SARA’S OWN AFFAIRS

Sara’s affairs were perhaps not so interesting, as indeed they were far
from being so advanced, as those of Jack; but still all this time they
were making progress. It was not without cause that the image of Powys
stole across her mental vision when Jack warned her to look at the beam
in her own eye. There could be little doubt that Mr. Brownlow had
encouraged Powys. He had asked him to come generally, and he had added
to this many special invitations, and sometimes, indeed, when Jack was
not there, had given the young man a seat in the dog-cart, and brought
him out. All this was very confusing, not to Sara, who, as she thought,
saw into the motives of her father’s conduct, and knew how it was; but
to the clerk in Mr. Brownlow’s office, who felt himself thus singled
out, and could not but perceive that no one else had the same privilege.
It filled him with many wondering and even bewildered thoughts. Perhaps
at the beginning it did not strike him so much, semi-republican as he
was; but he was quick-witted, and when he looked about him, and saw that
his neighbors did not get the same advantages, the young Canadian felt
that there must be something in it. He was taken in, as it were, to Mr.
Brownlow’s heart and home, and that not without a purpose, as was told
him by the angry lines in Jack’s forehead. He was taken in and admitted
into the habits of intimacy, and had Sara, as it were, given over to
him; and what did it mean? for that it must mean something he could not
fail to see.

Thus young Powys’s position was very different from that of Jack. Jack
had been led into his scrape unwittingly, having meant nothing. But it
would have been impossible for Powys to act in the same way. To him
unconsciousness was out of the question. He might make it clear to
himself, in a dazzled self-conscious way, that his own excellence could
have nothing to do with it; that it must be accident, or good fortune,
or something perfectly fortuitous; but yet withal the sense remained
that he and no other had been chosen for this privilege, and that it
could not be for nothing. He was modest and he had good sense, more than
could have been expected from his age and circumstances; but yet every
thing conspired to make him forget these sober qualities. He had not
permitted himself so much as to think at his first appearance that Miss
Brownlow, too, was a young human creature like himself. He had said to
himself, on the contrary, that she was of a different species, that she
was as much out of his reach as the moon or the stars, and that if he
suffered any folly to get into his head, of course he would have to
suffer for it. But the folly had got into his head, and he had not
suffered. He had been left with her, and she had talked to him, and made
every thing very sweet to his soul. She had dropped the magic drop into
his cup, which makes the mildest draught intoxicating, and the poor
young fellow had felt the subtle charm stealing over him, and had gone
on bewildered, justifying himself by the tacit encouragement given him,
and not knowing what to think or what to do. He knew that between her
and him there was a gulf fixed. He knew that of all men in the world he
was the last to conceive any hopes in which such a brilliant little
princess as Sara could be involved. It was doubly and trebly out of the
question. He was not only a poor clerk, but he was a poor clerk with a
family to support. It was all mere madness and irredeemable folly; but
still Mr. Brownlow took him out to his house, and still he saw, and was
led into intimate companionship with his master’s daughter. And what
could it mean, or how could it end? Powys fell into such a maze at last,
that he went and came unconsciously in a kind of insanity. Something
must come of it one of these days. Something;–a volcanic eruption and
wild blazing up of earth and heaven–a sudden plunge into madness or
into darkness. It was strange, very strange to him, to think what Mr.
Brownlow could mean by it; he was very kind to him–almost paternal–and
yet he was exposing him to this trial, which he could neither fly from
nor resist. Thus poor Powys pondered to himself many a time, while, with
a beating heart, he went along the road to Brownlows. He could have
delivered himself, no doubt, if he would, but he did not want to deliver
himself. He had let all go in a kind of desperation. It must end, no
doubt, in some dreadful sudden downfall of all his hopes. But indeed he
had no hopes; he knew it was madness; yet it was a madness he was
permitted, even encouraged in; and he gave himself up to it, and let
himself float down the stream, and said to himself that he would shut
his eyes, and take what happiness he could get in the present moment,
and shut out all thoughts of the future. This he was doing with a kind
of thrill of prodigal delight, selling his birthright for a mess of
pottage, giving up all the freshness of his heart, and all its force of
early passion, for what?–for nothing. To throw another flower in the
path of a girl who trod upon nothing but flowers; this was what he felt
it to be in his saner moments. But the influence of that sanity never
stopped him in what he was doing. He had never in his life met with any
thing like her, and if she chose to have this supreme luxury of a man’s
heart and life offered up to her all for nothing–what then? He was not
the man to grudge her that richest and most useless gift. It was not
often he went so deep as this, or realized what a wild cause he was
embarked on: but when he did, he saw the matter clearly enough, and knew
how it must be.

As for Sara, she was very innocent of any such thoughts. She was not the
girl to accept such a holocaust. If she had known what was in his heart,
possibly she might have scorned him for it; but she never suspected what
was passing in his heart. She did not know of that gulf fixed. His real
position, that position which was so very true and unquestionable to
him, was not real at all to Sara. He was a fairy prince, masquerading
under that form for some reason known to himself and Mr. Brownlow; or if
not that, then he was the man to whom, according to her father’s will,
she was to give herself blindly out of pure filial devotion. Anyhow
something secret, mysterious, beyond ordinary ken, was in it; something
that gave piquancy to the whole transaction. She was not receiving a
lover in a commonplace sort of way when she entertained young Powys, but
was instead a party to an important transaction, fulfilling a grand
duty, either to her father menaced by some danger, or to a hero
transformed whom only the touch of a true maiden could win back to his
rightful shape. As it happened, this fine devotion was not disagreeable
to her; but Sara felt, no doubt, that she would have done her duty quite
as unswervingly had the fairy prince been bewitched into the person of
the true Beast of the story instead of that of her father’s clerk.

It was a curious sort of process to note, had there been any spectator
by sufficiently at ease to note it; but there was not, unless indeed Mr.
Hardcastle and Fanny might have stood in that capacity. As for the
rector, he washed his hands of it. He had delivered his own soul just as
Mrs. Swayne had delivered hers in respect to the other parties. He had
told Mr. Brownlow very plainly what his opinion was. “My dear fellow,”
he had said, “you don’t know what you are doing. Be warned in time. You
don’t think what kind of creatures girls and boys are at that age. And
then you are compromising Sara with the world. Who do you think would
care to be the rival of your clerk? It is very unfair to your child. And
then Sara is just one of the girls that are most likely to suffer. She
is a girl that has fancies of her own. You know I am as fond of her
almost as I am of my Fanny, but there could not be a greater difference
than between the two. Fanny _might_ come safely through such an ordeal,
but Sara is of a different disposition; she is capable of thinking that
it doesn’t matter, she is capable, though one does not like even to
mention such an idea, of falling in love–”

Mr. Brownlow winced a little at this suggestion. I suppose men don’t
like to think of their womenkind falling in love. There is a certain
desecration in the idea. “No,” he said, with something in his voice that
was half approval and half contempt, “you need not be afraid of Fanny;
and as for Sara, I trust Providence will take care of her–as you seem
to think she has so poor a guardian in me.”

“Ah, Brownlow, we must both feel what a disadvantage we are at,” said
Mr. Hardcastle, with a sigh, “with our motherless girls; and theirs is
just the age at which it tells.”

“Yes,” said Mr. Brownlow, shaping his face a little, unawares, into the
right look. The rector had had two mothers for Fanny, and was used to
this kind of thing; indeed it was never off the cards, as Fanny herself
was profoundly aware, that there might be a third; and accordingly he
had a right to be effusive about it: whereas Mr. Brownlow had had but
one love in his life, and could not talk on the subject. But he knew his
duty sufficiently to look solemn, and assent to his pastor’s proposition
about the motherless girls.

“On that account, if on no other, we ought to give them our double
attention,” the rector continued. “You know I can have but one motive.
Take my word for it, it is not fit that your clerk should be brought
into your daughter’s society. If any foolish complication should come of
it, you would never forgive yourself; and only think of the harm it
would do Sara in the world.”

“Softly, Hardcastle,” said Mr. Brownlow, “don’t go too far. Sara and the
world have nothing to do with each other. That sort of thing may answer
well enough for your hackneyed girls who have gone through a few seasons
and are up to every thing; but to the innocent–”

“My dear Brownlow,” said the rector, with a certain tone of patronage
and compassion, “I know how much I am inferior to you in true knowledge
of the world; but perhaps–let us say–the world of fashion–may be a
little better known to me than to you.”

Mr. Brownlow was roused by this. “I don’t know how it should be so,” he
said, looking very steadily at the rector. Mr. Hardcastle had a second
cousin who was an Irish peer. That was the chief ground of his social
pretensions, and the world of fashion, to tell the truth, had never
fallen much in his way; but still a man who has a cousin a lord, when he
claims superior knowledge of society to that possessed by another man
who has no such distinction, generally, in the country at least, has his
claim allowed.

