A NEW CONSPIRATOR

“I don’t say as you’re to take my advice,” said Mrs. Swayne. “I’m not
one as puts myself forward to give advice where it ain’t wanted. Ask any
one as knows. You as is church folks, if I was you, I’d send for the
rector; or speak to your friends. There ain’t one living creature with a
morsel of sense as won’t say to you just what I’m saying now.”

“Oh please go away–please go away,” said Pamela, who was standing with
crimson cheeks between Mrs. Preston and her would-be counselor; “don’t
you see mamma is ill?”

“She’ll be a deal worse afore all’s done, if she don’t listen in time;
and you too, Miss Pamela, for all so angry as you are,” said Mrs.
Swayne. “It ain’t nothing to me. If you like it, it don’t do me no harm;
contrairaways, it’s my interest to keep you quiet here, for you’re good
lodgers–I don’t deny it–and ain’t folks as give trouble. But I was
once a pretty lass myself,” she added, with a sigh; “and I knows what it
is.”

Pamela turned with unfeigned amazement and gazed upon the big figure
that stood in the door-way. Once a pretty lass herself! Was this what
pretty lasses came to? Mrs. Swayne, however, did not pause to inquire
what were the thoughts that were passing through the girl’s mind; she
took a step or two farther into the room, nearer the sofa on which Mrs.
Preston lay. She was possessed with that missionary zeal for other
people’s service, that determination to do as much as lay in her power
to keep her neighbors from having their own way, or to make them very
uncomfortable in the enjoyment of the luxury, which is so common a
development of virtue. Her conscience was weighted with her
responsibility: when she had warned them what they were coming to, then
at least she would have delivered her own soul.

“I don’t want to make myself disagreeable,” said Mrs. Swayne; “it ain’t
my way; but, Mrs. Preston, if you go on having folks about, it’s right
you should hear what them as knows thinks of it. I ain’t a-blaming you.
You’ve lived in foreign parts, and you’re that silly about your child
that you can’t a-bear to cross her. I’m one as can make allowance for
that. But I just ask you what can the likes of that young fellow want
here? He don’t come for no good. Poor folks has a deal of things to put
up with in this world, and women folks most of all. I don’t make no
doubt Miss Pamela is pleased to have a gentleman a-dancing after her. I
don’t know one on us as wouldn’t be pleased; but them as has respect
for their character and for their peace o’ mind–”

“Mrs. Swayne, you must not speak like this to me,” said Mrs. Preston,
feebly, from the sofa. “I have a bad headache, and I can’t argue with
you; but you may be sure, though I don’t say much, I know how to take
care of my own child. No, Pamela dear, don’t cry; and you’ll please not
to say another word to me on this subject–not another word, or I shall
have to go away.”

“To go away!” said Mrs. Swayne, crimson with indignation. But this
sudden impulse of self-defense in so mild a creature struck her dumb.
“Go away!–and welcome to!” she added; but her consternation was such
that she could say no more. She stood in the middle of the little dark
parlor, in a partial trance of astonishment. Public opinion itself had
been defied in her person. “When it comes to what it’s sure to come to,
then you’ll remember as I warned you,” she said, and rushed forth from
the room, closing the door with a clang which made poor Mrs. Preston
jump on her sofa. Her visit left a sense of trouble and dismay on both
their minds, for they were not superior women, nor sufficiently
strong-minded to laugh at such a monitor. Pamela threw herself down on
her knees by her mother’s side and cried–not because of Mrs. Swayne,
but because the fright and the novelty overwhelmed her, not to speak of
the lively anger and disgust and impatience of her youth.

“Oh, mamma, if we had only some friends!” said Pamela; “everybody except
us seems to have friends. Had I never any uncles nor any thing? It is
hard to be left just you and me in the world.”

“You had brothers once,” said Mrs. Preston, with a sigh. Then there was
a pause, for poor Pamela knew and could not help knowing that her
brothers, had they been living, would not have improved her position
now. She kept kneeling by her mother’s side, but though there was no
change in her position, her heart went away from her involuntarily–went
away to think that the time perhaps had come when she would never more
want a friend–when somebody would always be at hand to advise her what
to do, and when no such complications could arise. She kept the gravity,
even sadness of her aspect, with the innocent hypocrisy which is
possible at her age; but her little heart went out like a bird into the
sunny world outside. A passing tremor might cross her, ghosts might
glide for a moment across the way, but it was only for a moment, and she
knew they were only ghosts. Her mother was in a very different case.
Mrs. Preston had a headache, partly because of the shock of last night,
partly because a headache was to her, as to so many women, a kind of
little feminine chapel, into which she could retire to gain time when
she had any thing on her mind. The course of individual history stops
when those headaches come on, and the subject of them has a blessed
moment to think. Nothing could be done, nothing could be said, till Mrs.
Preston’s head was better. It was but a small matter had it been
searched to its depths, but it was enough to arrest the wheels of fate.

“Pamela,” she said, after a while, “we must be doubly wise because we
have no friends. I can’t ask any body’s advice, as Mrs. Swayne told me
to do. I am not going to open up our private affairs to strangers: but
we must be wise. I think we must go away.”

“Go away!” said Pamela, looking up with a face of despair–“away! Mamma,
you don’t think of–of–_him_ as she does? _You_ know what he is. Go
away! and perhaps never, never see him again. Oh, mamma!”

“I did not mean that,” said Mrs. Preston; “but we can’t stop here, and
live at his father’s very door, and have him coming under their eyes to
vex them. No, my darling; that would be cruel, and it would not be
wise.”

“Do you think they will mind so very much?” said Pamela, looking
wistfully in her mother’s face. “What should I do if they hated me? Miss
Brownlow, you know–Sara–she always wanted me to call her Sara–she
would never turn against me. I know her too well for that.”

“She has not been here for a long time,” said Mrs. Preston; “you have
not noticed it, but I have, Pamela. She has never come since that day
her father spoke to you. There is a great difference, my darling,
between the sister’s little friend and the brother’s betrothed.”

“Mamma, you seem to know all about those wretched things,” cried Pamela,
impulsively. “Why did you never tell me before? I never, never would
have spoken to him–if I had known.”

“How was _I_ to know, Pamela?” said Mrs. Preston. “It appears you did
not know yourselves. And then, when you told me what Mr. Brownlow said,
I thought I might find you a friend. I think yet, if I could but see
him; but when I spoke last night of seeing Mr. Brownlow, _he_ would not
hear of it. It is very hard to know what to do.”

Then there ensued another pause–a long pause, during which the mother,
engaged with many thoughts, did not look at her child. Pamela, too, was
thinking; she had taken her mother’s long thin hand into her own, and
was smoothing it softly with her soft fingers; her head was bent over
it, her eyes cast down; now and then a sudden heaving, as of a sob about
to come, moved her pretty shoulders. And her voice was very tuneless and
rigid when she spoke. “Mamma,” she said, “speak to me honestly, once for
all. Ought I to give it all up? I don’t mean to say it would be easy. I
never knew a–a–any one before–never any body was like _that_ to me.
You don’t know–oh, you don’t know how he can talk, mamma. And then it
was not like any thing new–it felt natural, as if we had always
belonged to each other. I know it’s no use talking. Tell me, mamma, once
for all, would it really be better for him and–every body, if I were to
give him quite up?”

Pamela held herself upright and rigid as she asked the question. She
held her mother’s hand fast, and kept stroking it in an intermittent
way. When she had finished she gave her an appealing look–a look which
did not ask advice. It was not advice she wanted, poor child: she wanted
to be told to do what she longed to do–to be assured that that was the
best; therefore she looked not like a creature wavering between two
opinions, but like a culprit at the bar, awaiting her sentence. As for
Mrs. Preston, she only shook her head.

“It would not do any good,” she said. “You might give him up over and
over, but you would never get him to give you up, Pamela. He is that
sort of a young man; he would not have taken a refusal from me. It would
be of no use, my dear.”

“Are you sure?–are you quite sure?” cried Pamela, throwing her arms
round her mother’s neck, and giving her a shower of kisses. “Oh you
dear, dear mamma. Are you sure, you are quite sure?”

“You are kissing me for his sake,” said Mrs. Preston, with a little
pang; and then she smiled at herself. “I never was jealous before,” she
said. “I don’t mean to be jealous. No, he will never give in, Pamela; we
shall have to make the best of it; and perhaps,” she continued, after a
pause, “perhaps this was the friend I was always praying for to take
care of my child before I die.”

“Oh, mamma,” said Pamela, “how can you talk of dying at such a time as
this? when, perhaps, we’re going to have–every thing we want in the
world; when, perhaps, we are going to be–as happy as the day is long!”
she said, once more kissing the worn old face which lay turned toward
her, in a kind of sweet enthusiasm. The one looked so young and the
other so old; the one so sure of life and happiness, the other so nearly
done with both. Mrs. Preston took the kiss and the clasp, and smiled at
her radiant child; and then she closed her eyes, and retreated into her
headache. _She_ was not going to have every thing she wanted in the
world, or to be as happy as the day was long; so she retreated and took
to her handy domestic little malady. The child could not conceive that
there were still a thousand things to be thought over, and difficulties
without number to be overcome.

As for Pamela, she sprang to her feet lightly, and went off to make the
precious cup of tea which is good for every feminine trouble. As she
went she fell into song, not knowing it. She was as near dancing as
decorum would permit. She went into the kitchen where Mr. Swayne was,
and cheered him up more effectually than if he had been well for a week.
She made him laugh, though he was in low spirits. She promised him that
he should be quite well in three months. “Ready to dance if there was
any thing to dance at,” was what Pamela said.

