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.

Continue Reading

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.

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A WEDDING IN DURESS

In the days when the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim were divided by walls
of sentiment and pride, as difficult to surmount as the walls that
separated patrician from plebeian in ancient Rome, an Ashkenazi youth
married a Sephardi maiden. It happened some four hundred or five hundred
years ago. Youth and maiden are dust, their romance is forgotten, and we
owe them an apology for disturbing their memory. Let us only add that
the youth’s name was Zalman. May Mr. and Mrs. Zalman rest in peace!

* * * * *

Zalman, the tailor, lived in Essex Street on the same floor with the
Rabbi Elsberg. Zalman possessed two treasures, each a rarity of
exquisite beauty, each vying with the other for supremacy in his
affections. The one was a wine glass of Venetian make, wonderful in its
myriad-hued colouring, its fragile texture, and its rare design. The
mate of it rests in one of the famous museums of Italy, and the
connoisseurs came from far and near to feast their eyes upon Zalman’s
piece. Money, in sums that would have made Zalman a rich man in that
neighbourhood, had been offered to him for this treasure, but he always
shook his head.

“It has been in my family for hundreds of years,” he would say, “and I
cannot part with it. Years ago—many, many years ago—our family was
wealthy, but now I have nothing left save this one wine glass. I would
rather die than lose it.”

His visitors would depart with feelings of mingled wonder and rage;
wonder that so priceless a gem should be in the possession of a
decrepit, untidy, poverty-stricken East Side tailor; and rage that he
should be so stubborn as to cling to it in spite of the most alluring
offers that were made to him. Zalman’s other treasure was his daughter
Barbara, whose name, like the wine glass, had descended from some
long-forgotten Spanish or Italian ancestress. All the lavish praise that
the most enthusiastic lover of things beautiful had ever lavished upon
that wonderful wine glass would have applied with equal truth to
Barbara. Excepting that Barbara was distinctly modern.

Reuben sat in the Rabbi Elsberg’s sitting-room, frowning and unhappy;
the rabbi, puffing reflectively at a long pipe, gazing at him in
silence. Through the walls they could hear Barbara singing. Barbara
always sang when she was merry, and Barbara was merry, as a rule, from
the moment she left her bed until she returned to it. The rabbi took a
longer puff than usual, and then asked Reuben:

“What said her father?”

Reuben gulped several times as if the words that crowded to his lips for
utterance were choking him.

“It is well for him that he is her father,” he finally said. “I would
not have listened to so much abuse from any other living man.” (Reuben,
by the way, had a most determined-looking chin, and there was something
very earnest in the cut of his features.)

“He gave me to understand,” he went on, “that he knew perfectly well it
was his wine glass I was after, and not his daughter. That I was
counting on his dying soon, and already looked forward to selling that
precious glass to spend the money in riotous living. And when I told him
that Barbara and I loved each other, he said ‘Bosh!’ and forbade me to
speak of it again.”

The rabbi puffed in silence for a moment.

“He evidently has not a flattering opinion of you, my young friend.”

“He knows nothing against me!” Reuben hurriedly exclaimed. “It is only
because I want Barbara. He would say the same to anyone else that asked
for his daughter. You know me, rabbi; you have known me a long time,
ever since I was a child. I do not pretend to be an angel, but I am not
bad. I love the girl, and I can take good care of her. I don’t want to
see his old wine glass again. I’d smash it into a——”

Reuben’s jaw fell, and his eyes stared vacantly at the wall. The rabbi
followed his gaze, and, seeing nothing, turned to Reuben in surprise.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Nothing,” replied Reuben, with a sheepish grin. “I—I just happened to
think of something.”

The rabbi frowned. “If you are often taken with such queer ideas that
make you look so idiotic, I don’t think I can blame Zalman so very
much.” But Reuben’s contrite expression immediately caused him to regret
his momentary annoyance, and holding out his hand, he said,
affectionately:

“Come, Reuben, I will do what I can for you. You are a good boy, and if
you and the girl love each other I will see if there is not some way of
overcoming her father’s objections.”

