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.

Continue Reading

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.

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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.

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