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Title: Brownlows
Author: Oliphant, Mrs. (Margaret)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                              BROWNLOWS.

                               A Novel.

                          BY MRS. OLIPHANT,

                               AUTHOR OF

“AGNES,” “MADONNA MARY,” “THE LAIRD OF NORLAW,” “THE DAYS OF MY LIFE,”
       “CHRONICLES OF CARLINGFORD,” “LIFE OF EDWARD IRVING,” &c.


                               NEW YORK:
                    HARPER & BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS,
                           FRANKLIN SQUARE.
                                 1868.



                           BY MRS. OLIPHANT.


     BROWNLOWS. A Novel. 8vo, Paper.

     THE LIFE OF EDWARD IRVING, Minister of the National Scotch Church,
     London. Illustrated by his Journals and Correspondence. 8vo, Cloth,
     $3 50.

     MADONNA MARY. A Novel. 8vo, Paper, 50 cents.

     MISS MARJORIBANKS. A Novel. 8vo, Paper, 50 cents.

     AGNES. A Novel. 8vo, Paper, 75 cents.

     THE DAYS OF MY LIFE. An Autobiography. A Novel. 12mo, Cloth, $1 50.

     THE LAIRD OF NORLAW. A Scottish Story. 12mo, Cloth, $1 50.

     THE LAST OF THE MORTIMERS. A Story in Two Voices. 12mo, Cloth, $1
     50.

     THE HOUSE ON THE MOOR. A Novel. 12mo, Cloth, $1 50.

     LUCY CROFTON. A Novel. 12mo, Cloth, $1 50.

     A SON OF THE SOIL. A Novel. 8vo, Cloth, $1 50; Paper, $1 00.

     CHRONICLES OF CARLINGFORD. A Novel. 8vo, Cloth, $1 75; Paper, $1
     25.

     THE PERPETUAL CURATE. A Novel. 8vo, Cloth, $1 50; Paper, $1 00.

     THE ATHELINGS; or, The Three Gifts. A Novel. 8vo, Paper, 75 cents.

     KATIE STEWART. A True Story. 8vo, Paper, 25 cents.

     THE QUIET HEART. A Novel. 8vo, Paper, 25 cents.

     That the authoress of the “Chronicles of Carlingford” is entitled
     to a prominent position in the upper chamber of modern novelists,
     none will be inclined to dispute who have been fascinated by that
     delightful series.--_London Reader._

     Mrs. Oliphant’s books are always characterized by thought and
     earnestness--some purpose making itself manifest in them beyond
     that of merely striking the fancy of her readers, or gaining their
     attention for a moment.--_London Review._

     Some writers seem to have no power of growth; they reproduce
     themselves with more or less success. But others improve instead of
     deteriorating. There is no living novelist in whom this improvement
     is so marked as Mrs. Oliphant.--_London Press._


               PUBLISHED BY HARPER & BROTHERS, NEW YORK.



                              BROWNLOWS.



CHAPTER I.

MR. BROWNLOW’S MONEY.


Every body in the neighborhood was perfectly aware what was the origin
of John Brownlow’s fortune. There was no possibility of any mistake
about it. When people are very well known and respectable, and inspire
their neighbors with a hearty interest, some little penalty must be paid
for that pleasant state of affairs. It is only when nobody cares for
you, when you are of no importance to the world in general, that you can
shroud your concerns in mystery; but the Brownlows were very well known,
much respected, and quite unable to hide themselves in a corner. In all
Dartfordshire there was no family better known; not that they were
county people, or had any pretensions to high connection, but then there
was not one family in the county of whom John Brownlow did not know more
than they knew themselves, and in his hands, and in the hands of his
fathers before him, had reposed the papers and affairs of all the
squires about, titled or otherwise, for more years than could be
counted. It was clever of the Brownlows to have had so much business in
their hands and yet not to be rich; but virtue, when it is exceptional,
is perhaps always a little extreme, and so it is probable that an honest
lawyer is honester than most honest men who have no particular
temptation. They were not rich, and yet, of course, they were far from
being poor. They had the kind of substantial old brick house, standing
close up to the pavement in the best end of the High Street of
Masterton, which would be described as a mansion in an auctioneer’s
advertisement. It was very red and infinitely clean, and had a multitude
of windows all blinking in the sun, and lighting up into impromptu
illuminations every winter afternoon, when that blazing red luminary
went down, not over the river and the open country, as he ought to have
done, but into the rectory garden, which happened to lie in his way as
he halted along toward the west. The Brownlows for generations back had
lived very comfortably in this red house. It had a great, rich,
luxuriant, warm garden behind, with all sorts of comforts attached to
it, and the rooms were handsome and old-fashioned, as became a house
that had served generations; and once upon a time many good dinners, and
much good wine, and the most beautiful stores of fine linen, and
crystal, and silver were in the house, for comfort, and not for show.
All this was very well, and John Brownlow was born to the possession of
it; but there can be no doubt that the house in the High Street was very
different from the house he now inhabited and the establishment he kept
up in the country. Even the house in the High Street had been more
burdened than was usual in the family when it came to his turn to be its
master. Arthur, the younger brother, who was never good for much, had
just had his debts paid for the second time before his father died. It
was not considered by many people as quite fair to John, though some did
say that it was he above all who urged the step upon old Mr. Brownlow.
Persons who professed to know, even asserted that the elder son, in his
generosity, had quite a struggle with his father, and that his argument
was always “for my mother’s sake.” If this, was true, it was all the
more generous of him, because his mother was well known to have thought
nothing of John in comparison with the handsome Arthur, whom she spoiled
as long as she lived. Anyhow, the result was that John inherited the
house and the business, the furniture and old crystal and silver, and a
very comfortable income, but nothing that could be called a fortune, or
that would in any way have justified him in launching out into a more
expensive description of life.

At this time he was thirty at least, and not of a speculative turn of
mind; and when old Mrs. Thomson’s will--a will not even drawn up in his
office, which would have been a kind of preparation--was read to him, it
is said that he lost his temper on the occasion, and used very
unbecoming language to the poor woman in her coffin. What had he to do
with the old hag? “What did she mean by bothering him with her filthy
money?” he said, and did not show at all the frame of mind that might
have been expected under the circumstances. Mrs. Thomson was an old
woman, who had lived in a very miserly sort of way, with an old servant,
in a little house in the outskirts of the town. Nobody could ever tell
what attracted her toward John Brownlow, who never, as he himself said,
had any thing to do with her; and she had relations of her own in
Masterton--the Fennells--who always knew she had money, and counted upon
being her heirs. But they were distant relations, and perhaps they did
not know all her story. What petrified the town, however, was, when it
was found out that old Mrs. Thomson had left a fortune, not of a few
hundreds, as people supposed, but of more than fifty thousand pounds,
behind her, and that it was all left in a way to John Brownlow. It was
left to him in trust for Mrs. Thomson’s daughter Phœbe, a person
whose existence no one in Masterton had ever dreamed of, but who, it
appeared had married a common soldier, and gone off with him ages
before, and had been cursed and cast off by her hard-hearted mother.
That was long, long ago, and perhaps the solitary old creature’s heart,
if she had a heart, had relented to her only child; perhaps, as John
Brownlow thought, it was a mere suggestion of Satan to trouble and annoy
him, a man who had nothing to do with Phœbe Thomson. Anyhow, this was
the substance of the will. The money was all left to John Brownlow in
trust for this woman, who had gone nobody knew where, and whose very
name by marriage her mother did not state, and nobody could tell. If
Phœbe Thomson did not make her appearance within the next twenty-five
years, then the money was to pass to John Brownlow and his heirs in
perpetuity beyond all power of reclamation. This was the strange event
which fell like a shell into the young lawyer’s quiet life, and brought
revolution and change to every thing around.

He was very much annoyed and put out about it at first; and the
Fennells, who had expected to be Mrs. Thomson’s heirs, were furious, and
not disinclined to turn upon him, blameless as he was. To tell the
truth, theirs was a very hard case. They were very poor.
Good-for-nothing sons are not exclusively reserved for the well-to-do
portion of the community; and poor Mrs. Fennell, as well as the Brownlow
family, had a good-for-nothing son, upon whom she had spent all her
living. He had disappeared at this time into the darkness, as such
people do by times, but of course it was always on the cards that he
might come back and be a burden upon his people again. And the father
was paralytic and helpless, not only incapable of doing any thing, but
requiring to have every thing done for him, that last aggravation of
poverty. Mrs. Fennell herself was not a prepossessing woman. She had a
high temper and an eloquent tongue, and her disappointment was tragic
and desperate. Poor soul! it was not much to be wondered at--she was so
poor and so helpless and burdened; and this money would have made them
all so comfortable. It was not that she thought of herself, the poor
woman said, but there was Fennell, who was cousin to the Thomsons, and
there was Tom out in the world toiling for his bread, and killing
himself with work. And then there was Bessie and her prospects. When she
had talked it all over at the highest pitch of her voice, and stormed at
every body, and made poor Fennell shake worse than ever in his paralytic
chair, and overwhelmed Bessie with confusion and misery, the poor woman
would sit down and cry. Only one thousand pounds of it would have done
them such a great deal of good; and there was fifty thousand, and it was
all going to be tied up and given to John Brownlow. It was hard upon a
woman with a hot head and a warm heart, and no temper or sense to speak
of; and to storm at it was the only thing she took any comfort from, or
that did her any good.

This money, which Mrs. Fennell regretted so bitterly for a long time,
was nothing but a nuisance to John Brownlow. He advertised and employed
detectives, and did every thing a man could do to find Phœbe Thomson
and relieve himself of the burden. But Phœbe Thomson was not to be
found. He sought her far and near, but no such person was to be heard
of--for, to be sure, a poor soldier’s wife was not very likely to be in
the way of seeing the second column of the “Times;” and if she should
happen to be Mrs. Smith or Mrs. Doherty by marriage, nobody but herself
and her husband might be aware that she had ever been Phœbe Thomson.
Anyhow, all the advertisements and all the detectives failed; and after
working very hard at it for a year or more, John Brownlow very quietly,
and to his own consciousness alone, d--d Phœbe Thomson, and gave up
the useless investigation.

But he was a man who had eyes, and a strong sense of justice. When he
thought of the poor Fennells, his anger rose against the wretched old
woman who had laid on him the burden of her money. Poor Mrs. Fennell’s
son was good for nothing, but she had a daughter who was good for much;
and Bessie had a lover who would gladly have married her, had that
wicked old miser, as John Brownlow in his indignation said, left only a
thousand pounds out of her fifty to help the paralytic father and
passionate mother. Bessie’s lover was not mercenary--he was not covetous
of a fortune with his wife; but he could not marry all the family, or
work for the old people, as their daughter had to do. This was what Mrs.
Fennell meant when she raved of poor Bessie and her prospects. But
Bessie herself said nothing. The lover went very sorrowfully away, and
Bessie was silent and went on with her work, and made no show of her
trouble. John Brownlow, without knowing it, got to watch her. He was not
aware for a long time why it was that, though he always had so much to
do, he never missed seeing Bessie when by chance she passed his windows.
As luck would have it, it was always at that moment he raised his eyes;
and he did his best to get pupils for her, “taking an interest” in her
which was quite unusual in so quiet a man. But it was not probable that
Bessie could have had much of an education herself, much less was
qualified to give it to others. And whether it was want of skill, or the
poverty of her surroundings, her poor dress, or her mother’s aspect and
temper, it is certain that, diligent and patient and “nice” as she was,
pupils failed her. She did not get on; yet she kept struggling on, and
toiling, keeping a smile in her eyes for every body that looked friendly
on her, whatever sinking there might be in her heart. And she was a
slight fragile little creature to bear all that weight on her shoulders.
John Brownlow, without knowing it, watched her little figure about the
streets all the year through, marveling at that “soft invincibility,”
that steady standing up against defeat and every kind of ill which the
gentle soul was capable of. And as he watched her, he had many thoughts
in his mind. He was not rich, as we have said; on the contrary, it would
have been his bounden duty, had he done his duty, to have married
somebody with a modest little fortune, who would have helped him to keep
up the house in the High Street, and give the traditionary dinners; and
to maintain his wife’s family, if he were to marry, was something out of
the question. But then that fifty thousand pounds--this money which did
not belong to him but to Phœbe Thomson, whosoever she was, and
wheresoever she might be. All this produced a confusion of thought which
was of very strange occurrence in Mr. Brownlow’s office, where his
ancestors for generations had pondered over other people’s
difficulties--a more pleasing operation than attending to one’s own.
Gradually, as time wore on, Phœbe Thomson grew into a more and more
mythical figure to Mr. Brownlow’s mind, and Bessie Fennell became more
and more real. When he looked up one winter’s afternoon and saw her
passing the office window in the glow of the frosty sunset, which
pointed at her in its clear-sighted way, and made thrice visible the
thinness of her cheek and the shabbiness of her dress, Mr. Brownlow’s
pen fell from his fingers in amaze and self-reproach. She was wearing
herself out, and he had permitted her to do so, and had sat at his
window thinking about it for two whole years. Two years had passed since
Mrs. Thomson’s death. All the investigations in the world had not been
able to find Phœbe; and John Brownlow was master of the old woman’s
fifty thousand pounds; and the Fennells might be starving for any thing
he could tell. The result was, that he proposed to Bessie, to the
unbounded amazement not only of the town of Masterton, but even of the
county people, who all knew Mr. Brownlow. Probably Bessie was as much
surprised as any body; but she married him after a while, and made him a
very good wife. And he pensioned her father and mother in the most
liberal way, and saw as little of them as possible. And for a few years,
though they did not give many dinners, every thing went on very well in
the big brick house.

I tell the story thus briefly, instead of introducing these people to
show their existence for themselves, because all this is much prior to
the real date of this history. Mrs. Brownlow made a very good and sweet
wife; and my own opinion is that she was fond of her husband in a quiet
way. But, of course, people said she had married him for his money, and
Bessie was one of those veiled souls who go through the world without
much faculty of revealing themselves even to their nearest and dearest.
When she did, nobody could make quite sure whether she had enjoyed her
life or merely supported it. She had fulfilled all her duties, been very
kind to every body, very faithful and tender to her husband, very
devoted to her family; but she died, and carried away a heart within her
of which no man seemed ever to have found the key. Sara and John were
very little at the time of her death--so little, that they scarcely
remembered their mother. And they were not like her. Little John, for
his part, was like big John, as he had a right to be; and Sara was like
nobody else that ever had been seen in Masterton. But that is a subject
which demands fuller exposition. Mr. Brownlow lived very quietly for
some years after he lost his wife; but then, as was natural, the
ordinary course of affairs was resumed. And then it was that the change
in his fortunes became fully evident. His little daughter was delicate,
and he got a carriage for her. He got ponies for her, and costly
governesses and masters down from town at the wildest expense; and then
he bought that place in the country which had once been Something Hall
or Manor, but which Dartfordshire, in its consternation, henceforward
called Brownlow’s. Brownlow’s it was, without a doubt; and Brownlows it
became--without the apostrophe--in the most natural way, when things
settled down. It was, as old Lady Hetherton said, “quite a _place_, my
dear; not one of your little bits of villas, you know.” And though it
was so near Masterton that Mr. Brownlow drove or rode in every day to
his office, its grounds and gardens and park were equal to those of any
nobleman in the county. Old Mrs. Thomson’s fifty thousand pounds had
doubled themselves, as money skillfully managed has a way of doing. It
had got for her executor every thing a man could desire. First, the wife
of his choice--though that gift had been taken from him--and every other
worldly good which the man wished or could wish for. He was able to
surround the daughter, who was every thing to him--who was more to him,
perhaps, than even his wife had ever been--with every kind of
delightsome thing; and to provide for his son, and establish him in the
world according to his inclinations; and to assume, without departing
from his own place, such a position as no former Brownlow had ever
occupied in the county. All this came to John Brownlow through old Mrs.
Thomson; and Phœbe Thomson, to whom the money in reality belonged,
had never turned up to claim it, and now there was but one year to run
of the five-and-twenty which limited his responsibilities. All this
being made apparent, it is the history of this one year that I have now
to tell.



CHAPTER II.

SARA.


Mr. Brownlow had one son and one daughter--the boy, a very good natured,
easy-minded, honest sort of young fellow, approaching twenty-one, and
not made much account of either at home or abroad. The daughter was
Sara. For people who know her, or indeed who are at all acquainted with
society in Dartfordshire, it is unnecessary to say more; but perhaps the
general public may prefer a clearer description. She was the queen of
John Brownlow’s house, and the apple of his eye. At the period of which
we speak she was between nineteen and twenty, just emerging from what
had always been considered a delicate girlhood, into the full early
bloom of woman. She had too much character, too much nonsense, too many
wiles, and too much simplicity in her, to be, strictly speaking,
beautiful; and she was not good enough or gentle enough to be lovely.
And neither was she beloved by all, as a heroine ought to be. There were
some people who did not like her, as well as some who did, and there
were a great many who fluctuated between love and dislike, and were
sometimes fond of her, and sometimes affronted with her; which, indeed,
was a very common state of mind with herself. Sara was so much a girl of
her age that she had even the hair of the period, as the spring flowers
have the colors of spring. It was light-brown, with a golden tint, and
abundant as locks of that color generally are; but it can not be denied
that it was darker than the fashionable shade, and that Sara was not
above being annoyed by this fact, nor even above a vague and shadowy
idea of doing something to bring it to the correct tint; which may rank
as one of the constantly recurring proofs that young women are in fact
the least vain portion of the creation, and have less faith in the
efficacy of their natural charms than any other section of the race. She
had a little rosebud mouth, dewy and pearly, and full eyes, which were
blue, or gray, or hazel, according as you looked at them, and according
to the sentiment they might happen to express. She was very tall, very
slight and flexible, and wavy like a tall lily, with the slightest
variable stoop in her pretty shoulders, for which her life had been
rendered miserable by many well-meaning persons, but which in reality
was one of her charms. To say that she stooped is an ugly expression,
and there was nothing ugly about Sara. It was rather that by times her
head drooped a little, like the aforesaid lily swayed by the softest of
visionary breezes. This, however, was the only thing lily-like or
angelic about her. She was not a model of any thing, nor noted for any
special virtues. She was Sara. That was about all that could be said for
her; and it is to be hoped that she may be able to evidence what little
bits of good there were in her during the course of this history, for
herself.

“Papa,” she said, as they sat together at the breakfast-table, “I will
call for you this afternoon, and bring you home. I have something to do
in Masterton.”

“Something to do in Masterton?” said Mr. Brownlow; “I thought you had
got every thing you could possibly want for three months at least when
you were in town.”

“Yes,” said Sara, “every thing one wants for one’s bodily
necessities--pins and needles and music, and all that sort of thing--but
one has a heart, though you might not think it, papa; and I have an idea
that one has a soul.”

“Do you think so?” said her father, with a smile; “but I can’t imagine
what your soul can have to do in Masterton. We don’t cultivate such
superfluities there.”

“I am going to see grandmamma,” said Sara. “I think it is my duty. I am
not fond of her, and I ought to be. I think if I went to see her oftener
perhaps it might do me good.”

“O! if it’s only for grandmamma,” said young John, “I go to see her
often enough. I don’t think you need take any particular trouble to do
her good.”

Upon which Sara sighed, and drooped a little upon its long stem her lily
head. “I hope I am not so stupid and conceited as to think I can do any
body good,” she said. “I may be silly enough, but I am not like that;
but I am going to see grandmamma. It is my duty to be fond of her, and
see after her; and I know I never go except when I can’t help it. I am
going to turn over a new leaf.”

Mr. Brownlow’s face had been overshadowed at the first mention of the
grandmother, as by a faint mist of annoyance. It did not go so far as to
be a cloud. It was not positive displeasure or dislike, but only a shade
of dissatisfaction, which he expressed by his silence. Sara’s
resolutions to turn over a new leaf were not rare, and her father was
generally much amused and interested by her good intentions; but at
present he only went on with his breakfast and said nothing. Like his
daughter, he was not fond of the grandmamma, and perhaps her sympathy
with his own sentiments in this respect was satisfactory to him at the
bottom of his heart; but it was not a thing he could talk about.

“There is a great deal in habit,” said Sara, in that experienced way
which belongs to the speculatist of nineteen. “I believe you can train
yourself to any thing, even to love people whom you don’t love by
nature. I think one could get to do that if one was to try.”

“I should not care much for your love if that was how it came,” said
young John.

“That would only show you did not understand,” said Sara, mildly. “To
like people for a good reason, is not that better than liking them
merely because you can’t help it? If there was any body that it suited
papa, for instance, to make me marry, don’t you think I would be very
foolish if I could not make myself fond of him? and ungrateful too?”

“Would you really do as much for me, my darling?” said Mr. Brownlow,
looking up at her with a glimmer of weakness in his eyes; “but I hope I
shall never require to put you to the test.”

“Why not, papa?” said Sara, cheerfully. “I am sure it would be a much
more sensible reason for being fond of any body that you wished it, than
just my own fancy. I should do it, and I would never hesitate about it,”
said the confident young woman; and the father, though he was a man of
some experience, felt his heart melt and glow over this rash statement
with a fond gratification, and really believed it, foolish as it was.

“And I shall drive down,” said Sara, “and look as fine as possible;
though, of course, I would far rather have Meg out, and ride home with
you in the afternoon. And it would do Meg a world of good,” she added,
pathetically. “But you know if one goes in for pleasing one’s
grandmamma, one ought to be content to please her in her own way. _She_
likes to see the carriage and the grays, and a great noise and fuss. If
it is worth taking the trouble for at all, it is worth doing it in her
own way.”

“_I_ walk, and she is always very glad to see me,” said John, in what
must be allowed was an unpleasant manner.

“Ah! you are different,” said Sara, with a momentary bend of her
graceful head. And, of course, he was very different. He was a mere man
or boy--whichever you prefer--not in the least ornamental, nor of very
much use to any body--whereas Sara--But it is not a difference that
could be described or argued about; it was a thing which could be
perceived with half an eye. When breakfast was over, the two gentlemen
went off to Masterton to their business; for young John had gone into
his father’s office, and was preparing to take up in his turn the
hereditary profession. Indeed, it is not clear that Mr. Brownlow ever
intended poor Jack to profit at all by his wealth, or the additional
state and grandeur the family had taken upon itself. To his eyes, so far
as it appeared, Sara alone was the centre of all this magnificence;
whereas Jack was simply the heir and successor of the Brownlows, who
had been time out of mind the solicitors of Masterton. For Jack, the
brick house in the High Street waited with all its old stores; and the
fairy accessories of their present existence, all the luxury and grace
and beauty--the grays--the conservatories--the park--the place in the
country--seemed a kind of natural appanage to the fair creature in whom
the race of Brownlow had come to flower, the father could not tell how;
for it seemed strange to think that he himself, who was but a homely
individual, should have been the means of bringing any thing so fair and
fine into the world. Probably Mr. Brownlow, when it came to making his
will, would be strictly just to his two children; but in the mean time,
in his thoughts, that was, no doubt, how things stood; and Jack
accordingly was brought up as he himself had been, rather as the heir of
the Brownlows’ business, their excellent connection and long-established
practice, than as the heir of Brownlows--two very different things, as
will be perceived.

When they went away Sara betook herself to her own business. She saw the
cook in the most correct and exemplary way. Fortunately the cook was
also the housekeeper, and a very good-tempered woman, who received all
her young mistress’s suggestions with amiability, and only complained
sometimes that Miss Brownlow would order every thing that was out of
season. “Not for the sake of extravagance,” Mrs. Stock said, in answer
to Sara’s maid, who had made that impertinent suggestion; “oh, no,
nothin’ of the sort--only out of always forgettin’, poor dear, and
always wantin’ me to believe as she knows.” But as Sara fortunately paid
but little attention to the dinner when produced, making no particular
criticism--not for want of will, but for want of knowledge--her
interview with the cook at least did no harm. And then she went into
many small matters which she thought were of importance. She had an
hour’s talk, for instance, with the gardener, who was, like most
gardeners, a little pig-headed, and fond of having his own way; and Sara
was rather of opinion that some of her hints had done him good; and she
made him, very unwillingly, cut some flowers for her to take to her
grandmother. Mrs. Fennell was not a woman to care for flowers if she
could have got them for the plucking; but expensive hothouse flowers in
the depth of winter were a different matter. Thus Sara reasoned as she
carried them in her basket, with a ground-work of moss beneath to keep
them fresh, and left them in the hall till the carriage should come
round. And she went to the stables, and looked at every thing in a
dainty way--not like your true enthusiast in such matters, but with a
certain gentle grandeur, as of a creature to whom satin-skinned cattle
and busy grooms were vulgar essentials of life, equally necessary, but
equally far off from her supreme altitude. She cared no more for the
grays in themselves than she did for Dick and Tom, which will be
sufficient to prove to any body learned in such matters how imperfect
her development was in this respect. All these little occupations were
very different from the occupations of her father and brother, who were
both of them in the office all day busy with other people’s wills and
marriage-settlements and conveyances. Thus it would have been as evident
to any impartial looker-on as it was to Mr. Brownlow, that the fortune
which had so much changed his position in the county, and given him such
very different surroundings, all centered in, and was appropriated to,
his daughter, while his old life, his hereditary business, the prose and
plain part of his existence, was to be carried out in his son.

When all the varieties of occupation in this useful day were about
exhausted, Sara prepared for her drive. She wrapped herself up in fur
and velvet, and every thing that was warmest and softest and most
luxurious; and with her basket of flowers and another little basket of
game, which she did not take any personal charge of, rolled away out of
the park gates to Masterton. Brownlows had belonged to a very
unsuccessful race before it came to be Brownlow’s. It had been in the
hands of poor, failing, incompetent people, which was, perhaps, the
reason why its original name had dropped so completely out of
recollection. Now, for the first time in its existence, it looked really
like “a gentleman’s place.” But yet there were eye-sores about. One of
these was a block of red brick, which stood exactly opposite the park
gates, opposite the lodge which Mr. Brownlow had made so pretty. There
were only two cottages in the block, and they were very unpretending and
very clean, and made the life of the woman in the lodge twice as
lightsome and agreeable; but to Sara’s eyes at least, Swayne’s Cottages,
as they were called, were very objectionable. They were two-storied
houses, with windows and doors very flush with the walls; as if, which
indeed was the case, the walls themselves were of the slightest
construction possible; and Swayne himself, or rather Mrs. Swayne, who
was the true head of the house, let a parlor and bedroom to lodgers who
wanted country air and quiet at a cheap rate. “Any body might come,”
Sara was in the habit of saying; “your worst enemy might come and sit
down there at your very door, and spy upon every thing you were doing.
It makes me shudder when I think of it.” Thus she had spoken ever since
her father’s entrance upon the glories of his “place,” egging him up
with all her might to attack this little Naboth’s vineyard. But there
never was a Naboth more obstinate in his rights than Mr. Swayne, who was
a carpenter and builder, and had put the two houses together himself,
and was proud of them; and Sara was then too young and too much under
the sway of her feelings to take upon her in cold blood Jezebel’s
decisive part.

She could not help looking at them to-day as she swept out, with the two
grays spurning the gravel under foot, and the lodge-woman at the gate
looking up with awe while she made her courtesy as if to the queen. Mrs.
Swayne, too, was standing at her door, but she did not courtesy to Sara.
She stood and looked as if she did not care--the splendor and the luxury
were nothing to her. She looked out in a calm sort of indifferent way,
which was to Sara what, to continue a scriptural symbolism, Mordecai was
to another less fortunate personage. And Mrs. Swayne had a ticket of
“Lodgings” in her window. It could do her no good, for nobody ever
passed along that road who could be desirous of country lodgings at a
cheap rate, and this advertisement looked to Sara like an intentional
insult. The wretched woman might get about eight shillings a week for
her lodgings, and for that paltry sum she could allow herself to post up
bills opposite the very gate of Brownlows; but then some people have so
little feeling. This trifling incident occupied Sara’s mind during at
least half her drive. The last lodger had been a consumptive patient,
whose pale looks had filled her with compassionate impulses, against
which her dislike of Mrs. Swayne contended vainly. Who would it be next?
Some other invalid most likely, as pale and as poor, to make one
discontented with the world and ashamed of one’s self the moment one
issued forth from the park gates, and all because of the determination
of the Swaynes to annoy their wealthy neighbors. The thought made Sara
angry as she drove along; but it was a brisk winter afternoon, with
frost in the air, and the hoofs of the grays rang on the road, and even
the country waggons seemed to move along at an exhilarated pace. So Sara
thought, who was young, and whose blood ran quickly in her veins, and
who was wrapped up to the throat in velvet and fur. Now and then another
carriage would roll past, when there were people who nodded or kissed
their hands to Sara as they passed, with all that clang of hoofs and
sweep of motion, merrily on over the hard road beneath the naked trees.
And the people who were walking walked briskly, as if the blood was
racing in their veins too, and rushing warm and vigorous to healthy
cheeks. If any cheeks were blue rather than red, if any hearts were sick
with the cold and the weary way, if any body she met chanced to be going
heavily home to a hearth where there was no fire, or a house from which
love and light had gone, Sara, glowing to the wind, knew nothing of
that; and that the thought never entered her mind was no fault of hers.

The winter sky was beginning to dress itself in all the glories of
sunset when she got to Masterton. It had come to be the time of the year
when the sun set in the rectory garden, and John Brownlow’s windows in
the High Street got all aglow. Perhaps it brought associations to his
mind as the dazzling red radiance flashed in at the office window, and
he laid down his pen. But the fact was that this pause was caused by a
sound of wheels echoing along the market-place, which was close by. That
must be Sara. Such was the thought that passed through Mr. Brownlow’s
mind. He did not think, as the last gleam came over him, how he used to
look up and see Bessie passing--that Bessie who had come to be his
wife--nor of any other moving event that had happened to him when the
sun was coming in at his windows aslant in that undeniable way. No; all
that he thought was, There goes Sara; and his face softened, and he
began to put his papers together. The child in her living importance,
little lady and sovereign of all that surrounded her, triumphed thus
even over the past and the dead.

Mrs. Fennell had lodgings in a street which was very genteel, and opened
off the market-place. The houses were not very large, but they had
pillars to the doors and balconies to all the first-floor windows; and
some very nice people lived there. Mrs. Fennell was very old and not
able to manage a house for herself, so she had apartments, she and her
maid--one of the first floors with the balconies--a very comfortable
little drawing-room, which the care of her friends had filled with every
description of comfortable articles. Her paralytic husband was dead ages
ago, and her daughter Bessie was dead, and her beloved but
good-for-nothing son--and yet the old woman had lived on. Sometimes,
when any thing touched her heart, she would mourn over this, and ask why
she had been left when every thing was gone that made life sweet to her;
but still she lived on; and at other times it must be confessed that she
was not an amiable old woman. It is astonishing how often it happens
that the sweet domestic qualities do not descend from mother to
daughter, but leap a generation as it were, interjecting a passionate,
peevish mother to bring out in full relief the devotion of her child--or
a selfish exacting child to show the mother’s magnanimity. Such
contrasts are very usual among women--I don’t know if they are visible
to the same extent as between father and son. Mrs. Fennell was not
amiable. She was proud and quarrelsome and bitter--exacting of every
profit and every honor, and never contented. She was proud to think of
her son-in-law’s fine house and her granddaughter’s girlish splendor;
and yet it was the temptation of her life to rail at them, to tell how
little he had done for her, and to reckon up all he ought to have done,
and to declare if it had not been for the Fennells and their friends, it
was little any body would ever have heard of John Brownlow. All this
gave her a certain pleasure; and at the same time Sara’s visit with the
grays and the state equipage and the tall footman, and her entrance in
her rich dress with her sables, which had cost nobody could tell how
much, and her basket of flowers which could not have been bought in
Dartfordshire for their weight in gold, was the triumph of her life. As
soon as she heard the sound of the wheels in the street--which was not
visited by many carriages--she would steal out into her bedroom and
change her cap with her trembling hands. She never changed her cap for
Jack, who came on foot, and brought every kind of homely present to
please her and make her comfortable. But Sara was different--and Sara’s
presents added not to her comfort, but to her glory, which was quite
another affair.

“Well, my dear,” she said, with a mixture of peevishness and pleasure,
as the girl came in, “so this is you. I thought you were never coming to
see me any more.”

“I beg your pardon, grandmamma,” said Sara. “I know I have been
neglecting my duty, but I mean to turn over a new leaf. There are some
birds down below that I thought you would like, and I have brought you
some flowers. I will put them in your little vases if I may ring for
Nancy to bring some water. I made Pitt cut me this daphne, though I
think he would rather have cut off my head. It will perfume the whole
room.”

“My dear, you know I don’t like strong smells,” said Mrs. Fennell. “I
never could bear scents--a little whiff of musk, and that was all I ever
cared for--though your poor mamma was such a one for violets and trash.
And I haven’t got servants to be running up and down stairs as you have
at your fine place. One maid for every thing is considered quite enough
for me.”

“Well, grandmamma,” said Sara, “you have not very much to do, you know.
If I were you, I would have a nice _young_ maid that would look pleasant
and cheerful instead of that cross old Nancy, who never looks pleased at
any thing.”

“What good do you think I could have of a young maid?” said Mrs.
Fennell--“nasty gossiping tittering things, that are twenty times more
bother than they’re worth. I have Nancy because she suits me, and
because she was poor old Mrs. Thomson’s maid, as every body has
forgotten but her and me. The dead are soon out of mind, especially when
they’ve got a claim on living folks’ gratitude. If it wasn’t for poor
Mrs. Thomson where would your grand carriage have been, and your
daphnes, and your tall footmen, and all your papa’s grandeur? But
there’s nobody that thinks on her but me.”

“I am sure _I_ have not forgotten her,” said Sara. “I wish I could. She
must have been a horrible old wretch, and I wish she had left papa
alone. I’d rather not have Brownlows if I am always to hear of that
wretched old woman. I suppose Nancy is her ghost and haunts you. I hate
to hear her horrid old name.”

“You are just like all the rest,” said the grandmother--“ashamed of your
relations because you are so fine; and if it had not been for your
relations--she was your poor mamma’s cousin, Miss Sairah--if it was only
that, and out of respect to me--”

“Don’t call me Sairah, please,” said the indignant little visitor. “I do
hate it so; and I have not done any thing that I know of to be called
Miss for. What is the use of quarreling, grandmamma? Do let us be
comfortable a little. You can’t think how cold it is out of doors. Don’t
you think it is rather nice to be an old lady and sit by the fire and
have every body come to see you, and no need to take any trouble with
making calls or any thing? I think it must be one of the nicest things
in the world.”

“Do you think _you_ would like it?” the old woman said grimly from the
other side of the fire.

“It is different, you know,” said Sara, drooping her pretty head as she
sat before the fire with the red light gleaming in her hair. “You were
once as young as me, and you can go back to that in your mind; and then
mamma was once as young as me, and you can go back to that. I should
think it must feel like walking out in a garden all your own, that
nobody else has any right to; while the rest of us, you know--”

“Ah!” said the old woman with a cry; “but a garden that you once tripped
about, and once saw your children tripping about, and now you have to
hobble through it all alone. Oh child, child! and never a sound in it,
but all the voices gone and all the steps that you would give the world
to hear!”

Sara roused herself up out of her meditation, and gave a startled
astonished look into the corner where the cross old grandmother was
sobbing in the darkness. The child stumbled to her feet, startled and
frightened and ashamed of what she had done, and went and threw herself
upon the old woman’s neck. And poor old Mrs. Fennell sobbed and pushed
her granddaughter away, and then hugged and kissed her, and stroked her
pretty hair and the feather in her hat and her soft velvet and fur. The
thoughtless girl had given her a stab, and yet it was such a stab as
opens while it wounds. She sobbed, but a touch of sweetness came along
with the pain, and for the moment she loved again, and grew human and
motherlike, warming out of the chills of her hard old age.

“_You_ need not talk of cold, at least,” she said when the little
_accès_ was over, and when Sara, having bestowed upon her the first real
affectionate kiss she had given her since she came to woman’s estate,
had dropped again into the low chair before the fire, feeling a little
astonished, yet rather pleased with herself for having proved equal to
the occasion--“you need not talk of cold with all that beautiful fur. It
must have cost a fortune. Mrs. Lyon next door will come to see me
to-morrow and she will take you all to pieces, and say it isn’t real.
And such a pretty feather! I like you in that kind of hat--it is very
becoming; and you look like a little princess just now as you sit before
the fire.”

“Do I?” said Sara. “I am very glad you are pleased, grandmamma. I put on
my very best to please you. Do you remember the little cape you made for
me, when I was a tiny baby, out of your great old muff? I have got it
still. But oh, listen to that daphne how it tells it is here! It is all
through the room, as I said it would be. I must ring for some water, and
your people, when they come to call, will never say the daphne is not
real. It will contradict them to their face. Please, Nancy, some water
for the flowers.”

“Thomas says it’s time for you to be a-going, Miss,” said Nancy, grimly.

“Oh, Thomas can say what he pleases; papa will wait for me,” cried Sara;
“and grandmamma and I are such friends this time. There is some cream in
the basket, Nancy, for tea; for you know our country cream is the best;
and some of the grapes of my pet vine; don’t look sulky, there’s an old
dear. I am coming every week. And grandmamma and I are such friends--”

“Anyhow, she’s my poor Bessie’s own child,” said Mrs. Fennell, with a
little deprecation; for Nancy, who had been old Mrs. Thomson’s servant,
was stronger even than herself upon the presumption of Brownlows, and
how, but for them as was dead and gone and forgotten, such splendor
could never have been.

“Sure enough,” said Nancy, “and more people’s child as well,” which was
the sole but pregnant comment she permitted herself to make. Sara,
however, got her will, as she usually did. She took off her warm cloak,
which the two old women examined curiously, and scorned Thomas’s
recommendations, and made and shared her grandmother’s tea, while the
grays drove up and down the narrow street, dazzling the entire
neighborhood, and driving the coachman desperate. Mr. Brownlow, too, sat
waiting and wondering in his office, thinking weakly that every cab that
passed must be Sara’s carriage. The young lady did not hurry herself.
“It was to please grandmamma,” as she said; certainly it was not to
please herself, for there could not be much pleasure for Sara in the
society of those two old women, who were not sweet-tempered, and who
were quite as like, according to the mood they might happen to be in, to
take the presents for insults as for tokens of love. But, then, there
was always a pleasure in having her own way, and one of which Sara was
keenly susceptible. When she called for her father eventually, she
complained to him that her head ached a little, and that she felt very
tired. “The daphne got to be a little overpowering in grandmamma’s small
room,” she said; “I dare say they would put it out of window as soon as
I was gone; and, besides, it _is_ a little tiring, to tell the truth.
But grandmamma was quite pleased,” said the disinterested girl. And John
Brownlow took great care of his Sara as they drove out together, and
felt his heart grow lighter in his breast when she recovered from her
momentary languor, and looked up at the frosty twinkling in the skies
above, and chattered and laughed as the carriage rolled along, lighting
up the road with its two lamps, and dispersing the silence with a brisk
commotion. He was prouder of his child than if she had been his
bride--more happy in the possession of her than a young man with his
love. And yet John Brownlow was becoming an old man, and had not been
without cares and uncomfortable suggestions even on that very day.



CHAPTER III.

A SUDDEN ALARM.


The unpleasant suggestion which had been brought before Mr. Brownlow’s
mind that day, while Sara accomplished her visit to her grandmother,
came after this wise:

His mind had been going leisurely over his affairs in general, as he
went down to his office; for naturally, now that he was so rich, he had
many affairs of his own beside that placid attention to other people’s
affairs which was his actual trade; and it had occurred to him that at
one point there was a weakness in his armor. One of his investments had
not been so skillful or so prudent as the rest, and it looked as if it
might call for farther and farther outlay before it could be made
profitable, if indeed it were ever made profitable. When he got to the
office, Mr. Brownlow, like a prudent man, looked into the papers
connected with this affair, and took pains to understand exactly how he
stood, and what farther claims might be made upon him. And while he was
doing this, certain questions of date arose which set clearly before
him, what he had for the moment forgotten, that the time of his
responsibility to Phœbe Thomson was nearly over, and that in a year
no claim could be made against him for Mrs. Thomson’s fifty thousand
pounds. The mere realization of this fact gave him a certain thrill of
uncertainty and agitation. He had not troubled himself about it for
years, and during that time he had felt perfectly safe and comfortable
in his possessions; but to look upon it in actual black and white, and
to see how near he was to complete freedom, gave him a sudden sense of
his present risk, such as he had never felt before. To repay the fifty
thousand pounds would have been no such difficult matter, for Mrs.
Thomson’s money had been lucky money, and had, as we have said, doubled
and trebled itself; but there was interest for five-and-twenty years to
be reckoned; and there was no telling what other claims the heir, if an
heir should turn up, might bring against the old woman’s executor. Mr.
Brownlow felt for one sharp moment as if Sara’s splendor and her
happiness was at the power of some unknown vagabond who might make a
sudden claim any moment when he was unprepared upon the inheritance
which for all these years had appeared to him as his own. It was a sort
of danger which could not be guarded against, but rather, indeed, ought
to be invited; though it would be hard--no doubt it would be hard, after
all this interval--to give up the fortune which he had accepted with
reluctance, and which had cost him, as he felt, a hundred times more
trouble than it had ever given him pleasure. Now that he had begun to
get a little good out of it, to think of some stealthy vagrant coming in
and calling suddenly for his rights, and laying claim perhaps to all the
increase which Mr. Brownlow’s careful management had made of the
original, was an irritating idea. He tried to put it away, and perhaps
he might have been successful in banishing it from his mind but for
another circumstance that fixed it there, and gave, as it seemed,
consistency and force to the thought.

The height of the day was over, and the sun was veering toward that
point of the compass from which its rays shone in at John Brownlow’s
windows, when he was asked if he would see a young man who came about
the junior clerk’s place. Mr. Brownlow had very nearly made up his mind
as to who should fill this junior clerk’s place; but he was
kind-hearted, and sent no one disconsolate away if it were possible to
help it. After a moment’s hesitation, he gave orders for the admission
of this young man. “If he does not do for that, he may be good for
something else,” was what John Brownlow said; for it was one of his
crotchets, that to help men to work was better than almsgiving. The
young man in question had nothing very remarkable in his appearance. He
had a frank, straightforward, simple sort of air, which partly, perhaps,
arose from the great defect in his face--the projection of the upper
jaw, which was well garnished with large white teeth. He had, however,
merry eyes, of the kind that smile without knowing it whenever they
accost another countenance; but his other features were all
homely--expressive, but not remarkable. He came in modestly, but he was
not afraid; and he stood respectfully and listened to Mr. Brownlow, but
there was no servility in his attitude. He had come about the clerk’s
place, and he was quite ready to give an account of himself. His father
had been a non-commissioned officer, but was dead; and his mother wanted
his help badly enough.

“But you are strangers in Masterton,” said Mr. Brownlow, attracted by
his frank looks. “Had you any special inducement to come here?”

“Nothing of any importance,” said the youth, and he colored a little.
“The fact is, sir, my mother came of richer people than we are now, and
they cast her off; and some of them once lived in Masterton. She came to
see if she could hear any thing of her friends.”

“And did she?” said John Brownlow, feeling his breath come a little
quick.

“They are all dead long ago,” said the young man. “We have all been
born in Canada, and we never heard what had happened. Her moth--I mean
her friends, are all dead, I suppose; and Masterton is just as good as
any other place to make a beginning in. I should not be afraid if I
could get any thing to do.”

“Clerk’s salaries are very small,” said Mr. Brownlow, without knowing
what it was he said.

“Yes, but they improve,” said his visitor, cheerfully; “and I don’t mind
what I do. I could make up books or do any thing at night, or even have
pupils--I have done that before. But I beg your pardon for troubling you
with all this. If the place is filled up--”

“Nay, stop--sit down--you interest me,” said Mr. Brownlow. “I like a
young fellow who is not easily cast down. Your mother--belongs--to
Masterton, I suppose,” he added, with a little hesitation; he, that gave
way to no man in Dartfordshire for courage and coolness, he was afraid.
He confessed it to himself, and felt all the shame of the new sensation,
but it had possession of him all the same.

“She belongs to the Isle of Man,” said the young man, with his frank
straightforward look and the smile in his eyes. He answered quite simply
and point-blank, having no thought that there was any second meaning in
his words; but it was otherwise with him who heard. John Brownlow sat
silent, utterly confounded. He stared at the young stranger in a blank
way, not knowing how to answer or how to conceal or account for the
tremendous impression which these simple words made on him. He sat and
stared, and his lower lip fell a little, and his eyes grew fixed, so
that the youth was terrified, and did not know what to make of it. Of
course he seized upon the usual resource of the disconcerted--“I beg
your pardon,” he said, “but I am afraid you are ill.”

“No, no; it is nothing,” said Mr. Brownlow. “I knew some people once who
came from the Isle of Man. But that is a long time ago. I am sorry she
has not found the people she sought for. But, as you say, there is
nothing like work. If you can engross well--though how you should know
how to engross after taking pupils and keeping books--”

“We have to do a great many things in the colony,” said his young
visitor. “If a man wants to live, he must not be particular about what
he does. I was two years in a lawyer’s office in Paris--”

“In Paris?” said Mr. Brownlow, with amazement.

“I mean in Paris, Canada West,” said the youth, with a touch of
momentary defiance, as who would say, “and a very much better Paris than
any you can boast of here.”

This little accident did so much good that it enabled Mr. Brownlow to
smile, and to shake off the oppression that weighed upon him. It was a
relief to be able to question the applicant as to his capabilities,
while secretly and rapidly in his own mind he turned over the matter,
and asked himself what he should do. Discourage the young man and direct
him elsewhere, and gently push him out of Masterton--or take him in and
be kind to him, and trust in Providence? The panic of the moment
suggested the first course, but a better impulse followed. In the first
place, it was not easy to discourage a young fellow with those sanguine
brown eyes, and blood that ran so quickly in his veins; and if any
danger was at hand, it was best to have it near, and be able to study
it, and be warned at once how and when it might approach. All this
passed rapidly, like an under-current, through John Brownlow’s mind, as
he sat and asked innumerable questions about the young applicant’s
capabilities and antecedents. He did it to gain time, though all young
Powys thought was that he had never gone through so severe an
examination. The young fellow smiled within himself at the wonderful
precision and caution of the old man, with a kind of transatlantic
freedom--not that he was republican, but only colonial; not irritated by
his employer’s superiority, but regarding it as an affair of perhaps
only a few days or years.

“I will think it over,” said Mr. Brownlow at last. “I can not decide
upon any thing all at once. If you settle quietly down and get a
situation, I think you may do very well here. It is not a dear place,
and if your mother has friends--”

“But she has no friends now that we know of,” said the young man, with
the unnecessary and persistent explanatoriness of youth.

“If she has friends here,” persisted Mr. Brownlow, “you may be sure they
will turn up. Come back to me to-morrow. I will think it all over in the
mean time, and give you my answer then. Powys--that is a very good
name--there was a Lady Powys here some time ago, who was exceedingly
good and kind to the poor. Perhaps it was she whom you sought--”

“Oh, no,” said the young man, eagerly; “it was my mother’s people--a
family called--”

“I am afraid I have an engagement now,” said Mr. Brownlow; and then
young Powys withdrew, with that quiet sense of shame and compunction
which belongs only to his years. He, of course, as was natural, could
see nothing of the tragic under-current. It appeared to him only that he
was intruding his private affairs, in an unjustifiable way, on his
probable patron--on the man who had been kind to him, and given him
hope. “What an ass I am!” he said to himself as he went away, “as if he
could take any interest in my mother’s friends.” And it troubled the
youth all day to think that he had possibly wearied Mr. Brownlow by his
explanations and iteration--an idea as mistaken as it was possible to
conceive.

When he had left the office, the lawyer fell back in his chair, and for
a long time neither moved nor spoke. Probably it was the nature of his
previous reflections which gave this strange visit so overwhelming an
effect. He sat in a kind of stupor, seeing before him, as it appeared in
actual bodily presence, the danger which it had startled him this same
morning to realize as merely possible. If it had been any other day, he
might have heard, without much remarking, all those singular
coincidences which now appeared so startling; but they chimed in so
naturally, or rather so unnaturally, with the tenor of his thoughts,
that his panic was superstitious and overwhelming. He sat a long time
without moving, almost without breathing, feeling as if it was some kind
of fate that approached him. After so many years that he had not thought
of this danger, it seemed to him at last that the thoughts which had
entered his mind in the morning must have been premonitions sent by
Providence; and at a glance he went over the whole position--the new
claimant, the gradually expanding claim, the conflict over it, the money
he had locked up in that one doubtful speculation, the sudden diminution
of his resources, perhaps the necessity of selling Brownlows and
bringing Sara back to the old house in the High Street where she was
born. Such a downfall would have been nothing for himself: for him the
old wainscot dining-parlor and all the well-known rooms were agreeable
and full of pleasant associations; but Sara--Then John Brownlow gave
another wide glance over his social firmament, asking himself if there
was any one whom, between this time and that, Sara’s heart might perhaps
incline to, whom she might marry, and solve the difficulty. A few days
before he used to dread and avoid the idea of her marriage. Now all this
rushed upon him in a moment, with the violent impulse of his awakened
fears. By-and-by, however, he came to himself. A woman might be a
soldier’s wife, and might come from the Isle of Man, and might have had
friends in Masterton who were dead, without being Phœbe Thomson.
Perhaps if he had been bold, and listened to the name which was on his
young visitor’s lips, it might have reassured him, and settled the
question; but he had been afraid to do it. At this early stage of his
deliberations he had not a moment’s doubt as to what he would do--what
he must do--at once and without delay, if Phœbe Thomson really
presented herself before him. But it was not his business to seek her
out. And who could say that this was she? The Isle of Man, after all,
was not so small a place, and any one who had come to Masterton to ask
after old Mrs. Thomson would have been referred at once to her executor.
This conviction came slowly upon Mr. Brownlow’s mind as he got over the
first wild thrill of fear. He put his terror away from him gradually and
slowly. When a thought has burst upon the mind at once, and taken
possession of it at a stroke, it is seldom dislodged in the same
complete way. It may cease to be a conviction, but it never ceases to be
an impression. To this state, by degrees, his panic subsided. He no
longer thought it certain that young Powys was Phœbe Thomson’s
representative; but only that such a thing was possible--that he had
something tangible to guard against and watch over. In place of his
quiet every-day life, with all its comforts, an exciting future, a
sudden whirl of possibilities opened before him. But in one year all
this would be over. One year would see him, would see his children, safe
in the fortune they had grown used to, and come to feel their own. Only
one year! There are moments when men are fain to clog the wheels of time
and retard its progress; but there are also moments when, to set the
great clock forward arbitrarily and to hasten the measured beating of
that ceaseless leisurely pendulum, is the desire that goes nearest the
heart. Thus it came to appear to Mr. Brownlow as if it was now a kind of
race between time and fate; for as yet it had not occurred to him to
think of abstract justice nor of natural rights higher than those of any
legal testament. He was thinking only of the letter, of the stipulated
year. He was thinking if that time were past that he would feel himself
his own master. And this sentiment grew and settled in his mind as he
sat alone, and waited for Sara’s carriage--for his child, whom in all
this matter he thought of the most. He was disturbed in the present, and
eager with the eagerness of a boy for the future. It did not even occur
to him that ghosts would arise in that future even more difficult to
exorcise. All his desire in the mean time was--if only this year were
over--if only anyhow a leap could be made through this one interval of
danger. And the sharp and sudden pain he had come through gave him at
the same time a sense of lassitude and exhaustion. Thus Sara’s headache
and her fatigue and fanciful little indisposition were very lucky
accidents for her father. They gave him an excuse for the deeper
compunctious tenderness with which he longed to make up to her for a
possible loss, and occupied both of them, and hid his disturbed air, and
gave him a little stimulus of pleasure when she mended and resumed her
natural chatter. Thus reflection and the fresh evening air, and Sara’s
headache and company, ended by almost curing Mr. Brownlow before he
reached home.



CHAPTER IV.

A LITTLE DINNER.


There was a very pleasant party that evening at Brownlows--the sort of
thing of which people say, that it is not a party at all, you know, only
ourselves and the Hardcastles, or whoever else it may happen to be.
There was the clergyman of the parish, of course--who is always, if he
happens to be at all agreeable, the very man for such little friendly
dinners; and there was his daughter; for he was a widower, like Mr.
Brownlow--and his Fanny was half as much to him, to say the least, as
Sara was to her admiring father. And there was just one guest
besides--young Keppel, to wit, the son of old Keppel of Ridley, and
brother of the present Mr. Keppel--a young fellow who was not just
precisely what is called _eligible_, so far as the young ladies were
concerned, but who did very well for all secondary purposes, and was a
barrister with hopes of briefs, and a flying connection with literature,
which helped him to keep his affairs in order, and was rather of service
to him than otherwise in society, as it sometimes is to a perfectly
well-connected young man. Thus there were two girls and two young men,
and two seniors to keep each other company; and there was a great deal
of talk and very pleasant intercourse, enough to justify the rector in
his enthusiastic utterance of his favorite sentiment, that this was true
society, and that he did not know what people meant by giving dinners at
which there were more than six. Mr. Hardcastle occasionally, it is true,
expressed under other circumstances opinions which might be supposed a
little at variance with this one; but then a man can not always be in
the same mind, and no doubt he was quite sincere in what he said. He was
a sort of man that exists, but is not produced now-a-days. He was
neither High Church nor Low Church, so to speak. If you had offered to
confess your sins to him he would have regarded you with as much terror
and alarm as if you had presented a pistol at his head; and if you had
attempted to confess your virtues under the form of spiritual
experience, he would have turned from you with disgust. Neither was he
in the least freethinking, but a most correct orthodox clergyman, a kind
of man, as I have said, not much produced in these times. Besides this
indefinite clerical character he had a character of his own, which was
not at all indefinite. He was a little red-faced, and sometimes almost
jovial in his gayety, and at the same time he was in possession of a
large stock of personal griefs and losses, which had cost him many true
tears and heartaches, poor man, but which were very useful to him in the
way of his profession. And he had an easy way of turning from the one
phase of life to the other, which had a curious effect sometimes upon
impartial spectators. But all the same it was perfectly true and
genuine. He made himself very agreeable that night at Brownlows, and was
full of jest and frolic; but if he had been called to see somebody in
trouble as he went home, he would have gone in and drawn forth from his
own private stores of past pain, and manifested plainly to the present
sufferer that he himself had suffered more bitterly still. He had “come
through” all the pangs that a man can suffer in this world. He had lost
his wife and his children, till nothing was left to him but this one
little Fanny--and he loved to open his closed-up chambers to your eyes,
and to meet your pitiful looks and faltering attempt at consolation; and
yet at the same time you would find him very jolly in the evening at Mr.
Brownlow’s, which hurt the feelings of some sensitive people. His
daughter, little Fanny, was pretty and nice, and nothing particular,
which suited her position and prospects perfectly well. These were the
two principal guests, young Keppel being only a man, as ladies who are
in the habit of giving dinners are wont to describe such floating
members of the community. And they all talked and made themselves
pleasant, and it was as pretty and as lively a little party as you could
well have seen. Quantities of flowers and lights, two very pretty girls,
and two good-looking young men, were enough to guarantee its being a
very pretty scene; and nobody was afraid of any body, and every body
could talk, and did so, which answered for the latter part of the
description. Such little parties were very frequent at Brownlows.

After dinner the two girls had a little talk by themselves. They came
floating into the great drawing-room with those heaps of white drapery
about them which make up for any thing that may be intrinsically
unamiable[A] in crinoline. Before they went up stairs, making it ready
for them, a noble fire, all red, clear, and glowing, was in the room,
and made it glorious; and the pretty things which glittered and reddened
and softened in the bright warm atmosphere were countless.

 [A] If there _is_ anything; most of us think there is not. If the
 unthinking male creatures who abuse it only knew the comfort of it!
 and what a weariness it saves us! and as for the people who are burnt,
 it is not because of their crinolines, but because of losing their
 heads--a calamity to which in all kinds of dresses we are constantly
 liable.

There was a bouquet of violets on the table, which was Mr. Pitt the
gardener’s daily quit-rent to Sara for all the honors and emoluments of
his situation, so that every kind of ethereal sense was satisfied. Fanny
Hardcastle dropped into a very low chair at one side of the fire, where
she sat like a swan with her head and throat rising out of the white
billowy waves which covered yards of space round about her. Sara, who
was at home, drew a stool in front of the fire, and sat down there,
heaping up in her turn snow-wreaths upon the rosy hearth. A sudden spark
might have swallowed them both in fiery destruction. But the spark
happily did not come; and they had their talk in great comfort and
content. They touched upon a great many topics, skimming over them, and
paying very little heed to logical sequences. And at last they stumbled
into metaphysics, and had a curious little dive into the subject of love
and love-making, as was not unnatural. It is to be regretted, however,
that neither of these young women had very exalted ideas on this point.
They were both girls of their period, who recognized the necessity of
marriage, and that it was something likely to befall both of them, but
had no exaggerated notions of its importance; and, indeed, so far from
being utterly absorbed in the anticipation of it, were both far from
clear whether they believed in such a thing as love.

“I don’t think one ever could be so silly as they say in books,” said
Fanny Hardcastle, “unless one was a great fool--feeling as if every
thing was changed, you know, as soon as _he_ was out of the room, and
feeling one’s heart beat when he was coming, and all that stuff; I don’t
believe it Sara; do you?”

“I don’t know,” said Sara, making a screen of her pretty laced
handkerchief to protect her face from the firelight; “perhaps it is
because one has never seen the right sort of man. The only man I have
ever seen whom one could really love is papa.”

“Papa!” echoed Fanny, faintly, and with surprise. Perhaps, after all,
she had a lingering faith in ordinary delusions; at all events, there
was nothing heroic connected in her mind with papas in general; and she
could but sit still and gaze and wonder what next the spoiled child
would say.

“I wonder if mamma was very fond of him,” said Sara, meditatively. “She
ought to have been, but I dare say she never knew him half as well as I
do. That is the dreadful thing. You have to marry them before you know.”

“Oh, Sara, don’t you believe in love at first sight?” said Fanny,
forgetting her previously expressed sentiments. “I do.”

Sara threw up her drooping head into the air with a little impatient
motion. “I don’t think I believe any thing about it,” she said.

“And yet there was once somebody that was fond of you,” said little
Fanny breathlessly. “Poor Harry Mansfield, who was so nice--every body
knows about that--and, I do think, Mr. Keppel, if you would not be so
saucy to him--”

“Mr. Keppel!” exclaimed Sara, with some scorn. “But I will tell you
plainly what I mean to do. Mind it is in confidence between us two. You
must never tell it to any body. I have made up my mind to marry whoever
papa wishes me to marry--I don’t mind who it is. I shall do whatever he
says.”

“Oh, Sara!” said her young companion, with open eyes and mouth, “you
will never go so far as that.”

“Oh yes, I will,” said Sara, with calm assurance. “He would not ask me
to have any body very old or very hideous; and if he lets it alone I
shall never leave him at all, but stay still here.”

“That might be all very well for a time,” said the prudent Fanny; “but
you would get old, and you couldn’t stay here forever. That is what I am
afraid of. Things get so dull when one is old.”

“Do you think so?” said Sara. “I don’t think I should be dull--I have so
many things to do.”

“Oh, you are the luckiest girl in the whole world,” said Fanny
Hardcastle, with a little sigh. She, for her own part, would not have
despised the reversion of Mr. Keppel, and would have been charmed with
Jack Brownlow. But such blessings were not for her. She was in no hurry
about it; but still, as even now it was dull occasionally at the
rectory, she could not but feel that when she was old--say,
seven-and-twenty or so--it would be duller still; and if accordingly, in
the mean time, somebody “nice” would turn up--Fanny’s thoughts went no
farther than this. And as for Sara, she has already laid her own views
on the subject before her friends.

It was just then that Jack Brownlow, leaving the dining-room, invited
young Keppel to the great hall door to see what sort of a night it was.
“It looked awfully like frost,” Jack said; and they both went with
serious countenances to look out, for the hounds were to meet next day.

“Smoke! not when we are going back to the ladies,” said Keppel, with a
reluctance which went far to prove the inclination which Fanny
Hardcastle had read in his eyes.

“Put yourself into this overcoat,” said Jack, “and I’ll take you to my
room, and perfume you after. The girls don’t mind.”

“Your sister must mind, I am sure,” said Keppel. “One can’t think of any
coarse sort of gratification like this--I suppose it is a
gratification--in her presence.”

“Hum,” said Jack; “I have her presence every day, you know, and it does
not fill me with awe.”

“It is all very easy for you,” said Keppel, as they went down the steps
into the cold and darkness. Poor fellow! he had been a little thrown off
his balance by the semi-intimacy and close contact of the little dinner.
He had sat by Sara’s side, and he had lost his head. He went along by
Jack’s side rather disconsolate, and not even attempting to light his
cigar. “You don’t know how well off you are,” he said, in touching
tones, “whereas another fellow would give his head--”

“Most fellows I know want their heads for their own affairs,” said the
unfeeling Jack. “Don’t be an ass; you may talk nonsense as much as you
like, but you know you never could be such an idiot as to marry at your
age.”

“Marry!” said Keppel, a little startled, and then he breathed forth a
profound sigh. “If I had the ghost of a chance,” he said, and stopped
short, as if despair choked farther utterance. As for Jack Brownlow, he
was destitute of sensibility, as indeed was suitable to his trade.

“I shouldn’t say you had in this case,” he said, in his imperturbable
way; “and all the better for you. You’ve got to make your way in the
world like the rest of us, and I don’t think you’re the sort of fellow
to hang on to a girl with money. It’s all very well after a bit, when
you’ve made your way; but no fellow with the least respect for himself
should think of such a thing before, say five-and-thirty; unless, of
course, he is a duke, and has a great family to keep up.”

“I hope you’ll keep to your own standard,” said Keppel, with a little
bitterness, “unless you think an only son and a duke on equal ground.”

“Don’t sneer,” said Jack; “I’m young Brownlow the attorney; you know
that as well as I do. I can’t go visiting all over the country at my
uncle’s place and my cousin’s place, like you. Brownlows is a sort of a
joke to most people, you know. Not that I haven’t as much respect for my
father and my family as if we were all princes; and I mean to stand by
my order. If I ever marry it will be twenty years hence, when I can
afford it; and you can’t afford it any more than I can. A fellow might
love a woman and give up a great deal for her,” Jack added with a little
excitement; “but, by Jove! I don’t think he would be justified in giving
up his life.”

“It depends on what you call life,” said Keppel. “I suppose you mean
society and that sort of thing--a few stupid parties and club gossip,
and worse.”

“I don’t mean any thing of the sort,” said Jack, tossing away his cigar;
“I mean working out your own career, and making your way. When a fellow
goes and marries and settles down, and cuts off all his chances, what
use is his youth and his strength to him? It would be hard upon a poor
girl to be expected to make up for all that.”

“I did not know you were such a philosopher, Jack,” said his companion,
“nor so ambitious; but I suppose you’re right in a cold-blooded sort of
way. Anyhow; if I were that duke--”

“You’d make an ass of yourself,” said young Brownlow; and then the two
congratulated each other that the skies were clouding over, and the
dreaded frost dispersing into drizzle, and went in and took off their
smoking coats, and wasted a flask of eau-de-cologne, and went up stairs;
where there was an end of all philosophy, at least for that night.

And the seniors sat over their wine, drinking little, notwithstanding
Mr. Hardcastle’s ruddy countenance, which was due rather to fresh air,
taken in large and sometimes boisterous drafts, than to any stronger
beverage. But they liked their talk, and they were, in a friendly way,
opposed to each other on a great many questions; the rector, as in duty
bound, being steadily conservative, while the lawyer had crotchets in
political matters. They were discussing the representatives of the
county, and also those of some of the neighboring boroughs, which was
probably the reason why Mr. Hardcastle gave a personal turn to the
conversation as he suddenly did.

“If you will not stand for the borough yourself, you ought to put
forward Jack,” said the rector. “I think he is sounder than you are. The
best sign I know of the country is that all the young fellows are
tories, Brownlow. Ah! you may shake your head, but I have it on the
best authority. Sir Robert would support him, of course; and with your
influence at Masterton--”

“Jack must stick to his business,” said Mr. Brownlow; “neither he nor I
have time for politics. Besides, we are not the sort of people--county
families, you know.”

“Oh, bother county families!” said Mr. Hardcastle. “You know there is
not another place in the county kept up like Brownlows. If you will not
stand yourself, you ought to push forward your boy.”

“It is out of my way,” said Mr. Brownlow, shaking his head, and then a
momentary smile passed over his face. It had occurred to him, by means
of a trick of thought he had got into unawares--if Sara could but do it!
and then he smiled at himself. Even while he did so, the recollection of
his disturbed day returned to him; and though he was a lawyer and a
self-contained man, and not given to confidences, still something moved
in his heart and compelled him, as it were, to speak.

“Besides,” he went on, “we are only here on sufferance. You know all
about my circumstances--every body in Dartfordshire does, I believe; and
Phœbe Thomson may turn up any day and make her claim.”

“Nonsense,” said the rector; but there was something in John Brownlow’s
look which made him feel that it was not altogether nonsense. “But even
if she were to turn up,” he added, after a pause, “I suppose it would
not ruin you to pay her her fifty thousand pounds.”

“No, that is true enough,” said Mr. Brownlow. It was a kind of ease to
him to give this hint that he was still human and fallible, and might
have losses to undergo; but the same instinct which made him speak
closed his lips as to any more disastrous consequences than the loss of
the original legacy. “Sara will have some tea for us up stairs,” he
said, after a pause. And then the two fathers went up to the
drawing-room in their turn, and nothing could be more cheerful than the
rest of the evening, though there were a good many thoughts and
speculations of various kinds going on under this lively flood of talk,
as may be perceived.



CHAPTER V.

SARA’S SPECULATIONS.


The next morning the frost had set in harder than before, contrary to
all prognostications, to the great discomfiture of Jack Brownlow and of
the Dartfordshire hounds. The world was white, glassy, and sparkling,
when they all looked out upon it from the windows of the
breakfast-room--another kind of world altogether from that dim and
cloudy sphere upon which Jack and his companion had looked with hopes of
thaw and an open country. These hopes being all abandoned, the only
thing that remained to be thought of was, whether Dewsbury Mere might be
“bearing,” or when the ice would be thick enough for skaters--which were
questions in which Sara, too, took a certain interest. It was the parish
of Dewsbury in which Brownlows was situated, and of which Mr. Hardcastle
was the parish priest; and young Keppel, along with his brother Mr.
Keppel of Ridley, and all the visitors he might happen to have, and Sir
Charles Hetherton, from the other side, with any body who might be
staying in his house--not to speak of the curate and the doctor, and
Captain Stanmore, who lived in the great house in Dewsbury village, and
a number of other persons less known in the upper circles of the place,
would crowd to the Mere as soon as it was known that it might yield some
diversion, which was a scant commodity in the neighborhood. Mr. Brownlow
scarcely listened to the talk of the young people as he ate his eggs
sedately. He was not thinking of the ice for one. He was thinking of
something quite different--of what might be waiting him at his office,
and of the changes which any moment, as he said to himself, might
produce. He was not afraid, for daylight disperses many ghosts that are
terrible by night; but still his fright seemed to have opened his eyes
to all the advantages of his present position, and the vast difference
there was between John Brownlow the attorney’s children, and the two
young people from Brownlows. If that change were ever to occur, it would
make a mighty alteration. Lady Hetherton would still know Sara, no
doubt, but in how different a way! and their presence at Dewsbury then
would be of no more importance than that of Fanny Hardcastle or young
Stanmore in the village--whereas, now--This was what their father was
reflecting, not distinctly, but in a vague sort of way, as he ate his
egg. He had once been fond of the ice himself, and was not so old but
that he felt the wonted fires burn in his ashes; but the office had an
attraction for him which it had never had before, and he drove down by
himself in the dog-cart with the vigor and eagerness of a young man,
while his son got out his skates and set off to ascertain the prospects
of the Mere. In short, at that moment Mr. Brownlow rather preferred to
go off to business alone.

As for Sara, she did not allow her head to be turned by the prospect of
the new amusement; she went through her duties, as usual, with serene
propriety--and then she put all sorts of coverings on her feet and her
hands, and her person generally, and set out with a little basket to
visit her “poor people.” I can not quite tell why she chose the worst
weather to visit her poor people--perhaps it was for their sakes, to
find out their wants at the worst; perhaps for her own, to feel a little
meritorious. I do not pretend to be able to fathom Sara’s motives; but
this is undeniably what she did. When it rained torrents, she put on a
large waterproof, which covered her from head to foot, and went off with
drops of rain blown upon her fair cheeks under her hood, on the same
charitable mission. This time it was in a fur-trimmed jacket, which was
the envy of half the parish. Her father spoiled her, it was easy to see,
and gave her every thing she could desire; but her poor people liked to
see her in her expensive apparel, and admired and wondered what it might
cost, and were all the better pleased with the tea and sugar. They were
pleased that she should wear her fine things for them as well as for the
fine people she went to visit. I do not attempt to state the reason why.

When she went out at the park gates, Mrs. Swayne was the first person
who met Sara’s eyes, standing at her door. The lines of the road were
so lost in snow that it seemed an expanse of level white from the gate
of Brownlows to the door-step, cleared and showing black over the
whiteness, upon which Mrs. Swayne stood. She was a stout woman, and the
cold did not seem to affect her. She had a black gown on and a little
scarlet shawl, as if she meant to make herself unusually apparent; and
there she stood defiant as the young lady came out. Sara was courageous,
and her spirit was roused by this visible opponent. She gave herself a
little shake, and then she went straight over the road and offered
battle. “Are you not afraid of freezing up,” she said to Mrs. Swayne,
with an abruptness which might have taken away any body’s breath--“or
turning into Lot’s wife, standing there at the open door?”

Mrs. Swayne was a woman of strong nerves, and she was not frightened.
She gave a little laugh to gain time, and then she retorted briskly,
“No, miss, no more nor you in all your wraps; poor folks can stand a
deal that rich folks couldn’t bear.”

“It must be much better to be poor than to be rich, then,” said Sara,
“but I don’t believe that--your husband, for instance, is not half so
strong as--but I beg your pardon--I forgot he was ill,” she cried, with
a compunction which covered her face with crimson, “I did not mean to
say that; when one speaks without thinking, one says things one doesn’t
mean.”

“It’s a pity to speak without thinking,” said Mrs. Swayne; “If I did,
I’d say a deal of unpleasant things; but, to be sure, you’re but a bit
of a girl. My man is independent, and it don’t matter to nobody whether
he is weakly or whether he is strong.”

“I beg your pardon,” said Sara, meekly; “I am very sorry he is not
strong.”

“My man,” continued Mrs. Swayne, “is well-to-do and comfortable, and
don’t want no pity: there’s a plenty in the village to be sorry for--not
them as the ladies visit and get imposed upon. Poor folks understands
poor folks--not as I mean to say we’re poor.”

“Then, if you are not poor you can’t understand them any better than I
do,” said Sara, with returning courage. “I don’t think they like
well-to-do people like you; you are always the most hard upon them. If
we were never to get any thing we did not deserve, I wonder what would
become of us; and besides, I am sure they don’t impose upon me.”

“They’d impose upon the Apostle Paul,” said Mrs. Swayne; “and as for the
rector--not as he is much like one of the apostles; he is one as thinks
his troubles worse than other folks. It ain’t no good complaining to
him. You may come through every thing as a woman can come through; but
the parson’ll find as he’s come through more. That’s just Mr.
Hardcastle. If a poor man is left with a young family, it’s the rector
as has lost two wives; and as for children and money--though I don’t
believe for one as he ever had any money--your parsons ’as come through
so much never has--”

“You are a Dissenter, Mrs. Swayne,” said Sara, with calm superiority.

“Bred and born and brought up in the church, miss,” said Mrs. Swayne,
indignantly, “but druve to the chapel along of Swayne, and the parson
being so aggravatin’. I’m one as likes a bit of sympathy, for my part;
but it ain’t general in this world,” said the large woman, with a sigh.

Sara looked at her curiously, with her head a little on one side. She
was old enough to know that one liked a little sympathy, and to feel too
that it was not general in this world; but it seemed mighty strange to
her that such an ethereal want should exist in the bosom of Mrs. Swayne.
“Sympathy?” she said, with a curious tone of wonder and inquiry. She was
candid enough, notwithstanding a certain comic aspect which the
conversation began to take to her, to want to know what it meant.

“Yes,” said Mrs. Swayne, “just sympathy, miss. I’m one as has had my
troubles, and as don’t like to be told that they ain’t troubles at all.
The minister at the chapel is ’most as bad, for he says they’re blessins
in disguise--as if Swayne being weakly and awful worritin’ when his
rheumatism’s bad, could ever be a blessin’. And as for speaking to the
rector, you might as well speak to the Mere, and better too, for that’s
got no answer ready. When a poor body sees a clergyman, it’s their
comfort to talk a bit and to tell all as they’re going through. You can
tell Mr. Hardcastle I said it, if you please. Lord bless us! I don’t
need to go so far if it’s only to hear as other folks is worse off.
There’s old Betty at the lodge, and there’s them poor creatures next
door, and most all in the village, I’m thankful to say, is worse off nor
we are; but I would like to know what’s the good of a clergyman if he
won’t listen to you rational, and show a bit of sympathy for what you’ve
com’d through.”

Perhaps Sara’s attention had wandered during this speech, or perhaps she
was tired of the subject; at all events, looking round her with a little
impatience as she listened, her eye was caught by the little card with
“Lodgings” printed thereon which hung in Mrs. Swayne’s parlor window. It
recalled her standing grievance, and she took action accordingly at
once, as was her wont.

“What is the good of that?” she said, pointing to it suddenly. “I think
you ought to keep your parlor to sit in, you who are so well off; but,
at least, it can’t do you any good to hang it up there--nobody can see
it but people who come to us at Brownlows; and you don’t expect them to
take lodgings here.”

“Begging your pardon, miss,” said Mrs. Swayne, solemnly, “It’s been that
good to me that the lodgings is took.”

“Then why do you keep it up to aggravate people?” said Sara; “It makes
me wild always when I pass the door. Why do you keep it there?”

“Lodgers is but men,” said Mrs. Swayne, “or women, to be more
particular. I can’t never be sure as I’ll like ’em; and they’re folks as
never sees their own advantages. It might be as we didn’t suit, or they
wasn’t satisfied, or objected to Swayne a-smoking when he’s bad with the
rheumatism, which is a thing I wouldn’t put a stop to not for forty
lodgers; for it’s the only thing as keeps him from worritin’. So I
always keeps it up; it’s the safest way in the end.”

“I think it is a wretched sort of way,” cried Sara, impetuously. “I
wonder how you can confess that you have so little faith in people;
instead of trying to like them and getting friends, to be always ready
to see them go off. I couldn’t have servants in the house like that:
they might just as well go to lodge in a cotton-mill or the work-house.
There can’t be any human relations between you.”

“Relations!” said Mrs. Swayne, with a rising color. “If you think my
relations are folks as go and live in lodgings, you’re far mistaken,
miss. It’s well known as we come of comfortable families, both me and
Swayne--folks as keeps a good house over their heads. That’s our sort.
As for taking ’em in, it’s mostly for charity as I lets my lodgings--for
the sake of poor folks as wants a little fresh air. You was a different
looking-creature when you come out of that stuffy bit of a town. I’ve a
real good memory, and I don’t forget. I remember when your papa come and
bought the place off the old family; and vexed we all was--but I don’t
make no doubt as it was all for the best.”

“I don’t think the old family, as you call them, were much use to
anybody in Dewsbury,” said Sara, injudiciously, with a thrill of
indignation and offended pride.

“Maybe not, miss,” said Mrs. Swayne, meekly; “they was the old Squires,
and come natural. I don’t say no more, not to give offense; but you was
a pale little thing then, and not much wonder neither, coming out of a
house in a close street as is most fit for a mill, as you was saying. It
made a fine difference in you.”

“Our house in Masterton is the nicest house I know,” said Sara, who was
privately furious. “I always want papa to take me back in the winter.
Brownlows is very nice, but it is not so much of a house after all.”

“It was a different name then,” said Mrs. Swayne, significantly; “some
on us never can think of the new name; and I don’t think as you’d like
living in a bit of a poky town after this, if your papa was to let you
try.”

“On the contrary, I should like it excessively,” said Sara, with much
haughtiness; and then she gave Mrs. Swayne a condescending little nod,
and drew up a corner of her dress, which had drooped upon the snow. “I
hope your lodgers will be nice, and that you will take down your
ticket,” she said; “but I must go now to see my poor people.” Mrs.
Swayne was so startled by the sudden but affable majesty with which the
young lady turned away, that she almost dropped her a courtesy in her
surprise. But in fact she only dropped her handkerchief, which was as
large as a towel, and which she had a way of holding rolled up like a
ball in her hand. It was quite true that the old family had been of
little use to any body at Dewsbury; and that they were almost squalid in
their poverty and pretensions and unrespected misfortune before they
went away; and that all the little jobs in carpentry which kept Mr.
Swayne in employment had been wanting during the old _régime_; in short,
it was on Brownlows, so to speak--on the shelfs and stands, and pegs and
bits of cupboard, and countless repairs which were always wanting in the
now prosperous house--that Swayne’s Cottages had been built. This,
however, did not make his wife compunctious. She watched Sara’s active
footsteps over the snow, and saw her pretty figure disappear into the
white waste, and was glad she had given her that sting. To keep this old
family bottled up, and give the new people a little dose from time to
time of the nauseous residue, was one of her pleasures. She went in and
arranged the card more prominently in her parlor window, and felt glad
that she had put it there; and then she went and sat with her poor
neighbor next door, and railed at the impudent little thing in her furs
and velvets, whom the foolish father made such an idol of. But she made
her poor neighbor’s tea all the same, and frightened away the children,
and did the woman good, not being bad any more than most people are who
cherish a little comfortable animosity against the nearest great folks.
Mrs. Swayne, however, not being democratic, was chiefly affected by the
fact that the Masterton lawyer’s family had no right to be great folks,
which was a reasonable grievance in its way.

As for Sara, she went off through the snow, feeling hot at heart with
this little encounter, though her feet were cold with standing still.
Why had she stood still to be insulted? this was what Sara asked
herself; for, after all, Mrs. Swayne was nothing to her, and what could
it matter to Brownlows whether or not she had a bill in her window? But
yet unconsciously it led her thoughts to a consideration of her present
home--to the difference between it and her father’s house at Masterton,
to all the fairy change which, within the bounds of her own
recollection, had passed upon her life. Supposing any thing was to
happen, as things continually happened to men in business--supposing
some bank was to fail, or some railway to break down--a thing which
occurred every day--and her papa should lose all his money? Would she
really be quite content to go back to the brick house in which she was
born? Sara thought it over with a great deal of gravity. In case of such
an event happening (and, to be sure, nothing was more likely), she felt
that she would greatly prefer total ruin. Total ruin meant instant
retirement to a cottage with or without roses--with only two, or perhaps
only one, servants--where she would be obliged, with her own hands to
make little dishes for poor papa, and sew the buttons on his shirts, and
perhaps milk a very pretty little Alderney cow, and make beautiful
little pats of butter for his delectation. This Sara felt that she was
equal to. Let the bank or the railway break down to-morrow, and the
devoted daughter was ready to go forth with her beloved parent. She
smiled to herself at the thought that such a misfortune could alarm her.
What was money? she said to herself; and Sara could not but feel that it
was quite necessary to take this plan into full consideration in all its
details, for nobody could tell at what moment it might be necessary to
put it in practice. As for the house at Masterton, that was quite a
different matter, which she did not see any occasion for considering. If
papa was ruined, of course he would have to give up every thing, and the
Masterton house would be as impossible as Brownlows; and so long as he
was not ruined, of course every thing would go on as usual. Thus Sara
pursued her way cheerfully, feeling that a possible new future had
opened upon her, and that she had perceived and accepted her duty in it,
and was prepared for whatever might happen. If Mr. Brownlow returned
that very night, and said, “I am a ruined man,” Sara felt that she was
able to go up to him, and say, “Papa, you have still your children;” and
the thought was so far from depressing her that she went on very
cheerfully, and held her head high, and looked at every body she met
with a certain affability, as if she were the queen of that country.
And, to tell the truth, such people as she met were not unwilling to
acknowledge her claims. There were many who thought her the prettiest
girl in Dewsbury parish, and there could be no doubt that she was the
richest and most magnificent. If it had been known what heroic
sentiments were in her heart, no doubt it would have deepened the
general admiration; but at least she knew them herself, and that is
always a great matter. To have your mind made up as to what you must and
will do in case of a sudden and at present uncertain, but on the whole
quite possible, change of fortune, is a thing to be very thankful for.
Sara felt that, considering this suddenly revealed prospect of ruin, it
perhaps was not quite prudent to promise future bounties to her poor
pensioners; but she did it all the same, thinking that surely somehow
she could manage to get her promises fulfilled, through the means of
admiring friends or such faithful retainers as might be called forth by
the occasion--true knights, who would do any thing or every thing for
her. Thus her course of visits ended quite pleasantly to every body
concerned, and that glow of generosity and magnanimity about her heart
made her even more liberal than usual, which was very satisfactory to
the poor people. When she had turned back and was on her way home, she
encountered the carrier’s cart on its way from Masterton. It was a
covered waggon, and sometimes, though very rarely, it was used as a
means of traveling from one place in the neighborhood to another by
people who could not afford more expensive conveyances. There were two
such people in it now who attracted Sara’s attention--one an elderly
woman, tall and dark, and somewhat gaunt in her appearance; the other a
girl about Sara’s own age, with very dark brown hair cut short and lying
in rings upon her forehead like a boy’s. She had eyes as dark as her
hair, and was closely wrapped in a red cloak, and regarded by her
companion with tender and anxious looks, to which her paleness and
fragile appearance gave a ready explanation. “It ain’t the speediest way
of traveling, for I’ve a long round to make, miss, afore I gets where
they’re a-going,” said the carrier; “they’d a most done better to walk,
and so I told ’em. But I reckon the young un ain’t fit, and they’re
tired like, and it’s mortal cold.” Sara walked on remorseful after this
encounter, half ashamed of her furs, which she did not want--she whose
blood danced in her veins, and who was warm all over with health and
comfort, and happiness and pleasant thoughts. And then it occurred to
her to wonder whether, if papa were ruined, he and his devoted child
would ever have to travel in a carrier’s cart, and go round and round a
whole parish in the cold before they came to their destination. “But
then we could walk,” Sara said to herself as she went briskly up the
avenue, and saw the bright fire blinking in her own window, where her
maid was laying out her evening dress. This, after all, felt a great
deal more natural even than the cottage with the roses, and put out of
her mind all thought of a dreary journey in the carrier’s cart.



CHAPTER VI.

AN ADVENTURE.


Jack in the mean time was on the ice.

Dewsbury Mere was bearing, which was a wonder, considering how lately
the frost had set in; and a pretty scene it was, though as yet some of
the other magnates of the parish, as well as Sara, were absent. It was a
round bit of ornamental water, partly natural, partly artificial,
touching upon the village green at one side, and on the other side
bordered by some fine elm-trees, underneath which in summer much of the
love-making of the parish was performed. The church, with its pretty
spire, was visible through the bare branches of the plantation, which
backed the elm-trees like a little host of retainers; and on the other
side--the village side--glittering over the green in the centre of all
the lower and humbler dwellings, you could see the Stanmores’ house,
which was very tall and very red, and glistening all over with
reflections from the brass nobs on the door, and the twinkling glass of
the windows, and even from the polished holly leaves which all but
blocked up the entrance. The village people were in full possession of
the Mere without the gêne imposed by the presence of Lady Hetherton or
Mrs. Keppel. Fanny Hardcastle, who, if the great people had been there,
would have pinned herself on tremblingly to their skirts and lost the
fun, was now in the heart of it, not despising young Stanmore’s
attentions, nor feeling herself painfully above the doctor’s wife; and
thus rosy and blooming and gay, looked a very different creature from
the blue little Fanny whom old Lady Hetherton, had she been there, would
have awed into cold and propriety. And the doctor’s wife, though she was
not exactly in society, was a piquant little woman, and the curate was
stalwart, if not interesting, very muscular, and slow to commit himself
in the way of speech. Besides, there were many people of whom no account
was made in Dewsbury, who enjoyed the ice, and knew how to conduct
themselves upon it, and looked just as well as if they had been young
squires and squiresses. Jack Brownlow came into the midst of them
cordially, and thought there were many more pretty faces visible than
were to be seen in more select circles, and was not in the least
appalled by the discovery that the prettiest of all was the
corn-factor’s daughter in the village. When little Polly Huntly from the
baker’s wavered on her slide, and was near falling, it was Jack who
caught her, and his friendliness put some very silly thoughts into the
poor little girl’s head; but Jack was thinking of no such vanity. He was
as pleased to see the pretty faces about as a right-thinking young man
ought to be, but he felt that he had a great many other things to think
of for his part, and gave very sensible advice, as has been already
seen, to other young fellows of less thoroughly established principles.
Jack was not only fancy free, but in principle he was opposed to all
that sort of thing. His opinion was, that for any body less than a
young duke or more than an artisan to marry under thirty, was a kind of
social and moral suicide. I do not pretend to justify or defend his
opinions, but such were his opinions, and he made no secret of them. He
was a young fellow with a great many things to do in this world, or at
least so he thought. Though he was only a country solicitor’s son, he
had notions in his head, and there was no saying what he did not aspire
to; and to throw every thing away for the sake of a girl’s pretty face,
seemed to him a proceeding little short of idiocy. All this he had
expounded to many persons of a different way of thinking; and indeed the
only moments in which he felt inclined to cast aside his creed were when
he found it taken up and advocated by other men of the same opinion, but
probably less sense of delicacy than himself.

“Where is your father?” said Mr. Hardcastle; “he used to be as fond as
any one of the ice. Gone to business! he’ll kill himself if he goes on
going to business like this all the year round, every day.”

“Oh, no,” said Jack, “he’ll not kill himself; all the same he might have
come, and so would Sara, had we known that the Mere was bearing. I did
not think it possible there could have been such good ice to-day.”

“Not Sara,” said the rector; “this sort of thing is not the thing for
her. The village folks are all very well, and in the exercise of my
profession I see a great deal of them. But not for Sara, my dear
boy--this sort of thing is not in her way.”

“Why Fanny is here,” said Jack, opening his eyes.

“Fanny is different,” said Mr. Hardcastle; “clergywomen have got to be
friendly with their poor neighbors--but Sara, who will be an heiress--”

“Is she to be an heiress?” said Jack, with a laugh which could not but
sound a little peculiar. “I am sure I don’t mind if she is; but I think
we may let the future take care of itself. The presence of the cads
would not hurt her any more than they hurt me.”

“Don’t speak of cads,” said the rector, “to me; they are all
equal--human beings among whom I have lived and labored. Of course it is
natural that you should look on them differently. Jack, can you tell me
what it is that keeps young Keppel so long about Ridley? What interest
has he in remaining here?”

“The hounds, I suppose,” said Jack, curtly, not caring to be questioned.

“Oh, the hounds!” repeated Mr. Hardcastle, with a dubious tone. “I
suppose it must be that--and nothing particular to do in town. You were
quite right, Jack, to stick to your father’s business. A briefless
barrister is one of the most hopeless wretches in the world.”

“I don’t think you always thought so, sir,” said Jack; “but here is an
opening and I’ll see you again.” He had not come there to talk to the
parson. When he had gone flying across the Mere thinking of nothing at
all but the pleasure of the motion, and had skirted it round and round
and made figures of 8 and all the gambols common to a first outbreak, he
stopped himself at a corner where Fanny Hardcastle, whom her father had
been leading about, was standing with young Keppel looking very pretty,
with her rose cheeks and downcast eyes. Keppel had been mooning about
Sara the night before, was the thought that passed through Jack’s mind;
and what right had he to give Fanny Hardcastle occasion to cast down her
eyes? Perhaps it was purely on his friend’s account; perhaps because he
thought that girls were very hardly dealt with in never being left alone
to think of any thing but that confounded love-making; but the fact was
that he disturbed them rather ruthlessly, and stood before them,
balancing himself on his skates. “Get into this chair, Fanny, and I’ll
give you a turn of the Mere,” he said; and the downcast eyes were
immediately raised, and their fullest attention conferred upon him. All
the humble maidens of Dewsbury at that moment cast glances of envy and
yet awe at Fanny. Alice Stanmore, who was growing up, and thought
herself quite old enough to receive attention in her own person,
glowered at the rector’s daughter with horrible thoughts. The two young
gentlemen, the envied of all observers, seemed for the moment, to the
female population of the village, to have put themselves at Fanny’s
feet. Even Mrs. Brightbank, the doctor’s little clever wife, was taken
in for the moment. For the instant that energetic person balanced in her
mind the respective merits of the two candidates, and considered which
it would be best for Fanny to marry; never thinking that the whole
matter involved was half-a-dozen words of nonsense on Mr. Keppel’s part,
and on Jack Brownlow’s one turn on the ice in the skater’s chair.

For it was not until Fanny was seated, and being driven over the Mere,
that she looked back with that little smile and saucy glance, and asked
demurely, “Are you sure it is quite proper, Mr. John?”

“Not proper at all,” said Jack; “for we have nobody to take care of
us--neither I nor you. My papa is in Masterton at the office, and yours
is busy talking to the old women. But quite as proper as listening to
all the nonsense Joe Keppel may please to say.”

“I listening to his nonsense!” said Fanny, as a pause occurred in their
progress. “I don’t know why you should think so. He said nothing that
every body might not hear. And besides, I don’t listen to any body’s
nonsense, nor ever did since I was born,” added Fanny, with another
little soft glance round into her companion’s face.

“Never do,” said Jack, seizing the chair with renewed vehemence, and
rushing all round the Mere with it at a pace which took away Fanny’s
breath. When they had reached the same spot again, he came to a
standstill to recover his own, and stood leaning upon the chair in which
the girl sat, smiling and glowing with the unwonted whirl. “Just like a
pair of lovers,” the people said on the Mere, though they were far
enough from being lovers. Just at that moment the carrier’s cart came
lumbering along noisily upon the hard frosty path. It was on its way
then to the place where Sara met it on the road. Inside, under the
arched cover, were to be seen the same two faces which Sara afterward
saw--the mother’s elderly and gaunt, and full of lines and wrinkles; the
sweet face of the girl, with its red lips, and pale cheeks, and lovely
eyes. The hood of the red cloak had fallen back a little, and showed
the short, curling, almost black hair. A little light came into the
young face at the sight of all the people on the ice. As was natural,
her eyes fixed first on the group so near the edge--pretty Fanny
Hardcastle, and Jack, resting from his fatigue, leaning over her chair.
The red lips opened with an innocent smile, and the girl pointed out the
scene to her mother, whose face relaxed, too, into that momentary look
of feigned interest with which an anxious watcher rewards every exertion
or stir of reviving life. “What a pretty, pretty creature!” said Fanny
Hardcastle, generously, yet with a little passing pang of annoyance at
the interruption. Jack did not make any response. He gazed at the little
traveler, without knowing it, as if she had been a creature of another
sphere. Pretty! he did not know whether she was pretty or not. What he
thought was that he had never before seen such a face; and all the while
the wagon lumbered on, and kept going off, until the Mere and its group
of people were left behind. And Jack Brownlow got to his post again, as
if nothing had happened. He drove Fanny round and round until she grew
dizzy, and then he rushed back to the field and cut all kinds of
figures, and executed every possible gambol that skates will lend
themselves to. But, oddly enough, all the while he could not get it out
of his head how strange it must look to go through the world like that
in a carrier’s cart. It seemed a sort of new view of life to Jack
altogether, and no doubt that was why it attracted him. People who had
so little sense of the importance of time, and so great a sense of the
importance of money, as to jog along over the whole breadth of the
parish in a frosty winter afternoon, by way of saving a few
shillings--and one of them so delicate and fragile, with such a face,
such soft little rings of dark hair on the forehead, such sweet eyes,
such a soft little smile! Jack did not think he had much imagination,
yet he could not help picturing to himself how the country must look as
they passed through; all the long bare stretches of wood and the houses
here and there, and how the Mere must have flashed upon them to brighten
up the tedious panorama; and then the ring of the horses’ hoofs on the
road, and their breath steaming up into the air, and the crack of the
carrier’s whip as he walked beside them. Jack, who dashed along in his
dog-cart the quickest way, or rode his horse still faster through the
well-known lanes, could not but linger on this imagination with the most
curious sense of interest and novelty. “It must be poverty,” he said to
himself; and it was all he could do to keep the words from being spoken
out loud.

As for Fanny, I am afraid she never thought again of the poor travelers
in the carrier’s cart. When the red sunset clouds were gathering in the
sky, her father, who was very tender of her, drew her hand within his
arm, and took her home. “You have had enough of it,” he said, though she
did not think so; and when they turned their backs on the village, and
took the path toward the rectory under the bare elm-trees, which stood
like pillars of ebony in a golden palace against the setting sun, Mr.
Hardcastle added a little word of warning. “My love,” he said--for he
too, like Mr. Brownlow, thought there was nobody like his child--“you
must not put nonsense into these young fellows heads.”

“_I_ put nonsense into their heads,” cried Fanny, feeling, with a slight
thrill of self-abasement, that probably it was quite the other way.

“Not a doubt about it,” said the rector; “and so far as Jack Brownlow is
concerned, I don’t know that I should object much; but I don’t want to
lose my little girl yet awhile; I don’t know what I should do all alone
in the house.”

“Oh papa, I will _never_ leave you,” cried Fanny. She meant it, and
even, which is more, believed it for the moment. Was he not more to her
than all the young men that had ever been dreamed of? But yet it _was_
rather agreeable to Fanny to think that she was suspected of putting
nonsense into their heads. She liked the imputation, as indeed most
people do, both men and women; and she liked the position--the only
lady, with all that was most attractive in the parish at her feet; for
Sir Charles Hetherton was considered by most people as very far from
bright. And then the recollection of her rapid whirl across the ice came
over her like a warm glow of pleasant recollection as she dressed for
the evening. It would be nice to have them come in, to talk it all over
after dinner--very nice to have little parties, like the last night’s
party at Brownlows; and notwithstanding her devotion to her father,
after they had dined, and she had gone alone into the drawing-room,
Fanny could not but find it dull. There was neither girl to gossip with,
nor man into whose head it would be any satisfaction to put nonsense,
near the rectory, from whom a familiar visit might be expected; and
after the day’s amusement, the silent evening, with papa down stairs
enjoying his after-dinner doze in his chair was far from lively. But it
did not occur to Fanny to frame any conjectures upon the two travelers
who had looked momentarily out upon her from the carrier’s cart.

As for Jack Brownlow, he had a tolerably long walk before him. In summer
he would have crossed the park, which much reduced the distance, but, in
the dark and through the snow, he thought it expedient to keep the
high-road, which was a long way round. He went off very briskly, with
the straps of his skates over his shoulders, whistling occasionally, but
not from want of thought. Indeed, he had a great many things to think
of--the ice itself for one thing, and the pleasant run he had given
little Fanny, and the contemptible vacillations of that fellow Keppel
from one pretty girl to another, and the office and his work, and a
rather curious case which had lately come under his hands. All this
occupied him as he went home, while the sunset skies gradually faded. He
passed from one thing to another with an unfettered mind, and more than
once there just glanced across his thoughts a momentary wonder, where
would the carrier’s cart be now? Had it got home yet, delivered all its
parcels, and deposited its passengers? Had it called at Brownlows to
leave his cigars, which ought to have arrived a week ago? That poor
little pale face--how tired the little creature must be! and how cold!
and then the mother. He would never have thought of them again but for
that curious way of moving about, of all ways in the world, among the
parcels in the carrier’s cart.

This speculation had returned to his mind as he came in sight of the
park gates. It was quite dark by this time, but the moon was up
overhead, and the road was very visible on either side of that little
black block of Swayne’s cottages which threw a shadow across almost to
the frosted silver gates. Something, however, was going on in this bit
of shadow. A large black movable object stood in the midst of it; and
from Mrs. Swayne’s door a lively ray of red light fell across the snow.
Then by degrees Jack identified the horses, with their steaming breath,
and the wagon wheel upon which the light fell. He said “by Jove” loud
out as he stood at the gate and found out what it was. It was the very
carrier’s cart of which he had been thinking, and some mysterious
transaction was going on in the darkness which he could only guess at
vaguely. Something or somebody was being made to descend from the wagon,
which some sudden swaying of the horses made difficult. Jack took his
cigar from his lips to hear and see the better, and stood and gazed with
the vulgarest curiosity. Even the carrier’s cart was something to take
note of on the road at Brownlows. But when that sudden cry followed, he
tossed his cigar away and his skates with it, and crossed the road in
two long steps, to the peril of his equilibrium. Somehow he had divined
what was happening. He made a stride into the thick of it, and it was he
who lifted up the little figure in the red cloak which had slipped and
fallen on the snow. It was natural, for he was the only man about. The
carrier was at his horses’ heads to keep them steady; Mrs. Swayne stood
on the door steps, afraid to move lest she too should slip; and as for
the girl’s mother, she was benumbed and stupefied, and could only raise
her child up half-way from the ground, and beg somebody to help. Jack
got her up in his arms, pushed Mrs. Swayne out of his way, and carried
her in. “Is it here she is to go?” he cried over his shoulder as he took
her into the parlor, where the card hung in the window, and the fire was
burning. There was nothing in it but firelight, which cast a hue of life
upon the poor little traveler’s face. And then she had not fainted, but
blushed and gasped with pain and confusion. “Oh, thank you, that will
do,” she cried--“that will do.” And then the others fell upon her, who
had come in a procession behind, when he set her down. He was so
startled himself that he stood still, which was a thing he scarcely
would have done had he known what he was about, and looked over their
heads and gaped at her. He had put her down in a kind of easy-chair, and
there she lay, her face changing from red to pale. Pale enough it was
now, while Jack, made by his astonishment into a mere wondering, curious
boy, stood with his mouth open and watched. He was not consciously
thinking how pretty she was; he was wondering if she had hurt herself,
which was a much more sensible thought; but still, of course, he
perceived it, though he was not thinking of it. Curls are common enough,
you know, but it is not often you see those soft rings, which are so
much longer than they look; and the eyes so limpid and liquid all
through, yet strained, and pathetic, and weary--a great deal too limpid,
as any body who knew any thing about it might have known, at a glance.
She made a little movement, and gave a cry, and grew red once more, this
time with pain, and then as white as the snow. “Oh, my foot, my foot,”
she cried, in a piteous voice. The sound of words brought Jack to
himself. “I’ll wait outside, Mrs. Swayne,” he said, “and if the doctor’s
wanted I’ll fetch him; let me know.” And then he went out and had a talk
with the carrier, and waited. The carrier knew very little about his
passenger. He reckoned the young un was delicate--it was along of this
here brute swerving when he hadn’t ought to--but it couldn’t be no more
than a sprain. Such was Hobson’s opinion. Jack waited, however, a little
bewildered in his intellects, till Mrs. Swayne came out to say his
services were not needed, and that it was a sprain, and could be mended
by ordinary female remedies. Then young Mr. Brownlow got Hobson’s
lantern, and searched for his skates and flung them over his shoulders.
How queer they should have come here--how odd to think of that little
face peeping out at Mrs. Swayne’s window--how droll that he should have
been on the spot just at that moment; and yet it was neither queer nor
droll to Jack, but confused his head somehow, and gave him a strange
sort of half-commotion in the region of his heart. It is all very well
to be sensible, but yet there is certainly something in it when an
adventure like this happens, not to Keppel, or that sort of fellow, but
actually to yourself.



CHAPTER VII.

THE FATHER’S DAY AT THE OFFICE.


While Sara and Jack were thus enjoying themselves, Mr. Brownlow went
quietly in to his business--very quietly, in the dogcart, with his man
driving, who was very steady, and looked as comfortable as his master.
Mr. Brownlow was rather pleased not to have his son’s company that
morning; he had something to do which he could scarcely have done had
Jack been there--business which was quite justifiable, and indeed right,
but which it would have been a disagreeable matter to have explained to
Jack. His mind was much more intent upon his own affairs than were those
of either of his children on theirs. They had so much time in life to do
all they meant to do, that they could afford to set out leisurely, and
go forth upon the world with a sweet vacancy in their minds, ready for
any thing that might turn up; but with Mr. Brownlow it was not so; his
objects had grown to be very clear before him. He was not so old as to
feel the pains or weariness or languor of age. He was almost as able to
enjoy, and perhaps better able to do, in the way of his profession at
least, than was young Jack. The difference was, that Mr. Brownlow lived
only in the present; the future had gradually been cut off, as it were,
before him. There was one certainty in his path somewhere a little in
advance, but nothing else that could be counted upon, so that whatever
he had to do, and anything he might have to enjoy, presented themselves
with double clearness in the limited perspective. It was the only time
in his life that he had felt the full meaning of the word “Now.” The
present was his possession, his day in which he lived and worked, with
plenty of space behind to go back upon, but nothing reliable before.
This gave not only a vividness and distinct character, but also a
promptitude, to his actions, scarcely possible to a younger man. To-day
was his, but not to-morrow; whereas to Jack and his contemporaries
to-morrow was always the real day, never the moment in which they lived.

When Mr. Brownlow reached his office, the first thing he did was to send
for a man who was a character in Masterton. He was called by various
names, and it was not very certain which belonged to him, or indeed if
any belonged to him. He was called Inspector Pollaky by many people who
were in the habit of reading the papers; but of course he was not that
distinguished man. He was called detective and thief-taker, and many
other injurious epithets, and he was a man whom John Brownlow had had
occasion to consult before now on matters of business. He was sent for
that morning, and he had a long conversation with Mr. Brownlow in his
private room. He was that sort of man that understands what people mean
even when they do not speak very plainly, and naturally he took up at
once the lawyer’s object and pledged himself to pursue it. “You shall
have some information on the subject probably this afternoon, sir,” he
said as he went away. After this visit Mr. Brownlow went about his own
business with great steadiness and precision, and cast his eyes over his
son’s work, and was very particular with the clerks--more than
ordinarily particular. It was his way, for he was an admirable business
man at all times; but still he was unusually energetic that day. And
they were all a little excited about Pollaky, as they called him, what
commission he might have received, and which case he might be wanted
about. At the time when he usually had his glass of sherry, Mr. Brownlow
went out; he did not want his midday biscuit. He was a little out of
sorts, and he thought a walk would do him good; but instead of going
down to Barnes’s Pool or across the river to the meadows, which had been
lately flooded, and now were one sheet of ice, places which all the
clerks supposed to be the most attractive spots for twenty miles round,
he took the way of the town and went up into Masterton. He was going to
pay a visit, and it was a most unusual one. He was going to see his
wife’s mother, old Mrs. Fennell, for whom he had no love. It was a thing
he did not do for years together, but having been somehow in his own
mind thoroughly worked up to it, he took the occasion of Jack’s absence
and went that day.

Mrs. Fennell was sitting in her drawing-room with only her second-best
cap on, and with less than her second-best temper. If she had known he
was coming she would have received him with a very different state, and
she was mortified by her unpreparedness. Also her dinner was ready. As
for Mr. Brownlow, he was not thinking of dinners. He had something on
his mind, and it was his object to conceal that he had any thing on his
mind--a matter less difficult to a man of his profession than to
ordinary mortals. But what he said was that he was anxious chiefly to
know if his mother-in-law was comfortable, and if she had every thing
according to her desires.

