A CATASTROPHE

After that day of curious abandonment and imprudence, Mr. Brownlow
returned to his natural use and wont. He could not account to himself
next day even for his want of control, for his injudiciousness. What end
could it serve to lay open his plans to Sara? He had supposed she would
take it seriously, as he had done, and, lo! she had taken it very
lightly, as something at the first glance rather amusing than otherwise.
Nothing could have so entirely disconcerted her father. His position,
his good name, his very life, seemed to hang upon it, and Sara had taken
it as a singularly piquant novelty, and nothing more. Then it was that
it had occurred to him about that softening of the brain, and the
thought had braced him up, had reawakened all his energies, and sealed
his lips, and made him himself again. He went to the office next day,
and all the following days, and took no more notice of young Powys than
if he had never tried to win his confidence, and never introduced him to
his daughter. No doubt it was a disappointment to the young man. No
doubt a good deal of the intoxication of the moment had remained in
Powys’s brain. He had remembered and dwelt upon the effect of that
passing sunbeam on Miss Brownlow’s hair and her dress, much more than he
need have done. And though he did not look at it much, the young
Canadian had hung up the Claude in his memory–the Claude with a certain
setting round it more important than its actual frame. This he had done
naturally, as a kind of inevitable consequence. And it was not to be
denied that he watched for Mr. Brownlow’s coming next morning, and
waited for some little sign of special friendship, something that should
show, on his employer’s part as well, a consciousness of special favor
extended. But no such sign came. He might have been a cabbage for all
the notice Mr. Brownlow took of him as he passed to his own office. Not
a glance, not a word, betrayed any thing different from the ordinary not
unkind but quite indifferent demeanor of the lawyer to his clerks.
Then, as was to be expected, a certain surprise and painful
enlightenment–such as every body has to encounter, more or less, who
are noticed by their social superiors–came upon the young man. It was
all a caprice, then, only momentary and entirely without consequences,
which had introduced him to Mr. Brownlow’s table and his daughter. He
belonged to a different world, and it was vain to think that the other
world would ever open to him. He was too unimportant even to be kept at
a distance. He was her father’s clerk. In Canada that would not have
mattered so much, but in this old hard long-established England– Poor
young fellow! he knew so little. The thought brought with it a gush of
indignation. He set his teeth, and it seemed to him that he was able to
face that horrible conventional system, and break a lance upon it, and
make good his entrance. He forgot his work even, and laid down his pen
and stared at Mr. John, who was younger than himself. How was he better
than himself? that was the question. Then an incipient sneer awoke in
the soul of the young backwoodsman. If there was such a difference
between the son of a country solicitor and his clerk, what must there be
between the son and the clients, all the county people who came to have
their difficulties solved? But then Mr. Brownlow was something more than
a solicitor. If these two men–the one old and full of experience, the
other young and ignorant, with only a screen of glass and a curtain
between them–could have seen into each other’s thoughts, how strange
would have been the revelation. But happily that is one refuge secured
for humanity. They were each safe, beyond even their own powers of
self-interpretation, in the recesses of their hearts.

Mr. Brownlow, by a superhuman effort not only took no notice of young
Powys, but, so far as that was possible, dismissed all thought of him
from his mind. It was a difficult thing to do, but yet he all but did
it, plunging into the Wardell case, and other cases, and feeling with a
certain relief that, after all, _he_ had not any particular symptoms of
softening of the brain. The only thing he could not do was to banish
from his own mind the consciousness of the young man’s presence. Busy as
he was, occupied to the full extent of his powers, considering intently
and with devotion fine points of law and difficult social problems, he
never for one minute actually forgot that young Powys was sitting on the
other side of the screen. He could forget any thing else without much
difficulty. Neither Sara nor Brownlows were in his mind as he labored at
his work. He thought no more of Jack’s presence in the office, though he
knew very well he was there, than of the furniture; but he could have
made a picture of the habitual attitude in which his clerk sat, of the
way he bent over his work, and the quick upward glance of his eyes. He
could not forget him. He could put out of his mind all his own
uncomfortable speculations, and even the sense that he had conducted
matters unwisely, which is a painful thought to such a man. All this he
could do, but he could not get rid of Powys’s presence. He was there a
standing menace, a standing reminder. He did not even always recall to
himself, in the midst of his labors, why it was that this young man’s
presence disturbed him, but he never could for a moment get free of the
consciousness that he was there.

At the same time he regarded him with no unfriendly feelings. It was not
hatred any more than it was love that moved him. He carried the thought
with him, as we carry about with us, as soon as they are gone, that
endless continual thought of the dead which makes our friends in the
unseen world so much closer to us than any body still living to be loved
and cherished. Mr. Brownlow carried his young enemy, who at the same
time was not his enemy, about with him, as he would have carried the
thought of a son who had died. It came to his mind when he got up in the
morning. It went side by side with him wherever he went–not a ghost,
but yet something ghostly in its perseverance and steady persistency.
When he laid down his pen, or paused to collect his thoughts for a
moment, the spectre of this youth would cross him, whatever he might be
doing. While Mr. Wrinkell was talking to him, there would suddenly glide
across Mr. Wrinkell’s substantial person the apparition of a desk and a
stool and the junior clerk. All this was very trying; but still Mr.
Brownlow wisely confined himself to this one manifestation of Powys’s
presence, and sternly silenced in his own mind all thought on the
subject. On that one unlucky day of leisure he had gone too far; in the
rebound he determined to do nothing, to say nothing–to wait.

This was perhaps as little satisfactory to Sara as it was to young
Powys. She had, there can not be a doubt, been much amused and a little
excited by her father’s extraordinary proposal. She had not taken it
solemnly indeed, but it had interested her all the same. It was true he
was only her father’s clerk, but he was young, well-looking, and he had
amused her. She felt in her soul that she could (or at least so she
thought) make an utter slave of him. All the absurdities that ever were
perpetrated by a young man in love would be possible to that young man,
or else Sara’s penetration failed her, whereas the ordinary young men of
society were incapable of absurdities. They were too much absorbed in
themselves, too conscious of the possibility of ridicule, to throw
themselves at a girl’s feet heart and soul; and the girl who was still
in the first fantastic freshness of youth despised a sensible and
self-respecting lover. She would have been pleased to have had the
mysterious Canadian produced again and again to be operated upon. He was
not _blasé_ and instructed in every thing like Jack. And as for having
to marry him, if he was the man, that was still a distant evil, and
something quite unexpected no doubt would come of it; he would turn out
a prince in disguise, or some perfectly good reason which her father was
now concealing from her, would make every thing suitable. For Sara knew
too well the important place she held in her father’s opinion to imagine
for a moment that he meant to mate her unworthily. This was how the
tenor of her thoughts was turned, and Mr. Brownlow was not insensible to
the tacit assaults that were made upon him about his _protégé_. She gave
up her judgment to him as she never had done before, with a filial
self-abandonment that would have been beautiful had there been no
_arrière pensée_ in it. “I will do as papa thinks proper. You know best,
papa,” she said, in her new-born meekness, and Mr. Brownlow understood
perfectly what she meant.

“You have turned dreadfully good all of a sudden,” said Jack. “I never
knew you so dutiful before.”

“The longer one lives, one understands one’s duties the better,” said
Sara, sententiously; and she looked at her father with a mingled
submission and malice which called forth a smile about the corners of
his mouth.

“I hope so,” said Mr. Brownlow; “though you have not made the experiment
long enough to know much about it yet.”

“There are moments which give one experience as much as years,” said
Sara, in the same lofty way, which was a speech that tempted the profane
Jack to laughter, and made Mr. Brownlow smile once more. But though he
smiled, the suggestion did not please him much. He laid his hand
caressingly on her head, and smoothed back her pretty hair as he passed
her; but he said nothing, and showed no sign of consciousness in respect
to those moments which give experience. And the smile died off his lip
almost before his hand was withdrawn from her hair. His thought as he
went away was that he had been very weak; he had betrayed himself to the
child who was still but a child, and knew no better than to play with
such rude edge-tools. And the only remedy now was to close his lips and
his heart, to tell nobody any thing, never to betray himself, whatever
might happen. It was this thought that made him look so stern as he left
Brownlows that morning–at least that made Pamela think he looked stern,
as the dog-cart came out at the gate. Pamela had come to be very learned
in their looks as they flashed past in that rapid moment in the early
sunshine. She knew, or she thought she knew, whether Mr. John and his
father were quite “friends,” or if there had been a little inevitable
family difference between them, as sometimes happened; and it came into
her little head that day that Mr. Brownlow was angry with his son,
perhaps because– She would not put the reason into words, but it filled
her mind with many reflections. Was it wrong for Mr. John to come home
early so often?–to stay at home so often the whole day?–to time his
expeditions so fortunately that they should end in stray meetings, quite
accidental, almost every day? Perhaps he ought to be in the office
helping his father instead of loitering about the avenue and elsewhere,
and finding himself continually in Pamela’s way. This she breathed to
herself inarticulately with that anxious aim at his improvement which is
generally the first sign of awakening tenderness in a girl’s heart. It
occurred to her that she would speak to him about it when she saw him
next; and then it occurred to her with a flash of half guilty joy that
he had not been in the dog cart as it dashed past, and that,
accordingly, some chance meeting was very sure to take place that day.
She meant to remonstrate with him, and put it boldly before him whether
it was his duty to stay from the office; but still she could not but
feel rather glad that he had stayed from the office that day.

