COMPOUND INTEREST

Mr. Brownlow and his son were a long time together. They talked until
the autumn day darkened, and they had no more light for their
calculations. Mr. Brownlow had been very weary, even stupefied. He had
entered upon the conversation because he could not resist Jack’s
eagerness, and the decided claim he made to know fully a business which
so much concerned him. He had a right to know, which his father could
not dispute; but nevertheless all the events of the past twenty-four
hours had worn Mr. Brownlow out. He was stupefied; he did not know what
had happened; he could not recollect the details. When his attention was
fully arrested, a certain habit of business kept him on, and his mind
was clear enough when they went into figures, and when he had to make
his son aware of the magnitude of the misfortune which had almost thrown
his own mind off its balance. The facts were beyond all comment. It was
simple ruin; but such was the nature of the men, and their agreement in
it, that they both worked out their reckoning unflinchingly, and when
they saw what it was, did not so much as utter an exclamation. They laid
down, the one his pen and the other his pencil, as the twilight darkened
round them. There was no controversy between them. It was nobody’s
fault. Jack might have added a sting to every thing by reproaching his
father for the ignorance in which he had been brought up, but he had no
mind for any such useless exasperation. Things were as bad as bad could
be; therefore they brought their calculations to an end very quietly,
and came to the same conclusion as the darkness closed over them. They
sat for a minute on opposite sides of the table, not looking at each
other, with their papers before them, and their minds filled with one
sombre thought. Whether it was that or the mere fall of day which was
closing round them neither could have told–only that under this dull
oppression there was in Jack’s mind a certain wild suppressed
impatience, an overwhelming sense of all that was included in the
crisis; while his father in the midst of it could not repress a strange
longing to throw himself down upon the sofa, to close his eyes, to be
alone in the silence and darkness. Rest was his most imperative want.
The young man’s mind was thrilling with a desire to be up and at his
troubles, to fight and make some head against them. But then things were
new to Jack; whereas to Mr. Brownlow, who had already made a long and
not guiltless struggle, the only thing apparent and desirable was
rest–to lie down and be quiet for a little, to have no question asked
him, nothing said to him, or, if it should please God, to sleep.

Jack, however, was not the man, under the circumstances, to let his
father get either sleep or rest. After they had made all the
calculations possible, and said every thing that was to be said, he did
not go away, but sat silent, biting his nails and pondering much in his
mind. They had been thus for about half an hour without exchanging a
word, when he suddenly broke into speech.

“It must go into Chancery, I suppose?” he said. “She has got to prove
her identity, and all that. You will have time at least to realize all
your investments. Too much time perhaps.”

“She is an old woman,” said Mr. Brownlow. He was thinking of nothing
beyond the mere matter of fact, and there was no meaning in his voice,
but yet it startled his son. “And you were to marry her daughter. I had
almost forgotten that. You were very decided on the subject last time
you spoke to me. In that case every thing would be yours.”

“I hope she may live forever!” said Jack, getting up from his chair;
“and she has no intention of giving me her daughter now–not that her
intention matters much,” he said to himself, half muttering, as he stood
with his hand on the table. The change was bewildering. He would have
his Pamela still, whatever any body might say; but to run away with his
pretty penniless darling, and work for her and defy the world for her,
was very different from running away with the little heiress who had a
right to every penny he had supposed his own. It was very hard upon him;
but all the same he had no intention of giving in. No idea of
self-sacrifice ever crossed his mind. It made the whole matter more
confusing, more disagreeable–but any body’s intention mattered very
little, father or mother; he meant to have his love and his way all the
same.

“It does matter,” said Mr. Brownlow. “It had much better never go into
Chancery at all. I never had any objections to the girl–you need not be
impatient. I always liked the girl. She is like your mother. I never
knew what it was–” Then Mr. Brownlow made a little pause. “Poor
Bessie!” he said, though it was an exclamation that did not seem called
for. It was this fortune that had first made him think of Bessie. It was
for her sake–for the sake of making a very foolish marriage–that he
had made use of the money which at first was nothing but a plague and
burden to him. Somehow she seemed to come up before him now it was
melting away, and he knew that the charm of Pamela’s dewy eyes and fresh
face had been their resemblance to Bessie. The thought softened his
heart, and yet made it sting and ache. “This matter is too important for
temper or pride,” he went on, recovering himself. “If we are to treat as
enemies, of course I must resist, and it will be a long suit, and
perhaps outlive us all. But if you are to be her daughter’s husband, the
question is different. You are the natural negotiator between us.”

“I can’t be; it is impossible,” cried Jack; and then he sat down again
in his chair in a sort of sullen fury with himself. Of course he was the
natural negotiator. It was weakness itself to think of flinching from so
plain a duty; and yet he would rather have faced a battery or led a
forlorn hope.

“You must be,” said Mr. Brownlow. “We are all excited at this present
moment; but there can be no doubt of what your position entails. You are
my son, and you are, against my will, contrary to my advice, engaged to
her daughter. Unless you mean to throw off the girl you love because she
has suddenly become an heiress–”

“I mean nothing of the sort,” cried Jack, angrily. “I shall never throw
her off.”

“Then you can’t help having an interest in her fortune;–and doing the
best you can for her,” said his father, after a pause.

Then again silence fell upon the two. It was natural and reasonable, but
it was utterly repugnant, even though one of them thus urged it, to
both. A thing may be recommended by good sense, and by all the force of
personal interest, and yet may be more detestable than if it was alike
foolish and wicked. This was how it seemed to Jack; and for Mr.
Brownlow, in the whirl of ruin which had sucked him in, it was as yet
but a poor consolation that his son might get the benefit. Acting by the
dictates of nature he would rather have kept his son at his side to
share his fortune and stand by him. Yet it was his duty to advise Jack
to go over to the other side and take every thing he had from him, and
negotiate the transfer of his fortune–to “do the best he could,” in
short, for his father’s adversary. It was not an expedient agreeable to
either, and yet it was a thing which reason and common sense demanded
should be done.

While they sat thus gloomily together, the household went on in a
strangely uncomfortable way outside. The men came straggling in from
their shooting, or whatever they had been doing; and, though Sara was
with the ladies, every body knew by instinct, as it seemed, that her
father and brother were consulting together over something very serious,
shut up in the library, Mr. Brownlow neglecting his business and Jack
his pleasure. If it had only been business that was neglected, nobody
would have been surprised; but when things were thus pushed beyond that
natural regard for appearances which is born with Englishmen, they must
be serious indeed. Then, of course, to make matters worse, the gentlemen
came in earlier than usual. It was their curiosity, the elder ladies
said to each other, for every body knows that it is men who are the true
gossips and ferret every thing out; but, however that might be, it threw
additional embarrassment upon Sara, who stood bravely at her post–a
little flushed, perhaps, and unnaturally gay, but holding out with
dauntless courage. She had every thing to take on her own shoulders.
That night, as it happened by unlucky chance, there was to be a
dinner-party. Sir Charles Motherwell and his mother were coming, and
were to stay all night; and the rector was coming, he who knew the house
better than any body else, and would be most quick of all to discover
the difference in it. The recollection of the gathering in the evening
had gone out of Mr. Brownlow’s mind and even Jack had forgotten all
about it. “Like men!” Sara said to herself, indignantly. She had every
thing to do, though she had not slept all night, and had not escaped her
share of the excitement of the day. She had to give all the orders and
make all the arrangements, and now sat dauntless pouring out the tea,
keeping every body at bay, acknowledging the importance of the crisis
only by unusual depth of color on her cheek, and an unusual translucent
sheen in her big eyes. They did not flash or sparkle as other eyes might
have done, but shone like globes full of some weird and visionary light.
She had an answer ready for every body, and yet all the while she was
racking her mind to think what could they be doing down stairs, what
decision could they be coming to? She was doing her part stoutly in
ignorance and patience, spreading her pretty draperies before them, as
it were, and keeping the world at arm’s length. “Oh, yes, the
Motherwells are coming,” she said, “but they will come dressed for
dinner, which none of us are as yet. They are only at Ridley–they have
not very far to come. Yes, I think we had better have a dance. Jack is
not good for much in that way. He never was. He was always an
out-of-doors sort of boy.”