“At your wedding, Miss Pamela,” said poor Swayne, with his shrill little
chuckle. And Pamela too laughed with a laugh that was like a song. She
stood by the fire while the kettle boiled, with the fire-light
glimmering in her pretty eyes, and reddening her white forehead under
the rings of her hair. Should she have to boil the kettle, to spread the
homely table for _him_? or would he take her to Brownlows, or some other
such house, and make her a great little lady like Sara? On the whole
Pamela thought she would like the first best. She made the tea before
the bright fire in such perfection as it never was made at Brownlows,
and poured it out hot and fragrant, like one who knew what she was
about. But the tea was not so great a cordial as the sight of her own
face. She had come clear out of all her perplexities. There was no
longer even a call upon that anxious faculty for self-sacrifice which
belongs to youth. In short, self-sacrifice would do no good–the idol
would simply decline to receive the costly offering. It was in his
hands, and nothing that she could do would make any difference. Perhaps,
if Pamela had been a self-asserting young woman, her pride would have
suffered from this thought; but she was only a little girl of seventeen,
and it made her as light as a bird. No dreadful responsibility rested on
her soft shoulders–no awful question of what was best remained for her
to consider. What use could there be in giving up when he would not be
given up? What end would it serve to refuse a man who would not take a
refusal? She had made her tragic little effort in all sincerity, and it
had come to the sweetest and most complete failure. And now her part had
been done, and no farther perplexity could overwhelm her. So she
thought, flitting out and in upon a hundred errands, and thinking
tenderly in her heart that her mother’s headache and serious looks and
grave way of looking at every thing was not so much because there was
any thing serious in the emergency, as because the dear mother was
old–a fault of nature, not of circumstances, to be mended by love and
smiles, and all manner of tender services on the part of the happy
creature who was young.

When Mrs. Swayne left the parlor in the manner which we have already
related, she rushed out, partly to be relieved of her wrath, partly to
pour her prophecies of evil into the ears of the other Cassandra on the
other side of the road, old Betty of the Gates. The old woman was
sitting before her fire when her neighbor went in upon her. To be sure
it was summer, but Betty’s fire was eternal, and burned without
intermission on the sacred hearth. She was mending one of her gowns, and
had a whole bundle of bits of colored print–“patches,” for which some
of the little girls in Miss Brownlow’s school would have given their
ears–spread out upon the table before her. Bits of all Betty’s old
gowns were there. It was a parti-colored historical record of her life,
from the gay calicoes of her youth down to the sober browns and olives
of declining years. With such a gay centre the little room looked very
bright. There was a geranium in the window, ruby and emerald. There were
all manner of pretty confused cross-lights from the open door and the
latticed window in the other corner and the bright fire; and the little
old face in its white cap was as brown and as red as a winter apple.
Mrs. Swayne was a different sort of person. She came in, filling the
room with shadows, and put herself away in a big elbow-chair, with blue
and white cushions, which was Betty’s winter throne, but now stood
pushed into a corner out of reach of the fire. She uttered a sigh which
blew away some of the patches on the table, and swayed the ruby blossoms
of the big geranium. “Well,” she said, “I’ve done my best–I can say
I’ve done my best. If the worst comes to the worst, there’s none as can
blame me.”

“What is it?–what is it, Mrs. Swayne?” said Betty, eagerly, dropping
her work, “though I’ve something as tells me it’s about that poor child
and our Mr. John.”

“I wash my hands of them,” said the visitor, doing so in a moist and
demonstrative way. “I’ve done all as an honest woman can do. Speak o’
mothers!–mothers is a pack o’ fools. I’d think o’ that child’s
interest if it was me. I’d think what was best for her character, and
for keeping her out o’ mischief. As for cryin’, and that sort, they all
cry–it don’t do them no harm. If you or me had set our hearts on
marryin’ the first gentleman as ever was civil, what would ha’ become of
us? Oh the fools as some folks is! It’s enough to send a woman with a
bit of sense out o’ her mind.”

“Marryin’?” said Betty, with a little shriek; “you don’t mean to say as
they’ve gone as far as that.”

“If they don’t go farther afore all’s done, it’ll be a wonder to me,”
said Mrs. Swayne; “things is always like that. I don’t mean to take no
particular credit to myself; but if she had been mine, I’d have done my
best for her–that’s one thing as I can say. She’d not have got into no
trouble if she had been mine. I’d have watched her night and day. _I_
know what the gentlemen is. But that’s allays the way with Providence. A
woman like me as has a bit of experience has none to be the better of
it; and the likes of an old stupid as don’t know her right hand from her
left, it’s her as has the children. I’d have settled all that different
if it had been me. Last night as ever was, I found the two in the open
road–in the road, I give you my word. It’s over all the parish by this,
as sure as sure; and after that what does my gentleman do but come to
the house as bold as brass. It turns a body sick–that’s what it does;
but you might as well preach to a stone wall as make ’em hear reason;
and that’s what you call a mother! much a poor girl’s the better of a
mother like that.”

“All mothers is not the same,” said Betty, who held that rank herself.
“For one as don’t know her duty, there’s dozens and dozens–”

“Don’t speak to me,” said Mrs. Swayne, “I know ’em–as stuck up as if it
was any virtue in them, and a shuttin’ their ears to every one as gives
them good advice. Oh, if that girl was but mine! I’d keep her as snug as
if she was in a box, I would. Ne’er a gentleman should get a chance of
so much as a look at her. It’s ten times worse when a girl is pretty;
but, thank heaven, I know what the gentlemen is.”

“But if he comed to the house, he must have made some excuse,” said
Betty. “_I_ see him. He come by himself, as if it was to see your good
gentleman, Mrs. Swayne. Knowing as Miss Pamela was out, I don’t deny as
that was my thought. And he must have made some excuse.”

“Oh, they find excuses ready enough–don’t you be afeard,” said Mrs.
Swayne; “they’re plenty ready with their tongues, and don’t stick at
what they promise neither. It’s all as innocent as innocent if you was
to believe them; and them as believes comes to their ruin. I tell you
it’s their ruin–that and no less; but I may speak till I’m hoarse,”
said Cassandra, with melancholy emphasis–“nobody pays no attention to
me.”

“You must have knowed a deal of them to be so earnest,” said old Betty,
with the deepest interest in her eyes.

“I was a pretty lass mysel’,” said Mrs. Swayne; and then she paused;
“but you’re not to think as I ever give in to them. I wasn’t that sort;
and I had folks as looked after me. I don’t say as Swayne is much to
look at, after all as was in my power; but if Miss Pamela don’t mind,
she’ll be real thankful afore she’s half my age to take up with a deal
worse than Swayne; and that’s my last word, if I was never to draw a
breath more.”

“Husht!” said Betty. “Don’t take on like that. There’s somebody
a-coming. Husht! It’s just like as if it was a child of your own.”

“And so I feel,” said Mrs. Swayne; “worse luck for her, poor lass. If
she was mine–”

“Husht!” said Betty again; and then the approaching steps which they had
heard for the last minute reached the threshold, and a woman presented
herself at the door. She was not a woman that either of them knew. She
was old, very tall, very thin, and very dusty with walking. “I’m most
dead with tiredness. May I come in and rest a bit?” she said. She had a
pair of keen black eyes, which gleamed out below her poke bonnet, and
took in every thing, and did not look excessively tired; but her scanty
black gown was white with dust. Old Betty, for her own part, did not
admire the stranger’s looks, but she consented to let her come in,
“manners” forbidding any inhospitality, and placed her a chair as near
as possible to the door.

“I come like a stranger,” said the woman, “but I’m not to call a
stranger neither. I’m Nancy as lives with old Mrs. Fennell, them young
folks’ grandmamma. I had summat to do nigh here, and I thought as I’d
like to see the place. It’s a fine place for one as was nothing but an
attorney once. I allays wonder if they’re good folks to live under, such
folks as these.”

“So you’re Nancy!” said the old woman of the lodge. “I’ve heard tell of
you. I heard of you along of Stevens as you recommended here. I haven’t
got nothing to say against the masters; they’re well and well enough;
Miss Sara, she’s hasty, but she’s a good heart.”

“She don’t show it to her own flesh and blood,” said Nancy,
significantly. “Is this lady one as lives about here?”

Then it was explained to the stranger who Mrs. Swayne was. “Mr. Swayne
built them cottages,” said Betty; “they’re his own, and as nice a
well-furnished house and as comfortable; and his good lady ain’t one of
them that wastes or wants. She has a lodger in the front parlor, and
keeps ’em as nice as it’s a picture to see, and as respected in the
whole parish–”

“Don’t you go on a-praising me before my face,” said Mrs. Swayne,
modestly; “we’re folks as are neither rich nor poor, and can give our
neighbors a hand by times and times. You’re a stranger, as is well seen,
or you wouldn’t be cur’ous about Swayne and me.”

“I’m a stranger sure enough,” said Nancy. “We’re poor relations, that’s
what we are; and the likes of us is not wanted here. If I was them I’d
take more notice o’ my own flesh and blood, and one as can serve them
yet, like _she_ can. It ain’t what you call a desirable place,” said
Nancy; “she’s awful aggravating sometimes, like the most of old women;
but all the same they’re her children’s children, and I’d allays let
that count if it was me.”

