Part 7 out of 12
When I came in again, they were standing by the fire-side--both
cheerful, as two people to whom had happened such unexpected good
fortune might naturally be expected to appear. I offered my
congratulations in rather a comical vein than otherwise; we all of us
had caught John's habit of putting things in a comic light whenever
he felt them keenly.
"Yes, he is a rich man now--mind you treat your brother with extra
"And your sister too.
'For she sall walk in silk attire,
And siller hae to spare.'
She's quite young and handsome still--isn't she? How magnificent
she'll look in that grey silk gown!"
"John, you ought to be ashamed of yourself! you--the father of a
family! you--that are to be the largest mill-owner at Enderley--"
He looked at her fondly, half deprecatingly. "Not till I have made
you and the children all safe--as I said."
"We are safe--quite safe--when we have you. Oh, Phineas! make him
see it as I do. Make him understand that it will be the happiest day
in his wife's life when she knows him happy in his heart's desire."
We sat a little while longer, talking over the strange change in our
fortunes--for they wished to make me feel that now, as ever, what was
theirs was mine; then Ursula took her candle to depart.
"Love!" John cried, calling her back as she shut the door, and
watching her stand there patient--watching with something of the old
mischievous twinkle in his eyes. "Mrs. Halifax, when shall I have
the honour of ordering your long-tailed grey ponies?"
Not many weeks afterwards we went to live at Longfield, which
henceforth became the family home for many years.
Longfield! happy Longfield! little nest of love, and joy, and peace--
where the children grew up, and we grew old--where season after
season brought some new change ripening in us and around us--where
summer and winter, day and night, the hand of God's providence was
over our roof, blessing our goings out and our comings in, our basket
and our store; crowning us with the richest blessing of all, that we
were made a household where "brethren dwelt together in unity."
Beloved Longfield! my heart, slow pulsing as befits one near the
grave, thrills warm and young as I remember thee!
Yet how shall I describe it--the familiar spot; so familiar that it
seems to need no description at all.
It was but a small place when we first came there. It led out of the
high-road by a field-gate--the White Gate; from which a narrow path
wound down to a stream, thence up a green slope to the house; a mere
farm-house, nothing more. It had one parlour, three decent bed-
rooms, kitchen and out-houses; we built extempore chambers out of the
barn and cheese-room. In one of these the boys, Guy and Edwin,
slept, against the low roof of which the father generally knocked his
head every morning when he came to call the lads. Its windows were
open all summer round, and birds and bats used oftentimes to fly in,
to the great delight of the youthful inmates.
Another infinite pleasure to the little folk was that for the first
year, the farm-house kitchen was made our dining-room. There,
through the open door, Edwin's pigeons, Muriel's two doves, and
sometimes a stately hen, walked in and out at pleasure. Whether our
live stock, brought up in the law of kindness, were as well-trained
and well-behaved as our children, I cannot tell; but certain it is
that we never found any harm from this system, necessitated by our
early straits at Longfield--this "liberty, fraternity, and equality."
Those words, in themselves true and lovely, but wrested to false
meaning, whose fatal sound was now dying out of Europe, merged in the
equally false and fatal shout of "Gloire! gloire!" remind me of an
event which I believe was the first that broke the delicious monotony
of our new life.
It was one September morning. Mrs. Halifax, the children, and I were
down at the stream, planning a bridge across it, and a sort of
stable, where John's horse might be put up--the mother had steadily
resisted the long-tailed grey ponies. For with all the necessary
improvements at Longfield, with the large settlement that John
insisted upon making on his wife and children, before he would use in
his business any portion of her fortune, we found we were by no means
so rich as to make any great change in our way of life advisable.
And, after all, the mother's best luxuries were to see her children
merry and strong, her husband's face lightened of its care, and to
know he was now placed beyond doubt in the position he had always
longed for; for was he not this very day gone to sign the lease of
Mrs. Halifax had just looked at her watch, and she and I were
wondering, with quite a childish pleasure, whether he were not now
signing the important deed, when Guy came running to say a coach-
and-four was trying to enter the White Gate.
"Who can it be?--But they must be stopped, or they'll spoil John's
new gravel road that he takes such pride in. Uncle Phineas, would
you mind going to see?"
Who should I see, but almost the last person I expected--who had not
been beheld, hardly spoken of, in our household these ten years--Lady
Caroline Brithwood, in her travelling-habit of green cloth, her
velvet riding-hat, with its Prince of Wales' feathers, gayer than
ever--though her pretty face was withering under the paint, and her
lively manner growing coarse and bold.
"Is this Longfield?--Does Mr. Halifax--mon Dieu, Mr. Fletcher, is
She held out her hand with the frankest condescension, and in the
brightest humour in the world. She insisted on sending on the
carriage, and accompanying me down to the stream, for a "surprise"--a
Mrs. Halifax, seeing the coach drive on, had evidently forgotten all
about it. She stood in the little dell which the stream had made,
Walter in her arms--her figure thrown back, so as to poise the
child's weight. Her right hand kept firm hold of Guy, who was
paddling barefoot in the stream: Edwin, the only one of the boys who
never gave any trouble, was soberly digging away, beside little
The lady clapped her hands. "Brava! bravissima! a charming family
picture, Mrs. Halifax."
Ursula left her children, and came to greet her old acquaintance,
whom she had never once seen since she was Ursula Halifax. Perhaps
that fact touched her, and it was with a kind of involuntary
tenderness that she looked into the sickly face, where all the smiles
could not hide the wrinkles.
"It is many years since we met; and we are both somewhat altered,
"You are, with those three great boys. The little girl yours also?--
Oh yes, I remember William told me--poor little thing!" And with
uneasy awe she turned from our blind Muriel, our child of peace.
"Will you come up to the house? my husband has only ridden over to
Enderley; he will be home soon."
"And glad to see me, I wonder? For I am rather afraid of that
husband of yours--eh, Ursula? Yet I should greatly like to stay."
Ursula laughed, and repeated the welcome. She was so happy herself--
she longed to distribute her happiness. They walked, the children
following, towards the house.
Under the great walnut-tree, by the sunk fence which guarded the
flower-garden from the sheep and cows, Mrs. Halifax stopped and
pointed down the green slope of the field, across the valley, to the
wooded hills opposite.
"Isn't it a pretty view?" said Guy, creeping up and touching the
stranger's gown; our children had lived too much in an atmosphere of
love to know either shyness or fear.
"Very pretty, my little friend."
"That's One-tree Hill. Father is going to take us all a walk there
"Do you like going walks with your father?"
"Oh, don't we!" An electric smile ran through the whole circle. It
told enough of the blessed home-tale.
Lady Caroline laughed a sharp laugh. "Eh, my dear, I see how things
are. You don't regret having married John Halifax, the tanner?"
"Nay, be not impetuous. I always said he was a noble fellow--so does
the earl now. And William--you can't think what a hero your husband
is to William."
"Ay, my little brother that was--growing a young man now--a frightful
bigot, wanting to make our house as Catholic as when two or three of
us lost our heads for King James. But he is a good boy--poor
William! I had rather not talk about him."
Ursula inquired courteously if her Cousin Richard were well.
"Bah!--I suppose he is; he is always well. His late astonishing
honesty to Mr. Halifax cost him a fit of gout--mais n'importe. If
they meet, I suppose all things will be smooth between them?"
"My husband never had any ill-feeling to Mr. Brithwood."
"I should not bear him an undying enmity if he had. But you see,
'tis election time, and the earl wishes to put in a gentleman, a
friend of ours, for Kingswell. Mr. Halifax owns some cottages there,
"Mr. Fletcher does. My husband transacts business--"
"Stop! stop!" cried Lady Caroline. "I don't understand business; I
only know that they want your husband to be friendly with mine. Is
this plain enough?"
"Certainly: be under no apprehension. Mr. Halifax never bears
malice against any one. Was this the reason of your visit, Lady
"Eh--mon Dieu! what would become of us if we were all as
straightforward as you, Mistress Ursula? But it sounds charming--in
the country. No, my dear; I came--nay, I hardly know why. Probably,
because I liked to come--my usual reason for most actions. Is that
your salle-a-manger? Won't you ask me to dinner, ma cousine?"
"Of course," the mother said, though I fancied, afterwards, the
invitation rather weighed upon her mind, probably from the doubt
whether or no John would like it. But in little things, as in great,
she had always this safe trust in him--that conscientiously to do
what she felt to be right was the surest way to be right in her
So Lady Caroline was our guest for the day--a novel guest--but she
made herself at once familiar and pleasant. Guy, a little gentleman
from his cradle, installed himself her admiring knight attendant
everywhere: Edwin brought her to see his pigeons; Walter, with
sweet, shy blushes, offered her "a 'ittle f'ower!" and the three, as
the greatest of all favours, insisted on escorting her to pay a visit
to the beautiful calf not a week old.
Laughing, she followed the boys; telling them how lately in Sicily
she had been presented to a week-old prince, son of Louis Philippe
the young Duke of Orleans and the Princess Marie-Amelie. "And truly,
children, he was not half so pretty as your little calf. Ursula, I
am sick of courts sometimes. I would turn shepherdess myself, if we
could find a tolerable Arcadia."
"Is there any Arcadia like home?"