As for Mr. John, he had, or supposed he had–or at least attempted to
make himself suppose that he had–something to do at home on that
particular day. His fishing-tackle had got out of order, and he had to
see to that, or there was something else of equal importance which
called his attention, and he had been in Masterton for two days in
succession. Thus his conscience was very clear. It is true that he
dawdled the morning away looking for Pamela, who was not to be found,
and was late in consequence–so late that young Keppel, whom he had
meant to join, had gone off with his rod on his shoulder to the Rectory
to lunch, and was on his way back again before Jack found his way to the
water-side. There are certain states of mind in which even dinner is an
indifferent matter to a young man; and as for luncheon, it was not
likely he would take the trouble to think of that.

“You are a nice fellow,” said Keppel, “to keep a man lounging here by
himself all the time that’s any good; and here you are now when the sun
is at its height. I don’t understand that sort of work. What have you
been about all day?”

“I have not been lunching at the Rectory,” said Jack. “Have a cigar, old
fellow? Now we are here, let’s make the best of it. I’ve been waiting
about, kicking my heels, while you’ve been having lunch with Fanny
Hardcastle. But I’ll tell you what, Keppel; I’d drop that if I were
you!”

“Drop what?” cried Mr. Keppel, guiltily.

“Dancing about after every girl who comes in your way,” said Jack. “Why,
you were making an ass of yourself only the other day at Brownlows.”

“Ah, that was out of my reach,” said Keppel, shaking his head solemnly,
and he sighed. The sigh was such that Jack (who, as is well known, was
totally impervious to sentimental weaknesses) burst into a fit of
laughter.

“I suppose you think little Fanny is not out of your reach,” he said;
“but Fanny is very wide awake, I can tell you. You haven’t got any
money; you’re neglecting your profession.”

“It is my profession that is neglecting me,” said Keppel, meekly. “Don’t
be hard upon a fellow, Jack. They say here that is you who are making an
ass of yourself. They say you are to be seen about all the lanes–”

“Who says?” said Jack; and he could not prevent a certain flush from
rising to his face. “Let every man mind his own business, and woman
too. As for you, Keppel, you would be inexcusable if you were to do any
thing ridiculous in that way. A young fellow with a good profession that
may carry him as high as he likes–as high as he cares to work for, I
mean; of course nothing was ever done without work–and you waste your
time going after every girl in the place–Fanny Hardcastle one day,
somebody else the next. You’ll come to a bad end, if you don’t mind.”

“What is a fellow to do?” said Keppel. “When I see a nice girl–I am not
a block of wood, like you–I can’t help seeing it. When a man has got
eyes in his head, what is the use of his being reasoned with by a man
who has none?”

“As good as yours any day,” said Jack, with natural indignation. “What
use do you make of your eyes? I have always said marrying early was a
mistake; but, by Jove, marrying early is better than following every
girl about like a dog. Fanny Hardcastle would no more have you than Lady
Godiva–”

“How do you know that?” said Keppel, quickly. “Besides–I–don’t–want
her to have me,” he added, with deliberation; and thereupon he occupied
himself for a long time very elaborately in lighting his cigar.

“It is all very well to tell me that,” said Jack. “You want every one of
them, till you have seen the next. But look here, Keppel; take my
advice: never look at a woman again for ten years, and then get married
off-hand, and you’ll bless me and my good counsel for all the rest of
your life.”

“Thank you,” said Keppel. “You don’t say what I’m to do with myself
during the ten years; but, Jack, good advice is admirable, only one
would like to know that one’s physician healed himself.”

“Physicians never heal themselves; it is an impossibility upon the face
of it,” said Jack, calmly. “A doctor is never such an idiot as to treat
his own case. Don’t you know that? When I want ghostly counsel, I’ll go
to–Mr. Hardcastle. I never attempt to advise myself–”

“You think he’d give Fanny to you,” said Keppel, ruefully, “all for the
sake of a little money. I hate moneyed people,–give us another
cigar;–but she wouldn’t have you, Jack. I hope I know a little better
than that.”

“So much the better,” said Jack; “nor you either, my boy, unless you
come into a fortune. Mr. Hardcastle knows better than that. Are we going
to stay here all day? I’ve got something to do up at the house.”

“What have you got to do? I’ll walk up that way with you,” said Keppel,
lifting his basket from the grass.

“Well, it is not exactly at the house,” said Jack. “The fact is, I am in
no particular hurry; I have somebody to see in the village–that is, on
the road to Ridley; let’s walk that way, if you like.”

“Inhospitable, by Jove!” said Keppel. “I believe, after all, what they
say must be true.”

“What do they say?” said Jack, coldly. “You may be sure, to start with,
that it is not true; what they say never is. Come along, there’s some
shade to be had along the river-side.”

And thus the two young men terminated the day’s fishing for which Jack
had abandoned the office. They strayed along by the river-side until he
suddenly bethought himself of business which led him in quite an
opposite direction. When this recollection occurred to his mind, Jack
took leave of his friend with the air of a man very full of occupation,
and marched away as seriously and slowly as if he had really been going
to work. He was not treating his own case. He had not even as yet begun
to take his own case into consideration. He was simply intent upon his
own way for the moment, and not disposed to brook any contradiction, or
even inquiry. No particular intention, either prudent or imprudent, made
his thoughts definite as he went on; no aims were in his mind. A certain
soft intoxication only possessed him. Somehow to Jack, as to every body
else, his own case was entirely exceptional, and not to be judged by
ordinary rules. And he neither criticised nor even inquired into his
personal symptoms. With Keppel the disease was plain, and the remedy
quite apparent; but as for himself, was he ill at all, that he should
want any physician’s care?

