missing guests announced.
John and I were in the alcove of the window; I heard his breathing
behind me, but I dared not look at or speak to him. In truth, I was
scarcely calmer than he. For though it must be clearly understood I
never was "in love" with any woman, still the reflected glamour of
those Enderley days had fallen on me. It often seems now as if I too
had passed the golden gate, and looked far enough into youth's Eden
to be able ever after to weep with those that wept without the doors.
No--she was not there.
We both sat down. I know not if I was thankful or sorry.
I had seldom seen the 'squire or Lady Caroline. He was a portly
young man, pinched in by tight light-coloured garments. She was a
lady rather past her first youth, but very handsome still, who
floated about, leaving a general impression of pseudo-Greek
draperies, gleaming arms and shoulders, sparkling jewellery, and
equally sparkling smiles. These smiles seemed to fall just as
redundantly upon the family physician, whom by a rare favour--for so,
I suppose, it must have been--she was honouring with a visit, as if
worthy Dr. Jessop were the noblest in the land. He, poor man, was
all bows and scrapes and pretty speeches, in the which came more than
the usual amount of references to the time which had made his
fortune, the day when Her Majesty Queen Charlotte had done him the
honour to be graciously taken ill in passing through Norton Bury.
Mrs. Jessop seemed to wear her honours as hostess to an earl's
daughter very calmly indeed. She performed the ordinary courtesies,
and then went over to talk with Mr. Brithwood. In their conversation
I sought in vain the name of Ursula.
So it ended--the sickening expectation which I had read in the lad's
face all day. He would not see her--perhaps it was best. Yet my
heart bled when I looked at him. But such thoughts could not be
indulged in now, especially as Mrs. Jessop's quick eyes seemed often
upon him or me, with an expression that I could not make out at all,
save that in such a good woman, whom Miss March so well loved, could
lurk nothing evil or unkindly.
So I tried to turn my attention to the Brithwoods. One could not
choose but look at her, this handsome Lady Caroline, whom half Norton
Bury adored, the other half pursed up their lips at the mention of--
but these were of the number she declined to "know." All that she
did know--all that came within her influence, were irresistibly
attracted, for to please seemed a part of her nature. To-night
nearly every one present stole gradually into the circle round her;
men and women alike charmed by the fascination of her ripe beauty,
her lively manner, her exquisite smile and laugh.
I wondered what John thought of Lady Caroline Brithwood. She could
not easily see him, even though her acute glance seemed to take in
everything and everybody in the room. But on her entrance John had
drawn back a little, and our half-dozen of fellow-guests, who had
been conversing with him, crept shyly out of his way; as if, now the
visible reality appeared, they were aghast at the great gulf that lay
between John Halifax the tanner and the Brithwoods of the Mythe. A
few even looked askance at our hostess, as though some terrible
judgment must fall upon poor ignorant Mrs. Jessop, who had dared to
amalgamate such opposite ranks.
So it came to pass, that while everybody gathered round the
Brithwoods John and I stood alone, and half concealed by the window.
Very soon I heard Lady Caroline's loud whisper;
"Mrs. Jessop, my good friend, one moment. Where is your 'jeune
heros,' 'l'homme du peuple?' I do not see him. Does he wear clouted
shoes and woollen stockings? Has he a broad face and turned-up nose,
like your 'paysans Anglais'?"
"Judge for yourself, my lady--he stands at your elbow. Mr. Halifax,
let me present you to Lady Caroline Brithwood."
If Lord Luxmore's fair daughter ever looked confounded in her life
she certainly did at this minute.
"Lui? Mon dieu! Lui!" And her shrug of amazement was stopped, her
half-extended hand drawn back. No, it was quite impossible to
patronise John Halifax.
He bowed gravely, she made a gracious curtsey; they met on equal
terms, a lady and gentleman.
Soon her lively manner returned. She buckled on her spurs for a new
conquest, and left the already vanquished gentilities of Norton Bury
to amuse themselves as they best might.
"I am enchanted to meet you, Mr. Halifax; I adore 'le peuple.'
Especially"--with a sly glance at her husband, who, with Tory Dr.
Jessop, was vehemently exalting Mr. Pitt and abusing the First
Consul, Bonaparte--"especially le peuple Francais. Me comprenez
"Madame, je vous comprends."
Her ladyship looked surprised. French was not very common among the
honest trading class, or indeed any but the higher classes in
"But," John continued, "I must dissent from Lady Caroline Brithwood,
if she mingles the English people with 'le peuple Francais.' They
are a very different class of beings."
"Ah, ca ira, ca ira"--she laughed, humming beneath her breath a few
notes out of that terrible song. "But you know French--let us talk
in that language; we shall horrify no one then."
"I cannot speak it readily; I am chiefly self-taught."
"The best teaching. Mon dieu! Truly you are made to be 'un hero'--
just the last touch of grace that a woman's hand gives--had you ever
a woman for your friend?--and you would be complete. But I cannot
flatter--plain, blunt honesty for me. You must--you shall be--
'l'homme du peuple.' Were you born such?--Who were your parents?"
I saw John hesitate; I knew how rarely he ever uttered those names
written in the old Bible--how infinitely sacred they were to him.
Could he blazon them out now, to gratify this woman's idle curiosity?
"Madam," he said, gravely, "I was introduced to you simply as John
Halifax. It seems to me that, so long as I do no discredit to it,
the name suffices to the world."
"Ah--I see! I see!" But he, with his downcast eyes, did not detect
the meaning smile that just flashed in hers was changed into a tone
of soft sympathy. "You are right; rank is nothing--a cold,
glittering marble, with no soul under. Give me the rich
flesh-and-blood life of the people. Liberte--fraternite--egalite. I
would rather be a gamin in Paris streets than my brother William at
Thus talked she, sometimes in French, sometimes in English, the young
man answering little. She only threw her shining arts abroad the
more; she seemed determined to please. And Nature fitted her for it.
Even if not born an earl's daughter, Lady Caroline would have been
everywhere the magic centre of any society wherein she chose to move.
Not that her conversation was brilliant or deep, but she said the
most frivolous things in a way that made them appear witty; and the
grand art, to charm by appearing charmed, was hers in perfection.
She seemed to float altogether upon and among the pleasantnesses of
life; pain, either endured or inflicted, was to her an impossibility.
Thus her character struck me on this first meeting, and thus, after
many years, it strikes me still. I look back upon what she appeared
that evening--lovely, gay, attractive--in the zenith of her rich
maturity. What her old age was the world knows, or thinks it knows.
But Heaven may be more merciful--I cannot tell. Whatever is now said
of her, I can only say, "Poor Lady Caroline!"
