Part 3 out of 12
"Ay, she be. Mr. Halifax pays her a good rent; and she sees 'un made
comfortable. Not that he wants much, being out pretty much all day."
"What is he busy about of nights?"
"Larning," said Jem, with an awed look. "He's terrible wise. But
for all that, sometimes he'll teach Charley and me a bit o' the
Readamadeasy." (Reading-made-easy, I suppose, John's hopeful pupil
meant.) "He's very kind to we, and to mother too. Her says, that
her do, Mr. Halifax--"
"Send the fellow away, Phineas," muttered my father, turning his face
to the wall.
I obeyed. But first I asked, in a whisper, if Jem had any idea when
"Mr. Halifax" would be back?
"He said, maybe not till morning. Them's bad folk about. He was
going to stop all night, either at your house or at the tan-yard, for
fear of a BLAZE."
The word made my father start; for in these times well we knew what
poor folk meant by "a blaze."
"My house--my tan-yard--I must get up this instant--help me. He
ought to come back--that lad Halifax. There's a score of my men at
hand--Wilkes, and Johnson, and Jacob Baines--I say, Phineas--but thee
He tried to dress, and to drag on his heavy shoes; but fell back,
sick with exhaustion and pain. I made him lie down again on the bed.
"Phineas, lad," said he, brokenly, "thy old father is getting as
helpless as thee."
So we kept watch together, all the night through; sometimes dozing,
sometimes waking up at some slight noise below, or at the flicker of
the long-wicked candle, which fear converted into the glare of some
incendiary fire--doubtless our own home. Now and then I heard my
father mutter something about "the lad being safe." I said nothing.
I only prayed.
Thus the night wore away.
After Midnight--I know not how long, for I lost count of the hours by
the Abbey chimes, and our light had gone out--after midnight I heard
by my father's breathing that he was asleep. I was thankful to see
it for his sake, and also for another reason.
I could not sleep--all my faculties were preternaturally alive; my
weak body and timid mind became strong and active, able to compass
anything. For that one night, at least, I felt myself a man.
My father was a very sound sleeper. I knew nothing would disturb him
till daylight; therefore my divided duty was at an end. I left him,
and crept down-stairs into Sally Watkins' kitchen. It was silent,
only the faithful warder, Jem, dozed over the dull fire. I touched
him on the shoulder--at which he collared me and nearly knocked me
"Beg pardon, Mr. Phineas--hope I didn't hurt 'ee, sir?" cried he, all
but whimpering; for Jem, a big lad of fifteen, was the most
tender-hearted fellow imaginable. "I thought it were some of them
folk that Mr. Halifax ha' gone among."
"Where is Mr. Halifax?"
"Doan't know, sir--wish I did! wouldn't be long a finding out,
though--on'y he says: 'Jem, you stop 'ere wi' they'" (pointing his
thumb up the staircase). "So, Master Phineas, I stop."
And Jem settled himself with a doggedly obedient, but most
dissatisfied air down by the fire-place. It was evident nothing
would move him thence: so he was as safe a guard over my poor old
father's slumber as the mastiff in the tan-yard, who was as brave as
a lion and as docile as a child. My last lingering hesitation ended.
"Jem, lend me your coat and hat--I'm going out into the town."
Jem was so astonished, that he stood with open mouth while I took the
said garments from him, and unbolted the door. At last it seemed to
occur to him that he ought to intercept me.
"But, sir, Mr. Halifax said--"
"I am going to look for Mr. Halifax."
And I escaped outside. Anything beyond his literal duty did not
strike the faithful Jem. He stood on the door-sill, and gazed after
me with a hopeless expression.
"I s'pose you mun have your way, sir; but Mr. Halifax said, 'Jem, you
stop y'ere,'--and y'ere I stop."
He went in, and I heard him bolting the door, with a sullen
determination, as if he would have kept guard against it--waiting for
I stole along the dark alley into the street. It was very silent--I
need not have borrowed Jem's exterior, in order to creep through a
throng of maddened rioters. There was no sign of any such, except
that under one of the three oil-lamps that lit the night-darkness at
Norton Bury lay a few smouldering hanks of hemp, well resined. They,
then, had thought of that dreadful engine of destruction--fire. Had
my terrors been true? Our house--and perhaps John within it!
On I ran, speeded by a dull murmur, which I fancied I heard; but
still there was no one in the street--no one except the
Abbey-watchman lounging in his box. I roused him, and asked if all
was safe?--where were the rioters?
"At Abel Fletcher's mill; they may be at his house now--"
"Ay, I think they be."
"And will not one man in the town help him; no constables--no law?"
"Oh! he's a Quaker; the law don't help Quakers."
That was the truth--the hard, grinding truth--in those days.
Liberty, justice, were idle names to Nonconformists of every kind;
and all they knew of the glorious constitution of English law was
when its iron hand was turned against them.
I had forgotten this; bitterly I remembered it now. So wasting no
more words, I flew along the church-yard, until I saw, shining
against the boles of the chestnut-trees, a red light. It was one of
the hempen torches. Now, at last, I had got in the midst of that
small body of men, "the rioters."
They were a mere handful--not above two score--apparently the relics
of the band which had attacked the mill, joined with a few plough-
lads from the country around. But they were desperate; they had come
up the Coltham road so quietly, that, except this faint murmur,
neither I nor any one in the town could have told they were near.
Wherever they had been ransacking, as yet they had not attacked my
father's house; it stood up on the other side the road--barred,
I heard a muttering--"Th' old man bean't there."--"Nobody knows where
he be." No, thank God!
"Be us all y'ere?" said the man with the torch, holding it up so as
to see round him. It was well then that I appeared as Jem Watkins.
But no one noticed me, except one man, who skulked behind a tree, and
of whom I was rather afraid, as he was apparently intent on watching.
"Ready, lads? Now for the rosin! Blaze 'un out."
But, in the eager scuffle, the torch, the only one alight, was
knocked down and trodden out. A volley of oaths arose, though whose
fault it was no one seemed to know; but I missed my man from behind
the tree--nor found him till after the angry throng had rushed on to
the nearest lamp. One of them was left behind, standing close to our
own railings. He looked round to see if none were by, and then
sprang over the gate. Dark as it was I thought I recognized him.
"Phineas?" He was beside me in a bound. "How could you do--"
"I could do anything to-night. But you are safe; no one has harmed
you. Oh, thank God, you are not hurt!"
And I clung to his arm--my friend, whom I had missed so long, so
He held me tight--his heart felt as mine, only more silently.
"Now, Phineas, we have a minute's time. I must have you safe--we
must get into the house."
"Who is there?"
"Jael; she is as good as a host of constables; she has braved the
fellows once to-night, but they're back again, or will be directly."
"And the mill?"
"Safe, as yet; I have had three of the tan-yard men there since
yesterday morning, though your father did not know. I have been
going to and fro all night, between there and here, waiting till the
rioters should come back from the Severn mills. Hist!--here they
are--I say, Jael?"
He tapped at the window. In a few seconds Jael had unbarred the
door, let us in, and closed it again securely, mounting guard behind
it with something that looked very like my father's pistols, though I
would not discredit her among our peaceful society by positively
stating the fact.