"Home!"--Her face expressed the utmost loathing, fear, and scorn. I
remembered hearing that the 'Squire since his return from abroad had
grown just like his father; was drunk every day and all day long.
"Is your husband altered, Ursula? He must be quite a young man
still. Oh, what it is to be young!"
"John looks much older, people say; but I don't see it."
"Arcadia again! Can such things be? especially in England, that
paradise of husbands, where the first husband in the realm sets such
an illustrious example. How do you stay-at-home British matrons feel
towards my friend the Princess of Wales?"
"God help her, and make her as good a woman as she is a wronged and
miserable wife," said Ursula, sadly.
"Query, Can a 'good woman' be made out of a 'wronged and miserable
wife'? If so, Mrs. Halifax, you should certainly take out a patent
for the manufacture."
The subject touched too near home. Ursula wisely avoided it, by
inquiring if Lady Caroline meant to remain in England.
"Cela depend." She turned suddenly grave. "Your fresh air makes me
feel weary. Shall we go in-doors?"
Dinner was ready laid out--a plain meal; since neither the father nor
any of us cared for table dainties; but I think if we had lived in a
hut, and fed off wooden platters on potatoes and salt, our repast
would have been fair and orderly, and our hut the neatest that a hut
could be. For the mother of the family had in perfection almost the
best genius a woman can have--the genius of tidiness.
We were not in the least ashamed of our simple dinner-table, where no
difference was ever made for anybody. We had little plate, but
plenty of snow-white napery and pretty china; and what with the
scents of the flower-garden on one side, and the green waving of the
elm-tree on the other, it was as good as dining out-of-doors.
The boys were still gathered round Lady Caroline, in the little
closet off the dining-room where lessons were learnt; Muriel sat as
usual on the door-sill, petting one of her doves that used to come
and perch on her head and her shoulder, of their own accord, when I
heard the child say to herself:
"Up the farm-yard way. There--he is on the gravel-walk. He has
stopped; I dare say it is to pull some of the jessamine that grows
over the well. Now, fly away, dove! Father's here."
And the next minute a general shout echoed, "Father's here!"
He stood in the doorway, lifting one after the other up in his arms;
having a kiss and a merry word for all--this good father!
O solemn name, which Deity Himself claims and owns! Happy these
children, who in its fullest sense could understand the word
"father!" to whom, from the dawn of their little lives, their father
was what all fathers should be--the truest representative here on
earth of that Father in heaven, who is at once justice, wisdom, and
Happy, too--most blessed among women--the woman who gave her children
such a father!
Ursula came--for his eye was wandering in search of her--and received
the embrace, without which he never left her, or returned.
"All rightly settled, John?"
"I am so glad." With a second kiss, not often bestowed in public, as
congratulation. He was going to tell more, when Ursula said, rather
hesitatingly, "We have a visitor to-day."
Lady Caroline came out of her corner, laughing. "You did not expect
me, I see. Am I welcome?"
"Any welcome that Mrs. Halifax has given is also mine."
But John's manner, though polite, was somewhat constrained; and he
felt, as it seemed to my observant eye, more surprise than
gratification in this incursion on his quiet home. Also I noticed
that when Lady Caroline, in the height of her condescension, would
have Muriel close to her at dinner, he involuntarily drew his little
daughter to her accustomed place beside himself,
"She always sits here, thank you."
The table-talk was chiefly between the lady and her host; she rarely
talked to women when a man was to be had. Conversation veered
between the Emperor Napoleon and Lord Wellington, Lord William
Bentinck and Sardinian policy, the conjugal squabbles of Carlton
House, and the one-absorbing political question of this year--
"You are a staunch supporter of the Bill, my father says. Of course,
you aid him in the Kingswell election to-morrow?"
"I can scarcely call it an election," returned John. He had been
commenting on it to us that morning rather severely. An election! it
was merely a talk in the King's Head parlour, a nomination, and show
of hands by some dozen poor labourers, tenants of Mr. Brithwood and
Lord Luxmore, who got a few pounds a-piece for their services--and
the thing was done.
"Who is the nominee, Lady Caroline?"
"A young gentleman of small fortune, but excellent parts, who
returned with us from Naples."
The lady's manner being rather more formal than she generally used,
John looked up quickly.
"The election being to-morrow, of course his name is no secret?"
"Oh, no! Vermilye. Mr. Gerard Vermilye. Do you know him?"
"I have heard of him."
As he spoke--either intentionally or no--John looked full at Lady
Caroline. She dropped her eyes and began playing with her bracelets.
Both immediately quitted the subject of Kingswell election.
Soon after we rose from table; and Guy, who had all dinner-time fixed
his admiring gaze upon the "pretty lady," insisted on taking her down
the garden and gathering for her a magnificent arum lily, the
mother's favourite lily. I suggested gaining permission first; and
was sent to ask the question.
I found John and his wife in serious, even painful conversation.
"Love," he was saying, "I have known it for very long; but if she had
not come here, I would never have grieved you by telling it."
"Perhaps it is not true," said Ursula, warmly. "The world is ready
enough to invent cruel falsehoods about us women."
"'Us women!' Don't say that, Ursula. I will not have my wife named
in the same breath with HER."
"I will not, I say. You don't know what it cost me even to see her
touch your hand."
The soft tone recalled him to his better self.
"Forgive me! but I would not have the least taint come near this wife
of mine. I could not bear to think of her holding intercourse with a
light woman--a woman false to her husband."
"I do not believe it. Caroline was foolish, she was never wicked.
Listen!--If this were true, how could she be laughing with our
children now? Oh! John--think--she has no children."
The deep pity passed from Ursula's heart to her husband's. John
clasped fondly the two hands that were laid on his shoulders, as,
looking up in his face, the happy wife pleaded silently for one whom
all the world knew was so wronged and so unhappy.
"We will wait a little before we judge. Love, you are a better
Christian than I."
All afternoon they both showed more than courtesy--kindness, to this
woman, at whom, as any one out of our retired household would have
known, and as John did know well--all the world was already pointing
the finger, on account of Mr. Gerard Vermilye. She, on her part,
with her chameleon power of seizing and sunning herself in the
delight of the moment, was in a state of the highest enjoyment. She
turned "shepherdess," fed the poultry with Edwin, pulled off her
jewelled ornaments, and gave them to Walter for playthings; nay, she
even washed off her rouge at the spring, and came in with faint
natural roses upon her faded cheeks. So happy she seemed, so
innocently, childishly happy; that more than once I saw John and
Ursula exchange satisfied looks, rejoicing that they had followed
after the divine charity which "thinketh no evil."
After tea we all turned out, as was our wont on summer evenings; the
children playing about; while the father and mother strolled up and
down the sloping field-path, arm in arm like lovers, or sometimes he
fondly leaning upon her. Thus they would walk and talk together in
the twilight, for hours.
Lady Caroline pointed to them. "Look! Adam and Eve modernized;
Baucis and Philemon when they were young. Bon Dieu! what it is to be
She said this in a gasp, as if wild with terror of the days that were
coming upon her--the dark days.
"People are always young," I answered, "who love one another as these
"Love! what an old-fashioned word. I hate it! It is so--what would
you say in English?--so dechirant. I would not cultivate une grande
passion for the world."
I smiled at the idea of the bond between Mr. and Mrs. Halifax taking
the Frenchified character of "une grande passion."
"But home-love, married love, love among children and at the
fire-side;--you believe in that?"
She turned upon me her beautiful eyes; they had a scared look, like a
bird's driven right into the fowler's net.
The word hissed itself out between her shut teeth--"impossible."
Then she walked quickly on, and was her lively self once more.
When the evening closed, and the younger children were gone to bed,
she became rather restless about the non-appearance of her coach. At
last a lacquey arrived on foot. She angrily inquired why a carriage
had not been sent for her?
"Master didn't give orders, my lady," answered the man, somewhat
Lady Caroline turned pale--with anger or fear--perhaps both.
"You have not properly answered your mistress's question," said Mr.
"Master says, sir--begging my lady's pardon for repeating it--but he
says, 'My lady went out against his will, and she may come home when
and how she likes.'"
"My lady" burst out laughing, and laughed violently and long.
"Tell him I will. Be sure you tell him I will. It is the last and
the easiest obedience."
John sent the lacquey out of the room; and Ursula said something
about "not speaking thus before a servant."
"Before a servant! Why, my dear, we furnish entertainment for our
whole establishment, my husband and I. We are at the Mythe what the
Prince Regent and the Princess of Wales are to the country at large.
We divide our people between us; I fascinate--he bribes. Ha! ha!
Well done, Richard Brithwood! I may come home 'when and how I like!'
Truly, I'll use that kind permission."
Her eyes glittered with an evil fire: her cheeks were hot and red.
"Mrs. Halifax, I shall be thrown on your hospitality for an hour or
two longer. Could you send a letter for me?"
"To your husband? Certainly."
"My husband?--Never!--Yes, to MY HUSBAND." The first part of the
sentence was full of fierce contempt; the latter, smothered, and
slowly desperate. "Tell me, Ursula, what constitutes a man one's
husband? Brutality, tyranny--the tyranny which the law sanctions?
Or kindness, sympathy, devotion, everything that makes life
beautiful--everything that constitutes happiness and--"
The word in her ear was so low, that she started as if conscience
only had uttered it--conscience, to whom only her intents were known.
