MOMENTARY MADNESS

It would be difficult to describe the looks of the assembled party in
the library at Brownlows at this moment. Jack, to whom every thing was
doubly complicated by the fact that the intruder was Pamela’s mother,
and by the feeling that his own affairs must be somehow in question,
made a step forward, thinking that her business must be with him, and
fell back in double consternation when she passed him, looking only at
his father. Sara stood aghast, knowing nothing–not even aware that
there could be any thing to be anxious about–an impersonation of mere
wonder and surprise. The two elder people were not surprised. Both of
them knew what it meant. Mr. Brownlow in a moment passed from the shock
of horror and dismay which had prostrated him at first, into that
perfect calm which is never consistent with ignorance or innocence. The
wonder of his children would have convinced any observer of their
perfect unacquaintance with the matter. But he knew all about it–he was
perfectly composed and master of himself in a second. Life goes fast at
such a crisis. He felt at once as if he had always known it was to end
like this–always foreseen it–and had been gradually prepared and wound
up by degrees to meet the blow. All his uncertainty and doubt and
self-delusions vanished from him on the spot. He knew who his visitor
was without any explanation, and that she had come just in time–and
that it was all over. Somehow he seemed to cease on the moment to be the
principal in the matter. By the time Mrs. Preston had come up to him, he
had become a calm professional spectator, watching the case on behalf of
a client. The change was curious to himself, though he had no time just
then to consider how it came about.

But the intruder was not calm. On the contrary, she was struggling with
intense excitement, panting, trembling, compelled to stop on her way
across the room to put her hand to her side, and gasp for the
half-stifled breath. She took no notice of the young people who stood
by. It is doubtful even whether she was aware of their presence. She
went up gasping to the man she thought her enemy. “I am in time,” she
said. “I have come to claim my mother’s money–the money you have robbed
us of. I am in time–I know I am just in time! I have been at Doctors’
Commons; it’s no use telling me lies. I know every thing. I’ve come for
my mother’s money–the money you’ve robbed from me and mine!”

Jack came forward bewildered by these extraordinary words. “This is
frenzy,” he said. “The Rector is right. She must be mad. Mrs. Preston,
come and I’ll take you home. Don’t let us make any row about it. She is
Pamela’s mother. Let me take her quietly away.”

“I might be mad,” said the strange apparition, “if wrong could make a
woman mad. Don’t talk to me of Pamela. Sir, you understand it’s you I
come to–it’s you! Give me my mother’s money! I’ll not go away from here
till I have justice. I’ll have you taken up for a robber! I’ll have you
put in prison! It’s justice I want–and my rights.”

“Be quiet, Jack,” said Mr. Brownlow; “let her alone. Go away–that is
the best service you can do me. Mrs. Preston, you must explain yourself.
Who was your mother, and what do you want with me?”

Then she made a rush forward to him and clutched his arm. He was
standing in his former position leaning against the mantle-piece, firm,
upright, pale, a strong man still, and with his energies unbroken. She
rushed at him, a tottering, agitated woman, old and weak and
half-frantic with excitement. “Give me my mother’s money!” she cried,
and gasped and choked, her passion being too much for her. At this
instant the clock struck: it was a silvery, soft-tongued clock, and made
the slow beats of time thrill into the silence. Mr. Brownlow laughed
when he heard it–laughed not with triumph, but with that sense of the
utter futility of all calculations which sometimes comes upon the mind
with a strange sense of the humor of it, at the most terrible crisis.
Let it strike–what did it matter?–nothing now could deliver him from
his fate.

“I take you to witness I was here and claimed my money before it
struck,” cried the woman. “I was here. You can’t change that. You
villain give me my mother’s money! Give me my money: you’ve had it for
five-and-twenty years!”

“Compose yourself,” said Mr. Brownlow, speaking to her as he might have
done had he been the professional adviser of the man who was involved;
“sit down and take your time; you were here before twelve, you shall
have all the benefit of that; now tell me what your name is, and what is
your claim.”

Mrs. Preston sat down as he told her, and glared at him with her wild
bright eyes; but notwithstanding the overwrought condition in which she
was, she could not but recognize the calm of the voice which addressed
her: a certain shade of uncertainty flickered over her countenance–she
grew confused in the midst of her assurance–it seemed impossible that
he could take it so quietly if he knew what she meant. And then her
bodily fatigue, sleeplessness, and exhaustion were beginning to tell.

“You are trying to cheat me,” she said, with difficulty restraining the
impulse of her weakness to cry. “You are trying to cheat me! you know it
better than I do, and I read it with my own eyes: you have had it for
five-and-twenty years: and you try to face it out and cheat me now!”

Then the outburst came which had been kept back so long; she had eaten
nothing all day; she had not slept the previous night; she had been
traveling and rushing about till the solid earth seemed to be going
round and round with her; she burst into sobbing and crying as she
spoke; not tears–she was not capable of tears. When Mr. Brownlow, in
his extraordinary self-possession, went to a side-table to bring a
decanter of sherry which had been placed there, she made an effort to
rise to stop him, but even that she was unable to do. He walked across
the room while his astonished children still stood and looked on. He
alone had all his wits about him, and sense enough to be compassionate.
He filled out a glass of wine with a steady hand and brought it to her.
“Take this,” he said, “and then you will be more able to tell me what
you mean.”

Mrs. Preston looked up at him, struck dumb with wonder in the midst of
her agitation. She was capable of thinking he meant to poison
her–probably that was the first idea in her mind; but when she looked
up and saw the expression in his face, it calmed her in spite of
herself. She took the glass from him as if she could not help it, and
swallowed the wine in an unwilling yet eager way–for her bodily
exhaustion craved the needful support, though her mind was against it.
She began to shake and tremble all over as Mr. Brownlow took the glass
from her hand: his quietness overwhelmed her. If he had turned her out
of the room, out of the house, it would have seemed more natural than
this.

“Father,” said Jack, interposing, “I have seen her like this before–I
don’t know what she has in her head, but of course I can’t stand by and
see her get into trouble: if you will go away I will take her home.”

Mr. Brownlow smiled again, a curious smile of despair, once more seeing
the humor, as it were, of the situation. “It will be better for you to
take Sara away,” he said; “go both of you–it does not matter.” Then,
having fallen into this momentary incoherence, he recovered himself and
turned round to his visitor. “Now tell me,” he said gently, “who you are
and what you mean?”

But by this time it did not seem as if she were able to speak–she sat
and stared at him, her dark eyes shining wildly out of her old pallid
face. “I have seen the will–I have been at Doctors’ Commons,” she
gulped out by degrees; “I know it must be true.”

“Who are you?” said Mr. Brownlow.

The poor trembling creature got up and made a rush toward him again.
“You know who I am,” she said, “but that don’t matter, as you say: I was
Phœbe Thomson; give me my mother’s money–ah! give me the money that
belongs to my child! give me my fortune! there’s witnesses that I came
in time; I came in time–I came in time!” screamed forth the exhausted
woman. She had lost all command of herself by this time, and shrieked
out the words, growing louder and louder; then all at once, without any
warning, she fell down at the feet of the man she was defying–fell in a
dead bundle on the floor, in a faint–almost, as it seemed for the
moment, dead.

Mr. Brownlow, for one dreadful second, thought she was dead. The moment
was terrible beyond all description, worse than any thing that had yet
befallen him; a thrill of hope, an awful sickening of suspense came over
him; for the first time he, too, lost his senses: he did not stoop to
raise her, nor take any means for her restoration, but stood looking
down upon her, watching, as a man might watch the wild beast which had
been about to kill him, writhing under some sudden shot. A man would not
interpose in such a case with surgical aid for the wounded lion or
tiger. Neither did Mr. Brownlow feel himself moved to interfere. He only
stood and looked on. But his children were not wound up to the same
state of feeling. Jack rushed forward and lifted his Pamela’s mother
from the floor, and Sara flew to her aid with feminine succors. They
laid her on the sofa, and put water on her face, and did every thing
they knew to restore her. Mr. Brownlow did not interfere; he could not
bid them stop; it never even occurred to him to attempt to restrain
their charitable offices. He left them to themselves, and walked heavily
up and down the room on the other side, waiting till she should come to
herself. For of course she would come to herself–he had no doubt of
that. After the first instant it was clearly enough apparent to him that
such a woman at such a moment would not die.

When Mrs. Preston came to herself, she tried to get up from the sofa,
and looked at them all with a piteous look of terror and helplessness.
She was a simply uneducated woman, making little distinction between
different kinds of crime–and it seemed to her as if a man who had
defrauded her (as she thought) all these years, might very well mean to
murder her when he was found out. She did not see the difference. She
shuddered as she fell back on the cushions unable to rise. “Would you
like to kill me?” she said faintly, looking in their faces. She was
afraid of them, and she was helpless and alone. She did not feel even
as if she had the strength to cry out. And there were three of
them–they could put out her feeble flickering flame of life if they
pleased. As for the two young people whom she addressed in the first
place, they supposed simply that she was raving. But Mr. Brownlow, who
was, in his way, as highly strained as she was, caught the words. And
the thought flashed through his mind as if some one had held up a
picture to him. What would it matter if she were to die? She was
old–she had lived long enough–she was not so happy that she should
wish to live longer; and her child–others might do better for her child
than she could. It was not his fault. It was her words that called up
the picture before him, and he made a few steps forward and put his
children away, and came up to the sofa and looked at her. An old, faint,
feeble, worn-out woman. A touch would do it;–her life was like the last
sere leaves fluttering on the end of the branches; a touch would do it.
He came and looked at her, not knowing what he did, and put his children
away. And there was something in his eyes which made her shrink into the
corner of her couch and tremble, and be silent. He was looking to see
how it could be done–by some awful unconscious impulse, altogether
apart from any will or thought of his. And a touch would do it. This was
what was in his eyes when he told his children to go away.

“Go–go to bed,” he said, “I will take care of Mrs. Preston.” There was
a horrible appearance of meaning in his voice, but yet he did not know
what he meant. He stood and looked down upon her gloomily. Yes, that was
all that stood between him and peace; a woman whom any chance touch–any
blast bitterer than usual–any accidental fall, might kill. “Go to bed,
children,” he repeated harshly. It seemed to him somehow as if it would
be better, as if he would be more at liberty, when they were away.

“Oh, no–no,” said Mrs. Preston, moaning. “Don’t leave me–don’t leave
me. You wouldn’t see any harm come to me, for my Pamela’s sake!”