Mrs. Fennell smiled at this inquiry. She smiled, but she rushed into a
thousand grievances. Her lodgings were not to her mind, nor her
position. Sara, the little puss, had carriages when she pleased, but her
grandmamma never had any conveyance at her disposal to take the air in.
And the people of the house were very inattentive, and Nancy--but here
the old woman, who was clever, put a sudden stop to herself and drew up
and said no more. She knew that to complain of Nancy would be of no
particular advantage to her, for Mr. Brownlow was not fond of old Mrs.
Thomson’s maid, and was as likely as not to propose that she should be
pensioned and sent away.

“I have told you before,” said Mr. Brownlow, “that the brougham should
be sent down for you when you want to go out if you will only let me
know in time. What Sara has is nothing--or you can have a fly; but it is
not fit weather for you to go out at your age.”

“You are not so very young yourself, John Brownlow,” said the old lady,
with a little offense.

“No indeed--far from it--and that is what makes me think,” he said
abruptly; and then made a pause which she did not understand, referring
evidently to something in his own mind. “Did you ever know any body of
the name of Powys in the Isle of Man?” he resumed, with a certain
nervous haste, and an effort which brought heat and color to his face.

“Powys!” said Mrs. Fennell. “I’ve heard the name; but I think it was
Liverpool-ways and not in the Isle of Man. It’s a Welsh name. No; I
never knew any Powyses. Do you?”

“It was only some one I met,” said Mr. Brownlow, “who had relations in
the Isle of Man. Do you know of any body who married there and left?
Knowing that you came from that quarter, somebody was asking me.”

“I don’t know of nobody but one,” said the old woman--“one that would
make a deal of difference if she were to come back now.”

“You mean the woman Phœbe Thomson?” said Mr. Brownlow, sternly. “It
is a very strange thing to me that her relatives should know nothing
about that woman--not even whom she married or what was her name.”

“She married a soldier,” said Mrs. Fennell, “as I always heard. She
wasn’t my relation--it was poor Fennell that was her cousin. As for us,
we come of very different folks; and I don’t doubt as her name might
have been found out,” said the old woman, nodding her spiteful old head.
Mr. Brownlow kept his temper, but it was by a kind of miracle. This was
the sort of thing which he was always subject to on his rare visits to
his mother-in-law. “It’s for some folks’ good that her name couldn’t be
found out,” added the old woman, with another significant nod.

“It would have been for some folks’ good if they had never heard of
her,” said Mr. Brownlow. “I wish a hundred times in a year that I had
never administered or taken any notice of the old hag’s bequest. Then it
would have gone to the crown, I suppose, and all this trouble would have
been spared.”

“Other things would have had to be spared as well,” said Mrs. Fennell,
in her taunting voice.

“I should have known what was my own and what was not, and my children
would have been in no false position,” said Mr. Brownlow, with energy:
“but now--” Here he stopped short, and his looks alarmed his companion,
unsympathetic as she was. She loved to have this means of taunting and
keeping down his pride, as she said; but her grandchildren’s advantage
was to a certain extent her own, and the thought of injury to them was
alarming, and turned her thoughts into another channel. She took fright
at the idea of Phœbe Thomson when she saw Mr. Brownlow’s face. It was
the first time it had ever occurred to her as possible that he, a
gentleman, a lawyer, and a clever man, might possibly have after all to
give up to Phœbe Thomson should that poor and despised woman ever
turn up.

“But she couldn’t take the law of you?” Mrs. Fennell said, with a gasp.
“She wouldn’t know any thing about it. I may talk disagreeable by times,
and I own that we never were fond of each other, you and I, John
Brownlow; but I’m not the woman that would ever let on to her, to harm
my poor Bessie’s children--not I--not if she was to come back this very
day.”

It is useless to deny that Mr. Brownlow’s face at that moment looked as
if he would have liked to strangle the old woman; but he only made an
indignant movement, and looked at her with rage and indignation, which
did her no harm. And, poor man, in his excitement perhaps it was not
quite true what he himself said--

“If she should come back this very day, it would be your duty to send
her to me instantly, that I might give up her mother’s trust into her
hands,” he said. “You may be sure I will never permit poor Bessie’s
children to enjoy what belongs to another.” And then he made a pause and
his voice changed. “After all, I suppose you know just as little of her
as I do. Did you ever see her?” he said.

“Well, no; I can’t say I ever did,” said Mrs. Fennell, cowed for the
moment.

“Nor Nancy?” said Mr. Brownlow; “you two would be safe guides certainly.
And you know of nobody else who left the Isle of Man and married--no
relation of Fennell’s or of yours?”

“Nobody I know of,” said the old woman after a pause. “There might be
dozens; but us and the Thomsons and all belonging to us, we’ve been out
of the Isle of Man for nigh upon fifty years.”

After that Mr. Brownlow went away. He had got no information, no
satisfaction, and yet he had made no discovery, which was a kind of
negative comfort in its way; but it was clear that his mother-in-law,
though she made so much use of Phœbe Thomson’s name, was utterly
unable to give him any assistance either in discovering the real
Phœbe Thomson or in exposing any false pretender. He went across the
market place over the crisp snow in the sunshine with all his faculties,
as it were, crisped and sharpened like the air he breathed. This was all
the effect as yet which the frosts of age had upon him. He had all his
powers unimpaired, and more entirely serviceable and under command than
ever they were. He could trust himself not to betray himself, to keep
counsel, and act with deliberation, and do nothing hastily. Thus, though
his enemies were as yet unknown and unrecognized, and consequently all
the more dangerous, he had confidence in his own army of defense, which
was a great matter. He returned to his office, and to his business, and
was as clearheaded and self-possessed, and capable of paying attention
to the affairs of his clients, as if he had nothing particular in his
own to occupy him. And the only help he got from circumstances was that
which was given him by the frost, which had happily interfered this day
of all others to detain Jack. Jack was not his father’s favorite child;
he was not, as Sara was, the apple of John Brownlow’s eye; and yet the
lawyer appreciated, and did justice to, as well as loved, his son, in a
just and natural way. He felt that Jack’s quick eye would have found out
that there was something more than usual going on. He knew that his
visit to Mrs. Fennell and his unexplained conference with the man of
mystery would not have been passed over by Jack without notice; and at
the young man’s hasty, impetuous time of life, prudence was not to be
expected or even desired. If Jack thought it possible that Phœbe
Thomson was to be found within a hundred miles, no doubt he would make
off without a moment’s thought and hunt her up, and put his own fortune,
and, what was more, Sara’s, eagerly into her hands. This was what Jack
would do, and Mr. Brownlow was glad in his heart that Jack would be sure
to do it; but yet it might be a very different course which he himself,
after much thought and consideration, might think it best to take.

He was long in his office that night, and worked very hard--indeed he
would have been almost alone before he left but that one of the clerks
had some extra work to do, and another had stayed to keep him company;
so that two of them were still there when Inspector Pollaky, as they
called him, came back. It was quite late, too late for the ice, or the
young men would not have waited--half an hour later at least than the
usual time at which Mr. Brownlow left the office. And he closed his door
carefully behind his mysterious visitor, and made sure that it was
securely shut before he began to talk to him, which naturally was a
thing that excited much wondering between the young men.

“Young Jack been a naughty boy?” said one to the other; then they
listened, but heard nothing. “More likely some fellow going in for Miss
Brownlow, and he wants to pick holes in him,” said the second. But when
half an hour passed and every thing continued very undisturbed, they
betook themselves to their usual talk. “I suppose it’s about the Worsley
case,” they said, and straightway Inspector Pollaky lost interest in
their eyes. So long as it was only a client’s business it did not
matter. Not for such common place concerns would the young heroes of
John Brownlow’s office interrupt the even tenor of their way.

“I suppose you have brought me some news,” said Mr. Brownlow; “come near
the fire. Take a chair, it is bitterly cold. I scarcely expected you so
soon as to-day.”

“Bless you, sir, it’s as easy as easy,” said the mysterious
man--“disgusting easy. If there’s any body that I despise in this world,
it’s folks that have nothing to conceal. They’re all on the surface,
them folks are. You can take and read them clear off, through and
through.”

“Well?” said Mr. Brownlow. He turned his face a little away from the
light that he might not be spied too closely, though there was not in
reality any self-betrayal in his face. His lips were a little white and
more compressed than usual, that was all.

“Well, sir, for the first thing, it’s all quite true,” said the man.
“There’s seven of a family--the mother comely-like still, but older nor
might be expected. Poor, awful poor, but making the best of it--keeping
their hearts up as far as I could see. The young fellow helping too, and
striving his best. I shouldn’t say as they had much of a dinner to-day;
but cheerful as cheerful, and as far as I could see--”

“Was this all you discovered?” said Mr. Brownlow, severely.

“I am coming to the rest, sir,” said the detective, “and you’ll say as
I’ve forgotten nothing. The father, which is dead, was once in the Life
Guards. He was one of them sprigs as is to be met with there--run away
out of a good family. He came from London first as far as she knows; and
then they were ordered to Windsor, and then they went to Canada; but
I’ve got the thread, Mr. Brownlow--I’ve got the thread. This poor fellow
of a soldier got letters regular for a long time from Wales, she
says--post-mark was St. Asaphs. Often and often she said as she’d go
with him, and see who it was as wrote to him so often. I’ve been
thereabouts myself in the way of my business, and I know there’s Powyses
as thick as blackberries--that’s point number one. Second point was, he
always called himself a Welshman and kept St. David’s Day. If he’d lived
longer he’d have been sent up for promotion, and gone out of the ranks.”

“And then?--but go on in your own way, I want to hear it all,” said Mr.
Brownlow. He was getting more and more excited; and yet somehow it was a
kind of pleasure to him to feel that his informant was wasting time upon
utterly insignificant details. Surely if the detective suspected
nothing, it must be that there was nothing to suspect.

“Yes, sir,” he said, “that’s about where it is; he was one of the
Powyses; naturally the children is Powyses too. But he died afore he
went up for promotion; and now they’re come a-seeking of their friends.
It ain’t no credit to me to be employed on such an easy case. The only
thing that would put a little credit in it would be, if you’d give me
just a bit of a hint what was wanted. If their friends want ’em I’ll
engage to put ’em on the scent. If their friends don’t want ’em--as
wouldn’t be no wonder; for folks may have a kindness for a brother or a
son as is wild, and yet they mightn’t be best pleased to hear of a widow
a-coming with seven children--if they ain’t wanted a word will do it,
and no questions asked.”

John Brownlow gave the man a sharp glance, and then he fell a-musing, as
if he was considering whether to give him this hint or not. In reality,
he was contemplating, with a mixture of impatience and vexation and
content, the total misconception of his object which his emissary had
taken up. He was exasperated by his stupidity, and yet he felt a kind of
gratitude to him, and relief, as if a danger had been escaped.

“And what of the woman herself?” he said, in a tone which, in spite of
him trembled a little.

“Oh, the woman,” said the detective, carelessly; “some bit of a girl as
he married, and as was pretty, I don’t doubt, in her day. There’s
nothing particular about her. She’s very fond of her children, and very
free in her talk, like most women when you take ’em the right way. Bless
you, sir, when I started her talking of her husband, it was all that I
could do to get her to leave off. She don’t think she’s got any thing to
hide. He was a gentleman, that’s clear. He wouldn’t have been near so
frank about himself, I’ll be bound. She ain’t a lady exactly, but
there’s something about her--and awful open in her way, with them front
teeth--”

“Has _she_ got front teeth?” said Mr. Brownlow, with some eagerness. He
pitched upon it as the first personal attribute he had yet heard of, and
then he added, with a little confusion, “like the boy--”

“Yes sir--exactly like the young fellow,” said his companion; “but there
ain’t nothing about her to interest _us_. She told me as she once had
friends as lived in Masterton; but she’s the sort of woman as don’t mind
much about friends as long as her children is well off; and I judge she
was of well-to-do folks, that was awful put out about her marriage. A
man like that, sir, might be far above her, and have friends that was
far above her, and yet it’s far from the kind of marriage as would
satisfy well-to-do folks.”

“I thought she came from the Isle of Man,” said Mr. Brownlow, in what he
meant for an indifferent way.

“As a child, sir--as a child,” said the detective, with easy
carelessness. “Her friends left there when she was but a child, and then
they went where there was a garrison, where she met with her good
gentleman. She was never in Masterton herself. It was after she was
married and gone, and, I rather think, cast off by all belonging to her,
that they came to live here.”

Mr. Brownlow sat leaning over the fire, and a heavy moisture began to
rise on his forehead. The speaker was so careless, and yet these calm
details seemed to him so terrible. Could it be that he was making
terrors for himself--that the man experienced in mystery was right in
being so certain that there was no mystery here--or must he accept the
awful circumstantial evidence of these simple particulars? Could there
be more than one family which had left the Isle of Man so long ago, and
gone to live where there was a garrison, and abandoned its silly
daughter when she married her soldier? Mr. Brownlow was stupefied, and
did not know what to think. He sat and listened while this man whom he
had called to his assistance went over again all the facts that seemed
to point out that the connection of the family with the Powyses of North
Wales was the one thing either to be brought forward or got rid of. This
was how he had understood his instructions, and he had carried them out
so fully that his employer, fully occupied with the incidental
information which seemed to prove all he feared, heard his voice run on
without remarking it, and would have told him to stop the babble to
which he was giving vent, had his thoughts been sufficiently at leisure
to care for what he was saying. When he fully perceived this mistake,
Mr. Brownlow looked upon it as “providential,” as people say. But, in
the mean time, he was not conscious of any thing, except of a
possibility still more clear and possible, and of a ridiculous
misconception which still it was not his interest to clear up. He let
his detective talk, and then he let him go, but half satisfied, and
inclined to think that no confidence was reposed in him. And though it
was so late, and the brougham was at the door, and the servants very
tired of their unusual detention, Mr. Brownlow went back again to the
fire, and bent over it, and stretched out his hands to the blaze, and
again tried to think. He went over the same ideas a hundred times, and
yet they did not seem to grow any clearer to him. He tried to ask
himself what was his duty, but duty slunk away, as it were to the very
recesses of his soul, and gave no impulse to his mind, nor so much as
showed itself in the darkness. If this should turn out to be true, no
doubt there were certain things which he ought to do; and yet, if all
this could but be banished for awhile, and the year got over which would
bring safety--Mr. Brownlow had never in all his life before done what he
knew to be a dishonorable action. He was not openly contemplating such a
thing now; only somehow his possessions seemed so much more his than any
body else’s; it seemed as if he had so much better right to the good
things he had been enjoying for four-and-twenty years than any woman
could have who had never possessed them--who knew nothing about them.
And then he did not know that it was this woman. He said to himself that
he had really no reason to think so. The young man had said nothing
about old Mrs. Thomson. The detective had never even suspected any
mystery in that quarter, though he was a man of mystery, and it was his
business to suspect every thing. This was what he was thinking when he
went back to the fire in his office, and stretched his hands over the
blaze. Emotion of any kind somehow chills the physical frame; but when
one of the detained clerks came to inform him of the patient brougham
which waited outside, and which Sara, by reason of the cold, had sent
for him, it was the opinion of the young man that Mr. Brownlow was
beginning to age rapidly, and that he looked quite old that evening. But
he did not look old; he looked, if any one had been there with eyes to
see it, like a man for the first time in his life driven to bay. Some
men come to that moment in their lives sooner, some later, some never at
all. John Brownlow had been more than five-and-fifty years in the world,
and yet he had never been driven to bay before. And he was so now; and
except to stand out and resist, and keep his face to his enemies, he did
not, in the suddenness of the occurrence, see as yet what he was to do.

In the mean time, however, he had to stoop to ordinary necessities and
get into his carriage and be driven home, through the white gleaming
country which shone under the moonlight, carrying with him a curious
perception of how different it would have been had the house in High
Street been home--had he had nothing more to do than to go up to the old
drawing-room, his mother’s drawing-room, and find Sara there; and eat
his dinner where his father had eaten his, instead of this long drive to
the great country-house, which was so much more costly and magnificent
than any thing his forefathers knew; but then his father, what would he
have thought of this complication? What would he have advised, had it
been any client of his; nay, what, if it was a client, would Mr.
Brownlow himself advise? These thoughts kept turning over in his mind
half against his will as he lay back in the corner of the carriage and
saw the ghostly trees glimmer past in their coating of snow. He was very
late, and Sara was anxious about him; nay, even Jack was anxious, and
had come down to the park gates to look out for the carriage, and also
to ask how the little invalid was at Mrs. Swayne’s. Jack, having this
curiosity in his mind, did not pay much attention to his father’s looks;
but Sara, with a girl’s quick perception, saw there was something
unusual in his face; and with her usual rapidity she leaped to the
conclusion that the bank must have broken or the railway gone wrong of
which she had dreamed in the morning. Thus they all met at the table
with a great deal on their minds; and this day, which I have recorded
with painstaking minuteness, in order that there may be no future doubt
as to its importance in the history, came to an end with outward
placidity but much internal perturbation--at least came to an end as
much as any day can be said to come to an end which rises upon an
unsuspecting family big with undeveloped fate.



CHAPTER VIII.

YOUNG POWYS.


Mr. Brownlow took his new clerk into his employment next morning. It is
true that this was done to fill up a legitimate vacancy, but yet it took
every body in the office a little by surprise. The junior clerk had
generally been a very junior, taken in rather by way of training than
for any positive use. The last one, indeed, whom this new-comer had been
taken to replace, was an overgrown boy in jackets, very different,
indeed, from the tall, well-developed Canadian whose appearance filled
all Mr. Brownlow’s clerks with amazement. All sorts of conjectures about
him filled the minds of these young gentlemen. They all spied some
unknown motive underneath, and their guesses at it were ludicrously far
from the real case. The conveyancing clerk suggested that the young
fellow was somebody’s son “that old Brownlow has ruined, you know, in
the way of business.” Other suppositions fixed on the fact that he was
the son of a widow by whom, perhaps, the governor might have been
bewitched, an idea which was speedily adopted as the favorite and most
probable explanation, and caused unbounded amusement in the office. They
made so merry over it that once or twice awkward consequences had nearly
ensued; for the new clerk had quick ears, and was by no means destitute
of intelligence, and decidedly more than a match, physically, for the
most of his fellows. As for the circumstances of his engagement, they
were on this wise.

At the hour which Mr. Brownlow had appointed to see him again, young
Powys presented himself punctually in the outer office, where he was
made to wait a little, and heard some “chaffing” about the governor’s
singular proceedings on the previous day and his interviews with
Inspector Pollaky, which probably conveyed a certain amount of
information to the young man. When he was ushered into Mr. Brownlow’s
room, there was, notwithstanding his frank and open countenance, a
certain cloud on his brow. He stood stiffly before his future employer,
and heard with only a half-satisfied look that the lawyer, having made
inquiries, was disposed to take advantage of his services. To this the
young backwoodsman assented in a stilted way, very different from his
previous frankness; and when all was concluded, he still stood doubtful,
with the look upon his face of having something to say.

“I don’t know what more there is to settle, except the time when you
enter upon your duties,” said Mr. Brownlow, a little surprised. “You
need not begin to-day. Mr. Wrinkell, the head-clerk, will give you all
the necessary information about hours, and show you all you will have to
do--Is there any thing more you would like to say?”

“Why, yes, sir,” said the youth abruptly, with a mixture of irritation
and compunction. “Perhaps what I say may look very ungrateful; but--why
did you send a policeman to my mother? That is not the way to inquire
about a man if you mean to trust him. I don’t say you have any call to
trust me--”

“A policeman!” said Mr. Brownlow, in consternation.

“Well, sir, the fellows there,” cried the energetic young savage,
pointing behind him, “call him Inspector. I don’t mean to say you were
to take me on my own word; any inquiries you liked to make we were ready
to answer; but a policeman--and to my mother?”

Mr. Brownlow laughed, but yet this explosion gave him a certain
uneasiness. “Compose yourself,” he said, “the man is not a policeman,
but he is a confidential agent, whom when I can’t see about any thing
myself--but I hope he did not say any thing or ask any thing that
annoyed Mrs.--your mother,” Mr. Brownlow added, hurriedly; and if the
jocular youths in the office had seen something like a shade of
additional color rise on his elderly cheek, their amusement and their
suspicions would have been equally confirmed.

“Well, no,” said young Powys, the compunction gaining ground; “I beg
your pardon, sir; you are very kind. I am sure you must think me
ungrateful--but--”

“Nonsense!” said Mr. Brownlow; “it is quite right you should stand up
for your mother. The man is not a policeman--and I never--intended
him--to trouble--your mother,” he added, with hesitation. “He went to
make inquiry, and these sort of people take their own way; but he did
not annoy her, I hope?”

“Oh, no!” said the youth, recovering his temper altogether. “She took it
up as being some inquiry about my father, and she was a little excited,
thinking perhaps that his friends--but never mind. I told her it was
best we should depend only on ourselves, and I am sure I am right. Thank
you; I shall have good news to tell her to-day.”

“Stop a little,” said Mr. Brownlow, feeling a reaction upon himself of
the compunction which had passed over his young companion. “She thought
it was something about your father? Is there any thing mysterious, then,
about your father? I told you there was a Lady Powys who had lived
here.”

“I don’t think there is any thing mysterious about him,” said the young
man. “I scarcely remember him, though I am the eldest. He died quite
young--and my poor mother has always thought that his friends--But I
never encouraged her in that idea, for my part.”

“That his friends could do something for you?” said Mr. Brownlow.

“Yes, that is what she thought. I don’t think myself there is any
foundation for it; and seeing they have never found us out all these
years--five-and-twenty years--”

“Five-and-twenty years!” Mr. Brownlow repeated, with a start--not that
the coincidence was any thing, but only that the mere sound of the word
startled him, excited as he was.

“Yes, I am as old as that,” said young Powys, with a smile, and then he
recollected himself. “I beg your pardon, sir; I am taking up your time,
and I hope you don’t think I am ungrateful. Getting this situation so
soon is every thing in the world to us.”

“I am glad to hear it,” said Mr. Brownlow: and yet he could not but ask
himself whether his young visitor laid an emphasis upon _this_
situation. What was _this_ situation more than another? “But the salary
is not very large, you know--do you mean to take your mother and her
family on your shoulders with sixty pounds a-year!”

“It is _my_ family,” said the young man, growing red. “I have no
interest separate from theirs.” Then he paused for a moment, feeling
affronted; but he could not bear malice. Next minute he relapsed into
the frank and confidential tone that was natural to him. “There are only
five of us after all,” he said--“five altogether, and the little sisters
don’t cost much; and we have a little money--I think we shall do very
well.”

“I hope so,” said Mr. Brownlow; and somehow, notwithstanding that he
intended in his heart to do this young fellow a deadly injury, a certain
affectionate interest in the lad sprung up within him. He was so honest
and open, and had such an innocent confidence in the interest of others.
None of his ordinary clerks were thus garrulous to Mr. Brownlow. It
never would have occurred to them to confide in the “guv’nor.” He knew
them as they came and went, and had a certain knowledge of their
belongings--which it was that would have old Robinson’s money, and which
that had given his father so much uneasiness; but that was very
different from a young fellow that would look into your face and make a
confidant of you as to his way of spending his sixty pounds a-year. John
Brownlow had possessed a heart ever since he was aware of his own
individuality. It was that that made him raise his eyes always, years
and years ago, when Bessie Fennell went past his windows. Perhaps it
would have been just as well had he not been thus moved; and yet
sometimes, when he was all by himself and looked up suddenly and saw any
passing figure, the remembrance of those moments when Bessie passed
would be as clear upon him as if he were young again. Influenced by this
same organ, which had no particular business in the breast of a man of
his profession at his years, Mr. Brownlow looked up with eyes that were
almost tender upon the young man whom he had just taken into his
employment--notwithstanding that, to tell the truth, he meant badly by
him, and in one particular at least was far from intending to be his
friend.

“I hope so,” he said; “and if you are steady and suit us, there may be
means found of increasing a little. I don’t pledge myself to any thing,
you know; but we shall see how you get on; and if you have any papers or
any thing that may give a clue to your father’s family,” he continued,
as he took up his pen, “bring them to me some day and I’ll look over
them. That’s all in the way of business to us. We might satisfy your
mother after all, and perhaps be of some use to you.”

This he said with an almost paternal smile, dismissing his new clerk,
who went away in an enthusiasm of gratitude and satisfaction. It is so
pleasant to be very kindly used, especially to young people who know no
better. It throws a glow of comfort through the internal consciousness.
It is so very, very good of your patron, and, in a smaller way, it is
good of you too, who are patronized. You are understood, you are
appreciated, you are liked. This was the feeling young Powys had. To
think that Mr. Brownlow would have been as good to any body would not
have been half so satisfactory, and he went off with ringing hasty
steps, which in themselves were beating a measure of exhilaration, to
tell his mother, who, though ready on the spot to worship Mr. Brownlow,
would naturally set this wonderful success down to the score of her
boy’s excellencies. As for the lawyer himself, he took his pen in his
hand and wrote a few words of the letter which lay unfinished before him
while the young man was going out, as if anxious to make up for the time
lost in this interview; but as soon as the door was closed John Brownlow
laid down his pen and leaned back in his chair. What was it he had
done?--taken in a viper to his bosom that would sting him? or received a
generous, open, confiding youth, in order to blind and hoodwink and rob
him? These were strong--nay, rude and harsh words, and he did not say
them even to himself; but a kind of shadow of them rolled through his
mind, and gave him a momentary panic. Was this what he was about to do?
With a pretense of kindness, even generosity, to take this open-hearted
young fellow into his employment, in order to keep him in the dark, and
prevent him from finding out that the fortune was his upon which
Brownlows and all its grandeur was founded? Was this what he was doing?
It seemed to John Brownlow for the moment as if the air of the room was
suffocating, or rather as if there was no air at all to breathe, and he
plucked at his cravat in the horror of the sensation. But then he came
to himself. Perhaps, on the other hand, just as likely, he was taking
into his house a secret enemy, who, once posted there, would search and
find out every thing. Quite likely, very likely; for what did he mean by
the emphasis with which he said _this_ situation, and all that about his
father, which was throwing dust into Mr. Brownlow’s cautious eyes?
Perhaps his mind was a little biased by his profession--perhaps he was
moved by something of the curious legal uncertainty which teaches a man
to plead “never indebted” in the same breath with “already paid;” for
amid the hurry and tumult of these thoughts came another which was of a
more comforting tendency. After all, he had no evidence that the boy was
that woman’s son. No evidence whatever--not a shadow. And it was not his
duty to go out and hunt for her or her son over all the world. Nobody
could expect it of him. He had done it once, but to do it over again
would be simply absurd. Let them come and make their claim.

Thus the matter was decided, and there could be no doubt that it was
with a thrill of very strange and mingled interest that Mr. Brownlow
watched young Powys enter upon his duties. He had thought this would be
a trouble to him--a constant shadow upon him--a kind of silent threat of
misery to come; but the fact was that it did not turn out so. The young
fellow was so frank and honest, so far at least as physiognomy went--his
very step was so cheerful and active, and rang so lightly on the
stones--he was so ready to do any thing, so quick and cordial and
workman-like about his work--came in with such a bright face, spoke with
such a pleasant respectful confidence, as knowing that some special link
existed between his employer and himself; Mr. Brownlow grew absolutely
attached to the new clerk, for whom he had so little use, to whom he was
so kind and fatherly, and against whom--good heavens! was it possible?
he was harboring such dark designs.

As for young Jack, when he came back to the office after a few days on
the ice, there being nothing very important in the way of business going
on just then, the sight of this new figure took him very much by
surprise. He was not very friendly with his father’s clerks on the
whole--perhaps because they were too near himself to be looked upon with
charitable eyes; too near, and yet as far off, he thought to himself, as
if he had been a duke. Not that Jack had those attributes which
distinguished the great family of snobs. When he was among educated men
he was as unassuming as it is in the nature of a young man to be, and
never dreamed of asking what their pedigree was, or what their balance
at their banker’s. But the clerks were different--they were natural
enemies--fellows that might set themselves up for being as good as he,
and yet were not as good as he, however you chose to look at the
question. In short, they were cads. This was the all-expressive word in
which Jack developed his sentiments. Any addition to the cads was
irksome to him; and then he, the young prince, knew nothing about it,
which was more irksome still.

“Who is that tall fellow?” he said to Mr. Wrinkell, who was his father’s
vizier. “What is he doing here? You don’t mean to say he’s _en
permanence_? Who is he, and what is he doing there?”

“That’s Mr. Powys, Mr. John,” said Mr. Wrinkell, calmly, and with a
complacent little nod. The vizier rather liked to snub the heir-apparent
when he could, and somehow the Canadian had crept into his good graces
too.

“By Jove! and who the deuce is Mr. Powys?” said Jack, with unbecoming
impatience, almost loud enough to reach the stranger’s ear.

“Hush,” said Mr. Wrinkell, “he has come in young Jones’s place, who
left at Michaelmas, you know. I should say he was a decided addition;
steady, very steady--punctual in the morning--clever at his work--always
up to his hours--”

“Oh, I see, a piece of perfection,” said Jack, with, it must be
confessed, a slight sneer. “But I don’t see that he was wanted. Brown
was quite able for all the work. I should like to know where you picked
that fellow up. It’s very odd that something always happens when I am
absent for a single day.”

“The frost has lasted for ten days,” said Mr. Wrinkell, with serious but
mild reproof--“not that I think there is any thing in that. We are only
young once in this life; and there is nothing particular doing. I am
very glad you took advantage of it, Mr. John.”

Now it was one of Jack’s weak points that he hated being called Mr.
John, and could not bear to be approved of--two peculiarities of which
Mr. Wrinkell was very thoroughly aware. But the vizier had many
privileges. He was serious and substantial, and not a man who could be
called a cad, as Jack called his own contemporaries in the office.
Howsoever tiresome or aggravating he might be, he had to be borne with;
and he knew his advantages, and was not always generous in the use he
made of them. When the young man went off into his own little private
room, Mr. Wrinkell was tempted to give a little inward chuckle. He was a
dissenter, and he rather liked to put the young autocrat down. “He has
too much of his own way--too much of his own way,” he said to himself,
and went against Jack on principle, and for his good, which is a kind of
conduct not always appreciated by those for whose good it is kept up.

And from that moment a kind of opposition, not to say enmity, crept up
between Jack and the new clerk--a sort of feeling that they were rather
too like each other, and were not practicable in the same hemisphere.
Jack tried, but found it did not answer, to call the new-comer a cad. He
did not, like the others, follow Jack’s own ways at a woful distance,
and copy those things for which Jack rather despised himself, as all
cads have a way of doing; but had his own way, and was himself, Powys,
not the least like the Browns and Robinsons. The very first evening, as
they were driving home together, Jack, having spent the day in a close
examination of the new-comer, thought it as well to let his father know
his opinion on the subject, which he did as they flew along in their
dogcart, with the wicked mare which Jack could scarcely hold in, and the
sharp wind whizzing past their ears, that were icy cold with speed.

“I see you have got a new fellow in the office,” said Jack. “I hope it’s
not my idleness that made it necessary. I should have gone back on
Monday; but I thought you said--”

“I am glad you didn’t come,” said Mr. Brownlow, quietly. “I should have
told you had there been any occasion. No, it was not for that. You know
he came in young Jones’s place.”

“He’s not very much like young Jones,” said Jack--“as old as I am, I
should think. How she pulls, to be sure! One would think, to see her go,
she hadn’t been out for a week.”

“Older than you are,” said Mr. Brownlow--“five-and-twenty;” and he gave
an unconscious sigh--for it was dark, and the wind was sharp, and the
mare very fresh; and under such circumstances a man may relieve his
mind, at least to the extent of a sigh, without being obliged to render
a reason. So, at least, Mr. Brownlow thought.

But Jack heard it, somehow, notwithstanding the ring of the mare’s hoofs
and the rush of the wind, and was confounded--as much confounded as he
durst venture on being with such a slippery animal to deal with.

“Beg your pardon, sir,” said the groom, “keep her steady, sir; this here
is the gate she’s always a-shying at.”

“Oh, confound her!” said Jack--or perhaps it was “confound you”--which
would have been more natural; but the little waltz performed by Mrs.
Bess at that moment, and the sharp crack of the whip, and the wind that
whistled through all, made his adjuration less distinct than it might
have been. When, however, the dangerous gate was past, and they were
going on again with great speed and moderate steadiness, he resumed--

“I thought you did not mean to have another in young Jones’s place. I
should have said Brown could do all the work. When these fellows have
too little to do they get into all sorts of mischief.”

“Most fellows do,” said Mr. Brownlow, calmly. “I may as well tell you,
Jack, that I wanted young Powys--I know his people; that is to say,” he
added hastily, “I don’t know his people. Don’t take it into your head
that I do--but still I’ve heard something about them--in a kind of a
way; and it’s my special desire to have him there.”

“I said nothing against it, sir,” said Jack, displeased. “You are the
head, to do whatever you like. I only asked you know.”

“Yes, I know you only asked,” said Mr. Brownlow, with quiet decision.
“That is my business; but I’d rather you were civil to him, if it is the
same to you.”

“By Jove, I believe she’ll break our necks some day,” said Jack, in his
irritation, though the mare was doing nothing particular. “Going as
quiet as a lamb,” the groom said afterward in amazement, “when he let
out at her enough to make a saint contrairy.” And “contrairy” she was up
to the very door of the house, which perhaps, under the circumstances,
was just as well.



CHAPTER IX.

NEW NEIGHBORS.


Perhaps one of the reasons why Jack was out of temper at this particular
moment was that Mrs. Swayne had been impertinent to him. Not that he
cared in the least for Mrs. Swayne; but naturally he took a little
interest in the--child--he supposed she was only a child--a little light
thing that felt like a feather when he carried her in out of the snow.
He _had_ carried her in, and he “took an interest” in her; and why he
should be met with impertinence when he asked how the little creature
was, was more than Jack could understand. The very morning of the day on
which he saw young Powys first, he had been answered by Mrs. Swayne
standing in front of her door, and pulling it close behind her, as if
she was afraid of thieves or something. “She’s a-going on as nicely as
could be, and there ain’t no cause for anxiety, sir,” Mrs. Swayne said,
which was not a very impertinent speech after all.

“Oh, I did not suppose there was,” said Jack. “It was only a sprain, I
suppose; but she looked such a delicate little thing. That old woman
with her was her mother, eh? What did she mean traveling with a fragile
little creature like that in the carrier’s cart?”

“I don’t know about no old woman,” said Mrs. Swayne; “the good lady as
has my front parlor is the only female as is here, and they’ve come for
quiet, Mr. John, not meaning no offense; and when you’re a bit nervish,
as I knows myself by experience, it goes to your heart every time as
there comes a knock at the door.”

“You can’t have many knocks at the door here,” said Jack; “as for me, I
only wanted to know how the little thing was.”

“Miss is a-doing nicely, sir,” Mrs. Swayne answered, with solemnity; and
this was what Jack considered a very impertinent reception of his kind
inquiries. He was amused by it, and yet it put him a little out of
temper too. “As if I could possibly mean the child any harm,” he said to
himself, with a laugh; rather, indeed, insisting on the point that she
was a child in all his thoughts on the subject; and then, as has been
seen, the sudden introduction of young Powys and Mr. Brownlow’s calm
adoption of the sentiment that it was _his_ business to decide who was
to be in the office, came a little hard upon Jack, who, after all,
notwithstanding his philosophical indifference as to his sister’s
heiress-ship, liked to be consulted about matters of business, and did
not approve of being put back into a secondary place.

Thus it was with a sense of having done her duty by her new lodgers,
that Mrs. Swayne paid her periodical visit in the afternoon to the
inmates of the parlor, where the object of Jack Brownlow’s inquiries lay
very much covered up on the little horse-hair sofa. She was still
suffering from her sprain, and was lying asleep on the narrow couch,
wrapped in all the shawls her mother possessed, and with her own pretty
red cloak thrown over the heap. It was rather a grim little apartment,
with dark-green painted walls, and coarse white curtains drawn over the
single window. But the inmates probably were used to no better, and
certainly were quite content with their quarters. The girl lay asleep
with a flush upon her cheeks, which the long eyelashes seemed to
overshadow, and her soft rings of dark hair pushed back in pretty
disorder off her soft, full, childlike forehead. She was sleeping that
grateful sleep of convalescence, in which life itself seems to come
back--a sleep deep and sound and dreamless, and quite undisturbed by the
little murmur of voices which went on over the fire. Her mother was a
tall, meagre woman, older than the mother of such a girl ought to have
been. Save that subtle, indefinable resemblance which is called family
likeness, the two did not resemble each other. The elder woman now
sitting in the horsehair easy-chair over the fire, was very tall, with
long features, and gray cheeks which had never known any roses. She had
keen black passionate eyes, looking as young and full of life as if she
had been sixteen instead of nearly sixty; and her hair was still as
black as it had been in her youth. But somehow the dead darkness of the
hair made the gray face underneath look older than if it had been
softened by the silvery tones of white that belong to the aged. She was
dressed as poor women, who have ceased to care about their appearance,
and have no natural instinct that way, so often dress, in every thing
most suited to increase her personal deficiencies. She had a little
black lace cap over her black hair, and a black gown with a rim of
grayish white round the neck, badly made, and which took away any shape
that might ever have been in her tall figure. Her hands were hard, and
red, and thin, with no sort of softening between them and the harsh
black sleeve which clasped her wrists. She was not a lady, that was
evident; and yet you would not have said she was a common woman after
you had looked into her eyes.

It was very cold, though the thaw had set in, and the snow was gone--raw
and damp with a penetrating chill, which is as bad as frost--or worse,
some people think. And the new-comer sat over the fire, leaning forward
in the high-backed horse-hair chair, and spreading out her hands to the
warmth. She had given Mrs. Swayne a general invitation to come in for a
chat in the afternoon, not knowing as yet how serious a business that
was; and was now making the best of it, interposing a few words now and
then, and yet not altogether without comfort in the companionship, the
very hum of human speech having something consolatory in it.

“If it’s been a fever, that’s a thing as will mend,” said Mrs. Swayne,
“and well over too; and a thing as you don’t have more nor once. When
it’s _here_, and there’s decline in the family--” she added, putting her
hand significantly to her breast.

“There’s no decline in my family,” said the lodger, quickly. “It was
downright sickness always. No, she’s quite strong in her chest. I’ve
always said it was a great blessing that they were all strong in their
chests.”

“And yet you have but this one left,” said Mrs. Swayne. “Dear,
dear!--when it’s decline, it comes kind of natural, and you get used to
it like. An aunt o’ mine had nine, all took one after the other, and she
got that used to it, she’d tell you how it would be as soon as e’er a
one o’ them began to droop; but when it’s them sort of masterful
sicknesses as you can’t do nothing for--Deary me! all strong in their
chests, and yet you have had so many and but this one left.”

“Ay,” said the mother, wringing her thin hands with a momentary yet
habitual action, “it’s hard when you’ve reared them so far, but you said
it was good air here?”

“Beautiful air, that’s what it is,” said Mrs. Swayne, enthusiastically;
“and when she gets a bit stronger, and the weather gets milder, and he
mends of his rheumatics, Swayne shall drive her out in his spring-cart.
It’s a fine way of seeing the country--a deal finer, _I_ think, than the
gentry in their carriages with a coachman on his box perched up afore
them. I ain’t one as holds by much doctoring. Doctors and parsons,
they’re all alike; and I don’t care if I never saw one o’ them more.”

“Isn’t there a nice clergyman?” said the lodger--“it’s a nice church,
for we saw it passing in the cart, and the child took a fancy to it. In
the country like this, it’s nice to have a nice clergyman--that’s to
say, if you’re church folks.”

“There was nothing but church folks heard tell of where I came from,”
said Mrs. Swayne, with a little heat. “Them as says I wasn’t born and
bred and confirmed in the church don’t know what they’re talking of; but
since we come here, you know, along of Swayne being a Dissenter, and the
rector a man as has no sympathy, I’ve give up. It’s the same with the
doctors. There ain’t one as I haven’t tried, exceptin’ the homepathic;
and I was turning it over in my mind as soon as Swayne had another bad
turn to send for him.”

“I hope we shan’t want any more doctors,” said the mother, once more
softly wringing her hands. “But for Pamela’s sake--”

“Is that her name?” said Mrs, Swayne; “I never knew one of that name
afore; but folks is all for new-fashioned names nowadays. The Pollys and
Betsys as used to be in my young days, I never hear tell of them now;
but the girls ain’t no nicer nor no better behaved as I can see. It’s
along o’ the story-books and things. There’s Miss Sairah as is always
a-lending books--”

“Is Miss Sairah the young lady in the great house?” asked the stranger,
looking up.

Mrs. Swayne assented with a little reluctance. “Oh! yes, sure enough;
but they ain’t the real old Squires. Not as the old Squires was much to
brag of; they was awful poor, and there never was nothing to be made out
of them, neither by honest trade-folks nor cottagers, nor nobody; but
him as has it now is nothing but a lawyer out of Masterton. He’s made it
all, I shouldn’t wonder, by cheating poor folks out of their own; but
there he is as grand as a prince, and Miss Sairah dressed up like a
little peacock, and her carriage and her riding-horse, and her school,
as if she was real old gentry. It was Mr. John as carried your girl
indoors that time when she fell; and a rare troublesome one he can be
when he gets it in his head, a-calling at my house, and knocking at the
knocker when, for any thing he could tell, Swayne might ha’ been in one
of his bad turns, or your little maid a-snatching a bit of sleep.”

“But why does he come?” said the lodger, once more looking up; “is it to
ask after Mr. Swayne?”

Mr. Swayne’s spouse gave a great many shakes of her head over this
question. “To tell you the truth,” she said, “there’s a deal of folks
thinks if Swayne hadn’t a good wife behind him as kept all straight, his
bad turns would come very different. That’s all as a woman gets for
slaving and toiling and understanding the business as well as e’er a
man. No; it was not for my husband. I haven’t got nothing to say against
Mr. John. He’s not one of the sort as leads poor girls astray and breaks
their hearts; but I wouldn’t have him about here, not too often, if I
was you. He was a-asking after your girl.”

“Pamela?” said the mother, with surprise and almost amusement in her
tone, and she looked back to the sofa where her daughter was lying with
a flush too pink and roselike for health upon her cheek. “Poor little
thing; it is too early for that--she is only a child.”

“I don’t put no faith in them being only children,” said Mrs. Swayne.
“It comes terrible soon, does that sort of thing; and a gentleman has
nice ways with him. When she’s once had one of that sort a-running after
her, a girl don’t take to an honest man as talks plain and
straightforward. That’s my opinion; and, thank Providence, I’ve been in
the way of temptation myself, and I know what it all means.”

Mrs. Swayne’s lodger did not seem at all delighted by these
commentaries. A little flush of pride or pain came over her colorless
cheek; and she kept glancing back at the sofa on which her daughter lay.
“My Pamela is a little lady, if ever there was a lady,” she said, in a
nervous undertone; but it was evidently a question she did not mean to
discuss with her landlady; and thus the conversation came to a pause.

Mrs. Swayne, however, was not easily subdued; and curiosity urged her
even beyond her wont. “I think you said as you had friends here?” she
said, making a new start.

“No, no friends. We’re alone in the world, she and I,” said the woman,
hastily. “We’ve been long away, and every body is dead that ever
belonged to us. She hasn’t a soul but me, poor dear, and I’m old. It’s
dreadful to be old and have a young child. If I was to die--but we’re
not badly off,” she continued, with a faint smile in answer to an
alarmed glance all around the room from Mrs. Swayne, “and I’m saving up
every penny for her. If I could only see her as well and rosy as she
used to be!”

“That will come in time,” said the landlady. “Don’t you be afeard. It’s
beautiful air; and what with fresh milk and new-laid eggs, she’ll come
round as fast as the grass grows. You’ll see she will--they always does
here. Miss Sairah herself was as puny a bit of a child as ever you set
eyes on, and she’s a fine tall lass with a color like a rose--I will say
that for her--now.”

“And I think you said she was about my child’s age,” said the mother,
with a certain wistful glance out of the window. “Perhaps she and my
Pamela--But of course a young lady like that has plenty of friends.
Pamela will never be tall--she’s done growing. She takes after her
father’s side, you see,” the poor woman added, with a sigh, looking
round once more to the sofa where her child lay.

“And it ain’t long, perhaps, since you lost your good gentleman?” said
Mrs. Swayne, curiosity giving a certain brevity to her speech.

“He was in the army,” said the lodger, passing by the direct question,
“and it’s a wandering sort of life. Now I’ve come back, all are gone
that ever belonged to me, or so much as knew me. It feels dreary like. I
don’t mind for myself, if I could but find some kind friends for my
child.”

“Don’t you fret,” said Mrs. Swayne, rising. “She’ll find friends, no
fear; and its ridiklus to hear you talk like an old woman, and not a
gray hair on your head--But I hear Swayne a-grumbling, Mrs. Preston.
He’s no better nor an old washerwoman, that man isn’t, for his tea.”

When the conversation ended thus, the lodger rose, partly in civility,
and stood before the fire, looking into the dark little mirror over the
mantle-shelf when her visitor was gone. It was not vanity that moved her
to look at herself. “Threescore and ten!” she was saying
softly--“threescore and ten! She’d be near thirty by then, and able to
take care of herself.” It was a sombre thought enough, but it was all
the comfort she could take. “The child” all this time had to all
appearance lain fast asleep under her wraps, with the red cloak laid
over her, a childlike, fragile creature. She began to stir at this
moment, and her mother’s face cleared as if by magic. She went up to the
little hard couch, and murmured her inquiries over it with that
indescribable voice which belongs only to doves, and mothers croodling
over their sick children. Pamela considered it the most ordinary
utterance in the world, and never found out that it was totally unlike
the usually almost harsh tones of the same voice when addressing other
people. The girl threw off her coverings with a little impatience, and
came with tottering steps to the big black easy-chair. The limpid eyes
which had struck Jack Brownlow when they gazed wistfully out of the
carrier’s cart, were almost too bright, as her color was almost too
warm, for the moment; but it was the flush of weakness and sleep, not of
fever. She too, like her mother, wore rusty black; but neither that poor
and melancholy garb, nor any other disadvantageous circumstance, could
impair the sweetness of the young tender face. It was lovely with the
sweetness of spring as are the primroses and anemones; dew, and
fragrance, and growth, and all the possibilities of expansion, were in
her lovely looks. You could not have told what she might not grow to.
Seeing her, it was possible to understand the eagerness with which the
poor old mother, verging on threescore, counted her chances of a dozen
years longer in this life. These dozen years might make all the
difference to Pamela; and Pamela was all that she had in the world.

“You have had a long sleep, my darling. I am sure you feel better,” she
said.

“I feel quite well, mamma,” said the girl; and she sat down and held out
her hands to the fire. Then the mother began to talk, and give an
account of the conversation she had been holding. She altered it a
little, it must be acknowledged. She omitted all Mrs. Swayne’s anxieties
about Jack Brownlow, and put various orthodox sentiments into her mouth
instead. When she had gone on so for some ten minutes, Pamela, who had
been making evident efforts to restrain herself, suddenly opened her red
lips with a burst of soft ringing laughter, so that the mother stopped
confused.

“I am afraid it was very naughty,” said the girl; “but I woke up, and I
did not want to disturb you, and I could not help listening. Oh, mamma,
how clever you are to make up conversation like that. When you know Mrs.
Swayne was talking of Mr. John, and was such fun! Why shouldn’t I hear
about Mr. John? Because one has been ill, is one never to have any more
fun? You don’t expect me to die now?”

“God forbid!” said the mother. “But what do you know about Mr. John?
Mrs. Swayne said nothing--”

“She said he came a-knocking at the knocker,” Pamela said, with a merry
little conscious laugh; “and you asked if he came to ask for Mr. Swayne.
I thought I should have laughed out and betrayed myself then.”

“But, my dear,” said Mrs. Preston, steadily, “why shouldn’t he have come
to ask for Mr. Swayne?”

“Yes, why indeed?” said Pamela, with another merry peal of laughter,
which made her mother’s face relax, though she was not herself very
sensible wherein the joke lay.

“Well,” she said, “if he did, or if he didn’t, it does not matter very
much to us. We know nothing about Mr. John.”

“Oh, but I do,” said Pamela; “it was he that was standing by that lady’s
chair on the ice--I saw him as plain as possible. I knew him in a minute
when he carried me in. Wasn’t it nice and kind of him? and he
knew--us;--I am sure he did. Why shouldn’t he come and ask for me? I
think it is the most natural thing in the world.”

“How could he know us?” said Mrs. Preston, wondering. “My darling, now
you are growing older you must not think so much about fun. I don’t say
it is wrong, but--For you see, you have grown quite a woman now. It
would be nice if you could know Miss Sara,” she added, melting; “but she
is a little great lady, and you are but a poor little girl--”

“I must know Miss Sara,” cried Pamela. “We shall see her every day. I
want to know them both. We shall be always seeing them any time they go
out. I wonder if she is pretty. The lady was, that was in the chair.”

“How can you see every thing like that, Pamela?” said her mother, with
mild reproof. “I don’t remember any lady in a chair.”

“But _I_’ve got a pair of eyes,” said Pamela, with a laugh. She was not
thinking that they were pretty eyes, but she certainly had a pleasant
feeling that they were clear and sharp, and saw every thing and every
body within her range of vision. “I like traveling in that cart,” she
said, after a moment, “if it were not so cold. It would be pleasant in
summer to go jogging along and see every thing--but then, to be sure, in
summer there’s no ice, and no nice bright fires shining through the
windows. But mamma, please,” the little thing added, with a doubtful
look that might be saucy or sad as occasion required, “why are you so
dreadfully anxious to find me kind friends?”

This was said with a little laugh, though her eyes were not laughing;
but when she saw the serious look her mother cast upon her, she got up
hastily and threw herself down, weak as she was, at the old woman’s
knee.

“Don’t you think if we were to live both as long as we could and then to
die both together!” cried the changeable girl, with a sudden sob. “Oh,
mamma, why didn’t you have me when you were young, when you had Florry,
that we might have lived ever so long, ever so long together? Would it
be wrong for me to die when you die? why should it be wrong? God would
know what we meant by it. He would know it wasn’t for wickedness. And it
would make your mind easy whatever should happen,” cried the child,
burying her pretty face in her mother’s lap. Thus the two desolate
creatures clung together, the old woman yearning to live, the young
creature quite ready at any word of command that might reach her to give
up her short existence. They had nobody in the world belonging to them
that they knew of, and in the course of nature their companionship could
only be so short, so short! And it was not as if God saw only the
outside like men. He would know what they meant by it; that was what
poor little Pamela thought.

But she was as lively as a little bird half an hour after, being a
creature of a variable mind. Not a magnificent little princess,
self-possessed and reflective, like Sara over the way--a little soul
full of fancies, and passions, and sudden impulses of every kind--a
kitten for fun, a heroine for any thing tragic, such as she, not feared,
but hoped, might perhaps fall in her way. And the mother, who understood
the passion, did not know very much about either the fun or the fancy,
and was puzzled by times, and even vexed when she had no need to be
vexed. Mrs. Preston was greatly perplexed even that night after this
embrace and the wild suggestion that accompanied it to see how swiftly
and fully Pamela’s light heart came back to her. She could not
comprehend such a proposal of despair; but how the despair should
suddenly flit off and leave the sweetest fair skies of delight and hope
below was more than the poor woman could understand. However, the fact
was that hope and despair were quite capable of living next door in
Pamela’s fully occupied mind, and that despair itself was but another
kind of hope when it got into those soft quarters where the air was full
of the chirping of birds and the odors of the spring. She could not
sing, to call singing, but yet she went on singing all the evening long
over her bits of work, and planned drives in Mr. Swayne’s spring-cart,
and even in the carrier’s wagon, much more joyfully than Sara ever
anticipated the use of her grays. Yet she had but one life, one worn
existence, old and shattered by much suffering, between her and utter
solitude and destitution. No wonder her mother looked at her with silent
wonder, she who could never get this woful possibility out of her mind.



CHAPTER X.

AT THE GATE.


It was not to be expected that Sara could be long unconscious of her
humble neighbors. She, too, as well as Jack, had seen them in the
carrier’s cart; and though Jack had kept his little adventure to
himself, Sara had no reason to omit due notice of her encounter. It was
quite a new sensation to her when she saw for the first time the little
face with its dewy eyes peeping out at Mrs. Swayne’s window. And the
ticket which offended Sara’s sight had been promptly taken down, not by
Mrs. Swayne, but by her lodgers themselves. Sara’s impulse was to go
over immediately and thank them for this good office; but, on second
thoughts, she decided to wait another opportunity. They might not be
“nice,”--or they might be ladies, and require more ceremonious
treatment, notwithstanding the carrier’s wagon. The face that peeped
from Mrs. Swayne’s window might have belonged to a little princess in
disguise for any thing that could be said to the contrary. And Sara was
still of the age which believes in disguised princesses, at least in
theory. She talked about them, however, continually; putting Jack to
many hypocritical devices to conceal that he too had seen the little
stranger. Though why he should keep that fact secret, nobody, not even
himself could tell. And he had confided it to young Keppel, though he
did not think of telling the story at home. “I don’t know if you would
call her pretty, but her eyes are like two stars,” was what Jack said;
and he was more angry at Keppel’s jocular response than was at all
needful. But, as for Sara, she was far more eloquent. “She is not
pretty,” that authority said; “all girls are pretty, I suppose, in a
kind of a way--I and Fanny Hardcastle and every body--I despise that.
She’s _lovely_; one would like to take and kiss her. I don’t in the
least care whether I am speaking grammar or not; but I want to know her,
and I’ve made up my mind I’ll have her here.”

“Softly, Sara,” said Mr. Brownlow, with that indulgent look which Sara
alone called into his eyes.

“Oh yes, papa, as softly as you please; but I shall never be like her if
I were to live a hundred years. I’d like to cut all my hair off, and
wear it like that; but what’s the use, with this odious light hair?”

“I thought it was golden and Titianesque, and all sorts of fine things,”
said Jack, “besides being fashionable. I’ve heard Keppel say--”

“Don’t, please; Mr. Keppel is so stupid,” and she took in her hand a
certain curl she had, which was her favorite curl in a general way, and
looked at it with something like disgust.

“It isn’t even the right color for the fashion,” she said,
contemptuously. This was at breakfast, before the gentlemen went to
business, which was a favorite hour with all of them, when their minds
were free, and the day had not as yet produced its vexations. Mr.
Brownlow, for his part, had quite got over any symptoms of discomposure
that his children might have perceived on his face. Every thing was
going on well again. Young Powys was safely settled in the office, and
his employer already had got used to him, and nothing seemed to be
coming of it: and every day was helping on the year, the one remaining
year of uncertainty. He was very anxious, but still he was not such a
novice in life but that he could keep his anxiety to himself.

“Don’t forget to make every thing comfortable for your visitors,” was
what he said, as he drove away; and the fact was, that even Mr. Brownlow
cast a glance over at Mrs. Swayne’s windows; and that Jack brought the
mare almost on her haunches, by way of showing his skill, as she dashed
out at the gates. And poor little Pamela had limped to the window, for
she had not much to amuse her, and the passing of Mr. Brownlow’s
dog-cart was an event. “Is that the girl?” said Mr. Brownlow; “why she
is like your sister, Jack.”

“Like Sara!” Jack gasped in dismay. He was so amazed that he could say
nothing more for a full minute. “I suppose you think every thing that’s
pretty is like Sara,” he said, when he had recovered his breath.

“Well, perhaps,” said the father; “but there’s something more there--and
yet she’s not like Sara either for the matter of that.”

“Not the least bit in the world,” said Jack, decisively; at which Mr.
Brownlow only smiled, making no other reply.

Sara, of course, knew nothing of this; and notwithstanding her
admiration for the stranger, it is doubtful whether she would have been
flattered by the suggestion. She made great preparations for her
visitors. There was to be a dinner-party, and old Lady Motherwell and
her son Sir Charles were to stay for a day or two--partly because it was
too far for the old lady to drive back that night, and partly, perhaps,
for other reasons, which nobody was supposed to know any thing about. In
her own mind, however, Sara was not quite unaware of these other
reasons. The girl was so unfortunate as to be aware that she was
considered a good match in the county, and she knew very well what Sir
Charles meant when he came and mounted guard over her at county
gatherings. It was commonly reported of Sir Charles Motherwell that he
was not bright--but he was utterly opaque to Sara when he came and stood
over her and shut out other people who might have been amusing; though,
to tell the truth, Miss Brownlow was in a cynical state of mind
altogether about amusing people. She thought they were an extinct
species, like mastodons, and the other sort of brutes that lived before
the creation. Fanny Hardcastle began to unfold her dress as soon as
breakfast was over, and to look out her gloves and her shoes and all her
little ornaments, and was in a flutter all day about the dinner at
Brownlows. But as for Sara, she was not excited. By way of making up to
herself for what she might have to suffer in the evening, she went out
for a ride, a pleasure of which she had been debarred for some time by
the frost; and little Pamela came again to the window and watched--oh,
with what delight and envy and admiration!--the slender-limbed chestnut
and the pretty creature he carried, as they came down all the length of
the avenue.

“Oh, mamma, make haste--make haste! it is a prettier sight than Mr.
John,” cried the little girl at Mrs. Swayne’s window, her cheeks glowing
and her eyes shining; “what fun it is to live here and see them all
passing!” Probably she enjoyed it quite as much as Sara did. When she
had watched the pretty rider as far as that was possible, she sat down
by the window to wait till she came back--wondering where she was
going--following her as she went cantering along the sunny long
stretches of road which Pamela remembered watching from the carrier’s
cart. What a strange kind of celestial life it must be to be always
riding down stately avenues and playing golden-stringed harps, and
walking about in glorious silken robes that swept the ground! Pamela
laughed to herself at those splendid images--she enjoyed it more than
Sara did, though Sara found all these good things wonderfully pleasant
too.

“What are you laughing at?” said her mother, who was working at a table
at the other end of the room.

“What fun it is to live here!” repeated Pamela. “It is as good as a
play; don’t you like to see them all riding out and in, and the horses
prancing, and the shadows coming down the avenue?--it was the greatest
luck in the world to come here.”

“Put up your foot, my dear,” said her mother, “and don’t catch cold at
that window. I’ve seen somebody very like that young lady, but I can’t
remember where.”

“That was Miss Sara, I suppose,” said Pamela, with a little awe; and she
put up her weak foot, and kept her post till the chestnut and his
mistress came back, when the excitement was renewed; and Mrs. Preston
herself took another look, and wondered where she had seen some one like
that. Thus the life of Brownlows became entangled, as it were, in that
of the humble dwellers at their gate, before either were aware.

Lady Motherwell arrived in a very solid family coach, just as the winter
twilight set in; and undoubtedly, on this occasion at least, it was
Pamela who had the best of it. Sara awaited the old lady in the
drawing-room, ready to administer to her the indispensable cup of tea;
and Sir Charles followed his mother, a tall fellow with a mustache which
looked like a respirator. As for Lady Motherwell, she was not a pleasant
visitor to Sara; but that was for reasons which I have already stated.
In herself she was not a disagreeable old woman. She had even a certain
_esprit du corps_ which made it evident to her that thus to come in
force upon a girl who was alone, was a violent proceeding, and apt to
drive the quarry prematurely to bay. So she did her best to conciliate
the young mistress of the house, even before she had received her cup of
tea.

“Charley doesn’t take tea,” she said. “I think we’ll send him off, my
dear, to look at the stables, or something. I hate to have a man poking
about the room when I want a comfortable chat; and in this nice cozy
firelight, too, when they look like tall ghosts about a place. You may
go and have your cigar, Charley. Sara and I have a hundred things to
say.”

Sir Charles was understood to murmur through his respirator that it was
awful hard upon a fellow to be banished like this; but nevertheless,
being in excellent training, and knowing it to be for his good, he went.
Then Lady Motherwell took Sara in her arms for the second time, and gave
her a maternal kiss.

“My love, you’re looking lovely,” she said. “I’m sorry for poor Charley,
to tell the truth; but I knew you’d have enough of him to-night. Now
tell me how you are, and all about yourself. I have not seen you for an
age.”

“Oh, thank you, I’m just as well as ever,” said Sara. “Sit down in this
nice low chair, and let me give you some tea.”

“Thank you,” said Lady Motherwell. “And how is Jack and the good papa?
Jack is a gay deceiver; he is not like my boy. You should have seen him
driving the girls about the ice in that chair. I am not sure that I
think it very nice, do you know, unless it was a very old friend
or--somebody _very_ particular. I was so sorry I could not come for
you--”

“Oh, it did not matter,” said Sara; “I was there three days. I got on
very well; and then I have more things to do than most girls have. I
don’t care so very much for amusements. I have a great many things to
do.”

“Quite a little housekeeper,” said Lady Motherwell. “You girls don’t
like to have such things said to you nowadays; but I’m an old-fashioned
old woman, and I must say what I think. What a nice little wife you will
make one of these days! That used to be the highest compliment that
could be paid to us when I was your age.”

“Oh, I don’t mind it at all,” said Sara; “I suppose that is what one
must come to. It is no good worrying one’s self about it. I am rather
fond of housekeeping. Are you going to be one of the patronesses for the
Masterton ball, Lady Motherwell? Do you think one should go?”

“No, I don’t think one should go,” said the old lady, not without a very
clear recollection that she was speaking to John Brownlow the
solicitor’s daughter; “but I think a dozen may go, and you shall come
with me. I am going to make up a party--yourself and the two Keppels--”

“No,” said Sara, “I am a Masterton girl, and I ought not to go with you
grand county folks--oh no, papa must take me; but thank you very much
all the same.”

“You are an odd girl,” said Lady Motherwell. “You forget your papa is
one of the very richest of the county folks, as you call us. I think
Brownlows is the finest place within twenty miles, and you that have all
the charge of it--”

“Don’t laugh at me, please--I don’t like being laughed at. It makes me
feel like a cat,” said Sara; and she clasped her soft hands together,
and sat back in her soft velvet chair out of the firelight, and sheathed
her claws as it were; not feeling sure any moment that she might not be
tempted to make a spring upon her flattering foe.

“Well, my dear, if you want to spit and scratch, let Charley be the
victim, please,” said the old lady. “I think he would rather like it.
And I am not laughing in the least, I assure you. I think a great deal
of good housekeeping. We used to be brought up to see after every thing
when I was young; and really, you know, when you have a large
establishment, and feel that your husband looks to you for every
thing--”

“We have not all husbands, thank heaven,” said Sara, spitefully; “and I
am sure I don’t want a situation as a man’s housekeeper. It is all very
well when it’s papa.”

“You will not always think so,” said Lady Motherwell, laughing; “that is
a thing a girl always changes her mind about. Of course you will marry
some day, as every body does.”

“I don’t see,” said Sara, very decidedly, “why it should be of course.
If there was any body that papa had set his heart on, and wanted me to
marry--or any _good_ reason--of course I would do what ever was my duty.
But I don’t think papa is a likely sort of man to stake me at cards, or
get into any body’s power, or any thing of that sort.”

“Sara, you are the most frightful little cynic,” cried Lady Motherwell,
laughing; “don’t you believe that girls sometimes fall in love?”

“Oh yes, all the silly ones,” said Sara, calmly, out of her corner. She
was not saying any thing that she did not to a certain extent feel; but
there is no doubt that she had a special intention at the moment in what
she said.

Lady Motherwell had another laugh, for she was amused, and not nearly so
much alarmed for the consequences as the young speaker intended she
should be. “If all girls had such sentiments, what would become of the
world?” she said. “The world would come to an end.”

“I wish it would,” said Sara. “Why shouldn’t it come to an end? It would
be easy to make a nicer world. People are very aggravating in this one.
I am sure I don’t see why we should make ourselves unhappy about its
coming to an end. It would always be a change if it did. And some of the
poor people might have better luck. Do _you_ think it is such a very
nice world?”

“My dear, don’t be profane,” said Lady Motherwell. “I never did think
Mr. Hardcastle was very settled in his principles. I declare you
frighten me, Sara, sitting and talking in that sceptical way, in the
dark.”

“Oh, I can ring for lights,” said Sara; “but that isn’t sceptical. It’s
sceptical to go on wishing to live forever, and to make the world last
forever, as if we mightn’t have something better. At least so I think.
And as for Mr. Hardcastle, I don’t know what he has to do with it--he
never said a word on the subject to me.”

“Yes, my dear, but there is a general looseness,” said the old lady. “I
know the sort of thing. He lets you think whatever you like, and never
impresses any doctrines on you as he ought. We are not in Dewsbury
parish, you know, and I feel I ought to speak. There are such
differences in clergymen. Our vicar is very pointed, and makes you
really feel as if you knew what you believed. And that is such a
comfort, my dear. Though, to be sure, you are very young, and you don’t
feel it now.”

“No, I don’t feel it at all,” said Sara; “but, Lady Motherwell, perhaps
you would like to go to your room. I think I hear papa’s cart coming up
the avenue--will you wait and see him before you go?”

Thus the conversation came to an end, though Lady Motherwell elected to
wait, and was as gracious to Mr. Brownlow as if he had been twenty
county people. Even if Sara did not have Brownlows, as everybody
supposed, still she would be rich and bring money enough with her to do
a vast deal of good at Motherwell, where the family for a long time had
not been rich. Sir Charles’s father, old Sir Charles, had not done his
duty by the property. Instead of marrying somebody with a fortune, which
was clearly the object for which he had been brought into the world, he
had married to please a fancy of his own in a very reprehensible way.
His wife herself felt that he had failed to do his duty, though it was
for her sake; and she was naturally all the more anxious that her son
should fulfill this natural responsibility. Sir Charles was not
handsome, nor was he bright, nor even so young as he might have been;
but all this, if it made the sacrifice less, made the necessity more,
and accordingly Lady Motherwell was extremely friendly to Mr. Brownlow.
When she came down for dinner she took a sort of natural protecting
place, as if she had been Sara’s aunt, or bland, flattering,
uninterfering mother-in-law. She called the young mistress of the house
to her side, and held her hand, and patted it and caressed it. She told
Mr. Brownlow how pleased she was to see how the dear child had
developed. “You will not be allowed to keep her long,” she said, with
tender meaning; “I think if she were mine I would go and hide her up so
that nobody might see her. But one has to make up one’s mind to part
with them all the same.”

“Not sooner than one can help,” said Mr. Brownlow, looking not at Lady
Motherwell, but at his child, who was the subject of discourse. He knew
what the old lady meant as well as Sara did, and he had been in the way
of smiling at it, wondering how any body could imagine he would give his
child to a good-tempered idiot; but this night another kind of idea came
into his mind. The man was stupid, but he was a gentleman of
long-established lineage, and he could secure to Sara all the advantages
of which she had so precarious a tenure here. He could give her even a
kind of title, so far as that went, though Mr. Brownlow was not much
moved by a baronet’s title; and if any thing should happen to endanger
Brownlows, it would not matter much to Jack or himself. They could
return to the house in Masterton, and make themselves as comfortable as
life, without Sara, could be anywhere. This was the thought that was
passing through Mr. Brownlow’s mind when he said, “Not sooner than one
can help.” He was thinking for the first time that such a bestowal of
his child might not be so impossible after all.

Beside her, in the seat she had taken when she escaped from Lady
Motherwell, Sir Charles had already taken up his position. He was
talking to her through his hard little black mustache--not that he said
a great deal. He was a tall man, and she was seated in a low chair, with
the usual billows of white on the carpet all round her, so that he could
not even approach very near; and she had to look up at him and strain
her ear when he spoke, if she wanted to hear--which was a trouble Sara
did not choose to take. So she said, “What?” in her indifferent way,
playing with her fan, and secretly doing all she could to extend the
white billows round her; while he, poor man, bent forward at a right
angle till he was extremely uncomfortable, and repeated his very trivial
observations with a vain attempt to reach her ear.

“I think I am growing deaf,” said Sara; “perhaps it was that dreadful
frost--I don’t think I have ever got quite thawed yet. When I do, all
you have been saying will peal out of the trumpet like Baron Munchausen,
you know. So you didn’t go to the stables? Wasn’t that rather naughty? I
am sure it was to the stables your mamma sent you when you went away.”

“Tell you what, Miss Brownlow,” said Sir Charles, “you are making game
of me.”

“Oh, no,” said Sara; “or did you go to the gate and see such a pretty
girl in the cottage opposite? I don’t know whether you would fall in
love with her, but I have; I never saw any one look so sweet. She has
such pretty dark little curls, and yet not curls--something
prettier--and such eyes--”

“Little women with black hair are frights,” said Sir Charles--“always
thought so, and more than ever now.”

“Why more than ever now?” said Sara, with the precision of contempt; and
then she went on--“If you don’t care either for pretty horses or pretty
girls, we shan’t know how to amuse you. Perhaps you are fond of reading;
I think we have a good many nice books.”

Sir Charles said something to his mustache, which was evidently an
expletive of some kind. He was not the sort of man to swear by Jove, or
even by George, much less by any thing more tangible; but still he did
utter something in an inarticulate exclamatory way. “A man would be
difficult to please if he didn’t get plenty to amuse him here,” was how
it ended. “I’m not afraid--”

“It is very kind of you to say so,” said Sara, so very politely that Sir
Charles did not venture upon any more efforts, but stood bending down
uneasily, looking at her, and pulling at his respirator in an
embarrassed way; not that he was remarkable in this, for certainly the
moment before dinner is not favorable to animated or genial
conversation. And it was not much better at dinner. Sara had Mr. Keppel
of Ridley, the eldest brother, at her other side, who talked better than
Sir Charles did. His mother kept her eye upon them as well as that was
possible from the other end of the table, and she was rather hard upon
him afterward for the small share he had taken in the conversation. “You
should have amused her and made her talk, and drawn her out,” said the
old lady. “Oh, she talked plenty,” Sir Charles said, in a discomfited
tone; and he did not make much more of it in the evening, when young
Mrs. Keppel and her sister-in-law, and Fanny Hardcastle, all gathered in
a knot round the young mistress of the house. It was a pretty group, and
the hum of talk that issued from it attracted even the old people to
linger and listen, though doubtless their own conversation would have
been much more worth listening to. There was Sara reclining upon the
cushions of a great round ottoman, with Fanny Hardcastle by her, making
one mass of the white billows; and opposite, Mrs. Keppel, who was a
pretty little woman, lay back in a low deep round chair, and Mary
Keppel, who was a little fond of attitudes, sat on a stool, leaning her
head upon her hands, in the centre. Sometimes they talked all together,
so that you could not tell what they said; and they discussed every
thing that ought to be discussed in heaven and earth, and occasionally
something that ought not; and there was a dark fringe of men round about
them, joining in the babble. But as for Sir Charles, he knew his
_consigne_, and stood at his post, and did not attempt to talk. It was
an exercise that was seldom delightful to him; and then he was puzzled,
and could not make out whether, as he himself said, it was chaff or
serious. But he could always stand over the mistress of his affections,
and do a sentinel’s duty, and keep other people away from her. That was
a _métier_ he understood.

“Has it been a pleasant evening, Sara?” said Mr. Brownlow when the
guests had all gone, and Sir Charles had disappeared with Jack, and Lady
Motherwell had retired to think it all over and invent some way of
pushing her son on. The father and daughter were left alone in the room,
which was still very bright with lights and fire, and did not suggest
any of the tawdry ideas supposed to hang about in the air after an
entertainment is over. They were both standing by the fire, lingering
before they said good-night.

“Oh, yes,” said Sara, “if that odious man would not mount guard over me.
What have I done that he should always stand at my elbow like that, with
his hideous mustache?”

“You mean Sir Charles?” said Mr. Brownlow. “I thought girls liked that
sort of thing. He means it for a great compliment to you.”

“Then I wish he would compliment somebody else,” said Sara; “I think it
is very hard, papa. A girl lives at home with her father, and is very
happy and doesn’t want any change; but any man that pleases--any tall
creature with neither brains nor sense, nor any thing but a
mustache--thinks he has a right to come and worry her; and people think
she should be pleased. It is awfully hard. No woman ever attempts to
treat Jack like that.”

Mr. Brownlow smiled, but it was not so frankly as usual. “Are you really
quite sure about this matter?” he said. “I wish you would think it over,
my darling. He is not bright--but he’s a very good fellow in his
way--stop a little. And you know I am only Brownlow the solicitor, and
if any thing should happen to our money, all this position of ours in
the county would be lost. Now Sir Charles could give you a better
position--”

“Oh, papa! could you ever bear to hear me called Lady Motherwell?” cried
Sara--“young Lady Motherwell! I should hate myself and every body
belonging to me. But look here; I have wanted to speak to you for a long
time. If you were to lose your money, I don’t see why you should mind so
very much. _I_ should not mind. We would go away to the country, and get
a cottage somewhere, and be very comfortable. After all, money don’t
matter so much. We could walk instead of driving, which is often far
pleasanter, and do things for ourselves.”

“What do you know about my money?” said Mr. Brownlow, with a bitter
momentary pang. He thought something must have betrayed the true state
of affairs to Sara, which would be an almost incredible addition to the
calamity.

“Well, not much,” said Sara, lightly; “but I know merchants and people
are often losing money, and you have an office like a merchant. I should
not mind _that_; but I do mind never being able to turn my head even at
home in our very own house, without seeing that man with his horrid
mustache.”

“Poor Sir Charles!” said Mr. Brownlow, and the anxiety on his face
lightened a little. She could not know any thing about it. It must be
merely accidental, he thought. Then he lighted her candle for her, and
kissed her soft cheek. “You said you would marry any one I asked you to
marry,” he said, with a smile; but it was not a smile that went deep.
Strangely enough he was a little anxious about the answer, as if he had
really some plan in his mind.

“And so I should, and never would hesitate,” said Sara, promptly,
holding his hand, “but not Sir Charles, please, papa.”

This was the easy way in which the girl played on what might possibly
turn out to be the very verge of the precipice.



CHAPTER XI.

THE YOUNG PEOPLE.


After all, no doubt it is the young people who are the kings and queens
of this world. They don’t have it in their own hands, nor their own way
in it, which would not be good for them, but all our plots and plans are
for their advantage whether they know it or not. For their sakes a great
deal of harm is done in this world, which the doers hold excused,
sometimes sanctified, by its motive, and the young creatures themselves
have a great many things to bear which, no doubt, is for their advantage
too. It is the least invidious title of rank which can exist in any
community, for we have all been young--all had a great many things done
for us which we would much rather had been let alone--and all suffered
or profited by the plans of our progenitors. But if they are important
in the actual universe, they are still more important in the world of
fiction. Here we can not do without these young heroes and heroines. To
make a middle-aged man or woman interesting demands genius, the highest
concentration of human power and skill; whereas almost any of us can
frame our innocent little tale about Edwin and Angelina, and tempt a
little circle to listen notwithstanding the familiarity of the subject.
Such is the fact, let us account for it as we may. The youths and
maidens, and their encounters, and their quarrels, and their makings-up,
their walks and talks and simple doings, are the one subject that never
fails; so, though it is a wonder how it should be so, let us go back to
them and consider their young prospects and their relations to each
other before we go farther on in the real progress of our tale.

The way that Sara made acquaintance with the little dweller at her gate
was in this wise. It was the day after the dinner-party, when the
Motherwells were still at Brownlows. Sara had gone out to convey some
consolation to old Betty at the gate, who was a rheumatical old woman.
And she thought she had managed to escape very cleverly out of Lady
Motherwell’s clutches, when, to her horror, Sir Charles overtook her in
the avenue. He carried in his manner and appearance all the dignity of a
man whose mind is made up. He talked very little, certainly, to begin
with--but that was his way; and he caressed his abrupt little black
mustache as men do caress any physical adjunct which is a comfort to
them in a crisis. Sara could not conceal it from herself that something
was coming, and there was no apparent escape for her. The avenue was
long; there was nobody visible coming or going. Had the two been on a
desert island, Sir Charles could scarcely have had less fear of
interruption. I do not pretend to say that Sara was entirely
inexperienced in this sort of thing, and did not know how to snub an
incipient lover or get out of such a dilemma in ordinary cases; but Sir
Charles Motherwell’s was not an ordinary case. In the first place, he
was staying in the house, and would have to continue there till
to-morrow at least, whatever might happen to him now; and in the second,
he was obtuse, and might not understand what any thing short of absolute
refusal meant. He was not a man to be snubbed graciously or
ungraciously, and made to comprehend without words that his suit was
not to be offered. Such a point of understanding was too high for him.
He was meditating between himself and his mustache what he had to say,
and he was impervious to all Sara’s delicate indications of an
indisposition to listen. How could he tell what people meant unless they
said it? Thus he was a man with whom only such solid instruments as Yes
and No were of any use; and it would have been very embarrassing if
Sara, with at least twenty-four hours of his society to look forward to,
had been obliged to say No. She did the very best she could under the
emergency. She talked with all her might and tried to amuse him, and if
possible lead him off his grand intention. She chatted incessantly with
something of the same feelings that inspired Scherazade, speaking
against time, though not precisely for her life, and altogether unaware
that, in so far as her companion could abstract his thought from the
words he was about to say, when he could find them, his complacent
consciousness of the trouble she took to please him was rising higher
and higher. Poor dear little thing! he was saying to himself, how
pleased she will be! But yet, notwithstanding this comfortable thought,
it was a difficult matter to Sir Charles in broad daylight, and with the
eyes of the world, as it were, upon him, to prevail upon the right words
to come.

They were only half way down the avenue when he cleared his throat. Sara
was in despair. She knew by that sound and by the last convulsive twitch
of his mustache that it was just coming. A pause of awful suspense
ensued. She was so frightened that even her own endeavor to ward off
extremities failed her. She could not go on talking in the horror of the
moment. Should she pretend to have forgotten something in the house and
rush back? or should she make believe somebody was calling her and fly
forward? She had thrown herself forward on one foot, ready for a run,
when that blessed diversion came for which she could never be
sufficiently thankful. She gave a start of delightful relief when they
came to that break in the trees. “Who can that be?” she said, much as,
had she been a man, she would have uttered a cheer. It would not have
done for Miss Brownlow to burst forth into an unlooked-for hurrah, so
she gave vent to this question instead, and made a little rush on to the
grass where that figure was visible. It was a pretty little figure in a
red cloak; and it was bending forward, anxiously examining some herbage
about the root of a tree. At the sound of Sara’s exclamation the
stranger raised herself hurriedly, blushed, looked confused, and
finally, with a certain shy promptitude, came forward, as if, Sara said
afterward, she was a perfect little angel out of heaven.

“I beg your pardon,” she said; “perhaps I ought not to be here. I am so
sorry; but--it was for old Betty I came.”

“You are very welcome to come,” said Sara, eagerly--“if you don’t mind
the damp grass. It is you who live at Mrs. Swayne’s? Oh, yes, I know you
quite well. Pray, come whenever you please. There are a great many
pretty walks in the park.”

“Oh, thank you!” said little Pamela. It was the first time she had seen
the young great lady so near, and she took a mental inventory of her,
all that she was like and all that she had on. Seeing Miss Sara on foot,
like any other human creature, was not a thing that occurred every day;
and she took to examining her with a double, or rather triple,
interest--first, because it _was_ Miss Sara, and something very new;
second, to be able to describe minutely the glorious vision to her
mother; and thirdly out of genuine admiration. How beautiful she was!
and how beautifully dressed! and then the tall gentleman by her side, so
unlike any thing Pamela ever saw, who took off his hat to her--actually
to _her_! No doubt, though he was not so handsome as might have been
desired, they were going to be married. He must be very good, gallant,
and noble, as he was not so _very_ good looking. Pamela’s bright eyes
danced with eagerness and excitement as she looked at them. It was as
good as a play or a story-book. It was a romance being performed for her
benefit, actually occurring under her very eyes.

“I know what you were doing,” said Sara, “but it is too early yet.
’Round the ashen roots the violets blow’--I know that is what you were
thinking of.”

Pamela, who knew very little about violets, and nothing about poetry,
opened her eyes very wide. “Indeed,” she said, anxiously, “I was only
looking for some plantain for Betty’s bird--that was all. I did not mean
to take any--flowers. I would not do any thing so--so--ungrateful.”

“But you shall have as many violets as ever you like,” said Sara, who
was eager to find any pretense for prolonging the conversation. “Do come
and walk here by me. I am going to see old Betty. Do you know how she is
to-day? Don’t you think she is a nice old woman? I am going to tell her
she ought to have her grandchild to live with her, and open the gate,
now that her rheumatism has come on. It always lasts three months when
it comes on. Your Mr. Swayne’s, you know, goes on and off. I always hear
all about it from my maid.”

When she paused for breath, Pamela felt that as the tall gentleman took
no part in the conversation, it was incumbent upon her to say something.
She was much flattered by the unexpected grandeur of walking by Miss
Brownlow’s side, and being taken into her confidence; but the emergency
drove every idea out of her head, as was natural. She could not think of
any thing that it would be nice to say, and in desperation hazarded a
question. “Is there much rheumatism about here?” poor Pamela said,
looking up as if her life depended on the answer she received; and then
she grew burning red, and hot all over, and felt as if life itself was
no longer worth having, after thus making a fool of herself. As if Miss
Brownlow knew any thing about the rheumatism here! “What an idiot she
will think me!” said she to herself, longing that the earth would open
and swallow her up. But Miss Brownlow was by no means critical. On the
contrary, Sara rushed into the subject with enthusiasm.

“There is always rheumatism where there are so many trees,” she said,
with decision--“from the damp, you know. Don’t you find it so at
Motherwell, Sir Charles? You have such heaps of trees in that part of
the county. Half my poor people have it here. And the dreadful thing is
that one doesn’t know any cure for it, except flannel. You never can
give them too much flannel,” said Sara, raising her eyes gravely to her
tall companion. “They think flannel is good for every thing under the
skies.”

“Don’t know, I’m sure,” said Sir Charles. “Sure it’s very good of you.
Don’t know much about rheumatism myself. Always see lots about in our
place; flannel pettic--hem--oh--beg your pardon. I’m sure--”

When he uttered that unfortunate remark, poor Sir Charles brought
himself up with a sudden start, and turned very red. It was his horror
and embarrassment, poor man, and fear of having shocked his companion’s
delicacy. But Sara took the meanest advantage of him. She held out her
hand, with a sweet smile. “Are you going?” she said; “it is so kind of
you to have come so far with me. I hope you will have a pleasant ride.
Please make Jack call at the Rectory, and ask if Fanny’s cold is better.
Shall you be back to luncheon? But you never are, you gentlemen. Are you
never hungry in the middle of the day as we are? Till dinner, then,” she
said, waving her hand. Perhaps there was something mesmeric in it. The
disappointed wooer was so startled that he stood still as under a spell.

“Didn’t mean to leave you,” he said: “don’t care for riding. I’d like to
see old Betty too.”

“Oh, but that would be much too polite,” cried Sara. “Please, never mind
_me_. It is so kind of you to have come so far. Good-bye just now. I
hope you will have a pleasant ride.” She was gone before he could move
or recover from his consternation. He stood in dumb amaze for a full
minute looking after her; and then poor Sir Charles turned away with the
obedience of despair. He had been too well brought up on the whole. His
mother had brought him to such a pitch of discipline that he could not
choose but obey the helm, whosesoever hand might touch it. “It was all
those confounded petticoats,” he said to himself. “How could I be such
an ass?” which was the most vigorous speech he had made even to himself
for ages. As for Sara, she relaxed from her usual dignity, and went
along skipping and tripping in the exhilaration of her heart. “Oh, what
a blessing he is gone! oh, what a little angel you were to appear just
when you did!” said Sara; and then she gave a glance at her new
companion’s bewildered face, and composed herself. “But don’t let us
think of him any more,” she continued. “Tell me about yourself--I want
to know all about yourself. Wasn’t it lucky we met? Please tell me your
name, and how old you are, and how you like living here. Of course, you
know I am Sara Brownlow. And oh, to be sure, first of all, why did you
say ungrateful? Have I ever done any thing to make you grateful to me?”

“Oh, yes, please,” said Pamela. “It is so pretty to see you always when
you ride, and when you drive out. I am not quite strong yet, and I don’t
know any body here; but I have only to sit down at the window, and there
is always something going on. Last night you can’t think how pretty it
was. The carriage lamps kept walking up and down like giants with two
big eyes. And I can see all up the avenue from my window; and when I
looked very close, just as they passed Betty’s door, I could see a
little glimpse of the ladies inside. I saw one lovely pink dress; and
then in the next there was a scarlet cloak all trimmed with swan’s down.
I could tell it was swan’s down, it was so fluffy. Oh, I beg your
pardon, I didn’t mean to talk so much; but it is such fun living there,
just opposite the gate. And that is why I am so grateful to you.”

Sara, it was impossible to deny, was much staggered by this speech. Its
frankness amazed and yet attracted her. It drove her into deep
bewilderment as to the rank of her little companion. Was she _a lady_?
She would scarcely have taken so much pleasure in the sight, had it been
within the range of possibility that she could herself join such a
party; but then her voice was a refined voice, and her lovely looks
might, as Sara had thought before, have belonged to a princess. The
young mistress of Brownlows looked very curiously at Pamela, but she
could not fathom her. The red cloak was a little the worse for wear, but
still it was such a garb as any one might have worn. There was no sort
of finery, no sort of pretension, about the little personage. And then
Sara had already made up her mind in any case to take her pretty
neighbor under her protection. The end of the matter was, that in
turning it over in her mind, the amusing side of the question at last
caught her eye. How strange it was! While the awful moment before dinner
was being got through at the great house, this little creature at the
gate was clapping her hands over the sounds and sights out-of-doors. To
her it was not heavy people coming to dinner, to be entertained in body
and mind for three or four mortal hours; but prancing horses and rolling
wheels, and the lamps making their shining progress two and two, and all
the cheerful commotion. How odd it was! She must be (whatever her
“position”) an original little thing, to see so tedious a business in
such a novel light.

“It is very odd,” said Sara, “that I never thought of that before. I
almost think I shouldn’t mind having stupid people now and then if I had
thought of that. And so you think it fun? You wouldn’t think it fun if
you had to watch them eating their dinner, and amuse them all the
evening. It _is_ such hard work; and then to ask them to sing when you
know they can’t sing, no more than peacocks, and to stand and say Thank
you when it is all over! I wonder what made you think of looking at the
lamps. It is very clever of you, you know, to describe them like that.
Do you read a great deal? Are you fond of it? Do you play, or do you
draw, or what do you like best?”

This question staggered Pamela as much as her description had done Sara.
She grew pale and then she grew red. “I am--not in the least clever,”
she said, “nor--nor accomplished--nor--I am not a great lady like you,
Miss Brownlow,” the little girl added, with a sudden pang of
mortification. She had not been in the least envious of Sara, nor
desirous of claiming equality with her. And yet when she thus suddenly
perceived the difference, it went to her heart so sharply that she had
hard ado not to cry.

As for Sara, she laughed softly, not knowing of any bitterness beneath
that reply. She laughed, knowing she was not a great lady, and yet a
little disposed to think she was, and pleased to appear so in her
companion’s eyes. “If you were to speak like that to Lady Motherwell, I
wonder what she would say,” said Sara; “but I don’t want you to be a
great lady. I think you are the prettiest little thing I ever saw in my
life. There now--I suppose it is wrong to say it, but it is quite true.
It is a pleasure just to look at you. If you are not nice and good, it
is a great shame, and very ungrateful of you, when God has made you so
pretty; but I think you must be nice. Don’t blush and tremble like that,
as if I were a gentleman. I am just nineteen. How old are you?”

“Seventeen last midsummer,” said Pamela, under her breath.

“I knew you were quite a child,” said Sara, with dignity. “Don’t look so
frightened. I mean to come and see you almost every day. And you shall
come home with me, and see the flowers, and the pictures, and all my
pretty things. I have quantities of pretty things. Papa is so very kind.
_I_ have no mother; but that--that--old--lady--is your mother, is she?
or your grandmother? Look, there is old Betty at the door. Wicked old
woman! what business has she to come out to the door and make her
rheumatism worse? Come along a little quicker; but, you poor little
dear, what is the matter? Can’t you run?”

“I sprained my ankle,” said Pamela, blushing more and more, and
wondering if Mr. John had perhaps kept that little incident to himself.

“And I trying to make you run!” cried the penitent Sara. “Never mind,
take my arm. I am not in the least in a hurry. Lean upon me--there’s a
good child. They should not let you come so far alone.”

Thus it was that the two arrived at Betty’s cottage, to the old woman’s
intense amazement. Pamela herself was flattered by the kind help
afforded her, but it is doubtful whether she enjoyed it; and in the
exciting novelty of the position, she was glad to sit down in a corner
and collect herself while her brilliant young patroness fulfilled her
benevolent mission. Betty’s lodge was a creation of Miss Brownlow’s from
beginning to end. It was Sara’s design, and Sara had furnished it, up to
the pictures on the wall, which were carefully chosen in accordance with
what might be supposed to be an old woman’s taste, and the little
book-shelf, which was filled on the same principles. The fact was,
however, that Betty had somewhat mortified Sara by pinning up a glorious
colored picture out of the “Illustrated News,” and by taking in a tale
of love and mystery in penny numbers, showing illegitimate tastes both
in literature and art. But she was suffering, and eventually at such a
moment her offenses ought to be forgiven.

“You should not stand at the door like that, and go opening the gate in
such weather,” said Sara. “I came to say you must have one of your son’s
children to help you,--that one you had last year.”

“She’s gone to service, Miss,” said Betty, with a bob.

“Then one of your daughter’s,--the daughter you have at Masterton--she
has dozens and dozens of children. Why can not one of them come out and
take care of you?”

“Please, Miss,” said Betty, “a poor man’s childer is his
fortune--leastways in a place where there’s mills and things. They’re
all a-doing of something, them little things. I’m awful comfortable,
Miss, thanks to you and your good papa”--at this and all other intervals
of her speech, Betty made a courtesy--“but I ain’t got money like to pay
’em wages, and saving when one’s a bit delicate, or that--”

“Betty, sit down, please, and don’t make so many courtesies. I don’t
understand that. If I had a nice old grandmother like you”--said Sara;
and then she paused and blushed, and bethought herself--perhaps it might
be as well not to enter upon that question.

“Anyhow it is very easy to pay them something,” she said. “I will pay it
for you till your rheumatism is better. And then there is your other
son, who was a tailor or something--where is he?”

“Oh, if I could but tell!” said Betty. “Oh, Miss, he’s one o’ them as
brings down gray hairs wi’ sorrow--not as I have a many to lose, though
when I was a young lass, the likes o’ me for a ’ead of ’air wasn’t in
all Dewsbury. But Tom, I’m afeard, I’m afeard, has tooken to terrible
bad ways.”

“Drinking or something?” asked Sara, in the tone of a woman experienced
in such inevitable miseries.

“Worse than that, Miss. I don’t say as it ain’t bad enough when a man
takes to drinking. Many a sore heart it’s giv’ me, but it always comes
kind o’ natural like,” said Betty, with her apron at her eyes. “But poor
Tom, he’s gone and come out for a Radical, Miss, and sets hisself up
a-making speeches and things. It’s that as brought it on me so bad. I’ve
not been so bad before, not sin’ his poor father died.”

“Then don’t stand and courtesy like that, please,” said Sara. “A
Radical--is that all? I am a little of a Radical myself, and so is
papa.”

“Ah, the like of you don’t know,” said Betty. “Mr. John wouldn’t say
nothing for him. He said, ‘That’s very bad, very bad, Betty,’ when I
went and told him; and a young gentleman like that is the one to know.”

“He knows nothing about it,” said Sara; “he’s a University man, and
Eton, you know; he is all in the old world way; but papa and I are
Radicals, like Tom. Are you?--but I suppose you are too young to know.
And oh, here it is just time for luncheon, and you have never told me
your name. Betty, make haste and send for Tom or somebody to help you.
And there’s something coming in a basket; and if you want any thing you
must send up to the house.”

“You’re very kind, Miss,” said Betty, “and the neighbors is real kind,
and Mrs. Swayne, though she has queer ways--And as for Miss Pammly
here--”

“Pamela,” said the little girl, softly, from her chair.

“Is that your name?” said Sara. “Pamela--I never knew any one called
Pamela before. What a pretty name! Sara is horrible. Every soul calls me
Sairah. Look here, you are a little darling; and you don’t know what you
saved me from this morning; and I’ll come to see you the moment Lady
Motherwell goes away.”

Upon which Sara dropped a rapid kiss upon her new friend’s cheek and
rushed forth, passing the window like an arrow, rushing up the long
avenue like a winged creature, with the wind in her hair and in her
dress. The little lodge grew darker to Pamela’s dazzled eyes when she
was gone.

“Is that really Miss Brownlow, Betty?” she said, after the first pause.

“Who could it be else, I would like to know?” said Betty; “a-leaving her
orders like that, and never giving no time to answer or nothing. I
wonder what’s coming in the basket. Not as I’m one o’ the greedy ones as
is always looking for something; but what’s the good o’ serving them
rich common folks if you don’t get no good out of them? Oh for certain
sure it’s Miss Sara; and she taken a fancy to you.”

“What do you mean by common folks?” asked Pamela, already disposed, as
was natural, to take up the cudgels for her new friend. “She is a lady,
oh, all down to the very tips of her shoes.”

“May be as far as you knows,” said Betty, “but I’ve been here off and on
for forty years, and I mind the old Squires; not saying no harm of Miss
Sara, as is very open-handed; but you mind my words, you’ll see plenty
of her for a bit--she’s took a fancy to you.”

“Do you think so, _really_, Betty?” said Pamela, with brightening eyes.

“What I says is for a bit,” said Betty; “don’t you take up as I’m
meaning more--for a bit, Miss Pammly; that’s how them sort does. She’s
one as ’ill come every day, and then, when she’s other things in hand,
like, or other folks, or feels a bit tired--”

“Yes, perhaps,” said Pamela, who had grown very red; “but that need not
have any effect on me. If I was fond of any one, I would never, never
change, whatever they might do--not if they were to be cruel and
unkind--not if they were to forget me--”

Here the little girl started, and became very silent all in a moment.
And the blush of indignation on her cheek passed and was followed by a
softer sweeter color, and her words died away on her lips. And her eyes,
which had been shining on old Betty with all the magnanimity of youth,
went down, and were covered up under the blue-veined, long-fringed
eyelids. The fact was, some one else had come into the lodge--had come
without knocking, in a very noiseless, stealthy sort of way--“as if he
meant it.” And this new-comer was no less a person than Mr. John.

“My sister says you are ill, Betty,” said Jack; “what do you mean by
being ill? I am to send in one of your grandchildren from Masterton.
What do you say? Shall I? or should you rather be alone?”

“It’s allays you for the thoughtful one, Mr. John,” said Betty,
gratefully; “though you’re a gentleman, and it don’t stand to reason.
But Miss Sara’s a-going to pay; and if there’s a little as is to be
arned honest, I’m not one as would send it past my own. There’s little
Betsy, as is a tidy bit of a thing. But I ain’t ill, not to say ill, no
more nor Miss Pammly here is ill--her as had her ankle sprained in that
awful snow.”

Mr. John made what Pamela thought a very grand bow at this point of
Betty’s speech. He had taken his hat off when he came in. Betty’s
doctor, when he came to see her, did not take off his hat, not even when
Pamela was present. The little girl had very quick eyes, and she did not
fail to mark the difference. After he had made his bow, Mr. John somehow
seemed to forget Betty. It was to the little stranger his words, his
eyes, his looks, were addressed. “I hope you are better?” he said. “I
took the liberty of going to your house to ask, but Mrs. Swayne used to
turn me away.”

“Oh, thank you; you are very kind,” said Pamela; and then she added,
“Mrs. Swayne is very funny. Mamma would have liked to have thanked you,
I am sure.”

“And I am sure I did not want any thanks,” said Jack; “only to know. You
are sure you are better now?”

“Oh, much better,” said Pamela; and then there came a pause. It was more
than a pause. It was a dead stop, with no apparent possibility of
revival. Pamela, for her part, like an inexperienced little girl,
fidgeted on her chair, and wrapped herself close in her cloak. Was that
all? His sister had a great deal more to say. Jack, though he was not
inexperienced, was almost for the moment as awkward as Pamela. He went
across the room to look at the picture out of the “Illustrated News;”
and he spoke to Betty’s bird, which had just been regaled with the bit
of plantain Pamela had brought; and, at last, when all those little
exercises had been gone through, he came back.

“I hope you like living here,” he said. “It is cold and bleak now, but
in summer it is very pretty. You came at the worst time of the year; but
I hope you mean to stay?”

“Oh yes, we like it,” said Pamela; and then there came another pause.

“My sister is quite pleased to think of having you for a neighbor,” said
Jack. It was quite extraordinary how stupid he was. He could talk well
enough sometimes; but at this present moment he had not a syllable to
say. “Except Miss Hardcastle at the Rectory, she has nobody near, and my
father and I are so much away.”

Pamela looked up at him with a certain sweet surprise in her eyes. Could
he too really think her a fit friend for his sister? “It is very kind of
Miss Brownlow,” she said, “but I am only--I mean I don’t think I
am--I--I am always with my mother.”

“But your mother would not like you to be shut up,” said Jack, coming a
little nearer. “I always look over the way now when I pass. To see
bright faces instead of blank windows is quite pleasant. I dare say you
never notice us.”

“Oh yes,” cried Pamela. “And that pretty horse! It is such fun to live
there and see you all passing.” She said this forgetting herself, and
then she met old Betty’s gaze and grew conscious again. “I mean we are
always so quiet,” she said, and began once more to examine the binding
of her cloak.

At this moment the bell from the great house began to tinkle pleasantly
in the wintry air: it was another of Pamela’s amusements. And it marked
the dinner hour at which her mother would look for her; but how was she
to move with this young man behind her chair? Betty, however, was not so
delicate. “I always set my clock by the luncheon-bell,” said old Betty.
“There it’s a-going, bless it! I has my dinner by it regular, and I sets
my clock. Don’t you go for to stir, Miss Pammly. Bless you, I don’t mind
you! And Mr. John, he’s a-going to his lunch. Don’t you mind. I’ll set
my little bit of a table ready; but I has it afore the fire in this
cold weather, and it don’t come a-nigh of you.”

“Oh, mamma will want me,” said Pamela. “I shall come back another time
and see you.” She made Jack a little curtsy as she got up, but to her
confusion he came out with her and opened the gate for her, and
sauntered across the road by her side.

“I am not going to lunch--I am going to ride. So you have noticed the
mare?” said Jack. “I am rather proud of her. She _is_ a beauty. You
should see how she goes when the road is clear. I suppose I shall have
to go now, for here come the horses and Motherwell. He is one of those
men who always turn up just when they’re not wanted,” Jack continued,
opening the gate of Mrs. Swayne’s little garden for Pamela. Mrs. Swayne
herself was at the window up stairs, and Mrs. Preston was at the parlor
window looking out for her child. They both saw that wonderful sight.
Young Mr. Brownlow with his hat off holding open the little gate, and
looking down into the little face, which was so flushed with pleasure
and pride, and embarrassment and innocent shame. As for Pamela herself,
she did not know if she were walking on solid ground or on air. When the
door closed behind her, and she found herself in the dingy little
passage with nothing but her dinner before her, and the dusky afternoon,
and her work, her heart gave a little cry of impatience. But she was in
the parlor time enough to see Jack spring on his horse and trot off into
the sunshine with his tall companion. They went off into the sunshine,
but in the parlor it was deepest shade, for Mr. Swayne had so cleverly
contrived his house that the sunshine never entered. Its shadow hung
across the road, stretching to the gate of Brownlows, almost the whole
day, which made every thing dingier than it was naturally. This was what
Pamela experienced when she came in out of the bright air, out of sight
of those young faces and young voices. Could she ever have any thing to
do with them? Or was it only a kind of dream, too pleasant, too sweet to
come to any thing? It was her very first outset in life, and she was
aware that she was not much of a heroine. Perhaps it was only the
accident of an hour; but even that was pleasant if it should be no more.
This, when she had told all about it, and filled the afternoon with the
reflected glory, was the philosophical conclusion to which Pamela came
at last.



CHAPTER XII.

NEWS OF FRIENDS.


“But you must not set your heart upon it, my darling,” said Mrs.
Preston. “It may be or it mayn’t be--nobody can say. And you must not
get to blame the young lady if she thinks better of it. They are very
rich, and they have all the best people in the county coming and going.
And you are but my poor little girl, with no grand friends; and you
mustn’t take it to heart and be disappointed. If you were doing that,
though it’s such good air and so quiet, I’d have to take my darling
away.”

“I won’t, mamma,” said Pamela; “I’ll be good. But you say yourself that
it _may_ be--”

“Yes,” said the mother; “young creatures like that are not so
worldly-minded--at least, sometimes they’re not. She might take a fancy
to you; but you mustn’t build on it, Pamela. That’s all, my dear. We’re
humble folks, and the like of us don’t go visiting at great houses. And
even you’ve not got the education, my darling: and nothing but your
black frocks--”

“Oh, mamma, do you think I want to visit at great houses?” cried Pamela.
“I should not know what to say nor how to behave. What I should like
would be to go and see her in the mornings when nobody was there, and be
her little companion, and listen to her talking, and to see her dressed
when she was going out. I know we are poor; but she might get fond of me
for all that--”

“Yes, dear,” said Mrs. Preston, “I think she is a very nice young lady.
I wish her mamma had been living, Pamela. If there had been a good woman
that had children of her own, living at that great house, I think it
would have been a comfort to me.”

“Mamma, I can’t think why you should always be speaking like that,” said
Pamela, with a cloud on her brow.

“You would soon know why if you were as old as me,” said the mother. “I
can’t forget I’m old, and how little strength I’ve got left. And I
shouldn’t like my pet to get disappointed,” she said, rising and drawing
Pamela’s pretty head to her, as she stood behind her chair; “don’t you
build upon it, dear. And now I’m going into the kitchen for five minutes
to ask for poor Mr. Swayne.”

It was a thing she did almost every night, and Pamela was not surprised;
perhaps it was even a relief to her to have a few minutes all to herself
to think over the wonderful events of the day. To be sure, it had been
about Sara alone, and her overtures of friendship, that the mother and
daughter had been talking. But when Pamela was by herself, she
recollected, naturally, that there had been another actor on the scene.
She did not think of asking her mother, or even herself, if Mr. John was
to be depended on, or if there was any danger of disappointment in
respect to him. Indeed, Pamela was so wise that she did not, as she said
to herself, think at all about this branch of the subject; for, of
course, it was not likely she would ever make great friends with a young
gentleman. The peculiarity of the matter was that, though she was not
thinking of Mr. John, she seemed to see him standing before her, holding
the gate open, looking into her face, and saying that Motherwell was one
of the men that always turned up when they were least wanted. She was
not thinking of Jack; and was it her fault if this picture had fixed
itself on her retina, if that is the name of it? She went and sat down
on the rug before the fire, and gazed into the glow, and thought it all
over. After a while she even put her hands over her eyes, that she might
think over it the more perfectly. And it is astonishing how often this
picture came between her and her thoughts; but, thank heaven, it was
only a picture! Whatever Pamela might be thinking of, it was certainly
not of Mr. John.