Taking Reuben by the arm he led him into Zalman’s shop. Zalman was not
alone. A little shrivelled old man, evidently a connoisseur of _objets
d’art_, was holding the wonderful wine glass to the light, gloating over
the bewildering play of colours that flashed from it, while Zalman
anxiously hovered about him, eager to receive the glass in his own hands
again, yet proudly calling the old man’s attention to its hidden
beauties.

Barbara stood in the doorway that led to the living-rooms in the rear.
When she saw Reuben she blushed and smiled.

Zalman looked up and saw the rabbi and smiled; saw who was with him and
frowned.

“I just dropped in to have a little chat,” said the rabbi, “but there is
no hurry. I will wait until you are disengaged.”

The connoisseur carefully set the glass upon the counter, and heaved a
long, painful sigh.

“And no price will tempt you to part with it?” he asked. Zalman shook
his head and grinned. What followed happened with exceeding swiftness.

Zalman had got as far as, “It has been in our family for hundreds of
years——” when a shadow caused him to turn his head. He saw Barbara throw
up her hands in amazement, saw the rabbi start forward as though he were
about to interfere in something, and saw the precious wine glass in
Reuben’s hand. Mechanically he reached forward to take it from him, and
then instantly felt Reuben’s other hand against his breast, holding him
back, and heard Reuben saying, quite naturally, “Wait!”

It had not taken ten seconds—Zalman suddenly felt sick.

The connoisseur hastily put on his glasses. The situation seemed
interesting.

“Mr. Zalman,” said Reuben, speaking very slowly and distinctly, yet
carefully keeping the tailor at arm’s length, “I told you this very day
that your daughter Barbara and I love each other. We will not marry
without your consent. So you must consent. If I cannot marry Barbara I
do not care what happens to me. I will have nothing to live for. I can
give her a good home, and we will be very happy. You can come to live
with us, if you like, and I will always be a good son to you. I swear by
the Torah that this glass is nothing to me. I want Barbara because I
love her, and you can throw this glass into the river for all I care.
But if you do not give your consent I also swear by the Torah that I
shall fling this glass to the floor and smash it into a thousand
pieces.”

Zalman, who had been clutching Reuben’s outstretched arm throughout this
speech, and had followed every word with staring eyes and open mouth,
dropped his arms and groaned. Barbara had listened in amazement to
Reuben’s first words, but when his meaning dawned upon her she had
clapped her kerchief to her mouth and fled precipitately through the
doorway whence now came faint sounds which, owing to the distance, might
have been either loud weeping or violent laughter. The rabbi’s face had
reddened with indignation. The connoisseur alone was smiling.

“Reuben,” said the rabbi sternly, “you have gone too far. Put the glass
down!” He advanced toward the young man.

“Hold!” cried Reuben. “If anyone in this room touches me or attempts to
take this glass from me, I shall quickly hurl it to the floor. Look,
everybody!” He held the glass aloft. “See how fragile it is! I have only
to hold it a little tighter and it will break into a dozen pieces, and
no human skill will ever be able to put them together again!”

Zalman was in agony.

“I yield,” he cried. “Give me the glass. You shall marry Barbara
to-morrow. Do not hold it so tightly. Put it down gently.”

He held out his hand. His lips were twitching with repressed curses on
Reuben’s head. But Reuben only smiled.

“No, good father,” he said. “Not to-morrow. You might change your mind.
Let it be now, and your glass is safe.”

(“What a pertinacious young man!” thought the connoisseur.)

“May the fiends devour you!” cried Zalman.

“Now look you,” said Reuben, twirling the delicate glass in a careless
way that sent chill shudders down the tailor’s spine; “it is you who are
stubborn. Not I. If you knew how devotedly I loved Barbara you would
not, you could not be so heartless as to keep us apart.”

“The foul fiends!” muttered Zalman. Beads of perspiration stood out upon
his forehead; he was very pale.