“You think not?” he said, stammering and growing red. “Oh, ah–well–of
course–in that case I can’t be of any use. I am sorry to have thrust my
opinion on you. If you feel yourself so thoroughly qualified–”

“Don’t take offense,” said Mr. Brownlow. “I have no such high opinion of
my qualifications. I don’t think we are, either of us, men of fashion to
speak of, but, as it happens, I know my own business. It suits me to
have my clerk at hand–and he is not just an ordinary clerk; and I hope
Sara is not the sort of girl to lose her head and go off into silly
romances. I have confidence in her, you see, as you have in
Fanny–though perhaps it may not be so perfectly justified,” Mr.
Brownlow added, with a smile. Fanny was known within her own circle to
be a very prudent little woman, almost too prudent, and this was a point
which the rector always felt.

“Well, I hope you will find it has been for the best,” Mr. Hardcastle
answered, and he sighed in reply to his friend’s smile: evidently he did
not expect it would turn out for the best–but at all events he had
delivered his soul.

And Fanny, in the mean time, was delivering her little lecture to Sara.
They had been dining at Brownlows, and there were no other guests, and
the two girls were alone in the drawing-room, in that little half-hour
which the gentlemen spent over their temperate glass of claret. It is an
hour much bemoaned by fast young women, but, as the silent majority are
aware, it is not an unpleasant hour. Fanny Hardcastle and Sara Brownlow
were great friends in their way. They were in the habit of seeing each
other continually, of going to the same places, of meeting the same
people. It was not exactly a friendship of natural affinity, but rather
of proximity, which answers very well in many cases. Probably Fanny, for
her part, was not capable of any thing more enthusiastic. They told each
other every thing–that is, they each told the other as much as that
other could understand. Fanny, by instinct, refrained from putting
before Sara all the prudences and sensible restrictions that existed in
her own thoughts; and Sara, equally by instinct, was dumb about her own
personal feelings and fancies, except now and then when carried away by
their vehemence. “She would not understand me, you know,” both of them
would have said. But to-night Fanny had taken upon herself the prophetic
office. She, too, had her burden of warning to deliver, and to free her
own soul from all responsibility in her neighbor’s fate.

“Sara,” she said, “I saw you the other day when you did not see me. You
were in the park–down there, look, under that tree; and _that_ Mr.
Powys was with you. You know I once saw him here.”

“I do not call that the park–I call that the avenue,” said Sara; but
she saw that her companion spoke with _intention_, and a certain
quickening of color came to her face.

“You may call it any thing you please, but I am sure it _is_ the park,”
said Fanny, “and I want to speak to you about it. I am sure I don’t know
who Mr. Powys is–I dare say he is very nice–but _do_ you think it is
quite right walking about with him like that? You told me yourself he
was in your papa’s office. You know Sara, dear, I wouldn’t say a word to
you if it wasn’t for your good.”

“What is for my good?” said Sara–“walking in the park? or having you to
speak to me? As for Mr. Powys, I don’t suppose you know any thing about
him, so of course you can’t have any thing to say.”

“I wish you would not gallop on like that and take away one’s breath,”
said Fanny. “Of course I don’t know any thing about him. He may be very
nice–I am sure I can’t say; or he may be very amusing–they often are,”
Fanny added, with a sigh, “when they are no good. But don’t go walking
and talking with him, Sara; don’t, there’s a dear; people will talk; you
_know_ how they talk. And if he is only in your papa’s office–”

“I don’t see what difference that can possibly make,” said Sara with a
little vehemence.

“But it does make a difference,” said Fanny, once more with a sigh. “If
he were ever so nice, it could be _no good_. Mr. Brownlow may be very
kind to him, but he would never let you marry him, Sara. Yes, of course,
that is what it must come to. A girl should not stray about in the park
with a man unless he was a man that she could marry if he asked her. I
don’t mean to say that she _would_ marry, but at least that she could.
And, besides, a girl owes a duty to herself even if her father would
consent. You, in your position, ought to make a very different match.”

“You little worldly-minded wretch,” cried Sara, “have you nearly done?”

“Any body would tell you so as well as me,” said Fanny. “You might have
had that big Sir Charles if you had liked. Papa is only a poor
clergyman, and we have not the place in society we might have; but you
can go everywhere, you who are so rich. And then the gentlemen always
like you. If you were to make a poor marriage it would be a shame.”

“When did you learn all that?” said Fanny’s hearer, aghast. “I never
thought you were half so wise.”

“I always knew it, dear,” said little Fanny, with complacency. “I used
to be too frightened to speak, and then you always talked so much
quicker and went on so. But when I was at my aunt’s in spring–”

“I shall always hate your aunt;” cried Sara–“I did before by instinct:
did she put it all into your head about matches and things? You were ten
thousand times better when you had only me. As if I would marry a man
because he would be a good marriage! I wonder what you take me for, that
you speak so to me!”

“Then what should you marry him for!” said little Fanny, with a toss of
her pretty head.

“For!” cried Sara, “not for any thing! for nothing at all! I hate
marrying. To think a girl can not live in this world without having
_that_ thrust into her face! What should I marry any body for? But I
shall do what I like, and walk when I like, and talk to any body that
pleases me,” cried the impetuous young woman. Her vehemence brought a
flush to her face and something like tears into her eyes; and Fanny, for
her part, looked on very gravely at an appearance of feeling of which
she entirely disapproved.

“I dare say you will take your own way,” she said–“you always did take
your own way; but at least you can’t say I did not warn you; and I hope
you will never be sorry for not having listened to me, Sara. I love you
all the same,” said Fanny, giving her friend a soft little kiss. Sara
did not return this salutation with the warmth it deserved. She was
flushed and angry and impatient, and yet disposed to laugh.

“You don’t hope any thing of the sort,” she said; “you hope I shall live
to be very sorry–and I hate your aunt.” This was how the warning ended
in the drawing-room. It was more elegantly expressed than it had been by
Mrs. Swayne and old Betty; but yet the burden of the prophecy was in
some respects the same.

When Sara thought over it at a later period of the night, she laughed a
little in her own mind at poor Fanny’s ignorance. Could she but know
that the poor clerk was an enchanted prince! Could she but guess that it
was in pure obedience to her father’s wishes that she had given him such
a reception! When he appeared in his true shape, whatever that might be,
how uncomfortable little Fanny would feel at the recollection of what
she had said! And then Sara took to guessing and wondering what his true
shape might be. She was not romantic to speak of in general. She was
only romantic in her own special case; and when she came to think of it
seriously, her good sense came to her aid–or rather not to her aid–to
her hindrance and confusion and bewilderment. Sara knew very well that
in those days people were not often found out to be princes in disguise.
She knew even that for a clerk in her father’s office to turn out the
heir to a peerage or even somebody’s son would be so unusual as to be
almost incredible. And what, then, could her father mean? Neither was
Mr. Brownlow the sort of man to pledge his soul on his daughter in any
personal emergency. Yet some cause there must be. When she had come this
length, a new sense seemed suddenly to wake up in Sara’s bosom, perhaps
only the result of her own thoughts, perhaps suggested, though she
would not have allowed that, by Fanny Hardcastle’s advice–a sudden
sense that she had been coming down from her natural sphere, and that
her father’s clerk was not a fit mate for her. She was very generous,
and hasty, and high-flown, and fond of her father, and fond of
amusement–and moved by all these qualities and affections together she
had jumped at the suggestion of Mr. Brownlow’s plan; but perhaps she had
never thought seriously of it as it affected herself that night. Now it
suddenly occurred to her how people might talk. Strangely enough, the
same thought which had been bitterness to her father, stung her also, as
soon as her eyes were opened. Miss Brownlow of Brownlows, who had
refused, or the same thing as refused, Sir Charles Motherwell–whom
young Keppel had regarded afar off as utterly beyond his reach–the
daughter of the richest man, and herself one of the most popular (Sara
did not even to herself say the prettiest; she might have had an inkling
of that too, but certainly she did not put it into articulate thought)
girls in the county–she bending from her high estate to the level of a
lawyer’s clerk; she going back to the hereditary position, reminding
every body that she was the daughter of the Masterton attorney, showing
the low tastes which one generation of higher culture could not be
supposed to have effaced! How could she do it? If she had been a duke’s
daughter it would not have mattered. In such a case nobody could have
thought of hereditary low tastes; but now–As Sara mused, the color grew
hotter and hotter in her cheeks. To think that it was only now, so late
in the day, that this occurred to her, after she had gone so far in the
way of carrying out her father’s wishes! To think that he could have
imposed such a sacrifice upon her! Sara’s heart smarted and stung her in
her breast as she thought of that. And then there suddenly came up a big
indignant blob of warm dew in either eye, which was not for her father
nor for her own dignity, but for something else about which she could
not parley with herself. And then she rushed at her candles and put them
out, and threw herself down on her bed. The fact was that she did sleep
in half an hour at the farthest, though she did not mean to, and thus
escaped from her thoughts; but that was not what she calculated upon.
She calculated on lying awake all night and saying many very pointed and
grievous things to her father when in the morning he should ask her the
meaning of her pale face and heavy eyes; but unfortunately her cheeks
were as fresh as the morning when the morning duly came, and her eyes as
bright, and Mr. Brownlow, seeing no occasion for it, asked no questions,
but had himself to submit to inquiries and condolences touching a bad
night and a pale face. He too had been moved by Mr. Hardcastle’s
warning–moved, not of course to any sort of acceptance of the rector’s
advice, but only to the length of being uncomfortable, while he took his
own way, which is at all times the only one certain result of good
advice. And he was depressed too about Jack’s communication which had
been made to him only two nights before, and of which he had spoken to
nobody. The thought of it was a humiliation to him. His two children
whom he had brought up so carefully, his only ones, in whom he had
expected his family to make a new beginning–and yet they both meant to
descend far below the ancestral level which he had hoped to see them
leave utterly behind! He was not what is called a proud man, and he had
never been ashamed of his origin or of his business. But yet, two such
marriages in one family, and one generation–! It was a bitter thought.

