YOUNG POWYS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

THE FATHER’S DAY AT THE OFFICE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

AN ADVENTURE

Jack in the mean time was on the ice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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