“That’s old Mrs. Fennell?” said Betty; “she never was here as I can
think on but once. Miss Sara isn’t one that can stand being interfered
with; but they sends her an immensity of game, and vegetables, and
flowers, and such things, and I’ve always heard as the master gives her
an allowance. I don’t see as she’s any reason to complain.”

“A woman as knows as much as she does,” said Nancy, solemnly, “she ought
to be better looked to;” and then she changed her tone. “I’ve walked all
this long way, and I have got to get back again, and she’ll be as cross
as cross if I’m long. And I don’t suppose there’s no omnibus or nothing
going my way. If it was but a cart–”

“There’s a carrier’s cart,” said Betty; “but Mrs. Swayne could tell you
most about that. Her two lodgers come in it, and Mrs. Preston, that time
she had something to do in Masterton–”

“Who is Mrs. Preston?” said Nancy quickly. “I’ve heard o’ that name. And
I’ve heard in Masterton of some one as came in the carrier’s cart. If I
might make so bold, who is she? Is she your lodger? I once knew some
folks of that name in my young days, and I’d like to hear.”

“Oh yes, she’s my lodger,” said Mrs. Swayne, “and a terrible trouble to
me. I’d just been a-grumbling to Betty when you came in. She and that
poor thing Pamela, they lay on my mind so heavy, I don’t know what to
do. You might give old Mrs. Fennell a hint to speak to Mr. John. He’s
a-running after that girl, he is, till it turns one sick; and a poor
silly woman of a mother as won’t see no harm in it. If the old lady was
to hear in a sort of a side way like, she might give Mr. John a talking
to. Not as I have much confidence in his mending. Gentlemen never does.”

“Oh,” said Nancy, with a strange gleam of her dark eyes, “so she’s got a
daughter! and it was her as came into Masterton in the carrier’s cart? I
just wanted to know. May be you could tell me what kind of a looking
woman she was. There was one as I knew once in my young days–”

“She ain’t unlike yourself,” said Mrs. Swayne, with greater brevity than
usual; and she turned and began to investigate Nancy with a closeness
for which she was not prepared. Another gleam shot from the stranger’s
black eyes as she listened. It even brought a tinge of color to her gray
cheek, and though she restrained herself with the utmost care, there was
unquestionably a certain excitement in her. Mrs. Swayne’s eyes were
keen, but they were not used to read mysteries. A certain sense of
something to find out oppressed her senses; but, notwithstanding her
curiosity, she had not an idea what secret there could be.

“If it’s the same person, it’s years and years since I saw her last,”
said Nancy; “and so she’s got a daughter! I shouldn’t think it could be
a very young daughter if it’s hers; she should be as old as me. And it
was her as came in to Masterton in the carrier’s cart! Well, well! what
droll things does happen to be sure.”

“I don’t know what’s droll about that,” said Mrs. Swayne; “but I don’t
know nought about her. She’s always been quiet and genteel as a
lodger–always till this business came on about Mr. John. But I’d be
glad to know where her friends was, if she’s got any friends. She’s as
old as you, or older, and not to say any thing as is unpleasant–it’s an
awful thing to think of–what if folks should go and die in your house,
and you not know their friends?”

“If it’s that you’re thinking of, she’s got no friends,” said Nancy,
with a vehemence that seemed unnatural and uncalled-for to her
companions–“none as I know of nowheres–but may be me. And it isn’t
much as I could do. She’s a woman as has been awful plundered and
wronged in her time. Mr. John! oh, I’d just like to hear what it is
about Mr. John. If that was to come after all, I tell you it would call
down fire from heaven.”

“Goodness gracious me!” said Mrs. Swayne, “what does the woman mean?”
And Betty too uttered a quavering exclamation, and they both drew their
chairs closer to the separated seat, quite apart from the daïs of
intimacy and friendship, upon which the dusty stranger had been
permitted to rest.

Nancy, however, had recollected herself. “Mean?” she said, with a look
of innocence; “oh, I didn’t mean nothing; but that I’ve a kind of
spite–I don’t deny it–at them grand Brownlows, that don’t take no
notice to speak of their own flesh and blood. That’s all as I mean. I
ain’t got no time to-day, but if you’ll say as Nancy Christian sends her
compliments and wants badly to see Mrs. Preston, and is coming soon
again, I’ll be as obliged as ever I can be. If it’s her, she’ll think on
who Nancy Christian was; and if it ain’t her, it don’t make much
matter,” she continued, with a sigh. She said these last words very
slowly, looking at neither of her companions, fixing her eyes upon the
door of Swayne’s cottage, at which Pamela had appeared. The sun came in
at Betty’s door and dazzled the stranger’s eyes, and it was not easy for
her at first to see Pamela, who stood in the shade. The girl had looked
out for no particular reason, only because she was passing that way; and
as she stood giving a glance up and a glance down the road–a glance
which was not wistful, but full of a sweet confidence–Nancy kept
staring at her, blinking her eyes to escape the sunshine. “Is that the
girl?” she said, a little hoarsely. And then all the three looked out
and gazed at Pamela in her tender beauty. Pamela saw them also. It did
not occur to her whose the third head might be, nor did she care very
much. She felt sure they were discussing her, shaking their heads over
her imprudence; but Pamela at the moment was too happy to be angry. She
said, “Poor old things,” to herself. They were poor old things; they had
not the blood dancing in their veins as she had; they had not light
little feet that flew over the paths, nor light hearts that leaped in
their breasts, poor old souls. She waved her hand to them half kindly,
half saucily, and disappeared again like a living bit of sunshine into
the house which lay so obstinately in the shade. As for Nancy, she was
moved in some wonderful way by this sight. She trembled when the girl
made that half-mocking, half-sweet salutation; the tears came to her
eyes. “She could never have a child so young,” she muttered half to
herself, and then gazed and gazed as if she had seen a ghost. When
Pamela disappeared she rose up and shook the dust, not from her feet,
but from her skirts, outside old Betty’s door. “I’ve only a minute,”
said Nancy, “but if I could set eyes on the mother I could tell if it
was her I used to know.”

“I left her lyin’ down wi’ a bad headache,” said Mrs. Swayne. “If you
like you can go and take a look through the parlor window; or I’ll ask
if she’s better. Them sort of folks that have little to do gets
headaches terrible easy. Of an afternoon when their dinner’s over, what
has the likes of them to take up their time? They takes a sleep on my
sofa, or they takes a walk, and a headache comes natural-like when folks
has all that time on their hands. Come across and look in at the window.
It’s low, and if your eyes are good you can just see her where she
lays.”

Nancy followed her new companion across the road. As she went out of the
gates she gave a glance up through the avenue, and made as though she
would have shaken her fist at the great house. “If you but knew!” Nancy
said to herself. But they did not know, and the sunshine lay as
peacefully across the pretty stretch of road as if there had been no
dangers there. The old woman crossed over to Mrs. Swayne’s cottage, and
went into the little square of garden where Pamela sometimes watered the
flowers. Nancy stooped over the one monthly rose and plucked a bit of
the homely lads’-love in the corner which flourished best of all, and
then she drew very close to the window and looked in. It was an alarming
sight to the people within. Mrs. Preston had got a second cup of tea,
and raised herself up on her pillow to swallow it, when all at once this
gray visage, not unlike her own, surrounded with black much like her own
dress, looked in upon her, a stranger, and yet somehow wearing a
half-familiar aspect. As for Pamela, there was something awful to her in
the vision. She turned round to her mother in a fright to compare the
two faces. She was not consciously superstitious, but yet dim thoughts
of a wraith, a double, a solemn messenger of doom, were in her mind. She
had heard of such things. “Go and see who it is,” said Mrs. Preston; and
Pamela rushed out, not feeling sure that the strange apparition might
not have vanished. But it had not vanished. Nancy stood at the door, and
when she was looked into in the open day-light she was not so dreadfully
like Mrs. Preston’s wraith.

“Good-day, miss,” said Nancy; “I thought as may be I might have had a
few words with your mother. If she’s the person I take her for, I used
to know her long, long ago; and I’ve a deal that’s very serious to say.”

“You frightened us dreadfully looking in at the window,” said Pamela.
“And mamma has such a bad headache; she has been a good deal–worried.
Would you mind coming back another time?–or is it any thing I can say?”

“There’s something coming down the road,” said Nancy; “and I am tired
and I can’t walk back. If it’s the carrier I’ll have to go, miss. And I
can’t say the half nor the quarter to you. Is it the carrier? Then I’ll
have to go. Tell her it was one as knew her when we was both young–knew
her right well, and all her ways–knew her mother. And I’ve a deal to
say; and my name’s Nancy Christian, if she should ask. If she’s the
woman I take her for, she’ll know my name.”

“And you’ll come back?–will you be sure to come back?” asked Pamela,
carelessly, yet with a girl’s eagerness for every thing like change and
news. The cart had stopped by this time, and Mrs. Swayne had brought
forth a chair to aid the stranger in her ascent. The place was roused by
the event. Old Betty stood at her cottage, and Swayne had hobbled out
from the kitchen, and even Mrs. Preston, forgetting the headache, had
stolen to the window, and peeped out through the small Venetian blind
which covered the lower part of it to look at and wonder who the figure
belonged to which had so strange a likeness to herself. Amid all these
spectators Nancy mounted, slowly shaking out once more the dust from her
skirts.