And then both his children looked into Mr. Brownlow’s face. I can not
tell what they saw there. I doubt whether they could have told
themselves; but it was something that thrilled them through and through,
which came back to them from time to time all their lives, and which
they could never forget. Jack turned away from his father with a kind of
horror, and went and placed himself beside Mrs. Preston at the head of
the sofa. But Sara, though her dismay was still greater, went up to him
and clasped his arm with both her hands. “Papa,” she said, “come away.
Come with me. I don’t know what it means, but it is too much for you.
Come, papa.”

Mr. Brownlow once more put her away with his hand. “Go to bed, Sara,” he
said; and then freeing himself, he went across the room to the curtained
windows, and stared out as if they were open, and came back again. The
presence of his children was an oppression to him. He wanted them away.
And then he stood again by the side of the sofa and looked at his
visitor. “We can talk this over best alone,” he said; and at the sound
of his voice, and a movement which she thought Jack made to leave her,
she gave a sudden cry.

“He will kill me if you go away!” she said. “Oh, don’t leave me to him!
I–don’t mean to injure you–I–But you’re in league with him,” she
exclaimed rising suddenly with the strength of excitement, and rushing
to the other end of the room; “you are all against me. I shall be
killed–I shall be killed! Murder! murder!–though I don’t want to hurt
you. I want nothing but my rights.”

She got behind the writing-table in her insane terror, and threw herself
down there on her knees, propping herself up against it, and watching
them as from behind a barricade, with her pallid thin face supported on
the table. With her hands she drew a chair to each side of her. She was
like a wild creature painfully barricading herself–sheltering her
feeble strength within intrenchments, and turning her face to the foe.
Mr. Brownlow stood still and looked at her, but this time with a
stupefied look which meant nothing; and as for Jack he stood aghast,
half frightened, half angry, not knowing if she were mad, or what it
was. When either of them moved, she crouched together and cried out,
thinking they were about to rush upon her. For the moment she was all
but mad–mad with excitement, fright, evil-thinking, and
ignorance–ignorance most of all–seeing no reason why, if they had done
one wrong, they should not do another. Kill or defraud, which did it
matter?–and for the moment she was out of her senses, and knew not what
she did or said.

Sara was the only one who retained her wits at this emergency. She
stepped behind the screen made by the table without pausing to think
about it. “Mrs. Preston,” she said, “I don’t know what is the matter
with you. You look as if you had gone mad; but I am not frightened. What
do you mean by calling murder here? Come with me to my room and go to
bed. It is time every body was in bed. I will take care of you. You are
tired to death, and not fit to be up. Come with me.”

“You!” cried Mrs. Preston–“you! You that have had every thing my Pamela
ought to have had! You that have been kept like a princess on my money!
You!–but don’t let them kill me,” she cried out the next moment,
shuddering and turning toward the other woman for protection. “You’re
but a girl. Come here and stand by me, and save me, and I’ll stand by
you. You shall always have a home. I’ll be as good to you–but save me!
don’t let them kill me!” she cried, frantically throwing her arms round
Sara’s waist. It was a curious sight. The girl stood erect, her slight
figure swaying with the unusual strain upon it, her face lit up with
such powerful emotions as she had never known before, looking wistful,
alarmed, wondering, proud, upon her father and her brother at the other
side, while the old woman clung to her, crouching at her feet, hiding
her face in her dress, clasping her waist as for life and death. Sara
had accepted the office thrust upon her, whatever it was. She had become
responsible for the terrified, exhausted claimant of all Mr. Brownlow’s
fortune–and turned round upon the two astonished men with something new
to them, something that was almost defiance, in her eyes.

“I don’t know what it means,” she said, laying her long, soft, shapely
hand upon Mrs. Preston’s shoulder like the picture of a guardian angel;
“but it has gone past your managing, and I must take charge of her.
Jack, open the door, and keep out of the way. She must come with me.”

And then, indeed, Mr. Brownlow within himself in the depths of his
heart, uttered a groan, which made some outward echo. He was in the last
crisis of his fate, and his cherished child forsook him and took his
adversary’s part. He withdrew himself and sank down into a chair,
clearing the way, as she had bidden. Sara had taken charge of her. Sara
had covered the intruder for ever and ever with the shield of her
protection; and yet it was for Sara alone that he could have found in
his heart to murder this woman, as she said. When Sara stood forth and
faced him in her young strength and pride, a sudden Lady of Succor, it
cast him to the earth. And he gave that groan, and sank down and put
himself aside, as it were. He could not carry on the struggle. When Sara
heard it her heart smote her; she turned to him eagerly, not to comfort
him but to defend herself.

“Well!” she said, “if it was nothing, you would not have minded. It must
be something, or you would not have looked–” And then she stopped and
shuddered. “I am going to take charge of her to-night,” she added, low
and hurriedly. “I will take her to my room, and stay with her all night.
To-morrow, perhaps, we may know what it means. Jack, she can walk, if
you will clear the way.”

Then Mr. Brownlow looked up, with an indescribable pang at his heart,
and saw his daughter lead, half carrying, his enemy away. “I will take
her to my room, and stay with her all night.” He had felt the emphasis
and meaning that was in the words, and he had seen Sara’s shudder. Good
heavens! what was it for? Was he a man to do murder? What was it his
child had read in his eye? In this horrible confusion of thought he sat
and watched the stranger out. She had made good her lodgment, not only
in the house, but in the innermost chamber, in Sara’s room–in Sara’s
protecting presence, where nothing could get near her. And it was
against him that his child had taken up this wretched woman’s defense!
He neither moved nor spoke for some minutes after they had left the
room. The bitterness had all to be tasted and swallowed before his
thoughts could go forward to other things, and to the real final
question. By degrees, however, as he came to himself, he became aware
that he was not yet left free to think about the final question. Jack
was still beside him. He did not say any thing, but he was moving and
fidgeting about the room with his hands in his pockets in a way which
proved that he had something to say. As Mr. Brownlow came to himself he
gradually woke to a perception of his son’s restless figure beside him,
and knew that he had another explanation to make.

“I don’t want to trouble you,” said Jack at last, abruptly, “but I
should very much like to know, sir, what all this means. If Mrs. Preston
is mad–as–God knows I don’t want to think it,” cried the young man,
“but one must believe one’s eyes–if she is mad, why did you give in to
her, and humor her? Why did not you let me take her away?”

“I don’t think she is mad,” said Mr. Brownlow, slowly.

Upon which Jack came to a dead stop, and stared at his father–“Good
heavens, sir,” he said, “what can you mean?”

“I don’t know,” said Mr. Brownlow, getting up in his turn. “My head is
not quite clear to-night. Leave me now. I’ll tell you after. I’ll tell
you–sometime;–I mean in the morning.” Then he walked once more across
the room, and threw himself into the big easy-chair by the dying fire.
One of the lamps had run down, and was flickering out, throwing strange
quivers of light and shade about the room. An indescribable change had
come over it; it had been bright, and now it looked desolate; it had
been the home of peace, and now the very air was heavy with uncertainty
and a kind of hovering horror. Mr. Brownlow threw himself wearily into
the big chair, and covered his face with his hands. A moment after he
seemed to recollect himself, and looked up and called Jack back. “My
boy,” he said, “something has happened to-night which I did not look
for. You must consider every thing I said to you before as cancelled. It
appears I was premature. I am sorry–for you, Jack.”

“Don’t be sorry for me,” cried Jack, with a generous impulse. “It could
not have made much matter anyhow–my life is decided, come what may.”

Then his father looked up at him sharply, but with a quiver in his lip.
“Ah!” he said; and Jack perceived somehow, he did not know how, that he
had unwittingly inflicted a new wound. “It could not have made much
matter–true,” he said, and rose up and bowed to his son as if he had
been a stranger. “That being the case, perhaps the less we say to each
other the better now–”

“What have I said, sir?” cried Jack in amaze.

“Enough, enough,” said Mr. Brownlow, “enough”–whether it was in answer
to his question, or by way of putting an end to the conversation, Jack
could not tell; and then his father waved him away, and sat down again,
once more burying his face in his hands. Again the iron had entered his
soul. Both of them!–all he had in the world–his fortune, his position,
his son, his daughter, must all go? It seemed to him now as if the
external things were nothing in comparison of these last. Sara, for
whose sake alone he feared it–Jack, whom he had not petted–whom
perhaps he had crossed a little as fathers will, but whom at
bottom–never mind, never mind! he said to himself. It was the way of
the world. Sons did not take up their father’s cause nowadays as a
matter of course. They had themselves to think of–in fact, it was right
they should think of themselves. The world was of much more importance
to Jack than it could be to himself, for of course a young man had twice
the length of time to provide for that his father could possibly have.
Never mind! He said it to himself with his head bowed down in his hands.
But he did mind. “It would not make much matter anyhow”–no, not much
matter. Jack would have it instead of Sara and Powys. It was the same
kind of compromise that he had intended–only that the persons and the
motive were changed.

Poor Jack in the mean time went about the room in a very disconsolate
state. He was so startled in every way that he did not know what to
think, and yet vague shadows of the truth were flickering about his
mind. He knew something vaguely of the origin of his father’s fortune,
and nothing but that could explain it; and now he was offended at
something. What could it be that he was offended at? It never occurred
to Jack that his own words might bear the meaning that was set upon
them; he was disconcerted and vexed, and did not know what to do. He
went wandering about the room, lifting and replacing the books on the
tables, and finally, after a long pause, he went up to his father again.

“I wish you’d have some confidence in me,” he said. “I don’t pretend to
be wise, but still–And then if there is any thing hanging over us, it
is best that a fellow should know–”

“There is nothing hanging over _you_,” said Mr. Brownlow, raising his
head, almost with bitterness. “It will not matter much anyhow, you know.
Don’t think of waiting for me. I have a good deal to think over. In
short, I should be very glad if you would leave me to myself and go–”

“As you please,” said Jack, who was at last offended in his turn; and
after he had made a discontented promenade all round the room, he
lounged toward the door, still hoping he might be called back again. But
he was not called back. On the contrary, his father’s head had sunk
again into his hands, and he had evidently retired into himself, beyond
the reach of all fellowship or sympathy. Jack veered gradually toward
the door and went out of the room, with his hands in his pockets and
great trouble and perplexity in his mind. It seemed to him that he saw
what the trouble must be, and that of itself was not pleasant. But bad
as it might be, it was not so bad as the way his father was taking it.
Good heavens, if he should hurt the old woman!–but surely he was not
capable of that. And then Jack returned upon his own case and felt
wounded and sore. He was not a baby that his father should decline to
take him into his confidence. He was not a fool that he should be
supposed unequal to the emergency. Sleep was out of the question under
the circumstances; and besides he did not want to meet any of the
fellows who might have been disturbed by Mrs. Preston’s cry, and might
have come to his room for information. “Hang it all!” said Jack, as he
threw himself on a sofa in the smoking-room, and lighted a dreary cigar.
It was not a very serious malediction, but yet his mind was serious
enough. Some terrible crisis in the history of his family was coming on,
and he could only guess what it was. Something that involved not only
his own prospects, but the prospects of his future wife. And yet nobody
would tell him what was the meaning of it. It was hard lines for Jack.