"Bravo!" said John, when we stood all together in the barricaded
house, and heard the threatening murmur of voices and feet outside.
"Bravo, Jael! The wife of Heber the Kenite was no braver woman than
She looked gratified, and followed John obediently from room to room.
"I have done all as thee bade me--thee art a sensible lad, John
Halifax. We are secure, I think."
Secure? bolts and bars secure against fire? For that was threatening
"They can't mean it--surely they can't mean it," repeated John, as
the cry of "Burn 'un out!" rose louder and louder.
But they did mean it. From the attic window we watched them light
torch after torch, sometimes throwing one at the house,--but it fell
harmless against the staunch oaken door, and blazed itself out on our
stone steps. All it did was to show more plainly than even daylight
had shown, the gaunt, ragged forms and pinched faces, furious with
John, as well as I, recoiled at that miserable sight.
"I'll speak to them," he said. "Unbar the window, Jael;" and before
I could hinder, he was leaning right out. "Holloa, there!"
At his loud and commanding voice a wave of up-turned faces surged
"My men, do you know what you are about? To burn down a gentleman's
There was a hush, and then a shout of derision.
"Not a Quaker's! nobody'll get hanged for burning out a Quaker!"
"That be true enough," muttered Jael between her teeth. "We must
e'en fight, as Mordecai's people fought, hand to hand, until they
slew their enemies."
"Fight!" repeated John, half to himself, as he stood at the now-
closed window, against which more than one blazing torch began to
rattle. "Fight--with these?--What are you doing, Jael?"
For she had taken down a large Book--the last Book in the house she
would have taken under less critical circumstances, and with it was
trying to stop up a broken pane.
"No, my good Jael, not this;" and he carefully replaced the volume;
that volume, in which he might have read, as day after day, and year
after year, we Christians generally do read, such plain words as
these--"Love your enemies;" "bless them that curse you;" "pray for
them that despitefully use you and persecute you."
A minute or two John stood with his hand on the Book, thinking. Then
he touched me on the shoulder.
"Phineas, I'm going to try a new plan--at least, one so old, that
it's almost new. Whether it succeeds or no, you'll bear me witness
to your father that I did it for the best, and did it because I
thought it right. Now for it."
To my horror, he threw up the window wide, and leant out.
"My men, I want to speak to you."
He might as well have spoken to the roaring sea. The only answer was
a shower of missiles, which missed their aim. The rioters were too
far off--our spiked iron railings, eight feet high or more, being a
barrier which none had yet ventured to climb. But at length one
random stone hit John on the chest.
I pulled him in, but he declared he was not hurt. Terrified, I
implored him not to risk his life.
"Life is not always the first thing to be thought of," said he,
gently. "Don't be afraid--I shall come to no harm. But I MUST do
what I think right, if it is to be done."
While he spoke, I could hardly hear him for the bellowings outside.
More savage still grew the cry--
"Burn 'em out! burn 'em out! They be only Quakers!"
"There's not a minute to lose--stop--let me think--Jael, is that a
"Loaded," she said, handing it over to him with a kind of stern
delight. Certainly, Jael was not meant to be a Friend.
John ran down-stairs, and before I guessed his purpose, had unbolted
the hall-door, and stood on the flight of steps, in full view of the
There was no bringing him back, so of course I followed. A pillar
sheltered me--I do not think he saw me, though I stood close behind
So sudden had been his act, that even the rioters did not seem to
have noticed, or clearly understood it, till the next lighted torch
showed them the young man standing there, with his back to the door--
OUTSIDE the door.
The sight fairly confounded them. Even I felt that for the moment he
was safe. They were awed--nay, paralyzed, by his daring.
But the storm raged too fiercely to be lulled, except for one brief
minute. A confusion of voices burst out afresh--
"Who be thee?"--"It's one o' the Quakers."--"No, he bean't."--"Burn
'un, anyhow."--"Touch 'un, if ye dare."
There was evidently a division arising. One big man, who had made
himself very prominent all along, seemed trying to calm the tumult.
John stood his ground. Once a torch was flung at him--he stooped and
picked it up. I thought he was going to hurl it back again, but he
did not; he only threw it down, and stamped it out safely with his
foot. This simple action had a wonderful effect on the crowd.
The big fellow advanced to the gate and called John by his name.
"Is that you, Jacob Baines? I am sorry to see you here."
"Be ye, sir."
"What do you want?"
"Nought wi' thee. We wants Abel Fletcher. Where is 'um?"
"I shall certainly not tell you."
As John said this again the noise arose, and again Jacob Baines
seemed to have power to quiet the rest.
John Halifax never stirred. Evidently he was pretty well known. I
caught many a stray sentence, such as "Don't hurt the lad."--"He were
kind to my lad, he were."--"No, he be a real gentleman."--"No, he
comed here as poor as us," and the like. At length one voice, sharp
and shrill, was heard above the rest.
"I zay, young man, didst ever know what it was to be pretty nigh
"Ay, many a time."
The answer, so brief, so unexpected, struck a great hush into the
throng. Then the same voice cried--
"Speak up, man! we won't hurt 'ee! You be one o' we!"
"No, I am not one of you. I'd be ashamed to come in the night and
burn my master's house down."
I expected an outbreak, but none came. They listened, as it were by
compulsion, to the clear, manly voice that had not in it one shade of
"What do you do it for?" John continued. "All because he would not
sell you, or give you, his wheat. Even so--it was HIS wheat, not
yours. May not a man do what he likes with his own?"
The argument seemed to strike home. There is always a lurking sense
of rude justice in a mob--at least a British mob.
"Don't you see how foolish you were?--You tried threats, too. Now
you all know Mr. Fletcher; you are his men--some of you. He is not a
man to be threatened."
This seemed to be taken rather angrily; but John went on speaking, as
if he did not observe the fact.
"Nor am I one to be threatened, neither. Look here--the first one of
you who attempted to break into Mr. Fletcher's house I should most
certainly have shot. But I'd rather not shoot you, poor, starving
fellows! I know what it is to be hungry. I'm sorry for you--sorry
from the bottom of my heart."
There was no mistaking that compassionate accent, nor the murmur
which followed it.
"But what must us do, Mr. Halifax?" cried Jacob Baines: "us be
starved a'most. What's the good o' talking to we?"
John's countenance relaxed. I saw him lift his head and shake his
hair back, with that pleased gesture I remember so well of old. He
went down to the locked gate.
"Suppose I gave you something to eat, would you listen to me
There arose up a frenzied shout of assent. Poor wretches! they were
fighting for no principle, true or false, only for bare life. They
would have bartered their very souls for a mouthful of bread.
"You must promise to be peaceable," said John again, very resolutely,
as soon as he could obtain a hearing. "You are Norton Bury folk, I
know you. I could get every one of you hanged, even though Abel
Fletcher is a Quaker. Mind, you'll be peaceable?"
"Ay--ay! Some'at to eat; give us some'at to eat."
John Halifax called out to Jael; bade her bring all the food of every
kind that there was in the house, and give it to him out of the
parlour-window. She obeyed--I marvel now to think of it--but she
implicitly obeyed. Only I heard her fix the bar to the closed front
door, and go back, with a strange, sharp sob, to her station at the
"Now, my lads, come in!" and he unlocked the gate.