“I’ll be late, and she’ll give me an awful talking to,” she said. “No; I
can’t stop to-day. But I’ll come again–oh yes, I’ll come again.” She
kept looking back as long as she was in sight, peeping round the hood of
the wagon, searching them through and through with her anxious gaze;
while all the bystanders looked on surprised. What had she to do with
them? And then her looks, and her dress, and her black eager eyes, were
so like Mrs. Preston’s. Her face bore a very doubtful, uncertain look as
she was thus borne solemnly away. “I couldn’t know her after such a long
time; and I don’t see as she could have had a child so young,” was what
Nancy was saying to herself, shaking her head, and then reassuring
herself. This visit made a sensation which almost diverted public
attention from Mr. John; and when Nancy’s message was repeated to Mrs.
Preston, it was received with an immediate recognition which increased
the excitement. “Nancy Christian!” Mrs. Preston repeated all the evening
long. She could think of nothing else. It made her head so much worse
that she had to go to bed, where Pamela watched her to the exclusion of
every other interest. This was Nancy’s first visit. She did not mean,
even had she had time, to proceed to any thing more important that day.

Continue Reading

ALL FOR LOVE

It was almost dark when Jack reached Swayne’s Cottages, and there was no
light in Mrs. Preston’s window to indicate her presence. The only bit of
illumination there was in the dim dewy twilight road, was a gleam from
old Betty’s perennial fire, which shone out as she opened the door to
watch the passage of the dog-cart just then returning from Ridley, where
it ought to have carried Mr. John to dinner. The dog-cart was just
returning home, in an innocent, unconscious way; but how much had
happened in the interval! the thought made Jack’s head whirl a little,
and made him half smile; only half smile–for such a momentous crisis is
not amusing. He had not had time to think whether or not he was
rapturously happy, as a young lover ought to be: on the whole, it was a
very serious business. There were a thousand things to think of, such as
take the laughter out of a man; yet he did smile as it occurred to him
in what an ordinary commonplace sort of way the dog-cart and the mare
and the groom had been jogging back along the dusty roads, while he had
been so weightily engaged; and how all those people had been calmly
dining at Ridley–were dining now, no doubt–and mentally criticising
the dishes, and making feeble dinner table-talk, while he had been
settling his fate; in less time than they could have got half through
their dinner–in less time than even the bay mare could devour the way
between the two houses! Jack felt slightly giddy as he thought of it,
and his face grew serious again under his smile. The cottage door stood
innocently open; there was nobody and nothing between him and his
business; he had not even to knock, to be opened to by a curious
indifferent servant, as would have been the case in another kind of
house. The little passage was quite dark, but there was another gleam of
fire-light from the kitchen, where Mr. Swayne sat patient with his
rheumatism, and even Mrs. Preston’s door was ajar. Out of the soft
darkness without, into the closer darkness within, Jack stepped with a
beating heart. This was not the pleasant part of it; this was not like
the sudden delight of meeting Pamela–the sudden passion of laying hold
on her and claiming her as his own. He stopped in the dark passage,
where he had scarcely room to turn, and drew breath a little. He felt
within himself that if Mrs. Preston in her black cap and her black gown
fell into his arms and saluted him as her son, that he would not be so
deeply gratified as perhaps he ought to have been. Pamela was one thing,
but her mother was quite another. If mothers, and fathers too for that
matter, could but be done away with when their daughters are old enough
to marry, what a great deal of trouble it would spare in this world! But
that was not to be thought of. He had come to do it, and it had to be
done. While he stood taking breath and collecting himself, Mr. Swayne
feeling that the step which had crossed his threshold was not his wife’s
step, called out to the intruder. “Who are you?” cried the master of the
house; “you wait till my missis comes and finds you there; she don’t
hold with no tramp; and I see her a-coming round the corner,” he
continued, in tones in which exultation had triumphed over fright. No
tramp could have been more moved by the words than was Jack. He resisted
the passing impulse he had to stride into the kitchen and strangle Mr.
Swayne in passing; and then, with one knock by way of preface, he went
in without further introduction into the parlor where Mrs. Preston was
alone.

It was almost quite dark–dark with that bewildering summer darkness
which is more confusing than positive night. Something got up hastily
from the sofa at the sight of him, and gave a little suppressed shriek
of alarm. “Don’t be alarmed–it is only I, Mrs. Preston,” said Jack. He
made a step forward and looked at her, as probably she too was looking
at him; but they could not see each other, and it was no comfort to
Pamela’s mother to be told by Jack Brownlow, that it was only I.

“Has any thing happened?” she cried; “what is it? what is it? oh my
child!–for God’s sake, whoever you are, tell me what it is.”

“There is nothing the matter with her,” said Jack, steadily. “I am John
Brownlow, and I have come to speak to you; that is what it is.”

“John Brownlow,” said Mrs. Preston, in consternation–and then her tone
changed. “I am sorry I did not know you,” she said; “but if you have any
business with me, sir, I can soon get a light.”

“Indeed I have the most serious business,” said Jack–it was in his mind
to say that he would prefer being without a light; but there would have
been something too familiar and undignified for the occasion in such a
speech as that.

“Wait a moment,” said Mrs. Preston, and she hastened out, leaving him in
the dark parlor by himself. Of course he knew it was only a pretext–he
knew as well as if she had told him that she had gone to establish a
watch for Pamela to prevent her from coming in while he was there; and
this time he laughed outright. She might have done it an hour ago, fast
enough; but now to keep Pamela from him was more than all the fathers
and mothers in the world could do. He laughed at the vain precaution. It
was not that he had lost all sense of prudence, or that he was not aware
how foolish a thing in many respects he was doing; but notwithstanding,
he laughed at the idea that any thing, stone walls and iron bars, or
admonitions, or parental orders, could keep her from him. It might be
very idiotic–and no doubt it was; but if any body dreamed for a moment
that he could be made to give her up! or that she could be wrested out
of his grasp now that he had possession of her–any deluded individual
who might entertain such a notion could certainly know nothing of Jack.

Mrs. Preston was absent for some minutes, and before she came back there
had been a soft rustle in the passage, a subdued sound of voices, in one
of which, rapidly suppressed and put a stop to, Jack could discern Mrs.
Swayne’s voluble tones. He smiled to himself in the darkness as he stood
and waited; he knew what was going on as well as if he had been outside
and had seen it all. Pamela was being smuggled into the house, being put
somewhere out of his way. Probably her mother was making an attempt to
conceal from her even the fact that he was there, and at this purely
futile attempt Jack again laughed in his heart; then in his impatience
he strode to the window, and looked out at the gates which were
indistinctly visible opposite, and the gleam of Betty’s fire, which was
now apparent only through her window. That was the way it would have
been natural for him to go, not this–there lay his home, wealthy,
luxurious, pleasant, with freedom in it, and every thing that ministered
most at once to his comfort and his ambition: and yet it was not there
he had gone, but into this shabby little dingy parlor, to put his life
and all his pleasure in life, and his prospects and every thing for
which he most cared, at the disposal, not of Pamela, but of her mother.
He felt that it was hard. As for her, the little darling! to have taken
her in his arms and carried her off and built a nest for her would not
have been hard–but that it should all rest upon the decision of her
mother! Jack felt at the moment that it was a hard thing that there
should be mothers standing thus in the young people’s way. It might be
very unamiable on his part, but that was unquestionably his feeling: and
indeed, for one second, so terrible did the prospect appear to him, that
the idea of taking offense and running away did once cross his mind. If
they chose to leave him alone like this, waiting, what could they
expect? He put his hand upon the handle of the door, and then withdrew
it as if it had burned him. A minute after Mrs. Preston came back. She
carried in her hand a candle, which threw a bright light upon her worn
face, with the black eyes, black hair, black cap and black dress close
round her throat which so much increased the gauntness of her general
appearance. This time her eyes, though they were old, were very
bright–bright with anxiety and alarm–so bright that for the moment
they were like Pamela’s. She came in and set down her candle on the
table, where it shed a strange little pale inquisitive light, as if,
like Jack, it was looking round, half dazzled by the change out of
complete darkness, at the unfamiliar place; and then she drew down the
blind. When she had done this she came to the table near which Jack was
standing. “Mr. Brownlow, you want to speak to me?” she said.

“Yes,” said Jack. Though his forefathers had been Brownlows of Masterton
for generations, which ought to have given him self-possession if any
thing could, and though he had been brought up at a public-school, which
was still more to the purpose, this simple question took away the power
of speech from him as completely as if he had been the merest clown. He
had not felt the least difficulty about what he was going to say, but
all at once to say any thing at all seemed impossible.

“Then tell me what it is,” said Mrs. Preston, sitting down in the black
old-fashioned high-backed easy-chair. Her heart was melting to him more
and more every moment, the sight of his confusion being sweet to her
eyes, but of course he did not know this–neither, it is to be feared,
would Jack have very much cared.

“Yes,” he said again; “the fact was–I–wanted to speak to you–about
your daughter. I suppose this sort of thing is always an awkward
business. I have seen her with–with my sister, you know–we couldn’t
help seeing each other; and the fact is, we’ve–we’ve grown fond of each
other without knowing it: that is about the state of the case.”