It must have indicated a grain of pure gold at the bottom of the
gold-seeming dross, that, from the first moment she saw him, she
liked John Halifax.
They talked a long time. She drew him out, as a well-bred woman
always can draw out a young man of sense. He looked pleased; he
conversed well. Had he forgotten? No; the restless wandering of his
eyes at the slightest sound in the room told how impossible it was he
should forget. Yet he comported himself bravely, and I was proud
that Ursula's kindred should see him as he was.
"Lady Caroline" (her ladyship turned, with a slightly bored
expression, to her intrusive hostess), "I fear we must give up all
expectation of our young friend to-night."
"I told you so. Post-travelling is very uncertain, and the Bath
roads are not good. Have you ever visited Bath, Mr. Halifax?"
"But she is surely long on the road," pursued Mrs. Jessop, rather
anxiously. "What attendants had she?"
"Her own maid, and our man Laplace. Nay, don't be alarmed, excellent
and faithful gouvernante! I assure you your fair ex-pupil is quite
safe. The furore about her has considerably abated since the
heiress-hunters at Bath discovered the melancholy fact that Miss
"Pardon me," interrupted the other; "we are among strangers. I
assure you I am quite satisfied about my dear child."
"What a charming thing is affectionate fidelity," observed her
ladyship, turning once more to John, with a sweet, lazy dropping of
The young man only bowed. They resumed their conversation--at least,
she did, talking volubly; satisfied with monosyllabic answers.
It was now almost supper-time--held a glorious hour at Norton Bury
parties. People began to look anxiously to the door.
"Before we adjourn," said Lady Caroline, "I must do what it will be
difficult to accomplish after supper;" and for the first time a
sharp, sarcastic tone jarred in her smooth voice. "I must introduce
you especially to my husband. Mr. Brithwood?"
"Madam." He lounged up to her. They were a diverse pair. She, in
her well-preserved beauty, and Gallic artificial grace--he, in his
coarse, bloated youth, coarser and worse than the sensualism of
"Mr. Brithwood, let me introduce you to a new friend of mine."
The 'squire bowed, rather awkwardly; proving the truth of what Norton
Bury often whispered, that Richard Brithwood was more at home with
grooms than gentlemen.
"He belongs to this your town--you must have heard of him, perhaps
"I have more than had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Brithwood, but he
has doubtless forgotten it."
"By Jove! I have. What might your name be, sir?"
"What, Halifax the tanner?"
"Phew!"--He began a low whistle, and turned on his heel.
John changed colour a little. Lady Caroline laughed--a thoughtless,
amused laugh, with a pleasant murmur of "Bete!"--"Anglais!"--
Nevertheless, she whispered to her husband--
"Mon ami--you forget; I have introduced you to this gentleman."
"Gentleman indeed! Pooh! rubbish! Lady Caroline--I'm busy talking."
"And so are we, most pleasantly. I only called you as a matter of
form, to ratify my invitation. Mr. Halifax will, I hope, dine with
us next Sunday?"
"The devil he will!"
"Richard--you hurt me!"--with a little scream, as she pushed his
rough fingers from her arm, so soft, and round, and fair.
"Madam, you must be crazy. The young man is a tradesman--a tanner.
Not fit for MY society."
"Precisely; I invite him for my own."
But the whispers and responses were alike unheeded by their object.
For, at the doorway, entering with Mrs. Jessop, was a tall girl in
deep mourning. We knew her--we both knew her--our dream at Enderley-
-our Nut-browne Mayde.
John was near to the door--their eyes met. She bowed--he returned
it. He was very pale. For Miss March, her face and neck were all in
a glow. Neither spoke, nor offered more than this passing
acknowledgment, and she moved on.
She came and sat down beside me, accidentally, I believe; but when
she saw me she held out her hand. We exchanged a word or two--her
manner was unaltered; but she spoke hurriedly, and her fingers had
their old nervous twitch. She said this meeting was to her
"unexpected," but "she was very glad to see me."
So she sat, and I looked sideways at her dropped eyes--her forehead
with its coronet of chestnut curls. How would he bear the sight--he
of whose heart mine was the mere faint echo? Yet truly an echo,
repeating with cruel faithfulness every throb.
He kept his position, a little aloof from the Brithwoods, who were
holding a slight altercation--though more of looks than words. John
heeded them not. I was sure, though he had never looked directly
towards us, that he had heard every syllable Miss March said to me.
The 'squire called across the room, in a patronising tone: "My good
fellow--that is, ahem! I say, young Halifax?"
"Were you addressing me, Mr. Brithwood?"
"I was. I want a quiet word or two--between ourselves."
They stood face to face. The one seemed uncomfortable, the other was
his natural self--a little graver, perhaps, as if he felt what was
coming, and prepared to meet it, knowing in whose presence he had to
prove himself--what Richard Brithwood, with all his broad acres,
could never be--a gentleman.
Few could doubt that fact, who looked at the two young men, as all
were looking now.
"On my soul, it's awkward--I'll call at the tan-yard and explain."
"I had rather you would explain here."
"Well then, though it's a confounded unpleasant thing to say--and I
really wish I had not been brought into such a position--you'll not
heed my wife's nonsense?"
"I do not understand you."
"Come, it's no use running to cover in that way. Let's be open and
plain. I mean no offence. You may be a very respectable young man
for aught I know, still rank is rank. Of course Doctor Jessop asks
whom he likes to his house--and, by George! I'm always civil to
everybody--but really, in spite of my lady's likings, I can't well
invite you to my table!"
"Nor could I humiliate myself by accepting any such invitation."
He said the words distinctly, so that the whole circle might have
heard, and was turning away, when Mr. Brithwood fired up--as an angry
man does in a losing game.
"Humiliate yourself! What do you mean, sir? Wouldn't you be only
too thankful to crawl into the houses of your betters, any how, by
hook or by crook? Ha! ha! I know you would. It's always the way
with you common folk, you rioters, you revolutionists. By the Lord!
I wish you were all hanged."
The young blood rose fiercely in John's cheek, but he restrained
himself. "Sir, I am neither a rioter nor a revolutionist."
"But you are a tradesman? You used to drive Fletcher's cart of
"And are you not--I remember you now--the very lad, the tanner's lad,
that once pulled us ashore from the eger--Cousin March and me?"
I heard a quick exclamation beside me, and saw Ursula listening
intently--I had not noticed how intently till now. Her eyes were
fixed on John, waiting for his answer. It came.
"Your memory is correct; I was that lad."
"Thank'ee for it too. Lord! what a jolly life I should have missed!