Mrs. Swayne’s kitchen was by far the most cheerful place in the house.
It had a brick floor, which was as red as the hearth was white, and a
great array of shining things about the walls. There was a comfortable
cat dozing and blinking before the fire, which was reflected out of so
many glowing surfaces, copper, pewter, and tin, that the walls were hung
with a perfect gallery of cats. Mrs. Swayne herself had a wickerwork
chair at one side, which she very seldom occupied; for there was a great
multiplicity of meals in the house, and there was always something just
coming to perfection in the oven or on the fire. But opposite, in a
high-backed chair covered with blue and white checked linen, was Mr.
Swayne, who was the object of so much care, and was subject to the
rheumatics, like Betty. The difference of his rheumatics was, that they
went off and on. One day he would be well--so well as to go out and see
after his business; and the next day he would be fixed in his
easy-chair. Perhaps, on the whole, it was more aggravating than if he
had gone in steadily for a good long bout when he was at it, and saved
his wife’s time. But then that was the nature of the man. There was a
visitor in the kitchen when Mrs. Preston went in--no less a personage
than old Betty, who, with a daring disregard for her rheumatics, had
come across the road, wrapped in an old cloak, to talk over the news of
the day. It was a rash proceeding, no doubt; but yet rheumatics were
very ordinary affairs, and it was seldom--very seldom--that any thing so
exciting came in Betty’s way. Mrs. Swayne, for her part, had been very
eloquent about it before her lodger appeared.

“_I’d_ make short work with him,” she said, “if it was me. _I’d_ send
him about his business, you take my word. It ain’t me as would trust one
of ’em a step farther than I could see ’em. Coming a-raging and
a-roaring round of a house, as soon as they found out as there was a
poor little tender bit of a lamb to devour.”

“What is that you say about a bit o’ lamb, Nancy?” cried Mr. Swayne;
“that’s an awful treat, that is, at this time of the year. I reckon it’s
for the new lodgers and not for us. I’ll devour it, and welcome, my
lass, if you’ll set it afore me.”

Mrs. Swayne gave no direct answer to this question. She cast a glance of
mild despair at Betty, who answered by lifting up her hands in sympathy
and commiseration. “That’s just like the men,” said Mrs. Swayne. “Talk
o’ something to put into them, and that’s all as they care for. It’s
what a poor woman has to put up with late and early. Always a-craving
and a-craving, and you ne’er out of a mess, dinner and supper--dinner
and supper. But as I was a-saying, if it was me, he should never have
the chance of a word in her ear again.”

“It’s my opinion, Mrs. Swayne,” said Betty, unwinding her shawl a
little, “as in those sort of cases it’s mostly the mother’s fault.”

“I don’t know what you mean by the mother’s fault,” said Mrs. Swayne,
who was contradictory, and liked to take the initiative. “She never set
eyes on him, as I can tell, poor soul. And how was she to know as they
were all about in the avenue? It’s none o’ the mother’s fault; but if it
was me, now as they’ve took the first step--”

“That was all as I meant,” said Betty humbly; “now as it’s come to that,
I would take her off, as it were, this very day.”

“And a deal of good you’d do with that,” said Mrs. Swayne, with natural
indignation; “take her off! and leave my parlor empty, and have him
a-running after her from one place to another. I thought you was one as
knew better; I’d brave it out if it was me--he shouldn’t get no
advantages in my way o’ working. Husht both of you, and hold your
tongues; I never see the like of you for talk, Swayne--when here’s the
poor lady out o’ the parlor as can’t abide a noise. Better? ay, a deal
better, Mrs. Preston: if he wasn’t one as adored a good easy-chair afore
the fire--”

“And a very good place, too, this cold weather,” said Mr. Swayne with a
feeble chuckle. “Nancy, you tell the lady about the lamb.”

Mrs. Swayne and Betty once more exchanged looks of plaintive comment.
“That’s him all over,” she said; “but you’re one as understands what men
is, Mrs. Preston, and I’ve no mind to explain. I hear as Miss Sara took
awful to our young Miss, meeting of her promiscuous in the avenue. Betty
here, she says as it was wonderful; but I always thought myself as that
was how it would be.”

“Yes,” said the gratified mother; “not that I would have my Pamela build
upon it. A young lady like that might change her mind; but I don’t deny
that it would be very nice. Whatever is a pleasure to Pamela is twice a
pleasure to me.”

“And a sweet young lady as ever I set eyes on,” said Betty, seizing the
opportunity, and making Mrs. Preston one of her usual bobs.

Pamela’s mother was not a lady born; the two women, who were in their
way respectful to her, saw this with lynx eyes. She was not even rich
enough, poor soul, to have the appearance of a lady; and it would have
been a little difficult for them to have explained why they were so
civil. No doubt principally it was because they knew so little of her,
and her appearance had the semi-dignity of preoccupation--a thing very
difficult to be comprehended in that region of society which is wont to
express all its sentiments freely. She had something on her mind, and
she did not relieve herself by talking, and she lived in the parlor,
while Mrs. Swayne contented herself with the kitchen. That was about the
extent of her claim on their respect.

“I suppose you are all very fond of Miss Sara, knowing her all her
life,” Mrs. Preston said, after she had received very graciously Betty’s
tribute to her own child. Though she warned Pamela against building on
it, it would be hard to describe the fairy structures which had already
sprung in her own mind on these slight foundations; and though she would
not have breathed his name for worlds, it is possible that Pamela’s
mother, in her visions, found a place for Mr. John too.

“Fond! I don’t know as we’re so fond of her neither,” said Mrs. Swayne.
“She’s well, and well enough, but I can’t say as she’s my sort. She’s
too kind of familiar like--and it ain’t like a real county lady neither.
But it’s Betty as sees her most. And awful good they are, I will say
that for them, to every creature about the place.”

“Ah, mum, they ain’t the real old gentry,” said Betty, with a touch of
pathos. “If I was one as had come with ’em, or that--but I’m real old
Dewsbury, me, and was at the Hall, coming and going, for twenty years
afore their time. I ain’t got nothing to say again’ Miss Sara. She comed
there, that’s all--she wasn’t _born_. It makes a difference when folks
have been forty years and more about a place. To see them pass away as
has the right,” said Betty growing sentimental, “and them come in as has
only a bag o’ money!”

“Little enough money the old Squire had,” said Mrs. Swayne, turning her
head, “nor manners neither. Don’t you be ungrateful, Betty Caley. You
was as poor as a church-mouse all along o’ your old Squires, and got as
fat as fat when the new folks come and put you all comfortable. Deny it,
if you can. I would worship the very ground Miss Sara sets foot on, if I
was you.”

“Ah, she ain’t the real old gentry,” said Betty, with a sigh.

Perhaps Mrs. Preston had a weakness for real old gentry too, and she had
a dull life, poor woman, and was glad of a little gossip. She had heard
the story before, but she asked to hear it again, hoping for a little
amusement; for a woman, however bowed down to the level of her fortune,
gets tired sometimes, even of such a resource as needlework. She would
not sit down, for she felt that might be considered lowering herself to
their level. But she stood with her hand upon the back of an old high
wooden chair, and asked questions. If they were not the real old gentry,
and were such upstarts, why was it that the place was called by their
name, and how did they come there?

“Some say as it was a poor old creature in Masterton as give him the
money,” said Mrs. Swayne, “away from her own child as was gone off
a-soldiering. I wouldn’t say it was money that would thrive. He was
called to make the will for her, or something; an old miser, that was
what she was; and with that he bought the place. And the folks laughed
and said it was Brownlow’s. But he ain’t a man to laugh at, ain’t Mr.
Brownlow hisself. A body may have their opinion about the young folks.
Young folks ain’t nothing much to build upon, as you was a-saying, Mrs.
Preston, at their best; but I wouldn’t be the one as would cross him
hisself. He’s terrible deep, and terrible close, like all them lawyers.
And he has a way of talking as is dreadful deceiving. Them as tries to
fight honest and open with the likes of him hasn’t no chance. He ain’t a
hard neighbor, like, nor unkind to poor folk; but I wouldn’t go again’
him, not for all the world, if it was me.”

“That’s all you know, you women,” said Mr. Swayne; “he’s the
easiest-minded gentleman going, is Mr. Brownlow. He’s one as pays your
little bits o’ bills like a prince, and don’t ask no bothering
questions--what’s this for, and what’s that for, and all them
niggle-naggles. He’s as free with his money--What are you two women
a-shaking of your heads off for, as if I was a-saying what isn’t true?”

“It’s true, and it ain’t true,” said Mrs. Swayne; “and if you ever was
any way in trouble along of the young folks, Mrs. Preston, or had him to
do with, I give you my warning you’ll have to mind.”

“I shall never have any thing to do with Mr. Brownlow,” said the lodger,
with a half-frightened smile. “I’m independent. He can’t have any thing
to say to me.”

Mrs. Swayne shook her head, and so did Betty, following her lead. The
landlady did not very well know why, and neither did the old woman. It
was always a practicable way of holding up the beacon before the eyes of
Pamela’s mother. And that poor soul, who was not very courageous, grew
frightened, she could not tell why.

“But there was something to-day as made me laugh,” said old Betty--“not
as I was in spirits for laughing--what with my back, as was like to
split, and my bad knee, and them noises in my ears. But just to see how
folks forget! Miss Sara she came in. She was along of your young miss,
mum, and a-making a fuss over her; and she says, ‘Betty,’ says she, ‘we
ain’t a-going to let you open the gate, and your rheumatics so bad; send
for one of them grandchildren o’ yours.’ Atween oursels, I was just
a-thinking o’ that; for what’s enough for one is enough for two, and
it’s allays a saving for Polly. My Polly has seven on ’em, mum, and hard
work a-keeping all straight. So I up and says, ‘A poor man’s childer is
his fortin’, Miss,’ says I; ‘they’re all on ’em a-working at summat, and
I can’t have ’em without paying.’ And no more I oughtn’t to, serving
rich folks. ‘What! not for their grandmother?’ says she. ‘If I had a
nice old grandmother like you--’”

“Law!” said Mrs. Swayne, “and her own grandmother living in a poky bit
of a place in Masterton, as every body knows--never brought out here for
a breath of fresh air, nor none of them going a-nigh of her! To think
how little folks is sensible when it’s themselves as is to blame!”

“That’s what it is,” said the triumphant Betty. “When she said that, it
was her conscience as spoke. She went as red as red, and stopped there
and then. It was along of old Mrs. Fennell, poor old soul! Why ain’t she
a-living out here, and her own flesh and blood to make her comfortable?
It was on my lips to say, Law! Miss, there’s old Mrs. Fennell is older
nor me.”

“Fennell?” said Mrs. Preston; “I ought to know that name.”

“It was her own mamma’s name,” said Betty, “and I’ve met wi’ them as
seen the old lady with their own eyes. Hobson, the carrier, he goes and
sees her regularly with game and things; but what’s game in comparison
with your own flesh and blood?”

“Perhaps the mother died young,” said Mrs. Preston with some
anxiety--“that breaks the link, like. Fennell? I wonder what Fennells
she belongs to. I once knew that name well. I wish the old lady was
living here.”

“You take my word, she’ll never live here,” said Mrs. Swayne. “She ain’t
grand enough. Old grandmothers is in the way when young folks sets up
for lords and ladies. And it ain’t that far to Masterton but you could
go and see her. There’s Hobson, he knows; he’d take you safe, never
fear.”

Mrs. Preston shrunk back a little from the suggestion. “I’m not one to
pay visits,” she said. “But I’ll say good-night to you all, now. I hope
you’ll soon be better, Mr. Swayne. And, Betty, you should not be
out-of-doors on such a cold night. My child will be dull, all by
herself.” So saying, she left them; but she did not that moment return
to Pamela. She went up stairs by herself in the dark, with her heart
beating quick in her ears. “Fennell!” she was saying to herself--“I
ought to know that name.” It was very dark on the road, and there was
nothing visible from the window but the red glow from Betty’s lodge,
where the door stood innocently open; but notwithstanding, Mrs. Preston
went and looked out, as if the scene could have thrown any enlightenment
upon her thoughts. She was excited about it, unimportant though the
matter seemed. What if perhaps she might be on the trace of
friends--people who would be good to Pamela? There was once a
Fennell--Tom Fennell--who ages ago--No doubt he was dead and gone, with
every body who had belonged to her far-off early life. But standing
there in the darkness, pressing her withered cheek close to the window,
as if there was something to be seen outside, it went through the old
woman’s mind how, perhaps, if she had chosen Tom Fennell instead of the
other one, things might have been different. If any life could ever have
been real to the liver of it, surely her hard life, her many toils and
sufferings, must have been such sure fact as to leave no room for fancy.
Yet so truly, even to an unimaginative woman, was this fantastic
existence such stuff as dreams are made of, that she stopped to think
what the difference might have been if--She was nearly sixty, worn even
beyond her years, incapable of very much thinking; and yet she took a
moment to herself ere she could join her child, and permitted herself
this strange indulgence. When she descended the stairs again, still in
the dark, going softly, and with a certain thrill of excitement, Mrs.
Preston’s mind was full of dreams more unreal than those which Pamela
pondered before the fire. She was forming visions of a sweet, kind, fair
old lady who would be good to Pamela. Already her heart was lighter for
the thought. If she should be ill or feel any signs of breaking up, what
a comfort to mount into the carrier’s cart and go and commend her child
to such a protector! If she had conceived at once the plan of marrying
Pamela to Mr. John, and making her at one sweep mistress of Brownlows,
the idea would have been wisdom itself in comparison; but she did not
know that, poor soul! She came down with a visionary glow about her
heart, the secret of which she told to no one, and roused up Pamela, who
looked half dazed and dazzled as she drew her hands from before her face
and rose from the rug she had been seated on. Pamela had been dreaming,
but not more than her mother. She almost looked as if she had been
sleeping as she opened her dazzled eyes. There are times when one sees
clearer with one’s eyes closed. The child had been looking at that
picture of hers so long that she felt guilty when her mother woke her
up. She had a kind of shamefaced consciousness, Mr. John having been so
long about, that her mother must find his presence out--not knowing that
her mother was preoccupied and full of her own imaginations too. But
they did not say any thing to each other about their dreams. They
dropped into silence, each over her work, as people are so ready to do
who have something to think of. Pamela’s little field of imagination was
limited, and did not carry her much beyond the encounters of to-day; but
Mrs. Preston bent her head over her sewing with many an old scene coming
up in her mind. She remembered the day when Tom Fennell “spoke” to her
first, as vividly in all its particulars as Pamela recollected Jack
Brownlow’s looks as he stood at the door. How strange if it should be
the same Fennells! if Pamela’s new friends should be related to her old
one--if this lady at Masterton should be the woman in all the world
pointed out by Providence to succor her darling. Poor Mrs. Preston
uttered praises to Providence unawares--she seemed to see the blessed
yet crooked ways by which she had been drawn to such a discovery. Her
heart accepted it as a plan long ago concerted in heaven for her help
when she was most helpless, to surprise her, as it were, with the
infinite thought taken for her, and tender kindness. These were the
feelings that rose and swelled in her mind and went on from step to step
of farther certainty. One thing was very confusing, it is true; but
still when a woman is in such a state of mind, she can swallow a good
many confusing particulars. It was to make out what could be the special
relationship (taking it for granted that there was a relationship)
between Tom Fennell and this old lady. She could not well have been his
mother; perhaps his wife--his widow! This was scarcely a palatable
thought, but still she swallowed it--swallowed it, and preferred to
think of something else, and permitted the matter to fall back into its
former uncertainty. What did it matter about particulars when Providence
had been so good to her? Dying itself would be little if she could but
make sure of friends for Pamela. She sang, as it were, a “Nunc dimittis”
in her soul.

Thus the acquaintance began between the young people at the great house
and little Pamela in Mrs. Swayne’s cottage. It was not an acquaintance
which was likely to arise in the ordinary course of affairs, and
naturally it called forth a little comment. Probably, had the mother
been living, as Mrs. Preston wished, Sara would never have formed so
unequal a friendship; but it was immaterial to Mr. Brownlow, who heard
his child talk of her companion, and was pleased to think she was
pleased: prepossessed as he was by the pretty face at the window which
so often gleamed out upon him, he himself, though he scarcely saw any
more of her than that passing glimpse in the morning, was taken with a
certain fondness for the lovely little girl. He no longer said she was
like Sara; she was like a face he had seen somewhere, he said, and he
never failed to look out for her, and after a while gave her a friendly
nod as he passed. It was more difficult to find out what were Jack’s
sentiments. He too saw a great deal of the little stranger, but it was
in, of course, an accidental way. He used to happen to be in the avenue
when she was coming or going. He happened to be in the park now and then
when the spring brightened, and Pamela was able to take long walks.
These things of course were pure accident, and he made no particular
mention of them. As for Pamela herself, she would say, “I met Mr. John,”
in her innocent way, but that was about all. It is true that Mrs. Swayne
in the cottage and Betty at the lodge both kept very close watch on the
young people’s proceedings. If these two had met at the other end of the
parish, Betty, notwithstanding her rheumatics, would have managed to
know it. But the only one who was aware of this scrutiny was Jack. Thus
the spring came on, and the days grew pleasant. It was pleasant for them
all, as the buds opened and the great chestnut-blossoms began to rise in
milky spires among the big half folded leaves. Even Mrs. Preston opened
and smoothed out, and took to white caps and collars, and felt as if she
might live till Pamela was five-and-twenty. Five-and-twenty is not a
great age, but it is less helpless than seventeen, and in a last
extremity there was always Mrs. Fennell in Masterton who could be
appealed to. Sometimes even the two homely sentinels who watched over
Pamela would relax in those lingering spring nights. Old Betty, though
she was worldly-minded, was yet a motherly kind of old woman; her heart
smote her when she looked in Pamela’s face. “And why shouldn’t he be
honest and true, and marry a pretty lass if it was his fancy?” Betty
would say. But as for Mrs. Swayne, she thanked Providence she had been
in temptation herself, and knew what that sort meant; which was much
more than any of the others did, up to this moment--Jack, probably,
least of all.



CHAPTER XIII.

A CRISIS.


All this time affairs had been going on very quietly in the office. Mr.
Brownlow came and went every day, and Jack when it suited him, and
business went on as usual. As for young Powys, he had turned out an
admirable clerk. Nothing could be more punctual, more painstaking than
he was. Mr. Wrinkell, the head-clerk, was so pleased, that he invited
him to tea and chapel on Sunday, which was an offer the stranger had not
despised. And it was known that he had taken a little tiny house in the
outskirts, not the Dewsbury way, but at the other side of the town--a
little house with a garden, where he had been seen planting primroses,
to the great amusement of the other clerks. They had tried jeers, but
the jeers were not witty, and Powys’s patience was found to have limits.
And he was so big and strong, and looked so completely as if he meant
it, that the merriment soon came to an end and he was allowed to take
his own way. They said he was currying favor with old Wrinkell; they
said he was trying to humbug the governor; they said he had his
pleasures his own way, and kept close about them. But all these arrows
did not touch the junior clerk. Mr. Brownlow watched the young man out
of his private office with the most anxious mixture of feelings.
Wrinkell himself, though he was of thirty years’ standing in the office,
and his employer and he had been youths together, did not occupy nearly
so much room in Mr. Brownlow’s favor as this “new fellow.” He took a
livelier interest even in the papers that had come through his
_protégé’s_ hands. “This is Powys’s work, is it?” he would say, as he
looked at the fair sheets which cost other people so much trouble. Powys
did his work very well for one thing, but that did not explain it. Mr.
Brownlow got into a way of drawing back the curtain which covered the
glass partition between his own room and the outer office. He would draw
back this curtain, accidentally as it were, the least in the world, and
cast his eyes now and then on the desk at which the young man sat. He
thought sometimes it was a pity to keep him there, a broad-shouldered,
deep-chested fellow like that, at a desk, and consulted with himself
whether he could not make some partial explanation to him, and advance
him some money and send him off to a farm in his native Canada. It would
be better for Powys, and it would be better for Brownlows. But he
had not the courage to take such a direct step. Many a thought was
in his mind as he sat glancing by turns from the side of the
curtain--compunctions and self-reproaches now and then, but chiefly, it
must be confessed, more selfish thoughts. Business went on just the
same, but yet it cannot be denied that an occasional terror seized Mr.
Wrinkell’s spirit that his principal’s mind was “beginning to go.” “And
young John never was fit to hold the candle to him,” Mr. Wrinkell said,
in those moments of privacy when he confided his cares to the wife of
his bosom. “When our Mr. Brownlow goes, the business will go, you’ll see
that. His opinion on that Waterworks case was not so clear as it used to
be--not near so clear as it used to be; he’ll sit for an hour at a time
and never put pen to paper. He is but a young man yet, for his time of
life, but I’m afraid he’s beginning to go; and when he goes, the
business will go. You’ll see young John, with his fine notions, will
never keep it up for a year.”

“Well, Thomas, never mind,” said Mrs. Wrinkell; “It’s sure to last out
our time.”

“Ah! that’s just like women,” said her husband--“after me the deluge;
but I can tell you I do mind.” He had the same opinion of women as Mrs.
Swayne had of men, and it sprung from personal superiority in both
cases, which is stronger than theory. But still he did let himself be
comforted by the feminine suggestion. “There will be peace in my time;”
this was the judgment formed by his head clerk, who knew so well of Mr.
Brownlow’s altered ways.

All this went on for some months after the admission of young Powys, and
then all at once there was a change. The change made itself apparent in
the Canadian, to begin with. At first it was only like a shadow creeping
over the young man; then by degrees the difference grew more and more
marked. He ceased to be held up as a model by the sorrowing Wrinkell; he
ceased to be an example of the punctual and accurate. His eyes began to
be red and bloodshot in the mornings; he looked weary, heavy,
languid--sick of work, and sick of every thing. Evidently he had taken
to bad ways. So all his companions in the office concluded, not without
satisfaction. Mr. Wrinkell made up his mind to it sorrowing. “I’ve seen
many go, but I thought the root of the matter was in him,” he said to
his domestic counselor. “Well, Thomas, we did our best for him,” that
sympathetic woman replied. It was not every body that Mr. Wrinkell would
have asked to chapel and tea. And this was how his kindness was to be
rewarded. As for Mr. Brownlow, when he awoke to a sense of the change,
it had a very strange effect upon him. He had a distinct impression of
pain, for he liked the lad, about whom he knew so much more than any
body else knew. And in the midst of his pain there came a guilty throb
of satisfaction, which woke him thoroughly up, and made him ask himself
sternly what this all meant. Was he glad to see the young man go wrong
because he stood in his own miserable selfish way? This was what a few
months of such a secret had brought him to. It was now April, and in
November the year would be out, and all the danger over. Once more, and
always with a deeper impatience, he longed for this moment. It seemed to
him, notwithstanding his matured and steady intellect, that if that day
had but come, if that hour were but attained, his natural freedom would
come back to him. If he had been consulted about his own case, he would
have seen through this vain supposition; but it _was_ his own case, and
he did not see through it. Meanwhile, in the interval, what was he to
do? He drew his curtain aside, and sat and watched the changed looks of
this unfortunate boy. He had begun so innocently and well, was he to be
allowed to end badly, like so many? Had not he himself, in receiving the
lad, and trading as it were on his ignorance, taken on himself something
of the responsibility? He sat thinking of this when he ought to have
been thinking of other people’s business. There was not one of all his
clients whose affairs were so complicated and engrossing as his own. He
was more perplexed and beaten about in his own mind than any of the
people who came to ask him for his advice. Oh, the sounding nothings
they would bring before him; he who was engaged in personal conflict
with the very first principles of honor and rectitude. Was he to let the
lad perish? was he to interfere? What was he to do?

At the very height of his perplexity, one of those April days, Mr.
Brownlow was very late at the office. Not exactly on account of the
confusion of mind he was in, and yet because the intrusion of this
personal subject had retarded him in his business. He was there after
all the clerks were gone--even Mr. Wrinkell. He had watched young Powys
go away from that very window where he had once watched Bessie Fennell
passing in her thin cloak. The young man went off by himself, taking the
contrary road, as Mr. Brownlow knew, from that which led to his home. He
looked ill--he looked unhappy; and his employer watched him with a
sickening at his heart. Was it his fault? and could he mend it or stop
the evil, even were he to make up his mind to try? After that he had
more than an hour’s work, and sent off the dogcart to wait for him at
the Green Man in the market-place. It was very quiet in the office when
all his people were gone. As he sat working, there came over him
memories of other times when he had worked like this, when his mother
would come stealing down to him from the rooms above; when Bessie would
come with her work to sit by him as he finished his. Strange to think
that neither Bessie nor his mother were up stairs now; strange to
believe, when you came to think of it, that there was nobody there--that
the house was vacant and his home elsewhere, and all his own generation,
his own contemporaries, cut off from his side. These ideas floated
through his mind as he worked, but they did not impair the soundness of
the work, as some other thoughts did. His mind was not beginning to go,
though Mr. Wrinkell thought so. It was even a wonder to himself how
quickly, how clearly he got through it; how fit he was for work yet,
though the world was so changed. He had finished while it was still good
daylight, and put away his papers and buttoned his coat, and set out in
an easy way. There was nothing particular to hurry him. There was Jack’s
mare, which flew rather than trotted, to take him home. Thus thinking,
he went out, drawing on his gloves. Opposite him, as he opened the door,
the sky was glowing in the west after the sunset, and he could see a
woman’s figure against it passing slowly, as if waiting for some one.
Before he could shut the door, it became evident that it was for himself
that she was waiting. Somehow he divined who she was before she said a
word. A comely, elderly, motherly woman, dressed like a farmer’s or a
shopkeeper’s wife, in the days when people dressed like their condition.
She had a large figured shawl on, and a bonnet with black ribbons. And
he knew she was Powys’s mother--the woman on earth he most dreaded, come
to speak to him about her son.

“Mr. Brownlow,” she said, coming up to him with a nervous movement of
her hands, “I’ve been waiting about this hour not to be troublesome. Oh!
could you let me speak to you ten minutes? I won’t keep you. Oh, please,
if I might speak to you five minutes _now_.”

“Surely,” he said; he was not quite sure if it was audible, but he said
it with his lips. And he went in and held the door open for her. Then,
though he never could tell why, he took her up stairs--not to the office
which he had just closed, but up to the long silent drawing-room which
he had not entered for years. There came upon his mind an impression
that Bessie was surely about somewhere, to come and stand by him, if he
could only call her. But in the first place he had to do with his guest.
He gave her a chair and made her sit down, and stood before her. “Tell
me how I can serve you,” he said. It seemed to him like a dream, and he
could not understand it. Would she tell her fatal name and make her
claim, and end it all at once? That was folly. But still it seemed
somehow natural to think that this was why she had come. The woman he
had hunted for far and wide--whom he had then neglected and thought no
more of--whom lately he had woke up to such horror and fear of, his
greatest danger, his worst enemy--was it she who was sitting so humbly
before him now?

“I have no right to trouble you, Mr. Brownlow,” she said; “it’s because
you were so kind to my boy. Many a time I wanted to come and thank you;
and now--oh, it’s a different thing now!”

“Your son is young Powys,” said Mr. Brownlow--“yes; I knew by--by the
face. He has gone home some time ago. I wonder you did not meet him in
the street.”

“Gone away from the office--not gone home,” said Mrs. Powys. “Oh, Mr.
Brownlow, I want to speak to you about him. He is as good as gold. He
never had another thought in his mind but his sisters and me. He’d come
and spend all his time with us when other young men were going about
their pleasure. There never was such a son as he was, nor a brother.
And oh, Mr. Brownlow, now it’s come to this! I feel as if it would break
my heart.”

“What has it come to?” said Mr. Brownlow. He drew forward a chair and
sat down facing her, and the noise he made in doing so seemed to wake
thunders in the empty house. He had got over his agitation by this time,
and was as calm as he always was. And his profession came to his help
and opened his eyes and ears to every thing that might be of use to him,
notwithstanding the effect the house had upon him in its stillness, and
this meeting which he had so much reason to fear.

“Oh, sir, it’s come to grief and trouble,” said the poor woman.
“Something has come between my boy and me. We are parted as far as if
the Atlantic was between us. I don’t know what is in his heart. Oh, sir,
it’s for your influence I’ve come. He’ll do any thing for you. It’s hard
to ask a stranger to help me with my own son, and him so good and so
kind; but if it goes on like this, it will break my heart.”

“I feared there was something wrong,” said Mr. Brownlow; “I feared it,
though I never thought it could have gone so far. I’ll do what I can,
but I fear it is little I can do. If he has taken to bad ways--”

But here the stranger gave a cry of denial which rung through the room.
“Bad ways! my boy!” said the mother. “Mr. Brownlow, you know a great
deal more than I do, but you don’t know my son. He taken to bad ways! I
would sooner believe I was wicked myself. I am wicked, to come and
complain of him to them that don’t know.”

“Then what in the name of goodness is it?” said the lawyer, startled out
of his seriousness. He began to lose the tragic sense of a dangerous
presence. It might be the woman he feared; but it was a homely,
incoherent, inconsequent personage all the same.

Mrs. Powys drew herself up solemnly. She too was less respectful of the
man who did not understand. “What it is, sir,” she said slowly, and with
a certain pomp, “is, that my boy has something on his mind.”

Something on his mind! John Brownlow sunk again into a strange fever of
suspense and curiosity and unreasonable panic. Could it be so? Could the
youth have found out something, and be sifting it to get at the truth?
The room seemed to take life and become a conscious spectator, looking
at him, to see how he would act in this emergency. But yet he persevered
in the course he had decided on, not giving in to his own feelings.
“What can he have on his mind?” he asked. His pretended ignorance
sounded in his own ears like a lie; but nevertheless he went on all the
same.

“That’s what I don’t know, sir,” said Mrs. Powys, putting her
handkerchief to her eyes. “He’s been rummaging among my papers, and he’s
may be found something, or he’s heard some talk that has put things in
his head. I know he has heard things in this very house--people talking
about families, and wills, and all that. His father was of a very good
family, Mr. Brownlow. I don’t know them, but I know they’re rich people.
May be it’s that, or perhaps--but I don’t know how to account for it.
It’s something that is eating into his heart. And he has such a
confidence in you! It was you that took him up when we were strangers,
and had nobody to look to us. I have a little that my poor husband left
me; but it’s very little to keep four upon; and I may say it’s you that
gave us bread, for that matter. There’s nothing in this world my boy
wouldn’t do for you.”

Then there was a pause. The poor woman had exhausted her words and her
self-command and her breath, and stopped perforce, and Mr. Brownlow did
not know how to reply. What could he say to her? It was a matter of
death and life between him and her boy, instead of the indifferent
question she thought. “Would you like me to speak to him?” he said at
last, with a little difficulty of utterance; “should I ask him what is
occupying his mind? But he might not choose to tell me. What would you
wish me to do?”

“Oh, sir, you’re very good,” said Mrs. Powys, melting into gratitude. “I
never can thank God enough that my poor boy has met with such a kind
friend.”

“Hush!” said Mr. Brownlow, rising from his chair. He could not bear
this; thanking God, as if God did not know well enough, too well, how
the real state of the matter was! He was not a man used to deception, or
who could adapt himself to it readily. He had all the habits of an
honest life against him, and that impulse to speak truth and do right
which he struggled with as if it were a temptation. Thus his position
was awfully the reverse of that of a man tempting and falling. He was
doing wrong with all the force of his will, and striving against his own
inclination and instinct of uprightness; but here was one thing beyond
his strength. To bring God in, and render him, as it were, a party, was
more than he could bear. “I am not so kind as you think,” he said
hoarsely. “I am not--I mean your son deserves all that I can do.”

“Oh, sir, that’s kind--that’s kindness itself to say so,” cried the poor
mother. “Nothing that could be said is so kind as that--and me, that was
beginning to lose faith in him! It was to ask you to speak to him, Mr.
Brownlow. If you were to ask him, he might open his heart to you. A
gentleman is different from a poor woman. Not that any body could feel
for him like me, but he would think such a deal of your advice. If you
would speak and get him to open his heart. That’s what I wanted to ask
you, if it’s not too much. If you would be so kind--and God knows, if
ever it was in my power or my children’s, though I’m but a poor
creature, to do any thing in this world that would be a service to
you--”

God again. What did the woman mean? And she was a widow, one of those
that God was said to take special charge of. It was bad enough before
without that. John Brownlow had gone to the fireless hearth, and was
standing by it leaning his head against the high carved wooden
mantel-piece, and looking down upon the cold vacancy where for so many
years the fire that warmed his inmost life had blazed and sparkled. He
stood thus and listened, and within him the void seemed as cold, and the
emptiness as profound. It was his moment of fate. He was going to cast
himself off from the life he had lived at that hearth--to make a
separation forever and ever between the John Brownlow, honest and
generous, who had been trained to manhood within these walls, and had
loved and married, and brought his bride to this fireside--and the
country gentleman who, in all his great house, would never more find the
easy heart and clear conscience which were natural to this atmosphere.
He stood there and looked down on the old domestic centre, and asked
himself if it was worth the terrible sacrifice; honor and honesty and
truth--and all to keep Brownlows for Sara, to preserve the grays, and
the flowers, and the park, and Jack’s wonderful mare, and all the
superfluities that these young creatures treated so lightly? Was it
worth the price? This was the wide fundamental question he was asking
himself, while his visitor, in her chair between him and the window,
spoke of her gratitude. But there was no trace in his face, even if she
could have seen it, that he had descended into the very depths, and was
debating with himself a matter of life and death. When her voice ceased,
Mr. Brownlow’s self-debate ceased too, coming to a sharp and sudden end,
as if it was only under cover of her words that it could pass unnoted.
Then he came toward her slowly, and took the chair opposite to her, and
met her eye. The color had gone out of his face, but he was too
self-possessed and experienced a man to show what the struggle was
through which he had just come. And the poor woman thought it so natural
that he should be full of thought. Was he not considering, in his
wonderful kindness, what he could do for her boy?

“I will do what you ask me,” he said. “It may be difficult, but I will
try. Don’t thank me, for you don’t know whether I shall succeed. I will
do--what I can. I will speak to your son, perhaps to-morrow--the
earliest opportunity I have. You were quite right to come. And--you
may--trust him--to me,” said Mr. Brownlow. He did not mean to say these
last words. What was it that drew them--dragged them from his lips? “You
may trust him to me.” He even repeated it twice, wondering at himself
all the while, and not knowing what he meant. As for poor Mrs. Powys,
she was overwhelmed by her gratitude.

“Oh, sir, with all my heart,” she cried, “him, and all my hopes in this
world!” And then she bade God bless him, who was so good to her and her
boy. Yes, that was the worst of it. John Brownlow felt that but too
clearly all through. It was hard enough to struggle with himself, with
his own conscience and instincts; but behind all that there was another
struggle which would be harder still--the struggle with God, to whom
this woman would appeal, and who, he was but too clearly aware, knew all
about it. But sufficient unto the moment was its own conflict. He took
his hat after that, and took his visitor down stairs, and answered the
amazed looks of the housekeeper, who came to see what this unusual
disturbance meant, with a few words of explanation, and shook hands with
Mrs. Powys at the door. The sunset glow had only just gone, so short a
time had this conversation really occupied, though it involved so much,
and the first magical tone of twilight had fallen into the evening air.
When Mr. Brownlow left the office door he went straight on, and did not
remember the carriage that was waiting for him. He was so much absorbed
by his own affairs, and had so many things to think of, that even the
strength of habit failed him. Without knowing, he set out walking upon
the well-known way. Probably the mere fact of movement was a solace to
him. He went along steadily by the budding hedgerows and the little
gardens and the cottage doors, and did not know it. What he was really
doing was holding conversations with young Powys, conversations with his
children, all mingled and penetrated with one long never-ending conflict
with himself. He had been passive hitherto, now he would have to be
active. He had contented himself simply with keeping back the knowledge
which, after all, it was not his business to give. Now, if he was to
gain his object, he must do positively what he had hitherto done
negatively. He must mislead--he must contradict--he must lie. The young
man’s knowledge of his rights, if they were his rights, must be very
imperfect. To confuse him, to deceive him, to destroy all possible
evidence, to use every device to lose his time and blind his eyes, was
what Mr. Brownlow had now to do.

And there can be no doubt that, but for the intervention of personal
feelings, it would have been an easy thing enough to do. If there had
been no right and wrong involved, no personal advantage or loss, how
very simple a matter to make this youth, who had such perfect confidence
in him, believe as he pleased; and how easy after to make much of young
Powys, to advance him, to provide for him--to do a great deal better for
him, in short, than he could do for himself with old Mrs. Thomson’s
fifty thousand pounds! If there was no right and wrong involved! Mr.
Brownlow walked on and on as he thought, and never once observed the
length of the way. One thing in the world he could not do--that was, to
take away all the sweet indulgences with which he had surrounded her,
the delights, the luxuries, the position, from his child. He could not
reduce Sara to be Brownlow the solicitor’s daughter in the dark
old-fashioned house at Masterton. He went over all her pretty ways to
himself as he went on. He saw her gliding about the great house which
seemed her natural sphere. He saw her receiving his guests, people who
would not have known her, or would at least have patronized her from a
very lofty distance, had she been in that house at Masterton; he saw her
rolling forth in her pretty carriage with the grays, which were the envy
of the county. All these matters were things for which, in his own
person, John Brownlow cared not a straw. He did not care even to secure
them for his son, who was a man and had his profession, and was no
better than himself; but Sara--and then the superb little princess she
was to the rest of the world! the devoted little daughter she was to
him! Words of hers came somehow dropping into his ears as the twilight
breathed around him. How she had once said--Good heavens! what was that
she had said?

All at once Mr. Brownlow awoke. He found himself walking on the Dewsbury
road, instead of driving, as he ought to have been. He remembered that
the dog-cart was waiting for him in the market-place. He became aware
that he had forgotten himself, forgotten every thing, in the stress and
urgency of his thoughts. What was the galvanic touch that brought him
back to consciousness? The recollection of half a dozen words once
spoken by his child--girlish words, perhaps forgotten as soon as
uttered; yet when he stopped, and turned round to see how far he had
come, though he had been walking very moderately and the evening was not
warm, a sudden rush of color, like a girl’s blush, had come to his face.
If the mare had been in sight, in her wildest mood, it would have been a
relief to him to seize the reins, and fight it out with her, and fly on,
at any risk, away from that spot, away from that thought, away from the
suggestion so humbling, so saving, so merciful and cruel, which had
suddenly entered his mind. But the mare was making every body very
uncomfortable in the market-place at Masterton, and could not aid her
master to escape from himself. Then he turned again, and went on. It was
a seven miles walk, and he had come three parts of the way; but even the
distance that remained was long to a man who had suddenly fallen into
company with a new idea which he would rather not entertain. He felt the
jar in all his limbs from this sudden electric shock. Sara had said it,
it was true--she had meant it. He had her young life in his hands, and
he could save Brownlows to her, and yet save his soul. Which was the
most to be thought of, his soul or her happiness? that was the question.
Such was the sudden tumult that ran through John Brownlow’s veins. He
seemed to be left there alone in the country quiet, in the soft
twilight, under the dropping dew, to consider it, shut out from all
counsel or succor of God or man. Man he himself shut out, locking his
secret in his own breast--God! whom he knew his last struggle was to be
with, whom that woman had insisted on bringing in, a party to the whole
matter--was not He standing aside, in a terrible stillness, a spectator,
waiting to see what would come of it, refusing all participation? Would
God any more than man approve of this way of saving John Brownlow’s
soul? But the more he tried to escape from it the more it came back. She
had said it, and she had meant it, with a certain sweet scorn of life’s
darker chances, and faith unbounded in her father, of all men, who was
God’s deputy to the child. Mr. Brownlow quickened his pace, walked
faster and faster, till his heart thumped against his breast, and his
breath came in gasps; but he could not go so fast as his thoughts, which
were always in advance of him. Thus he came to the gate of Brownlows
before he knew. It was the prettiest evening scene. Twilight had settled
down to the softest night; big stars, lambent and dilating, were coming
softly out, as if to look at something out of the sweet blue. And it was
no more dark than it was light. Old Betty, on her step, was sitting
crooning, with many quavers, one of her old songs. And Pamela, who had
just watered her flowers, leaned over the gate, smiling, and listening
with eyes that were very like the stars. Somehow this picture went to
Mr. Brownlow’s heart. He went up to the child as he passed, and laid a
kind hand upon her pretty head, on the soft rings of her dark hair.
“Good-night, little one,” he said, quite softly, with that half shame
which a man feels when he betrays that he has a heart in him. He had
never taken so much notice of her before. It was partly because any
thing associated with Sara touched him to the quick at this moment;
partly for her own sake, and for the sake of the dews and stars; and
partly that his mind was overstrained and tottering. “Poor little
thing,” he said to himself, as he went up the avenue, “she is nobody,
and she is happy.” With this passing thought, Mr. Brownlow fell once
more into the hands of his demon, and, thus agitated and struggling,
reached his home.



CHAPTER XIV.


Next morning Mr. Brownlow was not well enough to go to business. He was
not ill. He repeated the assurance a score of times to himself and to
his children. He had not slept well, that was all--and perhaps a day’s
rest, a little quiet and tranquillity, would do him good. He had got up
at his usual hour, and was down to breakfast, and read his paper, and
every thing went on in its ordinary way; but yet he was indisposed--and
a day’s rest would do him good. Young John assented heartily, and was
very willing to take his father’s place for the day and manage all his
business. It was a bright morning, and the room was full of flowers and
the young leaves fluttered at the windows in the earliest green of
spring. It was exhilarating to stand in the great recesses of the
windows and look out upon the park, all green and budding, and think it
was all yours and your children’s--a sort of feeling which had little
effect upon the young people, but was sweet yet overwhelming to their
father as he stood and looked out in the quiet of the morning. All
his--all theirs; yet perhaps--

“I don’t think I shall go down to-day,” he said. “You can tell Wrinkell
to send me up the papers in the Wardell case. He knows what I want. He
can send the--the new clerk up with them--Powys I mean.”

“Powys?” said Jack.

“Well, yes, Powys. Is there any reason why he should not send Powys?”
said Mr. Brownlow peremptorily, feeling hot and conscious, and ready to
take offense.

“No, certainly,” said Jack, with some surprise. He did not take to
Powys, that was unquestionable; yet the chances are he would never have
remarked upon Mr. Brownlow’s choice of him but for the curious
impatience and peremptoriness in his father’s tone.

“I like him,” said Mr. Brownlow--“he knows what he has to do and--he
does it. I like a man who does that--it gives one confidence for the
time to come.”

“Yes,” said Jack. “I never cared for him, sir, as you know. He is not my
ideal of a clerk--but that is nothing; only I rather think Wrinkell has
changed his opinion lately. The young fellow gets on well enough--but
there is a difference. I suppose that sort of extra punctuality and
virtue can only last a certain time.”

“I dare say these are very fine notions, Jack,” said his father; “but I
am not quite such an accomplished man of the world, I suppose, as if I
had been brought up at Eton. I believe in virtue lasting a long time.
You must bear with my old-fashioned prejudices.” This Mr. Brownlow said
in a way which puzzled Jack, for he was not a man given to sneers.

“Of course, if you take it like that, sir, I have not another word to
say,” said the young man, and he went away feeling bitterly hostile to
Powys, who seemed to be the cause of it all. He said to himself that to
be snubbed on account of a clerk was a new experience, and lost himself
in conjectures as to the cause of this unexplained partiality--“a fellow
who is going to the bad and all,” Jack said to himself; and his feeling
was somewhat vindictive, and he did not feel so sorry as he ought to
have done that Powys was going to the bad. It seemed on the whole a kind
of retribution. Mr. Wrinkell himself had been sent for to Brownlows on
various occasions, but it was not an honor that had been accorded to any
of the clerks; and now this young fellow, whose appearance and conduct
had both begun to be doubtful, was to have the privilege. Jack did not
comprehend it; uneasy unexpressed suspicions came into his mind, all
utterly wide of the mark, yet not the less uncomfortable. The mare was a
comfort to him as she went off in one of her long dashes, without ever
taking breath, like an arrow down the avenue; and so was the momentary
glimpse of a little face at the window, to which he took off his hat;
but notwithstanding these consolations, he was irritated and somewhat
disturbed. On account of a cad! He had no right to give such a title to
his father’s favorite; but still it must be allowed that it was a little
hard.

“Who is Powys?” said Sara, when her brother was gone. “And why are you
angry, papa? You are cross, you know, and that is not like you. I am
afraid you must be ill.”

“Cross, am I?” said Mr. Brownlow. “I suppose I am not quite well--I told
you I had a bad night.”

“Yes--but what has Powys to do with it? and who is he?” said Sara
looking into his face.

Then various possibilities rushed into her father’s mind; should he tell
her what he was going to ask of her? Should he claim her promise and
hold her to her word? Should he make an attempt, the only one possible,
to secure for himself a confidante and counselor? Ah, no! that was out
of the question. He might sully his own honor, but never, never his
child’s. And he felt, even with a certain exultation, that his child
would not have yielded to the temptation--that she would balk him
instead of obeying him, did she know why. He felt this in his inmost
mind, and he was glad. She would do what he asked her, trusting in him,
and in her it would be a virtue--only his should be the sin.

“Who is he?” he said, with a doubtful smile which resulted from his own
thoughts, and not from her question. “You will know who he is before
long. I want to be civil to him, Sara. He is not just like any other
clerk. I would bring him, if you would not be shocked--to lunch--”

“Shocked!” said Sara, with one of her princess airs--“I am not a great
lady. You are Mr. Brownlow the solicitor, papa--I hope I know my proper
place.”

“Yes,” said John Brownlow; but the words brought an uneasy color to his
face, and confounded him in the midst of his projects. To keep her from
being merely Mr. Brownlow the solicitor’s daughter, he was going to soil
his own honor and risk her happiness; and yet it was thus that she
asserted her condition whenever she had a chance. He left her as soon as
he could, taking no such advantage of his unusual holiday as Sara
supposed he would. He left the breakfast-room which was so bright, and
wandered away into the library, a room which, busy man as he was, he
occupied very seldom. It was of all the rooms in Brownlows the one which
had most appearance of having been made by a new proprietor. There were
books in it, to be sure, which had belonged to the Brownlows, the
solicitors, for generations, but these were not half or quarter part
enough to fill the room, which was larger than any two rooms in the High
Street--and consequently it had been necessary to fill the vacant space
with ranges upon ranges of literature out of the bookseller’s, which had
not mellowed on the shelves, nor come to belong to them by nature. Mr.
Brownlow did not think of this, but yet he was somehow conscious of it
when, with the prospect of a long unoccupied day before him, he went
into this room. It was on the other side of the house, turned away from
the sunshine, and looking out upon nothing but evergreens, sombre
corners of shrubberies, and the paths which led to the kitchen and
stables. He went in and sat down by the table, and looked round at all
the shelves, and drew a blotting-book toward him mechanically. What did
he want with it? he had no letters to write there--nothing to do that
belonged to that luxurious leisurely place. If there was work to be
done, it was at the office that he ought to do it. He had not the habit
of writing here--nor even of reading. The handsome library had nothing
to do with his life. This, perhaps, was why he established himself in it
on the special day of which we speak. It seemed to him as if any moment
his fine house might topple down about his ears like a house of cards.
He had thought over it in the High Street till he was sick and his head
swam; perhaps some new light might fall on the subject if he were to
think of it here. This was why he established himself at the table,
making in his leisure a pretense to himself of having something to do.
If he had been used to any sort of guile or dishonorable dealing, the
chances are it would have been easier for him; but it is hard upon a man
to change the habits of his life. John Brownlow had to maintain with
himself a fight harder than that which a man ordinarily has to fight
against temptation; for the fact was that this was far, very far from
being his case. He was not tempted to do wrong. It was the good impulse
which in his mind had come to be the thing to be struggled against. What
he wanted was to do what was right; but with all the steadiness of a
virtuous resolution he had set himself to struggle against his impulse
and to do wrong.

Here was the state of the case: He had found, as he undoubtedly
believed, the woman whom more than twenty years ago he had given himself
so much trouble to find. She was here, a poor woman--to whom old Mrs.
Thomson’s fifty thousand pounds would be equal to as many millions--with
a son, whose every prospect would be changed, whose life would begin on
a totally different level, if his legitimate inheritance came to him as
it ought: this was all very distinct and clear. But, on the other hand,
to withdraw that fifty thousand pounds from his own affairs at this
moment, would be next to ruin to John Brownlow. It would be a loss to
him of almost as much more. It would reduce him again hopelessly to the
character of the country solicitor--a character which he had not
abandoned, which he had, in short, rather prided himself in keeping up,
but which was very different, in conjunction with his present standing
in the county, from what it would be were he Brownlow the solicitor
alone. And then there was the awful question of interest, which ought to
have been accumulating all these five-and-twenty years. He thought to
himself as he reflected, that his best course would have been to reject
young Powys’s application and throw him off, and leave him to find
occupation where he could. Then, if the young man had discovered any
thing, it would at least have been a fair fight. But he had of his own
will entered into relations with him; he had him under his eyes day by
day, a standing temptation, a standing reproach; he had kept him close
by him to make discoveries that otherwise he probably never would have
made; and he had made discoveries. At any moment the demand might come
which should change the character of the position altogether. All this
was old ground over which he had gone time after time. There was nothing
new in it but the sudden remedy which had occurred to him on the
previous night as he walked home. He had not as yet confessed to himself
that he had accepted that suggestion, and yet only half voluntarily he
had taken the first steps to bring it about. It was a remedy almost as
bad as the original danger--very unpalatable, very mortifying--but it
was better than utter downfall. By moments Mr. Brownlow’s heart revolted
altogether against it. It was selling his child, even though it was for
her own sake--it was taking advantage of her best instincts, of her rash
girlish readiness to put her future in his hands. And there were also
other questions involved. When it came to the point, would Sara hold by
her promise--had she meant it, in earnest, as a real promise when she
made it? And then she was a girl who would do any thing, every thing for
her father’s sake, in the way of self-sacrifice, but would she
understand sacrificing herself to save, not her father, but Brownlows?
All these were very doubtful questions. Mr. Brownlow, who had never
before been in any body’s power, who knew nothing about mysteries, found
himself now, as it were, in every body’s power, threading a darkling
way, from which his own efforts could never deliver him. He was in the
power of young Powys, who any day could come to his door and demand--how
much? any sum almost--his whole fortune--with no alternative but that of
a lawsuit, which would take his good name as well. He was in the power
of his son, who, if he heard of it, might simplify matters very
summarily, and the chances were would do so; and he was in the power of
Sara, who could save him if she would--save him not only from the
consequences but from the sin--save his conscience and his credit, and
her own position. Why should not she do it? Young Powys was poor, and
perhaps not highly educated; but he was pleasanter to look at, more
worth talking to, than Sir Charles Motherwell. If he gave his daughter
to this youth, John Brownlow felt that he would do more than merely make
him amends for having taken his inheritance. It would be restoring the
inheritance to him, and giving him over and above it something that was
worth more than compound interest. When he had come to this point,
however, a revulsion occurred in his thoughts. How could he think of
marrying his child, his Sara, she of whom he had made a kind of
princess, who might marry any body, as people say--how could he give her
to a nameless young man in his office? What would the world say? What
inquiries, what suspicions would arise, if he gave up his house and all
its advantages to a young fellow without a penny? And then Sara herself,
so delicate in all her tastes, so daintily brought up, so difficult to
please! If she were so little fastidious at the end, what would be
thought of it? She had refused Sir Charles Motherwell, if not actually
yet tacitly--and Sir Charles had many advantages, and was very nearly
the greatest man in the county--refused him and was going to take her
father’s uncultivated clerk. Would she, could she do it? was it a thing
he ought to ask of her? or was it not better that he should take it upon
his conscience boldly to deceive and wrong the stranger than to put such
a burden on the delicate shoulders of his child?

Thus he passed the morning, driven about from one idea to another and
feeling little comfort in any, longing for Powys’s arrival, that he
might read in his eyes how much he knew, and yet fearing it, lest he
might know too much. If any of his clients had come to him in such a
state of mind, John Brownlow would have looked upon that man with a
certain pity mingled with contempt, and while advising him to his best,
would have said to himself, How weak all this shilly-shally is! one way
or other let something be decided. But it is a very different matter
deciding on one’s own affairs and on the affairs of other people. Even
at that moment, notwithstanding his own agitation and mental distress,
had he been suddenly called upon for counsel, he could have given it
clearly and fully--the thing was, that he could not advise himself.

And to aggravate matters, while he sat thus thinking it all over and
waiting for Powys, and working himself up almost to the point of
preparing for a personal contest with him, the Rector chanced to call,
and was brought triumphantly into the library. “Papa is so seldom at
home,” Sara had said, with a certain exultation; “come and see him.” And
Mr. Hardcastle was exultant too. “How lucky that I should have come
to-day of all others,” he said. “One never sees you by day-light.”

“Well, yes,” said Mr. Brownlow, who was cross and out of temper in spite
of himself; “I am visible by day-light to every body on the road between
this and Masterton. I don’t think I shut myself up.”

“That’s exactly what I mean,” said the Rector; “but you have been
overdoing it, Brownlow. You’re ill. I always told you you ought to give
yourself more leisure. A man at your time of life is not like a young
fellow. We can’t do it, my dear sir--we can’t do it. I am up to as much
as most men of my age; but it won’t do morning and night--I have found
that out.”

“It suits me very well,” said Mr. Brownlow. “I am not ill, thank you. I
had a restless night--rather--”

“Ah, that’s just it,” said Mr. Hardcastle. “The brain is fatigued--that
is what it is. And you ought to take warning. It is the beginning of so
many things. For instance, last year when my head was so bad--”

“Don’t speak of it,” said Mr. Brownlow. “My head is not bad; I am all
right. I have a--a clerk coming with some papers; that is what I am
waiting for. Is Fanny with you to-day?”

“No,” said Mr. Hardcastle. “They have begun to have her up at Ridley
more than I care to see her. And there is that young Keppel, you know.
Not that he means any thing, I suppose. Indeed, I thought he was devoted
to Sara a short time ago. Ah, my dear Brownlow, it is a difficult matter
for us, left as we both are with young girls who have never known
maternal care--”

It was not a moment when Mr. Brownlow could enter upon such a subject.
But he instinctively changed his expression, and looked solemn and
serious, as the occasion demanded. Poor Bessie!--he had probably been a
truer lover to her than the Rector had been to the two Mrs. Hardcastles,
though she had not been in his mind just then; but he felt bound to put
on the necessary melancholy look.

“Yes,” he said; “no doubt it is difficult. My clerk is very late. He
ought to have been here at twelve. I have a good many pressing matters
of business just now--”

“I see, I see; you have no time for private considerations,” said the
Rector. “Don’t overdo it, don’t overdo it,--that is all I have got to
say. Remember what a condition I was in only two years since--took no
pleasure in any thing. Man delighted me not, nor woman either--not even
my little Fanny. If ever there was a miserable state on earth, it is
that. I see a fine tall young fellow straying about there among the
shrubberies. Is that your clerk?”

Mr. Brownlow got up hastily and came to the window, and there beyond all
question was Powys, who had lost his way, and had got involved in the
maze of paths which divided the evergreens. It was a curious way for him
to approach the house, and he was not the man to seek a back entrance,
however humble his circumstances had been. But anyhow it was he, and he
had got confused, and stood under one of the great laurels, looking at
the way to the stables, and the way to the kitchen, feeling that neither
way was his way, and not knowing where to turn. Mr. Brownlow opened the
window and called to him. Many a day after he thought of it, with that
vague wonder which such symbolical circumstances naturally excite. It
did not seem important enough to be part of the symbolism of Providence
at the moment. Yet it was strange to remember that it was thus the young
man was brought into the house. Mr. Brownlow set the window open, and
watched him as he came forward, undeniably a fine tall young fellow, as
Mr. Hardcastle said. Somehow a kind of pride in his good looks, such as
a father might have felt, came into John Brownlow’s mind. Sir Charles,
with his black respirator, was not to be named in the same day with
young Powys, so far as appearance went. He was looking as he did when he
first came to the office, fresh, and frank, and open-hearted. Those
appearances which had so troubled the mind of Mr. Wrinkell and alarmed
Mr. Brownlow himself, were not visible in his open countenance. He came
forward with his firm and rapid step, not the step of a dweller in
streets. And Mr. Hardcastle, who had a slight infusion of muscular
Christianity in his creed, could not refrain from admiration.

“That is not much like what one looks for in a lawyer’s clerk,” said the
Rector. “What a chest that young fellow has got! Who is he,
Brownlow?--not a Masterton man, I should think.”

“He is a Canadian,” said Mr. Brownlow, “not very long in the office, but
very promising. He has brought me some papers that I must attend to--”

“Yes, yes, I understand,” said Mr. Hardcastle--“always business; but I
shall stay to luncheon as you are at home. I suppose you mean to allow
yourself some lunch?”

“Surely,” said Mr. Brownlow; but it was impossible to reply otherwise
than coldly. He had wanted no spy upon his actions, nobody to speculate
on what he meant in the strange step he was about to take. He could not
send his neighbor away; but at the same time he could not be cordial to
him as if he desired his company. And then he turned to speak to his
clerk, leaving the Rector, who went away in a puzzled state of mind,
wondering whether Mr. Brownlow meant to be rude to him. As for young
Powys, he came in by the window, taking off his hat, and looking at his
employer with an honest mixture of amusement and embarrassment. “I beg
your pardon, sir,” he said; “I had lost my way; I don’t know where I was
going--”

“You were going to the stables,” said Mr. Brownlow, “where I dare say
you would have found something much more amusing than with me. Come in.
You are later than I expected. How is it you did not come up in the
dogcart? My son should have thought of that.”

“He did not say any thing about it,” said Powys, “but I liked the walk.
Mr. Wrinkell told me to bring you these, sir. They are the papers in the
Wardell case; and he gave me some explanations which I was to repeat to
you--some new facts that have just come out--”

“Sit down,” said Mr. Brownlow. He gave the young man a seat at his
table, and resumed his own, and drew the papers to him. But he was not
thinking of the papers or of the Wardell case. His attention was fixed
upon his young companion. Perhaps it was the walk, perhaps some new
discovery, perhaps because he began to see his way to the recovery of
that which John Brownlow was determined not to give up, but certainly
his eye was as bright and his color as fresh as when he had first come
to the office innocent and unsuspecting. He sat down with none of the
affectation either of humility or of equality which a Masterton youth of
his position would have shown. He was not afraid of his employer, who
had been kind to him, and his transatlantic ideas made him feel the
difference between them, though great in the mean time, to be rather a
difference of time than of class. Such at least was the unconscious
feeling in his mind. It is true that he had begun to learn that more
things than time, or even industry and brains, are necessary in an old
and long-constituted social system, but his new and hardly purchased
knowledge had not affected his instincts. He was respectful, but he did
not feel himself out of place in Mr. Brownlow’s library. He took his
seat, and looked round him with the interest of a man free to observe or
even to comment, which, considering that even Mr. Wrinkell was rather
disposed at Brownlows to sit on the edge of his chair, was a pleasant
variety. Mr. Brownlow drew the papers to him, and bent over them,
leaning his head on both his hands; but the fact was, he was looking at
Powys from under that cover, fixing his anxious gaze upon him, reading
what was in the unsuspicious face--what was in it, and most likely a
great deal which was not in it. When he had done this for some minutes
he suddenly raised his head, removed his hands from his forehead to his
chin, and looked steadily at his young companion.

“I will attend to these by-and-by,” he said, abruptly; “in the mean
time, my young friend, I have something to say to you.”

Then Powys, whose eyes had been fixed upon a dark picture over and
beyond, at some distance, Mr. Brownlow’s head, came to himself suddenly,
and met the look fixed upon him. The elder man thought there was a
little defiance in the glance which the younger cast upon him; but this
is one of the things in which one sees always what one is prepared to
see. Powys, for his part, was not in the least defiant; he was a little
surprised, a little curious, eager to hear and reply, but he was utterly
unconscious of the sentiments which the other read in his eyes.

“I thought a little while ago,” said Mr. Brownlow, in his excitement
going farther than he meant to go, “that I had found in you one of the
best clerks that ever I had.”

Here he stopped for a moment, and Powys regarded him open-mouthed,
waiting for more. His frank face clouded over a little when he saw that
Mr. Brownlow made a pause. “I was going to say Thank you, sir,” said the
young man; “and indeed I do say Thank you; but am I to understand that
you don’t think so now?”

“I don’t know what to think,” said Mr. Brownlow. “I take more interest
in you than--than I am in the habit of taking in a--in a stranger; but
they tell me at the office there is a change, and I see there is a
change. It has been suggested to me that you were going to the bad,
which I don’t believe; and it has been suggested to me that you had
something on your mind--”

The young man had changed color, as indeed he could scarcely help doing;
his _amour propre_ was still as lively and as easily excited as is
natural to his age. “If you are speaking of my duties in the office,
sir,” he said, “you have a perfect right to speak; but I don’t suppose
they could be influenced one way or another by the fact that I had
something on my mind--”

“I am not speaking to you so much as your employer as--as your friend,”
said Mr. Brownlow. “You know the change has been visible. People have
spoken about it to me--not perhaps the people you would imagine to have
interfered. And I want to speak to you as an old man may speak to a
young man--as I should wish, if the circumstances make it needful, any
one would speak to my son. Why do you smile?”

“I beg your pardon, sir; but I could not but smile at the thought of Mr.
John--”

“Never mind Mr. John,” said Mr. Brownlow, discomfited. “He has his way,
and we have ours. I don’t set up my son as an example. The thing is,
that I should be glad if you would take me into your confidence. If any
thing is wrong I might be able to help you; and if you have something on
your mind--”

“Mr. Brownlow,” said young Powys, with a deep blush, “I am very sorry to
seem ungrateful, but a man, if he is good for any thing, must have
something he keeps to himself. If it is about my work, I will hear
whatever you please to say to me, and make whatever explanations you
require. I am not going to the bad; but for any thing else I think I
have a right to my own mind.”

“I don’t deny it--I don’t deny it,” said Mr. Brownlow, anxiously. “Don’t
think I want to thrust myself into your affairs; but if either advice or
help--”

“Thank you,” said the young man. He smiled, and once more Mr. Brownlow,
though not imaginative, put a thousand meanings into the smile. “I will
be more attentive to my work,” he said; “perhaps I have suffered my own
thoughts to interfere with me. Thank you, sir, for your kindness. I am
very glad that you have given me this warning.”

“But it does not tempt you to open your heart,” said Mr. Brownlow,
smiling too, though not with very pleasurable feelings.

“There is nothing in my heart that is worth opening,” said Powys;
“nothing but my own small affairs--thank you heartily all the same.”

This is how Mr. Brownlow was baffled, notwithstanding his superior age
and prudence and skill. He sat silent for a time with that curious
feeling of humiliation and displeasure which attends a defeat even when
nobody is to be blamed for it. Then by way of saving his dignity, he
drew once more toward him the Wardell papers, and studied them in
silence. As for the young man, he resumed, but with a troubled mind, his
examination of the dark old picture. Perhaps his refusal to open his
heart arose as much from the fact that he had next to nothing to tell as
from any other reason, and the moment the conversation ceased his heart
misgave him. Young Powys was not one of the people possessed by a
blessed certainty that the course they themselves take is the best. As
soon as he had closed his mouth a revulsion of feeling came upon him. He
seemed to himself hard-hearted, ungrateful, odious, and sat thinking
over all Mr. Brownlow’s kindness to him, and his detestable requital of
that kindness, and asking himself how he could recommence the
interrupted talk. What could he say to show that he was very grateful,
and a devoted servant, notwithstanding that there was a corner of his
heart which he could not open up? or must he continue to lie under this
sense of having disappointed and refused to confide in so kind a friend?
A spectator would have supposed the circumstances unchanged had he seen
the lawyer seated calmly at the table looking over his papers, and his
clerk at a little distance respectfully waiting his employer’s pleasure;
but in the breast of the young man, who was much too young to be sure of
himself, there was a wonderful change. He seemed to himself to have made
a friend into an enemy; to have lost his vantage ground in Mr.
Brownlow’s good opinion, and above all to have been ungrateful and
unkind. Thus they sat in dead silence till the bell for luncheon--the
great bell which amused Pamela, bringing a lively picture before her of
all that was going on at the great house--began to sound into the
stillness. Then Mr. Brownlow stirred, gathered his papers together, and
rose from his chair. Powys sat still, not knowing what to do; and it may
be imagined what his feelings were when his employer spoke.

“Come along, Powys,” said Mr. Brownlow,--“you have had a long walk, and
you must be hungry--come and have some lunch.”



CHAPTER XV.

LUNCHEON.


It was like a dream to the young Canadian when he followed the master of
the house into the dining-room;--not that _that_, or any other social
privilege, would have struck the youth with astonishment or exultation
as it would have done a young man from Masterton: but because he had
just behaved so ungratefully and ungraciously, and had no right to any
such recompense. He had heard enough in the office about Brownlows to
know that it was an unprecedented honor that was being paid him; but it
was the coals of fire thus heaped upon his head which he principally
felt. Sara was already at the head of the table in all that perfection
of dainty apparel which dazzles the eyes of people unused to it.
Naturally the stranger knew nothing about any one particular of her
dress, but he felt without knowing how, the difference between that
costly simplicity and all the finery of the women he was accustomed to
see. It was a different sphere and atmosphere altogether from any he had
ever entered; and the only advantage he had over any of his
fellow-clerks who might have been introduced in the same way was, that
he had mastered the first grand rule of good-breeding, and had forgotten
himself. He had no time to think how he ought to behave in his own
person. His mind was too much occupied by the novelty of the sphere into
which he was thus suddenly brought. Sara inclined her head graciously as
he was brought in, and was not surprised; but as for Mr. Hardcastle,
whose seat was just opposite that of young Powys, words could not
express his consternation. One of the clerks! Mr. Brownlow the solicitor
was not such a great man himself that he should feel justified in
introducing his clerks at his table; and after that, what next? A rapid
calculation passed through Mr. Hardcastle’s mind as he stared at the
new-comer. If this sort of thing was to go on, it would have to be
looked to. If Mr. Brownlow thought it right for Sara, he certainly
should not think it right for his Fanny. Jack Brownlow himself, with
Brownlows perhaps, and at least a large share of his father’s fortune,
was not to be despised; but the clerks! The Rector even felt himself
injured--though to be sure, young Powys or any other clerk could not
have dreamed of paying addresses to him. And it must be admitted that
the conversation was not lively at table. Mr. Brownlow was embarrassed
as knowing his own intentions, which, of course, nobody else did. Mr.
Hardcastle was astonished and partially affronted. And Powys kept
silence. Thus there was only Sara to keep up a little appearance of
animation at the table. It is at such moments that the true superiority
of womankind really shows itself. She was not embarrassed--the social
difference which, as she thought, existed between her and her father’s
clerk was so great and complete that Sara felt herself as fully at
liberty to be gracious to him, as if he had been his own mother or
sister. “If Mr. Powys walked all the way he must want his luncheon,
papa,” she said. “Don’t you think it is a pretty road? Of course it is
not grand like your scenery in Canada. We don’t have any Niagaras in
England; but it is pleasant, don’t you think?”

“It is very pleasant,” said young Powys; “but there are more things in
Canada than Niagara.”

“I suppose so,” said Sara, who was rather of opinion that he ought to
have been much flattered by her allusion to Canada; “and there are
prettier places in England than Dewsbury--but still people who belong to
it are fond of it all the same. Mr. Hardcastle, this is the dish you are
so fond of--are you ill, like papa, that you don’t eat to-day?”

“Not ill, my dear,” said the Rector, with meaning--“only like your papa,
a little out of sorts.”

“I don’t know why people should be out of sorts who have every thing
they can possibly want,” said Sara. “I think it is wicked both of papa
and you. If you were poor men in the village, with not enough for your
children to eat, you would know better than to be out of sorts. I am
sure it would do us all a great deal of good if we were suddenly
ruined,” the young woman continued, looking her father, as it happened,
full in the face. Of course she did not mean any thing. It came into her
head all at once to say this, and she said it; but equally of course it
fell with a very different significance on her father’s ears. He changed
color in spite of himself--he dropped on his plate a morsel he was
carrying to his mouth. A sick sensation came over him. Sara did not know
very much about the foundation of his fortune, but still she knew
something; and she was just as likely as not to let fall some word which
would throw final illumination upon the mind of the young stranger. Mr.
Brownlow smiled a sickly sort of smile at her from the other end of the
table.

“Don’t use such strong language,” he said. “Being ruined means with Sara
going to live in a cottage covered with roses, and taking care of one’s
aged father; but, my darling, your father is not yet old enough to give
in to being ruined, even should such a chance happen to us. So you must
make up your mind to do without the cottage. The roses you can have, as
many as you like.”

“Sara means by ruin, that is to say,” said the Rector, “something rather
better than the best that I have been able to struggle into, and nothing
to do for it. I should accept her ruin with all my heart.”

“You are laughing at me,” said Sara, “both of you. Fanny would know if
she were here. You understand, don’t you, Mr. Powys? What do I care for
cottages or roses? but if one were suddenly brought face to face with
the realities of life--”

“You have got that out of a book, Sara,” said the Rector.

“And if I have, Mr. Hardcastle?” said Sara. “I hope some books are true.
I know what I mean, whether you know it or not. And so does Mr. Powys,”
she added, suddenly meeting the stranger’s eye.

This appeal was unlucky, for it neutralized the amusement of the two
elder gentlemen, and brought them back to their starting-point. It was a
mistake in every way, for Powys, though he was looking on with interest
and wonder, did not understand what Sara meant. He looked at her when
she spoke, and reddened, and faltered something, and then betook himself
to his plate with great assiduity, to hide his perplexity. He had never
known any thing but the realities of life. He had known them in their
most primitive shape, and he was beginning to become acquainted with
them still more bitterly in the shape they take in the midst of
civilization, when poverty has to contend with more than the primitive
necessities. And to think of this dainty creature, whose very air that
she breathed seemed different from that of his world, desiring to be
brought face to face with such realities! He had been looking at her
with great reverence, but now there mingled with his reverence just that
shade of conscious superiority which a man likes to feel. He was not
good, sweet, delightsome, celestial, as she was, but he knew
better--precious distinction between the woman and the man.

But Sara, always thinking of him as so different from herself that she
could use freedom with him, was not satisfied. “You understand me?” she
said, repeating her appeal.

“No,” said young Powys; “at least if it is real poverty she speaks of, I
don’t think Miss Brownlow can know what it means.” He turned to her
father as he spoke with the instinct of natural good-breeding. And
thereupon there occurred a curious change. The two gentlemen began to
approve of the stranger. Sara, who up to this moment had been so
gracious, approved of him no more.

“You are quite right,” said the Rector; “what Miss Brownlow is thinking
of is an imaginary poverty which exists no longer--if it ever existed.
If your father had ever been a poor curate, my dear Sara, like myself,
for instance--”

“Oh, if you are all going to turn against me--” said Sara, with a little
shrug of her shoulders. And she turned away as much as she could do it
without rudeness from the side of the table at which young Powys sat,
and began in revenge to talk society. “So Fanny is at Ridley,” she said;
“what does she mean by always being at Ridley? The Keppels are very
well, but they are not so charming as that comes to. Is there any one
nice staying there just now?”

“Perhaps you and I should not agree about niceness,” said the Rector.
“There are several people down for Easter. There is Sir Joseph Scrape,
for instance, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer once, before you were
born. I am very fond of him, but you would prefer his grandson, Sara, if
he happened to have a grandson.”

“On the contrary, I like old gentlemen,” said Sara. “I never see any
thing else, for one thing. There is yourself, Mr. Hardcastle, and
papa--”

“Well, I suppose I am an old gentleman,” said the Rector, ruefully; “at
least to babies like you. That is how things go in this world--one
shifts the burden on to one’s neighbor. Probably Sir Joseph is of my
mind, and thinks somebody else old. And then, in revenge, we have
nothing to do but to call you young creatures babies, though you have
the world in your hands,” Mr. Hardcastle added, with a sigh; for he was
a vigorous man, and a widower, and had been already twice married, and
saw no reason why he should not take that step again. And it was hard
upon him to be called an old gentleman in this unabashed and open way.

“Well, they have the world before them,” said Mr. Brownlow; “but I am
not so sure that they have it in their hands.”

“We have nothing in our hands,” said Sara, indignantly--“even I, though
papa is awfully good to me. I don’t mean to speak slang, but he is
_awfully_ good, you know; and what does it matter? I daren’t go anywhere
by myself, or do any thing that every body else doesn’t do. And as for
Fanny, she would not so much as take a walk if she thought you did not
like it.”

“Fanny is a very good girl,” said Mr. Hardcastle, with a certain melting
in his voice.

“We are all very good girls,” said Sara; “but what is the use of it? We
have to do every thing we are told just the same; and have old Lady
Motherwell, for example, sitting upon one, whenever she has a chance.
And then you say we have the world in our hands! If you were to let us
do a little as we pleased, and be happy our own way--”

“Then you have changed your mind,” said Mr. Brownlow. He was smiling,
but yet underneath that he was very serious, not able to refrain from
giving in his mind a thousand times more weight than they deserved to
his daughter’s light and random words, though he knew well enough they
were random and light. “I thought you were a dutiful child, who would do
what I asked you, even in the most important transaction of your
life--so you said once, at least.”

“Any thing you asked me, papa?” cried Sara, with a sudden change of
countenance. “Yes, to be sure! any thing! Not because I am dutiful, but
because--you are surely all very stupid to-day--because-- Don’t you know
what I mean?”

“Yes,” said young Powys, who all this time had not spoken a word.
Perhaps in her impatience her eye had fallen upon him; perhaps it was
because he could not help it; but however that might be, the
monosyllable sent a little electric shock round the table. As for the
speaker himself, he had no sooner uttered it than he reddened like a
girl up to his very hair. Sara started a little, and became suddenly
silent, looking at the unexpected interpreter she had got; and as for
the Rector, he stared with the air of a man who asks himself, What next?

The sudden pause thus made in the conversation by his inadvertent reply,
confused the young man most of all. He felt it down to the very tips of
his fingers. It went tingling through him, as if he were the centre of
the electricity--as indeed he was. His first impulse, to get up and run
away, of course could not be yielded to; and as luncheon was over by
this time, and the servants gone, and the business of the meal over, it
was harder than ever to find any shelter to retire behind. Despair at
last, however, gave him a little courage. “I think, sir,” he said,
turning to Mr. Brownlow, “if you have no commands for me, that I had
better go. Mr. Wrinkell will want to know your opinion; unless,
indeed--”

“I am not well enough for work,” said Mr. Brownlow, “and you may as well
take a holiday as you are here. It will do you good. Go and look at the
horses, and take a stroll in the park. Of course you are fond of the
country. I don’t think there is much to see in the house--”

“If Mr. Powys would like to see the Claude, I will take him into the
drawing-room,” said Sara, with all her original benignity. Powys, to
tell the truth, did not very well know whether he was standing on his
head, or on the other and more ordinary extremity. He was confounded by
the grace showed to him. And being a backwoodsman by nature, and knowing
not much more than Masterton in the civilized world, the fact is that at
first, before he considered the matter, he had not an idea what a Claude
was. But that made no difference; he was ready to have gone to
Pandemonium if the same offer had been made to show the way. Not that he
had fallen in love at first sight with the young mistress of Brownlows.
He was too much dazzled, too much surprised for that; but he had
understood what she meant, and the finest little delicate thread of
_rapport_ had come into existence between them. As for Sara’s
condescension and benignity, he liked it. Her brother would have driven
him frantic with a tithe of the affability which Sara thought her duty
under the circumstances; but from her it was what it ought to be. The
young man did not think it was possible that such a privilege was to be
accorded to him, but he looked at her gratefully, thanking her with his
eyes. And Sara looked at him, and for an instant saw into those eyes,
and became suddenly sensible that it was not her father’s clerk, but a
man, a young man, to whom she had made this obliging offer. It was not
an idea that had entered her head before; he was a clerk whom Mr.
Brownlow chose to bring in to luncheon. He might have been a hundred for
any thing Sara cared. Now, all at once it dawned upon her that the clerk
was a man, and young, and also well-looking, a discovery which filled
her with a certain mixture of horror and amusement. “Well, how was I to
know?” she said to herself, although, to be sure, she had been sitting
at the same table with him for about an hour.

“Certainly, if Powys likes, let him see the Claude; but I should think
he would prefer the horses,” said Mr. Brownlow; and then Sara rose and
shook out her long skirt, and made a little sign to the stranger to
follow her. When the two young creatures disappeared, Mr. Hardcastle,
who had been staring at them, open-mouthed, turned round aghast and pale
with consternation upon his friend.

“Brownlow, are you mad?” he said; “good heavens! if it was any body but
you I should think it was softening of the brain.”

“It may be softening of the brain,” said Mr. Brownlow, cheerfully; “I
don’t know what the symptoms are. What’s wrong?”

“What’s wrong?” said the Rector--he had to stop and pour himself out a
glass of wine to collect his faculties--“why, it looks as if you meant
it. Send your clerk off with your child, a young fellow like that, as if
they were equals! Your _clerk_! I should not permit it with my Fanny, I
can tell you that.”

“Do you think Sara will run away with him?” said Mr. Brownlow, smiling.
“I feel sure I can trust _him_ not to do it. Why, what nonsense you are
speaking! If you have no more confidence in my little friend Fanny, I
have. _She_ would be in no danger from my clerk if she were to see him
every day, and show him all the pictures in the world.”

“Oh, Fanny,--that is not the question,” said the Rector, half suspicious
of the praise, and half pleased. “It was Sara we were talking of. I
don’t believe she would care if a man was a chimney-sweep. You have
inoculated her with your dreadful Radical ideas--”

“I? I am not a Radical,” said Mr. Brownlow; and he still smiled, though
he entered into no farther explanation. As for the Rector, he gulped
down his wine, and subsided into his neck-cloth, as he did when he was
disturbed in his mind. He had no parallel in his experience to this
amazing indiscretion. Fanny?--no; to be sure Fanny was a very good girl,
and knew her place better--she would not have offered to show the
Claude, though it had been the finest Claude in the world, even to a
curate, much less to a clerk. And then it seemed to Mr. Hardcastle that
Mr. Brownlow’s eyes looked very heavy, and that there were many tokens
half visible about him of softening of the brain.

Meanwhile Sara went sweeping along the great wide fresh airy passages,
and through the hall, and up the grand stair-case. Her dress was of
silk, and rustled--not a vulgar rustle, like that which announces some
women offensively wherever they go, but a soft satiny silvery ripple of
sound, which harmonized her going like a low accompaniment. Young Powys
had only seen her for the first time that day, and he was a reasonable
young fellow, and had not a thought of love or love-making in his mind.
Love! as if any thing so preposterous could ever arise between this
young princess and a poor lawyer’s clerk, maintaining his mother and his
little sisters on sixty pounds a year. But yet, he was a young man, and
she was a girl; and following after her as he did, it was not in human
nature not to behold and note the fair creature, with her glistening
robes and her shining hair. Now and then, when she passed through a
patch of sunshine from one of the windows, she seemed to light up all
over, and reflect it back again, and send forth soft rays of responsive
light. Though she was so slender and slight, her step was as steady and
free as his own, Canadian and backwoodsman as he was; and yet, as she
moved, her pretty head swayed by times like the head of a tall lily upon
the breeze, not with weakness, but with the flexile grace that belonged
to her nature. Powys saw all this, and it bewitched him, though she was
altogether out of his sphere. Something in the atmosphere about her went
to his head. It was the most delicate intoxication that ever man felt,
and yet it was intoxication in a way. He went up stairs after her,
feeling like a man in a dream, not knowing what fairy palace, what new
event she might be leading him to; but quite willing and ready, under
her guidance, to meet any destiny that might await him. The Claude was
so placed in the great drawing-room, that the actual landscape, so far
as the mild greenness of the park could be called landscape, met your
eye as you turned from the immortal landscape of the picture. Sara went
straight up to it without a pause, and showed her companion where he was
to stand. “This is the Claude,” she said, with a majestic little wave of
her hand by way of introduction. And the young man stood and looked at
the picture, with her dress almost touching him. If he did not know much
about the Claude at the commencement, he knew still less now. But he
looked into the clear depths of the picture with the most devout
attention. There was a ripple of water, and a straight line of light
gleaming down into it, penetrating the stream, and casting up all the
crisp cool glistening wavelets against its own glow. But as for the
young spectator, who was not a connoisseur, his head got confused
somehow between the sun on Claude’s ripples of water, and the sun as it
had fallen in the hall upon Sara’s hair and her dress.

“It is very lovely,” he said, rather more because he thought it was the
thing he ought to say than from any other cause.

“Yes,” said Sara; “we are very proud of our Claude; but I should like to
know why active men like papa should like those sort of pictures; he
prefers landscapes to every thing else--whereas they make me impatient.
I want something that lives and breathes. I like pictures of life--not
that one everlasting line of light fixed down upon the canvas with no
possibility of change.”

“I don’t know much about pictures,” said Powys--“but yet--don’t you
think it is less natural still to see one everlasting attitude--like
that, for instance, on the other wall? people don’t keep doing one
particular thing all their lives.”

“I should like to be a policeman and tell them to move on,” said Sara.
“That woman there, who is giving the bread to the beggar--she has been
the vexation of my life; why can’t she give it and have done with it? I
think I hate pictures--I don’t see what we want with them. I always want
to know what happened next.”

“But nothing need happen at all here,” said Powys, with unconscious
comprehension, turning to the Claude again. He was a little out of his
depth, and not used to this kind of talk, but more and more it was going
to his head, and that intoxication carried him on.

“That is the worst of all,” said Sara. “Why doesn’t there come a
storm?--what is the good of every thing always being the same? That was
what I meant down stairs when you pretended you did not understand.”

What was the poor young fellow to say? He was penetrated to his very
heart by the sweet poison of this unprecedented flattery--for it was
flattery, though Sara meant nothing more than the freemasonry of youth.
She had forgotten he was a clerk, standing there before the Claude; she
had even forgotten her own horror at the discovery that he was a man. He
was young, like herself, willing to follow her lead, and he
“understood;” which after all, though Sara was not particularly wise, is
the true test of social capabilities. He did know what she meant, though
in that one case he had not responded; and Sara, like every body else of
quick intelligence and rapid mind, met with a great many people who
stared and did not know what she meant. This was why she did the
stranger the honor of a half reproach;--it brought the poor youth’s
intoxication to its height.

“But I don’t think you understand,” he said, ruefully, apologetically,
pathetically, laying himself down at her feet as it were, to be trod
upon if she pleased. “You don’t know how hard it is to be poor; so long
as it was only one’s self, perhaps, or so long as it was mere hardship;
but there is worse than that; you have to feel yourself mean and
sordid--you have to do shabby things. You have to put yourself under
galling obligations; but I ought not to speak to you like this--that is
what it really is to be poor.”

Sara stood and looked at him, opening her eyes wider and wider. This was
not in the least like the cottage with the roses, but she had forgotten
all about that; what she was thinking of now was whether he was
referring to his own case--whether his life was like that--whether her
father could not do something for him; but for the natural grace of
sympathy which restrained her, she would have said so right out; but in
her simplicity she said something very near as bad. “Mr. Powys,” she
said, quite earnestly, “do you live in Masterton all alone?”

Then he woke up and came to himself. It was like falling from a great
height, and finding one’s feet, in a very confused, sheepish sort of
way, on the common ground. And the thought crossed his mind, also, that
she might think he was referring to himself, and made him still more
sheepish and confused. But yet, now that he was roused, he was able to
answer for himself. “No, Miss Brownlow,” he said; “my mother and my
little sisters are with me. I don’t live alone.”

“Oh, I beg your pardon,” said Sara, whose turn it now was to blush. “I
hope you like Masterton?” This very faltering and uncomfortable question
was the end of the interview; for it was very clear no answer was
required. And then she showed him the way down stairs, and he went his
way by himself, retracing the very steps which he had taken when he was
following her. He felt, poor fellow, as if he had made a mistake
somehow, and done something wrong, and went out very rueful into the
park, as he would have gone to his desk, in strict obedience to his
employer’s commands.



CHAPTER XVI.


Late in the afternoon Mr. Brownlow did really look as if he were taking
a holiday. He came forth into the avenue as Sara was going out, and
joined her, and she seized her opportunity, and took his arm, and led
him up and down in the afternoon sunshine. It is a pretty sight to see a
girl clinging to her father, pouring all her guesses and philosophies
into his ears, and claiming his confidence. It is a different kind of
intercourse, more picturesque, more amusing, in some ways even more
touching, than the intercourse of a mother and daughter, especially when
there is, as with these two, no mother in the case, and the one sole
parent has both offices to fulfill. Sara clung to her father’s arm, and
congratulated herself upon having got him out, and promised herself a
good long talk. “For I never see you, papa,” she said; “you know I
never see you. You are at that horrid office the whole long day.”

“Only all the mornings and all the evenings,” said Mr. Brownlow, “which
is a pretty good proportion, I think, of life.”

“Oh, but there is always Jack or somebody,” said Sara, tightening her
clasp on his arm; “and sometimes one wants only you.”

“Have you something to say to me then,” said her father, with a little
curiosity, even anxiety,--for of course his own disturbed thoughts
accompanied him everywhere, and put meanings into every word that was
said.

“Something!” said Sara, with indignation; “heaps of things. I want to
tell you and I want to ask you;--but, by-the-by, answer me first, before
I forget, is this Mr. Powys very poor?”

“Powys!” said Mr. Brownlow, with a suppressed thrill of excitement.
“What of Powys? It seems to me I hear of nothing else. Where has the
young fellow gone?”

“_I_ did not do any thing to him,” said Sara, turning her large eyes
full of mock reproach upon her father’s face. “You need not ask him from
me in that way. I suppose he has gone home--to his mother and his little
sisters,” she added, dropping her voice.

“And what do you know about his mother and his little sisters?” said Mr.
Brownlow, startled yet amused by her tone.

“Well, he told me he had such people belonging to him, papa,” said Sara;
“and he gave me a very grand description before that of what it is to be
poor. I want to know if he is very poor? and could I send any thing to
them, or do any thing? or are they too grand for that? or couldn’t you
raise his salary or something? You ought to do something, since he is a
favorite of your own.”

“Did he complain to you?” said Mr. Brownlow, in consternation; “and I
trust in goodness, Sara, you did not propose to do any thing for them as
you say?”

“No indeed; I had not the courage,” said Sara. “I never have sense
enough to do such things. Complain! oh, dear no; he did not complain.
But he was so much in earnest about it, you know, _apropos_ of that
silly speech I made at luncheon, that he made me quite uncomfortable. Is
he a--a gentleman, papa?”

“He is my clerk,” said Mr. Brownlow, shortly; and then the conversation
dropped. Sara was not a young woman to be stopped in this way in
ordinary cases, though she did stop this time, seeing her father fully
meant it; but all the same she did not stop thinking, which indeed, in
her case, was a thing very difficult to do.

Then Mr. Brownlow began to nerve himself for a great effort. It excited
him as nothing had excited him for many a long year. He drew his child’s
arm more closely through his own, and drew her nearer to him. They were
going slowly down the avenue, upon which the afternoon sunshine lay
warm, all marked and lined across by columns of trees, and the light
shadows of the half-developed foliage. “Do you know,” he said, “I have
been thinking a great deal lately about a thing you once said to me. I
don’t know whether you meant it--”

“I never say any thing I don’t mean,” said Sara, interrupting him; but
she too felt that something more than usual was coming, and did not
enlarge upon the subject. “What was it, papa?” she said, clinging still
closer to his arm.

“You refused Motherwell,” said Mr. Brownlow, “though he could have given
you an excellent position, and is, they tell me, a very honest fellow. I
told you to consider it, but you refused him, Sara.”

“Well, no,” said Sara, candidly; “refusing people is very clumsy sort of
work, unless you want to tell of it after, and that is mean. I did not
refuse him. I only contrived, you know, that he should not speak.”

“Well, I suppose that it comes to about the same thing,” said Mr.
Brownlow. “What I am going to say now is very serious. You once told me
you would marry the man I asked you to marry. Hush, my darling, don’t
speak yet. I dare say you never thought I would ask such a proof of
confidence from you; but there are strange turns in circumstances. I am
not going to be cruel, like a tyrannical father in a book; but if I were
to ask you to do such a great thing for me--to do it blindly without
asking questions, to try to love and to marry a man, not of your own
choice, but mine--Sara, would you do it? Don’t speak yet. I would not
bind you. At the last moment you should be free to withdraw from the
bargain--”

“Let me speak, papa!” cried Sara. “Do you mean to say that you _need_
this--that you really _want_ it? Is it something that can’t be done any
other way? first tell me that.”

“I don’t think it can be done any other way,” said Mr. Brownlow sadly,
with a sigh.

“Then of course I will do it,” said Sara. She turned to him as she
spoke, and fixed her eyes intently on his face. Her levity, her
lightness, her careless freedom were all gone. No doubt she had meant
the original promise, as she said, but she had made it with a certain
gay bravado, little dreaming of any thing to follow. Now she was
suddenly sobered and silenced. There was no mistaking the reality in Mr.
Brownlow’s face. Sara was not a careful, thoughtful woman; she was a
creature who leaped at conclusions, and would not linger over the most
solemn decision. And then she was not old enough to see both sides of a
question. She jumped at it, and gave her pledge, and fixed her fate more
quickly than another temperament would have chosen a pair of gloves. But
for all that she was very grave. She looked up in her father’s face,
questioning him with her eyes. She was ready to put her life in his
hands, to give him her future, her happiness, as if it had been a flower
for his coat. But yet she was sufficiently roused to see that this was
no laughing matter. “Of course I will do it,” she repeated without any
grandeur of expression; but she never looked so grave, or had been so
serious all her life.

As for her father, he looked at her with a gaze that seemed to devour
her. He wanted to see into her heart. He wanted to look through and
through those two blue spheres into the soul which was below, and he
could not do it. He was so intent upon this that he did not even
perceive at the first minute that she had consented. Then the words
caught his ear and went to his heart--“Of course I will do it.” When he
caught the meaning, strangely enough his object went altogether out of
his mind, and he thought of nothing but of the half pathetic,
unhesitating, magnificent generosity of his child. She had not asked a
question, why or wherefore, but had given herself up at once with a kind
of prodigal readiness. A sudden gush of tears, such as had not refreshed
them for years, came into Mr. Brownlow’s eyes. Not that they ran over,
or fell, or displayed themselves in any way, but they came up under the
bushy eyebrows like water under reeds, making a certain glimmer in the
shade. “My dear child!” he said, with a voice that had a jar in it such
as profound emotion gives; and he gathered up her two little hands into
his, and pressed them together, holding her fast to him. He was so
touched that his impulse was to give her back her word, not to take
advantage of it; to let every thing go to ruin if it would, and keep his
child safe. But was it not for herself? It was in the moment when this
painful sweetness was going to his very heart that he bent over her and
kissed her on the forehead. He could not say any thing, but there are
many occasions, besides those proper to lovers, when that which is
inexpressible may be put into a kiss. The touch of her father’s lips on
Sara’s forehead told her a hundred things; love, sorrow, pain, and a
certain poignant mixture of joy and humiliation. He could not have
uttered a word to save his life. She was willing to do it, with a lavish
youthful promptitude; and he, was he to accept the sacrifice? This was
what John Brownlow was thinking when he stooped over her and pressed his
lips on his child’s brow. She had taken from him the power of speech.

Such a supreme moment can not last. Sara, too, not knowing why, had felt
that _serrement du cœur_, and had been pierced by the same poignant
sweetness. But she knew little reason for it, and none in particular why
her father should be so moved, and her spirits came back to her long
before his did. She walked along by his side in silence, feeling by the
close pressure of her hands that he had not quite come to himself for
some time after _she_ had come back to herself. With every step she took
the impression glided off Sara’s mind; her natural light-heartedness
returned to her. Moreover, she was not to be compelled to marry that
very day, so there was no need for being miserable about it just yet at
least. She was about to speak half a dozen times before she really
ventured on utterance; and when at last she took her step out of the
solemnity and sublimity of the situation, this was how Sara plunged into
it, without any interval of repose.

“I beg your pardon, papa; I would not trouble you if I could help it.
But please, now it is all decided, will you just tell me--am I to marry
any body that turns up? or is there any one in particular? I beg your
pardon, but one likes to know.”

Mr. Brownlow was struck by this demand, as was to be expected. It
affected his nerves, though nobody had been aware that he had any
nerves. He gave an abrupt, short laugh, which was not very merry, and
clasped her hands tighter than ever in his.

“Sara,” he said, “this is not a joke. Do you know there is scarcely any
thing I would not have done rather than ask this of you? It is a very
serious matter to me.”

“I am sure I am treating it very seriously,” said Sara. “I don’t take it
for a joke; but you see, papa, there is a difference. What you care for
is that it should be settled. It is not you that have the marrying to
do; but for my part it is _that_ that is of the most importance. I
should rather like to know who it was, if it would be the same to you.”

Once more Mr. Brownlow pressed in his own the soft, slender hands he
held. “You shall know in time--you shall know in good time,” he said,
“if it is inevitable;” and he gave a sort of moan over her as a woman
might have done. His beautiful[B] child! who was fit for a prince’s
bride, if any prince were good enough. Perhaps even yet the necessity
might be escaped.

 [B] The fact was, Sara was not beautiful. There was not the least
 trace of perfection about her; but her father had prepossessions and
 prejudices, such as parents are apt to have, unphilosophical as it may
 be.

“But I should like to know now,” said Sara; and then she gave a little
start, and colored suddenly, and looked him quickly, keenly in the face.
“Papa!” she said;--“you don’t mean--do you mean--this Mr. Powys,
perhaps?”

Mr. Brownlow actually shrank from her eye. He grew pale, almost green;
faltered, dropped her hands--“My darling!” he said feebly. He had not
once dreamt of making any revelation on this subject. He had not even
intended to put it to her at all, had it not come to him, as it were, by
necessity; and consequently he was quite unprepared to defend himself.
As for Sara, she clung to him closer, and looked him still more keenly
in the eyes.

“Tell me,” she said; “I will keep my word all the same. It will make no
difference to me. Papa, tell me! it is better I should know at once.”

“You ought not to have asked me that question, Sara,” said Mr. Brownlow,
recovering himself; “if I ask such a sacrifice of you, you shall know
all about it in good time. I can’t tell; my own scheme does not look so
reasonable to me as it did--I may give it up altogether. But in the mean
time don’t ask me any more questions. And if you should repent, even at
the last moment--”

“But if it is necessary to you, papa?” said Sara, opening her eyes--“if
it has to be done, what does it matter whether I repent or not?”

“Nothing is necessary to me that would cost your happiness,” said Mr.
Brownlow. And then they went on again for some time in silence. As for
Sara, she had no inclination to have the magnificence of her sacrifice
thus interfered with. For the moment her feeling was that, on the whole,
it would even be better that the marriage to which she devoted herself
should be an unhappy and unfit one. If it were happy it would not be a
sacrifice; and to be able to repent at the last, like any commonplace
young woman following her own inclinations, was not at all according to
Sara’s estimation of the contract. She went on by her father’s side,
thinking of that and of some other things in silence. Her thoughts were
of a very different tenor from his. She was not taking the matter
tragically as he supposed--no blank veil had been thrown over Sara’s
future by this intimation, though Mr. Brownlow, walking absorbed by her
side, was inclined to think so. On the contrary, her imagination had
begun to play with the idea lightly, as with a far-off possibility in
which there was some excitement, and even some amusement possible. While
her father relapsed into painful consideration of the whole subject,
Sara went on demurely by his side, not without the dawnings of a smile
about the corners of her mouth. There was nothing said between them for
a long time. It seemed to Mr. Brownlow as if the conversation had broken
off at such a point that it would be hard to recommence it. He seemed to
have committed and betrayed himself without doing any good whatever by
it; and he was wroth at his own weakness. Softening of the brain! there
might be something in what the Rector said. Perhaps it was disease, and
not the pressure of circumstances, which had made him take so seriously
the first note of alarm. Perhaps his whole scheme to secure Brownlows
and his fortune to Sara was premature, if not unnecessary. It was while
he was thus opening up anew the whole matter, that Sara at last ventured
to betray the tenor of her thoughts.

“Papa,” she said, “I asked you a question just now, and you
did not answer me; but answer me now, for I want to know.
This--this--gentleman--Mr. Powys. Is he--a gentleman, papa?”

“I told you he was my clerk, Sara,” said Mr. Brownlow, much annoyed by
the question.

“I know you did, but that is not quite enough. A man may be a gentleman
though he is a clerk. I want a plain answer,” said Sara, looking up
again into her father’s face.

And he was not without the common weakness of Englishmen for good
connections--very far from that. He would not have minded, to tell the
truth, giving a thousand pounds or so on the spot to any known family of
Powys which would have adopted the young Canadian into its bosom. “I
don’t know what Powys has to do with the matter,” he said; and then
unconsciously his tone changed. “It is a good name; and I think--I
imagine--he must belong somehow to the Lady Powys who once lived near
Masterton. His father was well born, but, I believe,” added Mr.
Brownlow, with a slight shiver, “that he married--beneath him. I think
so. I can’t say I am quite sure.”

“I should have thought you would have known every thing,” said Sara. “Of
course, papa, you know I am dying to ask you a hundred questions, but I
won’t, if you will only just tell me one thing. A girl may promise to
accept any one--whom--whom her people wish her to have; but is it as
certain,” said Sara, solemnly, “that he--will have me?”

Then Mr. Brownlow stood still for a moment, looking with wonder,
incomprehension, and a certain mixture of awe and dismay upon his child.
Sara, obeying his movement, stood still also with her eyes cast down,
and just showing a glimmer of malice under their lids, with the color
glowing softly in her cheeks, with the ghost of a smile coming and going
round her pretty mouth. “Oh child, child!” was all Mr. Brownlow said. He
was moved to smile in spite of himself, but he was more moved to wonder.
After all, she was making a joke of it--or was it really possible that,
in this careless smiling way, the young creature, who had thrust her
life into his hands like a flower, to be disposed of as he would, was
going forward to meet all unknown evils and dangers? The sober, steady,
calculating man could understand a great many things more abstruse, but
he could not understand this.

This, however, was about the end of their conference, for they had
reached old Betty’s cottage by this time, who came out, ungrateful old
woman as she was, to courtesy as humbly to Mr. Brownlow as if he had
been twenty old squires, and to ask after his health. And Sara had
occasion to speak to her friend Pamela on the other side of the way. It
was not consistent with the father’s dignity, of course, to go with her
to visit those humble neighbors, but he stood at the gate with old Betty
behind in a whirl of courtesies, watching while Sara’s tall, straight,
graceful figure went across the road, and Pamela with her little, fresh,
bright, dewy face, like an April morning, came running out to meet her.
“Poor little thing!” Mr. Brownlow said to himself--though he could not
have explained why he was sorry for Pamela; and then he turned back
slowly and went home, crossing the long shadows of the trees. He was not
satisfied with himself or with his day’s work. He was like a doctor
accustomed to regard with a cool and impartial eye the diseases of
others, but much at a loss when he had his own personal pains in hand.
He was uneasy and ashamed when he was alone, and reminded himself that
he had managed very badly. What was he to do? Was he to act as a doctor
would, and put his domestic malady into the hands of a brother
practitioner? But this was a suggestion at which he shuddered. Was he to
take Jack into his counsel and get the aid of his judgment?--but Jack
was worse, a thousand times worse, than a stranger. He had all his life
been considered a very clever lawyer, and he knew it; he had got scores
of people out of scrapes, and, one way or other, half the county was
beholden to him; and he could do nothing but get himself deeper and
deeper into his own miserable scrape. Faint thoughts of making it into
“a case” and taking opinions on it--taking Wrinkell’s opinion, for
instance, quietly, his old friend who had a clear head and a great deal
of experience--came into his mind. He had made a muddle of it himself.
And then the Rector’s question recurred to him with still greater
force--could it be softening of the brain? Perhaps it would be best to
speak to the doctor first of all.

Meanwhile Sara had gone into Mrs. Swayne’s little dark parlor, out of
the sunshine, and had seated herself at Pamela’s post in the window,
very dreamy and full of thought. She did not even speak for a long time,
but let her little friend prattle to her. “I saw you and Mr. Brownlow
coming down the avenue,” said Pamela; “what a long time you were, and
how strange it looked! Sometimes you had a great deal to say, and then
for a long time you would walk on and on, and never look at each other.
Was he scolding you? Sometimes I thought he was.”

Sara made no answer to this question; she only uttered a long, somewhat
demonstrative sigh, and then went off upon a way of her own. “I wonder
how it would have felt to have had a mother?” she said, and sighed
again, to her companion’s great dismay.

“How it would have felt!” said Pamela; “that is just the one thing that
makes me feel I don’t envy you. You have quantities and quantities of
fine things, but I have mamma.”

“And I have papa,” said Sara, quickly, not disposed to be set at a
disadvantage; “that was not what I meant. Sometimes, though you may
think it very wicked, I feel as if I was rather glad; for, of course, if
mamma had been living it would have been very different for me; and then
sometimes I think I would give a great deal--Look here. I don’t like
talking of such things; but did you ever think what you would do if you
were married? Fanny Hardcastle likes talking of it. How do you think you
should feel? to the gentleman, you know?”

“Think,” said Pamela; “does one need to think about it? love him, to be
sure.” And this she said with a rising color, and with two rays of new
light waking up in her eyes.

“Ah, love him,” said Sara; “it is very easy to talk; but how are you to
love him? that does not come of itself just when it is told, you know;
at least I suppose it doesn’t--I am sure I never tried.”

“But if you did not love him, of course you would not marry him,” said
Pamela, getting confused.

“Yes--that is just one of the things it is so easy to say,” said Sara;
“and I suppose at your age you don’t know any better. Don’t you know
that people _have_ to marry, whether they like it or not? and when they
never, never would have thought of it themselves? I suppose,” said Sara,
in the strength of her superior knowledge, “that most of us are married
like that. Because it suits our people, or because-- I don’t know
what--any thing but one’s own will.” And this little speech the young
martyr again rounded with a sigh.

“Are you going to be married?” said Pamela, drawing a footstool close to
her friend’s feet, and looking up with awe into her face. “I wish you
would tell me. Mamma has gone to Dewsbury, and she will not be back for
an hour. Oh, do tell me--I will never repeat it to any body. And, dear
Miss Brownlow, if you don’t love him--”

“Hush,” said Sara; “I never said any thing about a _him_. It is you who
are such a romantic little girl. What I was speaking of was one’s duty;
one has to do one’s duty, whether one likes it or not.”

This oracular speech was very disappointing to Pamela. She looked up
eagerly with her bright eyes, trying to make out the romance which she
had no doubt existed. “I can fancy,” she said, softly, “why you wanted
your mother;” and her little hand stole into Sara’s, which lay on her
knee. Sara did not resist the soft caress. She took the hand, and
pressed it close between her own, which were longer, and not so rounded
and childlike; and then, being a girl of uncertain disposition, she
laughed, to Pamela’s great surprise and dismay.

“I think, perhaps, I like to be my own mistress best,” she said; “if
mamma had lived she never would have let me do any thing I wanted to
do--and then most likely she would not have known what I meant. It is
Jack, you know, who is most like mamma.”

“But he is very nice,” said Pamela, quickly; and then she bent down her
head as quickly, feeling the hot crimson rushing to her face, though she
did not well know why. Sara took no notice of it--never observed it,
indeed--and kept smoothing down in her own her little neighbor’s soft
small hand.