“Fond of each other?” said Mrs. Preston, faltering. “Mr. Brownlow, I
don’t think that is how you ought to speak. You mean you have grown fond
of Pamela. I am very, very sorry; but Heaven forbid that my poor girl–”

“I mean what I say,” said Jack, sturdily–“we’ve grown fond of each
other. If you ask her she will tell you the same. We were not thinking
of any thing of the kind–it came upon us unawares. I tell you the whole
truth, that you may not wonder at me coming so unprepared. I don’t come
to you as a fellow might that had planned it all out and turned it over
in his mind, and could tell you how much he had a year, and what he
could settle on his wife, and all that. I tell you frankly the truth,
Mrs. Preston. We were not thinking of any thing of the kind; but now,
you see, we have both of us found it out.”

“I don’t understand you,” said the astonished mother; “what have you
found out?”

“We’ve found out just what I’ve been telling you,” said Jack–“that
we’re fond of each other. You may say I should have told you first; but
the truth was, I never had the opportunity–not that I would have been
sure to have taken advantage of it if I had. We went on without knowing
what we were doing, and then it came upon us all at once.”

He sat down abruptly as he said this, in an abstracted way; and he
sighed. _He_ had found it out, there could be no doubt of that; and he
did not hide from himself that this discovery was a very serious one. It
filled his mind with a great many thoughts. He was no longer in a
position to go on amusing himself without any thought of the future.
Jack was but mortal, and it is quite possible he might have done so had
it been in his power. But it was not in his power, and his aspect, when
he dropped into the chair, and looked into the vacant air before him and
sighed, was rather that of a man looking anxiously into the future–a
future that was certain–than of a lover waiting for the sentence which
(metaphorically) is one of life or death; and Mrs. Preston, little
experienced in such matters, and much agitated by the information so
suddenly conveyed to her, did not know what to think. She bent forward
and looked at him with an eagerness which he never perceived. She
clasped her hands tightly together, and gazed as if she would read his
heart; and then what could she say? He was not asking any thing from
her–he was only intimating to her an unquestionable fact.

“But, Mr. Brownlow,” she said at last, tremulously, “I think–I hope you
may be mistaken. My Pamela is very young–and so are you–_very_ young
for a man. I hope you have made a mistake. At your age it doesn’t matter
so much.”

“Don’t it, though?” said Jack, with a flash in his eyes. “I can’t, say
to you that’s our business, for I know, of course, that a girl ought to
consult her mother. But don’t let us discuss _that_, please. A fact
can’t be discussed, you know. It’s either true or it’s false–and _we_
certainly are the only ones who can know.”

Then there was another pause, during which Jack strayed off again into
calculations about the future–that unforeseen future which had leaped
into existence for him only about an hour ago. He had sat down on the
other side of the table, and was gazing into the blank hearth as if some
enlightenment might have been found there. As for Mrs. Preston, her
amazement and agitation were such that it cost her a great effort to
compose herself and not to give way.

“Is this all you have to say to me?” she said at last, with trembling
lips.

Then Jack roused himself up. Suddenly it occurred to him that the poor
woman whom he had been so far from admiring was behaving to him with a
generosity and delicacy very different from his conduct to her; and the
blood rushed to his face at the thought.

“I beg your pardon,” he said. “I have already explained to you why it is
that I come in such an unprepared way. I met her to-night. Upon my life
I did not lay any trap for her. I was awfully cut up about not seeing
her; but we met by accident. And the fact was, when we met we couldn’t
help showing that we understood each other. After that it was my first
duty,” said Jack, with a thrill of conscious grandeur, “to come to you.”

“But do you mean to say,” said Mrs. Preston, wringing her hands, “that
my Pamela–? Sir, she is only a child. She could not have understood
you. She may like you in a way–”

“She likes me as I like her,” said Jack, stoutly. “It’s no use
struggling against it. It is no use arguing about it. You may think her
a child, but she is not a child; and I can’t do without her, Mrs.
Preston. I hope you haven’t any dislike to me. If you have,” said Jack,
warming up, “I will do any thing a man can do to please you; but you
couldn’t have the heart to make her unhappy, and come between her and
me.”

“I make her unhappy?” said Mrs. Preston, with a gasp. She who had no
hope or desire in the world but Pamela’s happiness! “But I don’t even
see how it came about. I–I don’t understand you. I don’t even know what
you want of me.”

“What I want?” said Jack, turning round upon her with wondering
eyes–“What could I want but one thing? I want Pamela–that’s very
clear. Good heavens, you are not going to be ill, are you? Shall I call
somebody? I know it’s _awfully_ sudden,” said the young fellow ruefully.
Nobody could be more sensible of that than he was. He got up in his
dismay and went to a side-table where there stood a carafe of water and
brought her some. It was the first act of human fellowship, as it were,
that had passed between the two, and somehow it brought them together.
Mrs. Preston took the water with that strange half-sacramental feeling
with which a soul in extremity receives the refreshment which brings it
back to life. Was it her friend, her son, or her enemy that thus
ministered to her? Oh, if she could only have seen into his heart! She
had no interest in the world but Pamela, and now the matter in hand was
the decision for good or for evil of Pamela’s fate.

“I am better, thank you,” she said faintly. “I am not very strong, and
it startled me. Sit down, Mr. Brownlow, and let us talk it over. I knew
this was what it would have come to if it had gone on; but I have been
talking a great deal to my child, and keeping her under my eye–”

“Yes,” said Jack, with some indignation, “keeping her out of my way. I
knew you were doing that.”

“It was the only thing I could do,” said Mrs. Preston. “I did try to
find another means, but it did not succeed. When I asked you what you
wanted of me, I was not doubting your honor. But things are not so easy
as you young people think. Your father never will consent.”

“I don’t think things are easy,” said Jack. “I see they are as crooked
and hard as possible. I don’t pretend to think it’s all plain sailing. I
believe he won’t consent. It might have been all very well to consider
that three months ago, but you see we never thought of it then. We must
just do without his consent now.”

“And there is more than that,” said Mrs. Preston. “It would not be right
for him to consent, nor for me either. If you only found it out so
suddenly, how can you be sure of your own mind, Mr. John–and you so
young? I don’t say any thing of my own child. I don’t mean to say in my
heart that I think you too grand for her. I know if ever there was a
lady born it’s–; but that’s not the question,” she continued, nervously
wringing her hands again. “If she was a princess, she’s been brought up
different from you. I did think once there might have been a way of
getting over that; but I know better now; and you’re very young; and
from what you say,” said Pamela’s mother, who, after all, was a woman, a
little romantic and very proud, “I don’t think you’re one that would be
content to give up every thing for love.”

Jack had been listening calmly enough, not making much in his own mind
of her objections; but the last words did strike home. He started, and
he felt in his heart a certain puncture, as if the needle in Mrs.
Preston’s work, which lay on the table, had gone into him. This at least
was true. He looked at her with a certain defiance, and yet with
respect. “For love–no,” said Jack half fiercely, stirred, like a mere
male creature as he was, by the prick of opposition; and then a
softening came over his eyes, and a gleam came into them which, even by
the light of the one pale candle, made itself apparent; “but for
Pamela–yes. I’ll tell you one thing, Mrs. Preston,” he added, quickly,
“I should not call it giving up. I don’t mean to give up. As for my
father, I don’t see what he has to do with it. I can work for my wife as
well as any other fellow could. If I were to say it didn’t matter, you
might mistrust me; but when a man knows it does matter,” said Jack,
again warming with his subject, “when a man sees it’s serious, and not a
thing to be done without thinking, you can surely rely upon him more
than if he went at it blindly? I think so at least.”

So saying, Jack stopped, feeling a little sore and _incompris_. If he
had made a fool of himself, no doubt the woman would have believed in
him; but because he saw the gravity of what he was about to do, and felt
its importance, a kind of doubt was in his hearer’s heart. “They not
only expect a man to be foolish, but they expect him to forget his own
nature,” Jack said to himself, which certainly was hard.

“I don’t mistrust you,” said Mrs. Preston, but her voice faltered, and
did not quite carry out her words; “only, you know, Mr. John, you are
very young. Pamela is very young, but you are even younger than she
is–I mean, you know, because you are a man; and how can you tell that
you know your own mind? It was only to-day that you found it out, and
to-morrow you might find something else out–”

Here she stopped half frightened, for Jack had risen up, and was looking
at her over the light of the candle, looking pale and somewhat
threatening. He was not in a sentimental attitude, neither was there any
thing about him that breathed the tender romance for which in her heart
Mrs. Preston sighed, and without which it cost her an effort to believe
in his sincerity. He was standing with his hands thrust down to the
bottom of his pockets, his brow a little knitted, his face pale, his
expression worried and impatient. “What is the use of beginning over and
over again?” said Jack. “Do you think I could have found out like this a
thing that hadn’t been in existence for months and months? Why, the
first time I saw you in Hobson’s cart–the time I carried her in out of
the snow–” When he had got this length, he walked away to the window
and stood looking out, though the blind was down, with his back turned
upon her–“with her little red cloak, and her pretty hair,” said Jack,
with a curious sound which would not bear classification. It might have
been a laugh, or a sob, or a snort–and it was neither; anyhow, it
expressed the emotion within him better than half a hundred fine
speeches. “And you don’t believe in me after all that!” he said, coming
back again and looking at her once more over the light of the candle.
Perhaps it was something in Jack’s eyes, either light or moisture, it
would be difficult to tell which, that overpowered Mrs. Preston, for the
poor woman faltered and began to cry.