They came thronging up the steps, not more than two score, I
imagined, in spite of the noise they had made. But two score of such
famished, desperate men, God grant I may never again see!
John divided the food as well as he could among them; they fell to it
like wild beasts. Meat, cooked or raw, loaves, vegetables, meal; all
came alike, and were clutched, gnawed, and scrambled for, in the
fierce selfishness of hunger. Afterwards there was a call for drink.
"Water, Jael; bring them water."
"Beer!" shouted some.
"Water," repeated John. "Nothing but water. I'll have no drunkards
rioting at my master's door."
And, either by chance or design, he let them hear the click of his
pistol. But it was hardly needed. They were all cowed by a mightier
weapon still--the best weapon a man can use--his own firm indomitable
At length all the food we had in the house was consumed. John told
them so; and they believed him. Little enough, indeed, was
sufficient for some of them; wasted with long famine, they turned
sick and faint, and dropped down even with bread in their mouths,
unable to swallow it. Others gorged themselves to the full, and then
lay along the steps, supine as satisfied brutes. Only a few sat and
ate like rational human beings; and there was but one, the little,
shrill-voiced man, who asked me if he might "tak a bit o' bread to
the old wench at home?"
John, hearing, turned, and for the first time noticed me.
"Phineas, it was very wrong of you; but there is no danger now."
No, there was none--not even for Abel Fletcher's son. I stood safe
by John's side, very happy, very proud.
"Well, my men," he said, looking round with a smile, "have you had
enough to eat?"
"Oh, ay!" they all cried.
And one man added--"Thank the Lord!"
"That's right, Jacob Baines: and, another time, trust the Lord. You
wouldn't then have been abroad this summer morning"--and he pointed
to the dawn just reddening in the sky--"this quiet, blessed summer
morning, burning and rioting, bringing yourselves to the gallows, and
your children to starvation."
"They be nigh that a'ready," said Jacob, sullenly. "Us men ha'
gotten a meal, thankee for it; but what'll become o' the little 'uns
at home? I say, Mr. Halifax," and he seemed waxing desperate again,
"we must get some food somehow."
John turned away, his countenance very sad. Another of the men
plucked at him from behind.
"Sir, when thee was a poor lad I lent thee a rug to sleep on; I
doan't grudge'ee getting on; you was born for a gentleman, sure-ly.
But Master Fletcher be a hard man."
"And a just one," persisted John. "You that work for him, did he
ever stint you of a halfpenny? If you had come to him and said,
'Master, times are hard, we can't live upon our wages,' he might--I
don't say that he would--but he MIGHT even have given you the food
you tried to steal."
"D'ye think he'd give it us now?" And Jacob Baines, the big, gaunt,
savage fellow, who had been the ringleader--the same, too, who had
spoken of his "little 'uns"--came and looked steadily in John's face.
"I knew thee as a lad; thee'rt a young man now, as will be a father
some o' these days. Oh! Mr. Halifax, may'ee ne'er want a meal o'
good meat for the missus and the babbies at home, if ee'll get a bit
o' bread for our'n this day."
"My man, I'll try."
He called me aside, explained to me, and asked my advice and consent,
as Abel Fletcher's son, to a plan that had come into his mind. It
was to write orders, which each man presenting at our mill, should
receive a certain amount of flour.
"Do you think your father would agree?"
"I think he would."
"Yes," John added, pondering--"I am sure he would. And besides, if
he does not give some, he may lose all. But he would not do it for
fear of that. No, he is a just man--I am not afraid. Give me some
He sat down as composedly as if he had been alone in the
counting-house, and wrote. I looked over his shoulder, admiring his
clear, firm hand-writing; the precision, concentrativeness, and
quickness, with which he first seemed to arrange and then execute his
ideas. He possessed to the full that "business" faculty, so
frequently despised, but which, out of very ordinary material, often
makes a clever man; and without which the cleverest man alive can
never be altogether a great man.
When about to sign the orders, John suddenly stopped. "No; I had
"I have no right; your father might think it presumption."
"Presumption? after to-night!"
"Oh, that's nothing! Take the pen. It is your part to sign them,
"Isn't this better than hanging?" said John to the men, when he had
distributed the little bits of paper--precious as pound-notes--and
made them all fully understand the same. "Why, there isn't another
gentleman in Norton Bury, who, if you had come to burn HIS house
down, would not have had the constables or the soldiers, have shot
down one-half of you like mad dogs, and sent the other half to the
county gaol. Now, for all your misdoings, we let you go quietly
home, well fed, and with food for children, too. WHY, think you?"
"I don't know," said Jacob Baines, humbly.
"I'll tell you. Because Abel Fletcher is a Quaker and a Christian."
"Hurrah for Abel Fletcher! hurrah for the Quakers!" shouted they,
waking up the echoes down Norton Bury streets; which, of a surety,
had never echoed to THAT shout before. And so the riot was over.
John Halifax closed the hall-door and came in--unsteadily--
staggering. Jael placed a chair for him--worthy soul! she was wiping
her old eyes. He sat down, shivering, speechless. I put my hand on
his shoulder; he took it and pressed it hard.
"Oh! Phineas, lad, I'm glad; glad it's safe over."
"Yes, thank God!"
"Ay, indeed; thank God!"
He covered his eyes for a minute or two, then rose up pale, but quite
"Now let us go and fetch your father home."
We found him on John's bed, still asleep. But as we entered he woke.
The daylight shone on his face--it looked ten years older since
yesterday--he stared, bewildered and angry, at John Halifax.
"Eh, young man--oh! I remember. Where is my son--where's my
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
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, without any
comments on John's behaviour; he would not have liked it; and,
besides, the facts spoke for themselves. I told the simple, plain
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 together on
his knees, and his hat drawn down, hiding all the face except the
rigid mouth and chin--sat so long, so motionless, that we became
John spoke to him gently, almost as a son would have spoken.
"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 another summer
morning as the one, two years back, when we two 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 something 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 wilt 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
"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 calm your superabundant energies, and be quiet."
I was not unwilling, for I still felt very weak. But sickness 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 and 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 the 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
"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 Something, a fine lady from
"And Mr. March--what of him?"
"I haven't the least idea. Come now, shall I read the paper?"
He read well, and I liked to listen to him. It was, I remember,
something about "the spacious new quadrangles, to be called Russell
and Tavistock Squares, with elegantly laid out nursery-grounds
"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
"Nevertheless, you must have a change. Doctor Jessop insists upon
it. Here have I been beating up and down the country for a week
past--'Adventures in Search of a Country Residence'--and, do you
know, I think I've found one at last. Shouldn't you like to hear
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
"Where is Enderley?"
"Did you never hear of Enderley Flat, the highest tableland 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.
"Shouldn't you like to live on a hill-side, to be at the top of
everything, overlooking everything? Well, that's Enderley: 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--"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 'shepherd'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 colour, 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 lay.'
'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 widely,
and express them more vividly, than ordinary folk."