When his son left the room, Mr. Brownlow lifted his head out of his
hands. He looked eagerly round the room and made sure he was alone. And
then his countenance relaxed a little. He could venture to look as he
felt, to throw off every mask when he was alone. Then he got up and
walked heavily about. Was it all true? Had she come at the last moment
and made her claim? Had she lighted down upon him, tracked him out, just
as he was saying, and at last permitting himself to think, that all was
over? A strange confusion swept over him as he sat and looked around the
empty room. Was it possible that all this had happened since he was last
alone in it? It was only a few hours since; and he had been scarcely
able to believe that so blessed a state of things could be true. He had
sat there and planned every kind of kindness and bounty to every body by
way of expressing his gratitude to God. Was it possible? Could every
thing since then be so entirely changed? Or had he only dreamt the
arrival of the sudden claimant, the striking of the clock too late, all
the miseries of the night? As he asked himself these questions, a sudden
shuddering came over him. There was one thing which he knew could be no
dream. It was the suggestion which had come into his mind as he stood by
the sofa. He seemed to see her before him, worn, old, feeble, and
involuntarily his thoughts strayed away again to that horrible thought.
What was the use of such a woman in the world? She had nothing before
her but old age, infirmities, a lingering illness most likely, many
sufferings and death–only death at the end; that was the best, the only
event awaiting her. To the young, life may blossom out afresh at any
moment, but the old can only die–that is all that remains for them. And
a touch would do it. It might save her from a great deal of
suffering–it would certainly save her from the trial of a new position,
the difficult transition from poverty to wealth. If he was himself as
old, Mr. Brownlow thought vaguely (all this was very vague–it was not
breathed in articulate thought, much less in words) that he would be
glad to be put quietly out of the way. Heaven knows he would be grateful
enough to any one even at that moment who would put him out of the way.

And it would be so easy to do it; a touch would do it. The life was
fluttering already in her pulses; very likely the first severe cold
would bring her down like the leaves off the trees; and in the mean time
what a difference her life would make. Mr. Brownlow got up and began to
walk about, not able to keep still any longer. The second lamp was now
beginning to flicker for want of oil, and the room was darkening, though
he did not perceive it. It would be the kindest office that could be
done to an old woman; he had often thought so. Suddenly there occurred
to him a recollection of certain unhappy creatures in the work-house at
Masterton, who were so old that nothing was any pleasure to them. He
thought of the life-in-death he had seen among them, the tedious blank,
the animal half-existence, the dead, dull doze, out of which only a bad
fit of coughing or some other suffering roused them; and of his own
passing reflection how kind it would be to mix them a sleeping potion
only a little stronger, and let them be gone. It would be the best thing
any one could do for them. It would be the best thing any one could do
for _her_; and then all the trouble, all the vexation, all the misery
and change that it would save!

As for the child, Mr. Brownlow said to himself that all should go well
with the child. He would not interfere. Jack should marry her if he
pleased–all should go well with her; and she would not have the
difficult task of reconciling the world to her mother. In every way it
seemed the desirable arrangement. If Providence would but
interpose!–but then Providence never did interpose in such emergencies.
Mr. Brownlow went slowly up and down the darkening room, and his
thoughts, too, went into the darkness. They went on as it were in a
whisper and hid themselves, and silence came–hideous silence, in which
the heart stood still, the genial breath was interrupted. He did not
know what he was doing. He went to the medicine-chest which was in one
corner, and opened it and looked at it. He did not even make a pretense
of looking for any thing; neither would the light have enabled him to
look for any thing. He looked at it and he knew that death was there,
but he did not put forth his hand to touch it. At that moment all at
once the flickering flame went out–went out just as a life might do,
after fluttering and quivering and making wild rallies, again and again.
Mr. Brownlow, for his part, was almost glad there was no light. It made
him easier–even the lamp had seemed to look at him and see something in
his eye!

Five minutes after, he found himself, he could not have told how, at the
door of Sara’s room. It was not in his way–he could not make that
excuse to himself–to tell the truth he did not make any excuse to
himself. His mind was utterly confused, and had stopped thinking. He was
there, having come there he did not know how; and being there he opened
the door softly and went in. Perhaps, for any thing he could tell, the
burden might have been too much for Sara. He went in softly, stealing so
as not to disturb any sleeper. The room was dark, but not quite dark.
There was a night-light burning, shaded, on the table, and the curtains
were drawn at the head of the white bed: nothing stirred in the silence:
only the sound of breathing, the irregular disturbed breathing of some
one in a troubled sleep. Mr. Brownlow stole farther in, and softly put
back one of the curtains of the bed. There she lay, old, pallid,
wrinkled, worn out, breathing hard in her sleep, even then unable to
forget the struggle she was engaged in, holding the coverlet fast with
one old meagre hand, upon which all the veins stood out. What comfort
was her life to her? And a touch would do it. He went a step nearer and
stooped over her, not knowing what he did, not putting out a finger,
incapable of any exertion, yet with an awful curiosity. Then all at once
out of the darkness, swift as an angel on noiseless pinions, a white
figure rose and rushed at him, carrying him away from the bed out to the
door, unwitting, aghast, by the mere impetus of its own sudden motion.
When they had got outside it was Sara’s face that was turned upon him,
pale as the face of the dead, with her hair hanging about it wildly, and
the moisture standing in big beads on her forehead. “What were you going
to do?” she seemed to shriek in his ear, though the shriek was only a
whisper. He had left his candle outside, and it was by that faint light
he could see the whiteness of her face.

“Do?” said Mr. Brownlow, with a strange sense of wonder. “Do?–nothing.
What could I do?”

Then Sara threw herself upon him and wept aloud, wept so that the sound
ran through the house, sobbing along the long listening passages. “Oh,
papa, papa!” she cried, clinging to him. A look as of idiocy had come
into his face. He had become totally confused–he did not know what she
meant. What could he do? Why was she crying? And it was wrong to make a
noise like this, when all the house was hushed and asleep.

“You must be quiet,” he said. “There is no need to be so agitated; and
you should have been in bed. It is very late. I am going to my room
now.”

“I will go with you,” said Sara, trembling. Already she began to be
ashamed of her terror, but her nerves would not calm down all at once.
She put her hand on his arm and half led, half followed him through the
corridor. “Papa, you did not mean–any thing?” she said, lifting up a
face so white and tremulous and shaken with many emotions that it was
scarcely possible to recognize it as hers. “You did not mean–any
thing?” Her very lips quivered so that she could scarcely speak.

“Mean–what?” he said. “I am a little confused to-night. It was all so
sudden. I don’t seem to understand you. And I’m very tired. Things will
be clearer to-morrow. Sara, I hope you are going to bed.”

“Yes, papa,” she said, like a child, though her lips quivered. He looked
like a man who had fallen into sudden imbecility, comprehending nothing.
And Sara’s mind too was beginning to get confused. She could not
understand any longer what his looks meant.

“And so am I,” said Mr. Brownlow, with a sigh. Then he stooped and
kissed her. “My darling, good-night. Things will be clearer to-morrow,”
he said. They had come to his door by this time. And it was there he
stooped to kiss her, dismissing her as it seemed. But after she had
turned to go back, he came out again and called her. He looked almost as
old and as shaken as Mrs. Preston as he called her back: “Don’t forsake
me–don’t _you_ forsake me,” he said hurriedly; “that was all–that was
all: good-night.”

And then he went in and shut his door. Sara, left to herself, went back
along the corridor, not knowing what to think. Were they all mad, or
going mad? What could the shock be which had made Pamela’s humble mother
frantic, and confused Mr. Brownlow’s clear intellect? She lay down on
her sofa to watch her patient, feeling as if she too was becoming
idiotic. She could not sleep, young as she was: the awful shadow that
had come across her mind had murdered sleep. She lay and listened to
Mrs. Preston’s irregular, interrupted breathing, far into the night. But
sleep was not for Sara’s eyes.

Continue Reading

AN UNLOOKED-FOR VISITOR

Powys was proud, and his pride was up in arms. He slept little that
night, and while he sat and brooded over it all, the hopelessness and
folly of his hope struck him with tenfold distinctness. Early next
morning, before any one was up, he came down the great silent staircase,
and left the house in the morning sunshine. The distance to Masterton
was nothing to him. It was the second time he had left the house with
despair in his heart. It would be the last time, he said to himself as
he paused to look up at the closed windows; he would never suffer
himself to be deluded–never be led away by deceptive hopes again; and
he went away, not without bitterness, yet with a certain stern sense of
the inevitable which calmed down his passion. Whenever he had been in
his right senses, he had felt that this must be the end; and the thing
for him now was to bear it with such courage and steadiness as he could
muster to face the emergency. It was all over at least. There were no
intermediary tortures to go through, and there was always some comfort
in that.