“He does not seem to care for out-of-doors either,” said one of the
young ladies; “and, Sara, I wonder what has happened to him. He always
looks as if he were thinking of something else.”

“Something else than–what?” said Sara. “He has something else than us
to think of–if that is what you mean. He is not one of your idle
people–” which speech was met by a burst of laughter.

“Oh no; he is very diligent; he loves business,” said young Keppel. “We
are all aware of that.”

“He is not at the bar, you know,” retorted the dauntless Sara. “He has
not briefs pouring in upon him like–some people. But it is very good of
you to take so much notice of us between the circuits–is that the right
word? And to reward you, you shall manage the dance? Does Sir Charles
dance? I suppose so–all common people do.”

“Sara, my love, don’t speak so,” said one of the matrons. “The
Motherwells are one of the best families in the country. I don’t know
what you mean by common people.”

“I mean people who are just like other people,” said Sara, “as we all
are. If we did not wear different colored dresses and have
different-colored hair and eyes, I don’t see how we could be told from
each other. As for gentlemen generally, you _know_ one never knows which
is which!” she cried, appealing to the candor of her friends. “We
pretend to do it, to please them. Half of them have light beards and
half of them have dark, and one never gets any farther; except with
those whom one has the honor to know,” said Sara, rising and making a
courtesy to the young men who were round her. Then, amid laughter and
remonstrances, they all went fluttering away–too early, as most of the
young people thought–to their rooms to dress. And some of them thought
Sara “really too bad;” and some were sure the gentlemen did not like
it. The gentlemen, however, did not seem to mind. They said to each
other, “By Jove! how pretty she was to-night;” and some of them wondered
how much money she would have; and some supposed she would marry Charley
Motherwell after all. And, for the moment, what with dinner approaching
and the prospect of the dance after, both the ladies and the men forgot
to wonder what could be the matter with the family, and what Mr.
Brownlow was saying to Jack.

But as for Sara, she did not forget. Though she was first to move, she
was still in the drawing-room when they all went away, and came
pitifully up to the big fire which sent gleams of light about through
all the dark room, and knelt down on the hearth and warmed her hands,
and shivered, not with cold, but excitement. Her eyes were big and
nervous and dilated; but though her tears came easily enough on ordinary
occasions, to-night she did not cry. She knelt before the fire and held
out her hands to it, and then wrung them hard together, wondering how
she should ever be able to go through the evening, and what they were
doing down stairs, and whether she should not go and remind them of the
dinner. It seemed to her as if for the moment she had got rid of her
enemies, and had time to think; but she was too restless to think, and
every moment seemed an hour to her. As soon as the steps and voices of
the guests became inaudible on the stairs, she got up, and went down to
seek them out in the library. There were two or three servants in the
hall, more than had any right to be there, and Willis, who was standing
at the foot of the stairs, came up to her in a doubtful, hesitating way.
A gentleman had come up from the office, he said; but he did not like to
disturb Master, as was a-talking with Mr. John in the library. The
gentleman was in the dining-room. Would Miss Sara see him, or was her
papa to be told? Sara was so much excited already, that she saw in this
visitor only some new trouble, and jumped at the idea of meeting it
herself, and perhaps saving her father something. “I will see him,” she
said; and she called up all her resolution, and went rapidly, with the
haste of desperation, into the dining-room. The door had closed behind
her, and she had glided past the long, brilliant, flower-decked table to
where somebody was standing by the fire-place ere she really thought
what she was doing. When the stranger started and spoke, Sara woke up as
from a dream; and when she found it was Powys who was looking at
her–looking anxious, wistful, tender, not like the other people–the
poor girl’s composure failed her. She gave him one glance, and then all
the tears that had been gathering in her eyes suddenly burst forth. “Oh,
Mr. Powys, tell me what it is all about!” she cried, holding out her
hands to him. And he, not knowing what he was doing, not thinking of
himself or of his love, only penetrated to the heart by her tears,
sprang forward and took her into his arms and comforted her. There was
one moment in which neither of them knew. For that brief instant they
clung to each other unwitting, and then they fell apart, and stood and
looked at each other, and trembled, not knowing in their confusion and
consciousness and trouble what to say.

“Don’t be angry with me!” he cried; “I did not know what I was doing–I
did not mean–forgive me!–you were crying, and I could not bear it; how
could I stand still and see you cry?”

“I am not angry,” said Sara, softly. Never in her life had she spoken so
softly before. “I know you did not mean it; I am in such terrible
trouble; and they never told me it was you.”

Then Powys crept closer once more, poor young fellow, knowing he ought
not, but too far gone for reason. “But it _is_ I,” he said, softly
touching the hand with which she leaned on the mantle piece,–“to serve
you–to do any thing–any thing! only tell me what there is that I can
do?”

Then she looked up with her big lucid eyes, and two big tears in them,
and smiled at him though her heart felt like to burst, and put out her
hands again, knowing this time what she was doing; and he took them,
half-crazed with the joy and the wickedness. “I came up with some
papers,” he said; “I came against my will; I never thought, I never
hoped to see you; and your father will think I have done it dishonorably
on purpose; tell me, oh, tell me, what I can do.”

“I don’t think you can do any thing,” said Sara, “nor any body else. I
should not speak to you, but I can’t help it. We are in great trouble.
And then you are the only one I could speak to,” said the girl, with
unconscious self-betrayal. “I think we have lost every thing we have in
the world.”

“Lost every thing!” said Powys; his eyes began to dance, and his cheek
to burn–“lost every thing!” It was he now who trembled with eagerness,
and surprise, and joy. “I don’t want to be glad,” he cried, “but I could
work for you, slave for you–I shouldn’t mind what I did–”

“Oh, hush!” cried Sara, interrupting him, “I think I hear papa: it might
not matter for us, but it is him we ought to think of. We have got
people coming, and I don’t know what to do–I must go to papa.”

Then the young man stood and looked at her wistfully. “I can’t help you
with that,” he said, “I can’t be any good to you–the only thing I can
do is to go away; but, Sara! you have only to tell me; you know–”

“Yes,” she said, lifting her eyes to him once more, and the two big
tears fell, and her lips quivered as she tried to smile; she was not
angry–“yes,” she said, “I know;” and then there were sounds outside,
and in a moment this strange, wild, sweet surprise was over. Sara rushed
out to the library without another word, and Powys, tingling to the very
points of his fingers, gave his bundle of papers to Willis to be given
to Mr. Brownlow, and said he would come back, and rushed out into the
glare of Lady Motherwell’s lamps as her carriage came sweeping up the
avenue. He did not know who the little old lady was, nor who the tall
figure with the black mustache might be in the corner of the carriage;
but they both remarked him as he came down the steps at a bound. It gave
them their first impression of something unusual about the house. “It is
seven now,” Lady Motherwell said, “and dinner ought to be in half an
hour–what an odd moment to go away.” She was still more surprised to
see no one but servants when she entered, and to be shown into the
deserted drawing-room where there was not a sign of any one about. “I
don’t know what they mean by it, Charley,” Lady Motherwell said; “Mr.
Brownlow or somebody was always here to receive us before.” Sir Charles
did not say any thing, but he pulled his mustache, and he, too, thought
it was rather queer.