"Don't you perceive--he means the pawns on the chess-board--the
"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
'No Serian worms he knows, that with their thread,
Drew out their silken lives--nor silken pride--'
Which reminds me that--"
"David, how can you make me laugh at our reverend ancestor 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
"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
'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 under-tone of
seriousness, observable in him ever since my father's declaration 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 generally even balance of his
"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 sleeps,
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 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 about?"
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 a happy life--ay, down to the 'grassy
"Your fancy leaps at once to the grassy tomb; but the shepherd
enjoyed a few intermediate stages of felicity before that."
"I was thinking of those likewise."
"Then you do intend some day to have a 'faithful spouse and a little
"I hope so--God willing."
It may seem strange, but this was the first time our conversation had
ever wandered in a similar direction. Though he was twenty and I
twenty-two--to us both--and I thank Heaven that we could both 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 and alike
hateful. Many may doubt, or smile at the fact; but I state it now,
in my old age, with honour 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.
Afterwards, 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 wife?"
I was satisfied. John's single "No" was as conclusive as a score of
We said no more; but after one of those pauses of conversation 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 acquiescence; 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, his 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 fulfil 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, enjoying the fresh air, the
changing views, and chiefly to see how intensely John enjoyed them
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, certainly the most lasting, either in
women or men--of infinite variety. You were always finding out
something--an expression 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
believed you had learnt 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 powers 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 grey, he was fond of grey; and in something
of our Quaker fashion. On this day, I remember, I noticed an
especial carefulness of attire, at his age neither unnatural nor
unbecoming. 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
"That's all right; I beg to state, it is entirely in honour of you
and of Enderley that I have slipped off my tan-yard husk, and put on
"You couldn't do that, John. You couldn't put on what you were born
He laughed--but I think he was pleased.
We had now come into a hilly 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 outlined 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 colour 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 enjoyment.
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 him.
We drove on a little further, and came to the chief landmark 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 probably swung for two centuries or more.
"Is this Enderley?" I asked.
"Not 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 young 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 gloriously 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 soon, 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
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 together in a mass of family fragrance,
pushing in at the parlour window, climbing up even to the very attic.
There was a yellow jasmine over the porch at one front door, and a
woodbine at the other; the cottage had two entrances, each distinct.
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 doorway, 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 looked very strange
to see John with a child in his arms.
"Don't 'ee make more 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 momentary glimpse we had of it, seemed
less like a man's than a woman's.
When we were settled in the parlour John noticed this fact.
"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, while he sat leaning his elbow on the window-sill,
and his cheek against a bunch of those ever-intruding, inquisitive
"It is very, very pretty, and so comfortable--almost like home."
"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 is such a view by daylight. And between it and Enderley is the
prettiest valley, where the road slopes down just under those
"How well you seem to know the place already."
"As I tell you, I like it. I hardly ever felt so content before. We
will have a happy 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 of John's known face; then I bade him
good-night, and retired. Directly afterwards, 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 I 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
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.
"She has a house full of children, yet manages to keep it quiet and
her own temper likewise. Astonishing patience! However people
attain it who have to do with brats, _I_ can't imagine."
"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
"In two whole days she has not communicated to us a single fact
concerning our neighbours on the other half of Rose Cottage."
"Did you want to know?"
John laughingly denied; then allowed that he always had a certain
pleasure in eliciting information on men and things.
"The wife being indicated, I suppose, by that very complimentary word
'thing.' But what possible interest can you have in either the old
gentleman or the old lady?"
"Stop, Phineas: you have a bad habit of jumping at conclusions. And
in our great dearth of occupation here, I think it might be all the
better for you to take a little interest in your neighbours. So I've
a great mind to indulge you with an important idea, suggestion,
discovery. Harkee, friend!"--and he put on an air of sentimental
mystery, not a bad copy of our old acquaintance, Mr. Charles--"what
if the--the individual should not be an old lady at all?"
"What! The old gentleman's wife?"
"Wife? Ahem! more jumping at conclusions. No; let us keep on the
safe side, and call her the--individual. In short; the owner of that
grey silk gown I saw hanging up in the kitchen. I've seen it again."
"The grey gown! when and where?"
"This morning, early. I walked after it across the Flat, a good way
behind, though; for I thought that it--well, let me say SHE--might
not like to be watched or followed. She was trotting along very
fast, and she carried a little basket--I fancy a basket of eggs."
"Capital housekeeper! excellent wife!"
"Once more--I have my doubts on that latter fact. She walked a great
deal quicker and merrier than any wife ought to walk when her husband
I could not help laughing at John's original notions of conjugal
"Besides, Mrs. Tod always calls her invalid 'the old gentleman!' and
I don't believe this was an elderly lady."
"Nay, old men do sometimes marry young women."
"Yes, but it is always a pity; and sometimes not quite right. No,"--
and I was amused to see how gravely and doggedly John kept to his
point--"though this lady did not look like a sylph or a wood-nymph--
being neither very small nor very slight, and having a comfortable
woollen cloak and hood over the grey silk gown--still, I don't
believe she's an old woman, or married either."
"How can you possibly tell? Did you see her face?"
"Of course not," he answered, rather indignantly. "I should not
think it manly to chase a lady as a schoolboy does a butterfly, for
the mere gratification of staring at her. I stayed on the top of the
Flat till she had gone indoors."
"Into Rose Cottage?"
"She had, doubtless, gone to fetch new-laid eggs for her--I mean for
the sick gentleman's breakfast. Kind soul!"
"You may jest, Phineas, but I think she is a kind soul. On her way
home I saw her stop twice; once to speak to an old woman who was
gathering sticks; and again, to scold a lad for thrashing a donkey."
"Did you hear her?"
"No; but I judge from the lad's penitent face as I passed him. I am
sure she had been scolding him."
"Then she's not young, depend upon it. Your beautiful young
creatures never scold."
"I'm not so sure of that," said John, meditatively. "For my part, I
should rather not cheat myself, or be cheated after that manner.
Perfection is impossible. Better see the young woman as she really
is, bad and good together."
"The young woman! The fair divinity, you mean!"
"No;" shutting his mouth over the negative in his firm way--"I
strongly object to divinities. How unpleasant it would be to woo an
angel of perfection, and find her out at last to be only--only Mrs.--
"Halifax," suggested I; at which he laughed, slightly colouring.
"But how woeful must be our dearth of subjects, when we talk such
nonsense as this! What suggested it?"
"Your friend in the grey gown, I suppose."
"Requiescat in Pace! May she enjoy her eggs! And now I must go
saddle the brown mare, and be off to Norton Bury. A lovely day for a
ride. How I shall dash along!"
He rose up cheerily. It was like morning sunshine only to see his
face. No morbid follies had ever tainted his healthy nature,
whatsoever romance was there--and never was there a thoroughly noble
nature without some romance in it. But it lay deep down, calm and
unawakened. His heart was as light and free as air.
Stooping over my easy chair, he wheeled it to the window, in sight of
the pleasant view.
"Now, Phineas, what more books do you want? You'll take a walk
before dinner? You'll not be moping?"