“Oh yes,” she said, “and I am very fond of my brother; only he and I are
not alike, you know. I wonder who Jack will marry, if he ever marries;
but it is very fine to hear him talk of that--perhaps he never did to
you. He is so scornful of every body who falls in love, and calls them
asses, and all sorts of things. I should just like to see him fall in
love himself. If he were to make a very foolish marriage it would be
fun. They say those dreadfully wise people always do.”

“Do they?” said Pamela; and she bent down to look at the border of her
little black silk apron, and to set it to rights, very energetically,
with her unoccupied hand. But she did not ask any farther question; and
so the two girls sat together for a few minutes, hand clasped in hand,
the head of the one almost touching the other, yet each far afield in
her own thoughts; of which, to tell the truth, though she was so much
the elder and the wiser, Sara’s thoughts were the least painful, the
least heavy, of the two.

“You don’t give me any advice, Pamela,” she said at last. “Come up the
avenue with me at least. Papa has gone home, and it is quite dark here
out of the sun. Put on your hat and come with me. I like the light when
it slants so, and falls in long lines. I think you have a headache
to-day, and a walk will do you good.”

“Yes, I think I have a little headache,” said Pamela, softly; and she
put on her hat and followed her companion out. The sunshine had passed
beyond Betty’s cottage, and cut the avenue obliquely in two--the one end
all light, the other all gloom. The two young creatures ran lightly
across the shady end, Sara, as always, leading the way. Her mind, it is
true, was as full as it could be of her father’s communication, but the
burden sat lightly on her. Now and then a word or two would tingle, as
it were, in her ears; now and then it would occur to her that her fate
was sealed, as she said, and a sigh, half false half true, would come to
her lips, but in the mean time she was more amused by the novelty of the
position than discouraged by the approach of fate.

“What are you thinking of?” she said, when they came into the tender
light in the farther part of the avenue; for the two, by this time, had
slackened their pace, and drawn close together, as is the wont of girls,
though they did not speak.

“I was only looking at our shadows going before us,” said Pamela, and
this time the little girl echoed very softly Sara’s sigh.

“They are not at all beautiful to look at; they are shadows on stilts,”
said Sara; “you might think of something more interesting than that.”

“But I wish something did go before us like that to show the way,” said
Pamela. “I wish it was true about guardian angels--if we could only see
them, that is to say; and then it is so difficult to know--”

“What?” said Sara; “you are too young to want a guardian angel; you are
not much more than a little angel yourself. When one has begun to go
daily farther from the cast, one knows the good of being quite a child.”

“But I am not quite a child,” said Pamela, under her breath.

“Oh yes, you are. But look, here Jack must be coming; don’t you hear the
wheels? I did not know it was so late. Shall you mind going back alone,
for I must run and dress? And please come to me in the morning as soon
as ever they are gone, I have such heaps of things to say.”

Saying this, Sara ran off, flying along under the trees, she and her
shadow; and poor little Pamela, not so much distressed as perhaps she
ought to have been to be left alone, turned back toward the house. The
dog-cart was audible before it dashed through the gate, and Pamela’s
heart beat, keeping time with the ringing of the mare’s feet and the
sound of the wheels. But it stopped before Betty’s door, and some one
jumped down, and the mare and the dog-cart and the groom dashed past
Pamela in a kind of whirlwind. Mr. John had keen eyes, and saw something
before him in the avenue; and he was quick-witted, and timed his
inquiries after Betty in the most prudent way. Before Pamela, whose
heart beat louder than ever, was half way down the avenue, he had joined
her, evidently, whatever Betty or Mrs. Swayne might say to the contrary,
in the most purely accidental way.

“This is luck,” said Jack; “I have not seen you for two whole days,
except at the window, which doesn’t count. I don’t know how we managed
to endure the dullness before that window came to be inhabited. Come
this way a little, under the chestnuts--you have the sun in your eyes.”

“Oh, I don’t mind,” said Pamela, “and I must not wait; I am going home.”

“I suppose you have been walking with Sara, and she has left you to go
home alone,” said Jack; “it is like her. She never thinks of any thing.
But tell me what you have been doing these two frightfully long days?”

From which it will be seen that Mr. John, as well as his sister, had
made a little progress toward intimacy since he became first acquainted
with the lodgers at Mrs. Swayne’s.

“I don’t think they have been frightfully long days,” said Pamela,
making the least little timid response to his emphasis and to his
eyes--wrong, no doubt, but almost inevitable. “I have been doing nothing
more than usual; mamma has wanted me, that’s all.”

“Then it is too bad of mamma,” said Jack; “you know you ought to be out
every day. I must come and talk to her about it--air and exercise, you
know.”

“But you are not a doctor,” said Pamela, with a soft ring of
laughter--not that he was witty, but that the poor child was happy, and
showed it in spite of herself; for Mr. John had turned, and was walking
down the avenue, very slowly, pausing almost every minute, and not at
all like a man who was going home to dinner. He was still young. I
suppose that was why he preferred Pamela to the more momentous fact
which was in course of preparation at the great house.

“I am a little of every thing,” he said; “I should like to go out to
Australia, and get a farm, and keep sheep. Don’t you like the old
stories and the old pictures with the shepherdesses? If you had a little
hut all covered with flowers, and a crook with ribbons--”

“Oh, but I should not like to be a shepherdess,” cried Pamela, in haste.

“Shouldn’t you? Well, I did not mean that; but to go out into the bush,
or the backwoods, or whatever they call it, and do every thing and get
every thing for one’s self. Shouldn’t you like that? Better than all the
nonsense and all the ceremony here,” said Jack, bending down to see
under the shade of her hat, which as it happened was difficult enough.

“_We_ don’t have much ceremony,” said Pamela, “but if I was a lady like
your sister--”

“Like Sara!” said Jack, and he nodded his head with a little brotherly
contempt. “Don’t be any thing different from what you are, please. I
should like people to wear always the same dress, and keep exactly as
they were when--the first time, you know. I like you, for instance, in
your red cloak. I never see a red cloak without thinking of you. I hope
you will keep that one forever and ever,” said the philosophical youth.
As for Pamela, she could not but feel a little confused, wondering
whether this, or Sara’s description of her brother, was the reality. And
she should not have known what to answer but that the bell at the house
interfered in her behalf, and began to send forth its touching call--a
sound which could not be gainsayed.

“There is the bell,” she cried; “you will be too late for dinner. Oh,
please don’t come any farther. There is old Betty looking out.”

“Bother dinner,” said Mr. John, “and old Betty too,” he added, under his
breath. He had taken her hand, the same hand which Sara had been
holding, to bid her good-bye, no doubt in the ordinary way. At all
events, old Betty’s vicinity made the farewell all that politeness
required. But he did not leave her until he had opened the gate for her,
and watched her enter at her own door. “When my sister leaves Miss
Preston in the avenue,” he said, turning gravely to Betty, with that
severe propriety for which he was distinguished, “be sure you always see
her safely home; she is too young to walk about alone.” And with these
dignified words Mr. John walked on, having seen the last of her, leaving
Betty speechless with amazement. “As if I done it!” Betty said. And then
he went home to dinner. Thus both Mr. Brownlow’s children, though he did
not know it, had begun to make little speculations for themselves in
undiscovered ways.



CHAPTER XVII.

A CATASTROPHE.


After that day of curious abandonment and imprudence, Mr. Brownlow
returned to his natural use and wont. He could not account to himself
next day even for his want of control, for his injudiciousness. What end
could it serve to lay open his plans to Sara? He had supposed she would
take it seriously, as he had done, and, lo! she had taken it very
lightly, as something at the first glance rather amusing than otherwise.
Nothing could have so entirely disconcerted her father. His position,
his good name, his very life, seemed to hang upon it, and Sara had taken
it as a singularly piquant novelty, and nothing more. Then it was that
it had occurred to him about that softening of the brain, and the
thought had braced him up, had reawakened all his energies, and sealed
his lips, and made him himself again. He went to the office next day,
and all the following days, and took no more notice of young Powys than
if he had never tried to win his confidence, and never introduced him to
his daughter. No doubt it was a disappointment to the young man. No
doubt a good deal of the intoxication of the moment had remained in
Powys’s brain. He had remembered and dwelt upon the effect of that
passing sunbeam on Miss Brownlow’s hair and her dress, much more than he
need have done. And though he did not look at it much, the young
Canadian had hung up the Claude in his memory--the Claude with a certain
setting round it more important than its actual frame. This he had done
naturally, as a kind of inevitable consequence. And it was not to be
denied that he watched for Mr. Brownlow’s coming next morning, and
waited for some little sign of special friendship, something that should
show, on his employer’s part as well, a consciousness of special favor
extended. But no such sign came. He might have been a cabbage for all
the notice Mr. Brownlow took of him as he passed to his own office. Not
a glance, not a word, betrayed any thing different from the ordinary not
unkind but quite indifferent demeanor of the lawyer to his clerks.
Then, as was to be expected, a certain surprise and painful
enlightenment--such as every body has to encounter, more or less, who
are noticed by their social superiors--came upon the young man. It was
all a caprice, then, only momentary and entirely without consequences,
which had introduced him to Mr. Brownlow’s table and his daughter. He
belonged to a different world, and it was vain to think that the other
world would ever open to him. He was too unimportant even to be kept at
a distance. He was her father’s clerk. In Canada that would not have
mattered so much, but in this old hard long-established England-- Poor
young fellow! he knew so little. The thought brought with it a gush of
indignation. He set his teeth, and it seemed to him that he was able to
face that horrible conventional system, and break a lance upon it, and
make good his entrance. He forgot his work even, and laid down his pen
and stared at Mr. John, who was younger than himself. How was he better
than himself? that was the question. Then an incipient sneer awoke in
the soul of the young backwoodsman. If there was such a difference
between the son of a country solicitor and his clerk, what must there be
between the son and the clients, all the county people who came to have
their difficulties solved? But then Mr. Brownlow was something more than
a solicitor. If these two men--the one old and full of experience, the
other young and ignorant, with only a screen of glass and a curtain
between them--could have seen into each other’s thoughts, how strange
would have been the revelation. But happily that is one refuge secured
for humanity. They were each safe, beyond even their own powers of
self-interpretation, in the recesses of their hearts.

Mr. Brownlow, by a superhuman effort not only took no notice of young
Powys, but, so far as that was possible, dismissed all thought of him
from his mind. It was a difficult thing to do, but yet he all but did
it, plunging into the Wardell case, and other cases, and feeling with a
certain relief that, after all, _he_ had not any particular symptoms of
softening of the brain. The only thing he could not do was to banish
from his own mind the consciousness of the young man’s presence. Busy as
he was, occupied to the full extent of his powers, considering intently
and with devotion fine points of law and difficult social problems, he
never for one minute actually forgot that young Powys was sitting on the
other side of the screen. He could forget any thing else without much
difficulty. Neither Sara nor Brownlows were in his mind as he labored at
his work. He thought no more of Jack’s presence in the office, though he
knew very well he was there, than of the furniture; but he could have
made a picture of the habitual attitude in which his clerk sat, of the
way he bent over his work, and the quick upward glance of his eyes. He
could not forget him. He could put out of his mind all his own
uncomfortable speculations, and even the sense that he had conducted
matters unwisely, which is a painful thought to such a man. All this he
could do, but he could not get rid of Powys’s presence. He was there a
standing menace, a standing reminder. He did not even always recall to
himself, in the midst of his labors, why it was that this young man’s
presence disturbed him, but he never could for a moment get free of the
consciousness that he was there.

At the same time he regarded him with no unfriendly feelings. It was not
hatred any more than it was love that moved him. He carried the thought
with him, as we carry about with us, as soon as they are gone, that
endless continual thought of the dead which makes our friends in the
unseen world so much closer to us than any body still living to be loved
and cherished. Mr. Brownlow carried his young enemy, who at the same
time was not his enemy, about with him, as he would have carried the
thought of a son who had died. It came to his mind when he got up in the
morning. It went side by side with him wherever he went--not a ghost,
but yet something ghostly in its perseverance and steady persistency.
When he laid down his pen, or paused to collect his thoughts for a
moment, the spectre of this youth would cross him, whatever he might be
doing. While Mr. Wrinkell was talking to him, there would suddenly glide
across Mr. Wrinkell’s substantial person the apparition of a desk and a
stool and the junior clerk. All this was very trying; but still Mr.
Brownlow wisely confined himself to this one manifestation of Powys’s
presence, and sternly silenced in his own mind all thought on the
subject. On that one unlucky day of leisure he had gone too far; in the
rebound he determined to do nothing, to say nothing--to wait.

This was perhaps as little satisfactory to Sara as it was to young
Powys. She had, there can not be a doubt, been much amused and a little
excited by her father’s extraordinary proposal. She had not taken it
solemnly indeed, but it had interested her all the same. It was true he
was only her father’s clerk, but he was young, well-looking, and he had
amused her. She felt in her soul that she could (or at least so she
thought) make an utter slave of him. All the absurdities that ever were
perpetrated by a young man in love would be possible to that young man,
or else Sara’s penetration failed her, whereas the ordinary young men of
society were incapable of absurdities. They were too much absorbed in
themselves, too conscious of the possibility of ridicule, to throw
themselves at a girl’s feet heart and soul; and the girl who was still
in the first fantastic freshness of youth despised a sensible and
self-respecting lover. She would have been pleased to have had the
mysterious Canadian produced again and again to be operated upon. He was
not _blasé_ and instructed in every thing like Jack. And as for having
to marry him, if he was the man, that was still a distant evil, and
something quite unexpected no doubt would come of it; he would turn out
a prince in disguise, or some perfectly good reason which her father was
now concealing from her, would make every thing suitable. For Sara knew
too well the important place she held in her father’s opinion to imagine
for a moment that he meant to mate her unworthily. This was how the
tenor of her thoughts was turned, and Mr. Brownlow was not insensible to
the tacit assaults that were made upon him about his _protégé_. She gave
up her judgment to him as she never had done before, with a filial
self-abandonment that would have been beautiful had there been no
_arrière pensée_ in it. “I will do as papa thinks proper. You know best,
papa,” she said, in her new-born meekness, and Mr. Brownlow understood
perfectly what she meant.

“You have turned dreadfully good all of a sudden,” said Jack. “I never
knew you so dutiful before.”

“The longer one lives, one understands one’s duties the better,” said
Sara, sententiously; and she looked at her father with a mingled
submission and malice which called forth a smile about the corners of
his mouth.

“I hope so,” said Mr. Brownlow; “though you have not made the experiment
long enough to know much about it yet.”

“There are moments which give one experience as much as years,” said
Sara, in the same lofty way, which was a speech that tempted the profane
Jack to laughter, and made Mr. Brownlow smile once more. But though he
smiled, the suggestion did not please him much. He laid his hand
caressingly on her head, and smoothed back her pretty hair as he passed
her; but he said nothing, and showed no sign of consciousness in respect
to those moments which give experience. And the smile died off his lip
almost before his hand was withdrawn from her hair. His thought as he
went away was that he had been very weak; he had betrayed himself to the
child who was still but a child, and knew no better than to play with
such rude edge-tools. And the only remedy now was to close his lips and
his heart, to tell nobody any thing, never to betray himself, whatever
might happen. It was this thought that made him look so stern as he left
Brownlows that morning--at least that made Pamela think he looked stern,
as the dog-cart came out at the gate. Pamela had come to be very learned
in their looks as they flashed past in that rapid moment in the early
sunshine. She knew, or she thought she knew, whether Mr. John and his
father were quite “friends,” or if there had been a little inevitable
family difference between them, as sometimes happened; and it came into
her little head that day that Mr. Brownlow was angry with his son,
perhaps because-- She would not put the reason into words, but it filled
her mind with many reflections. Was it wrong for Mr. John to come home
early so often?--to stay at home so often the whole day?--to time his
expeditions so fortunately that they should end in stray meetings, quite
accidental, almost every day? Perhaps he ought to be in the office
helping his father instead of loitering about the avenue and elsewhere,
and finding himself continually in Pamela’s way. This she breathed to
herself inarticulately with that anxious aim at his improvement which is
generally the first sign of awakening tenderness in a girl’s heart. It
occurred to her that she would speak to him about it when she saw him
next; and then it occurred to her with a flash of half guilty joy that
he had not been in the dog cart as it dashed past, and that,
accordingly, some chance meeting was very sure to take place that day.
She meant to remonstrate with him, and put it boldly before him whether
it was his duty to stay from the office; but still she could not but
feel rather glad that he had stayed from the office that day.

As for Mr. John, he had, or supposed he had--or at least attempted to
make himself suppose that he had--something to do at home on that
particular day. His fishing-tackle had got out of order, and he had to
see to that, or there was something else of equal importance which
called his attention, and he had been in Masterton for two days in
succession. Thus his conscience was very clear. It is true that he
dawdled the morning away looking for Pamela, who was not to be found,
and was late in consequence--so late that young Keppel, whom he had
meant to join, had gone off with his rod on his shoulder to the Rectory
to lunch, and was on his way back again before Jack found his way to the
water-side. There are certain states of mind in which even dinner is an
indifferent matter to a young man; and as for luncheon, it was not
likely he would take the trouble to think of that.

“You are a nice fellow,” said Keppel, “to keep a man lounging here by
himself all the time that’s any good; and here you are now when the sun
is at its height. I don’t understand that sort of work. What have you
been about all day?”

“I have not been lunching at the Rectory,” said Jack. “Have a cigar, old
fellow? Now we are here, let’s make the best of it. I’ve been waiting
about, kicking my heels, while you’ve been having lunch with Fanny
Hardcastle. But I’ll tell you what, Keppel; I’d drop that if I were
you!”

“Drop what?” cried Mr. Keppel, guiltily.

“Dancing about after every girl who comes in your way,” said Jack. “Why,
you were making an ass of yourself only the other day at Brownlows.”

“Ah, that was out of my reach,” said Keppel, shaking his head solemnly,
and he sighed. The sigh was such that Jack (who, as is well known, was
totally impervious to sentimental weaknesses) burst into a fit of
laughter.

“I suppose you think little Fanny is not out of your reach,” he said;
“but Fanny is very wide awake, I can tell you. You haven’t got any
money; you’re neglecting your profession.”

“It is my profession that is neglecting me,” said Keppel, meekly. “Don’t
be hard upon a fellow, Jack. They say here that is you who are making an
ass of yourself. They say you are to be seen about all the lanes--”

“Who says?” said Jack; and he could not prevent a certain flush from
rising to his face. “Let every man mind his own business, and woman
too. As for you, Keppel, you would be inexcusable if you were to do any
thing ridiculous in that way. A young fellow with a good profession that
may carry him as high as he likes--as high as he cares to work for, I
mean; of course nothing was ever done without work--and you waste your
time going after every girl in the place--Fanny Hardcastle one day,
somebody else the next. You’ll come to a bad end, if you don’t mind.”

“What is a fellow to do?” said Keppel. “When I see a nice girl--I am not
a block of wood, like you--I can’t help seeing it. When a man has got
eyes in his head, what is the use of his being reasoned with by a man
who has none?”

“As good as yours any day,” said Jack, with natural indignation. “What
use do you make of your eyes? I have always said marrying early was a
mistake; but, by Jove, marrying early is better than following every
girl about like a dog. Fanny Hardcastle would no more have you than Lady
Godiva--”

“How do you know that?” said Keppel, quickly. “Besides--I--don’t--want
her to have me,” he added, with deliberation; and thereupon he occupied
himself for a long time very elaborately in lighting his cigar.

“It is all very well to tell me that,” said Jack. “You want every one of
them, till you have seen the next. But look here, Keppel; take my
advice: never look at a woman again for ten years, and then get married
off-hand, and you’ll bless me and my good counsel for all the rest of
your life.”

“Thank you,” said Keppel. “You don’t say what I’m to do with myself
during the ten years; but, Jack, good advice is admirable, only one
would like to know that one’s physician healed himself.”

“Physicians never heal themselves; it is an impossibility upon the face
of it,” said Jack, calmly. “A doctor is never such an idiot as to treat
his own case. Don’t you know that? When I want ghostly counsel, I’ll go
to--Mr. Hardcastle. I never attempt to advise myself--”

“You think he’d give Fanny to you,” said Keppel, ruefully, “all for the
sake of a little money. I hate moneyed people,--give us another
cigar;--but she wouldn’t have you, Jack. I hope I know a little better
than that.”

“So much the better,” said Jack; “nor you either, my boy, unless you
come into a fortune. Mr. Hardcastle knows better than that. Are we going
to stay here all day? I’ve got something to do up at the house.”

“What have you got to do? I’ll walk up that way with you,” said Keppel,
lifting his basket from the grass.

“Well, it is not exactly at the house,” said Jack. “The fact is, I am in
no particular hurry; I have somebody to see in the village--that is, on
the road to Ridley; let’s walk that way, if you like.”

“Inhospitable, by Jove!” said Keppel. “I believe, after all, what they
say must be true.”

“What do they say?” said Jack, coldly. “You may be sure, to start with,
that it is not true; what they say never is. Come along, there’s some
shade to be had along the river-side.”

And thus the two young men terminated the day’s fishing for which Jack
had abandoned the office. They strayed along by the river-side until he
suddenly bethought himself of business which led him in quite an
opposite direction. When this recollection occurred to his mind, Jack
took leave of his friend with the air of a man very full of occupation,
and marched away as seriously and slowly as if he had really been going
to work. He was not treating his own case. He had not even as yet begun
to take his own case into consideration. He was simply intent upon his
own way for the moment, and not disposed to brook any contradiction, or
even inquiry. No particular intention, either prudent or imprudent, made
his thoughts definite as he went on; no aims were in his mind. A certain
soft intoxication only possessed him. Somehow to Jack, as to every body
else, his own case was entirely exceptional, and not to be judged by
ordinary rules. And he neither criticised nor even inquired into his
personal symptoms. With Keppel the disease was plain, and the remedy
quite apparent; but as for himself, was he ill at all, that he should
want any physician’s care?

This question, which Jack did not consider for himself, was resolved for
him in the most unexpected way. Mr. Brownlow had gone thoughtful and
almost stern to the office, reflecting upon his unfortunate
self-betrayal--vexed and almost irritated by the way in which Sara
essayed to keep up the private understanding between them. He came back,
no doubt, relieved of the cloud on his face; but still very grave, and
considering within himself whether he could not tell his daughter that
the events of that unlucky day were to count for nothing, and that the
project he had proposed to her was given over forever. His thoughts were
still so far incomplete, that he got down at the gate in order to walk
up the avenue and carry them on at leisure. As he did so he looked
across, as he too had got a habit of doing, at Mrs. Swayne’s window--the
bright little face was not there. It was not there; but, in place of it,
the mother was standing at the door, shading her eyes from the rare
gleam of evening sun which reached the house, and looking out. Mr.
Brownlow did not know any thing about this mother, and she was not so
pleasant to look at as Pamela; yet, unawares, there passed through his
mind a speculation, what she was looking for? Was she too, perhaps, in
anxiety about her child? He felt half disposed to turn back and ask her,
but did not do it; and by the time he had found old Betty’s cottage the
incident had passed entirely from his mind. Once more the sunshine was
slanting through the avenue, throwing the long tree-shadows and the long
softly-moving figure of the wayfarer before him as he went on. He was
not thinking of Jack, or any thing connected with him, when that
startling apparition met his eyes, and brought him to a stand-still. The
sight which made him suddenly stop short was a pretty one, had it been
regarded with indifferent eyes; and, indeed, it was the merest chance,
some passing movement of a bird or flicker of a branch, that roused Mr.
Brownlow from his own thoughts and revealed that pretty picture to him.
When the little flutter, whatever it was, roused him and he raised his
eyes, he saw among the trees, at no great distance from him, a pair such
as was wont to wander over soft sod, under blue sky, and amid all the
sweet interlacements of sunshine and shade--two creatures--young,
hopeful, and happy--the little one half-timid, half-trustful, looking up
into her companion’s face; he so much taller, so much stronger, so much
bolder, looking down upon her--taking the shy hand which she still
withdrew, and yet still left to be retaken;--two creatures, unaware as
yet why they were so happy--glad to be together, to look at each other,
to touch each other--thinking no evil. Mr. Brownlow stood on the path
and looked, and his senses seemed to fail him. It was a bit out of
Arcadia, out of fairy-land, out of Paradise; and he himself once in his
life had been in Arcadia too. But in the midst of this exquisite little
poem one shrill discord of fact was what most struck the father’s
ear--was it Jack? Jack!--he who was prudence itself--too prudent, even
so far as words went, for Mr. Brownlow’s simple education and habits.
And, good heavens! the little neighbor, the little bright face at the
window which had won upon them all with its sweet friendly looks! Mr.
Brownlow was a man, and not sentimental, but yet the sight after the
first surprise gave him a pang at his heart. What did it mean? or could
it mean any thing but harm and evil? He waited, standing on the path,
clearly visible while they came softly forward absorbed in each other.
He was fixed, as it were, in a kind of silent trance of pain and
amazement. She was Sara’s little humble friend--she was the little
neighbor, whose smiles had won even his own interest--she was the child
of the worn woman at the cottage door, who stood shading her eyes and
looking out for her with that anxious look in her face. All these
thoughts filled Mr. Brownlow’s eyes with pity and even incipient
indignation. And Jack! was this the result of his premature prudence,
his character as a man of the world? His father’s heart ached as they
came on so unconsciously. At last there came a moment when that curious
perception of another eye regarding them, which awakens even sleepers,
came over the young pair. Poor little Pamela gave a start and cry, and
fell back from her companion’s side. Jack, for perhaps the first time in
his life thoroughly confounded and overwhelmed, stood stock-still,
gazing in consternation at the unthought-of spectator. Mr. Brownlow’s
conduct at this difficult conjuncture was such as some people might
blame. When he saw their consternation he did not at that very moment
step in to improve the occasion. He paused that they might recognize
him; and then he took off his hat very gravely, with a certain
compassionate respect for the woman--the little weak fool-hardy creature
who was thus playing with fate; and then he turned slowly and went on.
It was as if a thunderbolt had fallen at the feet of the foolish young
pair. Hitherto, no doubt, these meetings had been clandestine, though
they did not know it; but now all at once illumination flashed upon
both. They were ashamed to be found together, and in a moment, in the
twinkling of an eye, both of them became conscious of the shame. They
gave one glance at each other, and then looked no more. What had they
been doing all those stolen hours?--all those foolish words, all those
soft touches of the warm rosy young fingers--what did they all mean? The
shock was so great that they scarcely moved or spoke for a minute, which
felt like an age. Perhaps it was greatest to Jack, who saw evidently
before him a paternal remonstrance, against which his spirit rose, and a
gulf of wild possibilities which made him giddy. But still Pamela was
the one whom it overwhelmed the most. She grew very pale, poor child!
the tears came to her eyes. “Oh, what will he think of me?” she said,
wringing her poor little hands. “Never mind what he thinks,” said Jack;
but he could not keep out of his voice a certain tone which told the
effect which this scene had had upon him also. He walked with her to the
gate, but it was in a dutiful sort of way. And then their shame flashed
upon them doubly when Pamela saw her mother in the distance waiting for
her at the door. “Don’t come any farther,” she said, under her breath,
not daring to look at him; and thus they parted ashamed. They had not
only been seen by others; they had found themselves out.



CHAPTER XVIII.

TREATING HIS OWN CASE.


It may be imagined after this with what sort of feelings the unhappy
Jack turned up the avenue in cold blood, and walked home to dinner. He
thought he knew what awaited him, and yet he did not know, for up to
this moment he had never come seriously in collision with his father. He
did not know what was going to be said to him, what line of reproach Mr.
Brownlow would take, what he could reply; for in reality he himself had
made as great or a greater discovery than his father had done. He was as
totally unaware what he meant as Mr. Brownlow was. What did he mean?
Nothing--to be happy--to see the other fair little creature happy, to
praise her, to admire her, to watch her pretty ways--to see her look up
with her dewy eyes, tender and sweet, into his face. That was all he had
meant; but now that would answer no longer. If he had been a little less
brave and straightforward, Jack would have quailed at the prospect
before him. He would have turned his back upon the awful dinner-table,
the awful hour after dinner, which he felt awaited him. But at the same
time his spirit was up, and he could not run away. He went on doggedly,
seeing before him in the distance his father still walking slowly, very
slowly he thought, up to the house. Jack had a great respect for his
father, but he had been so differently educated, his habits and ways of
thinking were so different, that perhaps in ordinary cases the young man
was a little impatient of paternal direction; and he did not know now
how he could bear it, if Mr. Brownlow took matters with a high hand.
Besides, even that was not the most urgent question. How could he answer
any one? what could he say for himself? He did not know what he meant.
He could not acknowledge himself a fool, and admit that he meant
nothing. His thoughts were not pleasant as he went slowly after his
father up the avenue. Perhaps it would convey but an uncomfortable
impression of Jack were I to say that he had been quite sincere, and was
quite sincere even now in what he had said about marriage. He had no
particular desire to change his own condition in any way. The idea of
taking new responsibilities upon him had not entered into his mind. He
had simply yielded to a very pleasurable impulse, meaning no harm; and
all at once, without any warning, his pleasure had turned into something
terrible, and stood staring at him with his father’s eyes--with eyes
still more severe and awful than his father’s. In an hour or two,
perhaps even in a minute or two, he would be called to account; and he
could not tell what to answer. He was utterly confounded and stupefied
by the suddenness of the event, and by the startling revelation thus
made to him; and now he was to be called up to the bar, and examined as
to what he meant. These thoughts were but necessary companions as he
went home, where all this awaited him; and he did not know whether to be
relieved or to feel more disconcerted still, when he met a messenger at
the door, who had just been sent in hot haste to the Rectory to ask Mr.
Hardcastle to join the Brownlows party--a kind of thing which the
Rector, in a general way, had no great objection to do. Was Mr.
Hardcastle to be called in to help to lecture him? This was the thought
that crossed Jack’s mind as he went--it must be acknowledged, very
softly and quietly--up stairs to his own room. He met nobody on the way,
and he was glad. He let the bell ring out, and made sure that every body
was ready, before he went down stairs. And he could not but feel that he
looked like a culprit when finally he stole into the drawing-room, where
Mr. Hardcastle was waiting along with his father and sister. Mr.
Brownlow said, “You are late, Jack,” and Jack’s guilty imagination read
volumes in the words; but nothing else was said to him. The dinner
passed on as all dinners do; the conversation was just as usual. Jack
himself was very silent, though generally he had his own opinion to give
on most subjects. As he sat and listened, and allowed the talk to float
over his head, as it were, a strong conviction of the nothingness of
general conversation came over him. He was full to brimming with his own
subject, and his father at least might be also supposed to be thinking
more of that than of any thing else. Yet here they were talking of the
most trifling matters, feeling bound to talk of any thing but the one
thing. He had known this before, no doubt, in theory, but for the first
time it now appeared to him in reality. When Sara left the room, it is
not to be denied that his heart gave a jump, thinking now perhaps they
would both open upon him. But still not a word was said. Mr. Hardcastle
talked in his usual easy way, and with an evident unconsciousness of any
particular crisis. Mr. Brownlow was perhaps more silent than usual, and
left the conversation more in the hands of his guest. But he did not
speak _at_ his son, or show him any displeasure. He was grave, but
otherwise there was no difference in him. Thus the evening passed on,
and not a word was said. When Mr. Hardcastle went away Jack went out
with him to walk part of the way across the park, and then only a
certain consciousness showed itself in his father’s face. Mr. Brownlow
gave his son a quick warning look--one glance, and no more. And when
Jack returned from his walk, which was a long and not a comfortable one,
his father had gone to his room, and all chances of collision were over
for that evening at least. He had escaped, but he had not escaped from
himself. On the contrary, he sat half the night through thinking over
the matter. What was he to do?--to go away would be the easiest, perhaps
in every way the best. But yet, as he sat in the silence of the night, a
little fairy figure came and stood beside him. Could he leave her, give
her up, let her remain to wake out of the dream, and learn bitterly by
herself that it was all over? He had never seen any one like her. Keppel
might rave about his beauties, but not one of them was fit to be named
beside Pamela. So sweet too, and fresh and innocent, with her dear
little face like a spring morning. Thinking of that, Jack somehow glided
away from his perplexities. He made a leap back in his mind to that
frosty, icy day on which he had seen her in the carrier’s cart--to the
moment when she sprained her ankle--to all the trifling pleasant events
by which they had come to this present point. And then all at once, with
a start, he came back to their last meeting, which had been the sweetest
of all, and upon which hard fate, in the shape of Mr. Brownlow, had so
solemnly looked in. Poor Jack! it was the first time any thing of the
kind had ever happened to him. He had gone through a little flirtation
now and then before, no doubt, as is the common fate of man; but as for
any serious crisis, any terrible complication like this, such a thing
had never occurred in his life; and the fact was, after all, that the
experienced-man-of-the-world character he was in the habit of putting on
did him no service in the emergency. It enabled him to clear his brow,
and dismiss his uncomfortable feelings from his face during the evening,
but it did him no good now that he was by himself; and it threw no light
upon his future path. He could talk a little polite cynicism now and
then, but in his heart he was young, and fresh, and honest, and not
cynical. And then Pamela. It was not her fault. She had suffered him to
lead her along those primrose paths, but it was always he who had led
the way, and now was he to leave her alone to bear the disappointment
and solitude, and possibly the reproach? She had gone home confused, and
near crying, and probably she had been scolded when she got home, and
had been suffering for him. No doubt he too was suffering for her; but
still the sternest of fathers can not afflict a young man as a
well-meaning mother can afflict a girl. Poor little Pamela! perhaps at
this moment her pretty eyes were dim with tears. And then Jack melted
altogether and broke down. There was not one of them all that was fit to
hold a candle to her--Sara! Sara was handsome, to be sure, but no more
to be compared to that sweet little soul--So he went on, the foolish
young fellow. And if he did not know what he meant at night, he knew
still less in the morning, after troublous hours of thought, and a great
deal of discomfort and pain.

In the morning, however, what he had been dreading came. As bad luck
would have it he met his father on the stairs going down to breakfast;
and Mr. Brownlow beckoned his son to follow him into the library, which
Jack did with the feelings of a victim. “I want to speak to you, Jack,”
Mr. Brownlow said; and then it came.

“When I met you yesterday you were walking with the--with Mrs. Swayne’s
young lodger,” said Mr. Brownlow, “and it was evidently not for the
first time. You must know, Jack, that--that--this sort of thing will
not do. It puts me out as much--perhaps more than it can put you out--to
have to speak to you on such a subject. I believe the girl is an
innocent girl--”

“There can be no doubt about that, sir,” cried Jack, firing up suddenly
and growing very red.

“I hope not,” said Mr. Brownlow, “and I hope--and I may say I
believe--that you don’t mean any harm. But it’s dangerous playing with
edge-tools; harm might come of it before you knew what you were doing.
Now look here, Jack; I know the time for sermons is passed, and that you
are rather disposed to think you know the world better than I do, but I
can’t leave you without warning. I believe the girl is an innocent girl,
as I have said; but there are different kinds of innocence--there is
that which is utterly beyond temptation, and there is that which has
simply never been tempted.”

“It is not a question I can discuss, sir,” cried Jack. “I beg your
pardon. I know you don’t mean to be hard upon me, but as for calling in
question--her--innocence, I can’t have it. She is as innocent as the
angels; she doesn’t understand what evil means.”

“I am glad you think so,” said Mr. Brownlow; “but let me have out my
say. I don’t believe in seduction in the ordinary sense of the word--”

“Sir!” cried Jack, starting to his feet with a countenance flaming like
that of an angry angel. Mr. Brownlow only waved his hand and went on.

“Let me have out my say. I tell you I don’t believe in seduction; but
there are people in the world--and the most part of the people in the
world--who are neither good nor bad, and to such a sudden impulse one
way or other may be every thing. I would not call down upon a young
man’s foolish head all the responsibility of such a woman’s misery,”
said Mr. Brownlow, thoughtfully, “but still it would be an awful thought
that somebody else might have turned the unsteady balance the right way,
and that your folly had turned it the wrong. See, I am not going into it
as a question of personal vice. That your own heart would tell you of;
but I don’t believe, my boy--I don’t believe you mean any harm. I say
this to you once for all. You could not, if you were a hundred times the
man you are, turn one true, good, pure-hearted girl wrong. I don’t
believe any man could; but you might develop evil that but for you would
only have smouldered and never come to positive harm. Who can tell
whether this poor child is of the one character or the other? Don’t
interrupt me. You think you know, but you can’t know. Mind what you are
about. This is all I am going to say to you, Jack.”

“It is too much,” cried Jack, bursting with impatience, “or it is not
half, not a hundredth part enough. I, sir--do you think I would harm
her? Not for any thing that could be offered me--not for all the world!”

“I have just said as much,” said Mr. Brownlow, calmly. “If I had thought
you capable of a base intention, I should have spoken very differently;
but intention is one thing and result another. Take care. You can’t but
harm her. To a girl in her position every word, every look of that kind
from a young man like you is a kind of injury. You must know that. Think
if it had been Keppel--ah, you start--and how is it different, being
you?”

“It may not be different, sir,” exclaimed Jack, “but this I know, I
can’t carry on this conversation. Keppel! any man in short--that is what
you mean. Good heavens, how little you know the creature you are talking
of! She talk to Keppel or to any one! If it was not you who said it--”

Mr. Brownlow’s grave face relaxed for one half moment. It did not come
the length of a smile, but it had unawares the same effect upon his son
which a momentary lightening of the clouds has, even though no break is
visible. The atmosphere, as it were, grew lighter. The young man stopped
almost without knowing it, and his indignation subsided. His father
understood better than he thought.

“If all you say is true,” said Mr. Brownlow, “and I am glad to see that
you believe it at least, how can you reconcile yourself to doing such a
girl such an injury? You and she belong to different spheres. You can do
her nothing but harm, she can do you no good. What result can you look
for? What do you mean? You must see the truth of what I say.”

Upon which Jack fell silent, chilled in the midst of his heat, struck
dumb. For he knew very well that he had not meant any thing; he had no
result to propose. He had not gone so far as to contemplate actual
practical consequences, and he was ashamed and had nothing to say.

“This is the real state of the case,” said Mr. Brownlow, seeing his
advantage. “You have both been fools, both you and she, but you the
worst, as being a man and knowing better; and now you see how matters
stand. It may give you a little pang, and I fear it will give her a pang
too; but when I say you ought to make an immediate end of it, I know I
advise what is best for both. I am not speaking to you as your judge,
Jack. I am speaking to you as your friend.”

“Thanks,” said Jack, briefly; his heart was full, poor fellow, and to
tell the truth, he said even that much reluctantly, but honesty drew it
out of him. He felt that his father was his friend, and had not been
dealing hardly with him. And then he got up and went to the window, and
looked out upon the unsuspicious shrubberies full of better thoughts.
Make an end of it! make an end of the best part of his life--make an end
of her probably. Yes, it was a very easy thing to say.

“I will not ask any answer or any promise,” said Mr. Brownlow. “I leave
it to your own good sense and good feeling, Jack. There, that is enough;
and if I were you I would go to the office to-day.”

This was all he said. He went out of the library leaving his son there,
leaving him at liberty to follow out his own reflections. And poor
Jack’s thoughts were not pleasant. When his father was gone he came from
the window, and threw himself into the nearest chair. Make an end of it!
Yes, that was it. Easy to say, very easy to advise, but how to do it?
Was he simply to skulk away like a villain, and leave her to pine and
wonder--for she would wonder and pine, bless her! She believed in him,
whatever other people might do. Keppel, indeed! as if she would look at
Keppel, much less talk to him, walk with him, lift her sweet eyes to him
as she had begun to do. And good heavens, this was to end! Would it not
be better that life itself should end? That, perhaps, would please every
body just as well. Poor Jack! this was the wild way he got on thinking,
until the solemn butler opened the door and begged his pardon, and told
him breakfast was ready. He could have pitched something at poor
Willis’s head with pleasure, but he did not do it. He even got up and
thrust back his thoughts into the recesses of his brain, as it were, and
after a while settled his resolution and went to breakfast. That was one
good of his higher breeding. It did not give him much enlightenment as
to what he should do, but it taught him to look as if nothing was the
matter with him and to put his trouble in his pocket, and face the
ordinary events of life without making a show of himself or his
emotions, which is always a triumph for any man. He could not manage to
eat much, but he managed to bear himself much as usual, though not
entirely to conceal from Sara that something had happened; but then she
was a woman, and knew every change of his face. As for Mr. Brownlow, he
was pleased by his son’s steadiness. He was pleased to see that he bore
it like a man, and bore no malice; and he was still more pleased when
Jack jumped into the dogcart and took the reins without saying any thing
about his intention. It is true the mare had her way that morning, and
carried them into Masterton at the speed of an express train, scattering
every body on her route as if by magic. Their course was as good as a
charge of cavalry through the streets of the suburb they had to go
through. But notwithstanding his recklessness, Jack drove well, and
nobody came to any harm. When he threw the reins to the groom the mare
was straining and quivering in every muscle, half to the admiration,
half to the alarm of her faithful attendant, whose life was devoted to
her. “But, bless you, she likes it,” he said in confidence to his
friends, when he took the palpitating animal to her stable at the Green
Man. “Nothing she likes better, though he’s took it out of her this
morning, he have. I reckon the governor have been a-taking it out of
’im.”

The governor, however, was a man of honor, and did not once again recur
to the subject-matter on the way, which would have been difficult, nor
during the long day which Jack spent in the office within his father’s
reach. In the afternoon some one came in and asked him suddenly to
dinner, somewhere on the other side of Masterton, and the poor young
fellow consented in a half despair which he tried to think was prudence.
He had been turning it over and over in his mind all day. Make an end of
it! These words seemed to be written all over the office walls, as if it
was so easy to make an end of it! And poor Jack jumped at the invitation
in despairing recklessness, glad to escape from himself anyhow for the
moment. Mr. Brownlow thus went home alone. He was earlier than usual,
and he found Sara at Mrs. Swayne’s door, praying, coaxing and teasing
Pamela to go up the avenue with her. “Oh, please, I would rather not,”
Mr. Brownlow heard her say, and then he caught the quiet upward glance,
full of a certain wistful disappointment, as she looked up and saw that
Jack was not there. Poor Pamela did not know what to say or what to
think, or how to look him in the face for confusion and shame, when he
alighted at the gate and came toward the two girls. And then for the
first time he began to talk to her, though her mind was in such a
strange confusion that she could not tell what he said. He talked and
Sara talked, drawing her along with them, she scarcely could tell how,
to the other side of the road, to the great open gates. Then Mr.
Brownlow gave his daughter suddenly some orders for old Betty; and
Pamela, in utter consternation and alarm, found herself standing alone
by his side, with nobody to protect her. But he did not look unkind. He
looked down upon her, on the contrary, pitifully, almost tenderly, with
a kind of fatherly kindness. “My poor child,” he said, “you live with
your mother, don’t you? I dare say you must think it dull sometimes. But
life is dull to a great many of us. You must not think of pleasure or
amusement that is bought at the expense of better things.”

“I?” said Pamela, in surprise; “indeed I never have any amusement;” and
the color came up hotly in her cheeks, for she saw that something was in
the words more than met the ear.

“There are different kinds of amusement,” said Mr. Brownlow. “Does not
your mother come out with you when you come to walk? You are too young
to be left by yourself. Don’t be vexed with me for saying so. You are
but a child;--and I once knew some one who was like you,” he said,
looking at her again with friendly compassionate eyes. He was thinking
as he looked at her that Jack had been right. He was even sorry in an
inexorable way for her disappointment, her inevitable heart-break, which
he hoped, at her age, would be got over lightly. Yes; no doubt she was
innocent, foolish, poor little thing, and it was she who would have to
pay for that--but spotless and guileless all through, down to the very
depths of her dewy eyes.

Pamela stood before her mentor with her cheeks blazing and burning and
her eyes cast down. Then she saw but too well what he had meant. He had
seen her yesterday with his son, and he had sent Mr. John away, and it
was all ended forever. This was what it meant, as Pamela thought. And it
was natural that she should feel her heart rise against him. He was very
kind, but he was inexorable. She stood by him with her heart swelling so
against her bosom that she thought it would burst, but too proud to make
any sign. This was why he had addressed her, brought her away from her
mother’s door, contrived to speak to her alone. Pamela’s heart swelled,
and a wild anger took possession of her; but she stood silent before
him, and answered not a single word. He had no claim upon her that she
should take his advice or obey him. To him at least she had nothing to
say.

“It is true, my poor child,” he said again, “there are some pleasures
that are very costly, and are not worth the cost. You are angry, but I
can not help it. Tell your mother, and she will say the same thing as I
do--and go with her when you go out. You are very young, and you will
find this always the best.”

“I don’t know why you should speak to me so,” said Pamela, with her
heart beating, as it were, in her very ears. “Miss Brownlow goes out by
herself--I--I--am a poor girl--I can not be watched always--and, oh, why
should I, why should I?” cried the girl, with a little burst of
passion. Her cheeks were crimson, and her eyes were full, but she would
not have dropped the tears that were brimming over her eyelids, or let
him see her crying--not for the world.

“Poor child!” said Mr. Brownlow. It was all he said; and it gave the
last touch to her suppressed rage and passion--how did he dare call her
poor child? But Sara came out just then from old Betty’s, and stood
stock-still, confounded by her friend’s looks. Sara could see that
something had happened, but she could not tell what it was. She looked
from Pamela to her father, and from her father to Pamela, and could make
nothing of it. “What is the matter?” she asked, in surprise; and then it
was Pamela’s turn to bethink herself, and defend her own cause.

“There is nothing the matter,” she said, “except that you have left me
standing here, Miss Brownlow, and I must go home. I have my own business
to think of, but I can’t expect you to think of that. There is nothing
wrong.”

“You are angry because I left you,” said Sara in dismay. “Don’t be so
foolish, Pamela. I had something to say to old Betty--and then papa was
here.”

“And mamma is waiting for me,” said Pamela in her passion. “Good-bye.
She wants me, and you don’t. And I dare say we shall not be very long
here. Good-night, good-night.” Thus she left them, running, so that she
could not hear any call, though indeed her heart was beating too loud to
let any thing else be audible, jarring against her ears like an
instrument out of tune. “She has got her father--she doesn’t want me.
Nobody wants me but mamma. We will go away--we will go away!” Pamela
said to herself: and she ran passionately across the road, and
disappeared before any thing could be done to detain her. The father and
daughter looked after her from the gate with different thoughts: Sara
amazed and a little indignant--Mr. Brownlow very grave and
compassionate, knowing how it was.

“What ails her?” said Sara--“papa, what is the matter? Is she frightened
for you? or what have I done? I never saw her like this before.”

“You should not have left her so long by herself,” said Mr. Brownlow,
seizing upon Pamela’s own pretext.

“You told me to go,” cried Sara, injured. “I never thought little Pamela
was so quick-tempered. Let me go and tell her I did not mean it. I will
not stay a moment--wait for me, papa.”

“Not now,” said Mr. Brownlow, and he took his daughter’s arm and drew it
within his own with quiet decision. “Perhaps you have taken too much
notice of little Pamela. It is not always kind, though you mean it to be
kind. Leave her to herself now. I have something to say to you,” and he
led her away up the avenue. It was nothing but the promise of this
something to say which induced Sara, much against her will, to leave her
little friend unconsoled; but she yielded, and she was not rewarded for
yielding. Mr. Brownlow had nothing to say that either explained Pamela’s
sudden passion or threw any light upon other matters which might have
been still more interesting. However, she had been taken home, and
dinner was impending before Sara was quite aware of this, and Pamela,
poor child, remained unconsoled.

She was not just then thinking of consolation. On the contrary, she
would have refused any consolation Sara could have offered her with a
kind of youthful fury. She rushed home, poor child, thinking of nothing
but of taking refuge in her mother’s bosom, and communicating her griefs
and injuries. She was still but a child, and the child’s impulse was
strong upon her; notwithstanding that all the former innocent mystery of
Mr. John’s attentions had been locked in her own bosom, not so much for
secrecy’s sake as by reason of that “sweet shamefacedness” which made
her reluctant, even to herself, to say his name, or connect it anyhow
with her own. Now, as was natural, the lesser pressure yielded to the
greater. She had been insulted, as she thought, her feelings outraged in
cold blood, reproach cast upon her which she did not deserve, and all by
the secret inexorable spectator whose look had destroyed her young
happiness, and dispelled all her pleasant dreams. She rushed in just in
time to hide from the world--which was represented by old Betty at her
lodge window, and Mrs. Swayne at her kitchen door--the great hot
scalding tears, big and sudden, and violent as a thunder-storm, which
were coming in a flood. She threw the door of the little parlor open,
and rushed in and flung herself down at her mother’s feet. And then the
passion of sobs that had been coming burst forth. Poor Mrs. Preston in
great alarm gathered up the little figure that lay at her feet into her
arms, and asked, “What was it?--what was the matter?” making a hundred
confused inquiries; until at last, seeing all reply was impossible, the
mother only soothed her child on her bosom, and held her close, and
called her all the tender names that ever a mother’s fancy could invent.
“My love, my darling, my own child,” the poor woman said, holding her
closer and closer, trembling with Pamela’s sobs, beginning to feel her
own heart beat loud in her bosom, and imagining a thousand calamities.
Then by degrees the short broken story came. Mr. John had been very
kind. He used to pass sometimes, and to say a word or two, and Mr.
Brownlow had seen them together. No, Mr. John had never said any
thing--never, oh, never any thing that he should not have said--always
had been like--like--Rude! Mamma! No, never, never, never! And Mr.
Brownlow had come and spoken to her. He had said--but Pamela did not
know what he had said. He had been very cruel, and she knew that for her
sake he had sent Mr. John away. The dog-cart had come up without him.
The cruel, cruel father had come alone, and Mr. John was banished--“And
it is all for my sake!” This was Pamela’s story. She thought in her
heart that the last was the worst of all, but in fact it was the thing
which gave zest and piquancy to all. If she had known that Mr. John was
merely out to dinner, the chances are that she would never have found
courage to tell her pitiful tale to her mother. But when the
circumstances are so tragical the poor little heroine-victim becomes
strong. Pamela’s disappointment, her anger, and the budding sentiment
with which she regarded Mr. John, all found expression in this outburst.
She was not to see him to-night, nor perhaps ever again. And she had
been seeing him most days and most evenings, always by chance, with a
sweet unexpectedness which made the expectation always the dearer. When
that was taken out of her life, how grey it became all in a moment. And
then Mr. Brownlow had presumed to scold her, to blame her for what she
had been doing, she whom nobody ever blamed, and to talk as if she
sought amusement at the cost of better things. And Pamela was virtuously
confident of never seeking amusement. “He spoke as if I were one to go
to balls and things,” she said through her tears, not remembering at the
moment that she did sometimes think longingly of the youthful
indulgences common enough to other young people from which she was shut
out. All this confused and incoherent story Mrs. Preston picked up in
snatches, and had to piece them together as best she could. And as she
was not a wise woman, likely to take the highest ground, she took up
what was perhaps the best in the point of view of consolation at least.
She took her child’s part with all the unhesitating devotion of a
partisan. True, she might be uneasy about it in the bottom of her heart,
and startled to see how much farther than she thought things had gone;
but still in the first place and above all, she was Pamela’s partisan,
which was of all devices that could have been contrived the one most
comforting. As soon as she had got over her first surprise, it came to
her naturally to pity her child, and pet and caress her, and agree with
her that the father was very cruel and unsympathetic, and that poor Mr.
John had been carried off to some unspeakable banishment. Had she heard
the story in a different way, no doubt she would have taken up Mr.
Brownlow’s _rôle_, and prescribed prudence to the unwary little girl;
but as soon as she understood that Pamela had been blamed, Mrs. Preston
naturally took up arms in her child’s defense. She laid her daughter
down to rest upon the horse-hair sofa, and got her a cup of tea, and
tended her as if she had been ill; and as she did so all her faculties
woke up, and she called all her reason together to find some way of
mending matters. Mr. John! might he perhaps be the protector--the best
of all protectors--with whom she could leave her child in full security?
Why should it not be so? When this wonderful new idea occurred to her,
it made a great commotion in her mind, and called to life a project
which she had put aside some time before. It moved her so much, and took
such decided and immediate form, that Mrs. Preston even let fall hints
incomprehensible to Pamela, and to which, indeed, absorbed as she was,
she gave but little attention. “Wait a little,” Mrs. Preston said, “wait
a little; we may do better than you think for. Your poor mother can do
but little for you, my pet, but yet we may find friends--” “I don’t know
who can do any thing for us,” Pamela answered, disconsolately. And then
her mother nodded her head as if to herself, and went with the gleam of
a superior constantly in her eye. The plan was one that could not be
revealed to the child, and about which, indeed, the child, wrapped up in
her own thoughts, was not curious. It was not a new intention. It was a
plan she had been hoarding up to be made use of should she be
ill--should there be any danger of leaving her young daughter alone in
the world. Now, thank heaven, the catastrophe was not so appalling as
that, and yet it was appalling, for Pamela’s happiness was concerned.
She watched over her child through all that evening, soothed, took her
part, adopted her point of view with a readiness that even startled
Pamela; and all the time she was nursing her project in her own heart.
Under other circumstances, no doubt, Mrs. Preston would have been
grieved, if not angry, to hear of the sudden rapid development of
interest in Mr. John and all their talks and accidental meetings of
which she now heard for the first time. But Pamela’s outburst of grief
and rage had taken her mother by storm; and then, if some one else had
assailed the child, whom had she but her mother to take her part? This
was Mrs. Preston’s reasoning. And it was quite as satisfactory to her as
if it had been a great deal more convincing. She laid all her plans as
she soothed her little daughter, shaking as it were little gleams of
comfort from the lappets of her cap, as she nodded reasoningly at her
child. “We may find friends yet, Pamela,” she would say; “we are not so
badly off as to be without friends.” Thus she concealed her weakness
with a mild hopefulness, knowing no more what results they were to bring
about, what unknown wonders would come out of them, than did the little
creature by her side, whose narrow thoughts were bounded by the narrow
circle which centred in Mr. John. Pamela was thinking, where was he now?
was he thinking of her? was he angry because it was through her he was
suffering? and then with bitter youthful disdain of the cruel father who
had banished him and reproved her, and who had no right--no right! Then
the little girl, when her passion was spent, took up another kind of
thought--the light of anger and resistance began to fade out of her
eyes. After all, she was a poor girl--they were all poor, every body
belonging to her. And Mr. John was a rich man’s son. Would it, perhaps,
be right for the two poor women to steal away, softly, sadly, as they
came; and go out into the world again, and leave the man who was rich
and strong and had a right to be happy to come back and enjoy his good
things? Pamela’s tears and her looks both changed with her thoughts--her
wavering pretty color, the flush of agitation and emotion went off her
cheeks, and left her pale as the sky is when the last sunset tinge has
disappeared out of it. Her tears became cold tears, wrung out as from a
rock, instead of the hot, passionate, abundant rain. She did not say any
thing, but shivered and cried piteously on her mother’s shoulders, and
complained of cold. Mrs. Preston took her to bed, as if she had been
still a child, and covered her up, and dried her eyes, and sat by the
pale little creature till sleep stepped in to her help. But the mother
had not changed this time in sympathy with her child. She was supported
by something Pamela heard not of. “We may find friends--we are not so
helpless as that,” she said to herself; and even Pamela’s sad looks did
not change her. She knew what she was going to do. And it seemed to her,
as to most inexperienced plotters, that her plan was elaborate and wise
in the extreme, and that it must be crowned with success.



CHAPTER XIX.

PHŒBE THOMSON.


It was only two days after this when Mr. Brownlow received that message
from old Mrs. Fennell which disturbed him so much. The message was
brought by Nancy, who was in the office waiting for him when he made his
appearance in the morning. Nancy, who had been old Mrs. Thomson’s maid,
was not a favorite with Mr. Brownlow, and both she and her present
mistress were aware of that; but Mrs. Fennell’s message was urgent, and
no other messenger was to be had. “You was to come directly, that was
what she said.” Such was Nancy’s commission. She was a very tall gaunt
old woman, and she stood very upright and defiant, as in an enemy’s
country, and no questions could draw any more from her. “She didn’t tell
me what she was a-wanting of. I’m not one as can be trusted,” said
Nancy. “You was to go directly, that was what she said.”

“Is she ill?” said Mr. Brownlow.

“No, she ain’t ill. She’s crooked; but she’s always crooked since ever I
knew her. You was to come directly; that’s all as I know.”

“Is it about something she wants?” said Mr. Brownlow again; he was
keeping himself down, and trying not to allow his anxiety to be
reawakened. “I am very busy. My son shall go over. Or if she will let me
know what it is she wants.”

“She wants you,” said Nancy. “That’s what she wants. I can’t say no
more, for, I scorn to deny it, I don’t know no more; but it ain’t Mr.
John she wants, it’s you.”

“Then tell her I will come about one o’clock,” said Mr. Brownlow; and he
returned to his papers. But this was only a pretense. He would not let
even such a despicable adversary as old Nancy see that the news
disturbed him. He went on with his papers, pretending to read them, but
he did not know what he was reading. Till one o’clock! It was but ten
o’clock then. No doubt it might be some of her foolish complaints, some
of the grievances she was constantly accumulating; or, on the other
hand, it might be--Mr. Brownlow drew his curtain aside for a minute, and
he saw that young Powys was sitting at his usual desk. The young man had
fallen back again into the cloud from which he had seemed to be
delivered at the time of his visit to Brownlows. He was not working at
that moment; he was leaning his head on his hand, and gazing with a very
downcast look at some minute characters on a bit of paper before
him--calculations of some kind it seemed. Looking at him, Mr. Brownlow
saw that he began to look shabby--white at the elbows, as well as
clouded and heavy over the eyes. He drew back the curtain again and
returned to his place, but with his mind too much agitated even for a
pretense at work. Had the old woman’s message any thing to do with this
youth? Had his calculations which he was attending to when he ought to
have been doing his work any connection with Mrs. Fennell’s sudden
summons? Mr. Brownlow was like a man surrounded by ghosts, and he did
not know from what quarter or in what shape they might next assail him.
But he had so far lost his self-command that he could not wait and fight
with his assailants till the hour he mentioned. He took up his hat at
last, hurriedly, and called to Mr. Wrinkell to say that he was going
out. “I shall be back in half an hour,” Mr. Brownlow said. The
head-clerk stood by and watched his employer go out, and shook his head.
“He’ll retire before long,” Mr. Wrinkell said to himself. “You’ll see he
will; and I would not give a sixpence for the business after he is
gone.” But Mr. Brownlow was not aware of this thought. He was thinking
nothing about the business. He was asking himself whether it was the
compound interest that young Powys was calculating, and what Mrs.
Fennell knew about it. All his spectres, after a moment of ineffectual
repression, were bursting forth again.

Mrs. Fennell had put on her best cap. She had put it on in the morning
before even she had sent Nancy with her message. It was a token to
herself of a great emergency, even if her son-in-law did not recognize
it as such. And she sat in state in her little drawing-room, which was
not adorned by any flowers from Brownlows at that moment, for Sara had
once more forgotten her duties, and had not for a long time gone to see
her grandmother. But there was more than the best cap to signalize the
emergency. The fact was, that its wearer was in a very real and genuine
state of excitement. It was not pretense but reality which freshened her
forehead under her grim bands of false hair, and made her eyes shine
from amid their wrinkles. She had seated herself in state on a high
arm-chair, with a high foot-stool: but it was because, really and
without pretense, she had something to say which warranted all her
preparations. A gleam of pleasure flashed across her face when she heard
Mr. Brownlow knock at the door. “I thought he’d come sooner than one,”
she said, with irrepressible satisfaction, even though Nancy was
present. She would not betray the secret to the maid whom she did not
trust, but she could not but make a little display to her of the power
she still retained. “I knew he’d come,” she went on, with exultation; to
which Nancy, on her part, could not but give a provoking reply.

“Them as plots against the innocent always comes early,” said Nancy.
“I’ve took notice of that afore now.”

“And who is it in this house that plots against the innocent?” said Mrs.
Fennell, with trembling rage. “Take you care what you say to them that’s
your mistress, and more than your mistress. You’re old, and you’d find
it harder than you think to get another home like this. Go and bring me
the things I told you of. You’ve got the money. If it wasn’t for
curiosity and the key-hole, you’d been gone before now.”

“And if it wasn’t as there’s something to be cur’us about it you
wouldn’t have sent me, not you,” said Nancy, which was so near the truth
that Mrs. Fennell trembled in her chair. But Nancy did not feel disposed
to go to extremities, and as Mr. Brownlow entered she disappeared. He
had grown pale on his way up the stairs. The moment had come when,
perhaps, he must hear his own secret discovery proclaimed as it were on
the housetop, and it can not be denied that he had grown pale.

“Well?” he said, sitting down opposite to his mother-in-law on the
nearest chair. His breath and his courage were both gone, and he could
not find another word to say.

“Well, John Brownlow,” she said, not without a certain triumph mingled
with her agitation. “But before I say a word let us make sure that Nancy
and her long ears is out of the way.”

Mr. Brownlow rose with a certain reluctance, opened the door, and looked
up and down the stair. When he came in again a flush had taken the place
of his paleness, and he came and drew his chair close to Mrs. Fennell,
bending forward toward her. “What is the matter?” he said; “is it any
thing you want, or any thing I can do for you? Tell me what it is!”

“If it was any thing as I wanted it might pass,” said Mrs. Fennell, with
a little bitterness; “you know well it wasn’t that you were thinking of.
But I don’t want to lose time. There’s no time to be lost, John
Brownlow. What I’ve got to say to you is that _she’s_ been to see me.
I’ve seen her with my own eyes.”

“Who?” said Mr. Brownlow.

Then the two looked at each other. She, keen, eager, and old, with the
cunning of age in her face, a heartless creature beyond all impressions
of honesty or pity--he, a man, very open to such influences, with a
heart both true and tender, and yet as eager, more anxious than she.
They faced each other, he with eyes which, notwithstanding their present
purpose, “shone clear with honor,” looking into her bleared and
twinkling orbs. What horrible impulse was it that, for the first time,
united two such different beings thus?

“I’ve seen her,” said Mrs. Fennell. “There’s no good in naming names.
She’s turned up at last. I might have played you false, John Brownlow,
and made better friends for myself, but I thought of my Bessie’s bairns,
and I played you true. She came to see me yesterday. My heart’s beating
yet, and I can’t get it stopped. I’ve seen her--seen her with my own
eyes.”

“That woman? Phœbe--?” Mr. Brownlow’s voice died away in his throat;
he could not pronounce the last word. Cold drops of perspiration rose to
his forehead. He sank back in his chair, never taking his eyes from the
weird old woman who kept nodding her head at him, and gave no other
reply. Thus it had come upon him at last without any disguise. His face
was as white as if he had fainted; his strong limbs shook; his eyes were
glassy and without expression. Had he been any thing but a strong man,
healthy in brain and in frame, he would have had a fit. But he was
healthy and strong; so strong that the horrible crisis passed over him,
and he came to himself by degrees, and was not harmed.

“But you did not know her,” he said, with a gasp. “You never saw her;
you told me so. How could you tell it was she?”

“Tell, indeed!” said Mrs. Fennell, with scorn; “me that knew her mother
so well, and Fennell that was her blood relation! But she did not make
any difficulty about it. She told me her name, and asked all about her
old mother, and if she ever forgave her, and would have cried about it,
the fool, though she’s near as old as me.”

“Then she did not know?” said Mr. Brownlow, with a great jump of his
laboring breast.

“Know! I never gave her time to say what she knew or what she did not
know,” cried Mrs. Fennell; “do you think I was going to have her there,
hanging on, a-asking questions, and may be Nancy coming in that knew her
once? I hope I know better than that, for my Bessie’s children’s sake. I
packed her off, that was what I did. I asked her how she could dare to
come nigh me as was an honest woman, and had nothing to do with fools
that run away. I told her she broke her mother’s heart, and so she
would, if she had had a heart to break. I sent her off quicker than she
came. You have no call to be dissatisfied with me.”

Here John Brownlow’s heart, which was in his breast all this time, gave
a great throb of indignation and protest. But he stifled it, and said
nothing. He had to bring himself down to the level of his
fellow-conspirator. He had no leisure to be pitiful: a little more
courtesy or a little less, what did it matter? He gave a sigh, which was
almost like a groan, to relieve himself a little, but he could not
speak.

“Oh yes, she came to me to be her friend,” said the old woman, with
triumph: “talking of her mother, indeed! If her mother had had the heart
of a Christian she would have provided for my poor Fennell and me. And
to ask me to wrong my Bessie’s children for a woman I never saw--”

“What did she ask you?” said Mr. Brownlow, sternly; “better not to talk
about hearts. What did she know? what did she say?”

“John Brownlow,” said Mrs. Fennell, “you’ve not to speak like that to
me, when I’ve just been doing you a service against myself, as it were.
But it was not for you. Don’t you think it was for you. It was for my
Bessie’s bairns. What do you think she would know? She’s been away for
years and years. She’s been a-soldiering at the other side of the world.
But I could have made her my friend forever, and got a good provision,
and no need to ask for any thing I want. Don’t you think I can’t see
that. It was for their sake.”

Mr. Brownlow waved his hand impatiently; but still it was true that he
had brought himself to her level, and was in her power. After this there
was a silence, broken only by the old woman’s exclamations of triumph.
“Oh yes; I sent her away. I am not one that thinks of myself, though I
might have made a kind friend,” said Mrs. Fennell; and her son intently
sat and listened to her, gradually growing insensible to the honor,
thinking of the emergency alone.

“Did she say any thing about her son?” he asked at last; he glanced
round the room as he did so with a little alarm. He would scarcely have
been surprised had he seen young Powys standing behind him with that
calculation of compound interest in his hand.

“I don’t know about no son,” said Mrs. Fennell. “Do you think I gave her
time to talk? I tell you I packed her off faster, a deal faster, than
she came. The impudence to come to me! But she knows you, John Brownlow,
and if she goes to you, you had best mind what you say. Folk think
you’re a good lawyer, but I never had any opinion of your law. You’re a
man that would blurt a thing out, and never think if it was prudent or
not. If she goes to you, she’ll get it all out of you, unless you send
her to me--ay, send her to me. To come and cry about her mother, the old
fool, and not far short of my age!”

“What was she like?” said Mr. Brownlow again. He did not notice the
superfluous remarks she made. He took her answer into his mind, and that
was all; and as for her opinion of himself, what did that matter to
him? At any other time he would have smiled.

“Like? I don’t know what she was like,” said Mrs. Fennell; “always a
plain thing all her life, though she would have made me think that
Fennell once--stuff and nonsense, and a pack of lies--like? She was
like--Nancy, that kind of tall creature. Nancy was a kind of a relation,
too. But as for what she was like in particular, I didn’t pay no
attention. She was dressed in things I wouldn’t have given sixpence for,
and she was in a way--”

“What sort of a way? what brought her here? How did she find you out?”
said Mr. Brownlow. “Afterward I will listen to your own opinions. I beg
of you to be a little more exact. Tell me simply the facts now. Remember
of how much importance it is.”

“If I had not known it was of importance I should not have sent for
you,” said Mrs. Fennell; “and as for my opinions, I’ll give them when I
think proper. You are not the man to dictate to me. She was in a way,
and she came to me to stand her friend. She thought I had influence,
like. I didn’t tell her, John Brownlow, as she was all wrong, and I
hadn’t no influence. It’s what I ought to have, me that brought the
mother of these children into the world; but folks forget that, and also
that it was of us the money came. I told her nothing, not a word. It’s
least said that’s soonest mended. I sent her away, that’s all that you
want to know.”

Mr. Brownlow shook his head. It was not all he wanted to know. He knew
it was not over, and ended with this one appearance, though his dreadful
auxiliary thought so in her ignorance. For him it was but the beginning,
the first step in her work. There were still five months in which she
could make good her claims, and find them out first if she did not know
them, prove any thing, every thing, as people did in such cases. But he
did not enter into vain explanations.

“It is not all over,” he said. “Do not think so. She will find something
out, and she will turn up again. I want to know where she lives, and how
she found you out. We are not done with her yet,” said Mr. Brownlow,
again wiping the heavy moisture from his brow.

“You are done with her if you are not a fool to go and seek her,” said
Mrs. Fennell. “I can’t tell you what she is, nor where she is. She’s
Phœbe Thomson. Oh, yes, you’re frightened when I say her
name--frightened that Nancy should hear; but I sent Nancy out on
purpose. I am not one to forget. Do you think I got talking with her to
find out every thing? I sent her away. That’s what I did for the
children, not asking and asking, and making a talk, and putting things
into her head as if she was of consequence. I turned her to the door,
that’s what I did; and if you’re not a fool, John Brownlow, or if you
have any natural love for your children, you’ll do the same.”

Again Mr. Brownlow groaned within himself, but he could not free himself
from this associate. It was one of the consequences of evil-doing, the
first obvious one which had come in his way. He had to bear her insults,
to put himself on her level, even to be, as she was, without
compunction. Their positions were changed, and it was he now who was in
the old woman’s power; she had a hundred supposed injuries hoarded up in
her mind to avenge upon him, even while she did him substantial service.
And she was cruel with the remorseless cold-blooded cruelty of a
creature whose powers of thought and sympathy were worn out. He wondered
at her as he sat and saw her old eyes glisten with pleasure at the
thought of having sent this poor injured robbed woman away. And he was
her accomplice, her instigator, and it was for Bessie’s children. The
thought made him sick and giddy. It was only with an effort that he
recovered himself.

“When a woman comes back after twenty-five years, she does not disappear
again,” he said. “I am not blaming you. You did as was natural to you.
But tell me everything. It might have been an impostor--you never saw
her. How can you be sure it was Phœbe Thomson? If Nancy even had been
here--”

“I tell you it _was_ Phœbe Thomson,” said Mrs. Fennell, raising her
voice. And then all of a sudden she became silent. Nancy had come
quietly up stairs, and had opened the door, and was looking in upon her
mistress. She might have heard more, she might not even have heard that.
She came in and put down some small purchases on the table. She was
quite self-possessed and observant, looking as she always did, showing
no signs of excitement. And Mr. Brownlow looked at her steadily. Like
Nancy! but Mrs. Powys was not like Nancy. He concluded as this passed
through his mind that Mrs. Fennell had named Nancy only as the first
person that occurred to her. There was no likeness--not the slightest.
It went for nothing, and yet it was a kind of relief to him all the
same.

“Why do you come in like that, without knocking, when I’ve got some one
with me?” said Mrs. Fennell, with tremulous wrath. “It’s like a common
maid-of-all-work, that knows no better. I have told you that before.”

“It’s seldom as one of the family is here,” said Nancy, “or I’d think
on’t. When things happen so rare, folks forgets. Often and often I say
as you’re left too much alone; but what with the lady yesterday and Mr.
Brownlow to-day--”

“What lady yesterday?” cried Mrs. Fennell. “What do you know about a
lady yesterday? Who ever said there was a lady yesterday? If you speak
up to me bold like that, I’ll send you away.”

“Oh, it’s nothing to me,” said Nancy. “You know as I was out. They most
always comes when I’m out. Fine folks is not partial to me; but if
you’re a-going to be better looked to, and your own flesh and blood to
come and see you, at your age, it will be good news to me.”

“My own flesh and blood don’t think a great deal about an old woman,”
said Mrs. Fennell, swallowing the bait. “I’m little good to any body
now. I’ve seen the day when it was different. And I can still be of use
to them that’s kind to me,” she said, with significance. Mr. Brownlow
sat and listened to all this, and it smote him with disgust. He got up,
and though it cost him an effort to do so, held out his hand to the old
woman in her chair.

“Tell me, or tell Jack, if you want anything,” he said. “I can’t stay
now; and if any thing occurs let me know,” he added. He took no notice
of the vehement shaking of her hand as she turned toward Nancy. He
looked at Nancy again, though he did not like her. She at least was not
to be in the conspiracy, and he had a satisfaction in showing that at
least he was not afraid of her. “If there is any thing that can make
your mistress more comfortable,” he said, sternly, “I have already
desired you to let me know; and you understand that she is not to be
bullied either by you or any one else--good-day.”

“Bullied!” said Nancy, in consternation; but he did not condescend to
look at her again. He went away silently, like a man in a dream. Up to
this moment he had been able to doubt. It was poor comfort, yet there
was some comfort in it. When the evidence looked the most clear and
overwhelming, he had still been able to say to himself that he had no
direct proof, that it was not his business, that still it might all be a
mistake. Now that last standing-ground was taken from under his feet.
Mrs. Thomson’s heir had made herself known, she had told her name and
her parentage, and claimed kindred with his mother-in-law, who, if she
had been an impostor, could have convicted her; and the old woman, on
the contrary, had been convinced. It was a warm summer day, but Mr.
Brownlow shivered with cold as he walked along the familiar streets. If
she had but come twenty years, five-and-twenty years ago! If he had but
followed his own instincts of right and wrong, and left this odious
money untouched! It was for Bessie’s sake he had used it, to make his
marriage practicable, and now the whirligig of time had brought about
its revenges. Bessie’s daughter would have to pay for her mother’s good
fortune. He felt himself swing from side to side as he went along, so
confused was he with the multitude of his thoughts, and recovered
himself only with a violent effort. The decisive moment had come. It had
come too soon--before the time was out at which Phœbe Thomson would
be harmless. He could not put himself off any longer with the pretext
that he was not sure. And young Powys in the office, whom he had taken
in, partly in kindness and partly with evil intent, sat under his eyes
calculating the amount of that frightful interest which would ruin him.
Mr. Brownlow passed several of his acquaintances in the street without
noticing them, but not without attracting notice. He was so pale that
the strangers who passed turned round to look at him. No farther
delay--no putting off--no foolish excuses to himself. Whatever had to be
done must be done quickly. Unconsciously he had quickened his pace, and
went on at a speed which few men could have kept up with. He was strong,
and his excitement gave him new strength. It must be done, one thing or
another; there was no way of escaping the alternative now.

There are natures which are driven wild and frantic by a great
excitement, and there are others which are calmed and steadied in face
of an emergency. Mr. Brownlow entered his private office with the
feeling of a man who was about to die there, and might never come out
alive. He did not answer any one--even waved Wrinkell away, who was
coming to him with a bag of papers. “I have some urgent private
business,” he said; “take every thing to my son, and don’t let me be
disturbed.” He said this in the office, so that every one heard him; and
though he looked at nobody, he could see Powys look up from his
calculations, and Jack come in some surprise to the open door of his
room. They both heard him, both the young men, and wondered. Jack, too,
was dark and self-absorbed, engaged in a struggle with himself. And they
looked at the master, the father, and said to themselves, in their
youthful folly, that it was easy for him to talk of not being disturbed.
What could he have to trouble him--he who could do as he liked, and whom
nobody interfered with? Mr. Brownlow, for his part, saw them both
without looking at them, and a certain bitter smile at his son’s reserve
and silence came to him inwardly. Jack thought it a great matter to be
checked in his boyish love-making; while, good heavens! how different
were the burdens, how much harder the struggles of which the boy was
ignorant! Mr. Brownlow went in and shut the door. He was alone
then--shut out from every body. No one could tell or even guess, the
conflict in his mind--not even his young adversary outside, who was
reckoning up the compound interest. He paused a little, and sat down,
and bent his head on his hands. Was he praying? He could not have told
what it was. It was not prayer in words. If it had been, it would have
been a prayer for strength to do wrong. That was what he was struggling
after--strength to shut out all compunctions--to be steadily cruel,
steadily false. Could God have granted him that? but his habits were
those of a good man all the same. He paused when he was in perplexity,
and was silent, and collected his thoughts, not without a kind of mute
customary appeal; and then flung his hands away from his face, and
started to his feet with a thrill of horror. “Help me to sin!” was that
what it had been in his heart to say?

He spent the whole day in the office, busy with very hard and heavy
work. He went minutely into all those calculations which he supposed
young Powys to be making. And when he had put down the last cipher, he
opened all his secret places, took out all his memorandums, every
security he possessed, all his notes of investments, the numberless
items which composed his fortune. He worked at his task like a clerk
making up ordinary accounts, yet there was something in his silent
speed, his wrapt attention, the intense exactness of every note, which
was very different from the steady indifference of daily work. When he
had put every thing down, and made his last calculation, he laid the two
papers together on his desk. A little glimmering of hope had, perhaps,
awakened in him, from the very fact of doing something. He laid them
down side by side, and the little color that had come into his face
vanished out of it in an instant. If there had been but a little over!
If he could have felt that he had something left, he might still, at the
eleventh hour, have had strength to make the sacrifice; but the figures
which stared him in the face meant ruin. Restitution would cost him
every thing--more than every thing. It would leave him in debt; it would
mortgage even that business which the Brownlows of Masterton had
maintained so long. It would plunge his children down, down in an
instant out of the place they had been educated to fill. It would take
from himself the means of being as he was--one of the benefactors of the
county, foremost in all good works. Good works! when it was with the
inheritance of the widow and the orphans that he did them. All this came
before him as clearly as if it had been written in lines of light--an
uneducated, imprudent woman--a creature who had run away from her
friends, abandoned her mother--a boy who was going to the bad--a family
unaccustomed to wealth, who would squander and who would not enjoy it.
And, on the other hand, himself who had increased it, used it well,
served both God and man with it. The struggle was long, and it was hard,
but in the end the natural result came. His half-conscious appeal was
answered somehow, though not from on high. The strength came to him
which he had asked for--strength to do wrong. But all the clerks
started, and Mr. Wrinkell himself took off his spectacles, and seriously
considered whether he should send for a doctor, when in the evening,
just before the hour for leaving the office, Mr. Brownlow suddenly
opened the door and called young Powys into his private room.



CHAPTER XX.

POWYS’S BITS OF PAPER.


Mr. Brownlow, perhaps, did not know very well what he meant when he
called young Powys into his room. He was in one of those strange states
of mental excitement in which a man is at once confused and clear;
incapable of seeing before him what he is about to do, yet as prompt and
distinct in the doing of it as if it had been premeditated to the last
detail. He could not have explained why nor told what it was he proposed
to himself; in short, he had in his own mind proposed nothing to
himself. He was swayed only by a vague, intense, and overwhelming
necessity to have the matter before him set straight somehow, and,
confused as his own mind was, and little as he knew of his own
intentions, he yet went on, as by the directest inspiration, marching
boldly, calmly, yet wildly, in a kind of serious madness, into the
darkness of this unknown way. He called the young man to him in sharp,
decided tones, as if he knew exactly what he wanted, and was ready to
enter fully into it at once; and yet he did not in the least know what
he wanted, nor what question he was to ask, nor what he was to say the
next moment; the only thing that helped him was, that as he looked out
of his office to call Powys, he could see him pick up hastily and put in
his pocket the bits of paper all dotted over with calculations, which he
had already remarked on the young man’s desk.

“Sit down,” said Mr. Brownlow; “I have something to say to you;” and he
resumed his own seat at his writing-table as if there had been nothing
particular in the conference, and began mechanically to arrange the
papers before him: as for Powys, he put his hand upon the back of the
chair which stood on the other side of the table, and waited, but did
not sit down, being bewildered a little, though not half so much as his
employer was, by this sudden summons.

“Sit down,” said Mr. Brownlow--“sit down; I want to speak to you: I hope
you know that I have always intended to be your friend--”

“Intended! sir,” said Powys; “I know that you have been my friend, and a
far better friend than I deserved--” Here he made one of those pauses of
embarrassment which sometimes mean so much, and often mean so little.
Mr. Brownlow, who knew more than Powys did, took it to signify a great
deal, and the idea gave him strength to proceed; and the fact is that
for once the two, unknown to each other, were thinking of the same
thing--of the bits of paper covered with figures that were in Powys’s
pocket--only their thoughts ran in a very different strain.

“That must be decided rather by the future than by the past,” said Mr.
Brownlow. “I can say for myself without any doubt thus far, that I have
meant to be your friend--but I must have your confidence in return; I do
not think you can have any more trustworthy counselor.” As Mr. Brownlow
said this, it seemed to him that some one else, some unseen third party,
was putting the words into his mouth; and his heart gave a flutter as he
said them, though it was little in accordance either with his age or
character that the heart should take any such prominent part in his
concerns.

As for the young man, there came over his face a quick flush, as of
shame. He touched with his hand instinctively, and without knowing it,
the breast-pocket in which these papers were--all of which actions were
distinct and full of meaning to the anxious eyes that were watching
him--and he faltered as he spoke. “I know that you would be my most
trustworthy counselor--and I don’t know how to thank you,” he said; but
he had lowered his voice and cast down his eyes. He stood holding the
back of the chair, and it trembled in his grasp. He could not meet the
gaze that was fixed upon him. He stood shuffling his feet, looking down,
red with embarrassment, confusion, and shame. Was it that he felt
himself a traitor? eating the Brownlow’s bread, receiving their
kindness, and plotting against them? It seemed to his companion as clear
as day.

“Sit down,” said Mr. Brownlow, feeling his advantage; “let us talk of it
as friends--” and then he himself made a pause, and clenched his hand
unawares, and felt his heart contract as he put the last decisive
question. “What are those calculations you have been making all day?”

Young Powys started, and became violently red, and looked up suddenly
into his employer’s face. No doubt this was what he had been thinking
of; but the question was so sudden, so point-blank, that it dispersed
all the involuntary softenings of which he had been conscious, and
brought back to him all his youthful pride and _amour propre_ and
reserve about his own affairs. He looked Mr. Brownlow full in the face,
and his agitation took a different form. “Calculations, sir!” he said,
with even a touch of indignation in his voice; and then he too stopped,
lest he should be uncourteous to his employer, who he was confident
wished him well, though he was so strangely curious. “The only
calculations I have made are about my own affairs,” he went on. “They
are of no interest to any one. I am sorry you should have thought I was
taking up my time--”

“I did not think of your time,” said Mr. Brownlow, with an impatient
sigh. “I have seen many young men like you who have--who have--gone
wrong--from lack of experience and knowledge of the world. I wish to
serve you. Perhaps--it is possible--I may have partly divined what is
on your mind. Can’t you see that it would be best in every way to make a
confidant of me?”

All this the lawyer said involuntarily, as it were, the words being put
into his mouth. They were false words, and yet they were true. He wanted
to cheat and ruin the young man before him, and yet he wanted to serve
him. He desired his confidence that he might betray it, and yet he felt
disposed to guide and counsel him as if he had been his son. The
confusion of his mind was such that it became a kind of exaltation.
After all he meant him well--what he would do for him would be the best.
It might not be justice--justice was one thing; kindness, friendship,
bounty, another--and these last he was ready to give. Thus, in the
bewilderment of motives and sentiments that existed in his mind, he came
to find himself again, as it were, and to feel that he did really mean
well to the boy. “I wish to serve you,” he repeated, with a kind of
eagerness. Would not this be to serve him better than by giving to his
inexperienced hands a fairy fortune of which he would not know how to
make use? These thoughts went vaguely but powerfully through Mr.
Brownlow’s mind as he spoke. And the result was that he looked up in the
young man’s face with a sense of uprightness which had for some time
deserted him. It would be best in every way that there should be
confidence between them--best for the youth, who, after all, had he ever
so good a case, would probably be quite unaware how to manage it--and
best, unquestionably best, for himself, as showing at once what he had
to hope or fear. Of this there could be no doubt.

As for Powys, he was touched, and at the same time alarmed. It was the
same subject which occupied them both, but yet they looked upon it with
very different eyes. The Canadian knew what was in those scraps of paper
with their lines of figures and awful totals, and it seemed to him that
sooner than show them to any one, sooner than make a clean breast of
what was in them, he would rather die. Yet the kindness went to his
heart, and made him in his own eyes a monster. “Divined!” he said half
to himself, with a look of horror. If Mr. Brownlow had divined it, it
seemed to Powys that he never could hold up his head before him again.
Shame would stand between them, or something he thought shame. He had
not done much that was wrong, but he could have shrunk into the very
ground at the idea that his thoughts and calculations were known. In
spite of himself he cast a piteous glance at the whiteness of his
elbows--was that how it came about that Mr. Brownlow divined? Pride,
shame, gratitude, compunction, surged up in his mind, into his very eyes
and throat, so that he could not speak or look at the patron who was so
good to him, yet whom he could not yield to. “Sir,” he stammered, when
he had got a little command of himself--“you are mistaken. I--I have
nothing on my mind--nothing more than every man has who has a--a--life
of his own. Indeed, sir,” the poor youth continued with eagerness,
“don’t think I am ungrateful--but I--I--_can’t_ tell you. I can’t tell
my own mother. It is my own fault. It is nothing to any other creature.
In short,” he added, breaking off with an effort, and forcing a smile,
“it _is_ nothing--nothing!--only I suppose that I am unaccustomed to the
world--”

“Sit down,” said Mr. Brownlow; “come nearer to me, and sit down upon
this chair. You are very young--”

“I am five-and-twenty,” said Powys. He said it hastily, answering what
he thought was a kind of accusation; and the words struck the lawyer
like a blow. It was not new to him, and yet the very statement of that
momentous number seemed to carry a certain significance. The ill-omened
fortune which made these two adversaries had come to the one just when
the other was born.

“Well,” said Mr. Brownlow, who felt his utterance stopped by these
innocent words, “it does not matter. Sit down; I have still a great deal
to say--”

And then he stopped with a gasp, and there was a pause like a pause in
the midst of a battle. If Powys had not been preoccupied by the subject
which to him was so absorbing, though he denied its interest to any
other, he could not have failed to be struck by the earnestness, and
suppressed excitement, and eager baffled looks of his employer. But he
was blinded by his own anxieties, and by that unconscious
self-importance of youth which sees nothing wonderful in the fact of
other people’s interest in its own fortunes. He thought Mr. Brownlow was
kind; it did not occur to him that a stronger motive was necessary for
these persistent questions and for this intense interest. He was not
vain--but yet it came natural to receive such attention, and his mind
was not sufficiently disengaged to be surprised.

As for the lawyer, he paused and took breath, and looked into the frank
yet clouded face which was so open and communicative, and yet would not,
could not, reveal to him the secret he wanted to seize. It was not
skill, it was not cunning, that preserved the young man’s secret--was it
innocence? Had he been mistaken? was there really in Powys’s
consciousness at least no such secret, but only some youthful trouble,
some boyish indiscretion, that was “on his mind.” As Mr. Brownlow
paused, and looked at his young companion, this thought gradually shaped
itself within him, and for the moment it gave him a strange relief. He
too was absorbed and preoccupied, and thrust out of the region of such
light as might have been thrown on the subject by the whiteness of the
seams of the young fellow’s coat; and then he had come to be in such
deadly earnest that any lighter commonplace explanation would have
seemed an insult to him. Yet he paused, and after a few moments felt as
if a truce had been proclaimed. It had not come yet to the last struggle
for death or life. There was still time to carry on negotiations, to
make terms, to convert the enemy into a firm friend and supporter. This
conviction brought comfort to his mind, notwithstanding that half an
hour before he had started up in the temerity of despair, and vowed to
himself that, for good or evil, the decisive step must be taken at once.
Now the clouds of battle rolled back, and a soft sensation of peace fell
upon Mr. Brownlow’s soul--peace at least for a time. It melted his heart
in spite of himself. It made him think of his home, and his child, and
the gentle evening that awaited him after the excitement of the day; and
then his eye fell upon Powys again.

“I have still a great deal to say,” he went on--and his voice had
changed and softened beyond all doubt, and Powys, himself surprised, had
perceived the change, though he had not an idea what it meant--“I have
been pleased with you, Powys. I am not sure that you have quite kept up
during the last few weeks; but you began very well, and if you choose to
steady yourself, and put away any delusion that may haunt you”--here Mr.
Brownlow made a little pause to give force to his words--“you may be of
great service to me. I took you only on trial, you know, and you had the
junior clerk’s place; but now I think I am justified in treating you
better--after this your salary shall be double--”

Powys gave a great start in his seat, and looked at Mr. Brownlow with a
look of stupefaction. “Double!” he cried, with an almost hysterical
gasp. He thought his ears or his imagination were deceiving him. His
wonder took all the expression, almost all the intelligence, out of his
face. He sat gazing with his mouth open, waiting to hear what it could
mean.

“I will double your salary from the present time,” said Mr. Brownlow,
smiling in spite of himself.

Then the young man rose up. His face became the color of fire. The tears
sprang into his eyes. “This was why you said you divined!” he said, with
a voice that was full of tears and an ineffable softness. His gratitude
was beyond words. His eyes seemed to shoot arrows into Mr. Brownlow’s
very soul--arrows of sharp thanks, and praise, and grateful applause,
which the lawyer could not bear. The words made him start, too, and
threw a sudden flood of light upon the whole subject; but Mr. Brownlow
could not get the good of this, for he was abashed and shame-struck by
the tender, undoubting, half-filial gratitude in the young man’s eyes.

“But I don’t deserve it,” cried Powys, in his eagerness--“I don’t
deserve it, though you are so good. I have not been doing my work as I
ought--I know I have not. These bills have been going between me and my
wits. I have not known what I was doing sometimes. Oh! sir, forgive me;
I don’t know what to say to you, but I don’t deserve it--the other
fellows deserve it better than I.”

“Never mind the other fellows,” said Mr. Brownlow, collecting himself;
“I mean to make a different use of you. You may be sure that it is not
out of goodness I am doing this,” he added, with a strange smile that
Powys could not understand--“you may be sure it is because I see in you
certain--certain--capabilities--”

Mr. Brownlow paused, for his lips were dry; he was telling the truth,
but he did not mean it to be received as truth. This was how he went on
from one step to another. To tell a lie, or to tell a truth as if it
were a pleasant fiction, which was worst? The lie seemed the most
straightforward, the most innocent of the two; and this was why his lips
were dry, and he had to make a pause in his speech.

Powys sat down again, and leaned on the table, and looked across at his
master, his benefactor. That was how the young man was calling him in
his heart. His eyes were shining as eyes only do after they have been
moistened by tears. They were soft, tender, eager, moved by those last
words into a deeper gratitude still, an emotion which awoke all his
faculties. “If I have any capabilities,” he said, “I wish they were a
hundred and a hundred times more. I can’t tell you, sir--you can’t
imagine--how much you have done for me in a moment. And I was ashamed
when you said you had divined! I have been very miserable. I have not
known what to do.”

“So that was all,” said Mr. Brownlow, drawing a long breath. “My young
friend, I told you you should confide in me. I know sixty pounds a year
is very little, and so you must remember is twice sixty pounds a year--”

“Ah, but it is double,” said young Powys, with a tremulous smile. “But I
have not worked for it,” he went on, clouding over--“I have not won it,
I know I don’t deserve it; only, sir, if you have something special--any
thing in this world, I don’t care how hard--that you mean to give me to
do--”

“Yes,” said Mr. Brownlow, “I have something very special; I can’t enter
upon the details just now. The others in the office are very well; but I
want some one I can depend upon, who will be devoted to me.”

Upon this the young man smiled; smiled so that his face lighted up all
over--every line in it answering as by an individual ray. “Devoted!” he
said, “I should think so indeed--not to the last drop of blood, for that
would do you no good--but to the last moment of work, whatever, however,
you please--”

“Take care,” said Mr. Brownlow, “you may be too grateful; when a man
promises too much he is apt to break down.”

“But I shall not break down,” said the Canadian. “You took me in first
when I had nobody to speak for me, and now you save from what is worse
than starving--from debt and hopeless struggles. And I was beginning to
lose heart; I felt as if we could not live on it, and nobody knew but
me. I beg your pardon sir, for speaking so much about myself--”

“No, no; go on about yourself,” said Mr. Brownlow. He was leaning back
on his chair like a man who had had a fit and was recovering from it.
His whole countenance had relaxed in a manner wonderful to behold. He
listened to the young fellow’s open-hearted babble as if it had been
celestial music. It was music to his ears. It distilled upon him like
the dew, as the Bible says, penetrating through and through, pervading
his whole being with a sense of blessed ease, and relief and repose. He
lay back in his chair and was content to listen. He did not care to move
or think, but only to realize that the crisis had passed over; that for
the moment all was still rest and security and peace. It was the best
proof how much his nerves had been tried in the former part of the day.

“But you must recollect,” he said at last, “that this great fortune you
have come into is, after all, only a hundred and twenty pounds a year;
it is a very small income. You will have to be careful; but if you get
into any difficulties again, the thing you ought to do is to come to me.
I will always be ready to give you my advice, and perhaps help, if you
want it. Don’t thank me again; I shall have a great many things for you
to do, which will make up.”

“Nothing will ever make up for the kindness,” said young Powys; and then
he perceived that his audience was over. Already even the lines were
beginning to tighten in Mr. Brownlow’s face. The young man withdrew and
went back to his desk, walking on air as he thought. It was a very small
matter to be so glad about, but yet there are circumstances in which ten
pounds to pay and only five pounds to pay it with will make as much
anguish as the loss of a battle or a kingdom--especially to the
inexperienced, the sensitive, and proud. This awful position he was
suddenly relieved from when he saw no hope. And no wonder that he was
elated. It was not a chronic malady to which he had grown accustomed.
The truth was he had never been in debt before all his life. This may be
accounted for by the fact that he had never had any money to speak of,
and that he had been brought up in the backwoods.

Mr. Brownlow did not change his position for some time after his clerk
had left him. Passion was new to him, though he was on the declining
side of life. The sharp tension, the sudden relief, the leap from
anxiety, suspicion, and present danger into calm and tranquillity, was
new to him. His mind had never been disturbed by such conflicts while he
was young, and accordingly they came now in all their freshness, with a
power beyond any thing in his experience, to his soul. Thus he continued
motionless, leaning back in his chair, taking the good of his respite.
He knew it was only a temporary respite; he knew the danger was not
past; but withal it was a comfort to him. And then, as he had this time
disquieted himself in vain, who could tell if perhaps his other fears
might vanish in the same way? God might be favorable to him, even though
perhaps his cause was not just such a cause as could with confidence be
put into God’s hands. It was not always justice that prevailed in this
world; and perhaps--So strangely does personal interest pervert the
mind, that this was how John Brownlow, an upright man by nature and by
long habit, calculated with himself. It seemed to him natural somehow
that God should enter into the conspiracy with him--for he meant no harm
even to the people who were to be his victims. Far from that; he meant,
on the contrary, bit by bit, to provide for them, to surround them with
comforts, to advance and promote in every way the young man whose
inheritance he had so long enjoyed. He meant to be as good to him as any
father, if only he could be successful in alienating forever and ever
his just right from him. Possibly he might still even carry out the plan
he had conceived and abandoned, and give the crown of all his
possessions, his beautiful child, to the lucky youth. Any thing but
justice. As he sat and rested, a certain sense of that satisfaction
which arises from happiness conferred came into Mr. Brownlow’s mind. In
the mean time, he had been very good to Powys. Poor young fellow! how
grateful, how elated, how joyous he was--and all about a hundred and
twenty pounds a year! His trouble had involved only a little money, and
how easy it was to make an end of that! It was not by a long way the
first time in Mr. Brownlow’s life at which this opportunity of bringing
light out of darkness had occurred to him. There were other clerks, and
other men not clerks, who could, if they would, tell a similar tale. He
had never been a hard man; he had been considerate, merciful, lending
like the righteous man, and little exacting as to his recompense. He had
served many in his day, and though he never boasted of it, he knew it.
Was it in reason to give up without a struggle his power of serving his
neighbors, all the admirable use he had made of his fortune, when he
might keep his fortune, and yet withal do better for the real heir than
if he gave it up to him? The sense of coming ruin, and the awful
excitement of that conflict for life and death which he had anticipated
when he called Powys into his office, had exhausted him so entirely that
he allowed himself to be soothed by all those softer thoughts. The
danger was not over--he knew that as well as any one; but he had a
reprieve. He had time to make of his adversary a devoted friend and
vassal, and it was even for his adversary’s good.

Such were the thoughts that went softly, as in a veiled and twilight
procession, through his mind. After a while he raised himself up, and
gathered together all the calculations at which he had been working so
hard, and locked all his private drawers, and put all his memorandums
by. As he did so, his halcyon state by degrees began to be invaded by
gleams of the every-day day-light. He had doubled Powys’s salary, and he
had a right to do so if he pleased; but yet he knew that when he told it
to Mr. Wrinkell, that functionary would be much surprised, and that a
sense of injury would be visible upon the countenances of the other
clerks. Certainly a man has a right to do what he likes with his own,
but then every man who does so must make up his mind to certain little
penalties. He will always be able to read the grudge of those who have
borne the burden and heat of the day in their faces, however silent they
may be; and even an emperor, much less a country lawyer, can not fail to
be conscious when he is tacitly disapproved of. How was he to tell
Wrinkell of it even? how to explain to him why he had taken so unusual a
step? The very fact was a kind of confession that something more was in
it than met the eye. And Jack--; but Jack and Wrinkell too would have
greater cause of astonishment still, which would throw even this into
the shade. Mr. Wrinkell knocked at Mr. Brownlow’s door when he had come
this length in his thoughts. The manager had not troubled him so long as
he had been alone and apparently busy; but after the long audience
accorded to young Powys, Mr. Wrinkell did not see how he could be shut
out. He came in accordingly, and already Mr. Brownlow saw the
disapproval in his eye. He was stately, which was no doubt a deportment
becoming a head clerk, but not precisely in the private office of his
principal; and he did not waste a single word in what he had to say. He
was concise almost to the point of abruptness; all of which particulars
of disapprobation Mr. Brownlow perceived at once.

“Wrinkell,” he said, when they had dismissed in this succinct way the
immediate business in hand, “I want to speak to you about young Powys. I
am interested in that young fellow. I want to raise his salary. But I
should like to know first what you have got to say.”

It was a hypocritical speech, but Mr. Wrinkell happily was not aware of
that; he pursed up his lips and screwed them tight together, as if, in
the first place, he did not mean to say any thing, but relented after a
moment’s pause.

“At the present moment, sir,” said Mr. Wrinkell, “I am doubtful what to
say. Had you asked me three months since, I should have answered, ‘By
all means.’ If you had asked me one month since, I should have said,
‘Certainly not.’ Now, I avow my penetration is baffled, and I don’t know
what to say.”

“You mean he is not doing so well as he did at first?” said Mr.
Brownlow. “Nobody ever does that I know of. And better than he did
later? Is that what you mean to say?”

“Being very concise,” said Mr. Wrinkell, slowly, “I should say that was
a sort of a summary. When he came first he was the best beginner I ever
had in hand; and I did not leave him without signs of my approval. I had
him to my ’umble ’ome, Mr. Brownlow, as perhaps you are aware, and gave
him the opportunity of going to chapel with us. I don’t hesitate to
avow,” said Mr. Wrinkell, with a little solemnity, “that I had begun to
regard him as a kind of son of my own.”

“And then there was a change?” said the lawyer, with a smile.

“There was a great change,” said Mr. Wrinkell. “It was no more the same
young man--a cheerful bright young fellow that could laugh over his tea
of a Sunday, and walk steadily to chapel after with Mrs. Wrinkell and
myself. We are not of those Christians who think a little cheerfulness
out of season of a Sunday. But he changed of that. He would have no tea,
which is a bad sign in a young man. He yawned in my very pew by Mrs.
Wrinkell’s side. It grieved me, sir, as if he had been my own flesh and
blood; but of course we had to give up. The last few weeks he has been
steadier,” Mr. Wrinkell added, quickly; “there can’t be any doubt about
that.”

“But he might decline tea and yawn over a sermon without going to the
bad,” said Mr. Brownlow. “I hope so at least, for they are two things I
often do myself.”

“Excuse me,” said Mr. Wrinkell, who liked now and then to take high
ground. “There is all the difference. I fully admit the right of private
judgment. You judge for yourself; but a young man who has kind friends
anxious to serve him--there is all the difference. But he has been
steady of late,” the head clerk added, with candor; “I gladly
acknowledge that.”

“Perhaps he had something on his mind,” said Mr. Brownlow. “At all
events, I don’t think much harm has come of it. I take an interest in
that young fellow. You will double his salary, Mr. Wrinkell, next
quarter-day.”

“Double it!” said Mr. Wrinkell, with a gasp. He fell back from his
position by the side of the table, and grew pale with horror. “Double
it?” he added, after a pause, inquiringly. “Did I understand, sir? was
_that_ what you said?”

“That was what I said,” said Mr. Brownlow; and, after the habit of
guilty men, he began immediately to defend himself. “I trust,” he said,
unconsciously following the old precedent, “that I have a right to do
what I like with my own.”

“Certainly--certainly,” said Mr. Wrinkell; and then there was a pause.
“I shall put these settlements in hand at once,” he resumed, with what
the lawyer felt was something like eagerness to escape the subject. “Mr.
Robinson is waiting for the instructions you have just given me. And the
Wardell case is nearly ready for your revision--and--May I ask if
the--the--increase you mention in Mr. Powys’s salary is to begin from
next quarter-day, or from the last?”

“From the last,” said Mr. Brownlow, with stern brevity.

“Very well, sir,” said Mr. Wrinkell. “I can not conceal from you that it
may have a bad effect--a painful effect.”

“Upon whom?” said Mr, Brownlow.

“Upon the other clerks. They are pretty steady--neither very good nor
very bad; and he has been both good and bad,” said Mr. Wrinkell,
stoutly. “It will have an unpleasant effect. They will say we make
favorites, Mr. Brownlow. They have already said as much in respect to
myself.”

“They had better mind their own affairs,” was all Mr. Brownlow said;
but, nevertheless, when he went out into the office afterward, he
imagined (prematurely, for it had not yet been communicated to them)
that he read disgust in the eyes of his clerks; and he was not unmoved
by it, any more than General Haman was by the contempt of the old man
who sat in the gate.



CHAPTER XXI.

HOW A MAN CAN DO WHAT HE LIKES WITH HIS OWN.


It was not for some days that the clerks in Mr. Brownlow’s office found
out the enormity of which their employer had been guilty--which was
almost unfortunate, for he gave them full credit for their disapproval
all the time. As it was, Mr. Wrinkell embodied within his own person all
the disapprobation on a grand scale. It was not that he disapproved of
Powys’s advancement. Without being overwhelmingly clever or fascinating,
the young Canadian was one of those open-hearted open-eyed souls who
find favor with most good people. There was no malice nor envy nor
uncharitableness about him; he was ready to acknowledge every body’s
good qualities, ready to appreciate whatever kindness might be offered
to him, open to see all that was noble or pleasant or of good
report--which is the quality of all others most generally wanting in a
limited community, from an office up to--even a University. Mr. Wrinkell
was a head clerk and a Dissenter, and not a tolerant man to speak of,
but he liked the more generous breadth of nature without very well
knowing why; and he was glad in his heart that the young fellow had “got
on.” But still, for all that, he disapproved--not of Powys, but of Mr.
Brownlow. It was caprice, and caprice was not to be supported--or it was
from consideration of capability, apart from all question of standing in
the office, which was, it must be allowed, more insupportable still. Mr.
Wrinkell reflected that he had himself been nearly forty years in the
employment of the Brownlows of Masterton without once having his salary
doubled. And he felt that if such a dangerous precedent were once
established, the consequences might be tremendous. Such a boy, for
example, if he but happened to be clever and useful, might be put over
every body’s head, before any body was aware. Mr. Wrinkell, who was
grand vizier, was not afraid for his own place, but he felt that it was
an example to be summarily discouraged. After all, when a man is not
clever it is not his fault; whereas, when he is respectable and steady,
the virtue and praise is purely his own. “It’s revolutionary,” he said
to his wife. “There is Brown, who has been years and years in the
office--there never was a steadier fellow. I don’t remember that he ever
lost a day--except when he had that fever, you know; but twenty pound a
year increase was as much as ever was given to him.”