This question, which Jack did not consider for himself, was resolved for
him in the most unexpected way. Mr. Brownlow had gone thoughtful and
almost stern to the office, reflecting upon his unfortunate
self-betrayal–vexed and almost irritated by the way in which Sara
essayed to keep up the private understanding between them. He came back,
no doubt, relieved of the cloud on his face; but still very grave, and
considering within himself whether he could not tell his daughter that
the events of that unlucky day were to count for nothing, and that the
project he had proposed to her was given over forever. His thoughts were
still so far incomplete, that he got down at the gate in order to walk
up the avenue and carry them on at leisure. As he did so he looked
across, as he too had got a habit of doing, at Mrs. Swayne’s window–the
bright little face was not there. It was not there; but, in place of it,
the mother was standing at the door, shading her eyes from the rare
gleam of evening sun which reached the house, and looking out. Mr.
Brownlow did not know any thing about this mother, and she was not so
pleasant to look at as Pamela; yet, unawares, there passed through his
mind a speculation, what she was looking for? Was she too, perhaps, in
anxiety about her child? He felt half disposed to turn back and ask her,
but did not do it; and by the time he had found old Betty’s cottage the
incident had passed entirely from his mind. Once more the sunshine was
slanting through the avenue, throwing the long tree-shadows and the long
softly-moving figure of the wayfarer before him as he went on. He was
not thinking of Jack, or any thing connected with him, when that
startling apparition met his eyes, and brought him to a stand-still. The
sight which made him suddenly stop short was a pretty one, had it been
regarded with indifferent eyes; and, indeed, it was the merest chance,
some passing movement of a bird or flicker of a branch, that roused Mr.
Brownlow from his own thoughts and revealed that pretty picture to him.
When the little flutter, whatever it was, roused him and he raised his
eyes, he saw among the trees, at no great distance from him, a pair such
as was wont to wander over soft sod, under blue sky, and amid all the
sweet interlacements of sunshine and shade–two creatures–young,
hopeful, and happy–the little one half-timid, half-trustful, looking up
into her companion’s face; he so much taller, so much stronger, so much
bolder, looking down upon her–taking the shy hand which she still
withdrew, and yet still left to be retaken;–two creatures, unaware as
yet why they were so happy–glad to be together, to look at each other,
to touch each other–thinking no evil. Mr. Brownlow stood on the path
and looked, and his senses seemed to fail him. It was a bit out of
Arcadia, out of fairy-land, out of Paradise; and he himself once in his
life had been in Arcadia too. But in the midst of this exquisite little
poem one shrill discord of fact was what most struck the father’s
ear–was it Jack? Jack!–he who was prudence itself–too prudent, even
so far as words went, for Mr. Brownlow’s simple education and habits.
And, good heavens! the little neighbor, the little bright face at the
window which had won upon them all with its sweet friendly looks! Mr.
Brownlow was a man, and not sentimental, but yet the sight after the
first surprise gave him a pang at his heart. What did it mean? or could
it mean any thing but harm and evil? He waited, standing on the path,
clearly visible while they came softly forward absorbed in each other.
He was fixed, as it were, in a kind of silent trance of pain and
amazement. She was Sara’s little humble friend–she was the little
neighbor, whose smiles had won even his own interest–she was the child
of the worn woman at the cottage door, who stood shading her eyes and
looking out for her with that anxious look in her face. All these
thoughts filled Mr. Brownlow’s eyes with pity and even incipient
indignation. And Jack! was this the result of his premature prudence,
his character as a man of the world? His father’s heart ached as they
came on so unconsciously. At last there came a moment when that curious
perception of another eye regarding them, which awakens even sleepers,
came over the young pair. Poor little Pamela gave a start and cry, and
fell back from her companion’s side. Jack, for perhaps the first time in
his life thoroughly confounded and overwhelmed, stood stock-still,
gazing in consternation at the unthought-of spectator. Mr. Brownlow’s
conduct at this difficult conjuncture was such as some people might
blame. When he saw their consternation he did not at that very moment
step in to improve the occasion. He paused that they might recognize
him; and then he took off his hat very gravely, with a certain
compassionate respect for the woman–the little weak fool-hardy creature
who was thus playing with fate; and then he turned slowly and went on.
It was as if a thunderbolt had fallen at the feet of the foolish young
pair. Hitherto, no doubt, these meetings had been clandestine, though
they did not know it; but now all at once illumination flashed upon
both. They were ashamed to be found together, and in a moment, in the
twinkling of an eye, both of them became conscious of the shame. They
gave one glance at each other, and then looked no more. What had they
been doing all those stolen hours?–all those foolish words, all those
soft touches of the warm rosy young fingers–what did they all mean? The
shock was so great that they scarcely moved or spoke for a minute, which
felt like an age. Perhaps it was greatest to Jack, who saw evidently
before him a paternal remonstrance, against which his spirit rose, and a
gulf of wild possibilities which made him giddy. But still Pamela was
the one whom it overwhelmed the most. She grew very pale, poor child!
the tears came to her eyes. “Oh, what will he think of me?” she said,
wringing her poor little hands. “Never mind what he thinks,” said Jack;
but he could not keep out of his voice a certain tone which told the
effect which this scene had had upon him also. He walked with her to the
gate, but it was in a dutiful sort of way. And then their shame flashed
upon them doubly when Pamela saw her mother in the distance waiting for
her at the door. “Don’t come any farther,” she said, under her breath,
not daring to look at him; and thus they parted ashamed. They had not
only been seen by others; they had found themselves out.

Continue Reading

Late in the afternoon

Mr. Brownlow did really look as if he were taking
a holiday. He came forth into the avenue as Sara was going out, and
joined her, and she seized her opportunity, and took his arm, and led
him up and down in the afternoon sunshine. It is a pretty sight to see a
girl clinging to her father, pouring all her guesses and philosophies
into his ears, and claiming his confidence. It is a different kind of
intercourse, more picturesque, more amusing, in some ways even more
touching, than the intercourse of a mother and daughter, especially when
there is, as with these two, no mother in the case, and the one sole
parent has both offices to fulfill. Sara clung to her father’s arm, and
congratulated herself upon having got him out, and promised herself a
good long talk. “For I never see you, papa,” she said; “you know I
never see you. You are at that horrid office the whole long day.”

“Only all the mornings and all the evenings,” said Mr. Brownlow, “which
is a pretty good proportion, I think, of life.”

“Oh, but there is always Jack or somebody,” said Sara, tightening her
clasp on his arm; “and sometimes one wants only you.”

“Have you something to say to me then,” said her father, with a little
curiosity, even anxiety,–for of course his own disturbed thoughts
accompanied him everywhere, and put meanings into every word that was
said.

“Something!” said Sara, with indignation; “heaps of things. I want to
tell you and I want to ask you;–but, by-the-by, answer me first, before
I forget, is this Mr. Powys very poor?”

“Powys!” said Mr. Brownlow, with a suppressed thrill of excitement.
“What of Powys? It seems to me I hear of nothing else. Where has the
young fellow gone?”

“_I_ did not do any thing to him,” said Sara, turning her large eyes
full of mock reproach upon her father’s face. “You need not ask him from
me in that way. I suppose he has gone home–to his mother and his little
sisters,” she added, dropping her voice.

“And what do you know about his mother and his little sisters?” said Mr.
Brownlow, startled yet amused by her tone.

“Well, he told me he had such people belonging to him, papa,” said Sara;
“and he gave me a very grand description before that of what it is to be
poor. I want to know if he is very poor? and could I send any thing to
them, or do any thing? or are they too grand for that? or couldn’t you
raise his salary or something? You ought to do something, since he is a
favorite of your own.”

“Did he complain to you?” said Mr. Brownlow, in consternation; “and I
trust in goodness, Sara, you did not propose to do any thing for them as
you say?”

“No indeed; I had not the courage,” said Sara. “I never have sense
enough to do such things. Complain! oh, dear no; he did not complain.
But he was so much in earnest about it, you know, _apropos_ of that
silly speech I made at luncheon, that he made me quite uncomfortable. Is
he a–a gentleman, papa?”

“He is my clerk,” said Mr. Brownlow, shortly; and then the conversation
dropped. Sara was not a young woman to be stopped in this way in
ordinary cases, though she did stop this time, seeing her father fully
meant it; but all the same she did not stop thinking, which indeed, in
her case, was a thing very difficult to do.

Then Mr. Brownlow began to nerve himself for a great effort. It excited
him as nothing had excited him for many a long year. He drew his child’s
arm more closely through his own, and drew her nearer to him. They were
going slowly down the avenue, upon which the afternoon sunshine lay
warm, all marked and lined across by columns of trees, and the light
shadows of the half-developed foliage. “Do you know,” he said, “I have
been thinking a great deal lately about a thing you once said to me. I
don’t know whether you meant it–”

“I never say any thing I don’t mean,” said Sara, interrupting him; but
she too felt that something more than usual was coming, and did not
enlarge upon the subject. “What was it, papa?” she said, clinging still
closer to his arm.

“You refused Motherwell,” said Mr. Brownlow, “though he could have given
you an excellent position, and is, they tell me, a very honest fellow. I
told you to consider it, but you refused him, Sara.”

“Well, no,” said Sara, candidly; “refusing people is very clumsy sort of
work, unless you want to tell of it after, and that is mean. I did not
refuse him. I only contrived, you know, that he should not speak.”

“Well, I suppose that it comes to about the same thing,” said Mr.
Brownlow. “What I am going to say now is very serious. You once told me
you would marry the man I asked you to marry. Hush, my darling, don’t
speak yet. I dare say you never thought I would ask such a proof of
confidence from you; but there are strange turns in circumstances. I am
not going to be cruel, like a tyrannical father in a book; but if I were
to ask you to do such a great thing for me–to do it blindly without
asking questions, to try to love and to marry a man, not of your own
choice, but mine–Sara, would you do it? Don’t speak yet. I would not
bind you. At the last moment you should be free to withdraw from the
bargain–”

“Let me speak, papa!” cried Sara. “Do you mean to say that you _need_
this–that you really _want_ it? Is it something that can’t be done any
other way? first tell me that.”

“I don’t think it can be done any other way,” said Mr. Brownlow sadly,
with a sigh.