“I do believe in you,” she said. “I do–and I love you for saying it;
but oh, Mr. John, what am I to do? I can’t let you ruin yourself with
your father. I can’t encourage you when I know what it will cost you;
and then, my own child–”

“That’s it,” said Jack, drawing his chair over to her side of the table,
with his first attempt at diplomacy–“that’s what we’ve got to think of.
It doesn’t matter for a fellow like me. If I got disappointed and cut up
I should have to bear it; but as for Pamela, you know–dear little soul!
You may think it strange, but,” said Jack, with a little affected laugh,
full of that supreme vanity and self-satisfaction with which a man
recognizes such a fact, “she is fond of me; and if she were disappointed
and put out, you know–why, it might make her ill–it might do her no
end of harm–it might–Seriously, you know,” said Jack, looking in Mrs.
Preston’s face, and giving another and another hitch to his chair.
Though her sense of humor was not lively, she dried her eyes and looked
at him with a little bewilderment, wondering was he really in earnest?
did he mean it? or what did he mean?

“She is very young,” said Mrs. Preston; “no doubt it would do her harm;
but I should be there to nurse her–and–and–she is so young.”

“It might kill her,” said Jack, impressively; “and then whom would you
have to blame? Not my father, for he has nothing to do with it; but
yourself, Mrs. Preston–that’s how it would be. Just look at what a
little delicate darling she is–a little bit of a thing that one could
carry away in one’s arms,” he went on, growing more and more
animated–“a little face like a flower; and after the bad illness she
had. I would not take such a responsibility for any thing in the world,”
he added, with severe and indignant virtue. As for poor Mrs. Preston,
she did not know what to do. She wrung her hands; she looked at him
beseechingly, begging him with her eyes to cease. Every feature of the
picture came home to her with a much deeper force than it did to her
mentor. Jack no more believed in any danger to Pamela than he did in his
own ultimate rejection; but the poor mother beheld her daughter pining,
dying, breaking her heart, and trembled to her very soul.

“Oh, Mr. John,” she cried, with tears, “don’t break my heart! What am I
to do? If I must either ruin you with your father–”

“Or kill your child,” said Jack, looking at her solemnly till his victim
shuddered. “Your child is more to you than my father: besides,” said the
young man, unbending a little, “it would not ruin me with my father. He
might be angry. He might make himself disagreeable; but he’s not a muff
to bear malice. My father,” continued Jack, with emphasis, feeling that
he owed his parent some reparation, and doing it magnificently when he
was about it, “is as true a gentleman as I know. He’s not the man to
ruin a fellow. You think of Pamela, and never mind me.”

But it took a long time and much reiteration to convince Mrs. Preston.
“If I could but see Mr. Brownlow, I could tell him something that would
perhaps soften his heart,” she said; but this was far from being a
pleasant suggestion to Jack. He put it down summarily, not even asking
in his youthful impatience what the something was. He had no desire to
know. He did not want his father’s heart to be softened. In short, being
as yet unaccustomed to the idea, he did not feel any particular delight
in the thought of presenting Pamela’s mother to the world as belonging
to himself. And yet this same talk had made a wonderful difference in
his feeling toward Pamela’s mother. The thought of the explanation he
had to make to her was repugnant to him when he came in. He had all but
run away from it when he was left to wait alone. And now, in less than
an hour, it seemed so natural to enter into every thing. Even if she had
bestowed a maternal embrace upon him, Jack did not feel as if he would
have resisted; but she gave him no motherly kiss. She was still half
frightened at him, half disposed to believe that to get rid of him would
be the best thing; and Jack had no mind to be got rid of. Neither of
them could have told very exactly what was the understanding upon which
they parted. There was an understanding, that was certain–an
arrangement, tacit, inexpressible, which, however, was not hostile. He
was not permitted in so many words to come again; but neither was he
sent away. When he had the assurance to ask to see Pamela before he
left, Mrs. Preston went nervously through the passage before him and
opened the door, opening up the house and their discussion as she did
so, to the big outside world and wakeful sky, with all its stars, which
seemed to stoop and look in. Poor little Pamela was in the room up
stairs, speechless, motionless, holding her breath, fixed as it were to
the window from which she must see him go out; hearing the indistinct
hum of voices underneath, and wondering what her mother was saying to
him. When the parlor door opened, her heart leaped up in her breast. She
could hear his voice, and distinguish, as she thought, every tone of it,
but she could not hear what he said. For an instant it occurred to her
too that she might be called down stairs. But then the next moment the
outer door opened, a breath of fresh air stole into the house, and she
knew he was dismissed. How had he been dismissed? For the moment? for
the night? or forever? The window was open to which Pamela clung in the
darkness, and she could hear his step going out. And as he went he spoke
out loud enough to be heard up stairs, to be heard by any body on the
road, and almost for that matter to be heard at Betty’s cottage. “If I
must not see her,” he said, “give her my dear love.” What did it mean.
Was his dear love his last message of farewell? or was it only the first
public indication that she belonged to him? Pamela sank down on her
knees by the window, noiseless, with her heart beating so in her ears
that she felt as if he must hear it outside. The whole room, the whole
house, the whole air, seemed to her full of that throbbing. His dear
love! It seemed to come in to her with the fresh air–to drop down upon
her from the big stars as they leaned out of heaven and looked down; and
yet she could not tell if it meant death or life. And Mrs. Preston was
not young, and could not fly, but came so slowly, so slowly, up the
creaking wooden stair!

Poor Mrs. Preston went slowly, not only because of her age, but because
of her burden of thoughts. She could not have told any one whether she
was very happy or deadly sad. Her heart was not fluttering in her ears
like Pamela, but beating out hard throbs of excitement. He was good, he
was true; her heart accepted him. Perhaps he was the friend she had so
much longed for, who would guard Pamela when she was gone. At present,
however, she was not gone; and yet her sceptre was passing away out of
her hands, and her crown from her head. Anyhow, for good or for evil,
this meant change; the sweet sceptre of love, the crown of natural
authority and duty, such as are the glory of a woman who is a mother,
were passing away from her. She did not grudge it. She would not have
grudged life, nor any thing dearer than life, for Pamela; but she felt
that there was change coming: and it made her sick–sick and cold and
shivering, as if she was going to have a fever. She would have been glad
to have had wings and flown to carry joy to her child; but she could not
go fast for the burden and heaviness of her thoughts.

Meanwhile Jack crossed the road briskly, and went up the avenue under
the big soft lambent stars. If it was at him in his character of lover
that they were looking, they might have saved themselves the trouble,
for he took no notice whatever of these sentimental spectators. He went
home, not in a lingering meditative way, but like a man who has made up
his mind. He had no sort of doubt or disquietude for his part about the
acceptance of his love. He knew that Pamela was his, though her mother
would not let him see her. He knew he should see her, and that she
belonged to him, and nobody on earth could come between them. He had
known all this from the first moment when the simple little girl had
told him that life was hard; and as for her mother or his father, Jack
did not in his mind make much account of the opposition of these
venerable personages–such being his nature. What remained now was to
clear a way into the future, to dig out a passage, and make it as smooth
as possible for these tremulous little feet. Such were the thoughts he
was busy with as he went home–not even musing about his little love. He
had mused about her often enough before. Now his practical nature
resumed the sway. How a household could be kept up, when it should be
established, by what means it was to be provided, was the subject of
Jack’s thoughts. He went straight to the point without any
circumlocution. As it was to be done, it would be best to be done
quickly. And he did not disguise from himself the change it would make.
He knew well enough that he could not live as he had lived in his
father’s house. He would have to go into lodgings, or to a little house;
to have one or two indifferent servants–perhaps a “child-wife”–perhaps
a resident mother-in-law. All this Jack calmly faced and foresaw. It
could not come on him unawares, for he considered the chances, and saw
that all these things were possible. There are people who will think the
worse of him for this; but it was not Jack’s fault–it was his
constitution. He might be foolish like his neighbors on one point, but
on all other points he was sane. He did not expect that Pamela, if he
translated her at once into a house of her own, should be able to govern
him and it on the spot by natural intuition. He knew there would be, as
he himself expressed it, many “hitches” in the establishment, and he
knew that he would have to give up a great many indulgences. This was
why he took no notice of the stars, and even knitted his brows as he
walked on. The romantic part of the matter was over. It was now pure
reality, and that of the most serious kind, that he had in hand.