His absence was not taken any notice of at the breakfast-table, though
Sara gave many a wondering glance at the door, and had a puzzled,
half-irritated look upon her face, which some of her friends perceived,
though her father did not observe it. He, for his part, came down
radiant. He looked weary, and explained that he had not slept very well;
but he had never been in more genial spirits, never more affectionate or
full of schemes for every body’s pleasure. He called Jack apart, to tell
him that, after looking over matters, he found he could let him have the
hunter he wanted, a horse upon which his heart was set. When they were
all talking at the table in the usual morning flutter of letters and
mutual bits of news, Mr. Brownlow intimated that he had thoughts of
taking Sara to Italy, where she had so long desired to go; “making up a
party, and enjoying ourselves,” he said. Sara looked up with a gleam of
delight, but her eyes were immediately after diverted to the door, where
somebody was coming in–somebody, but not the person she was looking
for. As for Jack, he received the intimation of his father’s liberality
in perplexed silence; for if he was to marry, and sink into the position
of a clerk in Masterton, hunters would be little in his way. But their
father was too much absorbed in his own satisfaction to remark
particularly how they both took his proposed kindness. He was
overflowing to every body. Though he was always kind, that morning he
was kinder than ever; and the whole party brightened up under his
influence, notwithstanding Jack’s perplexity, and Sara’s wondering
impatient glances at the door. Nobody asked what had become of the
stranger. Mr. Brownlow’s guests were free to come to breakfast when they
liked, and no notice was taken of the defaulters. The meal, however, was
so merry and friendly, that every body sat longer over it than usual.
Several of the visitors were going away, and the sportsmen had laid
aside their guns for the day to join the ladies in an excursion. There
was plenty of time for every thing; pleasant bustle, pleasant idleness,
no “wretched business,” as Sara said, to quicken their steps; and she
was, perhaps, the only one in the party who was ill at ease. She could
not make out how it was that Powys did not come. She sat and joined with
forced gayety in the general conversation, and she had not courage to
ask frankly what had become of him. When they all began at last to
disperse from the table, she made one feeble effort to satisfy herself.
“Mr. Powys has never come down to breakfast,” she said to Jack, avoiding
his eye; “had not you better see if there is any reason?”

“If he is ill, perhaps, poor dear?” said Jack, with scorn. “Don’t be
afraid–probably he went out early; he is not the sort of fellow to fall
ill.”

“Probably some of you have insulted him!” said Sara, hotly, under her
breath; but either Jack did not or would not hear. And she could not
trust herself to look up in the face of the assembled company and ask.
So she had to get up with all the rest, and go reluctantly away from the
table, with a certain sense of impending misfortune upon her. A few
minutes after, when she was sent for to go to her father in the library,
Sara’s courage failed her altogether. She felt he must have something
important to say to her, something that could not be postponed. And her
heart beat loudly as she went to him. When she entered the room Mr.
Brownlow came forward to meet her. It struck her for the first time as
he advanced that his face had changed; something that had been weighing
upon him had passed away. The lines of his mouth had relaxed and
softened; he was like what he used to be. It was almost the first time
she fully realized that for some time past he had not been like himself.
He came forward, and before she had fully mastered her first impression,
took her into his arms.

“My dear child,” he said, “I have sent for you to tell you that a great
burden that has been upon my mind for some time has just been taken off.
You have been very good to me, Sara, very patient and obedient and
sweet; and though I never told you about it in so many words, I want you
to be the first to know that it has passed away.”

“Thank you, papa,” said Sara, looking wistfully in his face. “I am sure
I am very glad, though I don’t know what you mean. Is it any thing
about–? Am I to know what it was?” And she stopped, standing so close
with his arm round her, and gave him an appealing look–a look that
asked far more than her words–that seemed even to see into him, and
divine; but that could not be.

“It is not worth while now,” he said, smoothing her hair with his hand.
“It is all over; and, my darling, I want you to know also that I set you
free.”

“Set me free?” said Sara, in a whisper; and in spite of herself she
turned very pale.

“Yes, Sara, quite free. I ask no sacrifice of you now,” said Mr.
Brownlow, pressing her close with his arm. “Forgive me that I ever
thought of it. Even at the worst, you know I told you to consult your
own heart; and now you are free, quite free. All that is at an end.”

“All what?” asked Sara, under her breath; and she turned her head away
from him, resisting the effort he made to look at her. “What is it you
set me free from?” she continued, in a petulant tone. “If you don’t tell
me in words, how am I to know?”

Mr. Brownlow was startled and checked in his effusiveness, but he could
not be angry with her at such a moment. “Hush,” he said, still smoothing
her pretty hair, “we have never had many words about it. It is all at an
end. I thought it would be a relief to you to hear.”

“To hear what?” cried the girl, sharply, with her head averted; and
then, to her father’s utter consternation, she withdrew as far as she
could from his arm, and suddenly burst into tears.

Mr. Brownlow was totally taken by surprise. He had not been able to read
what was going on in his daughter’s heart. He could not believe now that
she understood him. He put his hand upon her arm and drew her back. “You
mistake me, my darling,” he said; “I mean that you are quite free,
Sara–quite free. It was wrong of me to ask any promise from you, and it
was foolish of you to give it. But Providence, thank God, has settled
that. It is all over. There is no more necessity. Can’t you forgive me?
You have not suffered so much from it as I have done. Before I could
have come to the point of sacrificing you–”

“Sacrificing _me_!” cried Sara, suddenly, flashing back upon him in a
storm of passion and indignation, her cheeks scorching yet wet with
tears, her big eyes swimming. “Is that all you think of? You had a right
to sacrifice me if you liked–nobody would have said a word. They did it
in the Bible. You might have cut me into little pieces if you liked. But
oh, what right had you, how dared you to make a sacrifice of _him_?”

“_Him!_” cried Mr. Brownlow, and he took a step back in consternation
and gazed at his child, who was transfigured, and a different creature.
Her cheeks blazed under her tears, but she did not shrink. Weeping,
blushing, wounded, ashamed, she still confronted him in the strength of
some new feeling of which he had never dreamed.

“You never say a word about him!” cried Sara. “You speak of me, and you
had a right to do whatever you like with me; but it is him whom you have
sacrificed. He never would have thought of it but for you. He never
would have come back after _that_ time but for you. And then you expect
me to think only of myself, and to be glad when you say I am free! How
can I be free? I led him on and made him speak when he knew better. Oh,
papa, you are cruel, cruel! He was doing you no harm, and you have made
him wretched; and now you think it doesn’t matter; but that is not the
way with me!”

“Sara, are you mad?” cried Mr. Brownlow in his dismay; but Sara made him
no answer. She sat down on the nearest chair, and turning round away
from him, leaned her arms on the back of it, and put down her head on
her arms. He could see that she was crying, but that was all; and
nothing he could say, neither consolations, nor excuses, nor reproofs,
would induce her to raise her head. It was the first quarrel she had
ever had with the father who had been father and mother both to her; and
the acuteness of her first disappointment, the first cross in her
pleasant life, the unexpected humiliating end of her first dreams,
roused a wild rebellion in her heart. She was wroth, and her heart was
sore, and outraged. When he was called away by Willis about some
business, he left her there, still twisted round upon her chair, with
her face upon her folded arms, spending her very soul in tears. But the
moment he was gone she sprang up and fled to the shelter of her own
room. “They shall find that it is not the way with me!” she said to
herself, and gave herself up willfully to thoughts of the banished lover
who had been treated so cruelly. On that day at least, Sara avenged poor
Powys’s wrongs upon the company in general. She had a headache, and
could not join in their excursion. And her eyes were still red with
crying when next she was seen down stairs. Mr. Brownlow tried to
persuade himself it was too violent to last, and thought it prudent to
take no more notice, but was very obsequious and conciliatory all the
evening to his naughty child. Even when it was thus brought before him,
he did not make much account of the sacrifice of Powys. And he thought
Sara would come round and see things by and by in their true light. But
all the same the shock had a great effect upon him, and damped him
strangely in the first effusion of his joy.

But he was kind, kinder to every body in his gratitude to Providence.
Except that he had no pity for Powys, who seemed to him to have been all
this time a kind of impostor, his good fortune softened his heart to
every other creature. When he met Pamela on the road, though Pamela was
the one other individual in the world with whom Jack’s father was not in
perfect charity, he yet stopped kindly to speak to her. “I hope your
mother has not gone upon a long journey. I hope she is coming back,” he
said in a fatherly way. “She should not have left you by yourself
alone.”

“It was on business,” said Pamela, not daring to lift her eyes. “She
said she would be soon back.”

“Then you must take great care of yourself while she is away,” Mr.
Brownlow said, and took off his hat as he left her, with the courtesy
which was natural to him. He was so kind to every body, and that day in
particular he looked after the pretty creature with a pang of
compunction. He did not care much for Powys, but he was sorry for
Pamela. “Poor little thing!” he said to himself–for while he said it he
thought of launching Jack, as it was Jack’s ambition to be launched,
upon public life, getting him into the House of Commons, sending him out
to the world, where he would soon forget his humble little love. Mr.
Brownlow felt that this was what would happen, and his heart for the
moment ached over poor Pamela. She was so pretty, and soft, and young,
and then she reminded him–though of whom he could not quite say.

Thus the day went on; and the next day Mr. Brownlow went to the office,
where every thing was as usual. He saw by his first glance that Powys
was at his desk, and he was pleased, though he took no notice. Perhaps a
certain unacknowledged compunction, after all, was in his mind. He even
sent for Mr. Wrinkell and consulted him as to the fitness of the junior
clerk for a more responsible post. Mr. Wrinkell was a cautious man, but
he could not conceal a certain favoritism. “Ever since that first little
cloud that passed over him, he has been worth any two in the office,” he
said–“any two, sir; but I don’t think he is happy in his mind.”

“Not happy?” said Mr. Brownlow; “but you know, Wrinkell, we can not be
expected to remedy that.”

“No, of course not,” said Mr. Wrinkell; “it may be only seriousness, and
then it will be all the better for him; but if it is not that, it is
something that has gone wrong. At his age a cross in some fancy is
enough sometimes–not that I have any ground for saying so; but still I
think sometimes when I look at him that some little affair of _that_
description may have gone wrong.”

“It is possible enough,” said Mr. Brownlow, with a smile, which was
somewhat grim; “fortunately that sort of thing don’t kill.”

“N-no,” said Mr. Wrinkell, gravely; but he did not say anymore, and his
employer did not feel more comfortable after he was gone; and Powys was
promoted accordingly, and did his business with a certain sternness,
never moving, never looking round when Mr. Brownlow came into the
office, taking no notice of him; till the lawyer, who had come to have a
certain fondness for the young man, felt hurt and vexed, he could not
have told why. He was glad to see him there–glad he was too manful and
stouthearted to have disappeared and abandoned his work; but he would
have felt grateful and indebted to him had he once raised his head and
seemed conscious of his presence. Powys, however, was no more than
human, and there was a limit to his powers. He was busy with his work,
but yet the sense of his grievance was full in his mind. He was saying
to himself, with less vehemence but more steadiness, what Sara had said.
He never would have thought of it but for Mr. Brownlow–never would have
gone back after _that_ time but for him; and his heart was sore, and he
could not forgive him like a Christian–not the first day.