No; why should I, who knew I had always, whether absent or present,
the blessing, the infinite blessing, of being first in his thoughts
and cares? Who, whether he expressed it or not--the best things
never are expressed or expressible--knew by a thousand little daily
acts like these, the depth and tenderness of his friendship, his
brotherly love for me. As yet, I had it all. And God, who knows how
little else I had, will pardon, if in my unspeakable thankfulness
lurked a taint of selfish joy in my sole possession of such a
He lingered about, making me "all right," as he called it, and
planning out my solitary day. With much merriment, too, for we were
the gayest couple of young bachelors, when, as John said, "the duties
of our responsible position" would allow.
"Responsible position! It's our good landlady who ought to talk
about that. With two sets of lodgers, a husband, and an indefinite
number of children. There's one of them got into mischief at last.
"It's Jack, my namesake. Bless my life! I knew he would come to
grief with that donkey. Hey, lad! never mind. Get up again."
But soon he perceived that the accident was more serious; and
disappeared like a shot, leaping out through the open window. The
next minute I saw him carrying in the unlucky Jack, who was bleeding
from a cut in the forehead, and screaming vociferously.
"Don't be frightened, Mrs. Tod; it is very slight--I saw it done.
Jack, my lad!--be a man, and never mind it. Don't scream so; you
alarm your mother."
But as soon as the good woman was satisfied that there was no real
cause for terror, hers changed into hearty wrath against Jack for his
carelessness, and for giving so much trouble to the gentleman.
"But he be always getting into mischief, sir--that boy. Three months
back, the very day Mr. March came, he got playing with the
carriage-horse, and it kicked him and broke his arm. A deal he
cares: he be just as sprack as ever. As I say to Tod--it bean't no
use fretting over that boy."
"Have patience," answered John, who had again carried the unfortunate
young scapegrace from our parlour into Mrs. Tod's kitchen--the centre
room of the cottage; and was trying to divert the torrent of maternal
indignation, while he helped her to plaster up the still ugly looking
wound. "Come, forgive the lad. He will be more sorry afterwards
than if you had punished him."
"Do'ee think so?" said the woman, as, struck either by the words, the
manner, or the tone, she looked up straight at him. "Do'ee really
think so, Mr. Halifax?"
"I am sure of it. Nothing makes one so good as being forgiven when
one has been naughty. Isn't it so, Jack, my namesake?"
"Jack ought to be proud o' that, sir," said the mother, respectfully;
"and there's some sense in what you say, too. You talk like my man
does, o' Sundays. Tod be a Scotchman, Mr. Halifax; and they're good
folks, the Scotch, and read their Bibles hard. There's a deal about
forgiving in the Bible; isn't there, sir?"
"Exactly," John answered, smiling. "And so, Jack, you're safe this
time; only you must not disobey your mother again, for the sake of
donkeys or anything else."
"No, sir--thank'ee, sir," sobbed Jack, humbly. "You be a gentleman--
Mr. March bean't--he said it served me right for getting under his
"Hold thy tongue!" said Jack's mother, sharply; for the latch of the
opposite door was just then lifted, and a lady stood there.
"Mrs. Tod; my father says--"
Seeing strangers, the lady paused. At the sound of her voice--a
pleasant voice, though somewhat quick and decided in tone--John and I
both involuntarily turned. We felt awkward! doubtful whether to stay
or retire abruptly. She saved us the choice.
"Mrs. Tod, my father will take his soup at eleven. You will
"Yes, Miss March."
Upon which, Miss March shut the door at once, and vanished.
She wore a grey silken gown. I glanced at John, but he did not see
me, his eyes were fixed on the door, which had disclosed and
concealed the momentary picture. Its momentariness impressed it the
more vividly on my memory--I have it there still.
A girl, in early but not precocious maturity, rather tall, of a
figure built more for activity and energy than the mere fragility of
sylph-like grace: dark-complexioned, dark-eyed, dark-haired--the
whole colouring being of that soft darkness of tone which gives a
sense of something at once warm and tender, strong and womanly.
Thorough woman she seemed--not a bit of the angel about her.
Scarcely beautiful; and "pretty" would have been the very last word
to have applied to her; but there was around her an atmosphere of
freshness, health, and youth, pleasant as a breeze in spring.
For her attire, it was that notable grey silk gown--very simply made,
with no fripperies or fandangos of any sort--reaching up to her
throat and down to her wrists, where it had some kind of trimming of
white fur, which made the skin beneath show exquisitely delicate.
"That is Miss March," said our landlady, when she had disappeared.
"Is it?" said John, removing his eyes from the shut door.
"She be very sensible-like, for a young body of seventeen; more
sensible and pleasanter than her father, who is always ailing, and
always grumbling. Poor gentleman!--most like he can't help it. But
it be terrible hard for the daughter--bean't it, sir?"
"Very," said John. His laconism was extraordinary.
Still he kept standing by the kitchen-table, waiting till the last
bandage had been sewn on Jack's cut forehead, and even some minutes
after his protege had begun playing about as usual. It was I who had
to suggest that we should not intrude in Mrs. Tod's kitchen any
"No--certainly not. Come, Phineas. Mrs. Tod, I hope our presence
did not inconvenience--the young lady?"
"Bless your heart, sir! nothing ever inconveniences she. There
bean't a pleasanter young body alive. She'll often come into this
kitchen--just as you did, gentlemen, and very happy to see you
always," added Mrs. Tod, curtseying. "When Mr. March is asleep
she'll come and sit for half an hour, talking to Tod and me; and
playing with the baby--"
Here, probably at sound of its name, the individual alluded to set
up, from its cradle in the corner, such a terrific squall, that we
young men beat a precipitate retreat.
"So, John, your grey gown is discovered at last. She's young,
certainly--but not exactly a beauty."
"I never said she was."
"A pleasant person, though; hearty, cheerful-looking, and strong. I
can easily imagine her trotting over the common with her basket of
eggs--chatting to the old woman, and scolding the naughty boy."
"Don't make fun of her. She must have a hard life with her old
Of course, seeing him take it up so seriously, I jested no more.
"By-the-by, did not the father's name strike you? MARCH--suppose it
should turn out to be the very Mr. March you pulled out of Severn
five years ago. What a romantic conjuncture of circumstances?"
"Nonsense," said John, quickly--more quickly than he usually spoke to
me; then came back to wish me a kind goodbye. "Take care of
yourself, old fellow. It will be nightfall before I am back from
I watched him mount, and ride slowly down the bit of common--turning
once to look back at Rose Cottage, ere he finally disappeared between
the chestnut trees: a goodly sight--for he was an admirable
When he was gone, I, glancing lazily up at Mr. March's window, saw a
hand, and I fancied a white-furred wrist, pulling down the blind. It
amused me to think Miss March might possibly have been watching him
I spent the whole long day alone in the cottage parlour, chiefly
meditating; though more than once friendly Mrs. Tod broke in upon my
solitude. She treated me in a motherly, free-and-easy way: not half
so deferentially as she treated John Halifax.
The sun had gone down over Nunnely Hill, behind the four tall Italian
poplars, which stood on the border of our bit of wilderness--three
together and one apart. They were our landmarks--and skymarks too--
for the first sunbeam coming across the common struck their tops of a
morning, and the broad western glimmer showed their forms distinctly
until far in the night. They were just near enough for me to hear
their faint rustling in windy weather; on calm days they stood up
straight against the sky, like memorial columns. They were friends
of mine--those four poplars; sometimes they almost seemed alive. We
made acquaintance on this first night, when I sat watching for John;
and we kept up the friendship ever afterwards.