“Then of course I will do it,” said Sara. She turned to him as she
spoke, and fixed her eyes intently on his face. Her levity, her
lightness, her careless freedom were all gone. No doubt she had meant
the original promise, as she said, but she had made it with a certain
gay bravado, little dreaming of any thing to follow. Now she was
suddenly sobered and silenced. There was no mistaking the reality in Mr.
Brownlow’s face. Sara was not a careful, thoughtful woman; she was a
creature who leaped at conclusions, and would not linger over the most
solemn decision. And then she was not old enough to see both sides of a
question. She jumped at it, and gave her pledge, and fixed her fate more
quickly than another temperament would have chosen a pair of gloves. But
for all that she was very grave. She looked up in her father’s face,
questioning him with her eyes. She was ready to put her life in his
hands, to give him her future, her happiness, as if it had been a flower
for his coat. But yet she was sufficiently roused to see that this was
no laughing matter. “Of course I will do it,” she repeated without any
grandeur of expression; but she never looked so grave, or had been so
serious all her life.

As for her father, he looked at her with a gaze that seemed to devour
her. He wanted to see into her heart. He wanted to look through and
through those two blue spheres into the soul which was below, and he
could not do it. He was so intent upon this that he did not even
perceive at the first minute that she had consented. Then the words
caught his ear and went to his heart–“Of course I will do it.” When he
caught the meaning, strangely enough his object went altogether out of
his mind, and he thought of nothing but of the half pathetic,
unhesitating, magnificent generosity of his child. She had not asked a
question, why or wherefore, but had given herself up at once with a kind
of prodigal readiness. A sudden gush of tears, such as had not refreshed
them for years, came into Mr. Brownlow’s eyes. Not that they ran over,
or fell, or displayed themselves in any way, but they came up under the
bushy eyebrows like water under reeds, making a certain glimmer in the
shade. “My dear child!” he said, with a voice that had a jar in it such
as profound emotion gives; and he gathered up her two little hands into
his, and pressed them together, holding her fast to him. He was so
touched that his impulse was to give her back her word, not to take
advantage of it; to let every thing go to ruin if it would, and keep his
child safe. But was it not for herself? It was in the moment when this
painful sweetness was going to his very heart that he bent over her and
kissed her on the forehead. He could not say any thing, but there are
many occasions, besides those proper to lovers, when that which is
inexpressible may be put into a kiss. The touch of her father’s lips on
Sara’s forehead told her a hundred things; love, sorrow, pain, and a
certain poignant mixture of joy and humiliation. He could not have
uttered a word to save his life. She was willing to do it, with a lavish
youthful promptitude; and he, was he to accept the sacrifice? This was
what John Brownlow was thinking when he stooped over her and pressed his
lips on his child’s brow. She had taken from him the power of speech.

Such a supreme moment can not last. Sara, too, not knowing why, had felt
that _serrement du cœur_, and had been pierced by the same poignant
sweetness. But she knew little reason for it, and none in particular why
her father should be so moved, and her spirits came back to her long
before his did. She walked along by his side in silence, feeling by the
close pressure of her hands that he had not quite come to himself for
some time after _she_ had come back to herself. With every step she took
the impression glided off Sara’s mind; her natural light-heartedness
returned to her. Moreover, she was not to be compelled to marry that
very day, so there was no need for being miserable about it just yet at
least. She was about to speak half a dozen times before she really
ventured on utterance; and when at last she took her step out of the
solemnity and sublimity of the situation, this was how Sara plunged into
it, without any interval of repose.

“I beg your pardon, papa; I would not trouble you if I could help it.
But please, now it is all decided, will you just tell me–am I to marry
any body that turns up? or is there any one in particular? I beg your
pardon, but one likes to know.”

Mr. Brownlow was struck by this demand, as was to be expected. It
affected his nerves, though nobody had been aware that he had any
nerves. He gave an abrupt, short laugh, which was not very merry, and
clasped her hands tighter than ever in his.

“Sara,” he said, “this is not a joke. Do you know there is scarcely any
thing I would not have done rather than ask this of you? It is a very
serious matter to me.”

“I am sure I am treating it very seriously,” said Sara. “I don’t take it
for a joke; but you see, papa, there is a difference. What you care for
is that it should be settled. It is not you that have the marrying to
do; but for my part it is _that_ that is of the most importance. I
should rather like to know who it was, if it would be the same to you.”

Once more Mr. Brownlow pressed in his own the soft, slender hands he
held. “You shall know in time–you shall know in good time,” he said,
“if it is inevitable;” and he gave a sort of moan over her as a woman
might have done. His beautiful[B] child! who was fit for a prince’s
bride, if any prince were good enough. Perhaps even yet the necessity
might be escaped.

[B] The fact was, Sara was not beautiful. There was not the least
trace of perfection about her; but her father had prepossessions and
prejudices, such as parents are apt to have, unphilosophical as it may
be.

“But I should like to know now,” said Sara; and then she gave a little
start, and colored suddenly, and looked him quickly, keenly in the face.
“Papa!” she said;–“you don’t mean–do you mean–this Mr. Powys,
perhaps?”

Mr. Brownlow actually shrank from her eye. He grew pale, almost green;
faltered, dropped her hands–“My darling!” he said feebly. He had not
once dreamt of making any revelation on this subject. He had not even
intended to put it to her at all, had it not come to him, as it were, by
necessity; and consequently he was quite unprepared to defend himself.
As for Sara, she clung to him closer, and looked him still more keenly
in the eyes.

“Tell me,” she said; “I will keep my word all the same. It will make no
difference to me. Papa, tell me! it is better I should know at once.”

“You ought not to have asked me that question, Sara,” said Mr. Brownlow,
recovering himself; “if I ask such a sacrifice of you, you shall know
all about it in good time. I can’t tell; my own scheme does not look so
reasonable to me as it did–I may give it up altogether. But in the mean
time don’t ask me any more questions. And if you should repent, even at
the last moment–”

“But if it is necessary to you, papa?” said Sara, opening her eyes–“if
it has to be done, what does it matter whether I repent or not?”

“Nothing is necessary to me that would cost your happiness,” said Mr.
Brownlow. And then they went on again for some time in silence. As for
Sara, she had no inclination to have the magnificence of her sacrifice
thus interfered with. For the moment her feeling was that, on the whole,
it would even be better that the marriage to which she devoted herself
should be an unhappy and unfit one. If it were happy it would not be a
sacrifice; and to be able to repent at the last, like any commonplace
young woman following her own inclinations, was not at all according to
Sara’s estimation of the contract. She went on by her father’s side,
thinking of that and of some other things in silence. Her thoughts were
of a very different tenor from his. She was not taking the matter
tragically as he supposed–no blank veil had been thrown over Sara’s
future by this intimation, though Mr. Brownlow, walking absorbed by her
side, was inclined to think so. On the contrary, her imagination had
begun to play with the idea lightly, as with a far-off possibility in
which there was some excitement, and even some amusement possible. While
her father relapsed into painful consideration of the whole subject,
Sara went on demurely by his side, not without the dawnings of a smile
about the corners of her mouth. There was nothing said between them for
a long time. It seemed to Mr. Brownlow as if the conversation had broken
off at such a point that it would be hard to recommence it. He seemed to
have committed and betrayed himself without doing any good whatever by
it; and he was wroth at his own weakness. Softening of the brain! there
might be something in what the Rector said. Perhaps it was disease, and
not the pressure of circumstances, which had made him take so seriously
the first note of alarm. Perhaps his whole scheme to secure Brownlows
and his fortune to Sara was premature, if not unnecessary. It was while
he was thus opening up anew the whole matter, that Sara at last ventured
to betray the tenor of her thoughts.

“Papa,” she said, “I asked you a question just now, and you
did not answer me; but answer me now, for I want to know.
This–this–gentleman–Mr. Powys. Is he–a gentleman, papa?”

“I told you he was my clerk, Sara,” said Mr. Brownlow, much annoyed by
the question.

“I know you did, but that is not quite enough. A man may be a gentleman
though he is a clerk. I want a plain answer,” said Sara, looking up
again into her father’s face.

And he was not without the common weakness of Englishmen for good
connections–very far from that. He would not have minded, to tell the
truth, giving a thousand pounds or so on the spot to any known family of
Powys which would have adopted the young Canadian into its bosom. “I
don’t know what Powys has to do with the matter,” he said; and then
unconsciously his tone changed. “It is a good name; and I think–I
imagine–he must belong somehow to the Lady Powys who once lived near
Masterton. His father was well born, but, I believe,” added Mr.
Brownlow, with a slight shiver, “that he married–beneath him. I think
so. I can’t say I am quite sure.”

