Part 6 out of 12
Jessop. No need to dread that meeting now.
Yet she looked up, questioning, through her blushes. Of course he
had told her where we were going to-day; her who had a right to know
every one of his concerns now.
"Yes, dear, all is quite right. Do not be afraid."
Afraid, indeed! Not the least fear was in those clear eyes. Nothing
but perfect content--perfect trust.
John drew her arm through his. "Come, we need not mind Norton Bury
now," he said, smiling.
So they two walked forward, talking, as we could see, earnestly and
rather seriously to one another; while Mrs. Jessop and I followed
"Bless their dear hearts!" said the old lady, as she sat resting on
the stile of a bean-field. "Well, we have all been young once."
Not all, good Mrs. Jessop, thought I; not all.
Yet, surely it was most pleasant to see them, as it is to see all
true lovers--young lovers, too, in the morning of their days.
Pleasant to see written on every line of their happy faces the
blessedness of Nature's law of love--love began in youth-time,
sincere and pure, free from all sentimental shams, or follies, or
shames--love mutually plighted, the next strongest bond to that in
which it will end, and is meant to end, God's holy ordinance of
We came back across the fields to tea at Mrs. Jessop's. It was
John's custom to go there almost every evening; though certainly he
could not be said to "go a-courting." Nothing could be more unlike
it than his demeanour, or indeed the demeanour of both. They were
very quiet lovers, never making much of one another "before folk."
No whispering in corners, or stealing away down garden walks. No
public show of caresses--caresses whose very sweetness must consist
in their entire sacredness; at least, _I_ should think so. No
coquettish exactions, no testing of either's power over the other, in
those perilous small quarrels which may be the renewal of passion,
but are the death of true love.
No, our young couple were well-behaved always. She sat at her work,
and he made himself generally pleasant, falling in kindly to the
Jessop's household ways. But whatever he was about, at Ursula's
lightest movement, at the least sound of her voice, I could see him
lift a quiet glance, as if always conscious of her presence; her who
was the delight of his eyes.
To-night, more than ever before, this soft, invisible link seemed to
be drawn closer between them, though they spoke little together, and
even sat at opposite sides of the table; but whenever their looks
met, one could trace a soft, smiling interchange, full of trust, and
peace, and joy. He had evidently told her all that had happened
to-day, and she was satisfied.
More, perhaps, than I was; for I knew how little John would have to
live upon besides what means his wife brought him; but that was their
own affair, and I had no business to make public my doubts or fears.
We all sat round the tea-table, talking gaily together, and then John
left us, reluctantly enough; but he always made a point of going to
the tan-yard for an hour or two, in my father's stead, every evening.
Ursula let him out at the front door; this was her right, silently
claimed, which nobody either jested at or interfered with.
When she returned, and perhaps she had been away a minute or two
longer than was absolutely necessary, there was a wonderful
brightness on her young face; though she listened with a degree of
attention, most creditable in its gravity, to a long dissertation of
Mrs. Jessop's on the best and cheapest way of making jam and pickles.
"You know, my dear, you ought to begin and learn all about such
"Yes," said Miss March, with a little droop of the head.
"I assure you"--turning to me--"she comes every day into the kitchen-
-never mind, my dear, one can say anything to Mr. Fletcher. And what
lady need be ashamed of knowing how a dinner is cooked and a
household kept in order?"
"Nay, she should rather be proud; I know John thinks so."
At this answer of mine Ursula half smiled: but there was a colour in
her cheek, and a thoughtfulness in her eyes, deeper than any that our
conversation warranted or occasioned. I was planning how to divert
Mrs. Jessop from the subject, when it was broken at once by a sudden
entrance, which startled us all like a flash of lightning.
"Stole away! stole away! as my husband would say. Here have I come
in the dusk, all through the streets to Dr. Jessop's very door. How
is she? where is she, ma petite!"
"Ah! come forward. I haven't seen you for an age."
And Lady Caroline kissed her on both cheeks in her lively French
fashion, which Ursula received patiently, and returned--no, I will
not be certain whether she returned it or not.
"Pardon--how do you do, Mrs. Jessop, my dear woman? What trouble I
have had in coming! Are you not glad to see me, Ursula?"
"Yes, very." In that sincere voice which never either falsified or
exaggerated a syllable.
"Did you ever expect to see me again?"
"No, certainly I did not. And I would almost rather not see you now,
"If Richard Brithwood did not approve of it? Bah! what notions you
always had of marital supremacy. So, ma chere, you are going to be
married yourself, I hear?"
"Why, how quietly you seem to take it! The news perfectly
electrified me this morning. I always said that young man was 'un
heros de romans!' Ma foi! this is the prettiest little episode I
ever heard of. Just King Cophetua and the beggar-maid--only
reversed. How do you feel, my Queen Cophetua?"
"I do not quite understand you, Caroline."
"Neither should I you, for the tale seems incredible. Only you gave
me such an honest 'yes,' and I know you never tell even white lies.
But it can't be true; at least, not certain. A little affaire de
coeur, maybe--ah! I had several before I was twenty--very pleasant,
chivalrous, romantic, and all that; and such a brave young fellow,
too! Helas! love is sweet at your age!"--with a little sigh--"but
marriage! My dear child, you are not surely promised to this youth?"
"How sharply you say it! Nay, don't be angry. I liked him greatly.
A very pretty fellow. But then he belongs to the people."
"So do I."
"Naughty child, you will not comprehend me. I mean the lower orders,
the bourgeoisie. My husband says he is a tanner's 'prenticeboy."
"He was apprentice; he is now partner in Mr. Fletcher's tan-yard."
"That is nearly as bad. And so you are actually going to marry a
"I am going to marry Mr. Halifax. We will, if you please, cease to
discuss him, Lady Caroline."
"La belle sauvage!" laughed the lady; and, in the dusk, I fancied I
saw her reach over to pat Ursula's hand in her careless, pretty way.
"Nay, I meant no harm."
"I am sure you did not; but we will change the subject."
"Not at all. I came to talk about it. I couldn't sleep till I had.
Je t'aime bien, tu le sais, ma petite Ursule."
"Thank you," said Ursula, gently.
"And I would like well to see you married. Truly we women must
marry, or be nothing at all. But as to marrying for love, as we used
to think of, and as charming poets make believe--my dear, now-a-days,
nous avons change tout cela."
Ursula replied nothing.
"I suppose my friend the young bourgeois is very much in love with
you? With 'les beaux yeux de votre cassette,' Richard swears; but I
know better. What of that? All men say they love one--but it will
not last. It burns itself out. It will be over in a year, as we
wives all know. Do we not, Mrs. Jessop? Ah! she is gone away."
Probably they thought I was away too--or else they took no notice of
me--and went talking on.
"Jane would not have agreed with you, Cousin Caroline; she loved her
husband very dearly when she was a girl. They were poor, and he was
afraid to marry; so he let her go. That was wrong, I think."
"How wise we are growing in these things now!" laughed Lady Caroline.
"But come, I am not interested in old turtle-doves. Say about
"I have nothing more to say."
"Nothing more? Mon Dieu! are you aware that Richard is furious; that
he vows he will keep every sou he has of yours--law or no law--for as
long as ever he can? He declared so this morning. Did young Halifax
"Mr. Halifax has told me."
"'MR. Halifax!' how proudly she says it. And are you still going to
be married to him?"
"What! a bourgeois--a tradesman? with no more money than those sort
of people usually have, I believe. You, who have had all sorts of
comforts, have always lived as a gentlewoman. Truly, though I adore
a love-marriage in theory, practically I think you are mad--quite
mad, my dear."
"And he, too! Verily, what men are! Especially men in love. All
"Isn't it selfish to drag a pretty creature down, and make her a
drudge, a slave--a mere poor man's wife?"
"She is proud of being such!" burst in the indignant young voice.
"Lady Caroline, you may say what you like to me; you were kind
always, and I was fond of you; but you shall not say a word against
Mr. Halifax. You do not know him--how could you?"
"And you do? Ah! ma petite, we all think that, till we find out to
the contrary. And so he urges you to be married at once--rich or
poor--at all risks, at all costs? How lover-like--how like a man! I
guess it all. Half beseeches--half persuades--"
"He does not!" And the girl's voice was sharp with pain. "I would
not have told you, but I must--for his sake. He asked me this
afternoon if I was afraid of being poor? if I would like to wait, and
let him work hard alone, till he could give me a home like that I was
born to? He did, Caroline."
"And you answered--"
"No--a thousand times, no! He will have a hard battle to fight--
would I let him fight it alone? when I can help him--when he says I
"Ah, child! you that know nothing of poverty, how can you bear it?"
"I will try."
"You that never ruled a house in your life--"
"I can learn."
"Ciel! 'tis wonderful! And this young man has no friends, no
connections, no fortune! only himself."
"Only himself," said Ursula, with a proud contempt.
"Will you tell me, my dear, why you marry him?"
"Because"--and Ursula spoke in low tones, that seemed wrung out of
her almost against her will--"because I honour him, because I trust
him; and, young as I am, I have seen enough of the world to be
thankful that there is in it one man whom I can trust, can honour,
entirely. Also--though I am often ashamed lest this be selfish--
because when I was in trouble he helped me; when I was misjudged he
believed in me; when I was sad and desolate he loved me. And I am
proud of his love--I glory in it. No one shall take it from me--no
one will--no one can, unless I cease to deserve it."