John came forward, speaking gravely, but not unkindly.
"Lady Caroline, I am deeply grieved that this should have happened in
my house, and through your visiting us against your husband's will."
"Pardon me; but I think a wife is bound to the very last to obey in
all things, not absolutely wrong, her husband's will. I am glad you
thought of writing to Mr. Brithwood."
She shook her head, in mocking denial.
"May I ask, then--since I am to have the honour of sending it--to
whom is this letter?"
"To--" I think she would have told a falsehood, if John's eyes had
not been so keenly fixed upon her. "To--a friend."
"Friends are at all times dangerous to a lady who--"
"Hates her husband--ha! ha! Especially male friends?"
"Especially male friends."
Here Guy, who had lingered out of his little bed most unlawfully--
hovering about, ready to do any chivalrous duty to his idol of the
day--came up to bid her good-night, and held up his rosy mouth,
"I--kiss a little child! I!"--and from her violent laughter she
burst into a passion of tears.
The mother signed me to carry Guy away; she and John took Lady
Caroline into the parlour, and shut the door.
Of course I did not then learn what passed--but I did afterwards.
Lady Caroline's tears were evanescent, like all her emotions. Soon
she became composed--asked again for writing materials--then
countermanded the request.
"No, I will wait till to-morrow. Ursula, you will take me in for the
Mrs. Halifax looked appealingly to her husband, but he gave no
"Lady Caroline, you should willingly stay, were it not, as you must
know, so fatal a step. In your position, you should be most careful
to leave the world and your husband no single handle against you."
"Mr. Halifax, what right have you---"
"None, save that of an honest man, who sees a woman cruelly wronged,
and desperate with her wrong; who would thankfully save her if he
"Save me? From what--or whom?"
"From Mr. Gerard Vermilye, who is now waiting down the road, and
whom, if Lady Caroline Brithwood once flies to, or even sees, at this
crisis, she loses her place among honourable English matrons for
John said this, with no air of virtuous anger or contempt, but as the
simple statement of a fact. The convicted woman dropped her face
between her hands.
Ursula, greatly shocked, was some time before she spoke.
"Is it true, Caroline?"
"What is true?"
"That which my husband has heard of you?"
"Yes," she cried, springing up, and dashing back her beautiful hair--
beautiful still, though she must have been five or six and thirty at
least--"Yes, it is true--it shall be true. I will break my bonds and
live the life I was made for. I would have done it long ago, but
for--no matter. Why, Ursula, he adores me; young and handsome as he
is, he adores me. He will give me my youth back again, ay, he will."
And she sang out a French chanson, something about "la liberte et ses
plaisirs, la jeunesse, l'amour."
The mother grew sterner--any such wife and mother would. Then and
there, compassion might have died out of even her good heart, had it
not been for the sudden noise over-head of children's feet--
children's chattering. Once more the pitiful thought came--"She has
"Caroline," she said, catching her gown as she passed, "when I was
with you, you had a child which only breathed and died. It died
spotless. When you die, how dare you meet that little baby?"
The singing changed to sobbing. "I had forgotten. My little baby!
Oh, mon Dieu, mon Dieu!"
Mrs. Halifax, taking in earnest those meaningless French
ejaculations, whispered something about Him who alone can comfort and
help us all.
"Him! I never knew Him, if indeed He be. No, no, there is no
Ursula turned away in horror. "John, what shall we do with her? No
home!--no husband!--no God!"
"He never leaves Himself without a witness. Look, love."
The wretched woman sat rocking to and fro--weeping and wringing her
hands. "It was cruel--cruel! You should not have spoken about my
"Tell me--just one word--I will not believe anybody's word except
your own. Caroline, are you--still innocent?"
Lady Caroline shrank from her touch. "Don't hold me so. You may
have one standard of virtue, I another."
"Still, tell me."
"And if I did, you, an 'honourable English matron'--was not that your
husband's word?--would turn from me, most likely."
"She will not," John said. "She has been happy, and you most
"Oh, most miserable."
That bitter groan went to both their hearts, Ursula leaned over her--
herself almost in tears. "Cousin Caroline, John says true--I will
not turn from you. I know you have been sinned against--cruelly--
cruelly. Only tell me that you yourself have not sinned."
"I HAVE 'sinned,' as you call it."
Ursula started--drew closer to her husband. Neither spoke.
"Mrs. Halifax, why don't you take away your hand?"
"I?--let me think. This is terrible. Oh, John!"
Again Lady Caroline said, in her sharp, bold tone, "Take away your
"Husband, shall I?"
For some minutes they stood together, both silent, with this poor
woman. I call her "poor," as did they, knowing, that if a sufferer
needs pity, how tenfold more does a sinner!
John spoke first. "Cousin Caroline." She lifted up her head in
amazement. "We are your cousins, and we wish to be your friends, my
wife and I. Will you listen to us?"
She sobbed still, but less violently.
"Only, first--you must promise to renounce for ever guilt and
"I feel it none. He is an honourable gentleman--he loves me, and I
love him. That is the true marriage. No, I will make you no such
promise. Let me go."
"Pardon me--not yet. I cannot suffer my wife's kinswoman to elope
from my own house, without trying to prevent it."
"Prevent!--sir!--Mr. Halifax! You forget who you are, and who I am--
the daughter of the Earl of Luxmore."
"Were you the King's daughter it would make no difference. I will
save you in spite of yourself, if I can. I have already spoken to
Mr. Vermilye, and he has gone away."
"Gone away! the only living soul that loves me. Gone away! I must
"You cannot. He is miles distant by this time. He is afraid lest
this story should come out to-morrow at Kingswell; and to be an M.P.
and safe from arrest is better to Mr. Vermilye than even yourself,
John's wife, unaccustomed to hear him take that cool, worldly, half-
sarcastic tone, turned to him somewhat reproachfully; but he judged
best. For the moment, this tone had more weight with the woman of
the world than any homilies. She began to be afraid of Mr. Halifax.
Impulse, rather than resolution, guided her, and even these impulses
were feeble and easily governed. She sat down again, muttering:
"My will is free. You cannot control me."
"Only so far as my conscience justifies me in preventing a crime."
"It would be such. No sophistries of French philosophy on your part,
no cruelty on your husband's, can abrogate the one law, which if you
disown it as God's, is still man's--being necessary for the peace,
honour, and safety of society."
"THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY."
People do not often utter this plain Bible word. It made Ursula
start, even when spoken solemnly by her own husband. It tore from
the self-convicted woman all the sentimental disguises with which the
world then hid, and still hides, its corruptions. Her sin arose and
stared her blackly in the face--AS SIN. She cowered before it.
"Am I--THAT? And William will know it. Poor William!" She looked
up at Ursula--for the first time with the guilty look; hitherto, it
had been only one of pain or despair. "Nobody knows it, except you.
Don't tell William. I would have gone long ago, but for him. He is
a good boy;--don't let him guess his sister was--"
She left the word unspoken. Shame seemed to crush her down to the
earth; shame, the precursor of saving penitence--at least, John
thought so. He quitted the room, leaving her to the ministry of his
other self, his wife. As he sat down with me, and told me in a few
words what indeed I had already more than half guessed, I could not
but notice the expression of his own face. And I recognized how a
man can be at once righteous to judge, tender to pity, and strong to
save; a man the principle of whose life is, as John's was--that it
should be made "conformable to the image" of Him, who was Himself on
earth the image of God.
Ursula came out and called her husband. They talked some time
together. I guessed, from what I heard, that she wished Lady
Caroline to stay the night here, but that he with better judgment was
urging the necessity of her returning to the protection of her
husband's home without an hour's delay.
"It is her only chance of saving her reputation. She must do it.
Tell her so, Ursula."
After a few minutes, Mrs. Halifax came out again.
"I have persuaded her at last. She says she will do whatever you
think best. Only before she goes, she wants to look at the children.
"Poor soul!--yes," John murmured, turning away.
Stepping out of sight, we saw the poor lady pass through the quiet,
empty house into the children's bed-room. We heard her smothered
sob, at times, the whole way.
Then I went down to the stream, and helped John to saddle his horse,
with Mrs. Halifax's old saddle--in her girlish days, Ursula used to
be very fond of riding.
"She can ride back again from the Mythe," said John. "She wishes to
go, and it is best she should; so that nothing need be said, except
that Lady Caroline spent a day at Longfield, and that my wife and I
accompanied her safe home."
While he spoke, the two ladies came down the field-path. I fancied I
heard, even now, a faint echo of that peculiarly sweet and careless
laugh, indicating how light were all impressions on a temperament so
plastic and weak--so easily remoulded by the very next influence that
fate might throw across her perilous way.
John Halifax assisted her on horseback, took the bridle under one arm
and gave the other to his wife. Thus they passed up the path, and
out at the White Gate.
I delayed a little while, listening to the wind, and to the prattle
of the stream, that went singing along in daylight or in darkness, by
our happy home at Longfield. And I sighed to myself, "Poor Lady
Midnight though it was, I sat up until John and his wife came home.
They said scarcely anything, but straightway retired. In the
morning, all went on in the house as usual, and no one ever knew of
this night's episode, except us three.
In the morning, Guy looked wistfully around him, asking for the
"pretty lady;" and being told that she was gone, and that he would
not be likely to see her again, seemed disappointed for a minute; but
soon he went down to play at the stream, and forgot all.