You got no reward, though. You threw away the guinea I offered you;
come, I'll make it twenty guineas to-morrow."
The insult was too much. "Sir, you forget that whatever we may have
been, to-night we meet as equals."
"As guests in the same house--most certainly for the time being,
Richard Brithwood stared, literally dumb with fury. The standers-by
were dumb too, though such fracas were then not uncommon even in
drawing-rooms, and in women's presence, especially with men of Mr.
Brithwood's stamp. His wife seemed quite used to it. She merely
shrugged her shoulders and hummed a note or two of "Ca ira." It
irritated the husband beyond all bounds.
"Hold your tongue, my lady. What, because a 'prentice-lad once saved
my life, and you choose to patronise him as you do many another
vagabond, with your cursed liberty and equality, am I to have him at
my table, and treat him as a gentleman? By ---, madam, never!"
He spoke savagely, and loud. John was silent; he had locked his
hands together convulsively; but it was easy to see that his blood
was at boiling heat, and that, did he once slip the leash of his
passions, it would go hard with Richard Brithwood.
The latter came up to him with clenched fist. "Now mark me, you--you
Ursula March crossed the room, and caught his arm, her eyes gleaming
"Cousin, in my presence this gentleman shall be treated as a
gentleman. He was kind to my father."
"Curse your father!"
John's right hand burst free; he clutched the savage by the shoulder.
"Be silent. You had better."
Brithwood shook off the grasp, turned and struck him; that last fatal
insult, which offered from man to man, in those days, could only be
wiped out with blood.
John staggered. For a moment he seemed as if he would have sprung on
his adversary and felled him to the ground--but--he did it not.
Some one whispered,--"He won't fight. He is a Quaker."
"No!" he said, and stood erect; though he was ghastly pale, and his
voice sounded hoarse and strange--"But I am a Christian. I shall not
return blow for blow."
It was a new doctrine; foreign to the practice, if familiar to the
ear, of Christian Norton Bury. No one answered him; all stared at
him; one or two sheered off from him with contemptuous smiles. Then
Ursula March stretched out her friendly hand. John took it, and grew
calm in a moment.
There arose a murmur of "Mr. Brithwood is going."
"Let him go!" Miss March cried, anger still glowing in her eyes.
"Not so--it is not right. I will speak to him. May I?" John softly
unclosed her detaining hand, and went up to Mr. Brithwood. "Sir,
there is no need for you to leave this house--I am leaving it. You
and I shall not meet again if I can help it."
His proud courtesy, his absolute dignity and calmness, completely
overwhelmed his blustering adversary; who gazed open-mouthed, while
John made his adieu to his host and to those he knew. The women
gathered round him--woman's instinct is usually true. Even Lady
Caroline, amid a flutter of regrets, declared she did not believe
there was a man in the universe who would have borne so charmingly
such a "degradation."
At the word Miss March fired up. "Madam," she said, in her impetuous
young voice, "no insult offered to a man can ever degrade him; the
only real degradation is when he degrades himself."
John, passing out at the doorway, caught her words. As he quitted
the room no crowned victor ever wore a look more joyful, more proud.
After a minute we followed him; the Doctor's wife and I. But now the
pride and joy had both faded.
"Mrs. Jessop, you see I am right," he murmured. "I ought not to have
come here. It is a hard world for such as I. I shall never conquer
"Yes--you will." And Ursula stood by him, with crimsoned cheek, and
eyes no longer flashing, but fearless still.
Mrs. Jessop put her arm round the young girl. "I also think you need
not dread the world, Mr. Halifax, if you always act as you did
tonight; though I grieve that things should have happened thus, if
only for the sake of this, my child."
"Have I done any harm? oh! tell me, have I done any harm?"
"No!" cried Ursula, with the old impetuosity kindling anew in every
feature of her noble face. "You have but showed me what I shall
remember all my life--that a Christian only can be a true gentleman."
She understood him--he felt she did; understood him as, if a man be
understood by one woman in the world, he--and she too--is strong,
safe, and happy. They grasped hands once more, and gazed
unhesitatingly into each other's eyes. All human passion for the
time being set aside, these two recognized each in the other one aim,
one purpose, one faith; something higher than love, something better
than happiness. It must have been a blessed moment for both.
Mrs. Jessop did not interfere. She had herself known what true love
was, if, as gossips said, she had kept constant to our worthy doctor
for thirty years. But still she was a prudent woman, not unused to
"You must go now," she said, laying her hand gently on John's arm.
"I am going. But she--what will she do?"
"Never mind me. Jane will take care of me," said Ursula, winding her
arms round her old governess, and leaning her cheek down on Mrs.
We had never seen Miss March show fondness, that is, caressing
fondness, to any one before. It revealed her in a new light;
betraying the depths there were in her nature; infinite depths of
softness and of love.
John watched her for a minute; a long, wild, greedy minute, then
whispered hoarsely to me, "I must go."
We made a hasty adieu, and went out together into the night--the
cold, bleak night, all blast and storm.
For weeks after then, we went on in our usual way; Ursula March
living within a stone's throw of us. She had left her cousin's, and
come to reside with Dr. Jessop and his wife.
It was a very hard trial for John.
Neither of us were again invited by Mrs. Jessop. We could not blame
her; she held a precious charge, and Norton Bury was a horrible place
for gossip. Already tale after tale had gone abroad about Miss
March's "ingratitude" to her relations. Already tongue after tongue
had repeated, in every possible form of lying, the anecdote of "young
Halifax and the 'squire." Had it been "young Halifax and Miss
March," I truly believe John could not have borne it.
As it was, though he saw her constantly, it was always by chance--a
momentary glimpse at the window, or a passing acknowledgment in the
street. I knew quite well when he had thus met her, whether he
mentioned it or not--knew by the wild, troubled look, which did not
wear off for hours.
I watched him closely, day by day, in an agony of doubt and pain.
For, though he said nothing, a great change was creeping over "the
lad," as I still fondly called him. His strength, the glory of a
young man, was going from him--he was becoming thin, weak,
restless-eyed. That healthy energy and gentle composure, which had
been so beautiful in him all his life through, were utterly lost.
"What am I to do with thee, David?" said I to him one evening, when
he had come in, looking worse than usual--I knew why; for Ursula and
her friend had just passed our house taking their pleasant walk in
the spring twilight. "Thou art very ill, I fear?"
"Not at all. There is not the least thing the matter with me. Do
let me alone."
Two minutes afterwards he begged my pardon for those sharp-spoken
words. "It was not THEE that spoke, John," I said.