Lady Caroline was silent. Despite her will, you might hear a sigh
breaking from some deep corner of that light, frivolous heart.
"Bien! chacun a son gout! But you have never stated one trifle--not
unnecessary, perhaps, though most married folk get on quite well
without it--'Honour,' 'trust,'--pshaw! My child--do you LOVE Mr.
"Nay, why be shy? In England, they say, and among the people--no
offence, ma petite--one does sometimes happen to care for the man one
marries. Tell me, for I must be gone, do you love him? one word,
whether or no?"
Just then the light coming in showed Ursula's face, beautiful with
more than happiness, uplifted even with a religious thankfulness, as
she said simply:
In the late autumn, John married Ursula March. He was twenty-one,
and she eighteen. It was very young--too young, perhaps, prudent
folk might say: and yet sometimes I think a double blessing falls on
unions like this. A right and holy marriage, a true love-marriage,
be it early or late, is--must be--sanctified and happy; yet those
have the best chance of happiness, who, meeting on the very threshold
of life, enter upon its duties together; with free, fresh hearts,
easily moulded the one to the other, rich in all the riches of youth,
acute to enjoy, brave and hopeful to endure.
Such were these two--God bless them!
They were married quite privately, neither having any near kindred.
Besides, John held strongly the opinion that so solemn a festival as
marriage is only desecrated by outward show. And so, one golden
autumn morning, Ursula walked quietly up the Abbey aisle in her plain
white muslin gown; and John and she plighted their faithful vows, no
one being present except the Jessops and I. They then went away for
a brief holiday--went away without either pomp or tears, entirely
happy--husband and wife together.
When I came home and said what had happened my good father seemed
little surprised. He had expressly desired not to be told anything
of the wedding till all was over--he hated marriages.
"But since it is done, maybe 'tis as well," said he, grimly. "She
seems a kindly young thing; wise, even--for a woman."
"And pleasant too, father?"
"Ay, but favour is deceitful, and beauty vain. So the lad's gone;"
and he looked round, as if missing John, who had lived in our house
ever since his illness. "I thought as much, when he bade me
goodnight, and asked my leave to take a journey. So he's married and
gone! Come, Phineas, sit thee down by thy old father; I am glad thee
wilt always remain a bachelor."
We settled ourselves, my father and I; and while the old man smoked
his meditative pipe I sat thinking of the winter evenings when we two
lads had read by the fire-side; the summer days when we had lounged
on the garden wall. He was a married man now, the head of a
household; others had a right--the first, best, holiest right--to the
love that used to be all mine; and though it was a marriage entirely
happy and hopeful, though all that day and every day I rejoiced both
with and for my brother, still it was rather sad to miss him from our
house, to feel that his boyish days were quite over--that his boyish
place would know him no more.
But of course I had fully overcome, or at least suppressed, this
feeling when, John having brought his wife home, I went to see them
in their own house.
I had seen it once before; it was an old dwelling-house, which my
father bought with the flour-mill, situated in the middle of the
town, the front windows looking on the street, the desolate garden
behind shut in by four brick walls. A most un-bridal-like abode. I
feared they would find it so, even though John had been busy there
the last two months, in early mornings and late evenings, keeping a
comical secrecy over the matter as if he were jealous that any one
but himself should lend an eye, or put a finger, to the dear task of
making ready for his young wife.
They could not be great preparations, I knew, for the third of my
father's business promised but a small income. Yet the gloomy
outside being once passed, the house looked wonderfully bright and
clean; the walls and doors newly-painted and delicately stencilled:--
("Master did all that himself," observed the proud little handmaid,
Jenny--Jem Watkins's sweetheart. I had begged the place for her
myself of Mistress Ursula.) Though only a few rooms were furnished,
and that very simply, almost poorly, all was done with taste and
care; the colours well mingled, the wood-work graceful and good.
They were out gardening, John Halifax and his wife.
Ay, his wife; he was a husband now. They looked so young, both of
them, he kneeling, planting box-edging, she standing by him with her
hand on his shoulder--the hand with the ring on it. He was laughing
at something she had said, thy very laugh of old, David! Neither
heard me come till I stood close by.
"Phineas, welcome, welcome!" He wrung my hand fervently, many times;
so did Ursula, blushing rosy red. They both called me "brother," and
both were as fond and warm as any brother and sister could be.
A few minutes after, Ursula--"Mrs. Halifax," as I said I ought to
call her now--slipped away into the house, and John and I were left
together. He glanced after his wife till she was out of sight,
played with the spade, threw it down, placed his two hands on my
shoulders, and looked hard in my face. He was trembling with deep
"Art thou happy, David?"
"Ay, lad, almost afraid of my happiness. God make me worthy of it,
and of her!"
He lifted his eyes upwards; there was in them a new look, sweet and
solemn, a look which expressed the satisfied content of a life now
rounded and completed by that other dear life which it had received
into and united with its own--making a full and perfect whole, which,
however kindly and fondly it may look on friends and kindred outside,
has no absolute need of any, but is complete in and sufficient to
itself, as true marriage should be. A look, unconsciously fulfilling
the law--God's own law--that a man shall leave father and mother,
brethren and companions, and shall cleave unto his wife, and "they
two shall become one flesh."
And although I rejoiced in his joy, still I felt half-sadly for a
moment, the vague, fine line of division which was thus for evermore
drawn between him and me of no fault on either side, and of which he
himself was unaware. It was but the right and natural law of things,
the difference between the married and unmarried, which only the
latter feel. Which, perhaps, the Divine One meant them to feel--that
out of their great solitude of this world may grow a little inner
Eden, where they may hear His voice, "walking in the garden in the
cool of the day."
We went round John's garden; there was nothing Eden-like about it,
being somewhat of a waste still, divided between ancient cabbage-
beds, empty flower-beds, and great old orchard-trees, very thinly
laden with fruit.
"We'll make them bear better next year," said John, hopefully. "We
may have a very decent garden here in time." He looked round his
little domain with the eye of a master, and put his arm, half
proudly, half shyly, round his wife's shoulders--she had sidled up to
him, ostensibly bringing him a letter, though possibly only for an
excuse, because in those sweet early days they naturally liked to be
in each other's sight continually. It was very beautiful to see what
a demure, soft, meek matronliness had come over the high spirit of
the "Nut-browne Mayde."
"May I read?" she said, peeping over him.
"Of course you may, little one." A comical pet name for him to give
her, who was anything but small. I could have smiled, remembering
the time when John Halifax bowed to the stately and dignified young
gentlewoman who stood at Mrs. Tod's door. To think he should ever
have come to call Miss Ursula March "little one!"
But this was not exactly a time for jesting, since, on reading the
letter, I saw the young wife flush an angry red, and then look grave.
Until John, crumpling up the paper, and dropping it almost with a
boyish frolic into the middle of a large rosemary-bush, took his wife
by both her hands, and gazed down into her troubled face, smiling.
"You surely don't mind this, love? We knew it all before. It can
make no possible difference."
"No! But it is so wrong--so unjust. I never believed he dared do
"Hear her, Phineas! She thinks nobody dare do anything ill to her
husband--not even Richard Brithwood."
"He is a--"
"Hush, dear!--we will not talk about him; since, for all his threats,
he can do us no harm, and, poor man! he never will be half as happy
That was true. So Mr. Brithwood's insulting letter was left to
moulder harmlessly away in the rosemary-bush, and we all walked up
and down the garden, talking over a thousand plans for making ends
meet in that little household. To their young hopefulness even
poverty itself became a jest; and was met cheerfully, like an honest,
hard-featured, hard-handed friend, whose rough face was often kindly,
and whose harsh grasp made one feel the strength of one's own.
"We mean," John said gaily, "to be two living Essays on the
Advantages of Poverty. We are not going to be afraid of it or
ashamed of it. We don't care who knows it. We consider that our
respectability lies solely in our two selves."
"But your neighbours?"
"Our neighbours may think of us exactly what they like. Half the
sting of poverty is gone when one keeps house for one's own comfort,
and not for the comments of one's neighbours."
"I should think not," Ursula cried, tossing back her head in merry
defiance. "Besides, we are young, we have few wants, and we can
easily reduce our wants to our havings."
"And no more grey silk gowns?" said her husband, half-fondly,
"You will not be so rude as to say I shall not look equally well in a
cotton one? And as for being as happy in it--why, I know best."
He smiled at her once more,--that tender, manly smile which made all
soft and lustrous the inmost depths of his brown eyes; truly no woman
need be afraid, with a smile like that, to be the strength, the
guidance, the sunshine of her home.
We went in, and the young mistress showed us her new house; we
investigated and admired all, down to the very scullery; then we
adjourned to the sitting-room--the only one--and, after tea, Ursula
arranged her books, some on stained shelves, which she proudly
informed me were of John's own making, and some on an old spinet,
which he had picked up, and which, he said, was of no other use than
to hold books, since she was not an accomplished young lady, and
could neither sing nor play.
"But you don't dislike the spinet, Ursula? It caught my fancy. Do
you know I have a faint remembrance that once, on such a thing as
this, my mother used to play?"
He spoke in a low voice; Ursula stole up to him with a fond, awed
"You never told me anything about your mother?"
"Dear, I had little to tell. Long ago you knew whom you were going
to marry--John Halifax, who had no friends, no kindred, whose parents
left him nothing but his name."
"And you cannot remember them?"
"My father not at all; my mother very little."
"And have you nothing belonging to them?"