“I should have thought you would have known every thing,” said Sara. “Of
course, papa, you know I am dying to ask you a hundred questions, but I
won’t, if you will only just tell me one thing. A girl may promise to
accept any one–whom–whom her people wish her to have; but is it as
certain,” said Sara, solemnly, “that he–will have me?”

Then Mr. Brownlow stood still for a moment, looking with wonder,
incomprehension, and a certain mixture of awe and dismay upon his child.
Sara, obeying his movement, stood still also with her eyes cast down,
and just showing a glimmer of malice under their lids, with the color
glowing softly in her cheeks, with the ghost of a smile coming and going
round her pretty mouth. “Oh child, child!” was all Mr. Brownlow said. He
was moved to smile in spite of himself, but he was more moved to wonder.
After all, she was making a joke of it–or was it really possible that,
in this careless smiling way, the young creature, who had thrust her
life into his hands like a flower, to be disposed of as he would, was
going forward to meet all unknown evils and dangers? The sober, steady,
calculating man could understand a great many things more abstruse, but
he could not understand this.

This, however, was about the end of their conference, for they had
reached old Betty’s cottage by this time, who came out, ungrateful old
woman as she was, to courtesy as humbly to Mr. Brownlow as if he had
been twenty old squires, and to ask after his health. And Sara had
occasion to speak to her friend Pamela on the other side of the way. It
was not consistent with the father’s dignity, of course, to go with her
to visit those humble neighbors, but he stood at the gate with old Betty
behind in a whirl of courtesies, watching while Sara’s tall, straight,
graceful figure went across the road, and Pamela with her little, fresh,
bright, dewy face, like an April morning, came running out to meet her.
“Poor little thing!” Mr. Brownlow said to himself–though he could not
have explained why he was sorry for Pamela; and then he turned back
slowly and went home, crossing the long shadows of the trees. He was not
satisfied with himself or with his day’s work. He was like a doctor
accustomed to regard with a cool and impartial eye the diseases of
others, but much at a loss when he had his own personal pains in hand.
He was uneasy and ashamed when he was alone, and reminded himself that
he had managed very badly. What was he to do? Was he to act as a doctor
would, and put his domestic malady into the hands of a brother
practitioner? But this was a suggestion at which he shuddered. Was he to
take Jack into his counsel and get the aid of his judgment?–but Jack
was worse, a thousand times worse, than a stranger. He had all his life
been considered a very clever lawyer, and he knew it; he had got scores
of people out of scrapes, and, one way or other, half the county was
beholden to him; and he could do nothing but get himself deeper and
deeper into his own miserable scrape. Faint thoughts of making it into
“a case” and taking opinions on it–taking Wrinkell’s opinion, for
instance, quietly, his old friend who had a clear head and a great deal
of experience–came into his mind. He had made a muddle of it himself.
And then the Rector’s question recurred to him with still greater
force–could it be softening of the brain? Perhaps it would be best to
speak to the doctor first of all.

Meanwhile Sara had gone into Mrs. Swayne’s little dark parlor, out of
the sunshine, and had seated herself at Pamela’s post in the window,
very dreamy and full of thought. She did not even speak for a long time,
but let her little friend prattle to her. “I saw you and Mr. Brownlow
coming down the avenue,” said Pamela; “what a long time you were, and
how strange it looked! Sometimes you had a great deal to say, and then
for a long time you would walk on and on, and never look at each other.
Was he scolding you? Sometimes I thought he was.”

Sara made no answer to this question; she only uttered a long, somewhat
demonstrative sigh, and then went off upon a way of her own. “I wonder
how it would have felt to have had a mother?” she said, and sighed
again, to her companion’s great dismay.

“How it would have felt!” said Pamela; “that is just the one thing that
makes me feel I don’t envy you. You have quantities and quantities of
fine things, but I have mamma.”

“And I have papa,” said Sara, quickly, not disposed to be set at a
disadvantage; “that was not what I meant. Sometimes, though you may
think it very wicked, I feel as if I was rather glad; for, of course, if
mamma had been living it would have been very different for me; and then
sometimes I think I would give a great deal–Look here. I don’t like
talking of such things; but did you ever think what you would do if you
were married? Fanny Hardcastle likes talking of it. How do you think you
should feel? to the gentleman, you know?”

“Think,” said Pamela; “does one need to think about it? love him, to be
sure.” And this she said with a rising color, and with two rays of new
light waking up in her eyes.

“Ah, love him,” said Sara; “it is very easy to talk; but how are you to
love him? that does not come of itself just when it is told, you know;
at least I suppose it doesn’t–I am sure I never tried.”

“But if you did not love him, of course you would not marry him,” said
Pamela, getting confused.

“Yes–that is just one of the things it is so easy to say,” said Sara;
“and I suppose at your age you don’t know any better. Don’t you know
that people _have_ to marry, whether they like it or not? and when they
never, never would have thought of it themselves? I suppose,” said Sara,
in the strength of her superior knowledge, “that most of us are married
like that. Because it suits our people, or because– I don’t know
what–any thing but one’s own will.” And this little speech the young
martyr again rounded with a sigh.

“Are you going to be married?” said Pamela, drawing a footstool close to
her friend’s feet, and looking up with awe into her face. “I wish you
would tell me. Mamma has gone to Dewsbury, and she will not be back for
an hour. Oh, do tell me–I will never repeat it to any body. And, dear
Miss Brownlow, if you don’t love him–”

“Hush,” said Sara; “I never said any thing about a _him_. It is you who
are such a romantic little girl. What I was speaking of was one’s duty;
one has to do one’s duty, whether one likes it or not.”

This oracular speech was very disappointing to Pamela. She looked up
eagerly with her bright eyes, trying to make out the romance which she
had no doubt existed. “I can fancy,” she said, softly, “why you wanted
your mother;” and her little hand stole into Sara’s, which lay on her
knee. Sara did not resist the soft caress. She took the hand, and
pressed it close between her own, which were longer, and not so rounded
and childlike; and then, being a girl of uncertain disposition, she
laughed, to Pamela’s great surprise and dismay.

“I think, perhaps, I like to be my own mistress best,” she said; “if
mamma had lived she never would have let me do any thing I wanted to
do–and then most likely she would not have known what I meant. It is
Jack, you know, who is most like mamma.”

“But he is very nice,” said Pamela, quickly; and then she bent down her
head as quickly, feeling the hot crimson rushing to her face, though she
did not well know why. Sara took no notice of it–never observed it,
indeed–and kept smoothing down in her own her little neighbor’s soft
small hand.

“Oh yes,” she said, “and I am very fond of my brother; only he and I are
not alike, you know. I wonder who Jack will marry, if he ever marries;
but it is very fine to hear him talk of that–perhaps he never did to
you. He is so scornful of every body who falls in love, and calls them
asses, and all sorts of things. I should just like to see him fall in
love himself. If he were to make a very foolish marriage it would be
fun. They say those dreadfully wise people always do.”

“Do they?” said Pamela; and she bent down to look at the border of her
little black silk apron, and to set it to rights, very energetically,
with her unoccupied hand. But she did not ask any farther question; and
so the two girls sat together for a few minutes, hand clasped in hand,
the head of the one almost touching the other, yet each far afield in
her own thoughts; of which, to tell the truth, though she was so much
the elder and the wiser, Sara’s thoughts were the least painful, the
least heavy, of the two.

“You don’t give me any advice, Pamela,” she said at last. “Come up the
avenue with me at least. Papa has gone home, and it is quite dark here
out of the sun. Put on your hat and come with me. I like the light when
it slants so, and falls in long lines. I think you have a headache
to-day, and a walk will do you good.”

“Yes, I think I have a little headache,” said Pamela, softly; and she
put on her hat and followed her companion out. The sunshine had passed
beyond Betty’s cottage, and cut the avenue obliquely in two–the one end
all light, the other all gloom. The two young creatures ran lightly
across the shady end, Sara, as always, leading the way. Her mind, it is
true, was as full as it could be of her father’s communication, but the
burden sat lightly on her. Now and then a word or two would tingle, as
it were, in her ears; now and then it would occur to her that her fate
was sealed, as she said, and a sigh, half false half true, would come to
her lips, but in the mean time she was more amused by the novelty of the
position than discouraged by the approach of fate.

“What are you thinking of?” she said, when they came into the tender
light in the farther part of the avenue; for the two, by this time, had
slackened their pace, and drawn close together, as is the wont of girls,
though they did not speak.