"No, you are right, it was not I. It was a sort of devil that lodges
here:" he touched his breast. "The chamber he lives in is at times a
He spoke in a low tone of great anguish. What could I answer?
We stood at the window, looking idly out. The chestnut trees in the
Abbey-yard were budding green: there came that faint, sweet sound of
children at play, which one hears as the days begin to lengthen.
"It's a lovely evening," he said.
"John!" I looked him in the face. He could not palm off that kind
deceit upon me. "You have heard something about her?"
"I have," he groaned. "She is leaving Norton Bury."
"Thank God!" I muttered.
John turned fiercely upon me--but only for a moment. "Perhaps I too
ought to say, 'Thank God.' This could not have lasted long, or it
would have made me--what I pray His mercy to save me from, or to let
me die. Oh, lad, if I could only die."
He bent down over the window-sill, crushing his forehead on his
"John," I said, in this depth of despair snatching at an equally
desperate hope, "what if, instead of keeping this silence, you were
to go to her and tell her all?"
"I have thought of that: a noble thought, worthy of a poor 'prentice
lad! Why, two several evenings I have been insane enough to walk to
Dr. Jessop's door, which I have never entered, and--mark you well!
they have never asked me to enter since that night. But each time
ere I knocked my senses came back, and I went home--luckily having
made myself neither a fool nor a knave."
There was no answer to this either. Alas! I knew as well as he did,
that in the eye of the world's common sense, for a young man not
twenty-one, a tradesman's apprentice, to ask the hand of a young
gentlewoman, uncertain if she loved him, was most utter folly. Also,
for a penniless youth to sue a lady with a fortune, even though it
was (the Brithwoods took care to publish the fact) smaller than was
at first supposed--would, in the eye of the world's honour, be not
very much unlike knavery. There was no help--none!
"David," I groaned, "I would you had never seen her."
"Hush!--not a word like that. If you heard all I hear of her--daily-
-hourly--her unselfishness, her energy, her generous, warm heart! It
is blessedness even to have known her. She is an angel--no, better
than that, a woman! I did not want her for a saint in a shrine--I
wanted her as a help-meet, to walk with me in my daily life, to
comfort me, strengthen me, make me pure and good. I could be a good
man if I had her for my wife. Now--"
He rose, and walked rapidly up and down. His looks were becoming
"Come, Phineas, suppose we go to meet her up the road--as I meet her
almost every day. Sometimes she merely bends and smiles, sometimes
she holds out her little hand, and 'hopes I am quite well!' And then
they pass on, and I stand gaping and staring after them like an
idiot. There--look--there they are now."
Ay! walking leisurely along the other side of the road--talking and
smiling to one another, in their own merry, familiar way, were Mrs.
Jessop and Miss March.
They were not thinking of us, not the least. Only just ere they
passed our house Ursula turned slightly round, and looked behind; a
quiet, maidenly look, with the smile still lingering on her mouth.
She saw nothing, and no one; for John had pulled me from the window,
and placed himself out of sight. So, turning back again, she went on
her way. They both disappeared.
"Now, Phineas, it is all ended."
"What do you mean?"
"I have looked on her for the last time."
"Nay--she is not going yet."
"But I am--fleeing from the devil and his angels. Hurrah, Phineas,
lad! We'll have a merry night. To-morrow I am away to Bristol, to
set sail for America."
He wrung my hands with a long, loud, half-mad laugh; and then dropped
heavily on a chair.
A few hours after, he was lying on my bed, struck down by the first
real sickness he had ever known. It was apparently a low agueish
fever, which had been much about Norton Bury since the famine of last
year. At least, so Jael said; and she was a wise doctoress, and had
cured many. He would have no one else to attend him--seemed
terrified at the mere mention of Dr. Jessop. I opposed him not at
first, for well I knew, whatever the proximate cause of his sickness
might be, its root was in that mental pang which no doctors could
cure. So I trusted to the blessed quiet of a sick-room--often so
healing to misery--to Jael's nursing, and his brother's love.
After a few days we called in a physician--a stranger from Coltham--
who pronounced it to be this Norton Bury fever, caught through
living, as he still persisted in doing, in his old attic, in that
unhealthy alley where was Sally Watkins's house. It must have been
coming on, the doctor said, for a long time; but it had no doubt now
reached its crisis. He would be better soon.
But he did not get better. Days slid into weeks, and still he lay
there, never complaining, scarcely appearing to suffer, except from
the wasting of the fever; yet when I spoke of recovery he "turned his
face unto the wall"--weary of living.
Once, when he had lain thus a whole morning, hardly speaking a word,
I began to feel growing palpable the truth which day by day I had
thrust behind me as some intangible, impossible dread--that ere now
people had died of mere soul-sickness, without any bodily disease. I
took up his poor hand that lay on the counterpane;--once, at
Enderley, he had regretted its somewhat coarse strength: now
Ursula's own was not thinner or whiter. He drew it back.
"Oh, Phineas, lad, don't touch me--only let me rest."
The weak, querulous voice--that awful longing for rest! What if,
despite all the physician's assurances, he might be sinking, sinking-
-my friend, my hope, my pride, all my comfort in this life--passing
from it and from me into another, where, let me call never so wildly,
he could not answer me any more, nor come back to me any more.
Oh, God of mercy! if I were to be left in this world without my
I had many a time thought over the leaving him, going quietly away
when it should please the Giver of all breath to recall mine, falling
asleep, encompassed and sustained by his love until the last; then, a
burden no longer, leaving him to work out a glorious life, whose rich
web should include and bring to beautiful perfection all the poor
broken threads in mine. But now, if this should be all vain, if he
should go from me, not I from him--I slid down to the ground, to my
knees, and the dumb cry of my agony went up on high.
How could I save him?
There seemed but one way; I sprung at it; stayed not to think if it
were right or wrong, honourable or dishonourable. His life hung in
the balance, and there was but one way; besides, had I not cried unto
God for help?
I put aside the blind, and looked out of doors. For weeks I had not
crossed the threshold; I almost started to find that it was spring.
Everything looked lovely in the coloured twilight; a blackbird was
singing loudly in the Abbey trees across the way; all things were
fresh and glowing, laden with the hope of the advancing year. And
there he lay on his sick-bed, dying!
All he said, as I drew the curtain back, was a faint moan--"No light!
I can't bear the light! Do let me rest!"
In half-an-hour, without saying a word to human being, I was on my
way to Ursula March.
She sat knitting in the summer-parlour alone. The doctor was out;
Mrs. Jessop I saw down the long garden, bonnetted and shawled, busy
among her gooseberry-bushes--so we were safe.
