THE YOUNG PEOPLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

AT THE GATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

NEW NEIGHBORS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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