“When he had the fever they were very kind to him,” said Mrs. Wrinkell;
“and, after all, Mr. Brownlow has a right to do what he likes with his
own.”

“He may have a right,” said Mr. Wrinkell, doubtfully, “but it’s a thing
that always makes a heart-burning, and always will.”

“Well, William, we may be thankful it can’t make any difference to us,”
said his wife. This was the sum of the good woman’s philosophy, but it
answered very well. It was always her conviction that there will be
peace in our day.

As for Brown, when he first heard the news, he went home to the bosom of
his family with bitterness in his heart. “I can’t call to mind a single
day I ever missed, except that fever, and the day Billy was born,” he
said to Mrs. Brown, despondingly; “and here’s this young fellow that’s
been six months in the office--”

“It’s a shame,” said that injured woman; “it’s a black burning shame. A
bit of a lad picked up in the streets that don’t know what money is; and
you a married man with six--not to say the faithful servant you have
been. I wonder for my part how Mr. Brownlow dares to look you in the
face.”

“He don’t mind much about that. What he thinks is, that the money’s his
own,” said poor Brown, with a sigh.

“But it ain’t his own,” said the higher spirited wife. “I would just
like to know who works hardest for it, him or you. If I saw him every
day as you do, I would soon give him a piece of my mind.”

“And lose my place altogether,” said the husband. But, notwithstanding,
though he did not give Mr. Brownlow a piece of his mind, Brown did not
hesitate to express his feelings a little in the tone of his voice, and
the disapproval in his eye.

All this, however, was as nothing to the judgment which Mr. Brownlow
brought upon himself on the following Sunday. The fact that his father
had doubled any clerk’s salary was a matter of great indifference to
Jack. He smiled in an uncomfortable sort of way when he heard it was
young Powys on whom this benefit had fallen; but otherwise it did not
affect him. On Sunday, however, as it happened, something occurred that
brought Mr. Brownlow’s favoritism--his extraordinary forgetfulness of
his position and of what was due to his children--home in the most
striking way to his son. It was a thing that required all Mr. Brownlow’s
courage; and it can not be said that he was quite comfortable about it.
He had done what never had been done before to any clerk since the days
of Brownlows began. He had invited young Powys to dinner. He had even
done more than that--he had invited him to come early, to ramble about
the park, as if he had been an intimate. It was not unpleasant to him to
give the invitation, but there is no doubt that the thought of how he
was to communicate the fact to his children, and prepare them for their
visitor, did give him a little trouble. Of course it was his own house.
He was free to ask any one he liked to it. The choice lay entirely with
himself; but yet--He said nothing about it until the very day for which
his invitation had been given--not that he had forgotten the fact, but
somehow a certain constraint came over him whenever he so much as
approached the subject. It was only Thursday when he asked young Powys
to come, and he had it on his mind all that evening, all Friday and
Saturday, and did not venture to make a clean breast of it. Even when
Jack was out of the way, it seemed to the father impossible to look into
Sara’s face, and tell her of the coming guest. Sunday was very bright--a
midsummer day in all its green and flowery glory. Jack had come to the
age when a young man is often a little uncertain about his religious
duties. He did not care to go and hear Mr. Hardcastle preach. So he
said; though the Rector, good man, was very merciful, and inflicted only
fifteen minutes of sermon; and then he was very unhappy, and restless,
and uneasy about his own concerns; and he was misanthropical for the
moment, and disliked the sight and presence of his fellow-creatures. So
Jack did not go to church. And Sara and her father did, walking across
the beautiful summer park, under the shady trees, through the paths all
flecked with sunshine. Sara’s white figure gave a centre to the
landscape. She was not angelic, notwithstanding her white robes, but she
was royal in her way--a young princess moving through a realm that
belonged to her, used to homage, used to admiration, used to know
herself the first. Though she was as sweet and as gracious as the
morning, all this was written in her face; for she was still very young,
and had not reached the maturer dignity of unconsciousness. Mr.
Brownlow, as he went with her, was but the first subject in her kingdom.
Nobody admired her as he did. Nobody set her up above every competitor
with the perfect faith of her father; and to see her clinging to his
arm, lifting up her fresh face to him, displaying all her philosophies
and caprices for his benefit, was a pretty sight. But yet, all through
that long walk to Dewsbury and back, he never ventured to disclose his
secret to her. All the time it lay on his heart, but he could not bring
himself to say it. It was only when they were all leaving the table,
after luncheon, that Mr. Brownlow unburdened himself. “By the way,” he
said suddenly, as he rose from his chair, “there is some one coming out
to dinner from Masterton. Oh, not any body that makes much difference--a
young fellow--”

“Some young fellows make a great deal of difference,” said Sara. “Who is
it, papa?”

“Well--at present he is--only one of my clerks,” said Mr. Brownlow, with
an uneasy and, to tell the truth, rather humble and deprecating
smile--“one you have seen before--he was out here that day I was ill.”

“Oh, Mr. Powys,” said Sara; and in a moment, before another word was
spoken, her sublime indifference changed into the brightest gleam of
malice, of mischief, of curiosity, that ever shone out of two blue eyes.
“I remember him perfectly well--all about him,” she said, with a touch
of emphasis that was not lost on her father. “Is there any body else,
papa?”

“Powys!” said Jack, turning back in amaze. He had been going out not
thinking of any thing; but this intimation, coming just after the news
of the office about Powys’s increase of salary, roused his curiosity,
and called him back to hear.

“Yes, Powys,” said Mr. Brownlow, standing on his defense like a guilty
man. “I hope you have not any objection.”

“Objection, sir?” said Jack; “I don’t know what you mean. It is your
house, to ask any body you like. I never should have thought of making
any objection.”

“Yes, it is my own house,” said Mr. Brownlow. It made him feel a little
sore to have the plea about doing what he liked with his own thus taken,
as it were, out of his very mouth.

“But I don’t remember that you ever asked any of the clerks before,”
said Jack. It was not that he cared much about the invitation to the
clerk; it was rather because he was disagreeable himself, and could not
resist the chance of being disagreeable to others, being in a highly
uncomfortable state of mind.

“I don’t regard Powys as a mere clerk--there are circumstances,” said
Mr. Brownlow. “It is useless to explain at this moment; but I don’t put
him on the same level with Brown and Robinson. I should be glad if you
could manage to be civil to him, Jack.”

“Of course I shall be civil,” said Jack. But he said, “That beggar
again!” through his clenched teeth. Between himself and Powys there was
a natural antagonism, and just now he was out of sorts and out of
temper. Of course it was his father’s house, not his, that he should
make any pretension to control it, and of course he would be civil to
his father’s guests; but he could not help repeating, “_That_ beggar!”
to himself as he went out. Was his father bewitched? He had not the
slightest idea what there could be to recommend this clerk, or to
distinguish him from other clerks; and as for the circumstances of
difference of which Mr. Brownlow spoke, Jack did not believe in them. He
would be civil, of course; but he certainly did not undertake to himself
to be any thing more cordial. And he went away with the determination
not to be visible again till dinner. Powys!--a pretty thing to have to
sit at table and make conversation for the junior clerk.

“Never mind, papa,” said Sara. “Jack is dreadfully disagreeable just
now; but you and I will entertain Mr. Powys. He is very nice. I don’t
see that it matters about his being one of the clerks.”

“I was once a clerk myself,” said Mr. Brownlow. “I don’t know what
difference it should make. But never mind; I have not come to that pitch
that I require to consult Jack.”

“No,” said Sara, a little doubtfully. Even she, though she was a dutiful
child, was not quite so clear on this subject. Mr. Brownlow had a right
to do what he would with his own--but yet--Thus Sara remonstrated too.
She did not give in her whole adhesion, right or wrong. She was curious
and mischievous, and had no objection to see Powys again; but she was
not quite clear in her mind, any more than the other people, about a
man’s utter mastery over his own. Mr. Brownlow saw it, and left her with
something of the same feeling of discomfort which he had in the presence
of Mr. Wrinkell and Mr. Brown. Was there any thing in this world which a
man could really call his own, and of which he was absolutely free to
dispose? It seemed to the lawyer, thinking it over, that there was no
such absolute personal possession. After all, he of the vineyard settled
the matter in a quite arbitrary way; and nowadays, amid all the
intricacies of extreme civilization, such a simple way of cutting the
knot was impracticable. Nobody knew that Mr. Brownlow’s house, and
money, and goods were not entirely and honestly his own property; and
yet nobody would consent that he should administer them absolutely in
his own way. He could not but smile at the thought as he went into the
library, where he always felt himself so little at home. His position
and relationship to every thing around him seemed to have changed in
these days. He had been a just man all his life; but now it seemed to
him that justice stood continually in his way. It was a rigid,
unmanageable, troublesome principle, which did harm by way of doing
right, and forbade the compromises which were essential in this world.
Justice to Brown denied him the liberty to advance his clever junior.
Justice to Jack forbade him his natural right to entertain whomsoever he
pleased at his table. In fact, it was vain to use the possessive pronoun
at all; nothing was his--neither his office, nor his money, nor his
house--unless under the restriction of every body else’s rights, and of
public opinion beyond all. So Mr. Brownlow mused as he left Sara and
retired to his solitude. “Is thine eye evil because I am good?” But then
in the days of the parable there were fewer complications, and a man was
more confident in his own power.

As for Sara, in her reflections on the subject, it occurred to her as
very probable that Mr. Powys was coming early, and she stayed in-doors
accordingly. She put herself into her favorite corner, by the
window--that window which was close to the Claude--and took a little
pile of books with her. Sunday afternoon, especially when one is very
young, is a difficult moment. One never knows exactly what one ought to
read. Such at least was Sara’s experience. Novels, except under very
rare and pressing circumstances, were clearly inadmissible--such
circumstances, for instance, as having left your heroine in such a
harrowing position that common charity required you to see her through
it without delay. And real _good_ books--those books which it is a merit
to read--were out of Sara’s way. I should be afraid to tell which were
the special volumes she carried with her to the window, in case it might
convey to some one, differently brought up perhaps, a false impression
of the soundness of her views. She had Eugenie de Guerin’s Letters in
her hand, which ought to cover a multitude of sins; but she was not
reading them. There was the ghost of a smile, a very ghost, appearing
and disappearing, and never taking bodily shape, about her pretty mouth.
What she was thinking was, who, for instance, this Mr. Powys could be?
She did not believe he was a mere clerk. If he were a mere clerk, was it
possible that he would be brought here and presented to her like this?
That was not to be thought of for a moment. No doubt it was a prince in
disguise. He might be an enchanted prince, bewitched out of his proper
shape by some malignant fairy; but Sara knew better than to believe for
a moment that he could be only a clerk. And he was very nice--he had
nice eyes, and a nice smile. He was not exactly what you would call
handsome, but he had those special gifts which are indispensable. And
then poor papa was in a way about him, afraid to tell his secret,
compelled to treat him as if he were only a clerk, afraid Jack should be
uncivil. Jack was a bear, Sara concluded to herself, and at this moment
more a bear than ever; but she should take care that the enchanted
prince should not be rendered uncomfortable by his incivility. Sara’s
musings were to this effect, as she sat in her corner by the window,
with Eugenie de Guerin in her hand. A soft, warm, balmy, sunny
afternoon, one of those days in which the very air is happiness, and
into which no trouble seems capable of entering--nineteen years old--a
fairy prince in disguise, coming to test her disposition under his
humble incognito. Do you think the young creature could forget all that,
and enter even into Mademoiselle de Guerin’s pure virginal world of
pensive thoughts and world-renunciation, because it was Sunday? But Sara
did all she could toward this end. She held that tender talisman in her
hand; and, no doubt, if there were any ill spirits about, it kept them
out of the way.

Powys for his part was walking up the avenue with a maze of very
pleasant thoughts in his mind. He was not thinking particularly of Miss
Brownlow. He was too sensible not to know that for him, a junior clerk
just promoted to the glory of a hundred and twenty pounds a year, such
an idea would have been pure madness. He was thinking, let us say, of
the Claude, of how it hung, and all the little accessories round it, and
of the sunshine that fell on Sara’s dress, and on her hair, and how it
resembled the light upon the rippled water in the picture, and that he
was about to witness all that again. This is what he was thinking of. He
was country bred, and to breathe the fresh air, and see the trees waving
over his head, was new life to him; and warm gratitude, and a kind of
affection to the man who generously gave him this pleasure, were in his
mind. And notwithstanding the horrible effect that the burden of debt
had so recently had upon him, and the fact that a hundred and twenty
pounds a year are far, very far, from being a fortune, there was no
whiteness now visible at his seams. He was as well dressed as he could
be made in Masterton, which was a commencement at which Mr. Wrinkell, or
any other good economist, would have frowned. Mr. Brownlow went to join
his daughter in the drawing-room as soon as he heard that his visitor
had come to the door, and met him in the hall, to Powys’s great comfort
and satisfaction. And they went up stairs together. The sunshine crossed
Mr. Brownlow’s grizzled locks, just as it had crossed the ripply shining
hair, which glistened like the water in Claude’s picture. But this time
Powys did not take any notice of the effect. Sara was reading when they
went in, and she rose, and half closed her book, and gave the guest a
very gracious majestic welcome. It was best to be in-doors just then,
while it was so hot, Sara thought. Yes, that was the Claude--did he
recollect it? Most likely it was simply because he was a backwoodsman,
and entirely uncivilized, that Powys conducted himself so well. He did
not sit on the edge of his chair, as even Mr. Wrinkell did. He did not
wipe his forehead, nor apologize for the dust, as Mr. Brown would have
done. And he was grateful to Mr. Brownlow, and not in the least anxious
to show that he was his equal. After a while, in short, it was the
master of the house who felt that he was set at ease, as it was he who
had been the most embarrassed and uncomfortable, and whose mind was much
more occupied than that of his visitor was by thinking of the effect
that Powys might produce.

At dinner, however, it was more difficult. Jack was present, and Jack
was civil. It is at such a moment that breeding shows; any body, even
the merest pretender, can be rude to an intruder, but it requires
careful cultivation to be civil to him. Jack was so civil that he all
but extinguished the rest of the party. He treated Mr. Powys with the
most distinguished politeness. He did not unbend even to his father and
sister. As for Willis, the butler, Jack behaved to him as if he had been
an archbishop; and such very fine manners are troublesome when the party
is a small one and disposed to be friendly and agreeable. Under any
circumstances it would have been difficult to have kept up the
conversation. They could not talk of their friends and ordinary doings,
for Powys knew nothing about these; and though this piece of courtesy is
by no means considered needful in all circles, still Mr. Brownlow was
old-fashioned, and it was part of his code of manners. So they had to
talk upon general subjects, which is always difficult; about books, the
universal resource; and about the park, and the beauties of nature, and
the difference of things in Canada; and about the music in Masterton
church, and whether the new vicar was High or Low, which was a very
difficult question for Powys, and one to which he did not know how to
reply.

“I am sure he is High,” said Sara. “The church was all decorated with
flowers on Ascension Day. I know, for two of the maids were there and
saw them; and what does it matter about a sermon in comparison with
that?”

“Perhaps it was his wife’s doing,” said Mr. Brownlow, “for I think the
sermon the best evidence. He is Low--as Low as you could desire.”

“As I desire!” cried Sara. “Papa, you are surely forgetting yourself. As
if I could be supposed to like a Low Churchman! And Mr. Powys says they
have good music. That is proof positive. Don’t you think so, Jack?”

This was one of many little attempts to bring back Jack to common
humanity; for Sara, womanlike, could not be contented to leave him
disagreeable and alone.

“I think Mr. Powys is extremely good to furnish you with information;
but I can’t say I am much interested in the question,” said Jack, which
brought the talk to a sudden pause.

“Mr. Powys has not seen our church, papa,” Sara resumed. “It is such a
dear old place. The chancel every body says is pure Norman, and there
are some bits of real old glass in the west window. You should have gone
to see it before dinner. Are you very fond of old glass?”

“I am afraid I don’t know,” said Powys, who was bright enough to see
the manufactory of conversation which was being carried on, and was half
amused by it and half distressed. “We have no old churches in Canada. I
suppose they could scarcely be looked for in such a new world.”

“Tell me what sort of churches you have,” said Sara. “I am very fond of
architecture. _We_ can’t do any thing original nowadays, you know. It is
only copying and copying. But there ought to be a new field in a new
world. Do tell me what style the people there like best.”

“You strain Mr. Powys’s powers too far,” said Jack. “You can not expect
him to explain every thing to you from the vicar’s principles upward--or
downward. Mr. Powys is only mortal, I presume, like the rest of us. He
can’t know every thing in heaven or earth.”

“I know a little of that,” said Powys. “Out there we are
Jacks-of-all-trades. I once made the designs for a church myself. Miss
Brownlow might think it original, but I don’t think she would admire it.
We have to think less of beauty than of use.”

“As if use and beauty could not go together,” said Sara, with a little
indignation. “Please don’t say those things that every body says. Then
you can draw if you have made designs? and I want some cottages so much.
Papa, you promised me these cottages; and now Mr. Powys will come and
help me with the plans.”

“There is a certain difference between a cottage and a church,” said Mr.
Brownlow; but he made no opposition to the suggestion, to the intense
amazement and indignation of Jack.

“You forget that Mr. Powys’s time is otherwise engaged,” he said;
“people can’t be Jacks-of-all-trades here.”

Mr. Brownlow gave his son a warning glance, and Sara, who had been very
patient, could bear it no longer.

“Why are you so disagreeable, Jack?” she said; “nobody was speaking to
you. It was to Mr. Powys I was speaking. He knows best whether he will
help me or not.”

“Oh, it was to Mr. Powys you were speaking!” said Jack. “I am a very
unimportant person, and I am sorry to have interposed.”

Then there came a very blank disagreeable pause. Powys felt that offense
was meant, and his spirit rose. But at the same time it was utterly
impossible to take offense; and he sat still and tried to appear
unconscious, as people do before whom the veil of family courtesy is for
a moment blown aside. There are few things which are more exquisitely
uncomfortable. He had to look as if he did not observe any thing; and he
had to volunteer to say something to cover the silence, and found it
very hard to make up his mind as to what he ought to say.

Perhaps Jack was a little annoyed at himself for his freedom of speech,
for he said nothing farther that was disagreeable, until he found that
his father had ordered the dog-cart to take the visitor back to
Masterton. When he came out in the summer twilight, and found the mare
harnessed for such an ignoble purpose, his soul was hot within him. If
it had been any other horse in the stable--but that his favorite mare
should carry the junior clerk down to his humble dwelling-place, was
bitterness to Jack. He stood and watched in a very uncomfortable sort of
way, with his hands in his pockets, while Powys took his leave. The
evening was as lovely as the day had been, and Sara too had come out,
and stood on the steps, leaning on her father’s arm. “Shall you drive,
sir?” the groom had asked, with a respect which sprang entirely from his
master’s cordiality. It was merely a question of form, for the man
expected nothing but a negative; but Powys’s countenance brightened up.
He held out his hands for the reins with a readiness which perhaps
savored more of transatlantic freedom than ought to have been the case;
but then he had been deprived of all such pleasures for so long. “Good
heavens!” cried Jack, “Tomkins, what do you mean? It’s the bay mare you
have in harness. He can’t drive _her_. If she’s lamed, or if she lames
you--”

And he went up to the side of the dog-cart, almost as if he would have
taken the reins out of Powys’s hand. The Canadian grew very red, and
grasped the whip. They were very ready for a quarrel--Jack standing pale
with anger, talking with the groom; Powys red with indignation, holding
his place. But it was the latter who had the most command of himself.

“I shall not lame her,” he said quietly, “nor let any one be lamed; jump
up.” He was thus master of the situation. The groom took his place; the
mare went off straight and swift as an arrow down the avenue. But Jack
knew by the look, as he said, of the fellow’s wrist, by the glance in
his eye, that he knew what he was about, though he did not at this
moment confess the results of his observation. They stood all three on
the steps when that fiery chariot wheeled away; and Jack, to tell the
truth, did not feel very much satisfied with himself.

“Jack,” said Mr. Brownlow, calmly, “when I have any one here again, I
must require of you to keep from insulting them. If you do not care for
the feelings of the stranger, you may at least have some regard for
yourself.”

“I had no intention of insulting any one, sir,” said Jack, with a little
defiance; “if you like him to break his neck or the horse’s knees it is
not my affair; but for a fellow who probably never had the reins in his
hand before, to attempt with that mare--”

“He has had the reins in his hand oftener than either I or you,” said
Mr. Brownlow. The fact was he said it at hazard, thinking it most likely
that Powys could drive, but knowing nothing more about it, while Jack
knew by sight and vision, and felt himself in his heart a snob as he
strolled away from the door. He was uncomfortable, but he succeeded in
making his father more uncomfortable still. The mare, too, was his own,
though it was Jack’s favorite, and if he liked to have it he might. Such
was the Parthian arrow which Mr. Brownlow received at the end of the
day. Clearly that was a distant land--a land far removed from the
present burden of civilization--a primitive and blessed state of
existence, in which a man could be permitted to do what he liked with
his own.



CHAPTER XXII.

THE DOWNFALL OF PHILOSOPHY.


Jack Brownlow was having a very hard time of it just at that moment.
There had been a lapse of more than a week, and he had not once seen the
fair little creature of whom every day he had thought more and more. It
was in vain that he looked up at the window--Pamela now was never there.
He never saw her even at a distance--never heard so much as her name.
Sara, who had been ready enough to speak of her friend--even Sara,
indiscreet, and hasty, and imprudent--was silent. Poor Jack knew it was
quite right--he recognized, even though he hated it, the force that was
in his father’s arguments. He knew he had much better never see
her--never even speak of her again. He understood with his intelligence
that utter separation between them was the only prudent and sensible
step to be taken; but his heart objected to understand with a curious
persistency which Jack could scarcely believe of a heart of his. He had
found his intellect quite sufficient to guide him up to this period; and
when that other part of him, with which he was so much less acquainted,
fought and struggled to get the reins in hand, it would be difficult to
express the astonishment he felt. And then he was a young man of the
present day, and he was not anxiously desirous to marry. A house of his
own, with all its responsibilities, did not appear to him the crown of
delight which perhaps it ought to have done. He was content to go on
with his life as it had been, without any immediate change. It still
appeared to him, I am sorry to admit, that for a young man, who had a
way to make in the world, a very early marriage was a sort of suicidal
step to take. This was all very well for his mind, which wanted no
convincing. But for his heart it was very different. That newly
discovered organ behaved in the most incomprehensible sort of way. Even
though it possibly gave a grunt of consent to the theory about marriage,
it kept on longing and yearning, driving itself frantic with eagerness
just to see her, just to hear her, just to touch her little hand, just
to feel the soft passing rustle of her dress. That was all. And as for
talking reason to it, or representing how profitless such a
gratification would be, he might as well have preached to the stones. He
went back and forward to the office for a whole week with this conflict
going on within him, keeping dutifully to his work, doing more than he
had done for years at Masterton, trying to occupy himself with former
thoughts, and with anticipations of the career he had once shaped out
for himself. He wanted to get away from the office, to get into public
life somehow, to be returned for the borough, and have a seat in
Parliament. Such had been his ambition before this episode in his life.
Such surely ought to be his ambition now; but it was amazing,
incredible, how this new force within him would break through all his
more elevated thoughts with a kind of inarticulate cry for Pamela. She
was what he wanted most. He could put the other things aside, but he
could not put her aside. His heart kept crying out for her, whatever his
mind might be trying to think. It was extraordinary and despicable, and
he could not believe it of himself; but this was how it was. He knew it
was best that he should not see her; yet it was no virtue nor
self-denial of his that kept them apart. It was she who would not be
visible. Along the roads, under the trees, at the window, morning or
evening, there was no appearance of her. He thought sometimes she must
have gone away. And his eager inquiries with himself whether this
separation would make her unhappy gradually gave way to irritation and
passionate displeasure. She had gone away, and left no sign; or she was
shutting herself up, and sacrificing all that was pleasant in his
existence. She was leaving him alone to bear the brunt; and he would
gladly have taken it all to spare her--but if he bore it, and was the
victim, something at least he ought to have had for his recompense. A
last meeting, a last look, an explanation, a farewell--at least he had a
right to that. And notwithstanding his anger he wanted her all the
same--wanted to see her, to speak to her, to have her near him, though
he was not ready to carry her off or marry her on the spot, or defy his
father and all the world on her account. This was the painful struggle
that poor Jack had to bear as he went back and forward all those days to
Masterton. He held very little communication with his father, who was
the cause of it all. He chose to ride or to walk rather than have those
_tête-à-tête_ drives. He kept his eyes on every turn of the way, on
every tree and hedge which might possibly conceal her; and yet he knew
he must part from her, and in his heart was aware that it was a right
judgment which condemned him to this sacrifice. And it was not in him,
poor fellow, to take it cheerfully or suffer with a good grace. He kept
it to himself, and scorned to betray to his father or sister what he was
going through. But he was not an agreeable companion during this
interval, though the fact was that he gave them very little of his
society, and struggled, mostly by himself, against his hard fate.

And probably he might have been victorious in the struggle. He might
have fought his way back to the high philosophical ground from which he
was wont to preach to his friend Keppel. At the cost of all the first
freshness of his heart, at the cost of many buds of grace that never
would have bloomed again, he might have come out victor, and
demonstrated to himself beyond all dispute that in such matters a strong
will is every thing, and that there is no love or longing that may not
be crushed on the threshold of the mind. All this Jack might have done,
and lived to profit by it and smart for it, but for a chance meeting by
which fate, in spite of a thousand precautions, managed to balk his
philosophy. He had gone home early in the afternoon, and he had been
seen by anxious eyes behind the curtains of Mrs. Swayne’s window--not
Pamela’s eyes, but those of her mother--to go out again dressed, about
the time when a man who is going to dinner sets out to fulfill his
engagement. And Jack was going out to dinner; he was going to Ridley,
where the family had just come down from town. But there had come that
day a kind of crisis in his complaint, and when he was half way to his
friend’s house a sudden disgust seized him. Instead of going on he
jumped down from the dog-cart, and tore a leaf out of his pocket-book,
on which he scribbled a hasty word of apology to Keppel. Then, while the
groom went on with his note, he turned and went sauntering home along
the dusty road in his evening coat. Why should he go and eat the
fellow’s dinner? What did he care about it? Go and make an ass of
himself, and laugh and talk when he would much rather run a tilt against
all the world! And what could she mean by shutting herself up like this,
and never so much as saying good-bye? It could harm nobody to say
good-bye. Thus Jack mused in pure despite and contrariety, without any
intention of laying a snare for the object of his thoughts. He had gone
a long way on the road to Ridley before he changed his mind, and
consequently it was getting late when he drew near Brownlows coming
back. It was a very quiet country road, a continuation of that which led
to Masterton. Here and there, was a clump of great trees making it
sombre, and then a long stretch of hedgerow with the fragrant meadow on
the other side of it, and the cows lowing to go home. There was nobody
to be seen up or down the road except a late carter with his horse’s
harness on his shoulder, and a boy and a girl driving home some cows. In
the distance stood Swayne’s Cottages, half lost in the twilight, with
two faint curls of smoke going up into the sky. All was full of that
dead calm which chafes the spirit of youth when it is in the midst of
its troubles--that calm which is so soothing and so sweet when life and
we have surmounted the first battles, and come to a moment of truce. But
there was no truce as yet in Jack Brownlow’s thoughts. He wanted to have
his own way and he could not have it; and he knew he ought not to have
it, and he would not give it up. If he could have kicked at the world,
and strangled Nature and made an end of Reason, always without making a
fool of himself, that would have been the course of action most in
consonance with his thoughts.

And it was just then that a certain flutter round the corner of the lane
which led to Dewsbury caught his eye--the flutter of the soft evening
air in a black dress. It was not the “_creatura bella vestita in
bianca_” which comes up to the ideal of a lover’s fancy. It was a little
figure in a black dress, with a cloak wrapped round her, and a broad hat
shading her face, all dark among the twilight shadows. Jack saw, and his
heart sprang up within him with a violence which took away his breath.
He made but one spring across the road. When they had parted they had
not known that they were lovers; but now they had been a week apart and
there was no doubt on the subject. He made but one spring, and caught
her and held her fast. “Pamela!” he cried out; and though there had been
neither asking nor consent, and not one word of positive love-making
between them, and though no disrespectful or irreverent thought of her
had ever entered his mind, poor Jack, in his ardor and joy and surprise
and rage, kissed her suddenly with a kind of transport. “Now I have you
at last!” he cried. And this was in the open road, where all the world
might have seen them; though happily, so far as was apparent, there was
nobody to see.

Pamela, too, gave a cry of surprise and fright and dismay. But she was
not angry, poor child. She did not feel that it was unnatural. Her poor
little heart had not been standing still all this time any more than
Jack’s. They had gone over all those tender, childish, celestial
preliminaries while they were apart; and now there could not be any
doubt about the bond that united them. Neither the one nor the other
affected to believe that farther preface was necessary--circumstances
were too pressing for that. He said, “I have you at last,” with eyes
that gleamed with triumph; and she said, “Oh, I thought I should never,
never see you again!” in a voice which left nothing to be confessed. And
for the moment they both forgot every thing--fathers, mothers, promises,
wise intentions, all the secondary lumber that makes up the world.

When this instant of utter forgetfulness was over, Pamela began to cry,
and Jack’s arm dropped from her waist. It was the next inevitable stage.
They made two or three steps by each other’s side, separate, despairing,
miserable. Then it was the woman’s turn to take the initiative. She was
crying, but she could still speak--indeed, it is possible that her
speech would have been less natural had it been without those breaks in
the soft voice. “I am not angry,” she said, “because it is the last
time. I shall never, never forget you; but oh, it was all a mistake, all
from the beginning. We never--meant--to grow fond of each other,” said
Pamela through her sobs; “it was all--all a mistake.”

“I was fond of you the very first minute I saw you,” said Jack; “I did
not know then, but I know it now. It was no mistake;--that time when I
carried you in out of the snow. I was fond of you then, just as I am
now--as I shall be all my life.”

“No,” said Pamela, “oh no. It is different--every day in your life you
see better people than I am. Don’t say any thing else. It is far better
for me to know. I have been a--a little--contented ever since I thought
of that.”

These words once more put Jack’s self-denial all to flight. “Better
people than you are?” he cried. “Oh, Pamela! I never saw any body half
as sweet, half as lovely, all my life.”

“Hush! hush! hush!” said Pamela; they were not so separate now, and she
put her soft little hand up, as if to lay it on his lips. “You think so,
but it is all--all a mistake!”

Then Jack looked into her sweet tearful eyes, nearer, far nearer than he
had ever looked before--and they were eyes that could bear looking into,
and the sweetness and the bitterness filled the young man’s heart. “My
little love!” he cried, “it is not you who are a mistake.” And he
clasped her, almost crushed her waist with his arm in his vehemence.
Every thing else was a mistake--himself, his position, _her_ position,
all the circumstances; but not Pamela. This time she disengaged herself,
but very softly, from his arm.

“I do not mind,” she said, looking at him with an innocent, wistful
tenderness, “because it is the last time. If you had not cared, I should
have been vexed. One can’t help being a little selfish. Last time, if
you had said you were fond of me, I should have been frightened; but now
I am glad, very glad you are fond of me. It will always be something to
look back to. I shall remember every word you said, and how you looked.
Mamma says life is so hard,” said Pamela, faltering a little, and
looking far away beyond her lover, as if she could see into a long
stretch of life. So she did; and it looked a desert, for he was not to
be there.

“Don’t speak like that,” cried Jack; “life shall not be hard to
you--not while I live to take care of you--not while I can work--”

“Hush, hush!” said the girl, softly. “I like you to say it, you know.
One feels glad; but I know there must be nothing about that. I never
thought of it when--when we used to see each other so often. I never
thought of any thing. I was only pleased to see you; but mamma has been
telling me a great deal--every thing, indeed: I know better now--”

“What has she been telling you?” said Jack. “She has been telling you
that I would deceive you; that I was not to be trusted. It is because
she does not know me, Pamela. You know me better. I never thought of any
thing either,” he added, driven to simplicity by the force of his
emotions, “except that I could not do without you, and that I was very
happy. And Pamela, whatever it may cost, I can’t live without you now.”

“But you must,” said Pamela: “if you could but hear what mamma says! She
never said you would deceive me. What she said was, that we must not
have our own way. It may break our hearts, but we must give up. It
appears life is like that,” said Pamela, with a deep sigh. “If you like
any thing very much, you must give it up.”

“I am ready to give up every thing else,” said Jack, carried on by the
tide, and forgetting all his reason; “but I will not give you up. My
little darling, you are not to cry--I did not know I was so fond of you
till that day. I didn’t even know it till now,” cried the young man.
“You mustn’t turn away from me, Pamela--give me your hand; and whatever
happens to us, we two will stand by each other all our lives.”

“Ah, no,” said Pamela, drawing away her hand; and then she laid the same
hand which she had refused to give him on his shoulder and looked up
into his face. “I like you to say it all,” she went on--“I do--it is no
use making believe when we are just going to part. I shall remember
every word you say. I shall always be able to think that when I was
young I had some one to say these things to me. If your father were to
come now, I should not be afraid of him; I should just tell him how it
was. I am glad of every word that I can treasure up. Mamma said I was
not to see you again; but I said if we were to meet we had a right to
speak to each other. I never thought I should have seen you to-night. I
shouldn’t mind saying to your father himself that we had a right to
speak. If we should both live long and grow old, and never meet for
years and years, don’t you think we shall still know each other in
heaven?”

As for poor Jack, he was driven wild by this, by the sadness of her
sweet eyes, by the soft tenderness of her voice, by the virginal
simplicity and sincerity which breathed out of her. Pamela stood by him
with the consciousness that it was the supreme moment of her existence.
She might have been going to die; such was the feeling in her heart. She
_was_ going to die out of all the sweet hopes, all the dawning joys of
her youth; she was going out into that black desert of life where the
law was that if you liked any thing very much you must give it up. But
before she went she had a right to open her heart, to hear him disclose
his. Had it been possible that their love should have come to any thing,
Pamela would have been shy and shamefaced; but that was not possible.
But a minute was theirs, and the dark world gaped around to swallow them
up from each other. Therefore the words flowed in a flood to Pamela’s
lips. She had so many things to say to him--she wanted to tell him so
much; and there was but this minute to include all. But her very
composure--her tender solemnity--the pure little white martyr that she
was, giving up what she most loved, gave to Jack a wilder thrill, a more
headlong impulse. He grasped her two hands, he put his arm round her in
a sudden passion. It seemed to him that he had no patience with her or
any thing--that he must seize upon her and carry her away.

“Pamela,” he cried, hoarsely, “it is of no use talking--you and I are
not going to part like this. I don’t know any thing about heaven, and I
don’t want to know--not just now. We are not going to part, I tell you.
Your mother may say what she likes, but she can’t be so cruel as to take
you from a man who loves you and can take care of you--and I will take
care of you, by heaven! Nobody shall ever come between us. A fellow may
think and think when he doesn’t know his own mind: and it’s easy for a
girl like you to talk of the last time. I tell you it is not the last
time--it is the first time. I don’t care a straw for any thing else in
the world--not in comparison with you. Pamela, don’t cry; we are going
to be together all our life.”

“You say so because you have not thought about it,” said Pamela, with an
ineffable smile; “and I have been thinking of it ever so long--ever so
much. No; but I don’t say you are to go away, not yet. I want to have
you as long as I can; I want to tell you so many things--every thing I
have in my heart.”

“And I will hear nothing,” said Jack--“nothing except that you and I
belong to each other. That’s what you have got to say. Hush, child! do
you think I am a child like you? Pamela, look here--I don’t know when it
is to be, nor how it is to be, but you are going to be my wife.”

“Oh, no, no,” said Pamela, shrinking from him, growing red and growing
pale in the shock of this new suggestion. If this was how it was to be,
her frankness, her sad openness, became a kind of crime. She had
suffered his embrace before, prayed him to speak to her, thought it
right to take full advantage of the last indulgence accorded to them;
and now the tables were turned upon her. She shrank away from him, and
stood apart in the obscure twilight. There had not been a blush on her
cheek while she opened her innocent young heart to him in the solemnity
of the supposed farewell, but now she was overwhelmed with sudden shame.

“I say yes, yes, yes,” said Jack vehemently, and he seized upon the
hands that she had clasped together by way of safeguard. He seized upon
them with a kind of violence appropriating what was his own. His mind
had been made up and his fate decided in that half hour. He had been
full of doubts up to this moment; but now he had found out that without
Pamela it was not worth while to live--that Pamela was slipping through
his fingers, ready to escape out of his reach; and after that there was
no longer any possibility of a compromise. He had become utterly
indifferent to what was going on around as he came to this point. He had
turned his back on the road, and could not tell who was coming or
going. And thus it was that the sudden intrusion which occurred to them
was entirely unexpected, and took them both by surprise. All of a
sudden, while neither was looking, a substantial figure was suddenly
thrust in between them. It was Mrs. Swayne, who had been at Dewsbury and
was going home. She did not put them aside with her hands, but she
pushed her large person completely between the lovers, thrusting one to
one side and the other to the other. With one of her arms she caught
Pamela’s dress, holding her fast, and with the other she pushed Jack
away. She was flushed with walking and haste, for she had seen the two
figures a long way off, and had divined what sort of meeting it was; and
the sight of her fiery countenance between them startled the two so
completely that they fell back on either side and gazed at her aghast,
without saying a word. Pamela, startled and overcome, hid her face in
her hands, while Jack made a sudden step back, and got very hot and
furious, but for the moment found himself incapable of speech.

“For shame of yourself!” said Mrs. Swayne, panting for breath; “I’ve
a’most killed myself running, but I’ve come in time. What are you a
persuadin’ of her to do, Mr. John? Oh for shame of yourself! Don’t tell
me! I know what young gentlemen like you is. A-enticin’ her and
persuadin’ her and leading her away, to bring her poor mother’s gray
hairs with sorrow to the grave. Oh for shame of yourself! And her mother
just as simple and innocent, as would believe any thing you liked to
tell her; and nobody as can keep this poor thing straight and keep her
out o’ trouble but me!”

While she panted out this address, and thrust him away with her extended
hand, Jack stood by in consternation, furious but speechless. What could
he do? He might order her away, but she would not obey him. He might
make his declaration over again in her presence, but she would not
believe him, and he did not much relish the idea; he could not struggle
with this woman for the possession of his love, and at the same time his
blood boiled at her suggestions. If she had been a man he might have
knocked her down quietly, and been free of the obstruction, but women
take a shabby advantage of the fact that they can not be knocked down.
As he stood thus with all his eloquence stopped on his lips, Pamela,
from across the bulky person of her champion, stretched out her little
hand to him and interposed.

“Hush,” she said; “we were saying good-bye to each other, Mrs. Swayne. I
told mamma we should say good-bye. Hush, oh hush, she doesn’t
understand; but what does that matter? we must say good-bye all the
same.”

“I shall never say good-bye,” said Jack; “you ought to know me better
than that. If you must go home with this woman, go--I am not going to
fight with her. It matters nothing about her understanding; but, Pamela,
remember it is not good-bye. It shall never be good-bye--”

“Understand!” said Mrs. Swayne, whose indignation was furious, “and why
shouldn’t I understand? Thank Providence I’m one as knows what
temptation is. Go along with you home, Mr. John; and she’ll just go with
this woman, she shall. Woman, indeed! And I don’t deny as I’m a
woman--and so was your own mother for all so fine as you are. Don’t you
think as you’ll lay your clutches on this poor lamb, as long as Swayne
and me’s to the fore. I mayn’t understand, and I may be a woman,
but--Miss Pamela, you’ll just come along home.”

“Yes, yes,” said Pamela; and then she held up her hand to him
entreatingly. “Don’t mind what she says--don’t be angry with me; and I
will never, never forget what you have said--and--good-bye,” said the
girl, steadily, holding out her hand to him with a wonderful glistening
smile that shone through two big tears.

As for Jack, he took her hand and gave it an angry loving grasp which
hurt it, and then threw it away. “I am going to see your mother,” he
said, deigning no reply. And then he turned his back on her without
another word, and left her standing in the twilight in the middle of the
dusty road, and went away. He left the two women standing amazed, and
went off with quick determined steps that far outstripped their
capabilities. It was the road to the cottage--the road to Brownlows--the
road anywhere or everywhere. “He’s a-going home, and a blessed
riddance,” said Mrs. Swayne, though her spirit quaked within her. But
Pamela said nothing; he was not going home. The girl stood and watched
his quick firm steps and worshiped him in her heart. To her mother! And
was there any thing but one thing that her mother could say?



CHAPTER XXIII.

ALL FOR LOVE.


It was almost dark when Jack reached Swayne’s Cottages, and there was no
light in Mrs. Preston’s window to indicate her presence. The only bit of
illumination there was in the dim dewy twilight road, was a gleam from
old Betty’s perennial fire, which shone out as she opened the door to
watch the passage of the dog-cart just then returning from Ridley, where
it ought to have carried Mr. John to dinner. The dog-cart was just
returning home, in an innocent, unconscious way; but how much had
happened in the interval! the thought made Jack’s head whirl a little,
and made him half smile; only half smile--for such a momentous crisis is
not amusing. He had not had time to think whether or not he was
rapturously happy, as a young lover ought to be: on the whole, it was a
very serious business. There were a thousand things to think of, such as
take the laughter out of a man; yet he did smile as it occurred to him
in what an ordinary commonplace sort of way the dog-cart and the mare
and the groom had been jogging back along the dusty roads, while he had
been so weightily engaged; and how all those people had been calmly
dining at Ridley--were dining now, no doubt--and mentally criticising
the dishes, and making feeble dinner table-talk, while he had been
settling his fate; in less time than they could have got half through
their dinner--in less time than even the bay mare could devour the way
between the two houses! Jack felt slightly giddy as he thought of it,
and his face grew serious again under his smile. The cottage door stood
innocently open; there was nobody and nothing between him and his
business; he had not even to knock, to be opened to by a curious
indifferent servant, as would have been the case in another kind of
house. The little passage was quite dark, but there was another gleam of
fire-light from the kitchen, where Mr. Swayne sat patient with his
rheumatism, and even Mrs. Preston’s door was ajar. Out of the soft
darkness without, into the closer darkness within, Jack stepped with a
beating heart. This was not the pleasant part of it; this was not like
the sudden delight of meeting Pamela--the sudden passion of laying hold
on her and claiming her as his own. He stopped in the dark passage,
where he had scarcely room to turn, and drew breath a little. He felt
within himself that if Mrs. Preston in her black cap and her black gown
fell into his arms and saluted him as her son, that he would not be so
deeply gratified as perhaps he ought to have been. Pamela was one thing,
but her mother was quite another. If mothers, and fathers too for that
matter, could but be done away with when their daughters are old enough
to marry, what a great deal of trouble it would spare in this world! But
that was not to be thought of. He had come to do it, and it had to be
done. While he stood taking breath and collecting himself, Mr. Swayne
feeling that the step which had crossed his threshold was not his wife’s
step, called out to the intruder. “Who are you?” cried the master of the
house; “you wait till my missis comes and finds you there; she don’t
hold with no tramp; and I see her a-coming round the corner,” he
continued, in tones in which exultation had triumphed over fright. No
tramp could have been more moved by the words than was Jack. He resisted
the passing impulse he had to stride into the kitchen and strangle Mr.
Swayne in passing; and then, with one knock by way of preface, he went
in without further introduction into the parlor where Mrs. Preston was
alone.

It was almost quite dark--dark with that bewildering summer darkness
which is more confusing than positive night. Something got up hastily
from the sofa at the sight of him, and gave a little suppressed shriek
of alarm. “Don’t be alarmed--it is only I, Mrs. Preston,” said Jack. He
made a step forward and looked at her, as probably she too was looking
at him; but they could not see each other, and it was no comfort to
Pamela’s mother to be told by Jack Brownlow, that it was only I.

“Has any thing happened?” she cried; “what is it? what is it? oh my
child!--for God’s sake, whoever you are, tell me what it is.”

“There is nothing the matter with her,” said Jack, steadily. “I am John
Brownlow, and I have come to speak to you; that is what it is.”

“John Brownlow,” said Mrs. Preston, in consternation--and then her tone
changed. “I am sorry I did not know you,” she said; “but if you have any
business with me, sir, I can soon get a light.”

“Indeed I have the most serious business,” said Jack--it was in his mind
to say that he would prefer being without a light; but there would have
been something too familiar and undignified for the occasion in such a
speech as that.

“Wait a moment,” said Mrs. Preston, and she hastened out, leaving him in
the dark parlor by himself. Of course he knew it was only a pretext--he
knew as well as if she had told him that she had gone to establish a
watch for Pamela to prevent her from coming in while he was there; and
this time he laughed outright. She might have done it an hour ago, fast
enough; but now to keep Pamela from him was more than all the fathers
and mothers in the world could do. He laughed at the vain precaution. It
was not that he had lost all sense of prudence, or that he was not aware
how foolish a thing in many respects he was doing; but notwithstanding,
he laughed at the idea that any thing, stone walls and iron bars, or
admonitions, or parental orders, could keep her from him. It might be
very idiotic--and no doubt it was; but if any body dreamed for a moment
that he could be made to give her up! or that she could be wrested out
of his grasp now that he had possession of her--any deluded individual
who might entertain such a notion could certainly know nothing of Jack.

Mrs. Preston was absent for some minutes, and before she came back there
had been a soft rustle in the passage, a subdued sound of voices, in one
of which, rapidly suppressed and put a stop to, Jack could discern Mrs.
Swayne’s voluble tones. He smiled to himself in the darkness as he stood
and waited; he knew what was going on as well as if he had been outside
and had seen it all. Pamela was being smuggled into the house, being put
somewhere out of his way. Probably her mother was making an attempt to
conceal from her even the fact that he was there, and at this purely
futile attempt Jack again laughed in his heart; then in his impatience
he strode to the window, and looked out at the gates which were
indistinctly visible opposite, and the gleam of Betty’s fire, which was
now apparent only through her window. That was the way it would have
been natural for him to go, not this--there lay his home, wealthy,
luxurious, pleasant, with freedom in it, and every thing that ministered
most at once to his comfort and his ambition: and yet it was not there
he had gone, but into this shabby little dingy parlor, to put his life
and all his pleasure in life, and his prospects and every thing for
which he most cared, at the disposal, not of Pamela, but of her mother.
He felt that it was hard. As for her, the little darling! to have taken
her in his arms and carried her off and built a nest for her would not
have been hard--but that it should all rest upon the decision of her
mother! Jack felt at the moment that it was a hard thing that there
should be mothers standing thus in the young people’s way. It might be
very unamiable on his part, but that was unquestionably his feeling: and
indeed, for one second, so terrible did the prospect appear to him, that
the idea of taking offense and running away did once cross his mind. If
they chose to leave him alone like this, waiting, what could they
expect? He put his hand upon the handle of the door, and then withdrew
it as if it had burned him. A minute after Mrs. Preston came back. She
carried in her hand a candle, which threw a bright light upon her worn
face, with the black eyes, black hair, black cap and black dress close
round her throat which so much increased the gauntness of her general
appearance. This time her eyes, though they were old, were very
bright--bright with anxiety and alarm--so bright that for the moment
they were like Pamela’s. She came in and set down her candle on the
table, where it shed a strange little pale inquisitive light, as if,
like Jack, it was looking round, half dazzled by the change out of
complete darkness, at the unfamiliar place; and then she drew down the
blind. When she had done this she came to the table near which Jack was
standing. “Mr. Brownlow, you want to speak to me?” she said.

“Yes,” said Jack. Though his forefathers had been Brownlows of Masterton
for generations, which ought to have given him self-possession if any
thing could, and though he had been brought up at a public-school, which
was still more to the purpose, this simple question took away the power
of speech from him as completely as if he had been the merest clown. He
had not felt the least difficulty about what he was going to say, but
all at once to say any thing at all seemed impossible.

“Then tell me what it is,” said Mrs. Preston, sitting down in the black
old-fashioned high-backed easy-chair. Her heart was melting to him more
and more every moment, the sight of his confusion being sweet to her
eyes, but of course he did not know this--neither, it is to be feared,
would Jack have very much cared.

“Yes,” he said again; “the fact was--I--wanted to speak to you--about
your daughter. I suppose this sort of thing is always an awkward
business. I have seen her with--with my sister, you know--we couldn’t
help seeing each other; and the fact is, we’ve--we’ve grown fond of each
other without knowing it: that is about the state of the case.”

“Fond of each other?” said Mrs. Preston, faltering. “Mr. Brownlow, I
don’t think that is how you ought to speak. You mean you have grown fond
of Pamela. I am very, very sorry; but Heaven forbid that my poor girl--”

“I mean what I say,” said Jack, sturdily--“we’ve grown fond of each
other. If you ask her she will tell you the same. We were not thinking
of any thing of the kind--it came upon us unawares. I tell you the whole
truth, that you may not wonder at me coming so unprepared. I don’t come
to you as a fellow might that had planned it all out and turned it over
in his mind, and could tell you how much he had a year, and what he
could settle on his wife, and all that. I tell you frankly the truth,
Mrs. Preston. We were not thinking of any thing of the kind; but now,
you see, we have both of us found it out.”

“I don’t understand you,” said the astonished mother; “what have you
found out?”

“We’ve found out just what I’ve been telling you,” said Jack--“that
we’re fond of each other. You may say I should have told you first; but
the truth was, I never had the opportunity--not that I would have been
sure to have taken advantage of it if I had. We went on without knowing
what we were doing, and then it came upon us all at once.”

He sat down abruptly as he said this, in an abstracted way; and he
sighed. _He_ had found it out, there could be no doubt of that; and he
did not hide from himself that this discovery was a very serious one. It
filled his mind with a great many thoughts. He was no longer in a
position to go on amusing himself without any thought of the future.
Jack was but mortal, and it is quite possible he might have done so had
it been in his power. But it was not in his power, and his aspect, when
he dropped into the chair, and looked into the vacant air before him and
sighed, was rather that of a man looking anxiously into the future--a
future that was certain--than of a lover waiting for the sentence which
(metaphorically) is one of life or death; and Mrs. Preston, little
experienced in such matters, and much agitated by the information so
suddenly conveyed to her, did not know what to think. She bent forward
and looked at him with an eagerness which he never perceived. She
clasped her hands tightly together, and gazed as if she would read his
heart; and then what could she say? He was not asking any thing from
her--he was only intimating to her an unquestionable fact.

“But, Mr. Brownlow,” she said at last, tremulously, “I think--I hope you
may be mistaken. My Pamela is very young--and so are you--_very_ young
for a man. I hope you have made a mistake. At your age it doesn’t matter
so much.”

“Don’t it, though?” said Jack, with a flash in his eyes. “I can’t, say
to you that’s our business, for I know, of course, that a girl ought to
consult her mother. But don’t let us discuss _that_, please. A fact
can’t be discussed, you know. It’s either true or it’s false--and _we_
certainly are the only ones who can know.”

Then there was another pause, during which Jack strayed off again into
calculations about the future--that unforeseen future which had leaped
into existence for him only about an hour ago. He had sat down on the
other side of the table, and was gazing into the blank hearth as if some
enlightenment might have been found there. As for Mrs. Preston, her
amazement and agitation were such that it cost her a great effort to
compose herself and not to give way.

“Is this all you have to say to me?” she said at last, with trembling
lips.

Then Jack roused himself up. Suddenly it occurred to him that the poor
woman whom he had been so far from admiring was behaving to him with a
generosity and delicacy very different from his conduct to her; and the
blood rushed to his face at the thought.

“I beg your pardon,” he said. “I have already explained to you why it is
that I come in such an unprepared way. I met her to-night. Upon my life
I did not lay any trap for her. I was awfully cut up about not seeing
her; but we met by accident. And the fact was, when we met we couldn’t
help showing that we understood each other. After that it was my first
duty,” said Jack, with a thrill of conscious grandeur, “to come to you.”

“But do you mean to say,” said Mrs. Preston, wringing her hands, “that
my Pamela--? Sir, she is only a child. She could not have understood
you. She may like you in a way--”

“She likes me as I like her,” said Jack, stoutly. “It’s no use
struggling against it. It is no use arguing about it. You may think her
a child, but she is not a child; and I can’t do without her, Mrs.
Preston. I hope you haven’t any dislike to me. If you have,” said Jack,
warming up, “I will do any thing a man can do to please you; but you
couldn’t have the heart to make her unhappy, and come between her and
me.”

“I make her unhappy?” said Mrs. Preston, with a gasp. She who had no
hope or desire in the world but Pamela’s happiness! “But I don’t even
see how it came about. I--I don’t understand you. I don’t even know what
you want of me.”

“What I want?” said Jack, turning round upon her with wondering
eyes--“What could I want but one thing? I want Pamela--that’s very
clear. Good heavens, you are not going to be ill, are you? Shall I call
somebody? I know it’s _awfully_ sudden,” said the young fellow ruefully.
Nobody could be more sensible of that than he was. He got up in his
dismay and went to a side-table where there stood a carafe of water and
brought her some. It was the first act of human fellowship, as it were,
that had passed between the two, and somehow it brought them together.
Mrs. Preston took the water with that strange half-sacramental feeling
with which a soul in extremity receives the refreshment which brings it
back to life. Was it her friend, her son, or her enemy that thus
ministered to her? Oh, if she could only have seen into his heart! She
had no interest in the world but Pamela, and now the matter in hand was
the decision for good or for evil of Pamela’s fate.

“I am better, thank you,” she said faintly. “I am not very strong, and
it startled me. Sit down, Mr. Brownlow, and let us talk it over. I knew
this was what it would have come to if it had gone on; but I have been
talking a great deal to my child, and keeping her under my eye--”

“Yes,” said Jack, with some indignation, “keeping her out of my way. I
knew you were doing that.”

“It was the only thing I could do,” said Mrs. Preston. “I did try to
find another means, but it did not succeed. When I asked you what you
wanted of me, I was not doubting your honor. But things are not so easy
as you young people think. Your father never will consent.”

“I don’t think things are easy,” said Jack. “I see they are as crooked
and hard as possible. I don’t pretend to think it’s all plain sailing. I
believe he won’t consent. It might have been all very well to consider
that three months ago, but you see we never thought of it then. We must
just do without his consent now.”

“And there is more than that,” said Mrs. Preston. “It would not be right
for him to consent, nor for me either. If you only found it out so
suddenly, how can you be sure of your own mind, Mr. John--and you so
young? I don’t say any thing of my own child. I don’t mean to say in my
heart that I think you too grand for her. I know if ever there was a
lady born it’s--; but that’s not the question,” she continued, nervously
wringing her hands again. “If she was a princess, she’s been brought up
different from you. I did think once there might have been a way of
getting over that; but I know better now; and you’re very young; and
from what you say,” said Pamela’s mother, who, after all, was a woman, a
little romantic and very proud, “I don’t think you’re one that would be
content to give up every thing for love.”

Jack had been listening calmly enough, not making much in his own mind
of her objections; but the last words did strike home. He started, and
he felt in his heart a certain puncture, as if the needle in Mrs.
Preston’s work, which lay on the table, had gone into him. This at least
was true. He looked at her with a certain defiance, and yet with
respect. “For love--no,” said Jack half fiercely, stirred, like a mere
male creature as he was, by the prick of opposition; and then a
softening came over his eyes, and a gleam came into them which, even by
the light of the one pale candle, made itself apparent; “but for
Pamela--yes. I’ll tell you one thing, Mrs. Preston,” he added, quickly,
“I should not call it giving up. I don’t mean to give up. As for my
father, I don’t see what he has to do with it. I can work for my wife as
well as any other fellow could. If I were to say it didn’t matter, you
might mistrust me; but when a man knows it does matter,” said Jack,
again warming with his subject, “when a man sees it’s serious, and not a
thing to be done without thinking, you can surely rely upon him more
than if he went at it blindly? I think so at least.”

So saying, Jack stopped, feeling a little sore and _incompris_. If he
had made a fool of himself, no doubt the woman would have believed in
him; but because he saw the gravity of what he was about to do, and felt
its importance, a kind of doubt was in his hearer’s heart. “They not
only expect a man to be foolish, but they expect him to forget his own
nature,” Jack said to himself, which certainly was hard.

“I don’t mistrust you,” said Mrs. Preston, but her voice faltered, and
did not quite carry out her words; “only, you know, Mr. John, you are
very young. Pamela is very young, but you are even younger than she
is--I mean, you know, because you are a man; and how can you tell that
you know your own mind? It was only to-day that you found it out, and
to-morrow you might find something else out--”

Here she stopped half frightened, for Jack had risen up, and was looking
at her over the light of the candle, looking pale and somewhat
threatening. He was not in a sentimental attitude, neither was there any
thing about him that breathed the tender romance for which in her heart
Mrs. Preston sighed, and without which it cost her an effort to believe
in his sincerity. He was standing with his hands thrust down to the
bottom of his pockets, his brow a little knitted, his face pale, his
expression worried and impatient. “What is the use of beginning over and
over again?” said Jack. “Do you think I could have found out like this a
thing that hadn’t been in existence for months and months? Why, the
first time I saw you in Hobson’s cart--the time I carried her in out of
the snow--” When he had got this length, he walked away to the window
and stood looking out, though the blind was down, with his back turned
upon her--“with her little red cloak, and her pretty hair,” said Jack,
with a curious sound which would not bear classification. It might have
been a laugh, or a sob, or a snort--and it was neither; anyhow, it
expressed the emotion within him better than half a hundred fine
speeches. “And you don’t believe in me after all that!” he said, coming
back again and looking at her once more over the light of the candle.
Perhaps it was something in Jack’s eyes, either light or moisture, it
would be difficult to tell which, that overpowered Mrs. Preston, for the
poor woman faltered and began to cry.

“I do believe in you,” she said. “I do--and I love you for saying it;
but oh, Mr. John, what am I to do? I can’t let you ruin yourself with
your father. I can’t encourage you when I know what it will cost you;
and then, my own child--”

“That’s it,” said Jack, drawing his chair over to her side of the table,
with his first attempt at diplomacy--“that’s what we’ve got to think of.
It doesn’t matter for a fellow like me. If I got disappointed and cut up
I should have to bear it; but as for Pamela, you know--dear little soul!
You may think it strange, but,” said Jack, with a little affected laugh,
full of that supreme vanity and self-satisfaction with which a man
recognizes such a fact, “she is fond of me; and if she were disappointed
and put out, you know--why, it might make her ill--it might do her no
end of harm--it might--Seriously, you know,” said Jack, looking in Mrs.
Preston’s face, and giving another and another hitch to his chair.
Though her sense of humor was not lively, she dried her eyes and looked
at him with a little bewilderment, wondering was he really in earnest?
did he mean it? or what did he mean?

“She is very young,” said Mrs. Preston; “no doubt it would do her harm;
but I should be there to nurse her--and--and--she is so young.”

“It might kill her,” said Jack, impressively; “and then whom would you
have to blame? Not my father, for he has nothing to do with it; but
yourself, Mrs. Preston--that’s how it would be. Just look at what a
little delicate darling she is--a little bit of a thing that one could
carry away in one’s arms,” he went on, growing more and more
animated--“a little face like a flower; and after the bad illness she
had. I would not take such a responsibility for any thing in the world,”
he added, with severe and indignant virtue. As for poor Mrs. Preston,
she did not know what to do. She wrung her hands; she looked at him
beseechingly, begging him with her eyes to cease. Every feature of the
picture came home to her with a much deeper force than it did to her
mentor. Jack no more believed in any danger to Pamela than he did in his
own ultimate rejection; but the poor mother beheld her daughter pining,
dying, breaking her heart, and trembled to her very soul.

“Oh, Mr. John,” she cried, with tears, “don’t break my heart! What am I
to do? If I must either ruin you with your father--”

“Or kill your child,” said Jack, looking at her solemnly till his victim
shuddered. “Your child is more to you than my father: besides,” said the
young man, unbending a little, “it would not ruin me with my father. He
might be angry. He might make himself disagreeable; but he’s not a muff
to bear malice. My father,” continued Jack, with emphasis, feeling that
he owed his parent some reparation, and doing it magnificently when he
was about it, “is as true a gentleman as I know. He’s not the man to
ruin a fellow. You think of Pamela, and never mind me.”

But it took a long time and much reiteration to convince Mrs. Preston.
“If I could but see Mr. Brownlow, I could tell him something that would
perhaps soften his heart,” she said; but this was far from being a
pleasant suggestion to Jack. He put it down summarily, not even asking
in his youthful impatience what the something was. He had no desire to
know. He did not want his father’s heart to be softened. In short, being
as yet unaccustomed to the idea, he did not feel any particular delight
in the thought of presenting Pamela’s mother to the world as belonging
to himself. And yet this same talk had made a wonderful difference in
his feeling toward Pamela’s mother. The thought of the explanation he
had to make to her was repugnant to him when he came in. He had all but
run away from it when he was left to wait alone. And now, in less than
an hour, it seemed so natural to enter into every thing. Even if she had
bestowed a maternal embrace upon him, Jack did not feel as if he would
have resisted; but she gave him no motherly kiss. She was still half
frightened at him, half disposed to believe that to get rid of him would
be the best thing; and Jack had no mind to be got rid of. Neither of
them could have told very exactly what was the understanding upon which
they parted. There was an understanding, that was certain--an
arrangement, tacit, inexpressible, which, however, was not hostile. He
was not permitted in so many words to come again; but neither was he
sent away. When he had the assurance to ask to see Pamela before he
left, Mrs. Preston went nervously through the passage before him and
opened the door, opening up the house and their discussion as she did
so, to the big outside world and wakeful sky, with all its stars, which
seemed to stoop and look in. Poor little Pamela was in the room up
stairs, speechless, motionless, holding her breath, fixed as it were to
the window from which she must see him go out; hearing the indistinct
hum of voices underneath, and wondering what her mother was saying to
him. When the parlor door opened, her heart leaped up in her breast. She
could hear his voice, and distinguish, as she thought, every tone of it,
but she could not hear what he said. For an instant it occurred to her
too that she might be called down stairs. But then the next moment the
outer door opened, a breath of fresh air stole into the house, and she
knew he was dismissed. How had he been dismissed? For the moment? for
the night? or forever? The window was open to which Pamela clung in the
darkness, and she could hear his step going out. And as he went he spoke
out loud enough to be heard up stairs, to be heard by any body on the
road, and almost for that matter to be heard at Betty’s cottage. “If I
must not see her,” he said, “give her my dear love.” What did it mean.
Was his dear love his last message of farewell? or was it only the first
public indication that she belonged to him? Pamela sank down on her
knees by the window, noiseless, with her heart beating so in her ears
that she felt as if he must hear it outside. The whole room, the whole
house, the whole air, seemed to her full of that throbbing. His dear
love! It seemed to come in to her with the fresh air--to drop down upon
her from the big stars as they leaned out of heaven and looked down; and
yet she could not tell if it meant death or life. And Mrs. Preston was
not young, and could not fly, but came so slowly, so slowly, up the
creaking wooden stair!

Poor Mrs. Preston went slowly, not only because of her age, but because
of her burden of thoughts. She could not have told any one whether she
was very happy or deadly sad. Her heart was not fluttering in her ears
like Pamela, but beating out hard throbs of excitement. He was good, he
was true; her heart accepted him. Perhaps he was the friend she had so
much longed for, who would guard Pamela when she was gone. At present,
however, she was not gone; and yet her sceptre was passing away out of
her hands, and her crown from her head. Anyhow, for good or for evil,
this meant change; the sweet sceptre of love, the crown of natural
authority and duty, such as are the glory of a woman who is a mother,
were passing away from her. She did not grudge it. She would not have
grudged life, nor any thing dearer than life, for Pamela; but she felt
that there was change coming: and it made her sick--sick and cold and
shivering, as if she was going to have a fever. She would have been glad
to have had wings and flown to carry joy to her child; but she could not
go fast for the burden and heaviness of her thoughts.

Meanwhile Jack crossed the road briskly, and went up the avenue under
the big soft lambent stars. If it was at him in his character of lover
that they were looking, they might have saved themselves the trouble,
for he took no notice whatever of these sentimental spectators. He went
home, not in a lingering meditative way, but like a man who has made up
his mind. He had no sort of doubt or disquietude for his part about the
acceptance of his love. He knew that Pamela was his, though her mother
would not let him see her. He knew he should see her, and that she
belonged to him, and nobody on earth could come between them. He had
known all this from the first moment when the simple little girl had
told him that life was hard; and as for her mother or his father, Jack
did not in his mind make much account of the opposition of these
venerable personages--such being his nature. What remained now was to
clear a way into the future, to dig out a passage, and make it as smooth
as possible for these tremulous little feet. Such were the thoughts he
was busy with as he went home--not even musing about his little love. He
had mused about her often enough before. Now his practical nature
resumed the sway. How a household could be kept up, when it should be
established, by what means it was to be provided, was the subject of
Jack’s thoughts. He went straight to the point without any
circumlocution. As it was to be done, it would be best to be done
quickly. And he did not disguise from himself the change it would make.
He knew well enough that he could not live as he had lived in his
father’s house. He would have to go into lodgings, or to a little house;
to have one or two indifferent servants--perhaps a “child-wife”--perhaps
a resident mother-in-law. All this Jack calmly faced and foresaw. It
could not come on him unawares, for he considered the chances, and saw
that all these things were possible. There are people who will think the
worse of him for this; but it was not Jack’s fault--it was his
constitution. He might be foolish like his neighbors on one point, but
on all other points he was sane. He did not expect that Pamela, if he
translated her at once into a house of her own, should be able to govern
him and it on the spot by natural intuition. He knew there would be, as
he himself expressed it, many “hitches” in the establishment, and he
knew that he would have to give up a great many indulgences. This was
why he took no notice of the stars, and even knitted his brows as he
walked on. The romantic part of the matter was over. It was now pure
reality, and that of the most serious kind, that he had in hand.



CHAPTER XXIV.

A NEW CONSPIRATOR.


“I don’t say as you’re to take my advice,” said Mrs. Swayne. “I’m not
one as puts myself forward to give advice where it ain’t wanted. Ask any
one as knows. You as is church folks, if I was you, I’d send for the
rector; or speak to your friends. There ain’t one living creature with a
morsel of sense as won’t say to you just what I’m saying now.”

“Oh please go away--please go away,” said Pamela, who was standing with
crimson cheeks between Mrs. Preston and her would-be counselor; “don’t
you see mamma is ill?”

“She’ll be a deal worse afore all’s done, if she don’t listen in time;
and you too, Miss Pamela, for all so angry as you are,” said Mrs.
Swayne. “It ain’t nothing to me. If you like it, it don’t do me no harm;
contrairaways, it’s my interest to keep you quiet here, for you’re good
lodgers--I don’t deny it--and ain’t folks as give trouble. But I was
once a pretty lass myself,” she added, with a sigh; “and I knows what it
is.”

Pamela turned with unfeigned amazement and gazed upon the big figure
that stood in the door-way. Once a pretty lass herself! Was this what
pretty lasses came to? Mrs. Swayne, however, did not pause to inquire
what were the thoughts that were passing through the girl’s mind; she
took a step or two farther into the room, nearer the sofa on which Mrs.
Preston lay. She was possessed with that missionary zeal for other
people’s service, that determination to do as much as lay in her power
to keep her neighbors from having their own way, or to make them very
uncomfortable in the enjoyment of the luxury, which is so common a
development of virtue. Her conscience was weighted with her
responsibility: when she had warned them what they were coming to, then
at least she would have delivered her own soul.

“I don’t want to make myself disagreeable,” said Mrs. Swayne; “it ain’t
my way; but, Mrs. Preston, if you go on having folks about, it’s right
you should hear what them as knows thinks of it. I ain’t a-blaming you.
You’ve lived in foreign parts, and you’re that silly about your child
that you can’t a-bear to cross her. I’m one as can make allowance for
that. But I just ask you what can the likes of that young fellow want
here? He don’t come for no good. Poor folks has a deal of things to put
up with in this world, and women folks most of all. I don’t make no
doubt Miss Pamela is pleased to have a gentleman a-dancing after her. I
don’t know one on us as wouldn’t be pleased; but them as has respect
for their character and for their peace o’ mind--”

“Mrs. Swayne, you must not speak like this to me,” said Mrs. Preston,
feebly, from the sofa. “I have a bad headache, and I can’t argue with
you; but you may be sure, though I don’t say much, I know how to take
care of my own child. No, Pamela dear, don’t cry; and you’ll please not
to say another word to me on this subject--not another word, or I shall
have to go away.”

“To go away!” said Mrs. Swayne, crimson with indignation. But this
sudden impulse of self-defense in so mild a creature struck her dumb.
“Go away!--and welcome to!” she added; but her consternation was such
that she could say no more. She stood in the middle of the little dark
parlor, in a partial trance of astonishment. Public opinion itself had
been defied in her person. “When it comes to what it’s sure to come to,
then you’ll remember as I warned you,” she said, and rushed forth from
the room, closing the door with a clang which made poor Mrs. Preston
jump on her sofa. Her visit left a sense of trouble and dismay on both
their minds, for they were not superior women, nor sufficiently
strong-minded to laugh at such a monitor. Pamela threw herself down on
her knees by her mother’s side and cried--not because of Mrs. Swayne,
but because the fright and the novelty overwhelmed her, not to speak of
the lively anger and disgust and impatience of her youth.

“Oh, mamma, if we had only some friends!” said Pamela; “everybody except
us seems to have friends. Had I never any uncles nor any thing? It is
hard to be left just you and me in the world.”

“You had brothers once,” said Mrs. Preston, with a sigh. Then there was
a pause, for poor Pamela knew and could not help knowing that her
brothers, had they been living, would not have improved her position
now. She kept kneeling by her mother’s side, but though there was no
change in her position, her heart went away from her involuntarily--went
away to think that the time perhaps had come when she would never more
want a friend--when somebody would always be at hand to advise her what
to do, and when no such complications could arise. She kept the gravity,
even sadness of her aspect, with the innocent hypocrisy which is
possible at her age; but her little heart went out like a bird into the
sunny world outside. A passing tremor might cross her, ghosts might
glide for a moment across the way, but it was only for a moment, and she
knew they were only ghosts. Her mother was in a very different case.
Mrs. Preston had a headache, partly because of the shock of last night,
partly because a headache was to her, as to so many women, a kind of
little feminine chapel, into which she could retire to gain time when
she had any thing on her mind. The course of individual history stops
when those headaches come on, and the subject of them has a blessed
moment to think. Nothing could be done, nothing could be said, till Mrs.
Preston’s head was better. It was but a small matter had it been
searched to its depths, but it was enough to arrest the wheels of fate.

“Pamela,” she said, after a while, “we must be doubly wise because we
have no friends. I can’t ask any body’s advice, as Mrs. Swayne told me
to do. I am not going to open up our private affairs to strangers: but
we must be wise. I think we must go away.”

“Go away!” said Pamela, looking up with a face of despair--“away! Mamma,
you don’t think of--of--_him_ as she does? _You_ know what he is. Go
away! and perhaps never, never see him again. Oh, mamma!”

“I did not mean that,” said Mrs. Preston; “but we can’t stop here, and
live at his father’s very door, and have him coming under their eyes to
vex them. No, my darling; that would be cruel, and it would not be
wise.”

“Do you think they will mind so very much?” said Pamela, looking
wistfully in her mother’s face. “What should I do if they hated me? Miss
Brownlow, you know--Sara--she always wanted me to call her Sara--she
would never turn against me. I know her too well for that.”

“She has not been here for a long time,” said Mrs. Preston; “you have
not noticed it, but I have, Pamela. She has never come since that day
her father spoke to you. There is a great difference, my darling,
between the sister’s little friend and the brother’s betrothed.”

“Mamma, you seem to know all about those wretched things,” cried Pamela,
impulsively. “Why did you never tell me before? I never, never would
have spoken to him--if I had known.”

“How was _I_ to know, Pamela?” said Mrs. Preston. “It appears you did
not know yourselves. And then, when you told me what Mr. Brownlow said,
I thought I might find you a friend. I think yet, if I could but see
him; but when I spoke last night of seeing Mr. Brownlow, _he_ would not
hear of it. It is very hard to know what to do.”

Then there ensued another pause--a long pause, during which the mother,
engaged with many thoughts, did not look at her child. Pamela, too, was
thinking; she had taken her mother’s long thin hand into her own, and
was smoothing it softly with her soft fingers; her head was bent over
it, her eyes cast down; now and then a sudden heaving, as of a sob about
to come, moved her pretty shoulders. And her voice was very tuneless and
rigid when she spoke. “Mamma,” she said, “speak to me honestly, once for
all. Ought I to give it all up? I don’t mean to say it would be easy. I
never knew a--a--any one before--never any body was like _that_ to me.
You don’t know--oh, you don’t know how he can talk, mamma. And then it
was not like any thing new--it felt natural, as if we had always
belonged to each other. I know it’s no use talking. Tell me, mamma, once
for all, would it really be better for him and--every body, if I were to
give him quite up?”

Pamela held herself upright and rigid as she asked the question. She
held her mother’s hand fast, and kept stroking it in an intermittent
way. When she had finished she gave her an appealing look--a look which
did not ask advice. It was not advice she wanted, poor child: she wanted
to be told to do what she longed to do--to be assured that that was the
best; therefore she looked not like a creature wavering between two
opinions, but like a culprit at the bar, awaiting her sentence. As for
Mrs. Preston, she only shook her head.

“It would not do any good,” she said. “You might give him up over and
over, but you would never get him to give you up, Pamela. He is that
sort of a young man; he would not have taken a refusal from me. It would
be of no use, my dear.”

“Are you sure?--are you quite sure?” cried Pamela, throwing her arms
round her mother’s neck, and giving her a shower of kisses. “Oh you
dear, dear mamma. Are you sure, you are quite sure?”

“You are kissing me for his sake,” said Mrs. Preston, with a little
pang; and then she smiled at herself. “I never was jealous before,” she
said. “I don’t mean to be jealous. No, he will never give in, Pamela; we
shall have to make the best of it; and perhaps,” she continued, after a
pause, “perhaps this was the friend I was always praying for to take
care of my child before I die.”

“Oh, mamma,” said Pamela, “how can you talk of dying at such a time as
this? when, perhaps, we’re going to have--every thing we want in the
world; when, perhaps, we are going to be--as happy as the day is long!”
she said, once more kissing the worn old face which lay turned toward
her, in a kind of sweet enthusiasm. The one looked so young and the
other so old; the one so sure of life and happiness, the other so nearly
done with both. Mrs. Preston took the kiss and the clasp, and smiled at
her radiant child; and then she closed her eyes, and retreated into her
headache. _She_ was not going to have every thing she wanted in the
world, or to be as happy as the day was long; so she retreated and took
to her handy domestic little malady. The child could not conceive that
there were still a thousand things to be thought over, and difficulties
without number to be overcome.

As for Pamela, she sprang to her feet lightly, and went off to make the
precious cup of tea which is good for every feminine trouble. As she
went she fell into song, not knowing it. She was as near dancing as
decorum would permit. She went into the kitchen where Mr. Swayne was,
and cheered him up more effectually than if he had been well for a week.
She made him laugh, though he was in low spirits. She promised him that
he should be quite well in three months. “Ready to dance if there was
any thing to dance at,” was what Pamela said.

“At your wedding, Miss Pamela,” said poor Swayne, with his shrill little
chuckle. And Pamela too laughed with a laugh that was like a song. She
stood by the fire while the kettle boiled, with the fire-light
glimmering in her pretty eyes, and reddening her white forehead under
the rings of her hair. Should she have to boil the kettle, to spread the
homely table for _him_? or would he take her to Brownlows, or some other
such house, and make her a great little lady like Sara? On the whole
Pamela thought she would like the first best. She made the tea before
the bright fire in such perfection as it never was made at Brownlows,
and poured it out hot and fragrant, like one who knew what she was
about. But the tea was not so great a cordial as the sight of her own
face. She had come clear out of all her perplexities. There was no
longer even a call upon that anxious faculty for self-sacrifice which
belongs to youth. In short, self-sacrifice would do no good--the idol
would simply decline to receive the costly offering. It was in his
hands, and nothing that she could do would make any difference. Perhaps,
if Pamela had been a self-asserting young woman, her pride would have
suffered from this thought; but she was only a little girl of seventeen,
and it made her as light as a bird. No dreadful responsibility rested on
her soft shoulders--no awful question of what was best remained for her
to consider. What use could there be in giving up when he would not be
given up? What end would it serve to refuse a man who would not take a
refusal? She had made her tragic little effort in all sincerity, and it
had come to the sweetest and most complete failure. And now her part had
been done, and no farther perplexity could overwhelm her. So she
thought, flitting out and in upon a hundred errands, and thinking
tenderly in her heart that her mother’s headache and serious looks and
grave way of looking at every thing was not so much because there was
any thing serious in the emergency, as because the dear mother was
old--a fault of nature, not of circumstances, to be mended by love and
smiles, and all manner of tender services on the part of the happy
creature who was young.

When Mrs. Swayne left the parlor in the manner which we have already
related, she rushed out, partly to be relieved of her wrath, partly to
pour her prophecies of evil into the ears of the other Cassandra on the
other side of the road, old Betty of the Gates. The old woman was
sitting before her fire when her neighbor went in upon her. To be sure
it was summer, but Betty’s fire was eternal, and burned without
intermission on the sacred hearth. She was mending one of her gowns, and
had a whole bundle of bits of colored print--“patches,” for which some
of the little girls in Miss Brownlow’s school would have given their
ears--spread out upon the table before her. Bits of all Betty’s old
gowns were there. It was a parti-colored historical record of her life,
from the gay calicoes of her youth down to the sober browns and olives
of declining years. With such a gay centre the little room looked very
bright. There was a geranium in the window, ruby and emerald. There were
all manner of pretty confused cross-lights from the open door and the
latticed window in the other corner and the bright fire; and the little
old face in its white cap was as brown and as red as a winter apple.
Mrs. Swayne was a different sort of person. She came in, filling the
room with shadows, and put herself away in a big elbow-chair, with blue
and white cushions, which was Betty’s winter throne, but now stood
pushed into a corner out of reach of the fire. She uttered a sigh which
blew away some of the patches on the table, and swayed the ruby blossoms
of the big geranium. “Well,” she said, “I’ve done my best--I can say
I’ve done my best. If the worst comes to the worst, there’s none as can
blame me.”

“What is it?--what is it, Mrs. Swayne?” said Betty, eagerly, dropping
her work, “though I’ve something as tells me it’s about that poor child
and our Mr. John.”

“I wash my hands of them,” said the visitor, doing so in a moist and
demonstrative way. “I’ve done all as an honest woman can do. Speak o’
mothers!--mothers is a pack o’ fools. I’d think o’ that child’s
interest if it was me. I’d think what was best for her character, and
for keeping her out o’ mischief. As for cryin’, and that sort, they all
cry--it don’t do them no harm. If you or me had set our hearts on
marryin’ the first gentleman as ever was civil, what would ha’ become of
us? Oh the fools as some folks is! It’s enough to send a woman with a
bit of sense out o’ her mind.”

“Marryin’?” said Betty, with a little shriek; “you don’t mean to say as
they’ve gone as far as that.”

“If they don’t go farther afore all’s done, it’ll be a wonder to me,”
said Mrs. Swayne; “things is always like that. I don’t mean to take no
particular credit to myself; but if she had been mine, I’d have done my
best for her--that’s one thing as I can say. She’d not have got into no
trouble if she had been mine. I’d have watched her night and day. _I_
know what the gentlemen is. But that’s allays the way with Providence. A
woman like me as has a bit of experience has none to be the better of
it; and the likes of an old stupid as don’t know her right hand from her
left, it’s her as has the children. I’d have settled all that different
if it had been me. Last night as ever was, I found the two in the open
road--in the road, I give you my word. It’s over all the parish by this,
as sure as sure; and after that what does my gentleman do but come to
the house as bold as brass. It turns a body sick--that’s what it does;
but you might as well preach to a stone wall as make ’em hear reason;
and that’s what you call a mother! much a poor girl’s the better of a
mother like that.”

“All mothers is not the same,” said Betty, who held that rank herself.
“For one as don’t know her duty, there’s dozens and dozens--”

“Don’t speak to me,” said Mrs. Swayne, “I know ’em--as stuck up as if it
was any virtue in them, and a shuttin’ their ears to every one as gives
them good advice. Oh, if that girl was but mine! I’d keep her as snug as
if she was in a box, I would. Ne’er a gentleman should get a chance of
so much as a look at her. It’s ten times worse when a girl is pretty;
but, thank heaven, I know what the gentlemen is.”

“But if he comed to the house, he must have made some excuse,” said
Betty. “_I_ see him. He come by himself, as if it was to see your good
gentleman, Mrs. Swayne. Knowing as Miss Pamela was out, I don’t deny as
that was my thought. And he must have made some excuse.”

“Oh, they find excuses ready enough--don’t you be afeard,” said Mrs.
Swayne; “they’re plenty ready with their tongues, and don’t stick at
what they promise neither. It’s all as innocent as innocent if you was
to believe them; and them as believes comes to their ruin. I tell you
it’s their ruin--that and no less; but I may speak till I’m hoarse,”
said Cassandra, with melancholy emphasis--“nobody pays no attention to
me.”

“You must have knowed a deal of them to be so earnest,” said old Betty,
with the deepest interest in her eyes.

“I was a pretty lass mysel’,” said Mrs. Swayne; and then she paused;
“but you’re not to think as I ever give in to them. I wasn’t that sort;
and I had folks as looked after me. I don’t say as Swayne is much to
look at, after all as was in my power; but if Miss Pamela don’t mind,
she’ll be real thankful afore she’s half my age to take up with a deal
worse than Swayne; and that’s my last word, if I was never to draw a
breath more.”

“Husht!” said Betty. “Don’t take on like that. There’s somebody
a-coming. Husht! It’s just like as if it was a child of your own.”

“And so I feel,” said Mrs. Swayne; “worse luck for her, poor lass. If
she was mine--”

“Husht!” said Betty again; and then the approaching steps which they had
heard for the last minute reached the threshold, and a woman presented
herself at the door. She was not a woman that either of them knew. She
was old, very tall, very thin, and very dusty with walking. “I’m most
dead with tiredness. May I come in and rest a bit?” she said. She had a
pair of keen black eyes, which gleamed out below her poke bonnet, and
took in every thing, and did not look excessively tired; but her scanty
black gown was white with dust. Old Betty, for her own part, did not
admire the stranger’s looks, but she consented to let her come in,
“manners” forbidding any inhospitality, and placed her a chair as near
as possible to the door.

“I come like a stranger,” said the woman, “but I’m not to call a
stranger neither. I’m Nancy as lives with old Mrs. Fennell, them young
folks’ grandmamma. I had summat to do nigh here, and I thought as I’d
like to see the place. It’s a fine place for one as was nothing but an
attorney once. I allays wonder if they’re good folks to live under, such
folks as these.”

“So you’re Nancy!” said the old woman of the lodge. “I’ve heard tell of
you. I heard of you along of Stevens as you recommended here. I haven’t
got nothing to say against the masters; they’re well and well enough;
Miss Sara, she’s hasty, but she’s a good heart.”

“She don’t show it to her own flesh and blood,” said Nancy,
significantly. “Is this lady one as lives about here?”

Then it was explained to the stranger who Mrs. Swayne was. “Mr. Swayne
built them cottages,” said Betty; “they’re his own, and as nice a
well-furnished house and as comfortable; and his good lady ain’t one of
them that wastes or wants. She has a lodger in the front parlor, and
keeps ’em as nice as it’s a picture to see, and as respected in the
whole parish--”

“Don’t you go on a-praising me before my face,” said Mrs. Swayne,
modestly; “we’re folks as are neither rich nor poor, and can give our
neighbors a hand by times and times. You’re a stranger, as is well seen,
or you wouldn’t be cur’ous about Swayne and me.”

“I’m a stranger sure enough,” said Nancy. “We’re poor relations, that’s
what we are; and the likes of us is not wanted here. If I was them I’d
take more notice o’ my own flesh and blood, and one as can serve them
yet, like _she_ can. It ain’t what you call a desirable place,” said
Nancy; “she’s awful aggravating sometimes, like the most of old women;
but all the same they’re her children’s children, and I’d allays let
that count if it was me.”

“That’s old Mrs. Fennell?” said Betty; “she never was here as I can
think on but once. Miss Sara isn’t one that can stand being interfered
with; but they sends her an immensity of game, and vegetables, and
flowers, and such things, and I’ve always heard as the master gives her
an allowance. I don’t see as she’s any reason to complain.”

“A woman as knows as much as she does,” said Nancy, solemnly, “she ought
to be better looked to;” and then she changed her tone. “I’ve walked all
this long way, and I have got to get back again, and she’ll be as cross
as cross if I’m long. And I don’t suppose there’s no omnibus or nothing
going my way. If it was but a cart--”

“There’s a carrier’s cart,” said Betty; “but Mrs. Swayne could tell you
most about that. Her two lodgers come in it, and Mrs. Preston, that time
she had something to do in Masterton--”

“Who is Mrs. Preston?” said Nancy quickly. “I’ve heard o’ that name. And
I’ve heard in Masterton of some one as came in the carrier’s cart. If I
might make so bold, who is she? Is she your lodger? I once knew some
folks of that name in my young days, and I’d like to hear.”

“Oh yes, she’s my lodger,” said Mrs. Swayne, “and a terrible trouble to
me. I’d just been a-grumbling to Betty when you came in. She and that
poor thing Pamela, they lay on my mind so heavy, I don’t know what to
do. You might give old Mrs. Fennell a hint to speak to Mr. John. He’s
a-running after that girl, he is, till it turns one sick; and a poor
silly woman of a mother as won’t see no harm in it. If the old lady was
to hear in a sort of a side way like, she might give Mr. John a talking
to. Not as I have much confidence in his mending. Gentlemen never does.”

“Oh,” said Nancy, with a strange gleam of her dark eyes, “so she’s got a
daughter! and it was her as came into Masterton in the carrier’s cart? I
just wanted to know. May be you could tell me what kind of a looking
woman she was. There was one as I knew once in my young days--”

“She ain’t unlike yourself,” said Mrs. Swayne, with greater brevity than
usual; and she turned and began to investigate Nancy with a closeness
for which she was not prepared. Another gleam shot from the stranger’s
black eyes as she listened. It even brought a tinge of color to her gray
cheek, and though she restrained herself with the utmost care, there was
unquestionably a certain excitement in her. Mrs. Swayne’s eyes were
keen, but they were not used to read mysteries. A certain sense of
something to find out oppressed her senses; but, notwithstanding her
curiosity, she had not an idea what secret there could be.

“If it’s the same person, it’s years and years since I saw her last,”
said Nancy; “and so she’s got a daughter! I shouldn’t think it could be
a very young daughter if it’s hers; she should be as old as me. And it
was her as came in to Masterton in the carrier’s cart! Well, well! what
droll things does happen to be sure.”

“I don’t know what’s droll about that,” said Mrs. Swayne; “but I don’t
know nought about her. She’s always been quiet and genteel as a
lodger--always till this business came on about Mr. John. But I’d be
glad to know where her friends was, if she’s got any friends. She’s as
old as you, or older, and not to say any thing as is unpleasant--it’s an
awful thing to think of--what if folks should go and die in your house,
and you not know their friends?”

“If it’s that you’re thinking of, she’s got no friends,” said Nancy,
with a vehemence that seemed unnatural and uncalled-for to her
companions--“none as I know of nowheres--but may be me. And it isn’t
much as I could do. She’s a woman as has been awful plundered and
wronged in her time. Mr. John! oh, I’d just like to hear what it is
about Mr. John. If that was to come after all, I tell you it would call
down fire from heaven.”

“Goodness gracious me!” said Mrs. Swayne, “what does the woman mean?”
And Betty too uttered a quavering exclamation, and they both drew their
chairs closer to the separated seat, quite apart from the daïs of
intimacy and friendship, upon which the dusty stranger had been
permitted to rest.

Nancy, however, had recollected herself. “Mean?” she said, with a look
of innocence; “oh, I didn’t mean nothing; but that I’ve a kind of
spite--I don’t deny it--at them grand Brownlows, that don’t take no
notice to speak of their own flesh and blood. That’s all as I mean. I
ain’t got no time to-day, but if you’ll say as Nancy Christian sends her
compliments and wants badly to see Mrs. Preston, and is coming soon
again, I’ll be as obliged as ever I can be. If it’s her, she’ll think on
who Nancy Christian was; and if it ain’t her, it don’t make much
matter,” she continued, with a sigh. She said these last words very
slowly, looking at neither of her companions, fixing her eyes upon the
door of Swayne’s cottage, at which Pamela had appeared. The sun came in
at Betty’s door and dazzled the stranger’s eyes, and it was not easy for
her at first to see Pamela, who stood in the shade. The girl had looked
out for no particular reason, only because she was passing that way; and
as she stood giving a glance up and a glance down the road--a glance
which was not wistful, but full of a sweet confidence--Nancy kept
staring at her, blinking her eyes to escape the sunshine. “Is that the
girl?” she said, a little hoarsely. And then all the three looked out
and gazed at Pamela in her tender beauty. Pamela saw them also. It did
not occur to her whose the third head might be, nor did she care very
much. She felt sure they were discussing her, shaking their heads over
her imprudence; but Pamela at the moment was too happy to be angry. She
said, “Poor old things,” to herself. They were poor old things; they had
not the blood dancing in their veins as she had; they had not light
little feet that flew over the paths, nor light hearts that leaped in
their breasts, poor old souls. She waved her hand to them half kindly,
half saucily, and disappeared again like a living bit of sunshine into
the house which lay so obstinately in the shade. As for Nancy, she was
moved in some wonderful way by this sight. She trembled when the girl
made that half-mocking, half-sweet salutation; the tears came to her
eyes. “She could never have a child so young,” she muttered half to
herself, and then gazed and gazed as if she had seen a ghost. When
Pamela disappeared she rose up and shook the dust, not from her feet,
but from her skirts, outside old Betty’s door. “I’ve only a minute,”
said Nancy, “but if I could set eyes on the mother I could tell if it
was her I used to know.”

“I left her lyin’ down wi’ a bad headache,” said Mrs. Swayne. “If you
like you can go and take a look through the parlor window; or I’ll ask
if she’s better. Them sort of folks that have little to do gets
headaches terrible easy. Of an afternoon when their dinner’s over, what
has the likes of them to take up their time? They takes a sleep on my
sofa, or they takes a walk, and a headache comes natural-like when folks
has all that time on their hands. Come across and look in at the window.
It’s low, and if your eyes are good you can just see her where she
lays.”

Nancy followed her new companion across the road. As she went out of the
gates she gave a glance up through the avenue, and made as though she
would have shaken her fist at the great house. “If you but knew!” Nancy
said to herself. But they did not know, and the sunshine lay as
peacefully across the pretty stretch of road as if there had been no
dangers there. The old woman crossed over to Mrs. Swayne’s cottage, and
went into the little square of garden where Pamela sometimes watered the
flowers. Nancy stooped over the one monthly rose and plucked a bit of
the homely lads’-love in the corner which flourished best of all, and
then she drew very close to the window and looked in. It was an alarming
sight to the people within. Mrs. Preston had got a second cup of tea,
and raised herself up on her pillow to swallow it, when all at once this
gray visage, not unlike her own, surrounded with black much like her own
dress, looked in upon her, a stranger, and yet somehow wearing a
half-familiar aspect. As for Pamela, there was something awful to her in
the vision. She turned round to her mother in a fright to compare the
two faces. She was not consciously superstitious, but yet dim thoughts
of a wraith, a double, a solemn messenger of doom, were in her mind. She
had heard of such things. “Go and see who it is,” said Mrs. Preston; and
Pamela rushed out, not feeling sure that the strange apparition might
not have vanished. But it had not vanished. Nancy stood at the door, and
when she was looked into in the open day-light she was not so dreadfully
like Mrs. Preston’s wraith.

“Good-day, miss,” said Nancy; “I thought as may be I might have had a
few words with your mother. If she’s the person I take her for, I used
to know her long, long ago; and I’ve a deal that’s very serious to say.”

“You frightened us dreadfully looking in at the window,” said Pamela.
“And mamma has such a bad headache; she has been a good deal--worried.
Would you mind coming back another time?--or is it any thing I can say?”

“There’s something coming down the road,” said Nancy; “and I am tired
and I can’t walk back. If it’s the carrier I’ll have to go, miss. And I
can’t say the half nor the quarter to you. Is it the carrier? Then I’ll
have to go. Tell her it was one as knew her when we was both young--knew
her right well, and all her ways--knew her mother. And I’ve a deal to
say; and my name’s Nancy Christian, if she should ask. If she’s the
woman I take her for, she’ll know my name.”

“And you’ll come back?--will you be sure to come back?” asked Pamela,
carelessly, yet with a girl’s eagerness for every thing like change and
news. The cart had stopped by this time, and Mrs. Swayne had brought
forth a chair to aid the stranger in her ascent. The place was roused by
the event. Old Betty stood at her cottage, and Swayne had hobbled out
from the kitchen, and even Mrs. Preston, forgetting the headache, had
stolen to the window, and peeped out through the small Venetian blind
which covered the lower part of it to look at and wonder who the figure
belonged to which had so strange a likeness to herself. Amid all these
spectators Nancy mounted, slowly shaking out once more the dust from her
skirts.

“I’ll be late, and she’ll give me an awful talking to,” she said. “No; I
can’t stop to-day. But I’ll come again--oh yes, I’ll come again.” She
kept looking back as long as she was in sight, peeping round the hood of
the wagon, searching them through and through with her anxious gaze;
while all the bystanders looked on surprised. What had she to do with
them? And then her looks, and her dress, and her black eager eyes, were
so like Mrs. Preston’s. Her face bore a very doubtful, uncertain look as
she was thus borne solemnly away. “I couldn’t know her after such a long
time; and I don’t see as she could have had a child so young,” was what
Nancy was saying to herself, shaking her head, and then reassuring
herself. This visit made a sensation which almost diverted public
attention from Mr. John; and when Nancy’s message was repeated to Mrs.
Preston, it was received with an immediate recognition which increased
the excitement. “Nancy Christian!” Mrs. Preston repeated all the evening
long. She could think of nothing else. It made her head so much worse
that she had to go to bed, where Pamela watched her to the exclusion of
every other interest. This was Nancy’s first visit. She did not mean,
even had she had time, to proceed to any thing more important that day.



CHAPTER XXV.

HOW SARA REGARDED THE MOTE IN HER BROTHER’S EYE.


A few days after these events, caprice or curiosity led Sara to Swayne’s
cottage. She had very much given up going there--why, she could scarcely
have explained. In reality she knew nothing about the relationship
between her brother and her friend; but either that, unknown to herself,
had exercised some kind of magnetic repulsion upon her, or her own
preoccupation had withdrawn Sara from any special approach to her little
favorite. She would have said she was as fond of her as ever; but in
fact she did not want Pamela as she had wanted her. And the consequence
was that they had been much longer apart than either of them, occupied
with their own concerns, had been aware. The motive which drew Sara
thither after so long an interval was about as mysterious as that which
kept her away. She went, but did not know why; perhaps from some impulse
of those secret threads of fate which are ever being drawn unconsciously
to us into another and another combination; perhaps simply from a
girlish yearning toward the pleasant companion of whom for a time she
had made so much. Mrs. Preston had not recovered when Sara went to see
her daughter--she was still lying on the sofa with one of her nervous
attacks, Pamela said--though the fact was that neither mother nor
daughter understood what kind of attack it was. Anxiety and excitement
and uncertainty had worn poor Mrs. Preston out; and then her headache
was so handy--it saved her from making any decision--it excused her to
herself for not settling immediately what she ought to do. She was not
able to move, and she was thankful for it. She could not undergo the
fatigue of finding some other place to live in, of giving Mr. John his
final answer. To be sure he knew and she knew that his final answer had
been given--that there could be no doubt about it; but still every
practical conclusion was postponed by the attack, and in this point of
view it was the most fortunate thing which could have occurred.

Things were thus with them when Sara, after a long absence, one day
suddenly lighted down upon the shady house in the glory of her summer
attire, like a white dove lying into the bosom of the clouds. Perhaps it
would be wrong to say that Pamela in her black frock stood no chance in
the presence of her visitor; but it is certain that when Miss Brownlow
came floating in with her light dress, and her bright ribbons and her
shining hair, every thing about her gleaming with a certain reflection
from the sunshine, Pamela and her mother could neither of them look at
any thing else. She dazzled them, and yet drew their eyes to her, as
light itself draws every body’s eyes. Pamela shrank a little from her
friend’s side with a painful humility, asking herself whether it was
possible that this bright creature should ever be her sister; while even
Mrs. Preston, though she had all a mother’s admiration for her own
child, could not but feel her heart sink as she thought how this
splendid princess would ever tolerate so inferior an alliance. This
consciousness in their minds made an immediate estrangement between
them. Sara was condescending, and she felt she was condescending, and
hated herself; and as for the mother and daughter, they were constrained
and stricken dumb by the secret in their hearts. And thus there rose a
silent offense on both sides. On hers because they were so cold and
distant; on theirs because it seemed to them that she had come with the
intention of being affable and kind to them, they who could no longer
accept patronage. The mother lay on the sofa in the dark corner, and
Sara sat on the chair in the window, and between the two points Pamela
went straying, ashamed of herself, trying to smooth over her own secret
irritation and discontent, trying to keep the peace between the others,
and yet at the same time wishing and longing that her once welcome
friend would leave them to themselves. The circumstances of their
intercourse were changed, and the intercourse itself had to be organized
anew. Thus the visit might have passed over, leaving only an impression
of pain on their minds, but for an accident which set the matter in a
clearer light. Pamela had been seated at the window with her work before
Sara entered, and underneath the linen she had been stitching lay an
envelope directed to her by Jack Brownlow. Jack had not seen his little
love for one entire day, and naturally he had written her a little
letter, which was as foolish as if he had not been so sensible a young
man. It was only the envelope which lay thus on the table under Pamela’s
work. Its enclosure was laid up in quite another sanctuary, but the
address was there, unquestionably in Jack’s hand. It lay the other way
from Sara’s eyes, tantalizing her with the well-known writing. She tried
hard--without betraying herself, in the intervals of the
conversation--to read the name on it upside down, and her suspicion had
not, as may be supposed, an enlivening effect upon the conversation.
Then she stooped and pretended to look at Pamela’s work; then she gave
the provoking envelope a little stealthy touch with the end of her
parasol. Perhaps scrupulous honor would have forbidden these little
attempts to discover the secret; but when a sister perceives her
brother’s handwriting on the work-table of her friend, it is hard to
resist the inclination to make sure in the first place that it is his,
in the second place to whom it is addressed. This was all that Sara was
guilty of. She would not have peeped into the note for a kingdom, but
she did want to know whom it was written to. Perhaps it was only some
old scrap of paper, some passing word about mendings or fittings to Mr.
Swayne. Perhaps--and then Sara gave the envelope stealthily that little
poke with her parasol.

A few minutes after she got up to go: her complexion had heightened
suddenly in the strangest way, her eyes had taken a certain rigid look,
which meant excitement and wrath. “Will you come out with me a little
way? I want to speak to you,” she said, as Pamela went with her to the
door. It was very different from those old beseeching, tender,
undeniable invitations which the one had been in the habit of giving to
the other; but there was something in it which constrained Pamela,
though she trembled to her very heart, to obey. She did not know any
thing about the envelope; she had forgotten it--forgotten that she had
left it there, and had not perceived Sara’s stealthy exertions to secure
a sight of it. But nevertheless she knew there was something coming. She
took down her little black hat, trembling, and stole out, a dark little
figure, beside Sara, stately in her light flowing draperies. They did
not say a word to each other as they crossed the road and entered at the
gates and passed Betty’s cottage. Betty came to the door and looked
after them with a curiosity so great that she was tempted to follow and
creep under the bushes, and listen; but Sara said nothing to betray
herself as long as they were within the range of old Betty’s eye. When
they had got to the chestnut-trees, to that spot where Mr. Brownlow had
come upon his son and his son’s love, and where there was a possibility
of escaping from the observation of spectators at the gate, Sara’s
composure gave way. All at once she seized Pamela’s arm, who turned
round to her with her lips apart and her heart struggling up into her
mouth with terror. “Jack has been writing to you,” said Sara; “tell me
what it has been about.”

“What it has been about!” said Pamela, with a cry. The poor little girl
was so taken by surprise that all her self-possession forsook her. Her
knees trembled, her heart beat, fluttering wildly in her ears; she sank
down on the grass in her confusion, and covered her face with her hands.
“Oh, Miss Brownlow!” was all that she was able to say.

“That is no answer,” said Sara, with all her natural vehemence.
“Pamela, get up, and answer me like a sensible creature. I don’t mean to
say it is your fault. A man might write to you and you might not be to
blame. Tell me only what it means. What did he write to you about?”

Then Pamela bethought herself that she too had a certain dignity to
preserve; not her own so much as that which belonged to her in right of
her betrothed. She got up hastily, blushing scarlet, and though she did
not meet Sara’s angry questioning eyes, she turned her downcast face
toward her with a certain steadfastness. “It is not any harm,” she said,
softly, “and, Miss Brownlow, you are no--no--older than me.”

“I am two years older than you,” said Sara, “and I know the world, and
you don’t; and I am his sister. Oh, you foolish little thing! don’t you
know it is wicked? If you had told me, I never, never would have let him
trouble you. I never thought Jack would have done any thing so dreadful.
It’s because you don’t know.”

“Mamma knows,” said Pamela, with a certain self-assertion; and then her
courage once more failed her. “I tried to stop him,” she said with the
tears coming to her eyes, “and so did mamma. But I could not force him;
not when he--he--would not. What I think of,” cried Pamela, “is him, not
myself; but if he won’t, what _can_ I do?”

“If he won’t what?” said Sara, in her amazement and wrath.

But Pamela could make no answer; half with the bitterness of it, half
with the sweetness of it, her heart was full. It was hard to be
questioned and taken to task thus by her own friend; but it was sweet to
know that what she could do was nothing, that her efforts had been vain,
that _he_ would not give up. All this produced such a confusion in her
that she could not say another word. She turned away, and once more
covered her face with her hand; not that she was at all miserable--or if
indeed it was a kind of misery, misery itself is sometimes sweet.

As for Sara, she blazed upon her little companion with an indignation
which was splendid to behold. “Your mamma knows,” she said, “and permits
it! Oh, Pamela! that I should have been so fond of you, and that you
should treat me like this!”

“I am not treating you badly--it is you,” said Pamela, with a sob which
she could not restrain, “who are cruel to me.”

“If you think so, we had better part,” said Sara, with tragic grandeur.
“We had better part, and forget that we ever knew each other. I could
have borne any thing from you but being false. Oh, Pamela! how could you
do it? To be treacherous to me who have always loved you, and to
correspond with Jack!”

“I--don’t--correspond--with Jack,” cried Pamela, the words being wrung
out of her; and then she stopped short, and dried her eyes, and grew
red, and looked Sara in the face. It was true, and yet it was false; and
the consciousness of this falsehood in the spirit made her cheeks burn,
and yet startled her into composure. She stood upright for the first
time, and eyed her questioner, but it was with the self-possession not
of innocence but of guilt.

“I am very glad to hear it,” said Sara--“very glad; but you let him
write to you. And when I see his handwriting on your table, what am I to
think? I will speak to him about it to-night; I will not have him tease
you. Pamela, if you will trust in me, I will bring you through it safe.
Surely it would be better for you to have me for a friend than Jack?”