As for Sara, she would have said, had she been questioned, that she
thought of nothing else all day; and in fact it was her prevailing
pre-occupation. All the humiliations involved in it came gleaming across
her mind by intervals. Her pride rose up in arms. She did not know as
yet about the repetition or rather anticipation of her case which her
brother had been guilty of. But she did ponder over the probable
consequences. The hardest thing of all was that they would say it was
the fault of her race, that she was only returning to her natural level,
and that it was not wealth nor even admiration which could make true
gentlefolks; all which were sentiments to which Sara would have
subscribed willingly in any but her own case. When Powys arrived with
Mr. Brownlow in the evening, she received him with a stateliness that
chilled the poor young fellow to his heart. And he too had so many
thoughts, and just at that moment was wondering with an intensity which
put all the others to shame how it could possibly end, and what his
honor required of him, and what sort of a grey and weary desert life
would be after this dream was over. It seemed to him absolutely as if
the dream was coming to an end that night. Jack, who was never very
courteous to the visitor, left them immediately after dinner, and Mr.
Brownlow retired to the library for some time, and Powys had no choice
but to go where his heart had gone before him, up to the drawing-room
where Sara sat alone. Of course she ought to have had a chaperone; but
then this young man, being only a clerk from the office, did not count.

She was seated in the window, close to the Claude, which had been the
first thing that brought these two together; but to-night she was in no
meditative mood. She had provided herself with work, and was laboring at
it fiercely in a way which Powys had never seen before. And he did not
know that her heart too was beating very fast, and that she had been
wondering and wondering whether he would have the courage to come up
stairs. He had really had that courage, but now that he was there, he
did not know what to do. He came up to her at first, but she kept on
working and did not take any notice of him, she who up to this moment
had always been so sweet. The poor young fellow was cast down to the
very depths; he thought they had but taken him up and played upon him
for their amusement, and that now the end had come. And he tried, but
ineffectually, to comfort himself with the thought that he had always
known it must come to an end. Almost, when he saw her silence, her
absorbed looks, the constrained little glance she gave him as he came
into the room, it came into his mind that Sara herself would say
something to bring the dream to a distinct conclusion. If she had told
him that she divined his presumption, and that he was never more to
enter that room again, he would not have been surprised. It had been a
false position throughout–he knew that, and he knew that it must come
to an end.

But, in the mean time, a fair face must be put upon it. Powys, though he
was a backwoodsman, knew enough of life, or had sufficient instinct of
its requirements, to know that. So he went up to the Claude, and looked
at it sadly, with a melancholy he could not restrain.

“It is as you once said, Miss Brownlow,” said Powys–“always the same
gleam and the same ripples. I can understand your objections to it now.”

“The Claude?” said Sara, with unnecessary vehemence, “I hate it. I think
I hate all pictures; they are so everlastingly the same thing. Did Jack
go out, Mr. Powys, as you came up stairs?”

“Yes; he went out just after you had left us,” said Powys, glad to find
something less suggestive on which to speak.

“Again?” said Sara, plunging at the new subject with an energy which
proved it to be a relief to her also. “He is so strange. I don’t know if
papa told you; he is giving us a great deal of trouble just now. I am
afraid he has got fond of somebody very, very much below him. It will be
a dreadful thing for us if it turns out to be true.”

Poor Powys’s tongue clove to the roof of his mouth. He gave a wistful
look at his tormentor, full of a kind of dumb entreaty. What did she say
it for? was it for him, without even the satisfaction of plain-speaking,
to send him away for ever?

“Of course you don’t know the circumstances,” said Sara, “but you can
fancy when he is the only son. I don’t think you ever took to Jack; but
of course he is a great deal to papa and me.”

“I think it was your brother who never took to me,” said Powys; “he
thought I had no business here.”

“He had no right to think so, when papa thought differently,” said Sara;
“he was always very disagreeable; and now to think he should be as
foolish as any of us.” When she had said this, Sara suddenly recollected
herself, and gave a glance up at her companion to see if he had observed
her indiscretion. Then she went on hastily with a rising color–“I wish
you would tell me, Mr. Powys, how it was that you first came to know
papa.”

“It is very easy,” said Powys; but there he too paused, and grew red,
and stopped short in his story with a reluctance that had nothing to do
with pride. “I went to him seeking employment,” he continued, making an
effort, and smiling a sickly smile. He knew she must know that, but yet
it cost him a struggle; and somehow every thing seemed to have changed
so entirely since those long-distant days.

“And you never knew him before?” said Sara–“nor your father?–nor any
body belonging to you?–I do so want to know.”

“You are surprised that he has been so kind to me,” said Powys, with a
pang; “and it is natural you should. No, there is no reason for it that
I know of, except his own goodness. He meant to be very, very kind to
me,” the young fellow added, with a certain pathos. It seemed to him as
he spoke that Mr. Brownlow had in reality been very cruel to him, but he
did not say it in words. Sara, for her part, gave him a little quick
fugitive glance; and it is possible, though no explanation was given,
that she understood what he did not speak.

“That was not what I meant,” she said, quickly; “only I thought there
was something–and then about your family, Mr. Powys?” she said, looking
up into his face with a curiosity she could not restrain. Certainly the
more she thought it over the more it amazed her. What could her father
mean?

“I have no family that I know of,” said Powys, with a momentary smile,
“except my mother and my little sisters. I am poor, Miss Brownlow, and
of no account whatever. I never saved Mr. Brownlow’s life, nor did any
thing he could be grateful to me for. And I did not know you nor this
house,” he went on, “when your father brought me here. I did not know,
and I could live without–Don’t ask me any more questions, please; for I
fear I don’t know what I am saying to-day.”

Here there was a pause, for Sara, though fearless enough in most cases,
was a little alarmed by his suppressed vehemence. She was alarmed, and
at the same time she was softened, and her inquisitiveness was stronger
than her prudence. His very prayer that she would ask him no more
questions quickened her curiosity; and it was not in her to refrain for
fear of the danger–in that, as in most other amusements, “the danger’s
self was lure alone.”

“But I hope you don’t regret having been brought here,” she said softly,
looking up at him. It was a cruel speech, and the look and the tone were
more cruel still. If she had meant to bring him to her feet, she could
not have done any thing better adapted to her purpose, and she did not
mean to bring him to her feet. She did it only out of a little personal
feeling and a little sympathy, and the perversity of her heart.

Powys started violently, and gave her a look under which Sara,
courageous as she was, actually trembled; and the next thing he did was
to turn his back upon her, and look long and intently at the nearest
picture. It was not the Claude this time. It was a picture of a woman
holding out a piece of bread to a beggar at her door. The wretch, in his
misery, was crouching by the wall and holding out his hand for it, and
within were the rosy children, well-fed and comfortable, looking
large-eyed upon the want without. The young man thought it was
symbolical, as he stood looking at it, quivering all over with emotion
which he was laboring to shut up in his own breast. She was holding out
the bread of life to him, but it would never reach his lips. He stood
struggling to command himself, forgetting every thing but the
desperation of that struggle, betraying himself more than any words
could have done–fighting his fight of honor and truth against
temptation. Sara saw all this, and the little temptress was not
satisfied. It would be difficult to tell what impulse possessed her. She
had driven him very far, but not yet to the farthest point; and she
could not give up her experiment at its very height.

“But you do not answer my question,” she said, very softly. The words
were scarcely out of her lips, the tingle of compunction had not begun
in her heart, when her victim’s strength gave way. He turned round upon
her with a wild breathlessness that struck Sara dumb. She had seen more
than one man who supposed he was “in love” with her; but she had never
seen passion before.

“I would regret it,” he said, “if I had any sense or spirit left; but I
have not, and I don’t regret. Take it all–take it!–and then scorn it.
I know you will. What could you do but scorn it? It is only my heart and
my life; and I am young and shall have to live on hundreds of years, and
never see your sweetest face again.”

“Mr. Powys!” said Sara in consternation, turning very pale.

“Yes,” he said, melting out of the momentary swell of excitement, “I
think I am mad to say so. I don’t grudge it. It is no better than a
flower that you will put your foot on; and now that I have told you, I
know it is all over. But I don’t grudge it. It was not your doing; and I
would rather give it to you to be flung away than to any other woman.
Don’t be angry with me–I shall never see you again.”

“Why?” said Sara, not knowing what she said–“what is it?–what have I
done? Mr. Powys, I don’t think you–either of us–know what you mean.
Let us forget all about it. You said you did not know what you were
saying to-day.”