However they had a cheerful evening at Brownlows that night. There were
more reasons than one why it should be a night of triumph for the master
of the house. His terrors had all died out of his mind. The cloud that
had so long overshadowed him had vanished, and _it was the last day_!
Nobody knew it but himself; doubtless nobody was thinking of any special
crisis. Mr. Brownlow went, he scarcely knew from what feeling, in a kind
of half-conscious bravado, to see old Mrs. Fennell, and found her still
raving of something which seemed to him no longer alarming, but the
merest idiocy. He was so genial and charitable that he even thought of
Nancy and her troubles, and told her she must get a nurse to help her,
and then she could be free to go and see her friends. “For I think you
told me you had some friends,” Mr. Brownlow said, with an amiability
that cowed Nancy, and made her tremble. Nancy Christian! When he heard
her mistress call her, he suddenly recollected the other name which he
had seen so lately, and came back to ask her about a Mary Christian of
the Isle of Man, and got certain particulars which were startling to
him. Nancy could tell him who she was. She was a farmer’s daughter
related to the Fennells, and had married “a gentleman’s son.” The
information gave Mr. Brownlow a curious shock, but he was a good deal
exhausted with various emotions, and did not feel that much. So he went
home, carrying a present for Sara–a pretty locket–though she had too
many of such trinkets already. He meant to tell her it was an
anniversary, though not what anniversary it was. And he took his
check-book and wrote a check for a large amount for the chief charities
in Masterton, but did not tear it out, leaving it there locked up with
the book till to-morrow, for it was late, and the banks were shut. If
any poor supplicant had come to him that day with a petition, right or
wrong its prayer would have been granted. Mr. Brownlow had received a
great deliverance from God–so he phrased it–and it was but his simple
duty to deliver others if possible in sign of his gratitude. All but
young Powys, whom he had deluded, and who had deluded him; all but
Phœbe Thomson, who was just about to be consigned to oblivion, and
about whom and whose fortunes henceforward no soul would have any
inducement to care.

Sara, too, had softened a little out of that first rebellion which Mr.
Brownlow knew could not last. She was not particularly cordial to her
father, but still she wore the locket he had given her in sign of amity,
and exerted herself at dinner to amuse the guests. Fresh people had
arrived that day, and the house was very full–so full, that Mr.
Brownlow had no chance of a moment’s conversation with his children,
except by positively detaining them after every body was gone, as Jack
had done on the night of Powys’s arrival. He took this step, though it
was a very decided one, for he felt it necessary that some clear
understanding should be come to. And he had such bribes to offer them.
After every body else had retired, Jack and Sara came to him in the
library. This room, which a little while ago had been the least
interesting in the house, was gradually collecting associations round
it, and becoming the scene of all the most important incidents in this
eventful period of the family life. Jack came in half careless, half
anxious, thinking something might be about to be said about his personal
affairs, yet feeling that his father had no particular right to
interfere, and no power to decide. And Sara was sulky. It is an ugly
word, but it was the actual state of the case. She was injured, and sore
in her heart, and yet she was too young and too much accustomed to her
own way to consider the matter desperate, or to have reached the dignity
of despair. So she was only sullen, offended, disposed to make herself
disagreeable. It was not a promising audience whom Mr. Brownlow thus
received with smiles in his own room. It was only about eleven o’clock,
his impatience having hastened the hour of general separation; and the
young people were not perfectly pleased with _that_, any more than with
his other arrangements. Both the lamps in the library were lighted, and
there was a fire burning. The room, too, seemed to have brightened up.
Mr. Brownlow put Sara into one of the big chairs, with a tenderness
which almost overcame her, and himself took up an Englishman’s favorite
position on the hearth.

“I want to speak to you both,” he said. He was eager, and yet there was
a certain embarrassment in his tone. “This is an important night in my
life. I can’t enter into particulars–indeed there is no room for
them–but I have been waiting for this night to speak seriously to you
both. Jack, I doubt whether you will ever do much at the business. I
should have liked, had you given your mind to it, to keep it up; for a
business like mine is a capital backing to a fortune, and without it you
can’t hope to be rich–not rich beyond competence, you know. However, it
does not seem to me, I confess, that business, of our kind at least, is
your turn.”

“I was not aware I had been unsatisfactory, sir,” said Jack. “I don’t
think I have been doing worse than usual–”

“That is not what I mean,” said Mr. Brownlow. “I mean you are better
adapted for something else. I wrote to my old friend Lord Dewsbury about
you to-day. If any thing should turn up in the way he once proposed, I
should not mind releasing you altogether from the office–and increasing
your allowance. It could not be a great deal, recollect; but still if
that is what you would really give your mind to–I should see that you
had enough to keep your place.”

Jack’s eyes had gradually brightened as his father proceeded. Now he
made a step forward, and a gleam of delight came to his face. “Do you
really mean it?” he cried; “it is awfully good of you. Of course I
should give my mind to it. It is what I most care for in the
world–except–the business–” Jack paused, and other things besides the
business came into his mind. “If you are making a sacrifice to please
me–” he began slowly.

“We have all to make sacrifices,” said Mr. Brownlow. “A few days ago I
thought I should have had to make a sacrifice of a very different kind.
Providence has been good to me, and now I should like to do the best for
my children. There are only two of you,” said Mr. Brownlow, softening.
“It would be hard if I did not do all I could to make the best of your
lives.”

And then there was a pause. He meant what he said, and he had always
been a good father, and they loved him dearly. But at this moment,
though he was offering to his son the realization of his dreams, they
both distrusted him, and he felt it. They looked at him askance, these
two young creatures who owed every thing to him. They were doubtful of
his great offers. They thought he was attempting to bribe them, beguile
them out of the desire of their hearts. And he stood looking at them,
feeling in his own heart that he was not natural but plausible and
conciliatory, thinking of their good, no doubt, but also of his own
will. He felt this, but still he was angry that they should feel it. And
it was with still more conscious embarrassment that he began again.

“The time has come in my own life when I am ready to make a change,” he
said. “I want a little rest. I want to go away and see you enjoy
yourselves, and take a holiday before I die. I can afford it after
working so long. I want to take you to Italy, my darling, where you have
so long wanted to go; but I should like to establish things on a new
footing first. I should make some arrangement about the business;
unless, indeed, Jack has changed his ideas. Public life is very
uncertain. If you think,” said Mr. Brownlow, not without a certain tinge
of derision in his tone, “that you would rather be Brownlow of
Masterton, with a safe, long-established hereditary connection to fall
back upon, it is not for me to precipitate your decision. You can take
time and think over what I say.”

“There is no occasion for taking time to think,” said Jack, with a
little irritation. But there he stopped. It was getting toward midnight;
the house was quiet; everything was still, except the wind sighing
outside among the falling leaves. Sara, who was the least occupied of
the three, had thought she heard the sound of wheels in the avenue, but
it was so unlikely at that time of the night that she concluded it must
be only the wind. As they all stood there, however, silent, the quiet
was suddenly broken. All at once, into the midst of their conversation,
came the sound of the great house-bell, rung violently. It made them all
start, so unexpected was the sound, and so perfect was the stillness. At
that hour who could be coming to disturb them? The bell was unusually
large and loud, and the sound of it echoing down into the bowels, as it
were, of the silent house, was startling enough. And then there was the
sound of a voice outside. The library was at the back of the house;
but still, when their attention was thus violently aroused, they
could hear that there was a voice. And the bell rang again
loudly–imperiously–wildly. Jack was the first to move. “Willis must
be asleep,” he said. “But who on earth can it be?” and he hastened
toward the door, to give the untimely visitor entrance. But his father
called him back.

“I hear Willis moving,” he said; “never mind. It must be somebody by the
last train from town. Did you ask any one? There is just time to have
driven over from the last train.”

“It must be some telegram,” said Jack. “I expect nobody this week,” and
they all stood and waited; Sara, too, having risen from her chair. The
young people were a little disturbed, though they feared nothing; and
Mr. Brownlow looked at them tenderly, like a man who had nothing to
fear.

“Happily we are all here,” he said. “If it is a telegram, it can only be
about business.” He stood leaning against the mantle-piece, with his
eyes fixed on the door. There was a flutter at his heart somehow, but he
did not feel that he was afraid. And they could hear Willis fumbling
over the door, and an impatient voice outside. Whatever it was, it was
very urgent, and Jack, growing anxious in spite of himself, would have
gone to see. But again his father called him back. Something chill and
terrible was stealing over Mr. Brownlow; he was growing pale–he was
hoarse when he spoke. But he neither moved, nor would he let his son
move, and stood propping himself up, with a livid countenance, and
gazing at the door.

When it opened they all started, and Mr. Brownlow himself gave a hoarse
cry. It was not a telegram, nor was it a stranger. It was a figure they
were well used to see, and with which they had no tragic associations.
She came in like a ghost, black, pale, and swift, in a passion of
eagerness, with a large old silver watch in her hand. “I am not too
late,” she said, with a gasp, and held it up close to Mr. Brownlow’s
face. And then she stood still and looked at him, and he knew it all if
she had not said, another word. It was Pamela’s mother, the woman whom,
two days before, he had helped into the carrier’s cart at his own gate.

Continue Reading

AN IMPOSTOR

Next morning Powys was up early, with his wise resolution very strong in
his mind. He seemed to see the folly of it all more clearly in the
morning light. Such a thing might be possible in Canada; but in this
conventional artificial existence there were a hundred things more
important than love or happiness. Even that, too, he felt was an
artificial way of looking at it; for, after all, let the laws of
existence be ever so simple, a man who has already a family to support,
and very little to do it on, is mad, and worse than mad, if he tries to
drag a girl down into the gulf of poverty with him. And as for Sara
having enough for both, Powys himself was not sufficiently
unconventional and simple-minded to take up that idea. Accordingly he
felt that the only thing to do was to go away; he had been crazy to
think of any thing else, but now his sanity had returned to him. He was
one of the earliest of the party down stairs, and he did not feel
himself so much out of place at the breakfast-table; and when the young
men went out, Jack, by way of keeping the dangerous visitor out of his
sister’s way, condescended to be civil, and invited him to join the
shooting-party. Powys declined the invitation. “I am going to the office
with Mr. Brownlow,” he said, a decision which was much more satisfactory
to Jack.