Once or twice I fancied the mother's clear voice about the house was
rarer than its wont; that her quick, active, cheerful presence--
penetrating every nook, and visiting every creature, as with the
freshness of an April wind--was this day softer and sadder; but she
did not say anything to me, nor I to her.
John had ridden off early--to the flour-mill, which he still kept on,
together with the house at Norton Bury--he always disliked giving up
any old associations. At dinner-time he came home, saying he was
going out again immediately.
Ursula looked uneasy. A few minutes after, she followed me under the
walnut-tree, where I was sitting with Muriel, and asked me if I would
go with John to Kingswell.
"The election takes place to-day, and he thinks it right to be there.
He will meet Mr. Brithwood and Lord Luxmore; and though there is not
the slightest need--my husband can do all that he has to do alone--
still, for my own satisfaction, I would like his brother to be near
They invariably called me their brother now; and it seemed as if the
name had been mine by right of blood always.
Of course, I went to Kingswell, riding John's brown mare, he himself
walking by my side. It was not often that we were thus alone
together, and I enjoyed it much. All the old days seemed to come
back again as we passed along the quiet roads and green lanes, just
as when we were boys together, when I had none I cared for but David,
and David cared only for me. The natural growth of things had made a
difference in this, but our affection had changed its outward form
only, not its essence. I often think that all loves and friendships
need a certain three days' burial before we can be quite sure of
their truth and immortality. Mine--it happened just after John's
marriage, and I may confess it now--had likewise its entombment,
bitter as brief. Many cruel hours sat I in darkness, weeping at the
door of its sepulchre, thinking that I should never see it again;
but, in the dawn of the morning, it rose, and I met it in the
desolate garden, different, yet the very same. And after that, it
walked with me continually, secure and imperishable evermore.
I rode, and John sauntered beside me along the footpath, now and then
plucking a leaf or branch off the hedge, and playing with it, as was
his habit when a lad. Often I caught the old smile--not one of his
three boys, not even handsome Guy, had their father's smile.
He was telling me about Enderley Mill, and all his plans there, in
the which he seemed very happy. At last, his long life of duty was
merging into the life he loved. He looked as proud and pleased as a
boy, in talking of the new inventions he meant to apply in cloth-
weaving; and how he and his wife had agreed together to live for some
years to come at little Longfield, strictly within their settled
income, that all the remainder of his capital might go to the
improvement of Enderley Mills and mill-people.
"I shall be master of nearly a hundred, men and women. Think what
good we may do! She has half-a-dozen plans on foot already--bless
her dear heart!"
It was easy to guess whom he referred to--the one who went hand-
in-hand with him in everything.
"Was the dinner in the barn, next Monday, her plan, too?"
"Partly. I thought we would begin a sort of yearly festival for the
old tan-yard people, and those about the flour-mill, and the
Kingswell tenants--ah, Phineas, wasn't I right about those Kingswell
These were about a dozen poor families, whom, when our mortgage fell
in, he had lured out of Sally Watkins' miserable alley to these old
houses, where they had at least fresh country air, and space enough
to live wholesomely and decently, instead of herding together like
pigs in a sty.
"You ought to be proud of your tenants, Phineas. I assure you, they
form quite a contrast to their neighbours, who are Lord Luxmore's."
"And his voters likewise, I suppose?--the 'free and independent
burgesses' who are to send Mr. Vermilye to Parliament?"
"If they can," said John, biting his lip with that resolute half-
combative air which I now saw in him at times, roused by things which
continually met him in his dealings with the world--things repugnant
alike to his feelings and his principles, but which he had still to
endure, not having risen high enough to oppose, single-handed, the
great mass of social corruption which at this crisis of English
history kept gathering and gathering, until out of the very horror
and loathsomeness of it an outcry for purification arose.
"Do you know, Phineas, I might last week have sold your houses for
double price? They are valuable, this election year, since your five
tenants are the only voters in Kingswell who are not likewise tenants
of Lord Luxmore. Don't you see how the matter stands?"
It was not difficult, for that sort of game was played all over
England, connived at, or at least winked at, by those who had
political influence to sell or obtain, until the Reform Bill opened
up the election system in all its rottenness and enormity.
"Of course I knew you would not sell your houses; and I shall use
every possible influence I have to prevent your tenants selling their
votes. Whatever may be the consequence, the sort of thing that this
Kingswell election bids fair to be, is what any honest Englishman
ought to set his face against, and prevent if he can."
"I do not feel sure, but I mean to try. First, for simple right and
conscience; secondly, because if Mr. Vermilye is not saved from
arrest by being placed in Parliament, he will be outlawed and driven
safe out of the country. You see?"
Ay, I did, only too well. Though I foresaw that whatever John was
about to do, it must necessarily be something that would run directly
counter to Lord Luxmore--and he had only just signed the lease of
Enderley Mills. Still, if right to be done, he ought to do it at all
risks, at all costs; and I knew his wife would say so.
We came to the foot of Kingswell Hill, and saw the little hamlet--
with its grey old houses, its small, ancient church, guarded by
enormous yew-trees, and clothed with ivy that indicated centuries of
A carriage overtook us here; in it were two gentlemen, one of whom
bowed in a friendly manner to John. He returned it.
"This is well; I shall have one honest gentleman to deal with
"Who is he?"
"Sir Ralph Oldtower, from whom I bought Longfield. An excellent man-
-I like him--even his fine old Norman face, like one of his knightly
ancestors on the tomb in Kingswell church. There's something
pleasant about his stiff courtesy and his staunch Toryism; for he
fully believes in it, and acts up to his belief. A true English
gentleman, and I respect him."
"Yet, John, Norton Bury calls you a democrat."
"So I am, for I belong to the people. But I nevertheless uphold a
true aristocracy--the BEST MEN of the country,--do you remember our
Greeks of old? These ought to govern, and will govern, one day,
whether their patent of nobility be births and titles, or only
honesty and brains."
Thus he talked on, and I liked to hear him, for talking was rare in
his busy life of constant action. I liked to observe how during
these ten years his mind had brooded over many things; how it had
grown, strengthened, and settled itself, enlarging both its vision
and its aspirations; as a man does, who, his heart at rest in a happy
home, has time and will to look out from thence into the troublous
world outside, ready to do his work there likewise. That John was
able to do it--ay, beyond most men--few would doubt who looked into
his face; strong with the strength of an intellect which owed all its
development to himself alone; calm with the wisdom which, if a man is
ever to be wise, comes to him after he has crossed the line of thirty
years. In that face, where day by day Time was writing its fit
lessons--beautiful, because they were so fit--I ceased to miss the
boyish grace, and rejoiced in the manhood present, in the old age
that was to be.
It seemed almost too short a journey, when, putting his hand on the
mare's bridle--the creature loved him, and turned to lick his arm the
minute he came near--John stopped me to see the view from across
"Look, what a broad valley, rich in woods, and meadow-land, and corn.
How quiet and blue lie the Welsh hills far away. It does one good to
look at them. Nay, it brings back a little bit of me which rarely
comes uppermost now, as it used to come long ago, when we read your
namesake, and Shakspeare, and that Anonymous Friend who has since
made such a noise in the world. I delight in him still. Think of a
man of business liking Coleridge."
"I don't see why he should not."
"Nor I. Well, my poetic tastes may come out more at Enderley. Or
perhaps when I am an old man, and have fought the good fight, and--
holloa, there! Matthew Hales, have they made you drunk already?"
The man--he was an old workman of ours--touched his hat, and tried to
walk steadily past "the master," who looked at once both stern and
"I thought it would be so!--I doubt if there is a voter in all
Kingswell who has not got a bribe."
"It is the same everywhere," I said. "What can one man do against
"Single-handed or not, every man ought to do what he can. And no man
knows how much he can do till he tries."
So saying, he went into the large parlour of the Luxmore Arms, where
the election was going on.
A very simple thing, that election! Sir Ralph Oldtower, who was
sheriff, sat at a table, with his son, the grave-looking young man
who had been with him in the carriage; near them were Mr. Brithwood
of the Mythe, and the Earl of Luxmore.
The room was pretty well filled with farmers' labourers and the like.
We entered, making little noise; but John's head was taller than most
heads present; the sheriff saw him at once, and bowed courteously.
So did young Mr. Herbert Oldtower, so did the Earl of Luxmore.
Richard Brithwood alone took no notice, but turned his back and
looked another way.
It was now many years since I had seen the 'squire, Lady Caroline's
husband. He had fulfilled the promise of his youth, and grown into a
bloated, coarse-featured, middle-aged man; such a man as one rarely
meets with now-a-days; for even I, Phineas Fletcher, have lived to
see so great a change in manners and morals, that intemperance,
instead of being the usual characteristic of "a gentleman," has
become a rare failing--a universally-contemned disgrace.
"Less noise there!" growled Mr. Brithwood. "Silence, you fellows at
the door! Now, Sir Ralph, let's get the business over, and be back
Sir Ralph turned his stately grey head to the light, put on his gold
spectacles, and began to read the writ of election. As he finished,
the small audience set up a feeble cheer.