“But I have said it,” said the young man in his excitement. “I did not
mean to betray myself, but now it is all over. I can never come here
again. I can never dare look at you again. And it is best so; every day
was making it worse. God bless you, though you have made me miserable. I
shall never see your face again.”

“Mr. Powys!” cried Sara, faintly. But he was gone beyond hearing of her
voice. He had not sought even to kiss her hand, as a despairing lover
has a prescriptive right to do, much less the hem of her robe, as they
do in romances. He was gone in a whirlwind of wild haste, and misery,
and passion. She sat still, with her lips apart, her eyes very wide
open, her face very white, and listened to his hasty steps going away
into the outside world. He was gone–quite gone, and Sara sat aghast.
She could not cry; she could not speak; she could but listen to his
departing steps, which echoed upon her heart as it seemed. Was it all
over? Would he never see her face again, as he said? Had she made him
miserable? Sara’s face grew whiter and whiter as she asked herself these
questions. Of one thing there could be no doubt, that it was she who had
drawn this explanation from him. He had not wished to speak, and she had
made him speak. And this was the end. If a sudden thunder-bolt had
fallen before her, she could not have been more startled and dismayed.
She never stirred for an hour or more after he had left her. She let the
evening darken round her, and never asked for lights. Every thing was
perfectly still, yet she was deafened by the noises in her ears, her
heart beating, and voices rising and contending in it which she had
never heard before. And was this the end? She was sitting still in the
window like a thing in white marble when the servant came in with the
lamp, and he had almost stumbled against her as he went to shut the
window, and yelled with terror, thinking it was a ghost. It was only
then that Sara regained command of herself. Was it all over from
to-night?

Continue Reading

A DOUBLE HUMILIATION

Jack entered the avenue that evening in a frame of mind very different
from his feelings on his last recorded visit to Swayne’s cottage. He had
been sitting with Pamela all the evening. Mrs. Preston had retired up
stairs with her headache, and, with an amount of good sense for which
Jack respected her, did not come down again; and the young fellow sat
with Pamela, and the minutes flew on angels’ wings. When he came away
his feelings were as different as can be conceived from those with which
he marched home, resolute but rueful, after his first interview with
Mrs. Preston. Pamela and her mother were two very different things–the
one was duty, and had to be got through with; but the other–Jack went
slowly, and took a little notice of the stars, and felt that the evening
air was very sweet. He had put his hands lightly in his pockets, not
thrust down with savage force to the depths of those receptacles; and
there was a kind of half smile, the reflection of a smile, about his
mouth. Fumes were hanging about the youth of that intoxication which is
of all kinds of intoxication the most ethereal. He was softly dazzled
and bewildered by a subdued sweetness in the air, and in the trees, and
in the sky–something that was nothing perceptible, and yet that kept
breathing round him a new influence in the air. This was the sort of way
in which his evenings, perhaps, were always to be spent. It gave a
different view altogether of the subject from that which was in Jack’s
mind on the first dawning of the new life before him. Then he had been
able to realize that it would make a wonderful difference in all his
plans and prospects, and even in his comforts. Now, the difference
looked all the other way. Yes, it would indeed be a difference! To go in
every night, not to Brownlows with his father’s intermitting talk and
Sara’s “tantrums” (this was his brotherly way of putting it), and the
monotony of a grave long established wealthy existence, but into a poor
little house full of novelty and freshness, and quaint poverty, and
amusing straits, and–Pamela. To be sure that last was the great point.
They had been speculating about this wonderful new little house, as was
natural, and she had laughed till the tears glistened in her pretty eyes
at thought of all the mistakes she would make–celestial blunders, which
even to Jack, sensible as he was, looked (to-night) as if they must be
pleasanter and better and every way more fitting than the wisest actions
of the other people. In this kind of sweet insanity the young fellow had
left his little love. Life somehow seemed to have taken a different
aspect to him since that other evening. No doubt it was a serious
business; but then when there are two young creatures, you understand,
setting out together, and a hundred chances before them, such as nobody
could divine–one to help the other if either should stumble, and two to
laugh over every thing, and a hundred devices to be contrived, and
Crusoe-like experiments in the art of living, and droll little mishaps,
and a perpetual sweet variety–the prospect changes. This is why there
had come, in the starlight, a sort of reflection of a smile upon Jack’s
mouth. It was, on the whole, so very considerate and sensible of Mrs.
Preston to have that headache and stay up stairs. And Pamela, altogether
apart from the fact that she was Pamela, was such charming company–so
fresh, so quick, so ready to take up any thing that looked like fun, so
full of pleasant changes, catching the light upon her at so many points.
This bright, rippling, sparkling, limpid stream was to go singing
through all his life. He was thinking of this when he suddenly saw the
shadow under the chestnuts, and found that his father had come out to
meet him. It was rather a startling interruption to so pleasant a dream.

Jack was very much taken aback, but he did not lose his self-possession;
he made a brave attempt to stave off all discussion, and make the
encounter appear the most natural thing in the world, as was the
instinct of a man up to the requirements of his century. “It’s a lovely
night,” said Jack; “I don’t wonder you came out. I’ve been myself–for
a walk. It does a fellow more good than sitting shut up in these stuffy
rooms all night.”

Now the fact was Jack had been shut up in a very stuffy room, a room
smaller than the smallest chamber into which he had ever entered at
Brownlows; but there are matters, it is well known, in which young men
do not feel themselves bound by the strict limits of fact.

“I was not thinking about the night,” said Mr. Brownlow; “there are
times when a man is glad to move about to keep troublesome things out of
his mind; but luckily you don’t know much about that.”

“I know as much about it as most people, I suppose, sir,” said Jack,
with a little natural indignation; “but I hope there is nothing
particular to put you out–that Wardell case–”

“I was not thinking of the Wardell case either,” said Mr. Brownlow, with
an impatient momentary smile. “I fear my clients’ miseries don’t impress
me so much as they ought to do. I was thinking of things nearer home–”

Upon which there was a moment’s pause. If Jack had followed his first
impulse, he would have asked, with a little defiance, if it was any
thing in his conduct to which his father particularly objected. But he
was prudent, and refrained; and they took a few steps on together in
silence toward the house, which shone in front of them with all its
friendly lights.

“No,” said Mr. Brownlow, in that reflective way that men think it
competent and proper to use when their interlocutor is young, and can
not by any means deny the fact. “You don’t know much about it; the
hardest thing that ever came in your way was to persuade yourself to
give up a personal indulgence: and even that you have not always done.
You don’t understand what _care_ means. How should you? Youth is never
really occupied with any thing but itself.”

“You speak very positively, sir,” said Jack, affronted. “I suppose it’s
no use for a man in that selfish condition to say a word in his own
defense.”

“I don’t know that it’s selfish–it’s natural,” said Mr. Brownlow: and
then he sighed. “Jack, I have something to say to you. We had a talk on
a serious subject some time ago–”

“Yes,” said Jack. He saw now what was coming, and set himself to face
it. He thrust his hands deep down into his pockets and set up his
shoulders to his ears, which was a good warning, had Mr. Brownlow
perceived it, that, come right or wrong, come rhyme or reason, this rock
should fly from its firm base as soon as Jack would–and that any
remonstrance on the subject was purely futile. But Mr. Brownlow did not
perceive.

“I thought you had been convinced,” his father continued. “It might be
folly on my part to think any sort of reason would induce a young
fellow, brought up as you have been, to forego his pleasure; but I
suppose I had a prejudice in favor of my own son, and I thought you saw
it in the right point of view. I hear from Sara to-night–”

“I should like to know what Sara has to do with it,” said Jack, with an
explosion of indignation. “Of course, sir, all you may have to say on
this or any other subject I am bound to listen to with respect; but as
for Sara and her interference–”

“Don’t be a fool, Jack,” said Mr. Brownlow, sharply. “Sara has told me
nothing that I could not have found out for myself. I warned you, but it
does not appear to have been of any use; and now I have a word more to
say. Look here. I take an interest in this little girl at the gate.
There is something in her face that reminds me–but never mind that. I
feel sure she’s a good girl, and I won’t have her harmed. Understand me
once for all. You may think it a small matter enough, but it’s not a
small matter. I won’t have that child harmed. If she should come to evil
through you, you shall have me to answer to. It is not only her poor
mother to any poor friend she may have–”

“Sir,” cried Jack, boiling over, “do you know you are insulting me?”

“Listen to what I am saying,” said his father. “Don’t answer. I am in
earnest. She is an innocent child, and I won’t have her harmed. If you
can’t keep away from her, have the honesty to tell me so, and I’ll find
means to get you away. Good Lord, sir! is every instinct of manhood so
dead in you that you can not overcome a vicious inclination, though it
should ruin that poor innocent child?”

A perfect flood of fury and resentment swept through Jack’s mind; but he
was not going to be angry and lose his advantage. He was white with
suppressed passion, but his voice did not swell with anger, as his
father’s had done. It was thus his self-possession that carried the day.

“When you have done, sir,” he said, taking off his hat with a quietness
which cost him an immense effort, “perhaps you will hear what I have got
to say.”