"Only one thing. Should you like to see it?"
"Very much." She still spoke slowly, and with slight hesitation.
"It was hard for him not to have known his parents," she added, when
John had left the room. "I should like to have known them too. But
still--when I know HIM--"
She smiled, tossed back the coronet of curls from her forehead--her
proud, pure forehead, that would have worn a coronet of jewels more
meekly than it now wore the unadorned honour of being John Halifax's
wife. I wished he could have seen her.
That minute he re-appeared.
"Here, Ursula, is all I have of my parents. No one has seen it,
except Phineas there, until now."
He held in his hand the little Greek Testament which he had showed me
years before. Carefully, and with the same fond, reverent look as
when he was a boy, he undid the case, made of silk, with ribbon
strings--doubtless a woman's work--it must have been his mother's.
His wife touched it, softly and tenderly. He showed her the
fly-leaf; she looked over the inscription, and then repeated it
"'Guy Halifax, gentleman.' I thought--I thought--"
Her manner betrayed a pleased surprise: she would not have been a
woman, especially a woman reared in pride of birth, not to have felt
and testified the like pleasure for a moment.
"You thought that I was only a labourer's son: or--nobody's. Well,
does it signify?"
"No," she cried, as, clinging round his neck and throwing her head
back, she looked at him with all her heart in her eyes. "No, it does
NOT signify. Were your father the king on his throne, or the beggar
in the streets, it would be all the same to me; you would still be
yourself--MY husband--MY John Halifax."
"God bless thee--my own wife that He has given me!" John murmured,
through his close embrace.
They had altogether forgotten any one's presence, dear souls! so I
kept them in that happy oblivion by slipping out to Jenny in the
kitchen, and planning with her how we could at least spare Jem
Watkins two days a week to help in the garden, under Mr. Halifax's
"Only, Jenny," smiled I, with a warning finger, "no idling and
chattering. Young folk must work hard if they want to come to the
happy ending of your master and mistress."
The little maid grew the colour of her swain's pet peonies, and
promised obedience. Conscientious Jem there was no fear of--all the
rosy-cheeked damsels in Christendom would not have turned him aside
from one iota of his duty to Mr. Halifax. Thus there was love in the
parlour and love in the kitchen. But, I verily believe, the young
married couple were served all the better for their kindness and
sympathy to the humble pair of sweethearts in the rank below them.
John walked home with me--a pleasure I had hardly expected, but which
was insisted upon both by him and Ursula. For from the very first of
her betrothal there had been a thorough brother-and-sisterly bond
established between her and me. Her womanly, generous nature would
have scorned to do what, as I have heard, many young wives do--seek
to make coldness between her husband and his old friends. No; secure
in her riches, in her rightful possession of his whole heart, she
took into hers everything that belonged to John, every one he cared
for; to be for ever held sacred and beloved, being his, and therefore
her own. Thus we were the very best of friends, my sister Ursula and
John and I talked a little about her--of her rosy looks, which he
hoped would not fade in their town dwelling--and of good Mrs. Tod's
wonderful delight at seeing her, when last week they had stayed two
days in the dear old cottage at Enderley. But he seemed slow to
speak about his wife, or to dilate on a joy so new that it was hardly
to be breathed on, lest it might melt into air.
Only when, as we were crossing the street, a fine equipage passed, he
looked after it with a smile.
"Grey ponies! she is so fond of long-tailed grey ponies. Poor child!
when shall I be able to give her a carriage? Perhaps some day--who
He turned the conversation, and began telling me about the cloth
mill--his old place of resort; which he had been over once again when
they were at Rose Cottage.
"And do you know, while I was looking at the machinery, a notion came
into my head that, instead of that great water-wheel--you remember
it?--it might be worked by steam."
"What sort of steam?"
"Phineas, your memory is no better, I see. Have you forgotten my
telling you how, last year, some Scotch engineer tried to move boats
by steam, on the Forth and Clyde canal? Why should not the same
power be turned to account in a cloth-mill? I know it could--I have
got the plan of the machinery in my head already. I made a drawing
of it last night, and showed it to Ursula; SHE understood it
"And I do believe, by common patience and skill, a man might make his
fortune with it at those Enderley cloth-mills."
"Suppose you try!" I said in half jest, and was surprised to see how
seriously John took it.
"I wish I could try--if it were only practicable. Once or twice I
have thought it might be. The mill belongs to Lord Luxmore. His
steward works it. Now, if one could get to be a foreman or overseer-
"Try--you can do anything you try."
"No, I must not think of it--she and I have agreed that I must not,"
said he, steadily. "It's my weakness--my hobby, you know. But--no
hobbies now. Above all, I must not, for a mere fancy, give up the
work that lies under my hand. What of the tan-yard, Phineas?"
"My father missed you, and grumbled after you a good deal. He looks
anxious, I think. He vexes himself more than he needs about
"Don't let him. Keep him as much at home as you can. I'll manage
the tan-yard: you know--and he knows too--that everything which can
be done for us all I shall do."
I looked up, surprised at the extreme earnestness of his manner.
"Nay, there is nothing to be uneasy about--nothing more than there
has been for this year past. All trade is bad just now. Never fear,
we'll weather the storm--I'm not afraid."
Cheerfully as he spoke, I began to guess--what he already must have
known--that our fortunes were as a slowly leaking ship, of which the
helm had slipped from my old father's feeble hand. But John had
taken it--John stood firm at the wheel. Perhaps, with God's
blessing, he might guide us safe to land.
I had not time to say more, when, with its pretty grey ponies, the
curricle once more passed our way. Two ladies were in it: one
leaned out and bowed. Presently a lacquey came to beg Mr. Halifax
would come and speak with Lady Caroline Brithwood.
"Shall you go, John?"
"Certainly--why not?" And he stepped forward to the carriage-side.
"Ah! delighted to see mon beau cousin. This is he, Emma," turning to
the lady who sat by her--oh, what a lovely face that lady had! no
wonder it drove men mad; ay, even that brave man in whose honest life
can be chronicled only this one sin, of being bewitched by her.
John caught the name--perhaps, too, he recognized the face--it was
only too public, alas! His own took a sternness, such as I had never
before seen, and yet there was a trace of pity in it too.
"You are quite well. Indeed, he looks so--n'est-ce pas, ma chere?"
John bore gravely the eyes of the two ladies fixed on him, in rather
too plain admiration--very gravely, too, he bowed.
"And what of our young bride, our treasure that we stole--nay, it was
quite fair--quite fair. How is Ursula?"
"I thank you, Mrs. Halifax is well."
Lady Caroline smiled at the manner, courteous through all its
coldness, which not ill became the young man. But she would not be
"I am delighted to have met you. Indeed, we must be friends. One's
friends need not always be the same as one's husband's, eh, Emma?
You will be enchanted with our fair bride. We must both seize the
first opportunity, and come as disguised princesses to visit Mrs.
"Again let me thank you, Lady Caroline. But--"
"No 'buts.' I am resolved. Mr. Brithwood will never find it out.
And if he does--why, he may. I like you both; I intend us to be
excellent friends, whenever I chance to be at Norton Bury. Don't be
proud, and reject me, there's good people--the only good people I
ever knew who were not disagreeable."
And leaning on her large ermine muff, she looked right into John's
face, with the winning sweetness which Nature, not courts, lent to
those fair features--already beginning to fade, already trying to
hide by art their painful, premature decay.
John returned the look, half sorrowfully; it was so hard to give back
harshness to kindliness. But a light laugh from the other lady
caught his ear, and his hesitation--if hesitation he had felt-was
"No, Lady Caroline, it cannot be. You will soon see yourself that it
cannot. Living, as we do, in the same neighbourhood, we may meet
occasionally by chance, and always, I hope, with kindly feeling; but,
under present circumstances--indeed, under any circumstances--
intimacy between your house and ours would he impossible."
Lady Caroline shrugged her shoulders with a pretty air of pique. "As
you will! I never trouble myself to court the friendship of any one.
Le jeu ne vaut pas la chandelle."
"Do not mistake me," John said, earnestly. "Do not suppose I am
ungrateful for your former kindness to my wife; but the difference
between her and you--between your life and hers--is so extreme."
"Vraiment!" with another shrug and smile, rather a bitter one.
"Our two paths lie wide apart--wide as the poles; our house and our
society would not suit you; and that my wife should ever enter
yours"--glancing from one to the other of those two faces, painted
with false roses, lit by false smiles,--"No, Lady Caroline," he
added, firmly, "it is impossible."
She looked mortified for a moment, and then resumed her gaiety, which
nothing could ever banish long.
"Hear him, Emma! So young and so unkindly! Mais nous verrons. You
will change your mind. Au revoir, mon beau cousin."
They drove off quickly, and were gone.
"John, what will Mrs. Halifax say?"
"My innocent girl! thank God she is safe away from them all--safe in
a poor man's honest breast." He spoke with much emotion.
"Yet Lady Caroline--"
"Did you see who sat beside her?"
"That beautiful woman?"
"Poor soul! alas for her beauty! Phineas, that was Lady Hamilton."
He said no more, nor I. At my own door he left me, with his old
merry laugh, his old familiar grasp of my shoulder.
"Lad, take care of thyself, though I'm not by to see. Remember, I am
just as much thy tyrant as if I were living here still."