“I was only looking at our shadows going before us,” said Pamela, and
this time the little girl echoed very softly Sara’s sigh.

“They are not at all beautiful to look at; they are shadows on stilts,”
said Sara; “you might think of something more interesting than that.”

“But I wish something did go before us like that to show the way,” said
Pamela. “I wish it was true about guardian angels–if we could only see
them, that is to say; and then it is so difficult to know–”

“What?” said Sara; “you are too young to want a guardian angel; you are
not much more than a little angel yourself. When one has begun to go
daily farther from the cast, one knows the good of being quite a child.”

“But I am not quite a child,” said Pamela, under her breath.

“Oh yes, you are. But look, here Jack must be coming; don’t you hear the
wheels? I did not know it was so late. Shall you mind going back alone,
for I must run and dress? And please come to me in the morning as soon
as ever they are gone, I have such heaps of things to say.”

Saying this, Sara ran off, flying along under the trees, she and her
shadow; and poor little Pamela, not so much distressed as perhaps she
ought to have been to be left alone, turned back toward the house. The
dog-cart was audible before it dashed through the gate, and Pamela’s
heart beat, keeping time with the ringing of the mare’s feet and the
sound of the wheels. But it stopped before Betty’s door, and some one
jumped down, and the mare and the dog-cart and the groom dashed past
Pamela in a kind of whirlwind. Mr. John had keen eyes, and saw something
before him in the avenue; and he was quick-witted, and timed his
inquiries after Betty in the most prudent way. Before Pamela, whose
heart beat louder than ever, was half way down the avenue, he had joined
her, evidently, whatever Betty or Mrs. Swayne might say to the contrary,
in the most purely accidental way.

“This is luck,” said Jack; “I have not seen you for two whole days,
except at the window, which doesn’t count. I don’t know how we managed
to endure the dullness before that window came to be inhabited. Come
this way a little, under the chestnuts–you have the sun in your eyes.”

“Oh, I don’t mind,” said Pamela, “and I must not wait; I am going home.”

“I suppose you have been walking with Sara, and she has left you to go
home alone,” said Jack; “it is like her. She never thinks of any thing.
But tell me what you have been doing these two frightfully long days?”

From which it will be seen that Mr. John, as well as his sister, had
made a little progress toward intimacy since he became first acquainted
with the lodgers at Mrs. Swayne’s.

“I don’t think they have been frightfully long days,” said Pamela,
making the least little timid response to his emphasis and to his
eyes–wrong, no doubt, but almost inevitable. “I have been doing nothing
more than usual; mamma has wanted me, that’s all.”

“Then it is too bad of mamma,” said Jack; “you know you ought to be out
every day. I must come and talk to her about it–air and exercise, you
know.”

“But you are not a doctor,” said Pamela, with a soft ring of
laughter–not that he was witty, but that the poor child was happy, and
showed it in spite of herself; for Mr. John had turned, and was walking
down the avenue, very slowly, pausing almost every minute, and not at
all like a man who was going home to dinner. He was still young. I
suppose that was why he preferred Pamela to the more momentous fact
which was in course of preparation at the great house.

“I am a little of every thing,” he said; “I should like to go out to
Australia, and get a farm, and keep sheep. Don’t you like the old
stories and the old pictures with the shepherdesses? If you had a little
hut all covered with flowers, and a crook with ribbons–”

“Oh, but I should not like to be a shepherdess,” cried Pamela, in haste.

“Shouldn’t you? Well, I did not mean that; but to go out into the bush,
or the backwoods, or whatever they call it, and do every thing and get
every thing for one’s self. Shouldn’t you like that? Better than all the
nonsense and all the ceremony here,” said Jack, bending down to see
under the shade of her hat, which as it happened was difficult enough.

“_We_ don’t have much ceremony,” said Pamela, “but if I was a lady like
your sister–”

“Like Sara!” said Jack, and he nodded his head with a little brotherly
contempt. “Don’t be any thing different from what you are, please. I
should like people to wear always the same dress, and keep exactly as
they were when–the first time, you know. I like you, for instance, in
your red cloak. I never see a red cloak without thinking of you. I hope
you will keep that one forever and ever,” said the philosophical youth.
As for Pamela, she could not but feel a little confused, wondering
whether this, or Sara’s description of her brother, was the reality. And
she should not have known what to answer but that the bell at the house
interfered in her behalf, and began to send forth its touching call–a
sound which could not be gainsayed.

“There is the bell,” she cried; “you will be too late for dinner. Oh,
please don’t come any farther. There is old Betty looking out.”

“Bother dinner,” said Mr. John, “and old Betty too,” he added, under his
breath. He had taken her hand, the same hand which Sara had been
holding, to bid her good-bye, no doubt in the ordinary way. At all
events, old Betty’s vicinity made the farewell all that politeness
required. But he did not leave her until he had opened the gate for her,
and watched her enter at her own door. “When my sister leaves Miss
Preston in the avenue,” he said, turning gravely to Betty, with that
severe propriety for which he was distinguished, “be sure you always see
her safely home; she is too young to walk about alone.” And with these
dignified words Mr. John walked on, having seen the last of her, leaving
Betty speechless with amazement. “As if I done it!” Betty said. And then
he went home to dinner. Thus both Mr. Brownlow’s children, though he did
not know it, had begun to make little speculations for themselves in
undiscovered ways.

Continue Reading

LUNCHEON

It was like a dream to the young Canadian when he followed the master of
the house into the dining-room;–not that _that_, or any other social
privilege, would have struck the youth with astonishment or exultation
as it would have done a young man from Masterton: but because he had
just behaved so ungratefully and ungraciously, and had no right to any
such recompense. He had heard enough in the office about Brownlows to
know that it was an unprecedented honor that was being paid him; but it
was the coals of fire thus heaped upon his head which he principally
felt. Sara was already at the head of the table in all that perfection
of dainty apparel which dazzles the eyes of people unused to it.
Naturally the stranger knew nothing about any one particular of her
dress, but he felt without knowing how, the difference between that
costly simplicity and all the finery of the women he was accustomed to
see. It was a different sphere and atmosphere altogether from any he had
ever entered; and the only advantage he had over any of his
fellow-clerks who might have been introduced in the same way was, that
he had mastered the first grand rule of good-breeding, and had forgotten
himself. He had no time to think how he ought to behave in his own
person. His mind was too much occupied by the novelty of the sphere into
which he was thus suddenly brought. Sara inclined her head graciously as
he was brought in, and was not surprised; but as for Mr. Hardcastle,
whose seat was just opposite that of young Powys, words could not
express his consternation. One of the clerks! Mr. Brownlow the solicitor
was not such a great man himself that he should feel justified in
introducing his clerks at his table; and after that, what next? A rapid
calculation passed through Mr. Hardcastle’s mind as he stared at the
new-comer. If this sort of thing was to go on, it would have to be
looked to. If Mr. Brownlow thought it right for Sara, he certainly
should not think it right for his Fanny. Jack Brownlow himself, with
Brownlows perhaps, and at least a large share of his father’s fortune,
was not to be despised; but the clerks! The Rector even felt himself
injured–though to be sure, young Powys or any other clerk could not
have dreamed of paying addresses to him. And it must be admitted that
the conversation was not lively at table. Mr. Brownlow was embarrassed
as knowing his own intentions, which, of course, nobody else did. Mr.
Hardcastle was astonished and partially affronted. And Powys kept
silence. Thus there was only Sara to keep up a little appearance of
animation at the table. It is at such moments that the true superiority
of womankind really shows itself. She was not embarrassed–the social
difference which, as she thought, existed between her and her father’s
clerk was so great and complete that Sara felt herself as fully at
liberty to be gracious to him, as if he had been his own mother or
sister. “If Mr. Powys walked all the way he must want his luncheon,
papa,” she said. “Don’t you think it is a pretty road? Of course it is
not grand like your scenery in Canada. We don’t have any Niagaras in
England; but it is pleasant, don’t you think?”

“It is very pleasant,” said young Powys; “but there are more things in
Canada than Niagara.”

“I suppose so,” said Sara, who was rather of opinion that he ought to
have been much flattered by her allusion to Canada; “and there are
prettier places in England than Dewsbury–but still people who belong to
it are fond of it all the same. Mr. Hardcastle, this is the dish you are
so fond of–are you ill, like papa, that you don’t eat to-day?”

“Not ill, my dear,” said the Rector, with meaning–“only like your papa,
a little out of sorts.”