When Sara rushed into the library not five minutes before Lady
Motherwell’s arrival, the consultation there had been broken up. Jack,
notwithstanding his many preoccupations, had yet presence of mind enough
to remember that it was time to dress, as well as to perceive that all
had been said that could be said. Mr. Brownlow was alone. He had stolen
to the sofa for which he had been longing all the afternoon, and had
laid himself down on it. The room was very dimly lighted by a pair of
candles on the mantle-piece. It was a large room, and the faint twinkle
of those distant lights made it look ghostly, and it was a very strange
sight to see Mr. Brownlow lying on a sofa. He roused himself when Sara
came in, but it was with an effort, and he was very reluctant to be
disturbed. “Seven o’clock!” he said–“is it seven o’clock? but leave me
a little longer, my darling; ten minutes is enough for dress.”

“Oh, papa,” said Sara, “it is dreadful to think of dress at all, or any
thing so trifling, on such a day; but we must do it–people will
think–; I am sure even already they may be thinking–”

“Yes,” said Mr. Brownlow, vaguely–“I don’t think it matters–I would
rather have five minutes’ sleep.”

“Papa,” said Sara in desperation, “I have just seen Mr. Powys–he has
come with some papers–that is, I think he has gone away. He came
to–to–I mean he told me he was sent to–I did not understand what it
was, but he has gone away–”

“Ah, he has gone away,” said Mr. Brownlow, sitting up; “that is all
right–all right. And there are the Motherwells coming. Sara, I think
Charles Motherwell is a very honest sort of man.”

“Yes, papa,” said Sara. She was too much excited and disturbed to
perceive clearly what he meant, and yet the contrast of the two names
struck her dimly. At such a moment what was Charles Motherwell to her?

“I think he’s a very good fellow,” said Mr. Brownlow, rising; and he
went and stirred the smoldering fire. Then he came up to where she
stood, watching him. “We shall have to go and live in the house at
Masterton,” he said, with a sigh. “It will be a strange place for such a
creature as you.”

“I don’t see why it should be strange for me,” said Sara; and then her
face blazed suddenly with a color her father did not understand. “Papa,
I shall have you all to myself,” she said, hurriedly, feeling in her
heart more than half a hypocrite. “There will be no troublesome parties
like this, and nobody we don’t want to see.”

Mr. Brownlow looked at her half suspiciously; but he did not know what
had happened in those two minutes beside the fruit and flowers in the
dining-room. He made a desperate effort to recover himself, and to take
courage and play out his part steadily to the end.

“We must get through it to-night,” he said. “We must keep up for
to-night. Go and put on all your pretty things, my darling. You have had
to bear the brunt of every thing to-day.”

“No, papa; it does not matter,” said Sara, smothering the longing she
had to cry, and tell him–tell him?–she did not know what. And then she
turned and put her one question. “Is it true?–have we nothing? Is it
all as that terrible woman said?”

Mr. Brownlow put his hand on her arm and leaned upon her, slight prop as
she was. “You were born in the old house in Masterton,” he said, with a
certain tone of appeal in his voice; “your mother lived in it. It was
bright enough once.” Then he stopped and led her gently toward the door.
“But, Sara, don’t forget,” he said hurriedly, “I think a great deal of
Charles Motherwell–I am sure he is kind and honest and true.”

“He has nothing to do with us!” said Sara, with a thrill of fear.

“I don’t know,” said Mr. Brownlow, almost humbly. “I don’t know–if it
might be best for you–”

And then he kissed her and sent her away. Sara flew to her own room with
her heart beating so loud that it almost choked her. So many excitements
all pressing on her together–so many things to think of–was almost
more than an ordinary brain could bear. And to dress in all her bravery
and go down and look as if nothing had happened–to sit at the head of
the table just there where she had been standing half an hour before–to
smile and talk and look her best as if every thing was steady under her
feet, and she knew of no volcano! And then, to crown all, Sir Charles
Motherwell! In the height of her excitement it was perhaps a relief to
her to think how at least she would crush that one pretendant. If it
should be the last act of her reign at Brownlows, there would be a
certain poetic justice in it. If he was so foolish, if he was so
persistent, Sara savagely resolved that she would let him propose this
time. And then! But then she cried, to Angelique’s great discomfiture,
without any apparent reason. What was to be done with a young lady who
left herself but twenty minutes to dress in, and wept in an unprovoked
and exasperating way in the middle of it? Sara was so shaken and driven
about by emotion and by self-restraint that she was humble to Angelique
in the midst of all her own tumults of soul.

Continue Reading

MOTHER AND LOVER

Jack followed his father down stairs, and did not say a word. It had
been an exciting morning; and now that he knew all, though the
excitement had not as yet begun to flag, care came along with it.
Suspense and mystery were hard, and yet at the same time easier to bear
than reality. The calamity might have loomed larger while it was
unknown, but at least it was unaccompanied by those real details from
which there is no escape. When Mr. Brownlow and his son reached the
bottom of the stair, they stopped, and turned and looked at each other.
A certain shade of apology was in Mr. Brownlow’s tone. “I thought it was
all over last night,” he said; “I thought you were all safe. You know my
meaning now.”

“Safe, sir, safe!” said Jack, “with this always hanging over our heads?
I don’t understand why we were not allowed to know; but never mind. I am
glad it has come, and there is nothing more to look for. It bears
interest, I suppose.”

“That may be a matter of arrangement. I suppose it does,” said Mr.
Brownlow, with a sigh.

Jack gave vent to his feelings in a low, faint, prolonged whistle. “I’ll
go and tell them about the carriage,” he said. This was all the
communication that passed between the father and the son; but it was
enough to show Mr. Brownlow that Jack was not thinking, as he might very
naturally have thought, of his new position as the future son-in-law of
the woman who had wrought so much harm. Jack’s demeanor, though he did
not say a word of sympathy to his father, was quite the contrary of
this. He did not make any professions, but he took up the common family
burden upon his shoulders. The fifty thousand pounds was comparatively
little. It was a sum which could be measured and come to an end of; but
the interest, that was the dreadful thought. Jack was practical, and his
mind jumped at it on the moment. It was as a dark shadow which had come
over him, and which he could not shake off. Brownlows was none of hers,
and yet she might not be wrong after all in thinking that all was hers.
The actual claim was heavy enough, but the possible claim was
overwhelming. It seemed to Jack to go into the future and overshadow
that as it overshadowed the present. No wonder Mr. Brownlow had been in
despair–no wonder almost–The young man gave a very heavy sigh as he
went into the stable-yard and gave his instructions. He stood and
brooded over it with his brow knitted and his hands buried in his
pockets, while the horses were put into the carriage. As for such
luxuries, they counted for nothing, or at least so he thought for the
moment–nothing to _him_; but a burden that would lie upon them for
years–a shadow of debt and difficulty projected into the future–that
seemed more than any man could bear. It will be seen from this that the
idea of his own relations with Pamela making any difference in the
matter had not crossed Jack’s mind. He would have been angry had any one
suggested it. Not that he thought of giving up Pamela; but in the mean
time the idea of having any thing to do with Mrs. Preston was horrible
to him, and he was not a young man who was always reasonable and
sensible, and took every thing into consideration, any more than the
rest of us. To tell the truth, he had no room in his thoughts for the
idea of marriage or of Pamela at that moment. He strode round to the
hall door as the coachman got on the box, and went up to Sara’s room
without stopping to think. “The carriage is here,” he said, calling to
Sara at the door. He would have taken the intruder down stairs, and put
her into the carriage as courteously as if she had been a duchess; for,
as we have already said, there was a certain fine natural politeness in
the Brownlow blood. But when he heard the excited old woman still raving
about her rights, and that they wanted to kill her, the young man became
impatient. He was weary of her; and when she fell into threats of what
she would do, disgust mingled with his impatience. Then all at once,
while he waited, a sudden thought struck him of his little love. Poor
little Pamela! what could she be thinking all this time? How would she
feel when she heard that her mother had become their active enemy? In a
moment there flitted before Jack, as he stood at the door, a sudden
vision of the little uplifted face, pale as it had grown of late, with
the wistful eyes wide open and the red lips apart, and the pretty rings
of hair clustering about the forehead. What would Pamela think when she
knew? What was to be done, now that this division, worse than any unkind
sentence of a rich father, had come between them? It was no fault of
hers, no fault of his; fate had come between them in the wildest
unlooked-for way. And should they have to yield to it? The thought gave
Jack such a sudden twinge in his own heart, that it roused him
altogether out of his preoccupation. It roused him to that fine
self-regard which is so natural, and which is reckoned a virtue
nowadays. What did it matter about an old mother? Such people had had
their day, and had no right to control the young whose day was still to
come. Pamela’s future and Jack’s future were of more importance than any
thing that could happen at the end, as it were, of Mrs. Preston’s life,
or even of Mr. Brownlow’s life. This was the consideration that woke
Jack up out of the strange maze he had fallen into on the subject of his
own concerns. He turned on his heel all at once, and left Mrs. Preston
arguing the matter with Sara, and went off down the avenue almost as
rapidly as his own mare could have done it. No, by Jove! he was not
going to give up. Mrs. Preston might eat her money if she liked–might
ruin Brownlows if she liked; but she should not interfere between him
and his love. And Jack felt that there was no time to lose, and that
Pamela must know how matters stood, and what he expected of her, before
her mother went back to poison her mind against him. He took no time to
knock even at the door of Mrs. Swayne’s cottage, but went in and took
possession like an invading army. Probably, if he had been a young man
of very delicate and susceptible mind, the very knowledge that Pamela
might now be considered an heiress, and himself a poor man, would have
closed up the way to him, and turned his steps forever from the door.
But Jack was not of that fine order of humanity. He was a young man who
liked his own way, and was determined not to be unhappy if he could help
it, and held tenaciously by every thing that belonged to him. Such
matter-of-fact natures are seldom moved by the sentimentalisms of
self-sacrifice. He had not the smallest idea of sacrificing himself, if
the truth must be told. He strode along, rushing like the wind, and went
straight in at Mrs. Swayne’s door. Nobody interrupted his passage or
stood in his way; nobody even saw him but old Betty, who came out to her
door to see who had passed so quickly, and shook her head over him. “He
goes there a deal more than is good for him,” Betty said, and then, as
it was cold, shut the door.