As I have said, Ursula sat knitting, but her eyes had a soft
dreaminess. My entrance had evidently startled her, and driven some
sweet, shy thought away.
But she met me cordially--said she was glad to see me--that she had
not seen either of us lately; and the knitting pins began to move
Those dainty fingers--that soft, tremulous smile--I could have hated
"No wonder you did not see us, Miss March; John has been very ill, is
ill now--almost dying."
I hurled the words at her, sharp as javelins, and watched to see them
They struck--they wounded; I could see her shiver.
"Ill!--and no one ever told me!"
"You? How could it affect you? To me, now"--and my savage words,
for they were savage, broke down in a burst of misery--"nothing in
this world to me is worth a straw in comparison with John. If he
I let loose the flood of my misery. I dashed it over her, that she
might see it--feel it; that it might enter all the fair and sightly
chambers of her happy life, and make them desolate as mine. For was
she not the cause?
Forgive me! I was cruel to thee, Ursula; and thou wert so good--so
She rose, came to me, and took my hand. Hers was very cold, and her
voice trembled much.
"Be comforted. He is young, and God is very merciful."
She could say no more, but sat down, nervously twisting and
untwisting her fingers. There was in her looks a wild sorrow--a
longing to escape from notice; but mine held her fast, mercilessly,
as a snake holds a little bird. She sat cowering, almost like a
bird, a poor, broken-winged, helpless little bird--whom the storm has
Rising, she made an attempt to quit the room.
"I will call Mrs. Jessop: she may be of use--"
"She cannot. Stay!"
"Further advice, perhaps? Doctor Jessop--you must want help--"
"None save that which will never come. His bodily sickness is
conquered--it is his mind. Oh, Miss March!" and I looked up at her
like a wretch begging for life--"Do YOU not know of what my brother
"Dying!" A long shudder passed over her, from head to foot--but I
"Think--a life like his, that might be made a blessing to all he
loves--to all the world--is it to be sacrificed thus? It may be--I
do not say it will--but it may be. While in health he could fight
against this--this which I must not speak of; but now his health is
gone. He cannot rally. Without some change, I see clearly, even I,
who love him better than any one can love him--"
She stirred a little here.
"Far better," I repeated; "for while John does NOT love me best, he
to me is more than any one else in the world. Yet even I have given
up hope, unless--But I have no right to say more."
There was no need. She began to understand. A deep, soft red,
sun-rise colour, dawned all over her face and neck, nay, tinged her
very arms--her delicate, bare arms. She looked at me once--just
once--with a mute but keen inquiry.
"It is the truth, Miss March--ay, ever since last year. You will
respect it? You will, you shall respect it?"
She bent her head in acquiescence--that was all. She had not uttered
a single syllable. Her silence almost drove me wild.
"What! not one word? not one ordinary message from a friend to a
friend?--one who is lying ill, too!"
"Better so!" I cried, made desperate at last. "Better, if it must
be, that he should die and go to the God who made him--ay, made him,
as you shall yet see, too noble a man to die for any woman's love."
I left her--left her where she sat, and went my way.
Of the hours that followed the less I say the better. My mind was in
a tumult of pain, in which right and wrong were strangely confused.
I could not decide--I can scarcely decide now--whether what I had
done ought to have been done; I only know that I did it--did it under
an impulse so sudden and impetuous that it seemed to me like the
guidance of Providence. All I could do afterwards was to trust the
result where we say we trust all things, and yet are for ever
disquieting ourselves in vain--we of little faith!
I have said, and I say again, that I believe every true marriage--of
which there is probably one in every five thousand of conjugal
unions--is brought about by heaven, and heaven only; and that all
human influence is powerless either to make or to mar that happy end.
Therefore, to heaven I left this marriage, if such it was destined to
be. And so, after a season, I calmed myself enough to dare entering
that quiet sick-chamber, where no one ever entered but Jael and me.
The old woman met me at the door.
"Come in gently, Phineas; I do think there is a change."
A change!--that awful word! I staggered rather than walked to John's
Ay, there was a change, but not THAT one--which made my blood run
cold in my veins even to think of. Thank God for evermore for His
great mercies--not THAT change!
John was sitting up in bed. New life shone in his eyes, in his whole
aspect. Life and--no, not hope, but something far better, diviner.
"Phineas, how tired you look; it is time you were in bed."
The old way of speaking--the old, natural voice, as I had not heard
it for weeks. I flung myself by the bed-side--perhaps I wept
outright--God knows! It is thought a shame for a man to weep; yet
One Man wept, and that too was over His friend--His brother.
"You must not grieve over me any more, dear lad; to-morrow, please
God! I mean to be quite well again."
Amidst all my joy I marvelled over what could be the cause of so
miraculous a change.
"You would smile if I told you--only a dream."
No, I did not smile; for I believed in the Ruler of all our spirits,
sleeping or waking.
"A dream so curious, that I have scarcely lost the impression of it
yet. Do you know, Phineas, she has been sitting by me, just where
you sit now."
If I could express the tone in which he uttered the word, which had
never fallen from his lips before--it was always either "Miss March,"
or the impersonal form used by all lovers to disguise the beloved
name--"URSULA," spoken as no man speaks any woman's name save the one
which is the music of his heart, which he foresees shall be the one
fireside tune of his life, ever familiar, yet ever sweet.
"Yes, she sat there, talking. She told me she knew I loved her--
loved her so much that I was dying for her; that it was very wrong;
that I must rise up and do my work in the world--do it for heaven's
sake, not for hers; that a true man should live, and live nobly for
the woman he loves--it is only a coward who dies for her."
I listened, wonder-struck--for these were the very words that Ursula
March might have uttered; the very spirit that seemed to shine in her
eyes that night--the last night she and John spoke to one another. I
asked him if there was any more of the dream?
"Nothing clear. I thought we were on the Flat at Enderley, and I was
following her; whether I reached her or not I cannot tell. And
whether I ever shall reach her I cannot tell. But this I know,
Phineas, I will do as she bade me; I will arise and walk."
And so he did. He slept quietly as an infant all that night. Next
morning I found him up and dressed. Looking like a spectre, indeed;
but with health, courage, and hope in his eyes. Even my father
noticed it, when at dinner-time, with Jael's help--poor old Jael! how
proud she was--John crawled downstairs.
"Why, thee art picking up, lad! Thee'lt be a man again in no time."
"I hope so. And a better man than ever I was before."
"Thee might be better, and thee might be worse. Anyhow, we couldn't
do without thee, John. Hey, Phineas! who's been meddling with my
The old man turned his back upon us, and busily read his newspaper
We never had a happier meal in our house than that dinner.