The sheriff acknowledged it, then leaned over the table talking with
rather frosty civility to Lord Luxmore. Their acquaintance seemed
solely that of business. People whispered that Sir Ralph never
forgot that the Oldtowers were Crusaders when the Ravenels were--
nobody. Also the baronet, whose ancestors were all honourable men
and stainless women, found it hard to overlook a certain royal
bar-sinister, which had originated the Luxmore earldom, together with
a few other blots which had tarnished that scutcheon since. So folk
said; but probably Sir Ralph's high principle was at least as strong
as his pride, and that the real cause of his dislike was founded on
the too well-known character of the Earl of Luxmore.
They ceased talking; the sheriff rose, and briefly stated that
Richard Brithwood, Esquire, of the Mythe, would nominate a candidate.
The candidate was Gerard Vermilye, Esquire; at the mention of whose
name one Norton Bury man broke into a horse-laugh, which was quenched
by his immediate ejection from the meeting.
Then, Mr. Thomas Brown, steward of the Earl of Luxmore, seconded the
After a few words between the sheriff, his son, and Lord Luxmore, the
result of which seemed rather unsatisfactory than otherwise, Sir
Ralph Oldtower again rose.
"Gentlemen and electors, there being no other candidate proposed,
nothing is left me but to declare Gerard Vermilye, Esquire--"
John Halifax made his way to the table. "Sir Ralph, pardon my
interruption, but may I speak a few words?"
Mr. Brithwood started up with an angry oath.
"My good sir," said the baronet, with a look of reprehension which
proved him of the minority who thought swearing ungentlemanly.
"By ---, Sir Ralph, you shall not hear that low fellow!"
"Excuse me, I must, if he has a right to be heard. Mr. Halifax, you
are a freeman of Kingswell?"
This fact surprised none more than myself.
Brithwood furiously exclaimed that it was a falsehood. "The fellow
does not belong to this neighbourhood at all. He was picked up in
Norton Bury streets--a beggar, a thief, for all I know."
"You do know very well, Mr. Brithwood. Sir Ralph, I was never either
a beggar or a thief. I began life as a working lad--a farm-labourer-
-until Mr. Fletcher, the tanner, took me into his employ."
"So I have always understood," said Sir Ralph, courteously. "And
next to the man who is fortunate enough to boast a noble origin, I
respect the man who is not ashamed of an ignoble one."
"That is not exactly my position either," said John, with a half
smile. "But we are passing from the question in hand, which is
simply my claim to be a freeman of this borough."
"On what grounds?"
"You will find in the charter a clause, seldom put in force, that the
daughter of a freeman can confer the freedom on her husband. My
wife's late father, Mr. Henry March, was a burgess of Kingswell. I
claimed my rights, and registered, this year. Ask your clerk, Sir
Ralph, if I have not spoken correctly."
The old white-headed clerk allowed the fact.
Lord Luxmore looked considerably surprised, and politely incredulous
still. His son-in-law broke out into loud abuse of this "knavery."
"I will pass over this ugly word, Mr. Brithwood, merely stating that-
"We are quite satisfied," interrupted Lord Luxmore, blandly. "My
dear sir, may I request so useful a vote and so powerful an interest
as yours, for our friend, Mr. Vermilye?"
"My lord, I should be very sorry for you to misapprehend me for a
moment. It is not my intention, except at the last extremity, to
vote at all. If I do, it will certainly not be for Mr. Brithwood's
nominee. Sir Ralph, I doubt if, under some circumstances, which by
your permission I am about to state, Mr. Gerard Vermilye can keep his
seat, even if elected."
A murmur arose from the crowd of mechanics and labourers, who, awed
by such propinquity to gentry and even nobility, had hitherto hung
sheepishly back; but now, like all English crowds, were quite ready
to "follow the leader," especially one they knew.
"Hear him! hear the master!" was distinguishable on all sides. Mr.
Brithwood looked too enraged for words; but Lord Luxmore, taking
snuff with a sarcastic smile, said:
"Honores mutant mores!--I thought, Mr. Halifax, you eschewed
"Mere politics I do, but not honesty, justice, morality; and a few
facts have reached my knowledge, though possibly not Lord Luxmore's,
which make me feel that Mr. Vermilye's election would be an insult to
all three; therefore, I oppose it."
A louder murmur rose.
"Silence, you scoundrels!" shouted Mr. Brithwood; adding his usual
formula of speech, which a second time extorted the old baronet's
"It seems, Sir Ralph, that democracy is rife in your neighbourhood.
True, my acquaintance has not lain much among the commonalty, but
still I was not aware that the people choose the Member of
"They do not, Lord Luxmore," returned the sheriff, somewhat
haughtily. "But we always hear the people. Mr. Halifax, be brief.
What have you to allege against Mr. Brithwood's nominee?"
"First, his qualification. He has not three hundred, nor one hundred
a-year. He is deeply in debt, at Norton Bury and elsewhere.
Warrants are out against him; and only as an M.P. can he be safe from
outlawry. Add to this, an offence common as daylight, yet which the
law dare not wink at when made patent--that he has bribed, with great
or small sums, every one of the fifteen electors of Kingswell; and I
think I have said enough to convince any honest Englishman that Mr.
Gerard Vermilye is not fit to represent them in Parliament."
Here a loud cheer broke from the crowd at the door and under the open
windows, where, thick as bees, the villagers had now collected.
They, the un-voting, and consequently unbribable portion of the
community, began to hiss indignantly at the fifteen unlucky voters.
For though bribery was, as John had truly said, "as common as
daylight," still, if brought openly before the public, the said
virtuous public generally condemned it, if they themselves had not
been concerned therein.
The sheriff listened uneasily to a sound, very uncommon at elections,
of the populace expressing an opinion contrary to that of the lord of
"Really, Mr. Brithwood, you must have been as ignorant as I was of
the character of your nominee, or you would have chosen some one
else. Herbert"--he turned to his son, who, until the late
dissolution, had sat for some years as member for Norton Bury--
"Herbert, are you acquainted with any of these facts?"
Mr. Herbert Oldtower looked uncomfortable.
"Answer," said his father. "No hesitation in a matter of right and
wrong. Gentlemen, and my worthy friends, will you hear Mr. Oldtower,
whom you all know? Herbert, are these accusations true?"
"I am afraid so," said the grave young man, more gravely.
"Mr. Brithwood, I regret extremely that this discovery was not made
before. What do you purpose doing?"
"By the Lord that made me, nothing! The borough is Lord Luxmore's; I
could nominate Satan himself if I chose. My man shall stand."
"I think," Lord Luxmore said, with meaning, "it would be better for
all parties that Mr. Vermilye should stand."
"My lord," said the baronet; and one could see that not only rigid
justice, but a certain obstinacy, marked his character, especially
when anything jarred against his personal dignity or prejudices; "you
forget that, however desirous I am to satisfy the family to whom this
borough belongs, it is impossible for me to see with satisfaction--
even though I cannot prevent--the election of any person so unfit to
serve His Majesty. If, indeed, there were another candidate, so that
the popular feeling might decide this very difficult matter--"
"Sir Ralph," said John Halifax, determinedly, "this brings me to the
purpose for which I spoke. Being a landholder, and likewise a
freeman of this borough, I claim the right of nominating a second
Intense, overwhelming astonishment struck all present. Such a right
had been so long unclaimed, that everybody had forgotten it was a
right at all. Sir Ralph and his clerk laid their venerable heads
together for some minutes, before they could come to any conclusion
on the subject. At last the sheriff rose.
"I am bound to say, that, though very uncommon, this proceeding is
"Not illegal?" almost screamed Richard Brithwood.
"Not illegal. I therefore wait to hear Mr. Halifax's nomination.
Sir, your candidate is, I hope, no democrat?"
"His political opinions differ from mine, but he is the only
gentleman whom I in this emergency can name; and is one whom myself,
and I believe all my neighbours, will be heartily glad to see once
more in Parliament. I beg to nominate Mr. Herbert Oldtower."
A decided sensation at the upper half of the room. At the lower half
an unanimous, involuntary cheer; for among our county families there
were few so warmly respected as the Oldtowers.
Sir Ralph rose, much perplexed. "I trust that no one present will
suppose I was aware of Mr. Halifax's intention. Nor, I understand,
was Mr. Oldtower. My son must speak for himself."
Mr. Oldtower, with his accustomed gravity, accompanied by a not
unbecoming modesty, said, that in this conjuncture, and being
personally unacquainted with both Mr. Brithwood and the Earl of
Luxmore, he felt no hesitation in accepting the honour offered to
"That being the case," said his father, though evidently annoyed, "I
have only to fulfil my duty as public officer to the Crown."
Amidst some confusion, a show of hands was called for; and then a cry
rose of "Go to the poll!"
"Go to the poll!" shouted Mr. Brithwood. "This is a family borough.
There has not been a poll here these fifty years. Sir Ralph, your
"Sir, insanity is not in the family of the Oldtowers. My position
here is simply as sheriff of the county. If a poll be called for--"
"Excuse me, Sir Ralph, it would be hardly worth while. May I offer
It was--only his snuff-box. But the Earl's polite and meaning smile
filled up the remainder of the sentence.
Sir Ralph Oldtower drew himself up haughtily, and the fire of youth
flashed indignantly from his grand old eyes.