Pamela had been sitting in the dingy parlor all alone; and, to tell the
truth, she had been crying a little. She did not know where her mother
was; she did not know when she was coming back. No message had reached
her, nor letter, nor any sign of life, and she was frightened and very
solitary. Jack, too, since he knew she was alone and could be seen at
any hour, did not make so many anxious pilgrimages as he had done when
Mrs. Preston was ill and the road was barred against him. She had no one
to tell her fears to, no one to encourage and support her, and the poor
child had broken down dreadfully. She was sitting at the window trying
to read one of Mrs. Swayne’s books, trying not to ask herself who it was
that came so late to Brownlows last night? what was her mother doing?
what was Jack doing? The book, as may be supposed, had small chance
against all these anxieties. It had dropped upon the table before her,
and her innocent tears had been dropping on it, when a sudden shadow
flitted past the window, and a footstep rang on the steps, and Jack was
in the room. The sight of him changed wonderfully the character of
Pamela’s tears, but yet it increased her agitation. Nobody in her small
circle except herself had any faith in him; and she knew that, at this
present moment, he ought not to come.

“No, I am not sorry to see you,” she said, in answer to his accusation.
“I am glad; but you should not come. Mamma is away. I am all alone.”

“You have the more need of me,” said Jack. “But listen, Pamela. Your
mother is not away. She is here at Brownlows. She is coming directly. I
rushed off to see you before she arrived. I must speak to you first.
Remember you are mine–whatever happens, you are mine, and you can not
forsake me.”

“Forsake you?” cried Pamela, in pitiful accents. “Is it likely? If there
is any forsaking, it will be you. You know–oh, you know you have not
much to fear.”

“I have every thing to fear,” said Jack, speaking very fast; “your
mother is breathing fire and flame against us all. She is coming back
our enemy. She will tell you I have had a mercenary meaning from the
beginning, and she will order you to give me up. But don’t do it,
Pamela. I am not the sort of man to be given up. We were going to be
poor, and marry against my father’s will; now we shall be poor, and
marry against your mother’s–that is all the difference. You have chosen
me, and you must give up her and not me. That is all I have to say.”

“Give up mamma?” cried Pamela, in amazement. “I don’t know what you
mean. You promised I was to have her with me, and take care of her
always. She would die without me. Oh, Jack, why have you changed so
soon?”

“It is not I that have changed,” said Jack; “every thing has changed.
This is what it will come to. It will be to give up her or me. I don’t
say I will die without you,” said the young man–“no such luck;
but–Look here, Pamela, this is what it will come to. You will have to
choose between her and me.”

“Oh no, no!” cried Pamela; “no! don’t say so. I am not the one to
choose. Don’t turn away from me! don’t look so pale and dreadful it is
not me to choose.”

“But it is you, by heavens!” cried Jack, in desperation. “Here she is
coming! It is not your old mother who was to live with us–it is a
different woman–here she is. Is it to be her or me?”

“Oh, Jack!” Pamela cried, thinking he was mad; and she submitted to his
fierce embrace in utter bewilderment, not knowing what to imagine. To
see the Brownlows carriage dash down the avenue and wheel round at the
door and open to let Mrs. Preston forth was as great a wonder as if the
earth had opened. She could not tell what was going to happen. It was a
relief to her to be held fast and kept back–her consternation took her
strength from her. She was actually unable to follow her first impulse
and rush to the door.

Mrs. Preston came in by herself, quiet but tremulous. Her head shook a
little, but there was no sign of weakness about her now. She had been
defeated, but she had got over the bitterness of her defeat and was
prepared for a struggle. Jack felt the difference when he looked at her.
He had been contemptuous of her weak passion and repetition about her
rights; but he saw the change in a moment, and he met her, standing up,
holding Pamela fast, with his arm round her. Mrs. Preston had carried
the war into her enemy’s camp, and gone to his house to demand, as she
thought, every thing he had in the world. These were Jack’s
reprisals–he came to her citadel and claimed every thing _she_ had in
the world. It was his, and, more than that, it was already given to
him–his claim was allowed.

“You are here!” cried Mrs. Preston, passionately. “I thought you would
be here! you have come before me to steal her from me. I knew how it
would be!”

“I have come to claim what is mine,” said Jack, “before you interfere. I
know you will try to step between us; but you are not to step between
us–do what you like, she is mine.”

“Pamela,” said Mrs. Preston, still, notwithstanding her late defeat,
believing somehow strangely in the potency of the new fortune for which
she felt every body should fall at her feet, “things have changed. Stand
away from him, and listen to me. We’re rich now–we shall have
everything that heart ever desired; there is not a thing you can think
of but what I can give it you. You’ve thought I was hard upon you, dear,
but it was all for your sake. What do I care for money, but for your
sake?–Every thing you can think of, Pamela–it will be like a fairy
tale.”

Pamela stood still for one moment, looking at her mother and her lover.
She had disengaged herself from him, and stood, unrestrained, to make
her election. “If it is so, mamma,” she said, “I don’t know what you
mean–you know I don’t understand; but if it is, there’s no more
difficulty. It does not matter so much whether Mr. Brownlow consents or
not.”

“Mr. Brownlow!” cried her mother; “Mr. Brownlow has been your enemy,
child, since long before you were born. He has taken your money to bring
up his own fine lady upon. He has sent his son here when he can’t do any
better, to marry you and keep the money. Sir, go away from my child.
It’s your money he wants; your money, not you.”

Pamela turned round with surprise and terror in her face, and looked at
Jack; then she smiled softly and shook her head. “Mamma, you are
mistaken,” she said in her soft little voice, and held out her hand to
him. Mrs. Preston threw up her arms above her head wildly, and gave an
exceeding bitter cry.