“I don’t know why people should be out of sorts who have every thing
they can possibly want,” said Sara. “I think it is wicked both of papa
and you. If you were poor men in the village, with not enough for your
children to eat, you would know better than to be out of sorts. I am
sure it would do us all a great deal of good if we were suddenly
ruined,” the young woman continued, looking her father, as it happened,
full in the face. Of course she did not mean any thing. It came into her
head all at once to say this, and she said it; but equally of course it
fell with a very different significance on her father’s ears. He changed
color in spite of himself–he dropped on his plate a morsel he was
carrying to his mouth. A sick sensation came over him. Sara did not know
very much about the foundation of his fortune, but still she knew
something; and she was just as likely as not to let fall some word which
would throw final illumination upon the mind of the young stranger. Mr.
Brownlow smiled a sickly sort of smile at her from the other end of the
table.

“Don’t use such strong language,” he said. “Being ruined means with Sara
going to live in a cottage covered with roses, and taking care of one’s
aged father; but, my darling, your father is not yet old enough to give
in to being ruined, even should such a chance happen to us. So you must
make up your mind to do without the cottage. The roses you can have, as
many as you like.”

“Sara means by ruin, that is to say,” said the Rector, “something rather
better than the best that I have been able to struggle into, and nothing
to do for it. I should accept her ruin with all my heart.”

“You are laughing at me,” said Sara, “both of you. Fanny would know if
she were here. You understand, don’t you, Mr. Powys? What do I care for
cottages or roses? but if one were suddenly brought face to face with
the realities of life–”

“You have got that out of a book, Sara,” said the Rector.

“And if I have, Mr. Hardcastle?” said Sara. “I hope some books are true.
I know what I mean, whether you know it or not. And so does Mr. Powys,”
she added, suddenly meeting the stranger’s eye.

This appeal was unlucky, for it neutralized the amusement of the two
elder gentlemen, and brought them back to their starting-point. It was a
mistake in every way, for Powys, though he was looking on with interest
and wonder, did not understand what Sara meant. He looked at her when
she spoke, and reddened, and faltered something, and then betook himself
to his plate with great assiduity, to hide his perplexity. He had never
known any thing but the realities of life. He had known them in their
most primitive shape, and he was beginning to become acquainted with
them still more bitterly in the shape they take in the midst of
civilization, when poverty has to contend with more than the primitive
necessities. And to think of this dainty creature, whose very air that
she breathed seemed different from that of his world, desiring to be
brought face to face with such realities! He had been looking at her
with great reverence, but now there mingled with his reverence just that
shade of conscious superiority which a man likes to feel. He was not
good, sweet, delightsome, celestial, as she was, but he knew
better–precious distinction between the woman and the man.

But Sara, always thinking of him as so different from herself that she
could use freedom with him, was not satisfied. “You understand me?” she
said, repeating her appeal.

“No,” said young Powys; “at least if it is real poverty she speaks of, I
don’t think Miss Brownlow can know what it means.” He turned to her
father as he spoke with the instinct of natural good-breeding. And
thereupon there occurred a curious change. The two gentlemen began to
approve of the stranger. Sara, who up to this moment had been so
gracious, approved of him no more.

“You are quite right,” said the Rector; “what Miss Brownlow is thinking
of is an imaginary poverty which exists no longer–if it ever existed.
If your father had ever been a poor curate, my dear Sara, like myself,
for instance–”

“Oh, if you are all going to turn against me–” said Sara, with a little
shrug of her shoulders. And she turned away as much as she could do it
without rudeness from the side of the table at which young Powys sat,
and began in revenge to talk society. “So Fanny is at Ridley,” she said;
“what does she mean by always being at Ridley? The Keppels are very
well, but they are not so charming as that comes to. Is there any one
nice staying there just now?”

“Perhaps you and I should not agree about niceness,” said the Rector.
“There are several people down for Easter. There is Sir Joseph Scrape,
for instance, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer once, before you were
born. I am very fond of him, but you would prefer his grandson, Sara, if
he happened to have a grandson.”

“On the contrary, I like old gentlemen,” said Sara. “I never see any
thing else, for one thing. There is yourself, Mr. Hardcastle, and
papa–”

“Well, I suppose I am an old gentleman,” said the Rector, ruefully; “at
least to babies like you. That is how things go in this world–one
shifts the burden on to one’s neighbor. Probably Sir Joseph is of my
mind, and thinks somebody else old. And then, in revenge, we have
nothing to do but to call you young creatures babies, though you have
the world in your hands,” Mr. Hardcastle added, with a sigh; for he was
a vigorous man, and a widower, and had been already twice married, and
saw no reason why he should not take that step again. And it was hard
upon him to be called an old gentleman in this unabashed and open way.

“Well, they have the world before them,” said Mr. Brownlow; “but I am
not so sure that they have it in their hands.”

“We have nothing in our hands,” said Sara, indignantly–“even I, though
papa is awfully good to me. I don’t mean to speak slang, but he is
_awfully_ good, you know; and what does it matter? I daren’t go anywhere
by myself, or do any thing that every body else doesn’t do. And as for
Fanny, she would not so much as take a walk if she thought you did not
like it.”

“Fanny is a very good girl,” said Mr. Hardcastle, with a certain melting
in his voice.

“We are all very good girls,” said Sara; “but what is the use of it? We
have to do every thing we are told just the same; and have old Lady
Motherwell, for example, sitting upon one, whenever she has a chance.
And then you say we have the world in our hands! If you were to let us
do a little as we pleased, and be happy our own way–”

“Then you have changed your mind,” said Mr. Brownlow. He was smiling,
but yet underneath that he was very serious, not able to refrain from
giving in his mind a thousand times more weight than they deserved to
his daughter’s light and random words, though he knew well enough they
were random and light. “I thought you were a dutiful child, who would do
what I asked you, even in the most important transaction of your
life–so you said once, at least.”

“Any thing you asked me, papa?” cried Sara, with a sudden change of
countenance. “Yes, to be sure! any thing! Not because I am dutiful, but
because–you are surely all very stupid to-day–because– Don’t you know
what I mean?”

“Yes,” said young Powys, who all this time had not spoken a word.
Perhaps in her impatience her eye had fallen upon him; perhaps it was
because he could not help it; but however that might be, the
monosyllable sent a little electric shock round the table. As for the
speaker himself, he had no sooner uttered it than he reddened like a
girl up to his very hair. Sara started a little, and became suddenly
silent, looking at the unexpected interpreter she had got; and as for
the Rector, he stared with the air of a man who asks himself, What next?

The sudden pause thus made in the conversation by his inadvertent reply,
confused the young man most of all. He felt it down to the very tips of
his fingers. It went tingling through him, as if he were the centre of
the electricity–as indeed he was. His first impulse, to get up and run
away, of course could not be yielded to; and as luncheon was over by
this time, and the servants gone, and the business of the meal over, it
was harder than ever to find any shelter to retire behind. Despair at
last, however, gave him a little courage. “I think, sir,” he said,
turning to Mr. Brownlow, “if you have no commands for me, that I had
better go. Mr. Wrinkell will want to know your opinion; unless,
indeed–”

“I am not well enough for work,” said Mr. Brownlow, “and you may as well
take a holiday as you are here. It will do you good. Go and look at the
horses, and take a stroll in the park. Of course you are fond of the
country. I don’t think there is much to see in the house–”

“If Mr. Powys would like to see the Claude, I will take him into the
drawing-room,” said Sara, with all her original benignity. Powys, to
tell the truth, did not very well know whether he was standing on his
head, or on the other and more ordinary extremity. He was confounded by
the grace showed to him. And being a backwoodsman by nature, and knowing
not much more than Masterton in the civilized world, the fact is that at
first, before he considered the matter, he had not an idea what a Claude
was. But that made no difference; he was ready to have gone to
Pandemonium if the same offer had been made to show the way. Not that he
had fallen in love at first sight with the young mistress of Brownlows.
He was too much dazzled, too much surprised for that; but he had
understood what she meant, and the finest little delicate thread of
_rapport_ had come into existence between them. As for Sara’s
condescension and benignity, he liked it. Her brother would have driven
him frantic with a tithe of the affability which Sara thought her duty
under the circumstances; but from her it was what it ought to be. The
young man did not think it was possible that such a privilege was to be
accorded to him, but he looked at her gratefully, thanking her with his
eyes. And Sara looked at him, and for an instant saw into those eyes,
and became suddenly sensible that it was not her father’s clerk, but a
man, a young man, to whom she had made this obliging offer. It was not
an idea that had entered her head before; he was a clerk whom Mr.
Brownlow chose to bring in to luncheon. He might have been a hundred for
any thing Sara cared. Now, all at once it dawned upon her that the clerk
was a man, and young, and also well-looking, a discovery which filled
her with a certain mixture of horror and amusement. “Well, how was I to
know?” she said to herself, although, to be sure, she had been sitting
at the same table with him for about an hour.