Poor Pamela’s eyes sank to the ground as this question was addressed to
her. Her blush, which had begun to fade, returned with double violence.
Such a torrent of crimson rushed to her face and throat that even Sara
took note of it. Pamela could not tell a lie--not another lie, as she
said to herself in her heart; for the fact was she did prefer
Jack--preferred him infinitely and beyond all question; and such being
the case, could not so much as look at her questioner, much less breathe
a word of assent. Sara marked the silence, the overwhelming blush, the
look which suddenly fell beneath her own, with the consternation of
utter astonishment. In that moment a renewed storm of indignation swept
over her. She stamped her foot upon the grass in the impatience of her
thoughts.

“You prefer Jack,” she cried, in horror--“you prefer Jack! Oh, heaven!
but in that case,” she added, gathering up her long dress in her arms,
and turning away with a grandeur of disdain which made an end of Pamela,
“it is evident that we had better part. I do not know that there is any
thing more I can say. I have thought more of you than I ought to have
done,” said Sara, making a few steps forward and then turning half round
with the air of an injured princess, “but now it is better that we
should part.”

With this she waved her hand and turned away. It was in her heart to
have turned and gone back five-and-twenty times before she reached the
straight line of the avenue from which they had strayed. Before she got
to the first laurel in the shrubberies her heart had given her fifty
pricks on the subject of her cruelty; but Sara was not actually so moved
by these admonitions as to go back. As for Pamela, she stood for a long
time where her friend had left her, motionless under the chestnut-trees,
with tears dropping slowly from her downcast eyes, and a speechless yet
sweet anguish in her heart. Her mother had been right. The sister’s
little friend and the brother’s betrothed were two different things.
This was how she was to be received by those who were nearest in the
world to him; and yet he was a man, and his own master; all she could do
was in vain, and he could not be forced to give up. Pamela stood still
until his sister’s light steps began to sound on the gravel; and when it
was evident the parting had been final, and that Sara did not mean to
come back, the poor child relieved her bosom by a long sob, and then
went home very humbly by the broad sunny avenue. She went and poured her
troubles into her mother’s bosom, which naturally was so much the worse
for Mrs. Preston’s headache. It was very hard to bear, and yet there was
one thing which gave a little comfort; Jack was his own master, and
giving him up, as every body else adjured her to do, would be a thing
entirely without effect.

The dinner-table at Brownlows was very grave that night. Mr. Brownlow,
it is true, was much as usual, and so was Jack; they were very much as
they always were, notwithstanding that very grave complications
surrounded the footsteps of both. But as for Sara, her aspect was
solemnity itself; she spoke in monosyllables only; she ate little, and
that little in a pathetic way; when her father or her brother addressed
her she took out her finest manners and extinguished them. Altogether
she was a very imposing and majestic sight; and after a few attempts at
ordinary conversation, the two gentlemen, feeling themselves very
trifling and insignificant personages indeed, gave in, and struggled no
longer against an influence which was too much for them. There was
something, too, in her manner--something imperceptible to Mr. Brownlow,
perceptible only to Jack--which made it clear to the latter that it was
on his account his sister was so profoundly disturbed. He said “Pshaw!”
to himself at first, and tried to think himself quite indifferent; but
the fact was he was not indifferent. When she left the room at last,
Jack had no heart for a chat with his father over the claret. He too
felt his secret on his mind, and became uncomfortable when he was drawn
at all into a confidential attitude; and to-day, in addition to this,
there was in his heart a prick of alarm. Did Sara know? was that what
she meant? Jack knew very well that sooner or later every body must
know; but at the present moment a mingled sense of shame and pride and
independence kept him silent. Even supposing it was the most prudent
marriage he could make, why should a fellow go and tell every body like
a girl? It might be well enough for a girl to do it--a girl had to get
every body’s consent, and ask every body’s advice, whereas he required
neither advice nor consent. And so he had not felt himself called upon
to say any thing about it; but it is nervous work, when you have a
secret on your mind, to be left alone with your nearest relative, the
person who has the best right to know, and who in a way possesses your
natural confidence and has done nothing to forfeit it. So Jack escaped
five minutes after Sara, and hastened to the drawing-room looking for
her. Perhaps she had expected it--at all events she was there waiting
for him, still as solemn, pathetic and important as it is possible to
conceive. She had some work in her hands which of itself was highly
significant. Jack went up to her, and she looked at him, but took no
farther notice. After that one glance she looked down again, and went on
with her work--things were too serious for speech.

“What’s the matter?” said Jack. “Why are you making such a tragedy-queen
of yourself? What has every body done? My opinion is you have frightened
my father to death.”

“I should be very sorry if I had frightened papa,” said Sara, meekly;
and then she broke forth with vehemence, “Oh, how can you, Jack? Don’t
you feel ashamed to look me in the face?”

“_I_ ashamed to look you in the face?” cried Jack, in utter
bewilderment; and he retired a step, but yet stared at her with the most
straightforward stare. His eyes did not fall under the scrutiny of hers,
but gradually as he looked there began to steal up among his whiskers an
increasing heat. He grew red, though there was no visible cause for it.
“I should like to know what I have done,” he said, with an affected
laugh. “Anyhow, you take high ground.”

“I couldn’t take too high ground,” said Sara solemnly. “Oh, Jack! how
could you think of meddling with that innocent little thing? To see her
about so pretty and sweet as she was, and then to go and worry her and
tease her to death!”

“Worry and tease--whom?” cried Jack in amaze. This was certainly not the
accusation he expected to hear.

“As if you did not know whom I mean!” said his sister. “Wasn’t it
throwing themselves on our kindness when they came here? And to make her
that she dares not walk about or come out anywhere--to tease her with
letters even! I think you are the last man in the world from whom I
should have expected that.”

Jack had taken to bite his nails, not well knowing what else to do. But
he made no direct reply even to the solemnity of this appeal. A flush of
anger sprang up over his face, and yet he was amused. “Has she been
complaining to you?” he said.

“Complaining,” said Sara. “Poor little thing! No, indeed. She never said
a word. I found it out all by myself.”

“Then I advise you to keep it all to yourself,” said her brother. “She
don’t want you to interfere, nor I either. We can manage our own
affairs; and I think, Sara,” he added, with an almost equal grandeur,
“if I were you I would not notice the mote in my brother’s eye till I
had looked after the beam in my own.”

The beam in her own! what did he mean? But Jack went off in a lofty way,
contenting himself with this Parthian arrow, and declining to explain.
The insinuation, however, disturbed Sara. What was the beam in her own?
Somehow, while she was puzzling about it, a vision of young Powys
crossed her mind, papa’s friend, who began to come so often. When she
thought of that, she smiled at her brother’s delusion. Poor Jack! he did
not know that it was in discharge of her most sacred duty that she was
civil to Powys. She had been very civil to him. She had taken his part
against Jack’s own refined rudeness, and delivered him even from the
perplexed affabilities of her father, though he was her father’s friend.
Both Mr. Brownlow and Jack were preoccupied, and Sara had been the only
one to entertain the stranger. And she had done it so as to make the
entertainment very amusing and pleasant to herself. But what had that to
do with a beam in her eye? She had made a vow, and she was performing
her vow. And he was her father’s friend; and if all other arguments
should be exhausted, still the case was no parallel to that of Pamela.
He was not a poor man dwelling at the gate. He was a fairy prince, whom
some enchantment had transformed into his present shape. The case was
utterly different. Thus it was with a certain magnificent superiority
over her brother’s weakness that Sara smiled to herself at his delusion.
And yet she was grieved to think that he should take refuge in such a
delusion, and did not show any symptom of real sorrow for his own sin.

Jack had hardly gone when Mr. Brownlow came up stairs. And he too asked
Sara why it was that she sat apart in such melancholy majesty. When he
had heard the cause, he was more disturbed than either of his children
had been. Sara had supposed that Jack might be trifling with her poor
little friend--she thought that he might carry the flirtation so far as
to break poor Pamela’s heart, perhaps. But Mr. Brownlow knew that there
were sometimes consequences more serious than even the breaking of
hearts. To be sure he judged, not with the awful severity of a woman,
but with the leniency of a man of the world; but yet it seemed to him
that worse things might happen to poor Pamela than an innocent
heart-break, and his soul was disturbed within him by the thought. He
had warned his son, with all the gravity which the occasion required;
but Jack was young, and no doubt the warning had been ineffectual. Mr.
Brownlow was grieved to his soul; and, what was strange enough, it never
occurred to him that his son could have behaved as he had done, like a
Paladin. Jack’s philosophy, which had so little effect upon himself, had
deceived his father. Mr. Brownlow felt that Jack was not the man to
sacrifice his position and prospects and ambitions to an early marriage,
and the only alternative was one at which he shuddered. For the truth
was, his eye had been much attracted by the bright little face at the
gate. It recalled some other face to him--he could not recall whose
face. He had thought she was like Sara at first, but it was not Sara.
And to think of that fresh sweet blossoming creature all trodden down
into dust and ruin! The thought made Mr. Brownlow’s heart contract with
positive pain. He went down into the avenue, and walked about there for
hours waiting for his son. It must not be, he said to himself--it must
not be! And all this time Jack, not knowing what was in store for him,
was hearing over and over again, with much repetition, the story of the
envelope and Sara’s visit, and was drying Pamela’s tears, and laughing
at her fright, and asking her gloriously what any body could do to
separate them?--what could any body do? A girl might be subject to her
parents; but who was there who could take away his free will from a Man?
This was the scope of Jack’s conversation, and it was very charming to
his hearer. What could any one do against that magnificent force of
resolution? Of course his allowance might be taken from him; but he
could work. They had it all their own way in Mrs. Swayne’s parlor,
though Mrs. Swayne herself did not hesitate to express her disapproval;
but as yet Mr. John knew nothing about the anxious parent who walked up
and down waiting for him on the other side of the gate.



CHAPTER XXVI.

A DOUBLE HUMILIATION.


Jack entered the avenue that evening in a frame of mind very different
from his feelings on his last recorded visit to Swayne’s cottage. He had
been sitting with Pamela all the evening. Mrs. Preston had retired up
stairs with her headache, and, with an amount of good sense for which
Jack respected her, did not come down again; and the young fellow sat
with Pamela, and the minutes flew on angels’ wings. When he came away
his feelings were as different as can be conceived from those with which
he marched home, resolute but rueful, after his first interview with
Mrs. Preston. Pamela and her mother were two very different things--the
one was duty, and had to be got through with; but the other--Jack went
slowly, and took a little notice of the stars, and felt that the evening
air was very sweet. He had put his hands lightly in his pockets, not
thrust down with savage force to the depths of those receptacles; and
there was a kind of half smile, the reflection of a smile, about his
mouth. Fumes were hanging about the youth of that intoxication which is
of all kinds of intoxication the most ethereal. He was softly dazzled
and bewildered by a subdued sweetness in the air, and in the trees, and
in the sky--something that was nothing perceptible, and yet that kept
breathing round him a new influence in the air. This was the sort of way
in which his evenings, perhaps, were always to be spent. It gave a
different view altogether of the subject from that which was in Jack’s
mind on the first dawning of the new life before him. Then he had been
able to realize that it would make a wonderful difference in all his
plans and prospects, and even in his comforts. Now, the difference
looked all the other way. Yes, it would indeed be a difference! To go in
every night, not to Brownlows with his father’s intermitting talk and
Sara’s “tantrums” (this was his brotherly way of putting it), and the
monotony of a grave long established wealthy existence, but into a poor
little house full of novelty and freshness, and quaint poverty, and
amusing straits, and--Pamela. To be sure that last was the great point.
They had been speculating about this wonderful new little house, as was
natural, and she had laughed till the tears glistened in her pretty eyes
at thought of all the mistakes she would make--celestial blunders, which
even to Jack, sensible as he was, looked (to-night) as if they must be
pleasanter and better and every way more fitting than the wisest actions
of the other people. In this kind of sweet insanity the young fellow had
left his little love. Life somehow seemed to have taken a different
aspect to him since that other evening. No doubt it was a serious
business; but then when there are two young creatures, you understand,
setting out together, and a hundred chances before them, such as nobody
could divine--one to help the other if either should stumble, and two to
laugh over every thing, and a hundred devices to be contrived, and
Crusoe-like experiments in the art of living, and droll little mishaps,
and a perpetual sweet variety--the prospect changes. This is why there
had come, in the starlight, a sort of reflection of a smile upon Jack’s
mouth. It was, on the whole, so very considerate and sensible of Mrs.
Preston to have that headache and stay up stairs. And Pamela, altogether
apart from the fact that she was Pamela, was such charming company--so
fresh, so quick, so ready to take up any thing that looked like fun, so
full of pleasant changes, catching the light upon her at so many points.
This bright, rippling, sparkling, limpid stream was to go singing
through all his life. He was thinking of this when he suddenly saw the
shadow under the chestnuts, and found that his father had come out to
meet him. It was rather a startling interruption to so pleasant a dream.

Jack was very much taken aback, but he did not lose his self-possession;
he made a brave attempt to stave off all discussion, and make the
encounter appear the most natural thing in the world, as was the
instinct of a man up to the requirements of his century. “It’s a lovely
night,” said Jack; “I don’t wonder you came out. I’ve been myself--for
a walk. It does a fellow more good than sitting shut up in these stuffy
rooms all night.”

Now the fact was Jack had been shut up in a very stuffy room, a room
smaller than the smallest chamber into which he had ever entered at
Brownlows; but there are matters, it is well known, in which young men
do not feel themselves bound by the strict limits of fact.

“I was not thinking about the night,” said Mr. Brownlow; “there are
times when a man is glad to move about to keep troublesome things out of
his mind; but luckily you don’t know much about that.”

“I know as much about it as most people, I suppose, sir,” said Jack,
with a little natural indignation; “but I hope there is nothing
particular to put you out--that Wardell case--”

“I was not thinking of the Wardell case either,” said Mr. Brownlow, with
an impatient momentary smile. “I fear my clients’ miseries don’t impress
me so much as they ought to do. I was thinking of things nearer home--”

Upon which there was a moment’s pause. If Jack had followed his first
impulse, he would have asked, with a little defiance, if it was any
thing in his conduct to which his father particularly objected. But he
was prudent, and refrained; and they took a few steps on together in
silence toward the house, which shone in front of them with all its
friendly lights.

“No,” said Mr. Brownlow, in that reflective way that men think it
competent and proper to use when their interlocutor is young, and can
not by any means deny the fact. “You don’t know much about it; the
hardest thing that ever came in your way was to persuade yourself to
give up a personal indulgence: and even that you have not always done.
You don’t understand what _care_ means. How should you? Youth is never
really occupied with any thing but itself.”

“You speak very positively, sir,” said Jack, affronted. “I suppose it’s
no use for a man in that selfish condition to say a word in his own
defense.”

“I don’t know that it’s selfish--it’s natural,” said Mr. Brownlow: and
then he sighed. “Jack, I have something to say to you. We had a talk on
a serious subject some time ago--”

“Yes,” said Jack. He saw now what was coming, and set himself to face
it. He thrust his hands deep down into his pockets and set up his
shoulders to his ears, which was a good warning, had Mr. Brownlow
perceived it, that, come right or wrong, come rhyme or reason, this rock
should fly from its firm base as soon as Jack would--and that any
remonstrance on the subject was purely futile. But Mr. Brownlow did not
perceive.

“I thought you had been convinced,” his father continued. “It might be
folly on my part to think any sort of reason would induce a young
fellow, brought up as you have been, to forego his pleasure; but I
suppose I had a prejudice in favor of my own son, and I thought you saw
it in the right point of view. I hear from Sara to-night--”

“I should like to know what Sara has to do with it,” said Jack, with an
explosion of indignation. “Of course, sir, all you may have to say on
this or any other subject I am bound to listen to with respect; but as
for Sara and her interference--”

“Don’t be a fool, Jack,” said Mr. Brownlow, sharply. “Sara has told me
nothing that I could not have found out for myself. I warned you, but it
does not appear to have been of any use; and now I have a word more to
say. Look here. I take an interest in this little girl at the gate.
There is something in her face that reminds me--but never mind that. I
feel sure she’s a good girl, and I won’t have her harmed. Understand me
once for all. You may think it a small matter enough, but it’s not a
small matter. I won’t have that child harmed. If she should come to evil
through you, you shall have me to answer to. It is not only her poor
mother to any poor friend she may have--”

“Sir,” cried Jack, boiling over, “do you know you are insulting me?”

“Listen to what I am saying,” said his father. “Don’t answer. I am in
earnest. She is an innocent child, and I won’t have her harmed. If you
can’t keep away from her, have the honesty to tell me so, and I’ll find
means to get you away. Good Lord, sir! is every instinct of manhood so
dead in you that you can not overcome a vicious inclination, though it
should ruin that poor innocent child?”

A perfect flood of fury and resentment swept through Jack’s mind; but he
was not going to be angry and lose his advantage. He was white with
suppressed passion, but his voice did not swell with anger, as his
father’s had done. It was thus his self-possession that carried the day.

“When you have done, sir,” he said, taking off his hat with a quietness
which cost him an immense effort, “perhaps you will hear what I have got
to say.”

Mr. Brownlow for the moment had lost his temper, which was very foolish.
Probably it was because other things too were going wrong, and his sense
of justice did not permit him to avenge their contrariety upon the
purely innocent. Now Jack was not purely innocent, and here was an
outlet. And then he had been walking about in the avenue for more than
an hour waiting, and was naturally sick of it. And, finally, having lost
his own temper, he was furious with Jack for not losing his.

“Speak out, sir,” he cried; “I have done. Not that your speaking can
make much difference. I repeat, if you hurt a hair of that child’s
head--”

“I will thank you to speak of her in a different way,” said Jack, losing
patience also. “You may think me a villain if you please; but how dare
you venture to suppose that I _could_ bring her to harm? Is _she_
nobody? is that all you think of her? By Jove! the young lady you are
speaking of, without knowing her,” said Jack, suddenly stopping himself,
staring at his father with calm fury, and speaking with deadly emphasis,
“is going to be--my wife.”

Mr. Brownlow was so utterly confounded that he stood still and stared in
his turn at his audacious son. He gave a start as if some one had shot
him; and then he stood speechless and stared, wondering blankly if some
transformation had occurred, or if this was actually Jack that stood
before him. It ought to have been a relief to his mind--no doubt if he
had been as good a man as he ought to have been, he would have gone
down on his knees and given thanks that his son’s intentions were so
virtuous; but in the mean time amaze swallowed up every other sentiment.
“Your wife!” he said, with the utmost wonder which the human voice is
capable of expressing in his voice. The wildest effort of imagination
could never have brought him to such an idea--Jack’s wife! His
consternation was such that it took the strength out of him. He could
not have said a word more had it been to save his life. If any one had
pushed rudely against him he might have dropped on the ground in the
weakness of his amaze. “You might have knocked him down with a feather,”
was the description old Betty would have given; and she would have been
right.

“Yes,” said Jack, with a certain magnificence; “and as for my power, or
any man’s power, of _harming_--her. By Jove!--though of course you
didn’t know--”

This he said magnanimously, being not without pity for the utter
downfall which had overtaken his father. Their positions, in fact, had
totally changed. It was Mr. Brownlow who was struck dumb. Instead of
carrying things with a high hand as he had begun to do, it was he who
was reduced into the false position. And Jack was on the whole sorry for
his father. He took his hands out of the depths of his pockets, and put
down his shoulders into their natural position. And he was willing “to
let down easy,” as he himself expressed it, the unlucky father who had
made such an astounding mistake.

As for Mr. Brownlow, it took him some time to recover himself. It was
not quite easy to realize the position, especially after the warm, not
to say violent, way in which he had been beguiled into taking Pamela’s
part. He had meant every word of what he said. Her sweet little face had
attracted him more than he knew how to explain; it had reminded him, he
could not exactly tell of what, of something that belonged to his youth
and made his heart soft. And the thought of pain or shame coming to her
through his son had been very bitter to him. But he was not quite ready
all the same to say, Bless you, my children. Such a notion, indeed, had
never occurred to him. Mr. Brownlow had never for a moment supposed that
his son Jack, the wise and prudent, could have been led to entertain
such an idea; and he was so much startled that he did not know what to
think. After the first pause of amazement he had gone on again slowly,
feeling as if by walking on some kind of mental progress might also be
practicable; and Jack had accompanied him in a slightly jaunty,
magnanimous, and forgiving way. Indeed, circumstances altogether had
conspired, as it were, in Jack’s favor. He could not have hoped for so
good an opportunity of telling his story--an opportunity which not only
took all that was formidable from the disclosure, but actually presented
it in the character of a relief and standing evidence of unthought-of
virtue. And Jack was so simple-minded in the midst of his wisdom that it
seemed to him as if his father’s anticipated opposition were summarily
disposed of, to be heard of no more--a thing which he did not quite know
whether to be sorry for or glad.

Perhaps it staggered him a little in this idea when Mr. Brownlow, after
going on, very slowly and thoughtfully, almost to the very door of the
house, turned back again, and began to retrace his steps, still as
gravely and quietly as ever. Then a certain thrill of anticipation came
over Jack. One fytte was ended, but another was for to say. Feeling had
been running very high between them when they last spoke; now there was
a certain hushed tone about the talk, as if a cloud had suddenly rolled
over them. Mr. Brownlow spoke, but he did not look at Jack, nor even
look up, but went on moodily, with his eyes fixed on the ground, now and
then stopping to kick away a little stone among the gravel, a pause
which became almost tragic by repetition. “Is it long since this
happened?” he said, speaking in a very subdued tone of voice.

“No,” said Jack, feeling once more the high color rushing up into his
face, though in the darkness there was nobody who could see--“no, only a
few days.”

“And you said your wife,” Mr. Brownlow added--“your wife. Whom does she
belong to? People don’t go so far without knowing a few preliminaries, I
suppose?”

“I don’t know who she belongs to, except her mother,” said Jack, growing
very hot; and then he added, on the spur of the moment, “I dare say you
think it’s not very wise--I don’t pretend it’s wise--I never supposed it
was; but as for the difficulties, I am ready to face them. I don’t see
that I can say any more.”

“I did not express any opinion,” said Mr. Brownlow, coldly; “no--I don’t
suppose wisdom has very much to do with it. But I should like to
understand. Do you mean to say that every thing is settled? or do you
only speak in hope?”

“Yes, it is quite settled,” said Jack: in spite of himself this cold
questioning had made a difference even in the sound of his voice. It all
came before him again in its darker colors. The light seemed to steal
out of the prospect before him moment by moment. His face burned in the
dark; he was disgusted with himself for not having something to say; and
gradually he grew into a state of feverish irritation at the stones
which his father took the trouble to kick away, and the crunching of the
gravel under his feet.

“And you have not a penny in the world,” said Mr. Brownlow, in his
dispassionate voice.

“No,” said Jack, “I have not a penny in the world.”

And then there was another pause. The very stars seemed to have gone in,
not to look at his discomfiture, poor fellow! A cold little wind had
sprung up, and went moaning out and in eerily among the trees; even old
Betty at the lodge had gone to bed, and there was no light to be seen
from her windows. The prospect was black, dreary, very chilling--nothing
to be seen but the sky, over which clouds were stealing, and the
tree-tops swaying wildly against them; and the sound of the steps on the
gravel. Jack had uttered his last words with great firmness and even a
touch of indignation; but there can be no doubt that heaviness was
stealing over his heart.

“If it had been any one but yourself who told me, Jack,” said his
father, “I should not have believed it. You of all men in the world--I
ought to beg your pardon for misjudging you. I thought you would think
of your own pleasure rather than of any body’s comfort, and I was
mistaken. I beg your pardon. I am glad to have to make you an apology
like this.”

“Thanks,” said Jack, curtly. It was complimentary, no doubt; but the
compliment itself was not complimentary. I beg your pardon for thinking
you a villain--that was how it sounded to his ears; and he was not
flattered even by his escape.

“But I can’t rejoice over the rest,” said Mr. Brownlow--“it is going
against all your own principles, for one thing. You are very young--you
have no call to marry for ten years at least--and of course if you wait
ten years you will change your mind.”

“I have not the least intention of waiting ten years,” said Jack.

“Then perhaps you will be so good as to inform me what your intentions
are,” said his father, with a little irony; “if you have thought at all
on the subject it may be the easier way.”

“Of course I have thought on the subject,” said Jack; “I hope I am not a
fellow to do things without thinking. I don’t pretend it is prudent.
Prudence is very good, but there are some things that are better. I mean
to get married with the least possible delay.”

“And then?” said Mr. Brownlow.

“Then, sir, I suppose,” said Jack, not without a touch of bitterness,
“you will let me remain in the office, and keep my clerkship; seeing
that, as you say, I have not a penny in the world.”

Then they walked on together again for several minutes in the darkness.
It was not wonderful that Jack’s heart should be swelling with a sense
of injury. Here was he, a rich man’s son, with the great park breathing
round him in the darkness, and the great house shining behind, with its
many lights, and many servants, and much luxury. All was his
father’s--all, and a great deal more than that: and yet he, his father’s
only son, had “not a penny in the world.” No wonder Jack’s heart was
very bitter within him; but he was too proud to make a word of
complaint.

“You think it cruel of me to say so,” Mr. Brownlow said, after that long
pause; “and so it looks, I don’t doubt. But if you knew as much as I do,
it would not appear to you so wonderful. I am neither so rich nor so
assured in my wealth as people think.”

“Do you mean that you have been losing money?” said Jack, who was half
touched, in the midst of his discontent, by his father’s tone.

“I have been losing--not exactly money,” said Mr. Brownlow, with a sigh;
“but never mind: I can’t hide from you, Jack, that you have disappointed
me. I feel humbled about it altogether. Not that I am a man to care for
worldly advantages that are won by marriage; but yet--and you did not
seem the sort of boy to throw yourself away.”

“Look here, father,” said Jack; “you may be angry, but I must say one
word. I think a man, when he can work for his wife, has a right to marry
as he likes--at least _if_ he likes,” added the young philosopher,
hastily, with a desperate thought of his consistency; “but I do think a
girl’s friends have something to do with it. Yet you set your face
against me, and let _that_ fellow see Sara constantly--see her
alone--talk with her--I found them in the flower-garden the other
day--and then, by Jove! you pitch into me.”

“You are speaking of young Powys,” said Mr. Brownlow, with sudden
dignity; “Powys is a totally different thing--I have told you so
before.”

“And I have told you, sir, that you are mistaken,” said Jack. “How is
Powys different? except that he’s a young--cad--and never had any
breeding. As for any idea you may have in your head about his
family--have you ever seen his mother?”

“Have you?” said Mr. Brownlow; and his heart, too, began to beat
heavily, as if there could be any sentimental power in that good woman’s
name.

“Yes,” said Jack, in his ignorance, “she is a homely sort of sensible
woman, that never could have been any thing beyond what she is; and one
look at her would prove that to you. I don’t mean to say I like people
that have seen better days; but you would never suppose she had been any
thing more than what she is now; she might have been a Masterton
shopkeeper’s daughter from Chestergate or Dove Street,” Jack continued,
“and she would have looked just as she looks now.”

Mr. Brownlow, in spite of himself, gave a long shuddering sigh. He drew
a step apart from his son, and stumbled over a stone in the gravel, not
having the heart even to kick it away. Jack’s words, though they were so
careless and so ignorant, went to his father’s heart. As it happened, by
some curious coincidence, he had chosen the very locality from which
Phœbe Thomson would have come. And it rang into the very centre of
that unsuspected target which Mr. Brownlow had set up to receive chance
shots, in his heart.

“I don’t know where she has come from,” he said; “but yet I tell you
Powys is different; and some day you will know better. But whatever may
be done about that has nothing to do with your own case. I repeat to
you, Jack, it is very humbling to me.”

Here he stopped short, and Jack was doggedly silent, and had not a word
of sympathy to give him. It was true, this second _mésalliance_ was a
great blow to Mr. Brownlow--a greater blow to his pride and sense of
family importance than any body would have supposed. He had made up his
mind to it that Sara must marry Powys; that her grandeur and her pretty
state could only be secured to her by these means, and that she must pay
the price for them--a price which, fortunately, she did not seem to have
any great difficulty about. But that Jack should make an ignoble
marriage too, that people could be able to say that the attorney’s
children had gone back to their natural grade, and that all his wealth,
and their admittance into higher circles, and Jack’s education, and
Sara’s sovereignty, should end in their marrying, the one her father’s
clerk, the other the little girl in the cottage at the gate, was a very
bitter pill to their father. He had never schemed for great marriages
for them, never attempted to bring heirs and heiresses under their
notice; but still it was a downfall. Even the Brownlows of Masterton had
made very different alliances. It was perhaps a curious sort of thing
to strike a man, and a man of business, but nevertheless it was very
hard upon him. In Sara’s case--if it did come to any thing in Sara’s
case--there was an evident necessity, and there was an equivalent; yet
even there Mr. Brownlow knew that when the time came to avow the
arrangement, it would not be a pleasant office. He knew how people would
open their eyes, how the thing would be spoken of, how his motives and
_her_ motives would be questioned. And to think of Jack adding another
story to the wonder of the county! Mr. Brownlow did not care much for
old Lady Motherwell, but he knew what she would say. She would clasp her
old hands together in their brown gloves (if it was morning), and she
would say, “They were always very good sort of people, but they were
never much in our way--and it is far better they should settle in their
own condition of life. I am glad to hear the young people have had so
much sense.” So the county people would be sure to say, and the thought
of it galled Mr. Brownlow. He would not have felt it so much had Jack
alone been the culprit, and Sara free to marry Sir Charles Motherwell,
or any other county potentate; but think of both!--and of all the
spectators that were looking on, and all their comments! It was mere
pride and personal feeling, he knew--even feeling that was a little
paltry and scarcely worthy of him--but he could not help feeling the
sting and humiliation; and this perhaps, though it was merely fanciful,
was the one thing which galled him most about Jack.

Jack for his part had nothing to say in opposition. He opened his eyes a
little in the dark to think of this unsuspected susceptibility on his
father’s part, but he did not think it unjust. It seemed to him on the
whole natural enough. It was hard upon him, after he had worked and
struggled to bring his children into this position. Jack did not
understand his father’s infatuation in respect to Powys. It was
infatuation. But he could well enough understand how it might be very
painful to him to see his only son make an obscure marriage. He was not
offended at this. He felt for his father, and even he felt for himself,
who had the thing to do. It was not a thing he would have approved of
for any of his friends, and he did not approve of it in his own case. He
knew it was the only thing he could do; and after an evening such as
that he had passed with little Pamela, he forgot that there was any
thing in it but delight and sweetness. That, however, was a
forgetfulness which could not last long. He had felt it could not last
long even while he was taking his brief enjoyment of it, and he began
again fully to realize the other side of the question as he walked
slowly along in the dark by his father’s side. The silence lasted a long
time, for Mr. Brownlow had a great deal to think about. He walked on
mechanically almost as far as Betty’s cottage, forgetting almost his
son’s presence, at least forgetting that there was any necessity for
keeping up a conversation. At last, however, it was he who spoke.

“Jack,” he said, “I wish you would reconsider all this. Don’t interrupt
me, please. I wish you’d think it all over again. I don’t say that I
think you very much to blame. She has a sweet face,” said Mr. Brownlow,
with a certain melting of tone, “and I don’t say that she may not be as
sweet as her face; but still, Jack, you are very young, and it’s a very
unsuitable match. You are too sensible not to acknowledge that; and it
may injure your prospects and cramp you for all your life. In justice
both to yourself and your family, you ought to consider all that.”

“As it happens, sir, it is too late to consider all that,” said Jack,
“even if I ever could have balanced secondary motives against--”

“Bah!” said Mr. Brownlow; and then he added, with a certain impatience,
“don’t tell me that you have not balanced--I know you too well for that.
I know you have too much sense for that. Of course you have balanced all
the motives. And do you tell me that you are ready to resign all your
advantages, your pleasant life here, your position, your prospects, and
go and live on a clerk’s income in Masterton--all for love?” said Mr.
Brownlow. He did not mean to sneer, but his voice, as he spoke, took a
certain inflection of sarcasm, as perhaps comes natural to a man beyond
middle age, when he has such suggestions to make.

Jack once more thrust his hands into the depths of his pockets, and
gloom and darkness came into his heart. Was it the voice of the tempter
that was addressing him? But then, had he not already gone over all that
ground?--the loss of all comforts and advantages, the clerk’s income,
the little house in Masterton. “I have already thought of all that,” he
said, “as you suggest; but it does not make any difference to me.” Then
he stopped and made a long pause. “If this is all you have to say to me,
sir, perhaps it will be best to stop here,” said Jack; and he made a
pause and turned back again with a certain determination toward the
house.

“It is all I have to say,” said Mr. Brownlow, gravely; and he too turned
round, and the two made a solemn march homeward, with scarcely any talk.
This is how Jack’s story was told. He had not thought of doing it, and
he had found little comfort and encouragement in the disclosure; but
still it was made, and that was so much gained. The lights were
beginning to be extinguished in the windows, so late and long had been
their discussion. But as they came up, Sara became visible at the window
of her own room, which opened upon a balcony. She had come to look for
them in her pretty white dressing-gown, with all her wealth of hair
streaming over her shoulders. It was a very familiar sort of apparel,
but still, to be sure, it was only her father and her brother who were
witnesses of her little exhibition. “Papa, I could not wait for you,”
she cried, leaning over the balcony, “I couldn’t keep Angelique sitting
up. Come and say good-night.” When Mr. Brownlow went in to obey her,
Jack stood still and pondered. There was a difference. Sara would be
permitted to make any marriage she pleased--even with a clerk in his
father’s office; whereas her brother, who ought to have been the
principal--However, to do him justice, there was no grudge in Jack’s
heart. He scorned to be envious of his sister. “Sara will have it all
her own way,” he said to himself a little ruefully, as he lighted his
candle and went up the great staircase; and then it occurred to him to
wonder what she would do about Pamela. Already he felt himself
superseded. It was his to take the clerk’s income and subside into
inferiority, and Sara was to be the queen of Brownlows--as indeed she
had always been.



CHAPTER XXVII.

SARA’S OWN AFFAIRS.


Sara’s affairs were perhaps not so interesting, as indeed they were far
from being so advanced, as those of Jack; but still all this time they
were making progress. It was not without cause that the image of Powys
stole across her mental vision when Jack warned her to look at the beam
in her own eye. There could be little doubt that Mr. Brownlow had
encouraged Powys. He had asked him to come generally, and he had added
to this many special invitations, and sometimes, indeed, when Jack was
not there, had given the young man a seat in the dog-cart, and brought
him out. All this was very confusing, not to Sara, who, as she thought,
saw into the motives of her father’s conduct, and knew how it was; but
to the clerk in Mr. Brownlow’s office, who felt himself thus singled
out, and could not but perceive that no one else had the same privilege.
It filled him with many wondering and even bewildered thoughts. Perhaps
at the beginning it did not strike him so much, semi-republican as he
was; but he was quick-witted, and when he looked about him, and saw that
his neighbors did not get the same advantages, the young Canadian felt
that there must be something in it. He was taken in, as it were, to Mr.
Brownlow’s heart and home, and that not without a purpose, as was told
him by the angry lines in Jack’s forehead. He was taken in and admitted
into the habits of intimacy, and had Sara, as it were, given over to
him; and what did it mean? for that it must mean something he could not
fail to see.

Thus young Powys’s position was very different from that of Jack. Jack
had been led into his scrape unwittingly, having meant nothing. But it
would have been impossible for Powys to act in the same way. To him
unconsciousness was out of the question. He might make it clear to
himself, in a dazzled self-conscious way, that his own excellence could
have nothing to do with it; that it must be accident, or good fortune,
or something perfectly fortuitous; but yet withal the sense remained
that he and no other had been chosen for this privilege, and that it
could not be for nothing. He was modest and he had good sense, more than
could have been expected from his age and circumstances; but yet every
thing conspired to make him forget these sober qualities. He had not
permitted himself so much as to think at his first appearance that Miss
Brownlow, too, was a young human creature like himself. He had said to
himself, on the contrary, that she was of a different species, that she
was as much out of his reach as the moon or the stars, and that if he
suffered any folly to get into his head, of course he would have to
suffer for it. But the folly had got into his head, and he had not
suffered. He had been left with her, and she had talked to him, and made
every thing very sweet to his soul. She had dropped the magic drop into
his cup, which makes the mildest draught intoxicating, and the poor
young fellow had felt the subtle charm stealing over him, and had gone
on bewildered, justifying himself by the tacit encouragement given him,
and not knowing what to think or what to do. He knew that between her
and him there was a gulf fixed. He knew that of all men in the world he
was the last to conceive any hopes in which such a brilliant little
princess as Sara could be involved. It was doubly and trebly out of the
question. He was not only a poor clerk, but he was a poor clerk with a
family to support. It was all mere madness and irredeemable folly; but
still Mr. Brownlow took him out to his house, and still he saw, and was
led into intimate companionship with his master’s daughter. And what
could it mean, or how could it end? Powys fell into such a maze at last,
that he went and came unconsciously in a kind of insanity. Something
must come of it one of these days. Something;--a volcanic eruption and
wild blazing up of earth and heaven--a sudden plunge into madness or
into darkness. It was strange, very strange to him, to think what Mr.
Brownlow could mean by it; he was very kind to him--almost paternal--and
yet he was exposing him to this trial, which he could neither fly from
nor resist. Thus poor Powys pondered to himself many a time, while, with
a beating heart, he went along the road to Brownlows. He could have
delivered himself, no doubt, if he would, but he did not want to deliver
himself. He had let all go in a kind of desperation. It must end, no
doubt, in some dreadful sudden downfall of all his hopes. But indeed he
had no hopes; he knew it was madness; yet it was a madness he was
permitted, even encouraged in; and he gave himself up to it, and let
himself float down the stream, and said to himself that he would shut
his eyes, and take what happiness he could get in the present moment,
and shut out all thoughts of the future. This he was doing with a kind
of thrill of prodigal delight, selling his birthright for a mess of
pottage, giving up all the freshness of his heart, and all its force of
early passion, for what?--for nothing. To throw another flower in the
path of a girl who trod upon nothing but flowers; this was what he felt
it to be in his saner moments. But the influence of that sanity never
stopped him in what he was doing. He had never in his life met with any
thing like her, and if she chose to have this supreme luxury of a man’s
heart and life offered up to her all for nothing--what then? He was not
the man to grudge her that richest and most useless gift. It was not
often he went so deep as this, or realized what a wild cause he was
embarked on: but when he did, he saw the matter clearly enough, and knew
how it must be.

As for Sara, she was very innocent of any such thoughts. She was not the
girl to accept such a holocaust. If she had known what was in his heart,
possibly she might have scorned him for it; but she never suspected what
was passing in his heart. She did not know of that gulf fixed. His real
position, that position which was so very true and unquestionable to
him, was not real at all to Sara. He was a fairy prince, masquerading
under that form for some reason known to himself and Mr. Brownlow; or if
not that, then he was the man to whom, according to her father’s will,
she was to give herself blindly out of pure filial devotion. Anyhow
something secret, mysterious, beyond ordinary ken, was in it; something
that gave piquancy to the whole transaction. She was not receiving a
lover in a commonplace sort of way when she entertained young Powys, but
was instead a party to an important transaction, fulfilling a grand
duty, either to her father menaced by some danger, or to a hero
transformed whom only the touch of a true maiden could win back to his
rightful shape. As it happened, this fine devotion was not disagreeable
to her; but Sara felt, no doubt, that she would have done her duty quite
as unswervingly had the fairy prince been bewitched into the person of
the true Beast of the story instead of that of her father’s clerk.

It was a curious sort of process to note, had there been any spectator
by sufficiently at ease to note it; but there was not, unless indeed Mr.
Hardcastle and Fanny might have stood in that capacity. As for the
rector, he washed his hands of it. He had delivered his own soul just as
Mrs. Swayne had delivered hers in respect to the other parties. He had
told Mr. Brownlow very plainly what his opinion was. “My dear fellow,”
he had said, “you don’t know what you are doing. Be warned in time. You
don’t think what kind of creatures girls and boys are at that age. And
then you are compromising Sara with the world. Who do you think would
care to be the rival of your clerk? It is very unfair to your child. And
then Sara is just one of the girls that are most likely to suffer. She
is a girl that has fancies of her own. You know I am as fond of her
almost as I am of my Fanny, but there could not be a greater difference
than between the two. Fanny _might_ come safely through such an ordeal,
but Sara is of a different disposition; she is capable of thinking that
it doesn’t matter, she is capable, though one does not like even to
mention such an idea, of falling in love--”

Mr. Brownlow winced a little at this suggestion. I suppose men don’t
like to think of their womenkind falling in love. There is a certain
desecration in the idea. “No,” he said, with something in his voice that
was half approval and half contempt, “you need not be afraid of Fanny;
and as for Sara, I trust Providence will take care of her--as you seem
to think she has so poor a guardian in me.”

“Ah, Brownlow, we must both feel what a disadvantage we are at,” said
Mr. Hardcastle, with a sigh, “with our motherless girls; and theirs is
just the age at which it tells.”

“Yes,” said Mr. Brownlow, shaping his face a little, unawares, into the
right look. The rector had had two mothers for Fanny, and was used to
this kind of thing; indeed it was never off the cards, as Fanny herself
was profoundly aware, that there might be a third; and accordingly he
had a right to be effusive about it: whereas Mr. Brownlow had had but
one love in his life, and could not talk on the subject. But he knew his
duty sufficiently to look solemn, and assent to his pastor’s proposition
about the motherless girls.

“On that account, if on no other, we ought to give them our double
attention,” the rector continued. “You know I can have but one motive.
Take my word for it, it is not fit that your clerk should be brought
into your daughter’s society. If any foolish complication should come of
it, you would never forgive yourself; and only think of the harm it
would do Sara in the world.”

“Softly, Hardcastle,” said Mr. Brownlow, “don’t go too far. Sara and the
world have nothing to do with each other. That sort of thing may answer
well enough for your hackneyed girls who have gone through a few seasons
and are up to every thing; but to the innocent--”

“My dear Brownlow,” said the rector, with a certain tone of patronage
and compassion, “I know how much I am inferior to you in true knowledge
of the world; but perhaps--let us say--the world of fashion--may be a
little better known to me than to you.”

Mr. Brownlow was roused by this. “I don’t know how it should be so,” he
said, looking very steadily at the rector. Mr. Hardcastle had a second
cousin who was an Irish peer. That was the chief ground of his social
pretensions, and the world of fashion, to tell the truth, had never
fallen much in his way; but still a man who has a cousin a lord, when he
claims superior knowledge of society to that possessed by another man
who has no such distinction, generally, in the country at least, has his
claim allowed.

“You think not?” he said, stammering and growing red. “Oh, ah--well--of
course--in that case I can’t be of any use. I am sorry to have thrust my
opinion on you. If you feel yourself so thoroughly qualified--”

“Don’t take offense,” said Mr. Brownlow. “I have no such high opinion of
my qualifications. I don’t think we are, either of us, men of fashion to
speak of, but, as it happens, I know my own business. It suits me to
have my clerk at hand--and he is not just an ordinary clerk; and I hope
Sara is not the sort of girl to lose her head and go off into silly
romances. I have confidence in her, you see, as you have in
Fanny--though perhaps it may not be so perfectly justified,” Mr.
Brownlow added, with a smile. Fanny was known within her own circle to
be a very prudent little woman, almost too prudent, and this was a point
which the rector always felt.

“Well, I hope you will find it has been for the best,” Mr. Hardcastle
answered, and he sighed in reply to his friend’s smile: evidently he did
not expect it would turn out for the best--but at all events he had
delivered his soul.

And Fanny, in the mean time, was delivering her little lecture to Sara.
They had been dining at Brownlows, and there were no other guests, and
the two girls were alone in the drawing-room, in that little half-hour
which the gentlemen spent over their temperate glass of claret. It is an
hour much bemoaned by fast young women, but, as the silent majority are
aware, it is not an unpleasant hour. Fanny Hardcastle and Sara Brownlow
were great friends in their way. They were in the habit of seeing each
other continually, of going to the same places, of meeting the same
people. It was not exactly a friendship of natural affinity, but rather
of proximity, which answers very well in many cases. Probably Fanny, for
her part, was not capable of any thing more enthusiastic. They told each
other every thing--that is, they each told the other as much as that
other could understand. Fanny, by instinct, refrained from putting
before Sara all the prudences and sensible restrictions that existed in
her own thoughts; and Sara, equally by instinct, was dumb about her own
personal feelings and fancies, except now and then when carried away by
their vehemence. “She would not understand me, you know,” both of them
would have said. But to-night Fanny had taken upon herself the prophetic
office. She, too, had her burden of warning to deliver, and to free her
own soul from all responsibility in her neighbor’s fate.

“Sara,” she said, “I saw you the other day when you did not see me. You
were in the park--down there, look, under that tree; and _that_ Mr.
Powys was with you. You know I once saw him here.”

“I do not call that the park--I call that the avenue,” said Sara; but
she saw that her companion spoke with _intention_, and a certain
quickening of color came to her face.

“You may call it any thing you please, but I am sure it _is_ the park,”
said Fanny, “and I want to speak to you about it. I am sure I don’t know
who Mr. Powys is--I dare say he is very nice--but _do_ you think it is
quite right walking about with him like that? You told me yourself he
was in your papa’s office. You know Sara, dear, I wouldn’t say a word to
you if it wasn’t for your good.”

“What is for my good?” said Sara--“walking in the park? or having you to
speak to me? As for Mr. Powys, I don’t suppose you know any thing about
him, so of course you can’t have any thing to say.”

“I wish you would not gallop on like that and take away one’s breath,”
said Fanny. “Of course I don’t know any thing about him. He may be very
nice--I am sure I can’t say; or he may be very amusing--they often are,”
Fanny added, with a sigh, “when they are no good. But don’t go walking
and talking with him, Sara; don’t, there’s a dear; people will talk; you
_know_ how they talk. And if he is only in your papa’s office--”

“I don’t see what difference that can possibly make,” said Sara with a
little vehemence.

“But it does make a difference,” said Fanny, once more with a sigh. “If
he were ever so nice, it could be _no good_. Mr. Brownlow may be very
kind to him, but he would never let you marry him, Sara. Yes, of course,
that is what it must come to. A girl should not stray about in the park
with a man unless he was a man that she could marry if he asked her. I
don’t mean to say that she _would_ marry, but at least that she could.
And, besides, a girl owes a duty to herself even if her father would
consent. You, in your position, ought to make a very different match.”

“You little worldly-minded wretch,” cried Sara, “have you nearly done?”

“Any body would tell you so as well as me,” said Fanny. “You might have
had that big Sir Charles if you had liked. Papa is only a poor
clergyman, and we have not the place in society we might have; but you
can go everywhere, you who are so rich. And then the gentlemen always
like you. If you were to make a poor marriage it would be a shame.”

“When did you learn all that?” said Fanny’s hearer, aghast. “I never
thought you were half so wise.”

“I always knew it, dear,” said little Fanny, with complacency. “I used
to be too frightened to speak, and then you always talked so much
quicker and went on so. But when I was at my aunt’s in spring--”

“I shall always hate your aunt;” cried Sara--“I did before by instinct:
did she put it all into your head about matches and things? You were ten
thousand times better when you had only me. As if I would marry a man
because he would be a good marriage! I wonder what you take me for, that
you speak so to me!”

“Then what should you marry him for!” said little Fanny, with a toss of
her pretty head.

“For!” cried Sara, “not for any thing! for nothing at all! I hate
marrying. To think a girl can not live in this world without having
_that_ thrust into her face! What should I marry any body for? But I
shall do what I like, and walk when I like, and talk to any body that
pleases me,” cried the impetuous young woman. Her vehemence brought a
flush to her face and something like tears into her eyes; and Fanny, for
her part, looked on very gravely at an appearance of feeling of which
she entirely disapproved.

“I dare say you will take your own way,” she said--“you always did take
your own way; but at least you can’t say I did not warn you; and I hope
you will never be sorry for not having listened to me, Sara. I love you
all the same,” said Fanny, giving her friend a soft little kiss. Sara
did not return this salutation with the warmth it deserved. She was
flushed and angry and impatient, and yet disposed to laugh.

“You don’t hope any thing of the sort,” she said; “you hope I shall live
to be very sorry--and I hate your aunt.” This was how the warning ended
in the drawing-room. It was more elegantly expressed than it had been by
Mrs. Swayne and old Betty; but yet the burden of the prophecy was in
some respects the same.

When Sara thought over it at a later period of the night, she laughed a
little in her own mind at poor Fanny’s ignorance. Could she but know
that the poor clerk was an enchanted prince! Could she but guess that it
was in pure obedience to her father’s wishes that she had given him such
a reception! When he appeared in his true shape, whatever that might be,
how uncomfortable little Fanny would feel at the recollection of what
she had said! And then Sara took to guessing and wondering what his true
shape might be. She was not romantic to speak of in general. She was
only romantic in her own special case; and when she came to think of it
seriously, her good sense came to her aid--or rather not to her aid--to
her hindrance and confusion and bewilderment. Sara knew very well that
in those days people were not often found out to be princes in disguise.
She knew even that for a clerk in her father’s office to turn out the
heir to a peerage or even somebody’s son would be so unusual as to be
almost incredible. And what, then, could her father mean? Neither was
Mr. Brownlow the sort of man to pledge his soul on his daughter in any
personal emergency. Yet some cause there must be. When she had come this
length, a new sense seemed suddenly to wake up in Sara’s bosom, perhaps
only the result of her own thoughts, perhaps suggested, though she
would not have allowed that, by Fanny Hardcastle’s advice--a sudden
sense that she had been coming down from her natural sphere, and that
her father’s clerk was not a fit mate for her. She was very generous,
and hasty, and high-flown, and fond of her father, and fond of
amusement--and moved by all these qualities and affections together she
had jumped at the suggestion of Mr. Brownlow’s plan; but perhaps she had
never thought seriously of it as it affected herself that night. Now it
suddenly occurred to her how people might talk. Strangely enough, the
same thought which had been bitterness to her father, stung her also, as
soon as her eyes were opened. Miss Brownlow of Brownlows, who had
refused, or the same thing as refused, Sir Charles Motherwell--whom
young Keppel had regarded afar off as utterly beyond his reach--the
daughter of the richest man, and herself one of the most popular (Sara
did not even to herself say the prettiest; she might have had an inkling
of that too, but certainly she did not put it into articulate thought)
girls in the county--she bending from her high estate to the level of a
lawyer’s clerk; she going back to the hereditary position, reminding
every body that she was the daughter of the Masterton attorney, showing
the low tastes which one generation of higher culture could not be
supposed to have effaced! How could she do it? If she had been a duke’s
daughter it would not have mattered. In such a case nobody could have
thought of hereditary low tastes; but now--As Sara mused, the color grew
hotter and hotter in her cheeks. To think that it was only now, so late
in the day, that this occurred to her, after she had gone so far in the
way of carrying out her father’s wishes! To think that he could have
imposed such a sacrifice upon her! Sara’s heart smarted and stung her in
her breast as she thought of that. And then there suddenly came up a big
indignant blob of warm dew in either eye, which was not for her father
nor for her own dignity, but for something else about which she could
not parley with herself. And then she rushed at her candles and put them
out, and threw herself down on her bed. The fact was that she did sleep
in half an hour at the farthest, though she did not mean to, and thus
escaped from her thoughts; but that was not what she calculated upon.
She calculated on lying awake all night and saying many very pointed and
grievous things to her father when in the morning he should ask her the
meaning of her pale face and heavy eyes; but unfortunately her cheeks
were as fresh as the morning when the morning duly came, and her eyes as
bright, and Mr. Brownlow, seeing no occasion for it, asked no questions,
but had himself to submit to inquiries and condolences touching a bad
night and a pale face. He too had been moved by Mr. Hardcastle’s
warning--moved, not of course to any sort of acceptance of the rector’s
advice, but only to the length of being uncomfortable, while he took his
own way, which is at all times the only one certain result of good
advice. And he was depressed too about Jack’s communication which had
been made to him only two nights before, and of which he had spoken to
nobody. The thought of it was a humiliation to him. His two children
whom he had brought up so carefully, his only ones, in whom he had
expected his family to make a new beginning--and yet they both meant to
descend far below the ancestral level which he had hoped to see them
leave utterly behind! He was not what is called a proud man, and he had
never been ashamed of his origin or of his business. But yet, two such
marriages in one family, and one generation--! It was a bitter thought.

As for Sara, she would have said, had she been questioned, that she
thought of nothing else all day; and in fact it was her prevailing
pre-occupation. All the humiliations involved in it came gleaming across
her mind by intervals. Her pride rose up in arms. She did not know as
yet about the repetition or rather anticipation of her case which her
brother had been guilty of. But she did ponder over the probable
consequences. The hardest thing of all was that they would say it was
the fault of her race, that she was only returning to her natural level,
and that it was not wealth nor even admiration which could make true
gentlefolks; all which were sentiments to which Sara would have
subscribed willingly in any but her own case. When Powys arrived with
Mr. Brownlow in the evening, she received him with a stateliness that
chilled the poor young fellow to his heart. And he too had so many
thoughts, and just at that moment was wondering with an intensity which
put all the others to shame how it could possibly end, and what his
honor required of him, and what sort of a grey and weary desert life
would be after this dream was over. It seemed to him absolutely as if
the dream was coming to an end that night. Jack, who was never very
courteous to the visitor, left them immediately after dinner, and Mr.
Brownlow retired to the library for some time, and Powys had no choice
but to go where his heart had gone before him, up to the drawing-room
where Sara sat alone. Of course she ought to have had a chaperone; but
then this young man, being only a clerk from the office, did not count.

She was seated in the window, close to the Claude, which had been the
first thing that brought these two together; but to-night she was in no
meditative mood. She had provided herself with work, and was laboring at
it fiercely in a way which Powys had never seen before. And he did not
know that her heart too was beating very fast, and that she had been
wondering and wondering whether he would have the courage to come up
stairs. He had really had that courage, but now that he was there, he
did not know what to do. He came up to her at first, but she kept on
working and did not take any notice of him, she who up to this moment
had always been so sweet. The poor young fellow was cast down to the
very depths; he thought they had but taken him up and played upon him
for their amusement, and that now the end had come. And he tried, but
ineffectually, to comfort himself with the thought that he had always
known it must come to an end. Almost, when he saw her silence, her
absorbed looks, the constrained little glance she gave him as he came
into the room, it came into his mind that Sara herself would say
something to bring the dream to a distinct conclusion. If she had told
him that she divined his presumption, and that he was never more to
enter that room again, he would not have been surprised. It had been a
false position throughout--he knew that, and he knew that it must come
to an end.

But, in the mean time, a fair face must be put upon it. Powys, though he
was a backwoodsman, knew enough of life, or had sufficient instinct of
its requirements, to know that. So he went up to the Claude, and looked
at it sadly, with a melancholy he could not restrain.

“It is as you once said, Miss Brownlow,” said Powys--“always the same
gleam and the same ripples. I can understand your objections to it now.”

“The Claude?” said Sara, with unnecessary vehemence, “I hate it. I think
I hate all pictures; they are so everlastingly the same thing. Did Jack
go out, Mr. Powys, as you came up stairs?”

“Yes; he went out just after you had left us,” said Powys, glad to find
something less suggestive on which to speak.

“Again?” said Sara, plunging at the new subject with an energy which
proved it to be a relief to her also. “He is so strange. I don’t know if
papa told you; he is giving us a great deal of trouble just now. I am
afraid he has got fond of somebody very, very much below him. It will be
a dreadful thing for us if it turns out to be true.”

Poor Powys’s tongue clove to the roof of his mouth. He gave a wistful
look at his tormentor, full of a kind of dumb entreaty. What did she say
it for? was it for him, without even the satisfaction of plain-speaking,
to send him away for ever?

“Of course you don’t know the circumstances,” said Sara, “but you can
fancy when he is the only son. I don’t think you ever took to Jack; but
of course he is a great deal to papa and me.”

“I think it was your brother who never took to me,” said Powys; “he
thought I had no business here.”

“He had no right to think so, when papa thought differently,” said Sara;
“he was always very disagreeable; and now to think he should be as
foolish as any of us.” When she had said this, Sara suddenly recollected
herself, and gave a glance up at her companion to see if he had observed
her indiscretion. Then she went on hastily with a rising color--“I wish
you would tell me, Mr. Powys, how it was that you first came to know
papa.”

“It is very easy,” said Powys; but there he too paused, and grew red,
and stopped short in his story with a reluctance that had nothing to do
with pride. “I went to him seeking employment,” he continued, making an
effort, and smiling a sickly smile. He knew she must know that, but yet
it cost him a struggle; and somehow every thing seemed to have changed
so entirely since those long-distant days.

“And you never knew him before?” said Sara--“nor your father?--nor any
body belonging to you?--I do so want to know.”

“You are surprised that he has been so kind to me,” said Powys, with a
pang; “and it is natural you should. No, there is no reason for it that
I know of, except his own goodness. He meant to be very, very kind to
me,” the young fellow added, with a certain pathos. It seemed to him as
he spoke that Mr. Brownlow had in reality been very cruel to him, but he
did not say it in words. Sara, for her part, gave him a little quick
fugitive glance; and it is possible, though no explanation was given,
that she understood what he did not speak.

“That was not what I meant,” she said, quickly; “only I thought there
was something--and then about your family, Mr. Powys?” she said, looking
up into his face with a curiosity she could not restrain. Certainly the
more she thought it over the more it amazed her. What could her father
mean?

“I have no family that I know of,” said Powys, with a momentary smile,
“except my mother and my little sisters. I am poor, Miss Brownlow, and
of no account whatever. I never saved Mr. Brownlow’s life, nor did any
thing he could be grateful to me for. And I did not know you nor this
house,” he went on, “when your father brought me here. I did not know,
and I could live without--Don’t ask me any more questions, please; for I
fear I don’t know what I am saying to-day.”

Here there was a pause, for Sara, though fearless enough in most cases,
was a little alarmed by his suppressed vehemence. She was alarmed, and
at the same time she was softened, and her inquisitiveness was stronger
than her prudence. His very prayer that she would ask him no more
questions quickened her curiosity; and it was not in her to refrain for
fear of the danger--in that, as in most other amusements, “the danger’s
self was lure alone.”

“But I hope you don’t regret having been brought here,” she said softly,
looking up at him. It was a cruel speech, and the look and the tone were
more cruel still. If she had meant to bring him to her feet, she could
not have done any thing better adapted to her purpose, and she did not
mean to bring him to her feet. She did it only out of a little personal
feeling and a little sympathy, and the perversity of her heart.

Powys started violently, and gave her a look under which Sara,
courageous as she was, actually trembled; and the next thing he did was
to turn his back upon her, and look long and intently at the nearest
picture. It was not the Claude this time. It was a picture of a woman
holding out a piece of bread to a beggar at her door. The wretch, in his
misery, was crouching by the wall and holding out his hand for it, and
within were the rosy children, well-fed and comfortable, looking
large-eyed upon the want without. The young man thought it was
symbolical, as he stood looking at it, quivering all over with emotion
which he was laboring to shut up in his own breast. She was holding out
the bread of life to him, but it would never reach his lips. He stood
struggling to command himself, forgetting every thing but the
desperation of that struggle, betraying himself more than any words
could have done--fighting his fight of honor and truth against
temptation. Sara saw all this, and the little temptress was not
satisfied. It would be difficult to tell what impulse possessed her. She
had driven him very far, but not yet to the farthest point; and she
could not give up her experiment at its very height.

“But you do not answer my question,” she said, very softly. The words
were scarcely out of her lips, the tingle of compunction had not begun
in her heart, when her victim’s strength gave way. He turned round upon
her with a wild breathlessness that struck Sara dumb. She had seen more
than one man who supposed he was “in love” with her; but she had never
seen passion before.

“I would regret it,” he said, “if I had any sense or spirit left; but I
have not, and I don’t regret. Take it all--take it!--and then scorn it.
I know you will. What could you do but scorn it? It is only my heart and
my life; and I am young and shall have to live on hundreds of years, and
never see your sweetest face again.”

“Mr. Powys!” said Sara in consternation, turning very pale.

“Yes,” he said, melting out of the momentary swell of excitement, “I
think I am mad to say so. I don’t grudge it. It is no better than a
flower that you will put your foot on; and now that I have told you, I
know it is all over. But I don’t grudge it. It was not your doing; and I
would rather give it to you to be flung away than to any other woman.
Don’t be angry with me--I shall never see you again.”

“Why?” said Sara, not knowing what she said--“what is it?--what have I
done? Mr. Powys, I don’t think you--either of us--know what you mean.
Let us forget all about it. You said you did not know what you were
saying to-day.”

“But I have said it,” said the young man in his excitement. “I did not
mean to betray myself, but now it is all over. I can never come here
again. I can never dare look at you again. And it is best so; every day
was making it worse. God bless you, though you have made me miserable. I
shall never see your face again.”

“Mr. Powys!” cried Sara, faintly. But he was gone beyond hearing of her
voice. He had not sought even to kiss her hand, as a despairing lover
has a prescriptive right to do, much less the hem of her robe, as they
do in romances. He was gone in a whirlwind of wild haste, and misery,
and passion. She sat still, with her lips apart, her eyes very wide
open, her face very white, and listened to his hasty steps going away
into the outside world. He was gone--quite gone, and Sara sat aghast.
She could not cry; she could not speak; she could but listen to his
departing steps, which echoed upon her heart as it seemed. Was it all
over? Would he never see her face again, as he said? Had she made him
miserable? Sara’s face grew whiter and whiter as she asked herself these
questions. Of one thing there could be no doubt, that it was she who had
drawn this explanation from him. He had not wished to speak, and she had
made him speak. And this was the end. If a sudden thunder-bolt had
fallen before her, she could not have been more startled and dismayed.
She never stirred for an hour or more after he had left her. She let the
evening darken round her, and never asked for lights. Every thing was
perfectly still, yet she was deafened by the noises in her ears, her
heart beating, and voices rising and contending in it which she had
never heard before. And was this the end? She was sitting still in the
window like a thing in white marble when the servant came in with the
lamp, and he had almost stumbled against her as he went to shut the
window, and yelled with terror, thinking it was a ghost. It was only
then that Sara regained command of herself. Was it all over from
to-night?



CHAPTER XXVIII.

DESPAIR.


It was nearly two hours after this when Jack Brownlow met Powys at the
gate. It was a moonlight night, and the white illumination which fell
upon the departing visitor perhaps increased the look of excitement and
desperation which might have been apparent even to the most indifferent
passer-by. He had been walking very quickly down the avenue; his boots
and his dress gleamed in the moonlight as if he had been burying himself
among the wet grass and bushes in the park. His hat was over his brows,
his face haggard and ghastly. No doubt it was partly the effect of the
wan and ghostly moonlight, but still there must have been something more
in it, or Jack, who loved him little, would not have stopped as he did
to see what was the matter. Jack was all the more bent upon stopping
that he could see Powys did not wish it, and all sorts of hopes and
suspicions sprang up in his mind. His father had dismissed the intruder,
or he had so far forgotten himself as to betray his feelings to Sara,
and she had dismissed him. Once more curiosity came in Powys’s way. Jack
was so resolute to find out what it was, that, for the first time in his
life, he was friendly to his father’s clerk. “Are you walking?” he said;
“I’ll go with you a little way. It is a lovely night.”

“Yes,” said Powys; and he restrained his headlong course a little. It
was all he could do--that, and to resist the impulse to knock Jack down
and be rid of him. It might not have been so very easy, for the two were
tolerably well matched; but poor Powys was trembling with the force of
passion, and would have been glad of any opportunity to relieve himself
either in the way of love or hatred. Nothing of this description,
however, seemed practicable to him. The two young men walked down the
road together, keeping a little apart, young, strong, tall, full of
vigor, and with a certain likeness in right of their youth and strength.
There should even have been the sympathy between them which draws like
to like. And yet how unlike they were! Jack had taken his fate in his
hand, and was contemplating with a cheerful daring, which was half
ignorance, a descent to the position in which his companion stood. It
would be sweetened in his case by all the ameliorations possible, or so
at least he thought; and, after all, what did it matter? Whereas Powys
was smarting under the miserable sense of having been placed in a false
position in addition to all the pangs of unhappy love, and of having
betrayed himself and the confidence put in him, and sacrificed his
honor, and cut himself off forever from the delight which still might
have been his. All these pains and troubles were struggling together
within him. He would have felt more keenly still the betrayal of the
trust his employer had placed in him, had he not felt bitterly that Mr.
Brownlow had subjected him to temptations which it was not in flesh and
blood to bear. Thus every kind of smart was accumulated within the poor
young fellow’s spirit--the sense of guilt, the sense of being hardly
used, the consciousness of having shut himself out from paradise, the
knowledge, beyond all, that his love was hopeless and all the light gone
out of his life. It may be supposed how little inclination he had to
enter into light conversation, or to satisfy the curiosity of Jack.

They walked on together in complete silence for some minutes, their
footsteps ringing in harmony along the level road, but their minds and
feelings as much out of harmony as could be conceived. Jack was the
first to speak. “It’s pleasant walking to-night,” he said, feeling more
conciliatory than he could have thought possible; “how long do you allow
yourself from here to Masterton? It is a good even road.”

“Half an hour,” said Powys, carelessly.

“Half an hour! that’s quick work,” said Jack. “I don’t think you’ll
manage that to night. I have known that mare of mine do it in twenty
minutes; but I don’t think you could match her pace.”

“She goes very well,” said the Canadian, with a moderation which nettled
Jack.

“Very well! I never saw any thing go like her,” he said--“that is, with
a cart behind her. What kind of cattle have you in Canada? I suppose
there’s good sport there of one kind or another. Shouldn’t you like to
go back?”

“I _am_ going back,” said Powys. He said it in the depth of his despair,
and it startled himself as soon as it was said. Go back? yes! that was
the only thing to do--but how?

“Really?” said Jack with surprise and no small relief, and then a
certain human sentiment awoke within him. “I hope you haven’t had a row
with the governor?” he said; “it always seemed to me he had too great a
fancy for you. I beg your pardon for saying so just now, especially if
you’re vexed; but look here--I’m not much of a one for a peace-maker;
but if you don’t mind telling me what it’s about--”

“I have had no row with Mr. Brownlow; it is worse than that,” said
Powys; “it is past talking of; I have been both an ass and a knave, and
there’s nothing for me but to take myself out of every body’s way.”

Once more Jack looked at him in the moonlight, and saw that quick heave
of his breast which betrayed the effort he was making to keep himself
down, and a certain spasmodic quiver in his lip.

“I wouldn’t be too hasty if I were you,” he said. “I don’t think you can
have been a knave. We’re all of us ready enough to make fools of
ourselves,” the young philosopher added, with a touch of fellow-feeling.
“You and I haven’t been over-good friends, you know, but you might as
well tell me what it’s all about.”

“You were quite right,” said Powys, hastily. “I ought never to have come
up here. And it was not my doing. It was a false position all along. A
man oughtn’t to be tempted beyond his strength. Of course I have nobody
to blame but myself. I don’t suppose I would be a knave about money or
any thing of that sort. But it’s past talking of; and besides I could
not, even if it were any good, make a confidant of you.”

It was not difficult for Jack to divine what this despair meant, and he
was touched by the delicacy which would not name his sister’s name. “I
lay a hundred pounds it’s Sara’s fault,” he said to himself. But he gave
no expression to the sentiment. And of course it was utterly beyond
hope, and the young fellow in Powys’s position who should yield to such
a temptation must indeed have made an ass of himself. But in the
circumstances Jack was not affronted at the want of confidence in
himself.

“I don’t want to pry into your affairs,” he said. “I don’t like it
myself; but I would not do any thing hastily if I were you. A man mayn’t
be happy, but, so far as I can see, he must live all the same.”

“Yes, that’s the worst,” said Powys; “a fellow can’t give in and get
done with it. Talk is no good; but I shall have to go. I shall speak to
your father to-morrow, and then--Good-night. Don’t come any farther.
I’ve been all about the place to say good-bye. I am glad to have had
this talk with you first. Good-night.”

“Good-night,” said Jack, grasping the hand of his fellow. Their hands
had never met in the way of friendship before. Now they clasped each
other warmly, closely, with an instinctive sympathy. Powys’s mind was so
excited with other things, so full of supreme emotion, that this
occurrence, though startling enough, did not have much effect upon him.
But it made a very different impression upon Jack, who was full of
surprise and compunction, and turned, after he had made a few steps in
the direction of Brownlows, with a reluctant idea of “doing something”
for the young fellow who was so much less lucky than himself. It was a
reluctant idea, for he was prejudiced, and did not like to give up his
prejudices, and at the same time he was generous, and could not but feel
for a brother in misfortune. But Powys was already far on his way, out
of hearing, and almost out of sight. “He will do it in the half-hour,”
Jack said to himself, with admiration. “By Jove! how the fellow goes!
and I’ll lay you any thing it’s all Sara’s fault.” He was very hard upon
Sara in the revulsion of his feelings. Of course she could have done
nothing but send her presumptuous admirer away. But, then, had she not
led him on and encouraged him? “The little flirt!” Jack said to himself;
and just then he was passing Swayne’s cottage, which lay in the deep
blackness of the shadow made by the moonlight. He looked up tenderly at
the light that burned in the upper window. He had grown foolish about
that faint little light, as was only natural. There was one who was no
flirt, who never would have tempted any man and drawn him on to the
breaking of his heart. From the height of his own good fortune Jack
looked down upon poor Powys speeding along with despair in his soul
along the Masterton road. Something of that soft remorse which is the
purest bloom of personal happiness softened his thoughts. Poor Powys!
And there was nothing that could be done for him. He could not compel
his fate as Jack himself could do. For him there was nothing in store
but the relinquishment of all hope, the giving up of all dreams. The
thought made Jack feel almost guilty in his own independence and
well-being. Perhaps he could yet do or say something that would smooth
the other’s downfall--persuade him to remain at least at Masterton,
where he need never come in the way of the little witch who had beguiled
him, and afford him his own protection and friendship instead. As Jack
thought of the little house that he himself, separated from Brownlows
and its comforts, was about to set up at Masterton, his benevolence
toward Powys grew still stronger. He was a fellow with whom a man could
associate on emergency; and no doubt this was all Sara’s fault. He went
home to Brownlows disposed to stand Powys’s friend if there was any
question of him. But when Jack reached home there was no question of
Powys. On the whole it was not a cheerful house into which he entered.
Lights were burning vacantly in the drawing-room, but there was nobody
there. Lights were burning dimly down stairs. It looked like a deserted
place as he went up and down the great staircase, and through the silent
rooms, and found nobody. Mr. Brownlow himself was in the library with
the door shut, where, in the present complexion of affairs, Jack did not
care to disturb him; and Miss Sara had gone to bed with a headache, he
was told, when, after searching for her everywhere, he condescended to
inquire. Sara was not given to headaches, and the intimation startled
her brother. And he went and sat in the drawing-room alone, and stared
at the lights, and contrasted this solitary grandeur with the small
house whose image was in his mind. The little cozy, tiny, sunshiny
place, where one little bright face would always smile; where there
would always be some one ready to listen, ready to be interested, ready
to take a share in every thing. The picture looked very charming to him
after the dreariness of this great room, and Sara gone to bed, and poor
Powys banished and broken-hearted. That was not to be his own fate, and
Jack grew pious and tender in his self-gratulations. After all, poor
Powys was a very good sort of fellow; but as it happened, it was Jack
who had drawn all the prizes of life. He did think at one time of going
down stairs notwithstanding the delicate state of his own relations with
his father, and making such excuses as were practicable for the
unfortunate clerk, who had permitted himself to be led astray in this
foolish manner. “Of course it was a great risk bringing him here at
all,” Jack thought of saying, that Mr. Brownlow might be brought to a
due sense of his own responsibility in the matter; but after long
consideration, he wisely reflected that it would be best to wait until
the first parties to the transaction had pronounced themselves. If Sara
did not mean to say any thing about it, nor Powys, why should he
interfere? upon which conclusion, instead of going down stairs, he went
to bed, thinking again how cheerless it was for each member of the
household to start off like this without a single good-night, and how
different it would be in the new household that was to come.

Sara came to breakfast next morning looking very pale. The color had
quite gone out of her cheeks, and she had done herself up in a warm
velvet jacket, and had the windows closed as soon as she came into the
room. “They never will remember that the summer’s over,” she said, with
a shiver, as she took her place; but she made no farther sign of any
kind. Clearly she had no intention of complaining of her rash lover;--so
little, indeed, that when Mr. Brownlow was about to go away, she held
out a book to him timidly, with a sudden blush. “Mr. Powys forgot to
take this with him last night; would you mind taking it to him, papa?”
she said, very meekly; and as Jack looked at her, Sara blushed redder
and redder. Not that she had any occasion to blush. It might be meant as
an olive-branch or even a pledge of hope; but still it was only a book
that Powys had left behind him. Mr. Brownlow accepted the charge with a
little surprise, and he, too, looked at her so closely that it was all
she could do to restrain a burst of tears.

“Is it such a wonder that I should send back a book when it is left?”
she cried, petulantly. “You need not take it unless you like, papa; it
can always go by the post.”

“I will take it,” said Mr. Brownlow; and Jack sat by rather grimly, and
said nothing. Jack was very variable and uncertain just at that moment
in his own feelings. He had not forgotten the melting of his heart on
the previous night; but if he had seen any tokens of relenting on the
part of his sister toward the presumptuous stranger, Jack would have
again hated Powys. He even observed with suspicion that his father took
little notice of Sara’s agitation; that he shut his eyes to it, as it
were, and took her book, and evaded all farther discussion. Jack himself
was not going to Masterton that day. He had to see that every thing was
in order for the next day, which was the 1st of September. So far had
the season wheeled round imperceptibly while all the variations of this
little domestic drama were ripening to their appointed end.

Jack, however, did not go to inspect his gun, and consult with the
gamekeeper, immediately on his father’s departure. He waited for a few
minutes, while Sara, who had been so cold, rushed to the window, and
threw it open. “There must be thunder in the air--one can scarcely
breathe,” she said. And Jack watched her jealously, and did not lose a
single look.

“You were complaining of cold just now,” he said. “Sara, mind what you
are about. If you think you can play that young Powys at the end of your
line, you’re making a great mistake.”

“Play whom?” cried Sara, blazing up. “You are a nice person to preach to
me! I am playing nobody at the end of my line. I have no line to play
with; and you that are making a fool of that poor little simple
Pamela--”

“Be quiet, will you?” said Jack, furious. “That poor little simple
Pamela, as you call her, is going to be my wife.”

Sara gazed at him for a moment thunderstruck, standing like something
made into stone, with her velvet jacket, which she had just taken off,
in her hands. Then the color fled from her cheeks as quickly as it had
come to them, and her great eyes filled suddenly, like crystal cups,
with big tears. She threw the jacket down out of her hands, and rushed
to her brother’s side, and clasped his arm. “You don’t mean it,
Jack?--do you mean it?” she cried, piteously, gazing up into his face;
and a crowd of different emotions, more than Jack could discriminate or
divine, was in her voice. There was pleasure and there was sorrow, and
sharp envy and pride and regret. She clasped his arm, and looked at him
with a look which said--“How could you?--how dare you?--and, oh, how
lucky you are to be able to do it!”--all in a breath.

“Of course I mean it,” said Jack, a little roughly; but he did not mean
to be rough. “And that is why I tell you it is odious of you, Sara, to
tempt a man to his destruction, when you know you can do nothing for him
but break his heart.”

“Can’t I?” said Sara, dropping away from his arm, with a faint little
moan; and then she turned quickly away, and hid her face in her hands.
Jack, for his part, felt he was bound to improve the occasion, though
his heart smote him. He stood secure on his own pedestal of virtue,
though he did not want her to copy him. Indeed, such virtue in Sara
would have been little short of vice.

“Nothing else,” said Jack, “and yet you creatures do it without ever
thinking of the sufferings you cause. I saw the state that poor fellow
was in when he left you last night; and now you begin again sending him
books! What pleasure can you have in it! It is something inconceivable
to me.”

This Jack uttered with a superiority and sense of goodness so lofty that
Sara’s tears dried up. She turned round in a blaze of indignation, too
much offended to trust herself to answer. “You may be an authority to
Pamela, but you are not an authority to me,” she cried, drawing herself
up to her fullest state. But she did not trust herself to continue the
warfare. The tears were lying too near the surface, and Sara had been
too much shaken by the incident of the previous night. “I am not going
to discuss my own conduct; you can go and talk to Pamela about it,” she
added, pausing an instant at the door of the room before she went out.
It was spiteful, and Jack felt that it was spiteful; but he did not
guess how quickly Sara rushed up stairs after her dignified progress to
the door, nor how she locked herself in, nor what a cry she had in her
own room when she was safe from all profane eyes. She was not thinking
of Pamela, and yet she could have beaten Pamela. _She_ was to be happy,
and have her own way; but as for Sara, it was an understood duty that
the only thing she could do for a man was to break his heart! Her tears
fell down like rain at this thought. Why should Jack be so free and she
so fettered? Why should Pamela be so well off? Thus a sudden and wild
little hail-storm of rage and mortification went over Sara’s head, or
rather heart.

Meanwhile Mr. Brownlow went very steadily to business with the book in
his pocket. He had been a little startled by Sara’s look, but by this
time it was going out of his mind. He was thinking that it was a lovely
morning, and still very warm, though the child was so chilly; and then
he remembered, with a start, that next day was the 1st of September.
Another six weeks, and the time of his probation was over. The thought
sent the blood coursing through his veins, as if he had been a young
man. Every thing had gone on so quietly up to that moment--no farther
alarms--nothing to revive his fears--young Powys lulled to indifference,
if indeed he knew any thing; and the time of liberation so near. But
with that thrill of satisfaction came a corresponding excitement. Now
that the days were numbered, every day was a year in itself. It occurred
to him suddenly to go away somewhere, to take Sara with him and bury
himself in some remote corner of the earth, where nobody could find him
for those fated six weeks; and so make it quite impossible that any
application could reach him. But he dismissed the idea. In his absence
might she not appear, and disclose herself? His own presence somehow
seemed to keep her off, and at arm’s length; but he could not trust
events for a single day if he were gone. And it was only six weeks.
After that, yes, he would go away, he would go to Rome or somewhere, and
take Sara, and recover his calm after that terrible tension. He would
need it, no doubt;--so long as his brain did not give way.

Mr. Brownlow, however, was much startled by the looks of Powys when he
went into the office. He was more haggard than he had ever been in the
days when Mr. Wrinkell was suspicious of him. His hair hung on his
forehead in a limp and drooping fashion--he was pale, and there were
circles round his eyes. Mr. Brownlow had scarcely taken his place in his
own room when the impatient young man came and asked to speak to him.
The request made the lawyer’s hair stand up on his head, but he could
not refuse the petition. “Come in,” he said, faintly. The blood seemed
to go back on his heart in a kind of despair. After all his
anticipations of approaching freedom, was he to be arrested after all,
before the period of emancipation came?

As for Powys, he was too much excited himself to see any thing but the
calmest composure in Mr. Brownlow, who indeed, throughout all his
trials, though they were sharp enough, always looked composed. The young
man even thought his employer methodical and matter of fact to the last
degree. He had put out upon the table before him the book Sara had
intrusted him with. It was a small edition of one of the poets which
poor Powys had taken with him on his last unhappy expedition to
Brownlows; and Mr. Brownlow put his hand on the book, with a constrained
smile, as a school-master might have put his hand on a prize.

“My daughter sent you this, Powys,” he said, “a book which it appears
you left last night; and why did you go away in such a hurry without
letting me know?”

“Miss Brownlow sent it?” said Powys, growing crimson; and for a minute
the poor young fellow was so startled and taken aback that he could not
add another word. He clutched at the book, and gazed at it hungrily, as
if it could tell him something, and then he saw Mr. Brownlow looking at
him with surprise, and his color grew deeper and deeper. “That was what
I came to speak to you about, sir,” he said, hot with excitement and
wretchedness. “You have trusted me, and I am unworthy of your trust. I
don’t mean to excuse myself; but I could not let another day go over
without telling you. I have behaved like an idiot--and a villain--”

“Stop, stop!” said Mr. Brownlow. “What is all this about? Don’t be
excited. I don’t believe you have behaved like a villain. Take time and
compose yourself, and tell me what it is.”

“It is that you took me into your house, sir, and trusted me,” said
Powys, “and I have betrayed your trust. I must mention her name. I saw
your daughter too often--too much. I should have had the honor and
honesty to tell you before I betrayed myself. But I did not mean to
betray myself. I miscalculated my strength; and in a moment, when I was
not thinking, it gave way. Don’t think I have gone on with it,” he
added, looking beseechingly at his employer, who sat silent, not so much
as lifting his eyes. “It was only last night--and I am ready at the
moment, if you wish it, to go away.”

Mr. Brownlow sat at his table and made no reply. Oh, those hasty young
creatures, who precipitated every thing! It was, in a kind of way, the
result of his own scheming, and yet his heart revolted at it, and in six
weeks’ time he would be free from all such necessity. What was he to do?
He sat silent, utterly confounded and struck dumb--not with surprise and
horror, as his young companion in the fullness of his compunction
believed, but with confusion and uncertainty as to what he ought to say
and do. He could not offend and affront the young man on whose quietness
and unawakened thoughts so much depended. He could not send Powys away,
to fall probably into the hands of other advisers, and rise up against
himself. Yet could he pledge himself, and risk Sara’s life, when so
short a time might set him free? All this rushed through his mind while
he sat still in the same attitude in which he had listened to the young
fellow’s story. All this pondering had to be done in a moment, for Powys
was standing beside him in all the vehemence of passion, thinking every
minute an hour, and waiting for his answer. Indeed he expected no
answer. Yet something there was that must be said, and which Mr.
Brownlow did not know how to say.

“You betrayed yourself?” he said, at last; “that means, you spoke. And
what did Sara say?”

The color on Powys’s face flushed deeper and deeper. He gave one wild,
half-frantic look of inquiry at his questioner. There was nothing in the
words, but in the calm of the tone, in the naming of his daughter’s
name, there was something that looked like a desperate glimmer of hope;
and this unexpected light flashed upon the young man all of a sudden,
and made him nearly mad. “She said nothing,” he answered, breathlessly.
“I was not so dishonorable as to ask for any answer. What answer was
possible? It was forced out of me, and I rushed away.”

Mr. Brownlow pushed his chair away from the table. He got up and went to
the window, and stood and looked out, he could not have told why. There
was nothing there that could help him in what he had to say. There was
nothing but two children standing in the dusty road, and a pale, swarthy
organ-grinder, with two big eyes, playing “_Ah, che la morte_” outside.
Mr. Brownlow always remembered the air, and so did Powys, standing
behind, with his heart beating loud, and feeling that the next words he
should listen to might convey life or death.

“If she has said nothing,” said Mr. Brownlow at last from the window,
speaking with his back turned, “perhaps it will be as well for me to
follow her example.” When he said this he returned slowly to his seat,
and took his chair without ever looking at the culprit before him. “Of
course you were wrong,” he added; “but you are young. You ought not to
have been placed in such temptation. Go back to your work, Mr. Powys. It
was a youthful indiscretion; and I am not one of those who reject an
honorable apology. We will forget it for ever--we, and every body
concerned--”

“But, sir--” cried Powys.

“No more,” said Mr. Brownlow. “Let by-gones be by-gones. You need not go
up to Brownlows again till this occurrence has been forgotten. I told
you Sara had sent you the book you left. It has been an unfortunate
accident, but no more than an accident, I hope. Go back to your work,
and forget it. Don’t do any thing rash. I accept your apology. Such a
thing might have happened to the best of us. But you will be warned by
it, and do not err again. Go back to your work.”

“Then I am not to leave you?” said Powys, sorely tossed between hope and
despair, thinking one moment that he was cruelly treated, and the next
overwhelmed by the favor shown him. He looked so wistfully at his
employer, that Mr. Brownlow, who saw him though he was not looking at
him, had hard ado not to give him a little encouragement with his eyes.

“If you can assure me this will not be repeated, I see no need for your
leaving,” said Mr. Brownlow. “You know I wish you well, Powys. I am
content that it should be as if it had never been.”

The young man did not know what to say. The tumult in his mind had not
subsided. He was in the kind of condition to which every thing which is
not despair is hope. He was wild with wonder, bewilderment, confusion.
He made some incoherent answer, and the next moment he found himself
again at his desk, dizzy like a man who has fallen from some great
height, yet feels himself unhurt upon solid ground after all. What was
to come of it all? And Sara had sent him his book. Sara? Never in his
wildest thoughts had he ventured to call her Sara before. He did not do
it wittingly now. He was in a kind of trance of giddiness and
bewilderment. Was it all real, or had it happened in a dream?

Meanwhile Mr. Brownlow too sat and pondered this new development. What
was it all to come to? He seemed to other people to be the arbiter of
events; but that was what he himself asked, in a kind of consternation,
of time and fate.



CHAPTER XXIX.

NEWS.


It was the beginning of September, as we have said, and the course of
individual history slid aside as it were for the moment, and lost itself
in the general web. Brownlows became full of people--friends of Jack’s,
friends of Mr. Brownlow, even friends of Sara--for ladies came of course
to break the monotony of the shooting-party--and in the press of
occupation personal matters had to be put aside. Mr. Brownlow himself
almost forgot, except by moments when the thought came upon him with a
certain thrill of excitement, that the six weeks were gliding
noiselessly on, and that soon his deliverance would come. As for Sara,
she did not forget the agitating little scene in which she had been only
a passive actor, but which had woven a kind of subtle link between her
and the man who had spoken to her in the voice of real passion. The
sound of it had scared and perplexed her at first, and it had roused her
to a sense of the real difference, as well as the real affinities,
between them; but whatever she might feel, the fact remained that there
was a link between them--a link which she could no more break than the
Queen could--a something that defied all denial or contradiction. She
might never see him again, but--he loved her. When a girl is fancy-free,
there is no greater charm; and Sara was, or had been, entirely
fancy-free, and was more liable than most girls to this attraction. When
the people around her were stupid or tiresome, as to be sure the best of
people are sometimes, her thoughts would make a sudden gleam like
lightning upon the man who had said he would never see her face again.
Perhaps he might have proved tiresome too, had he gone out in the
morning with his gun, and come home tired to dinner; but he was absent;
and there are times when the absent have the best of it, notwithstanding
all proverbs. She was much occupied, and by times sufficiently well
amused at home, and did not feel it in the least necessary to summon
Powys to her side; but still the thought of him came in now and then,
and gave an additional zest to her other luxuries. It was a supreme odor
and incense offered up to her, as he had thought it would be--a flower
which she set her pretty foot upon, and the fragrance of which came up
poignant and sweet to her delicate nostril. If any body had said as much
to Sara it would have roused her almost to fury; but still such were the
facts of the case.

Jack, for his part, was less excusable if he was negligent, and he was
rather negligent just then, in the first fervor of the partridges, it
must be allowed--not that he cared a straw for the ladies of the party,
and their accomplishments, and their pretty dresses, and their wiles,
poor Pamela believed in her heart. Apart from Pamela, Jack was a stoic,
and wasted not a thought on womankind; but when a man is shooting all
day, and is surrounded by a party of fellows who have to be dined and
entertained in the evening, and is, besides, quite confident in his mind
that the little maiden who awaits him has no other seductive voice to
whisper in her ear, he may be pardoned for a little carelessness or
unpunctuality--at least Jack thought he ought to be pardoned, which
comes very much to the same thing. Thus the partridges, if they did not
affect the affairs of state, as do their Highland brethren the grouse,
at least had an influence upon the affairs of Brownlows, and put a stop,
as it were, to the undivided action of its private history for the time.

It was during this interval that the carrier’s cart once more deposited
a passenger on the Brownlows road. She did not get down at the gate,
which, she already knew, was a step calculated to bring upon her the
eyes of the population, but was set down at a little distance, and came
in noiselessly, as became her mission. It was a September afternoon,
close and sultry. The sky was a whitish blue, pale with the blaze that
penetrated and filled it. The trees looked parched and dusty where they
overhung the road. The whole landscape round Brownlows beyond the line
of these dusty trees was yellow with stubble, for the land was rich, and
there had been a heavy crop. The fields were reaped, and the kindly
fruits of earth gathered in, and there seemed no particular need for all
that blaze of sunshine. But the sun blazed all the same, and the
pedestrian stole slowly on, casting a long oblique shadow across the
road. Every thing was sleepy and still. Old Betty’s door and windows
were open, but the heat was so great as to quench even curiosity; or
perhaps it was only that the stranger’s step was very stealthy, and
until it suddenly fell upon a treacherous knot of gravel, which
dispersed under her weight and made a noise, had given no sign of its
approach. Betty came languidly to her door when she heard this sound,
but she went in again and dropped back into her doze upon her big chair
when she saw it was but the slow and toiling figure of a poor woman, no
way attractive to curiosity. “Some poor body a-going to Dewsbury,” she
said to herself; and thus Nancy stole on unnoticed. The blind was down
in the parlor window of Mrs. Swayne’s neighbor, and her door closed, and
Mrs. Swayne herself was out of the way for the moment, seeing to the
boiling of the afternoon kettle. Nancy crept in, passing like a vision
across Mrs. Preston’s open window. Her step made no appreciable sound
even in the sleepy stillness of the house, and the sole preface they had
to her appearance in the parlor was a shadow of something black which
crossed the light, and the softest visionary tap at the door. Then the
old woman stood suddenly before the mother and the daughter, who were
sitting together dull enough. Mrs. Preston was still poorly, and
disturbed in her mind. And as for Pamela, poor child, it was a trying
moment for her. As from a watch-tower, she could see what was going on
at Brownlows, and knew that they were amusing themselves, and had all
kinds of pleasant parties, in which Jack, who was hers and no other
woman’s, took the chief part; and that amid all these diversions he had
no time to come to see her though she had the only right to him, and
that other girls were by, better born, better mannered, better dressed,
and more charming than her simple self. Would it be his fault if he were
fickle? How could he help being fickle with attractions so much greater
around him? This was how Pamela was thinking as she sat by the sofa on
which her mother lay. It was not weather for much exertion, and in the
peculiar position of affairs, it was painful for these two to run the
risk of meeting anybody from Brownlows; therefore they did not go out
except furtively now and then at night, and sat all day in the house,
and brooded, and were not very cheerful. Every laugh she heard sounding
down the avenue, every carriage that drove out of or into the gates,
every stray bit of gossip about the doings at the great house, and the
luncheon parties at the cover-side, and the new arrivals, sounded to
poor little Pamela like an injury. She had meant to be so happy and she
was not happy. Only the sound of the guns was a little comfort to her.
To be sure when he was shooting he was still amusing himself away from
her; but at the same time he was not near the fatal beauties whom every
evening Pamela felt in her heart he must be talking to, and smiling
upon, and growing bewitched by. Such was the tenor of her thoughts as
she sat by the sofa working, when old Nancy came in so suddenly at the
door.

Pamela sprang up from her seat. Her nerves were out of order, and even
her temper, poor child! and all her delicate organization set on edge
“It is _her_ again! and oh, what do you want?” said Pamela, with a
little shriek. As for Mrs. Preston, she too sat bolt upright on the sofa
and started not without a certain fright, at the sudden apparition.
“Nancy Christian!” she said, clasping her hands together; “Nancy
Christian! Is this _you_?”

“Yes, it’s me,” said Nancy; “I said I would come, and here I am, and
I’ve a deal to say. If you don’t mind, I’ll take a chair, for it’s a
long way walking in this heat, all the way from Masterton.” This she
said without a blush, though she had been set down not fifty yards off
from the carrier’s cart.

“Sit down,” said Mrs. Preston, anxiously, herself rising from the sofa.
“It is not often I lie down,” (though this was almost as much a fiction
as Nancy’s), “but the heat gets the better of one. I remember your name
as long as I remember any thing; I always hoped you would come back.
Pamela, if there is any thing that Nancy would like after her long
walk--”

“A cup of tea is all as I care for,” said Nancy. “It’s a many years
since we’ve met, and you’ve changed, ma’am,” she added, with a
cordiality that was warmer than her sincerity; “but I could allays see
as it was you.”

“I have reason to be changed,” said Mrs. Preston. “I was young when you
saw me last, and now I’m an old woman. I’ve had many troubles. I’ve had
a hard fight with the world, and I’ve lost all my children but this one.
She’s a good child, but she can’t stand in the place of all that I’ve
lost--And oh, Nancy Christian, you’re a woman that can tell me about my
poor old mother. Many a thought I have had of her, and often, often it
seemed a judgment that my children should be taken from me. If you could
but tell me she forgave me before she died!”

Nancy made no direct answer to this appeal, but she looked at Pamela,
and then at her mother, with a significant gesture. The two old women
had their world to go back into of which the young creature knew
nothing, and where there were many things which might not bear her
inspection; while she, on the other hand, was absorbed in her own new
world, and scarcely heard or noticed what they were saying. She stood
between them in her youth, unaware of the look they exchanged, unaware
that she was in the way of their confidences--thinking, in fact, nothing
of much importance in the world except what might be going on in the
great house over the way.

“Pamela,” said Mrs. Preston, “go and see about the tea, and run out to
the garden, dear, and get a breath of air; for I have a deal to ask, and
Nancy has a deal to tell me; and there will be no one passing at this
time of the day.”

“If they were all passing it would not matter to me,” said Pamela, and
she sighed, and put down her languid work, and went away to make the
tea. But she did not go out to the garden; though she said it did not
matter, it did matter mightily. She went up stairs to the window and sat
down behind the curtain, and fixed her hungry eyes upon the gate and the
avenue beyond; and then she made little pictures to herself of the
ladies at Brownlows, and how Jack must be enjoying himself, and gathered
some big bitter tears in her eyes, and felt herself forsaken. It was
worse than the Peri at the gate of Eden. So long as Jack had come to the
cottage, it mattered little to Pamela who was at the great house. In
those days she could think, “They are finer than I am, and better off,
and even prettier, but he likes me best;” but now this was all
changed--the poor little Peri saw the blessed walking in pairs and
pleasant companies, and her own young archangel, who was the centre of
the Paradise, surrounded and taken possession of by celestial sirens--if
such things can be. To be sure Jack Brownlow was not much like an
archangel, but that mattered little. What a change it was! and all to
come about in a week or two. She, too, was like the flower upon which
the conqueror set his foot; and Pamela was not passive, but resisted and
struggled. Thus she was not curious about what old Nancy could be saying
to her mother. What could it be? some old gossip or other, recollections
of a previous state of existence before any body was born--talk about
dead things and dead people that never could affect the present state of
being. If Pamela thought of it at all, she was half glad that poor mamma
should have some thing to amuse her, and half jealous that her mother
could think of any thing except the overwhelming interest of her own
affairs. And she lingered at the window unawares, until the tea was
spoiled oblivious of Nancy’s fatigue; and saw the gentlemen come in from
their shooting, with their dogs and guns and keepers, and the result of
their day’s work, and was aware that Jack lingered, and looked across
the road, and waited till everybody was gone; then her heart jumped up
and throbbed loudly as he came toward the house. She was about to rush
down to him, to forget her griefs, and understand how it was and that he
could not help it. But Pamela was a minute too late. She was on her way
to the door, when suddenly her heart stood still and the color went out
of her face, and she stopped short like one thunderstruck. He was going
away again, astonished, like a man in a dream, with the birds in his
hand which he had been bringing as a peace-offering. And Pamela heard
her mother’s voice, sharp and harsh, speaking from the door. “I am much
obliged to you, Mr. Brownlow, but I never eat game, and we are both very
much engaged, and unable to see any one to-day;” these were the words
the poor girl heard; and then the door, which always stood open--the
fearless hospitable cottage door, was closed sharply, and with a
meaning. Pamela stood aghast, and saw him go away with his rejected
offering; and then the disappointment and wonder and quick change of
feeling came raining down from her eyes in big tears. Poor Jack! It was
not his fault--he was not unfaithful nor careless--but her own; and her
mother to send him away! It all passed, in a moment, and she had not
time or self-possession to throw open the window and hold out her hands
to him and call him back, but only stood speechless and watched him
disappearing, himself speechless with amazement, crossing the road
backward with his birds in his hand. Then Pamela’s dreams came suddenly
to an end. She dried her eyes indignantly--or rather the sudden hot
flush on her cheeks dried them without any aid--and smoothed back her
hair, and went down flaming in youthful wrath to call her mother to
account. But Mrs. Preston too was a changed creature. Pamela did not
know what to make of it when she went into the little parlor. Old Nancy
was sitting on a chair by the wall, just as she had done when she came
in, and looking the same; but as for Mrs. Preston, she was a different
woman. If wings had suddenly budded at her shoulders the revolution
could scarcely have been greater. She stood upright near the window,
with no stoop, no headache, no weariness--ten years younger at
least--her eyes as bright as two fires, and even her black dress hanging
about her in different folds. Pamela’s resentment and indignation and
rebellious feelings came to an end at this unwonted spectacle. She could
only stand before her mother and stare at her, and wonder what it could
mean.

“It is nothing,” said Mrs. Preston. “Mr. Brownlow, who brought us some
game--you know I don’t care for game; and then people change their minds
about things. Sit down, Pamela, and don’t stare at me. I have been
getting too languid about every thing, and when one rouses up every body
wonders what one means.”

“Mamma,” said Pamela, too much astonished to know what to answer, “you
sent him away!”

“Yes, I sent him away; and I will send any one away that I think
mercenary and selfish,” said Mrs. Preston. Was it she who spoke? Could
it be her mild uncertain lips from which such words came; and then what
could it mean? How could he be mercenary--he who was going to give up
every thing for his love’s sake? No words could express Pamela’s
consternation. She sat down weak with wonder, and gazed at her mother.
The change was one which she could not in any way explain to herself.

“Old Mrs. Fennell was very rude to me,” said Mrs. Preston. “I fear you
have not a very comfortable place, Nancy Christian; but we can soon
change that. You that were so faithful to my poor mother, you may be
sure you’ll not be forgotten. You are not to think of walking back to
Masterton. If I had known you were coming I would have spoken to Hobson
the carrier. I never was fond of the Fennells from the earliest I
remember; though Tom, you know, poor fellow--but he was a great deal
older than me.”

“He was nigh as old as your mother,” said Nancy; “many’s the time I’ve
heard her say it. ‘He wanted my daughter,’ she would say; ‘her a slip of
a girl, and him none so much younger than I am myself; but now he’s
catched a tartar;’ and she would laugh, poor old dear; but when she knew
as they were after what she had--that’s what drove her wild you may
say--”

“Yes, yes,” said Mrs. Preston; “yes, yes; you need say no more Nancy; I
see it all--I see it all. Wherever there’s money it’s a snare, and no
mortal that I can see escapes. If I had but known a month ago! but after
this they shall see they can’t do what they please with me. No; though
it may be hard upon us--hard upon us. Oh, Nancy Christian,” she said,
flinging up her arms into the air, “if you had but come to tell me a
month ago!”

Pamela listened to this conversation with gradually increasing dismay.
She did not know what it meant; but yet by some instinctive sense, she
knew that it concerned herself--and Jack. She rose up and went to her
mother with vague terrors in her heart. “Mamma, what is it? tell me what
it is,” she said, putting two clinging hands around her arm.

At these words Mrs. Preston suddenly came to herself. “What is what?”
she said. “Sit down, Pamela, and don’t ask foolish questions; or rather
go and see after the tea. It has never come, though I told you Nancy was
tired. If you left it by Mrs. Swayne’s fire it will be boiled by this
time; and you know when it stands too long I can’t bear it. Go, dear,
and get the tea.”

“But, mamma,” said Pamela, still clinging to her, and speaking in her
ear, “mamma! I know there must be something. Why did you send him away?”

Mrs. Preston gave her child a look which Pamela, driven to her wits’
end, could not interpret. There was pity in it and there was defiance,
and a certain fierce gleam as of indignation. “Child, you know nothing
about it,” she said, with suppressed passion; “nothing; and I can’t tell
you now. Go and get us the tea.”

Pamela gazed again, but she could make nothing of it. It was, and yet it
was not her mother--not the old, faded, timid, hesitating woman who had
nothing in the world but herself; but somebody so much younger, so much
stronger--with those two shining, burning eyes, and this sudden
self-consciousness and command. She gave a long look, and then she
sighed and dropped her mother’s arm, and went away to do her bidding. It
was the first appeal she had ever made in vain, and naturally it filled
her with a painful amaze. It was such a combination of events as she
could not understand. Nancy’s arrival, and Jack’s dismissal and this
curious change in Mrs. Preston’s appearance. Her little heart had been
full of pain when she left the room before, but it was pain of a very
different kind. Now the laggard had come who was all the cause of the
trouble then, and he had been sent away without reason or explanation,
and what could it mean? “If I had but known a month ago!” What could it
be that she had heard? The girl’s heart took to beating again very loud
and fast, and her imagination began to work, and it is not difficult to
divine what sort of theories of explanation rose in her thoughts. The
only thing that Pamela could think of as raising any fatal barrier
between herself and Jack was unfaithfulness or a previous love on his
part. This, without doubt, was Nancy’s mission. She had come to tell of
his untruthfulness; that he loved somebody else; perhaps had pledged
himself to somebody else; and that between him and his new love, instant
separation, heartbreak, and despair must ensue. “He need not have been
afraid to tell me,” Pamela said to herself, with her heart swelling till
it almost burst from her breast. All her little frame, all her sensitive
nerves, thrilled with pain and pride. This was what it was. She was not
so much stunned by the blow as roused up to the fullest consciousness.
Her lip would have quivered sadly had she been compelled to speak; her
voice might have broken for any thing she could tell, and risen into
hard tones and shrieks of pain. But she was not obliged to speak to any
one, and so could shut herself in and keep it down. She went about
mechanically, but with nervous haste and swiftness, and covered the
little table with its white cloth, and put bread on it, and the tea for
which Nancy and her mother sighed; and she thought they looked at her
with cruel coldness, as if it was they who were concerned and not she.
As if it could be any thing to any body in comparison to what it was to
her! As if she must not be at all times the principal in such a matter!
Thus they sat down at the little round table. Nancy, who was much in her
ordinary, ate, drank and was very comfortable, and pleased with the
country cream in her tea; but the mother and the daughter neither ate
nor drank. Mrs. Preston sat, saying now and then a word or two to Nancy
which Pamela could not understand, but mostly was silent, pondering and
full of thoughts, while Pamela, with her eyes cast down, and a burning,
crimson color on her cheeks, sat still and brooded over the cruelty she
thought they were showing her. Nancy was the only one who “enjoyed,” as
she said, “her tea.”

“You may get a drop of what’s called cream in a town, but it ain’t
cream,” said Nancy. “It’s but skim-milk frothed up, and you never get
the taste of the tea. It’s a thing as I always buys good. It’s me as
lays in all the things, and when there ain’t a good cup o’ tea at my age
there ain’t nothing as is worth in life. But the fault’s not in the tea.
It’s the want of a drop of good cream as does it. It’s that as brings
out the flavor, and gives it a taste. A cup o’ good tea’s a cheering
thing; but I wouldn’t say as you was enjoying it, Mrs. Preston, like
me.”

“I have other things in my mind,” said Mrs. Preston; “you’ve had a long
walk, and you must want it. As for me, my mind’s all in a ferment. I
don’t seem to know if it’s me, or what has happened. You would not have
come and told me all this if you had not been as sure as sure of what
you had to say!”