“I am her mother,” she cried out, “her own mother, that have nursed her
and watched over her, and given up every thing to her–and she chooses
him rather than me–him that she has not known a year–that wants her
for her money, or for her pretty face. She chooses him before me!”

She stood up alone, calling upon heaven and earth, as it were, to see;
while the two clung together dismayed and pitiful, yet holding fast by
each other still. It was the everlasting struggle so continually
repeated; the past against the present and the future–the old love
against the new–and not any question of worldly interest. It was the
tragic figure of disappointment and desolation and age in face of hope
and love and joy. What she had been doing was poor and mean enough. She
had been intoxicated by the vision of sudden wealth, and had expected
every body to be abject before her; but now a deeper element had come
in. She forgot the fortune, the money, though it was still on her lips,
and cried out, in the depth of her despair, over the loss of the only
real wealth she had in the world. No tears came to her old eyes–her old
meagre arms rose rigid, yet trembling. “She chooses him before me!” she
said, with a cry of despair, which came from the bottom of her heart.

“Mamma,” cried poor little Pamela, tearing her hand from that of her
lover, and coming doubtfully into the midst between the two, “I don’t
choose! oh, mamma, how can I choose? I never was away from you in my
life–he promised we never were to be parted. How am I to give him up?
Oh, why, why should you ask me to give him up?” cried the poor child.
Floods of tears came to her aid. She put her pretty hands together like
a child at prayer–every line in her sweet face was in itself a
supplication. Jack, behind her, stood and watched and said nothing.
Perhaps he saw, notwithstanding, that it was against his interests–and
in his heart had a certain mournful pity for the despair in the old
woman’s terrible face.

“But I expect you to choose,” she said wildly; “things have come to
that. It must be him or me–him or me; there’s no midway between us. I
am your old mother, your poor old mother, that would pluck my heart out
of my breast to give it you. I’ve survived them all, and done without
them all, and lived for your sake. And he is a young man that was taken
with your pretty face–say it was your pretty face–say the best that
can be said. If you were like death–if you lost all your beauty and
your pretty ways–if you were ugly and ailing and miserable,–it would
be all the same to me; I would love you all the more–all the more; and
he–he would never look at you again. That’s nature. I require you to
choose. It must be him or me.”

As she stood listening, a change came over Pamela’s face. Her first
appeal to her mother had been full of emotion, but of a gentle, hopeful,
almost superficial kind. She had taken tears to her aid, and pleading
looks, and believed in their success now as always. But as Mrs. Preston
spoke, Pamela’s little innocent soul was shaken as by an earthquake. She
woke up and opened her eyes, and found that she was in a world new to
her–a world no longer of prayers, and tears, and sweet yielding, and
tender affection. It was not tender affection she had to do with now; it
was fierce love, desperate and ruthless, ready to tear her asunder. Her
tears dried up, her pretty checks grew pale as death, she looked from
one to the other with a wild look of wonder, asking if it was true. When
her mother’s voice ceased, it seemed to Pamela that the world stood
still for the moment, and every thing in heaven and earth held its
breath. She looked at Jack; he stood motionless, with his face clouded
over, and made no answer to her pitiful appeal. She looked at Mrs.
Preston, and saw her mother’s eager face hollow and excited, her eyes
blazing, her cheeks burning with a strange hectic heat. For one moment
she stood irresolute. Then she made one tottering step to her mother’s
side, and turned round and looked at her lover. Once more she clasped
her hands, though she had no longer any hope in pleading. “I must stay
here,” she said, with a long-drawn sobbing sigh–“I must stay here, if I
should die.”

They stood thus and looked at each other for one of those moments which
is as long as an age. The mother would have taken her child to her arms,
but Pamela would not. “Not now, not now!” she said, putting back the
embrace. Jack, for his part, stood and watched with an intensity of
perception he had never exercised before–all power of speech seemed to
have been taken from him. The struggle had ascended into a higher region
of passion than he knew of. He turned and went to the door, with the
intention, so far as he had any intention, of retiring for the moment
from the contest. Then he came back again. Whatever the pressure on him
might be, he could not leave Pamela so.

“Look here,” he said abruptly; “I am going away. But if you think I
accept this as a choice or decision, you are much mistaken. You force
her to give in to you, and then you think I am to accept it! I’ll do no
such thing. She could not say any thing else, or do any thing else–but
all the same, she is mine. You can’t touch that, do what you like.
Pamela, darling, don’t lose heart; it’s only for a little while.”

He did not stop to listen to what her mother said; he turned at once and
went out, unconsciously, in his excitement, thrusting Mrs. Swayne out of
his way, who was in the passage. He went off up the avenue at a stretch
without ever drawing breath. A hundred wild thoughts rose in his mind;
her mother! what was her mother to him? He was ready to vow with Hamlet,
that twenty thousand mothers could not have filled up his sum of love;
and yet he was not blaming his Pamela. She could not have done
otherwise. Why had he never been told? why had not he known that this
downfall was hanging over him? Why had he been such a fool as to give in
at all to the sweet temptation? Now, of course, when things had come
this length, he would as soon have cut his own throat as given Pamela
up. And what with love and rage, and the sudden calamity, and the
gradual exasperation, he was beside himself, and did not well know what
he was about. He was almost too much absorbed in his own affairs to be
able to understand Sara, who came to him as he entered the house, and
drew him aside into the dining-room to speak to him. Sara was pale
enough to justify her pretext of headache, but otherwise she was full of
energy and spirit, and met the emergency with a courageous heart.

“We must face it out as well as we can, Jack,” she said, with her eyes
shining out large and full from her white face. “We must keep up before
all these people. They must not be able to go away and say that
something went terribly wrong at Brownlows. We must keep it up to the
last.”

“Pshaw! what does it matter what they think or what they say?” said
Jack, sitting down with a sigh of weariness. As for Sara, who was not
tired, nor had any personal complication to bow her down, she blazed up
at his indifference.

“It matters every thing!” she cried. “We may not be a county family any
more, nor fine people, but we are always the Brownlows of Masterton.
Nobody must have a word to say about it–for papa’s sake.”

“Every body will soon be at liberty to say what they please about it,”
said Jack. “Where is he? I had better go and talk to him, I suppose?”

“Papa is in the library,” said Sara. “Jack, he wants our support. He
wants us to stand by him–or, I mean, he wants you; as for me,” she
continued, with a flash of mingled softness and defiance, “he knows _I_
would not forsake him; he wants you.”

“Why shouldn’t you forsake him?” said Jack, with a momentary growl; “and
why should he be doubtful of me?”

But he did not wait for any answer. He took the decanter of sherry from
the sideboard, and swallowed he did not know how much; and then he went
off to the library to seek out his father. There was a certain
stealthiness about the house–a feeling that the people belonging to it
were having interviews in corners, that they were consulting each other,
making solemn decisions, and that their guests were much in the way.
Though Sara rushed away immediately to the room where her friends were,
after waylaying her brother, her appearance did not alter the strong
sense every body had of the state of affairs. The very servants slunk
out of Jack’s way, and stood aside in corners to watch him going into
the library. He called the footman out of his hiding-place as he passed,
and swore at him for an impertinent fool. The man had been doing nothing
that was impertinent, and yet he did not feel that there was injustice
in the accusation. Something very serious had happened, and the
consciousness of it had gone all through the house.

Mr. Brownlow was sitting in the library doing nothing. That, at least,
was his visible aspect. Within himself he had been calculating and
reckoning up till his wearied brain whirled with the effort. He sat
leaning his arms on the table and his head in his hands. By this time
his powers of thought had failed him. He sat looking on, as it were, and
saw the castle of his prosperity crumbling down into dust before him.
Every thing he had ever aimed at seemed to drop from him. He had no
longer any thing to conceal; but he knew that he had stood at the bar
before his children, and had been pardoned but not justified. They would
stand by him, but they did not approve him; and they had seen the veil
of his heart lifted, and had looked in and found darker things there
than he himself had ever been conscious of. He was so absorbed in this
painful maze of thought that he did not even look up when Jack came in.
Of course Jack would come; he knew that. Jack was ruined; they were all
ruined. All for the advantage of a miserable woman who would get no
comfort out of her inheritance, whose very life was hanging on a thread.
It seemed hard to him that Providence, which had always been so kind to
him, should permit it. When his son came in and drew a chair to the
other side of the table he roused himself. “Is it you, Jack?” he said;
“I am so tired that I fear I am stupid. I was very hard driven last
night.”