“Certainly, if Powys likes, let him see the Claude; but I should think
he would prefer the horses,” said Mr. Brownlow; and then Sara rose and
shook out her long skirt, and made a little sign to the stranger to
follow her. When the two young creatures disappeared, Mr. Hardcastle,
who had been staring at them, open-mouthed, turned round aghast and pale
with consternation upon his friend.

“Brownlow, are you mad?” he said; “good heavens! if it was any body but
you I should think it was softening of the brain.”

“It may be softening of the brain,” said Mr. Brownlow, cheerfully; “I
don’t know what the symptoms are. What’s wrong?”

“What’s wrong?” said the Rector–he had to stop and pour himself out a
glass of wine to collect his faculties–“why, it looks as if you meant
it. Send your clerk off with your child, a young fellow like that, as if
they were equals! Your _clerk_! I should not permit it with my Fanny, I
can tell you that.”

“Do you think Sara will run away with him?” said Mr. Brownlow, smiling.
“I feel sure I can trust _him_ not to do it. Why, what nonsense you are
speaking! If you have no more confidence in my little friend Fanny, I
have. _She_ would be in no danger from my clerk if she were to see him
every day, and show him all the pictures in the world.”

“Oh, Fanny,–that is not the question,” said the Rector, half suspicious
of the praise, and half pleased. “It was Sara we were talking of. I
don’t believe she would care if a man was a chimney-sweep. You have
inoculated her with your dreadful Radical ideas–”

“I? I am not a Radical,” said Mr. Brownlow; and he still smiled, though
he entered into no farther explanation. As for the Rector, he gulped
down his wine, and subsided into his neck-cloth, as he did when he was
disturbed in his mind. He had no parallel in his experience to this
amazing indiscretion. Fanny?–no; to be sure Fanny was a very good girl,
and knew her place better–she would not have offered to show the
Claude, though it had been the finest Claude in the world, even to a
curate, much less to a clerk. And then it seemed to Mr. Hardcastle that
Mr. Brownlow’s eyes looked very heavy, and that there were many tokens
half visible about him of softening of the brain.

Meanwhile Sara went sweeping along the great wide fresh airy passages,
and through the hall, and up the grand stair-case. Her dress was of
silk, and rustled–not a vulgar rustle, like that which announces some
women offensively wherever they go, but a soft satiny silvery ripple of
sound, which harmonized her going like a low accompaniment. Young Powys
had only seen her for the first time that day, and he was a reasonable
young fellow, and had not a thought of love or love-making in his mind.
Love! as if any thing so preposterous could ever arise between this
young princess and a poor lawyer’s clerk, maintaining his mother and his
little sisters on sixty pounds a year. But yet, he was a young man, and
she was a girl; and following after her as he did, it was not in human
nature not to behold and note the fair creature, with her glistening
robes and her shining hair. Now and then, when she passed through a
patch of sunshine from one of the windows, she seemed to light up all
over, and reflect it back again, and send forth soft rays of responsive
light. Though she was so slender and slight, her step was as steady and
free as his own, Canadian and backwoodsman as he was; and yet, as she
moved, her pretty head swayed by times like the head of a tall lily upon
the breeze, not with weakness, but with the flexile grace that belonged
to her nature. Powys saw all this, and it bewitched him, though she was
altogether out of his sphere. Something in the atmosphere about her went
to his head. It was the most delicate intoxication that ever man felt,
and yet it was intoxication in a way. He went up stairs after her,
feeling like a man in a dream, not knowing what fairy palace, what new
event she might be leading him to; but quite willing and ready, under
her guidance, to meet any destiny that might await him. The Claude was
so placed in the great drawing-room, that the actual landscape, so far
as the mild greenness of the park could be called landscape, met your
eye as you turned from the immortal landscape of the picture. Sara went
straight up to it without a pause, and showed her companion where he was
to stand. “This is the Claude,” she said, with a majestic little wave of
her hand by way of introduction. And the young man stood and looked at
the picture, with her dress almost touching him. If he did not know much
about the Claude at the commencement, he knew still less now. But he
looked into the clear depths of the picture with the most devout
attention. There was a ripple of water, and a straight line of light
gleaming down into it, penetrating the stream, and casting up all the
crisp cool glistening wavelets against its own glow. But as for the
young spectator, who was not a connoisseur, his head got confused
somehow between the sun on Claude’s ripples of water, and the sun as it
had fallen in the hall upon Sara’s hair and her dress.

“It is very lovely,” he said, rather more because he thought it was the
thing he ought to say than from any other cause.

“Yes,” said Sara; “we are very proud of our Claude; but I should like to
know why active men like papa should like those sort of pictures; he
prefers landscapes to every thing else–whereas they make me impatient.
I want something that lives and breathes. I like pictures of life–not
that one everlasting line of light fixed down upon the canvas with no
possibility of change.”

“I don’t know much about pictures,” said Powys–“but yet–don’t you
think it is less natural still to see one everlasting attitude–like
that, for instance, on the other wall? people don’t keep doing one
particular thing all their lives.”

“I should like to be a policeman and tell them to move on,” said Sara.
“That woman there, who is giving the bread to the beggar–she has been
the vexation of my life; why can’t she give it and have done with it? I
think I hate pictures–I don’t see what we want with them. I always want
to know what happened next.”

“But nothing need happen at all here,” said Powys, with unconscious
comprehension, turning to the Claude again. He was a little out of his
depth, and not used to this kind of talk, but more and more it was going
to his head, and that intoxication carried him on.

“That is the worst of all,” said Sara. “Why doesn’t there come a
storm?–what is the good of every thing always being the same? That was
what I meant down stairs when you pretended you did not understand.”

What was the poor young fellow to say? He was penetrated to his very
heart by the sweet poison of this unprecedented flattery–for it was
flattery, though Sara meant nothing more than the freemasonry of youth.
She had forgotten he was a clerk, standing there before the Claude; she
had even forgotten her own horror at the discovery that he was a man. He
was young, like herself, willing to follow her lead, and he
“understood;” which after all, though Sara was not particularly wise, is
the true test of social capabilities. He did know what she meant, though
in that one case he had not responded; and Sara, like every body else of
quick intelligence and rapid mind, met with a great many people who
stared and did not know what she meant. This was why she did the
stranger the honor of a half reproach;–it brought the poor youth’s
intoxication to its height.

“But I don’t think you understand,” he said, ruefully, apologetically,
pathetically, laying himself down at her feet as it were, to be trod
upon if she pleased. “You don’t know how hard it is to be poor; so long
as it was only one’s self, perhaps, or so long as it was mere hardship;
but there is worse than that; you have to feel yourself mean and
sordid–you have to do shabby things. You have to put yourself under
galling obligations; but I ought not to speak to you like this–that is
what it really is to be poor.”

Sara stood and looked at him, opening her eyes wider and wider. This was
not in the least like the cottage with the roses, but she had forgotten
all about that; what she was thinking of now was whether he was
referring to his own case–whether his life was like that–whether her
father could not do something for him; but for the natural grace of
sympathy which restrained her, she would have said so right out; but in
her simplicity she said something very near as bad. “Mr. Powys,” she
said, quite earnestly, “do you live in Masterton all alone?”

Then he woke up and came to himself. It was like falling from a great
height, and finding one’s feet, in a very confused, sheepish sort of
way, on the common ground. And the thought crossed his mind, also, that
she might think he was referring to himself, and made him still more
sheepish and confused. But yet, now that he was roused, he was able to
answer for himself. “No, Miss Brownlow,” he said; “my mother and my
little sisters are with me. I don’t live alone.”

“Oh, I beg your pardon,” said Sara, whose turn it now was to blush. “I
hope you like Masterton?” This very faltering and uncomfortable question
was the end of the interview; for it was very clear no answer was
required. And then she showed him the way down stairs, and he went his
way by himself, retracing the very steps which he had taken when he was
following her. He felt, poor fellow, as if he had made a mistake
somehow, and done something wrong, and went out very rueful into the
park, as he would have gone to his desk, in strict obedience to his
employer’s commands.

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