Continue Reading

THE DOWNFALL OF PHILOSOPHY

Jack Brownlow was having a very hard time of it just at that moment.
There had been a lapse of more than a week, and he had not once seen the
fair little creature of whom every day he had thought more and more. It
was in vain that he looked up at the window–Pamela now was never there.
He never saw her even at a distance–never heard so much as her name.
Sara, who had been ready enough to speak of her friend–even Sara,
indiscreet, and hasty, and imprudent–was silent. Poor Jack knew it was
quite right–he recognized, even though he hated it, the force that was
in his father’s arguments. He knew he had much better never see
her–never even speak of her again. He understood with his intelligence
that utter separation between them was the only prudent and sensible
step to be taken; but his heart objected to understand with a curious
persistency which Jack could scarcely believe of a heart of his. He had
found his intellect quite sufficient to guide him up to this period; and
when that other part of him, with which he was so much less acquainted,
fought and struggled to get the reins in hand, it would be difficult to
express the astonishment he felt. And then he was a young man of the
present day, and he was not anxiously desirous to marry. A house of his
own, with all its responsibilities, did not appear to him the crown of
delight which perhaps it ought to have done. He was content to go on
with his life as it had been, without any immediate change. It still
appeared to him, I am sorry to admit, that for a young man, who had a
way to make in the world, a very early marriage was a sort of suicidal
step to take. This was all very well for his mind, which wanted no
convincing. But for his heart it was very different. That newly
discovered organ behaved in the most incomprehensible sort of way. Even
though it possibly gave a grunt of consent to the theory about marriage,
it kept on longing and yearning, driving itself frantic with eagerness
just to see her, just to hear her, just to touch her little hand, just
to feel the soft passing rustle of her dress. That was all. And as for
talking reason to it, or representing how profitless such a
gratification would be, he might as well have preached to the stones. He
went back and forward to the office for a whole week with this conflict
going on within him, keeping dutifully to his work, doing more than he
had done for years at Masterton, trying to occupy himself with former
thoughts, and with anticipations of the career he had once shaped out
for himself. He wanted to get away from the office, to get into public
life somehow, to be returned for the borough, and have a seat in
Parliament. Such had been his ambition before this episode in his life.
Such surely ought to be his ambition now; but it was amazing,
incredible, how this new force within him would break through all his
more elevated thoughts with a kind of inarticulate cry for Pamela. She
was what he wanted most. He could put the other things aside, but he
could not put her aside. His heart kept crying out for her, whatever his
mind might be trying to think. It was extraordinary and despicable, and
he could not believe it of himself; but this was how it was. He knew it
was best that he should not see her; yet it was no virtue nor
self-denial of his that kept them apart. It was she who would not be
visible. Along the roads, under the trees, at the window, morning or
evening, there was no appearance of her. He thought sometimes she must
have gone away. And his eager inquiries with himself whether this
separation would make her unhappy gradually gave way to irritation and
passionate displeasure. She had gone away, and left no sign; or she was
shutting herself up, and sacrificing all that was pleasant in his
existence. She was leaving him alone to bear the brunt; and he would
gladly have taken it all to spare her–but if he bore it, and was the
victim, something at least he ought to have had for his recompense. A
last meeting, a last look, an explanation, a farewell–at least he had a
right to that. And notwithstanding his anger he wanted her all the
same–wanted to see her, to speak to her, to have her near him, though
he was not ready to carry her off or marry her on the spot, or defy his
father and all the world on her account. This was the painful struggle
that poor Jack had to bear as he went back and forward all those days to
Masterton. He held very little communication with his father, who was
the cause of it all. He chose to ride or to walk rather than have those
_tête-à-tête_ drives. He kept his eyes on every turn of the way, on
every tree and hedge which might possibly conceal her; and yet he knew
he must part from her, and in his heart was aware that it was a right
judgment which condemned him to this sacrifice. And it was not in him,
poor fellow, to take it cheerfully or suffer with a good grace. He kept
it to himself, and scorned to betray to his father or sister what he was
going through. But he was not an agreeable companion during this
interval, though the fact was that he gave them very little of his
society, and struggled, mostly by himself, against his hard fate.

And probably he might have been victorious in the struggle. He might
have fought his way back to the high philosophical ground from which he
was wont to preach to his friend Keppel. At the cost of all the first
freshness of his heart, at the cost of many buds of grace that never
would have bloomed again, he might have come out victor, and
demonstrated to himself beyond all dispute that in such matters a strong
will is every thing, and that there is no love or longing that may not
be crushed on the threshold of the mind. All this Jack might have done,
and lived to profit by it and smart for it, but for a chance meeting by
which fate, in spite of a thousand precautions, managed to balk his
philosophy. He had gone home early in the afternoon, and he had been
seen by anxious eyes behind the curtains of Mrs. Swayne’s window–not
Pamela’s eyes, but those of her mother–to go out again dressed, about
the time when a man who is going to dinner sets out to fulfill his
engagement. And Jack was going out to dinner; he was going to Ridley,
where the family had just come down from town. But there had come that
day a kind of crisis in his complaint, and when he was half way to his
friend’s house a sudden disgust seized him. Instead of going on he
jumped down from the dog-cart, and tore a leaf out of his pocket-book,
on which he scribbled a hasty word of apology to Keppel. Then, while the
groom went on with his note, he turned and went sauntering home along
the dusty road in his evening coat. Why should he go and eat the
fellow’s dinner? What did he care about it? Go and make an ass of
himself, and laugh and talk when he would much rather run a tilt against
all the world! And what could she mean by shutting herself up like this,
and never so much as saying good-bye? It could harm nobody to say
good-bye. Thus Jack mused in pure despite and contrariety, without any
intention of laying a snare for the object of his thoughts. He had gone
a long way on the road to Ridley before he changed his mind, and
consequently it was getting late when he drew near Brownlows coming
back. It was a very quiet country road, a continuation of that which led
to Masterton. Here and there, was a clump of great trees making it
sombre, and then a long stretch of hedgerow with the fragrant meadow on
the other side of it, and the cows lowing to go home. There was nobody
to be seen up or down the road except a late carter with his horse’s
harness on his shoulder, and a boy and a girl driving home some cows. In
the distance stood Swayne’s Cottages, half lost in the twilight, with
two faint curls of smoke going up into the sky. All was full of that
dead calm which chafes the spirit of youth when it is in the midst of
its troubles–that calm which is so soothing and so sweet when life and
we have surmounted the first battles, and come to a moment of truce. But
there was no truce as yet in Jack Brownlow’s thoughts. He wanted to have
his own way and he could not have it; and he knew he ought not to have
it, and he would not give it up. If he could have kicked at the world,
and strangled Nature and made an end of Reason, always without making a
fool of himself, that would have been the course of action most in
consonance with his thoughts.

And it was just then that a certain flutter round the corner of the lane
which led to Dewsbury caught his eye–the flutter of the soft evening
air in a black dress. It was not the “_creatura bella vestita in
bianca_” which comes up to the ideal of a lover’s fancy. It was a little
figure in a black dress, with a cloak wrapped round her, and a broad hat
shading her face, all dark among the twilight shadows. Jack saw, and his
heart sprang up within him with a violence which took away his breath.
He made but one spring across the road. When they had parted they had
not known that they were lovers; but now they had been a week apart and
there was no doubt on the subject. He made but one spring, and caught
her and held her fast. “Pamela!” he cried out; and though there had been
neither asking nor consent, and not one word of positive love-making
between them, and though no disrespectful or irreverent thought of her
had ever entered his mind, poor Jack, in his ardor and joy and surprise
and rage, kissed her suddenly with a kind of transport. “Now I have you
at last!” he cried. And this was in the open road, where all the world
might have seen them; though happily, so far as was apparent, there was
nobody to see.

Pamela, too, gave a cry of surprise and fright and dismay. But she was
not angry, poor child. She did not feel that it was unnatural. Her poor
little heart had not been standing still all this time any more than
Jack’s. They had gone over all those tender, childish, celestial
preliminaries while they were apart; and now there could not be any
doubt about the bond that united them. Neither the one nor the other
affected to believe that farther preface was necessary–circumstances
were too pressing for that. He said, “I have you at last,” with eyes
that gleamed with triumph; and she said, “Oh, I thought I should never,
never see you again!” in a voice which left nothing to be confessed. And
for the moment they both forgot every thing–fathers, mothers, promises,
wise intentions, all the secondary lumber that makes up the world.

When this instant of utter forgetfulness was over, Pamela began to cry,
and Jack’s arm dropped from her waist. It was the next inevitable stage.
They made two or three steps by each other’s side, separate, despairing,
miserable. Then it was the woman’s turn to take the initiative. She was
crying, but she could still speak–indeed, it is possible that her
speech would have been less natural had it been without those breaks in
the soft voice. “I am not angry,” she said, “because it is the last
time. I shall never, never forget you; but oh, it was all a mistake, all
from the beginning. We never–meant–to grow fond of each other,” said
Pamela through her sobs; “it was all–all a mistake.”

“I was fond of you the very first minute I saw you,” said Jack; “I did
not know then, but I know it now. It was no mistake;–that time when I
carried you in out of the snow. I was fond of you then, just as I am
now–as I shall be all my life.”

“No,” said Pamela, “oh no. It is different–every day in your life you
see better people than I am. Don’t say any thing else. It is far better
for me to know. I have been a–a little–contented ever since I thought
of that.”

These words once more put Jack’s self-denial all to flight. “Better
people than you are?” he cried. “Oh, Pamela! I never saw any body half
as sweet, half as lovely, all my life.”

“Hush! hush! hush!” said Pamela; they were not so separate now, and she
put her soft little hand up, as if to lay it on his lips. “You think so,
but it is all–all a mistake!”

Then Jack looked into her sweet tearful eyes, nearer, far nearer than he
had ever looked before–and they were eyes that could bear looking into,
and the sweetness and the bitterness filled the young man’s heart. “My
little love!” he cried, “it is not you who are a mistake.” And he
clasped her, almost crushed her waist with his arm in his vehemence.
Every thing else was a mistake–himself, his position, _her_ position,
all the circumstances; but not Pamela. This time she disengaged herself,
but very softly, from his arm.

“I do not mind,” she said, looking at him with an innocent, wistful
tenderness, “because it is the last time. If you had not cared, I should
have been vexed. One can’t help being a little selfish. Last time, if
you had said you were fond of me, I should have been frightened; but now
I am glad, very glad you are fond of me. It will always be something to
look back to. I shall remember every word you said, and how you looked.
Mamma says life is so hard,” said Pamela, faltering a little, and
looking far away beyond her lover, as if she could see into a long
stretch of life. So she did; and it looked a desert, for he was not to
be there.