In the afternoon my father stayed at home--a rare thing for him to
do; nay, more, he went and smoked his peaceful pipe in the garden.
John lay on an extempore sofa, made of three of our high-backed
chairs and the window-sill. I read to him--trying to keep his
attention, and mine too, solely to the Great Plague of London and
Daniel Defoe. When, just as I was stealthily glancing at his face,
fancying it looked whiter and more sunken, that his smile was fading,
and his thoughts were wandering--Jael burst in.
"John Halifax, there be a woman asking for thee."
No, John--no need for that start--that rush of impetuous blood to thy
poor thin cheek, as if there were but one woman in all the world.
No, it was only Mrs. Jessop.
At sight of him, standing up, tall, and gaunt, and pale, the good
lady's eyes brimmed over.
"You have been very ill, my poor boy! Forgive me--but I am an old
woman, you know. Lie down again."
With gentle force she compelled him, and sat down by his side.
"I had no idea--why did you not let us know--the doctor and me? How
long have you been ill?"
"I am quite well now--I am indeed. I shall be about again tomorrow,
shall I not, Phineas?" and he looked eagerly to me for confirmation.
I gave it, firmly and proudly. I was glad she should know it--glad
she should see that the priceless jewel of his heart would not lie
tossing in the mire because a haughty girl scorned to wear it. Glad
that she might one day find out there lived not the woman of whom
John Halifax was not worthy.
"But you must be very careful--very careful of yourself, indeed."
"He will, Mrs. Jessop. Or, if not, he has many to take care of him.
Many to whom his life is most precious and most dear."
I spoke--perhaps more abruptly than I ought to have spoken to that
good old lady--but her gentle answer seemed at once to understand and
"I well believe that, Mr. Fletcher. And I think Mr. Halifax hardly
knows how much we--we all--esteem him." And with a kind motherly
gesture she took John's hand. "You must make haste and get well now.
My husband will come and see you to-morrow. For Ursula--" here she
carefully busied herself in the depths of her pocket--"my dear child
sends you this."
It was a little note--unsealed. The superscription was simply his
name, in her clear, round, fair hand-writing--"John Halifax."
His fingers closed over it convulsively. "I--she is--very kind."
The words died away--the hand which grasped, ay, for more than a
minute, the unopened letter, trembled like an aspen leaf.
"Yes, hers is a grateful nature," observed Mrs. Jessop, sedulously
looking at and speaking to me. "I would not wish it otherwise--I
would not wish her to forget those whose worth she proved in her
season of trouble."
I was silent. The old lady's tongue likewise failed her. She took
off her glove, wiped a finger across each eyelash, and sat still.
"Have you read your little note, Mr. Halifax?"
"I will take your message back. She told me what she had said to
Ay, all the world might have read those simple lines:
"MY DEAR FRIEND,
"I did not know till yesterday that you had been ill. I have
not forgotten how kind you were to my poor father. I should like to
come and see you if you would allow me.
This was all the note. I saw it, more than thirty years afterwards,
yellow and faded, in the corner of his pocket-book.
"Well, what shall I say to my child?"
"Say"--he half rose, struggling to speak--"ask her to come."
He turned his head towards the window, and the sunshine glittered on
two great drops, large as a child's tear.
Mrs. Jessop went away. And now for a long hour we waited--scarcely
moving. John lay, his eyes sometimes closed, sometimes fixed
dreamily on the bit of blue sky that shone out above the iron
railings between the Abbey trees. More than once they wandered to
the little letter, which lay buried in his hands. He felt it there--
that was enough.
My father came in from the garden, and settled to his afternoon doze;
but I think John hardly noticed him--nor I. My poor old father! Yet
we were all young once--let youth enjoy its day!
At length Ursula came. She stood at the parlour door, rosy with
walking--a vision of youth and candid innocence, which blushed not,
nor had need to blush, at any intent or act that was sanctified by
the law of God, and by her own heart.
John rose to meet her. They did not speak, but only clasped hands.
He was not strong enough for disguises now--in his first look she
might have seen, have felt, that I had told her the truth. For hers-
-but it dropped down, down, as Ursula March's clear glance had never
dropped before. Then I knew how all would end.
Jael's voice broke in sharply. "Abel Fletcher, the doctor's wife is
wanting thee down in the kitchen-garden, and she says her green
gooseberries bean't half as big as our'n."
My father awoke--rubbed his eyes--became aware of a lady's presence--
rubbed them again, and sat staring.
John led Ursula to the old man's chair.
"Mr. Fletcher, this is Miss March, a friend of mine, who, hearing I
was ill, out of her great kindness--"
His voice faltered. Miss March added, in a low tone, with downcast
"I am an orphan, and he was kind to my dear father."
Abel Fletcher nodded--adjusted his spectacles--eyed her all over--and
nodded again; slowly, gravely, with a satisfied inspection. His hard
gaze lingered, and softened while it lingered, on that young face,
whereon was written simplicity, dignity, truth.
"If thee be a friend of John's, welcome to my house. Wilt thee sit
Offering his hand, with a mixture of kindness and ceremonious grace
that I had never before seen in my Quaker father, he placed her in
his own arm-chair. How well I remember her sitting there, in her
black silk pelisse, trimmed with the white fur she was so fond of
wearing, and her riding-hat, the soft feathers of which drooped on
her shoulder, trembling as she trembled. For she did tremble very
Gradually the old man's perception opened to the facts before him.
He ceased his sharp scrutiny, and half smiled.
"Wilt thee stay, and have a dish of tea with us?"
So it came to pass, I hardly remember how, that in an hour's space
our parlour beheld the strangest sight it had beheld since--Ah, no
wonder that when she took her place at the table's foot, and gave him
his dish of tea with her own hand--her pretty ringed lady's hand--my
old father started, as if it had been another than Miss March who was
sitting there. No wonder that, more than once, catching the sound of
her low, quiet, gentlewomanlike speech, different from any female
voices here, he turned round suddenly with a glance, half-scared,
half-eager, as if she had been a ghost from the grave.
But Mrs. Jessop engaged him in talk, and, woman-hater as he was, he
could not resist the pleasantness of the doctor's little wife. The
doctor, too, came in after tea, and the old folk all settled
themselves for a cosy chat, taking very little notice of us three.
Miss March sat at a little table near the window, admiring some
hyacinths that Mrs. Jessop had brought us. A wise present: for all
Norton Bury knew that if Abel Fletcher had a soft place in his heart
it was for his garden and his flowers. These were very lovely; in
colour and scent delicious to one who had been long ill. John lay
looking at them and at her, as if, oblivious of past and future, his
whole life were absorbed into that one exquisite hour.