"Lord Luxmore seems not to understand the duties and principles of us
country gentlemen," he said coldly, and turned away, addressing the
general meeting. "Gentlemen, the poll will be held this afternoon,
according to the suggestion of my neighbour here."
"Sir Ralph Oldtower has convenient neighbours," remarked Lord
"Of my neighbour, Mr Halifax," repeated the old baronet, louder, and
more emphatically. "A gentleman,"--he paused, as if doubtful whether
in that title he were awarding a right or bestowing a courtesy,
looked at John, and decided--"a gentleman for whom, ever since I have
known him, I have entertained the highest respect."
It was the first public recognition of the position which for some
time had been tacitly given to John Halifax in his own neighbourhood.
Coming thus, from this upright and honourable old man, whose least
merit it was to hold, and worthily, a baronetage centuries old, it
made John's cheek glow with an honest gratification and a pardonable
"Tell her," he said to me, when, the meeting having dispersed, he
asked me to ride home and explain the reason of his detention at
Kingswell--"Tell my wife all. She will be pleased, you know."
Ay, she was. Her face glowed and brightened as only a wife's can--a
wife whose dearest pride is in her husband's honour.
Nevertheless, she hurried me back again as quickly as I came.
As I once more rode up Kingswell Hill, it seemed as if the whole
parish were agog to see the novel sight. A contested election!
truly, such a thing had not been known within the memory of the
oldest inhabitant. The fifteen voters--I believe that was the
number--were altogether bewildered by a sense of their own
importance. Also, by a new and startling fact--which I found Mr.
Halifax trying to impress upon a few of them, gathered under the
great yew-tree in the churchyard--that a man's vote ought to be the
expression of his own conscientious opinion; and that for him to sell
it was scarcely less vile than to traffic in the liberty of his son
or the honour of his daughter. Among those who listened most
earnestly, was a man whom I had seen before to-day--Jacob Baines,
once the ringleader of the bread-riots, who had long worked steadily
in the tan-yard, and then at the flour-mill. He was the honestest
and faithfulest of all John's people--illustrating unconsciously that
Divine doctrine, that often they love most to whom most has been
The poll was to be held in the church--a not uncommon usage in
country boroughs, but which from its rarity struck great awe into the
Kingswell folk. The churchwarden was placed in the clerk's desk to
receive votes. Not far off, the sheriff sat in his family-pew, bare-
headed; by his grave and reverent manner imposing due decorum, which
was carefully observed by all except Lord Luxmore and Mr. Brithwood.
These two, apparently sure of their cause, had recovered their
spirits, and talked and laughed loudly on the other side of the
church. It was a very small building, narrow and cruciform; every
word said in it was distinctly audible throughout.
"My lord, gentlemen, and my friends all," said Sir Ralph, rising
gravely, "let me hope that every one will respect the sanctity of
Lord Luxmore, who had been going about with his dazzling diamond
snuff-box and equally dazzling smile, stopped in the middle of the
aisle, bowed, replied, "With pleasure--certainly!" and walked inside
the communion rail, as if believing that his presence there conveyed
the highest compliment he could pay the spot.
The poll began in perfect silence. One after the other, three
farmers went up and voted for Mr. Vermilye. There was snuff under
their noses--probably something heavier than snuff in their pockets.
Then came up the big, grey-headed fellow I have before mentioned--
Jacob Baines. He pulled his fore-lock to Sir Ralph, rather shyly;
possibly in his youth he had made the sheriff's acquaintance under
less favourable circumstances. But he plucked up courage.
"Your honour, might a man say a word to 'ee?"
"Certainly! but be quick, my good fellow," replied the baronet, who
was noted for his kindly manner to humble folk.
"Sir, I be a poor man. I lives in one o' my lord's houses. I hanna
paid no rent for a year. Mr. Brown zays to me, he zays--'Jacob, vote
for Vermilye, and I'll forgive 'ee the rent, and here be two pound
ten to start again wi'. So, as I zays to Matthew Hales (he be Mr.
Halifax's tenant, your honour, and my lord's steward ha' paid 'un
nigh four pound for his vote), I sure us be poor men, and his
lordship a lord and all that--it's no harm, I reckon."
"Holloa! cut it short, you rascal; you're stopping the poll. Vote, I
"Ay, ay, 'squire;" and the old fellow, who had some humour in him,
pulled his hair again civilly to Mr. Brithwood. "Wait till I ha' got
shut o' these."
And he counted out of his ragged pockets a handful of guineas. Poor
fellow! how bright they looked; those guineas, that were food,
"Three was paid to I, two to Will Horrocks, and the rest to Matthew
Hales. But, sir, we has changed our minds; and please, would 'ee
give back the money to them as owns it?"
"Still, my honest friend--"
"Thank 'ee, Sir Ralph, that's it: we be honest; we couldn't look the
master in the face else. Twelve year ago, come Michaelmas, he kept
some on us from starving--may be worse. We bean't going to turn
rascals on's hands now. Now I'll vote, sir,--and it won't be for
A smothered murmur of applause greeted old Jacob, as he marched back
down the aisle, where on the stone benches of the porch was seated a
rural jury, who discussed not over-favourably the merits of Lord
"He owes a power o' money in Norton Bury--he do."
"Why doesn't he show his face at the 'lection, like a decent
"Fear'd o' bailiffs!" suggested the one constable, old and rheumatic,
who guarded the peace of Kingswell. "He's the biggest swindler in
"Curse him!" muttered an old woman. "She was a bonny lass--my Sally!
All this while, Lord Luxmore sat in lazy dignity in the communion-
chair, apparently satisfied that as things always had been so they
would continue to be; that despite the unheard-of absurdity of a
contested election, his pocket-borough was quite secure. It must
have been, to say the least, a great surprise to his lordship, when,
the poll being closed, its result was found thus: Out of the fifteen
votes, six were for Mr. Vermilye, nine for his opponent. Mr. Herbert
Oldtower was therefore duly elected as member for the borough of
The earl received the announcement with dignified, incredulous
silence; but Mr. Brithwood never spared language.
"It's a cheat--an infamous conspiracy! I will unseat him--by my soul
"You may find it difficult," said John Halifax, counting out the
guineas deposited by Jacob Baines, and laying them in a heap before
Mr. Brown, the steward. "Small as the number is, I believe any
Committee of the House of Commons will decide that nine honester
votes were never polled. But I regret, my lord--I regret deeply, Mr.
Brithwood,"--and there was a kind of pity in his eye--"that in this
matter I have been forced, as it were, to become your opponent. Some
day, perhaps, you may both do me the justice that I now can only look
for from my own conscience."
"Very possibly," replied the earl, with a satirical bow. "I believe,
gentlemen, our business is ended for to-day, and it is a long drive
to Norton Bury. Sir Ralph, might we hope for the honour of your
company? No? Good day, my friends. Mr. Halifax, your servant."
"One word, my lord. Those workmen of mine, who are your tenants--I
am aware what usually results when tenants in arrear vote against
their landlords--if, without taking any harsher measures, your agent
will be so kind as to apply to me for the rent--"
"Sir, my agent will use his own discretion."
"Then I rely on your lordship's kindliness--your sense of honour."
"Honour is only spoken of between equals," said the earl, haughtily.
"But on one thing Mr. Halifax may always rely--my excellent memory."
With a smile and bow as perfect as if he were victoriously quitting
the field, Lord Luxmore departed. Soon not one remained of all those
who had filled the church and churchyard, making there a tumult that
is chronicled to this very day by some ancient villagers, who still
think themselves greatly ill-used because the Reform Act has blotted
out of the list of English boroughs the "loyal and independent"
borough of Kingswell.
Sir Ralph Oldtower stood a good while talking with John; and finally,
having sent his carriage on, walked with him down Kingswell Hill
towards the manor-house. I, riding alongside, caught fragments of
"What you say is all true, Mr. Halifax; and you say it well. But
what can we do? Our English constitution is perfect--that is, as
perfect as anything human can be. Yet corruptions will arise; we
regret, we even blame--but we cannot remove them. It is impossible."
"Do you think, Sir Ralph, that the Maker of this world--which, so far
as we can see, He means like all other of His creations gradually to
advance toward perfection--do you think He would justify us in
pronouncing any good work therein 'impossible'?"
"You talk like a young man," said the baronet, half sadly. "Coming
years will show you the world and the ways of it in a clearer light."
"I earnestly hope so."
Sir Ralph glanced sideways at him--perhaps with a sort of envy of the
very youth which he thus charitably excused as a thing to be allowed
for till riper wisdom came. Something might have smote the old man
with a conviction, that in this youth was strength and life, the
spirit of the new generation then arising, before which the old worn-
out generation would crumble into its natural dust. Dust of the dead
ages, honourable dust, to be reverently inurned, and never
parricidally profaned by us the living age, who in our turn must
follow the same downward path. Dust, venerable and beloved--but
still only dust.
The conversation ending, we took our diverse ways; Sir Ralph giving
Mr. Halifax a hearty invitation to the manor-house, and seeing him
hesitate, added, that "Lady Oldtower would shortly have the honour of
calling upon Mrs. Halifax."
John bowed. "But I ought to tell you, Sir Ralph, that my wife and I
are very simple people--that we make no mere acquaintances, and only
"It is fortunate that Lady Oldtower and myself share the same
peculiarity." And, shaking hands with a stately cordiality, the old
man took his leave.