I smiled, and he went his way to his own quiet, blessed, married
The winter and spring passed calmly by. I had much ill-health, and
could go out very little; but they came constantly to me, John and
Ursula, especially the latter. During this illness, when I learned
to watch longingly for her kind face, and listen for her cheerful
voice talking pleasantly and sisterly beside my chair, she taught me
to give up "Mrs. Halifax," and call her Ursula. It was only by slow
degrees I did so, truly; for she was not one of those gentle
creatures whom, married or single, one calls instinctively by their
Christian names. Her manner in girlhood was not exactly either
"meek" or "gentle"; except towards him, the only one who ever ruled
her, and to whom she was, through life, the meekest and tenderest of
women. To every one else she comported herself, at least in youth,
with a dignity and decision--a certain stand-offishness--so that, as
I said, it was not quite easy to speak to or think of her as
"Ursula." Afterwards, when seen in the light of a new character, for
which Heaven destined and especially fitted her, and in which she
appeared altogether beautiful--I began to give her another name--but
it will come by and by.
In the long midsummer days, when our house was very quiet and rather
dreary, I got into the habit of creeping over to John's home, and
sitting for hours under the apple-trees in his garden. It was now
different from the wilderness he found it; the old trees were pruned
and tended, and young ones planted. Mrs. Halifax called it proudly
"our orchard," though the top of the tallest sapling could be reached
with her hand. Then, in addition to the indigenous cabbages, came
long rows of white-blossomed peas, big-headed cauliflowers, and all
vegetables easy of cultivation. My father sent contributions from
his celebrated gooseberry-bushes, and his wall-fruit, the pride of
Norton Bury; Mrs. Jessop stocked the borders from her great parterres
of sweet-scented common flowers; so that, walled in as it was, and in
the midst of a town likewise, it was growing into a very tolerable
garden. Just the kind of garden that I love--half trim, half wild--
fruits, flowers, and vegetables living in comfortable equality and
fraternity, none being too choice to be harmed by their neighbours,
none esteemed too mean to be restricted in their natural profusion.
Oh, dear old-fashioned garden! full of sweet-Williams and
white-Nancies, and larkspur and London-pride, and yard-wide beds of
snowy saxifrage, and tall, pale evening primroses, and hollyhocks six
or seven feet high, many-tinted, from yellow to darkest ruby-colour;
while for scents, large blushing cabbage-roses, pinks, gilly-flowers,
with here and there a great bush of southern-wood or rosemary, or a
border of thyme, or a sweet-briar hedge--a pleasant garden, where all
colours and perfumes were blended together; ay, even a stray
dandelion, that stood boldly up in his yellow waistcoat, like a young
country bumpkin, who feels himself a decent lad in his way--or a
plant of wild marjoram, that had somehow got in, and kept meekly in a
corner of the bed, trying to turn into a respectable cultivated herb.
Dear old garden!--such as one rarely sees now-a-days!--I would give
the finest modern pleasure-ground for the like of thee!
This was what John's garden became; its every inch and every flower
still live in more memories than mine, and will for a generation yet;
but I am speaking of it when it was young, like its gardeners. These
were Mrs. Halifax and her husband, Jem and Jenny. The master could
not do much; he had long, long hours in his business; but I used to
watch Ursula, morning after morning, superintending her domain, with
her faithful attendant Jem--Jem adored his "missis." Or else, when
it was hot noon, I used to lie in their cool parlour, and listen to
her voice and step about the house, teaching Jenny, or learning from
her--for the young gentlewoman had much to learn, and was not ashamed
of it either. She laughed at her own mistakes, and tried again; she
never was idle or dull for a minute. She did a great deal in the
house herself. Often she would sit chatting with me, having on her
lap a coarse brown pan, shelling peas, slicing beans, picking
gooseberries; her fingers--Miss March's fair fingers--looking fairer
for the contrast with their unaccustomed work. Or else, in the
summer evenings, she would be at the window sewing--always sewing--
but so placed that with one glance she could see down the street
where John was coming. Far, far off she always saw him; and at the
sight her whole face would change and brighten, like a meadow when
the sun comes out. Then she ran to open the door, and I could hear
his low "my darling!" and a long, long pause, in the hall.
They were very, very happy in those early days--those quiet days of
poverty; when they visited nobody, and nobody visited them; when
their whole world was bounded by the dark old house and the garden,
with its four high walls.
One July night, I remember, John and I were walking up and down the
paths by star-light. It was very hot weather, inclining one to stay
without doors half the night. Ursula had been with us a good while,
strolling about on her husband's arm; then he had sent her in to
rest, and we two remained out together.
How soft they were, those faint, misty, summer stars! what a
mysterious, perfumy haze they let fall over us!--A haze through which
all around seemed melting away in delicious intangible sweetness, in
which the very sky above our heads--the shining, world-besprinkled
sky--was a thing felt rather than seen.
"How strange all seems! how unreal!" said John, in a low voice, when
he had walked the length of the garden in silence. "Phineas, how
very strange it seems!"
"What?--oh, everything." He hesitated a minute. "No, not
everything--but something which to me seems now to fill and be mixed
up with all I do, or think, or feel. Something you do not know--but
to-night Ursula said I might tell you."
Nevertheless he was several minutes before he told me.
"This pear-tree is full of fruit--is it not? How thick they hang and
yet it seems but yesterday that Ursula and I were standing here,
trying to count the blossoms."
He stopped--touching a branch with his hand. His voice sank so I
could hardly hear it.
"Do you know, Phineas, that when this tree is bare--we shall, if with
God's blessing all goes well--we shall have--a little child."
I wrung his hand in silence.
"You cannot imagine how strange it feels. A child--hers and mine--
little feet to go pattering about our house--a little voice to say--
Think, that by Christmas-time I shall be a FATHER."
He sat down on the garden-bench, and did not speak for a long time.
"I wonder," he said at last, "if, when I was born, MY father was as
young as I am: whether he felt as I do now. You cannot think what
an awful joy it is to be looking forward to a child; a little soul of
God's giving, to be made fit for His eternity. How shall we do it!
we that are both so ignorant, so young--she will be only just
nineteen when, please God, her baby is born. Sometimes, of an
evening, we sit for hours on this bench, she and I, talking of what
we ought to do, and how we ought to rear the little thing, until we
fall into silence, awed at the blessing that is coming to us."
"God will help you both, and make you wise."
"We trust He will; and then we are not afraid."
A little while longer I sat by John's side, catching the dim outline
of his face, half uplifted, looking towards those myriad worlds,
which we are taught to believe, and do believe, are not more precious
in the Almighty sight than one living human soul.
But he said no more of the hope that was coming, or of the thoughts
which, in the holy hush of that summer night, had risen out of the
deep of his heart. And though after this time they never again
formed themselves into words, yet he knew well that not a hope, or
joy, or fear of his, whether understood or not, could be unshared by
In the winter, when the first snow lay on the ground, the little one
It was a girl--I think they had wished for a son; but they forgot all
about it when the tiny maiden appeared. She was a pretty baby--at
least, all the women-kind said so, from Mrs. Jessop down to Jael, who
left our poor house to its own devices, and trod stately in Mrs.
Halifax's, exhibiting to all beholders the mass of white draperies
with the infinitesimal human morsel inside them, which she vehemently
declared was the very image of its father.
For that young father--
But I--what can _I_ say? How should _I_ tell of the joy of a man
over his first-born?
I did not see John till a day afterwards--when he came into our
house, calm, happy, smiling. But Jael told me, that when she first
placed his baby in his arms he had wept like a child.
The little maiden grew with the snowdrops. Winter might have dropped
her out of his very lap, so exceedingly fair, pale, and pure-looking
was she. I had never seen, or at least never noticed, any young baby
before; but she crept into my heart before I was aware. I seem to
have a clear remembrance of all the data in her still and quiet
infancy, from the time her week-old fingers, with their tiny pink
nails--a ludicrous picture of her father's hand in little--made me
smile as they closed over mine.
She was named Muriel--after the rather peculiar name of John's
mother. Her own mother would have it so; only wishing out of her
full heart, happy one! that there should be a slight alteration made
in the second name. Therefore the baby was called Muriel Joy--Muriel
That name--beautiful, sacred, and never-to-be-forgotten among us--I
write it now with tears.
* * * *
In December, 1802, she was born--our Muriel. And on February 9th--
alas! I have need to remember the date!--she formally received her
name. We all dined at John's house--Dr. and Mrs. Jessop, my father
It was the first time my father had taken a meal under any roof but
his own for twenty years. We had not expected him, since, when asked
and entreated, he only shook his head; but just when we were all
sitting down to the table, Ursula at the foot, her cheeks flushed,
and her lips dimpling with a house-wifely delight that everything was
so nice and neat, she startled us by a little cry of pleasure. And
there, in the doorway, stood my father!
His broad figure, but slightly bent even now, his smooth-shaven face,
withered, but of a pale brown still, with the hard lines softening
down, and the keen eyes kinder than they used to be; dressed
carefully in his First-day clothes, the stainless white kerchief
supporting his large chin, his Quaker's hat in one hand, his stick in
the other, looking in at us, a half-amused twitch mingling with the
gravity of his mouth--thus he stood--thus I see thee, O my dear old
The young couple seemed as if they never could welcome him enough.
He only said, "I thank thee, John," "I thank thee, Ursula;" and took
his place beside the latter, giving no reason why he had changed his
mind and come. Simple as the dinner was--simple as befitted those
who, their guests knew, could not honestly afford luxuries; though
there were no ornaments, save the centre nosegay of laurustinus and
white Christmas roses--I do not think King George himself ever sat
down to a nobler feast.