Mr. Brownlow for the moment had lost his temper, which was very foolish.
Probably it was because other things too were going wrong, and his sense
of justice did not permit him to avenge their contrariety upon the
purely innocent. Now Jack was not purely innocent, and here was an
outlet. And then he had been walking about in the avenue for more than
an hour waiting, and was naturally sick of it. And, finally, having lost
his own temper, he was furious with Jack for not losing his.

“Speak out, sir,” he cried; “I have done. Not that your speaking can
make much difference. I repeat, if you hurt a hair of that child’s
head–”

“I will thank you to speak of her in a different way,” said Jack, losing
patience also. “You may think me a villain if you please; but how dare
you venture to suppose that I _could_ bring her to harm? Is _she_
nobody? is that all you think of her? By Jove! the young lady you are
speaking of, without knowing her,” said Jack, suddenly stopping himself,
staring at his father with calm fury, and speaking with deadly emphasis,
“is going to be–my wife.”

Mr. Brownlow was so utterly confounded that he stood still and stared in
his turn at his audacious son. He gave a start as if some one had shot
him; and then he stood speechless and stared, wondering blankly if some
transformation had occurred, or if this was actually Jack that stood
before him. It ought to have been a relief to his mind–no doubt if he
had been as good a man as he ought to have been, he would have gone
down on his knees and given thanks that his son’s intentions were so
virtuous; but in the mean time amaze swallowed up every other sentiment.
“Your wife!” he said, with the utmost wonder which the human voice is
capable of expressing in his voice. The wildest effort of imagination
could never have brought him to such an idea–Jack’s wife! His
consternation was such that it took the strength out of him. He could
not have said a word more had it been to save his life. If any one had
pushed rudely against him he might have dropped on the ground in the
weakness of his amaze. “You might have knocked him down with a feather,”
was the description old Betty would have given; and she would have been
right.

“Yes,” said Jack, with a certain magnificence; “and as for my power, or
any man’s power, of _harming_–her. By Jove!–though of course you
didn’t know–”

This he said magnanimously, being not without pity for the utter
downfall which had overtaken his father. Their positions, in fact, had
totally changed. It was Mr. Brownlow who was struck dumb. Instead of
carrying things with a high hand as he had begun to do, it was he who
was reduced into the false position. And Jack was on the whole sorry for
his father. He took his hands out of the depths of his pockets, and put
down his shoulders into their natural position. And he was willing “to
let down easy,” as he himself expressed it, the unlucky father who had
made such an astounding mistake.

As for Mr. Brownlow, it took him some time to recover himself. It was
not quite easy to realize the position, especially after the warm, not
to say violent, way in which he had been beguiled into taking Pamela’s
part. He had meant every word of what he said. Her sweet little face had
attracted him more than he knew how to explain; it had reminded him, he
could not exactly tell of what, of something that belonged to his youth
and made his heart soft. And the thought of pain or shame coming to her
through his son had been very bitter to him. But he was not quite ready
all the same to say, Bless you, my children. Such a notion, indeed, had
never occurred to him. Mr. Brownlow had never for a moment supposed that
his son Jack, the wise and prudent, could have been led to entertain
such an idea; and he was so much startled that he did not know what to
think. After the first pause of amazement he had gone on again slowly,
feeling as if by walking on some kind of mental progress might also be
practicable; and Jack had accompanied him in a slightly jaunty,
magnanimous, and forgiving way. Indeed, circumstances altogether had
conspired, as it were, in Jack’s favor. He could not have hoped for so
good an opportunity of telling his story–an opportunity which not only
took all that was formidable from the disclosure, but actually presented
it in the character of a relief and standing evidence of unthought-of
virtue. And Jack was so simple-minded in the midst of his wisdom that it
seemed to him as if his father’s anticipated opposition were summarily
disposed of, to be heard of no more–a thing which he did not quite know
whether to be sorry for or glad.

Perhaps it staggered him a little in this idea when Mr. Brownlow, after
going on, very slowly and thoughtfully, almost to the very door of the
house, turned back again, and began to retrace his steps, still as
gravely and quietly as ever. Then a certain thrill of anticipation came
over Jack. One fytte was ended, but another was for to say. Feeling had
been running very high between them when they last spoke; now there was
a certain hushed tone about the talk, as if a cloud had suddenly rolled
over them. Mr. Brownlow spoke, but he did not look at Jack, nor even
look up, but went on moodily, with his eyes fixed on the ground, now and
then stopping to kick away a little stone among the gravel, a pause
which became almost tragic by repetition. “Is it long since this
happened?” he said, speaking in a very subdued tone of voice.

“No,” said Jack, feeling once more the high color rushing up into his
face, though in the darkness there was nobody who could see–“no, only a
few days.”

“And you said your wife,” Mr. Brownlow added–“your wife. Whom does she
belong to? People don’t go so far without knowing a few preliminaries, I
suppose?”

“I don’t know who she belongs to, except her mother,” said Jack, growing
very hot; and then he added, on the spur of the moment, “I dare say you
think it’s not very wise–I don’t pretend it’s wise–I never supposed it
was; but as for the difficulties, I am ready to face them. I don’t see
that I can say any more.”

“I did not express any opinion,” said Mr. Brownlow, coldly; “no–I don’t
suppose wisdom has very much to do with it. But I should like to
understand. Do you mean to say that every thing is settled? or do you
only speak in hope?”

“Yes, it is quite settled,” said Jack: in spite of himself this cold
questioning had made a difference even in the sound of his voice. It all
came before him again in its darker colors. The light seemed to steal
out of the prospect before him moment by moment. His face burned in the
dark; he was disgusted with himself for not having something to say; and
gradually he grew into a state of feverish irritation at the stones
which his father took the trouble to kick away, and the crunching of the
gravel under his feet.

“And you have not a penny in the world,” said Mr. Brownlow, in his
dispassionate voice.

“No,” said Jack, “I have not a penny in the world.”

And then there was another pause. The very stars seemed to have gone in,
not to look at his discomfiture, poor fellow! A cold little wind had
sprung up, and went moaning out and in eerily among the trees; even old
Betty at the lodge had gone to bed, and there was no light to be seen
from her windows. The prospect was black, dreary, very chilling–nothing
to be seen but the sky, over which clouds were stealing, and the
tree-tops swaying wildly against them; and the sound of the steps on the
gravel. Jack had uttered his last words with great firmness and even a
touch of indignation; but there can be no doubt that heaviness was
stealing over his heart.

“If it had been any one but yourself who told me, Jack,” said his
father, “I should not have believed it. You of all men in the world–I
ought to beg your pardon for misjudging you. I thought you would think
of your own pleasure rather than of any body’s comfort, and I was
mistaken. I beg your pardon. I am glad to have to make you an apology
like this.”

“Thanks,” said Jack, curtly. It was complimentary, no doubt; but the
compliment itself was not complimentary. I beg your pardon for thinking
you a villain–that was how it sounded to his ears; and he was not
flattered even by his escape.

“But I can’t rejoice over the rest,” said Mr. Brownlow–“it is going
against all your own principles, for one thing. You are very young–you
have no call to marry for ten years at least–and of course if you wait
ten years you will change your mind.”

“I have not the least intention of waiting ten years,” said Jack.

“Then perhaps you will be so good as to inform me what your intentions
are,” said his father, with a little irony; “if you have thought at all
on the subject it may be the easier way.”

“Of course I have thought on the subject,” said Jack; “I hope I am not a
fellow to do things without thinking. I don’t pretend it is prudent.
Prudence is very good, but there are some things that are better. I mean
to get married with the least possible delay.”

“And then?” said Mr. Brownlow.

“Then, sir, I suppose,” said Jack, not without a touch of bitterness,
“you will let me remain in the office, and keep my clerkship; seeing
that, as you say, I have not a penny in the world.”

Then they walked on together again for several minutes in the darkness.
It was not wonderful that Jack’s heart should be swelling with a sense
of injury. Here was he, a rich man’s son, with the great park breathing
round him in the darkness, and the great house shining behind, with its
many lights, and many servants, and much luxury. All was his
father’s–all, and a great deal more than that: and yet he, his father’s
only son, had “not a penny in the world.” No wonder Jack’s heart was
very bitter within him; but he was too proud to make a word of
complaint.

“You think it cruel of me to say so,” Mr. Brownlow said, after that long
pause; “and so it looks, I don’t doubt. But if you knew as much as I do,
it would not appear to you so wonderful. I am neither so rich nor so
assured in my wealth as people think.”

“Do you mean that you have been losing money?” said Jack, who was half
touched, in the midst of his discontent, by his father’s tone.

“I have been losing–not exactly money,” said Mr. Brownlow, with a sigh;
“but never mind: I can’t hide from you, Jack, that you have disappointed
me. I feel humbled about it altogether. Not that I am a man to care for
worldly advantages that are won by marriage; but yet–and you did not
seem the sort of boy to throw yourself away.”

“Look here, father,” said Jack; “you may be angry, but I must say one
word. I think a man, when he can work for his wife, has a right to marry
as he likes–at least _if_ he likes,” added the young philosopher,
hastily, with a desperate thought of his consistency; “but I do think a
girl’s friends have something to do with it. Yet you set your face
against me, and let _that_ fellow see Sara constantly–see her
alone–talk with her–I found them in the flower-garden the other
day–and then, by Jove! you pitch into me.”