"John, you have made a step in the world to-day."
"Have I?" he said, absently, walking in deep thought, and pulling the
hedge-leaves as he went along.
"What will your wife say?"
"My wife? bless her!" and he seemed to be only speaking the
conclusion of his thinking. "It will make no difference to her--
though it might to me. She married me in my low estate--but some
day, God willing, no lady in the land shall be higher than my
Thus as in all things each thought most of the other, and both of
Him--whose will was to them beyond all human love, ay, even such love
Slowly, slowly, I watched the grey turrets of the manor-house fade
away in the dusk; the hills grew indistinct, and suddenly we saw the
little twinkling light that we knew was the lamp in Longfield
parlour, shine out like a glow-worm across the misty fields.
"I wonder if the children are gone to bed, Phineas?"
And the fatherly eyes turned fondly to that pretty winking light; the
fatherly heart began to hover over the dear little nest of home.
"Surely there's some one at the white gate. Ursula!"
"John! Ah--it is you."
The mother did not express her feelings after the fashion of most
women; but I knew by her waiting there, and by the nervous tremble of
her hand, how great her anxiety had been.
"Is all safe, husband?"
"I think so. Mr. Oldtower is elected--HE must fly the country."
"Then she is saved."
"Let us hope she is. Come, my darling!" and he wrapped his arm round
her, for she was shivering. "We have done all we could and must wait
the rest. Come home. Oh!" with a lifted look and a closer strain,
"thank God for home!"
We always rose early at Longfield. It was lovely to see the morning
sun climbing over One-Tree Hill, catching the larch-wood, and
creeping down the broad slope of our field; thence up toward Redwood
and Leckington--until, while the dews yet lay thick on our shadowed
valley, Leckington Hill was all in a glow of light. Delicious, too,
to hear the little ones running in and out, bright and merry as
children ought to be in the first wholesome hours of the day--to see
them feeding their chickens and petting their doves--calling every
minute on father or mother to investigate and enjoy some wonder in
farm-yard or garden. And either was ever ready to listen to the
smallest of these little mysteries, knowing that nothing in childhood
is too trivial for the notice, too foolish for the sympathy, of those
on whom the Father of all men has bestowed the holy dignity of
I could see them now, standing among the flower-beds, out in the
sunny morning, the father's tall head in the centre of the group--for
he was always the important person during the brief hour or two that
he was able to be at home. The mother close beside him, and both
knotted round with an interlaced mass of little arms and little eager
faces, each wanting to hear everything and to look at everything--
everybody to be first and nobody last. None rested quiet or mute for
a second, except the one who kept close as his shadow to her father's
side, and unwittingly was treated by him less like the other
children, than like some stray spirit of another world, caught and
held jealously, but without much outward notice, lest haply it might
take alarm, and vanish back again unawares. Whenever he came home
and did not see her waiting at the door, his first question was
Muriel's still face looked very bright this morning--the Monday
morning after the election--because her father was going to be at
home the whole day. It was the annual holiday he had planned for his
work-people. This only "dinner-party" we had ever given, was in its
character not unlike that memorable feast, to which were gathered the
poor, the lame, the halt, and the blind--all who needed, and all who
could not return, the kindness. There were great cooking
preparations--everything that could make merry the heart of man--tea,
to comfort the heart of woman, hard-working woman--and lots of bright
pennies and silver groats to rejoice the very souls of youth.
Mrs. Halifax, Jem Watkins, and his Jenny, were as busy as bees all
morning. John did his best to help, but finally the mother pleaded
how hard it was that the children should miss their holiday-walk with
him, so we were all dismissed from the scene of action, to spend a
long, quiet two hours, lying under the great oak on One-Tree Hill.
The little ones played about till they were tired; then John took out
the newspaper, and read about Ciudad Rodrigo and Lord Wellington's
entry into Madrid--the battered eagles and the torn and bloody flags
of Badajoz, which were on their way home to the Prince Regent.
"I wish the fighting were over, and peace were come," said Muriel.
But the boys wished quite otherwise; they already gloried in the
accounts of battles, played domestic games of French and English,
acted garden sieges and blockades.
"How strange and awful it seems, to sit on this green grass, looking
down on our quiet valley, and then think of the fighting far away in
Spain--perhaps this very minute, under this very sky. Boys, I'll
never let either of you be a soldier."
"Poor little fellows!" said I, "they can remember nothing but war
"What would peace be like?" asked Muriel.
"A glorious time, my child--rejoicings everywhere, fathers and
brothers coming home, work thriving, poor men's food made cheap, and
all things prospering."
"I should like to live to see it. Shall I be a woman, then, father?"
He started. Somehow, she seemed so unlike an ordinary child, that
while all the boys' future was merrily planned out--the mother often
said, laughing, she knew exactly what sort of a young man Guy would
be--none of us ever seemed to think of Muriel as a woman.
"Is Muriel anxious to be grown up? Is she not satisfied with being
my little daughter always?"
Her father drew her to him, and kissed her soft, shut, blind eyes.
Then, sighing, he rose, and proposed that we should all go home.
This first feast at Longfield was a most merry day. The men and
their families came about noon. Soon after, they all sat down to
dinner; Jem Watkins' plan of the barn being universally scouted in
favour of an open-air feast, in the shelter of a hay-rick, under the
mild blue September sky. Jem presided with a ponderous dignity which
throughout the day furnished great private amusement to Ursula, John,
In the afternoon, all rambled about as they liked--many under the
ciceroneship of Master Edwin and Master Guy, who were very popular
and grand indeed. Then the mother, with Walter clinging shy-eyed to
her gown, went among the other poorer mothers there; talked to one,
comforted another, counselled a third, and invariably listened to
all. There was little of patronizing benevolence about her; she
spoke freely, sometimes even with some sharpness, when reproving
comment was needed; but her earnest kindness, her active goodness,
darting at once to the truth and right of things, touched the women's
hearts. While a few were a little wholesomely afraid of her--all
recognized the influence of "the mistress," penetrating deep and
sure, extending far and wide.
She laughed at me when I told her so--said it was all nonsense--that
she only followed John's simple recipe for making his work-people
feel that he was a friend as well as a master.
"What is that?"
"To pay attention and consideration to all they say; and always to
take care and remember to call them by their right Christian names."
I could not help smiling--it was an answer so like Mrs. Halifax, who
never indulged in any verbal sentimentalism. Her part in the world
It was already evening, when, having each contributed our quota,
great or small, to the entertainment, we all came and sat on the long
bench under the walnut-tree. The sun went down red behind us,
throwing a last glint on the upland field, where, from top to bottom,
the young men and women were running in a long "Thread-the-needle."
Their voices and laughter came fairly down to us.
"I think they have had a happy day, John. They will work all the
"I am quite sure of it."
"So am I," said Guy, who had been acting the young master all day,
condescendingly stating his will and giving his opinion on every
subject, greatly petted and looked up to by all, to the no small
amusement of us elders.
"Why, my son?" asked the father, smiling.
But here Master Guy was posed, and everybody laughed at him. He
coloured up with childish anger, and crept nearer his mother. She
made a place for him at her side, looking appealingly at John.
"Guy has got out of his depth--we must help him into safe waters
again," said the father. "Look here, my son, this is the reason--and
it is well not to be 'quite sure' of a thing unless one knows the
reason. Our people will work the better, because they will work from
love. Not merely doing their duty, and obeying their master in a
blind way, but feeling an interest in him and all that belongs to
him; knowing that he feels the same in them. Knowing, too, that
although, being their superior in many things, he is their master and
they his servants, he never forgets that saying, which I read out of
the Bible, children, this morning: 'ONE IS YOUR MASTER--EVEN CHRIST,
AND ALL YE ARE BRETHREN.' Do you understand?"
I think they did, for he was accustomed to talk with them thus--even
beyond their years. Not in the way of preachifying--for these little
ones had in their childish days scarcely any so-called "religious
instruction," save the daily chapter out of the New Testament, and
the father and mother's daily life, which was a simple and literal
carrying out of the same. To that one test was brought all that was
thought, or said, or done, in our household, where it often seemed as
if the Master were as visibly obeyed and followed as in the household
which He loved at Bethany.
As to what doctrinal creed we held, or what sect we belonged to, I
can give but the plain answer which John gave to all such inquiries--
that we were CHRISTIANS.
After these words from the Holy Book (which the children always
listened to with great reverence, as to the Book which their parents
most loved and honoured, the reading and learning of which was
granted as a high reward and favour, and never carelessly allowed,
or--horrible to think!--inflicted as a punishment), we ceased smiling
at Guy, who in his turn ceased to frown. The little storm blew over,
as our domestic storms usually did, leaving a clear, free heaven.
Loving one another, of course we quarrelled sometimes; but we always
made it up again, because we loved one another.
"Father, I hear the click of the gate. There's somebody coming,"
The father paused in a great romp with his sons--paused, as he ever
did when his little daughter's soft voice was heard. "'Tis only a
poor boy--who can he be?"
"One of the folk that come for milk most likely--but we have none to
give away to-day. What do you want, my lad?"
The lad, who looked miserable and scared, opened his mouth with a
Ursula repeated the question.
"I wants Jacob Baines."
"You'll find him with the rest, in front of that hay-rick, over his
pipe and ale."