Afterwards we drew merrily round the fire, or watched outside the
window the thickly falling snow.
"It has not snowed these two months," said John; "never since the day
our little girl was born."
And at that moment, as if she heard herself mentioned, and was
indignant at our having forgotten her so long, the little maid
up-stairs set up a cry--that unmistakable child's cry, which seems to
change the whole atmosphere of a household.
My father gave a start--he had never seen or expressed a wish to see
John's daughter. We knew he did not like babies. Again the little
helpless wail; Ursula rose and stole away--Abel Fletcher looked after
her with a curious expression, then began to say something about
going back to the tan-yard.
"Do not, pray do not leave us," John entreated; "Ursula wants to show
you our little lady."
My father put out his hands in deprecation; or as if desiring to
thrust from him a host of thronging, battling thoughts. Still, came
faintly down at intervals the tiny voice, dropping into a soft coo of
pleasure, like a wood-dove in its nest--every mother knows the sound.
And then Mrs. Halifax entered holding in her arms her little winter
flower, her baby daughter.
Abel Fletcher just looked at it and her--closed his eyes against
both, and looked no more.
Ursula seemed pained a moment, but soon forgot it in the general
admiration of her treasure.
"She might well come in a snow-storm," said Mrs. Jessop, taking the
child. "She is just like snow, so soft and white."
"And as soundless--she hardly ever cries. She just lies in this way
half the day over, cooing quietly, with her eyes shut. There, she
has caught your dress fast. Now, was there ever a two months' old
baby so quick at noticing things? and she does it all with her
fingers--she touches everything;--ah! take care, doctor," the mother
added, reproachfully, at a loud slam of the door, which made the baby
tremble all over.
"I never knew a child so susceptible of sounds," said John, as he
began talking to it and soothing it;--how strange it was to see him!
and yet it seemed quite natural already. "I think even now she knows
the difference between her mother's voice and mine; and any sudden
noise always startles her in this way."
"She must have astonishingly quick hearing," said the doctor,
slightly annoyed. Ursula wisely began to talk of something else--
showed Muriel's eyelashes, very long for such a baby--and descanted
on the colour of her eyes, that fruitful and never-ending theme of
mothers and friends.
"I think they are like her father's; yes, certainly like her
father's. But we have not many opportunities of judging, for she is
such a lazy young damsel, she hardly ever opens them--we should often
fancy her asleep, but for that little soft coo; and then she will
wake up all of a sudden. There now! do you see her? Come to the
window, my beauty! and show Dr. Jessop your bonny brown eyes."
They were bonny eyes! lovely in shape and colour, delicately fringed;
but there was something strange in their expression--or rather, in
their want of it. Many babies have a round, vacant stare--but this
was no stare, only a wide, full look--a look of quiet blankness--an
It caught Dr. Jessop's notice. I saw his air of vexed dignity change
into a certain anxiety.
"Well, whose are they like--her father's or mine? His, I hope--it
will be the better for her beauty. Nay, we'll excuse all
"I--I can't exactly tell. I could judge better by candlelight."
"We'll have candles."
"No--no! Had we not better put it off altogether, till another day?-
-I'll call in to-morrow and look at her eyes."
His manner was hesitating and troubled. John noticed it.
"Love, give her to me. Go and get us lights, will you?"
When she was gone, John took his baby to the window, gazed long and
intently into her little face, then at Dr. Jessop. "Do you think--
no--it's not possible--that there can be anything the matter with the
Ursula coming in, heard the last words.
"What was that you said about baby's eyes?"
No one answered her. All were gathered in a group at the window, the
child being held on her father's lap, while Dr. Jessop was trying to
open the small white lids, kept so continually closed. At last the
baby uttered a little cry of pain--the mother darted forward, and
clasped it almost savagely to her breast.
"I will not have my baby hurt! There is nothing wrong with her sweet
eyes. Go away; you shall not touch her, John."
She melted at that low, fond word; leaning against his shoulder--
trying to control her tears.
"It shocked me so--the bare thought of such a thing. Oh! husband,
don't let her be looked at again."
"Only once again, my darling. It is best. Then we shall be quite
satisfied. Phineas, give me the candle."
The words--caressing, and by strong constraint made calm and
soothing--were yet firm. Ursula resisted no more, but let him take
Muriel--little, unconscious, cooing dove! Lulled by her father's
voice she once more opened her eyes wide. Dr. Jessop passed the
candle before them many times, once so close that it almost touched
her face; but the full, quiet eyes, never blenched nor closed. He
set the light down.
"Doctor!" whispered the father, in a wild appeal against--ay, it was
against certainty. He snatched the candle, and tried the experiment
"She does not see at all. Can she be blind?"
Yes, those pretty baby-eyes were dark--quite dark. There was nothing
painful nor unnatural in their look, save, perhaps, the blankness of
gaze which I have before noticed. Outwardly, their organization was
perfect; but in the fine inner mechanism was something wrong--
something wanting. She never had seen--never would see--in this
"BLIND!" The word was uttered softly, hardly above a breath, yet the
mother heard it. She pushed every one aside, and took the child
herself. Herself, with a desperate incredulity, she looked into
those eyes, which never could look back either her agony or her love.
"John! John! oh, John!"--the name rising into a cry, as if he could
surely help her. He came and took her in his arms--took both, wife
and babe. She laid her head on his shoulder in bitter weeping. "Oh,
John! it is so hard. Our pretty one--our own little child!"
John did not speak, but only held her to him--close and fast. When
she was a little calmer he whispered to her the comfort--the sole
comfort even her husband could give her--through whose will it was
that this affliction came.
"And it is more an affliction to you than it will be to her, poor
pet!" said Mrs. Jessop, as she wiped her friendly eyes. "She will
not miss what she never knew. She may be a happy little child.
Look, how she lies and smiles."
But the mother could not take that consolation yet. She walked to
and fro, and stood rocking her baby, mute indeed, but with tears
falling in showers. Gradually her anguish wept itself away, or was
smothered down, lest it should disturb the little creature asleep on
Some one came behind her, and placed her in the arm-chair, gently.
It was my father. He sat down by her, taking her hand.
"Grieve not, Ursula. I had a little brother who was blind. He was
the happiest creature I ever knew."
My father sighed. We all marvelled to see the wonderful softness,
even tenderness, which had come into him.
"Give me thy child for a minute." Ursula laid it across his knees;
he put his hand solemnly on the baby-breast. "God bless this little
one! Ay, and she shall be blessed."
These words, spoken with as full assurance as the prophetic
benediction of the departing patriarchs of old, struck us all. We
looked at little Muriel as if the blessing were already upon her; as
if the mysterious touch which had scaled up her eyes for ever had
left on her a sanctity like as of one who has been touched by the
finger of God.
"Now, children, I must go home," said my father.
They did not detain us: it was indeed best that the poor young
parents should be left alone.
"You will come again soon?" begged Ursula, tenderly clasping the hand
which he had laid upon her curls as he rose with another murmured
"God bless thee!"
"Perhaps. We never know. Be a good wife to thy husband, my girl.
And John, never be thou harsh to her, nor too hard upon her little
failings. She is but young--but young."
He sighed again. It was plain to see he was thinking of another than
As we walked down the street he spoke to me only once or twice, and
then of things which startled me by their strangeness--things which
had happened a long time ago; sayings and doings of mine in my
childhood, which I had not the least idea he had either known of or
When we got in-doors I asked if I should come and sit with him till
"No--no; thee looks tired, and I have a business letter to write.
Better go to thy bed as usual."
I bade him good-night, and was going, when he called me back.
"How old art thee, Phineas--twenty-four or five?"
"Eh! so much?" He put his hand on my shoulder, and looked down on me
kindly, even tenderly. "Thee art but weakly still, but thee must
pick up, and live to be as old a man as thy father. Goodnight. God
be with thee, my son!"
I left him. I was happy. Once I had never expected my old father
and I would have got on together so well, or loved one another so
In the middle of the night Jael came into my room, and sat down on my
bed's foot, looking at me. I had been dreaming strangely, about my
own childish days, and about my father and mother when we were young.
What Jael told me--by slow degrees, and as tenderly as when she was
my nurse years ago--seemed at first so unreal as to be like a part of
At ten o'clock, when she had locked up the house, she had come as
usual to the parlour door, to tell my father it was bed-time. He did
not answer, being sitting with his back to the door, apparently busy
writing. So she went away.
Half an hour afterwards she came again. He sat there still--he had
not moved. One hand supported his head; the other, the fingers
stiffly holding the pen, lay on the table. He seemed intently gazing
on what he had written. It ran thus:
"To-morrow I shall be--"
But there the hand had stopped--for ever.
O dear father! on that to-morrow thou wert with God.
It was the year 1812. I had lived for ten years as a brother in my
adopted brother's house, whither he had brought me on the day of my
father's funeral; entreating that I should never leave it again.
For, as was shortly afterwards made clear, fate--say Providence--was
now inevitably releasing him from a bond, from which, so long as my
poor father lived, John would never have released himself. It was
discovered that the profits of the tanning trade had long been merely
nominal--that of necessity, for the support of our two families, the
tan-yard must be sold, and the business confined entirely to the
At this crisis, as if the change of all things broke her stout old
heart, which never could bend to any new ways--Jael died. We laid
her at my father's and mother's feet--poor old Jael! and that
grave-yard in St. Mary's Lane now covered over all who loved me, all
who were of my youth day--my very own.