“You were young yourself once,” Reuben went on. “For the sake of your
own youth, cast aside your stubbornness and give us your consent.
Barbara! Barbara! Where are you?”

The young woman, blushing like a rose, came out and stood beside him
with lowered head and downcast eyes.

“You see,” said Reuben, gently encircling her waist, “we love each
other.”

“The foul fiends!” muttered Zalman.

“Help me, Barbara! Help me to plead with your father,” urged Reuben. But
Barbara, abashed, could not find courage to raise her voice. Besides,
she kept her kerchief pressed tightly against her lips.

“Would you make your own daughter unhappy for the rest of her life?”
Reuben went on. (At every sentence Zalman murmured as far as “The foul
fiends!” then stopped.) “Everything is ready save your consent. The good
Rabbi Elsberg is here. He can marry us on the spot. We can dispense with
the betrothal. Our hearts have been betrothed for more than a year. I
want no dowry. I only want Barbara. Can you be so cruel as to keep us
apart?”

The glass slipped from his fingers as if by accident, but deftly his
hand swooped below it and caught it, unharmed. The tailor almost
swooned.

“Take her!” he cried, hoarsely. “In the foul fiend’s name take her! And
give me the glass!” He held out his trembling hands. With a joyful cry
Reuben pressed the girl tightly against his heart, and was about to kiss
her when the rabbi’s voice rang out:

“This is outrageous! I refuse to have anything to do with marrying
them!”

Reuben turned pale. To be so near victory, and now to lose everything
through the desertion of his old friend, was an unexpected,
disheartening blow. The tailor’s face brightened. Barbara, who had
looked up quickly when the rabbi spoke, began to cry softly.

“I have consented,” said Zalman. “That was what you asked, was it not?
Now give me back my wine glass. I can do no more.”

A faint smile had come into his face. It must have been his evil
guardian who prompted that smile, for it gave Reuben heart.

“If the rabbi will not marry us immediately,” said Reuben, “then I have
lost everything, and have nothing more to live for.” With the utmost
deliberation he raised an enormous iron that lay upon the counter,
placed the glass carefully upon the floor, and held the iron directly
over it.

“I shall crush the glass into a million tiny bits beneath this ponderous
weight!”

“Hold!” screamed the tailor. “He shall marry you! Please, oh, please!
Marry them, rabbi! For my sake, marry them! I beg it of you! I cannot
bear to see my precious glass under that horrible weight! Don’t let it
fall! For God’s sake, hold it tight! Oh, rabbi, marry them, marry them,
marry them! Let me have my glass!”

The rabbi glared at Reuben, then at the tailor, who was almost on his
knees before him, and then at the face of the connoisseur, who, somewhat
embarrassed at finding himself observed in that exciting moment, said,
apologetically, “I—I don’t mind being a witness.”

The rabbi married them.

“It is not for either of you that I am doing this,” he said, in stern
accents. “You have disgraced yourselves—both of you. But for the sake of
this old man, my friend, who holds that bauble so high that I fear he
will lose his reason if any harm befall it, I yield.”

They were married. And then—and not until then—Reuben raised the
precious wine glass, glittering and sparkling with multi-coloured fire,
gently from the floor and placed it upon the counter. But he held fast
to the iron. Zalman pounced upon his heirloom, examined it carefully to
see whether the faintest mishap had marred its beauty, held it tightly
against his breast, and with upraised arm turned upon his daughter and
her husband. With flashing eyes and pallid lips, he cried:

“May the foul fiends curse you! May God, in His righteousness——”

There was a sound of crashing glass. Whether in his excitement the
tailor’s fingers had, for one instant, relaxed their grip; whether
mysterious Fate, through some psychic or physical agency had playfully
wrought a momentary paralysis of his nerves; whether—but who may
penetrate these things? The glass had slipped from his hand. That
exquisite creation of a skill that had perished centuries ago, that
fragile relic of a forgotten art which, only a moment ago, had sparkled
and glittered as though a hundred suns were imprisoned within its frail
sides, now lay upon the floor in a thousand shapeless fragments.

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