“Don’t speak like that,” cried Jack; “life shall not be hard to
you–not while I live to take care of you–not while I can work–”

“Hush, hush!” said the girl, softly. “I like you to say it, you know.
One feels glad; but I know there must be nothing about that. I never
thought of it when–when we used to see each other so often. I never
thought of any thing. I was only pleased to see you; but mamma has been
telling me a great deal–every thing, indeed: I know better now–”

“What has she been telling you?” said Jack. “She has been telling you
that I would deceive you; that I was not to be trusted. It is because
she does not know me, Pamela. You know me better. I never thought of any
thing either,” he added, driven to simplicity by the force of his
emotions, “except that I could not do without you, and that I was very
happy. And Pamela, whatever it may cost, I can’t live without you now.”

“But you must,” said Pamela: “if you could but hear what mamma says! She
never said you would deceive me. What she said was, that we must not
have our own way. It may break our hearts, but we must give up. It
appears life is like that,” said Pamela, with a deep sigh. “If you like
any thing very much, you must give it up.”

“I am ready to give up every thing else,” said Jack, carried on by the
tide, and forgetting all his reason; “but I will not give you up. My
little darling, you are not to cry–I did not know I was so fond of you
till that day. I didn’t even know it till now,” cried the young man.
“You mustn’t turn away from me, Pamela–give me your hand; and whatever
happens to us, we two will stand by each other all our lives.”

“Ah, no,” said Pamela, drawing away her hand; and then she laid the same
hand which she had refused to give him on his shoulder and looked up
into his face. “I like you to say it all,” she went on–“I do–it is no
use making believe when we are just going to part. I shall remember
every word you say. I shall always be able to think that when I was
young I had some one to say these things to me. If your father were to
come now, I should not be afraid of him; I should just tell him how it
was. I am glad of every word that I can treasure up. Mamma said I was
not to see you again; but I said if we were to meet we had a right to
speak to each other. I never thought I should have seen you to-night. I
shouldn’t mind saying to your father himself that we had a right to
speak. If we should both live long and grow old, and never meet for
years and years, don’t you think we shall still know each other in
heaven?”

As for poor Jack, he was driven wild by this, by the sadness of her
sweet eyes, by the soft tenderness of her voice, by the virginal
simplicity and sincerity which breathed out of her. Pamela stood by him
with the consciousness that it was the supreme moment of her existence.
She might have been going to die; such was the feeling in her heart. She
_was_ going to die out of all the sweet hopes, all the dawning joys of
her youth; she was going out into that black desert of life where the
law was that if you liked any thing very much you must give it up. But
before she went she had a right to open her heart, to hear him disclose
his. Had it been possible that their love should have come to any thing,
Pamela would have been shy and shamefaced; but that was not possible.
But a minute was theirs, and the dark world gaped around to swallow them
up from each other. Therefore the words flowed in a flood to Pamela’s
lips. She had so many things to say to him–she wanted to tell him so
much; and there was but this minute to include all. But her very
composure–her tender solemnity–the pure little white martyr that she
was, giving up what she most loved, gave to Jack a wilder thrill, a more
headlong impulse. He grasped her two hands, he put his arm round her in
a sudden passion. It seemed to him that he had no patience with her or
any thing–that he must seize upon her and carry her away.

“Pamela,” he cried, hoarsely, “it is of no use talking–you and I are
not going to part like this. I don’t know any thing about heaven, and I
don’t want to know–not just now. We are not going to part, I tell you.
Your mother may say what she likes, but she can’t be so cruel as to take
you from a man who loves you and can take care of you–and I will take
care of you, by heaven! Nobody shall ever come between us. A fellow may
think and think when he doesn’t know his own mind: and it’s easy for a
girl like you to talk of the last time. I tell you it is not the last
time–it is the first time. I don’t care a straw for any thing else in
the world–not in comparison with you. Pamela, don’t cry; we are going
to be together all our life.”

“You say so because you have not thought about it,” said Pamela, with an
ineffable smile; “and I have been thinking of it ever so long–ever so
much. No; but I don’t say you are to go away, not yet. I want to have
you as long as I can; I want to tell you so many things–every thing I
have in my heart.”

“And I will hear nothing,” said Jack–“nothing except that you and I
belong to each other. That’s what you have got to say. Hush, child! do
you think I am a child like you? Pamela, look here–I don’t know when it
is to be, nor how it is to be, but you are going to be my wife.”

“Oh, no, no,” said Pamela, shrinking from him, growing red and growing
pale in the shock of this new suggestion. If this was how it was to be,
her frankness, her sad openness, became a kind of crime. She had
suffered his embrace before, prayed him to speak to her, thought it
right to take full advantage of the last indulgence accorded to them;
and now the tables were turned upon her. She shrank away from him, and
stood apart in the obscure twilight. There had not been a blush on her
cheek while she opened her innocent young heart to him in the solemnity
of the supposed farewell, but now she was overwhelmed with sudden shame.

“I say yes, yes, yes,” said Jack vehemently, and he seized upon the
hands that she had clasped together by way of safeguard. He seized upon
them with a kind of violence appropriating what was his own. His mind
had been made up and his fate decided in that half hour. He had been
full of doubts up to this moment; but now he had found out that without
Pamela it was not worth while to live–that Pamela was slipping through
his fingers, ready to escape out of his reach; and after that there was
no longer any possibility of a compromise. He had become utterly
indifferent to what was going on around as he came to this point. He had
turned his back on the road, and could not tell who was coming or
going. And thus it was that the sudden intrusion which occurred to them
was entirely unexpected, and took them both by surprise. All of a
sudden, while neither was looking, a substantial figure was suddenly
thrust in between them. It was Mrs. Swayne, who had been at Dewsbury and
was going home. She did not put them aside with her hands, but she
pushed her large person completely between the lovers, thrusting one to
one side and the other to the other. With one of her arms she caught
Pamela’s dress, holding her fast, and with the other she pushed Jack
away. She was flushed with walking and haste, for she had seen the two
figures a long way off, and had divined what sort of meeting it was; and
the sight of her fiery countenance between them startled the two so
completely that they fell back on either side and gazed at her aghast,
without saying a word. Pamela, startled and overcome, hid her face in
her hands, while Jack made a sudden step back, and got very hot and
furious, but for the moment found himself incapable of speech.

“For shame of yourself!” said Mrs. Swayne, panting for breath; “I’ve
a’most killed myself running, but I’ve come in time. What are you a
persuadin’ of her to do, Mr. John? Oh for shame of yourself! Don’t tell
me! I know what young gentlemen like you is. A-enticin’ her and
persuadin’ her and leading her away, to bring her poor mother’s gray
hairs with sorrow to the grave. Oh for shame of yourself! And her mother
just as simple and innocent, as would believe any thing you liked to
tell her; and nobody as can keep this poor thing straight and keep her
out o’ trouble but me!”

While she panted out this address, and thrust him away with her extended
hand, Jack stood by in consternation, furious but speechless. What could
he do? He might order her away, but she would not obey him. He might
make his declaration over again in her presence, but she would not
believe him, and he did not much relish the idea; he could not struggle
with this woman for the possession of his love, and at the same time his
blood boiled at her suggestions. If she had been a man he might have
knocked her down quietly, and been free of the obstruction, but women
take a shabby advantage of the fact that they can not be knocked down.
As he stood thus with all his eloquence stopped on his lips, Pamela,
from across the bulky person of her champion, stretched out her little
hand to him and interposed.

“Hush,” she said; “we were saying good-bye to each other, Mrs. Swayne. I
told mamma we should say good-bye. Hush, oh hush, she doesn’t
understand; but what does that matter? we must say good-bye all the
same.”

“I shall never say good-bye,” said Jack; “you ought to know me better
than that. If you must go home with this woman, go–I am not going to
fight with her. It matters nothing about her understanding; but, Pamela,
remember it is not good-bye. It shall never be good-bye–”

“Understand!” said Mrs. Swayne, whose indignation was furious, “and why
shouldn’t I understand? Thank Providence I’m one as knows what
temptation is. Go along with you home, Mr. John; and she’ll just go with
this woman, she shall. Woman, indeed! And I don’t deny as I’m a
woman–and so was your own mother for all so fine as you are. Don’t you
think as you’ll lay your clutches on this poor lamb, as long as Swayne
and me’s to the fore. I mayn’t understand, and I may be a woman,
but–Miss Pamela, you’ll just come along home.”

“Yes, yes,” said Pamela; and then she held up her hand to him
entreatingly. “Don’t mind what she says–don’t be angry with me; and I
will never, never forget what you have said–and–good-bye,” said the
girl, steadily, holding out her hand to him with a wonderful glistening
smile that shone through two big tears.

As for Jack, he took her hand and gave it an angry loving grasp which
hurt it, and then threw it away. “I am going to see your mother,” he
said, deigning no reply. And then he turned his back on her without
another word, and left her standing in the twilight in the middle of the
dusty road, and went away. He left the two women standing amazed, and
went off with quick determined steps that far outstripped their
capabilities. It was the road to the cottage–the road to Brownlows–the
road anywhere or everywhere. “He’s a-going home, and a blessed
riddance,” said Mrs. Swayne, though her spirit quaked within her. But
Pamela said nothing; he was not going home. The girl stood and watched
his quick firm steps and worshiped him in her heart. To her mother! And
was there any thing but one thing that her mother could say?

Continue Reading