For me--where I sat I do not clearly know, nor probably did any one
"There," said Miss March to herself, in a tone of almost childish
satisfaction, as she arranged the last hyacinth to her liking.
"They are very beautiful," I heard John's voice answer, with a
strange trembling in it. "It is growing too dark to judge of
colours; but the scent is delicious, even here."
"I could move the table closer to you."
"Thank you--let me do it--will you sit down?"
She did so, after a very slight hesitation, by John's side. Neither
spoke--but sat quietly there, with the sunset light on their two
heads, softly touching them both, and then as softly melting away.
"There is a new moon to-night," Miss March remarked, appositely and
"Is there? Then I have been ill a whole month. For I remember
noticing it through the trees the night when--"
He did not say what night, and she did not ask. To such a very
unimportant conversation as they were apparently holding my
involuntary listening could do no harm.
"You will be able to walk out soon, I hope," said Miss March again.
"Norton Bury is a pretty town."
John asked, suddenly--"Are you going to leave it?"
"Not yet--I do not know for certain--perhaps not at all. I mean,"
she added, hurriedly, "that being independent, and having entirely
separated from, and been given up by, my cousins, I prefer residing
with Mrs. Jessop altogether."
"Of course--most natural." The words were formally spoken, and John
did not speak again for some time.
"I hope,"--said Ursula, breaking the pause, and then stopping, as if
her own voice frightened her.
"What do you hope?"
"That long before this moon has grown old you will be quite strong
"Thank you! I hope so too. I have need for strength, God knows!"
He sighed heavily.
"And you will have what you need, so as to do your work in the world.
You must not be afraid."
"I am not afraid. I shall bear my burthen like other men. Every one
has some inevitable burthen to bear."
"So I believe."
And now the room darkened so fast that I could not see them; but
their voices seemed a great way off, as the children's voices playing
at the old well-head used to sound to me when I lay under the brow of
the Flat--in the dim twilights at Enderley.
"I intend," John said, "as soon as I am able, to leave Norton Bury,
and go abroad for some time."
"To America. It is the best country for a young man who has neither
money, nor kindred, nor position--nothing, in fact, but his own right
hand with which to carve out his own fortunes--as I will, if I can."
She murmured something about this being "quite right."
"I am glad you think so." But his voice had resumed that formal tone
which ever and anon mingled strangely with its low, deep tenderness.
"In any case, I must quit England. I have reasons for so doing."
The question seemed to startle John--he did not reply at once.
"If you wish I will tell you; in order that, should I ever come back-
-or if I should not come back at all, you who were kind enough to be
my friend will know I did not go away from mere youthful
recklessness, or love of change."
He waited, apparently for some answer--but it came not, and he
"I am going because there has befallen me a great trouble, which,
while I stay here, I cannot get free from or overcome. I do not wish
to sink under it--I had rather, as you said, 'Do my work in the
world' as a man ought. No man has a right to say unto his Maker, 'My
burthen is heavier than I can bear.' Do you not think so?"
"Do you not think I am right in thus meeting, and trying to conquer,
an inevitable ill?"
"IS it inevitable?"
"Hush!" John answered, wildly. "Don't reason with me--you cannot
judge--you do not know. It is enough that I must go. If I stay I
shall become unworthy of myself, unworthy of--Forgive me, I have no
right to talk thus; but you called me 'friend,' and I would like you
to think kindly of me always. Because--because--" and his voice
shook--broke down utterly. "God love thee and take care of thee,
wherever I may go!"
It was but a low, faint cry, like that of a little bird. But he
heard it--felt it. In the silence of the dark she crept up to him,
like a young bird to its mate, and he took her into the shelter of
his love for evermore. At once all was made clear between them; for
whatever the world might say, they were in the sight of heaven equal,
and she received as much as she gave.
* * * * *
When Jael brought in lights the room seemed to me, at first, all in a
wild dazzle. Then I saw John rise, and Miss March with him. Holding
her hand, he led her across the room. His head was erect, his eyes
shining--his whole aspect that of a man who declares before all the
world, "This is MY OWN."
"Eh?" said my father, gazing at them from over his spectacles.
John spoke brokenly, "We have no parents, neither she nor I. Bless
her--for she has promised to be my wife."
And the old man blessed her with tears.
"I hardly like taking thee out this wet day, Phineas--but it is a
comfort to have thee."
Perhaps it was, for John was bent on a trying errand. He was going
to communicate to Mr. Brithwood of the Mythe, Ursula's legal guardian
and trustee, the fact that she had promised him her hand--him, John
Halifax, the tanner. He did it--nay, insisted upon doing it--the day
after he came of age, and just one week after they had been
betrothed--this nineteenth of June, one thousand eight hundred and
We reached the iron gate of the Mythe House;--John hesitated a
minute, and then pulled the bell with a resolute hand.
"Do you remember the last time we stood here, John? I do, well!"
But soon the happy smile faded from his lips, and left them pressed
together in a firm, almost painful gravity. He was not only a lover
but a man. And no man could go to meet what he knew he must meet in
this house, and on this errand, altogether unmoved. One might
foresee a good deal--even in the knowing side-glance of the servant,
whom he startled with his name, "Mr. Halifax."
"Mr. Brithwood's busy, sir--better come to-morrow," suggested the
man--evidently knowing enough upon his master's affairs.
"I am sorry to trouble him--but I must see Mr. Brithwood to-day."
And John determinedly followed the man into the grand empty
dining-room, where, on crimson velvet chairs, we sat and contemplated
the great stag's head with its branching horns, the silver flagons
and tankards, and the throstles hopping outside across the rainy
lawn: at our full leisure, too, for the space of fifteen minutes.
"This will not do," said John--quietly enough, though this time it
was with a less steady hand that he pulled the bell.
"Did you tell your master I was here?"
"Yes, sir." And the grin with which the footman came in somehow slid
away from his mouth's corners.
"How soon may I have the honour of seeing him?"
"He says, sir, you must send up your business by me."
John paused, evidently subduing something within him--something
unworthy of Ursula's lover--of Ursula's husband that was to be.
"Tell your master my business is solely with himself, and I must
request to see him. It is important, say, or I would not thus
intrude upon his time."
"Very well, sir."