It was nine o'clock before I heard the old mare's hoofs clattering up
the road: joyfully I ran out.
David was not quite his youthful, gay self that night; not quite, as
he expressed it, "the David of the sheep-folds." He was very tired,
and had what he called "the tan-yard feeling," the oppression of
"Times are hard," said he, when we had finally shut out the
starlight, and Mrs. Tod had lit candles, bade us good-night in her
free, independent way, and "hoped Mr. Halifax had everything he
wanted." She always seemed to consider him the head of our little
"The times are very hard," repeated John, thoughtfully. "I don't see
how your father can rightly be left with so many anxieties on his
shoulders. I must manage to get to Norton Bury at least five days a
week. You will have enough of solitude, I fear."
"And you will have little enough of the pleasant country life you
planned, and which you seem so to delight in."
"Never mind--perhaps it's good for me. I have a life of hard work
before me, and can't afford to get used to too much pleasure. But
we'll make the most of every bit of time we have. How have you felt
"Very strong. Now what would you like us to do tomorrow?"
"I want to show you the common in early morning--the view there is so
"Of Nature, or human nature?"
He half smiled, though only at my mischievousness. I could see it
did not affect him in the least. "Nay, I know what you mean; but I
had forgotten her, or, if not absolutely forgotten, she was not in my
mind just then. We will go another way, as indeed I had intended:
it might annoy the young lady, our meeting her again."
His grave, easy manner of treating and dismissing the subject was a
tacit reproach to me. I let the matter drop; we had much more
serious topics afloat than gossip about our neighbours.
At seven next morning we were out on the Flat.
"I'm not going to let you stand here in the dews, Phineas. Come a
little farther on, to my terrace, as I call it. There's a panorama!"
It was indeed. All around the high flat a valley lay, like a moat,
or as if some broad river had been dried up in its course, and,
century after century, gradually converted into meadow, woodland, and
town. For a little white town sat demurely at the bottom of the
hollow, and a score or two of white cottages scattered themselves
from this small nucleus of civilisation over the opposite bank of
this imaginary river, which was now a lovely hill-side. Gorges,
purple with shadow, yellow corn-fields, and dark clumps of woodland
dressed this broad hill-side in many colours; its highest point,
Nunnely Hill, forming the horizon where last night I had seen the sun
go down, and which now was tinted with the tenderest western morning
"Do you like this, Phineas? I do, very much. A dear, smiling,
English valley, holding many a little nest of an English home. Fancy
being patriarch over such a region, having the whole valley in one's
hand, to do good to, or ill. You can't think what primitive people
they are hereabouts--descendants from an old colony of Flemish
cloth-weavers: they keep to the trade. Down in the valley--if one
could see through the beech wood--is the grand support of the
neighbourhood, a large cloth mill!"
"That's quite in your line, John;" and I saw his face brighten up as
it had done when, as a boy, he had talked to me about his machinery.
"What has become of that wonderful little loom you made?"
"Oh! I have it still. But this is such a fine cloth-mill!--I have
been all over it. If the owner would put aside his old Flemish
stolidity! I do believe he and his ancestors have gone on in the
same way, and with almost the same machinery, ever since Queen
Elizabeth's time. Now, just one or two of our modern improvements,
such as--but I forget, you never could understand mechanics."
"You can, though. Explain clearly, and I'll try my best."
He did so, and so did I. I think he even managed to knock something
of the matter into my stupid head, where it remained--for ten
minutes! Much longer remained the impression of his energetic talk--
his clear-headed way of putting before another what he understood so
well himself. I marvelled how he had gained all his information.
"Oh! it's easy enough, when one has a natural propensity for catching
hold of facts; and then, you know, I always had a weakness for
machinery; I could stand for an hour watching a mill at work,
especially if it's worked by a great water-wheel."
"Would you like to be a mill-owner?"
"Shouldn't I!"--with a sunshiny flash, which soon clouded over.
"However, 'tis idle talking; one cannot choose one's calling--at
least, very few can. After all, it isn't the trade that signifies--
it's the man. I'm a tanner, and a capital tanner I intend to be.
By-the-by, I wonder if Mrs. Tod, who talks so much about
'gentlefolk,' knows that latter fact about you and me?"
"I think not; I hope not. Oh, David! this one month at least let us
get rid of the tan-yard."
For I hated it more than ever now, in our quiet, free, Arcadian life;
the very thought of it was insupportable, not only for myself, but
He gently blamed me, yet, I think, he involuntarily felt much as I
did, if he would have allowed himself so to feel.
"Who would guess now that I who stand here, delighting myself in this
fresh air and pleasant view, this dewy common, all thick with
flowers--what a pretty blue cluster that is at your foot, Phineas!--
who would guess that all yesterday I had been stirring up tan-pits,
handling raw hides? Faugh! I wonder the little harebells don't
sicken in these, my hands--such ugly hands, too!"
"Nonsense, John! they're not so bad, indeed; and if they were, what
does it matter?"
"You are right; lad; it does not matter. They have done me good
service, and will yet, though they were not made for carrying
"There is somebody besides yourself plucking posies on the Flat.
See, how large the figure looks against the sky. It might be your
'Like Proserpina gathering flowers,
Herself the fairest--'
-- no, not fairest; for I declare she looks very like your friend
Grey-gown--I beg her pardon--Miss March."
"It is she," said John, so indifferently that I suspect that fact had
presented itself to him for at least two minutes before I found it
"There's certainly a fatality about your meeting her."
"Not the least. She has this morning taken her walk in a different
direction, as I did; and we both chanced again to hit upon the same,"
answered John, gravely and explanatorily. "Come away down the slope.
We must not intrude upon a lady's enjoyments."
He carried me off, much against my will, for I had a great wish to
see again that fresh young face, so earnest, cheerful, and good.
Also, as I laboured in vain to convince my companion, the said face
indicated an independent dignity which would doubtless make its owner
perfectly indifferent whether her solitary walk were crossed by two
gentlemen or two hundred.
John agreed to this; nevertheless, he was inexorable. And, since he
was "a man of the world"--having, in his journeys up and down the
country for my father, occasionally fallen into "polite" society--I
yielded the point to him and submitted to his larger experience of
However, Fate, kinder than he, took the knot of etiquette into her
own hands, and broke it.
Close to the cottage door, our two paths converging, and probably our
breakfast-hours likewise, brought us suddenly face to face with Miss
She saw us, and we had a distinct sight of her.
I was right: we and our contiguity were not of the smallest
importance to Miss March. Her fresh morning roses did not deepen,
nor her eyes droop, as she looked for a moment at us both--a quiet,
maidenly look of mere observation. Of course no recognition passed;
but there was a merry dimple beside her mouth, as if she quite well
knew who we were, and owned to a little harmless feminine curiosity
in observing us.
She had to pass our door, where stood Mrs. Tod and the baby. It
stretched out its little arms to come to her, with that pretty,
babyish gesture which I suppose no woman can resist. Miss March
could not. She stopped, and began tossing up the child.