“Yes,” said Jack, with a little shudder; and Mr. Brownlow looked at him,
and their eyes met, and they knew what each had meant. It was a hard
moment for the father who had been mad, and had come to his senses
again, but yet did not know what horrible suspicion it was under which
for a moment he had lain.

“I was hard driven,” he repeated, pathetically–“very hard put to it. I
had been standing out for a long time, and then in a moment I broke
down–that is how it was. But I shall be able to talk it all over with
you–by and by.”

“That was what I came for, sir,” said Jack. “We must know what we are to
do.”

And then Mr. Brownlow put down his supporting hands from his head, and
steadied himself in a wearied wondering way. Jack for the moment had the
authority on his side.

Continue Reading

THE MORNING LIGHT

Of all painful things in this world there are few more painful than the
feeling of rising up in the morning to a difficulty unsolved, a mystery
unexplained. So long as the darkness is over with the night something
can always be done. Calamity can be faced, misfortune met; but to get up
in the morning light, and encounter afresh the darkness, and find no
clue any more than you had at night, is hard work. This was what Jack
felt when he had to face the sunshine, and remembered all that had
happened, and the merry party that awaited him down stairs, and that he
must amuse his visitors as if this day had been like any other. If he
but knew what had really happened! But the utmost he could do was to
guess at it, and that in the vaguest way. The young man went down stairs
with a load on his mind, not so much of care as of uncertainty. Loss of
fortune was a thing that could be met; but if there was loss of honor
involved–if his father’s brain was giving way with the
pressure–if–Jack would not allow his thoughts to go any farther. He
drew himself up with a sudden pull, and stopped short, and went down
stairs. At the breakfast-table every thing looked horribly unchanged.
The guests, the servants, the routine of the cheerful meal, were just as
usual. Mr. Brownlow, too, was at the table, holding his usual place.
There was an ashy look about his face, which produced inquiries
concerning his health from every new arrival; but his answers were so
brief and unencouraging that these questions soon died off into silence.
And he ate nothing, and his hand shook as he put his cup of coffee to
his pallid lips. All these were symptoms that might be accounted for in
the simplest way by a little bodily derangement. But Jack, for his part,
was afraid to meet his father’s eye. “Where is Sara?” he asked, as he
took his seat. And then he was met–for he was late, and most of the
party were down before him–by a flutter of regrets and wonder. Poor
Sara had a headache–so bad a headache that she would not even have any
one go into her room. “Angelique was keeping the door like a little
tiger,” one of the young ladies said, “and would let nobody in.” “And
oh, tell me who it was that came so late last night,” cried another.
“_You_ must know. We are all at such a pitch of curiosity. It must be a
foreign prince, or the prime minister, or some great beauty, we can’t
make up our minds which; and, of course, _it_ is breakfasting in its own
room this morning. Nobody will tell us who it was. Do tell us!–we are
all dying to know.”

“As you will all be dreadfully disappointed,” said Jack. “It was neither
a prince nor a beauty. As for prime minister I don’t know. Such things
have been heard of as that a prime minister should be an old woman–”

“An old woman!” said his innocent interlocutor. “Then it must be Lady
Motherwell. Oh, I don’t wonder poor Sara has a headache. But you know
you are only joking. Her dear Charley would never let her come storming
to any body’s door like that.”

“It was not Lady Motherwell,” said Jack. Heaven knows he was in no mood
for jesting; but when it is a matter which is past talking of, what can
a man do?

“Oh, then, I know who it must have been!” cried the spokeswoman of the
party. She was, however, suddenly interrupted. Mr. Brownlow, who had
scarcely said a word as yet to any one, interposed. There was something
in his tone which somehow put them all to silence.

“I am sorry to put a stop to your speculations,” he said. “It was only
one of my clients on urgent business–that was all; business,” he added,
with a curious kind of apology, “which has kept me up half the night.”

“Oh, Mr. Brownlow, I am so sorry. You are tired, and we have been
teasing you,” said the lively questioner, with quick compunction.

“No, not teasing me,” he said, gravely. And then a dead silence ensued.
It was not any thing in his words. His words were simple enough; and yet
every one of his guests instantly began to think that his or her stay
had been long enough, and that it was time to go away.

As Mr. Brownlow spoke he met Jack’s eye, and returned his look steadily.
So far he was himself again. He was impenetrable, antagonistic, almost
defiant. But there was no hovering horror in his look. He was terribly
grave, and ashy pale, and bore traces that what had happened was no
light master. His look gave his son a sensation of relief, and perhaps
encouraged him in levity of expression, though, Heaven knows, there was
little levity in his mind.

“I told you,” he said, “it might have been the prime minister, but it
certainly was an old woman; and there I stop. I can’t give any farther
information; I am not one of the Privy Council.” Then he laughed, but it
was an uncomfortable laugh. It deepened the silence all around, and
looked like a family quarrel, and made every body feel ill at ease.

“I don’t think any one here can be much interested in details,” said Mr.
Brownlow, coldly; and then he rose to leave the table. It was his habit
to leave the table early, and on ordinary occasions his departure made
little commotion; but to-day it was different. They all clustered up to
their feet as he went out of the room. Nobody knew what should be done
that day. The men looked awkwardly at each other; the women tried hard
to be the same as before, and failed, having Jack before them, who was
far from looking the same. “I suppose, Jack, you will not go out
to-day,” one of his companions said, though they had not an idea why.

“I don’t see why I shouldn’t,” said Jack, and then he made a pause; and
every body looked at him. “After all,” he continued, “you all know your
way about; as Sara has a headache I had better stay;” and he hurried
their departure that he might get rid of them. His father had not gone
out; the dog-cart had come to the door, but it had been sent off again.
He was in the library, Willis said in a whisper; and though he had been
so many years with Mr. Brownlow and knew all his ways, Willis was
obviously startled too. For one moment Jack thought of cross-questioning
the butler to see what light he could throw upon the matter–if he had
heard any thing on the previous night, or suspected any thing–but on
second thoughts he dismissed the idea. Whatever it was, it was from his
father himself that he ought to have the explanation. But though Mr.
Brownlow was in the library Jack did not go to him there. He loitered
about till his friends were gone, and till the ladies of the party,
finding him very impracticable and with no amusement in him, had gone
off upon their various ways. He did his best to be civil even playful,
poor fellow, being for the moment every body’s representative, both
master and mistress of the house. But though there was no absolute
deficiency in any thing he said or did, they were all too sharp-witted
to be taken in. “He has something on his mind,” one matron of the party
said to the other. “They have something on all their minds, my dear,”
said the other, solemnly; and they talked very significantly and
mysteriously of the Brownlows as they filled Sara’s morning-room with
their work and various devices, for it was a foggy, wretched day, and no
one cared to venture out. Jack meanwhile drew a long breath of relief
when all his guests were thus off his mind. He stood in the hall and
hesitated, and saw Willis watching him from a corner with undisguised
anxiety. Perhaps but for that he would have gone to his father; but with
every body watching him, looking on and speculating what it might be, he
could not go. And yet something must be done. At last, after he had
watched the last man out and the last lady go away, he turned, and went
slowly up stairs to Sara’s door.