“Sure and sure enough,” said Nancy. “I’ve knowed it from first to last,
and how could I go wrong! If you go to London, as you say, you can judge
for yourself, and there won’t be nothing for me to tell; but you’ll
think on as I was the first--for your old mother’s sake--”

“You’ll not be forgot,” said Mrs. Preston; “you need not fear. I am not
the one to neglect a friend--and one that was good to my poor mother;
you may reckon on me.” She sat upright in her chair, and every line in
her face had changed. Power, patronage, and protection were in her
tone--she who had been herself so poor and timid and anxious. Her very
words were uttered more clearly, and with a distincter intonation. And
Pamela listened with all her might, and grew more and more bewildered,
and tried vainly to make out some connection between this talk and the
discovery which she supposed must have been made. But what could Jack’s
failure in good faith have to do with any body’s old mother! It was only
Nancy who was quite at her ease. “I will take another cup, if you
please, Miss Pamela,” said Nancy, “and I hope as I’ll live to see you in
your grandeur, feasting with lords and ladies, instead of pouring out an
old woman’s tea--for them as is good children is rewarded. Many’s the
day I’ve wished to see you, and wondered how many of you there was. It’s
sad for your mother as there’s only you; but it’s a fine thing for
yourself, Miss Pamela--and you must always give your mind to do what
your mamma says.”

“How should it be a fine thing for me!” said Pamela; “or how should I
ever feast with lords and ladies? I suppose you mean to make fun of us.
As for doing what mamma says, of course I always do--and she never tells
me to do any thing unreasonable,” the girl added, after a momentary
pause, looking doubtfully at her mother. If she were told to give up
Jack, Pamela felt that it would be something unreasonable, and she had
no inclination to pledge herself. Mrs. Preston was changed from all her
daughter’s previous knowledge of her; and it might be that her demands
upon Pamela’s obedience would change too.

“It’s nigh my time to go,” said Nancy. “I said to the carrier as he was
to wait for me down the road. I wouldn’t be seen a-getting into the
wagon here. Folks talks awful when they’re so few; and thank you kindly,
Mrs. Preston, for the best cup of tea as I’ve tasted for ten years. Them
as can get cream like that, has what I calls some comfort in this life.”

“Pamela,” said Mrs. Preston, “you can walk along with Nancy as far as
Merryfield Farm, and give my compliments; and if they’d put a drop of
their best cream in a bottle--It’s all I can do just now, Nancy
Christian; but I am not one that forgets my friends, and the time may
come--”

“The time _will_ come, ma’am,” said Nancy, getting up and making her
patroness a courtesy, “and I’m none afraid as you’ll forget; and thank
you kindly for thinking o’ the cream--if it ain’t too much trouble to
Miss Pamela. If you go up there, as you think to do, and find all as I
say, you’ll be so kind as to let me know?”

“I’ll let you know, you may be sure,” said Mrs. Preston, in her short
decisive tones of patronage. And then the girl, much against her will,
had to put on her hat and go with Nancy. She did it, but it was with an
ill grace; for she was longing to throw herself upon her mother and have
an explanation of all this--what had happened, and what it meant. The
air had grown cool, and old Betty had come out to her door, and Mrs.
Swayne was in the little garden watering the mignonnette. And it was not
easy to pass those two pairs of eyes and preserve a discreet incognito.
To do her justice, Nancy tried her best; but it was a difficult matter
to blind Mrs. Swayne.

“I thought as it was you,” said that keen observer. “I said as much to
Swayne when he told me there was a lady to tea in the parlor. I said,
‘You take my word it’s her as come from Masterton asking after them.’
And I hope, mum, as I see you well. Mrs. Preston has been but poorly;
and you as knows her constitootion and her friends--”

“She knows nothing about us,” said Pamela, with indignation; “not now; I
never saw her in my life before. And how can she know about mamma’s
constitution, or her friends either? Nancy, come along; you will be too
late for Hobson if you stand talking here.”

“It’s never no loss of time to say a civil word, Miss Pamela,” said
Nancy. “It’s years and years since I saw her, and she’s come through a
deal since then. And having a family changes folks’ constitootions. If
it wasn’t asking too much, I’d ask for a bit o’ mignonnette. Town folks
is terrible greedy when they comes to the country--and it’s that sweet
as does one’s heart good. Nice cream and butter and new-laid eggs, and a
bit o’ lad’s love, or something as smells sweet--give me that, and I
don’t ask for none o’ your grandeurs. That’s the good o’ the country to
me.”

“They sends all that country stuff to old Mrs. Fennell, don’t they?”
said Betty, who in the leisure of the evening had crossed the road. “I
should have thought you’d been sick of all them things--and the fruit
and the partridges as I see packed no later then this very afternoon. I
should have said you had enough for six, if any one had asked me.”

“When the partridges is stale and the fruit rotten,” said Nancy,
shrugging her shoulders; “and them as has such plenty, where’s the merit
of it? I suppose there’s fine doings at the house, with all their
shootings and all the strangers as is about--”

“They was at a picnic to-day,” said Betty. “Mr. John, he’s the one! He
makes all them ladies leave their comfortable lunch, as is better than
many a dinner, and down to the heath with their cold pies and their
jellies and such like. Give me a bit of something ’ot. But they think
he’s a catch, being the only son; and there ain’t one but does what he
says.”

Pamela had been standing plucking a bit of mignonnette to pieces,
listening with tingling ears. It was not in human nature not to listen;
but she roused herself when Betty’s voice ceased, and went softly on,
withdrawing herself from the midst of them. Her poor little heart was
swelling and throbbing, and every new touch seemed to add to its
excitement; but pride, and a sense of delicacy and dignity, came to her
aid. Jack’s betrothed, even if neglected or forsaken, was not in her fit
place amid this gossip. She went on quietly, saying nothing about it,
leaving her companion behind. And the three women gave each other
significant glances as soon as she had turned her back on them. “I told
’em how it would be,” said Mrs. Swayne, under her breath, “it’s allays
the way when a girl is that mad to go and listen to a gentleman.” And
Betty, though she sneered at her employers with goodwill, had an idea of
keeping up their importance so far as other people were concerned. “Poor
lass!” said Betty, “she’s been took in. She thought Mr. John was one as
would give up every thing for the like of her; but he has her betters to
choose from. He’s affable like, but he’s a deal too much pride for
that.”

“Pride goes afore a fall,” said Nancy, with meaning; “and the Brownlows
ain’t such grand folks after all. Nothing but attorneys, and an old
woman’s money to set them up as wasn’t a drop’s blood to them. I don’t
see no call for pride.”

“The old squires was different, I don’t deny,” said Betty, with candor;
“but when folks is bred gentlefolks, and has all as heart can desire--”

“There’s gentlefolks as might do worse,” said Nancy, fiercely; “but it
ain’t nothing to you nor me--”

“It ought to be a deal to both of you,” said Mrs. Swayne, coming in as
moderator, “eating their bread as it were, and going on like that. And
both of you with black silks to put on of a Sunday, and sure of your
doctor and your burial if you was to fall ill. I wouldn’t be that
ungrateful if it was me.”

“It’s no use quarreling,” said Nancy; “and I’ll say good-night, for I’ve
a long way to go. If ever you should want any thing in Masterton, I’d do
my best to serve you. Miss Pamela’s a long way on, and walking fast
ain’t for this weather; so I’ll bid you both good-night. We’ll have time
for more talk,” she added significantly, “next time I come back; and I’d
like a good look at that nice lodge you’ve got.” Old Betty did not know
what the woman meant, but those black eyes “went through and through
her,” she said; and so Nancy’s visit came to an end.



CHAPTER XXX.

WHAT FOLLOWED.


Pamela could make nothing of her companion. Nancy was very willing to
talk, and indeed ran on in an unceasing strain; but what she said only
confused the more the girl’s bewildered faculties; and she saw her mount
at last into the carrier’s cart, and left her with less perception than
ever of what had happened. Then she went straying home in the early
dusk, for already the days had begun to grow short, and that night in
especial a thunder-storm was brewing, and the clouds were rolling down
darkly after the sultry day. Pamela crossed over to the shade of the
thick hedge and fence which shut in the park, that nobody might see her,
and her thoughts as she went along were not sweet. She thought of Jack
and the ladies at Brownlows, and then she thought of the wish her mother
had uttered--Had she but known this a month ago! and between the
terrible suspicion of a previous love, and the gnawing possibility of
present temptation, made herself very miserable, poor child. Either he
had deceived her, and was no true man; or if he had not yet deceived
her, he was in hourly peril of doing so, and at any moment the blow
might come. While she was thus lingering along in the twilight,
something happened which gave Pamela a terrible fright. She was passing
a little stile when suddenly a man sprang out upon her and caught hold
of her hands. She was so sure that Jack was dining at Brownlows, and
yielding to temptation then, that she did not recognize him, and
screamed when he sprang out; and it was dark, so dark that she
could scarcely see his face. Jack, for his part, had been so
conscience-stricken when Mrs. Preston refused him entrance that he had
done what few men of this century would be likely to do. He had gone in
with the other men, and gulped down some sherry at the sideboard, and
instead of proceeding to his dressing-room as they all did after, had
told a very shocking fib to Willis the butler, for the benefit of his
father and friends, and rushed out again. He might have been proof
against upbraiding, but compunction seized him when Mrs. Preston closed
the door. He had deserved it, but he had not expected such summary
measures; and “that woman,” as he called her in his dismay, was capable
of taking his little love away and leaving him no sign. He saw it in her
eye; for he, too, saw the change in her. Thus Jack was alarmed, and in
his fright his conscience spoke. And he had seen Pamela go out, and
waylaid her; and was very angry and startled to see she did not
recognize him. “Good heavens, do you mean to say you don’t know me?” he
cried, almost shaking her as he held her by the hands. To scream and
start as if the sight of him was not the most natural thing in the
world, and the most to be looked for! Jack felt it necessary to begin
the warfare, to combat his own sense of guilt.

“I thought you were at dinner,” said Pamela, faintly. “I never thought
it could be you.”

“And you don’t look a bit glad to see me. What do you mean by it?” said
Jack. “It is very hard, when a fellow gives up every thing to come and
see you. And your mother to shut the door upon me! She never did it
before. A man has his duties to do, whatever happens. I can’t go and
leave these fellows loafing about by themselves. I must go out with
them. I thought you were going to take me for better for worse, Pamela,
not for a month or a week.”

“Oh, don’t speak so,” said Pamela. “It was never me. It must have been
something mamma had heard. She does not look a bit like herself; and it
is all since that old woman came.”

“What old woman?” said Jack, calming down. “Look here, come into the
park. They are all at dinner, and no one will see; and tell me all about
it. So long as you are not changed, nothing else is of any consequence.
Only for half an hour--”

“I don’t think I ought,” said Pamela; but she was on the other side of
the stile when she said these words; and her hand was drawn deeply
through Jack’s arm, and held fast, so that it was clearly a matter of
discreet submission, and she could not have got away had she wished it.
“I don’t think I ought to come,” said Pamela, “you never come to us now;
and it must have been something that mamma had heard. I think she is
going away somewhere; and I am sure, with all these people at Brownlows,
and all that old Nancy says, and you never coming near us, I do not mind
where we go, for my part.”

“As if I cared for the people at Brownlows!” said Jack, holding her hand
still more tightly. “Don’t be cruel to a fellow, Pamela. I’ll take you
away whenever you please, but without me you shan’t move a step. Who is
old Nancy, I should like to know? and as for any thing you could have
heard--Who suffers the most, do you suppose, from the people at
Brownlows? To know you are there, and that one can’t have even a look at
you--”

“But then you can have a great many looks at other people,” said Pamela,
“and perhaps there was somebody else before me--don’t hold my hand so
tight. We are poor, and you are rich--and it makes a great difference.
And I can’t do just what I like. You say _you_ can’t, and you are a man,
and older than I am. I must do what mamma says.”

“But you know you can make her do what you like; whereas, with a lot of
fellows--” said Jack. “Pamela, don’t--there’s a darling! You have me in
your power, and you can put your foot upon me if you like. But you have
not the heart to do it. Not that I should mind your little foot. Be as
cruel as you please; but don’t talk of running away. You know you can
make your mother do whatever you like.”

“Not now,” said Pamela, “not now--there is such a change in her; and oh,
Jack, I do believe she is angry, and she will make me go away.”

“Tell me about it,” said Jack, tenderly; for Pamela had fallen into
sudden tears, without any regard for her consistency. And then the
dialogue became a little inarticulate. It lasted a deal longer on the
whole than half an hour, and the charitable clouds drooped lower, and
gave them shade and shelter as they emerged at last from the park, and
stole across the deserted road to Swayne’s cottage. They were just in
time; the first drops of the thunder-shower fell heavy and big upon
Pamela before they gained shelter. But she did not mind them much. She
had unburdened her heart, and her sorrows had flown away; and the ladies
at Brownlows were no longer of any account in her eyes. She drew her
lover in with her at the door, which so short a time before had been
closed on him. “Mamma, I made him come in with me, not to get wet,” said
Pamela; and both the young people looked with a little anxiety upon Mrs.
Preston, deprecating her wrath. She was seated by the window, though it
had grown dark, perhaps looking for Pamela; but her aspect was rather
that of one who had forgotten every thing external for the moment, than
of an anxious mother watching for her child. They could not see the
change in her face, as they gazed at her so eagerly in the darkness; but
they both started and looked at each other when she spoke.

“I would not refuse any one shelter from a storm,” she said, “but if Mr.
Brownlow thinks a little, he will see that this is no place for him.”
She did not even turn round as she spoke, but kept at the window,
looking out, or appearing to look out, upon the gathering clouds.

Jack was thunderstruck. There was something in her voice which chilled
him to his very bones. It was not natural offense for his recent
short-comings, or doubt of his sincerity. He felt himself getting red in
the darkness. “It was as if she had found me out to be a scoundrel, by
Jove,” he said to himself afterward, which was a very different sort of
thing from mere displeasure or jealousy. And in the silence that ensued,
Mrs. Preston took no notice of anybody. She kept her place at the
window, without looking round or saying another word; and in the
darkness behind stood the two bewildered, trying to read in each other’s
faces what it could mean.

“Speak to her,” said Pamela, eagerly whispering close to his ear; but
Jack, for his part, could not tell what to say. He was offended, and he
did not want to speak to her; but, on the contrary, held Pamela fast,
with almost a perverse desire to show her mother that the girl was his,
and that he did not care. “It is you I want, and not your mother,” he
said. They could hear each other speak, and could even differ and argue
and be impassioned without anybody else being much the wiser. The only
sound Mrs. Preston heard was a faint rustle of whispers in the darkness
behind her. “No,” said Jack, “if she will be ill-tempered, I can’t help
it. It is you I want,” and he stood by and held his ground. When the
first lightning flashed into the room, this was how it found them.
There was a dark figure seated at the window, relieved against the
gleam, and two faces which looked at each other, and shone for a second
in the wild illumination. Then Pamela gave a little shriek and covered
her face. She was not much more than a child, and she was afraid. “Come
in from the window, mamma! do come, or it will strike you; and let us
close the shutters,” cried Pamela. There was a moment during which Mrs.
Preston sat still, as if she did not hear. The room fell into blackness,
and then blazed forth again, the window suddenly becoming “a glimmering
square,” with the one dark outline against it. Jack held his little love
with his arm, but his eyes were fascinated by that strange sight. What
could it mean? Was she mad? Had something happened in his absence to
bring about this wonderful change? The mother, however, could not resist
the cry that Pamela uttered the second time. She rose up, and closed the
shutters with her own hands, refusing Jack’s aid. But when the three
looked at each other, by the light of the candles, they all looked
excited and disturbed. Mrs. Preston sat down by the table, with an air
so different from her ordinary looks, that she seemed another woman. And
Jack, when her eyes fell upon him, could not help feeling something like
a prisoner at the bar.

“Mr. Brownlow,” she said, “I dare say you think women are very ignorant,
especially about business--and so they are; but you and your father
should remember--you should remember that weak folks, when they are put
to it--Pamela! sit down, child, and don’t interfere; or, if you like,
you can go away.”

“What have I done, Mrs. Preston!” said Jack. “I don’t know what you
mean. If it is because I have been some days without coming, the reason
is--But I told Pamela all about it. If that is the reason--”

“That!” cried Mrs. Preston, and then her voice began to tremble; “if you
think your coming or--or going is--any--any thing--” she said, and then
her lips quivered so that she could articulate no more. Pamela, with a
great cry, rushed to her and seized her hands, which were trembling too,
and Jack, who thought it was a sudden “stroke,” seized his hat and
rushed to the door to go for a doctor; but Mrs. Preston held out her
shaking hands to him so peremptorily that he stopped in spite of
himself. She was trembling all over--her head, her lips, her whole
frame, yet keeping entire command of herself all the time.

“I am not ill,” she said; “there is no need for a doctor.” And then she
sat resolutely looking at him, holding her feet fast on the floor and
her hand flat on the table to stop the movement of her nerves. It was a
strange sight. But when the two who had been looking at her with alarmed
eyes, suddenly, in the height of their wonder, turned to each other with
a glance of mutual inquiry and sympathy, appealing to each other what it
could mean, Mrs. Preston could not bear it. Her intense self-command
gave way. All at once she fell into an outbreak of wailing and tears.
“You are two of you against me,” she said. “You are saying to each
other, What does she mean! and there is nobody on earth--nobody to take
my part.” The outcry went to Jack Brownlow’s heart. Somehow he seemed to
understand better than even Pamela did, who clung to her mother and
cried, and asked what was it--what had she done! Jack was touched more
than he could explain. The thunder was rolling about the house, and the
rain falling in torrents; but he had not the heart to stay any longer
and thrust his happiness into her face, and wound her with it. Somehow
he felt ashamed; and yet he had nothing to be ashamed about, unless, in
presence of this agitation and pain and weakness, it was his own
strength and happiness and youth.

“I don’t mind the storm,” he said. “I am sure you don’t want any one
here just now. Don’t let your mother think badly of me, Pamela. You know
I would do any thing--and I can’t tell what’s wrong; and I am going
away. Good-night.”

“Not till the storm is over,” cried Pamela. “Mamma, he will get
killed--you know he will, among those trees.”

“Not a bit,” said Jack, and he waved his hand to them and went away,
feeling, it must be confessed, a good deal frightened--not for the
thunder, however, or the storm, but for Mrs. Preston’s weird look and
trembling nerves, and his poor little Pamela left alone to nurse her.
That was the great point. The poor woman was right. For herself there
was nobody to care much. Jack was frightened because of Pamela. His
little love, his soft little darling, whom he would like to take in his
arms and carry away from every trouble--that she should be left alone
with sickness in its most terrible shape, perhaps with delirium,
possibly with death! Jack stepped softly into Mrs. Swayne’s kitchen, and
told her his fears. He told her he would go over to Betty’s lodge and
wait there, in case the doctor should be wanted, and that she was not to
let Miss Pamela wear herself out. As for Mrs. Swayne, though she made an
effort to be civil, she scoffed at his fears. When she had heard what he
had to say she showed him out grimly, and turned with enjoyment the key
in the door. “The doctor!” she said to herself in disdain; “a fine
excuse! But I don’t hold with none o’ your doctors, nor with gentlemen
a-coming like roaring lions. I ain’t one to be caught like that, at my
time of life; and you don’t come in here no more this night, with your
doctors and your Miss Pamelas.” In this spirit Mrs. Swayne fastened the
house up carefully, and shut all the shutters, before she knocked at the
parlor door to see what was the matter. But when she did take that
precaution she was not quite so sure of her own wisdom. Mrs. Preston was
lying on the sofa, shivering and trembling, with Pamela standing
frightened by her. She had forbidden the girl to call any one, and was
making painful efforts by mere resolution to stave it off. She said
nothing, paid no attention to any body, but with her whole force was
struggling to put down the incipient illness, and keep disease at bay.
And Pamela, held by her glittering eye, too frightened to cry, too
ignorant to know what to do, stood by, a white image of terror and
misery, wringing her hands. Mrs. Swayne was frightened too; but there
was some truth in her boast of experience. And, besides, her character
was at stake. She had sent Jack away, and disdained his offer of the
doctor, and it was time to bestir herself. So they got the stricken
woman up stairs and laid her in her bed, and chafed her limbs, and
comforted her with warmth. Jack, waiting in old Betty’s, saw the light
mount to the higher window and shine through the chinks of the shutters,
until the storm was over, and he had no excuse for staying longer. It
was still burning when he went away, and it burned all night through,
and lighted Pamela’s watch as she sat pale at her mother’s bedside. She
sat all through the night and watched her patient--sat while the
lightning still flashed and the thunder roared, and her young soul
quaked within her; and then through the hush that succeeded, and through
the black hours of night and the dawning of the day. It was the first
vigil she had ever kept, and her mind was bewildered with fear and
anxiety, and the confusion of ignorance. She sat alone, wistful and
frightened, afraid to move lest she should disturb her mother’s restless
sleep, falling into dreary little dozes, waking up cold and terrified,
hearing the furniture, and the floor, and the walls and windows--every
thing about her, in short--giving out ghostly sounds in the stillness.
She had never heard those creaks and jars before with which our
inanimate surroundings give token of the depth of silence and night. And
Mrs. Preston’s face looked grey in the faint light, and her breathing
was disturbed; and by times she tossed her arms about, and murmured in
her sleep. Poor Pamela had a weary night; and when the morning came with
its welcome light, and she opened her eyes after a snatch of unwitting
sleep, and found her mother awake and looking at her, the poor child
started up with a sharp cry, in which there was as much terror as
relief.

“Mamma!” she cried. “I did not mean to go to sleep. Are you better?
Shall I run and get you a cup of tea?”

“Come and speak to me, Pamela,” said Mrs. Preston. “I am quite well--at
least I think I am well. My poor darling, have you been sitting up all
night?”

“It does not matter,” said Pamela; “it will not hurt me; but I was
frightened. Are you sure you are better? Poor mamma, how ill you have
been! You looked--I can not tell you how you looked. But you have your
own eyes again this morning. Let me go and get you some tea.”

“I don’t want any tea,” said Mrs. Preston. “I want to speak to you. I am
not so strong as I used to be, and you must not cross me, Pamela. I have
something to do before I die. It upset me to hear of it, and to think of
all that might happen. But I must get well and do it. It is all for your
sake; and you must not cross me, Pamela. You must think well of what I
say.”

“No,” said Pamela, though her heart sank a little. “I never did any
thing to cross you, mamma; but Mrs. Swayne said you were not to talk;
and she left the kettle by the fire that you might have some tea.”

“I do not care for tea; I care for nothing but to get up and do what has
to be done,” said her mother. “It is all for your sake. Things will be
very different, Pamela, from what you think: but you must not cross me.
It is all for you--all for you.”

“Oh, mamma, don’t mind me,” said Pamela, kissing her grey cheek. “I am
all right, if you will only be well; and I don’t know any thing you can
have to do. You are not fit for any thing but to lie still. It is very
early yet. I will draw the curtains if you will try to go to sleep.”

“I must get up and go,” said Mrs. Preston. “This is no time to go to
sleep; but you must not cross me--that is the chief thing of all; for
Pamela, every thing will be yours--every thing; and you are not to be
deceived and taken in, and throw it all away.”

“Oh, mamma dear, lie still and have a little more rest,” cried Pamela,
ready to cry with terror and distress. She thought it was delirium, and
was frightened and overwhelmed by the unexpected calamity. Mrs. Preston,
however, did not look like a woman who was raving; she looked at the old
silver watch under her pillow, drawing it out with a feeble hand, which
still trembled, and when she saw how early it still was, she composed
herself again as with an effort. “Come and lie down, my poor darling,”
she said. “We must not spend our strength; and my Pamela will be my own
good child and do what I say.”

“Yes, mamma,” said the poor child, answering her mother’s kiss; but all
the while her heart sank in her breast. What did it mean? What form was
her submission to take? What was she pledging herself to? She lay down
in reluctant obedience, trembling and agitated; but she was young and
weary, and fell fast asleep in spite of herself and all her fears. And
the morning light, as it brightened and filled the little room, fell
upon the two together, who were so strange a contrast--the young round
sweet face, to which the color returned as the soft sleep smoothed and
soothed it, with eyes so fast closed, and the red lips a little apart,
and the sweet breath rising and falling: and the dark, weary
countenance, worn out of all freshness, now stilled in temporary
slumber, now lighting up with two big dark eyes, which would wake
suddenly, and fix upon the window, eager with thought, and then veil
over again in the doze of weakness. They lay thus till the morning had
advanced, and the sound of Mrs. Swayne’s entrance made Pamela wake, and
spring ashamed from her dead sleep. And finally, the cup of tea, the
universal cordial, was brought. But when Mrs. Preston woke fully, and
attempted to get up, with the eager look and changed manner which
appalled her daughter, it was found to be impossible. The shock,
whatever it was, had been too much for her strength. She fell back again
upon her bed with a look of anguish which went to Pamela’s heart. “I
can’t do it--I can’t do it,” she said to herself, in a voice of despair.
The convulsive trembling of the previous night was gone; but she could
not stand, could not walk, and still shook with nervous weakness. “I
can’t do it--I can’t do it,” she said over and over, and in her despair
wept; which was a sight overwhelming even to Mrs. Swayne, who was
standing looking on.

“Hush, hush,” said that surprised spectator. “Bless your poor soul,
don’t take on. If you can’t do it to-day, you’ll do it to-morrow; though
I don’t know, no more than Adam, what she’s got to do, Miss Pamela, as
is so pressing. Don’t take on. Keep still, and you’ll be better
to-morrow. Don’t go and take no liberties with yourself. You ain’t fit
to stand, much less to do any thing. Bless you, you’ll be as lively as
lively to-morrow, if you lie still and take a drop of beef-tea now and
again, and don’t take on.”

“Yes, I’ll do it to-morrow. It’ll do to-morrow; a day don’t signify,”
said Mrs. Preston; and she recovered herself, and was very quiet, while
Pamela took her place by the bedside. Either she was going to be ill,
perhaps to die, or something had happened to change her very nature, and
turn the current of her life into another channel. Which of these things
it was, was beyond the discrimination of the poor girl who watched by
her bedside.



CHAPTER XXXI.

SUSPICION.


Neither the next day, however, nor the next again, was Mrs. Preston able
to move. The doctor had to be brought at last, and he enjoined perfect
quiet and freedom from care. If she had any thing on her mind, it was to
be exorcised and put away, he ordered, speaking to Mrs. Swayne and
Pamela, who had not a notion what she had on her mind. As for the
patient, she made her effort to rise every morning, and failed, and
turned upon her watchers such looks of despair as bewildered them. Every
morning Jack Brownlow would come to ask for her, which was the only
moment of the day in which Pamela found a little comfort; but her mother
found it out instinctively, and grew so restless, and moaned so
pitifully when her child left her, that even that sorrowful pleasure had
to be given up. The young people did not know what to think. They
persuaded themselves sometimes that it was only the effect of illness,
and that a fancy so sudden and unexplainable would, when she was better,
vanish as unreasonably as it came; but then, what was it she had to do?
When she had lain for several days in this state of feebleness, always
making vain efforts after strength, another change came over Mrs.
Preston. The wild look went out of her eyes. One morning she called
Pamela to her with more than her usual energy. “I am going to be very
quiet and still for a week,” she said; “if I am not better then, I will
tell you what you must do, Pamela. You must send for the rector and for
Nancy Christian from old Mrs. Fennell’s in Masterton. This is Tuesday,
and it is the 30th; and I will try for a week. If I am not better next
Tuesday, you must send for the rector. Promise me to do exactly what I
say.”

“Yes, mamma,” said Pamela; “but oh! what for?--if you would only tell me
what it is for! You never kept any thing secret from me.”

Mrs. Preston turned a wistful look upon her child. “I must not tell
you,” she said; “I can not tell you. If I did you would not thank me.
You will know it soon enough. Don’t ask me any questions for a week. I
mean to try and get well to do it myself; but if I don’t get well, no
more time must be lost. You must not cross me, Pamela. What do you think
I should care if it was not for you?”

“And perhaps if I knew I should not care,” cried the poor little girl,
wringing her hands. She did not know what it was; but still it became as
clear as daylight to her that it was something against Jack.

“You would tell it to him,” Mrs. Preston said, with a deep sigh. Perhaps
Pamela did not hear her, for the words were spoken almost under her
breath; but the girl heard the sigh, and divined what it meant. It was
bitter to her, poor child, and hard to think that she could not be true
to both--that her mother was afraid of trusting her--and that Jack and
Mrs. Preston were ranged on different sides, with her love and faith, as
a bone of contention, between them. Perhaps it was all the harder that
she could not cry over it, or get any relief to her soul. Things by this
time had become too serious for crying. The little soft creature grew
without knowing into a serious woman. She had to give up such vain
pleasures as that of tears over her trouble. No indulgence of the kind
was possible to her. She sat by her mother’s bedside all day long, and
with her mother’s eye upon her, had to feign composure when she little
possessed it. Mrs. Preston was unreasonable for the first time in her
life as regarded Pamela. She forgot what was needful for the child’s
health, which was a thing she had never done in her life before. She
could not bear her daughter out of her sight. If she went down stairs
for half an hour, to breathe the fresh air, her mother’s eyes would
follow her to the door with keen suspicion and fear. Pamela was glad to
think that it must be her illness, and that only, which had this effect.
Even Mrs. Swayne was more considerate. She was ready to come as often as
it was possible to watch by the sick-bed and let the poor little nurse
free; but Mrs. Preston was not willing to let her free. As it happened,
however, Mrs. Swayne was in the room when her lodger gave Pamela
instructions about calling the rector if she were not better in a week,
and it startled the curious woman. She told it to her neighbor and
tenant in the next house, and she told it to old Betty; and the thing by
degrees grew so patent to the parish that at last, and that no later
than the Friday, it came to Mr. Hardcastle’s ears. Naturally it had
changed in the telling. Whereas Mrs. Preston had directed him to be sent
for in a certain desperate case, and as a last resource, the rector
heard that Mrs. Swayne’s inmate was troubled in her mind, and was
anxious to confide some secret to him. What the secret was was doubtful,
or else it would not have been a secret; but all Dewsbury believed that
the woman was dying, and that she had done something very bad indeed,
and desired the absolution of a priest before she could die in peace.
When he heard this, it was equally natural that Mr. Hardcastle should
feel a little excited. He was disposed toward High Church views, though
he was not a man to commit himself, and approved of people who wanted
absolution from a priest. Sometimes he had even a nibble at a
confession, though unfortunately the people who confessed to him had
little on their minds, and not much to tell. And the idea of a penitent
with a real burden on her conscience was pleasant. Accordingly he got
himself up very carefully on the Saturday, and set out for Mrs.
Swayne’s. He went with the wisdom of a serpent and the meekness of a
dove, not professedly to receive a confession, but to call, as he said,
on his suffering parishioner; and he looked very important and full of
his mission when he went up stairs. Mrs. Swayne had gone astray after
the new lights of Dissent, and up to this moment the dwellers under her
roof had received no particular notice from Mr. Hardcastle, so that it
was a little difficult to account for his solicitude now.

“I heard you were ill,” said the rector; “indeed I missed you from
church. As you are a stranger, and suffering, I thought there might be
something that we could do--”

“You are very kind,” said Mrs. Preston; and then she looked askance both
at Mrs. Swayne and Pamela, keenly searching in their eyes to see if they
had sent for him. And as Pamela, who knew nothing about it, naturally
looked the guiltiest, her mother’s heart was smitten with a sharp pang
at the thought that she had been betrayed.

“Not kind at all,” said Mr. Hardcastle, with animation. “It is my duty,
and I am never tired of doing my duty. If you have any thing to say to
me now--”

Once more Mrs. Preston cast a keen glance at her daughter. And she asked
slowly, “What should I have to say?” looking not at the rector, but
suspiciously into Pamela’s face.

“My dear friend, how can I tell?” said Mr. Hardcastle. “I have seen a
great deal of the world in my time, and come through a great deal. I
know how suffering tries and tests the spirit. Don’t be shy of speaking
to me. If,” the rector added, drawing a little nearer her pillow, “you
would like me to send your attendants away--”

“Am I dying?” said Mrs. Preston, struggling up upon her bed, and looking
so pale that Pamela ran to her, thinking it was so. “Am I so ill as
that? Do they think I can not last out the time I said?”

“Mamma, mamma, you are a great deal better--you know you are a great
deal better. How can you say such dreadful things?” said Pamela,
kneeling by the bedside.

“If I am not dying, why do you forestall my own time?” said Mrs.
Preston. “Why did you trouble Mr. Hardcastle? It was soon enough on the
day I said.”

“My dear friend,” said the rector, “I hope you don’t think it is only
when you are dying that you have need of good advice and the counsel of
your clergyman. I wish it was more general to seek it always. What am I
here for but to be at the service of my parishioners night and day? And
every one who is in mental difficulty or distress has a double claim
upon me. You may speak with perfect freedom--whatever is said to me is
sacred.”

“Then you knew I wanted to speak to you?” said Mrs. Preston. “Thank you,
you are very kind. I am not ungrateful. But you knew I wanted to ask
your assistance? Somebody sent for you, perhaps?”

“I can not say I was sent for,” said Mr. Hardcastle--with a little
confusion, “but I heard--you know, in a country place the faintest wish
you can express takes wings to itself, and becomes known everywhere. I
understood--I heard--from various quarters--that if I came here--I might
be of use to you.”

All the answer Mrs. Preston made to this was to turn round to the head
of the bed where Pamela stood, half hidden, in the corner. “That you
might have something to tell him a little sooner!” she said. Her voice,
though it was very low, so low as to be inaudible to the visitor, was
bitter and sharp with pain, and she cast a glance full of reproach and
anguish at her only child. She thought she had been betrayed. She
thought that, for the lover’s sake, who was dearer than father or
mother, her own nursling had forfeited her trust. It was a bitter
thought, and she was ill, and weak, and excited, and her mind distorted,
so that she could not see things in their proper light. The bitterness
was such that Pamela, utterly innocent as she was, sank before it. She
did not know what she had done. She did not understand what her mother’s
look meant; but she shrank back among the curtains as if she had been
really guilty, and it brought to a climax her sense of utter confusion
and dismay.

“I will tell you what the case is,” Mrs. Preston added quickly, the
color coming back to her cheek. “I am not in very good health, as you
see, but I have something very important to do before I die. It concerns
the comfort of my child. So far as I am involved, it would not
matter--it would not matter--for I shall not live long,” she added with
a certain plaintive tremor of self-pity in her voice. “It is all for
Pamela, sir--though Pamela--but lately I grew frightened, and thought
myself worse; and I told them--I told _her_--that if I was no better
next Tuesday, they were to send for you. I would not trouble you if I
were well enough myself. It was in case I should not be able, and I
thought of asking your help; that is how it was. I suppose it was their
curiosity. Curiosity is not a sin: but--they say I am not worse--they
say I am even a little better. So I will not trouble you, Mr.
Hardcastle. By that time I shall be able for what I have to do.”

“You must not be too sure of that,” said the rector; and he meant it
kindly, though the words had but a doubtful sound; “and you must not
think I am prying or intrusive. I was not sent for: but I
understood--that--I might be of use. It is not giving me trouble. If
there is any thing I can do for you if you have no friends--”

“We shall soon have plenty of friends,” said Mrs. Preston quickly, with
a certain mocking tone in her voice; “plenty of friends. We have not had
many hitherto; but all that will soon change. Yes, I shall be able for
what I have to do. I feel quite sure of it. You have done me a great
deal of good. After it is done,” she said, with that desolate look which
Pamela felt to the bottom of her heart, but could not understand, “there
will be time enough to be ill, and to die too, if God pleases. I will
not mind it much when I leave her with many friends.”

“Mamma!” cried Pamela, with a mingled appeal and reproach; but though
she bent over her she could not catch her mother’s eyes.

“It is true,” said Mrs. Preston. “I was like to break my heart when I
thought how old I was, and that I might die and leave you without any
body to care for you; but now you will have many friends--plenty of
friends. And it don’t so much matter.” She ended with such a sigh as
moved even the heart of the rector, and touched Mrs. Swayne, who was
not of a very sympathetic disposition, to tears.

“You must not talk of leaving your child without a protector,” said Mr.
Hardcastle; “if you knew what it was to have a motherless girl to bring
up, you would not speak of it lightly. That is my case. My poor little
Fanny was left motherless when she was only ten. There is no misfortune
like it to a girl. Nobody knows how to manage a young creature but a
mother. I feel it every day of my life,” said the rector, with a sigh.
It was very, very different from Mrs. Preston’s sigh. There was neither
depth in it nor despair like that which breathed in hers. Still, its
superficial sadness was pathetic to the women who listened. They
believed in him in consequence, more perhaps than he believed in
himself, and even Mrs. Swayne was affected against her will.

“Miss Fanny has got them as is father and mother both in one,” she said;
“but bless you, sir, she ain’t always like this. It’s sickness as does
it. One as is more fond of her child, nor prouder of her child, nor more
content to live and see her ’appy, don’t exist, when she’s in her
ordinary. And now, as the rector has come hisself, and ’as comforts at
hand, you’ll pluck up a spirit, that’s what you’ll do. Miss Pamela,
who’s as good as gold, don’t think of nothing but a-nursing and
a-looking after her poor dear mamma; and if so be as you’d make good use
o’ your time, and take the rector’s advice--”

Mrs. Preston closed her lips tight as if she was afraid that some words
would come through against her will, and faced them all with an
obstinate resolution, shaking her head as her only answer. She faced
them half seated on her bed, rising from among her pillows as if they
were all arrayed against her, and she alone to keep her own part. Her
secret was hers, and she would confide it to nobody; and already, in the
shock of this intrusion, it seemed to her as if the languid life had
been stirred in her veins, and her forces were mustering to her heart to
meet the emergency. When she had made this demonstration, she came down
from those heights of determination and responded to the rector’s claim
for sympathy as he knew well every woman would respond. “A girl is the
better of a mother,” she said, “even when she don’t think it. Many a one
is ungrateful, but we are not to look for gratitude. Yes, I know a
mother is still something in this world. Pamela, you’ll remember some
day what Mr. Hardcastle said; and if Miss Fanny should ever want a
friend--But I am getting a little tired. Good-by, Mr. Hardcastle;
perhaps you will come and see me again. And after a while, when I have
done what I have to do--”

“Good-by,” said the rector, after waiting vainly for the close of the
sentence; and he rose up and took his leave, feeling that he had been
dismissed, and had no right to stay longer. “If you should still want
assistance--though I hope you will be better, as you expect--”

Mrs. Preston waved her hand in reply, and he went down stairs much
confused, not knowing what to make of it. The talk he had with Mrs.
Swayne in the passage threw but little light on the matter. Mrs. Swayne
explained that they were poor; that she thought there was “something
between” Miss Pamela and Mr. John; that she herself had essayed
strenuously to keep the young people apart, knowing that nothing but
harm would come of it; but that it was only lately, very lately, that
Mrs. Preston had seemed to be of her opinion. A week ago she had
received a visit, and had shut the door upon the young man, and fallen
ill immediately after. “And all this talk o’ something to do has begun
since that,” she added; “she’s never had nothing to do as long as she’s
been here. There’s a bit of a pension as is paid regular, and there
never was no friends as I know of as could die and leave her money. It’s
some next-of-kin business, that’s my idea, Mr. Hardcastle--some o’ that
rubbish as is in the papers--folks of the name of Smith or such like as
is advertised for, and something to come to their advantage. But she’s
awful close and locked up, as you may say, in her own bosom, and never
said a rational word to me.”

“You don’t think it’s _this_?” said Mr. Hardcastle, putting his hand
significantly to his forehead.

“Oh, bless you, it ain’t that,” said Mrs. Swayne. “She’s as clear as
clear--a deal clearer, for the matter of that, than she was afore; the
first time as she had the sense to turn Mr. John from the door was the
night as she was took. It ain’t that. She’s heard o’ something, you take
my word, and it’s put fancies in her head; and as for that poor Pamela,
she’s as jealous of every look that poor child gives; and I don’t call
it no wonder myself, if you let a girl see a deal of a gentleman, that
she should think more of him than’s good for her. It should have been
stopped when it began; but nobody will ever listen to me.”

Mr. Hardcastle left the house with altogether a new idea in his mind. He
had lectured his neighbor about young Powys and Sara, but he had not
known any thing of this still more serious scandal about Jack. He
murmured to himself over it as he went away with a great internal
_chuchotement_. Poor Mr. Brownlow! both his son and his daughter thus
showing low tastes. And he could not refrain from saying a few words
about it to Jack, whom he met returning with his shooting-party--words
which moved the young man to profound indignation. He was very angry,
and yet it was not in nature that he should remain unmoved by the
suggestion that Pamela’s mother was either mad or had something on her
mind. He had himself seen enough to give it probability. And to call Mr.
Hardcastle a meddling parson, or even by some of those stronger and
still less graceful epithets which sometimes follow the course of a
clergyman’s beneficent career, did but little good. Jack was furious
that any body should have dared to say such words, but the words
themselves rankled in his heart. As soon as he could steal out after
dinner he did so, and went to the gate and saw the glimmering light in
Mrs. Preston’s window, and received Mrs. Swayne’s ungracious report. But
Pamela was not to be seen. She was never to be seen.

“They will kill her with this watching,” he said to himself, as he stood
and watched the light, and ground his teeth with indignation. But he
could do nothing, although she was his own and pledged to him. He was
very near cursing all mothers and fathers, as well as interfering
priests and ungracious women, as he lingered up the avenue going home,
and sucked with indignation and disgust at his extinguished cigar.

Poor little Pamela was no better off up stairs. She was doubted,
suspected, feared--she who had been nothing but loved all her life. The
child did not understand it, but she felt the bitterness of the cloud
into which she had entered. It made her pale, and weighed upon her with
a mysterious depth of distress which would not have been half so heavy
had she been guilty. If she had been guilty she would have known exactly
the magnitude of the offense, and how much she was suspected of; but
being utterly innocent she did not know. Her sweet eyes turned
deprecating, beseeching, to her mother’s but they won no answer. The
thought that her child had conspired against her, that she had planned
to entrap her secret from her and betray it to her lover, that she was a
traitor to the first and tenderest of affections, and that the new love
had engrossed and swallowed up every thing--was the bitter thought that
filled Mrs. Preston’s mind, and hid from her the wistful innocence in
Pamela’s eyes. When the girl arranged her pillows or gave her medicine,
her mother thanked her with formality, and answered her sharply when she
spoke. “Dear mamma, are you not tired?” the poor child would say; and
Mrs. Preston answered, “No, you need not think it, Pamela; people
sometimes balk their own purpose. I shall be able after all. Your rector
has done me good.”

“He is not my rector, mamma,” said Pamela. “I never spoke to him before.
Oh! if you would only tell me why you are angry with me.”

“I am not angry. I suppose it is human nature,” said Mrs. Preston, and
this was all the answer she would give. So that Pamela, poor child, had
nothing for it but to retire behind the curtains and cry. This time the
tears would well forth. She had been used to so much love, and it was
hard to do without it; and when her mother repulsed her, in her heart
she cried out for Jack. She cried out for him in her heart, but he could
not hear her, though at that very moment he was no farther off than in
the avenue, where he was lingering along very indignant and
heavy-hearted, with his cigar out, though he did not know. It might not
be a very deadly trouble to either of the young sufferers, but it was
sharp enough in its way.



CHAPTER XXXII.

THE REAL TRAITOR.


While these things were going on at the gate of Brownlows, a totally
different scene was being enacted in Masterton. Mr. Brownlow was at his
office, occupied with his business and the people in his house, and the
hundred affairs which make up a man’s life. And as he had little time to
brood over it, it had very much gone out of his mind how near he was to
the crisis of his fate. An unexperienced sailor when he sees the port
near is apt to be lulled into a dream of safety, though the warier
seaman knows that it is the most dangerous moment. Mr. Brownlow was not
inexperienced, but yet he allowed himself to be deluded into this sense
of security after all his terrors. Young Powys came to business every
day, and was very steady and regular, and a little disconsolate,
evidently having nothing in his mind which could alarm his employer.
When Mr. Brownlow looked up and saw the young fellow going steadily and
sadly about his business, it sometimes gave him a sense of compunction,
but it no longer filled him with fear. He had come to think the youth
was harmless, and with the base instinct of human nature no longer cared
for him. At least he cared for him in a different way; he promised to
himself to make it all up to him afterward--to be his providence, and
looked after him and establish him in the world--to give him no reason
to repent having entrusted his fortunes to his hands. This was how Mr.
Brownlow was thinking; and he had succeeded in making himself believe
that this course was far the best for Powys. As for justice, it was
rarely to be had under any circumstances. This young fellow had no more
right to it than another; probably if mere justice had been dealt to him
it would have been the ruin of him, as well as the ruin of other people.
His _real_ advantage after all was what Mr. Brownlow studied. Such
thoughts by dint of practice became easier and more natural. The lawyer
actually began to feel and believe that for every body concerned he was
taking the best course; and the September days wore on, blazing, sultry,
splendid, with crack of guns over the stubble, and sound of mirth
in-doors, where every room was full and every association cheerful. It
would only have been making Powys uncomfortable (Mr. Brownlow reflected)
to have invited him at that moment among so many people, even if the
accident with Sara had not prevented it. By and by, when all was safe,
Sara should go away in her turn to visit her friends, and Powys should
be had out to Brownlows, and have the remains of the sport, and be
received with paternal kindness. This was the plan Mr. Brownlow had
formed, and in the mean time he was cheerful and merry, and no way
afraid of his fate.

Things were so when one morning he received a sudden message from old
Mrs. Fennell. He had not been to see her for a long time. He had
preferred, as far as possible, to ignore her very existence. His own
conduct appeared to him in a different light when he saw her. It was
blacker, more heinous, altogether vile, when he caught the reflection of
it as in a distorted mirror in the old woman’s suggestions. And it made
Mr. Brownlow very uncomfortable. But this morning the summons was
urgent. It was conveyed in a note from his mother-in-law herself. The
billet was written on a scrap of paper, in a hand which had never been
good, and was now shaky and irregular with old age. “I want to speak to
you particular.” Mrs. Fennell wrote. “It’s about old Nancy and her
goings on. There’s something astir that is against your advantage and
the children. Don’t waste any time, but come to me;” and across the
envelope she had written _Immediate_ in letters half an inch long. Mr.
Brownlow had a momentary thrill, and then he smiled to himself in the
imbecility of self-delusion. “Some fancy she has taken into her head,”
he said. Last time she had sent for him her fears had come to nothing,
and _his_ fears, which were exaggerated, as he now thought, had worn out
all his capabilities of feeling. He took it quite calmly now. When he
had freed himself of his more pressing duties, he took his hat, and went
leisurely across the market-place, to his mother-in-law’s lodgings. The
door was opened to him by Nancy, in whose looks he discovered nothing
particular; and it did not even strike him as singular that she followed
him up stairs, and went in after him to Mrs. Fennell’s sitting-room. The
old lady herself was sitting in a great chair, with her foot upon a high
footstool, and all her best clothes on, as for an occasion of great
solemnity. Her head was in continued palsied motion, and her whole
figure trembling with excitement. She did not even wait until Mr.
Brownlow had taken the chair which Nancy offered him with unusual
politeness. “Shut the door,” she cried. “Nancy, don’t you go near Mr.
Brownlow with your wiles, but shut the door and keep in your own place.
Keep in your own place--do; and don’t fuss about a gentleman as if that
was to change his opinion, you old fool, at your age.”

“I’m but doing my duty,” said Nancy; “it’s little change my wiles could
make on a gentleman--never at no age as I know on--and never with Mr.
Brownlow--”

“Hold your peace,” cried Mrs. Fennell. “I know your tricks. You’re old,
and you should know better; but a woman never thinks as it’s all over
with her. John Brownlow, you look in that woman’s face and listen to me.
You’ve given her food and clothes and a roof over her head for years and
years, and a wage that I never could see the reason for; and here she’s
been a-conspiring and a-treating with your enemies. I’ve found her out,
though I am old and feeble. Ne’er a one of them can escape me. I tell
you she’s been conspiring with your enemies. I don’t say that you’ve
been overkind to me; but I can’t sit by and see my Bessie’s children
wronged; and I’ve brought you here to set you face to face and hear what
she’s got to say.”

Mr. Brownlow listened to her without changing countenance; he held his
breath hard, and when she ceased speaking he let it go with a long
respiration, such as a man draws after a great shock. But that was the
only sign of emotion he showed; partly because he was stunned by the
unexpected blow; partly because he felt that her every word betrayed
him, and that nothing but utter self-command could do him any good.

“What does this mean?” he said, turning from Mrs. Fennell to Nancy. “Who
are my enemies? If you have any thing to say against Nancy, or if Nancy
has any thing to say--”

“She’s a traitor,” cried Mrs. Fennell, with a voice which rose almost to
a scream. “She’s a real traitor;--she eats your bread, and she’s
betrayed you. That’s what I mean and it’s as clear as day.”

All this time Nancy stood steadily, stolidly by, with her hand on the
back of the chair, not defiant but watchful. She had no wish to lose her
place, and her wages, and her comforts; but yet, if she were sent away,
she had a claim upon the other side. She had made herself a friend like
the unjust steward. And she stood and watched and saw all that passed,
and formed her conclusions.

Therefore she was in no way disturbed when Mr. Brownlow turned round and
looked her in the face. He was very steady and self-possessed, yet she
saw by the way that he turned round on his chair, by the grasp he took
of the back of it, by the movement of his eyelids, that every word had
told upon him. “You must speak a little more plainly,” he said, with an
attempt at a smile. “Perhaps you will give me your own account of it,
Nancy. Whom have you been conspiring with? Who are my enemies? I think I
am tolerably at peace with all the world, and I don’t know.”

Nancy paused with momentary hesitation, whether to speak the simple
truth, and see the earthquake which would ensue, which was a suggestion
made by the dramatic instinct within her--or whether to keep on the safe
side and deny all knowledge of it. If she had been younger, probably she
would have preferred the former for the sake of excitement; but being
old she chose the latter. She grew meek under Mr. Brownlow’s eyes, so
meek that he felt it an outrage on his good sense, and answered softly
as became a woman anxious to turn away wrath.

“Nor me, sir,” said Nancy, “_I_ don’t know. If I heard of one as was
your enemy, it would be reason enough to me for never looking nigh, him.
I’ve served you and yours for long, and it’s my place to be faithful.
I’ve been a-seeing of some old friends as lives a little bit out o’
Masterton. I’m but a servant, Mr. Brownlow, but I’ve some friends; and I
never heard as you was one to think as poor folks had no heart. It was a
widow woman, as has seen better days; it ain’t much I can do for her,
but she’s old, and she’s poor, and I go to see her a bit times and
times. I hope there ain’t nothing in _that_ that displeases you. If I
stayed longer than I ought last time--”

“What is all this to me?” said Mr. Brownlow. “Who is your widow woman?
Do you want me to do any thing for her? has she a family? There are
plenty of charities in Masterton if she belongs to the place. But it
does not seem worth while to have brought me here for this.”

“You know better than that, John Brownlow,” said Mrs. Fennel, in a kind
of frenzy. “If it was any poor woman, what would I have cared? Let ’em
starve, the hussies, as brings it all on themselves. There’s but one
woman as would trouble me, and you know who it is, John Brownlow; and
that old witch there, she knows, and it’s time to put a stop to it all.
It’s time to put a stop to it all, I say. She’s a-carrying on with that
woman; and my Bessie’s children will be robbed before my very eyes; and
I’m a poor old creature, and their own father as ought to take their
part! I tell you, it’s that woman as she’s a-carrying on with; and
they’ll be robbed and ruined, my pretty dears, my Bessie’s children! and
she’ll have it all, that wretch! I’d kill her, I’d strangle her, I’d
murder her, if it was me!”

Mrs. Fennell’s eyes were blood-shot, and rolled in their sockets
wildly--her head shook with palsied rage--her voice stammered and
staggered--and she lifted her poor old lean hands with wild, incoherent
gestures. She was half-mad with passion and excitement. She, who was so
terribly in earnest, so eager in her insane desire to save him, was in
reality the traitor whom he had most to fear; and Mr. Brownlow had his
senses sufficiently about him to perceive this. He exerted himself to
calm her down and soothe her. “I will see after it--I will see after
it,” he said. “I will speak to Nancy--don’t excite yourself.” As for
Mrs. Fennell, not his persuasion, but her own passion wore her out
presently, and reduced her to comparative calm; after awhile she sank
into silence, and the half doze, half stupor of extreme age. When this
re-action had come on, Mr. Brownlow left the room, making a sign to
Nancy to follow him, which the old woman did with gradually-rising
excitement, feeling that now indeed her turn had come. But he did not
take her apart, as she had hoped and supposed, to have a desperate
passage of arms. He turned round on the stair, though the landlady stood
below within hearing ready to open the door, and spoke to her calmly and
coldly. “Has she been long like this?” he said, and looked Nancy so
steadily in the face that, for the first time, she was discomfited, and
lost all clue to his meaning. She stood and stared at him for a minute,
not knowing what to say.

“Has she been long like this?” Mr. Brownlow repeated a little sharply.
“I must see after a doctor at once. How long has it lasted? I suppose no
one can tell but you?”

“It’s lasted--but I don’t know, sir,” said Nancy, “I don’t know; I
couldn’t say, as it was nothing the matter with her head. She thinks as
there’s a foundation. It’s her notion as I’ve found out--”

“That will do,” said Mr. Brownlow; “I have no curiosity about your
friends. It is your mistress’s health I am thinking of. I will call on
Dr. Bayley as I go back; and you will see that she is kept quiet, and
has every attention. I am grieved to see her in such an excited state.
And, by the way, you will have the goodness not to leave her again. If
your friends require your visits, let me know, and I will send a nurse.
If it has been neglect that has brought this on, you may be sure it will
tell on yourself afterward,” Mr. Brownlow added, as he went out. All
this was said in the presence of the mistress of the house, who heard
and enjoyed it. And he went away without another look at her, without
another word, without praying for her silence, or pleading with her for
her secret, as she had expected. Nancy was confounded, notwithstanding
all her knowledge. She stood and stared after him with a sinking heart,
wondering if there were circumstances she did not know, which held him
harmless, and whether after all it had been wise of her to attach
herself to the cause of his adversaries. She was disappointed with the
effect she had produced--disappointed of the passage of arms she had
expected, and the keen cross-examination which she had been prepared to
baffle. She looked so blank that the landlady, looking on, felt that she
too could venture on a passing arrow.

“You’ll take my word another time, Nancy,” she said. “I told you as it
was shameful neglect to go and leave her all by herself, and her so old
and weakly, poor soul! You don’t mind the likes of us, but you’ll have
to mind what your master says.”

“He ain’t no master of mine,” said Nancy, fiercely, “nor you ain’t my
mistress, Lord be praised. You mind your own business, and I’ll mind
mine. It’s fine to be John Brownlow, with all his grandeur; but pride
goes before a fall, is what I says,” the old woman muttered, as she went
back to Mrs. Fennell’s room. She had said so at Brownlows, looking at
the avenue which led to the great house, and at the cozy little lodge
out of which she had already planned to turn old Betty. That vision rose
before her at this trying moment, and comforted her a little. On the one
side the comfortable lodge, and an easy life, and the prospect of
unbounded tyranny over a new possessor, who should owe every thing to
her; but, on the other side, dismissal from her present post, which was
not unprofitable, an end of her good wages and all her consolations.
Nancy drew her breath hard at the contrast; the risk seemed to her as
great almost as the hope.

Mr. Brownlow left the door composed and serious, as a man does who has
just been in the presence of severe perhaps fatal illness, and he went
to Dr. Bayley, and told that gentleman that his mother-in-law’s brain
was, he feared, giving way, and begged him to see her immediately; and
then he went to the office, grave and silent, without a touch of
apparent excitement. When he got there, he stopped in the outer office,
and called Powys into his own room. “We have not seen you at Brownlows
for a long time,” he said. “Jack has some young fellows with him
shooting. You had better take a week’s holiday, and come up with me
to-night. I shall make it all right with Wrinkell. You can go home and
get your bag before the dog-cart comes.”

He said this quickly, without any pause for consideration, as if he had
been giving instructions about some deed drawing out; and it was some
time before Powys realized the prospect of paradise thus opening before
him. “I, sir--do you mean me?” he cried, in his amazement. “To-night?”
And Mr. Brownlow appeared to his clerk as if he had been an angel from
heaven.

“Yes,” he said, with a smile, “to-night. I suppose you can do it? You do
not want much preparation for pleasure at your age.”

Then poor Powys suddenly turned very pale. Out of the first glow of
delight he sank into despondency. “I don’t know, sir--if you may have
forgotten--what I once said to you--about--about my folly,” faltered the
young man, not daring to look into his employer’s face.

“About--?” said Mr. Brownlow; and then he made as though he suddenly
recollected, and laughed. “Oh, yes, I remember,” he said. “I suppose all
young men are fools sometimes in that respect. But I don’t see it is any
business of mine. You can settle it between you. Be ready for me at six
o’clock.”

And thus it was all arranged. Powys went out to get his things, not
knowing whether he walked or flew, in such a sudden amaze of delight as
few men ever experience; and when he was gone Mr. Brownlow put down his
ashy face into his clasped hands. Heaven! had it come to this? At the
last moment, when the shore was so near, the tempest well-nigh spent,
deliverance at hand, was there no resource but this, no escape? All his
precautions vain, his wiles, his struggle of conscience! His face was
like that of a dead man as he sat by himself and realized what had
happened. Why could not he fly to the end of earth, and escape the
Nemesis? Was there nothing for it but, like that other wretched father,
to sacrifice his spotless child?



CHAPTER XXXIII.

ONLY MR. BROWNLOW’S CLERK.


There was a pleasant bustle about the house that evening when the
dog-cart drove up. The sportsmen had been late of getting in, and nobody
as yet had gone to dress; the door was open, and in the hall and about
the broad door-steps pretty groups were lingering. Sara and her friends
on their way up stairs had encountered the gentlemen, fresh from their
sport, some of whom had no doubt strayed to the sideboard, which was
visible through the open door of the dining-room; but the younger ones
were about the hall in their shooting-dresses talking to the girls and
giving an account of themselves. There was about them all that sense of
being too late, and having no right to be there, which gives a zest to
such stolen moments. The men were tired with their day’s work, and, for
that matter, the ladies too, who, after the monotony of the afternoon
and their cup of tea, wanted a little amusement; and there was a sound
of talk and of laughter and pleasant voices, which could be heard
half-way down the avenue. They had all been living under the same roof
for some days at least, and people get to know each other intimately
under such circumstances. This was the scene upon which young Powys,
still bewildered with delight, alighted suddenly, feeling as if he had
fallen from the clouds. He jumped down with a light heart into the
bright reflection of the lamp which fell over the steps, but somehow his
heart turned like a piece of lead within his heart the moment his foot
touched the flags. It grew like a stone within him without any reason,
and he did not know why. Nobody knew him, it is true; but he was not a
shy boy to be distressed by that. He jumped down, and his position was
changed. Between him and Mr. Brownlow, who was so kind to him, and Jack,
who was so hostile yet sympathetic, and Sara, whom he loved, there were
unquestionable relations. But when he heard the momentary pause that
marked his appearance, the quick resuming of the talk with a certain
interrogative tone, “Who is he?” the glance at him askance, the sudden
conviction rushed into his mind that all the better-informed were
saying, “It is only his clerk”--and it suddenly occurred to Powys that
there existed no link of possible connection between himself and all
those people. He knew nobody--he had no right to know any body among
them. He was there only by Mr. Brownlow’s indiscreet favoritism, taken
out of his own sphere. And thus he fell flat out of his foolish elysium.
Mr. Brownlow, too, felt it as he stepped out into the midst of them all;
but his mind was preoccupied, and though it irritated, it did not move
him. He looked round upon his guests, and he said, with a smile which
was not of the most agreeable kind, “You will be late for dinner, young
people, and I am as hungry as an ogre. I shan’t give you any grace.
Sara, don’t you see Powys? Willis, send Mr. Powys’s things up to the
green room beside mine. Come along, and I’ll show you the way.”

To say Sara was not much startled would be untrue; but she too had been
aware of the uncomfortable moment of surprise and dismay among the
assembled guests, and a certain fine instinct of natural courtesy which
she possessed came to her aid. She made a step forward, though her
cheeks were scarlet, and her heart beating loud, and held out her hand
to the new visitor: “I am very glad to see you,” she said. Not because
she was really glad, so much as because these were the first words that
occurred to her. It was but a moment, and then Powys followed Mr.
Brownlow up stairs. But when Sara turned round to her friends again she
was unquestionably agitated, and it appeared to her that every body
perceived she was so. “How cross your papa looks,” said one of them; “is
he angry?--what have we done?” And then the clock struck seven. “Oh,
what a shame to be so late! we ought all to have been ready. No wonder
Mr. Brownlow is cross,” said another; and they all fluttered away like a
flock of doves, flying up the staircase. Then the young men marched off
too, and the pretty scene was suddenly obliterated, and nothing left but
the bare walls, and Willis the butler gravely superintending his
subordinates as they gave the finishing touches to the dinner-table. The
greater part of the company forgot all about this little scene before
five minutes had elapsed, but there were two or three who did not
forget. These were Powys, first of all, who was tingling to the ends of
his fingers with Sara’s words and the momentary touch of her little
hand. It was but natural, remembering how they parted, that he should
find a special meaning in what she said, and he had no way of knowing
that his arrival was totally unexpected, and that she was taken by
surprise. And as for Sara herself, her heart fluttered strangely under
the pretty white dress which was being put on. Madlle. Angelique could
not make out what it was that made her mistress so hard to manage. She
would not keep still as a lady ought when she is getting dressed. She
made such abrupt movements as to snatch her long bright locks out of
Angelique’s hands, and quite interfere with the management of her
ribbons. She too had begun to recollect what were the last words Powys
had addressed to her. And she to say she was glad to see him! Mr.
Brownlow had himself inducted his clerk into the green room, next door
to his own, which was one of the best rooms in the house; and his
thoughts would not bear talking of. They were inarticulate, though their
name was legion; they seemed to buzz about him as he made his rapid
toilette, so that he almost thought they must make themselves heard
through the wall. Things had come to a desperate pass, and there was no
time to be biased by thoughts. He had dressed in a few minutes, and then
he went to his daughter. Sara at the best of times was not so rapid. She
was still in her dressing-gown at that moment with her hair in
Angelique’s hands, and it was too late to send the maid away.

“Sara,” said Mr. Brownlow, very tersely, “you will take care that young
Powys is not neglected at dinner. Mind that you arrange it so--”

“Shall he take me in?” said Sara, with a sudden little outbreak of
indignation which did her good. “I suppose you do not mean that?”

“I am speaking in earnest,” said Mr. Brownlow, with some offense. “I
have put him in the green room. Recollect that I think nothing in the
house too good for this young man--nothing. I hope you will recollect
what I say.”

“Nothing?” said Sara, with a little surprise; and then the instinct of
mischief returned to her, and she added, demurely, “that is going a long
way.”

“It is going a very long way--as far as a man can go,” said Mr.
Brownlow, with a sigh--“farther than most men would go.” And then he
went away. As for Sara, her very ears thrilled with the significance of
his tone. It frightened her into her senses when perhaps she might have
been excused for being partly out of them. If she was kind to Powys--as
kind as her father’s orders required--what could he think? Would he
remember what he had ventured to say? Would he think she was giving him
“encouragement?” Notwithstanding this perplexity she allowed Angelique
to dress her very nicely with her favorite blue ribbons and ornaments;
and when she set out to go down stairs, perhaps there was a little touch
of Iphigenia in her air; but the martyrdom was not to call disagreeable.
He was in the drawing-room when she went in. He was in a corner looking
at photographs, which is the general fate of a poor man in a large party
who knows nobody. Sara had a little discussion with herself whether it
was her duty to go at once to Powys and take him under her protection.
But when she looked at him--as she managed to do, so to speak, without
looking--it became apparent to her that the young Canadian was too much
a man to be treated with any such condescension; he was very humble,
very much aware that his presumption in lifting his eyes to the height
on which she sat was unpardonable; but still, if she had gone to him and
devoted herself to his amusement, there is no telling what the results
might have been. He was not one to take it meekly. The room gradually
filled and grew a pretty sight as Sara made these reflections. The
ladies came down like butterflies, translated out of their warm close
morning-dresses into clouds of vapory white and rosy color and sparkles
of ornament like evening dew; and the sportsmen in their knickerbockers
had melted into spotless black figures, relieved with patches of
spotless white, as is the use of gentlemen. The talk scarcely began
again with its former freedom, for the moment before dinner is a grim
moment, especially when men have been out all day and are hungry.
Accordingly, the black figures massed themselves well up about the
fire-place, and murmured through their beards such scraps of
intelligence as suit the masculine capacity; while the ladies settled
all round like flower borders, more patient and more smiling. Nobody
took any particular notice of Powys in his corner, except, indeed, Mr.
Brownlow who stood very upright by the mantle-piece and did not speak,
but looked at Sara, sternly as she thought, and then at the stranger. It
was a difficult position for the young mistress of the house. When her
father’s glance became urgent she called a friend to her aid--a young
woman of a serviceable age, not young and not old--who happened to be
good-natured as well. “He is a friend of papa’s,” she said--“a _great_
friend, but he knows nobody.” And, strengthened by this companionship,
she ventured to draw near the man who, in that very room, not far from
that very spot, had told her he loved her. He was looking at a
picture--the same picture of the woman holding out bread to the
beggar--and he was thinking, Should he ever have that bread?--was it
possible? or only a mockery of imagination? As Sara approached him the
memory of that other scene came over her so strongly, and her heart
began to beat so loudly, that she could scarcely hear herself speaking.
“I want to introduce you to my friend Miss Ellerslie,” she said. “Mr.
Powys, Mary--you will take her in to dinner.” And then she came to a
dead stop, breathless with confusion. As for poor Powys, he made his new
acquaintance a bow, and very nearly turned his back upon her, not seeing
her for the dazzle in his eyes. This was about all the intercourse that
passed between them, until, for one minute, and one only, after dinner,
when he found himself by accident close to Sara’s chair. He stood behind
her, lingering, scarcely seeing her, for she was almost hidden by the
high back of the chair, yet feeling her all round him in the very air,
and melted, poor fellow, into the languor of a sweet despair. It was
despair, but yet it was sweet, for was he not there beside her? and
though his love was impossible, as he said to himself, still there are
impossibilities, which are more dear than any thing that can be
compassed by man. As he stood, not venturing to say any thing--not
knowing, indeed, what to say--Sara suddenly turned round and discovered
him. She looked up, and neither did she say any thing; but when their
eyes met, a sudden violent scorching blush flashed over her face. Was it
anger, indignation, displeasure? He could not tell--but one thing was
very clear, that it was recollection. She had not forgotten his wild
words any more than he had. They were tingling in her ears as in his,
and she did not look at him with the steady look of indignation putting
him down. On the contrary, it was her eyes which sank before his, though
she did not immediately turn away her face. That was all--and no
rational human creature could have said it meant any thing; but yet when
it came to be Powys’s fate to address himself once more to the
photographs, he did so with the blood coursing through all his veins,
and his life as it were quickened within him. The other people with whom
she was intimate, who were free to crowd around her, to talk to her, to
occupy her attention, were yet nothing to her in comparison with what he
was. Between these two there was a consciousness that existed between no
other two in the party, friendly and well-acquainted as they all were.
The Canadian was in such a state of mind that this one point in the
evening made every thing else comparatively unimportant. His companion
at dinner had been kind and had talked to him; but after dinner, when
the ladies left, the men had snubbed the intruder. Those who were near
him had rushed into talk about people and places of whom he had no
knowledge, as ill-bred persons are apt to do--and he had not found it
pleasant. They had made him feel that his position was an anomalous one,
and the backwoodsman had longed in his heart to show his sense of their
rudeness and get up and go away. But after he had seen Sara’s blush, he
forgot all about the young fellows and their impertinence. He was at the
time of life when such a thing can happen. He was for the moment quite
content with the photographs, though he had not an idea what they were
like. He was not hoping any thing, nor planning any thing, nor believing
that any thing could come of it. He was slightly delirious, and did not
know what he was about--that was all.

“Are you fond of this sort of thing?” Mr. Brownlow said, coming up. Mr.
Brownlow paid him an uneasy sort of attention, which made Powys more
uncomfortable than the neglect of the others, for it implied that his
host knew he was being neglected and wanted to make it up to him; “but
then you should have seen all these places before you can care for them.
And you have never been abroad.”

“No, except on the other side of the Atlantic,” said Powys, with
colonial pride; “and you don’t seem to think any thing of that.”

“Ah, yes, Canada,” said Mr. Brownlow; and then he was so anxious to keep
his young visitor in good-humor that he began to talk solidly and
heavily of Canada and its resources and future prospects. Mr. Brownlow
was _distrait_, and not very well informed, and Powys had not the heart
to laugh at Sara’s father even when he made mistakes, so that the
conversation was not very lively between them. This, however, was all
the amusement the stranger got on his first evening at Brownlows. The
proposal to go there had thrown him into a kind of ecstasy, but this was
all the result. When he got into his own room at night and thought it
all over, an impulse of good sense came to his aid. It was folly. In the
office at Masterton he was in his fit place, and nobody could object to
him; but this was not his fit place. It might be uncivil and bad manners
on their part to make him feel it, but yet the party at Brownlows was
right. He had nothing to do there. If he could think that Miss
Brownlow’s heart had softened a little toward him, it was his duty all
the more to deny himself and take himself out of her way. What had love
to do between her and him? It was monstrous--not to be thought of. He
had been insane when he came, but to-morrow he would go back, and make a
stern end of all those dreams. These were Powys’s thoughts within
himself. But there was a conversation going on about him down stairs of
a very different kind.

When the company had all retired, Jack detained his father and his
sister to speak to them. Jack was highly uncomfortable in his mind
himself, and naturally he was in a very rampant state of virtue. He
could not endure that other people should have their cakes and ale; and
he did not like his father’s looks nor Sara’s, and felt as if the honor
of his house was menaced somehow. He took Sara’s candle from her after
his father had lighted it, and set it down on the table. “The nuisance
of having all these people,” said Jack, “is, that one never has a moment
to one’s self, and I want to speak to you. I don’t mean to say any thing
against Powys, sir--nobody knows any thing about him. Has he told you
what he said to Sara when he was last here?”

“Jack! how dare you?” said Sara, turning on her brother; but Jack took
no notice of her beautiful blazing eyes.

“Did he tell you, that you are so well informed?” said Mr. Brownlow. If
either of his children had been cool enough to observe it, they would
have perceived that he was too quiet, and that his calm was unnatural;
but they suspected nothing, and consequently they did not observe.

“He told me enough to make me understand,” said Jack; “and I dare say
you’ve forgotten how young men think, and don’t suppose it’s of any
consequence. Sara knows. If it was a mere nothing, I should not take the
trouble,” added the exemplary brother; “but, in the circumstances, it’s
my duty to interfere. After what he said, when you bring him here again
it is giving him license to speak; it is giving him a kind of tacit
consent. She knows,” said Jack, pointing to his sister, who confronted
him, growing pale and growing scarlet. “It’s as good as saying you will
back him out; and, good heavens, when you consider who he is--”

“Do _you_ know who he is?” said Mr. Brownlow. He was very hard put to it
for that moment, and it actually occurred to him to deliver himself of
his secret, and throw his burden on their shoulders--the two who, in
their ignorance, were thus putting the last touch of exasperation to his
ordeal. He realized the blank amazement with which they would turn to
him, the indignation, the-- Ah, but he could not go any farther. What
would have succeeded to the first shock of the news he dared not
anticipate--beggary probably, and utter surrender of every thing;
therefore Mr. Brownlow held his peace.

“I know he is in the office at Masterton,” said Jack--“I know he is your
clerk, and I don’t suppose he is a prince in disguise. If he is honest,
and is who he professes to be--I beg your pardon, sir, for saying
so--but he ought not to be brought into my sister’s society, and he has
no business to be here.”

“Papa!” cried Sara, breathless, “order him to be quiet! Is it supposed
that I can’t see any one without being in danger of--of--that any man
whom papa chooses to bring is to be kept away for me? I wonder what you
think of me? We girls are not such wretched creatures, I can tell you;
nor so easily led; nor so wicked and proud--nor-- Papa! stop this
immediately, and let Jack mind his own affairs.”

“I have just one word to say, Jack,” said Mr. Brownlow,--“my darling, be
quiet--never mind;--Powys is more important to me than if he were a
prince in disguise. I know who he is. I have told your sister that I
think nothing in this house too good for him. He is my clerk, and you
think he is not as good as you are; but he is very important to me. I
give you this explanation, not because I think you have any right to it,
after your own proceedings. And as for you, my dear child,” he added,
putting his arm round her, with an involuntary melting of his heart,
“my pretty Sara! you are only to do what your heart suggests, my
darling. I once asked a sacrifice of you, but I have not the heart now.
If your heart goes this way, it will be justice. Yes, justice. I know
you don’t understand me; but if not, Sara, I will not interfere with
you. You are to do according to your own heart.”

“Papa!” said Sara, clinging to him, awed and melted and astonished by
the emotion in his eyes.

“Yes,” Mr. Brownlow repeated, taking her face in his hands, and kissing
it. If he had been a soft-hearted man he would have been weeping, but
there was something in his look beyond tears. “It will be just, and the
best way--but only if it’s after your own heart. And I know you don’t
understand me. You’ll never understand me, if all goes well; but all the
same, remember what I say.”

And then he took up the candle which Jack had taken out of Sara’s hand.
“Never understand me--never, if all goes well,” he muttered to himself.
He was strained to the last point, and he could not bear any more.
Before his children had recovered from their amaze he had gone away, not
so much as looking at them again. They might talk or speculate as they
would; he could bear no more.

Jack and Sara looked in each other’s faces as he disappeared. They were
both startled, but in a different way. Was he mad? his son thought; and
Jack grew pale over the possibility: but as for Sara, her life was bound
up in it. It was not the blank of dismay and wonder that moved her. She
did not speculate on what her father meant by justice. Something else
stirred in her heart and veins. As for Jack, he was thunderstruck. “He
must be going mad!” he said. “For heaven’s sake, Sara, don’t give any
weight to these delusions; he can’t be in his right mind.”

“Do you mean papa?” said Sara, stamping her foot in indignation; “he is
a great deal wiser than you will ever be. Jack, I don’t know what you
mean; it must be because you are wicked yourself that you think every
body else is going wrong; but you shall not speak so to me.”

“Yes; I see you are going to make a fool of yourself,” said Jack, in his
superiority. “You are shutting your eyes and taking your own way. When
you come to a downfall you will remember what I say. You are trying to
make a fool of him, but you won’t succeed--mind I tell you, you won’t
succeed. He knows what he is about too well for that.”

“If it is Mr. Powys you are speaking of--” said Sara; but she paused,
for the name betrayed her somehow--betrayed her even to herself,
bringing the color to her cheeks and a gleam to her eyes. Then she made
believe as if she scorned to say more, and held her little head high
with lofty contempt, and lighted her candle. “I am sure we should not
agree on that subject, and it is better we should not try,” said Sara,
and followed her father loftily up stairs, leaving Jack discomfited,
with the feeling of a prophet to whom nobody would listen. He said to
himself he knew how it would be--his father had got some wild idea in
his head! and Sara was as headstrong and fanciful as ever girl was, and
would rush to her own destruction. Jack went out with this sense of
approaching calamity in his mind, and lighted his cigar, and took a turn
down the avenue as far as the gate, where he could see the light in Mrs.
Preston’s window. It seemed to him that the world was losing its
balance--that only he saw how badly things were turning, and nobody
would listen to him. And, strangely enough, his father’s conduct seemed
so mad to him altogether that his mind did not fix on the maddest word
of it--the word which by this time had got into Sara’s head, and was
driving her half wild with wonder. Justice! What did it mean? Sara was
thinking in her agitation: but Jack, taking things in general as at
their worst, passed over that particular. And thus they all separated
and went to bed, as was to be supposed, in the most natural and seemly
way. People slept well at Brownlows in general, the air being so good,
and all the influences so healthful, after these long days out-of-doors;
and nobody was the wiser for it if “the family” were any way disturbed
among themselves.

As for Mr. Brownlow, he threw himself down on his bed in a certain lull
of despair. He was dead tired. It was pitiful to see him thus worn out,
with too little hope to make any exertion, driven to his last resource,
thinking of nothing but of how to forget it all for a little and get it
out of his mind. He tried to sleep and to be still, and when he found he
could not sleep, got up again and took some brandy--a large fiery
dose--to keep his thoughts away. He had thought so much that now he
loathed thinking. If he could but go on and let fortune bring him what
it might; if he could but fall asleep--asleep, and not wake again till
all was over--not awake again at all for that matter. There was nothing
so delightful in the world that he should wish very much to wake again.
Not that the faintest idea of putting an end to himself ever crossed his
mind. He was only sick of it all, tired to death, disgusted with every
thing--his own actions, and the frivolity and folly of others who
interfered with his schemes, and the right that stood in his way, and
the wrong that he was trying to do. At that moment he had not heart
enough to go on with any thing. Such moments of disgust come even to
those who are the most energetic and ready. He seemed to have thrown the
guidance of affairs out of his hands, and be trusting to mere blind
chance--if any thing is ruled by chance. If this boy and girl should
meet, if they should say to each other certain foolish words, if they
should be idiots enough, the one and the other, as to commit themselves,
and pledge their lives to an act of the maddest absurdity, not unmixed
with wickedness--for it would be wicked of Powys, poor as he was, and
burdened as he was, to ask Sara to marry him, and it would be insanity
on her part to consent--if this mad climax should arrive, then a kind of
salvation in ruin, a kind of justice in wrong, would be wrought. And to
this chance Mr. Brownlow, after all his plans and schemes, after all his
thought and the time he had spent in considering every thing, had come
as the sole solution of his difficulties. He had abdicated, as it were,
the throne of reason, and left himself to chance and the decision of two
ignorant children. What wind might veer their uncertain intentions, or
sudden impulse change them, he could not tell. He could not influence
them more, could not guide them, any farther. What could he do but
sleep? Oh, that he could have but slept, and let the crisis accomplish
itself and all be over! Then he put out his light and threw himself upon
his bed, and courted slumber like a lover. It was the only one thing in
the world Mr. Brownlow could now do, having transferred, as it were, the
responsibility and the power of action into other hands.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

AN IMPOSTOR.


Next morning Powys was up early, with his wise resolution very strong in
his mind. He seemed to see the folly of it all more clearly in the
morning light. Such a thing might be possible in Canada; but in this
conventional artificial existence there were a hundred things more
important than love or happiness. Even that, too, he felt was an
artificial way of looking at it; for, after all, let the laws of
existence be ever so simple, a man who has already a family to support,
and very little to do it on, is mad, and worse than mad, if he tries to
drag a girl down into the gulf of poverty with him. And as for Sara
having enough for both, Powys himself was not sufficiently
unconventional and simple-minded to take up that idea. Accordingly he
felt that the only thing to do was to go away; he had been crazy to
think of any thing else, but now his sanity had returned to him. He was
one of the earliest of the party down stairs, and he did not feel
himself so much out of place at the breakfast-table; and when the young
men went out, Jack, by way of keeping the dangerous visitor out of his
sister’s way, condescended to be civil, and invited him to join the
shooting-party. Powys declined the invitation. “I am going to the office
with Mr. Brownlow,” he said, a decision which was much more satisfactory
to Jack.

“Oh, I thought you had come for a few days,” said Jack. “I beg your
pardon; not that the sport is much to offer any one--the birds are
getting scarce; but I thought you had come for some days.”

“No, I am going back to-day,” said Powys, not without a strangled
inaudible sigh; for the sight of the dogs and the guns went to his heart
a little, notwithstanding his love and despair. And Jack’s conscience
pricked him that he did not put in a word of remonstrance. He knew well
enough that Powys had not meant to go away, and he felt a certain
compunction and even sympathy. But he reflected that, after all, it was
far best for himself that every pretension should be checked in the bud.
Powys stood on the steps looking after them as they went away; and it
can not be denied that his feelings were dreary. It seemed hard to be
obliged to deny himself every thing, not happiness alone, but even a
little innocent amusement, such as reminded him of the freedom of his
youth. He was too manly to grumble, but yet he felt it, and could not
deny himself the pleasure of wondering how “these fellows” would like
the prairies, and whether they would disperse in double-quick time if a
bear or a pack of wolves came down upon them in place of their innocent
partridges. No doubt “these fellows” would have stood the trial
extremely well, and at another moment Powys would not have doubted that;
but in the mean time a little sneer was a comfort to him. The dog-cart
came up as he waited, and Mr. Brownlow made his appearance in his
careful morning-dress, perfectly calm, composed, and steady as usual--a
man whose very looks gave consolation to a client in trouble. But yet
the lines of his face were a little haggard, if there had been any body
there with eyes to see. “What, Powys!” he said, “not gone with the
others?” He said it with a smile, and yet it raised a commotion in his
mind. If he had not gone with the others, Mr. Brownlow naturally
concluded it must be for Sara’s sake, and that the crisis was very near
at hand.

“No, sir,” said Powys; “in fact I thought of going in with you to the
office, if you will take me. It is the fittest place for me.”

Then it occurred to Mr. Brownlow that the young man had spoken and had
been rejected, and the thought thrilled him through and through, but
still he tried to make light of it. “Nonsense,” he said; “I did not
bring you up last night to take you down this morning. You want a
holiday. Don’t set up having an old head on young shoulders, but stay
and enjoy yourself. I don’t want you at the office to-day.”

“If an old head means a wise one, I can’t much boast of that,” said
Powys; and then he saw Sara standing in the door-way of the dining-room
looking at him, and his heart melted within him. One more day! he would
not say a word, not a word, however he might be tempted; and what harm
could it do any one? “I think I ought to go,” he added, faintly; but the
resolution had melted out of his words.

“Nonsense!” said Mr. Brownlow, from the dog-cart, and he waved his hand,
and the mare set off at her usual pace down the avenue, waiting for no
one. And Powys was left alone standing on the steps. The young men had
gone who might have been in the way, and the ladies had already
dispersed from the breakfast-table, some to the morning-room on the
other side of the hall, some up stairs for their hats and cloaks, before
straying out on their morning perambulations. And Sara, who had her
housekeeping to do, save the mark! was the only creature visible to whom
he turned as her father drove away. Courtesy required (so she said to
herself) that she should go forward into the hall a step or two, and say
something good-natured to him. “If you are not of Jack’s party,” she
said, “you must go and help to amuse the people who are staying at home;
unless you want to write or do any thing, Mr. Powys. The library is on
that side; shall I show you the way?”

And a minute after he found himself following her into the room, which
was the first room he had ever been in at Brownlows. It was foolish of
Sara--it was a little like the way in which she had treated him before.
Her own heart was beating more quickly than usual, and yet she was
chiefly curious to know what he would do, what he would say. There was
something of the eagerness of an experiment in her mind, although she
had found it very serious after he left her the last time, and any
thing but amusing on the previous night.

“Thanks,” said poor Powys, whose head was turning round and round; “I
ought to have gone to the office. I am better there than here.”

“That is not very complimentary to us,” said Sara, with a little nervous
laugh.

And then he turned and looked at her. She was making a fool of him, as
Jack would have said. She was torturing him, playing with him, making
her half-cruel, half-rash experiment. “You should not say so,” he said,
with vehemence--“you know better. You should not tempt me to behave like
an idiot. You know I am ready enough to do it. If I were not an idiot I
should never have come here again.”

“Not when my father brought you?” said Sara--“not when I--but I think
you are rude, Mr. Powys; I will leave you to write your letters, and
when you have finished you will find us all up stairs.”

With that she vanished, leaving the young man in such a confusion of
mind as words would ill describe. He was angry, humiliated, vexed with
himself, rapt into a kind of ecstasy. He did not know if he was most
wretched or happy. Every thing forbade him saying another word to her;
and yet had not her father brought him, as she said? was not she herself
surrounding him with subtle sweet temptation? He threw himself down in a
chair and tried to think. When that would not do, he got up and began to
pace about the room. Then he rushed suddenly to the door, not to fly
away from the place, or to throw himself at Sara’s feet, as might have
been supposed. What he did was to make a wild dash at his traveling-bag,
which had been packed and brought into the hall. It was still standing
there, a monument of his irresolution. He plunged at it, seized it,
carried it into the library, and there unpacked it again with nervous
vehemence. Any one who should have come in and seen his collars and
handkerchiefs scattered about on the floor would have thought Powys mad.
But at length, when he had got to the bottom of the receptacle, his
object became apparent. From thence he produced a bundle of papers,
yellow and worn, and tied up with a ribbon. When he had disinterred
them, it was not without a blush, though there was nobody to see, that
he packed up every thing again in the capacious traveling-bag. He had
gone into Mr. Brownlow’s library because Sara took him there, without a
thought of any thing to do, but suddenly here was his work ready for
him. He sat down in Mr. Brownlow’s chair, and opened out the papers
before him, and read and arranged and laid them out in order. When he
had settled them according to his satisfaction, he made another pause to
think, and then began to write. It was a letter which demanded thought;
or at least it appeared so, for he wrote it hotly three times over, and
tore it up each time; and on the fourth occasion, which was the last,
wrote slowly, pausing over his sentences and biting his nails. The
letter which cost all this trouble was not very long. Judging by the
size of it, any body might have written it in five minutes; but Powys
felt his hand trembling and his brain throbbing with the exertion when
he had done. Then he folded it up carefully and put it into an envelope,
and addressed it to Mr. Brownlow, leaving it with the bundle of papers
on his employer’s writing-table. When he had accomplished this he sat
for some time irresolute, contemplating his packet on the table, and
pondering what should follow. He had put it to the touch to win or lose,
but in the mean time what was he to do? She had said he would find them
up stairs. She had implied that he would be expected there; and to spend
the day beside her would have been a kind of heaven to him; but that was
a paradise which he had himself forfeited. He could not be in her
company now as any other man might. He had said too much, had committed
himself too deeply. He had betrayed the secret which another man more
reticent might have kept, undisclosed in words, and it was impossible
for him to be with her as another might. Even she, though she had never
said a word to him that could be construed into encouragement, except
those half dozen words at the library door, was different toward him and
other men. She was conscious too; she remembered what he had said. He
and she could not be together without remembering it, without carrying
on, articulately or inarticulately, that broken interview. Powys did the
only thing that remained to him to do. He did not bound forth in the
track of the dog-cart, and follow it to Masterton, though that would not
have been difficult to him; but he went out into the park, and roamed
all about the house in widening circles, hearing sometimes the crack of
the guns in the distance, sometimes in alleys close at hand the sound of
voices, sometimes catching, as he thought, the very rustle of Sara’s
dress. He avoided them with much care and pains, and yet he would have
been glad to meet them; glad to come upon the shooting-party, though he
kept far from the spot where he had heard they were to meet some of the
ladies and lunch. It was not for him to seek a place among them. Thus he
wandered about, not feeling forlorn or disconsolate, as a man might be
supposed to do under such circumstances, but, on the contrary, excited
and hopeful. He had set forth what he felt was his best claim to
consideration before her father. If Mr. Brownlow had not treated him
with such inconceivable favor and indulgence, he never would have
ventured upon this. But he had been favored,--he had been encouraged.
Grace had been shown to him enough to turn any young man’s head, and he
knew no reason for it. And at last he had ventured to lay before Mr.
Brownlow those distant problematical claims to gentility which were all
the inheritance he had, and to tell him what was in his mind. He was not
a victim kept out of Paradise. He was a pilgrim of hope, keeping the
gates in sight, and feeling, permitting himself to feel, as if they
might open any moment and he might be called in.

While this was going on it happened to him, as it happens so often, to
come direct in the way of the very meeting which he had so carefully
avoided. Turning round the corner of a great old yew, hanging rich with
scarlet berries, he came all of a sudden, and without any warning, upon
Sara herself, walking quickly from the village with a little basket in
her hand. If it was difficult to meet her with a body-guard of ladies
in the shelter of her father’s house, it may be supposed what it was to
meet her in the silence, without another soul in sight, her face flaming
with sudden recognition and confusion. Powys stood still, and for a
moment speculated whether he should not fly; but it was only that moment
of consideration that fled, and he found himself turning by her side,
and taking her basket from her hand. She was no more mistress of the
situation than he was: she was taken by surprise. The calm with which
she had led the way into the library that morning, secure in her office
of mistress of the house, had vanished away. She began hurriedly,
eagerly, to say where she had been, and how it happened that she was
returning alone. “The rest went off to the rectory,” she said. “Have you
seen it? I think it is such a pretty house. They went to see Fanny
Hardcastle. You have met her--I know you have, or I would not have
mentioned her,” said Sara, with a breathless desire to hear her own
voice, which was unlike her. The sound of it gave her a little courage,
and perhaps if she spoke a little loud and fast, it might attract some
stray member of the party who might be wandering near. But no one came;
and there were the two together, alone, in the position of all others
most difficult in the circumstances--the green, silent park around them,
not an eye to see nor an ear to hear; the red October sunshine slanting
across their young figures, catching the ripple in Sara’s hair as it had
done that day, never to be forgotten, on which he first saw her. This
was how fate or fortune, or some good angel or some wicked fairy,
defeated Powys’s prudent intention of keeping out of harm’s way.

“But I wonder you did not go with Jack,” Sara resumed. “I should, if I
had been you. Not that I should care to kill the poor birds--but it
seems to come natural at this time of the year. Did you have much sport
in Canada? or do you think it stupid when people talk to you of Canada?
Every body does, I know, as soon as they hear you have been there.”

“You never could say any thing that was stupid,” said Powys, and then he
paused, for he did not mean to get upon dangerous ground--honestly, he
did not mean it, if circumstances had not been too strong for him.
“Canada is a kind of common ground,” he said. “It is a good thing to
begin conversation on. It is not easy to exhaust it; but people are
sadly ignorant,” he added, with lively colonial feeling. He was
scornful, in short, of the ignorance he met with. Even Mr. Brownlow
talked, he could not but recollect, like a charity-school boy on this
subject, and he took refuge in his nationality as a kind of safeguard.

“Yes, I know I am very ignorant,” said Sara, with humility. “Tell me
about Canada. I should like to learn.”

These words shook Powys sadly. It did not occur to him that she was as
glad as he was to plunge into a foreign subject. There sounded something
soft and confiding in the tone, and his heart gave a leap, as it were,
toward her. “And I should like to teach you,” he said, a little too
warmly, and then stopped short, and then began hastily again. “Miss
Brownlow, I think I will carry your basket home and leave you by
yourself. I can not be near without remembering things, and saying
things. Don’t despise me--I could nor bear to think you despised me.” He
said this with growing agitation, but he did not quicken his steps or
make any attempt to leave her; he only looked at her piteously, clasping
the slender handle of her little basket in both his hands.

“Why should I despise you, Mr. Powys? I don’t like Americans,” said
Sara, demurely; “but you are not American--you are English, like all the
rest of us. Tell me about Niagara and the Indians, and the backwoods and
the skating and the snow. You see I am not quite so ignorant. And then
your little sisters and your mother, do they like being at home? Tell me
their names and how old they are,” said Sara, herself becoming a little
tremulous. “I am fond of little girls.”

And then there ensued a breathless, tremendous pause. He would have fled
if he could, but there was no possibility of flight; and in a moment
there flashed before him all the evidences of Mr. Brownlow’s favor.
Would he refuse him this supreme gift and blessing? Why had he brought
him here if he would refuse him? Thus Powys broke down again, and
finally. He poured out his heart, giving up all attempt at self-control
when the tide had set in. He told how he had been keeping out of the
way--the way of temptation. He described to her how he had been trying
to command himself. He told her the ground she trod on was fairy-land:
the air she breathed musical and celestial; the place she lived in,
paradise; that he hoped nothing, asked for nothing, but only to be
allowed to tell her that she was--not an angel--for he was too much in
earnest to think of hackneyed expressions--but the only creature in the
world for whom he had either eyes or thoughts. All this poured upon Sara
as she walked softly, with downcast eyes, along the grassy path. It
poured upon her, a perfect flood of adulation, sweet flattery, folly,
and delirium--insane and yet quite true. And she listened, and had not a
word to say. Indeed he did not ask for a word; he made her no petition;
he emptied out his heart before her like a libation poured to the gods;
and then suddenly became silent, tremulous, and hoarse as his passion
worked itself out.

It was all so sudden, and the passion was so real, that they were both
rapt by it, and went on in the silence after he had ceased, without
knowing, until the impetus and rush of the outburst had in a measure
worn out. Then Sara woke up. She had been quite quiet, pale, half
frightened, wholly entranced. When she woke up she grew scarlet with
sudden blushes; and they both raised their eyes at the same moment and
found that, unawares, they had come in sight of the house. Powys fell
back at the sight with a pang of dismay and consternation; but it gave
Sara courage. They were no longer entirely alone, and she regained her
self-command.

“Mr. Powys,” she said, tremulously, “I don’t know what to say to you. I
am not so good as that. I--I don’t know what to say. You have not asked
me any thing. I--I have no answer to give.”

“It is because I want to ask every thing,” said poor Powys; “but I
know--I know you can have nothing to say.”

“Not now,” said Sara, under her breath; and then she held out her hand
suddenly, perhaps only for her basket. There was nobody at the windows,
heaven be praised, as she afterward said to herself, but not until she
had rushed up to her own room and pulled off that glove, and looked at
it with scarlet cheeks, and put it stealthily away. No, thank heaven!
even Angelique was at the other side of the house at a window which
looked out upon the innocent shrubberies. Only the placid, silent house,
blank and vacant, had been the witness. Was it a seal of any thing, a
pledge of any thing, or only a vague touch, for which she was not
responsible, that had fallen upon Sara’s glove?

Mr. Brownlow had gone away, his heart positively aching with expectation
and anxiety. He did not know what might happen while he was gone. It
might be more than life or death to him, as much more as honor or
dishonor go beyond mere life and death; and yet he could not stay and
watch. He had to nerve himself to that last heroism of letting every
thing take its chance, and going on with his work whatever happened. He
went to the office with his mind racked by this anxiety, and got through
his work all the same, nobody being the wiser. As he returned, a little
incident for the moment diverted him from his own thoughts. This was the
sight of the carrier’s cart standing at Mrs. Swayne’s door, and Mrs.
Swayne’s lodger in the act of mounting into it with the assistance of a
chair. Mr. Brownlow, as he passed in the dog-cart, could not but notice
this. He could not but observe how pale and ill she looked. He was
interested in them partly with that displeased and repellent interest
excited by Jack’s “entanglement,” partly because of Pamela’s face, which
reminded him of something, and partly--he could not tell why. Mrs.
Preston stumbled a little as she mounted up, and Mr. Brownlow, who was
waiting for old Betty to open the gate, sprang down from the dog-cart,
being still almost as active as ever, and went across the road to
assist. He took off his hat to her with the courtesy which all his
family possessed, and asked if she was going away. “You do not look well
enough to be setting out on a journey,” he said, a little moved by the
sight of the pale old woman mounting into that uneasy conveyance. “I
hope you are not going alone.” This he said, although he could see she
was going alone, and that poor little Pamela’s eyes were big with
complaint and reproach and trouble. Somehow he felt as if he should like
to take the little creature home with him, and pet and cherish her,
though, of course, as the cause of Jack’s entanglement, nothing should
have made him notice her at all.

But Mrs. Preston looked at him fiercely with her kindled eyes, and
rejected his aid. “Thank you,” she said abruptly, “I don’t want any
help--thank you. I am quite able to travel, and I prefer to be alone.”

“In that case, there is nothing farther to say,” said Mr. Brownlow,
politely; and then his heart melted because of little Pamela, and he
added, almost in spite of himself, “I hope you are not going away.”

“Only to come back,” said Mrs. Preston, significantly--“only to come
back; and, Mr. Brownlow, I am glad to have a chance of telling you that
we shall meet again.”

“It will give me much pleasure, I am sure,” he said, taking off his hat,
but he stared, as Pamela perceived. Meet again! what had he to do with
the woman? He was surprised, and yet he could have laughed. As if he
should care for meeting her! And then he went away, followed by her
fierce look, and walked up the avenue, dismissing the dog-cart. The act
might make him a little late for dinner, but on the whole he was glad to
be late. At least there could be no confidences made to him before he
had been refreshed with food and wine, and he wanted all the strength
that could be procured in that or any other way. Thus it was that he had
not time to go into the library before dinner, but went up stairs at
once and dressed, and down stairs at once into the drawing-room, looking
at Sara and at his young guest with an eye whose keenness baffled
itself. There was something new in their faces, but he could not tell
what it was; he saw a certain gleam of something that had passed, but it
was not distinct enough to explain itself, not having been, as will be
perceived, distinct at all, at least on the more important side. He kept
looking at them, but their faces conveyed no real information, and he
could not take his child aside and ask her what it was, as her mother
might have done. Accordingly after dinner, instead of going up to the
drawing-room and perplexing himself still farther with anxious looks, he
went into the library. The suspense had to be borne whether he liked it
or not, and he was not a man to make any grievance about it. The smile
which he had been wearing in deference to the usages of society faded
from his face when he entered that sheltering place. His countenance
fell into the haggard lines which Powys had not observed in the morning.
A superficial spectator would have supposed that now he was alone his
distresses had come back to him; but on the contrary his worn and weary
look was not an evidence of increased pain--it was a sign of ease and
rest. There he did not need to conceal the anxiety which was racking
him. In this state of mind, letting himself go, as it were, taking off
the restraints which had been binding him, he went into the library, and
found Powys’s letter, and the bundle of papers that were put up with it,
placed carefully on his table before his chair.

The sight gave him a shock which, being all alone and at his ease, he
did not attempt to conceal. The light seemed to go out of his eyes, his
lip drooped a little, a horrible gleam of suffering went over his face:
now no doubt the moment had come. He even hesitated and went away to the
other extremity of the room, and turned his back upon the evidence which
was to seal his fate. Then it occurred to him how simple-minded the
young fellow was--to thrust his evidences thus, as it were, into the
hands of the man whose interest it was to destroy them!--and a certain
softening came over him, a thrill of kindness, almost of positive
affection for the youth who was going to ruin him. Poor fellow!--he
would be sorry--and then Sara would still have it, and he would be good
to her. Mr. Brownlow’s mind was in this incoherent state when he came
back to the table, and, steeling himself for the effort, sat down before
the fated papers. He undid the ribbon with trembling hands. Powys’s
letter was written on his own paper, with “Brownlows” on it in
fantastic Gothic letters, according to Sara’s will and pleasure; and a
thrill of anger shot over him as he perceived this. Strange that as he
approached the very climax of his fate he should be able to be moved by
such troubles! Then Mr. Brownlow opened the letter. It was very short,
as has been said, and this was the communication which had cost the
young man so much toil:

     “DEAR SIR--It seems strange to write to you thus calmly, at your
     own table, on your own paper [“Ah! then he felt that!” Mr. Brownlow
     said to himself], and to say what I am going to say. You have
     brought me here notwithstanding what I told you, but the time is
     past when I could come and be like any common acquaintance. I
     wanted to leave to-day to save my honesty while I could, but you
     would not let me. I can not be under the same roof with Miss
     Brownlow, and see her daily, and behave like a stock or stone. I
     have no right to address her, but she _knows_, and I can not help
     myself. I want to lay before you the only claim I have to be looked
     upon as any thing more than your clerk. It was my hope to work into
     a higher position by my own exertions, and then to find it out. But
     in case it should count for any thing with you, I put it before you
     now. It could not make me her equal; but if by any wonderful chance
     _that_ should seem possible in your eyes, which to mine seems but
     the wildest yet dearest dream, I want you to know that perhaps if
     it could be traced out we are a little less lowly than we seem.

     “I enclose my father’s papers, which we have always kept with great
     care. He took care of them himself, and told me before he died that
     I ought to find my fortune in them. I never had much hope of that,
     but I send them to you, for they are all I have. I do not ask you
     to accept of me, to give me your daughter. I know it looks like
     insanity. I feel it is insane. But you have been either very, very
     kind or very cruel to me. You have brought me here--you have made
     it life or death to me. She has every thing that heart of man can
     desire. I have--what poor hope there may be in these papers. For
     God’s sake look at them, and look at me, and tell me if I am mad to
     hope. Tell me to go or stay, and I will obey you--but let it be
     clear and definitive, for mercy’s sake.

     “C. I. POWYS.”



Mr. Brownlow was touched by the letter. He was touched by its
earnestness, and he was also touched by its simplicity. He was in so
strange a mood that it brought even the moisture to his eye. “To have
every thing I possess in the world in his power, and yet to write like
this,” he said to himself, and drew a long sigh, which was as much
relief as apprehension. “She will still have it all, and he deserves to
have her,” Mr. Brownlow thought to himself; and opened up the yellow
papers with a strange mixture of pain and satisfaction which even he
could not understand.

He was a long time over them. They were letters chiefly, and they took a
great many things for granted of which Mr. Brownlow was completely
ignorant, and referred to many events altogether unknown to him. He was
first puzzled, then almost disappointed, then angry. It seemed like
trifling with him. These could not be the papers Powys meant to enclose.
There were letters from some distressed mother to a son who had made a
foolish marriage, and there were letters from the son, pleading that
love might still be left to him, if not any thing else, and that no evil
impression might be formed of his Mary. Who was his Mary? Who was the
writer? What had he to do with Brownlows and Sara and Phœbe Thomson’s
fortune? For a long time Mr. Brownlow toiled on, hoping to come to
something which bore upon his own case. The foregone conclusion was so
strong in his mind, that he grew angry as he proceeded, and found his
search in vain. Powys was trifling with him, putting him off--thrusting
this utterly unimportant correspondence into his hands, instead of
confiding, as he had thought, his true proofs to him. This distrust, as
Mr. Brownlow imagined it, irritated him in the most-curious way. Ask his
advice, and not intrust him with the true documents that proved the
case! Play with his good sense, and doubt his integrity! It wounded him
with a certain keen professional sting. He had worked himself up to the
point of defrauding the just heir; but to suspect that the papers would
not be safe in his hands was a suggestion that cut him to the heart. He
was very angry, and he had so far forgotten the progress of time that,
when he rang sharply to summon some one, the bell rang through all the
hushed echoes of the house, and a servant--half asleep, and considerably
frightened--came gaping, after a long interval, to the library door.

“Where is Mr. Powys?” said Mr. Brownlow. “If he is in the drawing-room
give him my compliments, and ask him to be so good as to step down here
for a few minutes to me.”

“Mr. Powys, sir?” said the man--“the gentleman as came yesterday, sir?
The drawing-room is all shut up, sir, long ago. The ladies is gone to
bed, but some of the gentlemen is in the smoking-room, and I can see if
he’s there.”

“Gone to bed!” said Mr. Brownlow; “why were they in such a hurry?” and
then he looked at his watch and found, to his great surprise, that it
was past midnight. A vague wonder struck him once again whether his mind
could be getting impaired. The suggestion was like a passing stab in the
dark dealt him by an unseen enemy. He kept staring at the astonished
servant, and then he continued sharply, “Go and see if he is in the
smoking-room, or if not, in his own room. Ask him to come to me.”