Truly, they made a pleasant picture, the two--she with her hooded
cloak dropping off, showing her graceful shape, and her dark-brown
hair, all gathered up in a mass of curls at the top of her head, as
the fashion then was. As she stood, with her eyes sparkling, and the
young blood flushing through her clear brunette cheeks, I was not
sure whether I had not judged too hastily in calling her "no beauty."
Probably, by his look, John thought the same.
She stood right before our wicket-gate; but she had evidently quite
forgotten us, so happy was she with Mrs. Tod's bonny boy, until the
landlady made some remark about "letting the gentlemen by." Then,
with a slight start, drawing her hood back over her head, the young
lady stepped aside.
In passing her, John raised his eyes, as was natural enough. For me,
I could hardly take mine from her, such a pleasant creature was she
to behold. She half smiled--he bowed, which she returned,
courteously, and we both went in-doors. I told him this was a good
beginning of acquaintance with our neighbour.
"Not at all, no acqaintance; a mere civility between two people
living under the same roof. It will never be more."
I am afraid John was disappointed at my "probably." I am afraid that
when he stood at our window, contemplating the little group which
filled up our wicket-gate, he missed some one out of the three--
which, I suspect, was neither Mrs. Tod nor yet the baby.
"I like her face very much better now, David. Do you?"
It was a very curious fact, which I never noticed till afterwards,
that though there had been some lapse of time before I hazarded this
remark, we both intuitively supplied the noun to that indefinite
"A good--nay, a noble face; though still, with those irregular
features, I can't--really I can't--call her beautiful."
"She bowed with remarkable grace, too. I think, John, for the first
time in our lives, we may say we have seen a LADY."
"Most certainly a lady."
"Nay, I only meant that, girl as she is, she is evidently accustomed
to what is called 'society.' Which makes it the more likely that her
father is the Mr. March who was cousin to the Brithwoods. An odd
"A very odd coincidence."
After which brief reply John relapsed into taciturnity.
More than once that morning we recurred to the subject of our
neighbours--that is, I did--but John was rather saturnine and
uncommunicative. Nay, when, as Mrs. Tod was removing the breakfast,
I ventured to ask her a harmless question or two--who Mr. March was,
and where he came from?--I was abruptly reproved, the very minute our
good landlady had shut the door, for my tendency to "gossip."
At which I only laughed, and reminded him that he had ingeniously
scolded me after, not before, I had gained the desired information--
namely, that Mr. March was a gentleman of independent property--that
he had no friends hereabouts, and that he usually lived in Wales.
"He cannot be our Mr. March, then."
"No," said John, with an air of great relief.
I was amused to see how seriously he took such a trifle; ay, many a
time that day I laughed at him for evincing such great sympathy over
our neighbours, and especially--which was plain enough to see, though
he doubtless believed he entirely disguised it--for that interest
which a young man of twenty would naturally take in a very charming
and personable young woman. Ay, naturally, as I said to myself, for
I admired her too, extremely.
It seems strange now to call to mind that morning, and our
light-hearted jests about Miss March. Strange that Destiny should
often come thus, creeping like a child to our very doors; we hardly
notice it, or send it away with a laugh; it comes so naturally, so
simply, so accidentally, as it were, that we recognise it not. We
cannot believe that the baby intruder is in reality the king of our
fortunes; the ruler of our lives. But so it is continually; and
since IT IS, it must be right.
We finished the morning by reading Shakspeare--Romeo and Juliet--at
which the old folio seemed naturally to open. There is a time--a
sweet time, too, though it does not last--when to every young mind
the play of plays, the poem of poems, is Romeo and Juliet. We were
at that phase now.
John read it all through to me--not for the first time either; and
then, thinking I had fallen asleep, he sat with the book on his knee,
gazing out of the open window.
It was a warm summer day--breathless, soundless--a day for quietness
and dreams. Sometimes a bee came buzzing among the roses, in and
away again, like a happy thought. Nothing else was stirring; not a
single bird was to be seen or heard, except that now and then came a
coo of the wood-pigeons among the beech-trees--a low, tender voice--
reminding one of a mother's crooning over a cradled child; or of two
true lovers standing clasped heart to heart, in the first embrace,
which finds not, and needs not, a single word.
John sat listening. What was he thinking about? Why that strange
quiver about his mouth?--why that wonderful new glow, that infinite
depth of softness in his eyes?
I closed mine. He never knew I saw him. He thought I slept placidly
through that half-hour; which seemed to him as brief as a minute. To
me it was long--ah, so long! as I lay pondering with an intensity
that was actual pain, on what must come some time, and, for all I
knew, might even now be coming.
A week slipped by. We had grown familiar with Enderley Hill--at
least I had. As for John, he had little enough enjoyment of the
pretty spot he had taken such a fancy to, being absent five days out
of the seven; riding away when the morning sun had slid down to the
boles of my four poplars, and never coming home till Venus peeped out
over their heads at night. It was hard for him; but he bore the
With me one day went by just like another. In the mornings I crept
out, climbed the hill behind Rose Cottage garden, and there lay a
little under the verge of the Flat, in a sunny shelter, watching the
ants running in and out of the numerous ant-hills there; or else I
turned my observation to the short velvet herbage that grew
everywhere hereabouts; for the common, so far from being barren, was
a perfect sheet of greenest, softest turf, sowed with minute and rare
flowers. Often a square foot of ground presented me with enough of
beauty and variety in colour and form to criticise and contemplate
for a full hour.
My human interests were not extensive. Sometimes the Enderley
villagers, or the Tod children, who were a grade above these, and
decidedly "respectable," would appear and have a game of play at the
foot of the slope, their laughter rising up to where I lay. Or some
old woman would come with her pails to the spring below, a curious
and very old stone well, to which the cattle from the common often
rushed down past me in bevies, and stood knee-deep, their mouths
making glancing circles in the water as they drank.
Being out of doors almost all day, I saw very little of the
inhabitants of our cottage. Once or twice a lady and gentleman
passed, creeping at the foot of the slope so slowly, that I felt sure
it must be Mr. March and his daughter. He was tall, with grey hair;
I was not near enough to distinguish his features. She walked on the
further side, supporting him with her arm. Her comfortable morning
hood was put off, and she had on her head that ugly, stiff thing
which ladies had lately taken to wearing, and which, Jael said, was
called a "bonnet."
Except on these two occasions, I had no opportunity of making any
observations on the manners and customs of our neighbours.
Occasionally Mrs. Tod mentioned them in her social chatter, while
laying the cloth; but it was always in the most cursory and trivial
way, such as "Miss March having begged that the children might be
kept quiet--Mrs. Tod hoped their noise didn't disturb ME? but Mr.
March was such a very fidgety gentleman--so particular in his dress,
too--Why, Miss March had to iron his cravats with her own hands.
Besides, if there was a pin awry in her dress he did make such a
fuss--and, really, such an active, busy young lady couldn't look
always as if she came trim out of a band-box. Mr. March wanted so
much waiting on, he seemed to fancy he still had his big house in
Wales, and his seven servants."