“Oh, I thought you had come for a few days,” said Jack. “I beg your
pardon; not that the sport is much to offer any one–the birds are
getting scarce; but I thought you had come for some days.”

“No, I am going back to-day,” said Powys, not without a strangled
inaudible sigh; for the sight of the dogs and the guns went to his heart
a little, notwithstanding his love and despair. And Jack’s conscience
pricked him that he did not put in a word of remonstrance. He knew well
enough that Powys had not meant to go away, and he felt a certain
compunction and even sympathy. But he reflected that, after all, it was
far best for himself that every pretension should be checked in the bud.
Powys stood on the steps looking after them as they went away; and it
can not be denied that his feelings were dreary. It seemed hard to be
obliged to deny himself every thing, not happiness alone, but even a
little innocent amusement, such as reminded him of the freedom of his
youth. He was too manly to grumble, but yet he felt it, and could not
deny himself the pleasure of wondering how “these fellows” would like
the prairies, and whether they would disperse in double-quick time if a
bear or a pack of wolves came down upon them in place of their innocent
partridges. No doubt “these fellows” would have stood the trial
extremely well, and at another moment Powys would not have doubted that;
but in the mean time a little sneer was a comfort to him. The dog-cart
came up as he waited, and Mr. Brownlow made his appearance in his
careful morning-dress, perfectly calm, composed, and steady as usual–a
man whose very looks gave consolation to a client in trouble. But yet
the lines of his face were a little haggard, if there had been any body
there with eyes to see. “What, Powys!” he said, “not gone with the
others?” He said it with a smile, and yet it raised a commotion in his
mind. If he had not gone with the others, Mr. Brownlow naturally
concluded it must be for Sara’s sake, and that the crisis was very near
at hand.

“No, sir,” said Powys; “in fact I thought of going in with you to the
office, if you will take me. It is the fittest place for me.”

Then it occurred to Mr. Brownlow that the young man had spoken and had
been rejected, and the thought thrilled him through and through, but
still he tried to make light of it. “Nonsense,” he said; “I did not
bring you up last night to take you down this morning. You want a
holiday. Don’t set up having an old head on young shoulders, but stay
and enjoy yourself. I don’t want you at the office to-day.”

“If an old head means a wise one, I can’t much boast of that,” said
Powys; and then he saw Sara standing in the door-way of the dining-room
looking at him, and his heart melted within him. One more day! he would
not say a word, not a word, however he might be tempted; and what harm
could it do any one? “I think I ought to go,” he added, faintly; but the
resolution had melted out of his words.

“Nonsense!” said Mr. Brownlow, from the dog-cart, and he waved his hand,
and the mare set off at her usual pace down the avenue, waiting for no
one. And Powys was left alone standing on the steps. The young men had
gone who might have been in the way, and the ladies had already
dispersed from the breakfast-table, some to the morning-room on the
other side of the hall, some up stairs for their hats and cloaks, before
straying out on their morning perambulations. And Sara, who had her
housekeeping to do, save the mark! was the only creature visible to whom
he turned as her father drove away. Courtesy required (so she said to
herself) that she should go forward into the hall a step or two, and say
something good-natured to him. “If you are not of Jack’s party,” she
said, “you must go and help to amuse the people who are staying at home;
unless you want to write or do any thing, Mr. Powys. The library is on
that side; shall I show you the way?”

And a minute after he found himself following her into the room, which
was the first room he had ever been in at Brownlows. It was foolish of
Sara–it was a little like the way in which she had treated him before.
Her own heart was beating more quickly than usual, and yet she was
chiefly curious to know what he would do, what he would say. There was
something of the eagerness of an experiment in her mind, although she
had found it very serious after he left her the last time, and any
thing but amusing on the previous night.

“Thanks,” said poor Powys, whose head was turning round and round; “I
ought to have gone to the office. I am better there than here.”

“That is not very complimentary to us,” said Sara, with a little nervous
laugh.

And then he turned and looked at her. She was making a fool of him, as
Jack would have said. She was torturing him, playing with him, making
her half-cruel, half-rash experiment. “You should not say so,” he said,
with vehemence–“you know better. You should not tempt me to behave like
an idiot. You know I am ready enough to do it. If I were not an idiot I
should never have come here again.”

“Not when my father brought you?” said Sara–“not when I–but I think
you are rude, Mr. Powys; I will leave you to write your letters, and
when you have finished you will find us all up stairs.”

With that she vanished, leaving the young man in such a confusion of
mind as words would ill describe. He was angry, humiliated, vexed with
himself, rapt into a kind of ecstasy. He did not know if he was most
wretched or happy. Every thing forbade him saying another word to her;
and yet had not her father brought him, as she said? was not she herself
surrounding him with subtle sweet temptation? He threw himself down in a
chair and tried to think. When that would not do, he got up and began to
pace about the room. Then he rushed suddenly to the door, not to fly
away from the place, or to throw himself at Sara’s feet, as might have
been supposed. What he did was to make a wild dash at his traveling-bag,
which had been packed and brought into the hall. It was still standing
there, a monument of his irresolution. He plunged at it, seized it,
carried it into the library, and there unpacked it again with nervous
vehemence. Any one who should have come in and seen his collars and
handkerchiefs scattered about on the floor would have thought Powys mad.
But at length, when he had got to the bottom of the receptacle, his
object became apparent. From thence he produced a bundle of papers,
yellow and worn, and tied up with a ribbon. When he had disinterred
them, it was not without a blush, though there was nobody to see, that
he packed up every thing again in the capacious traveling-bag. He had
gone into Mr. Brownlow’s library because Sara took him there, without a
thought of any thing to do, but suddenly here was his work ready for
him. He sat down in Mr. Brownlow’s chair, and opened out the papers
before him, and read and arranged and laid them out in order. When he
had settled them according to his satisfaction, he made another pause to
think, and then began to write. It was a letter which demanded thought;
or at least it appeared so, for he wrote it hotly three times over, and
tore it up each time; and on the fourth occasion, which was the last,
wrote slowly, pausing over his sentences and biting his nails. The
letter which cost all this trouble was not very long. Judging by the
size of it, any body might have written it in five minutes; but Powys
felt his hand trembling and his brain throbbing with the exertion when
he had done. Then he folded it up carefully and put it into an envelope,
and addressed it to Mr. Brownlow, leaving it with the bundle of papers
on his employer’s writing-table. When he had accomplished this he sat
for some time irresolute, contemplating his packet on the table, and
pondering what should follow. He had put it to the touch to win or lose,
but in the mean time what was he to do? She had said he would find them
up stairs. She had implied that he would be expected there; and to spend
the day beside her would have been a kind of heaven to him; but that was
a paradise which he had himself forfeited. He could not be in her
company now as any other man might. He had said too much, had committed
himself too deeply. He had betrayed the secret which another man more
reticent might have kept, undisclosed in words, and it was impossible
for him to be with her as another might. Even she, though she had never
said a word to him that could be construed into encouragement, except
those half dozen words at the library door, was different toward him and
other men. She was conscious too; she remembered what he had said. He
and she could not be together without remembering it, without carrying
on, articulately or inarticulately, that broken interview. Powys did the
only thing that remained to him to do. He did not bound forth in the
track of the dog-cart, and follow it to Masterton, though that would not
have been difficult to him; but he went out into the park, and roamed
all about the house in widening circles, hearing sometimes the crack of
the guns in the distance, sometimes in alleys close at hand the sound of
voices, sometimes catching, as he thought, the very rustle of Sara’s
dress. He avoided them with much care and pains, and yet he would have
been glad to meet them; glad to come upon the shooting-party, though he
kept far from the spot where he had heard they were to meet some of the
ladies and lunch. It was not for him to seek a place among them. Thus he
wandered about, not feeling forlorn or disconsolate, as a man might be
supposed to do under such circumstances, but, on the contrary, excited
and hopeful. He had set forth what he felt was his best claim to
consideration before her father. If Mr. Brownlow had not treated him
with such inconceivable favor and indulgence, he never would have
ventured upon this. But he had been favored,–he had been encouraged.
Grace had been shown to him enough to turn any young man’s head, and he
knew no reason for it. And at last he had ventured to lay before Mr.
Brownlow those distant problematical claims to gentility which were all
the inheritance he had, and to tell him what was in his mind. He was not
a victim kept out of Paradise. He was a pilgrim of hope, keeping the
gates in sight, and feeling, permitting himself to feel, as if they
might open any moment and he might be called in.

While this was going on it happened to him, as it happens so often, to
come direct in the way of the very meeting which he had so carefully
avoided. Turning round the corner of a great old yew, hanging rich with
scarlet berries, he came all of a sudden, and without any warning, upon
Sara herself, walking quickly from the village with a little basket in
her hand. If it was difficult to meet her with a body-guard of ladies
in the shelter of her father’s house, it may be supposed what it was to
meet her in the silence, without another soul in sight, her face flaming
with sudden recognition and confusion. Powys stood still, and for a
moment speculated whether he should not fly; but it was only that moment
of consideration that fled, and he found himself turning by her side,
and taking her basket from her hand. She was no more mistress of the
situation than he was: she was taken by surprise. The calm with which
she had led the way into the library that morning, secure in her office
of mistress of the house, had vanished away. She began hurriedly,
eagerly, to say where she had been, and how it happened that she was
returning alone. “The rest went off to the rectory,” she said. “Have you
seen it? I think it is such a pretty house. They went to see Fanny
Hardcastle. You have met her–I know you have, or I would not have
mentioned her,” said Sara, with a breathless desire to hear her own
voice, which was unlike her. The sound of it gave her a little courage,
and perhaps if she spoke a little loud and fast, it might attract some
stray member of the party who might be wandering near. But no one came;
and there were the two together, alone, in the position of all others
most difficult in the circumstances–the green, silent park around them,
not an eye to see nor an ear to hear; the red October sunshine slanting
across their young figures, catching the ripple in Sara’s hair as it had
done that day, never to be forgotten, on which he first saw her. This
was how fate or fortune, or some good angel or some wicked fairy,
defeated Powys’s prudent intention of keeping out of harm’s way.

“But I wonder you did not go with Jack,” Sara resumed. “I should, if I
had been you. Not that I should care to kill the poor birds–but it
seems to come natural at this time of the year. Did you have much sport
in Canada? or do you think it stupid when people talk to you of Canada?
Every body does, I know, as soon as they hear you have been there.”