Powys had gone up stairs late, and was sitting thinking, unable to rest.
He had been near her the whole evening, and though they had not
exchanged many words, there had been a certain sense between them that
they were not as the others were. Once or twice their eyes had met, and
fallen beneath each other’s glance. It was nothing, and yet it was
sweeter than any thing certain and definite. And now he sat and thought.
The night had crept on, and had become chilly and ghostly, and his mind
was in a state of strange excitement. What was to come of it all? What
could come of it? When the servant came to his door at that late hour,
the young man started with a thrill of apprehension, and followed him
down stairs almost trembling, feeling his heart sink within him; for so
late and so peremptory a summons seemed an omen of evil. Mr. Brownlow
had collected himself before Powys came into the room, and received him
with an apology. “I am sorry to disturb you so late. I was not aware it
was so late; but I want to understand this--” he said; and then he
waited till the servant had left the room, and pointed to a chair on the
other side of the table. “Sit down,” he said, “and tell me what this
means.”

“What it means?” said Powys taken by surprise.

“Yes, sir, what it means,” said Mr. Brownlow, hoarsely. “I may guess
what your case is; but you must know that these are not the papers to
support it. Who is the writer of these letters? who is the Mary he talks
of? and what has it all to do with you?”

“It has every thing to do with me,” said Powys. “The letters were
written by my father--the Mary he speaks of is my mother--”

“Your mother?” said Mr. Brownlow, with a sharp exclamation, which
sounded like an oath to the young man’s astonished ears; and then he
thrust the papers away with trembling hands, and folded his arms on the
table, and looked intently into Powys’s face. “What was your mother’s
name?”

“My mother’s name was Mary Christian,” said Powys, wondering; “but the
point is--Good heavens! what is the matter? what do you mean?”

His surprise was reasonable enough. Mr. Brownlow had sprung to his feet;
he had dashed his two clenched hands through the air, and said,
“Impostor!” through his teeth. That was the word--there could be no
mistake about it--“Impostor!” upon which Powys too jumped up, and faced
him with an expression wavering between resentment and surprise,
repeating more loudly in his consternation, “What do you mean?”

But the young man could only stand and look on with increasing wonder
when he saw Mr. Brownlow sink into his chair, and bury his face in his
hands, and tremble like a palsied old man. Something like a sob even
came from his breast. The relief was so amazing, so unlooked for, that
at the first touch it was pain. But Powys, standing by, knew nothing of
all this. He stood, not knowing whether to be offended, hesitating,
looking for some explanation; and no doubt the time seemed longer to him
than it really was. When Mr. Brownlow raised his head his face was
perfectly colorless, like the face of a man who had passed through some
dreadful experiment. He waved his hand to his young companion, and it
was a minute before he could speak.

“I beg your pardon,” he said. “It is all a mistake--an entire mistake,
on my part. I did not know what I was saying. It was a sudden pain. But
never mind, I am better. What did you mean me to learn from these
papers?” he added, after a pause, with a forced smile.

Then Powys knew his fate. There was a change which could not be
described. In an instant, tone, look, manner, every thing was altered.
It was his master who said these last words to him; his employer, very
kind and just, but unapproachable as a king. One moment before, and Mr.
Brownlow had been in his power, he did not know how or why; and in an
instant, still without his knowing wherefore, his power had totally
departed. Powys saw this in all the darkness of utter ignorance. His
consternation was profound and his confusion. In a moment his own
presumption, his own hopelessness, the misery of loss and
disappointment, overwhelmed him, and yet not a word bearing upon the
real matter at issue had been said.

“They are my father’s papers,” said poor Powys. “I thought--that is, I
supposed--I hoped there might be some indication in them--I am sorry if
I have troubled you unnecessarily. He belonged to a good family, and I
imagined I might perhaps have reclaimed--but it doesn’t matter. If that
is what you think--”

“Oh yes, I see,” said Mr. Brownlow; “you can leave them, and perhaps
another time--But in the mean time, if you feel inclined, my groom can
drive you down to-morrow morning. I am not sure that I shall be going
myself; and I will not detain you any longer to-night.”

“Very well, sir,” said Powys. He stood for a moment looking for
something more--for some possible softening; but not one word of
kindness came except an abrupt good-night. Good-night--yes, good-night
to every thing--hope, love, happiness, fortune. Farewell to them all;
and Sara, she who had almost seemed to belong to him. It seemed to Powys
as if he was walking on his own heart as he left the room, trampling on
it, stamping it down, crying fool, fool! Poor fellow, no doubt he had
been a fool; but it was a hard awakening, and the fault, after all, was
not his own.

Mr. Brownlow, however, was too much occupied with his own deliverance to
think of Powys. He said that new name over to himself again and again,
to realize what had happened. Mary Christian--Mary Christian--surely he
had heard it before; but so long as it was not Phœbe Thomson, what
did it matter who was his mother? Not Phœbe Thomson. She was dead
perhaps--dead, and in a day or two more it would not matter. Two days,
that was all--for it was now October. She might turn up a week hence if
she would; but now he was free--free, quite free; without any
wrong-doing or harm to any body; Brownlows and every thing else his own.
Could it be true? Mary Christian--that was the name. And she came from
the Isle of Man. But there was plenty of time to inquire into all that.
The thing in the mean time was that he was released. When he got up and
roused himself he found he could scarcely stand. He had been steady
enough during all the time of his trial; but the sudden relief took all
his forces from him. He shook from head to foot, and had to hold by the
tables and chairs as he went out. And he left the lamp burning in
forlorn dreariness on the library-table. The exertion of walking up
stairs was almost too much for him. He had no attention to give to the
common things surrounding him. All his powers, all his senses were
absorbed in the one sensation of being free. Only once as he went up
stairs did his ordinary faculties return to him, as it were, for a
moment. It was when he was passing the great window in the staircase,
and glancing out saw the white moonlight glimmering over all the park,
and felt the cold of the night. Then it occurred to him to wonder if the
pale old woman whom he had seen getting into the carrier’s cart could be
traveling through this cold night. Poor old soul! He could not but think
for the moment how chilly and frozen it would be. And then he bethought
himself that he was safe, might go where he liked, do what he liked, had
nobody menacing him, no enemy looking on to watch an opportunity--and no
harm done! Thus Mr. Brownlow paused in the weakness of deliverance, and
his heart melted within him. He made not vows to the saints of new
churches or big tapers, but secret, tender resolutions in his heart. For
this awful danger escaped, how should he show his gratitude to God? He
was himself delivered, and goodness seemed to come back to him, his
natural impulse. He had been saved from doing wrong, and without doing
wrong all he wanted had been secured to him. What reason had not he to
be good to every body; to praise God by serving his neighbor? This was
the offering of thanksgiving he proposed to render. He did not at the
moment think of young Powys sitting at his window looking out on the
same moonlight, very dumb and motionless and heart-stricken, thinking
life henceforward a dreary desert. No harm was done, and Mr. Brownlow
was glad. But it did not occur to him to offer any healing in Powys’s
case. If there was to be a victim at all, it was best that he should be
the victim. Had he not brought it on himself?



CHAPTER XXXV.

AN UNLOOKED-FOR VISITOR.


Powys was proud, and his pride was up in arms. He slept little that
night, and while he sat and brooded over it all, the hopelessness and
folly of his hope struck him with tenfold distinctness. Early next
morning, before any one was up, he came down the great silent staircase,
and left the house in the morning sunshine. The distance to Masterton
was nothing to him. It was the second time he had left the house with
despair in his heart. It would be the last time, he said to himself as
he paused to look up at the closed windows; he would never suffer
himself to be deluded--never be led away by deceptive hopes again; and
he went away, not without bitterness, yet with a certain stern sense of
the inevitable which calmed down his passion. Whenever he had been in
his right senses, he had felt that this must be the end; and the thing
for him now was to bear it with such courage and steadiness as he could
muster to face the emergency. It was all over at least. There were no
intermediary tortures to go through, and there was always some comfort
in that.

His absence was not taken any notice of at the breakfast-table, though
Sara gave many a wondering glance at the door, and had a puzzled,
half-irritated look upon her face, which some of her friends perceived,
though her father did not observe it. He, for his part, came down
radiant. He looked weary, and explained that he had not slept very well;
but he had never been in more genial spirits, never more affectionate or
full of schemes for every body’s pleasure. He called Jack apart, to tell
him that, after looking over matters, he found he could let him have the
hunter he wanted, a horse upon which his heart was set. When they were
all talking at the table in the usual morning flutter of letters and
mutual bits of news, Mr. Brownlow intimated that he had thoughts of
taking Sara to Italy, where she had so long desired to go; “making up a
party, and enjoying ourselves,” he said. Sara looked up with a gleam of
delight, but her eyes were immediately after diverted to the door, where
somebody was coming in--somebody, but not the person she was looking
for. As for Jack, he received the intimation of his father’s liberality
in perplexed silence; for if he was to marry, and sink into the position
of a clerk in Masterton, hunters would be little in his way. But their
father was too much absorbed in his own satisfaction to remark
particularly how they both took his proposed kindness. He was
overflowing to every body. Though he was always kind, that morning he
was kinder than ever; and the whole party brightened up under his
influence, notwithstanding Jack’s perplexity, and Sara’s wondering
impatient glances at the door. Nobody asked what had become of the
stranger. Mr. Brownlow’s guests were free to come to breakfast when they
liked, and no notice was taken of the defaulters. The meal, however, was
so merry and friendly, that every body sat longer over it than usual.
Several of the visitors were going away, and the sportsmen had laid
aside their guns for the day to join the ladies in an excursion. There
was plenty of time for every thing; pleasant bustle, pleasant idleness,
no “wretched business,” as Sara said, to quicken their steps; and she
was, perhaps, the only one in the party who was ill at ease. She could
not make out how it was that Powys did not come. She sat and joined with
forced gayety in the general conversation, and she had not courage to
ask frankly what had become of him. When they all began at last to
disperse from the table, she made one feeble effort to satisfy herself.
“Mr. Powys has never come down to breakfast,” she said to Jack, avoiding
his eye; “had not you better see if there is any reason?”

“If he is ill, perhaps, poor dear?” said Jack, with scorn. “Don’t be
afraid--probably he went out early; he is not the sort of fellow to fall
ill.”

“Probably some of you have insulted him!” said Sara, hotly, under her
breath; but either Jack did not or would not hear. And she could not
trust herself to look up in the face of the assembled company and ask.
So she had to get up with all the rest, and go reluctantly away from the
table, with a certain sense of impending misfortune upon her. A few
minutes after, when she was sent for to go to her father in the library,
Sara’s courage failed her altogether. She felt he must have something
important to say to her, something that could not be postponed. And her
heart beat loudly as she went to him. When she entered the room Mr.
Brownlow came forward to meet her. It struck her for the first time as
he advanced that his face had changed; something that had been weighing
upon him had passed away. The lines of his mouth had relaxed and
softened; he was like what he used to be. It was almost the first time
she fully realized that for some time past he had not been like himself.
He came forward, and before she had fully mastered her first impression,
took her into his arms.

“My dear child,” he said, “I have sent for you to tell you that a great
burden that has been upon my mind for some time has just been taken off.
You have been very good to me, Sara, very patient and obedient and
sweet; and though I never told you about it in so many words, I want you
to be the first to know that it has passed away.”

“Thank you, papa,” said Sara, looking wistfully in his face. “I am sure
I am very glad, though I don’t know what you mean. Is it any thing
about--? Am I to know what it was?” And she stopped, standing so close
with his arm round her, and gave him an appealing look--a look that
asked far more than her words--that seemed even to see into him, and
divine; but that could not be.

“It is not worth while now,” he said, smoothing her hair with his hand.
“It is all over; and, my darling, I want you to know also that I set you
free.”

“Set me free?” said Sara, in a whisper; and in spite of herself she
turned very pale.

“Yes, Sara, quite free. I ask no sacrifice of you now,” said Mr.
Brownlow, pressing her close with his arm. “Forgive me that I ever
thought of it. Even at the worst, you know I told you to consult your
own heart; and now you are free, quite free. All that is at an end.”

“All what?” asked Sara, under her breath; and she turned her head away
from him, resisting the effort he made to look at her. “What is it you
set me free from?” she continued, in a petulant tone. “If you don’t tell
me in words, how am I to know?”

Mr. Brownlow was startled and checked in his effusiveness, but he could
not be angry with her at such a moment. “Hush,” he said, still smoothing
her pretty hair, “we have never had many words about it. It is all at an
end. I thought it would be a relief to you to hear.”

“To hear what?” cried the girl, sharply, with her head averted; and
then, to her father’s utter consternation, she withdrew as far as she
could from his arm, and suddenly burst into tears.

Mr. Brownlow was totally taken by surprise. He had not been able to read
what was going on in his daughter’s heart. He could not believe now that
she understood him. He put his hand upon her arm and drew her back. “You
mistake me, my darling,” he said; “I mean that you are quite free,
Sara--quite free. It was wrong of me to ask any promise from you, and it
was foolish of you to give it. But Providence, thank God, has settled
that. It is all over. There is no more necessity. Can’t you forgive me?
You have not suffered so much from it as I have done. Before I could
have come to the point of sacrificing you--”

“Sacrificing _me_!” cried Sara, suddenly, flashing back upon him in a
storm of passion and indignation, her cheeks scorching yet wet with
tears, her big eyes swimming. “Is that all you think of? You had a right
to sacrifice me if you liked--nobody would have said a word. They did it
in the Bible. You might have cut me into little pieces if you liked. But
oh, what right had you, how dared you to make a sacrifice of _him_?”

“_Him!_” cried Mr. Brownlow, and he took a step back in consternation
and gazed at his child, who was transfigured, and a different creature.
Her cheeks blazed under her tears, but she did not shrink. Weeping,
blushing, wounded, ashamed, she still confronted him in the strength of
some new feeling of which he had never dreamed.

“You never say a word about him!” cried Sara. “You speak of me, and you
had a right to do whatever you like with me; but it is him whom you have
sacrificed. He never would have thought of it but for you. He never
would have come back after _that_ time but for you. And then you expect
me to think only of myself, and to be glad when you say I am free! How
can I be free? I led him on and made him speak when he knew better. Oh,
papa, you are cruel, cruel! He was doing you no harm, and you have made
him wretched; and now you think it doesn’t matter; but that is not the
way with me!”

“Sara, are you mad?” cried Mr. Brownlow in his dismay; but Sara made him
no answer. She sat down on the nearest chair, and turning round away
from him, leaned her arms on the back of it, and put down her head on
her arms. He could see that she was crying, but that was all; and
nothing he could say, neither consolations, nor excuses, nor reproofs,
would induce her to raise her head. It was the first quarrel she had
ever had with the father who had been father and mother both to her; and
the acuteness of her first disappointment, the first cross in her
pleasant life, the unexpected humiliating end of her first dreams,
roused a wild rebellion in her heart. She was wroth, and her heart was
sore, and outraged. When he was called away by Willis about some
business, he left her there, still twisted round upon her chair, with
her face upon her folded arms, spending her very soul in tears. But the
moment he was gone she sprang up and fled to the shelter of her own
room. “They shall find that it is not the way with me!” she said to
herself, and gave herself up willfully to thoughts of the banished lover
who had been treated so cruelly. On that day at least, Sara avenged poor
Powys’s wrongs upon the company in general. She had a headache, and
could not join in their excursion. And her eyes were still red with
crying when next she was seen down stairs. Mr. Brownlow tried to
persuade himself it was too violent to last, and thought it prudent to
take no more notice, but was very obsequious and conciliatory all the
evening to his naughty child. Even when it was thus brought before him,
he did not make much account of the sacrifice of Powys. And he thought
Sara would come round and see things by and by in their true light. But
all the same the shock had a great effect upon him, and damped him
strangely in the first effusion of his joy.

But he was kind, kinder to every body in his gratitude to Providence.
Except that he had no pity for Powys, who seemed to him to have been all
this time a kind of impostor, his good fortune softened his heart to
every other creature. When he met Pamela on the road, though Pamela was
the one other individual in the world with whom Jack’s father was not in
perfect charity, he yet stopped kindly to speak to her. “I hope your
mother has not gone upon a long journey. I hope she is coming back,” he
said in a fatherly way. “She should not have left you by yourself
alone.”

“It was on business,” said Pamela, not daring to lift her eyes. “She
said she would be soon back.”

“Then you must take great care of yourself while she is away,” Mr.
Brownlow said, and took off his hat as he left her, with the courtesy
which was natural to him. He was so kind to every body, and that day in
particular he looked after the pretty creature with a pang of
compunction. He did not care much for Powys, but he was sorry for
Pamela. “Poor little thing!” he said to himself--for while he said it he
thought of launching Jack, as it was Jack’s ambition to be launched,
upon public life, getting him into the House of Commons, sending him out
to the world, where he would soon forget his humble little love. Mr.
Brownlow felt that this was what would happen, and his heart for the
moment ached over poor Pamela. She was so pretty, and soft, and young,
and then she reminded him--though of whom he could not quite say.

Thus the day went on; and the next day Mr. Brownlow went to the office,
where every thing was as usual. He saw by his first glance that Powys
was at his desk, and he was pleased, though he took no notice. Perhaps a
certain unacknowledged compunction, after all, was in his mind. He even
sent for Mr. Wrinkell and consulted him as to the fitness of the junior
clerk for a more responsible post. Mr. Wrinkell was a cautious man, but
he could not conceal a certain favoritism. “Ever since that first little
cloud that passed over him, he has been worth any two in the office,” he
said--“any two, sir; but I don’t think he is happy in his mind.”

“Not happy?” said Mr. Brownlow; “but you know, Wrinkell, we can not be
expected to remedy that.”

“No, of course not,” said Mr. Wrinkell; “it may be only seriousness, and
then it will be all the better for him; but if it is not that, it is
something that has gone wrong. At his age a cross in some fancy is
enough sometimes--not that I have any ground for saying so; but still I
think sometimes when I look at him that some little affair of _that_
description may have gone wrong.”

“It is possible enough,” said Mr. Brownlow, with a smile, which was
somewhat grim; “fortunately that sort of thing don’t kill.”

“N-no,” said Mr. Wrinkell, gravely; but he did not say anymore, and his
employer did not feel more comfortable after he was gone; and Powys was
promoted accordingly, and did his business with a certain sternness,
never moving, never looking round when Mr. Brownlow came into the
office, taking no notice of him; till the lawyer, who had come to have a
certain fondness for the young man, felt hurt and vexed, he could not
have told why. He was glad to see him there--glad he was too manful and
stouthearted to have disappeared and abandoned his work; but he would
have felt grateful and indebted to him had he once raised his head and
seemed conscious of his presence. Powys, however, was no more than
human, and there was a limit to his powers. He was busy with his work,
but yet the sense of his grievance was full in his mind. He was saying
to himself, with less vehemence but more steadiness, what Sara had said.
He never would have thought of it but for Mr. Brownlow--never would have
gone back after _that_ time but for him; and his heart was sore, and he
could not forgive him like a Christian--not the first day.

However they had a cheerful evening at Brownlows that night. There were
more reasons than one why it should be a night of triumph for the master
of the house. His terrors had all died out of his mind. The cloud that
had so long overshadowed him had vanished, and _it was the last day_!
Nobody knew it but himself; doubtless nobody was thinking of any special
crisis. Mr. Brownlow went, he scarcely knew from what feeling, in a kind
of half-conscious bravado, to see old Mrs. Fennell, and found her still
raving of something which seemed to him no longer alarming, but the
merest idiocy. He was so genial and charitable that he even thought of
Nancy and her troubles, and told her she must get a nurse to help her,
and then she could be free to go and see her friends. “For I think you
told me you had some friends,” Mr. Brownlow said, with an amiability
that cowed Nancy, and made her tremble. Nancy Christian! When he heard
her mistress call her, he suddenly recollected the other name which he
had seen so lately, and came back to ask her about a Mary Christian of
the Isle of Man, and got certain particulars which were startling to
him. Nancy could tell him who she was. She was a farmer’s daughter
related to the Fennells, and had married “a gentleman’s son.” The
information gave Mr. Brownlow a curious shock, but he was a good deal
exhausted with various emotions, and did not feel that much. So he went
home, carrying a present for Sara--a pretty locket--though she had too
many of such trinkets already. He meant to tell her it was an
anniversary, though not what anniversary it was. And he took his
check-book and wrote a check for a large amount for the chief charities
in Masterton, but did not tear it out, leaving it there locked up with
the book till to-morrow, for it was late, and the banks were shut. If
any poor supplicant had come to him that day with a petition, right or
wrong its prayer would have been granted. Mr. Brownlow had received a
great deliverance from God--so he phrased it--and it was but his simple
duty to deliver others if possible in sign of his gratitude. All but
young Powys, whom he had deluded, and who had deluded him; all but
Phœbe Thomson, who was just about to be consigned to oblivion, and
about whom and whose fortunes henceforward no soul would have any
inducement to care.

Sara, too, had softened a little out of that first rebellion which Mr.
Brownlow knew could not last. She was not particularly cordial to her
father, but still she wore the locket he had given her in sign of amity,
and exerted herself at dinner to amuse the guests. Fresh people had
arrived that day, and the house was very full--so full, that Mr.
Brownlow had no chance of a moment’s conversation with his children,
except by positively detaining them after every body was gone, as Jack
had done on the night of Powys’s arrival. He took this step, though it
was a very decided one, for he felt it necessary that some clear
understanding should be come to. And he had such bribes to offer them.
After every body else had retired, Jack and Sara came to him in the
library. This room, which a little while ago had been the least
interesting in the house, was gradually collecting associations round
it, and becoming the scene of all the most important incidents in this
eventful period of the family life. Jack came in half careless, half
anxious, thinking something might be about to be said about his personal
affairs, yet feeling that his father had no particular right to
interfere, and no power to decide. And Sara was sulky. It is an ugly
word, but it was the actual state of the case. She was injured, and sore
in her heart, and yet she was too young and too much accustomed to her
own way to consider the matter desperate, or to have reached the dignity
of despair. So she was only sullen, offended, disposed to make herself
disagreeable. It was not a promising audience whom Mr. Brownlow thus
received with smiles in his own room. It was only about eleven o’clock,
his impatience having hastened the hour of general separation; and the
young people were not perfectly pleased with _that_, any more than with
his other arrangements. Both the lamps in the library were lighted, and
there was a fire burning. The room, too, seemed to have brightened up.
Mr. Brownlow put Sara into one of the big chairs, with a tenderness
which almost overcame her, and himself took up an Englishman’s favorite
position on the hearth.

“I want to speak to you both,” he said. He was eager, and yet there was
a certain embarrassment in his tone. “This is an important night in my
life. I can’t enter into particulars--indeed there is no room for
them--but I have been waiting for this night to speak seriously to you
both. Jack, I doubt whether you will ever do much at the business. I
should have liked, had you given your mind to it, to keep it up; for a
business like mine is a capital backing to a fortune, and without it you
can’t hope to be rich--not rich beyond competence, you know. However, it
does not seem to me, I confess, that business, of our kind at least, is
your turn.”

“I was not aware I had been unsatisfactory, sir,” said Jack. “I don’t
think I have been doing worse than usual--”

“That is not what I mean,” said Mr. Brownlow. “I mean you are better
adapted for something else. I wrote to my old friend Lord Dewsbury about
you to-day. If any thing should turn up in the way he once proposed, I
should not mind releasing you altogether from the office--and increasing
your allowance. It could not be a great deal, recollect; but still if
that is what you would really give your mind to--I should see that you
had enough to keep your place.”

Jack’s eyes had gradually brightened as his father proceeded. Now he
made a step forward, and a gleam of delight came to his face. “Do you
really mean it?” he cried; “it is awfully good of you. Of course I
should give my mind to it. It is what I most care for in the
world--except--the business--” Jack paused, and other things besides the
business came into his mind. “If you are making a sacrifice to please
me--” he began slowly.

“We have all to make sacrifices,” said Mr. Brownlow. “A few days ago I
thought I should have had to make a sacrifice of a very different kind.
Providence has been good to me, and now I should like to do the best for
my children. There are only two of you,” said Mr. Brownlow, softening.
“It would be hard if I did not do all I could to make the best of your
lives.”

And then there was a pause. He meant what he said, and he had always
been a good father, and they loved him dearly. But at this moment,
though he was offering to his son the realization of his dreams, they
both distrusted him, and he felt it. They looked at him askance, these
two young creatures who owed every thing to him. They were doubtful of
his great offers. They thought he was attempting to bribe them, beguile
them out of the desire of their hearts. And he stood looking at them,
feeling in his own heart that he was not natural but plausible and
conciliatory, thinking of their good, no doubt, but also of his own
will. He felt this, but still he was angry that they should feel it. And
it was with still more conscious embarrassment that he began again.

“The time has come in my own life when I am ready to make a change,” he
said. “I want a little rest. I want to go away and see you enjoy
yourselves, and take a holiday before I die. I can afford it after
working so long. I want to take you to Italy, my darling, where you have
so long wanted to go; but I should like to establish things on a new
footing first. I should make some arrangement about the business;
unless, indeed, Jack has changed his ideas. Public life is very
uncertain. If you think,” said Mr. Brownlow, not without a certain tinge
of derision in his tone, “that you would rather be Brownlow of
Masterton, with a safe, long-established hereditary connection to fall
back upon, it is not for me to precipitate your decision. You can take
time and think over what I say.”

“There is no occasion for taking time to think,” said Jack, with a
little irritation. But there he stopped. It was getting toward midnight;
the house was quiet; everything was still, except the wind sighing
outside among the falling leaves. Sara, who was the least occupied of
the three, had thought she heard the sound of wheels in the avenue, but
it was so unlikely at that time of the night that she concluded it must
be only the wind. As they all stood there, however, silent, the quiet
was suddenly broken. All at once, into the midst of their conversation,
came the sound of the great house-bell, rung violently. It made them all
start, so unexpected was the sound, and so perfect was the stillness. At
that hour who could be coming to disturb them? The bell was unusually
large and loud, and the sound of it echoing down into the bowels, as it
were, of the silent house, was startling enough. And then there was the
sound of a voice outside. The library was at the back of the house;
but still, when their attention was thus violently aroused, they
could hear that there was a voice. And the bell rang again
loudly--imperiously--wildly. Jack was the first to move. “Willis must
be asleep,” he said. “But who on earth can it be?” and he hastened
toward the door, to give the untimely visitor entrance. But his father
called him back.

“I hear Willis moving,” he said; “never mind. It must be somebody by the
last train from town. Did you ask any one? There is just time to have
driven over from the last train.”

“It must be some telegram,” said Jack. “I expect nobody this week,” and
they all stood and waited; Sara, too, having risen from her chair. The
young people were a little disturbed, though they feared nothing; and
Mr. Brownlow looked at them tenderly, like a man who had nothing to
fear.

“Happily we are all here,” he said. “If it is a telegram, it can only be
about business.” He stood leaning against the mantle-piece, with his
eyes fixed on the door. There was a flutter at his heart somehow, but he
did not feel that he was afraid. And they could hear Willis fumbling
over the door, and an impatient voice outside. Whatever it was, it was
very urgent, and Jack, growing anxious in spite of himself, would have
gone to see. But again his father called him back. Something chill and
terrible was stealing over Mr. Brownlow; he was growing pale--he was
hoarse when he spoke. But he neither moved, nor would he let his son
move, and stood propping himself up, with a livid countenance, and
gazing at the door.

When it opened they all started, and Mr. Brownlow himself gave a hoarse
cry. It was not a telegram, nor was it a stranger. It was a figure they
were well used to see, and with which they had no tragic associations.
She came in like a ghost, black, pale, and swift, in a passion of
eagerness, with a large old silver watch in her hand. “I am not too
late,” she said, with a gasp, and held it up close to Mr. Brownlow’s
face. And then she stood still and looked at him, and he knew it all if
she had not said, another word. It was Pamela’s mother, the woman whom,
two days before, he had helped into the carrier’s cart at his own gate.



CHAPTER XXXVI.

MOMENTARY MADNESS.


It would be difficult to describe the looks of the assembled party in
the library at Brownlows at this moment. Jack, to whom every thing was
doubly complicated by the fact that the intruder was Pamela’s mother,
and by the feeling that his own affairs must be somehow in question,
made a step forward, thinking that her business must be with him, and
fell back in double consternation when she passed him, looking only at
his father. Sara stood aghast, knowing nothing--not even aware that
there could be any thing to be anxious about--an impersonation of mere
wonder and surprise. The two elder people were not surprised. Both of
them knew what it meant. Mr. Brownlow in a moment passed from the shock
of horror and dismay which had prostrated him at first, into that
perfect calm which is never consistent with ignorance or innocence. The
wonder of his children would have convinced any observer of their
perfect unacquaintance with the matter. But he knew all about it--he was
perfectly composed and master of himself in a second. Life goes fast at
such a crisis. He felt at once as if he had always known it was to end
like this--always foreseen it--and had been gradually prepared and wound
up by degrees to meet the blow. All his uncertainty and doubt and
self-delusions vanished from him on the spot. He knew who his visitor
was without any explanation, and that she had come just in time--and
that it was all over. Somehow he seemed to cease on the moment to be the
principal in the matter. By the time Mrs. Preston had come up to him, he
had become a calm professional spectator, watching the case on behalf of
a client. The change was curious to himself, though he had no time just
then to consider how it came about.

But the intruder was not calm. On the contrary, she was struggling with
intense excitement, panting, trembling, compelled to stop on her way
across the room to put her hand to her side, and gasp for the
half-stifled breath. She took no notice of the young people who stood
by. It is doubtful even whether she was aware of their presence. She
went up gasping to the man she thought her enemy. “I am in time,” she
said. “I have come to claim my mother’s money--the money you have robbed
us of. I am in time--I know I am just in time! I have been at Doctors’
Commons; it’s no use telling me lies. I know every thing. I’ve come for
my mother’s money--the money you’ve robbed from me and mine!”

Jack came forward bewildered by these extraordinary words. “This is
frenzy,” he said. “The Rector is right. She must be mad. Mrs. Preston,
come and I’ll take you home. Don’t let us make any row about it. She is
Pamela’s mother. Let me take her quietly away.”

“I might be mad,” said the strange apparition, “if wrong could make a
woman mad. Don’t talk to me of Pamela. Sir, you understand it’s you I
come to--it’s you! Give me my mother’s money! I’ll not go away from here
till I have justice. I’ll have you taken up for a robber! I’ll have you
put in prison! It’s justice I want--and my rights.”

“Be quiet, Jack,” said Mr. Brownlow; “let her alone. Go away--that is
the best service you can do me. Mrs. Preston, you must explain yourself.
Who was your mother, and what do you want with me?”

Then she made a rush forward to him and clutched his arm. He was
standing in his former position leaning against the mantle-piece, firm,
upright, pale, a strong man still, and with his energies unbroken. She
rushed at him, a tottering, agitated woman, old and weak and
half-frantic with excitement. “Give me my mother’s money!” she cried,
and gasped and choked, her passion being too much for her. At this
instant the clock struck: it was a silvery, soft-tongued clock, and made
the slow beats of time thrill into the silence. Mr. Brownlow laughed
when he heard it--laughed not with triumph, but with that sense of the
utter futility of all calculations which sometimes comes upon the mind
with a strange sense of the humor of it, at the most terrible crisis.
Let it strike--what did it matter?--nothing now could deliver him from
his fate.

“I take you to witness I was here and claimed my money before it
struck,” cried the woman. “I was here. You can’t change that. You
villain give me my mother’s money! Give me my money: you’ve had it for
five-and-twenty years!”

“Compose yourself,” said Mr. Brownlow, speaking to her as he might have
done had he been the professional adviser of the man who was involved;
“sit down and take your time; you were here before twelve, you shall
have all the benefit of that; now tell me what your name is, and what is
your claim.”

Mrs. Preston sat down as he told her, and glared at him with her wild
bright eyes; but notwithstanding the overwrought condition in which she
was, she could not but recognize the calm of the voice which addressed
her: a certain shade of uncertainty flickered over her countenance--she
grew confused in the midst of her assurance--it seemed impossible that
he could take it so quietly if he knew what she meant. And then her
bodily fatigue, sleeplessness, and exhaustion were beginning to tell.

“You are trying to cheat me,” she said, with difficulty restraining the
impulse of her weakness to cry. “You are trying to cheat me! you know it
better than I do, and I read it with my own eyes: you have had it for
five-and-twenty years: and you try to face it out and cheat me now!”

Then the outburst came which had been kept back so long; she had eaten
nothing all day; she had not slept the previous night; she had been
traveling and rushing about till the solid earth seemed to be going
round and round with her; she burst into sobbing and crying as she
spoke; not tears--she was not capable of tears. When Mr. Brownlow, in
his extraordinary self-possession, went to a side-table to bring a
decanter of sherry which had been placed there, she made an effort to
rise to stop him, but even that she was unable to do. He walked across
the room while his astonished children still stood and looked on. He
alone had all his wits about him, and sense enough to be compassionate.
He filled out a glass of wine with a steady hand and brought it to her.
“Take this,” he said, “and then you will be more able to tell me what
you mean.”

Mrs. Preston looked up at him, struck dumb with wonder in the midst of
her agitation. She was capable of thinking he meant to poison
her--probably that was the first idea in her mind; but when she looked
up and saw the expression in his face, it calmed her in spite of
herself. She took the glass from him as if she could not help it, and
swallowed the wine in an unwilling yet eager way--for her bodily
exhaustion craved the needful support, though her mind was against it.
She began to shake and tremble all over as Mr. Brownlow took the glass
from her hand: his quietness overwhelmed her. If he had turned her out
of the room, out of the house, it would have seemed more natural than
this.

“Father,” said Jack, interposing, “I have seen her like this before--I
don’t know what she has in her head, but of course I can’t stand by and
see her get into trouble: if you will go away I will take her home.”

Mr. Brownlow smiled again, a curious smile of despair, once more seeing
the humor, as it were, of the situation. “It will be better for you to
take Sara away,” he said; “go both of you--it does not matter.” Then,
having fallen into this momentary incoherence, he recovered himself and
turned round to his visitor. “Now tell me,” he said gently, “who you are
and what you mean?”

But by this time it did not seem as if she were able to speak--she sat
and stared at him, her dark eyes shining wildly out of her old pallid
face. “I have seen the will--I have been at Doctors’ Commons,” she
gulped out by degrees; “I know it must be true.”

“Who are you?” said Mr. Brownlow.

The poor trembling creature got up and made a rush toward him again.
“You know who I am,” she said, “but that don’t matter, as you say: I was
Phœbe Thomson; give me my mother’s money--ah! give me the money that
belongs to my child! give me my fortune! there’s witnesses that I came
in time; I came in time--I came in time!” screamed forth the exhausted
woman. She had lost all command of herself by this time, and shrieked
out the words, growing louder and louder; then all at once, without any
warning, she fell down at the feet of the man she was defying--fell in a
dead bundle on the floor, in a faint--almost, as it seemed for the
moment, dead.

Mr. Brownlow, for one dreadful second, thought she was dead. The moment
was terrible beyond all description, worse than any thing that had yet
befallen him; a thrill of hope, an awful sickening of suspense came over
him; for the first time he, too, lost his senses: he did not stoop to
raise her, nor take any means for her restoration, but stood looking
down upon her, watching, as a man might watch the wild beast which had
been about to kill him, writhing under some sudden shot. A man would not
interpose in such a case with surgical aid for the wounded lion or
tiger. Neither did Mr. Brownlow feel himself moved to interfere. He only
stood and looked on. But his children were not wound up to the same
state of feeling. Jack rushed forward and lifted his Pamela’s mother
from the floor, and Sara flew to her aid with feminine succors. They
laid her on the sofa, and put water on her face, and did every thing
they knew to restore her. Mr. Brownlow did not interfere; he could not
bid them stop; it never even occurred to him to attempt to restrain
their charitable offices. He left them to themselves, and walked heavily
up and down the room on the other side, waiting till she should come to
herself. For of course she would come to herself--he had no doubt of
that. After the first instant it was clearly enough apparent to him that
such a woman at such a moment would not die.

When Mrs. Preston came to herself, she tried to get up from the sofa,
and looked at them all with a piteous look of terror and helplessness.
She was a simply uneducated woman, making little distinction between
different kinds of crime--and it seemed to her as if a man who had
defrauded her (as she thought) all these years, might very well mean to
murder her when he was found out. She did not see the difference. She
shuddered as she fell back on the cushions unable to rise. “Would you
like to kill me?” she said faintly, looking in their faces. She was
afraid of them, and she was helpless and alone. She did not feel even
as if she had the strength to cry out. And there were three of
them--they could put out her feeble flickering flame of life if they
pleased. As for the two young people whom she addressed in the first
place, they supposed simply that she was raving. But Mr. Brownlow, who
was, in his way, as highly strained as she was, caught the words. And
the thought flashed through his mind as if some one had held up a
picture to him. What would it matter if she were to die? She was
old--she had lived long enough--she was not so happy that she should
wish to live longer; and her child--others might do better for her child
than she could. It was not his fault. It was her words that called up
the picture before him, and he made a few steps forward and put his
children away, and came up to the sofa and looked at her. An old, faint,
feeble, worn-out woman. A touch would do it;--her life was like the last
sere leaves fluttering on the end of the branches; a touch would do it.
He came and looked at her, not knowing what he did, and put his children
away. And there was something in his eyes which made her shrink into the
corner of her couch and tremble, and be silent. He was looking to see
how it could be done--by some awful unconscious impulse, altogether
apart from any will or thought of his. And a touch would do it. This was
what was in his eyes when he told his children to go away.

“Go--go to bed,” he said, “I will take care of Mrs. Preston.” There was
a horrible appearance of meaning in his voice, but yet he did not know
what he meant. He stood and looked down upon her gloomily. Yes, that was
all that stood between him and peace; a woman whom any chance touch--any
blast bitterer than usual--any accidental fall, might kill. “Go to bed,
children,” he repeated harshly. It seemed to him somehow as if it would
be better, as if he would be more at liberty, when they were away.

“Oh, no--no,” said Mrs. Preston, moaning. “Don’t leave me--don’t leave
me. You wouldn’t see any harm come to me, for my Pamela’s sake!”

And then both his children looked into Mr. Brownlow’s face. I can not
tell what they saw there. I doubt whether they could have told
themselves; but it was something that thrilled them through and through,
which came back to them from time to time all their lives, and which
they could never forget. Jack turned away from his father with a kind of
horror, and went and placed himself beside Mrs. Preston at the head of
the sofa. But Sara, though her dismay was still greater, went up to him
and clasped his arm with both her hands. “Papa,” she said, “come away.
Come with me. I don’t know what it means, but it is too much for you.
Come, papa.”

Mr. Brownlow once more put her away with his hand. “Go to bed, Sara,” he
said; and then freeing himself, he went across the room to the curtained
windows, and stared out as if they were open, and came back again. The
presence of his children was an oppression to him. He wanted them away.
And then he stood again by the side of the sofa and looked at his
visitor. “We can talk this over best alone,” he said; and at the sound
of his voice, and a movement which she thought Jack made to leave her,
she gave a sudden cry.

“He will kill me if you go away!” she said. “Oh, don’t leave me to him!
I--don’t mean to injure you--I--But you’re in league with him,” she
exclaimed rising suddenly with the strength of excitement, and rushing
to the other end of the room; “you are all against me. I shall be
killed--I shall be killed! Murder! murder!--though I don’t want to hurt
you. I want nothing but my rights.”

She got behind the writing-table in her insane terror, and threw herself
down there on her knees, propping herself up against it, and watching
them as from behind a barricade, with her pallid thin face supported on
the table. With her hands she drew a chair to each side of her. She was
like a wild creature painfully barricading herself--sheltering her
feeble strength within intrenchments, and turning her face to the foe.
Mr. Brownlow stood still and looked at her, but this time with a
stupefied look which meant nothing; and as for Jack he stood aghast,
half frightened, half angry, not knowing if she were mad, or what it
was. When either of them moved, she crouched together and cried out,
thinking they were about to rush upon her. For the moment she was all
but mad--mad with excitement, fright, evil-thinking, and
ignorance--ignorance most of all--seeing no reason why, if they had done
one wrong, they should not do another. Kill or defraud, which did it
matter?--and for the moment she was out of her senses, and knew not what
she did or said.

Sara was the only one who retained her wits at this emergency. She
stepped behind the screen made by the table without pausing to think
about it. “Mrs. Preston,” she said, “I don’t know what is the matter
with you. You look as if you had gone mad; but I am not frightened. What
do you mean by calling murder here? Come with me to my room and go to
bed. It is time every body was in bed. I will take care of you. You are
tired to death, and not fit to be up. Come with me.”

“You!” cried Mrs. Preston--“you! You that have had every thing my Pamela
ought to have had! You that have been kept like a princess on my money!
You!--but don’t let them kill me,” she cried out the next moment,
shuddering and turning toward the other woman for protection. “You’re
but a girl. Come here and stand by me, and save me, and I’ll stand by
you. You shall always have a home. I’ll be as good to you--but save me!
don’t let them kill me!” she cried, frantically throwing her arms round
Sara’s waist. It was a curious sight. The girl stood erect, her slight
figure swaying with the unusual strain upon it, her face lit up with
such powerful emotions as she had never known before, looking wistful,
alarmed, wondering, proud, upon her father and her brother at the other
side, while the old woman clung to her, crouching at her feet, hiding
her face in her dress, clasping her waist as for life and death. Sara
had accepted the office thrust upon her, whatever it was. She had become
responsible for the terrified, exhausted claimant of all Mr. Brownlow’s
fortune--and turned round upon the two astonished men with something new
to them, something that was almost defiance, in her eyes.

“I don’t know what it means,” she said, laying her long, soft, shapely
hand upon Mrs. Preston’s shoulder like the picture of a guardian angel;
“but it has gone past your managing, and I must take charge of her.
Jack, open the door, and keep out of the way. She must come with me.”

And then, indeed, Mr. Brownlow within himself in the depths of his
heart, uttered a groan, which made some outward echo. He was in the last
crisis of his fate, and his cherished child forsook him and took his
adversary’s part. He withdrew himself and sank down into a chair,
clearing the way, as she had bidden. Sara had taken charge of her. Sara
had covered the intruder for ever and ever with the shield of her
protection; and yet it was for Sara alone that he could have found in
his heart to murder this woman, as she said. When Sara stood forth and
faced him in her young strength and pride, a sudden Lady of Succor, it
cast him to the earth. And he gave that groan, and sank down and put
himself aside, as it were. He could not carry on the struggle. When Sara
heard it her heart smote her; she turned to him eagerly, not to comfort
him but to defend herself.

“Well!” she said, “if it was nothing, you would not have minded. It must
be something, or you would not have looked--” And then she stopped and
shuddered. “I am going to take charge of her to-night,” she added, low
and hurriedly. “I will take her to my room, and stay with her all night.
To-morrow, perhaps, we may know what it means. Jack, she can walk, if
you will clear the way.”

Then Mr. Brownlow looked up, with an indescribable pang at his heart,
and saw his daughter lead, half carrying, his enemy away. “I will take
her to my room, and stay with her all night.” He had felt the emphasis
and meaning that was in the words, and he had seen Sara’s shudder. Good
heavens! what was it for? Was he a man to do murder? What was it his
child had read in his eye? In this horrible confusion of thought he sat
and watched the stranger out. She had made good her lodgment, not only
in the house, but in the innermost chamber, in Sara’s room--in Sara’s
protecting presence, where nothing could get near her. And it was
against him that his child had taken up this wretched woman’s defense!
He neither moved nor spoke for some minutes after they had left the
room. The bitterness had all to be tasted and swallowed before his
thoughts could go forward to other things, and to the real final
question. By degrees, however, as he came to himself, he became aware
that he was not yet left free to think about the final question. Jack
was still beside him. He did not say any thing, but he was moving and
fidgeting about the room with his hands in his pockets in a way which
proved that he had something to say. As Mr. Brownlow came to himself he
gradually woke to a perception of his son’s restless figure beside him,
and knew that he had another explanation to make.

“I don’t want to trouble you,” said Jack at last, abruptly, “but I
should very much like to know, sir, what all this means. If Mrs. Preston
is mad--as--God knows I don’t want to think it,” cried the young man,
“but one must believe one’s eyes--if she is mad, why did you give in to
her, and humor her? Why did not you let me take her away?”

“I don’t think she is mad,” said Mr. Brownlow, slowly.

Upon which Jack came to a dead stop, and stared at his father--“Good
heavens, sir,” he said, “what can you mean?”

“I don’t know,” said Mr. Brownlow, getting up in his turn. “My head is
not quite clear to-night. Leave me now. I’ll tell you after. I’ll tell
you--sometime;--I mean in the morning.” Then he walked once more across
the room, and threw himself into the big easy-chair by the dying fire.
One of the lamps had run down, and was flickering out, throwing strange
quivers of light and shade about the room. An indescribable change had
come over it; it had been bright, and now it looked desolate; it had
been the home of peace, and now the very air was heavy with uncertainty
and a kind of hovering horror. Mr. Brownlow threw himself wearily into
the big chair, and covered his face with his hands. A moment after he
seemed to recollect himself, and looked up and called Jack back. “My
boy,” he said, “something has happened to-night which I did not look
for. You must consider every thing I said to you before as cancelled. It
appears I was premature. I am sorry--for you, Jack.”

“Don’t be sorry for me,” cried Jack, with a generous impulse. “It could
not have made much matter anyhow--my life is decided, come what may.”

Then his father looked up at him sharply, but with a quiver in his lip.
“Ah!” he said; and Jack perceived somehow, he did not know how, that he
had unwittingly inflicted a new wound. “It could not have made much
matter--true,” he said, and rose up and bowed to his son as if he had
been a stranger. “That being the case, perhaps the less we say to each
other the better now--”

“What have I said, sir?” cried Jack in amaze.

“Enough, enough,” said Mr. Brownlow, “enough”--whether it was in answer
to his question, or by way of putting an end to the conversation, Jack
could not tell; and then his father waved him away, and sat down again,
once more burying his face in his hands. Again the iron had entered his
soul. Both of them!--all he had in the world--his fortune, his position,
his son, his daughter, must all go? It seemed to him now as if the
external things were nothing in comparison of these last. Sara, for
whose sake alone he feared it--Jack, whom he had not petted--whom
perhaps he had crossed a little as fathers will, but whom at
bottom--never mind, never mind! he said to himself. It was the way of
the world. Sons did not take up their father’s cause nowadays as a
matter of course. They had themselves to think of--in fact, it was right
they should think of themselves. The world was of much more importance
to Jack than it could be to himself, for of course a young man had twice
the length of time to provide for that his father could possibly have.
Never mind! He said it to himself with his head bowed down in his hands.
But he did mind. “It would not make much matter anyhow”--no, not much
matter. Jack would have it instead of Sara and Powys. It was the same
kind of compromise that he had intended--only that the persons and the
motive were changed.

Poor Jack in the mean time went about the room in a very disconsolate
state. He was so startled in every way that he did not know what to
think, and yet vague shadows of the truth were flickering about his
mind. He knew something vaguely of the origin of his father’s fortune,
and nothing but that could explain it; and now he was offended at
something. What could it be that he was offended at? It never occurred
to Jack that his own words might bear the meaning that was set upon
them; he was disconcerted and vexed, and did not know what to do. He
went wandering about the room, lifting and replacing the books on the
tables, and finally, after a long pause, he went up to his father again.

“I wish you’d have some confidence in me,” he said. “I don’t pretend to
be wise, but still--And then if there is any thing hanging over us, it
is best that a fellow should know--”

“There is nothing hanging over _you_,” said Mr. Brownlow, raising his
head, almost with bitterness. “It will not matter much anyhow, you know.
Don’t think of waiting for me. I have a good deal to think over. In
short, I should be very glad if you would leave me to myself and go--”

“As you please,” said Jack, who was at last offended in his turn; and
after he had made a discontented promenade all round the room, he
lounged toward the door, still hoping he might be called back again. But
he was not called back. On the contrary, his father’s head had sunk
again into his hands, and he had evidently retired into himself, beyond
the reach of all fellowship or sympathy. Jack veered gradually toward
the door and went out of the room, with his hands in his pockets and
great trouble and perplexity in his mind. It seemed to him that he saw
what the trouble must be, and that of itself was not pleasant. But bad
as it might be, it was not so bad as the way his father was taking it.
Good heavens, if he should hurt the old woman!--but surely he was not
capable of that. And then Jack returned upon his own case and felt
wounded and sore. He was not a baby that his father should decline to
take him into his confidence. He was not a fool that he should be
supposed unequal to the emergency. Sleep was out of the question under
the circumstances; and besides he did not want to meet any of the
fellows who might have been disturbed by Mrs. Preston’s cry, and might
have come to his room for information. “Hang it all!” said Jack, as he
threw himself on a sofa in the smoking-room, and lighted a dreary cigar.
It was not a very serious malediction, but yet his mind was serious
enough. Some terrible crisis in the history of his family was coming on,
and he could only guess what it was. Something that involved not only
his own prospects, but the prospects of his future wife. And yet nobody
would tell him what was the meaning of it. It was hard lines for Jack.

When his son left the room, Mr. Brownlow lifted his head out of his
hands. He looked eagerly round the room and made sure he was alone. And
then his countenance relaxed a little. He could venture to look as he
felt, to throw off every mask when he was alone. Then he got up and
walked heavily about. Was it all true? Had she come at the last moment
and made her claim? Had she lighted down upon him, tracked him out, just
as he was saying, and at last permitting himself to think, that all was
over? A strange confusion swept over him as he sat and looked around the
empty room. Was it possible that all this had happened since he was last
alone in it? It was only a few hours since; and he had been scarcely
able to believe that so blessed a state of things could be true. He had
sat there and planned every kind of kindness and bounty to every body by
way of expressing his gratitude to God. Was it possible? Could every
thing since then be so entirely changed? Or had he only dreamt the
arrival of the sudden claimant, the striking of the clock too late, all
the miseries of the night? As he asked himself these questions, a sudden
shuddering came over him. There was one thing which he knew could be no
dream. It was the suggestion which had come into his mind as he stood by
the sofa. He seemed to see her before him, worn, old, feeble, and
involuntarily his thoughts strayed away again to that horrible thought.
What was the use of such a woman in the world? She had nothing before
her but old age, infirmities, a lingering illness most likely, many
sufferings and death--only death at the end; that was the best, the only
event awaiting her. To the young, life may blossom out afresh at any
moment, but the old can only die--that is all that remains for them. And
a touch would do it. It might save her from a great deal of
suffering--it would certainly save her from the trial of a new position,
the difficult transition from poverty to wealth. If he was himself as
old, Mr. Brownlow thought vaguely (all this was very vague--it was not
breathed in articulate thought, much less in words) that he would be
glad to be put quietly out of the way. Heaven knows he would be grateful
enough to any one even at that moment who would put him out of the way.

And it would be so easy to do it; a touch would do it. The life was
fluttering already in her pulses; very likely the first severe cold
would bring her down like the leaves off the trees; and in the mean time
what a difference her life would make. Mr. Brownlow got up and began to
walk about, not able to keep still any longer. The second lamp was now
beginning to flicker for want of oil, and the room was darkening, though
he did not perceive it. It would be the kindest office that could be
done to an old woman; he had often thought so. Suddenly there occurred
to him a recollection of certain unhappy creatures in the work-house at
Masterton, who were so old that nothing was any pleasure to them. He
thought of the life-in-death he had seen among them, the tedious blank,
the animal half-existence, the dead, dull doze, out of which only a bad
fit of coughing or some other suffering roused them; and of his own
passing reflection how kind it would be to mix them a sleeping potion
only a little stronger, and let them be gone. It would be the best thing
any one could do for them. It would be the best thing any one could do
for _her_; and then all the trouble, all the vexation, all the misery
and change that it would save!

As for the child, Mr. Brownlow said to himself that all should go well
with the child. He would not interfere. Jack should marry her if he
pleased--all should go well with her; and she would not have the
difficult task of reconciling the world to her mother. In every way it
seemed the desirable arrangement. If Providence would but
interpose!--but then Providence never did interpose in such emergencies.
Mr. Brownlow went slowly up and down the darkening room, and his
thoughts, too, went into the darkness. They went on as it were in a
whisper and hid themselves, and silence came--hideous silence, in which
the heart stood still, the genial breath was interrupted. He did not
know what he was doing. He went to the medicine-chest which was in one
corner, and opened it and looked at it. He did not even make a pretense
of looking for any thing; neither would the light have enabled him to
look for any thing. He looked at it and he knew that death was there,
but he did not put forth his hand to touch it. At that moment all at
once the flickering flame went out--went out just as a life might do,
after fluttering and quivering and making wild rallies, again and again.
Mr. Brownlow, for his part, was almost glad there was no light. It made
him easier--even the lamp had seemed to look at him and see something in
his eye!

Five minutes after, he found himself, he could not have told how, at the
door of Sara’s room. It was not in his way--he could not make that
excuse to himself--to tell the truth he did not make any excuse to
himself. His mind was utterly confused, and had stopped thinking. He was
there, having come there he did not know how; and being there he opened
the door softly and went in. Perhaps, for any thing he could tell, the
burden might have been too much for Sara. He went in softly, stealing so
as not to disturb any sleeper. The room was dark, but not quite dark.
There was a night-light burning, shaded, on the table, and the curtains
were drawn at the head of the white bed: nothing stirred in the silence:
only the sound of breathing, the irregular disturbed breathing of some
one in a troubled sleep. Mr. Brownlow stole farther in, and softly put
back one of the curtains of the bed. There she lay, old, pallid,
wrinkled, worn out, breathing hard in her sleep, even then unable to
forget the struggle she was engaged in, holding the coverlet fast with
one old meagre hand, upon which all the veins stood out. What comfort
was her life to her? And a touch would do it. He went a step nearer and
stooped over her, not knowing what he did, not putting out a finger,
incapable of any exertion, yet with an awful curiosity. Then all at once
out of the darkness, swift as an angel on noiseless pinions, a white
figure rose and rushed at him, carrying him away from the bed out to the
door, unwitting, aghast, by the mere impetus of its own sudden motion.
When they had got outside it was Sara’s face that was turned upon him,
pale as the face of the dead, with her hair hanging about it wildly, and
the moisture standing in big beads on her forehead. “What were you going
to do?” she seemed to shriek in his ear, though the shriek was only a
whisper. He had left his candle outside, and it was by that faint light
he could see the whiteness of her face.

“Do?” said Mr. Brownlow, with a strange sense of wonder. “Do?--nothing.
What could I do?”

Then Sara threw herself upon him and wept aloud, wept so that the sound
ran through the house, sobbing along the long listening passages. “Oh,
papa, papa!” she cried, clinging to him. A look as of idiocy had come
into his face. He had become totally confused--he did not know what she
meant. What could he do? Why was she crying? And it was wrong to make a
noise like this, when all the house was hushed and asleep.

“You must be quiet,” he said. “There is no need to be so agitated; and
you should have been in bed. It is very late. I am going to my room
now.”

“I will go with you,” said Sara, trembling. Already she began to be
ashamed of her terror, but her nerves would not calm down all at once.
She put her hand on his arm and half led, half followed him through the
corridor. “Papa, you did not mean--any thing?” she said, lifting up a
face so white and tremulous and shaken with many emotions that it was
scarcely possible to recognize it as hers. “You did not mean--any
thing?” Her very lips quivered so that she could scarcely speak.

“Mean--what?” he said. “I am a little confused to-night. It was all so
sudden. I don’t seem to understand you. And I’m very tired. Things will
be clearer to-morrow. Sara, I hope you are going to bed.”

“Yes, papa,” she said, like a child, though her lips quivered. He looked
like a man who had fallen into sudden imbecility, comprehending nothing.
And Sara’s mind too was beginning to get confused. She could not
understand any longer what his looks meant.

“And so am I,” said Mr. Brownlow, with a sigh. Then he stooped and
kissed her. “My darling, good-night. Things will be clearer to-morrow,”
he said. They had come to his door by this time. And it was there he
stooped to kiss her, dismissing her as it seemed. But after she had
turned to go back, he came out again and called her. He looked almost as
old and as shaken as Mrs. Preston as he called her back: “Don’t forsake
me--don’t _you_ forsake me,” he said hurriedly; “that was all--that was
all: good-night.”

And then he went in and shut his door. Sara, left to herself, went back
along the corridor, not knowing what to think. Were they all mad, or
going mad? What could the shock be which had made Pamela’s humble mother
frantic, and confused Mr. Brownlow’s clear intellect? She lay down on
her sofa to watch her patient, feeling as if she too was becoming
idiotic. She could not sleep, young as she was: the awful shadow that
had come across her mind had murdered sleep. She lay and listened to
Mrs. Preston’s irregular, interrupted breathing, far into the night. But
sleep was not for Sara’s eyes.



CHAPTER XXXVII.

THE MORNING LIGHT.


Of all painful things in this world there are few more painful than the
feeling of rising up in the morning to a difficulty unsolved, a mystery
unexplained. So long as the darkness is over with the night something
can always be done. Calamity can be faced, misfortune met; but to get up
in the morning light, and encounter afresh the darkness, and find no
clue any more than you had at night, is hard work. This was what Jack
felt when he had to face the sunshine, and remembered all that had
happened, and the merry party that awaited him down stairs, and that he
must amuse his visitors as if this day had been like any other. If he
but knew what had really happened! But the utmost he could do was to
guess at it, and that in the vaguest way. The young man went down stairs
with a load on his mind, not so much of care as of uncertainty. Loss of
fortune was a thing that could be met; but if there was loss of honor
involved--if his father’s brain was giving way with the
pressure--if--Jack would not allow his thoughts to go any farther. He
drew himself up with a sudden pull, and stopped short, and went down
stairs. At the breakfast-table every thing looked horribly unchanged.
The guests, the servants, the routine of the cheerful meal, were just as
usual. Mr. Brownlow, too, was at the table, holding his usual place.
There was an ashy look about his face, which produced inquiries
concerning his health from every new arrival; but his answers were so
brief and unencouraging that these questions soon died off into silence.
And he ate nothing, and his hand shook as he put his cup of coffee to
his pallid lips. All these were symptoms that might be accounted for in
the simplest way by a little bodily derangement. But Jack, for his part,
was afraid to meet his father’s eye. “Where is Sara?” he asked, as he
took his seat. And then he was met--for he was late, and most of the
party were down before him--by a flutter of regrets and wonder. Poor
Sara had a headache--so bad a headache that she would not even have any
one go into her room. “Angelique was keeping the door like a little
tiger,” one of the young ladies said, “and would let nobody in.” “And
oh, tell me who it was that came so late last night,” cried another.
“_You_ must know. We are all at such a pitch of curiosity. It must be a
foreign prince, or the prime minister, or some great beauty, we can’t
make up our minds which; and, of course, _it_ is breakfasting in its own
room this morning. Nobody will tell us who it was. Do tell us!--we are
all dying to know.”

“As you will all be dreadfully disappointed,” said Jack. “It was neither
a prince nor a beauty. As for prime minister I don’t know. Such things
have been heard of as that a prime minister should be an old woman--”

“An old woman!” said his innocent interlocutor. “Then it must be Lady
Motherwell. Oh, I don’t wonder poor Sara has a headache. But you know
you are only joking. Her dear Charley would never let her come storming
to any body’s door like that.”

“It was not Lady Motherwell,” said Jack. Heaven knows he was in no mood
for jesting; but when it is a matter which is past talking of, what can
a man do?

“Oh, then, I know who it must have been!” cried the spokeswoman of the
party. She was, however, suddenly interrupted. Mr. Brownlow, who had
scarcely said a word as yet to any one, interposed. There was something
in his tone which somehow put them all to silence.

“I am sorry to put a stop to your speculations,” he said. “It was only
one of my clients on urgent business--that was all; business,” he added,
with a curious kind of apology, “which has kept me up half the night.”

“Oh, Mr. Brownlow, I am so sorry. You are tired, and we have been
teasing you,” said the lively questioner, with quick compunction.

“No, not teasing me,” he said, gravely. And then a dead silence ensued.
It was not any thing in his words. His words were simple enough; and yet
every one of his guests instantly began to think that his or her stay
had been long enough, and that it was time to go away.

As Mr. Brownlow spoke he met Jack’s eye, and returned his look steadily.
So far he was himself again. He was impenetrable, antagonistic, almost
defiant. But there was no hovering horror in his look. He was terribly
grave, and ashy pale, and bore traces that what had happened was no
light master. His look gave his son a sensation of relief, and perhaps
encouraged him in levity of expression, though, Heaven knows, there was
little levity in his mind.

“I told you,” he said, “it might have been the prime minister, but it
certainly was an old woman; and there I stop. I can’t give any farther
information; I am not one of the Privy Council.” Then he laughed, but it
was an uncomfortable laugh. It deepened the silence all around, and
looked like a family quarrel, and made every body feel ill at ease.

“I don’t think any one here can be much interested in details,” said Mr.
Brownlow, coldly; and then he rose to leave the table. It was his habit
to leave the table early, and on ordinary occasions his departure made
little commotion; but to-day it was different. They all clustered up to
their feet as he went out of the room. Nobody knew what should be done
that day. The men looked awkwardly at each other; the women tried hard
to be the same as before, and failed, having Jack before them, who was
far from looking the same. “I suppose, Jack, you will not go out
to-day,” one of his companions said, though they had not an idea why.

“I don’t see why I shouldn’t,” said Jack, and then he made a pause; and
every body looked at him. “After all,” he continued, “you all know your
way about; as Sara has a headache I had better stay;” and he hurried
their departure that he might get rid of them. His father had not gone
out; the dog-cart had come to the door, but it had been sent off again.
He was in the library, Willis said in a whisper; and though he had been
so many years with Mr. Brownlow and knew all his ways, Willis was
obviously startled too. For one moment Jack thought of cross-questioning
the butler to see what light he could throw upon the matter--if he had
heard any thing on the previous night, or suspected any thing--but on
second thoughts he dismissed the idea. Whatever it was, it was from his
father himself that he ought to have the explanation. But though Mr.
Brownlow was in the library Jack did not go to him there. He loitered
about till his friends were gone, and till the ladies of the party,
finding him very impracticable and with no amusement in him, had gone
off upon their various ways. He did his best to be civil even playful,
poor fellow, being for the moment every body’s representative, both
master and mistress of the house. But though there was no absolute
deficiency in any thing he said or did, they were all too sharp-witted
to be taken in. “He has something on his mind,” one matron of the party
said to the other. “They have something on all their minds, my dear,”
said the other, solemnly; and they talked very significantly and
mysteriously of the Brownlows as they filled Sara’s morning-room with
their work and various devices, for it was a foggy, wretched day, and no
one cared to venture out. Jack meanwhile drew a long breath of relief
when all his guests were thus off his mind. He stood in the hall and
hesitated, and saw Willis watching him from a corner with undisguised
anxiety. Perhaps but for that he would have gone to his father; but with
every body watching him, looking on and speculating what it might be, he
could not go. And yet something must be done. At last, after he had
watched the last man out and the last lady go away, he turned, and went
slowly up stairs to Sara’s door.

When his voice was heard there was a little rush within, and Sara came
to him. She was very pale, and had the air of a watcher to whom the past
night had brought no sleep. It even seemed to Jack that she was in the
same dress that she had worn the previous night, though that was a
delusion. As soon as she saw that it was her brother, and that he was
alone, she sent the maid away, and taking him by the arm, drew him into
the little outer room. There had not been any sentimental fraternity
between them in a general way. They were very good friends, and fond of
each other, but not given to manifestations of sympathy and devotion.
But this time as soon as he was within the door and she had him to
herself, Sara threw her arms round Jack, and leaned against him, and
went off without any warning into a sudden burst of emotion--not tears
exactly. It was rather a struggle against tears. She sobbed and her
breast heaved, and she clasped him convulsively. Jack was terribly
surprised and shocked, feeling that so unusual an outburst must have a
serious cause, and he was very tender with his sister. It did not last
more than a minute, but it did more to convince him of the gravity of
the crisis than any thing else had done. Sara regained command of
herself almost immediately and ceased sobbing, and raised her head from
his shoulder. “She is there,” she whispered, pointing to the inner room,
and then she turned and went before him leading the way. The white
curtains of Sara’s bed were drawn at one side, so as to screen the
interior of the chamber. Within that enclosure a fire was burning
brightly, and seated by it in an easy-chair, wrapped in one of Sara’s
pretty dressing-gowns, with unaccustomed embroideries and soft frills
and ribbons enclosing her brown worn hands and meagre throat, Mrs.
Preston half sat, half reclined. The fire-light was flickering about
her, and she lay back and looked at it and at every thing around her
with a certain dreadful satisfaction. She looked round about upon the
room and its comforts as people look on a new purchase. Enjoyment--a
certain pleasure of possession--was written on her face.

When she saw Jack she moved a little, and drew the muslin wrapper more
closely around her throat with a curious instinct of prudish propriety.
It was the same woman to whose society he had accustomed himself as
Pamela’s mother, and whom he had tutored himself to look upon as a
necessary part of his future household, but yet she was a different
creature. He did not know her in this new development. He followed Sara
into her presence with a new sense of repulsion, a reluctance and
dislike which he had never felt before. And Mrs. Preston for her part
received him with an air which was utterly inexplicable--an air of
patronage which made his blood boil.

“I hope you are better,” he said, not knowing how to begin; and then,
after a pause, “Should not I go and tell Pamela that you are here? or
would you like me to take you home?”

“I consider myself at home,” said Mrs. Preston, sitting up suddenly and
bursting into speech. “I will send for Pamela, when it is all settled, I
am very thankful to your sister for taking care of me last night. She
shall find that it will be to her advantage. Sit down--I am sorry, Mr.
John, that I can not say the same for you.”

“What is it you can not say for me?” said Jack: “I don’t know in the
least what you would be at, Mrs. Preston; I suppose there must be some
explanation of this strange conduct. What does it mean?”

“You will find that it means a great deal,” said the changed woman.
“When you came to me to my poor little place, I did not want to have any
thing to say to you; but I never thought of putting any meaning to what
you, were doing. I was as innocent as a baby--I thought it was all love
to my poor child. That was what I thought. And now you’ve stolen her
heart away from me, and I know what it was for--I know what it was for.”

“Then what was it for?” said Jack, abruptly. He was by turns red and
pale with anger. He found it very hard to keep his temper now that he
was personally assailed.

“It was for this,” cried Pamela’s mother, with a shrill ring in her
voice, pointing, as it seemed, to the pretty furniture and pictures
round her--“for all this, and the fine house, and the park, and the
money--that was what it was for. You thought you’d marry her and keep it
all, and that I should never know what was my rights. But now I do
know;--and you would have killed me last night!” she cried wildly,
drawing back, with renewed passion--“you and your father; you would have
killed me; I should have been a dead woman by this time if it had not
been for her!”

Jack made a hoarse exclamation in his throat as she spoke. The room
seemed to be turning round with him. He seemed to be catching glimpses
of her meaning through some wild chaos of misunderstanding and darkness.
He himself had never wished her ill, not even when she promised to be a
burden on him. “Is she mad?” he said, turning to Sara; but he felt that
she was not mad; it was something more serious than that.

“I know my rights,” she said, calming down instantaneously. “It’s my
house you’ve been living in, and my money that has made you all so
fine. You need not start or pretend as if you didn’t know. It was for
that you came and beguiled my Pamela. You might have left me my Pamela;
house, and money, and every thing, even down to my poor mother’s
blessing,” said Mrs. Preston, breaking down pitifully, and falling into
a passion of tears. “You have taken them all, you and yours; but you
might have left me my child.”

Jack stood aghast while all this was being poured forth upon him; but
Sara for her part fell a-crying too. “She has been saying the same all
night,” said Sara; “what have we to do with her money or her mother’s
blessing? Oh, Jack, what have we to do with them? What does it mean? I
don’t understand any thing but about Pamela and you.”

“Nor I,” said Jack, in despair, and he made a little raid through the
room in his consternation, that the sight of the two women crying might
not make a fool of him; then he came back with the energy of
desperation. “Look here, Mrs. Preston,” he said, “there may be some
money question between my father and you--I can’t tell; but we have
nothing to do with it. I know nothing about it. I think most likely you
have been deceived somehow. But, right or wrong, this is not the way to
clear it up. Money can not be claimed in this wild way. Get a lawyer who
knows what he is doing to see after it for you; and in the mean time go
home like a rational creature. You can not be permitted to make a
disturbance here.”

“You shall never have a penny of it,” cried Mrs. Preston--“not a penny,
if you should be starving--nor Pamela either; I will tell her all--that
you wanted her for her money; and she will scorn you as I do--you shall
have nothing from her or me.”

“Answer for yourself,” cried Jack, furious, “or be silent. She shall not
be brought in. What do I care for your money? Sara, be quiet, and don’t
cry. She ought never to have been brought here.”

“No,” cried the old woman, in her passion, “I ought to have been cast
out on the roadside, don’t you think, to die if I liked? or I ought to
have been killed, as you tried last night. That’s what you would do to
me, while you slept soft and lived high. But my time has come. It’s you
who must go to the door--the door!--and you need expect no pity from
me.”

She sat in her feebleness and poverty as on a throne, and defied them,
and they stood together bewildered by their ignorance, and did not know
what answer to make her. Though it sounded like madness, it might be
true. For any thing they could tell, what she was saying might have some
foundation unknown to them. Sara by this time had dried her tears, and
indignation had begun to take the place of distress in her mind. She
gave her brother an appealing look, and clasped her hands. “Jack, answer
her--do you know what to say to her?” she cried, stamping her little
foot on the ground with impatience; “somebody must know; are we to stand
by and hear it all, and do nothing? Jack, answer her!--unless she is
mad--”

“I think she must be partly mad,” said Jack. “But it must be put a stop
to somehow. Go and fetch my father. He is in the library. Whatever it
may be, let us know at least what it means. I will stay with her here.”

When she heard these words, the strange inmate of Sara’s room came down
from her height and relapsed into a feeble old woman. She called Sara
not to go, to stay and protect her. She shrank back into her chair,
drawing it away into a corner at the farthest distance possible, and sat
there watchful and frightened, eying Jack as a hunted creature might eye
the tiger which might at any moment spring upon it. Jack, for his part,
with an exclamation of impatience, turned on his heel and went away from
her, as far as space would permit. Impatience began to swallow up every
other sentiment in his mind. He could not put up with it any longer.
Whatever the truth might be, it was evident that it must be faced and
acknowledged at once. While he kept walking about impatient and
exasperated, all his respect for Pamela’s mother died out of his mind;
even, it must be owned, in his excitement, the image of Pamela herself
went back into the mists. A certain disgust took possession of him. If
it was true that his father had schemed and struggled for the possession
of this woman’s miserable money--if the threat of claiming it had moved
him with some vague but awful temptation, such as Jack shuddered to
think of; and if the idea of having rights and possessing something had
changed the mild and humble woman who was Pamela’s mother into this
frantic and insulting fury, then what was there worth caring for, what
was there left to believe in, in this world? Perhaps even Pamela herself
had been changed by this terrible test. Jack did not wish for the wings
of a dove, being too matter-of-fact for that. But he felt as if he would
like to set out for New Zealand without saying a word to any body,
without breathing a syllable to a single soul on the way. It seemed as
if that would be the only thing to do--he himself might get frantic or
desperate too like the others about a little money. The backwoods,
sheep-shearing, any thing would be preferable to that.

This pause lasted for some minutes, for Sara did not immediately return.
When she came back, however, a heavier footstep accompanied her up the
stair. Mr. Brownlow came into the room, and went at once toward the
farther corner. He had made up his mind; once more he had become
perfectly composed, calm as an attorney watching his client’s case. He
called Jack to him, and went and stood by the table, facing Mrs.
Preston. “I hear you have sent for me to know the meaning of all this,”
he said; “I will tell you, for you have a right to know. Twenty-five
years ago, before either of you was born, I had some money left me,
which was to be transferred to a woman called Phœbe Thomson, if she
could be found out or appeared within twenty-five years. I searched for
her everywhere, but I could not find her. Latterly I forgot her
existence to a great extent. The five-and-twenty years were out last
night, and just before the period ended this--lady--as you both know,
appeared. She says she is Phœbe Thomson, the legatee I have told you
of. She may be so--I have nothing to say against her; but the proof lies
with her, not me. This is all the explanation there is to make.”

When he had said it he drew a long breath of relief. It was the truth.
It was not perhaps all the truth; but he had told the secret, which had
weighed him down for months, and the burden was off his heart. He felt a
little sick and giddy as he stood there before his children. He did not
look them in the face. In his heart he knew there were many more
particulars to tell. But it was not for them to judge of his heart. “I
have told you the secret, so far as there is a secret,” he said, with a
faint smile at them, and then sat down suddenly, exhausted with the
effort. It was not so difficult after all. Now that it was done, a faint
wonder crossed his mind that he had not done it long ago, and saved
himself all this trouble. But still he was glad to sit down. Somehow, it
took the strength out of him as few things had done before.

“A legatee!” burst forth Sara in amazement, not understanding the word.
“Is that all? Papa, she says the house is hers, and every thing is hers.
She says we have no right here. Is it true?”

As for Jack, he looked his father steadily in the face, asking, Was it
true? more imperiously than Sara’s words did. If this were all, what was
the meaning of the almost tragedy last night? They forgot the very
existence of the woman who was the cause of it all as they turned upon
him. Poverty and wealth were small matters in comparison. He was on his
trial at an awful tribunal, before judges too much alarmed, too deeply
interested, to be lenient. They turned their backs upon Mrs. Preston,
who, notwithstanding her fear and her anxiety, could not bear the
neglect. Their disregard of her roused her out of her own
self-confidence and certainty, to listen with a certain forlorn
eagerness. She had not paid much attention to what Mr. Brownlow said the
first time. What did it matter what he said? Did not she know better?
But when Jack and Sara turned their backs on her, and fixed their eyes
on their father, she woke up with an intense mortification and
disappointment at finding herself overlooked, and began to listen too.

Mr. Brownlow rose up as a man naturally does who has to plead guilty or
not guilty for his life. He stood before them, putting his hand on the
table to support himself. “It is not true,” he said, “I do not deny that
I have been thinking a great deal about this. If I had but known, I
should have told you; but these are the real facts. If she is Phœbe
Thomson, as she says--though of that we have no proof--she is entitled
to fifty thousand pounds which her mother left her. That is the whole.
To pay her her legacy may force me to leave this house, and change our
mode of living; but she has nothing to do with the house--nothing here
is hers, absolutely nothing. She has no more to do with Brownlows than
your baker has, or your dress-maker. If she is Phœbe Thomson, I shall
owe her money--nothing more. I might have told you, if I had but known.”

What Mr. Brownlow meant was, that he would have told them had he known,
after all, how little it would cost to tell it. After all, there was
nothing disgraceful in the tale, notwithstanding the terrible shifts to
which he had put himself to conceal it. He had spoken it out, and now
his mind was free. If he had but known what a relief it would be! But he
sat down as soon as he had finished speaking; and he did not feel as if
he could pay much attention to any thing else. His mind was in a state
of confusion about what had happened the previous night. It seemed to
him that he had said or done something he ought not to have done or
said. But now he had made his supreme disclosure, and given up the
struggle. It did not much matter what occurred besides.

Mrs. Preston, however, who had been listening eagerly, and whom nobody
regarded for the moment, rose up and made a step forward among them. “He
may deny it,” she said, trembling; “but I know he’s known it all this
time, and kept us out of our rights. Fifty pound--fifty thousand
pound--what does he say? I know better. It is all mine, every penny, and
he’s been keeping us out of our rights. You’ve been all fed and
nourished on what was mine--your horses and your carriages, and all your
grandeur; and he says it’s but fifty pounds! Don’t you remember that
there’s One that protects the fatherless?” she cried out, almost
screaming. The very sight of his composure made her wild and desperate.
“You make no account of me,” she cried--“no more than if I was the dust
under your feet, and I’m the mistress of all--of all; and if it had not
been for her you would have killed me last night.”

These words penetrated even Mr. Brownlow’s stupor; he gave a shudder as
if with the cold.

“I was very hard driven last night,” he said, as if to himself--“very
hard put to it. I don’t know what I may have said.” Then he made a
pause, and rose and went to his enemy, who fell back into the chair, and
took fright as he approached her, putting out her two feeble hands to
defend herself. “If you are Phœbe Thomson,” he said, “you shall have
your rights. I know nothing about you--I never thought of you. This
house is mine, and you have nothing to do here. All you have any right
to is your money, and you shall have your money when you prove your
identity. But I can not leave you here to distress my child. If you are
able to think at all, you must see that you ought to go home. Send for
the carriage to take her home,” Mr. Brownlow added, turning to his
children. “If she is the person she calls herself, she is a relation of
your mother’s; and anyhow, she is weak and old. Take care of her. Sara,
my darling, you are not to stay here with her, nor let her vex you; but
I leave her in your hands.”

“I will do what you tell me, papa,” said Sara; and then he stood for a
moment and looked at them wistfully. They had forsaken him last night;
both of them--or at least so he fancied--had gone over to the enemy; and
that had cut him to the heart. Now he turned to them wistfully, looking
for a little support and comfort. It would not be so hard after all if
his children went with him into captivity. They had both been so
startled and excited that but for this look, and the lingering,
expectant pause he made, neither would have thought of their father’s
feelings. But it was impossible to misunderstand him now. Sara, in her
impulsive way, went up to him and put her arms round his neck. “Papa, it
is we who have been hard upon you,” she said; and as for Jack, who could
not show his feelings by an embrace, he also made a kind of _amende_ in
an ungracious masculine way. He said, “I’m coming with you, sir. I’ll
see after the carriage,” and marched off behind his father to the door.
Neither of them took any farther notice of Mrs. Preston. It seemed to
her as if they did not care. They were not afraid of her; they did not
come obsequiously to her feet, as she had thought they would. On the
contrary, they were banding together among themselves against her,
making a league among themselves, taking no notice of her. And her own
child was not there to comfort her heart. It was a great shock and
downfall to the unhappy woman. She had been a good woman so long as she
was untempted. But it had seemed to her, in the wonderful prospect of a
great fortune, that every body would fall at her feet; that she would be
able to do what she pleased--to deal with all her surroundings as she
pleased. When she saw she could not do so, her mind grew confused--fifty
pound, fifty thousand pound, which was it? And she was alone, and they
were all banding themselves against her. Money seemed nothing in
comparison to the elevation, the supremacy she had dreamed of. And they
did not even take the trouble to look at her as they went away!



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

MOTHER AND LOVER.


Jack followed his father down stairs, and did not say a word. It had
been an exciting morning; and now that he knew all, though the
excitement had not as yet begun to flag, care came along with it.
Suspense and mystery were hard, and yet at the same time easier to bear
than reality. The calamity might have loomed larger while it was
unknown, but at least it was unaccompanied by those real details from
which there is no escape. When Mr. Brownlow and his son reached the
bottom of the stair, they stopped, and turned and looked at each other.
A certain shade of apology was in Mr. Brownlow’s tone. “I thought it was
all over last night,” he said; “I thought you were all safe. You know my
meaning now.”

“Safe, sir, safe!” said Jack, “with this always hanging over our heads?
I don’t understand why we were not allowed to know; but never mind. I am
glad it has come, and there is nothing more to look for. It bears
interest, I suppose.”

“That may be a matter of arrangement. I suppose it does,” said Mr.
Brownlow, with a sigh.

Jack gave vent to his feelings in a low, faint, prolonged whistle. “I’ll
go and tell them about the carriage,” he said. This was all the
communication that passed between the father and the son; but it was
enough to show Mr. Brownlow that Jack was not thinking, as he might very
naturally have thought, of his new position as the future son-in-law of
the woman who had wrought so much harm. Jack’s demeanor, though he did
not say a word of sympathy to his father, was quite the contrary of
this. He did not make any professions, but he took up the common family
burden upon his shoulders. The fifty thousand pounds was comparatively
little. It was a sum which could be measured and come to an end of; but
the interest, that was the dreadful thought. Jack was practical, and his
mind jumped at it on the moment. It was as a dark shadow which had come
over him, and which he could not shake off. Brownlows was none of hers,
and yet she might not be wrong after all in thinking that all was hers.
The actual claim was heavy enough, but the possible claim was
overwhelming. It seemed to Jack to go into the future and overshadow
that as it overshadowed the present. No wonder Mr. Brownlow had been in
despair--no wonder almost--The young man gave a very heavy sigh as he
went into the stable-yard and gave his instructions. He stood and
brooded over it with his brow knitted and his hands buried in his
pockets, while the horses were put into the carriage. As for such
luxuries, they counted for nothing, or at least so he thought for the
moment--nothing to _him_; but a burden that would lie upon them for
years--a shadow of debt and difficulty projected into the future--that
seemed more than any man could bear. It will be seen from this that the
idea of his own relations with Pamela making any difference in the
matter had not crossed Jack’s mind. He would have been angry had any one
suggested it. Not that he thought of giving up Pamela; but in the mean
time the idea of having any thing to do with Mrs. Preston was horrible
to him, and he was not a young man who was always reasonable and
sensible, and took every thing into consideration, any more than the
rest of us. To tell the truth, he had no room in his thoughts for the
idea of marriage or of Pamela at that moment. He strode round to the
hall door as the coachman got on the box, and went up to Sara’s room
without stopping to think. “The carriage is here,” he said, calling to
Sara at the door. He would have taken the intruder down stairs, and put
her into the carriage as courteously as if she had been a duchess; for,
as we have already said, there was a certain fine natural politeness in
the Brownlow blood. But when he heard the excited old woman still raving
about her rights, and that they wanted to kill her, the young man became
impatient. He was weary of her; and when she fell into threats of what
she would do, disgust mingled with his impatience. Then all at once,
while he waited, a sudden thought struck him of his little love. Poor
little Pamela! what could she be thinking all this time? How would she
feel when she heard that her mother had become their active enemy? In a
moment there flitted before Jack, as he stood at the door, a sudden
vision of the little uplifted face, pale as it had grown of late, with
the wistful eyes wide open and the red lips apart, and the pretty rings
of hair clustering about the forehead. What would Pamela think when she
knew? What was to be done, now that this division, worse than any unkind
sentence of a rich father, had come between them? It was no fault of
hers, no fault of his; fate had come between them in the wildest
unlooked-for way. And should they have to yield to it? The thought gave
Jack such a sudden twinge in his own heart, that it roused him
altogether out of his preoccupation. It roused him to that fine
self-regard which is so natural, and which is reckoned a virtue
nowadays. What did it matter about an old mother? Such people had had
their day, and had no right to control the young whose day was still to
come. Pamela’s future and Jack’s future were of more importance than any
thing that could happen at the end, as it were, of Mrs. Preston’s life,
or even of Mr. Brownlow’s life. This was the consideration that woke
Jack up out of the strange maze he had fallen into on the subject of his
own concerns. He turned on his heel all at once, and left Mrs. Preston
arguing the matter with Sara, and went off down the avenue almost as
rapidly as his own mare could have done it. No, by Jove! he was not
going to give up. Mrs. Preston might eat her money if she liked--might
ruin Brownlows if she liked; but she should not interfere between him
and his love. And Jack felt that there was no time to lose, and that
Pamela must know how matters stood, and what he expected of her, before
her mother went back to poison her mind against him. He took no time to
knock even at the door of Mrs. Swayne’s cottage, but went in and took
possession like an invading army. Probably, if he had been a young man
of very delicate and susceptible mind, the very knowledge that Pamela
might now be considered an heiress, and himself a poor man, would have
closed up the way to him, and turned his steps forever from the door.
But Jack was not of that fine order of humanity. He was a young man who
liked his own way, and was determined not to be unhappy if he could help
it, and held tenaciously by every thing that belonged to him. Such
matter-of-fact natures are seldom moved by the sentimentalisms of
self-sacrifice. He had not the smallest idea of sacrificing himself, if
the truth must be told. He strode along, rushing like the wind, and went
straight in at Mrs. Swayne’s door. Nobody interrupted his passage or
stood in his way; nobody even saw him but old Betty, who came out to her
door to see who had passed so quickly, and shook her head over him. “He
goes there a deal more than is good for him,” Betty said, and then, as
it was cold, shut the door.

Pamela had been sitting in the dingy parlor all alone; and, to tell the
truth, she had been crying a little. She did not know where her mother
was; she did not know when she was coming back. No message had reached
her, nor letter, nor any sign of life, and she was frightened and very
solitary. Jack, too, since he knew she was alone and could be seen at
any hour, did not make so many anxious pilgrimages as he had done when
Mrs. Preston was ill and the road was barred against him. She had no one
to tell her fears to, no one to encourage and support her, and the poor
child had broken down dreadfully. She was sitting at the window trying
to read one of Mrs. Swayne’s books, trying not to ask herself who it was
that came so late to Brownlows last night? what was her mother doing?
what was Jack doing? The book, as may be supposed, had small chance
against all these anxieties. It had dropped upon the table before her,
and her innocent tears had been dropping on it, when a sudden shadow
flitted past the window, and a footstep rang on the steps, and Jack was
in the room. The sight of him changed wonderfully the character of
Pamela’s tears, but yet it increased her agitation. Nobody in her small
circle except herself had any faith in him; and she knew that, at this
present moment, he ought not to come.

“No, I am not sorry to see you,” she said, in answer to his accusation.
“I am glad; but you should not come. Mamma is away. I am all alone.”

“You have the more need of me,” said Jack. “But listen, Pamela. Your
mother is not away. She is here at Brownlows. She is coming directly. I
rushed off to see you before she arrived. I must speak to you first.
Remember you are mine--whatever happens, you are mine, and you can not
forsake me.”

“Forsake you?” cried Pamela, in pitiful accents. “Is it likely? If there
is any forsaking, it will be you. You know--oh, you know you have not
much to fear.”

“I have every thing to fear,” said Jack, speaking very fast; “your
mother is breathing fire and flame against us all. She is coming back
our enemy. She will tell you I have had a mercenary meaning from the
beginning, and she will order you to give me up. But don’t do it,
Pamela. I am not the sort of man to be given up. We were going to be
poor, and marry against my father’s will; now we shall be poor, and
marry against your mother’s--that is all the difference. You have chosen
me, and you must give up her and not me. That is all I have to say.”

“Give up mamma?” cried Pamela, in amazement. “I don’t know what you
mean. You promised I was to have her with me, and take care of her
always. She would die without me. Oh, Jack, why have you changed so
soon?”

“It is not I that have changed,” said Jack; “every thing has changed.
This is what it will come to. It will be to give up her or me. I don’t
say I will die without you,” said the young man--“no such luck;
but--Look here, Pamela, this is what it will come to. You will have to
choose between her and me.”

“Oh no, no!” cried Pamela; “no! don’t say so. I am not the one to
choose. Don’t turn away from me! don’t look so pale and dreadful it is
not me to choose.”

“But it is you, by heavens!” cried Jack, in desperation. “Here she is
coming! It is not your old mother who was to live with us--it is a
different woman--here she is. Is it to be her or me?”

“Oh, Jack!” Pamela cried, thinking he was mad; and she submitted to his
fierce embrace in utter bewilderment, not knowing what to imagine. To
see the Brownlows carriage dash down the avenue and wheel round at the
door and open to let Mrs. Preston forth was as great a wonder as if the
earth had opened. She could not tell what was going to happen. It was a
relief to her to be held fast and kept back--her consternation took her
strength from her. She was actually unable to follow her first impulse
and rush to the door.

Mrs. Preston came in by herself, quiet but tremulous. Her head shook a
little, but there was no sign of weakness about her now. She had been
defeated, but she had got over the bitterness of her defeat and was
prepared for a struggle. Jack felt the difference when he looked at her.
He had been contemptuous of her weak passion and repetition about her
rights; but he saw the change in a moment, and he met her, standing up,
holding Pamela fast, with his arm round her. Mrs. Preston had carried
the war into her enemy’s camp, and gone to his house to demand, as she
thought, every thing he had in the world. These were Jack’s
reprisals--he came to her citadel and claimed every thing _she_ had in
the world. It was his, and, more than that, it was already given to
him--his claim was allowed.

“You are here!” cried Mrs. Preston, passionately. “I thought you would
be here! you have come before me to steal her from me. I knew how it
would be!”

“I have come to claim what is mine,” said Jack, “before you interfere. I
know you will try to step between us; but you are not to step between
us--do what you like, she is mine.”

“Pamela,” said Mrs. Preston, still, notwithstanding her late defeat,
believing somehow strangely in the potency of the new fortune for which
she felt every body should fall at her feet, “things have changed. Stand
away from him, and listen to me. We’re rich now--we shall have
everything that heart ever desired; there is not a thing you can think
of but what I can give it you. You’ve thought I was hard upon you, dear,
but it was all for your sake. What do I care for money, but for your
sake?--Every thing you can think of, Pamela--it will be like a fairy
tale.”

Pamela stood still for one moment, looking at her mother and her lover.
She had disengaged herself from him, and stood, unrestrained, to make
her election. “If it is so, mamma,” she said, “I don’t know what you
mean--you know I don’t understand; but if it is, there’s no more
difficulty. It does not matter so much whether Mr. Brownlow consents or
not.”

“Mr. Brownlow!” cried her mother; “Mr. Brownlow has been your enemy,
child, since long before you were born. He has taken your money to bring
up his own fine lady upon. He has sent his son here when he can’t do any
better, to marry you and keep the money. Sir, go away from my child.
It’s your money he wants; your money, not you.”

Pamela turned round with surprise and terror in her face, and looked at
Jack; then she smiled softly and shook her head. “Mamma, you are
mistaken,” she said in her soft little voice, and held out her hand to
him. Mrs. Preston threw up her arms above her head wildly, and gave an
exceeding bitter cry.

“I am her mother,” she cried out, “her own mother, that have nursed her
and watched over her, and given up every thing to her--and she chooses
him rather than me--him that she has not known a year--that wants her
for her money, or for her pretty face. She chooses him before me!”

She stood up alone, calling upon heaven and earth, as it were, to see;
while the two clung together dismayed and pitiful, yet holding fast by
each other still. It was the everlasting struggle so continually
repeated; the past against the present and the future--the old love
against the new--and not any question of worldly interest. It was the
tragic figure of disappointment and desolation and age in face of hope
and love and joy. What she had been doing was poor and mean enough. She
had been intoxicated by the vision of sudden wealth, and had expected
every body to be abject before her; but now a deeper element had come
in. She forgot the fortune, the money, though it was still on her lips,
and cried out, in the depth of her despair, over the loss of the only
real wealth she had in the world. No tears came to her old eyes--her old
meagre arms rose rigid, yet trembling. “She chooses him before me!” she
said, with a cry of despair, which came from the bottom of her heart.

“Mamma,” cried poor little Pamela, tearing her hand from that of her
lover, and coming doubtfully into the midst between the two, “I don’t
choose! oh, mamma, how can I choose? I never was away from you in my
life--he promised we never were to be parted. How am I to give him up?
Oh, why, why should you ask me to give him up?” cried the poor child.
Floods of tears came to her aid. She put her pretty hands together like
a child at prayer--every line in her sweet face was in itself a
supplication. Jack, behind her, stood and watched and said nothing.
Perhaps he saw, notwithstanding, that it was against his interests--and
in his heart had a certain mournful pity for the despair in the old
woman’s terrible face.

“But I expect you to choose,” she said wildly; “things have come to
that. It must be him or me--him or me; there’s no midway between us. I
am your old mother, your poor old mother, that would pluck my heart out
of my breast to give it you. I’ve survived them all, and done without
them all, and lived for your sake. And he is a young man that was taken
with your pretty face--say it was your pretty face--say the best that
can be said. If you were like death--if you lost all your beauty and
your pretty ways--if you were ugly and ailing and miserable,--it would
be all the same to me; I would love you all the more--all the more; and
he--he would never look at you again. That’s nature. I require you to
choose. It must be him or me.”

As she stood listening, a change came over Pamela’s face. Her first
appeal to her mother had been full of emotion, but of a gentle, hopeful,
almost superficial kind. She had taken tears to her aid, and pleading
looks, and believed in their success now as always. But as Mrs. Preston
spoke, Pamela’s little innocent soul was shaken as by an earthquake. She
woke up and opened her eyes, and found that she was in a world new to
her--a world no longer of prayers, and tears, and sweet yielding, and
tender affection. It was not tender affection she had to do with now; it
was fierce love, desperate and ruthless, ready to tear her asunder. Her
tears dried up, her pretty checks grew pale as death, she looked from
one to the other with a wild look of wonder, asking if it was true. When
her mother’s voice ceased, it seemed to Pamela that the world stood
still for the moment, and every thing in heaven and earth held its
breath. She looked at Jack; he stood motionless, with his face clouded
over, and made no answer to her pitiful appeal. She looked at Mrs.
Preston, and saw her mother’s eager face hollow and excited, her eyes
blazing, her cheeks burning with a strange hectic heat. For one moment
she stood irresolute. Then she made one tottering step to her mother’s
side, and turned round and looked at her lover. Once more she clasped
her hands, though she had no longer any hope in pleading. “I must stay
here,” she said, with a long-drawn sobbing sigh--“I must stay here, if I
should die.”

They stood thus and looked at each other for one of those moments which
is as long as an age. The mother would have taken her child to her arms,
but Pamela would not. “Not now, not now!” she said, putting back the
embrace. Jack, for his part, stood and watched with an intensity of
perception he had never exercised before--all power of speech seemed to
have been taken from him. The struggle had ascended into a higher region
of passion than he knew of. He turned and went to the door, with the
intention, so far as he had any intention, of retiring for the moment
from the contest. Then he came back again. Whatever the pressure on him
might be, he could not leave Pamela so.

“Look here,” he said abruptly; “I am going away. But if you think I
accept this as a choice or decision, you are much mistaken. You force
her to give in to you, and then you think I am to accept it! I’ll do no
such thing. She could not say any thing else, or do any thing else--but
all the same, she is mine. You can’t touch that, do what you like.
Pamela, darling, don’t lose heart; it’s only for a little while.”

He did not stop to listen to what her mother said; he turned at once and
went out, unconsciously, in his excitement, thrusting Mrs. Swayne out of
his way, who was in the passage. He went off up the avenue at a stretch
without ever drawing breath. A hundred wild thoughts rose in his mind;
her mother! what was her mother to him? He was ready to vow with Hamlet,
that twenty thousand mothers could not have filled up his sum of love;
and yet he was not blaming his Pamela. She could not have done
otherwise. Why had he never been told? why had not he known that this
downfall was hanging over him? Why had he been such a fool as to give in
at all to the sweet temptation? Now, of course, when things had come
this length, he would as soon have cut his own throat as given Pamela
up. And what with love and rage, and the sudden calamity, and the
gradual exasperation, he was beside himself, and did not well know what
he was about. He was almost too much absorbed in his own affairs to be
able to understand Sara, who came to him as he entered the house, and
drew him aside into the dining-room to speak to him. Sara was pale
enough to justify her pretext of headache, but otherwise she was full of
energy and spirit, and met the emergency with a courageous heart.

“We must face it out as well as we can, Jack,” she said, with her eyes
shining out large and full from her white face. “We must keep up before
all these people. They must not be able to go away and say that
something went terribly wrong at Brownlows. We must keep it up to the
last.”

“Pshaw! what does it matter what they think or what they say?” said
Jack, sitting down with a sigh of weariness. As for Sara, who was not
tired, nor had any personal complication to bow her down, she blazed up
at his indifference.

“It matters every thing!” she cried. “We may not be a county family any
more, nor fine people, but we are always the Brownlows of Masterton.
Nobody must have a word to say about it--for papa’s sake.”

“Every body will soon be at liberty to say what they please about it,”
said Jack. “Where is he? I had better go and talk to him, I suppose?”

“Papa is in the library,” said Sara. “Jack, he wants our support. He
wants us to stand by him--or, I mean, he wants you; as for me,” she
continued, with a flash of mingled softness and defiance, “he knows _I_
would not forsake him; he wants you.”

“Why shouldn’t you forsake him?” said Jack, with a momentary growl; “and
why should he be doubtful of me?”

But he did not wait for any answer. He took the decanter of sherry from
the sideboard, and swallowed he did not know how much; and then he went
off to the library to seek out his father. There was a certain
stealthiness about the house--a feeling that the people belonging to it
were having interviews in corners, that they were consulting each other,
making solemn decisions, and that their guests were much in the way.
Though Sara rushed away immediately to the room where her friends were,
after waylaying her brother, her appearance did not alter the strong
sense every body had of the state of affairs. The very servants slunk
out of Jack’s way, and stood aside in corners to watch him going into
the library. He called the footman out of his hiding-place as he passed,
and swore at him for an impertinent fool. The man had been doing nothing
that was impertinent, and yet he did not feel that there was injustice
in the accusation. Something very serious had happened, and the
consciousness of it had gone all through the house.

Mr. Brownlow was sitting in the library doing nothing. That, at least,
was his visible aspect. Within himself he had been calculating and
reckoning up till his wearied brain whirled with the effort. He sat
leaning his arms on the table and his head in his hands. By this time
his powers of thought had failed him. He sat looking on, as it were, and
saw the castle of his prosperity crumbling down into dust before him.
Every thing he had ever aimed at seemed to drop from him. He had no
longer any thing to conceal; but he knew that he had stood at the bar
before his children, and had been pardoned but not justified. They would
stand by him, but they did not approve him; and they had seen the veil
of his heart lifted, and had looked in and found darker things there
than he himself had ever been conscious of. He was so absorbed in this
painful maze of thought that he did not even look up when Jack came in.
Of course Jack would come; he knew that. Jack was ruined; they were all
ruined. All for the advantage of a miserable woman who would get no
comfort out of her inheritance, whose very life was hanging on a thread.
It seemed hard to him that Providence, which had always been so kind to
him, should permit it. When his son came in and drew a chair to the
other side of the table he roused himself. “Is it you, Jack?” he said;
“I am so tired that I fear I am stupid. I was very hard driven last
night.”

“Yes,” said Jack, with a little shudder; and Mr. Brownlow looked at him,
and their eyes met, and they knew what each had meant. It was a hard
moment for the father who had been mad, and had come to his senses
again, but yet did not know what horrible suspicion it was under which
for a moment he had lain.

“I was hard driven,” he repeated, pathetically--“very hard put to it. I
had been standing out for a long time, and then in a moment I broke
down--that is how it was. But I shall be able to talk it all over with
you--by and by.”

“That was what I came for, sir,” said Jack. “We must know what we are to
do.”

And then Mr. Brownlow put down his supporting hands from his head, and
steadied himself in a wearied wondering way. Jack for the moment had the
authority on his side.



CHAPTER XXXIX.

COMPOUND INTEREST.


Mr. Brownlow and his son were a long time together. They talked until
the autumn day darkened, and they had no more light for their
calculations. Mr. Brownlow had been very weary, even stupefied. He had
entered upon the conversation because he could not resist Jack’s
eagerness, and the decided claim he made to know fully a business which
so much concerned him. He had a right to know, which his father could
not dispute; but nevertheless all the events of the past twenty-four
hours had worn Mr. Brownlow out. He was stupefied; he did not know what
had happened; he could not recollect the details. When his attention was
fully arrested, a certain habit of business kept him on, and his mind
was clear enough when they went into figures, and when he had to make
his son aware of the magnitude of the misfortune which had almost thrown
his own mind off its balance. The facts were beyond all comment. It was
simple ruin; but such was the nature of the men, and their agreement in
it, that they both worked out their reckoning unflinchingly, and when
they saw what it was, did not so much as utter an exclamation. They laid
down, the one his pen and the other his pencil, as the twilight darkened
round them. There was no controversy between them. It was nobody’s
fault. Jack might have added a sting to every thing by reproaching his
father for the ignorance in which he had been brought up, but he had no
mind for any such useless exasperation. Things were as bad as bad could
be; therefore they brought their calculations to an end very quietly,
and came to the same conclusion as the darkness closed over them. They
sat for a minute on opposite sides of the table, not looking at each
other, with their papers before them, and their minds filled with one
sombre thought. Whether it was that or the mere fall of day which was
closing round them neither could have told--only that under this dull
oppression there was in Jack’s mind a certain wild suppressed
impatience, an overwhelming sense of all that was included in the
crisis; while his father in the midst of it could not repress a strange
longing to throw himself down upon the sofa, to close his eyes, to be
alone in the silence and darkness. Rest was his most imperative want.
The young man’s mind was thrilling with a desire to be up and at his
troubles, to fight and make some head against them. But then things were
new to Jack; whereas to Mr. Brownlow, who had already made a long and
not guiltless struggle, the only thing apparent and desirable was
rest--to lie down and be quiet for a little, to have no question asked
him, nothing said to him, or, if it should please God, to sleep.

Jack, however, was not the man, under the circumstances, to let his
father get either sleep or rest. After they had made all the
calculations possible, and said every thing that was to be said, he did
not go away, but sat silent, biting his nails and pondering much in his
mind. They had been thus for about half an hour without exchanging a
word, when he suddenly broke into speech.

“It must go into Chancery, I suppose?” he said. “She has got to prove
her identity, and all that. You will have time at least to realize all
your investments. Too much time perhaps.”

“She is an old woman,” said Mr. Brownlow. He was thinking of nothing
beyond the mere matter of fact, and there was no meaning in his voice,
but yet it startled his son. “And you were to marry her daughter. I had
almost forgotten that. You were very decided on the subject last time
you spoke to me. In that case every thing would be yours.”

“I hope she may live forever!” said Jack, getting up from his chair;
“and she has no intention of giving me her daughter now--not that her
intention matters much,” he said to himself, half muttering, as he stood
with his hand on the table. The change was bewildering. He would have
his Pamela still, whatever any body might say; but to run away with his
pretty penniless darling, and work for her and defy the world for her,
was very different from running away with the little heiress who had a
right to every penny he had supposed his own. It was very hard upon him;
but all the same he had no intention of giving in. No idea of
self-sacrifice ever crossed his mind. It made the whole matter more
confusing, more disagreeable--but any body’s intention mattered very
little, father or mother; he meant to have his love and his way all the
same.

“It does matter,” said Mr. Brownlow. “It had much better never go into
Chancery at all. I never had any objections to the girl--you need not be
impatient. I always liked the girl. She is like your mother. I never
knew what it was--” Then Mr. Brownlow made a little pause. “Poor
Bessie!” he said, though it was an exclamation that did not seem called
for. It was this fortune that had first made him think of Bessie. It was
for her sake--for the sake of making a very foolish marriage--that he
had made use of the money which at first was nothing but a plague and
burden to him. Somehow she seemed to come up before him now it was
melting away, and he knew that the charm of Pamela’s dewy eyes and fresh
face had been their resemblance to Bessie. The thought softened his
heart, and yet made it sting and ache. “This matter is too important for
temper or pride,” he went on, recovering himself. “If we are to treat as
enemies, of course I must resist, and it will be a long suit, and
perhaps outlive us all. But if you are to be her daughter’s husband, the
question is different. You are the natural negotiator between us.”

“I can’t be; it is impossible,” cried Jack; and then he sat down again
in his chair in a sort of sullen fury with himself. Of course he was the
natural negotiator. It was weakness itself to think of flinching from so
plain a duty; and yet he would rather have faced a battery or led a
forlorn hope.

“You must be,” said Mr. Brownlow. “We are all excited at this present
moment; but there can be no doubt of what your position entails. You are
my son, and you are, against my will, contrary to my advice, engaged to
her daughter. Unless you mean to throw off the girl you love because she
has suddenly become an heiress--”

“I mean nothing of the sort,” cried Jack, angrily. “I shall never throw
her off.”

“Then you can’t help having an interest in her fortune;--and doing the
best you can for her,” said his father, after a pause.

Then again silence fell upon the two. It was natural and reasonable, but
it was utterly repugnant, even though one of them thus urged it, to
both. A thing may be recommended by good sense, and by all the force of