Mrs. Tod conversed as if she took it for granted I was fully
acquainted with all the prior history of her inmates, or any others
that she mentioned--a habit peculiar to Enderley folk with strangers.
It was generally rather convenient, and it saved much listening; but
in this case, I would rather have had it broken through. Sometimes I
felt strongly inclined to question her; but on consulting John, he
gave his veto so decidedly against seeking out people's private
affairs in such an illicit manner that I felt quite guilty, and began
to doubt whether my sickly, useless, dreaming life, was not inclining
me to curiosity, gossip, and other small vices which we are
accustomed--I know not why--to insult the other sex by describing as
As I have said, the two cottages were built distinct, so that we
could have neither sound nor sight of our neighbours, save upon the
neutral ground of Mrs. Tod's kitchen; where, however I might have
felt inclined to venture, John's prohibition stopped me entirely.
Thus--save the two days when he was at home, when he put me on his
mare's back, and led me far away, over common, and valley, and hill,
for miles, only coming back at twilight--save those two blithe days,
I spent the week in dignified solitude, and was very thankful for
We determined to make it a long, lovely, country Sunday; so we began
it at six a.m. John took me a new walk across the common, where--he
said, in answer to my question--we were quite certain NOT to meet
"Do you experimentalize on the subject, that you calculate her paths
with such nicety? Pray, have you ever met her again, for I know you
have been out most mornings?"
"Morning is the only time I have for walking, you know, Phineas."
"Ah, true! You have little pleasure at Enderley. I almost wish we
could go home."
"Don't think of such a thing. It is doing you a world of good.
Indeed, we must not, on any account, go home."
I know, and knew then, that his anxiety was in earnest; that whatever
other thoughts might lie underneath, the sincere thought of me was
the one uppermost in his mind.
"Well, we'll stay--that is, if you are happy, John."
"Thoroughly happy; I like the dashing rides to Norton Bury. Above
all, I like coming back. The minute I begin to climb Enderley Hill,
the tan-yard, and all belonging to it, drops off like an incubus, and
I wake into free, beautiful life. Now, Phineas, confess; is not this
common a lovely place, especially of a morning?"
"Ay," said I, smiling at his energy. "But you did not tell me
whether you had met Miss March again."
"She has never once seen me."
"But you have seen her? Answer honestly."
"Why should I not?--Yes, I have seen her--once or twice or so--but
never in any way that could annoy her."
"That explains why you have become so well acquainted with the
direction of her walks?"
He coloured deeply. "I hope, Phineas, you do not think that--that in
any way I should intrude on or offend a lady?"
"Nay, don't take it so seriously--indeed, I meant nothing of the
kind. It would be quite natural if a young man like you did use some
pains to look at such a 'cunning piece of Nature's handiwork' as that
apple-cheeked girl of seventeen."
"Russet apple. She is brown, you know--a real 'nut-brown mayde,'"
said John, recovering his gay humour. "Certainly, I like to look at
her. I have seen many a face that was more good-looking--never one
that looked half so good."
"Sententious that;" yet I could not smile--he spoke with such
earnestness. Besides, it was the truth. I myself would have walked
half-way across the common any day for a glance at Miss March. Why
"But, John, you never told me that you had seen her again!"
"Because you never asked me."
We were silent. Silent until we had walked along the whole length of
a Roman encampment, the most perfect of the various fosses that
seamed the flat--tokens of many a battle fought on such capital
battleground, and which John had this morning especially brought me
to look at.
"Yes," I said at last, putting the ending affirmative to a long train
of thought, which was certainly not about Roman encampments; "yes, it
is quite natural that you should admire her. It would even be quite
natural, and not unlikely either, if she--"
"Pshaw!" interrupted he. "What nonsense you are talking!
Impossible!" and setting his foot sharply upon a loose stone, he
kicked it down into the ditch, where probably many a dead Roman had
fallen before it in ages gone by.
The impetuous gesture--the energetic "impossible," struck me less
than the quickness with which his mind had worked out my unexpressed
thought--carrying it to a greater length than I myself had ever
"Truly, no possibilities or impossibilities of THAT sort ever entered
my head. I only thought you might admire her, and be unsettled
thereby as young men are when they take fancies. That would grieve
me very much, John."
"Don't let it then? Why, I have only seen her five times; I never
spoke to her in my life, and most probably never shall do. Could any
one be in a safer position? Besides," and his tone changed to
extreme gravity, "I have too many worldly cares to think of; I can't
afford the harmless little amusement of falling in love--so be easy,
I smiled; and we began a discussion on camps and fosses, vallum and
praetorium; the Danes, Saxons, and Normans; which, doubtless, we
carried on to a most learned length: but at this distance of time,
and indeed the very day after, I plead guilty to having forgotten all
That long, quiet Sunday, when, I remember, the sun never came out all
day, but the whole earth and sky melted together in a soft, grey
haze; when we lay on the common and heard church-bells ringing, some
distant, some near; and, after all was quiet, talked our own old
sabbath talks, of this world and the world to come; when, towards
twilight, we went down into the beech-wood below the house, and sat
idly there among the pleasant-smelling ferns; when, from the morning
to the evening, he devoted himself altogether to my comfort and
amusement--to perfect which required of him no harder duty than to be
near me always;--that Sunday was the last I ever had David altogether
for my own--my very own.
It was natural, it was just, it was right. God forbid that in any
way I should have murmured.
About ten o'clock--just as he was luring me out to see how grand the
common looked under the black night, and we were wondering whether or
no the household were in bed--Mrs. Tod came mysteriously into the
parlour and shut the door after her. Her round, fresh face looked
"Mr. Halifax, might I speak a word to 'ee, sir?"
"With pleasure. Sit down, Mrs. Tod. There's nothing wrong with your
"No, I thank'ee. You are very kind, sir. No, it be about that poor
I could see John's fingers twitch over the chair he was leaning on.
"I hope--" he began, and stopped.
"Her father is dreadful bad to-night, and it's a good seven-mile walk
to the doctor's at S----; and Miss March says--that is, she don't,
for I bean't going to tell her a word about it--but I think, Mr.
Halifax, if I might make so bold, it would be a great kindness in a
young gentleman like you to lend Tod your mare to ride over and fetch
"I will, gladly. At once?"
"Tod bean't come in yet."
"He shall have the mare with pleasure. Tell Miss March so--I mean,
do not tell her, of course. It was very right of you to come to us
in this way, Mrs. Tod. Really, it would be almost a treat to be ill
in your house--you are so kind."
"Thank'ee, Mr. Halifax," said the honest landlady, greatly delighted.
"But a body couldn't help doing anything for Miss March. You would
think so yourself, if you only knew her."
"No doubt," returned John, more politely than warmly, I fancied, as
he closed the door after the retreating figure of Mrs. Tod. But when
he came and sat down again I saw he was rather thoughtful. He turned
the books restlessly, one after the other, and could not settle to
anything. To all my speculations about our sick neighbour, and our
pearl of kind-hearted landladies, he only replied in monosyllables;
at last he started up and said,--
"Phineas, I think I'll go myself."
"To fetch Doctor Brown. If Tod is not come in it would be but a
common charity. And I know the way."
"But the dark night?"