“You never could say any thing that was stupid,” said Powys, and then he
paused, for he did not mean to get upon dangerous ground–honestly, he
did not mean it, if circumstances had not been too strong for him.
“Canada is a kind of common ground,” he said. “It is a good thing to
begin conversation on. It is not easy to exhaust it; but people are
sadly ignorant,” he added, with lively colonial feeling. He was
scornful, in short, of the ignorance he met with. Even Mr. Brownlow
talked, he could not but recollect, like a charity-school boy on this
subject, and he took refuge in his nationality as a kind of safeguard.

“Yes, I know I am very ignorant,” said Sara, with humility. “Tell me
about Canada. I should like to learn.”

These words shook Powys sadly. It did not occur to him that she was as
glad as he was to plunge into a foreign subject. There sounded something
soft and confiding in the tone, and his heart gave a leap, as it were,
toward her. “And I should like to teach you,” he said, a little too
warmly, and then stopped short, and then began hastily again. “Miss
Brownlow, I think I will carry your basket home and leave you by
yourself. I can not be near without remembering things, and saying
things. Don’t despise me–I could nor bear to think you despised me.” He
said this with growing agitation, but he did not quicken his steps or
make any attempt to leave her; he only looked at her piteously, clasping
the slender handle of her little basket in both his hands.

“Why should I despise you, Mr. Powys? I don’t like Americans,” said
Sara, demurely; “but you are not American–you are English, like all the
rest of us. Tell me about Niagara and the Indians, and the backwoods and
the skating and the snow. You see I am not quite so ignorant. And then
your little sisters and your mother, do they like being at home? Tell me
their names and how old they are,” said Sara, herself becoming a little
tremulous. “I am fond of little girls.”

And then there ensued a breathless, tremendous pause. He would have fled
if he could, but there was no possibility of flight; and in a moment
there flashed before him all the evidences of Mr. Brownlow’s favor.
Would he refuse him this supreme gift and blessing? Why had he brought
him here if he would refuse him? Thus Powys broke down again, and
finally. He poured out his heart, giving up all attempt at self-control
when the tide had set in. He told how he had been keeping out of the
way–the way of temptation. He described to her how he had been trying
to command himself. He told her the ground she trod on was fairy-land:
the air she breathed musical and celestial; the place she lived in,
paradise; that he hoped nothing, asked for nothing, but only to be
allowed to tell her that she was–not an angel–for he was too much in
earnest to think of hackneyed expressions–but the only creature in the
world for whom he had either eyes or thoughts. All this poured upon Sara
as she walked softly, with downcast eyes, along the grassy path. It
poured upon her, a perfect flood of adulation, sweet flattery, folly,
and delirium–insane and yet quite true. And she listened, and had not a
word to say. Indeed he did not ask for a word; he made her no petition;
he emptied out his heart before her like a libation poured to the gods;
and then suddenly became silent, tremulous, and hoarse as his passion
worked itself out.

It was all so sudden, and the passion was so real, that they were both
rapt by it, and went on in the silence after he had ceased, without
knowing, until the impetus and rush of the outburst had in a measure
worn out. Then Sara woke up. She had been quite quiet, pale, half
frightened, wholly entranced. When she woke up she grew scarlet with
sudden blushes; and they both raised their eyes at the same moment and
found that, unawares, they had come in sight of the house. Powys fell
back at the sight with a pang of dismay and consternation; but it gave
Sara courage. They were no longer entirely alone, and she regained her
self-command.

“Mr. Powys,” she said, tremulously, “I don’t know what to say to you. I
am not so good as that. I–I don’t know what to say. You have not asked
me any thing. I–I have no answer to give.”

“It is because I want to ask every thing,” said poor Powys; “but I
know–I know you can have nothing to say.”

“Not now,” said Sara, under her breath; and then she held out her hand
suddenly, perhaps only for her basket. There was nobody at the windows,
heaven be praised, as she afterward said to herself, but not until she
had rushed up to her own room and pulled off that glove, and looked at
it with scarlet cheeks, and put it stealthily away. No, thank heaven!
even Angelique was at the other side of the house at a window which
looked out upon the innocent shrubberies. Only the placid, silent house,
blank and vacant, had been the witness. Was it a seal of any thing, a
pledge of any thing, or only a vague touch, for which she was not
responsible, that had fallen upon Sara’s glove?

Mr. Brownlow had gone away, his heart positively aching with expectation
and anxiety. He did not know what might happen while he was gone. It
might be more than life or death to him, as much more as honor or
dishonor go beyond mere life and death; and yet he could not stay and
watch. He had to nerve himself to that last heroism of letting every
thing take its chance, and going on with his work whatever happened. He
went to the office with his mind racked by this anxiety, and got through
his work all the same, nobody being the wiser. As he returned, a little
incident for the moment diverted him from his own thoughts. This was the
sight of the carrier’s cart standing at Mrs. Swayne’s door, and Mrs.
Swayne’s lodger in the act of mounting into it with the assistance of a
chair. Mr. Brownlow, as he passed in the dog-cart, could not but notice
this. He could not but observe how pale and ill she looked. He was
interested in them partly with that displeased and repellent interest
excited by Jack’s “entanglement,” partly because of Pamela’s face, which
reminded him of something, and partly–he could not tell why. Mrs.
Preston stumbled a little as she mounted up, and Mr. Brownlow, who was
waiting for old Betty to open the gate, sprang down from the dog-cart,
being still almost as active as ever, and went across the road to
assist. He took off his hat to her with the courtesy which all his
family possessed, and asked if she was going away. “You do not look well
enough to be setting out on a journey,” he said, a little moved by the
sight of the pale old woman mounting into that uneasy conveyance. “I
hope you are not going alone.” This he said, although he could see she
was going alone, and that poor little Pamela’s eyes were big with
complaint and reproach and trouble. Somehow he felt as if he should like
to take the little creature home with him, and pet and cherish her,
though, of course, as the cause of Jack’s entanglement, nothing should
have made him notice her at all.

But Mrs. Preston looked at him fiercely with her kindled eyes, and
rejected his aid. “Thank you,” she said abruptly, “I don’t want any
help–thank you. I am quite able to travel, and I prefer to be alone.”

“In that case, there is nothing farther to say,” said Mr. Brownlow,
politely; and then his heart melted because of little Pamela, and he
added, almost in spite of himself, “I hope you are not going away.”

“Only to come back,” said Mrs. Preston, significantly–“only to come
back; and, Mr. Brownlow, I am glad to have a chance of telling you that
we shall meet again.”

“It will give me much pleasure, I am sure,” he said, taking off his hat,
but he stared, as Pamela perceived. Meet again! what had he to do with
the woman? He was surprised, and yet he could have laughed. As if he
should care for meeting her! And then he went away, followed by her
fierce look, and walked up the avenue, dismissing the dog-cart. The act
might make him a little late for dinner, but on the whole he was glad to
be late. At least there could be no confidences made to him before he
had been refreshed with food and wine, and he wanted all the strength
that could be procured in that or any other way. Thus it was that he had
not time to go into the library before dinner, but went up stairs at
once and dressed, and down stairs at once into the drawing-room, looking
at Sara and at his young guest with an eye whose keenness baffled
itself. There was something new in their faces, but he could not tell
what it was; he saw a certain gleam of something that had passed, but it
was not distinct enough to explain itself, not having been, as will be
perceived, distinct at all, at least on the more important side. He kept
looking at them, but their faces conveyed no real information, and he
could not take his child aside and ask her what it was, as her mother
might have done. Accordingly after dinner, instead of going up to the
drawing-room and perplexing himself still farther with anxious looks, he
went into the library. The suspense had to be borne whether he liked it
or not, and he was not a man to make any grievance about it. The smile
which he had been wearing in deference to the usages of society faded
from his face when he entered that sheltering place. His countenance
fell into the haggard lines which Powys had not observed in the morning.
A superficial spectator would have supposed that now he was alone his
distresses had come back to him; but on the contrary his worn and weary
look was not an evidence of increased pain–it was a sign of ease and
rest. There he did not need to conceal the anxiety which was racking
him. In this state of mind, letting himself go, as it were, taking off
the restraints which had been binding him, he went into the library, and
found Powys’s letter, and the bundle of papers that were put up with it,
placed carefully on his table before his chair.

The sight gave him a shock which, being all alone and at his ease, he
did not attempt to conceal. The light seemed to go out of his eyes, his
lip drooped a little, a horrible gleam of suffering went over his face:
now no doubt the moment had come. He even hesitated and went away to the
other extremity of the room, and turned his back upon the evidence which
was to seal his fate. Then it occurred to him how simple-minded the
young fellow was–to thrust his evidences thus, as it were, into the
hands of the man whose interest it was to destroy them!–and a certain
softening came over him, a thrill of kindness, almost of positive
affection for the youth who was going to ruin him. Poor fellow!–he
would be sorry–and then Sara would still have it, and he would be good
to her. Mr. Brownlow’s mind was in this incoherent state when he came
back to the table, and, steeling himself for the effort, sat down before
the fated papers. He undid the ribbon with trembling hands. Powys’s
letter was written on his own paper, with “Brownlows” on it in
fantastic Gothic letters, according to Sara’s will and pleasure; and a
thrill of anger shot over him as he perceived this. Strange that as he
approached the very climax of his fate he should be able to be moved by
such troubles! Then Mr. Brownlow opened the letter. It was very short,
as has been said, and this was the communication which had cost the
young man so much toil:

“DEAR SIR–It seems strange to write to you thus calmly, at your
own table, on your own paper [“Ah! then he felt that!” Mr. Brownlow
said to himself], and to say what I am going to say. You have
brought me here notwithstanding what I told you, but the time is
past when I could come and be like any common acquaintance. I
wanted to leave to-day to save my honesty while I could, but you
would not let me. I can not be under the same roof with Miss
Brownlow, and see her daily, and behave like a stock or stone. I
have no right to address her, but she _knows_, and I can not help
myself. I want to lay before you the only claim I have to be looked
upon as any thing more than your clerk. It was my hope to work into
a higher position by my own exertions, and then to find it out. But
in case it should count for any thing with you, I put it before you
now. It could not make me her equal; but if by any wonderful chance
_that_ should seem possible in your eyes, which to mine seems but
the wildest yet dearest dream, I want you to know that perhaps if
it could be traced out we are a little less lowly than we seem.