“You are speaking of young Powys,” said Mr. Brownlow, with sudden
dignity; “Powys is a totally different thing–I have told you so
before.”

“And I have told you, sir, that you are mistaken,” said Jack. “How is
Powys different? except that he’s a young–cad–and never had any
breeding. As for any idea you may have in your head about his
family–have you ever seen his mother?”

“Have you?” said Mr. Brownlow; and his heart, too, began to beat
heavily, as if there could be any sentimental power in that good woman’s
name.

“Yes,” said Jack, in his ignorance, “she is a homely sort of sensible
woman, that never could have been any thing beyond what she is; and one
look at her would prove that to you. I don’t mean to say I like people
that have seen better days; but you would never suppose she had been any
thing more than what she is now; she might have been a Masterton
shopkeeper’s daughter from Chestergate or Dove Street,” Jack continued,
“and she would have looked just as she looks now.”

Mr. Brownlow, in spite of himself, gave a long shuddering sigh. He drew
a step apart from his son, and stumbled over a stone in the gravel, not
having the heart even to kick it away. Jack’s words, though they were so
careless and so ignorant, went to his father’s heart. As it happened, by
some curious coincidence, he had chosen the very locality from which
Phœbe Thomson would have come. And it rang into the very centre of
that unsuspected target which Mr. Brownlow had set up to receive chance
shots, in his heart.

“I don’t know where she has come from,” he said; “but yet I tell you
Powys is different; and some day you will know better. But whatever may
be done about that has nothing to do with your own case. I repeat to
you, Jack, it is very humbling to me.”

Here he stopped short, and Jack was doggedly silent, and had not a word
of sympathy to give him. It was true, this second _mésalliance_ was a
great blow to Mr. Brownlow–a greater blow to his pride and sense of
family importance than any body would have supposed. He had made up his
mind to it that Sara must marry Powys; that her grandeur and her pretty
state could only be secured to her by these means, and that she must pay
the price for them–a price which, fortunately, she did not seem to have
any great difficulty about. But that Jack should make an ignoble
marriage too, that people could be able to say that the attorney’s
children had gone back to their natural grade, and that all his wealth,
and their admittance into higher circles, and Jack’s education, and
Sara’s sovereignty, should end in their marrying, the one her father’s
clerk, the other the little girl in the cottage at the gate, was a very
bitter pill to their father. He had never schemed for great marriages
for them, never attempted to bring heirs and heiresses under their
notice; but still it was a downfall. Even the Brownlows of Masterton had
made very different alliances. It was perhaps a curious sort of thing
to strike a man, and a man of business, but nevertheless it was very
hard upon him. In Sara’s case–if it did come to any thing in Sara’s
case–there was an evident necessity, and there was an equivalent; yet
even there Mr. Brownlow knew that when the time came to avow the
arrangement, it would not be a pleasant office. He knew how people would
open their eyes, how the thing would be spoken of, how his motives and
_her_ motives would be questioned. And to think of Jack adding another
story to the wonder of the county! Mr. Brownlow did not care much for
old Lady Motherwell, but he knew what she would say. She would clasp her
old hands together in their brown gloves (if it was morning), and she
would say, “They were always very good sort of people, but they were
never much in our way–and it is far better they should settle in their
own condition of life. I am glad to hear the young people have had so
much sense.” So the county people would be sure to say, and the thought
of it galled Mr. Brownlow. He would not have felt it so much had Jack
alone been the culprit, and Sara free to marry Sir Charles Motherwell,
or any other county potentate; but think of both!–and of all the
spectators that were looking on, and all their comments! It was mere
pride and personal feeling, he knew–even feeling that was a little
paltry and scarcely worthy of him–but he could not help feeling the
sting and humiliation; and this perhaps, though it was merely fanciful,
was the one thing which galled him most about Jack.

Jack for his part had nothing to say in opposition. He opened his eyes a
little in the dark to think of this unsuspected susceptibility on his
father’s part, but he did not think it unjust. It seemed to him on the
whole natural enough. It was hard upon him, after he had worked and
struggled to bring his children into this position. Jack did not
understand his father’s infatuation in respect to Powys. It was
infatuation. But he could well enough understand how it might be very
painful to him to see his only son make an obscure marriage. He was not
offended at this. He felt for his father, and even he felt for himself,
who had the thing to do. It was not a thing he would have approved of
for any of his friends, and he did not approve of it in his own case. He
knew it was the only thing he could do; and after an evening such as
that he had passed with little Pamela, he forgot that there was any
thing in it but delight and sweetness. That, however, was a
forgetfulness which could not last long. He had felt it could not last
long even while he was taking his brief enjoyment of it, and he began
again fully to realize the other side of the question as he walked
slowly along in the dark by his father’s side. The silence lasted a long
time, for Mr. Brownlow had a great deal to think about. He walked on
mechanically almost as far as Betty’s cottage, forgetting almost his
son’s presence, at least forgetting that there was any necessity for
keeping up a conversation. At last, however, it was he who spoke.

“Jack,” he said, “I wish you would reconsider all this. Don’t interrupt
me, please. I wish you’d think it all over again. I don’t say that I
think you very much to blame. She has a sweet face,” said Mr. Brownlow,
with a certain melting of tone, “and I don’t say that she may not be as
sweet as her face; but still, Jack, you are very young, and it’s a very
unsuitable match. You are too sensible not to acknowledge that; and it
may injure your prospects and cramp you for all your life. In justice
both to yourself and your family, you ought to consider all that.”

“As it happens, sir, it is too late to consider all that,” said Jack,
“even if I ever could have balanced secondary motives against–”

“Bah!” said Mr. Brownlow; and then he added, with a certain impatience,
“don’t tell me that you have not balanced–I know you too well for that.
I know you have too much sense for that. Of course you have balanced all
the motives. And do you tell me that you are ready to resign all your
advantages, your pleasant life here, your position, your prospects, and
go and live on a clerk’s income in Masterton–all for love?” said Mr.
Brownlow. He did not mean to sneer, but his voice, as he spoke, took a
certain inflection of sarcasm, as perhaps comes natural to a man beyond
middle age, when he has such suggestions to make.

Jack once more thrust his hands into the depths of his pockets, and
gloom and darkness came into his heart. Was it the voice of the tempter
that was addressing him? But then, had he not already gone over all that
ground?–the loss of all comforts and advantages, the clerk’s income,
the little house in Masterton. “I have already thought of all that,” he
said, “as you suggest; but it does not make any difference to me.” Then
he stopped and made a long pause. “If this is all you have to say to me,
sir, perhaps it will be best to stop here,” said Jack; and he made a
pause and turned back again with a certain determination toward the
house.

“It is all I have to say,” said Mr. Brownlow, gravely; and he too turned
round, and the two made a solemn march homeward, with scarcely any talk.
This is how Jack’s story was told. He had not thought of doing it, and
he had found little comfort and encouragement in the disclosure; but
still it was made, and that was so much gained. The lights were
beginning to be extinguished in the windows, so late and long had been
their discussion. But as they came up, Sara became visible at the window
of her own room, which opened upon a balcony. She had come to look for
them in her pretty white dressing-gown, with all her wealth of hair
streaming over her shoulders. It was a very familiar sort of apparel,
but still, to be sure, it was only her father and her brother who were
witnesses of her little exhibition. “Papa, I could not wait for you,”
she cried, leaning over the balcony, “I couldn’t keep Angelique sitting
up. Come and say good-night.” When Mr. Brownlow went in to obey her,
Jack stood still and pondered. There was a difference. Sara would be
permitted to make any marriage she pleased–even with a clerk in his
father’s office; whereas her brother, who ought to have been the
principal–However, to do him justice, there was no grudge in Jack’s
heart. He scorned to be envious of his sister. “Sara will have it all
her own way,” he said to himself a little ruefully, as he lighted his
candle and went up the great staircase; and then it occurred to him to
wonder what she would do about Pamela. Already he felt himself
superseded. It was his to take the clerk’s income and subside into
inferiority, and Sara was to be the queen of Brownlows–as indeed she
had always been.

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HOW SARA REGARDED THE MOTE IN HER BROTHER’S EYE

A few days after these events, caprice or curiosity led Sara to Swayne’s
cottage. She had very much given up going there–why, she could scarcely
have explained. In reality she knew nothing about the relationship
between her brother and her friend; but either that, unknown to herself,
had exercised some kind of magnetic repulsion upon her, or her own
preoccupation had withdrawn Sara from any special approach to her little
favorite. She would have said she was as fond of her as ever; but in
fact she did not want Pamela as she had wanted her. And the consequence
was that they had been much longer apart than either of them, occupied
with their own concerns, had been aware. The motive which drew Sara
thither after so long an interval was about as mysterious as that which
kept her away. She went, but did not know why; perhaps from some impulse
of those secret threads of fate which are ever being drawn unconsciously
to us into another and another combination; perhaps simply from a
girlish yearning toward the pleasant companion of whom for a time she
had made so much. Mrs. Preston had not recovered when Sara went to see
her daughter–she was still lying on the sofa with one of her nervous
attacks, Pamela said–though the fact was that neither mother nor
daughter understood what kind of attack it was. Anxiety and excitement
and uncertainty had worn poor Mrs. Preston out; and then her headache
was so handy–it saved her from making any decision–it excused her to
herself for not settling immediately what she ought to do. She was not
able to move, and she was thankful for it. She could not undergo the
fatigue of finding some other place to live in, of giving Mr. John his
final answer. To be sure he knew and she knew that his final answer had
been given–that there could be no doubt about it; but still every
practical conclusion was postponed by the attack, and in this point of
view it was the most fortunate thing which could have occurred.