So thought I--or might have thought--but that John and Ursula then
demanded with one voice, "Brother, come home."
I resisted long: for it is one of my decided opinions that married
people ought to have no one, be the tie ever so close and dear,
living permanently with them, to break the sacred duality--no, let me
say the unity of their home.
I wished to try and work for my living, if that were possible--if
not, that out of the wreck of my father's trade might be found enough
to keep me, in some poor way. But John Halifax would not hear of
that. And Ursula--she was sitting sewing, while the little one lay
on her lap, cooing softly with shut eyes--Ursula took my hand to play
with Muriel's. The baby fingers closed over mine--"See there,
Phineas; SHE wants you too." So I stayed.
Perhaps it was on this account that better than all his other
children, better than anything on earth except himself, I loved
John's eldest daughter, little blind Muriel.
He had several children now. The dark old house, and the square town
garden, were alive with their voices from morning till night. First,
and loudest always, was Guy--born the year after Muriel. He was very
like his mother, and her darling. After him came two more, Edwin and
Walter. But Muriel still remained as "sister"--the only sister
either given or desired.
If I could find a name to describe that child it would be not the one
her happy mother gave her at her birth, but one more sacred, more
tender. She was better than Joy--she was an embodied Peace.
Her motions were slow and tranquil--her voice soft--every expression
of her little face extraordinarily serene. Whether creeping about
the house, with a foot-fall silent as snow, or sitting among us,
either knitting busily at her father's knee, or listening to his talk
and the children's play, everywhere and always Muriel was the same.
No one ever saw her angry, restless, or sad. The soft dark calm in
which she lived seemed never broken by the troubles of this our
She was, as I have said, from her very babyhood a living peace. And
such she was to us all, during those ten struggling years, when our
household had much to contend with, much to endure. If at night her
father came home jaded and worn, sickened to the soul by the hard
battle he had to fight daily, hourly, with the outside world, Muriel
would come softly and creep into his bosom, and he was comforted.
If, busying herself about, doing faithfully her portion too, that the
husband when he came in of evenings might find all cheerful and never
know how heavy had been the household cares during the day--if, at
times, Ursula's voice took too sharp a tone, at sight of Muriel it
softened at once. No one could speak any but soft and sweet words
when the blind child was by.
Yet, I think either parent would have looked amazed had any one
pitied them for having a blind child. The loss--a loss only to them,
and not to her, the darling!--became familiar, and ceased to wound;
the blessedness was ever new. "Ay, and she shall be blessed," had
said my dear father. So she was. From her, or for her, her parents
never had to endure a single pain. Even the sicknesses of infancy
and childhood, of which the three others had their natural share,
always passed her by, as if in pity. Nothing ever ailed Muriel.
The spring of 1812 was an era long remembered in our family. Scarlet
fever went through the house--safely, but leaving much care behind.
When at last they all came round, and we were able to gather our pale
little flock to a garden feast, under the big old pear-tree, it was
with the trembling thankfulness of those who have gone through great
perils, hardly dared to be recognized as such till they were over.
"Ay, thank God it is over!" said John, as he put his arm round his
wife, and looked in her worn face, where still her own smile
lingered--her bright, brave smile, that nothing could ever drive
away. "And now we must try and make a little holiday for you."
"Nonsense! I am as well as possible. Did not Dr. Jessop tell me,
this morning, I was looking younger than ever? I--a mother of a
family, thirty years old? Pray, Uncle Phineas, do I look my age?"
I could not say she did not--especially now. But she wore it so
gracefully, so carelessly, that I saw--ay, and truly her husband saw-
-a sacred beauty about her jaded cheek, more lovely and lovable than
all the bloom of her youth. Happy woman! who was not afraid of
"Love"--John usually called her "Love"--putting it at the beginning
of a sentence, as if it had been her natural Christian name--which,
as in all infant households, had been gradually dropped or merged
into the universal title of "Mother." My name for her was always
emphatically "The Mother"--the truest type of motherhood I ever knew.
"Love," her husband began again, after a long look in her face--ah,
John, thine was altered too, but himself was the last thing he
thought of--"say what you like--I know what we'll do: for the
children's sake. Ah, that's her weak point;--see, Phineas, she is
yielding now. We'll go for three months to Longfield."
Now Longfield was the Utopia of our family, old and young. A very
simple family we must have been--for this Longfield was only a small
farm-house, about six miles off, where once we had been to tea, and
where ever since we had longed to live. For, pretty as our domain
had grown, it was still in the middle of a town, and the children,
like all naturally-reared children, craved after the freedom of the
country--after corn-fields, hay-fields, nuttings, blackberryings--
delights hitherto known only at rare intervals, when their father
could spare a whole long day, and be at once the sun and the shield
of the happy little band.
"Hearken, children! father says we shall go for three whole months to
live at Longfield."
The three boys set up a shout of ecstacy.
"I'll swim boats down the stream, and catch and ride every one of the
horses. Hurrah!" shouted Guy.
"And I'll see after the ducks and chickens, and watch all the
threshing and winnowing," said Edwin, the practical and grave.
"And I'll get a 'ittle 'amb to p'ay wid me," lisped Walter--still
"the baby"---or considered such, and petted accordingly.
"But what does my little daughter say?" said the father, turning--as
he always turned, at the lightest touch of those soft, blind fingers,
creeping along his coat sleeve. "What will Muriel do at Longfield?"
"Muriel will sit all day and hear the birds sing."
"So she shall, my blessing!" He often called her his "blessing,"
which in truth she was. To see her now leaning her cheek against
his--the small soft face, almost a miniature of his own, the hair, a
paler shade of the same bright colour, curling in the same elastic
rings--they looked less like ordinary father and daughter, than like
a man and his good angel; the visible embodiment of the best half of
his soul. So she was ever to him, this child of his youth--his
first-born and his dearest.
The Longfield plan being once started, father and mother and I began
to consult together as to ways and means; what should be given up,
and what increased, of our absolute luxuries, in order that the
children might this summer--possibly every summer--have the glory of
"living in the country." Of these domestic consultations there was
never any dread, for they were always held in public. There were no
secrets in our house. Father and mother, though sometimes holding
different opinions, had but one thought, one aim--the family good.
Thus, even in our lowest estate there had been no bitterness in our
poverty; we met it, looked it in the face, often even laughed at it.
For it bound us all together, hand in hand; it taught us endurance,
self-dependence, and, best of all lessons, self-renunciation. I
think, one's whole after-life is made easier and more blessed by
having known what it was to be very poor when one was young.
Our fortunes were rising now, and any little pleasure did not take
near so much contrivance. We found we could manage the Longfield
visit--ay, and a horse for John to ride to and fro--without any worse
sacrifice than that of leaving Jenny--now Mrs. Jem Watkins, but our
cook still--in the house at Norton Bury, and doing with one servant
instead of two. Also, though this was not publicly known till
afterwards, by the mother's renouncing a long-promised silk dress--
the only one since her marriage, in which she had determined to
astonish John by choosing the same colour as that identical grey gown
he had seen hanging up in the kitchen at Enderley.
"But one would give up anything," she said, "that the children might
have such a treat, and that father might have rides backwards and
forwards through green lanes all summer. Oh, how I wish we could
always live in the country!"
"Do you?" And John looked--much as he had looked at long-tailed grey
ponies in his bridegroom days--longing to give her every thing she
desired. "Well, perhaps, we may manage it some time."
"When our ship comes in--namely, that money which Richard Brithwood
will not pay, and John Halifax will not go to law to make him. Nay,
father dear, I am not going to quarrel with any one of your
crotchets." She spoke with a fond pride, as she did always, even
when arguing against the too Quixotic carrying out of the said
crotchets. "Perhaps, as the reward of forbearance, the money will
come some day when we least expect it; then John shall have his
heart's desire, and start the cloth-mills at Enderley."
John smiled, half-sadly. Every man has a hobby--this was his, and
had been for fifteen years. Not merely the making a fortune, as he
still firmly believed it could be made, but the position of useful
power, the wide range of influence, the infinite opportunities of
"No, love; I shall never be 'patriarch of the valley,' as Phineas
used to call it. The yew-hedge is too thick for me, eh, Phineas?"
"No!" cried Ursula--we had told her this little incident of our
boyhood--"you have got half through it already. Everybody in Norton
Bury knows and respects you. I am sure, Phineas, you might have
heard a pin fall at the meeting last night when he spoke against
hanging the Luddites. And such a shout as rose when he ended--oh,
how proud I was!"
"Of the shout, love?"
"Nonsense!--but of the cause of it. Proud to see my husband
defending the poor and the oppressed--proud to see him honoured and
looked up to, more and more every year, till--"
"Till it may come at last to the prophecy in your birthday verse--
'Her husband is known in the gates; he sitteth among the elders of
Mrs. Halifax laughed at me for reminding her of this, but allowed
that she would not dislike its being fulfilled.
"And it will be too. He is already 'known in the gates'; known far
and near. Think how many of our neighbours come to John to settle
their differences, instead of going to law! And how many poachers
has he not persuaded out of their dishonest--"
"Illegal," corrected John.
"Well, their illegal ways, and made decent, respectable men of them!
