There is nothing in my heart that is worth opening

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

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

“Powys?” said Jack.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

A CRISIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

EWS OF FRIENDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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