Things were thus with them when Sara, after a long absence, one day
suddenly lighted down upon the shady house in the glory of her summer
attire, like a white dove lying into the bosom of the clouds. Perhaps it
would be wrong to say that Pamela in her black frock stood no chance in
the presence of her visitor; but it is certain that when Miss Brownlow
came floating in with her light dress, and her bright ribbons and her
shining hair, every thing about her gleaming with a certain reflection
from the sunshine, Pamela and her mother could neither of them look at
any thing else. She dazzled them, and yet drew their eyes to her, as
light itself draws every body’s eyes. Pamela shrank a little from her
friend’s side with a painful humility, asking herself whether it was
possible that this bright creature should ever be her sister; while even
Mrs. Preston, though she had all a mother’s admiration for her own
child, could not but feel her heart sink as she thought how this
splendid princess would ever tolerate so inferior an alliance. This
consciousness in their minds made an immediate estrangement between
them. Sara was condescending, and she felt she was condescending, and
hated herself; and as for the mother and daughter, they were constrained
and stricken dumb by the secret in their hearts. And thus there rose a
silent offense on both sides. On hers because they were so cold and
distant; on theirs because it seemed to them that she had come with the
intention of being affable and kind to them, they who could no longer
accept patronage. The mother lay on the sofa in the dark corner, and
Sara sat on the chair in the window, and between the two points Pamela
went straying, ashamed of herself, trying to smooth over her own secret
irritation and discontent, trying to keep the peace between the others,
and yet at the same time wishing and longing that her once welcome
friend would leave them to themselves. The circumstances of their
intercourse were changed, and the intercourse itself had to be organized
anew. Thus the visit might have passed over, leaving only an impression
of pain on their minds, but for an accident which set the matter in a
clearer light. Pamela had been seated at the window with her work before
Sara entered, and underneath the linen she had been stitching lay an
envelope directed to her by Jack Brownlow. Jack had not seen his little
love for one entire day, and naturally he had written her a little
letter, which was as foolish as if he had not been so sensible a young
man. It was only the envelope which lay thus on the table under Pamela’s
work. Its enclosure was laid up in quite another sanctuary, but the
address was there, unquestionably in Jack’s hand. It lay the other way
from Sara’s eyes, tantalizing her with the well-known writing. She tried
hard–without betraying herself, in the intervals of the
conversation–to read the name on it upside down, and her suspicion had
not, as may be supposed, an enlivening effect upon the conversation.
Then she stooped and pretended to look at Pamela’s work; then she gave
the provoking envelope a little stealthy touch with the end of her
parasol. Perhaps scrupulous honor would have forbidden these little
attempts to discover the secret; but when a sister perceives her
brother’s handwriting on the work-table of her friend, it is hard to
resist the inclination to make sure in the first place that it is his,
in the second place to whom it is addressed. This was all that Sara was
guilty of. She would not have peeped into the note for a kingdom, but
she did want to know whom it was written to. Perhaps it was only some
old scrap of paper, some passing word about mendings or fittings to Mr.
Swayne. Perhaps–and then Sara gave the envelope stealthily that little
poke with her parasol.

A few minutes after she got up to go: her complexion had heightened
suddenly in the strangest way, her eyes had taken a certain rigid look,
which meant excitement and wrath. “Will you come out with me a little
way? I want to speak to you,” she said, as Pamela went with her to the
door. It was very different from those old beseeching, tender,
undeniable invitations which the one had been in the habit of giving to
the other; but there was something in it which constrained Pamela,
though she trembled to her very heart, to obey. She did not know any
thing about the envelope; she had forgotten it–forgotten that she had
left it there, and had not perceived Sara’s stealthy exertions to secure
a sight of it. But nevertheless she knew there was something coming. She
took down her little black hat, trembling, and stole out, a dark little
figure, beside Sara, stately in her light flowing draperies. They did
not say a word to each other as they crossed the road and entered at the
gates and passed Betty’s cottage. Betty came to the door and looked
after them with a curiosity so great that she was tempted to follow and
creep under the bushes, and listen; but Sara said nothing to betray
herself as long as they were within the range of old Betty’s eye. When
they had got to the chestnut-trees, to that spot where Mr. Brownlow had
come upon his son and his son’s love, and where there was a possibility
of escaping from the observation of spectators at the gate, Sara’s
composure gave way. All at once she seized Pamela’s arm, who turned
round to her with her lips apart and her heart struggling up into her
mouth with terror. “Jack has been writing to you,” said Sara; “tell me
what it has been about.”

“What it has been about!” said Pamela, with a cry. The poor little girl
was so taken by surprise that all her self-possession forsook her. Her
knees trembled, her heart beat, fluttering wildly in her ears; she sank
down on the grass in her confusion, and covered her face with her hands.
“Oh, Miss Brownlow!” was all that she was able to say.

“That is no answer,” said Sara, with all her natural vehemence.
“Pamela, get up, and answer me like a sensible creature. I don’t mean to
say it is your fault. A man might write to you and you might not be to
blame. Tell me only what it means. What did he write to you about?”

Then Pamela bethought herself that she too had a certain dignity to
preserve; not her own so much as that which belonged to her in right of
her betrothed. She got up hastily, blushing scarlet, and though she did
not meet Sara’s angry questioning eyes, she turned her downcast face
toward her with a certain steadfastness. “It is not any harm,” she said,
softly, “and, Miss Brownlow, you are no–no–older than me.”

“I am two years older than you,” said Sara, “and I know the world, and
you don’t; and I am his sister. Oh, you foolish little thing! don’t you
know it is wicked? If you had told me, I never, never would have let him
trouble you. I never thought Jack would have done any thing so dreadful.
It’s because you don’t know.”

“Mamma knows,” said Pamela, with a certain self-assertion; and then her
courage once more failed her. “I tried to stop him,” she said with the
tears coming to her eyes, “and so did mamma. But I could not force him;
not when he–he–would not. What I think of,” cried Pamela, “is him, not
myself; but if he won’t, what _can_ I do?”

“If he won’t what?” said Sara, in her amazement and wrath.

But Pamela could make no answer; half with the bitterness of it, half
with the sweetness of it, her heart was full. It was hard to be
questioned and taken to task thus by her own friend; but it was sweet to
know that what she could do was nothing, that her efforts had been vain,
that _he_ would not give up. All this produced such a confusion in her
that she could not say another word. She turned away, and once more
covered her face with her hand; not that she was at all miserable–or if
indeed it was a kind of misery, misery itself is sometimes sweet.

As for Sara, she blazed upon her little companion with an indignation
which was splendid to behold. “Your mamma knows,” she said, “and permits
it! Oh, Pamela! that I should have been so fond of you, and that you
should treat me like this!”

“I am not treating you badly–it is you,” said Pamela, with a sob which
she could not restrain, “who are cruel to me.”

“If you think so, we had better part,” said Sara, with tragic grandeur.
“We had better part, and forget that we ever knew each other. I could
have borne any thing from you but being false. Oh, Pamela! how could you
do it? To be treacherous to me who have always loved you, and to
correspond with Jack!”

“I–don’t–correspond–with Jack,” cried Pamela, the words being wrung
out of her; and then she stopped short, and dried her eyes, and grew
red, and looked Sara in the face. It was true, and yet it was false; and
the consciousness of this falsehood in the spirit made her cheeks burn,
and yet startled her into composure. She stood upright for the first
time, and eyed her questioner, but it was with the self-possession not
of innocence but of guilt.

“I am very glad to hear it,” said Sara–“very glad; but you let him
write to you. And when I see his handwriting on your table, what am I to
think? I will speak to him about it to-night; I will not have him tease
you. Pamela, if you will trust in me, I will bring you through it safe.
Surely it would be better for you to have me for a friend than Jack?”

Poor Pamela’s eyes sank to the ground as this question was addressed to
her. Her blush, which had begun to fade, returned with double violence.
Such a torrent of crimson rushed to her face and throat that even Sara
took note of it. Pamela could not tell a lie–not another lie, as she
said to herself in her heart; for the fact was she did prefer
Jack–preferred him infinitely and beyond all question; and such being
the case, could not so much as look at her questioner, much less breathe
a word of assent. Sara marked the silence, the overwhelming blush, the
look which suddenly fell beneath her own, with the consternation of
utter astonishment. In that moment a renewed storm of indignation swept
over her. She stamped her foot upon the grass in the impatience of her
thoughts.