When his voice was heard there was a little rush within, and Sara came
to him. She was very pale, and had the air of a watcher to whom the past
night had brought no sleep. It even seemed to Jack that she was in the
same dress that she had worn the previous night, though that was a
delusion. As soon as she saw that it was her brother, and that he was
alone, she sent the maid away, and taking him by the arm, drew him into
the little outer room. There had not been any sentimental fraternity
between them in a general way. They were very good friends, and fond of
each other, but not given to manifestations of sympathy and devotion.
But this time as soon as he was within the door and she had him to
herself, Sara threw her arms round Jack, and leaned against him, and
went off without any warning into a sudden burst of emotion–not tears
exactly. It was rather a struggle against tears. She sobbed and her
breast heaved, and she clasped him convulsively. Jack was terribly
surprised and shocked, feeling that so unusual an outburst must have a
serious cause, and he was very tender with his sister. It did not last
more than a minute, but it did more to convince him of the gravity of
the crisis than any thing else had done. Sara regained command of
herself almost immediately and ceased sobbing, and raised her head from
his shoulder. “She is there,” she whispered, pointing to the inner room,
and then she turned and went before him leading the way. The white
curtains of Sara’s bed were drawn at one side, so as to screen the
interior of the chamber. Within that enclosure a fire was burning
brightly, and seated by it in an easy-chair, wrapped in one of Sara’s
pretty dressing-gowns, with unaccustomed embroideries and soft frills
and ribbons enclosing her brown worn hands and meagre throat, Mrs.
Preston half sat, half reclined. The fire-light was flickering about
her, and she lay back and looked at it and at every thing around her
with a certain dreadful satisfaction. She looked round about upon the
room and its comforts as people look on a new purchase. Enjoyment–a
certain pleasure of possession–was written on her face.

When she saw Jack she moved a little, and drew the muslin wrapper more
closely around her throat with a curious instinct of prudish propriety.
It was the same woman to whose society he had accustomed himself as
Pamela’s mother, and whom he had tutored himself to look upon as a
necessary part of his future household, but yet she was a different
creature. He did not know her in this new development. He followed Sara
into her presence with a new sense of repulsion, a reluctance and
dislike which he had never felt before. And Mrs. Preston for her part
received him with an air which was utterly inexplicable–an air of
patronage which made his blood boil.

“I hope you are better,” he said, not knowing how to begin; and then,
after a pause, “Should not I go and tell Pamela that you are here? or
would you like me to take you home?”

“I consider myself at home,” said Mrs. Preston, sitting up suddenly and
bursting into speech. “I will send for Pamela, when it is all settled, I
am very thankful to your sister for taking care of me last night. She
shall find that it will be to her advantage. Sit down–I am sorry, Mr.
John, that I can not say the same for you.”

“What is it you can not say for me?” said Jack: “I don’t know in the
least what you would be at, Mrs. Preston; I suppose there must be some
explanation of this strange conduct. What does it mean?”

“You will find that it means a great deal,” said the changed woman.
“When you came to me to my poor little place, I did not want to have any
thing to say to you; but I never thought of putting any meaning to what
you, were doing. I was as innocent as a baby–I thought it was all love
to my poor child. That was what I thought. And now you’ve stolen her
heart away from me, and I know what it was for–I know what it was for.”

“Then what was it for?” said Jack, abruptly. He was by turns red and
pale with anger. He found it very hard to keep his temper now that he
was personally assailed.

“It was for this,” cried Pamela’s mother, with a shrill ring in her
voice, pointing, as it seemed, to the pretty furniture and pictures
round her–“for all this, and the fine house, and the park, and the
money–that was what it was for. You thought you’d marry her and keep it
all, and that I should never know what was my rights. But now I do
know;–and you would have killed me last night!” she cried wildly,
drawing back, with renewed passion–“you and your father; you would have
killed me; I should have been a dead woman by this time if it had not
been for her!”

Jack made a hoarse exclamation in his throat as she spoke. The room
seemed to be turning round with him. He seemed to be catching glimpses
of her meaning through some wild chaos of misunderstanding and darkness.
He himself had never wished her ill, not even when she promised to be a
burden on him. “Is she mad?” he said, turning to Sara; but he felt that
she was not mad; it was something more serious than that.

“I know my rights,” she said, calming down instantaneously. “It’s my
house you’ve been living in, and my money that has made you all so
fine. You need not start or pretend as if you didn’t know. It was for
that you came and beguiled my Pamela. You might have left me my Pamela;
house, and money, and every thing, even down to my poor mother’s
blessing,” said Mrs. Preston, breaking down pitifully, and falling into
a passion of tears. “You have taken them all, you and yours; but you
might have left me my child.”

Jack stood aghast while all this was being poured forth upon him; but
Sara for her part fell a-crying too. “She has been saying the same all
night,” said Sara; “what have we to do with her money or her mother’s
blessing? Oh, Jack, what have we to do with them? What does it mean? I
don’t understand any thing but about Pamela and you.”

“Nor I,” said Jack, in despair, and he made a little raid through the
room in his consternation, that the sight of the two women crying might
not make a fool of him; then he came back with the energy of
desperation. “Look here, Mrs. Preston,” he said, “there may be some
money question between my father and you–I can’t tell; but we have
nothing to do with it. I know nothing about it. I think most likely you
have been deceived somehow. But, right or wrong, this is not the way to
clear it up. Money can not be claimed in this wild way. Get a lawyer who
knows what he is doing to see after it for you; and in the mean time go
home like a rational creature. You can not be permitted to make a
disturbance here.”

“You shall never have a penny of it,” cried Mrs. Preston–“not a penny,
if you should be starving–nor Pamela either; I will tell her all–that
you wanted her for her money; and she will scorn you as I do–you shall
have nothing from her or me.”

“Answer for yourself,” cried Jack, furious, “or be silent. She shall not
be brought in. What do I care for your money? Sara, be quiet, and don’t
cry. She ought never to have been brought here.”

“No,” cried the old woman, in her passion, “I ought to have been cast
out on the roadside, don’t you think, to die if I liked? or I ought to
have been killed, as you tried last night. That’s what you would do to
me, while you slept soft and lived high. But my time has come. It’s you
who must go to the door–the door!–and you need expect no pity from
me.”

She sat in her feebleness and poverty as on a throne, and defied them,
and they stood together bewildered by their ignorance, and did not know
what answer to make her. Though it sounded like madness, it might be
true. For any thing they could tell, what she was saying might have some
foundation unknown to them. Sara by this time had dried her tears, and
indignation had begun to take the place of distress in her mind. She
gave her brother an appealing look, and clasped her hands. “Jack, answer
her–do you know what to say to her?” she cried, stamping her little
foot on the ground with impatience; “somebody must know; are we to stand
by and hear it all, and do nothing? Jack, answer her!–unless she is
mad–”

“I think she must be partly mad,” said Jack. “But it must be put a stop
to somehow. Go and fetch my father. He is in the library. Whatever it
may be, let us know at least what it means. I will stay with her here.”

When she heard these words, the strange inmate of Sara’s room came down
from her height and relapsed into a feeble old woman. She called Sara
not to go, to stay and protect her. She shrank back into her chair,
drawing it away into a corner at the farthest distance possible, and sat
there watchful and frightened, eying Jack as a hunted creature might eye
the tiger which might at any moment spring upon it. Jack, for his part,
with an exclamation of impatience, turned on his heel and went away from
her, as far as space would permit. Impatience began to swallow up every
other sentiment in his mind. He could not put up with it any longer.
Whatever the truth might be, it was evident that it must be faced and
acknowledged at once. While he kept walking about impatient and
exasperated, all his respect for Pamela’s mother died out of his mind;
even, it must be owned, in his excitement, the image of Pamela herself
went back into the mists. A certain disgust took possession of him. If
it was true that his father had schemed and struggled for the possession
of this woman’s miserable money–if the threat of claiming it had moved
him with some vague but awful temptation, such as Jack shuddered to
think of; and if the idea of having rights and possessing something had
changed the mild and humble woman who was Pamela’s mother into this
frantic and insulting fury, then what was there worth caring for, what
was there left to believe in, in this world? Perhaps even Pamela herself
had been changed by this terrible test. Jack did not wish for the wings
of a dove, being too matter-of-fact for that. But he felt as if he would
like to set out for New Zealand without saying a word to any body,
without breathing a syllable to a single soul on the way. It seemed as
if that would be the only thing to do–he himself might get frantic or
desperate too like the others about a little money. The backwoods,
sheep-shearing, any thing would be preferable to that.