Ere long, the man brought word that Mr. Brithwood would be at
liberty, for five minutes only, in the justice-room. We were led
out, crossing the court-yard once more--where, just riding out, I saw
two ladies, one of whom kissed her hand gaily to John Halifax--to the
magistrate's office. There, safely separated from his own noble
mansion, Mr. Brithwood administered justice. In the outer room a
stout young fellow--a poacher, probably--sat heavily ironed, sullen
and fierce; and by the door a girl with a child in her arms, and--God
pity her!--no ring on her finger, stood crying; another ill-looking
fellow, maudlin drunk, with a constable by him, called out to us as
we passed for "a drop o' beer."
These were the people whom Richard Brithwood, Esquire, magistrate for
the county of ----, had to judge and punish, according to his own
sense of equity and his knowledge of his country's law.
He sat behind his office-table, thoroughly magisterial, dictating so
energetically to his clerk behind him, that we had both entered, and
John had crossed the room, before he saw us, or seemed to see.
"Oh--Mr. Halifax. Good-morning."
John returned the salutation, which was evidently meant to show that
the giver bore no grudge; that, indeed, it was impossible so
dignified a personage as Richard Brithwood, Esquire, in his public
capacity, too, could bear a grudge against so inferior an individual
as John Halifax.
"I should be glad, sir, of a few minutes' speech with you."
"Certainly--certainly; speak on;" and he lent a magisterial ear.
"Excuse me, my business is private," said John, looking at the clerk.
"No business is private here," returned the 'squire, haughtily.
"Then shall I speak with you elsewhere? But I must have the honour
of an interview with you, and immediately."
Whether Mr. Brithwood was seized with some indefinite alarm, he
himself best knew why, or whether John's manner irresistibly
compelled him to civility, as the stronger always compels the weaker,
I cannot tell--but he signed to the clerk to leave the room.
"And, Jones, send back all the others to the lock-up house till
tomorrow. Bless my life! it's near three o'clock. They can't expect
to keep a gentleman's dinner waiting--these low fellows."
I suppose this referred only to the culprits outside; at all events,
we chose to take it so.
"Now--you, sir--perhaps you'll despatch your business; the sooner the
"It will not take long. It is a mere matter of form, which
nevertheless I felt it my duty to be the first to inform you. Mr.
Brithwood, I have the honour of bearing a message to you from your
cousin--Miss Ursula March."
"She's nothing to me--I never wish to see her face again, the--the
"You will be kind enough, if you please, to avoid all such epithets;
at least, in my hearing."
"Your hearing! And pray who are you, sir?"
"You know quite well who I am."
"Oh, yes! And how goes the tanning? Any offers in the horseflesh
line? Always happy to meet you in the way of business. But what can
you possibly have to do with me, or with any member of my family?"
John bit his lip; the 'squire's manner was extremely galling; more
so, perhaps, in its outside civility than any gross rudeness.
"Mr. Brithwood, I was not speaking of myself, but of the lady whose
message I have the honour to bring you."
"That lady, sir, has chosen to put herself away from her family, and
her family can hold no further intercourse with her," said the
"I am aware of that," was the reply, with at least equal hauteur.
"Are you? And pray what right may you have to be acquainted with
Miss March's private concerns?"
"The right--which, indeed, was the purport of her message to you--
that in a few months I shall become her husband."
John said this very quietly--so quietly that, at first, the 'squire
seemed hardly to credit his senses. At last, he burst into a hoarse
"Well, that is the best joke I ever did hear."
"Pardon me; I am perfectly serious."
"Bah! how much money do you want, fellow? A pretty tale! you'll not
get me to believe it--ha! ha! She wouldn't be so mad. To be sure,
women have their fancies, as we know, and you're a likely young
fellow enough; but to marry you--"
John sprang up--his whole frame quivering with fury. "Take care,
sir; take care how you insult my WIFE!"
He stood over the wretch--the cowardly shrinking wretch--he did not
touch him, but he stood over him till, terrified out of his life,
Richard Brithwood gasped out some apology.
"Sit down--pray sit down again. Let us proceed in our business."
John Halifax sat down.
"So--my cousin is your wife, I think you were saying?"
"She will be, some months hence. We were engaged a week ago, with
the full knowledge and consent of Doctor and Mrs. Jessop, her nearest
"And of yours?" asked Mr. Brithwood, with as much sarcasm as his
blunt wits could furnish him.
"I have no relatives."
"So I always understood. And that being the case, may I ask the
meaning of the visit? Where are your lawyers, your marriage
settlements, hey? I say, young man--ha! ha! I should like to know
what you can possibly want with me, Miss March's trustee?"
"Nothing whatever. Miss March, as you are aware, is by her father's
will left perfectly free in her choice of marriage; and she has
chosen. But since, under certain circumstances, I wish to act with
perfect openness, I came to tell you, as her cousin and the executor
of this will, that she is about to become my wife."
And he lingered over that name, as if its very utterance strengthened
and calmed him.
"May I inquire into those 'certain circumstances'?" asked the other,
"You know them already. Miss March has a fortune and I have none;
and though I wish that difference were on the other side--though it
might and did hinder me from seeking her--yet now she is sought and
won, it shall not hinder my marrying her."
"Likely not," sneered Mr. Brithwood.
John's passion was rising again.
"I repeat, it shall not hinder me. The world may say what it
chooses; we follow a higher law than the world--she and I. She knows
me, she is not afraid to trust her whole life with me; am I to be
afraid to trust her? Am I to be such a coward as not to dare to
marry the woman I love, because the world might say I married her for
He stood, his clenched hand resting on the table, looking full into
Richard Brithwood's face. The 'squire sat dumfoundered at the young
"Your pardon," John added, more calmly. "Perhaps I owe her some
pardon too, for bringing her name thus into discussion; but I wished
to have everything clear between myself and you, her nearest
relative. You now know exactly how the matter stands. I will detain
you no longer--I have nothing more to say."
"But I have," roared out the 'squire, at length recovering himself,
seeing his opponent had quitted the field. "Stop a minute."
John paused at the door.
"Tell Ursula March she may marry you, or any other vagabond she
pleases--it's no business of mine. But her fortune is my business,
and it's in my hands too. Might's right, and possession's
nine-tenths of the law. Not one penny shall she get out of my
fingers as long as I can keep hold of it."
John bowed, his hand still on the door. "As you please, Mr.
Brithwood. That was not the subject of our interview.
And we were away.
Re-crossing the iron gates, and out into the open road, John breathed
"That's over--all is well."
"Do you think what he threatened is true? Can he do it?"
"Very likely; don't let us talk about that." And he walked on
lightly, as if a load were taken off his mind, and body and soul
leaped up to meet the glory of the summer sunshine, the freshness of
the summer air.
"Oh! what a day is this!--after the rain, too! How she will enjoy
And coming home through Norton Bury, we met her, walking with Mrs.
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