Then, see how he is consulted, and his opinion followed, by rich folk
as well as poor folk, all about the neighbourhood. I am sure John is
as popular, and has as much influence, as many a member of
John smiled with an amused twitch about his mouth, but he said
nothing. He rarely did say anything about himself--not even in his
own household. The glory of his life was its unconsciousness--like
our own silent Severn, however broad and grand its current might be,
that course seemed the natural channel into which it flowed.
"There's Muriel," said the father, listening.
Often thus the child slipped away, and suddenly we heard all over the
house the sweet sounds of "Muriel's voice," as some one had called
the old harpsichord. When almost a baby she would feel her way to
it, and find out first harmonies, then tunes, with that quickness and
delicacy of ear peculiar to the blind.
"How well she plays! I wish I could buy her one of those new
instruments they call 'pianofortes;' I was looking into the mechanism
of one the other day."
"She would like an organ better. You should have seen her face in
the Abbey church this morning."
"Hark! she has stopped playing. Guy, run and bring your sister
here," said the father, ever yearning after his darling.
Guy came back with a wonderful story of two gentlemen in the parlour,
one of whom had patted his head--"Such a grand gentleman, a great
deal grander than father!"
That was true, as regarded the bright nankeens, the blue coat with
gold buttons, and the showiest of cambric kerchiefs swathing him up
to the very chin. To this "grand" personage John bowed formally, but
his wife flushed up in surprised recognition.
"It is so long since I had the happiness of meeting Miss March, that
I conclude Mrs. Halifax has forgotten me?"
"No, Lord Luxmore, allow me to introduce my husband."
And, I fancied, some of Miss March's old hauteur returned to the
mother's softened and matronly mien;--pride, but not for herself or
in herself, now. For, truly, as the two men stood together--though
Lord Luxmore had been handsome in his youth, and was universally said
to have as fine manners as the Prince Regent himself--any woman might
well have held her head loftily, introducing John Halifax as "my
Of the two, the nobleman was least at his ease, for the welcome of
both Mr. and Mrs. Halifax, though courteous, was decidedly cold.
They did not seem to feel--and, if rumour spoke true, I doubt if any
honest, virtuous, middle-class fathers and mothers would have felt--
that their house was greatly honoured or sanctified by the presence
of the Earl of Luxmore.
But the nobleman was, as I have said, wonderfully fine-mannered. He
broke the ice at once.
"Mr. Halifax, I have long wished to know you. Mrs. Halifax, my
daughter encouraged me to pay this impromptu visit."
Here ensued polite inquiries after Lady Caroline Brithwood; we
learned that she was just returned from abroad, and was entertaining,
at the Mythe House, her father and brother.
"Pardon--I was forgetting my son--Lord Ravenel."
The youth thus presented merely bowed. He was about eighteen or so,
tall and spare, with thin features and large soft eyes. He soon
retreated to the garden-door, where he stood, watching the boys play,
and shyly attempting to make friends with Muriel.
"I believe Ravenel has seen you years ago, Mrs. Halifax. His sister
made a great pet of him as a child. He has just completed his
education--at the College of St. Omer, was it not, William?"
"The Catholic college of St. Omer," repeated the boy.
"Tut--what matters!" said the father, sharply. "Mr. Halifax, do not
imagine we are a Catholic family still. I hope the next Earl of
Luxmore will be able to take the oaths and his seat, whether or no we
get Emancipation. By the by, you uphold the Bill?"
John assented; expressing his conviction, then unhappily a rare one,
that every one's conscience is free; and that all men of blameless
life ought to be protected by, and allowed to serve, the state,
whatever be their religious opinions.
"Mr. Halifax, I entirely agree with you. A wise man esteems all
faiths alike worthless."
"Excuse me, my lord, that was the very last thing I meant to say. I
hold every man's faith so sacred, that no other man has a right to
interfere with it, or to question it. The matter lies solely between
himself and his Maker."
"Exactly! What facility of expression your husband has, Mrs.
Halifax! He must be--indeed, I have heard he is--a first-rate public
The wife smiled, wife-like; but John said, hurriedly:
"I have no pretention or ambition of the kind. I merely now and then
try to put plain truths, or what I believe to be such, before the
people, in a form they are able to understand."
"Ay, that is it. My dear sir, the people have no more brains than
the head of my cane (his Royal Highness's gift, Mrs. Halifax); they
must be led or driven, like a flock of sheep. We"--a lordly "we!"--
"are their proper shepherds. But, then, we want a middle class--at
least, an occasional voice from it, a--"
"A shepherd's dog, to give tongue," said John, dryly. "In short, a
public orator. In the House, or out of it?"
"Both." And the earl tapped his boot with that royal cane, smiling.
"Yes; I see you apprehend me. But, before we commence that somewhat
delicate subject, there was another on which I desired my agent, Mr.
Brown, to obtain your valuable opinion."
"You mean, when, yesterday, he offered me, by your lordship's express
desire, the lease, lately fallen in, of your cloth-mills at
Now, John had not told us that!--why, his manner too plainly showed.
"And all will be arranged, I trust? Brown says you have long wished
to take the mills; I shall be most happy to have you for a tenant."
"My lord, as I told your agent, it is impossible. We will say no
more about it."
John crossed over to his wife with a cheerful air. She sat looking
grave and sad.
Lord Luxmore had the reputation of being a keen-witted, diplomatic
personage; undoubtedly he had, or could assume, that winning charm of
manner which had descended in perfection to his daughter. Both
qualities it pleased him to exercise now. He rose, addressing with
kindly frankness the husband and wife.
"If I may ask--being a most sincere well-wisher of yours, and a sort
of connection of Mrs. Halifax's, too--why is it impossible?"
"I have no wish to disguise the reason: it is because I have no
Lord Luxmore looked surprised. "Surely--excuse me, but I had the
honour of being well acquainted with the late Mr. March--surely, your
Ursula rose, in her old impetuous way--"His wife's fortune! (John,
let me say it!--I will, I must!)--of his wife's fortune, Lord
Luxmore, he has never received one farthing. Richard Brithwood keeps
it back; and my husband would work day and night for me and our
children rather than go to law."
"Oh! on principle, I suppose? I have heard of such opinions," said
the earl, with the slightest perceptible sneer. "And you agree with
"I do, heartily. I would rather we lived poor all our days than that
he should wear his life out, trouble his spirit, perhaps even soil
his conscience, by squabbling with a bad man over money matters."
It was good to see Ursula as she spoke; good to see the look that
husband and his wife interchanged--husband and wife, different in
many points, yet so blessedly, so safely ONE! Then John said, in his
"Love, perhaps another subject than our own affairs would be more
interesting to Lord Luxmore."
"Not at all--not at all!" And the earl was evidently puzzled and
annoyed. "Such extraordinary conduct," he muttered: "so very--
ahem!--unwise. If the matter were known--caught up by those
newspapers--I must really have a little conversation with Brithwood."
The conversation paused, and John changed it entirely by making some
remarks on the present minister, Mr. Perceval.
"I liked his last speech much. He seems a clear-headed, honest man,
for all his dogged opposition to the Bill."
"He will never oppose it more."
"Nay, I think he will, my lord--to the death."
"That may be--and yet--" his lordship smiled. "Mr. Halifax, I have
just had news by a carrier pigeon--my birds fly well--most important
news for us and our party. Yesterday, in the lobby of the House of
Commons, Mr. Perceval was shot."
We all started. An hour ago we had been reading his speech. Mr.
"Oh, John," cried the mother, her eyes full of tears; "his poor wife-
-his fatherless children!"
And for many minutes they stood, hearing the lamentable history, and
looking at their little ones at play in the garden; thinking, as many
an English father and mother did that day, of the stately house in
London, where the widow and orphans bewailed their dead. He might or
might not be a great statesman, but he was undoubtedly a good man;
many still remember the shock of his untimely death, and how, whether
or not they liked him living, all the honest hearts of England
mourned for Mr. Perceval.
Possibly that number did not include the Earl of Luxmore.
"Requiescat in pace! I shall propose the canonization of poor
Bellingham. For now Perceval is dead there will be an immediate
election; and on that election depends Catholic Emancipation. Mr.
Halifax," turning quickly round to him, "you would be of great use to
us in parliament."
"Will you--I like plain speaking--will you enter it?"
Enter parliament! John Halifax in parliament! His wife and I were
both astounded by the suddenness of the possibility; which, however,
John himself seemed to receive as no novel idea.
Lord Luxmore continued. "I assure you nothing is more easy; I can
bring you in at once, for a borough near here--my family borough."
"Which you wish to be held by some convenient person till Lord
Ravenel comes of age? So Mr. Brown informed me yesterday."
Lord Luxmore slightly frowned. Such transactions, as common then in
the service of the country as they still are in the service of the
Church, were yet generally glossed over, as if a certain discredit
attached to them. The young lord seemed to feel it; at sound of his
name he turned round to listen, and turned back again, blushing
scarlet. Not so the earl, his father.
"Brown is--(may I offer you a pinch, Mr. Halifax?--what, not the
Prince Regent's own mixture?)--is indeed a worthy fellow, but too
hasty in his conclusions. As it happens, my son is yet undecided
between the Church--that is, the priesthood, and politics. But to
our conversation--Mrs. Halifax, may I not enlist you on my side? We
could easily remove all difficulties, such as qualification, etc.
Would you not like to see your husband member for the old and
honourable borough of Kingswell?"