The lad was off like a shot.
"He is from Kingswell, I think. Can anything be the matter, John?"
"I will go and see. No, boys, no more games--I will be back
He went, apparently rather anxious--as was easy to find out by only a
glance at the face of Ursula. Soon she rose and went after him. I
We saw, close by the hay-rick, a group of men, angrily talking. The
gossiping mothers were just joining them. Far off, in the field, the
younger folk were still dancing merrily down their long line of
As we approached, we heard sobbing from one or two women, and loud
curses from the men.
"What's amiss?" said Mr. Halifax, as he came in the midst--and both
curses and sobbings were silenced. All began a confused tale of
wrongs. "Stop, Jacob--I can't make it out."
"This lad ha' seen it all. And he bean't a liar in big things--speak
Somehow or other, we extracted the news brought by ragged Billy, who
on this day had been left in charge of the five dwellings rented of
Lord Luxmore. During the owners' absence there had been a distraint
for rent; every bit of the furniture was carried off; two or three
aged and sick folk were left lying on the bare floor--and the poor
families here would have to go home to nothing but their four walls.
Again, at repetition of the story, the women wept and the men swore.
"Be quiet," said Mr. Halifax again. But I saw that his honest
English blood was boiling within him. "Jem"--and Jem Watkins
started, so unusually sharp and commanding was his master's tone--
"Saddle the mare--quick. I shall ride to Kingswell, and thence to
"God bless 'ee, sir!" sobbed Jacob Baines' widowed daughter-in-law,
who had left, as I overheard her telling Mrs. Halifax, a sick child
to-day at home.
Jacob Baines took up a heavy knobbed stick which happened to be
leaning against the hay-rick, and eyed it with savage meaning.
"Who be they as has done this, master?"
"Put that bludgeon down, Jacob."
The man hesitated--met his master's determined eye--and obeyed him,
meek as a lamb.
"But what is us to do, sir?"
"Nothing. Stay here till I return--you shall come to no harm. You
will trust me, my men?"
They gathered round him--those big, fierce-looking fellows, in whom
was brute force enough to attack or resist anything--yet he made them
listen to reason. He explained as much as he could of the injustice
which had apparently been done them--injustice which had overstepped
the law, and could only be met by keeping absolutely within the law.
"It is partly my fault, that I did not pay the rent to-day--I will do
so at once. I will get your goods back to-night, if I can. If not,
you hale fellows can rough it, and we'll take the women and children
in till morning--can we not, love?"
"Oh, readily!" said the mother. "Don't cry, my good women. Mary
Baines, give me your baby. Cheer up, the master will set all right!"
John smiled at her in fond thanks--the wife who hindered him by no
selfishness or weakness, but was his right hand and support in
everything. As he mounted, she gave him his whip, whispering--
"Take care of yourself, mind. Come back as soon as you can."
And lingeringly she watched him gallop down the field.
It was a strange three hours we passed in his absence. The misty
night came down, and round about the house crept wailing the loud
September wind. We brought the women into the kitchen--the men lit a
fire in the farm-yard, and sat sullenly round it. It was as much as
I could do to persuade Guy and Edwin to go to bed, instead of
watching that "beautiful blaze." There, more than once, I saw the
mother standing, with a shawl over her head, and her white gown
blowing, trying to reason into patience those poor fellows, savage
with their wrongs.
"How far have they been wronged, Phineas? What is the strict law of
the case? Will any harm come to John for interfering?"
I told her, no, so far as I knew. That the cruelty and illegality
lay in the haste of the distraint, and in the goods having been
carried off at once, giving no opportunity of redeeming them. It was
easy to grind the faces of the poor, who had no helper.
"Never mind; my husband will see them righted--at all risks."
"But Lord Luxmore is his landlord."
She looked troubled. "I see what you mean. It is easy to make an
enemy. No matter--I fear not. I fear nothing while John does what
he feels to be right--as I know he will; the issue is in higher hands
than ours or Lord Luxmore's. But where's Muriel?"
For as we sat talking, the little girl--whom nothing could persuade
to go to bed till her father came home--had slipped from my hand, and
gone out into the blustering night. We found her standing all by
herself under the walnut-tree.
"I wanted to listen for father. When will he come?"
"Soon, I hope," answered the mother, with a sigh. "You must not stay
out in the cold and the dark, my child."
"I am not cold, and I know no dark," said Muriel, softly.
And thus so it was with her always. In her spirit, as in her outward
life, so innocent and harmless, she knew no dark. No cold looks--no
sorrowful sights--no winter--no age. The hand laid upon her clear
eyes pressed eternal peace down on her soul. I believe she was, if
ever human being was, purely and entirely happy. It was always sweet
for us to know this--it is very sweet still, Muriel, our beloved!
We brought her within the house, but she persisted in sitting in her
usual place, on the door-sill, "waiting" for her father. It was she
who first heard the white gate swing, and told us he was coming.
Ursula ran down to the stream to meet him.
When they came up the path, it was not alone--John was helping a lame
old woman, and his wife carried in her arms a sick child, on whom,
when they entered the kitchen, Mary Baines threw herself in a passion
"What have they been doing to 'ee, Tommy?--'ee warn't like this when
I left 'ee. Oh, they've been killing my lad, they have!"
"Hush!" said Mrs. Halifax; "we'll get him well again, please God.
Listen to what the master's saying."
He was telling to the men who gathered round the kitchen-door the
results of his journey.
It was--as I had expected from his countenance the first minute he
appeared--fruitless. He had found all things at Kingswell as stated.
Then he rode to the sheriff's; but Sir Ralph was absent, sent for to
Luxmore Hall on very painful business.
"My friends," said the master, stopping abruptly in his narrative,
"for a few hours you must make up your minds to sit still and bear
it. Every man has to learn that lesson at times. Your landlord has-
-I would rather be the poorest among you than Lord Luxmore this
night. Be patient; we'll lodge you all somehow. To-morrow I will
pay your rent--get your goods back--and you shall begin the world
again, as my tenants, not Lord Luxmore's."
"Hurrah!" shouted the men, easily satisfied; as working people are,
who have been used all their days to live from hand to mouth, and to
whom the present is all in all. They followed the master, who
settled them in the barn; and then came back to consult with his wife
as to where the women could be stowed away. So, in a short time, the
five homeless families were cheerily disposed of--all but Mary Baines
and her sick boy.
"What can we do with them?" said John, questioningly to Ursula.
"I see but one course. We must take him in; his mother says hunger
is the chief thing that ails the lad. She fancies that he has had
the measles; but our children have had it too, so there's no fear.
Come up-stairs, Mary Baines."
Passing, with a thankful look, the room where her own boys slept, the
good mother established this forlorn young mother and her two
children in a little closet outside the nursery door; cheered her
with comfortable words; helped her ignorance with wise counsels--for
Ursula was the general doctress of all the poor folk round. It was
almost midnight before she came down to the parlour where John and I
sat, he with little Muriel asleep in his arms. The child would
gladly have slumbered away all night there, with the delicate, pale
profile pressed close into his breast.
"Is all right, love? How tired you must be!" John put his left arm
round his wife as she came and knelt by him, in front of the cheerful
"Tired? Oh, of course; but you can't think how comfortable they are
up-stairs. Only poor Mary Baines does nothing but cry, and keep
telling me that nothing ails her lad but hunger. Are they so very
John did not immediately answer; I fancied he looked suddenly uneasy,
and imperceptibly pressed his little girl closer to him.
"The lad seems very ill. Much worse than our children were with
"Yet how they suffered, poor pets! especially Walter. It was the
thought of them made me pity her so. Surely I have not done wrong?"
"No--love; quite right and kind. Acting so, I think one need not
fear. See, mother, how soundly Muriel sleeps. It's almost a pity to
waken her--but we must go to bed now."
"Stay one minute," I said. "Tell us, John--I quite forgot to ask
till now--what is that 'painful business' you mentioned, which called
the sheriff to Lord Luxmore's?"
John glanced at his wife, leaning fondly against him, her face full
of sweet peace, then at his little daughter asleep, then round the
cheerful fire-lit room, outside which the autumn night-wind went
"Love, we that are so happy, we must not, dare not condemn."
She looked at him with a shocked inquiry. "You don't mean--No; it is
"It is true. She has gone away."
Ursula sank down, hiding her face. "Horrible! And only two days
since she was here, kissing our children."
We all three kept a long silence; then I ventured to ask when she
"This morning, early. They took--at least, Mr. Vermilye did--all the
property of Lord Luxmore's that he could lay his hands upon--family
jewels and money to a considerable amount. The earl is pursuing him
now, not only as his daughter's seducer, but as a swindler and a
"And Richard Brithwood?"
"Drinks--and drinks--and drinks. That is the beginning and the end
There was no more to be said. She had dropped for ever out of her
old life, as completely as a star out of the sky. Henceforth, for
years and years, neither in our home, nor, I believe, in any other,
was there the slightest mention made of Lady Caroline Brithwood.
* * * *
All the next day John was from home, settling the Kingswell affair.
The ejected tenants--our tenants now--left us at last, giving a
parting cheer for Mr. Halifax, the best master in all England.
Sitting down to tea, with no small relief that all was over, John
asked his wife after the sick lad.
"He is very ill still, I think."
"Are you sure it is measles?"