“You prefer Jack,” she cried, in horror–“you prefer Jack! Oh, heaven!
but in that case,” she added, gathering up her long dress in her arms,
and turning away with a grandeur of disdain which made an end of Pamela,
“it is evident that we had better part. I do not know that there is any
thing more I can say. I have thought more of you than I ought to have
done,” said Sara, making a few steps forward and then turning half round
with the air of an injured princess, “but now it is better that we
should part.”

With this she waved her hand and turned away. It was in her heart to
have turned and gone back five-and-twenty times before she reached the
straight line of the avenue from which they had strayed. Before she got
to the first laurel in the shrubberies her heart had given her fifty
pricks on the subject of her cruelty; but Sara was not actually so moved
by these admonitions as to go back. As for Pamela, she stood for a long
time where her friend had left her, motionless under the chestnut-trees,
with tears dropping slowly from her downcast eyes, and a speechless yet
sweet anguish in her heart. Her mother had been right. The sister’s
little friend and the brother’s betrothed were two different things.
This was how she was to be received by those who were nearest in the
world to him; and yet he was a man, and his own master; all she could do
was in vain, and he could not be forced to give up. Pamela stood still
until his sister’s light steps began to sound on the gravel; and when it
was evident the parting had been final, and that Sara did not mean to
come back, the poor child relieved her bosom by a long sob, and then
went home very humbly by the broad sunny avenue. She went and poured her
troubles into her mother’s bosom, which naturally was so much the worse
for Mrs. Preston’s headache. It was very hard to bear, and yet there was
one thing which gave a little comfort; Jack was his own master, and
giving him up, as every body else adjured her to do, would be a thing
entirely without effect.

The dinner-table at Brownlows was very grave that night. Mr. Brownlow,
it is true, was much as usual, and so was Jack; they were very much as
they always were, notwithstanding that very grave complications
surrounded the footsteps of both. But as for Sara, her aspect was
solemnity itself; she spoke in monosyllables only; she ate little, and
that little in a pathetic way; when her father or her brother addressed
her she took out her finest manners and extinguished them. Altogether
she was a very imposing and majestic sight; and after a few attempts at
ordinary conversation, the two gentlemen, feeling themselves very
trifling and insignificant personages indeed, gave in, and struggled no
longer against an influence which was too much for them. There was
something, too, in her manner–something imperceptible to Mr. Brownlow,
perceptible only to Jack–which made it clear to the latter that it was
on his account his sister was so profoundly disturbed. He said “Pshaw!”
to himself at first, and tried to think himself quite indifferent; but
the fact was he was not indifferent. When she left the room at last,
Jack had no heart for a chat with his father over the claret. He too
felt his secret on his mind, and became uncomfortable when he was drawn
at all into a confidential attitude; and to-day, in addition to this,
there was in his heart a prick of alarm. Did Sara know? was that what
she meant? Jack knew very well that sooner or later every body must
know; but at the present moment a mingled sense of shame and pride and
independence kept him silent. Even supposing it was the most prudent
marriage he could make, why should a fellow go and tell every body like
a girl? It might be well enough for a girl to do it–a girl had to get
every body’s consent, and ask every body’s advice, whereas he required
neither advice nor consent. And so he had not felt himself called upon
to say any thing about it; but it is nervous work, when you have a
secret on your mind, to be left alone with your nearest relative, the
person who has the best right to know, and who in a way possesses your
natural confidence and has done nothing to forfeit it. So Jack escaped
five minutes after Sara, and hastened to the drawing-room looking for
her. Perhaps she had expected it–at all events she was there waiting
for him, still as solemn, pathetic and important as it is possible to
conceive. She had some work in her hands which of itself was highly
significant. Jack went up to her, and she looked at him, but took no
farther notice. After that one glance she looked down again, and went on
with her work–things were too serious for speech.

“What’s the matter?” said Jack. “Why are you making such a tragedy-queen
of yourself? What has every body done? My opinion is you have frightened
my father to death.”

“I should be very sorry if I had frightened papa,” said Sara, meekly;
and then she broke forth with vehemence, “Oh, how can you, Jack? Don’t
you feel ashamed to look me in the face?”

“_I_ ashamed to look you in the face?” cried Jack, in utter
bewilderment; and he retired a step, but yet stared at her with the most
straightforward stare. His eyes did not fall under the scrutiny of hers,
but gradually as he looked there began to steal up among his whiskers an
increasing heat. He grew red, though there was no visible cause for it.
“I should like to know what I have done,” he said, with an affected
laugh. “Anyhow, you take high ground.”

“I couldn’t take too high ground,” said Sara solemnly. “Oh, Jack! how
could you think of meddling with that innocent little thing? To see her
about so pretty and sweet as she was, and then to go and worry her and
tease her to death!”

“Worry and tease–whom?” cried Jack in amaze. This was certainly not the
accusation he expected to hear.

“As if you did not know whom I mean!” said his sister. “Wasn’t it
throwing themselves on our kindness when they came here? And to make her
that she dares not walk about or come out anywhere–to tease her with
letters even! I think you are the last man in the world from whom I
should have expected that.”

Jack had taken to bite his nails, not well knowing what else to do. But
he made no direct reply even to the solemnity of this appeal. A flush of
anger sprang up over his face, and yet he was amused. “Has she been
complaining to you?” he said.

“Complaining,” said Sara. “Poor little thing! No, indeed. She never said
a word. I found it out all by myself.”

“Then I advise you to keep it all to yourself,” said her brother. “She
don’t want you to interfere, nor I either. We can manage our own
affairs; and I think, Sara,” he added, with an almost equal grandeur,
“if I were you I would not notice the mote in my brother’s eye till I
had looked after the beam in my own.”

The beam in her own! what did he mean? But Jack went off in a lofty way,
contenting himself with this Parthian arrow, and declining to explain.
The insinuation, however, disturbed Sara. What was the beam in her own?
Somehow, while she was puzzling about it, a vision of young Powys
crossed her mind, papa’s friend, who began to come so often. When she
thought of that, she smiled at her brother’s delusion. Poor Jack! he did
not know that it was in discharge of her most sacred duty that she was
civil to Powys. She had been very civil to him. She had taken his part
against Jack’s own refined rudeness, and delivered him even from the
perplexed affabilities of her father, though he was her father’s friend.
Both Mr. Brownlow and Jack were preoccupied, and Sara had been the only
one to entertain the stranger. And she had done it so as to make the
entertainment very amusing and pleasant to herself. But what had that to
do with a beam in her eye? She had made a vow, and she was performing
her vow. And he was her father’s friend; and if all other arguments
should be exhausted, still the case was no parallel to that of Pamela.
He was not a poor man dwelling at the gate. He was a fairy prince, whom
some enchantment had transformed into his present shape. The case was
utterly different. Thus it was with a certain magnificent superiority
over her brother’s weakness that Sara smiled to herself at his delusion.
And yet she was grieved to think that he should take refuge in such a
delusion, and did not show any symptom of real sorrow for his own sin.

Jack had hardly gone when Mr. Brownlow came up stairs. And he too asked
Sara why it was that she sat apart in such melancholy majesty. When he
had heard the cause, he was more disturbed than either of his children
had been. Sara had supposed that Jack might be trifling with her poor
little friend–she thought that he might carry the flirtation so far as
to break poor Pamela’s heart, perhaps. But Mr. Brownlow knew that there
were sometimes consequences more serious than even the breaking of
hearts. To be sure he judged, not with the awful severity of a woman,
but with the leniency of a man of the world; but yet it seemed to him
that worse things might happen to poor Pamela than an innocent
heart-break, and his soul was disturbed within him by the thought. He
had warned his son, with all the gravity which the occasion required;
but Jack was young, and no doubt the warning had been ineffectual. Mr.
Brownlow was grieved to his soul; and, what was strange enough, it never
occurred to him that his son could have behaved as he had done, like a
Paladin. Jack’s philosophy, which had so little effect upon himself, had
deceived his father. Mr. Brownlow felt that Jack was not the man to
sacrifice his position and prospects and ambitions to an early marriage,
and the only alternative was one at which he shuddered. For the truth
was, his eye had been much attracted by the bright little face at the
gate. It recalled some other face to him–he could not recall whose
face. He had thought she was like Sara at first, but it was not Sara.
And to think of that fresh sweet blossoming creature all trodden down
into dust and ruin! The thought made Mr. Brownlow’s heart contract with
positive pain. He went down into the avenue, and walked about there for
hours waiting for his son. It must not be, he said to himself–it must
not be! And all this time Jack, not knowing what was in store for him,
was hearing over and over again, with much repetition, the story of the
envelope and Sara’s visit, and was drying Pamela’s tears, and laughing
at her fright, and asking her gloriously what any body could do to
separate them?–what could any body do? A girl might be subject to her
parents; but who was there who could take away his free will from a Man?
This was the scope of Jack’s conversation, and it was very charming to
his hearer. What could any one do against that magnificent force of
resolution? Of course his allowance might be taken from him; but he
could work. They had it all their own way in Mrs. Swayne’s parlor,
though Mrs. Swayne herself did not hesitate to express her disapproval;
but as yet Mr. John knew nothing about the anxious parent who walked up
and down waiting for him on the other side of the gate.

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