"Kingswell!" It was a tumble-down village, where John held and
managed for me the sole remnant of landed property which my poor
father had left me. "Kingswell! why there are not a dozen houses in
"The fewer the better, my dear madam. The election would cost me
scarcely any--trouble; and the country be vastly the gainer by your
husband's talents and probity. Of course he will give up the--I
forget what is his business now--and live independent. He is made to
shine as a politician: it will be both happiness and honour to
myself to have in some way contributed to that end. Mr. Halifax, you
will accept my borough?"
"Not on any consideration your lordship could offer me."
Lord Luxmore scarcely credited his ears. "My dear sir--you are the
most extraordinary--may I again inquire your reasons?"
"I have several; one will suffice. Though I wish to gain influence--
power perhaps; still the last thing I should desire would be
"You might possibly escape that unwelcome possession," returned the
earl. "Half the House of Commons is made up of harmless dummies, who
vote as we bid them."
"A character, my lord, for which I am decidedly unfitted. Until
political conscience ceases to be a thing of traffic, until the
people are allowed honestly to choose their own honest
representatives, I must decline being of that number. Shall we
dismiss the subject?"
"With pleasure, sir."
And courtesy being met by courtesy, the question so momentous was
passed over, and merged into trivialities. Perhaps the earl, who, as
his pleasures palled, was understood to be fixing his keen wits upon
the pet profligacy of old age, politics--saw, clearly enough, that in
these chaotic days of contending parties, when the maddened outcry of
the "people" was just being heard and listened to, it might be as
well not to make an enemy of this young man, who, with a few more,
stood as it were midway in the gulf, now slowly beginning to narrow,
between the commonalty and the aristocracy. He stayed some time
longer, and then bowed himself away with a gracious condescension
worthy of the Prince of Wales himself, carrying with him the shy,
gentle Lord Ravenel, who had spoken scarcely six words the whole
When he was gone the father and mother seemed both relieved.
"Truly, John, he has gained little by his visit, and I hope it may be
long before we see an earl in our quiet house again. Come in to
dinner, my children."
But his lordship had left an uncomfortable impression behind him. It
lasted even until that quiet hour--often the quietest and happiest of
our day--when, the children being all in bed, we elders closed in
round the fire.
Ursula and I sat there, longer alone than usual.
"John is late to-night," she said more than once; and I could see her
start, listening to every foot under the window, every touch at the
door-bell; not stirring, though: she knew his foot and his ring
quite well always.
"There he is!" we both said at once--much relieved; and John came in.
Brightness always came in with him. Whatever cares he had without--
and they were heavy enough, God knows--they always seemed to slip off
the moment he entered his own door; and whatever slight cares we had
at home, we put them aside; as they could not but be put aside, nay,
forgotten--at the sight of him.
"Well, Uncle Phineas! Children all right, my darling? A fire! I'm
glad of it. Truly to-night is as cold as November."
"John, if you have a weakness, it is for fire. You're a regular
He laughed--warming his hands at the blaze. "Yes, I would rather be
hungry than cold, any day. Love, our one extravagance is certainly
coals. A grand fire this! I do like it so!"
She called him "foolish;" but smoothed down with a quiet kiss the
forehead he lifted up to her as she stood beside him, looking as if
she would any day have converted the whole house into fuel for his
own private and particular benefit.
"Little ones all in bed, of course?"
"Indeed, they would have lain awake half the night--those naughty
boys--talking of Longfield. You never saw children so delighted."
"Are they?" I thought the tone was rather sad, and that the father
sat listening with less interest than usual to the pleasant little
household chronicle, always wonderful and always new, which it was
his custom to ask for and have, night after night, when he came
home,--saying it was to him, after his day's toil, like a "babbling
o' green fields." Soon it stopped.
"John dear, you are very tired?"
"Have you been very busy all day?"
I understood, almost as well as his wife did, what those brief
answers indicated; so, stealing away to the table where Guy's blurred
copy-book and Edwin's astonishing addition sums were greatly in need
of Uncle Phineas, I left the fire-side corner to those two. Soon
John settled himself in my easy chair, and then one saw how very
weary he was--weary in body and soul alike--weary as we seldom beheld
him. It went to my heart to watch the listless stretch of his large,
strong frame--the sharp lines about his mouth--lines which ought not
to have come there in his two-and-thirty years. And his eyes--they
hardly looked like John's eyes, as they gazed in a sort of dull
quietude, too anxious to be dreamy, into the red coals--and nowhere
At last he roused himself, and took up his wife's work.
"More little coats! Love, you are always sewing."
"Mothers must--you know. And I think never did boys outgrow their
things like our boys. It is pleasant, too. If only clothes did not
wear out so fast."
"Ah!" A sigh--from the very depths of the father's heart.
"Not a bit too fast for my clever fingers, though," said Ursula,
quickly. "Look, John, at this lovely braiding. But I'm not going to
do any more of it. I shall certainly have no time to waste over
fineries at Longfield."
Her husband took up the fanciful work, admired it, and laid it down
again. After a pause he said:
"Should you be very much disappointed if--if we do not go to
Longfield after all?"
"Not go to Longfield!" The involuntary exclamation showed how deep
her longing had been.
"Because I am afraid--it is hard, I know--but I am afraid we cannot
manage it. Are you very sorry?"
"Yes," she said frankly and truthfully. "Not so much for myself,
"Ay, the poor children."
Ursula stitched away rapidly for some moments, till the grieved look
faded out of her face; then she turned it, all cheerful once more, to
her husband. "Now, John, tell me. Never mind about the children.
He told her, as was his habit at all times, of some losses which had
to-day befallen him--bad debts in his business--which would make it,
if not impracticable, at least imprudent, to enter on any new
expenses that year. Nay, he must, if possible, retrench a little.
Ursula listened, without question, comment, or complaint.
"Is that all?" she said at last, very gently.
"Then never mind. I do not. We will find some other pleasures for
the children. We have so many pleasures, ay, all of us. Husband, it
is not so hard to give up this one."
He said, in a whisper, low almost as a lover's, "I could give up
anything in the world but them and thee."
So, with a brief information to me at supper-time--"Uncle Phineas,
did you hear? we cannot go to Longfield,"--the renunciation was made,
and the subject ended. For this year, at least, our Arcadian dream
But John's troubled looks did not pass away. It seemed as if this
night his long toil had come to that crisis when the strongest man
breaks down--or trembles within a hair's breadth of breaking down;
conscious too, horribly conscious, that if so, himself will be the
least part of the universal ruin. His face was haggard, his
movements irritable and restless; he started nervously at every
sound. Sometimes even a hasty word, an uneasiness about trifles,
showed how strong was the effort he made at self-control. Ursula,
usually by far the most quick-tempered of the two, became to-night
mild and patient. She neither watched nor questioned him--wise woman
as she was; she only sat still, busying herself over her work,
speaking now and then of little things, lest he should notice her
anxiety about him. He did at last.
"Nay, I am not ill, do not be afraid. Only my head aches so--let me
lay it here as the children do."
His wife made a place for it on her shoulder; there it rested--the
poor tired head, until gradually the hard and painful expression of
the features relaxed, and it became John's own natural face--as quiet
as any of the little faces on their pillows up-stairs, whence,
doubtless, slumber had long banished all anticipation of Longfield.
At last he too fell asleep.
Ursula held up her finger, that I might not stir. The clock in the
corner, and the soft sobbing of the flame on the hearth, were the
only sounds in the parlour. She sewed on quietly, to the end of her
work; then let it drop on her lap, and sat still. Her cheek leaned
itself softly against John's hair, and in her eyes, which seemed so
intently contemplating the little frock, I saw large bright tears
gather--fall. But her look was serene, nay, happy; as if she thought
of these beloved ones, husband and children--her very own--preserved
to her in health and peace,--ay, and in that which is better than
either, the unity of love. For that priceless blessing, for the
comfort of being HIS comfort, for the sweetness of bringing up these
his children in the fear of God and in the honour of their father--
she, true wife and mother as she was, would not have exchanged the
wealth of the whole world.
"What's that?" We all started, as a sudden ring at the bell pealed
through the house, waking John, and frightening the very children in
their beds. All for a mere letter too, brought by a lacquey of Lord
Luxmore's. Having--somewhat indignantly--ascertained this fact, the
mother ran upstairs to quiet her little ones. When she came down,
John still stood with the letter in his hand. He had not told me
what it was; when I chanced to ask he answered in a low tone--
"Presently!" On his wife's entrance he gave her the letter without a
Well might it startle her into a cry of joy. Truly the dealings of
heaven to us were wonderful!
"Mr. John Halifax.
"Your wife, Ursula Halifax, having some time since attained
the age fixed by her late father as her majority, I will, within a
month after date, pay over to your order all moneys, principal and
interest, accruing to her, and hitherto left in my hands, as trustee,
according to the will of the late Henry March, Esquire.
"I am, sir,
It was all I could say. That one bad man, for his own purposes,
should influence another bad man to an act of justice--and that their
double evil should be made to work out our good! Also, that this
should come just in our time of need--when John's strength seemed
ready to fail.
"Oh John--John! now you need not work so hard!"
That was his wife's first cry, as she clung to him almost in tears.
He too was a good deal agitated. This sudden lifting of the burthen
made him feel how heavy it had been--how terrible the responsibility-
-how sickening the fear.
"Thank God! In any case, you are quite safe now--you and the
He sat down, very pale. His wife knelt beside him, and put her arms
around his neck--I quietly went out of the room.