“I enclose my father’s papers, which we have always kept with great
care. He took care of them himself, and told me before he died that
I ought to find my fortune in them. I never had much hope of that,
but I send them to you, for they are all I have. I do not ask you
to accept of me, to give me your daughter. I know it looks like
insanity. I feel it is insane. But you have been either very, very
kind or very cruel to me. You have brought me here–you have made
it life or death to me. She has every thing that heart of man can
desire. I have–what poor hope there may be in these papers. For
God’s sake look at them, and look at me, and tell me if I am mad to
hope. Tell me to go or stay, and I will obey you–but let it be
clear and definitive, for mercy’s sake.

“C. I. POWYS.”

Mr. Brownlow was touched by the letter. He was touched by its
earnestness, and he was also touched by its simplicity. He was in so
strange a mood that it brought even the moisture to his eye. “To have
every thing I possess in the world in his power, and yet to write like
this,” he said to himself, and drew a long sigh, which was as much
relief as apprehension. “She will still have it all, and he deserves to
have her,” Mr. Brownlow thought to himself; and opened up the yellow
papers with a strange mixture of pain and satisfaction which even he
could not understand.

He was a long time over them. They were letters chiefly, and they took a
great many things for granted of which Mr. Brownlow was completely
ignorant, and referred to many events altogether unknown to him. He was
first puzzled, then almost disappointed, then angry. It seemed like
trifling with him. These could not be the papers Powys meant to enclose.
There were letters from some distressed mother to a son who had made a
foolish marriage, and there were letters from the son, pleading that
love might still be left to him, if not any thing else, and that no evil
impression might be formed of his Mary. Who was his Mary? Who was the
writer? What had he to do with Brownlows and Sara and Phœbe Thomson’s
fortune? For a long time Mr. Brownlow toiled on, hoping to come to
something which bore upon his own case. The foregone conclusion was so
strong in his mind, that he grew angry as he proceeded, and found his
search in vain. Powys was trifling with him, putting him off–thrusting
this utterly unimportant correspondence into his hands, instead of
confiding, as he had thought, his true proofs to him. This distrust, as
Mr. Brownlow imagined it, irritated him in the most-curious way. Ask his
advice, and not intrust him with the true documents that proved the
case! Play with his good sense, and doubt his integrity! It wounded him
with a certain keen professional sting. He had worked himself up to the
point of defrauding the just heir; but to suspect that the papers would
not be safe in his hands was a suggestion that cut him to the heart. He
was very angry, and he had so far forgotten the progress of time that,
when he rang sharply to summon some one, the bell rang through all the
hushed echoes of the house, and a servant–half asleep, and considerably
frightened–came gaping, after a long interval, to the library door.

“Where is Mr. Powys?” said Mr. Brownlow. “If he is in the drawing-room
give him my compliments, and ask him to be so good as to step down here
for a few minutes to me.”

“Mr. Powys, sir?” said the man–“the gentleman as came yesterday, sir?
The drawing-room is all shut up, sir, long ago. The ladies is gone to
bed, but some of the gentlemen is in the smoking-room, and I can see if
he’s there.”

“Gone to bed!” said Mr. Brownlow; “why were they in such a hurry?” and
then he looked at his watch and found, to his great surprise, that it
was past midnight. A vague wonder struck him once again whether his mind
could be getting impaired. The suggestion was like a passing stab in the
dark dealt him by an unseen enemy. He kept staring at the astonished
servant, and then he continued sharply, “Go and see if he is in the
smoking-room, or if not, in his own room. Ask him to come to me.”

Powys had gone up stairs late, and was sitting thinking, unable to rest.
He had been near her the whole evening, and though they had not
exchanged many words, there had been a certain sense between them that
they were not as the others were. Once or twice their eyes had met, and
fallen beneath each other’s glance. It was nothing, and yet it was
sweeter than any thing certain and definite. And now he sat and thought.
The night had crept on, and had become chilly and ghostly, and his mind
was in a state of strange excitement. What was to come of it all? What
could come of it? When the servant came to his door at that late hour,
the young man started with a thrill of apprehension, and followed him
down stairs almost trembling, feeling his heart sink within him; for so
late and so peremptory a summons seemed an omen of evil. Mr. Brownlow
had collected himself before Powys came into the room, and received him
with an apology. “I am sorry to disturb you so late. I was not aware it
was so late; but I want to understand this–” he said; and then he
waited till the servant had left the room, and pointed to a chair on the
other side of the table. “Sit down,” he said, “and tell me what this
means.”

“What it means?” said Powys taken by surprise.

“Yes, sir, what it means,” said Mr. Brownlow, hoarsely. “I may guess
what your case is; but you must know that these are not the papers to
support it. Who is the writer of these letters? who is the Mary he talks
of? and what has it all to do with you?”

“It has every thing to do with me,” said Powys. “The letters were
written by my father–the Mary he speaks of is my mother–”

“Your mother?” said Mr. Brownlow, with a sharp exclamation, which
sounded like an oath to the young man’s astonished ears; and then he
thrust the papers away with trembling hands, and folded his arms on the
table, and looked intently into Powys’s face. “What was your mother’s
name?”

“My mother’s name was Mary Christian,” said Powys, wondering; “but the
point is–Good heavens! what is the matter? what do you mean?”

His surprise was reasonable enough. Mr. Brownlow had sprung to his feet;
he had dashed his two clenched hands through the air, and said,
“Impostor!” through his teeth. That was the word–there could be no
mistake about it–“Impostor!” upon which Powys too jumped up, and faced
him with an expression wavering between resentment and surprise,
repeating more loudly in his consternation, “What do you mean?”

But the young man could only stand and look on with increasing wonder
when he saw Mr. Brownlow sink into his chair, and bury his face in his
hands, and tremble like a palsied old man. Something like a sob even
came from his breast. The relief was so amazing, so unlooked for, that
at the first touch it was pain. But Powys, standing by, knew nothing of
all this. He stood, not knowing whether to be offended, hesitating,
looking for some explanation; and no doubt the time seemed longer to him
than it really was. When Mr. Brownlow raised his head his face was
perfectly colorless, like the face of a man who had passed through some
dreadful experiment. He waved his hand to his young companion, and it
was a minute before he could speak.

“I beg your pardon,” he said. “It is all a mistake–an entire mistake,
on my part. I did not know what I was saying. It was a sudden pain. But
never mind, I am better. What did you mean me to learn from these
papers?” he added, after a pause, with a forced smile.

Then Powys knew his fate. There was a change which could not be
described. In an instant, tone, look, manner, every thing was altered.
It was his master who said these last words to him; his employer, very
kind and just, but unapproachable as a king. One moment before, and Mr.
Brownlow had been in his power, he did not know how or why; and in an
instant, still without his knowing wherefore, his power had totally
departed. Powys saw this in all the darkness of utter ignorance. His
consternation was profound and his confusion. In a moment his own
presumption, his own hopelessness, the misery of loss and
disappointment, overwhelmed him, and yet not a word bearing upon the
real matter at issue had been said.

“They are my father’s papers,” said poor Powys. “I thought–that is, I
supposed–I hoped there might be some indication in them–I am sorry if
I have troubled you unnecessarily. He belonged to a good family, and I
imagined I might perhaps have reclaimed–but it doesn’t matter. If that
is what you think–”

“Oh yes, I see,” said Mr. Brownlow; “you can leave them, and perhaps
another time–But in the mean time, if you feel inclined, my groom can
drive you down to-morrow morning. I am not sure that I shall be going
myself; and I will not detain you any longer to-night.”

“Very well, sir,” said Powys. He stood for a moment looking for
something more–for some possible softening; but not one word of
kindness came except an abrupt good-night. Good-night–yes, good-night
to every thing–hope, love, happiness, fortune. Farewell to them all;
and Sara, she who had almost seemed to belong to him. It seemed to Powys
as if he was walking on his own heart as he left the room, trampling on
it, stamping it down, crying fool, fool! Poor fellow, no doubt he had
been a fool; but it was a hard awakening, and the fault, after all, was
not his own.

Mr. Brownlow, however, was too much occupied with his own deliverance to
think of Powys. He said that new name over to himself again and again,
to realize what had happened. Mary Christian–Mary Christian–surely he
had heard it before; but so long as it was not Phœbe Thomson, what
did it matter who was his mother? Not Phœbe Thomson. She was dead
perhaps–dead, and in a day or two more it would not matter. Two days,
that was all–for it was now October. She might turn up a week hence if
she would; but now he was free–free, quite free; without any
wrong-doing or harm to any body; Brownlows and every thing else his own.
Could it be true? Mary Christian–that was the name. And she came from
the Isle of Man. But there was plenty of time to inquire into all that.
The thing in the mean time was that he was released. When he got up and
roused himself he found he could scarcely stand. He had been steady
enough during all the time of his trial; but the sudden relief took all
his forces from him. He shook from head to foot, and had to hold by the
tables and chairs as he went out. And he left the lamp burning in
forlorn dreariness on the library-table. The exertion of walking up
stairs was almost too much for him. He had no attention to give to the
common things surrounding him. All his powers, all his senses were
absorbed in the one sensation of being free. Only once as he went up
stairs did his ordinary faculties return to him, as it were, for a
moment. It was when he was passing the great window in the staircase,
and glancing out saw the white moonlight glimmering over all the park,
and felt the cold of the night. Then it occurred to him to wonder if the
pale old woman whom he had seen getting into the carrier’s cart could be
traveling through this cold night. Poor old soul! He could not but think
for the moment how chilly and frozen it would be. And then he bethought
himself that he was safe, might go where he liked, do what he liked, had
nobody menacing him, no enemy looking on to watch an opportunity–and no
harm done! Thus Mr. Brownlow paused in the weakness of deliverance, and
his heart melted within him. He made not vows to the saints of new
churches or big tapers, but secret, tender resolutions in his heart. For
this awful danger escaped, how should he show his gratitude to God? He
was himself delivered, and goodness seemed to come back to him, his
natural impulse. He had been saved from doing wrong, and without doing
wrong all he wanted had been secured to him. What reason had not he to
be good to every body; to praise God by serving his neighbor? This was
the offering of thanksgiving he proposed to render. He did not at the
moment think of young Powys sitting at his window looking out on the
same moonlight, very dumb and motionless and heart-stricken, thinking
life henceforward a dreary desert. No harm was done, and Mr. Brownlow
was glad. But it did not occur to him to offer any healing in Powys’s
case. If there was to be a victim at all, it was best that he should be
the victim. Had he not brought it on himself?

Continue Reading