This pause lasted for some minutes, for Sara did not immediately return.
When she came back, however, a heavier footstep accompanied her up the
stair. Mr. Brownlow came into the room, and went at once toward the
farther corner. He had made up his mind; once more he had become
perfectly composed, calm as an attorney watching his client’s case. He
called Jack to him, and went and stood by the table, facing Mrs.
Preston. “I hear you have sent for me to know the meaning of all this,”
he said; “I will tell you, for you have a right to know. Twenty-five
years ago, before either of you was born, I had some money left me,
which was to be transferred to a woman called Phœbe Thomson, if she
could be found out or appeared within twenty-five years. I searched for
her everywhere, but I could not find her. Latterly I forgot her
existence to a great extent. The five-and-twenty years were out last
night, and just before the period ended this–lady–as you both know,
appeared. She says she is Phœbe Thomson, the legatee I have told you
of. She may be so–I have nothing to say against her; but the proof lies
with her, not me. This is all the explanation there is to make.”

When he had said it he drew a long breath of relief. It was the truth.
It was not perhaps all the truth; but he had told the secret, which had
weighed him down for months, and the burden was off his heart. He felt a
little sick and giddy as he stood there before his children. He did not
look them in the face. In his heart he knew there were many more
particulars to tell. But it was not for them to judge of his heart. “I
have told you the secret, so far as there is a secret,” he said, with a
faint smile at them, and then sat down suddenly, exhausted with the
effort. It was not so difficult after all. Now that it was done, a faint
wonder crossed his mind that he had not done it long ago, and saved
himself all this trouble. But still he was glad to sit down. Somehow, it
took the strength out of him as few things had done before.

“A legatee!” burst forth Sara in amazement, not understanding the word.
“Is that all? Papa, she says the house is hers, and every thing is hers.
She says we have no right here. Is it true?”

As for Jack, he looked his father steadily in the face, asking, Was it
true? more imperiously than Sara’s words did. If this were all, what was
the meaning of the almost tragedy last night? They forgot the very
existence of the woman who was the cause of it all as they turned upon
him. Poverty and wealth were small matters in comparison. He was on his
trial at an awful tribunal, before judges too much alarmed, too deeply
interested, to be lenient. They turned their backs upon Mrs. Preston,
who, notwithstanding her fear and her anxiety, could not bear the
neglect. Their disregard of her roused her out of her own
self-confidence and certainty, to listen with a certain forlorn
eagerness. She had not paid much attention to what Mr. Brownlow said the
first time. What did it matter what he said? Did not she know better?
But when Jack and Sara turned their backs on her, and fixed their eyes
on their father, she woke up with an intense mortification and
disappointment at finding herself overlooked, and began to listen too.

Mr. Brownlow rose up as a man naturally does who has to plead guilty or
not guilty for his life. He stood before them, putting his hand on the
table to support himself. “It is not true,” he said, “I do not deny that
I have been thinking a great deal about this. If I had but known, I
should have told you; but these are the real facts. If she is Phœbe
Thomson, as she says–though of that we have no proof–she is entitled
to fifty thousand pounds which her mother left her. That is the whole.
To pay her her legacy may force me to leave this house, and change our
mode of living; but she has nothing to do with the house–nothing here
is hers, absolutely nothing. She has no more to do with Brownlows than
your baker has, or your dress-maker. If she is Phœbe Thomson, I shall
owe her money–nothing more. I might have told you, if I had but known.”

What Mr. Brownlow meant was, that he would have told them had he known,
after all, how little it would cost to tell it. After all, there was
nothing disgraceful in the tale, notwithstanding the terrible shifts to
which he had put himself to conceal it. He had spoken it out, and now
his mind was free. If he had but known what a relief it would be! But he
sat down as soon as he had finished speaking; and he did not feel as if
he could pay much attention to any thing else. His mind was in a state
of confusion about what had happened the previous night. It seemed to
him that he had said or done something he ought not to have done or
said. But now he had made his supreme disclosure, and given up the
struggle. It did not much matter what occurred besides.

Mrs. Preston, however, who had been listening eagerly, and whom nobody
regarded for the moment, rose up and made a step forward among them. “He
may deny it,” she said, trembling; “but I know he’s known it all this
time, and kept us out of our rights. Fifty pound–fifty thousand
pound–what does he say? I know better. It is all mine, every penny, and
he’s been keeping us out of our rights. You’ve been all fed and
nourished on what was mine–your horses and your carriages, and all your
grandeur; and he says it’s but fifty pounds! Don’t you remember that
there’s One that protects the fatherless?” she cried out, almost
screaming. The very sight of his composure made her wild and desperate.
“You make no account of me,” she cried–“no more than if I was the dust
under your feet, and I’m the mistress of all–of all; and if it had not
been for her you would have killed me last night.”

These words penetrated even Mr. Brownlow’s stupor; he gave a shudder as
if with the cold.

“I was very hard driven last night,” he said, as if to himself–“very
hard put to it. I don’t know what I may have said.” Then he made a
pause, and rose and went to his enemy, who fell back into the chair, and
took fright as he approached her, putting out her two feeble hands to
defend herself. “If you are Phœbe Thomson,” he said, “you shall have
your rights. I know nothing about you–I never thought of you. This
house is mine, and you have nothing to do here. All you have any right
to is your money, and you shall have your money when you prove your
identity. But I can not leave you here to distress my child. If you are
able to think at all, you must see that you ought to go home. Send for
the carriage to take her home,” Mr. Brownlow added, turning to his
children. “If she is the person she calls herself, she is a relation of
your mother’s; and anyhow, she is weak and old. Take care of her. Sara,
my darling, you are not to stay here with her, nor let her vex you; but
I leave her in your hands.”

“I will do what you tell me, papa,” said Sara; and then he stood for a
moment and looked at them wistfully. They had forsaken him last night;
both of them–or at least so he fancied–had gone over to the enemy; and
that had cut him to the heart. Now he turned to them wistfully, looking
for a little support and comfort. It would not be so hard after all if
his children went with him into captivity. They had both been so
startled and excited that but for this look, and the lingering,
expectant pause he made, neither would have thought of their father’s
feelings. But it was impossible to misunderstand him now. Sara, in her
impulsive way, went up to him and put her arms round his neck. “Papa, it
is we who have been hard upon you,” she said; and as for Jack, who could
not show his feelings by an embrace, he also made a kind of _amende_ in
an ungracious masculine way. He said, “I’m coming with you, sir. I’ll
see after the carriage,” and marched off behind his father to the door.
Neither of them took any farther notice of Mrs. Preston. It seemed to
her as if they did not care. They were not afraid of her; they did not
come obsequiously to her feet, as she had thought they would. On the
contrary, they were banding together among themselves against her,
making a league among themselves, taking no notice of her. And her own
child was not there to comfort her heart. It was a great shock and
downfall to the unhappy woman. She had been a good woman so long as she
was untempted. But it had seemed to her, in the wonderful prospect of a
great fortune, that every body would fall at her feet; that she would be
able to do what she pleased–to deal with all her surroundings as she
pleased. When she saw she could not do so, her mind grew confused–fifty
pound, fifty thousand pound, which was it? And she was alone, and they
were all banding themselves against her. Money seemed nothing in
comparison to the elevation, the supremacy she had dreamed of. And they
did not even take the trouble to look at her as they went away!

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